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Associated Press
Investigators gather Monday at the scene of a tour bus crash on Highway 38 east of Los Angeles. Seven passengers were killed.
Briefs

Bus driver blames brakes in fatal crash

– The bus full of tired tourists from Mexico was slowly winding its way down the mountain from the ski resort town of Big Bear when it suddenly picked up speed. The driver shouted to call 911 – the brakes had failed.

As passengers frantically tried to make phone calls, a group of teenage girls shrieked and prayed aloud as others cried and shielded their heads as they careened downhill.

The bus rear-ended a Saturn sedan, swerved, flipped and slid on its side. A Ford pickup in the oncoming lane plowed into it, righting the bus and tossing passengers out shattered windows before it came to a halt.

Seven people were killed and dozens injured Sunday evening in the accident 80 miles east of Los Angeles. On Monday, families from Tijuana anxiously sought loved ones in hospitals and investigators searched the scene for evidence and scrutinized the company’s safety history.

Nation

Obama hits road on guns

President Obama declared Monday on his first trip outside Washington to promote gun control that a consensus is emerging for universal background checks for purchasers, though he conceded a tough road lay ahead to pass an assault weapons ban over opposition in Congress.

“We should restore the ban on military-style assault weapons and a 10-round limit for magazines,” Obama said in a brief speech in Minneapolis. Such a ban “deserves a vote in Congress because weapons of war have no place on our streets or in our schools or threatening our law enforcement officers.”

Admitting the odds, he said, “We don’t have to agree on everything to agree it’s time to do something.”

Kerry steps into ‘heels’

New Secretary of State John Kerry reported for duty Monday, acknowledging that as Hillary Rodham Clinton’s successor he has “big heels to fill” and promising to protect U.S. foreign service workers from terrorist attacks overseas.

On his first day at the office in his new job, the former senator and 2004 Democratic presidential candidate was greeted with loud cheers. As the first man in the post in eight years, Kerry referred to his two most recent predecessors, Clinton and Condoleezza Rice, by asking in jest: “Can a man actually run the State Department?”

Pa. governor scrutinzed

Keeping a campaign promise, Pennsylvania’s new attorney general appointed a special deputy Monday to investigate Gov. Tom Corbett’s handling of the Penn State child sexual abuse case and why it took so long to bring charges against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who was sworn in last month as the first woman and first Democrat to be elected attorney general, said she would make the findings public “once the facts have been uncovered,” but she did not set a timeline for completing the probe.

Commuters’ cost tallied

The nation’s commuters are adapting to increasing traffic congestion by building delays into their schedules, but at a cost of $121 billion in wasted time and fuel, according to an annual study of national driving patterns released today.

The new report from the Texas A&M Transportation Institute found that Americans wasted an average of $818 each sitting in traffic in 2011.

On average, Americans allowed for an hour of driving time for a trip that would take 20 minutes without traffic. That added up to 5.5 billion additional hours that Americans spent in their cars during 2011.

World

Gas blamed in fatal blast

A buildup of gas in the basement of the headquarters of the national oil company caused a blast that killed 37 people and wounded dozens, Mexico’s attorney-general said.

Jesus Murillo Karam said an investigation by Mexican, Spanish, U.S. and British experts found no evidence of explosives in the blast that collapsed several lower floors of the Petroleos Mexicanos administrative building Thursday afternoon.

He said Monday the experts believe that an electrical fault had caused a spark that detonated the leaking gas.

Syria won’t strike Israel

Syria’s defense minister signaled Monday that his country won’t hit back at Israel over an airstrike inside Syria last week, claiming the Israeli raid was actually in retaliation for his regime’s offensive against rebels he called “tools” of the Jewish state.

The remarks suggest the regime’s military options might be severely constrained after 22 months of fighting an uprising that has depleted its weapons and stretched troops thin.

Israel has all but confirmed it was behind Wednesday’s airstrike, which U.S. officials said targeted a military research center and a convoy next to it that was carrying anti-aircraft weapons destined for the Islamic militant group Hezbollah in neighboring Lebanon.

Schoolgirl determined

In her first video statement since she was nearly killed, a Pakistani schoolgirl shot by the Taliban remained defiant in arguing for girls’ education, saying Monday she would keep up the same campaign that led to her attack.

Speaking clearly but with the left side of her face appearing rigid, 15-year-old Malala Yousufzai said she is “getting better, day by day” after undergoing weeks of treatment at a British hospital.

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