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HEAR THIS HOUR'S UPDATE

Friday
Sep192014

Manhunt for Alleged Pennsylvania Cop Killer Forces Residents to Shelter

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation(CANADENSIS, Pa.) -- The search for a self-taught survivalist accused of killing a Pennsylvania state trooper has entered its seventh day as police looking for Eric Frein raced early Friday morning toward an area near the home he had been sharing with his parents, closing roads and forcing people who live nearby into an emergency shelter.

"When I got here, the state troopers were just flying out of here," Canadensis, Pennsylvania, resident Suzanne Zalebuck said.

Police searching for Frein, 31, were acting on a tip that he was nearby. He allegedly ambushed two state troopers last Friday at the barracks in Blooming Grove Township, killing Bryon Dickson and injuring Alex Douglass.

A funeral for Dickson was held Thursday.

"We still think he's in the area but want to make sure we're covering every base," Pennsylvania State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said. "We can't let him leave this area because we think he'd be a danger to law enforcement and society."

"It was scary," resident Kim Stephens said. "I'm just hoping that the police are all safe and I hope they find this guy so everybody can sleep tight."

But after hours of intensely searching, police found nothing.

"I think the best vocabulary word would be 'eerie.' We feel very ill at ease," Zalebuck said.

Hundreds of officers are involved in the hunt for Frein, including many who are trained in woodland searches. Police say they are also using grids and technology to clear certain areas.

Police said Wednesday Frein is also part of a "military simulation unit" obsessed with re-enacting Eastern Europe during the Cold War. He was described as a skilled shooter and is believed to be armed and extremely dangerous.

Frein's father, a retired U.S. Army major, told police he taught his son how to shoot and that he "doesn't miss." The father also told police during a search of the family's home that two guns were missing : a .308 rifle with a scope and an AK-47, according to court documents.

Frein has a grudge against law enforcement and appeared to be specifically targeting cops, police said.

Frein is charged with first-degree murder, homicide of a law enforcement officer and other offenses.

The FBI has since added him to its Most Wanted List and is offering $100,000 for information leading to his capture. That is in addition to an existing $75,000 reward from Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers.


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Friday
Sep192014

King Fire in California Doubled in Size, Man Charged with Arson

Toa55/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(POLLOCK PINES, Calif.) -- The King Fire has doubled in size in the last two days and now threatens over 70,000 acres of California land, the King Fire Public Information Officer Jesus Ayala said.

More than 3,500 buildings are threatened by the blaze, according to Cal Fire, and about 70,994 acres have been burned. The fire, officials say, is just five percent contained.

On Thursday, Ayala noted that the fire line appeared to be moving away from homes.

Also Thursday, police arrested Wayne Allen Huntsman, 37, and charged him with deliberately starting the King Fire. He is being held in El Dorado County Jail on $10 million bail, the jail's website says.

Cal Fire officials are expected to announce the cause of the blaze at a Friday morning press conference.


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Friday
Sep192014

Eight Dead, Including Suspect, in Suspected Murder-Suicide in Florida

John Roman/iStockphoto/Thinkstoc(BELL, Fla.) -- Police are investigating an apparent murder-suicide that took place in the small Florida town of Bell Thursday night.

The Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office says Don Charles Spirit, a 51-year-old grandfather, killed his six grandchildren in his home before calling 911, and then committing suicide. Authorities say Spirit also killed his adult daughter, the mother of all the children.

The Gilchrist County sheriff says the deceased include three boys ages 11, 8 and 4, and three young girls, ages 9, 5 and three months old. Their mother, Sarah Lorraine Spirit, was 28.

Sheriff Robert Schultz told reporters that law enforcement had previously been called to the home.

Bell has a population of about 350 people and is located some 30 miles west of Gainesville.


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Friday
Sep192014

JetBlue Plane Evacuated After Emergency Landing in California

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(LONG BEACH, Calif.) -- A JetBlue plane was forced to make an emergency landing Thursday in California because of an engine problem, the airline said.

Flight 1416 was bound for Austin, Texas, Thursday morning when it "declared an emergency" and returned to Long Beach Airport, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

"The airplane landed safely, and all customers and crew have evacuated via slides with no reported injuries at this time," JetBlue said in a statement, noting the runway at Long Beach was temporarily closed.

The airline said there was an "issue with the number two engine."

The flight was scheduled to arrive in Austin Thursday afternoon.


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Thursday
Sep182014

Police Arrest Shooting Suspect at Phoenix Airport

Alex_Schmidt/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) --  Police in Arizona arrested a man at Phoenix's Sky Harbor International Airport Thursday night in connection with a shooting in the city of Tempe, authorities said.

The suspect fled the scene and was spotted in the vicinity of Terminal 4.

It is unclear if the suspect -- described as a shirtless black male with a slight build and dreadlocks -- is armed.

Flights continued to arrive and depart from Terminals 2 and 3, while flights were frozen from departing Terminal 4 temporarily.

The man was not immediately identified by police, and Terminal 4 was re-opened.


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Thursday
Sep182014

Suspected Cop Shooter Eric Frein on FBI's Most Wanted List, Manhunt Continues

Pennsylvania Department of Transportation(CANADENSIS, Pa.) -- The FBI added suspected cop shooter Eric Frein to its 10 Most Wanted list Thursday, announcing a reward of $100,000 for information leading to his capture. There is an existing $75,000 reward from Pennsylvania Crime Stoppers.

The FBI's action came on the day that Pennsylvania State Trooper Cpl. Bryon Dickson was buried in an emotional ceremony.

The search for Frein, 31, entered its sixth day Thursday after two Pennsylvania state troopers were ambushed late Friday at the barracks in Blooming Grove Township. Schools in the area are closed for the second day as the dragnet continued for Frein, a survivalist and gun expert who often worked on films about war and the military. On Thursday night, roads in Barrett Township were closed as they continued the search, but no one was taken into custody.

New images of Frein show him at rifle practice in high school and stone-faced in his yearbook photo.

The funeral was held Thursday for Dickson, who died in Friday's gunfire. Hundreds gathered at St. Peter's Cathedral in Scranton to honor Dickson, a 38-year-old married father of two children.

A second trooper, Alex Douglass, was wounded in the attack.

Police said on Wednesday Frein is also part of a "military simulation unit" obsessed with re-enacting Eastern Europe during the Cold War. He was described as a skilled shooter and is believed to be armed and extremely dangerous.

Frein's father, a retired U.S. Army major, told police he taught his son how to shoot and that he "doesn't miss." The father also told police during a search of the family's home that two guns were missing -- a .308 rifle with a scope and an AK-47, according to court documents.

Frein has a grudge against law enforcement and appeared to be specifically targeting cops, police said.

"He has made statements about wanting to kill law enforcement officers and also to commit mass acts of murder," State Police Commissioner Frank Noonan said at a news conference earlier this week. "What his reasons are, we don't know. But he has very strong feelings about law enforcement and seems to be very angry with a lot of things that go on in our society."

Police also addressed the suspect directly.

"If you are listening to this broadcast while cowering in some cold, damp hiding place, Eric, I want you to know know we are coming for you," Lt. Col. George Bivens said at another news conference on Wednesday.

He warned residents to be on the lookout, lock their doors and keep outside lights on at night, adding that he believes Frein is still in the general area.

Frein is charged with first-degree murder, homicide of a law enforcement officer and other offenses.


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Thursday
Sep182014

Outrage over Guardrail Crashes Tied to Lost Limbs, Deaths

Law Enforcement Officials(NEW YORK) -- Faced with widespread news reports of lost limbs and painful deaths tied to highway guardrails that have pierced vehicles, federal officials are backing a nationwide study of whether guardrails are as safe in reality as they appear to be in crash tests.

“We are supporting a national cooperative highway research program to look into the performance of guard rail terminals,” Federal Highway Administration official Nicholas Artimovich told ABC News.

The research will be done by a conglomerate of public and private highway engineers and experts, he said.

At issue, the federal official said, is whether the guardrail heads, or end terminals, can absorb the impact of a head-on crash of up to 62 miles per hour “in the real world” as they are designed to.

The federal move comes as a new study finds that a re-designed version of a widely used guardrail end terminal "placed motorists at a higher level of risk of both serious injury and fatality" than the original version.

The study, conducted by the University of Alabama Birmingham, examined serious and fatal accidents in Missouri and Ohio and was sponsored by the state of Missouri and The Safety Institute, a non-profit advocacy organization.

“This is an important first step in understanding the actual field performance of this product,” said Sean Kane, president of the board of directors of The Safety Institute, who in a different role also consults with some of the lawyers now suing the company that makes the guardrail.

"We are seeing on-road failures that shouldn't be happening," said Kane. "I have real concern about leaving them on the highways."

A spokesman for the state of Missouri said it asked for the study "upon learning of concerns with the effectiveness" of the re-designed end terminal called the ET-Plus.

Missouri officials have not received the final report and the spokesperson said, "We are unable to state what our course of action, if any, will be."

A spokesperson for Trinity Industries said the company had not seen the study and had no immediate comment.

Trinity is facing a series of lawsuits over accidents in which motorists were killed or lost legs when their vehicles crashed into guardrails.

It’s current guardrail end terminal, called the ET Plus, has passed safety crash tests and met federal standards, according to the Federal Highway Administration.

But officials say even crash-tested guardrails can be involved in fatal accidents.

"We’re interested in looking at how these devices perform in the real word after they pass crash testing," said Artimovich.

In the lawsuits, victims allege slight modifications to the original design, including reducing one piece of metal from five inches to four inches, made them roadside hazards.

Trinity says its product meets all safety standards and it has “full confidence” in its performance. It says the slight changes had no effect on the end terminals’ performance.

The original design is credited with saving hundreds of lives since it was introduced in 1999.

Its inventor, Dean Sicking, told ABC News the changes made by Trinity in 2005 were without his knowledge.

“I was not involved in that change and never really understood why they did it,” Sicking told ABC News.

Internal company e-mails obtained by ABC News show that Trinity engineers calculated that shaving off an inch on a key piece of metal would save about $2 for each end terminal.

“That’s $50,000 a year and $250,000 a year by using the 4” channel,” the memo reads.

Trinity denies any of its changes were made to boost profits.

Tune in to ABC News 20/20 Friday for the full investigation.


Copyright 2014 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Sep182014

'Person of Interest' Sought in Disappearance of UVA Student

Charlottesville Police Department(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- A reward totaling $50,000 has been offered for information about missing University of Virginia student Hannah Graham and police said they are looking for a man with a slight beer belly who was reportedly seen with the sophomore on the night she vanished.

The Charlottesville Police Department said the person being sought "is a person of interest" in Graham's disappearance.

The description of the person of interest emerged after surveillance videos showed a man following Graham early Saturday morning. The man told police that he was following Graham because she appeared "physically distressed" and he was trying to help her.

The man also told police that he stopped following Graham when she met a second man that she seemed to know and put his arm around her, according to police.

The videos and the description of the "person of interest" are the latest clues in the search for the missing sophomore, who has not been heard from since she texted friends just before 1:20 a.m. Saturday.

The new videos show Graham, 18, walking past an outdoor mall area at 1:06 a.m. and a man in light colored shorts following her. At one point, he ducks into a corner and watches her. A second camera shows the same man following Graham a few minutes later, according to police.

The man called into the police tip line hours before the surveillance footage that showed him following Graham was released. He went to the police station at 10:15 p.m. Wednesday.

"Anyone who saw her is a person of interest," Capt. Gary Pleasants told ABC News. "He saw her and said he was following her, so that's interesting. But right now we're seeing him as a cooperative witness."

Pleasants said there are no suspects or persons of interest in the case yet because "at this moment we still don't know that there is any" criminal activity that took place. Graham's mother said on Wednesday that she feared "foul play" was responsible for her daughter's disappearance.

The man in the video is still in contact with investigators, police said.

"He told police that he was following Ms. Graham as she looked to be somewhat physically distressed and he wanted to make sure she got safely to wherever she was going," police said in a statement.

Investigators are searching for the second man who the witness alleges spoke to Graham and stopped her as she was walking. The second man is not seen in any of the surveillance footage.

"Soon after [the witness] was following her, he said that a black male came up to her and put his arm around her, stopping her," the police release states. "Ms. Graham and this black male started speaking and it appeared to the witness that the black male was either known to Ms. Graham or was trying to help her."

The witness said that when he walked away, Graham and the other man were still talking.

Charlottesville police have called for area businesses to hand over any surveillance footage they have from the night when Graham disappeared in hopes that it could lead to more clues. Pleasants told ABC they received over 80 new tips from the public since releasing four clips of security videos Wednesday.

Graham's parents, who are British but live in Alexandria, Virginia, have been in Charlottesville during the investigation and the University of Virginia plans to hold a candlelight vigil Thursday night.


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Thursday
Sep182014

Missing UVA Student's Case Similar to 2009 Murder, Mom Says

Courtesy Harrington Family(CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va.) -- The mother of a University of Virginia student who was abducted and slain in 2009 sees eerie similarities between her daughter's death and the current disappearance of Hannah Graham.

Gil Harrington knows the agony that Graham's parents are enduring. Her daughter, Morgan, disappeared from a Metallica concert in Charlottesville in 2009. Her body wasn't found until months later and the murder remains unsolved.

What is also upsetting are the similarities to her daughter's death.

"Hannah was seen for some of the time fairly close to where Morgan’s shirt was found maybe three weeks after her abduction," she told ABC News.

She said there are other "coincidences" between the two students.

"College town, same town, same kind of look of a girl, same time of year," she said. "Is this a pattern?"

Harrington said it would be "too speculative," but she wondered whether the time of year is a trigger for a "predator" in the Charlottesville area "to go out and hurt somebody."

"We know there's one predator who killed Morgan," she said. Harrington said the 2005 abduction and rape of a woman in Fairfax, Virginia, has been linked by DNA to her daughter's killer.

Gil and Dan Harrington have helped create an organization called Help Save the Next Girl. It offers advice and tracks the disappearance and unsolved murders of girls. The group's site lists five girls, including her daughter and Graham, from the Charlottesville area who have disappeared or have been killed since 2009. It also lists the cases of seven other Virginia women who disappeared or were killed in unsolved murders.

"Obviously they are not all connected, but it doesn’t seem normal. There's either some connection of a serial predator or a crime spree gone crazy," she said.

Charlottesville Police Chief Timothy Longo conceded earlier this week there are similarities between the death of Morgan Harrington and Graham's disappearance.

"Both of them occurred within the proximity of the University of Virginia. Both of them are young girls,” the chief said.

Charlottesville Police Capt. Gary Pleasants on Thursday would not make any connection to the deaths or disappearance of the other women.

"We said all along there is no criminal activity yet. At this moment we still don't know that there is any (criminal activity)...because we don't know what happened yet," Pleasants said.

Gil Harrington said she and her husband Dan are praying for Graham's family.

"Our hearts go out to them," she said.


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Thursday
Sep182014

King Fire Threatens Thousands of Northern California Homes

iStock/Thinkstock(POLLOCK PINES, Calif.) -- The raging King Fire in Pollock Pines, California, more than doubled its coverage overnight, burning about 71,000 acres. The fire continues to burn in steep terrain in the South Fork of the American River and Silver Creek canyons.

More than 3,730 personnel are assigned to combat the northern California blaze, which is now just 5 percent contained, according to CAL Fire officials.
 
Some residences south of Highway 50 were under mandatory closure, but Thursday, the advisory had been changed to voluntary status. Evacuation orders are still in effect for a large part of the region, with authorities advising evacuees to take shelter at locations in the towns of Camino and Georgetown, California.

No homes have been damaged or destroyed, but more than 2,000 are threatened.


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