Confirmed Case of SARS Reported in North Carolina

A man who visited Toronto in mid-May contracted severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, the state Department of Health and Human Services said Monday.

It is the eighth confirmed case of SARS in the United States.

The man was identified Friday as having a probable case of the illness. Test results from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention confirmed the diagnosis, DHHS spokeswoman Carol Schriber said.

The man, a resident of Orange County whose name was withheld, developed a fever and respiratory problems after his trip, DHHS said in a news release. His condition is improving as he recovers in isolation at home; none of his family, also quarantined at home, has shown any symptoms.

None of his co-workers or other acquaintances have been quarantined, she said.

State health officials are working with authorities in Canada to trace the source of his infection, she said. Officials here have gotten in touch with all they people they believe may have been exposed to the man while his condition was infectious, she said.

The state already had eight “suspected” cases of the disease as defined by criteria set by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

N.C. Agriculture Department veteran says he’ll eye fair contract

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – A veteran Agriculture Department official said Monday he will take a careful look at the contentious State Fair midway contract while he serves as the agency’s interim commissioner.

Amid handshakes and introductions on his first full day in office, W. Britt Cobb Jr. also said he will not run for the commissioner’s job when the post is next up for election in 2004.

Cobb was appointed by Gov. Mike Easley after Meg Scott Phipps resigned from the position Friday. Federal authorities are investigating State Fair contracts awarded to her campaign donors.

Cobb said he will examine the State Fair contract for his own knowledge, not because he expects to find any improprieties. Amusements of America replaced James E. Strates Shows last year as the fair’s midway operator.

Cobb said he doesn’t think he’s going to fill the position of deputy commissioner Mike Blanton, who was indicted by a federal grand jury Friday and resigned Sunday. He said there’s another deputy commissioner in the department and that’s enough.

Democrats make their case for more taxes

RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) – Senate leaders continued their call Monday for additional taxes or lottery revenues to help balance the state budget, but saw a carefully scripted meeting undermined by anti-tax protesters.

Senate Democrats had lined up a number of educators – including university system president Molly Broad and state community college system president Martin Lancaster – to speak about the destructive effects of more budget cuts at an afternoon meeting.

But several dozen members of the anti-tax group Citizens for a Sound Economy greeted them, denouncing tax hikes and a lottery as unnecessary.

“You have just about broken our backs,” said Robin Stout, a CSE member from Orange County. “Please consider the taxpayers. We are watching.”

The Senate and House are locked in budget negotiations, with House leaders saying they have given as much as possible on the issue of taxes.

The House and Senate are trying to put together a budget deal before the July 1 start of the fiscal year. By doing so, the Legislature would prevent the 2001 tax hikes from expiring and eliminate the need to pass a separate revenue bill.

Seizures of cocaine at Charlotte’s airport have risen

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) – Most of the illegal drugs coming into Charlotte, including marijuana, cocaine and heroin, are mailed or driven in from Mexico.

But an increasing amount is coming from Jamaica aboard commercial flights and in the bellies of smugglers, according to a new police study.

Jerry Orr, aviation director at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport, said the numbers could be on the rise because of increased enforcement.

Officials at North Carolina’s two other big airports, Raleigh-Durham International Airport, and Greensboro’s Piedmont Triad International Airport, said the problem doesn’t appear to be as large for them because they don’t have as many flights to Caribbean destinations.

U.S. Customs Service agents made 26 cocaine seizures at Charlotte-Douglas International Airport last year, an increase of 150 percent from the year before, the police report shows.

Backlog for DNA tests delays freedom for Jacksonville man

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. (AP) – Leo Waters spent 21 years in jail for a rape he may not have committed. Now he might have to wait another two months before the state can confirm the validity of a DNA test that could exonerate him.

Waters, 53, was convicted in 1982 of kidnapping and raping a Jacksonville woman. A test conducted by Raleigh-based LabCorp earlier this year showed DNA found in the attacker’s semen did not match a sample taken from Waters.

Waters may be the second man wrongly accused of rape by the Jacksonville Police Department in the early 1980s. Lesly Jean was charged with rape six months after Waters was convicted. Jean’s sentence was overturned in July 1991 and a DNA test exonerated him in 2001.

Jean was eventually pardoned by Gov. Mike Easley.

Waters was released on an unsecured bond in January pending a new trial. District Attorney Dewey Hudson requested the state review the initial analysis before the new trial could begin.

A backlog of DNA cases is state labs is increasing the delay.

“It’s expected the lab will take it up in the next 30 to 60 days,” State Bureau of Investigation spokesman John Bason said in a voicemail. “The lab is being asked to test more DNA evidence each year, so there is a backlog.”