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Thursday
Jul212011

Three Presumed Dead in Waterfall Plunge at Yosemite Nat'l Park

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(YOSEMITE NATIONAL PARK, Calif.) -- Authorities say three visitors to Yosemite National Park in California are presumed dead after witnesses saw them climb over a guardrail on a popular hiking trail Tuesday afternoon and get swept over a 317-foot-high waterfall.

Kari Cobb, a spokesperson for the park, said, “So far we have seen no clues or no evidence of any of the bodies.  We are presuming that all three of them are dead.”

Park rangers have been searching waters downstream from the popular Vernal Fall.  Cobb said a more intensive search will be conducted closer to the falls once water levels have receded and crews can safely enter the area.

Park officials say the missing and presumed dead visitors are Ramina Badal, 21, Hormiz David, 22, and Ninos Yacoub, 27.  All three are California residents.

Authorities say the three had climbed over a safety railing and were wading in fast-moving water between granite rocks about 25 feet from the edge of the waterfall before being swept away.

Cobb said there are signs warning of danger and fast-moving water and there are guardrails in the area, but visitors often ignore them.  

“It’s something that does happen and it’s completely up to the visitor to know what safety concerns are around and take responsibility for their own actions,” she said.

Before Tuesday’s incident, there had been three water-related deaths at Yosemite this year.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul212011

Brooklyn Boy's Alleged Killer Charged with Murder, Kidnapping

Hemera Technologies/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The man accused of killing and dismembering Leiby Kletzky, the 8-year-old Brooklyn boy whose dead body was found last week, was indicted in a New York courtroom Wednesday.

Brooklyn District Attorney Charles J. Hynes announced that a grand jury handed down an eight-count indictment charging Levi Aron, 35, with two counts of murder in the first degree.  The first-degree murder charges carry a maximum penalty of life in prison without parole.

Aron also faces three counts of second-degree murder, two counts of kidnapping in the first degree and one count of kidnapping in the second degree.

The next court date is set for July 28, when Aron is likely to be arraigned, Hynes said.

Earlier on Wednesday, the New York City medical examiner determined that Kletzky was given a lethal cocktail of drugs and then was smothered.  An autopsy revealed that the boy had traces of a muscle relaxant, cyclobenzaprine; an antipsychotic drug, quetiapine; Vicodin, and Tylenol in his blood.

The medical examiner said Kletzky died from suffocation after being smothered, and ruled the death a homicide.

Kletzky's dismembered body was found on July 13, two days after he was he was allegedly abducted by Aron while walking back home alone from camp the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn.  Body parts were found in a refrigerator in Aron's home and inside a suitcase discarded in a dumpster.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul212011

Kentucky Fair Tears Down Casey Anthony-Themed Dunking Booth

Red Huber-Pool/Getty Images(LEXINGTON, Ky.) -- A Casey Anthony-themed dunking booth at a bluegrass fair in Kentucky stirred up quite a bit of controversy, resulting in it ultimately being torn down.

The booth had two targets -- one reading “guilty” and the other reading “innocent” -- at which contestants would throw softballs.  If one of the targets was hit, a Casey Anthony impersonator would be dropped into a pool of water.

The Lexington Herald-Leader reports that fair officials decided to tear the booth down after they started hearing negative comments about it.

Chairman of the fair and former police officer Ron Mossotti said in statement, “The Lexington Lions Club, who sponsors the Bluegrass Fair, wanted to be respectful of the growing public sentiment that the booth created by crossing the line.”

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Thursday
Jul212011

Trial Date Set for Accused Fort Hood Shooter

Ben Sklar/Getty Images(FORT HOOD, Texas) -- The court martial of Maj. Nidal Hasan, the U.S. Army psychiatrist charged with the deadly November 2009 shooting rampage at Fort Hood in Texas, has been set to begin on March 5.

Hasan is charged with 13 counts of premeditated murder for the shootings that left 13 dead and 32 others wounded.  The 40-year-old, who was wounded and partially paralyzed during the rampage, sat in a wheelchair Wednesday while he was arraigned and calmly told a military judge he understood the charges against him.

A military jury of 12 officers above Hasan’s rank will hear testimony in the case.  In order to obtain a conviction, two-thirds of the panel must agree he is guilty.  

Hasan faces the possibility of a death sentence if convicted of premeditated murder.  The same panel will decide his fate, but in the penalty phase of the trial, a unanimous vote is needed for the death sentence.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul202011

New Terror Alert Warns of Insider Threat to Utilities

STAN HONDA/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Sabotage by an insider at a major utility facility, including a chemical or oil refinery, could provide al Qaeda with its best opportunity for the kind of massive Sept. 11 anniversary attack Osama bin Laden was planning, according to U.S. officials.

A new terror alert from the Department of Homeland Security issued Tuesday, titled Insider Threat to Utilities, warns "violent extremists have, in fact, obtained insider positions," and that "outsiders have attempted to solicit utility-sector employees" for damaging physical and cyber attacks.

"Based on the reliable reporting of previous incidents, we have high confidence in our judgment that insiders and their actions pose a significant threat to the infrastructure and information systems of U.S. facilities," the bulletin reads in part. "Past events and reporting also provide high confidence in our judgment that insider information on sites, infrastructure, networks, and personnel is valuable to our adversaries and may increase the impact of any attack on the utilities infrastructure."

In the materials recovered after the Navy SEAL operation that killed Osama bin Laden in May, officials found evidence bin Laden sought to repeat the carnage of the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks on or around its 10-year anniversary.

"The only way you can actually kill the large scale number of Americans that [bin Laden] literally was calculating was through the use of this critical infrastructure," former DHS chief of staff Chad Sweet said.

After gaining access to such sites, causing mayhem could be relatively easy, according to former White House counter-terrorism advisor and ABC News consultant Richard Clarke.

"There are a lot of very sensitive facilities where someone can get a job on the inside, get access to a control room, flip a switch, which causes an electric power grid to short circuit, causes a pipeline to explode," Clarke said.

U.S. officials were stunned last year in Yemen with the arrest of an alleged American recruit to al Qaeda, Sharif Mobley, of New Jersey, who had been employed at five different U.S. nuclear power plants in and around Pennsylvania after successfully passing federal background checks.

"If someone is determined, and has the right access, they could do damage that would affect thousands of lives," Sweet said.

Al Qaeda has already put out the word in its online magazine, Inspire, for "brothers of ours who have specialized expertise and those who work in sensitive locations that would offer them unique opportunities to wreak havoc on the enemies of Allah."

As evidence of American infrastructure vulnerabilities, the alert specifically cites the attempted insider sabotage this April at a water treatment plant in Arizona.

Officials said then a disgruntled night shift worker took over the control room and tried to create a giant methane gas explosion.

"I am taking the plant hostage," the worker said in a recorded 911 call.

There was no tie to al Qaeda and his plot failed, but the incident was a reminder of how easily one insider could create potentially deadly mayhem.

"Facilities in the United States don't have to be attacked by terrorists with airplanes or bombs outside the facility," Clarke said.

Homeland Security officials told ABC News they know of no specific threat to any particular utility, and the bulletin issued Tuesday was part of an ongoing effort to update local law enforcement and private security on possible threats.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul202011

Atlanta Judge Orders Videotaping of Execution by Lethal Injection

David J. Sams/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) -- An Atlanta judge has ordered the videotaping of an execution scheduled for Wednesday evening, but the Georgia Attorney General's Office is appealing the decision.

This is thought to be the first time a lethal injection will be recorded and the first time in almost two decades that an execution will be recorded.

The decision came after attorneys claimed that one of the drugs administered in the lethal injection may cause unnecessary suffering.

Andrew Grant DeYoung, 37, is scheduled to be executed at 7 p.m. for the 1993 murders of his sister and parents. DeYoung was charged with stabbing his family to death in hopes of receiving an inheritance he could use to fund a business venture.

Gregory Walker, another death row inmate, was the petitioner for the order requesting the videotaping.

The order added that the videotaping would proceed only if DeYoung was not opposed to it. After the execution, the tape is to be immediately sealed and no copies can be made.

Though DeYoung consented to the video recording, his lawyers spent Tuesday in federal court arguing that the execution should be postponed until more is known about the controversial drug now being used in the executions.

A federal judge Wednesday denied the stay, but the State Supreme Court and U.S. Supreme Court are still considering the matter.

The drug in question is pentobarbital, also known as Nembutal. Previously, sodium thiopental was used as the first drug in a series of three during the execution, but the manufacturer stopped making it, causing a nationwide shortage.

In many states, including Georgia, the drug was replaced by pentobarbital, a sedative often used to euthanize animals.

Pentobarbital is manufactured by a company in Denmark called Lundbeck that has publicly said that the drug should not be used in state executions.

The Georgia State Department of Corrections declined to comment on the videotaping of DeYoung's execution or the use of pentobarbital.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul202011

A Rhode Island City Turns to Pensioners to Avoid Bankruptcy

Comstock/Thinkstock(CENTRAL FALLS, R.I.) -- Central Falls, R.I.'s motto is "city with a bright future," but now its tomorrows are not only bleak, they could be nonexistent.

The densely packed community of 19,000, comprising an area a little larger than a square mile, faces bankruptcy and is calling on its bravest and finest for help.

The city's 141 retired firefighters and police officers were asked at a meeting Tuesday night to voluntarily give up as much as half of their pensions. It's called the "big ask," and with the library and community center already shut down, the city is running out of options to fix its dire financial prospects.

"It came as a shock yesterday [Tuesday] when it was presented to the pensioners," said William Zachary Malinowski, who has reported for the Providence Journal for 26 years. "If they don't give up a good chunk, they may end up with nothing."

The city faces $80 million in unfunded pensions and benefit programs, and a $5 million to $6 million deficit that shows no sign of decreasing in the coming years.

Under the proposed pension plan, anyone who retired at age 55 after 30 years on the job would see their pension cut in half from about $40,000 to about $20,000 a year.

Col. Joseph Moran served 27 years on the police force, contributing seven percent of his salary each month. Now retired, he stands to lose $1,000 a month. Making matters worse, workers here didn't participate in Social Security, so there are no other benefits to fall back on.

If retirees refuse the "big ask," Central Falls will likely have to declare bankruptcy, jeopardizing the entire pension system.

"I would advise a haircut looks better than a beheading," said a state-appointed receiver, Robert G. Flanders Jr.

Flanders would like a decision from the pensioners in the next seven days, Malinowski told ABC News.

"I could be wrong, but I don't see them taking it," Malinowski said. "I think this ends in bankruptcy."

Central Falls is not the first city to run out of the money needed to pay its retirees. In 2009, Prichard, Ala., stopped sending out pension checks to its 150 retired workers.

With the economy still sputtering and city budgets collapsing, similar "big asks" and broken promises could be coming to more towns.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul202011

Hammer Murder Suspect Told Pal He Would Kill Parents, Affidavit States

St. Lucie Sheriff's Office(PORT SAINT LUCIE, Fla.) -- The teenager who allegedly used a claw hammer to bludgeon his parents to death twice confided in his best friend that he intended to kill them, but the friend dismissed the comments because the teen had made such threats before, according a police affidavit released Wednesday.

The suspect also told a friend that he attacked his parents, Mary Jo and Blake Hadley, after taking a large dose of the drug ecstasy.

Details of the double murder emerged as Tyler Hadley's attorney, Mark Harllee, filed a not-guilty plea. Hadley is currently being held at the Port Lucie County jail in Florida.

Hadley has confessed to killing his parents, police said. He then threw a boozy party for about 60 friends while the bodies of his parents laid in a locked bedroom.

During the party, Hadley pulled his best friend Michael Mandell aside and told him that he killed his mother and father, according to the affidavit.

When Mandell didn't believe Hadley, "Tyler pointed out both his parent's vehicles were still in the driveway," according to the affidavit.

He wasn't convinced until Hadley took Mandell to the master bedroom where Mandell saw a man's leg and recognized Blake Hadley's shoe. Hadley told his friend, whom he has known since they were 8, that "he stood behind his mother while she was at the computer and thought about killing her for about five minutes. Then he decided to strike his mother in the back of the head with a hammer."

After the initial blows, Hadley said that his mother turned to him and asked, "Why?" Hadley's father came out of the bedroom when he heard his wife scream. "Tyler told MM [Mandell] that he and his father stared into each other's eyes for a minute. Tyler said he then went after his father and murdered him," the affidavit states.

Mandell said Hadley took his parents' cellphones and put them in his bedroom so that they couldn't get to them and took one of their credit cards so he would have access to their money.

It took the teenager about three hours to mop up the blood, he allegedly told Mandell, before his friends arrived for the party.

According to the affidavit Mandell told police Hadley was going to take 10 Percocet pills and kill himself, but the police showed up instead.

It was Mandell who called police to alert them to the murders. When they arrived at the home they found Hadley glassy eyed and talkative. When the boy said they couldn't come in, the police entered anyway on the possibility that someone inside could be in danger.

The officers found the parents' bodies in a locked bedroom beneath furniture that had been piled into there from other rooms in the house, the affidavit said.

Mandell told television station WPTV that Hadley had taken three ecstasy pills and that he didn't believe his friend's confession until he saw the father's body.

Dr. Julie Holland, an assistant professor of psychiatry at New York University who has studied ecstasy, said, "It is absolutely not known to cause violent reactions."

The tablets Hadley allegedly took may have been sold as ecstasy, Holland said, but could have been anything.

Given that Hadley had talked about murdering his parents in the past, "He could have been having a first episode psychotic break that was made worse or triggered by ecstasy," according to Dr. Cindy Kuhn, a neuropharmacologist at the Duke University Medical Center.

Most people assume ecstasy causes euphoria, explained Kuhn. Although that is true in small doses, she said, larger doses -- such as the three pills Hadley allegedly took -- can produce high blood pressure and increased anxiety.

Hadley's age, 17, is a "prime age to go crazy," Holland said. In the late teens and early 20s the brain is very vulnerable, she explained. That's typically when people develop schizophrenia or manic depression, she said.

In patients with schizophrenia, for example, a drug like ecstasy can trigger an episode, Kuhn said. It's unknown if Hadley suffered from psychological illness.

Port Saint Lucie police spokesman Tom Nichols could not disclose if investigators found drugs in the Hadley home.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul202011

California Sexual Abuse Allegations Against Principal Prompt Calls to Tip Line

Photos.com/Thinkstock(SACRAMENTO, Calif.) -- A crime-tip line in Sacramento, Calif., has been peppered with calls about a case in which police are investigating allegations that a principal sexually abused students for the past 15 years, authorities said Wednesday.

Robert Adams is being investigated for alleged incidents involving at least 10 current and former students at the now-shuttered Creative Frontiers School that he also owns, according to the Citrus Heights Police Department.

No arrests have been made, and Adams denies the allegations.

"People have been involved daily giving us information and calling us based on our press release," Citrus Heights Public Information Officer Jon Kempf said of the department's Monday news release.

A search warrant was issued Monday and investigators visited the school and Adams' residence. The preschool and elementary school were shutdown Monday.

Kempf said investigators are taking their time with the investigation because of the nature of the alleged crimes.

Adams is alleged to have engaged in inappropriate sexual and physical contact on numerous occasions, according to a state Department of Social Services complaint.

"Respondent Adams rubbed Child #1 on her back, legs, arms and buttocks and then touched her buttocks after inserting his hand under her swim suit while she was lying on her stomach," the report says of an incident that is alleged to have occurred in 2010.

Adams' lawyer said her client is outraged at the allegations and that the investigation has been conducted in a way that has taken a toll on the children at the school.

Creative Frontiers School educates about 180 students during the school year and, police said, about 80 were attending the school this summer. Officer Kempf said the department is handling the investigation with the children's best interests at hand.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

Wednesday
Jul202011

North Carolina Shark Attack Girl in Good Condition

Comstock/Thinkstock(CAPE HATTERAS, N.C.) -- A 6-year-old girl is in good condition after being attacked by a shark on a North Carolina beach Tuesday evening.

The girl's parents issued a statement saying their daughter was in good spirits and had commented, "I hate sharks. I like dolphins way better."

The child was swimming with her father in shallow water when she was bitten on the right leg and part of her foot, according to Kenny Ballance of the National Park Service for Cape Hatteras. She was swimming on a boogie board in about a foot of water at the time.

Hyde County EMS, the National Park Service and the Ocracoke Fire Department responded to a call at Ramp 72 on Ocracoke Island. "The Ocracoke EMS and another park ranger, Shane Bryant, [were] on the scene right away," Ballance said. "The rescue squad began working on the little girl when ranger Bryant arrived. It was apparent that she was bitten below the knee in the foot area is the report."

Pitt Memorial Hospital flew a helicopter into Ocracoke Beach and flew the child to the hospital in Greenville.

"We were told she was in stable condition, then we called this morning to learn she's in critical condition," Ballance said.

Authorities said the last shark attack in the area, in Cape Hatteras, was a fatal one. A man was bitten in a major artery, causing him to bleed to death before aid arrived.

Ocracoke Island is part of the Cape Hatteras National Seashore. The entire island is owned by the U.S. National Park Service, except for the village.

A 10-year-old girl was attacked by a shark earlier this month in North Topsail Beach in North Carolina.

Cassidy Cartwright of Erie, Pa., like the 6-year-old victim, was also playing on a body board and was wading knee-deep in only 3.5 feet of water.

Biologist Andy Dehart told ABC News earlier this month that the murky water around the North Carolina shore is often to blame for unprovoked shark attacks in this area.

"The shark sees a flash of pale skin which has a high contrast in the dark, murky waters and often times that can confuse sharks a little bit," he said. "They bite down thinking they are biting a fish but it's a person."

The Florida Museum of Natural History keeps an international shark attack file, which was last updated in January. It shows 41 unprovoked shark attacks from 1935 to 2010.

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