by Sarah See

Computer-assisted reporting was used in a story by msnbc.com about the I-35W bridge collapse in Minneapolis that revealed holes in federal data.

The records used to produce the story were from the National Bridge Inventory, the Federal Highway Administration, federal audits of the bridge inspection process, pitches from vendors of safety equipment, and inquiries from members of Congress.

The analysis used to produce the story was made by msnbc.com applying the Freedom of Information Act and receiving about 500 internal e-mails from officials when the investigative reporter requested information.

The computer skills that the reporter needed to do this reporting include knowledge of how to search and find the necessary records, reports, documents, etc., along with who and what types of sources to contact.

Moreover, the story shows that the reporter searched through many state records, especially those concerning federal funding and bridge data, in order to write about the specific problems in certain states.

The reporter must have had to go through the hundreds of e-mails that were released to compile them as .pdf files, so they could be posted on msnbc.com for the public to read and gain more information on the issue.

Five killed in helicopter crash near Las Vegas

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by Sarah See

A pilot and four passengers on a tour of the Las Vegas Strip and Hoover Dam were killed Wednesday evening in a helicopter crash, according to federal authorities.

The aircraft slammed into a mountainside about 4.5 miles west of Southern Nevada Water Authority around 5 p.m., National Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz said.

Numerous witnesses heard the crash and reported seeing smoke near the edge of Lake Mead, Munoz said.

Recovery and investigative teams headed to the scene, a remote site in the River Mountains of Lake Mead Recreational Park, about 30 miles east from the Las Vegas Strip, according to CNN and the Associated Press.

The initial rescue was slowed and later delayed by officials until early Thursday, due to inaccessibility to the area by road, according to the Associated Press.

All five people on board were confirmed dead by the Las Vegas police search and rescue team, which reached the scene by helicopter, Munoz said.

No information about the victims' identities was released by authorities, according to the Associated Press.

The Sundance Helicopters aircraft crashed under unknown circumstances, Federal Aviation Administration spokesman Ian Gregor said to CNN.

There were no notable weather conditions that might have caused the accident, Munoz said.

A 12-member team will investigate the crash, according to the National Transportation Board.

Sundance Helicopters has been in business since 1985 and has had previous accidents, according to state records.

Digital billboards to warn for snow emergencies

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by Sarah See

Digital billboards will warn drivers when a snow emergency is in effect in Minneapolis, according to the Star Tribune and Associated Press Wednesday.

Mayor R.T. Rybak and Clear Channel Outdoor officials announced plans for 12 digital billboards around the city to display messages for drivers to sign up for free alerts and to move their vehicles out of the way of the plows, according to the Star Tribune.

Ads will be replaced with alerts when a snow emergency is declared, and drivers are encouraged to call the hotline to find out where to park, according to the Associated Press.

"We already have many creative ways of informing residents and visitors about Snow Emergencies, and thanks to Clear Channel Outdoor, we have a great new one," Mayor R.T. Rybak said. "This partnership will help the City do its job of clearing the streets and keeping people safe during a Snow Emergency, and will help drivers keep money in their wallets by keeping their cars from being towed."

According to the news sources, the billboards are a new addition to the tools already in place that notify residents when the city is under a snow emergency: text and e-mail alerts, automated phone calls, a Snow Emergency hotline, Facebook, Twitter, and the City's website.

"With these digital billboards we have just about every method of reaching people except for skywriting or carrier pigeons," Council Member Sandy Colvin Roy said. "Our Snow Emergency Twitter account is the eighth most followed for a local government in the nation. When it comes to creative communication, Minneapolis excels."

The billboards are intended to help drivers avoid getting towed, according to the Associated Press.

The billboards "will be seen by more than 1 million people throughout the community each day during those designated snow emergencies," Clear Channel Outdoor branch president Susan Adams said.

Third body found in Yosemite is identified

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by Sarah See

The third body found in Yosemite National Park has been identified as a woman, the last of three hikers swept over a waterfall in July, according to CNN and the Associated Press Tuesday.

The body of missing 21-year-old Ramina Badal was recovered in the Merced River and identified through dental records and other means, park officials said.

The bodies of the other two hikers were previously identified, according to CNN.

Badal hiked the popular Mist Trail to the top of the 317-foot Vernal Fall with friends from church, and they stopped to pose for photos, according to the Associated Press.

Witnesses said the two men and one woman climbed over the guardrail at the top of the trail and were quickly swept over into the river of the waterfall, according to CNN.

Badal, of Manteca, Calif., was with Hormiz David, 22, of Modesto, Calif., and Ninos Yacoub, 27, of Turlock, Calif., when they disappeared, according to CNN.

David's body was discovered about 240 feet from the base of the waterfall in August, according to both news reports.

Yacoub's body was located about half a mile below the base of the waterfall on November 29, park officials said.

Badal's body was found Saturday, days after searchers spotted Yacoub's body, park officials said.

Park rangers had stepped up search efforts in recent weeks as the water flow slowed and snow stayed at bay, according to the Associated Press.

Worker dies in gravel pit accident

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by Sarah See

A worker was killed Thursday morning in an industrial accident in Milaca, Minn., according to CBS Minnesota.

Scott Armstrong, 41, of rural Swanville was killed while working on a large gravel conveyor belt system that was to be moved, according to the Mille Lacs County sheriff's office.

Armstrong was struck in the head by a large wheel while working as a crushing operator at a Knife River Construction Company gravel pit, authorities said.

Armstrong was pronounced dead, and a medical examiner will determine the exact cause of death, according to WCCO-TV.

Authorities are investigating the fatal incident, according to the Associated Press.

The construction company plans to turn the investigation over to the Mine Safety Health Administration, a Knife River spokeswoman said to the St. Cloud Times.

Boat capsizes off Dominican coast

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by Sarah See

A boat carrying about 100 migrants capsized off the Dominican Republic's coast, authorities said Monday.

Only three bodies have been found near the site, and authorities believe at least 15 people are missing, Civil Defense officials told CNN.

Others survived, but none have spoken publicly for fear of repercussions from law enforcement, officials said.

The boat sank early Sunday when it was going to Puerto Rico, according to GEV.com.

Search teams have been looking for the missing passengers near Nagua, a northern coastal city in the Dominican Republic, Rep. Jose Luis Cosme said.

It is "a scene of anguish," Cosme said, as family members await word about their loved ones.

Rescue workers stopped searching Monday, due to bad weather and rising tides, but helicopters continued searching the waters from the air, according to both news sources.

The Dominican Navy will continue searching for survivors, according to GEV.com.

Forecasters predicted stormy conditions before the boat set sail, according to the news sources.

Boats packed with immigrants have been a common sight in the past near Nagua, about 200 miles from Puerto Rico, according to CNN and GEV.com.

Although illegal, immigrants have been willing to sail in any weather because Puerto Rico is so close, Cosme said.

Teen killed in hunting accident

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by Sarah See

A 15-year-old boy died Monday afternoon after accidentally shooting himself in a deer tree stand near his home in east-central Minnesota, authorities said.

Jeremiah D. Scofield, 15, suffered a fatal gunshot wound to the upper inner part of one of his legs, while trying to take off his jacket with the gun between his legs, in Brunswick Township, according to the Kanabec County Sheriff's Office.

Scofield, a Mora High School sophomore, was pronounced dead at the scene, according to the Star Tribune and Pioneer Press.

Scofield was the fourth hunter to die since Saturday, the opening weekend of Minnesota's firearms deer season, according to both news reports.

Of the three other hunters, one died of natural causes and did not fall from his tree stand as initially suspected; one died after his clothing caught fire while lighting a propane heater and falling from his tree stand; and one died after shooting himself when he fell from his tree stand and his gun discharged, according to the Pioneer Press.

Body of missing man found in lake

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by Sarah See

The body of a Blaine man was found Tuesday morning in Rice Lake after he was reported missing last week, according to the Pioneer Press and Star Tribune.

The man, whose identity will not be released until relatives are notified, was reported missing to Blaine police Friday, according to the news reports.

His vehicle was found Monday afternoon at Trappers Bar and Grill in Lino Lakes, located on the shore of Rice Lake, according to the Pioneer Press.

His body was found by an aerial search and rescue team after the area was searched Monday and again Tuesday morning by Anoka County authorities, Lino Lakes and Blaine police and volunteers, according to the Star Tribune.

Foul play is not suspected, and "law enforcement is not pursuing any suspect(s) at this time," the Anoka County Sheriff's Office said in a news release.

A cause of death has not been released, according to the Anoka County Sheriff's Office.

The Midwest Medical Examiner's Office is investigating the death, according to the Star Tribune.

Drugs seized in smuggling ring, 70 arrested in Arizona

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by Sarah See

At least 70 suspected drug smugglers with alleged ties to a Mexican cartel's distribution network were arrested by authorities in Arizona, according to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Monday.

U.S. and Mexican suspects in the massive take-down of the drug trafficking network allegedly smuggled more than 330 tons of illegal narcotics a year, according to CNN.

The organization, responsible for smuggling more than $33 million worth of drugs a month, is believed to be tied to the Sinaloa cartel, Mexico's most powerful ring, according to the Associated Press.

The ring used a variety of sophisticated techniques to move drugs by air and ground transportation from the Arizona-Mexico border to a network of "stash" houses in the Phoenix area, which sold the drugs to distributors nationwide, law enforcement officials said.

The ring also used backpackers and vehicles to move drugs, operating from cells based in the Chandler, Stanfield and Maricopa communities, officials said.

Smuggling routes along an 80-mile section of the border were virtually monopolized by the ring, authorities said.

More than 20 federal, state and local law enforcement agencies were involved in a 17-month investigation called Operation Pipeline Express, according to CNN.

Thousands of pounds of marijuana, cocaine and heroin and more than 100 weapons were seized in a series of raids by officials, according to CNN.

The ring has generated an estimated $2 billion from more than 3.3 million pounds of marijuana, 20,000 pounds of cocaine and 10,000 pounds of heroin over the past five years, according to ICE.

Authorities are continuing to search for more suspects, according to CNN.

All who are arrested will be prosecuted by Arizona state officials, authorities said.

Tibetan nun burns to death in China

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by Sarah See

A Buddhist nun died Thursday after setting herself on fire in southwest China, according to CNN and the Associated Press.

The nun, identified as Qiu Xiang, 35, is the second nun and 11th Tibetan to self-immolate since March, according to the news reports.

Xiang set herself on fire at a road crossing in Dawu County, in the Ganzi region of Sichuan Province, according to the official state-run Xinhua News Agency.

Her death was reported by Xinhua and confirmed by exile groups, according to CNN.

It was unclear why the woman killed herself. Tibetan campaign groups say it was in protest against Chinese rule, but China's Ministry of Foreign Affairs claims the incident is related to "pro-Tibetan independence forces" overseas, according to CNN.

The local government was investigating, Xinhua said.

Xiang, whose Tibetan name was Palden Choetso, called for freedom and the Dalai Lama's return from exile when she was burning, according to the International Campaign for Tibet (ICT).

Xiang's body was taken by fellow nuns to the Ganden Choeling nunnery in Tawu, the ICT said.

The nine men and one woman, aged in their late teens and twenties, who set themselves on fire since March, were seen as acting in protest to Chinese restrictions on the Tibetan religion and culture, according to the Associated Press.

At least six died of injuries, while the conditions of the others are unknown, according to the Associated Press.

China rejects accusations of oppressing Tibetans, saying it has greatly improved the people's living standards, according to CNN.