Drunken-driving death rates fall

WASHINGTON - Drunken-driving fatality rates have fallen in 40 states, including New Jersey, and the District of Columbia, an encouraging sign that crackdowns are improving highway safety.

The Transportation Department said yesterday that 11,773 people were killed in U.S. drunken-driving crashes in 2008, a rate of 0.4 per 100 million vehicle miles traveled. In 2007, 13,041 motorists died in such crashes, a rate of 0.43.

In eight states and the District of Columbia, drunken-driving fatality rates fell 20 percent or more. New Jersey's rate fell 19.2 percent. The rates were virtually unchanged in Pennsylvania and Delaware. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced plans for a $7 million holiday ad campaign to combat drunken driving. - AP

Chimp's owner won't be charged

STAMFORD, Conn. - The owner of a chimpanzee that mauled and blinded her friend won't be charged because there's no evidence she knowingly disregarded any risk the 200-pound animal posed, a prosecutor said yesterday.

State's Attorney David Cohen said it wasn't evident that Sandra Herold of Stamford had been deliberately reckless in handling the chimp. He said state officials did not share their safety concerns about the chimp with Herold, nor enforce a permitting requirement.

The chimp went berserk in February after Herold asked Charla Nash to help lure him back into her house. The animal ripped off Nash's hands, nose, lips, and eyelids. Nash, who revealed her disfigured face last month on The Oprah Winfrey Show, remains in stable condition at the Cleveland Clinic. Her family said they were "at peace" with the decision and said it did not affect pending lawsuits. - AP

Revised charges for Blagojevich

CHICAGO - Federal prosecutors plan to bring a revised indictment next month against former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich to avoid possible delays in their case due to a forthcoming U.S. Supreme Court decision on one of their favorite weapons in public corruption cases, the U.S. Attorney's Office said yesterday.

The high court is scheduled to hear oral arguments today on limiting the "honest services" fraud law, which criminalizes activity that deprives the public or government of the right to have public officials perform their duties honestly.

The law has been a mainstay of federal public corruption cases, and prosecutors are relying on it for a number of the charges against Blagojevich. They have accused him of illegally leveraging the powers of his office to benefit himself.

Prosecutors said they would revise the charges to avoid any complications that could delay the start of his scheduled June trial. Blagojevich attorney Sam Adam Jr. said, "I haven't seen this much backpedaling since Gerald Wilkins got dunked on by Michael Jordan." - AP

Elsewhere:

A convicted sex offender, Arcade Joseph Comeaux Jr., who was the subject of a weeklong manhunt after pulling off a daring escape during a Texas prison transfer was captured in Houston yesterday after authorities received several phone tips.