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POSTED September 3, 2012 7:00 p.m.

STRANGE COURT CASE FOR BURNING MAN DRUG SUSPECTS: RENO, Nev. (AP) — It wasn't as surreal as Burning Man itself, but the courtroom banter was a bit unorthodox.

After all, it's not every day a discussion about a plea deal for a pair of so-called "Burners" facing drug charges includes a defense lawyer scolding his client, or a judge playfully accusing a federal prosecutor of being a "killjoy."

Robert Louis Ruenzel II and Lindsey Ann Neverisky, both 31, were looking at five years in prison or more after they were arrested Aug. 27 at the annual counter-culture festival in the desert 120 miles north of Reno. They were in an RV stocked with marijuana, cocaine, psychedelic mushrooms, ecstasy pills and other drugs.

Daniel Bogden, the U.S. Attorney for Nevada, said federal prosecutors wanted to charge the two with felonies.

But without explaining further, Bogden said U.S. Magistrate Judge William Cobb declined to sign a felony warrant "even though the evidence established probable cause that they had committed a felony drug offense."

That gave the pair a chance to consider an offer to plead guilty to a lesser misdemeanor charge of simple possession of a controlled substance — an offer they jumped at because it likely will mean little if any jail time.

SMALL EARTHQUAKE REPORTED IN LOS ANGELES AREA: LOS ANGELES (AP) — The U.S. Geological Survey is reporting an earthquake early Monday in the greater Los Angeles area.

The magnitude-3.3 quake was centered in Beverly Hills at 3:26 a.m.

There are no immediate reports of damage.

Beverly Hills police watch commander Sgt. Michael Publicker said his station has been getting numerous calls from anxious citizens. He said, "Every alarm in the city is going off." But he added that his patrol officers had seen no signs of structural damage.

An officer at the nearby West Los Angeles police precinct said there had been no calls about the quake.

The Los Angeles Fire Department says its survey found no significant damage, injury or loss of life in the city.

3 HURT IN WATERCRAFT CRASH AT LAKE TAHOE: SOUTH LAKE TAHIOE. (AP) — South Lake Tahoe police say a family outing on personal watercraft proved dangerous when a mother and father, each with a child as a passenger, crashed at Lake Tahoe.

The Reno Gazette-Journal reports the family from San Jose, Calif., had rented two watercrafts from the Timber Cove Marina.

Each parent drove one watercraft with a child seated on the back. Police say the mother's craft crossed in front of the father's path and he smashed into her at 30 mph Monday morning.

The 7-year-old daughter suffered severe injuries to her leg and foot and was flown to a Reno hospital. A 5-year-old boy and his mother were taken to Barton Hospital with moderate head and leg injuries. Police say the father was relatively unharmed.

CREWS FOCUSING NORTH IN MENDOCINO COUNTY WILDFIRE: SAN FRANCISCO (AP) — Officials say firefighters will be focusing on the northern edge of a wildfire in a rugged and remote area in Mendocino County.

Fire spokeswoman Kate Kramer says crews will spend Monday building containment lines along that stretch as the North Pass fire enters its third week.

Seven homes and nine outbuildings have been destroyed in the blaze burning northeast of Covelo. Kramer says 21 homes and five commercial buildings are also threatened but are not in any immediate danger.

Meanwhile, officials say no injuries were reported after a helicopter was forced to land Saturday after hitting a tree and damaging its rotor blades during a water drop.

More than 1,600 firefighters continue battling the blaze, which has scorched more than 65 square miles and remains at 58 percent contained.

RIP CURRENTS POSE RISK ALONG CALIF. COASTLINE:  LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities are warning of dangerous rip currents at beaches along the coastline of Southern and Central California.

The National Weather Service said Monday that the unusually strong currents and high surf swell make ocean activities potentially hazardous from San Luis Obispo County to Orange County.

Surf is expected to create waves of two to four feet and breakers topping five feet.

The areas posing the highest risk are stretches from Point Mugu just south of Oxnard to Point Dume in Malibu, and from Long Beach south to Seal Beach.

 

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