BC-IL--Illinois News Digest,ADVISORY, IL

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Associated Press

Posted on January 12, 2013 at 1:30 PM

Updated Saturday, Jan 12 at 1:30 PM

The supervisor is Jason Keyser.

If you have stories of regional or statewide interest, please email them to chifax(at)ap.org or fax them to the Chicago bureau at 312-781-1989. If you have photos of regional or statewide interest, please transmit them to AP's Chicago photo desk. If you have questions about the Illinois AP news report, please call the Chicago bureau supervisor at 800-572-2585 or 312-920-3626. For questions about the photo report, please call the Chicago photo editor at 888-276-3804.

ILLINOIS PENSIONS-CREDIT RATING

SPRINGFIELD — A major credit rating agency has soured on the economic forecast for Illinois after another failed attempt this week to rectify the $96 billion pension system deficit. Fitch Ratings announced Friday that it has relabeled Illinois' financial outlook to "negative" from "stable." The outlook does not affect Fitch's opinion of the state's credit worthiness, still listed as "A." That's two steps below the grade for the best-quality borrowers — sound, but reflective of a climate where state finances are vulnerable to economic changes. The announcement serves as an advance warning to Illinois that a downgrade could be on the horizon unless it resolves the gaping difference between its pension system's assets and what it will eventually owe state employee retirees. By John O'Connor.

2012 CROP-DROUGHT-ILLINOIS

ST. LOUIS — Illinois corn production plunged 34 percent last year as a severe drought cost the state bragging rights as the country's second-biggest grower of the grain, the federal government announced in its final crop report for 2012. The U.S. Department of Agriculture said that despite planting more corn acreage than during the previous two years, Illinois finished 2012 fourth among corn states, accounting for 1.29 billion bushels of the 10.79 billion reaped nationwide. Iowa still solidly led the pack with 1.87 billion bushels, followed by Minnesota's 1.37 billion and Nebraska's 1.29 billion, which was roughly 6 million more than Illinois. By Jim Suhr.

AP Photos ILSP101-105.

WITH:

—2012 CROP-DROUGHT, from DES MOINES, Iowa — For farmers like Earl Williams, last year couldn't have started out better or ended much worse as a warm, sunny spring that let him plant early gave way to record heat and drought that devastated his corn. Williams ended up with about two-thirds of the crop he expected, and a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Friday showed most corn farmers didn't fare much better. By David Pitt.

FLU ILLINOIS

CHICAGO — Illinois is among the 24 states across the nation hardest hit by the flu, but vaccine is still available in most locations, health officials said as they urged people to get their shots. Statewide, numbers of hospitalizations and deaths continued to surpass previous years and continued to climb. Illinois Department of Public Health spokeswoman Melaney Arnold said Friday that 368 people have been admitted to hospital intensive care units with the flu this season and 27 have died. Most of the Illinois hospitalizations and deaths were among people in their 50s and older. No children have died. Nationally, 20 children have died from the flu. By Carla K. Johnson.

WITH:

—MED-FLU SEASON, from NEW YORK: Flu is more widespread across the nation, but the number of hard-hit states has declined, health officials said Friday. Moving nationally.

JACKSON RESIGNATION

CHICAGO — The wife of former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr. announced Friday that she was resigning from the Chicago City Council, saying she could not adequately represent her district while dealing with "very painful health matters." Alderman Sandi Jackson, whose husband recently resigned from Congress while being treated for bipolar disorder and other medical issues, said in a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel that her resignation would be effective Tuesday. By Don Babwin.

AP Photos WX104-105, ILMG102-104.

LOTTERY WINNER POISONED

CHICAGO — A judge Friday granted prosecutors permission to exhume the body of a Chicago lottery winner who was fatally poisoned with cyanide just as he was about to collect his $425,000 payout. Authorities want to do a fuller autopsy on Urooj Khan to confirm earlier but less-thorough toxicology tests, as well as to rule out that natural causes contributed to the 46-year-old's sudden death, according to documents filed with the motion for an exhumation. Facing dozens of reporters and TV cameras crowded around her outside court after a judge signed off on the request, Khan's sister said the thought of her brother's body being unearthed and reexamined was disturbing — but that the procedure was essential. By Michael Tarm.

AP Photos CX101-102, ILCHS501.

BOEING 787-FAA

WASHINGTON — The government stepped in to assure the public that Boeing's new 787 "Dreamliner" is safe to fly, even as it launched a comprehensive review to find out what caused a fire, a fuel leak and other worrisome incidents this week. Despite the incidents, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood declared, "I believe this plane is safe, and I would have absolutely no reservations about boarding one of these planes and taking a flight." Administrator Michael Huerta of the Federal Aviation Administration said his agency has seen no data suggesting the plane isn't safe but wanted the review to find out why safety-related incidents were occurring. The 787 is the aircraft maker's newest and most technologically advanced airliner, and the company is counting heavily on its success. By Joan Lowy and Joshua Freed.

AP Photos NY110, WX111, DCSW5, DCSW107-108, DCSW111-112, ALHUT201-202.

WITH:

—BOEING-787-Q&A, from NEW YORK: Boeing's Dreamliner has had a nightmare of a week, capped off Friday with a decision by the Federal Aviation Administration to review everything from the design to manufacturing of the new airplane. Here's a list of questions and answers about the 787 and the issues that led to the FAA's action Friday.

—BOEING-UTAH, from SALT LAKE CITY: Aircraft maker Boeing Co. announced it will expand manufacturing operations in Utah by opening a third factory in the Salt Lake City area to fabricate a tail piece for the Boeing 787. AP Photos UTSAC302, USASC305.

ALSO MOVING:

—2nd DISTRICT-VOTERS ABROAD, from CHICAGO: e U.S. Justice Department has reached an agreement with Illinois on steps to ensure military and other Americans living abroad will get ballots in time to vote for replacement for former U.S. Rep. Jesse Jackson, Jr.

—FRAUD-ACCOUNTANT ACCUSED, from BENTON: A southeastern Illinois accountant faces a 40-count federal indictment alleging that he stole more than $1.5 million from an elderly client and used the money on personal expenses.

—ESTRANGED WIFE TARGETED, from BENTON: A southern Illinois man who tried unsuccessfully to kill his estranged wife in a fire has been found unfit to stand trial.

—PEORIA-BOTSWANA, from PEORIA: The mayor of Peoria and other local officials are planning a trip to Africa this February.

—ASSISTED LIVING-THEFTS, from WHEATON: A 40-month prison sentence has been handed a suburban Chicago woman who pleaded guilty to a charge of financial exploitation of an elderly person.

—TOULON-MISSING BABY, from GALESBURG: A northern Illinois woman has pleaded guilty to charges she left her baby in a roadside ditch and told police the child was abducted.

—FBN-BEARS-COACHING SEARCH, from CHICAGO: Longtime NFL assistant and current CFL coach Marc Trestman is denying a rumor that the Chicago Bears are set to hire him.

—EAST ST. LOUIS PARK-BODY, from EAST ST. LOUIS: Illinois State Police are investigating the death of a man whose body was found in a park near East St. Louis.

—ADM-EXPLOSION, from PEORIA: Archer Daniels Midland has restarted operations at a corn processing plant Illinois two days after an explosion forced the facility's closure.

SPORTS:

BKN-BULLS-KNICKS

NEW YORK — Luol Deng scored a season-high 33 points in the Chicago Bulls' third victory over New York this season, a 108-101 win that sent the Knicks to their season-high third straight loss. Topping the 29 points he scored here last month, Deng shot 13 of 18 from the field and also led the defensive effort that contained Carmelo Anthony in the decisive first half of his return from a one-game suspension. Carlos Boozer added 17 points for the Bulls, whose offense won't be at full strength until Derrick Rose is back from knee surgery, yet they still shot 57 percent. By Basketball Writer Brian Mahoney.

AP Photos NYBK101, NYBK104-106.

BKC-T25-ILLINOIS-BADGER TEST

CHAMPAIGN — Among the things John Groce has preached to his Illinois team is the need to keep their emotions under control. Never get too high with a win or too low with a loss. The home loss to No. 8 Minnesota this week could prove to be a test of just how well the 12th-ranked Illini have listened. The 84-67 loss followed a 74-55 blowout win over then-No. 8 Ohio State, a split almost any team would take. But the loss also left Illinois losers of three of its last five. Maybe worse, Illinois couldn't pin the loss to Minnesota on a lack of effort or toughness. By David Mercer.

AP Photos ILCHN205, ILRO106, WIAM105, WIAM109.

WITH:

—BKC-WRIGHT ST.-LOYOLA OF CHICAGO, from CHICAGO: Wright State defeats Loyola of Chicago 62-61.

BBO-EPSTEIN-CHERINGTON

BOSTON — Cubs president of baseball operations Theo Epstein says he understands the ballclub's culture better now than he did when he first arrived in Chicago. "I think we all recognized we had a building process. We've been transparent about that," he said on Friday night before a charity event at Fenway Park. "At the same time, we realize that every season is precious. Everyone wants to win. It kind of reminds me of my first year in Boston. ... When we first got here, there was the burden of the 'curse.'" By Jimmy Golen.

ILLINOIS SPOTLIGHTS:

NERD TO COMBAT ENGINEER

DECATUR — In the space of a New York minute, Benjamin Little went from self-confessed "Decatur scholastic bowl nerd" to highly trained Army officer hunting roadside bombs in Afghanistan. All right, it took more than a minute, but the transformation of the 24-year-old, who only graduated from St. Teresa High School in 2006, was remarkably fast and involved New York's West Point Military Academy. Now, armed with a military education and a degree in mechanical engineering, 1st Lt. Little knows how to orchestrate battlefields and combat zones so the answers are more likely to come out in Uncle Sam's favor. Tony Reid. (Decatur) Herald & Review.

AP Photos ILDEC301-302.

TREE FARM

TROWBRIDGE — If it hadn't been for one man's love of bringing deer to his property, a family's business never would have made it off the ground. However after more than 40 years in the business the Helm family is ready to rest. Helm's Tree Farm sold its first tree off the 30-acre farm in 1971 at 50 cents per foot, but the trees weren't originally planted with commercial intentions. Tom Helm Sr. planted about 10,000 firs in 1967 to help eliminate erosion on his land and to attract deer onto his property, where he and his wife Wanda Helm created hunting blinds. After the trees grew for several years a family friend suggested the couple should sell some of the trees, and while Tom Sr. wasn't initially fond of the idea the first Christmas tree left the farm in 1971. By KAYLEIGH ZYSKOWSKI. Journal Gazette & Times-Courier.

AP Photo ILMAT301

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