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Scooter ads face government scrutiny

Washington • TV ads show smiling seniors enjoying an "active" lifestyle on a motorized scooter, taking in the sights at the Grand Canyon, fishing on a pier and high-fiving their grandchildren at a baseball game.

The commercials, which promise freedom and independence to people with limited mobility, have driven the nearly $1 billion U.S. market for power wheelchairs and scooters. But the spots by the industry's two leading companies, The Scooter Store and Hoveround, also have drawn scrutiny from critics who say they convince some seniors that they need a scooter to get around when many don't.

Government inspectors say up to 80 percent of the scooters and power wheelchairs Medicare buys go to people who don't meet the requirements. And doctors say more than money is at stake: Seniors who use scooters unnecessarily can become sedentary, which can exacerbate obesity and other disorders.

"Patients have been brainwashed by The Scooter Store," says Barbara Messinger-Rapport, director of geriatric medicine at the Cleveland Clinic.

Boston mayor won't seek re-election

Boston • Boston Mayor Thomas Menino has announced he won't seek re-election to an unprecedented sixth term after nearly two decades in office.

Menino told well-wishers gathered at Boston's historic Faneuil Hall Thursday afternoon that "I will leave the job that I love."

Menino's announcement came in the wake of persistent health problems including a six-week hospital state last year to treat a respiratory infection and a compression fracture in his spine. He says, "I'm back to a mayor's schedule, but not a Menino schedule."

His decision not to run is expected to spark a political stampede to fill the coveted seat.

Police hunt 2 men after girl's abduction

Los Angeles • More than 20 Los Angeles police detectives are hunting for two men who grabbed a 10-year-old girl from her San Fernando Valley bedroom before dawn Wednesday and held her for nearly 12 hours.

Police Cmdr. Andrew Smith asked for the public's help in finding the men Thursday, saying investigators believe the men took the girl to several locations in different cars before dropping her off at a hospital six miles from her home.

One man is described as an 18-year-old white male and police have no description of the other man.

The girl's parents reported her missing just before 4 a.m. Wednesday and she was found when someone who recognized her from media reports spotted her outside a Starbucks shop and summoned nearby officers.

Solar plane plans trip across U.S.

Mountain View, Calif. • A solar-powered plane that has wowed aviation fans in Europe is set to travel across the United States with stops in Phoenix, Dallas, Washington, D.C., and New York, organizers of the trip announced Thursday.

The plane, Solar Impulse, is expected to be ready to leave from NASA Ames Research Center in Mountain View, Calif. on May 1, although the actual departure will depend on the weather, the plane's Swiss creators said at a news conference at the NASA center.

Solar Impulse, considered the world's most advanced solar-powered plane, will stop for seven to 10 days at major airports in each city, so the pilots can display and discuss the aircraft with reporters, students, engineers and aviation fans. It plans to reach New York's Kennedy Airport in early July — without using a drop of fuel, its creators said.

The Solar Impulse is powered by about 12,000 photovoltaic cells that cover massive wings and charge its batteries, allowing it to fly day and night without jet fuel. It has the wing span of a commercial airplane but the weight of the average family car, making it vulnerable to bad weather.

Its creators say the Solar Impulse is designed to showcase the potential of solar power and will never replace fuel-powered commercial flights. The delicate, single-seat plane cruises around 40 miles per hour and can't fly through clouds.

HIV test urged for 7,000 dental patients

Tulsa, Okla. • Health officials on Thursday urged thousands of patients of an Oklahoma oral surgeon to undergo hepatitis and HIV testing, saying unsanitary conditions behind his office's spiffy facade posed a threat to his clients and made him a "menace to the public health."

State and county health inspectors went to W. Scott Harrington's practice after a patient with no known risk factors tested positive for both hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS. They found employees using dirty equipment, reusing drug vials and administering drugs without a license.

Harrington voluntarily gave up his license and closed his offices in Tulsa and suburban Owasso and is cooperating with investigators, said a spokesman for the Tulsa Health Department.

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