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The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has referred to the FBI the case of the laboratory where one of five vials of a deadly Venezuelan virus went missing, an official from the CDC told ABCNews.com.

"CDC reported the incident to the FBI and we understand that the FBI will initiate an investigation concerning the reported incident," Dr. Rob Weyant, director of the CDC's Division of Select Agents and Toxins, told ABCNews.com in an email. "Since the investigation is just underway, the agency will not comment further regarding details of this incident."

The FBI would not confirm it was investigating the incident at the Galveston National Laboratory.

"The FBI does not confirm nor deny the existence of investigations" as a matter of policy, said Shauna A. Dunlap, a media coordinator for the FBI Houston Division.

A lab spokesman said he did not think the FBI was investigating, but rather that the FBI was monitoring the lab's ongoing investigation.

The CDC can make a referral to the FBI if it finds "possible violations involving criminal negligence or a suspicious activity or person to the FBI for further investigation," according to 2007 congressional testimony from Dr. Richard Besser, who directed the CDC's Coordinating Office for Terrorism Preparedness and Emergency Response at the time. He is now ABC News' chief health and medical editor.

The biolab realized the vial went missing on March 21 because it was preparing for its annual CDC inspection for the week of March 25, Weyant said. Prior to the inspection, the CDC visited in January 2012.

The last time the vial was used was November 2012, University of Texas Medical Branch spokesman Raul Reyes told ABCNews.com. The University of Texas Medical Branch owns the $174 million biolab, which was designed with the strictest security measures to hold the deadliest viruses in the country.

Only one scientist worked with the virus, and Reyes said the lab suspects that scientist accidentally threw the vial away in November.

"We have determined, and the CDC has agreed, that this never was a public health risk," Reyes told ABCNews.com, adding that people who accessed the lab underwent intense background checks and had to go through many layers of security each day.

"If a bad person were intent on weaponizing this type of virus," Reyes said, "it would be much simpler to fly down to Venezuela, go into the field and collect a specimen."

Violation of the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act of 2002 can result in up to five years imprisonment, up to a $250,000 penalty for an individual or up to $500,000 for a group, Weyant said.

"As of March 26, 2013, CDC has referred 18 entities to the HHS inspector general for failure to comply with the select agent regulations resulting in over $2 million in monetary penalties," Weyant said.

Like Ebola, the missing Guanarito virus causes hemorrhagic fever, which involves "bleeding under the skin, in internal organs or from body orifices like the mouth, eyes, or ears," according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"This is clearly an incident that is very discomforting and embarrassing to the University of Texas Medical Center and their national biosecurity lab that they have there," said Dr. William Schaffner, chairman of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tenn. "You can be sure there are a lot of sweating people down the chain at that institution."

Fortunately, losing a vial of Guanarito is not as threatening as losing a vial of anthrax, said Schaffner, a former president of the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. The virus could theoretically spread between humans, but it usually only spreads between rodents in Venezuela.

Researchers don't believe the virus can survive in rodents in the U.S., according to a statement from David Callender, president of the University of Texas Medical Branch.

Still, the virus has caused "at least several hundred cases" of human disease in regions where it is common, said NIH's director of the Office of Biodefense Research Affairs, Michael Kurilla.

"The mortality is anywhere from at least 10 to 20 percent or slightly more," Kurilla told ABCNews.com, adding that there is no treatment or cure for Guanarito. "That is considered very, very severe if you have a 1 in 5 chance of dying without anything to do for the person other than provide supportive hospital care."

Kurilla said the Galveston biolab requires the most stringent safety measures because it studies biosafetly level BSL-4 materials, or dangerous infectious diseases that have no vaccines or cures. BSL-4 materials include Guanarit, Ebola and smallpox.

The Galveston researchers were conducting a routine inspection on March 20 and 21 when they noticed there were only four Guanarito vials instead of five. They announced the lapse on March 23.

The university does not believe this was the result of a security breach or any wrongdoing, but it notified the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

All solid waste in BSL-4 labs is typically disposed of via a pressurized heating process that destroys hazardous materials without allowing the liquid to boil away, Kurilla said. As such, it's unlikely that investigators will be able to determine and prove whether this is what actually happened to the vial.

It's possible investigators will find the clerical error that led to the accidental disposal, but with computerized record keeping, it's less likely that vial numbers were transposed and the error can be easily traced, Kurilla said.

Schaffner agreed.

"I suspect that they may not ever be able to account for it if it was that kind of human error," Schaffner said. "This is a record-keeping issue, which means it was a human issue, which means doing that kind of tedious, important work, there was just a momentary slip up."
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St. Louis area diners can participate in Panera's "pay-what-you-want" program, no matter which Bread Company restaurant they visit.

Three years after launching the first of five pay-what-you-want cafes, the St. Louis County-based chain will begin offering one pay-what-you-want dish in each of it's 48 restaurants. The experimental "Meal of Shared Responsibility" is Turkey Chili in a Bread Bowl.

The suggested price is $5.89, including tax. When someone pays more than that, the extra amount goes to cover the cost for customers who can't pay full price and to St. Louis-area hunger initiatives.

The new program begins Wednesday.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 01:30
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Police in the City of St. Louis are mourning the loss of one of their own.

Sergeant Lucinda Miller was killed in an off-duty accident Monday night. Sergeant Miller had been using a tractor to pull her personal vehicle out of a ditch at her home. Police say the tractor rolled over, killing Miller.

Sgt. Miller joined the police department in 1996 and was promoted to sergeant in June of 2010. She also received an Award of Excellence in 2011.

Her funeral will be Saturday at Kutis Funeral Home in South St. Louis.

Miller is survived by her domestic partner, her daughter and five brothers.
Wednesday, 27 March 2013 01:22
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A Franklin, Illinois man is dead after a fiery crash in Randolph County Tuesday afternoon.

Illinois State Police say 55 year old Mickey Clayton was killed when propane truck he was driving rear-ended a coal truck and caught fire. The accident happened about 2:30 p.m. along County Line Road near Blackstump Road, just east of Steelville.

Firefighters had begun to put the fire out when a propane leak sent them ducking for cover. Moments later, an explosion sent a fireball more than 100 feet into the air. It took about 40 firefighters another hour to get the fire out.

The driver of the coal truck wasn't hurt.

The cause of the crash is still being investigated.
Tuesday, 26 March 2013 17:47
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