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AP Top News at 2:42 p.m. EDT

'Number of fatalities' in Texas balloon crash; toll unclear
LOCKHART, Texas (AP) - A hot air balloon carrying at least 16 people caught on fire and crashed in Central Texas on Saturday, causing what authorities described as a "significant loss of life." Erik Grosof with the National Transportation Safety Board would not provide an exact number of how many people died. The crash happened at about 7:40 a.m. in a pasture near Lockhart, and Lynn Lunsford with the Federal Aviation Administration said earlier that the balloon was carrying at least 16 people. Authorities have not said where the hot air balloon was based out of or which company was flying it, though Caldwell County Sheriff Daniel C.


For 8 summer nights, 2 starkly different visions of America
WASHINGTON (AP) - For eight summer nights, there were two starkly different visions of America. At Donald Trump's Republican convention, America was a nation spiraling into chaos and economic ruin. Immigrants were cast as criminals, or in some cases, potential terrorists. The government is rigged for the wealthy and powerful, almost past the point of repair. "I alone can fix it," Trump said as he accepted the GOP nomination in Cleveland. The Democratic convention in Philadelphia was a four-day rebuttal. "America needs every one of us to lend our energy, our talents, our ambition to making our nation better and stronger," Hillary Clinton said as she became the first woman to lead a major U.S.


Trump, Clinton spar for national security upper hand
WASHINGTON (AP) - In their struggle for the upper hand on national security, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are emphasizing strikingly different themes - he as the bold and cunningly unpredictable strongman who will eliminate terrorism; she as the calm, conventional commander in chief who will manage all manner of crises. Terrorism is Trump's national security touchstone, and the Islamic State group is his target. He promises to wipe it out, and quickly. Clinton accuses him of fearmongering and of denigrating the U.S. military as gutted and worn out. She presents herself as the anti-Trump. "America's strength doesn't come from lashing out," she said in accepting the Democratic nomination Thursday.


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States' flag-burning laws unconstitutional, but persist
URBANA, Ill. (AP) - Champaign County State's Attorney Julia Rietz had just finished walking in a July 4th parade when her assistant told her a central Illinois man had been arrested on suspicion of burning an American flag. Rietz said she knew "immediately" that the Urbana Police Department needed to release Bryton Mellott, who posted a video of the act on Facebook and whom police initially said they arrested to protect from threats. The state law used to jail him, though clear in its prohibition of desecrating either the U.S. or state flags, is unconstitutional. An Associated Press analysis shows at least 40 states still have flag-desecration laws, punishing those who burn or otherwise damage U.S.


John Hinckley's return to normalcy has been years in making
WILLIAMSBURG, Va. (AP) - Life for the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan 35 years ago has progressively become more normal, with greater freedom outside a psychiatric hospital, and perhaps nowhere is this more evident than the record store where he whiles away so many hours. John Hinckley Jr., now 61, has made purchases at Retro Daddio one might expect from a man of his generation: A book about The Who, the graying rock band currently on a farewell tour, and an album by obscure '60s rockers Ian and the Zodiacs that languished on the shelf for six months.


Former KKK member convicted in deadly bombing up for parole
BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) - Thomas Edwin Blanton Jr. was a young Ku Klux Klansman with a reputation for hating blacks in 1963, when a bomb ripped a hole in the side of 16th Street Baptist Church, killing four black girls during the civil rights movement. Today, Blanton is old and imprisoned, the last survivor among three one-time KKK members convicted of murder in the bombing. Soon, Alabama's parole board will decide whether Blanton deserves to be free after serving 15 years of a life term for murder. The board has scheduled a hearing for Wednesday to consider parole for the 78-year-old Blanton.


3 dead, 1 hurt in shooting near Seattle; suspect in custody
SEATTLE (AP) - A gunman attacked a gathering of young adults at a suburban Seattle home early Saturday, killing two people at a fire pit before firing more shots from the roof, the grandmother of one of the witnesses said. Three people were killed and another injured at the Mukilteo property. State troopers pulled over and arrested the fleeing suspect on an interstate three counties away, authorities said. "She was hiding in the closet and called me from the closet while it was going on," Susan Gemmer said of her 18-year-old granddaughter, Alexis. "We were texting back and forth, telling her to stay quiet, stay calm, we're on our way.


Gaza's Hamas hands out land hoping to avoid financial crisis
KHAN YOUNIS, Gaza Strip (AP) - Earth movers dig into sand dunes on land where once Jewish settlements stood - prime real estate that the Gaza Strip's ruling Hamas group hopes will ease its worsening financial crisis. Hamas has begun handing out plots of the land to 40,000 civil servants loyal to the Islamic militant group, to make up for millions of dollars in salaries it owes them for the past two years. The land giveaway is the latest sign that Hamas is struggling financially after almost a decade of uncontested power in the coastal strip. Gazans grumble about lack of jobs, constant electricity shortages and a blockade imposed by Israel and Egypt that has confined the territory's 1.8 million people to the tiny strip.


Skydiver makes final preparations to jump without parachute
LOS ANGELES (AP) - Skydiver Luke Aikins figures his next leap into thin air will start pretty much like the thousands that preceded it, only with one small but significant difference: This time when he steps out of the plane at 25,000 feet he won't take his parachute with him. If all goes according to plan, he will land two minutes later in a trawler-like fishing net 20 stories above the ground and only about a third the size of a football field. If he can pull it off, he will put his name in the history books as the only skydiver to go from plane to planet Earth without a parachute.

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