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Monday
May202013

Smithsonian Conservatory Rescuing Exotic Animals from Extinction

File photo. Hemera/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- When you see African cheetahs, Chinese red pandas, Micronesian kingfishers and hooded cranes, you might think you’re in the wilds of Africa or Asia.

But in rural northern Virginia, little more than an hour from Washington, D.C., you can find all of those animals at the Smithsonian Conservation Biology Institute.

It is home to some of the most endangered animals in the world, including clouded leopards, originally from Thailand.

The institute currently has two clouded leopard cubs, a male and a female, that are a little more than 100 days old.

The population of clouded leopards has been decimated by hunters and poachers who sell their furs. The Smithsonian has bred 80 of the magnificent cats.

“When it comes to all these animals, the one common denominator is loss of habitat,” said Paul Marinari, the biology institute’s senior curator.

Many of the animals at the institute enjoy a level of freedom that is rare in captivity. They are kept in large, open spaces spilling over 3,000 acres. It is a refuge in rural Virginia where some of the world’s most endangered animals are being brought back from the brink of extinction.

Most of the animals come from zoos. Smithsonian researchers study to learn how to breed and rear them in captivity. Some are sent back to zoos but many animals are returned to nature.

The black-footed ferret, one of the most endangered species in North America, had been all but wiped out before a ranch dog found 18 in Wyoming.  Marinari said his team captured the solitary, nocturnal animals and brought them into captivity.

“This is our 25th year of having black-footed ferrets,” he said. “They were thought to be extinct several times. … This is one species where we actually have the potential very soon to actually downlist and eventually delist them off the endangered species list.”

The institute has bred and released nearly 8,000 black-footed ferrets from that first group of 18. The Smithsonian currently has month-old, baby black-footed ferrets. They, too, will be released.

“These guys could end up in Arizona. They could end up in Kansas,” Marinara said. “They will be [back] in the wild.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
May202013

Boeing 787 Returns to US Skies

Duncan Chard/Bloomberg via Getty Images(CHICAGO) -- United Airlines flight #1 from Houston to Chicago arrived in the Windy City on Monday with a new battery and an effort by Boeing to repair its image.

The Dreamliner became a nightmare 114 days ago, when the entire fleet was grounded after two separate incidents in which lithium-ion batteries failed in a smokey mess that left engineers puzzled.

Boeing re-built the battery, encased it in stainless steel, and got the Federal Aviation Administration to sign off on the fix for the 50 aircraft in operation.

On Monday, United Airlines, the only U.S. carrier with 787s, returned the Dreamliner to flight with the Boeing and airline's CEOs on board. "It's absolutely safe," Boeing CEO James McNerney told ABC News on the flight.

United Airlines CEO Jeff Smisek says he is excited to get the aircraft back in service, but kidded his Boeing colleague. "It's an expensive piece of art to keep on the ground," Smisek said.

Boeing had expected to deliver 60 Dreamliners this year. So far only two have been handed over to airlines. The airlines are asking Boeing to reimburse them for some of the cost of keeping the jets on the ground while the battery issue was fixed.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
May202013

Investigators Question Terror Suspects' Attraction to Boston Suburb

Darren McCollester/Getty Images(BOSTON) -- Among the many unanswered questions about the two Tsarnaev brothers accused of the Boston Marathon bombing is why, days after the attack, they were heading to the suburb of Watertown and its manicured lawns and tulips when police picked up their trail and began a chase.

Investigators want to know what drew the accused bombers to the cluster of side streets in the blue-collar suburb, far from any major thoroughfare, especially if the brothers were on the run after their images had been shown on television by the FBI and after they had allegedly murdered MIT Police Officer Sean Collier.

"It's clear the suspects have connections to Watertown," said Joseph Curatone, the mayor in the neighboring city of Somerville told ABC News. "And it's abundantly clear that investigators are exploring every aspect of those connections as they should."

Some answers may be found in an obscure town parking ticket and a police report from the adjoining suburb of Arlington about a minor case involving open containers of alcohol, law enforcement officials told ABC News.

The parking ticket, obtained by ABC News, was written on a car registered to Dzhokhar Tsarnaev at 2:10 a.m. on February 18, 2011 on the 200 block of Boylston Street.

When the ticket was found in police records during the hunt for the wounded bomber, it sparked an immediate FBI raid on the Boylston street address, which is the home of a friend, Maximilian Freddura, part of a prominent Boston restaurateur family.

Freddura's apartment, where police officials say Dzhokhar was a frequent guest, is a block away from the corner of Laurel and Dexter Streets where police caught up with the Tsarnaev brothers five days after the marathon bombing.

After a chaotic exchange of gunfire that night that included the detonation of several explosives, the older Tsarnaev, Tamerlan, was killed, while his brother Dzkhokhar managed to escape, though injured. Dzkhokhar was captured hours later, hiding in a covered boat.

"Was he headed here? I don't know," Freddura told ABC News last week, referring to Dzhokhar. Freddura attended Cambridge Rindge and Latin, the same high school attended by both Tsarnaevs. "He certainly would not have been welcomed."

During the hunt for the younger Tsarnaev, police raided another residence in neighboring Arlington where the accused bomber had a run-in with police on July 4, 2012, ABC News has learned.

According to the police report obtained by ABC News, Dzhokhar and two other men were seen drinking in another car registered to Dzhokhar, the 1999 Green Honda Civic that investigators believe Dzhokhar drove during the police chase into Watertown.

"In the driver seat was Dzhokar Tsarnaev," the report states.

Dzhokhar was issued a ticket for parking in a restricted area and was released. Another occupant of the car said he was the one drinking and received a $500 fine for having an open container of alcohol in a motor vehicle.

Based on that police report, investigators searched the Arlington block during the manhunt, which is roughly two miles away from the scene of the shootout.

"It was within walking distance, so we hit the house,'' said a law enforcement official involved in the hunt. Arlington Police maintained a presence in the area throughout the time of the manhunt.

It was the second time in three years that the blue-collar suburb appeared to have links to a terror attack.

In 2010, Watertown was the scene of FBI raids after agents learned that Faisal Shahzad, convicted of trying to detonate a car bomb in Times Square, came to the suburb to pick up $5,000 cash from a Pakistani citizen living there, according to federal court records.

The Pakistani, Aftab Ali, was identified by authorities as part of a militant group, Tehrik-e-Taliban, and was deported.

Authorities said they know of no link between the Times Square bomber and the two accused Marathon bombers, other than the coincidental connections to Watertown.

Now, just more than a month after the bombings, windows in the Watertown area where hundreds of bullets were fired and four bombs were lobbed at police remain webbed with bullet holes and marked with FBI tape.

An ATF evidence cone marked "58" rests in a tulip bed. The vinyl siding of several homes is ripped with ricochet rounds.

The street is stained black from a pressure-cooker bomb.

Blood left behind after Tamerlan Tsarnaev was run over by his fleeing brother is still visible on the corner where the chaos was at its height.

Later, residents incorporated the bloodstain in a chalk drawing with the initials "USA" written underneath.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
May202013

Jodi Arias' Attorneys Say They Cannot Proceed in Death Penalty Phase

ABC News(PHOENIX) -- The death penalty phase of the Jodi Arias trial was cut short Monday after Arias' defense attorneys erupted in confrontational arguments with the judge and prosecutor and said they could not continue defending her.

The jury was expecting to hear character testimony from Arias' friends Monday as part the defense's bid to present mitigating factors to the jury and convince it to sentence her with leniency. But before that could happen, lead defense attorney Kirk Nurmi asked for a mistrial and for permission to withdraw from the case, citing prosecutorial misconduct.

Arias was convicted on May 8 of murdering her ex-boyfriend, Travis Alexander. She now faces the death penalty.

On Monday, Nurmi told the court that the defense could not go on because one of their mitigating witnesses, Arias' childhood friend Patricia Womack, had been intimidated into not testifying by prosecutor Juan Martinez.

"Miss Womack feels her life is being threatened to an extent she cannot come forward and testify. This is unacceptable," Nurmi said.

"This cannot be a modern-day version of stoning or witch trials," he added, becoming more animated. "When you have a prosecutor that this court allows to personally attack witnesses and counsel, it breeds this sort of environment where intimidating can take place. And this has been happening throughout trial."

Nurmi has previously asked for two mistrials based on alleged prosecutorial misconduct. Both times, Judge Sherry Stephens denied his motions.

Martinez said that he had merely interviewed Womack about her testimony last week, on May 15, and asked her pointed questions about her drug use and unreported income that could subject her to criminal prosecution. Womack decided to invoke her Fifth Amendment right in response to his questions, Martinez said.

Womack did not appear in court Monday.

Stephens denied the defense's request for a mistrial, causing Nurmi immediately to move to withdraw from the case. It is the third time he and co-counsel Jennifer Willmott have asked to withdraw.

"Ms. Willmott and I move to withdraw again," Nurmi said Monday. "We cannot present a full picture [of Arias' life] as incumbent upon us. We cannot fulfill our duties."

When Stephens also denied that request and asked Nurmi to call his first witness for the day, Nurmi said if the court would not rule in the defense's favor on the mistrial or withdrawal motions, there would be no witnesses, leaving only Arias' own statement to the jury before closing arguments.

Nurmi originally told jurors they would hear about Arias' life, her clean criminal record, her quest to better herself and her artwork before they would be asked to rule on her sentence. Without any witnesses or testimony, however, the case wound quickly to its close Monday.

Stephens adjourned court noting that Arias would give her allocution statement on Tuesday, at 12:30 p.m. ET.

The defense and prosecution both are expected to rest their cases at that time, before the jury goes into deliberations to decide whether to sentence Arias to death or life in prison.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
May202013

University of Rhode Island Student Disappears

Pennsylvania State Police(PHILADELPHIA) -- Matthew Royer, 21, a University of Rhode Island student, has disappeared on his way home from the school for summer vacation.

Authorities have said they believe he made it within 30 miles of his Pennsylvania home before falling off the grid.

Royer was last seen on Thursday, May 16 on the University of Rhode Island campus. The college junior had moved out of his apartment and returned the keys, according to ABC News' Philadelphia station WPVI.  The last known communication was with his mother, Janet Royer, at around 6 p.m. that day to say that he had overslept and was "about to leave."

From there, surveillance footage, debit card use and cell phone tower pings show Royer stopping at a gas station in Rhode Island at 6:30 p.m., and near Allentown, Pa., at 2 a.m. on Friday then stopping at a gas station about 35 miles from his home a short time later, according to his family and authorities.

"He bought water at the station, he opened it in the car and headed southbound on 100. He looked fine, not distraught," his mother told WPVI.

"We've narrowed it down to 30-40 miles from our house, and we can't find him," Janet Royer said. "You couldn't ask for a better son. It's not like him. If he wasn't coming home, he would've told me he wasn't coming home, unless he couldn't."

Royer is white, 6-feet-1, and weighs 160 pounds. He has brown hair and blue eyes.

Authorities are asking anyone with information to call Pennsylvania State Police Skippack at 610-584-1250 and give the reference number K03-1918501.

Monday
May202013

Deadly Tornadoes Rip Through Midwest, More Expected

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(SHAWNEE, Okla.) -- At least two people are dead after a series of tornadoes ripped across the Midwest on Sunday, injuring dozens while leaving a path of devastation in a region that is expected to see more severe weather later on Monday.

More than 50 tornadoes struck six central states -- Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma -- over the weekend.  The hardest hit were Kansas, with 32 tornadoes, and Oklahoma, with seven.

The National Weather Service says that one of the tornadoes near Wichita, Kan., registered EF-1 winds up to 110 mph.  It was on the ground for an estimated 4.5 miles.

In Shawnee, Okla., where one of the deaths was reported, it's believed that at least four twisters touched down.  Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin declared a state of emergency in 16 counties on Sunday, triggering a request for federal assistance.

On Monday, Shawnee and other areas hit by tornadoes over the weekend could see more severe weather.  Areas just north of Dallas, Oklahoma City, Tulsa, Okla., and Springfield, Mo., are at a moderate risk for tornadoes.

Large cities like St. Louis, Chicago, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Detroit, Green Bay, Wis., and Milwaukee could also see damaging hail and a chance for isolated tornadoes.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
May202013

Oklahoma Tornado: At Least 51 Dead, 'Horrific' Damage

Brett Deering/Getty Images(OKLAHOMA CITY) -- A mammoth tornado carved a trail of destruction through the Oklahoma City metropolitan area, killing at least 51 people and ripping apart two elementary schools today, local authorities said.

David Barnes, the director of Oklahoma Emergency Management in Oklahoma County, told ABC News that a single twister tore through homes from Newcastle to Moore, a path of 12 miles. The damage was "widespread" and people's homes were completely destroyed, all the way to their foundations, he said.

At least 51 people have been confirmed dead in tornado's aftermath, according to the state's chief medical examiner's office.

"It is absolutely devastating, this is horrific," Oklahoma Lt. Gov Todd Lamb said. "We're going to have fatalities. ... We're going to have significant injuries. ... We just don't know what those numbers are. Schools have been hit, a hospital has been hit, businesses have been flattened, neighborhoods have been wiped away -- we don't have the numbers in yet but it is going to be significant and it is going to be horrific."

SEE LIVE UPDATES on the tornado from ABC News

The National Weather Service said the preliminary rating of the Newcastle-Moore Tornado was at least EF-4, meaning wind speeds of up to 200 mph.

Authorities said Briarwood Elementary School in Moore, Okla., received a "direct hit" from the storm and was severely damaged. In anticipation of the severe weather this afternoon, schools in the Moore area did not release their students at the end of the school day, according to Oklahoma Emergency Management officials.

One sixth grade boy named Brady told ABC affiliate KOCO-TV in Oklahoma City that he and other students took cover in a bathroom.

"Cinderblocks and everything collapsed on them but they were underneath so that kind of saved them a little bit, but I mean they were trapped in there," he said.

Plaza Towers Elementary School in Moore was also in the monster twister's path. Local residents who lived near the school rushed to help pull kids and teachers out.

First responders on the scene tell ABC News all children at both schools have been accounted for, but they are still going door-to-door to search for people in homes.

Moore resident Melissa Newton said the hail from the tornado was "about the size of golfballs."

The National Weather Service issued a rare tornado emergency for the Oklahoma City metropolitan area Monday afternoon, meaning that significant damage and fatalities were likely.

The Oklahoma University Medical Center in downtown Oklahoma City had received seven patients as of early Monday evening but was expecting more, hospital spokesman Scott Coppenbarger said.

About the condition of the patients he would only say they had the kind of "injuries suffered in a tornado ... you can probably imagine."

 

First responders were reportedly having trouble reaching Moore, which has a population of about 56,300 people, because people were stuck in their cars on the highway.

"We've got so many people that are all on the interstate that we can not get our emergency responders to the scene because we've got so many people tied up in traffic on I-35," said Betsy Randolph of the State Highway Patrol.

This twister was the latest in a group of violent storms that swept through the Midwest, starting Sunday, that has left at least two people dead and dozens more injured.

On Sunday, a tornado ripped through Shawnee, Okla., killing a 79-year-old man near a mobile home park that was reduced to rubble, according to Pottawatomie County Sheriff Mike Booth.

Twisters, hail and high winds also struck Iowa and Kansas as part of a devastating, northeastward-moving storm system that stretched from Texas to Minnesota. Kansas, Illinois, Iowa, Missouri, Nebraska and Oklahoma were ravaged by 50 tornadoes this weekend.

The National Weather Service says that one of the tornadoes near Wichita, Kan., registered EF-1 winds up to 110 mph. It was on the ground for an estimated 4.5 miles.

Moore was the site of one of the most destructive tornadoes in U.S. history. On May 3, 1999, an EF-5 tornado ripped through the Oklahoma City area, killing 36 people.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Monday
May202013

Florida Town Awaits Powerball Winner

William Thomas Cain/Getty Images(ZEPHYRHILLS, Fla.) -- Residents of the small town of Zephyrhills, Fla., are buzzing with excitement that the lucky holder of a Powerball ticket worth $590.5 million could be a neighbor, after the announcement that the winning ticket was sold at a grocery store there.

"I think that's awesome.  I can't wait to see who it is.  I hope it's somebody I know.  I think it would be great," resident Martha Bennett said.

The central Florida town, with a population of 13,337, was best known as a skydiving destination before lottery officials revealed on Sunday that a Publix supermarket in Zephyrhills had sold the winning ticket for the record Powerball jackpot.

The winning numbers in Saturday's drawing were 10, 13, 14, 22, 52 and a Powerball of 11.

The lucky person or group holding the ticket has not yet come forward, according to lottery officials.  However, under Florida law, the winner's name, age and hometown will be made public.

Chuck Strutt, executive director of the Multi-State Lottery Association, urged the person holding the ticket to sign it immediately.

"If it were me, I'd put that in an envelope and duct tape it to my chest.  I'd be known as the Powerball millionaire with a nasty rash," he said.

While the residents of Zephyrhills wait to find out if the winner is one of their own, whoever is holding the ticket will have a big decision to make after coming forward.

The winner will have to decide whether to take the annuity or a lump sum, which comes out to $370,896,780.54.

Earlier estimates had put the jackpot at $600 million, however the Powerball website reflected an adjusted total of $590.5 million -- still the largest jackpot in the game's history.

The previous record for a Powerball jackpot was $587.5 million on Nov. 28, 2012, and was split between two winning tickets.

The odds of winning the top jackpot was 1 in 175.2 million.

While there was only one grand prize winner, 31 tickets matched all five numbers, earning those lucky ticket holders a prize of $1 million each.  Two tickets sold in New York and South Carolina were Power Play winners worth $2 million each, according to Powerball officials.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
May192013

Suspects Butt Dial 9-1-1 During Alleged Burglary

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(FRESNO, Calif.) -- Accidentally butt dialing someone is embarrassing or inconsequential to most, but for two Fresno, Calif., men, their cell phone mishap landed them in jail.

The call, which went to 911, started like any other call to the police dispatcher, with the operator asking, “What is your emergency?”

But when no one answered, the operator didn’t hang up, instead staying on the line and listening to the pair, who police identified as Nathan Teklemariam and Carson Rinehart, both 20, as they talked about wanting to do drugs. It wasn’t long before the conversation turned to breaking into a car.

“Get the bolt and give me the hammer just in case,” one of the two voices on the phone said.

Shortly after that statement, the dispatcher heard a window shatter and the people on the phone started yelling that they found prescription drugs.

As the two were driving away, police were already in the area searching for the men based on clues that the 911 dispatcher was feeding to them.

The police finally tracked the suspects down and pulled them over. The suspects acted confused and questioned what why they were being pulled over, police said.

“Oh, he’s following me, dog,” one of the suspects said in the recording. “Wow, what the [expletive] did I do?”

As they were being questioned, the suspects allegedly denied any wrongdoing, but after searching the car, police said they found items that allegedly were taken from the burglarized vehicle.
After being cuffed, the suspects were finally told how they were caught.

“This fool really called 911?” one of the suspects said. “Damn.”

“I have never heard of something like this,” Sgt. Jaime Rios of the Fresno Police Department told ABCNews.com. “There have been times where the dispatcher hears something like this, but never has a call come in before a crime being committed and staying on all the way to the end.”

Rios said the suspects are being charged with burglary, conspiracy and possession of stolen property.

 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
May192013

New York City Man Killed in Anti-Gay Hate Crime

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- New York City police say a deadly shooting that took place in Greenwich Village Saturday was an anti-gay hate crime.

32-year-old Harlem resident Marc Carson and his companion were just blocks from the famous Stonewall Inn when a group approached them, making anti-gay slurs.

Police say that one member of the group, Elliot Morales, asked the two men if they were “gay wrestlers," and later asked “do you want to die here?"

Morales then pulled out a gun and shot Carson in the face, according to NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly. He died in the hospital soon afterwards.

An officer arrested Morales a few blocks away from where the shooting took place.

This is the latest in a series of bias attacks on gay men in the area, and police are investigating to see if there is any connection between this incident and earlier ones.

“It's a really sad affair,” said Sean Williams, a friend of Carson.

“I mean, come on. This is 2013. Who's killing people for being gay nowadays?”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio







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