Sep 19

Baton Rouge killings ‘could possibly be racially motivated,’ police say

iStock/Thinkstock(BATON ROUGE, La.) — The killings of two black men in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, last week “could possibly be racially motivated” but police are “still looking at other motives,” Baton Rouge Police spokesman Sgt. L’Jean McNeely told ABC News Sunday.

Bruce Cofield, 59, and Donald Smart, 49, were both shot and killed within five miles of each other last week. In the shootings, the suspect first fired from his car and then exited the vehicle to shoot the victims while they were on the ground, according to police.

“Witness accounts in certain circumstances and ballistic analyzation of the homicides helped link the two,” Sgt. Don Coppola, a public information officer with the Baton Rouge Police Department, told ABC News Monday.

Police have named Kenneth Gleason, 23, as a “person of interest” in the investigation. “Gleason was occupying a vehicle that matched the description” of the one seen in the area of the killings, Coppola said.

On Sunday, Gleason was released from jail after being booked on two drug charges. Gleason has not been charged in relation to the killings.

“This investigation is ongoing, Gleason is still a person of interest, and through the investigation, if it is learned that there is any other individual or individuals who could be other persons of interest, investigators will look into them as well,” Coppola said.

Police had questioned Gleason for many hours and searched his home and his vehicle, but didn’t have enough evidence to charge him in the murders, McNeely said.

But law enforcement found schedule 1 narcotics – marijuana – and schedule 3 narcotics, which were “some kind of human growth hormone” at Gleason’s house on Saturday, Coppola said, and Gleason was arrested.

Gleason was released Sunday on bond, which had been set at $3,500, but has “not been cleared” in the investigation into the two shootings, police said.

Neither Gleason nor his family responded to ABC News’ request for comment.

Coppola said he was not aware if Gleason had any previous criminal record, and a background check showed only a traffic violation that had been dismissed by the court from earlier this year. Police declined to say whether there are other persons of interest in the case, citing the ongoing investigation.

“Being that the investigation is ongoing, investigators are diligently working to have these homicides solved,” Coppola said.

Police said Cofield, who was homeless, was killed on Tuesday. Smart was shot on Thursday while he was on his way to work at a cafe.

The district attorney’s office had not responded Monday to ABC News’ request as to whether Gleason has legal representation or when he is due to appear in court on the two drug charges.

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Sep 19

Hurricane Maria upgraded to Category 5 storm

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Hurricane Maria was upgraded to a Category 5 storm, the National Hurricane Center said Monday night, as islands including Puerto Rico brace for the impact.

Maria is anticipated to approach the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico on Wednesday. The storm might make landfall on the eastern side of Puerto Rico and could bring major damage to the U.S. territory late Wednesday morning and into the afternoon — two weeks to the day since Hurricane Irma tore through Puerto Rico, killing at least three.

At 8 p.m. ET on Monday night the center of the storm was located about 15 miles east-southeast of Dominica as it closed in on the Caribbean island. Sustained winds were up to 160 mph as the storm moved west-northwest at 9 mph.

Evacuation orders have been issued for parts of Puerto Rico.

Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rossello said starting midday Tuesday, conditions will begin to deteriorate and the island could get between 12 and 18 inches of rain.

Rossello encouraged residents to execute emergency plans immediately. “Now is the moment to save lives,” he said.

Officials said 450 shelters will be opened starting this afternoon and warned of possible catastrophic damage and a possible collapse of the “vulnerable” electrical system.

“Flood-prone areas must be abandoned,” said Public Security Secretary Héctor Pesquera. “If not, you will die.”

The governor said a federal emergency declaration was requested.

On Monday, President Trump ordered federal assistance to supplement the response efforts in the U.S. Virgin Islands.

Most models are forecasting Maria will stay away from Florida and the United States mainland.

Today Maria is churning in the Atlantic Ocean and is set to travel across the Caribbean, likely affecting islands including the British and U.S. Virgin Islands, on its way toward Puerto Rico

It was just weeks ago when Irma devastated several Caribbean islands, killing at least 39 people.

Some Caribbean islands, like Guadeloupe and Dominica, are likely to get a direct hit from the powerful hurricane this afternoon or evening.

Dominica was “shut down” as the storm approached, said Anil Etienne, a spokesperson for Dominica’s Office of Disaster Management.

Etienne told ABC News officials are worried about flooding in low-lying areas and have opened about 146 shelters.

Dominica’s prime minister, Roosevelt Skerrit, said at a news conference today, “This is not a time for heroism. This much water in Dominica is dangerous given our terrain, and therefore persons should not wait for something to happen in order to take action.”

As Maria approaches Antigua and Barbuda, the islands’ officials are warning residents not to be complacent after Irma, which devastated Barbuda.

Philmore Mullin, the head of the National Office of Disaster Services for Antigua and Barbuda, spoke to Antigua and Barbuda’s national broadcaster ABS today, urging those in low-lying areas to evacuate and not to wait until the last minute since water can sometimes rise very quickly.

Mullin added that they are prepared and over 40 shelters will be opened for Maria.

“We cannot afford to be complacent — it is a hurricane,” Mullin said. “We need to pull out all the stops and prepare for an impact just in case.”

After passing Puerto Rico this week, Maria is expected to graze the Dominican Republic before it moves north toward Turks and Caicos and eventually into the Atlantic Ocean.

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Sep 19

Man in clown mask chases daughter into armed stranger’s apartment

iStock/Thinkstock(BOARDMAN TOWNSHIP, Ohio) — An Ohio dad’s apparent effort to “scare” his 6-year-old daughter with a clown mask went awry this weekend after he chased the girl into a stranger’s apartment, prompting the man to open fire in the direction of her father outside in an attempt to protect her.

Boardman Township, Ohio police responded to the scene at just after 10 p.m. on Saturday, where they found Vernon Barrett Jr., 25, standing outside of 48-year-old Dion Santiago’s home, according to a police report.

Barrett, the girl’s father, had been struggling to discipline his daughter after her mother was sentenced to four years in prison for child endangering after she had broken “several of [the 6-year-old’s] ribs and stepped on her,” according to the police report.

Barrett, the police report states, told officials that he “decided to use the clown mask into scaring her to behave” and that this was simply a “prank” that started from their apartment.

But Santiago’s 22-year-old son, Dion Santiago Jr., told ABC News the girl seemed to be in dire need of help.

“We absolutely were protecting her,” Dion Santiago Jr. said. “She fell into our laps and was running for her life. It was completely unexpected but what else were we to do?”

While fleeing her father, Barrett’s daughter first jumped into a female driver’s car, “screaming she was being chased by a clown,” the police report states. Barrett, wearing the clown mask, then allegedly pulled his daughter out of the car, but she managed to break free and ran toward Santiago’s apartment. Meanwhile, the woman called 911.

The girl opened Santiago’s “unlocked door” and asked Santiago and his family “if she could stay with them because a clown was chasing her,” according to the police report.

Santiago turned off the lights of the home and “looked out his apartment window and observed Barrett standing outside of the building with a clown mask on,” the police report states. Santiago, who later admitted to police that “he had a few beers” while watching TV, then “grabbed his firearm and fired a shot out of his window,” the police report states.

Santiago later told police that “he was frightened” by the 6-year-old girl entering his home “without permission,” adding that clowns have been chronicled on the news as “chasing people” and that he was trying to protect his son, daughter and his son’s girlfriend, who were in the apartment with him, from harm. He told police he only pointed the firearm “into the yard of the building next door” and that he “never aimed it at Barrett,” according to the police report.

Barrett was charged with inducing panic and child endangering, while Dion Santiago was charged using weapons while intoxicated, according to the police report.

Both men have been released pending court appearances at a later date, the police report states. It’s unclear whether they have obtained lawyers. Dion Santiago Jr. said his father is supposed to be in court this week and doesn’t have an attorney yet.

Boardman Township Police Det. Sgt. Chuck Hillman told ABC News that the town just south of Youngstown has had its share of clown sightings and said he hopes this incident is an anomaly.

“As with a lot of areas in the country, we have had a lot of clown sighting incidents,” he said. “This is the first time anything like this has happened recently.”

He added: “Hopefully it doesn’t restart that drama again.”

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Sep 19

Phi Delta Theta fraternity shutters LSU chapter after pledge’s death

Louisiana State University(BATON ROUGE, La.) — The Phi Delta Theta fraternity has shuttered its Louisiana State University (LSU) chapter “effective immediately” after a freshman pledge died last week.

After Maxwell Gruver, 18, of Georgia, died the morning of Sept. 14, LSU police launched an investigation into his death as a potential hazing incident. The university president said Thursday that allegations involved alcohol and hazing but stressed that the investigation was evolving.

The tragedy also prompted all Greek activities to be suspended at LSU.

The East Baton Rouge Parish Coroner’s Office said Gruver’s preliminary autopsy found no internal or external trauma but noted that he had excessive fluid in the lungs and brain and that he had “a highly elevated blood alcohol level plus the presence of THC.”

Phi Delta Theta General Headquarters said in a statement today that the decision to suspend the chapter “was based on the preliminary findings of an investigation that uncovered enough information to conclude that some chapter members were in violation of established risk management policies, including our Alcohol-Free Housing policy.”

Phi Delta Theta said in a statement that it “will continue to support the ongoing investigations by both

LSU and local law enforcement and encourage authorities to prosecute those involved to the fullest extent of the law.”

“The Fraternity will also continue its internal investigation to completely understand the situation in order to hold all of those who violated its risk management policies accountable for their actions,” the statement said.

The fraternity said it will also review its health and safety policies and educational programs and “is committed to enacting any new initiatives to help prevent similar situations in the future.”

Bob Biggs, executive vice president and CEO of Phi Delta Theta, said in the statement, “We continue to keep the entire Gruver family in our thoughts and prayers during this very difficult time.”

“This incident serves as a stark reminder of why we need to continue to educate our undergraduates on the dangers of alcohol, hazing, and be constantly vigilant to ensure our risk management policies are fully implemented.”

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Sep 19

Bus driver in deadly New York crash was fired by MTA after DUI was discovered

ABC News(NEW YORK) — The driver of a tour bus who was killed in a Monday morning bus crash in New York City that left two others dead was a former New York Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) employee who was fired for cause in 2015 when it was discovered he had been arrested for driving under the influence, the MTA said.

This morning’s fiery crash was captured on stunning surveillance video, which shows the moment when a Dahlia charter bus barreled into the MTA bus at one of the most densely packed intersections in Queens in New York City.

The crash left three people dead and 19 others injured, according to the MTA. Four of those injured are in critical condition, the MTA said Monday evening.

In the video, provided to ABC News by ABC station WABC in New York, the MTA bus is seen turning a corner in Flushing just after 6:15 a.m. when the Dahlia bus crashes into it. The crash sent the charter bus onto the sidewalk and into a restaurant, sparking a small fire, officials said. The fire was quickly put out by firefighters, who treated the injured.

The charter bus’ speedometer was photographed at the scene stuck at 60 mph — twice the speed limit in the intersection. While investigators have not determined why the bus was apparently going that fast, sources said investigators have recovered enough surveillance video to conclude the charter bus was speeding when it crossed the intersection.

Raymond Mong, who died in the crash, was the driver of the tour bus that slammed into the MTA bus. The MTA began the process of firing Mong in 2015 after learning he was arrested for driving under the influence in New Haven, Conn., sources familiar with the investigation tell ABC News. At some point after, he was hired by Dahlia.

Connecticut state police confirm that Mong was indeed arrested for drunk driving in April 2015 after causing a pileup on the off-ramp of a highway. Mong “fled the scene,” but was later located and arrested, police records show.

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles was notified of the DUI and informed the MTA, which began the grievance process, according to sources familiar with the investigation. Mong was pulled from the road and fired by the MTA soon after.

On Monday, New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “It’s just shocking to see the scene.”

“It’s hard to compare it to anything I’ve seen — the sheer destruction from the impact of this collision,” he said.

“We want to make sure we understand exactly what happened and prevent this from ever happening again,” said Joe Lhota, the chairman of the MTA.

In addition to Mong, those killed were a passenger on the MTA bus and a passer-by who was run over, according to officials. Sources briefed on the investigation said the victims were Mong, 49; the passenger Gregory Liljefors, 55; and the pedestrian, Henry Wdowiak, 68.

The MTA bus driver, a 10-year veteran, is in a hospital in noncritical condition. He is being interviewed about the collision.

According to federal records, Dahlia has been cited multiple times for speeding violations. Because of its history of violations, Dahlia was prioritized by federal officials for more frequent unannounced inspections, said an official from the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration.

The National Transportation Safety Board is sending a team to investigate the crash.

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Sep 19

Cincinnati Zoo welcomes new gorilla one year after the death of Harambe

ABCNews.com(CINCINNATI) — One year after the death of Harambe, the 17-year-old silverback gorilla who was shot by zoo officials after a 3-year-old boy climbed into his enclosure, the Cincinnati Zoo has welcomed a new gorilla to its exhibit.

Mshindi, a 29-year-old male Western Lowland Silverback gorilla, was moved from the Louisville Zoo to the Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden through the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) Species Survival Plan (SSP), which serves as a safeguard for animals facing extinction in the wild.

He’s the first gorilla to be added to the Cincinnati Zoo since Harambe’s controversial death in May 2016.

Michelle Curley, communications director for the Cincinnati Zoo, told ABC News that SSP, the group that manages more than 360 gorillas across the U.S., determined that the zoo was an appropriate fit for Mshindi due to the amount of space and correct social setup.

“[Mshindi] has settled in really nicely and it’s been a smooth transition,” Curley said. Mshindi arrived at the end of August.

Curley said Mshindi is already exploring his outdoor facility and will eventually be put into a group with two female gorillas.

“They don’t have a breeding recommendation but that could change in the future,” she said.

She added, “Sometimes the introduction process takes some time. Right now he has visual contact with the ladies, but it is whenever he seems like he’s ready, but I would say within this month or October.”

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Sep 19

Police investigating reports of nooses found hanging from trees in New York

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — The NYPD is investigating reports of nooses that were allegedly found in two different Brooklyn neighborhoods recently.

The nooses were discovered hanging from trees outside of libraries in Bedford-Stuyvesant and Crown Heights, ABC New York station WABC reported. An NYPD spokesperson told ABC News the department is aware of the reported incidents and currently investigating.

“We can’t release any information at this time because it is an ongoing investigation,” the spokesperson said.

Community activists are outraged by the discovery.

“It’s an act of intimidation for the community and we want to make sure that people are aware what’s going on and that we will not be intimidated,” Henry Butler, the district manager for Community Board 3 of Bedford-Stuyvesant, told WABC.

ABC News reached out to City Councilman Robert Cornegy, who represents the district that includes the areas where the nooses were allegedly found, for comment but did not immediately hear back.

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Sep 19

Jose set to batter East Coast with heavy rain, coastal flooding

ABC News(NEW YORK) — Southeastern New England is under a tropical storm warning and states along the coast from Connecticut to Delaware are under a tropical storm watch as Hurricane Jose nears the East Coast, where the storm is expected to bring winds, heavy rain and coastal flooding this week.

Jose, a minimal Category 1 hurricane, this afternoon is located about 265 miles east-southeast of Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and is moving north at 9 mph with sustained winds of 75 mph.

Jose will come close enough to the Mid-Atlantic and the Northeast Tuesday into Wednesday morning to bring strong winds and heavy rain.

Coastal flooding may be seen on the shores of New Jersey, Long Island, Connecticut, Rhode Island and southern Massachusetts.

Wind gusts could climb to over 50 mph along the New Jersey coast, Long Island and southern New England.

Rainfall may be the heaviest in southeastern New England, where up to 5 inches of rain is possible.

By Wednesday morning, Jose is forecast to stop moving north and begin re-curving east into the Atlantic.

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Sep 19

Navy relieves 2 more top officers following deadly ship collisions

ABC News(WASHINGTON) — The U.S. Navy has relieved two more top officers due to a “loss of confidence in their ability to command,” following two deadly collisions over the summer.

The destroyer USS Fitzgerald collided with a cargo ship in the Sea of Japan in June, killing seven sailors. In August, the USS McCain, another destroyer, collided with an oil tanker off the coast of Singapore, killing 10 more sailors.

On Monday, Vice Adm. Phil Sawyer, the commander of the 7th Fleet, relieved the commander of Task Force 70 (CTF 70), Rear Adm. Charles William, and the commander of Destroyer Squadron (DESRON) 15, Capt. Jeffrey Bennett. While the Navy’s press release announcing the leadership changes did not directly mention the incidents from the summer, both officials relieved of their duties were in the Fitzgerald and McCain’s chain of command.

“Rear Adm. Marc Dalton, commander of Task Force 76 (CTF 76), assumed duties as commander, CTF 70. Capt. Jonathan Duffy, deputy commander, DESRON 15, assumed duties as commander,” the Navy said.

The Navy relieved the three-star admiral in charge of the 7th Fleet, Vice. Adm. Joseph Aucoin, following the McCain’s collision. Aucoin was slated to retire in September and turn over command of the 7th Fleet to Rear Adm. Phil Sawyer, but his relief showed the Navy’s focus on accountability in the wake of mishaps.

In addition to the collisions by the Fitzgerald and McCain, the USS Lake Champlain, a guided-missile cruiser, collided with a fishing boat in the Sea of Japan in May. There were no injuries.

In February, the USS Antietam, also a guided-missile cruiser, ran aground off the coast of Japan, damaging its propellers and spilling oil into the water.

On Tuesday, Secretary of Navy Richard Spencer and Chief of Naval Operations Adm. John Richardson will testify before the Senate Armed Services Committee about the recent Naval incidents.

Joining the top Navy leaders will be John Pendleton, director of Defense Force Structure and Readiness Issues at the Government Accountability Office (GAO), which issued a report highlighting the Navy’s readiness issues.

“GAO’s prior work shows that the Navy has increased deployment lengths, shortened training periods, and reduced or deferred maintenance to meet high operational demands, which has resulted in declining ship conditions and a worsening trend in overall readiness,” the report said. “The Navy has stated that high demand for presence has put pressure on a fleet that is stretched thin across the globe.”

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Sep 19

More than 123 people arrested in St. Louis during 3rd night of protests

Twitter/@SLMPD(ST. LOUIS) — Dozens of people were arrested in St. Louis on Sunday, including a “rioter” who carried weapons and protective gear, which capped a third night of protests over a judge’s decision to acquit a white former police officer in the 2011 shooting death of a black man, police said.

The protests began peacefully on Friday after St. Louis Circuit Judge Timothy Wilson found Jason Stockley, 36, not guilty of first-degree murder and armed criminal action. On Dec. 20, 2011, the then-police officer shot 24-year-old Lamar Smith five times after a high-speed chase and crash.

More than 80 people were arrested on Sunday in connection with the protests, which police said were “no longer peaceful” as of late Saturday night, and five weapons were confiscated, according to the St. Louis Police Department. At least 32 people were arrested earlier in the weekend as demonstrators blocked highways, damaged property and threw rocks at the mayor’s house and bricks at police officers, police said.

“People setting out do damage are being arrested and these criminals we’ve arrested should be held accountable and prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” St. Louis Interim Police Chief Lawrence O’Toole said in a early-morning briefing on Monday.

“We’re in control. This is our city and we’re going to protect it,” he added.

An unidentified chemical was thrown on police officers and a bicycle officer was transported to the hospital with an leg injury Sunday night, police said in a statement on Twitter.

The department also tweeted images of knives, guns, masks and other types of protective gear from a “rioter” who police said was arrested.

Officers confiscate weapons, guns, protective gear from a rioter. Suspect was taken into custody. #StLVerdict pic.twitter.com/2rObBhQHu8

— St. Louis, MO Police (@SLMPD) September 18, 2017

The weekend protests were mostly peaceful, according to the city’s mayor, but police said “groups of criminals” were “creating chaos,” breaking windows and causing significant property damage in the city’s downtown area Sunday night.

“Today we saw again that the vast majority of protesters were nonviolent,” St. Louis Mayor Lyda Krewson said during an early-morning briefing on Monday. “But for the third day in a row, the days have been calm and the nights have been destructive.”

After Sunday’s demonstrations, the organizers announced that the daytime protests had concluded, but “a group of agitators stayed behind, apparently intent on breaking windows and destroying property,” according to Krewson.

Earlier, organizers of the peaceful protests said they were frustrated with the demonstrators getting unruly at night who they say could make it harder for them to to spread their nonviolent message.

State Rep. Bruce Franks, who has participated in the protests, stressed on Saturday that those who are violent and vandalizing “are not protesters,” but a group separate from those marching is organized demonstrations.

“The organizers and protestors that [were] there for the right reason didn’t partake in any of the vandalism, many of us were gone,” Franks said in an Instagram post Saturday. “I want to make sure people know!”

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