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Saturday
Jul272013

Seven Dead, Including Gunman, After Shooting Spree in Southern Florida

Thinkstock/Comstock(HIALEAH, Fla.) -- Seven people are dead in Southern Florida after a gunman went on a rampage Friday night through an apartment complex in the city of Hialeah.

Police are still trying to piece together exactly what happened, but say they first received reports of shots fired in the apartment complex at 6:30 p.m.

Among the six victims – three male and three female – was a married couple who managed the building, Italo and Samira Pisciotti.

Police said the couple had gone to talk to a tenant who had filed a complaint. Moments later, gunshots rang out.

"A neighbor put in a complaint and they went to talk to another neighbor and that's all we know," the couple's daughter, Shamira Pisciotti, told ABC News.

Hialeah Police Sgt. Eddie Rodriguez told ABC News that before authorities arrived, the gunman was walking through the five-story apartment complex firing randomly at people in the building's hallways and elevators.

Hialeah Police Department spokesman Carl Zogby says 43-year old Pedro Vargas set his apartment on fire, gunned down the building's two managers, then ran out onto his balcony and killed a man on the street before continuing his rampage.

"The subject then ran out of his apartment, ran down to the third floor, kicked the door open of an apartment, and shot a man, his wife and their 17-year old daughter inside the apartment," Zogby recounted.

 The man who was killed while parking his car was walking his two children into an apartment from a balcony across the street, police said. The man realized that shots were being fired and sprinted toward the front door to get his children to safety. While he was fatally shot, his children were unharmed, Rodriguez said.

Vargas then managed to hold off more than 100 officers and swat teams for up to five hours as they engaged him, both sides exchanging fire

Vargas then took two or three hostages, resulting in a lengthy standoff with authorities. Rodriquez said that about 40 residents remain evacuated, though the entire block was cleared at one point.

Police negotiators tried to talk Vargas down but after a several hours they realized he was most likely not going to surrender quietly. The 8-hour ordeal ended when a SWAT team was finally able to take down Vargas to rescue the hostages.

The SWAT team initially attempted to subdue him with flash grenades, but Zogby said they were forced to shoot him.

“At his last moments he was holding at least two hostages at gun point. SWAT members of the Hialeah Police Department knew there was no more time to negotiate and the gunman was shot and killed by Hialeah police.”

Including Vargas, seven people in total were killed in Hialeah overnight.

Vargas is believed to have acted alone, and are trying to determine a motive. Three of the victims still need to be identified, and officials are working on informing the next of kin.

Residents were allowed back into the buildings at approximately 5 a.m. Saturday morning, with the exception of those with units on the fourth and fifth floors.

"It could have been a much much more dangerous situation," Zogby said. "This is a terrible tragedy, but the fact is that when we found him, in the investigation, he still had plenty of live rounds of ammunition left with him."

“The most important part is over,” said Zogby earlier in the day. “The bad guy is down, he's dead, he cannot hurt anybody anymore.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Jul132013

Florida Police Prepare for Response to Zimmerman Verdict

Photo by Gary W. Green-Pool/Getty Images(SANFORD, Fla.) -- Police in South Florida are bracing for the verdict in the racially charged George Zimmerman murder trial, creating places for people to peacefully protest, monitoring social media and urging people to remain calm.

"It's a trying time for all of us. We're not sure what the verdict is going to bring but it's a great opportunity for evolution of the Sanford community," Sanford Police Chief Cecil Smith said at a news conference Friday as the jury began its deliberations.

Zimmerman shot and killed Trayvon Martin in Sanford on Feb. 26, 2012. Zimmerman, 29, maintains he shot Martin, 17, in self-defense, while the state argued that Zimmerman "profiled" Martin and concluded he was a criminal.

The case took on racial overtones after police declined to charge Zimmerman, who is white and Hispanic. Martin was black.

Zimmerman was charged with murder nearly two months later by a special prosecutor appointed by the state.

Because of the tension over the case, the judge initially said she will delay the announcement of the jury's eventual verdict by two hours to give police ample time to prepare for security. It's not clear if that is still the plan.

Benjamin Crump, a lawyer for Martin's family, told ABC News Friday that he did not expect violence.

"I certainly don't think Trayvon Martin supporters are going to be emotionally overcharged to act out in a way that's not responsible because they were very emotional when we were trying to get an arrest, and they were very peaceful, there was no violence," he said.

The jury could let Zimmerman walk free or convict him on second degree murder or manslaughter, charges that could send him to prison for the rest of his life if convicted of the most serious charge.

Smith said the aftermath of the shooting had changed the "mindset, perception of what we see in our country today."

In Sanford, a town of 50,000 people, he said law enforcement has been knocking on doors, introducing themselves to people in order to foster better relations between police and the community.

In Miami-Dade County, where Martin lived with his mother, police have launched a campaign to encourage people to "be vocal, not violent" and have designated two parks where people can assemble peacefully to express their feelings.

A "rumor control" hotline, which is being staffed 24 hours a day, was launched in the county on Friday to address any problems that may arise after the verdict has been read. Authorities also said they are monitoring social media.

In Sarasota, Fla., at a news conference, Chief Bernadette DiPino encouraged people to react in a "civil and peaceful" manner to the verdict.

"When a verdict is read, not everyone is going to be happy," she said. "We are asking the public to take part in peaceful responses and speak with their mouths, not with their hands and not use weapons of any kind."

More than 25,000 people assembled peacefully in Sanford in March 2012 to protest after police initially refused to arrest Zimmerman.

"They wanted an investigation, they asked for an arrest, they asked for charges to be made and they asked for a trial. Each of those things has taken place," Smith said.

Now, he said, "there's nothing on the horizon for us other than to move forward."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
Jun092013

Expert Says It's 'Imaginary' to Hear Trayvon Martin Pleas on 911 Call

Photo by Joe Burbank-Pool/Getty Images(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- A speech scientist said on Saturday that it was "imaginary stuff" to assert that Trayvon Martin could be heard pleading for help on 911 tapes the night he was killed in a confrontation with George Zimmerman, who is accused of murder in Martin's death.

The testimony came in an unusual court hearing, in which Zimmerman's defense team called two witnesses in an effort to rebut the testimony Friday of witnesses who said that Martin pleaded for help before he was shot and killed by the former neighborhood watch captain.

The defense questioned the methodology used to detect Martin's supposed howls and pleas on 911 calls made by frightened neighbors who witnessed the fatal altercation on Feb. 26, 2012.

Two forensic analysts said Friday that they detected, one by using a limited voice sample of the Florida teenager, Martin screaming for help on 911 audio moments before he was shot and killed by Zimmerman.

"That's imaginary stuff," speech scientist George Doddington said when asked by defense attorney Mark O'Mara about state witness Alan Reich's testimony that he picked up Martin screaming "I'm begging you" on 911 audio.

Doddington called the methodology used to detect the audio "absurd."

The expected final witness in the hearing to determine whether a jury will hear testimony that Martin screamed for help before he died got stuck on an airport tarmac.

The announcement by Judge Debra Nelson was followed by a court recess that will end with the first day of jury selection Monday as the second-degree murder trial of Zimmerman begins.

ABC News exclusively obtained a sample of Martin's voice and sent the very short sample taken from his cell phone, in which he can be heard horsing around with friends, to a forensic analyst.

Kent Gibson of Forensic Audio tells ABC News that a comparison of Martin's voice, Zimmerman's voice and the screams on the 911 tape, indicate the voice is more likely to be Zimmerman than Martin. But neither result reaches the 60 percent threshold of certainty Gibson said he needed to be assured.

Gibson noted much of the howling and pleading overheard on that 911 tape is muffled or obscured, and that only two seconds of the tape are useable. He said there could not be definitive identification of "the screamer."

During Saturday's hearing, Doddington testified that ultimately humans can tell the difference between voices better than any machine. The state's counter-argument was that the jury should be presented with all sides and make the decision for themselves.

After the the hearing, the defense filed yet another motion asking that the start of the trial be delayed.

Unless the judge grants the request, the hearing will resume after a jury of six is selected. The process to find that group of men or women along with four alternates will begin Monday. There were 500 notices sent out in March across Seminole County, Fla.

The names of potential jurors in the trial will be kept confidential. In court they will be referred to only by jury number.

Nelson also ruled earlier that potential jurors will not be sequestered. It is estimated that the process of jury selection will take anywhere from one to three weeks. Of course, finding 10 people who have heard little about this controversial, highly publicized case won't be easy.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
May112013

Fla. School Bus Driver Charged with Child Abuse

ABC News(BARTOW, Fla.) -- A Polk County, Fla. school bus driver who allegedly set up a fight between two teenage passengers and encouraged them to brawl in the front yard of her home is in custody, charged with two counts of child abuse, according to the county sheriff's office.

Authorities said Patrice Sanders, 29, of Lakeland, Fla., was driving students home from three different Bartow, Fla. area schools when she spotted two girls arguing in the back of the bus Thursday afternoon.

"This is going to be handled today and they just need to fight," Sanders reportedly said.

Instead of making her normal route, Sanders allegedly skipped the rest of the bus stops, drove 20 miles to her home, and ordered all 34 students on board to get off the bus. She reportedly even offered the 13-year-old and the 16-year-old who she thought needed to duke it out Vaseline or baby oil so they wouldn't scratch their faces.

The brawl, which was captured on video by another student, shows the two girls punching, kicking, and pulling each other's hair. In the recording, one of the girls is seen throwing her opponent into a barbecue grill.

Sanders did not try to stop the fight, and instead stood by and looked on until the two students decided to quit, according to a statement from the Polk County Sheriff's Office.

Following the fight, Sanders got the students back onto the bus, the statement said. But when the two girls continued to exchange blows, Sanders allegedly pulled over and refereed the second round.

"What happens on the bus, stays on the bus," Sanders reportedly told the passengers.

The 13-year-old's mother reported the incident to the Polk County Sheriff's Office and took her daughter to the hospital, the statement said. She was not seriously injured from the fight.

In addition to child abuse, Sanders was charged with false imprisonment, two counts of child neglect and two counts of contributing to the delinquency of a minor. The two students involved in the scuffle were both charged with misdemeanor battery.

"Come on girl, what are you thinking? How in the world could you allow and promote and encourage children to fight?" Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd said.

Sanders is in custody at the Polk County Jail. Additional charges against her are pending further interviews with other students onboard, according to the sheriff's office.

Sanders was due in court this morning.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sunday
May052013

Teen Surfer Recovering After Shark Attack

iStockphoto(MELBOURNE BEACH, Fla.) -- A teenage surfer is recovering in a Florida hospital after a shark took a bite out of his leg on Saturday.

Michael Adler and four friends went surfing at Melbourne Beach on Saturday morning, an area known for its bull sharks.

The 16-year-old said he didn’t see the shark that bit him, he recalled the moment of terror when it sunk its razor-sharp teeth into his leg.

 “His whole jaw just crammed down on my leg and right from there I kind of knew it was a shark attack,” he said. “So then I was paddling in as fast as I could.”

Adler’s friends said a man with military training raced to his aid, using his surf board leash as a tourniquet.

Doctors said because of the anonymous stranger’s quick-thinking, Adler was able to keep his foot and doctors were able to repair four tendons.

"The doctors told me that I was lucky that it didn't hit like a major artery, cuz that would've been a lot more bleeding," Adler said.

Adler later tweeted "I better be on Shark Week."

The shark attack didn’t deter Adler’s friends, though. After dropping him off at the hospital they headed back to the beach.

When Adler recovers, he said he plans to do the same.

“I am definitely going to surf in the future,” he said. “I wish I could surf tomorrow.”


 

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
May042013

Runaway Mom Turned Herself in on Outstanding Warrant

Sondra Forrester and Brenda Heist are seen here in this undated photo. (Courtesy Sondra Forrester)(LITITZ, Pa.) -- Brenda Heist, the Pennsylvania mother who disappeared 11 years ago and reappeared in Florida last week, turned herself in on an outstanding warrant, authorities said.

Alachua County Sheriff's Office spokesman Art Forgey told ABC News that Heist, 53, originally of Lititz, Pa., walked into the Alachua County Jail in Gainsville, Fla., and turned herself in on a violation of probation warrant from another county in Florida just after 5:30 pm on Friday.

Heist was originally charged with forgery of a written instrument and for providing a false name to law enforcement. She was booked under her alias, Kelsie Lyanne Smith.

Smith will be transferred from the Alachua County Jail to the Santa Rosa County Jail, where the warrant is outstanding, Forgey said.

A man who answered the phone at the Alachua County Jail told ABC News that her bond has not been set and she would not be transferred until Monday at the earliest.

Heist disappeared in 2002 after dropping off her two kids at a Lititz, Pa., school. She went to a park where she cried over her the divorce she was going through, she has told police. She was discovered in this distraught state by three strangers and on a whim she decided to take off with them and hitchhike to Florida, where she lived homeless for several years.

"She decided to go with them on a whim," Lititz Borough Police Det. Schofield told ABC News. "She told me that it was two males and female. They drove to York, Pa., with her car, parked it and abandoned it, and met up with another group, who were traveling down to Florida. It was a community down there living together."

During her disappearance, her husband Lee Heist was left to raise their two kids, who were 8 and 12 at the time she went missing.

Lee Heist was financially hurt when his wife vanished. With no one to watch his young children, he had to quit his job in order to look after them. And with her disappearance, the family also lost out on her financial support. Brenda Heist had been a bookkeeper for a car dealership.

By law, Lee Heist was not able to declare his wife dead for seven years, which he did in a Lancaster County court on June 10, 2009. Afterwards he collected $100,000 on the insurance policy taken out on his wife, according to the Intelligencer Journal.

Now, her reappearance may mean that he will have to give the money back -- plus interest.

What happened to Heist since then and her reemergence to authorities April 26 is not clear.

When she turned herself in to the sheriff in Florida on the criminal warrant, she also showed police a Pennsylvania ID for Brenda Heist, and told them that she was wanted in Pennsylvania, Schofield said.

Police quickly figured out that she was the same woman whose 2002 disappearance led to an extensive investigation involving local, state and federal agencies. Heist's missing person case eventually went cold, only to be reopened in 2008.

Schofield said that when he met with her, her appearance was consistent with someone who had been living the homeless lifestyle, and she looked malnourished. She told him that she was at the end of her rope, and tired of running, he said.

Lee Heist, who was at one point a person of interest in her disappearance, is now remarried and living in Montgomery County, Pa.

The Heists' daughter is now a 19-year-old freshman at Montgomery County Community College, and their son, 23, recently graduated from West Chester University and is pursuing a law enforcement career.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Sondra Forrester and Brenda Heist are seen here in this undated photo. Heist vanished from her life in Pennsylvania in 2002 and reemerged on April 26 in Florida. (Courtesy Sondra Forrester)

Sunday
Apr142013

Trayvon Martin Shooting Targets Were ‘No-Shoot’ Tools, Fired Cop Says

(PORT CANAVERAL, Fla.) -- A Port Canaveral, Fla., Port Authority police officer who was fired for bringing shooting targets bearing a likeness of Trayvon Martin to a weapons training session said in a video posted online that his intentions for how the targets were to be used have been misunderstood.

“I would like to start my statement by first apologizing to the family of Trayvon Martin for being used as a pawn in somebody’s political agenda,” Sgt. Ron King said in a video posted on YouTube.

King confirmed to ABC News that he is the man in the video.

King, who had been with the department since January 2011, was fired Thursday, authorities said.

Port Canaveral Port Authority CEO John Walsh said that on April 4, when two fellow cops discovered King intended to use the Trayvon Martin shooting targets in their weapons exercise, they told the sergeant “they didn’t think it was appropriate.” The next day, Walsh said, the officers informed the Port Authority police chief, who called in internal affairs.

In the YouTube video, King said he had no intention of using the targets for target practice, instead, he said he viewed the targets as a training tool for “a no-shoot situation.”

“As a result of last year’s Trayvon Martin shooting, a company offered for sale a target of a faceless silhouette wearing a hoodie with his hands in his pockets, one of which was holding two objects, these objects in the hand were non-threatening and the target was something that I viewed as a no-shoot situation,” he said.

“While others used it as a novelty, I view it as a tool for scenario based firearms training. Although to date, the targets have never been used, I did possess the targets for those training reasons,” he said.

The incident comes two months before the scheduled start of the second-degree murder trial of George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch captain who told police he followed Martin because the teen was acting suspiciously.  Zimmerman later told police he shot Martin in self-defense after the 17-year-old punched him in the face, knocked him down and began slamming his head into the pavement. Martin was unarmed.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Apr132013

Fla. Bill Would Ban Benefit Use at Strip Clubs, Casinos, Liquor Stores

Goodshoot/Thinkstock(TALLAHASSE, Fla.) -- A proposed bill in the Florida state senate would ban people who receive public assistance from withdrawing money from their electronic benefits transfer program accounts in liquor stores, smoke shops, strip clubs and casinos.

Florida residents using a state-administered EBT card would also no longer be able to withdraw funds from ATMs at dog racing tracks and other gaming establishments if the bill goes into effect.

Known in Florida as Senate Bill 1048, the legislation seeks to "develop minimum program requirements and other policy initiatives, including enforcement procedures from the electronic benefits program," the bill states.

Funded by taxpayer dollars, the EBT program is established to help buy food, provide cash assistance, make healthcare available at low or no cost and help pay Medicare premiums, according to the Florida Department of Children and Families website, which administers the benefits program.

Those eligible for food stamps or cash benefits receive an allowance on their EBT card each month. Those enrolled in the program can use the card to either debit purchases or take out cash. The benefits remain in a participant's account for 12 months before they expire.

But there has been a problem with EBT users withdrawing cash from their benefit cards at liquor stores, smoke shops and casinos across the state.

ABC Orlando affiliate WFTV uncovered almost 700 withdrawals at stores with the words "liquor" or "beer" in the title, as well as about 200 stores with "tobacco" or "smoke" in their name over a 30-month period.

WFTV reported $60,000 in EBT card withdrawals were made inside a casino run by the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians near Miami.

If the bill passes, first-time offenders would be ineligible for the EBT program for six months. Anyone who incurred three violations would be permanently disqualified from receiving aid.

If approved, the law would take effect on Oct. 1, 2013.

ABC News' calls to the Florida Department of Children and Families were not immediately returned.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Mar272013

Polo Tycoon Cannot Adopt Adult Girlfriend, Florida Court Says

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(MIAMI) -- A Miami appeals court Wednesday reversed a ruling that allowed Florida polo tycoon John Goodman to adopt his longtime adult girlfriend.

Florida's Third District Court of Appeals Senior Judge Alan R. Schwartz wrote that the adoption of a "paramour" or lover was "so contrary to the beneficent purposes of such an action" that it could not be confirmed by the court, according to court documents.

Goodman, a 49-year-old multimillionaire who founded the International Polo Club in West Palm Beach, Fla., made headlines when he adopted his girlfriend, Heather Hutchins, 42, in an attempt to preserve part of his fortune for her while negotiating a civil suit settlement.

Carroll Goodman, John Goodman's ex-wife and the mother of their two children, filed the appeal, according to court records.

Attorneys for Goodman and his ex-wife could not immediately be reached for comment.

In 2011, a trial court in Palm Beach County approved the adoption. As a result, Hutchins was recognized as another one of Goodman's "children" under the trust fund that had been set up by him and Carroll Goodman for their biological children in 1991.

According to court documents, John Goodman and Hutchins entered an adoption agreement contract that paid her $5 million immediately at the signing of agreement, another $3 million by the end of 2012, and lifetime payments valued at an estimated $8.75 million -- a total of $16.75 million over time. The agreement also allowed Hutchins to request additional amounts from the trust.

While the adoption earned national attention, Goodman found himself in the spotlight again in May 2012 when he was sentenced to 16 years in prison and fined $10,000 for killing a man in a drunk-driving crash.

On May 11, 2012, a Florida judge said in court that Goodman "left to save himself" after his Bentley slammed into 23-year-old Scott Wilson's Hyundai and sent the car into a nearby canal in Wellington, Fla., in the February 2010 accident.

Wilson, an engineering graduate, was strapped into the driver's seat and drowned.

At the time of the court case, Judge Jeffrey Colbath granted that Goodman could be released on a $7 million bond pending his appeal. As conditions for his release, he was placed under house arrest and monitored 24 hours a day with a GPS device, and could not apply for a new passport. His driver's license was also permanently revoked.

A Florida jury found Goodman guilty of DUI manslaughter and vehicular homicide last March.

Goodman claimed in court that his $200,000 car malfunctioned and lurched forward. He has also denied being drunk at the time of the crash that killed Wilson, although other testimony has contradicted him and his blood-alcohol level was more than twice the legal limit three hours after the crash.

Prosecutors said Goodman left the scene of the accident without calling 911.

"Scott Wilson's death was senseless," Colbath told the court at the time.

"His conduct from the moment the crash happened to the time he came to be in the custody of law enforcement was to save himself," the judge said. "It wasn't to go get help and it wasn't because he was disoriented. It was because he wanted to figure out a way to save himself. He had an opportunity to try to save Mr. Wilson."

"I believe what the jury believed -- that he knew he pushed [Wilson's] car in the canal. He knew there was someone in the canal and he left to try to save himself," Colbath said.

Last April, court documents revealed that Goodman agreed to a $46 million payment to Wilson's parents, Lili and William Wilson. Each received $23 million in the settlement.

In his decision Wednesday to void Goodman's adult adoption of Hutchins, Schwartz cited the crash, the trust fund John and Carroll Goodman had set up in 1991 for their two biological children, and that Goodman gave his ex-wife "no notice of the adoption proceeding."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

Saturday
Mar232013

Florida Teen Mistook Brother for Intruder, Shoots Him

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(ORLANDO, Fla.) -- A teenager shot and killed his 12-year-old brother because he mistook him for an intruder in their Florida home, police said Saturday.

According to police, the 16-year-old was home alone on Friday when his younger brother came home.

"He heard some noises and he called out for his brother and he didn't answer and then his brother startled him," Orlando Police Department Detective Mike Moreschi told ABC News affiliate WFTV.

Scared that there was an intruder in the home, the older boy grabbed a gun and shot his brother, according to police. Once the teen realized what had happened, he immediately called 911.

The younger boy was taken to Arnold Palmer Hospital where he was pronounced dead a short time later. The teenager and his parents were taken to the police station for questioning and released hours later.

"He's devastated, obviously. His parents are devastated by what happened and it's just a really bad situation for the family," Moreschi said.

Police said the teenager would not be charged with any crime related to the shooting, although the state attorney's office will review the case for possible negligence.

Neighbors of the family were in disbelief over the shooting.

"All I can say is it's so scary," Julia Bracey told WFTV. "It's heartbreaking, I can't imagine what the parents are going through right now."

Francis Ikwueme, who also lives near the family in the Orange County subdivision, found the shooting devastating.

"It cuts deep and it breaks my heart," Ikwueme told WFTV. "There was the shooting up in Connecticut. Anytime young life or life in general has to be cut short senselessly, it's a very unfortunate thing."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio







ABC News Radio