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Tuesday
Aug232016

Over 2,600 People in Shelters in Louisiana: The Latest on Flood Recovery by the Numbers

File photo. iStock/Thinktsock(BATON ROUGE, La.) — Over 2,600 people remain in shelters in Louisiana as President Obama prepares to visit the southeastern part of the state today, which was devastated by deadly flooding that unexpectedly swept through towns and overpowered neighborhoods.

Twenty-four schools districts were closed at some point as a result of the flooding, according to the Louisiana Department of Education.

Here is the latest on more flood recovery by the numbers, according to Mike Steele of the Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness.

Number of Houses so Damaged That Residents Are Displaced: 60,646

Number of People in Shelters: 2,634

Number of People Rescued: 30,000

Number of Pets Rescued: More Than 3,300

Number of State Highways Closed: 40

Number of Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Registrants: 110,509

Number of FEMA Home Inspections Completed: 3,100

Number of National Flood Insurance Program (NFIP) Claims Filed: 25,636

Amount of Homeowner Assistance Approved: $55 Million, With $20 Million Distributed


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Tuesday
Aug232016

Man Accused of Deadly Georgia Day Care Shooting Found Guilty in Retrial

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- A former General Electric executive charged with murder after confessing to shooting a man outside a day care in 2010 was found guilty Tuesday by jurors in a Georgia courtroom.

Hemy Neuman, an engineer, had admitted to shooting Rusty Sneiderman in cold blood outside of a Dunwoody, Georgia, day care center in 2010. Sneiderman, a father of two, was dropping his 2-year-old son at the day care when he was shot.

Prosecutors say Neuman had a premeditated plan to kill Sneiderman and was having an affair with Sneiderman’s wife, Andrea.

Neuman was convicted of malice murder and possession of a firearm during the commission of a felony, according to a statement released by the District Attorney's office.

Neuman claimed he was not guilty by reason of insanity. A jury in 2012 found Neuman guilty but mentally ill.

The Georgia Supreme Court overturned that conviction in June, ruling that Neuman’s mental health records should not have been part of the evidence.

In Neuman's second trial, a psychologist hired by Neuman's defense told jurors that she does not believe state mental health experts spent enough time with Neuman to properly diagnose him.

One of Neuman’s defense attorneys, Letitia Delan, claimed in court that her client had “undiagnosed and untreated bipolar disorder.”

Neuman’s attorneys also alleged that in the months before the shooting, Neuman, 48, believes he was visited by a demon with the voice of Barry White and an angel with the voice of Olivia Newton-John.

“You will come to the right verdict and that is that Hemy Neuman is not guilty by reason of insanity,” Delan told jurors in court.

Prosecutors argue that Neuman is not delusional but simply a “selfish” murderer.

“He wanted something that someone else had,” Robert James, Dekalb County district attorney, said in court. “He was going to do whatever it took to get it, including that, committing murder.”

Andrea Sneiderman, the victim’s wife, is out on parole after being convicted of perjury for lying under oath and obstruction of justice for lying to the police about the affair.

“Ms. Sneiderman had nothing to do with the murder of her husband,” Sneiderman’s attorney, J. Tom Morgan, told ABC News in a statement. “Mr. Neuman acted alone when he killed Rusty Sneiderman and he should be found guilty of murder and punished for his crime.”

The District Attorney’s Office and Neuman’s defense attorney both declined to comment to ABC News prior to the jury's verdict.

Neuman will be sentenced later Tuesday.

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Tuesday
Aug232016

Federal Court Set to Hear Appeal on Kansas Voter ID Law

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A federal appeals court is set to hear arguments regarding an effort by the state of Kansas to reinstate rules that require its residents to present proof of U.S. citizenship at the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) when registering to vote.

The hearing, which will take place in Denver, Colorado, comes as a series of proposed voter ID laws are being considered or contested across the country prior to the presidential election in November. The Kansas law notably left thousands of residents who believed they had registered to vote while obtaining driver's licenses ineligible to do so, angering civil rights groups.

The controversial law was struck down earlier this year by a U.S. District Court judge in Kansas City.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), who sued the state in July, argued that the Kansas law is in conflict with the National Voter Registration Act, a federal law that was enacted to "enhance voting opportunities for every American," according to the Department of Justice.

In North Carolina last month, federal judges overturned state voter ID laws, ruling that they were formed with “discriminatory intent” toward black voters. State officials then asked the U.S. Supreme Court to maintain the voter identification requirement and 10 days of early voting for the November election.

In Texas this month, a judge agreed to a proposal that will allow citizens without sufficient photo ID to still vote with a regular ballot.

A U.S. appeals court suspended a July 19 ruling by a federal judge that struck down parts of Wisconsin's voter ID law.

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Tuesday
Aug232016

US Driving Hits New Record High in First Half of 2016

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- Does it feel like more people are hitting the road lately? If so, it's not your imagination. According to a new report by the Transportation Department's Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. driving hit a new record in the first half of 2016.

The FHWA's latest “Traffic Volume Trends” report shows that Americans drove 1.58 trillion miles between January and June, an increase of 3.3 percent from the first six months of 2015. To put that into perspective, the record distance is the equivalent of about 250 round trips from Earth to Pluto.

Regionally, the West had the biggest increase in traffic with 4.1 percent; the Northeast had the smallest at 2.4 percent.

Hawaii led the nation as the state with the highest increase in traffic at 8.6 percent.

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Tuesday
Aug232016

Emergency Crews Battle Large Wildfires in Six Western States

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — Hot, dry and windy conditions have created a perfect storm for the spread of large wildfires in several western states, including a massive blaze in California that has destroyed 135-square miles of forest.

Additionally, Washington, Wyoming, Montana and Oregon each had their hands full with large active wildfires. A total of 26 active blazes have burned more than 415,000 acres in eight western states, according to the National Interagency Fire Center.

So far this year, some 38,000 wildfires have torched more than 4 million acres, according to their latest figures.

In central California, a wildfire charred 33,173 acres and destroyed more than 30 homes while threatening 1,900 structures, forcing the evacuation of more than 2,400 people. Emergency crews had that blaze 35 percent contained late Monday, according to Cal Fire.

Nearly 2,000 emergency personnel continued to battle a massive blaze in northern California that started over one month ago but continues to gain ground. That fire, burning north of the Big Sur coastal area, has been blamed for one death and three injuries and has destroyed 57 homes, according to Cal Fire.

In San Bernadino County, the Blue Cut Fire is now 100 percent contained, after the blaze scorched more than 50 square miles in the area.

In Washington State, a cluster of wildfires ringed the city of Spokane, destroying more than a dozen homes and forcing hundreds to flee. The largest of those blazes, known as the Yale Road Fire, grew to nearly 3,500 acres on Monday, as crews struggled to suppress the flames that have so far destroyed 10 homes.


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Tuesday
Aug232016

UN: Thousands of Children Risk Perilous Journey to US Border

John Moore/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Nearly 26,000 unaccompanied children arrived at the U.S. southwestern border in the first half of this year, in a continuing influx of migrants attempting to escape poverty and violence in their home countries.

The total amounts to more than 140 unaccompanied children arriving at the U.S. border every day.

UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Rights and Emergency Relief Organization, released a report on Tuesday highlighting the often desperate circumstances that drive so many children and families to risk the perilous journey north.

Most of the children come from three countries -- El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras -- that are wracked with widespread poverty, rampant gang violence and some of the highest crime rates in the world.

Honduras, for example, registered one of the highest murder rates in the world -- more than 90 per 100,000 inhabitants -- in a United Nations study published in 2014. This compares to a current murder rate of just 4.5 percent in the U.S., according to the most recent national crime statistics published by the FBI.

Missing in these figures, UNICEF says, are the estimated hundreds of children who die every year in the harsh environment along the U.S.-Mexico border, and many more who disappear and may have fallen prey to kidnapping, trafficking or murder.

"It is heart-rending to think of these children – most of them teenagers, but some even younger – making the grueling and extremely dangerous journey in search of safety and a better life," said UNICEF’s Deputy Executive Director Justin Forsyth. "This flow of young refugees and migrants highlights the critical importance of tackling the violence and socio-economic conditions in their countries of origin."

Statistics from the Unites States Border Patrol show that while the overall number of people detained at the southwestern border has dropped in recent years, the number of unaccompanied children has roughly doubled.

In 2012, just over 24,000 unaccompanied children were detained. This number soared to more than 68,000 in 2014, before dropping last year. This year could see that number pick up again, as the data show that child detentions are on pace to top 50,000 by the end of the government's fiscal year.

The children who do make it to the U.S. border face a future that is anything but certain, UNICEF says. After they are picked up by Border Patrol agents, many are transferred to government-operated shelters or foster care homes, where they stay just over one month, on average.

Most go into deportation proceedings without access to court-appointed lawyers and face long odds. A study tracking deportation cases beginning in 2015 showed that by June 2016, 40 percent of unrepresented children has been ordered deported, compared to just 3 percent for those who had the help of an attorney, UNICEF said.

For those allowed to stay, a backlog in immigration courts can mean years of waiting, during which time the children have no legal status in the United States, making many ineligible for healthcare and other public services.

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Tuesday
Aug232016

Children of Witness Protection Struggle to Reclaim Identities

ABC News(BILLINGS, Mont.) — Jackee Taylor still remembers when her mother woke her up in the middle of the night and U.S. Marshals were telling their family they had to leave their home immediately.

“The marshals were trying to hurry, hurry, hurry, and we were all crying,” Taylor said. “It was pretty scary.”

She was just 7 years old at the time, and it was her and her family’s introduction to the federal Witness Security Program, commonly called “witness protection” or “WITSEC.”

“We were ushered into black vans and I remember stopping and switching vans, and that’s about all I remember,” she said.

It’s a program shrouded in secrecy, run by the U.S. Marshals Service. Witnesses in danger are protected, relocated and given new identities in exchange for turning state’s evidence against organized crime, cartels or terrorist organizations.

Most of what people know about the program is based on Hollywood depictions, but Taylor said her real-life experience was far from anything seen in the movies.

She says she, her two siblings and their mother were taken from their home in Cleveland, Ohio, and relocated to a motel next to a casino in Billings, Montana. Being in front of the motel today brings back a flood of emotions.

“It still just ticks me off looking at this place,” Taylor said. “Not exactly the best place to put a mother and her three children to start their lives over again.”

Most of the more than 18,000 people in witness protection are not witnesses to crimes but actually family members of witnesses, some of them children.

In Taylor’s case, her father, Clarence “Butch” Crouch, a vice president of one of the most infamous Hell’s Angels chapters in the country during the 1970s, took a plea deal on a murder charge and turned state’s evidence against his fellow bikers in the 1980s. He was even called to testify at a U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.

“We pulled up and stopped. Machine gun opened up, and started shooting,” Crouch said during his testimony, hidden behind a screen. “And I shot up the driveway and I hit somebody which is more or less why I’m sitting here, because it turned out to be a 17-year-old kid.”

After nearly two years of testifying, Crouch went to prison and Taylor said she never saw her father again. After his release, he started a new life with a new name. Taylor and her family, still in witness protection, were left to pick up the pieces.

“I had nobody to talk to,” she said. “We were completely cut off from all of our family in Cleveland … and now I didn’t have them and I had this new life that I had to adjust to.”

Taylor said she had a difficult childhood trying to figure out who she was.

“That was rough,” she said. “I was suicidal quite a few times.”

She thinks she never should have been put in the WITSEC program to begin with.

“I don’t think children should be put on the program, period,” Taylor said. “I think that they should either be put with family or almost they’d be better off in foster care, I really do.”

But Michael Prout, the head of the WITSEC program, disagrees.

“The individuals entering into the Witness Security Program their parents are in danger. The children are therefore in danger,” he told “Nightline” in a rare on-camera interview.

Prout said he could not confirm nor deny anyone’s existence in WITSEC, but he did say kids are better off in the program.

“We are actually the heroes that come in the night and save them from that bad spot,” he said. “There are opportunities which we afford in the Witness Security Program that they would not get by growing up in a terrorist organization or mafia or cartel. They have an opportunity to live.”

Taylor said the Marshals gave her documents to support her new identity -- with the exception of one that most people take for granted.

“We were never issued birth certificates,” she said. “It’s not part of the program … I will never have a birth certificate.”

So when her WITSEC-given passport was lost, Taylor said she had no way to prove her U.S. citizenship. Then one day she received a letter in the mail denying medical coverage for her children because she couldn’t prove her citizenship.

“And I was on the phone all day to everyone I could think of. The governor, the lieutenant governor,” she said. “I called the marshals a few times … I called everywhere.”

She said after exhausting all options, she decided to essentially walk away from the WITSEC program and go public with her story, putting herself at possible risk, to help her children.

“My children were suffering because of it,” she said. “I had to do this.”

Five years later, Taylor said she finally received her replacement passport from the Marshals. Afterwards, she returned to Cleveland and made amends with the Hell’s Angels chapter her father testified against, where she learned she had nothing to fear.

Her incredible story is now part of an upcoming documentary by Rumur. An unexpected result of Taylor going public is now other children who say they are in witness protection have reached out to her through Facebook for help and guidance.

One of them was “CJ,” who said he and his family entered WITSEC when he was 11 years old.

“We weren’t going through schools. We were living in motels,” he said.

He said the family left the program when CJ was 14, but he was too young to realize WITSEC had changed his name and social security number back to the one he was born with. He says his multiple identities has led to an array of issues that continue to haunt him to this day.

CJ is 38 years old now and is still dependent on a family member, stranded in rural Western Pennsylvania.

“He has no driver's license because PennDot has flagged him as a fraud suspect,” Taylor said. “He can’t get student loans. He can’t apply for housing … anything that he has to use his identity for … he’s going to have problems with.”

One of the issues Taylor and CJ bonded over was that they both say they were never offered counseling by the U.S. Marshals when they were children. Two years after Taylor entered WITSEC, the program was reformed to ensure members are given psychological support if they ask for it.

“A child of a person who is a criminal, they have certain issues before they even get started…. Psychological support is critical,” Prout said.

But even though CJ entered the WITSEC program years after that reform, he says he and his family were never offered therapy.

Taylor said she worries about CJ’s mental health after what he’s been through.

“I don’t like to see people hurting and he’s in the same position that I was in. And mine was rectified and I believe that there is a way to rectify his also,” she said. “I just don’t want him to go too far into a dark place…. I’ve seen suicides on the WPP. There’s two I can document.”

One of them was her own father. Three years ago, he shot and killed his wife and stepson, then burned down their home, before turning the gun on himself.

Taylor advised CJ to try to find court documents proving his family was in witness protection and that his multiple identities were not his fault, which he was eventually able to do. CJ later moved to Billings to live with Taylor and her family as the two continue to fight to get his life straightened out.

“It’s amazing to have the support I do, even if it’s from one person,” CJ said. “That’s more than I ever had.”

Copyright © 2016, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Monday
Aug222016

President Obama to Survey Flooding in Louisiana After 16-Day Vacation

The White House(BATON ROUGE, La.) -- For days, critics hammered President Obama for continuing his vacation in Martha’s Vineyard as flooding wreaked havoc on Louisiana, claiming the lives of at least 13 people and displacing tens of thousands of residents. But now that the president has returned to work in Washington, he’ll make a day trip to Baton Rouge on Tuesday to get a first-hand presidential look at the devastation.

During Monday’s daily briefing, press secretary Josh Earnest flatly rejected criticism of Obama, insisting the president “was focused on the response” there even while he racked up 10 rounds of golf during his 16-day respite from the White House. Earnest said the federal response to flooding in Louisiana has been “much more effective and much more impactful” than the initial FEMA response to Hurricane Katrina.

“But the survivors of the flooding in Louisiana are not well-served by a political discussion, they're well served by a competent, effective, strong, coordinated government response, and the federal government has certainly done our part in the first eight to 10 days after this disaster, but there's a long road ahead,” he said.

Obama declared a major disaster for Louisiana on Aug. 14, making federal resources available to help with home repairs, temporary housing, low-cost recovery loans for uninsured property losses and other programs to assist individuals and business owners recover. The White House also disclosed Obama received a series of briefings on the flooding throughout his vacation.

Some conservatives have cited what appeared to be a muted level of attention to the ongoing situation in Louisiana compared to the overwhelming criticism President George W. Bush received for waiting three days to visit the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina to survey the damage.

Before meeting volunteers at the Greenwell Springs Baptist Church, north of Baton Rouge, Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said, "The president says he doesn’t want to go, he is trying to get out of a golf game."

Asked if Obama only agreed to travel to Baton Rouge Tuesday after Trump and his running mate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, surveyed the damage, Earnest insisted “of course not.”

Earnest ticked off several expectations for the president’s trip, though he conceded details of the visit are “still coming together.” The White House, Earnest said, is organizing the visit “in way that doesn’t have an impact on the significant response and recovery efforts that are underway there in Louisiana.”

“I would anticipate the president will have an opportunity to see some of the damage firsthand. I would anticipate that the president will have the opportunity to speak to officials in Louisiana who have been managing the response effort, including the governor and lieutenant governor,” Earnest said. “I would expect the president will have an opportunity to meet with and offer some comfort to citizens whose lives have been thrown into chaos, as a result of this event. I'm confident the president will take advantage of the opportunity to thank some of those who were responsible for saving lives at the height of this event.”

Earnest also said that while he’s not aware of discussions for an additional emergency supplemental to help Louisianans recover from the flood, once President Obama has the opportunity to visit first hand with officials tomorrow, it will “become clearer what the price tag is and the support that Louisiana may need.”

“The administration is committed to standing with the people of Louisiana,” he said.

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Monday
Aug222016

Wildfires Tear Through Thousands of Acres in Washington State

Clayton Sandell/ABC News(SPOKANE, Wash.) -- Firefighting crews in Washington State are battling numerous fast-moving wildfires, including two in the Spokane area that forced evacuations from more than 200 homes.

Spokane-area crews joined forces to fight two fires, dubbed the Yale Road Fire and Wellesley Fire, which have scorched 3,500 and about 250 acres respectively, according to the Washington Department of Natural Resources.

The blazes quickly spread late Sunday after gusty winds followed days of record heat in the Pacific Northwest.

The Yale Road Fire, which started when a tree fell onto power line, prompted evacuations of about 150 homes and burned about one dozen structures near Spangle, a town about 18 miles south of Spokane officials said.

While firefighters believed the Wellesley Fire was under control Monday, winds are expected to pick up with the Yale Road Fire this afternoon, officials said.

Meanwhile, another blaze, dubbed the Hart Fire, which started in Lincoln County just west of Spokane, has covered over 6,000 acres and is expected to grow today due to weather and terrain, officials said.

The Hart Fire blaze, fueled by timber and grass, has destroyed six homes and forced evacuations from 60 homes.

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Monday
Aug222016

FBI Investigating Possible ISIS-Inspired Knife Attack in Virginia

Western Virginia Regional Jail (ROANOKE, Va.) -- The FBI has launched a federal terrorism investigation into a weekend stabbing in Roanoke, Va., looking at whether the attacker may have been trying to behead his victim in an alleged ISIS-inspired assault, sources tell ABC News.

Federal authorities have been aware of the alleged attacker, 20-year-old Wasil Farooqui, of the Roanoke area, for some time, sources familiar with the case told ABC News. In the past year, he traveled to Turkey and may have tried to sneak into Syria, where ISIS is recruiting and inspiring sympathizers from across the world, sources said.

Farooqui was arrested Saturday by Roanoke County Police on charges of assault with malicious wounding, and he's being held without bond at the Western Virginia Regional Jail, according to the sources and a jail database.

During the Saturday stabbing, Farooqui allegedly injured a man and woman at an apartment complex in Roanoke, yelling "Allah Akbar" as he attacked them with a knife, sources told ABC News.

Authorities believe he may have been trying to behead the male victim, who was likely picked at random, ABC News was told.

Farooqui and his two alleged victims were hospitalized after the attack. Their conditions were not clear.

"The FBI is working with the Police Department following the incident that occurred on Saturday evening," the head of the FBI’s Richmond field office, Special Agent In Charge Adam Lee, said in a statement. "While I cannot discuss details of the investigation at this time, I do want to reassure the community that we are working to determine the nature of the incident."

It was not clear if Farooqui had a lawyer.

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