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State news briefs
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LAUGHING GAS ABUSER BLAMES HEAD SHOPS FOR INJURY: SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A nitrous oxide abuser is blaming California head shops for injuries during his laughing gas highs.

Doctors say Jason Starn, who must now use a walker to get around, suffered degeneration of his spinal cord because of his nitrous oxide use.

The 35-year-old former Modesto school teacher filed a Sacramento Superior Court lawsuit last year against head shops in Modesto, Folsom and Foothill Farms, where he bought the drug in the form of gas chargers that go by the trade name Whip-It.

The lawsuit claims Whip-It is the nation's most-popular inhalant drug.

Starn's product safety suit asks for an unspecified general and punitive damages.

MAN GRABBING BEER CRUSHED BY FALLING REFRIGERATOR: LOS ANGELES (AP) — A Los Angeles man reaching for a beer has been crushed by a falling refrigerator.

Assistant chief coroner Ed Winter said that the man was getting a beer from a garage refrigerator on New Year's Day when the appliance fell on him.

The man, who was in his 60s, was dead at the scene.

SHERIFF: CHILD REPORTED MISSING WAS HOME: SACRAMENTO  (AP) — Sheriff's officials say a Sacramento-area woman who reported her autistic son missing only to have deputies discover him in plain sight inside her messy apartment has been arrested on suspicion of child endangerment.

Deputies found the 9-year-old boy in a bedroom on Sunday after being called to 30-year-old Christina Milligan's apartment on a report of a missing child.

Sheriff's officials say the apartment had cockroaches, dirty diapers and trash and smelled of urine. Milligan was arrested, and the 9-year-old boy and another child, a 2-year-old, were taken into protective custody.

Sheriff's spokesman Jason Ramos said Milligan posted bond and was released Sunday night. He did not know whether she had an attorney.

CA TEEN MISSING SINCE NEW YEAR'S AT TAHOE CASINO: STATELINE, Nev. (AP) — Sheriff's deputies in northern Nevada are offering a $1,000 reward in the search for a 19-year-old California woman who last was seen on New Year's Eve at a Lake Tahoe casino.

Douglas County sheriff's deputies said Thursday they have no leads in the search for Alyssa Byrne of Petaluma.

Her father, Kevin Byrne, says she was staying with friends at the Horizon Casino Resort in Stateline, Nev. She last was seen on the casino floor shortly after midnight.

Byrne says his daughter and three friends checked into the Horizon and texted her mother on Saturday and texted both parents on Sunday.

She's 5-foot-3, 125 pounds with black hair and blue eyes. She was wearing a black sweatshirt, black snow boots and black yoga-type pants with her hair pulled back.

ORANGE PEELS HELP RESCUERS FIND MISSING SISTERS: LOS ANGELES (AP) — Authorities say discarded orange peels helped point rescuers to two sisters who were lost in freezing mountains north of Los Angeles.

KCBS-TV says 16-year-old Ariel Fitzmorris and 21-year-old Allison Fitzmorris went hiking near Frazier Park on New Year's Day and didn't return. They left their cells phones at home.

Searchers couldn't find them that night.

However, Sgt. Ken Smith of the Kern County Sheriff's Department says early Wednesday morning searchers found some orange peels the hikers had dropped.

That clue helped them locate the sisters about 1 ½ miles from where they were last seen.

PROPERTY TAX HIKE POSSIBLE TO REDUCE POLLUTION: LOS ANGELES (AP) — Homeowners in Los Angeles County could see an average $54 hike on property tax bills to reduce storm and urban runoff pollution.

County officials are pushing for a ballot measure that would impose a new clean water parcel fee for 2.2 property owners. Antelope Valley homeowners aren't included.

It would raise about $290 million, money that would be divided among cities, watershed authorities and the county flood control district.

The Board of Supervisors could decide on Jan. 15 to move forward with an election on the parcel fee. Mail ballots are likely.

Most county watersheds do not consistently meet water quality standards despite more than $100 million spent last year by the county and flood control district. Cities spent millions more.

2 CONVICTED IN SALINAS CAR SLAYINGS: SALINAS  (AP) — A jury has convicted two alleged gang members of murder and attempted murder in a shooting in Salinas that left two teens dead and two others wounded.

Matthew Ruiz and Albert Hernandez were found guilty of the charges on Wednesday. They were also convicted of committing a crime on behalf of the Norteno street gang.

Authorities say Ruiz and Hernandez lured the four victims into an ambush by pretending they were Sureno gang members. All six teens allegedly went for a ride on Oct. 14, 2009 before the four were shot while they were inside the car.

Ociel Montiel and Rodolfo Cristobal died. One of the other two victims was left a quadrapligec.

Ruiz and Hernandez, both now 20, are scheduled to be sentenced on Feb. 27.

MORE VICTIMS POSSIBLE IN NURSING HOME SEX CASE: SANTA ANA  (AP) — Investigators say there may be more victims in a Southern California nursing home sex assault case.

David Moreno pleaded not guilty last month to sex counts involving the assault of a 69-year-old disabled woman at a Yorba Linda facility for the elderly. The 28-year-old Riverside man was a janitor at Emeritus Senior Living.

City News Service says police detectives and Orange County prosecutors announced on Wednesday that there may be more victims and they need help from the public.

Moreno, who is free on $100,000 bail, is due back in court on Monday.

TEEN FIGHTS OFF WOULD-BE KIDNAPPERS IN ENCINITAS: ENCINITAS  (AP) — Authorities in San Diego County say a woman fought off would-be kidnappers who were wearing matching T-shirts.

Sheriff's officials say the 18-year-old woman was on a street in Encinitas on Monday when she was pulled into a black pickup truck with orange stripes. Authorities say there were three men in the truck. Two wore black T-shirts with an upside down triangle logo that may be a company shirt.

There was gardening equipment in the truck bed.

Authorities say the woman escaped after biting one man on the ear and punching another in the mouth.

JUDGE REJECTS BIRTHER CHALLENGE TO ELECTORAL COUNT: SACRAMENTO  (AP) — A federal judge in Sacramento has rejected a challenge by so-called "birthers" seeking to halt the counting of Electoral College votes for President Barack Obama.

U.S. District Court Judge Morrison C. England on Thursday rejected a petition for a temporary restraining order filed by Orly Taitz, an attorney who has lost challenges in several states seeking to overturn Obama's election.

In a motion filed last month, Taitz sought to stop Congress from counting the votes, scheduled for Friday.

Officials in Hawaii have repeatedly verified Obama's August 1961 birth and U.S. citizenship, and the White House released a copy of the president's long-form birth certificate in 2011.

England said the case is unlikely to succeed, that the plaintiffs lacked standing and they failed to submit legal documents on time.