Texas justices: Give kids back

SAN ANTONIO - In a crushing blow to the state's massive seizure of children from a polygamist sect's ranch, the Texas Supreme Court ruled yesterday that child-welfare officials overstepped their authority and that the children should go back to their parents.

The high court affirmed a decision by an appellate court last week, saying that Child Protective Services failed to show an immediate danger to the more than 400 children swept up from the Yearning For Zion Ranch nearly two months ago.

State officials said the removals had been necessary to end a cycle of sexual abuse at the ranch, in which teenage girls were forced to marry older men.

Trolley driver died in crash

BOSTON - Federal investigators at the site of a fatal commuter train crash checked trackside signals yesterday, as well as reports that the trolley driver who was killed may have been on a cell phone.

Terrese Edmonds was killed and more than a dozen passengers were hurt Wednesday night when the two-car train Edmonds was operating rammed the back of another train in suburban Newton.

National Transportation Safety Board member Kitty Higgins said the signals were being examined because the trains are run manually and guided by so-called "wayside" signals. The train that was rammed had just been stopped at a red light.

Passengers, meanwhile, reported seeing Edmonds on the phone in the moments before the collision.

"I heard something about that but we don't know yet," Higgins told reporters. "We're just beginning to look at this; we'll look at everything."

Edmonds, 24, was a relatively inexperienced trolley operator who began commanding a train in October. She was a part-time employee like most new hires.

"She waited for a long time, a couple of years, for the job and she finally got it. She was so happy," said her brother Leon.

Official's laptop hacked?

WASHINGTON - U.S. authorities are investigating whether Chinese officials secretly copied the contents of a government laptop computer during a visit to China by Commerce Secretary Carlos M. Gutierrez and used the information to try to hack into Commerce computers, officials and industry experts told the Associated Press.

Surreptitious copying is believed to have occurred when a laptop was left unattended during Gutierrez's trip to Beijing for trade talks in December, people familiar with the incident said.

Army suicides up again

WASHINGTON - The number of Army suicides increased again last year, amid the most violent year yet in both the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

An Army official said yesterday that 115 soldiers committed suicide in 2007, a nearly 13 percent increase over the previous year's 102.

About a quarter of the deaths occurred in Iraq.

Suicides have been rising during the five-year war in Iraq and nearly seven years of war in Afghanistan.

The 115 deaths last year and 102 in 2006 followed 85 in 2005 and 67 in 2004. The only Army records immediately available go back to 1990, and show no year with a higher number of suicides than 2007. The figure in 1990 was 102.

Biblical verse angers Iraqis

BAGHDAD - A U.S. Marine guarding a checkpoint on the western outskirts of Fallujah handed out to Iraqis entering the city coins with an Arabic translation of a biblical verse, angering residents and city leaders who denounced it as serious affront to Islam and an attempt to convert them to Christianity.

As the Marines quickly apologized yesterday for the episode, Sunni guerrillas struck several times in northern Iraq, killing at least 19 people in two suicide bombings.

The U.S. pledged to discipline the Marine who handed out the coins, which were inscribed with one of the Bible's most widely known verses, John 3:16:

"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish, but have eternal life." *

-Daily News wire services