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'Jet-set monk' is back

A former monk known for a jet-setting lifestyle was back in Thailand on Thursday after he was extradited from the United States, where he fled to escape charges including statutory rape and fraud.

Wirapol Sukphol, 37, appeared on a YouTube video showing the orange-robed monk aboard a private jet. He wore aviator sunglasses and had a Louis Vuitton carry-on bag, sparking an outcry over his behaviour.

Soon after the video surfaced in 2013, Wirapol was defrocked amid accusations of multiple sexual relationships with women — a cardinal sin for monks.

He was also alleged to have had sex with a 14-year-old girl. The statute of limitations has expired in that case, but he still faces fraud, money laundering and other charges. He was arrested in California last year.

Wirapol returned to Bangkok late Wednesday under an extradition agreement with the United States. According to Paisit Wongmuang, director-general of Thailand's Department of Special Investigation, Wirapol "wanted to come back to Thailand and was ready to enter the justice system."

Thailand's Anti-Money Laundering Office has discovered 41 bank accounts linked to Wirapol. Several of the accounts kept about 200 million baht ($5.9 million) in constant circulation, raising suspicion of money laundering, the office said.

According to the Department of Special Investigation, Wirapol at one point had accumulated assets of an estimated 1 billion baht ($32 million). 



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OJ granted parole

O.J. Simpson has been granted parole after more than eight years in prison for a botched bid to retrieve sports memorabilia in Las Vegas.

A Nevada parole board decided Thursday that the 70-year-old former football, TV and movie star will be released in October after serving his minimum term for armed robbery and assault with a weapon.

Simpson responded emotionally, saying, "Thank you, thank you, thank you."

Four parole commissioners in Carson City questioned Simpson by videoconference from the Lovelock Correctional Center in rural Nevada. He has been held there since he was convicted in 2008.

The conviction came 13 years to the day after he was acquitted of murder in 1995 in the deaths of his ex-wife and her friend in Los Angeles.



Chocolate flambe on hwy

Traffic on a major highway in England has been disrupted for hours after a truck laden with chocolate bars burst into flames.

Drivers faced long delays after parts of the highway in Kent, southern England, were closed Thursday as fire crews put out the blaze and road workers tried to clear the debris.

A Highways England spokeswoman said the fire occurred in early Thursday, saying: "Some of the chocolate had melted onto the road. There were lots of chocolate bars everywhere."

No injuries were reported and all lanes on the highway reopened Thursday afternoon.

Kent Fire and Rescue Service said the cause of the blaze was not known.

The chocolate bars were reported to be Lion candy bars made by Nestle.



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Maybe Michelangelo?

Martin Kober is convinced the painting of a dying Jesus that hung above the mantel in his upstate New York childhood home is the work of Michelangelo. Getting experts to agree remains the $300 million hurdle.

That's the potential value of the 19-by-25-inch work that Kober's family affectionately calls the "the Mike," a one-time living room fixture that occasionally got dinged by a thrown tennis ball and once fell from the wall while being dusted.

Kober has for the last 15 years taken his Michelangelo suspicions to the art world and gotten a mixed bag of scholarly opinions. For now, the circa 1545 family heirloom that was given to Kober's great-great-grandfather's sister-in-law by a German baroness remains in an out-of-state vault while he seeks the elusive validation.

"It's tormenting now," said Kober, a retired commercial pilot who grew up in the Rochester suburb of Greece. "I'm nobody, I'm not connected. I don't know if that's it."

The wood-panel painting depicts a dying Jesus supported by two angels in the lap of the Virgin Mary. Doubters view it as simply not good enough to be by Michelangelo or believe it's another artist's painted version of a much-copied Michelangelo drawing. 

Supporters of Kober's claim cite written historical references and forensic evidence that includes Michelangelo's preferred paint type, small brush strokes and mid-work changes visible by infrared testing that they say indicate an original, rather than copied, work.



Yosemite fire rages on

A surging wildfire raced through California mountains and foothills west of Yosemite National Park on Wednesday, forcing thousands to flee tiny, Gold Rush-era towns, destroying 29 structures and wafting a smoky haze over the park's landmark Half Dome rock face.

The four-day-old blaze nearly doubled in size overnight to 75 square miles, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said.

At its closest, the blaze was still about 35 miles from the boundary of Yosemite, where campgrounds are open, park spokesman Scott Gediman said. 

Yosemite does not appear at risk from the fire, which was moving south Wednesday, away from the park, California fire spokesman Jordan Motta said.

The fire has forced almost 5,000 people from homes in and around a half-dozen small communities.

The fire was threatening about 1,500 homes and other buildings, after already destroying 29 structures. It's not clear what type of buildings burned. 

The fire got within a half mile of Mariposa, but crews have been able to keep it out of the town, said Cal Fire spokeswoman Katherine Garver.



Remains found in flash flood

Remains found Wednesday in a water- and debris-filled canyon in central Arizona are believed to be those of a missing 27-year-old man who's the 10th and final victim of last weekend's flash flood, authorities said.

Gila County Sheriff's officials said at a hastily called news conference that identification of the body will be subject to DNA analysis by the Arizona Department of Public Safety.

But they believe the body is that of Hector Miguel Garnica and have notified his relatives.

Last Saturday's flash flood at a popular swimming hole along the river in the Tonto National Forest killed nine of Garnica's extended family including his wife and three young children.

Nine bodies were recovered by Sunday and the search for Garnica had been hampered since Monday by afternoon thunderstorms that suspended operations.

In recent days, searches have included divers probing ponds of standing water along the river and forestry crews using saws to cut up tree limbs to allow other searchers to dig and check under rocks and deep piles of debris.

Authorities said a DPS helicopter crew spotted the body on the side of the East Verde River just downstream from Shoofly Wash.



McCain has brain tumour

Arizona Sen. John McCain, the 2008 Republican presidential nominee with a well-known maverick streak that often vexes his GOP colleagues, has been diagnosed with a brain tumour, his office said in a statement Wednesday.

The 80-year-old lawmaker has glioblastoma, an aggressive cancer, according to doctors at the Mayo Clinic in Phoenix, where McCain had a blood clot removed from above his left eye last Friday. The senator and his family are reviewing further treatment, including a combination of chemotherapy and radiation.

"Subsequent tissue pathology revealed that a primary brain tumour known as a glioblastoma was associated with the blood clot," his office said in a statement.

The tumour digs tentacle-like roots into normal brain tissue. Patients fare best when surgeons can cut out all the visible tumour, which happened with McCain's tumour, according to his office. That isn't a cure; cancerous cells that aren't visible still tend to lurk, the reason McCain's doctors are considering further treatment, including chemotherapy and radiation.

The senator and chairman of the Armed Services Committee had been recovering at his Arizona home. His absence had forced Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to delay action on health care legislation. McCain had been slated to oversee debate of the sweeping defence policy bill in the coming weeks.



Emergency ocean landing

A helicopter carrying the son of World Wrestling Entertainment CEO Vince McMahon made an emergency landing Wednesday in the ocean off New York, and neither the pilot nor passenger were hurt.

Shane McMahon, also a WWE executive, was the passenger in the Robinson R 44 helicopter that came down in the Atlantic Ocean off Long Island's Gilgo Beach late Wednesday morning. The red aircraft could be seen bobbing on its bright yellow pontoons as small boats circled about a half-mile south of the beach.

"It was very unnerving," McMahon said to reporters later. But the pilot "was super calm which made me super calm and we landed perfectly."

Shane McMahon's mother is Linda McMahon, who heads the Small Business Administration in President Donald Trump's administration.

The Federal Aviation Administration said the helicopter had taken off from Westchester County Airport in White Plains. The pilot issued a mayday call before going into the water, and a commercial flight heading to Kennedy International Airport heard it and relayed it to FAA controllers at a radar facility.

It was not yet clear what went wrong.



Boy, 5, crashes mom's car

Authorities in West Virginia say a five-year-old and a two-year-old took their mother's car for a three-mile ride before crashing it.

News outlets report the boys took the car from their mother's house Monday. One child steered the vehicle while the other child pushed the gas and brake pedals. The ride ended when the car crashed into a ditch.

Putnam County Sheriff Steve Deweese says deputies did not find the children's mother until nearly an hour later. He says she thought the boys were playing in the front yard.

The children were taken to the hospital to be checked out but had no injuries.

No charges have been filed against the mother, but Deweese says authorities are working with the prosecutor's office and Child Protective Services.



911: they stole my drugs

Calling 911 to report a stolen bag of cocaine probably wasn't the best idea for a self-described Florida drug dealer.

But Okaloosa Sheriff's officials wrote on Facebook that 32-year-old David Blackmon did just that on Sunday morning.

The post says Blackmon called 911 to report a robbery in Fort Walton Beach. Blackmon told the responding deputy that someone entered his car and took $50 and about a quarter ounce of cocaine from the centre console.

The report says the deputy spotted some cocaine and a crack rock on the console and a crack pipe on the floorboard by the driver's side door.

Blackmon is charged with possession of cocaine and resisting arrest without violence. He was released from jail on Tuesday, but records don't list a lawyer.



Yosemite fire emergency

As wildfires rage throughout the western U.S., one California blaze in the rugged mountains outside of Yosemite National Park destroyed eight structures and forced thousands of nearby residents to flee their homes.

As of Tuesday evening, the fire had scorched 39 square miles, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. The blaze burning since Sunday was making its way to the hills on the edge of Mariposa, a town of about 2,000 people under a mandatory evacuation order.

Record rain and snowfall in the mountains this winter was celebrated for bringing California's five-year drought to its knees, but it has turned into a challenge for firefighters battling flames feeding on dense vegetation.

"There's ample fuel and steep terrain," said California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection spokeswoman DeeDee Garcia. "It makes firefighting difficult."

The Northern California blaze is threatening at least 1,500 homes as well as powerlines that provide electricity to the park, officials said. The park remained open Tuesday but several roads frequented by tourists were closed.

The wildfire near Lake McClure, a reservoir about 50 miles east of Modesto, was 5 per cent contained Tuesday evening as at least 1,400 firefighters battled it on the ground and from the air.

Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday declared an emergency, bolstering the state's resources to battle the fire that he said has forced thousands of residents to flee and is expected to continue burning.



Cop startled, woman killed

An Australian woman who called 911 to report a possible assault was shot and killed by a Minneapolis police officer after the officer's partner was startled by a loud sound near their squad car, the partner told investigators Tuesday.

The Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension said Justine Damond, 40, approached the driver's side window of the squad car immediately after the driver had been startled by the sound. The officer in the passenger seat, Mohamed Noor, fired his weapon, hitting Damond through the open driver's side window, the BCA said.

The BCA said its information was based on an interview with the officer driving the car, Officer Matthew Harrity. Harrity was interviewed Tuesday, but Noor declined to be interviewed. The BCA said his attorney did not indicate when, or if, Noor would talk to investigators, and under the law an interview can't be compelled.

Messages left with Noor's attorney were not immediately returned Tuesday.

Harrity and Noor are on paid administrative leave. Harrity has been with the Minneapolis police department for one year, and Noor has been with the department for nearly two.

The information released Tuesday is the first narrative by the BCA since Saturday night's shooting. According to the BCA, Harrity told investigators that he and Noor responded to a 911 call from Damond about a possible assault near her home at about 11:30 p.m. Saturday.



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