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Rural North Carolina has some of the most beautiful scenery in America, as documented by the growing numbers of tourists. Almost 40 percent of our 10.5 million residents live in the 80 counties considered rural, defined as having a population density of 250 people or fewer per square mile. Demographers tell us rural citizens are older, poorer, more obese, have higher blood pressures, greater instances of diabetes, and a lower life expectancy than state averages. Read moreTom Campbell: Rural healthcare in critical condition

State AP Stories

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The car owned by a missing 74-year-old Florida Lyft driver has been found in North Carolina and the man who was driving it is wanted in connection with a homicide last week in southwest Florida. Authorities said Friday that Gary Levin has been missing since Monday, when his family believes he picked up a customer in Palm Beach County, Florida. His red 2022 Kia Stinger was spotted in Miami that day and later in north Florida. The vehicle was then seen Thursday evening in North Carolina and driver Matthew Flores was arrested following a police chase. Flores is a suspect in a slaying that occurred nearly a week before Levin went missing.

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North Carolina’s newly seated Supreme Court has heard arguments on whether people convicted of felonies should be permitted to vote if they aren’t in prison but still are serving probation or parole or have yet to pay fines. The justices listened Thursday to their first high-profile case since the court flipped to Republican control in January. They didn’t immediately rule. The case stems from 2019 litigation that challenged a 1973 state law automatically restoring voting rights only after the “unconditional discharge of an inmate, of a probationer, or of a parolee.” Roughly 56,000 people could be affected by the outcome.

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Critics of a North Carolina bill that advanced in the state Senate say it could jeopardize the mental health and physical safety of LGBTQ students who could be outed to their parents without consent. The bill would require schools to alert parents prior to a change in the name or pronouns used for their child. Several mental and behavioral health experts, parents and teachers told the Senate health care committee on Thursday that the bill would force teachers to violate the trust of their students and could create life-threatening situations for students without affirming home environments. The proposal now heads to the Senate rules committee.

National & World AP Stories

Southern California's most popular puma gained fame as P-22 and cast a spotlight on the troubled population of California’s endangered mountain lions and their decreasing genetic diversity. After his death in December, wildlife officials and representatives from the region’s tribal communities are now debating his next act. Biologists and conservationists want to retain samples of P-22’s body for scientific testing to aid in future wildlife research. But representatives of the Chumash, Tataviam and Gabrielino (Tongva) peoples say his body should be returned, untouched, to the ancestral lands where he spent his life so he can be honored with a traditional burial.

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The arrest of a 24-year-old man accused of taking two monkeys from the Dallas Zoo after cutting their enclosure has shed some light on a mysterious string of events there. Police on Friday said they also linked him to the escape of a clouded leopard and a gash in the fence of another monkey habitat. Police say Davion Irvin has been charged with six counts of animal cruelty and two counts of burglary following his arrest Thursday, which came after an employee at a downtown aquarium recognized him from news coverage of the missing monkeys.

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The Chinese balloon drifting high above the U.S. and first revealed over Montana has created a buzz down below among residents — and raised a chorus of alarm from elected officials. The high altitude balloon roiled diplomatic tensions as it continued to move over the central U.S. Friday and Secretary of State Antony Blinken abruptly canceled an upcoming trip to China. Montana is home to Malmstrom Air Force Base and dozens of nuclear missile silos, causing doubt over Beijing’s claim that it was a weather balloon gone off course. The governor and members of Congress pressed the Biden administration over why the military didn’t immediately bring it down from the sky.

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A jury has decided Elon Musk didn’t defraud investors with tweets in 2018. The verdict by the nine jurors was reached after less that two hours of deliberation following a three-week trial. The trial pitted Tesla investors represented in a class-action lawsuit against Musk, who is CEO of both the electric automaker and the Twitter service he bought for for $44 billion a few months ago. In 2018, Musk tweeted that he had the financing to take Tesla private even though it turned out he hadn’t gotten an iron-clad commitment for an aborted deal that would have cost $20 billion to $70 billion to pull off. The verdict is a major vindication for Musk.