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story.lead_photo.caption The site of natural gas explosion that killed a firefighter in Sun-Prairie, Wis., is seen from the air Wednesday.

Blast kills firefighter, guts part of block

SUN PRAIRIE, Wis. -- A natural-gas explosion killed a firefighter and leveled portions of a city block, including a bar the firefighter owned, authorities said Wednesday.

The blast Tuesday evening in downtown Sun Prairie also injured at least a dozen people and left residents of the Madison suburb wondering how they'll put their downtown back together.

The blast happened after police got a call at 6:30 p.m. that construction work on a downtown street had punctured a WE Energies natural-gas line. Police and firefighters arrived to investigate and were evacuating the area when the gas exploded shortly after 7 p.m. The blast ignited four-story high flames that burned long into the night and belched a smoke plume visible for miles.

Sun Prairie Fire Department Capt. Cory Barr was killed in the blast, said Mahlon Mitchell, president of the state firefighters union. Barr also worked as a real estate agent and owned the Barr House, a tavern destroyed in the explosion.

Five other firefighters, a police officer and at least six civilians were hurt, according to Sun Prairie police Lt. Kevin Konopacki.

Authorities and WE Energies did not release the name of the company doing the construction work.

At least five buildings were damaged, including the Barr House, Glass Nickel Pizza and a steak restaurant, according to a news release on the city's website.

Florida suspect said to threaten woman

SUNRISE, Fla. -- Florida high school massacre suspect Nikolas Cruz is accused of telling a woman months before the shooting that he might attack the school and that he might even kill her -- but she never called police.

Giovanna Cantone's statement was one of many made public Wednesday as part of the prosecution of 19-year-old Cruz in the Valentine's Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 17 people. Also released were more accounts of students who witnessed the attacks and statements from people who knew Cruz.

Cruz is charged with 17 counts of first-degree murder. His attorneys have said he would plead guilty in exchange for a life sentence without parole. Prosecutors are seeking the death penalty.

Separately, the chairman of a state commission investigating the massacre said law enforcement agencies' response in the crucial first minutes after the shooting began was hampered by quirks in the 911 system that caused many calls from inside the school to be transferred.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri said the dual dispatch system used by the city of Parkland delayed getting timely information to responding officers.

Appeal denied in Hawaii gay-bias case

HONOLULU -- A ruling by a Hawaii appeals court that a bed-and-breakfast inn discriminated by denying a room to two women because they're gay will stand after the state's high court declined to take up the case.

Aloha Bed & Breakfast owner Phyllis Young had argued she should be allowed to turn away gay couples because of her religious beliefs.

When the couple filed a complaint with the Hawaii Civil Rights Commission, Young told the commission she is Catholic and believes that homosexuality is wrong, according to the appeals court ruling. The commission found that the business illegally discriminated against the couple, who filed a lawsuit in 2011.

The Hawaii Supreme Court on Tuesday unanimously rejected Young's appeal of a lower court ruling that ordered her to stop discriminating against same-sex couples.

Lambda Legal senior attorney Peter Renn, who represents the couple, said the Hawaii high court's order indicates the law hasn't changed even after the U.S. Supreme Court last month, in a limited decision, sided with a Colorado baker who refused to make a wedding cake for a same-sex couple. He said "there still is no license to discriminate."

Suit claims voting system risky in S.C.

COLUMBIA, S.C. -- South Carolina election officials are accused in a new lawsuit of failing to keep the state's voting processes secure.

The State newspaper reported that the suit filed Tuesday said the South Carolina Election Commission has deprived South Carolinians of their constitutional right to vote by failing to provide a reliable voting system.

The suit, filed by a businessman and a former state lawmaker, claims that thousands of digital voting machines used in the state are antiquated, leave no paper trail and have "deep security flaws" making them vulnerable to hacking.

Commission Executive Director Marci Andino told the newspaper she hadn't seen the lawsuit and had no comment.

Andino said the commission knows its voting machines are near the end of their 15-year life cycle and wants to replace them before the 2020 presidential election.

A Section on 07/12/2018

Print Headline: Explosion kills firefighter, levels bar Blast kills firefighter, guts part of block Cruz prosecution reveals earlier threats Florida suspect said to threaten woman Appeal denied in Hawaii gay-bias...

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