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Friday
Oct182013

Florida Teacher Fired for Giving Students Booze, Condoms

iStock/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- A fine arts teacher working at Florida's South Miami Senior High School has lost an appeal to save her job, a year after she was suspended without pay for providing alcohol and condoms to students.

ABC News affiliate WPLG-TV reports Isabel Diaz-Almaraz was suspended in September of 2012 after pictures on Facebook and Instagram showed her students holding bottles of alcohol and shot glasses.  The instructor was found to have provided -- and visited -- a post-prom party room at a hotel for some students, at which those "party favors," as well as condoms, were reportedly furnished.  One of the photos on Instagram was captioned, "Thank you Mrs.D!!! (:."

An investigation from the Miami-Dade County School Board found she committed other "grossly inappropriate" violations, such as allowing her students to cut classes by hanging out in her office, though an administrative judge recently determined she should be reinstated.

The school board disagreed, officially terminating her this week.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Friday
Oct182013

Walmart Worker Fired After Helping Woman Being Attacked

Scott Olson/Getty Images(DETROIT) -- A 30-year-old Michigan man has been fired from his job at Walmart after coming to the aid of a woman being attacked in the store’s parking lot.

Kristopher Oswald says he was on a break from his job at the Walmart in Hartland and sitting in his car around 2:30 a.m. when he saw a woman screaming after a guy grabbed her by the arms.

Oswald says he went over to the woman and asked her what was wrong and if she needed help.  He says that's when the guy attacked him and he defended himself.

Police quickly arrived on the scene, but the trouble wasn’t over for Oswald.

Oswald told ABC News affiliate WXYZ-TV in Detroit that Walmart fired him, and the explanation on his termination papers states that “after a violation of company policy on his lunch break, it was determined to end his temporary assignment.”

Oswald just started working for Walmart about seven weeks ago and wouldn’t have been considered permanent until after 180 days.  He says the retailer has policies regarding workplace violence to prevent workers from tackling a shoplifter or assaulting a fellow employee, but there is nothing in place that allows them to exercise self-defense or come to the aid of persons in danger.

Despite losing his job, Oswald says he would do it again: “I'm always gonna act the right way and do the right thing, even after all of this.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct172013

Prosecutor: Utah Doctor Bragged to Inmates About Wife's Murder

ABC News(PROVO, Utah) -- On the first day of Dr. Martin MacNeill's murder trial, prosecutors painted the former Mormon Sunday school teacher as a liar who was hellbent on making his wife have a facelift so he could poison her with a lethal cocktail of drugs during her recovery.

The motive, prosecutors said, was a woman named Gypsy Willis, who MacNeill had met online more than a year and a half before he allegedly killed his wife, Michele MacNeill, in April 2007.

Days after MacNeill's facelift surgery, she was found by her 6-year-old daughter slumped over in a bathtub. Less than two hours later, the mother of eight and former beauty queen was pronounced dead.

Deputy Utah County Attorney Sam Pead said during opening statements Thursday that MacNeill, 58, acted erratically around the time of his wife's death and said she was the one who wanted the surgery.

"Why did she have the surgery? ... Why did she take all of those medications? I told her not to do it. I'm a doctor. She's dead. I've been a bishop. I pay tithing, and this is the way you repay me?" MacNeill yelled in front of first responders, according to Pead.

MacNeill also told inmates after his arrest that his wife was a "b----," that he was glad she was dead and that authorities would never be able to prove he killed her, according to Pead.

The medical examiner has never determined a cause of death.

Defense attorney Susanne Gustin told the jury that heart disease was the "cause or contributing cause" to MacNeill's death. She conceded during open statements that, "Martin has made poor choices in his life. We've heard he had affairs during his marriage."

"We may think he is a total jerk, that is absolutely disgusting and that's natural. But it's very critical that during this trial you set aside your emotion," she admonished the jury.

Dr. Scott Thompson, the plastic surgeon who performed MacNeill's facelift, was the first witness called to testify today by the prosecution.

Thompson said he prescribed more drugs than usual to MacNeill at the request of her husband. He said he felt comfortable doing so, "because Martin was a physician and he asked me for these things."

A jury of eight people in Provo, Utah, will decide the doctor's fate in a trial that is expected to last five weeks and pit MacNeill against his daughters, who are expected to be star witnesses for the prosecution.

One of them is Ada MacNeill, now 12 years old. Two of MacNeill's other daughters, Alexis Somers and Rachel MacNeill, are also expected to take the stand. Both have consistently been a presence in the courtroom during pre-trial hearings, often clutching pictures of their mother as they glared at their father.

"He had a plan to murder my mother, and this was just part of his plan," Somers told ABC News in 2012.

While caring for her mother after the surgery, Somers said, her mother made an ominous statement.

"A few days before her death, I was helping her wash her hair and she turned to me and said, 'Alex, if anything happens to me, make sure it was not your father,'" Somers said.

The jury is also expected to hear from MacNeill's alleged mistress, who moved into the family's home as a nanny weeks after Michele MacNeill's death.

Martin MacNeill also served three years in a Texas federal prison for fraud and was released in July 2012.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct172013

Texas Tries Shaming Drivers into Paying Highway Tolls

iStock/Thinkstock(AUSTIN, Texas) -- Texas drivers apparently hate paying tolls, so the agency that runs the state's highways published a list Thursday of the top 25 toll dodgers out of what they say are 28,000 habitual violators.

Each of the 28,000 have skipped paying tolls at least 100 times, said TxDOT, the agency that manages the roadways around Austin, costing the state $27 million.

But the top 25 toll deadbeats have blown through tolls thousands of times without paying.

The car that has racked up the most offenses is listed as being owned by Ronny Williams and Cora Lewis of Pflugerville. Records show the vehicle has dodged more than 14,300 toll bills totaling $236,000 in fees.

Tailing them are Mandy and Stephen Dyment of Hutto, owners of a car that is being dunned for more than 10,500 bills and $217,000 in fees, the agency said.

The vehicle owners did not respond to calls from ABC News.

"We have been in contact with these toll violators numerous times, so anyone posted on this list should not be surprised," said TxDOT spokesman David Glessner.

"We have one example, one we made 90 attempts to call one of the offenders," said spokesman Mark Cross, who did not reveal the driver's name. "That's an example of the extreme attempts we've made to contact these folks."

Toll fees range depending on how far the motorist travels, but bills start at $1.15 and escalate to $350 in administrative fees if that matter goes to court.

TxDOT said in a statement that it reserves the right to take these violators' cars off the road with Texas Transportation Commission approval, as well as potentially block vehicle re-registration.

The move follows The North Texas Tollway Authority's move to shame their worst offenders last year.

The North Texas Tollway Authority released a list of more than 26,000 motorists with more than 100 unpaid toll violations and fines adding up to $294 million. Only 655 drivers came forward and were willing to pay their fines.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct172013

Man Scatters Fiancee’s Ashes in Fla. LensCrafters

iStock/Thinkstock(SARASOTA, Fla.) -- A grieving man caused a lockdown at a Florida mall earlier this week when he spread his fiancee’s ashes in a Sarasota LensCrafters.

According to police, the man entered the LensCrafters store located in the Westfield Southgate mall and spread the ashes before immediately leaving on Tuesday night. Since clerks did not know what the substance was, the police and the fire department were initially called and the mall was temporarily shut down.

However, fire department officials quickly determined the substance was not harmful.

“There are protocols that law enforcement must follow for Homeland Security and it was the response by law enforcement and emergency personnel to show that the matter was not dangerous,” said Sarasota Police Chief Bernadette DiPino. “We are relieved in this case that the substance was not harmful.  Hindsight is always 20/20 but in these types of situations our response was necessary and appropriate.”

Police quickly apprehended the man, whom they described as apologetic.

The man’s fiancee had died a few months earlier and had a connection to the LensCrafters, according to police. The man was not charged and was offered grief counseling services as a result of the event.

Requests for comment from LensCrafters employees were denied.

According to the Florida Division of Funeral, Cemetery & Consumer Services, ashes can be spread on Florida lands but not freshwater. The division also warns that spreading ashes on a private property  ”could be construed as establishing a cemetery.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct172013

Two Killers Accidentally Released from Prison

Orange County Sheriff's Office, Florida(ORANGE COUNTY, Fla.) -- A manhunt is underway in central Florida where law enforcement officials have launched an all-hands-on-deck search for two convicted killers serving life sentences who were accidentally released from state prison.

According to the Orange County sheriff's office, Joseph Jenkins was released on Sept. 27 from the Franklin Correctional Institution. A month later, on Oct. 8, Charles Walker was released from the same facility. Forged documents ordered reduced sentences for the two.

The judge whose name is on the forged documents is Belvin Perry, an Orange County chief judge, who presided over the Casey Anthony case. Perry's office told ABC News the judge's signature was forged in the paperwork calling for reduced sentences for the convicted killers.

While the false documents had problems, Perry told WFTV, the ABC affiliate in Orlando, the one thing that was correct was his signature.

"It is quite evident that someone forged a court document, filed a motion, and that someone with the aid of a computer, lifted my signature off previous signed documents, which are public reports, affixed that to the document, sent it to the clerk's office. It was processed and forwarded to doc and the defendant ended up being released," Perry told WFTV, the ABC affiliate in Orlando.

The men were convicted and serving time for separate crimes. Jenkins, 34, was in jail on a 1998 first-degree murder conviction. Charles Walker, also 34, was serving a life sentence for a second-degree murder committed in 1999.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was not notified of the mistake until Tuesday, according to the sheriff's office who, in a press release, stated the men were released as a result of forged paperwork filed at the Orange County Clerk of Courts.

In a phone interview with WFTV, Jessica Cary of the Florida Department of Corrections, said, "We don't know how this happened. However, upon the release of the inmates, we had followed all policies and procedures."

Where the release documents originated is unclear and is being investigated by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. ABC News obtained a copy of the documents from the Orange County Clerk's Office. Officials there denied ABC's request for an interview. But, according to Lisa Bainbridge, director of communications for the county clerk's office, the approval for release documents did not originate from the clerk's office; rather, documents reducing a sentence originate in a judge's office.

Bainbridge tells ABC News that in the wake of the mistaken release, her office will review policies for reviewing and processing documents.

The accidental release of the men set in play a manhunt with several central Florida law enforcement agencies assisting in the search. The Orange County police and the sheriff's department believe the men are still in the Orlando area.

"We believe these people to be dangerous. They're out. We want to let them know that they should turn themselves in," Orange County Sheriff public information officer Capt. Angelo Nieves tells WFTV.

Anyone with information on the men is urged to contact the Orange County, Florida Sheriff's Office.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio 

Thursday
Oct172013

Jodi Arias Selling Limited Edition Prison Prints

ABC News(MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz.) -- It’s a phrase more often associated with famed painters and artists than convicted murderers, but Jodi Arias’ art website has announced it's releasing a “limited edition” print run of her latest jailhouse drawing, “Sailing at Sunset.”

“She’s able to have access to paper and purchase color pencils, and if she wants to release her property to someone outside, she can,” said Chris Hegstrom, spokesman for the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office that oversees Arias’ incarceration.

Arias was found guilty in May of stabbing and shooting to death her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. The jury that convicted her could not agree whether Arias should receive the death penalty, and so Arias has not yet been sentenced. She remains in a women’s prison in Maricopa County, Ariz., where she is forbidden from using cell phones or computers.

Still, Arias has managed to Tweet and sell artwork online, according to her websites. Attempts to contact the owners of JodiArias.com have not been returned. Arias’ friend Donavan Bering claimed she was running the Twitter account during the trial, but Bering could not be reached by ABC News for comment.

In January, shortly after Arias’ murder trial began, her artwork appeared on eBay listed at prices of $300 to $400. It is unclear how much her current drawings cost. At that time, descriptions listed with the art noted that the profits would go to costs associated with the trial, including paying for Arias’ family to travel from their homes in California to Arizona for the five-month trial.

The current drawings listed on JodiArias.com are portraits of celebrities, women’s faces, and nature scenes.

“She’s not physically running a business from our jail,” Hegstrom said. “I can’t stop her from talking on the phone or releasing property.”

It is unclear where the money from profits ends up, though Hegstrom said people outside of the jail can put money in Arias’ commissary fund.

The Twitter account under Arias’ name recently sent a message saying Arias was bankrupt. She also tweeted that her parents and aunt and uncle were bankrupt, but deleted the latter messages from the account shortly thereafter.

Arias’s parents did not return calls from ABC News seeking comment.

Hergstrom warned that sheriff’s office officials cannot verify that the drawings are actually done by Arias.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio 

Thursday
Oct172013

California Bears Break into Cars to Get Food, Often Can’t Get Out

iStock/Thinkstock(TRUCKEE, Calif.) -- In Truckee, Calif., a few car owners have woken up to find themselves the victim of a wild vandal.

In four separate incidents over the past few weeks, bears have broken into cars and ended up locking themselves in. According to Sgt. John Mon Pere of the Truckee Police Department, less snow has led to a depleted food supply this year, making the bears more daring in their search for something to eat.

“Bears can manipulate car handles if the cars are left unlocked,” he said.

“After the bears go in, they may pull the door on themselves — that makes them stressed and causes them to thrash around, which can cause quite a bit of damage inside.”

So far, no bear or car owner has been injured. In one case, a car owner was able to free the bear. In another, the police had to break open the window so that the bear could escape into the woods.

The Truckee Police Department has warned residents to keep their car doors locked and not to leave food in their cars. Many said these break-ins were an inevitable result of living near the wilderness.

“We’re invading their space, we’re kind of pinching them in a little bit,” said Dave Baker of the Truckee Bear League.  "Also, kids are leaving food in the car, and when the bears smell it, they go for it.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct172013

Glitches Plague Website for Students Applying Early for College

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- With deadlines for early college applications rapidly approaching, many high school seniors who are using a popular website to submit their information are freaking out.

Common Application is used by hundreds of colleges and universities, and processes more than three million applications a year. It's supposed to simplify the process, but prospective college students have been running into glitches with the website.

Some common issues with the site include essays disappearing, logins not working and screens going blank. As a result, many schools have extended their deadlines for early applications.

In a statement, Common Application said it is "committed to resolving these issues promptly."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Oct172013

Sheriff Would Arrest Cyberbully Suspect's Parents If He Could

Rebecca Sedwick - Against Bullying/Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Florida officials are still actively investigating the parents of a teenage girl accused of cyberbullying Rebecca Sedwick to suicide, Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

"If I could, they would already be in jail," Judd told ABC News Wednesday.  "But I can tell you this, that we're keeping our options open."

The charge would be "contributing to the delinquency of a minor," the sheriff said.

Two girls, ages 12 and 14, were arrested earlier this week and charged with felony aggravated assault for leading the digital torment against Sedwick, 12, police said.  She jumped from a concrete silo tower to her death on Sept. 9.

Meanwhile, the parents of the two suspects and school officials bare the bulk of responsibility, Sedwick's mother said.

"I would rather see the parents and administrators behind bars, and see the kids get help they need," Tricia Norton of Lakeland, Fla., told ABC News Wednesday.

The parents of the older suspect monitored their daughter's Facebook activities nightly and saw no signs of bullying, leading them to believe someone hacked her account, they told ABC News Tuesday night.

Judd doesn't buy their story and accused the older suspect of gloating on Facebook after the suicide about bullying Sedwick.

"Yeah, that's baloney. Those parents haven't cared from the very beginning," Judd said. "After this initial event, after the initial interviews, why did they let her stay on Facebook any longer?"

Judd said he's only investigating the older suspect's parents, whom he described as being "in denial."

"When the parents don't take care of the children and it becomes criminal conduct, then it becomes my responsibility, and my deputies and I know how to take control," he said.

The younger suspect's parents "are remorseful, and they see the big picture. They recognize that was a major malfunction. They care," Judd said.

The sheriff released the names and mug shots of the accused juveniles earlier this week to send a message to others in the community about cyberbullying. ABC News is not revealing either girl's identity because they have been charged as juveniles.

Sedwick was bullied online for 10 months and Norton said her daughter had been physically attacked five times before that, police say.  Eventually, Norton pulled Sedwick from Crystal Lake Middle School in Pompano Beach to end the bullying and keep her daughter away from the two suspects, who also attended classes there.

"I made several, several reports to the school.  I did an online bullying report because I thought nothing was being done by the school.  And nothing was being done on that either," Norton said.

Polk County school officials refused to comment when asked about Norton's allegations, but they told ABC News that progress on bullying is being made.

"We have seen an increase in the reporting of bullying," Polk Schools Assistant Superintendent Nancy Woolcock said. "Parents seem to be paying attention now."

But even after Sedwick left the school for a fresh start this fall, her tormentors continued their assault online, police said. She jumped to her death at an abandoned concrete plant.

"When I stood there at the base of that cement tower, and saw that baby, that 12-year-old, deceased on the ground, it broke my heart and I know it would break the hearts of everyone else across the country if they were in the position I was in," Judd told ABC's Good Morning America Wednesday.

Sedwick would have celebrated her 13th birthday this weekend.

The 12-year-old suspect told them she bullied Sedwick and expressed remorse, police said.  She was released into her parents' custody and has been placed on home detention, pending further proceedings.

The older suspect remains in the juvenile wing of the Polk County Jail until her arraignment on Oct. 25.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio