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Thousands of drug inmates approved for early prison release

Drug criminals once described by prosecutors as unrepentant repeat offenders are among those poised to benefit from new sentencing guidelines that are shrinking punishments for thousands of federal prisoners, according to an Associated Press review of court records.

Many defendants cleared for early release starting this fall fit a more sympathetic profile: small-time dealers targeted by a draconian approach to drug enforcement. But an AP analysis of roughly 100 court cases also identified defendants who carried semi-automatic weapons, had past convictions for crimes including robbery and assault, moved cocaine shipments across states and participated in international heroin smuggling.

One inmate whose punishment was cut was described in 2012 as a "calamity waiting to happen." Another was caught with crack and guns while awaiting sentencing in a separate drug case.

Supporters of lighter drug sentences say there's no evidence that lengthier sentences protect public safety, and there's bipartisan determination to cut spending on a bloated federal prison system. Nonetheless, the broad spectrum of defendants granted early release, including some who prosecutors just a few years ago branded community dangers and raised dire warnings about, underscores the complex — occasionally risky — decisions confronting the government as it updates a drug sentencing structure many see as overly harsh and expensive.

"I'm a career prosecutor. I'm a law-and-order girl, and I believe that you need to send dangerous people to prison for a very long time," said Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates.

"But," she added, "I think that we need to be smart about deciding who are those dangerous people."

Guidelines set by the U.S. Sentencing Commission provide judges recommended minimum and maximum terms for federal crimes. The independent commission voted last year to reduce ranges for drug offenses, then applied those changes to already-imprisoned convicts. Since then, prisoners have sought relief from judges, who can reject those they consider public safety concerns. About three-quarters of requests had been granted as of August.

The first wave, some 6,000, is due around Nov. 1, with most released from halfway houses or home confinement. Others will be released to immigration authorities for deportation. Federal officials say roughly 40,000 prisoners will be eligible for reductions in coming years.

Though the commission has repeatedly amended the guidelines, including narrowing the disparity between crack and powder cocaine sentences that resulted in disproportionately long penalties for blacks, the latest revision is its most sweeping because it covers all drug types.

"Nothing to date comes close to what this shift is likely to produce over the next decade or so, starting this year," said Marc Mauer of the Sentencing Project, an advocacy group.

The action is part of a national effort to rethink punishments for a drug offender population that comprises roughly half the federal inmate count. In addition to an Obama administration clemency initiative and directives against mandatory minimum sentences, new bipartisan legislation aimed at reducing spending on a prison system that sucks up nearly one-third of the Justice Department budget would give judges greater sentencing discretion and ease penalties for nonviolent criminals.

Supporters call the commission's move a modest dialing-back of punishments that were too harsh to begin with and wouldn't be imposed today. The new policy on average would pare two years from sentences and in many cases just months. They say the beneficiaries would be coming out of prison soon anyway, and cite studies showing inmates released early aren't more likely to commit new offenses than those who serve their entire sentence.

"There is a strong research consensus at this point that longer lengths of stay cost taxpayers a tremendous amount but don't add any additional crime-control value," said Adam Gelb, a Pew Charitable Trusts criminal justice expert.

But absent foolproof formulas, judges are grappling with balancing cost against public safety.

A Washington, D.C., judge recently rejected bids from two organizers of a once-thriving 1980s-era cocaine trafficking operation. Though both were sentenced in 1990, the judge declared them to be continuing threats and chastised prosecutors for appearing to dismiss the pair's involvement in violent and calculating crime.

Willie Best got luckier.

The one-time D.C. drug dealer whose sentence was already cut under crack guideline changes had another month taken off and is due out in 2016.

Prosecutors in 2008 said Best helped run a drug-dealing organization, shot at someone he believed had stolen from him and, after fleeing, was found in a stolen car with an assault rifle. His lawyer described him as the product of a troubled, impoverished upbringing. Best, in an interview from prison, called himself a loving father who bears no resemblance to his past self.

"It's been a long time coming. Eight years is a long time," he said. "I came in one way. I'm coming out another."

Others with shortened sentences are defendants prosecutors said had squandered repeated opportunities.

Regis Payne is due out in 2017 after his 82-month sentence for selling PCP in D.C. was cut to 60 months. Before his 2012 sentencing, prosecutors called him a "calamity waiting to happen" with a "horrendous" record, undeterred by past convictions and arrests. Roscoe Minns was cleared for release in November, though prosecutors in 2012 highlighted prior assault and theft convictions in pursuing stiff punishment.

Even for a prison system that annually releases tens of thousands, the change has required significant preparation. The commission, addressing public safety concerns, delayed implementation by a year to allow time to weed out inappropriate candidates and so those eligible this fall could be moved to halfway houses.

Though some released early will reoffend, the majority, statistically speaking, will not, said Ohio State law professor Doug Berman.

"Mark my words: The sky will not fall," added Julie Stewart of Families Against Mandatory Minimums.

Tuan Evans, who trafficked in pistols and sold cocaine to undercover officers, had nine months shaved off his 107-month sentence. He wrote from prison that he's acquired haircutting skills and hopes to start a landscaping business, and mentor children, once he's freed. Records show a 2018 release date.

"You don't have to lock us up and throw away the key when we make a mistake," he said.

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Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 10:53:36 -0400

Must watch: Mighty Mites stop mid-game to whip, nae nae

The gridiron can showcase some fancy footwork, but this is probably not what you had in mind.

Members of the Milford Mighty Mites in Massachusetts didn't let a little thing like a football game stop them from showing off their moves when "Watch Me" came over the loud speaker.

>> Read more trending stories 

Only issue was, the game was still going on as the kids from both sides whipped and nae nae'ed. 

The YouTube video is too good for words.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 09:11:14 -0400

U.S. asks Toyota to explain why ISIS has so many new trucks

Terrorists drive nice trucks, U.S. counter-terrorism officials have noticed.

Countless news videos and social media posts show Islamic State (ISIS) terrorists driving around in what appear to be new Toyota trucks.

The U.S. has asked Toyota to explain how hundreds, if not thousands, of the ubiquitous white pickups ended up in enemy hands.

ABC News tells us “Toyota Hilux pickups, an overseas model similar to the Toyota Tacoma, and Toyota Land Cruisers have become fixtures in videos of the ISIS campaign in Iraq, Syria and Libya, with their truck beds loaded with heavy weapons and cabs jammed with terrorists.”

The videos must make for effective propaganda. Thousands of Americans and Europeans are trying to travel to the Middle East to join ISIS.

Toyota says it does not know how ISIS obtained the vehicles, but is trying to assist the Terror Financing unit of the U.S. Treasury Department in its investigation.

One possibility is that they were captured or stolen.

Videos released this summer show ISIS insurgents using former U.S. militarized vehicles to parade bodies of their enemies around.

It is believed about 2,300 militarized Humvees were lost by Iraqi forces during one battle this year.

It’s not just trucks. The Iraqi military loses a lot of weapons too. Reuters reports ISIS captured at least 40 M1A1 main battle tanks, 74,000 machine guns, and as many as 52 M198 howitzer mobile gun systems.

A U.S. general says “ISIS has captured thousands of American-supplied vehicles. So both sides travel in the same vehicles and use the same weapons.”

To destroy the tanks now being used by ISIS, the U.S. is sending the Iraqi military 175 M1A1 Abrams main battle tanks, 55,000 rounds of main tank-gun ammunition, $600 million in howitzers and trucks, $700 million worth of Hellfire missiles and 2,000 AT-4 rockets.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 09:08:03 -0400

Man sleeps outside million-dollar home after bitter divorce

A bitter divorce battle has left a man sleeping outside of his million-dollar mansion. 

Sharafat Khan has been sleeping on the front lawn of the home he had shared with his wife after she kicked him out of the house in March, KHOU reported 

He left with only the clothes on his back.

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She then placed a sign on the front door that asked well-wishers to not feed him.

KHOU reported that the sign says, "If you want to feed him, take him to your house. If you want to, you can keep him at your house. Thanks for your sympathy, but do not bring anything on this property."

The neighbors feed him, despite the sign. 

The couple had an everyday argument, Khan said.

His wife then kicked him out, changed the locks and demanded police remove him from the property.

But police can't. They said the property is in both his and his wife's names, KHOU reported.

Khan's wife filed for divorce in June and has asked for restraining orders against her husband after allegations of verbal and physical abuse. A final divorce judgment has not been signed, KHOU reported.


Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 08:26:26 -0400

Tourists horrified as glass walkway cracks 3,500 feet above ground

As if walking across a glass-bottomed walkway around a cliff wasn't scary enough, a group of Chinese tourists were left terrified on Monday afternoon after one of the glass panes started to crack right under their feet

A tourist who was on the walkway at the time, Lee Dong Hai, snapped a photo of the nearly shattered glass and posted it to the Chinese social media website Weibo. The post was later removed.

“I was almost at the end, and suddenly I heard a sound. My foot shook a little. I looked down, and I saw that there was a crack in the floor."

>> Read more trending stories

Yahoo News reports that the U-shaped platform is attached to a cliff at Yuntai Mountain Geological Park in Henan Province, China. It's suspended 3,543 feet above the ground. 

"Everybody was screaming," wrote Hai. "I screamed out, 'It cracked! It really cracked!' and then I pushed the people in front of me so that we could run out of the way."

The glass cracked after a tourist dropped a stainless steel mug on the walkway, according to the Yuntai Mountain tourism bureau. There are three layers of glass and only one broke, so the bureau says the tourists were in no danger. 

The walkway had just opened last month and will be closed until further notice.

>> Click here to watch a video

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:56:11 -0400

CMPD: Man arrested more than 40 times cut off electronic monitor

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are once again searching for a man that Channel 9 has been reporting on for weeks.

Police said Robert Barringer cut off his electronic monitor sometime overnight and was last seen in the 7700 block of North Tryon Street.

Barringer was arrested last month on six counts of firing a gun into a house, possession of a firearm by a felon and for previously cutting off his electronic monitor.

Just last month, Channel 9 reported that Barringer had been arrested more than 40 times. Police said they're frustrated each time Barringer gets out of jail on bail.

Last month, an ex-girlfriend told Channel 9 that Barringer came to her mother's house looking for her, tried to smash in the back door, and fired shotgun blasts toward the upstairs bedroom.

After that incident, CMPD gave that woman a special monitor that will alert both she and police if Barringer comes anywhere near her.

Be sure to download the WSOC-TV Wake Up app to get the latest breaking news, weather and traffic on your phone first thing in the mornings. 

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Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:41:07 -0400

Chuck E. Cheese to serve alcohol to court young parents

It's the first place kids will choose to go, and the last for parents, but now more Chuck E. Cheese restaurants want to cater to adults while keeping kids happy, and the company is looking to booze to make it happen.

The pizza chain will be expanding wine and beer sales to more restaurants, according to KPRC.

>> Read more trending stories  

No specifics have been released, but in the restaurants that do serve alcohol, usually there's not much selection.

For beer, there's usually Miller Lite and Miller Genuine Draft. For wine, there's either blush or Chablis as a choice. They are all served from a tap into plastic cups and there's a two-drink limit, Time reported.

The chain recently changed its menu to include more adult flavors like its Cali Alfredo thin & crispy pizza and churros.

It is also trying out coffee, lattes and cappuccinos, KPRC reported.

The focus is now on the millennial mom who doesn't want to sacrifice her likes for the kids, the company said.

"Her kids know it's a fun place to go, but millennial moms want to provide that great experience without sacrificing for themselves," said Greg Casale, head chef at CEC Entertainment, Bloomberg reported.

CEC Entertainment is the parent company of Chuck E Cheese.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:20:14 -0400

WATCH: Man surprises wife at airport with 'What a Wonderful World' trumpet serenade

A Texas couple is making headlines after their sweet airport reunion went viral.

According to a Sept. 22 post on the Austin-Bergstrom International Airport Facebook page, Ed Zamora was waiting at the baggage claim for his wife of 33 years, Melody, who was coming home after a trip to Spain. When he spotted Melody on the escalator, he played a trumpet rendition of "What a Wonderful World," then greeted her with flowers and a kiss.

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A video of the touching moment has been viewed more than 50,000 times on Facebook.

>> Click here to watch

What a Wonderful Welcome

What a Wonderful Welcome! Ed Zamora surprised his wife of 33 years Melody this afternoon upon arrival at Austin-Bergstrom. Melody was returning home from a two week trip to Spain. Ed showed up in Bag Claim with flowers in one hand and his trumpet in the other. When his wife stepped foot on the escalator, Ed took a deep breath and serenaded her all the way down by playing their song, "What a Wonderful World!" And that's what you call, a wonderful welcome! Ed & Melody, thanks for sharing your special moment with us! And welcome home Mrs. Zamora!

Posted by Austin-Bergstrom International Airport on Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:09:32 -0400

Texas girl sneezes up to 12,000 times a day, baffling doctors

Doctors can’t explain why Katelyn Thornley of Angleton, Texas, can’t stop sneezing, but she and her family are hopeful they’ll come up with a resolution soon.

The 12-year-old is being tortured by her body: She sneezes up to 12,000 times per day — or about 20 times per minute. She can’t eat or sleep, and has stopped going to school.

>> Read more trending stories

Thornley has seen specialists, and she’s taken different medications; nothing works. Some doctors think that the sneezing — which began after a clarinet lesson three weeks ago — is stress-related. According to KRIV, the only relief the preteen gets is when she gets Benadryl-induced sleep while listening to The Beatles.

“Sometimes I wish I could leave my body for a little while so I could watch myself sleep and be at peace because even in my dreams, I sneeze,” she said.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:08:32 -0400

Harvard's award-winning debate team loses to New York prison inmates

Harvard University's award-winning debate squad has fallen to a team of unlikely opponents – New York prison inmates.

According to The Associated Press, Harvard's team, which won a national championship this year and a world championship in 2014, recently faced off against inmates at the maximum-security Eastern New York Correctional Facility. There, prisoners can take classes led by Bard College faculty.

>> Read more trending stories

At the match, the inmates, who also have beaten teams from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point and the University of Vermont, and the Harvard team debated whether public schools can refuse to admit students whose parents entered the country illegally. Neutral judges evaluated the teams' responses and chose the prison's debate club as the winner.

Bard Prison Initiative Executive Director Max Kenner said he wasn't surprised that the inmates won.

"They make the most of every opportunity they have," he said.

The Harvard team congratulated their opponents in a Facebook post.

"There are few teams we are prouder of having lost a debate to than the phenomenally intelligent and articulate team we faced this weekend," they wrote. "And we are incredibly thankful to Bard and the Eastern New York Correctional Facility for the work they do and for organizing this event."

Read more here.

>> Click here to see the Facebook post

This weekend, three members of the HCDU had the privilege of competing against members of the Bard Prison Initiative's...

Posted by Harvard College Debating Union on Sunday, September 20, 2015

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:07:32 -0400

Michigan factory supervisor claims $310.5M Powerball prize

A Michigan factory supervisor has come forward to claim the $310.5 million Powerball jackpot.

Julie Leach, 50, of Three Rivers, won the state's second-largest total ever for that lottery game.

“I don’t know what to say. I’m just overwhelmed,” she said at a Tuesday news conference.

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Leach wasn’t having the best day at work when she discovered that she was the winner.

"I was having a really bad night at work, and I thought I'd better check my numbers," she said.

“I didn’t go to sleep for 30 hours when I found out."

Leach, who is accepting the lump-sum cash payout of $197.4 million, immediately quit her job at the fiberglass factory. She had worked there for more than 20 years.

“I quit automatically. I was done,” she said. 

After finding out that she won the jackpot, Leach said her partner of 36 years still wanted to go to work.

“He wanted to go to work," she said. "I said, ‘Are you crazy? We don’t have to work anymore.”

With her new fortune, Leach plans to buy property for her family and support her children and 11 grandchildren.

“I’m going to take care of my kids,” she said. “I don’t want them to work the way I had to work and deal with the things I had to deal with in life."

Read more here.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:06:32 -0400

Texas teen dies after being put in chokehold at sleepover, police say

A Texas teen died Sunday after wrestling with a friend and being put in a chokehold, officials said.

Hays High School senior Elijah Navor Hernandez, 17, and a group of friends were having a sleepover at a home in San Marcos on Saturday night, police said.

Hernandez and another 17-year-old boy began were wrestling when Hernandez was put in a chokehold, restraining his neck, police said. The boy told Hernandez to tap out but Hernandez passed out, police said.

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When the other students noticed Hernandez was not breathing and his lips were turning blue, they woke up the parents and the father began CPR on Hernandez, police said.

About 1:27 a.m., police and medics responded to the home in the Blanco Vista subdivision to reports of CPR in progress, a city spokeswoman said.

Hernandez was taken to Seton Medical Center Hays, where he was pronounced dead at 2:40 a.m., officials said.

Hays County Justice of the Peace Beth Smith has ordered an autopsy for Hernandez, as is standard in such incidents, officials said.

“He loved all things Central Texas, the festivals, the bats, the rivers, the lakes, the music and the life he lived here with a family that genuinely cherished him,” his obituary said.

Grief counselors are available at Hays High School for the six teenagers, other students and school staff, according to David Pierce, principal at Hays High School.

“This is a tragic occurrence – to have a young man pass away at the threshold of becoming an adult. We are reminding our students to reflect on the joy, friendship, and love he shared with us while he was alive,” Pierce said in a statement. “His memory and the impact he had on so many lives will live on through all of his friends, teachers, and his family.”

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:05:32 -0400

WATCH: Fire ants form giant living rafts to survive South Carolina floods

Have you ever seen anything like it?

Fire ants are clinging together to form life rafts in Dorchester County, South Carolina, after severe flooding. To stick together, they use their jaws, claws and adhesive on their legs.

>> RELATED: SC weatherman gets emotional when he sees the sun

>> RELATED: WATCH: Drone captures video of devastating South Carolina floods

>> RELATED: Flooding unearths coffins in South Carolina

>> PHOTOS: South Carolina's historic deluge

>> Read more trending stories

The goal is to make it to dry land and rebuild. However, they need to watch out for predators and soap, according to Live Science. Since the ants rely on surface tension, soap will lower that tension, causing the ants to sink.

Talk about teamwork!

>> Click here to watch the video

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 07:04:32 -0400

Family says dispute over ride to work led to deadly stabbing

Authorities were investigating a deadly stabbing in Burke County early Wednesday morning.

The sheriff told Channel 9 the stabbing is a homicide.

Deputies were on the scene near the intersection of Harding Road and Bailey Road in Connelly Springs, where they had been called to just before 6 a.m.

More than a dozen deputies, the district attorney and SBI were at the scene.

The sheriff told Channel 9 that investigators believe the stabbing happened at a neighbor's home and that the victim made his way back to his home on Bailey Road before calling 911.

Details surrounding the incident were not immediately available, but deputies said the two men involved knew each other and had a long standing dispute.

A family member, who identified the victim as Cameron Smith, told Channel 9’s Dave Faherty that the dispute was over a ride to work.

Family members told Channel 9 that Smith, who they said was in the Army National Guard, was trying to get a ride to work from a neighbor.

Witnesses said Smith and Chris Allen had gotten into a dispute Tuesday night and deputies were called.

Family members Allen said the stabbing happened after the two got into a fight inside the work van Wednesday morning. Channel 9 spoke with Allen's mother, who said she tried to break up the fight and later performed CPR on Smith.

"All he was doing was defending himself,” said Kelly Trivette. “The boy has literally threatened him two or three times. And when I got out there this morning he was on top of my son. And when I got in between them it was too late. I'm sorry."

Allen is being detained until deputies can determine what caused the stabbing. Investigators were looking at whether this may have been a case of self-defense.

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Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 06:44:39 -0400

CMPD: Pedestrian in serious condition after struck by car

Charlotte-Mecklenburg police are investigating after a car hit a person in west Charlotte late Wednesday night.

The collision happened around 11 p.m. on Wilkinson Boulevard near Donald Ross Road.

Officers told Channel 9 that the victim, who was rushed to the hospital with serious injuries, was not in the crosswalk.

It is still unclear what led up to the crash but police said it was not a hit-and-run.

Be sure to download the WSOC-TV Wake Up app to get the latest breaking news, weather and traffic on your phone first thing in the mornings. 

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Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 06:23:03 -0400

DON'T TOUCH! Doctors warn about dangerous caterpillar

They may be cute, white and fluffy but doctors warn a caterpillar that is crawling around is not harmless.

The White Hickory Tussock Moth Caterpillar originally hails from Canada. The caterpillar has black spines that are packed with venom.

>> Read more trending stories  

“There have been many reported cases. None of them fatal, but all strange, new and concerning,” Dr. Joseph Betz with MedExpress told WJAC.

His unsuspecting young son touched one, and minutes later the boy broke out in a rash.

“They don’t mean to do it, but it is part of their defense mechanism against large predators, usually not toddlers,” Betz told WJAC.

The good news is the rash is temporary and can be treated at home with calamine lotion and ice.

The caterpillars should be disappearing soon, as they hibernate in their cocoons for winter.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 06:11:23 -0400

What to read now: Ben Carson would have 'rushed' shooter, and 4 other smart takes

What did you miss as you slept overnight? Here's a roundup of news trending across the nation and world today.

Here's what's trending today

1. Ben Carson on Oregon shooting: Ben Carson is answering questions about his stance on  gun control  following comments Monday on a Facebook question-and-answer  session. The retired  neurosurgeon  who is seeking the GOP nomination  for president argued that the  right to own a gun tops any consequence of using the weapon. “I never saw a body with bullet holes that was more devastating than taking the right to arm ourselves away," Carson wrote.  He told  Fox News on Tuesday that he would have rushed the gunman had  he been  in  a situation like the one at  an Oregon  college last week, and  wouldn't "just stand there and let him shoot me."

2. Bill Clinton on Donald Trump: Former President Bill Clinton told Stephen Colbert on "The Late Show" Tuesday that he believes  the success of Donald Trump's run for the GOP nomination has come  because  he is the "most interesting character out there." During his appearance, Clinton joked about his  wife's appearance on "Saturday  Night Live" this past weekend,  and denied that he counseled  Trump to get into the race for president.

Click  here to see Hillary Clinton's stint as a bartender in a "Saturday Night Live" skit.

3. Biden's son's dying wish: According to a story from Politico, it was Vice President Joe Biden who told a columnist  that his son Beau's dying wish was that he take one more run at the White House. Speculation over who told New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd that Biden could be considering a run for president in 2016 had run rampant since Dowd's column was published in August. According  to the Politico story, Beau Biden urged his father to run because "the country would be better off with Biden values."  

4.  Thousands of inmates set for release: The Justice Department announced  they  will  be releasing some 6,000 federal inmates from prison this fall. The early release is an effort to reduce overcrowding and address harsh sentences ordered for minor drug offenses, Justice Department officials said.  An Associated Press review of a portion of the cases showed that  some of those to  be released were charged with "carrying semi-automatic weapons, had past convictions for crimes including robbery and assault, moved cocaine shipments across states and participated in international heroin smuggling."

5. Model sues Cosby: A woman who says she was sexually assaulted by Bill Cosby has filed suit  against the comedian. Chloe Goins' lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court in Los Angeles claims she was drugged and  assaulted  by Cosby at the Playboy Mansion in 2o08. She is seeking punitive damages. 

Los Angeles prosecutors reviewing case against Bill Cosby

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 06:06:45 -0400

No criminal charges in fatal wreck involving Belmont vehicle

Police have announced that no criminal charges will be filed in a fatal wreck involving a city of Belmont truck.

RELATED: Truck carrying utility pole slams into truck, kills passenger

Belmont Interim Police Chief Basil Marett says 47-year-old Eddie R. Pullen of Gastonia was killed Friday morning when a pickup truck he was a passenger in collided with utility poles being hauled by a city of Belmont truck.

IMAGES: Scene of fatal crash in Belmont

Channel 9's partners at The Gaston Gazette report that the district attorney's office determined the cause of the wreck did not rise to a level that warranted charges.

Authorities say that when the unidentified city truck driver began turning right, the utility poles in the back of the truck swung and hit the car Pullen was riding in, causing the driver, John Alexander, to lose control of the vehicle and crash into a tree, killing Pullen.

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Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 06:03:07 -0400

Some who evacuated over dam danger can return

(Click here to read Tuesday's flood coverage)

The latest on the rainstorm that pounded parts of the East Coast (all times local):

11:45 a.m.

The University of South Carolina has moved it's game against LSU this Saturday to Baton Rouge, according to the school. It was originally scheduled to be played in Columbia.


10:40 a.m.

Officials say it is now safe for some people to return to their homes after they evacuated early Wednesday because of a dam that was expected to collapse.

Richland County Sheriff Leon Lott said late Wednesday morning that the Beaver Creek dam is now stabilized and it is safe for residents to return home.

He says, "We've passed the critical stage we had earlier today."

Authorities had ordered residents in about 1,000 homes downstream from the dam to evacuate and seek higher ground.

Lott says, "There is no danger of any dam break whatsoever."

The sheriff said the decision to evacuate was based on the recommendations of engineers at the dam.

Trucks carrying about 400 tons of rocks were brought in to stabilize the dam.


10:20 a.m.

A senior South Carolina Army National Guard official working with the operation to shore up the Beaver Creek Dam in the Columbia says he's hopeful the worst has been averted at the scene.

Col. Brad Owens says crews from the Guard and the South Carolina Electric and Gas worked through the night and into Wednesday morning using sandbags and dropping rocks to hold back the Beaver Creek Dam waters along Polo Road. Owens says part of the roadway has been eroded and has been closed for days.

He says the operation has focused on shoring up the area around a culvert and pipe that allows water to flow from the dam and into the area of Sesquicentennial State Park. Because of the possibility of a dam failure, the residents of the nearby Wildewood Downs area have been urged to evacuate.

Owens, the director of the Joint Staff for the National Guard, says, "We are putting in more rock and sandbags as we speak, but we believe the situation is improving, not degrading."

How to Help SC:

Phone Numbers to volunteer:

  • Charleston – 843-764-2323 x321
  • Columbia – 803-508-5251
  • Myrtle Beach – 843-764-2323 x321
  • Upstate – 864-270-9575

Make a Donation:

Make a contribution to Salvation Army

Make a contribution to Samaritan's Purse

Make a contribution to American Red Cross Disaster Relief or at 1-800-REDCROSS

Red Cross Shelters in SC

United Methodist Committee on Relief

10:20 a.m.

Republican presidential candidate and U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham says historic flooding in South Carolina could "break the bank" of federal emergency officials, forcing Congress to step in to appropriate possibly more than $1 billion to help with relief efforts.

The South Carolina lawmaker on Wednesday morning visited A.C. Flora High School, where dozens of people sought shelter after the latest dam breach threatened their homes. Graham says he wanted to assess the damage personally and determine what role the federal government can play in cleanup efforts.

He says: "It's going to take weeks to really get a good assessment of the damage. We're talking hundreds of millions (of dollars), maybe over a billion."

But he warned state and county officials not to use the disaster as an opportunity to ask for money unrelated to flood damage. He criticized the federal government's aid package to the northeastern United States following Hurricane Sandy in 2012, calling it a "pork-laden monstrosity."


9:40 a.m.

Samaritan’s Purse is deploying two tractor-trailers fully stocked with relief supplies to help South Carolinians recover from flooding caused by record-breaking rainfall. The North Carolina-based international Christian relief organization, and its army of volunteers, will work to clean out flood-damaged homes, remove debris and help families find hope as they salvage what is left of their personal belongings.

“South Carolina has experienced unbelievable flooding. They say it is a thousand-year storm, and it has devastated much of the state,” said Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham. “The people of South Carolina need our help, they need our prayers, and they need them now.”

Samaritan’s Purse disaster relief units are tractor-trailers packed wall-to-wall with supplies such as heavy-duty tarps, generators and chainsaws. These disaster relief units will serve as the organization’s command centers. One will be based at Shandon Baptist Church in Columbia, South Carolina, and the other location will be determined as flood waters begin to recede.

For information on volunteering or to donate to Samaritan’s Purse relief efforts, go to or

8:55 a.m.

Crews are working to repair a breach in the Columbia canal that is threatening the main water supply for 375,000 people.

Columbia Utilities Director Joey Jaco says officials were working Wednesday to build a rock dam a few hundred feet north of the breach, which is near the city's hydroelectric plant in view of morning commuters crossing the Gervais Street bridge.

Jaco says officials had hoped to have the dam completed by Wednesday morning. But the normally calm waters of the canal looked more like a whitewater rapids course after days of record rainfall, making it difficult for workers to move equipment to put the dam in place.

Jaco says the National Guard is helping by using helicopters to bring in sandbags and says the dam should be in place sometime Wednesday. Jaco says the only danger now is for the canal to breach in a second spot. But he says the levy shows no signs of buckling.

The canal was built in the early 1800s and supplies 35 million gallons of water to the city's water plant each day.


8:50 a.m.

Gov. Nikki Haley plans to give an update on statewide efforts to clean up and contain damage in the wake of historic rainfall and historic flooding.

Haley's office says the governor will be available to speak with news outlets at 11:30 a.m. Wednesday at the South Carolina Emergency Operations Center in West Columbia.

Haley has warned that areas downstream of Columbia could be the next endangered by waterways swollen and overflowing after record-setting rainfall in the state.


8:30 a.m.

Crews are filling a sinkhole with rocks in the hope that it will keep a compromised dam in the Columbia area from breaching after historic flooding hit the state.

Local news outlets report that dump trucks were seen arriving at the Beaver Dam on Wednesday morning with about 400 tons of large rocks.

Authorities have ordered residents in about 1,000 homes downstream from the dam to evacuate immediately and seek higher ground in the event the dam doesn't hold.

Authorities worked overnight to try to stabilize the dam after a sinkhole formed nearby, pumping water out of the pond to relieve pressure on the dam.


8:05 a.m.

Charleston County schools are open for the first time in almost a week, but it's likely that some students still won't able to get to classes because of the fallout from historic rain and flooding.

The district said Wednesday that buses would not be able to make it to a number of stops because of high water or because students live along dirt roads that the buses are not driving.

The district says students who could not make it to school should contact their schools. The district has 48,000 students and 84 schools. Charleston County schools were last open Thursday. Schools remain closed in several nearby counties


6:55 a.m.

Authorities are ordering people living near a compromised dam in the Columbia area to evacuate immediately.

The South Carolina Emergency Management Division said Wednesday morning that people living in the area that surrounds the Beaver Dam in the Wildewood area should leave their homes now.

Richland County authorities say the dam could breach at any time. People living in the area are urged to move to higher ground or to seek shelter at A.C. Flora High School in Columbia. Police say the evacuation order affects 1,000 homes.

Authorities worked overnight to try to stabilize the dam after a sinkhole formed nearby, pumping water out of the pond to relieve pressure on the dam.

Channel 9 reporter Blake Hanson is heading to the scene, follow him on Twitter for updates.


6:40 a.m.

Rescue crews are searching for two people who have been missing in Lower Richland County after their pickup truck entered flood water.

Sheriff's deputies tell local news outlets they were called out at around 3 a.m. Wednesday to a road that had been closed for several days after being washed out.

Authorities say the driver of the pickup drove around barricades that had been set up to block traffic. Three people managed to get out safely but told emergency crews that two others did not.

Teams are searching the area in rescue boats and dive gear.

Richland County was under a curfew from midnight Tuesday until 6 a.m. Wednesday.


5:45 a.m.

Classes are still closed at the University of South Carolina's Columbia campus due to flooding, but officials say they're allowing faculty and staff to return Wednesday.

Classes at the school's flagship campus that's attended by more than 30,000 students are canceled all week as Columbia and its surrounding areas assess damage from record-setting rainfall and the flooding that has followed.

The school says it's following closing determinations set by Richland County, where government offices are also reopening Wednesday.

Columbia is also still under a boil water advisory, meaning all water must be boiled for a minute before cooking or drinking. Schools in the area have also canceled classes through Friday.


5:35 a.m.

Authorities in South Carolina are still working to stabilize a Richland County dam that was compromised as a result of historic flooding.

Sheriff Leon Lott tells local news outlets Wednesday morning that crews worked through the night to repair a sinkhole that formed near the Beaver Dam in the northeast part of the county.

Crews from the South Carolina Electric and Gas Co. are pumping water out of the pond to relieve pressure on the dam.

The Emergency Management Division says a reverse 911 call went out just before 10:45 p.m. Tuesday urging residents within a half-mile radius of Beaver Dam to seek higher ground immediately.

Lott says evacuations are voluntary and that he doesn't think more will be needed.


4:40 a.m.

Things are starting to return to normal in South Carolina after days of devastating rains, with the weather clearing and electricity largely restored. But some residents are still worried about a second round of flooding from rivers swollen by the deluge.

Some residents of Georgetown, between Charleston and Myrtle Beach, were preparing by stacking sandbags or moving their possessions as rivers crest upstream causing the potential of more flooding in an area where water was a foot deep or more in places over the weekend.

South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley says the state is monitoring the situation closely and warns there may have to be evacuations from areas along the coast.

She says the sun coming out is good news for the storm-weary state but says officials continue monitoring any potential for additional flooding.


South Carolina cleans up, but worries remain amid floods

The family of Miss South Carolina 1954 found her flood-soaked pageant scrapbook on a dining room floor littered with dead fish on Tuesday, as the first sunny day in nearly two weeks provided a chance to clean up from historic floods.

"I would hate for her to see it like this. She would be crushed," said Polly Sim, who moved her 80-year-old mother into a nursing home just before the rainstorm turned much of the state into a disaster area.

Owners of inundated homes were keeping close watch on swollen waterways as they pried open swollen doors and tore out soaked carpets. So far, at least 17 people have died in the floods in the Carolinas, some of them drowning after trying to drive through high water.

Sim's mother, known as Polly Rankin Suber when she competed in the Miss America contest, had lived since 1972 in the unit, where more than 3 feet of muddy water toppled her washing machine and turned the wallboard to mush.

"There's no way it will be what it was," said Sim. "My mom was so eccentric, had her own funky style of decorating, there's no way anyone could duplicate that. Never."

Tuesday was the first dry day since Sept. 24 in South Carolina's state capital, where a midnight-to-6 a.m. curfew was in effect. But officials warned that new evacuations could come as the huge mass of water flows toward the sea, threatening dams and displacing residents along the way.

Of particular concern was the Lowcountry, where the Santee, Edisto and other rivers make their way to the sea. Gov. Nikki Haley warned that several rivers were rising and had yet to reach their peaks.

"God smiled on South Carolina because the sun is out. That is a good sign, but ... we still have to be cautious," Haley said Tuesday after taking an aerial tour. "What I saw was disturbing."

"We are going to be extremely careful. We are watching this minute by minute," she said.

Georgetown, one of America's oldest cities, sits on the coast at the confluence of four rivers. The historic downtown flooded over the weekend, and its ordeal wasn't over yet.

"It was coming in through the kitchen wall, through the bathroom walls, through the bedroom walls, through the living room walls. It was up over the sandbags that we put over the door. And, it just kept rising," Tom Doran said, bracing himself for the next wave. "If I see a hoard of locusts then I'm taking off."

In Effingham, east of Columbia, the Lynches River was at nearly 20 feet on Tuesday — five feet above flood stage. Kip Jones paddled a kayak to check on a home he rents out there, and discovered that the family lost pretty much everything they had, with almost 8 feet of standing water in the bedrooms.

"Their stuff is floating all in the house," Jones said. "Once the water comes in the house you get bacteria and you get mold."

In downtown Columbia, about 200 workers rushed to fix a breach in a canal that is threatening the city's water supply to its 375,000 customers. The city's main intake valve is in the canal, and the water level was steadily dropping, Columbia Utilities Director Joey Jaco said.

Crews planned to work into Wednesday morning, sinking a barge and piling bags of rocks and sand on top to try and block the hole in the canal, Jaco said.

If the water gets below the intake valve, there is less than a day's supply in a reservoir.

"We need to make sure we get this dam constructed very soon to make sure we stay above a minimal level," Jaco said.

Haley said it was too soon to estimate the damage, which could be "any amount of dollars." The Republican governor quickly got a federal disaster declaration from President Barack Obama, freeing up money and resources. South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Republican presidential candidate, promised not "to ask for a penny more than we need" and criticized other lawmakers for seeking financing for unrelated projects in disaster bills.

Water distribution was a challenge. In the region around Columbia, as many as 40,000 homes lacked drinking water, and Mayor Steve Benjamin said 375,000 water customers will likely have to boil their water before drinking or cooking for "quite some time."

The power grid was returning to normal after nearly 30,000 customers lost electricity. Roads and bridges were taking longer to restore: Some 200 engineers were inspecting about 470 spots that remained closed Tuesday, including a 75-mile stretch of Interstate 95.

As of late Tuesday, that number had dropped to 436, the South Carolina Department of Transportation said in a news release.

Some drivers had a hard time accepting the long detours around standing water. In Turbeville, Police Lt. Philip Wilkes stood at a traffic stop, telling motorists where they could go to avoid flooded roads and dangerous bridges.

"Some people take it pretty good," Wilkes said. "Then you've got some of them, they just won't take no for an answer. We can't part the waters."

South Carolina was soaked by what experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration called a "fire hose" of tropical moisture spun off by Hurricane Joaquin, which mostly missed the East Coast.

Authorities have made hundreds of water rescues since then, lifting people and animals to safety. About 800 people were in two-dozen shelters, but the governor expects that number to rise.

In Columbia, Ray Stilwell told a harrowing story of escaping his home along Gills Creek, where nearly 17 inches fell in as many hours Sunday.

He was upstairs when his backdoor failed and water rushed in, and was nearly swept away as he tried to make it outside to higher ground. He survived by hanging on to a neighbor's gate, and then climbing atop a patio table.

"I'm so grateful. If you hear me complain, remind me that I'm lucky to be here," the 59-year-old schoolteacher said. "God allowed me to be here; Now I've just got to figure out what to do with the extra time I've been given."

Stilwell took a long look at the nearby creek, which was still raging and foamy but didn't seem to be rising. A worried neighbor called out, asking what was going on. "Just keep watching the water level right now," Stilwell responded.

The Black River reached 10 feet above flood stage in Kingstree, breaking a 1973 record by more than 3 feet, according to Town Manager Dan Wells, who found himself involved in a porcine rescue mission Tuesday.

After a wild hog fell into the rushing river and slammed into the town bridge, Wells and a colleague used a stun gun and captured the exhausted hog, trussed its legs with duct tape and pulled it into a pickup truck to be released in a nearby forest.

"It wasn't on my list of things to do today, I can tell you that," said Wells.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 05:34:50 -0400

20-month-old dies of E. coli after visiting fair

A child has died after visiting the Oxford County Fair in Maine.

Colton Guay was only 20-months-old when he went to the county fair with his family.

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Shortly after going to the fair, Guay was admitted to Maine Medical Center for severe diarrhea. A week later, he died of hemolytic uremic syndrome, a complication of E. coli infection that can lead to kidney failure.

Guay’s father, Jon, believes Colton contracted the bacteria when he came in contact with farm animals at the fair.

The Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention reported that another child was also hospitalized with symptoms associated with E. coli. That child is said to have visited the same petting zoo, but the state's health commission has not officially confirmed the connection.

Maine’s assistant state veterinarian, Beth McEvoy, told WMTW that the process of sampling the livestock for bacteria is being discussed, and a representative from the Oxford County Fair said it is working with the state veterinarian, Dr. Michele Walsh, according to WMTW.

"It's a challenge to get a smoking gun," Walsh said in regards to testing animals.

Walsh says many healthy animals carry strands of E.coli, and humans do too.  

Walsh said Maine's Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry puts many resources into educating and staying in contact with fairs reminding them that, "livestock are for viewing not for petting."

She also says the office ensures the fairs have plenty of visible signage to remind people to wash their hands if they come in direct contact with animals. Walsh said the office verifies that all animals at fairs are healthy.

Published: Wed, 07 Oct 2015 00:41:43 -0400