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Briefs

Social Security to fast-track claims

– In an effort to ease the burden of people being stricken with a debilitating condition, the Social Security Administration is expanding a program that fast-tracks disability claims by people who get serious illnesses such as cancer, early-onset Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease – claims that could take months or years to approve in the past.

Disability claims are up by more than 20 percent from 2008. The Compassionate Allowances program approves many claims for a select group of conditions within a few days, Social Security Commissioner Michael Astrue said. The program is being expanded today to include a total of 200 diseases and conditions.

Two-thirds of initial applications are rejected, according to the agency. If a benefit claim is rejected, you can appeal to an administrative law judge, but the hearing process takes an average of 354 days to get a decision. In 2008, it took an average of 509 days, according to agency statistics.

Alaska killer slashes wrists, dies in cell

A man who confessed to killing an Alaska barista and multiple other people across the country died in his jail cell after slashing one of his wrists and using bedding material to strangle himself, Alaska State Troopers said.

Keyes was awaiting a March trial in the death of Samantha Koenig, 18, whom authorities say he abducted in February from the Anchorage coffee stand where she worked, then sexually assaulted and strangled her.

He later dismembered the body.

After his arrest, Keyes confessed to killing Koenig and at least seven others.

Student shoots self in patrol car

A school district spokesman says a high school student who shot himself while handcuffed in the back of a patrol car after being taking into custody at his Houston-area campus had told a friend he might hurt himself.

Police say they’re investigating how the gun the student shot himself with wasn’t found before he was put in the vehicle Wednesday.

The unidentified student was conscious when taken to a hospital and was in critical but stable condition Wednesday evening.

Washington makes gay marriage legal

Gov. Chris Gregoire has signed into law a measure that legalizes same-sex marriage in Washington state, which now joins several other states that allow gay and lesbian couples to wed.

The law takes effect today, when gay and lesbian couples can start picking up their wedding certificates and licenses at county auditors’ offices. Because the state has a three-day waiting period, the earliest that weddings can take place is Sunday.

Man calls police on prostitute, arrested

Police in Maine say a man called them to complain a prostitute hadn’t given him his money’s worth – so they arrested him.

Police say New Hampshire resident Scott Pipher, 34, was arrested this week on charges of engaging a prostitute.

Police in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, say Pipher called them March 25 to complain a woman he’d hired “shorted him by 10 minutes.” Police say their investigation also led to the arrests of two women believed to be prostitutes contacted by Pipher through a website.

Detroit adds 4 to homicide total

Four people were found shot to death in a Detroit home, authorities said Wednesday, padding the city’s homicide total.

Officers discovered the bodies of a teenage boy, two men and woman Tuesday night at a home in an east-side neighborhood.

Investigators believed the killings were drug-related, police spokeswoman Yvette Walker said.

Detroit announced last week that homicides rose this year, reaching 354 through Thanksgiving after totaling 344 for all of 2011.

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