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This Hour: Latest Alabama news, sports, business and entertainment

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53 die in Alabama fires in first 3 months of 2014

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Authorities say 53 people were killed in Alabama fires in the first three months of 2014, putting the state near the top nationwide in the number of deadly blazes. reports that Jefferson County recorded the highest toll among Alabama counties at 13, with eight of those in the city of Birmingham.

The number is far ahead of what the state typically sees this early in the year. Alabama State Fire Marshal Ed Paulk said 81 people died in Alabama fires during all of last year.

Birmingham Fire and Rescue Battalion Chief C.W. Mardis calls the number of deaths this year alarming. He said the city has seen an average of about eight blazes or less each year during the past decade.


Auburn resuming classes after threat

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) - Auburn University students are going back to class after an alleged threat prompted a campus-wide shut down.

University spokesman Mike Clardy says classes are being held as normal on Thursday, and employees will be back at work. Dining locations and other facilities are also getting back to normal.

Auburn called off classes Wednesday over a message found in a campus restroom threatening violence on the anniversary of the massacre at Virginia Tech University.

The threat spread through social media, prompting the shutdown on a campus with more than 25,000 students.

Clardy says officials are treating the threat as genuine, and an investigation is continuing.

University police don't believe the alleged threat represented any danger, but the spokesman says the school increased security and suspended operations out of caution.


Japanese firm to open production plant in Alabama

VANCE, Ala. (AP) - A Japanese automotive supplier is planning to open a new production plant in Tuscaloosa County, the latest addition to the area's growing automotive industry.

Toyota Boshoku America this week announced that it will open the new plant next year in an industrial park near Mercedes-Benz U.S. International in Vance.

The Tuscaloosa News reports that the company will make parts for a new model that Mercedes-Benz will add to its production lineup in Vance in 2015.

That new model has not been unveiled but has been described by Mercedes executives as a smaller, sportier sports utility vehicle.

Shigetoshi Miyoshi, chairman of Toyota Boshoku America Inc., said his company will make an interior component for the new Mercedes model and that the plant will have 36 highly skilled employees.


Vitamin firm plans expansion at Alabama plant

OPELIKA, Ala. (AP) - A vitamin company is planning to expand its operations in Opelika in a move that's expected to bring more than 50 new jobs to the eastern Alabama community over three years.

The Opelika City Council this week approved a 10-year tax abatement to Pharmavite for its $21.6 million expansion. The expansion plan also includes new machinery and other equipment.

The Opelika-Auburn News reports that Pharmavite opened its Opelika plant in January 2013, where they now employ 245 people.

Northridge, Calif.-based Pharmavite is one of the nation's largest producers of vitamins, minerals and dietary supplements.


Man gets 20 years for robberies in Jackson Co.

PASCAGOULA, Miss. (AP) - Mississippi officials say an Alabama man will spend 20 years in prison for the December 2011 armed robberies of two checking cashing businesses, one in Moss Point and the other in Pascagoula.

Jackson County Assistant District Attorney Cherie Wade tells The Sun Herald 31-year-old Robert Lee Stone, of Mobile, Ala., pleaded guilty to two charges of armed robbery Wednesday. Senior Circuit Judge Kathy King Jackson also ordered him to pay a $2,000 fine, $100 to the Crime Victims Compensation Fund and restitution to the victims.

Wade says Stone entered the businesses with a firearm and demanded cash, then fled.


Ex-US Attorney heads Gulf spill claims audit panel

NEW ORLEANS (AP) - A former U.S. attorney in Baton Rouge heads up a new three-member audit panel appointed to review the settlement program arising from the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Raymond Lamonica, now a law professor at LSU, was appointed Wednesday by the federal judge overseeing litigation that followed the spill. Also named to the panel were accountant Lloyd Tate and LSU accounting professor Larry Crumbley.

The panel was appointed in response to a motion by claims administrator Patrick Juneau's office. The panel will review the work of a firm hired to do an audit of the claims process. It also will make recommendations for a quality control system aimed at preventing errors in paying claims from a property damage and economic loss settlement.


Alabama joins 3 states in US 80 yard sale

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) - Alabama towns along U.S. 80 will be participating in a massive yard sale Friday and Saturday that also stretches across Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas.

Alabama has joined those Southern states in the Historic U.S. 80 Hi-Way Sale. The director of the Alabama Rural Development Office, Ron Sparks, says the yard sale that Alabama has had the last two years along U.S. 80 is being combined with the other states. He said the towns participating include Phenix City, Tuskegee, Selma, Uniontown, Demopolis and Livingston.

The Historic U.S. 80 Hi-Way Sale is traditionally held the third weekend in April.

A list of vendors and sites in Alabama is available at


2 students to represent state in auto contest

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Two students from Winston County will represent Alabama in the national finals of a competition for aspiring auto technicians. reports that Johnathan Tidwell and Trent Williams, of the Winston County Technology Center, took top honors this week in a field of 20 juniors and seniors from 10 Alabama schools at the Ford/AAA Auto Skills competition in Birmingham.

The two Alabama students will compete to be named "America's Next Top Auto Technicians" at the national finals in June at Ford Motor Co.'s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich.

The students were timed while they correctly identified and fixed problems on identical 2014 Ford vehicles. Once finished, the teams had to drive their assigned vehicle across the finish line, getting marks for accuracy, workmanship and performance on online qualifying exams.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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