U.S. DOT Issues New Mitigation Rule

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood announced Thursday a final rule aimed at decreasing occupant ejections in passenger vehicles. The new U.S. Department of Transportation standard, which will help reduce the number of people partially or completely ejected through side windows during rollover crashes, will begin phasing in during 2013.

“Safety is our highest priority,” said Secretary LaHood.  “This new standard will help save lives and reduce injuries by requiring vehicles to have a safety system that keeps occupants in the vehicle in a rollover crash.”

Under the new rule, issued by the Department’s National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), vehicle manufacturers must develop a countermeasure for light passenger vehicles under 10,000 lbs that prevents the equivalent of an unbelted adult from moving more than four inches past the side window opening in the event of a crash.  The new standard will begin phasing in during 2013 -- all newly manufactured vehicles will be required to provide this protection by model year 2018.

“Rollover crashes are the deadliest of all crash types and this is another important step in our efforts to reduce fatalities and serious injuries that result from them,” said Administrator David Strickland, National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.   “When fully implemented, we believe this standard will prevent on average 373 fatalities and 476 serious injuries every year.”

Thursday's announcement is part of NHTSA’s initiative to improve the overall safety for occupants in the event of a rollover crash.  Previously, the agency issued rules requiring that all new vehicles come equipped with electronic stability control to keep vehicles from losing control and also upgraded its roof crush standard to keep the occupant compartment intact.  

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jared Loughner's Ex-Girlfriend 'Knew He Had Problems'

Photo Courtesy - KGUN-TV(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- An ex-girlfriend of accused gunman Jared Loughner said she felt like she was looking at someone who had become "soulless" when she ran into the suspect just a few months prior to Saturday's massacre.

"It was like staring into somebody you didn't know," said Ashley Figueroa, who dated Loughner at Mountain View High School in Tucson, Ariz., when she was 15.

"He was different," she said in the interview with ABC News' affiliate KGUN. "He [used to have] a big heart, but I don't know what happened. I knew he had problems, but I never thought it would escalate to something like this."

Figueroa's recollection of her relationship with Loughner is shedding more light on the suspect's troubled life, one she says was devoid of any sort of parental figure.

"He had a difficult relationship with his parents," said Figueroa. "They would never let me come in the house. I couldn't understand why."

"He had definite dysfunction in his family," she said. "His father as far as I know worked a lot and kind of picked on [Loughner]. He basically didn't have parent figures. It was like having roommates for him. He lived there and [his parents] were just sort of there."

Figueroa, who didn't specify how long she dated Loughner, said that she eventually left him because of his anger management problems.

"He used to scare me sometimes," she said. "He'd make me feel uncomfortable. He'd get really mad, clench his fist and kind of have a little tantrum, he'd flail his arms and walk off."

Another former girlfriend of Loughner's, Kelsey Hawkes, told CBS' Early Show the Loughner who allegedly opened fire Saturday, killing six and injuring 14, is not the same person she dated for nearly nine months.

"The Jared that I used to know is completely changed from what the world sees him now as," said Hawkes, who said she had a positive relationship with Loughner's parents. "You know, I would never have ever expected him to become what he has."

Others have said they mark the beginning of Loughner's descent into isolation and anger to his break-up with Hawkes.

"I've just been very overwhelmed by everybody tracking me down and trying to get information out of me that I don't have, or trying to pin our breakup on his behavioral change," Hawkes told the Los Angeles Times.

They broke up six years ago in high school, she told newspaper. "What he chose to do with himself and his life between the time that we weren't dating and what he did on Saturday is far beyond me," she said.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


East Coast Digging Out From Latest Storm

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(BOSTON) -- New England is digging out Thursday after the region's third storm in three weeks dumped more than two feet of snow in some areas, including a one-day record for Boston.

Heavy snow added hundreds of pounds of weight to trees. Around Boston, a foot of snow hindered the city leaving over 100,000 customers without power statewide. The lights could be dark for four days in some places.

The deep freeze continues in the southeast, as crews in Georgia continue working to clear major highways. They say the roads are still blocked by cars left during Sunday night's storm. 

In Atlanta, schools are closed for the fourth day in a row -- incredibly rare for that part of the U.S. -- and driving conditions on busy I-85 remain treacherous with accidents littering the highway for miles. 

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Texas Aims to Relax Gun Law; Part of Larger Trend?

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(AUSTIN, Texas) -- The shooting tragedy in Tucson has intensified some calls for gun control, but one state may soon be relaxing its firearms law further, signaling a larger trend across the country.

A bill pending in the Texas state legislature would allow employees to carry legally-owned concealed handguns in their vehicles on their employer's property.

If it passes, Texas would join 13 other states that already allow employees this freedom -- Alaska, Arizona, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Oklahoma and Utah.

Texas State Senator Glenn Hegar, who filed the bill, argues that it is an important step in protecting Texans' Second Amendment rights.

"Law-abiding citizens, people who have no desire to do any harm to others except than to have their legal firearms in their vehicle which no one knows is even there doesn't harm anyone.  They simply want to protect themselves.  Those people are being punished," Hegar told ABC News.  "Who we have to focus on are people who are criminals.  Those who want to do harm.  Those who have deranged thoughts who want to kill people on a shooting spree."

The legislation doesn't come as a surprise, given Texas' relaxed gun laws, but it comes at a time when sensitivity over gun control is heightened in the wake of the shooting in Arizona.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


US Cities Stagger Under Cost of Clearing Record Snowfalls

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(NEW YORK) -- From Nevada to New York, already-wobbly city budgets are being hit by the heavy cost of shoveling out from under record snowfalls.

A mid-December storm dropped 17.1 inches on St. Paul, Minnesota -- the most in almost 20 years.  The city spread 4,000 tons of salt on 800 miles of streets, added staff and paid overtime.  As a result, the city's public works budget has been snowed under by $1 million more than had budgeted for snow removal.

The figure, says Deputy Mayor Margaret Kelly, likely will rise to $1.3 million.  To pay it, she said, the city will have to dip into a fund used to patch potholes, maintain alleys and cut city grass.  The prospect that the fund could be depleted, she says, makes the rest of winter "challenging."

Things are worse in Minneapolis, which has exceeded its snow budget by $3 million.  It, too, plans to dip into reserve funds to pay the cost.

In Missouri, tight budgets mean snow plow crews are being told to make roads "passable," not necessarily clear.

New York City, hit hard by a late December blizzard, is still recovering and paying.  A spokesman for the mayor's office says that while not all costs have yet been tallied, the final snow bill should come in at around $38 million.  Given that the city's budget gap next year is forecast to be $2.4 billion, those millions will be missed.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


'It Was a Miracle to Witness': Senator Gillibrand Describes Giffords Opening Her Eyes

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- When Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., opened her eyes in the hospital room Wednesday for the first time since Saturday’s shooting, a trio of Congressional Democrats were in the room with her, a Congressional source said.

The three lawmakers who witnessed the moment were House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi of California, Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Florida, and Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York.

 “We had been telling her that she was inspiring the country with her courage and that we couldn't wait to take her out to pizza and a weekend away,” Gillibrand said later, through a spokeswoman. “Then after she heard our voices and the encouragement of Mark and her parents, she struggled briefly and opened her eyes for the very first time. It was a miracle to witness."

 In his speech at Wednesday nights memorial service at the University of Arizona, President Obama told the crowd, “Gabby opened her eyes,” drawing loud cheers from the 14,000-strong audience.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Border Patrol Agent Accused of Hiding Illegal Immigrants, Drugs in Basement

Photo Courtesy - Getty Images(SAN DIEGO, Calif.) – A border patrol agent has been arrested after a search of his home uncovered an underground room allegedly used to hide illegal immigrants and drugs, reports the Los Angeles Times.

Marcos Gerardo Manzano, 26,  has been charged with harboring illegal immigrants, one of whom was his father, Marcos Gerardo Manzano Sr., a twice-deported illegal immigrant with a criminal record.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tara McGrath said during the raid the FBI discovered an illegal immigrant hiding in the room along with 61 grams of methamphetamine and drug paraphernalia.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


President Obama Seeks to Comfort Americans after Tragedy in Arizona

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- President Obama on Wednesday evening honored the six people killed and at least 13 injured in a mass shooting Saturday with a call for overcoming differences -- both political and personal.

"I have come here tonight as an American who, like all Americans, kneels to pray with you today, and will stand by you tomorrow," President Obama told the "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America" memorial service at the University of Arizona's McKale Memorial Center.

Among the injured when a gunman opened fire at a "Congress on Your Corner" event for Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., outside a Tucson supermarket Saturday morning was Giffords herself. The congresswoman was shot at point-blank range in the back of the head and has been in critical condition ever since.

Obama revealed during his speech that, after he visited with her Wednesday, Giffords opened her eyes for the first time.

"Gabby opened her eyes, so I can tell you: She knows we are here, she knows we love her and she knows we are rooting for her throughout what will be a difficult journey," Obama told the cheering crowd.

The president and first lady were greeted by a standing ovation as they walked into the packed stadium. As he listened to the ceremony before speaking, the president was visibly emotional. Gifford's husband, Capt. Mark Kelly, sat in between the first lady and Secretary of Homeland Security Janet Napolitano.

The president focused on the victims and encouraged Americans to live up to the expectations of Christina Taylor Green.

"Imagine: Here was a young girl who was just becoming aware of our democracy; just beginning to understand the obligations of citizenship; just starting to glimpse the fact that someday she too might play a part in shaping her nation's future," the president said. "She saw all this through the eyes of a child, undimmed by the cynicism or vitriol that we adults all too often just take for granted."

One by one, Obama honored each of the six people killed, who, he said, "represented what is best in America." They were Judge John Roll, Dorothy Morris, Phyllis Schneck, Dorwan Stoddard, Christina Taylor Green and Gabe Zimmerman, the only of Giffords' staff to perish in the shooting.

The president also praised "those who saved others" -- the nurses, doctors, policemen, staffers and bystanders who put themselves in harm's way to try and stop the shooter.

The president ended his speech where he began, honoring a victim:

Christina Taylor Green, he said was, "so deserving of our good example. If this tragedy prompts reflection and debate, as it should, let's make sure it's worthy of those we have lost. Let's make sure it's not on the usual plane of politics and point-scoring and pettiness that drifts away with the next news cycle."

The speech itself, just under 20 minutes, was a part of a broader, hour-long program called "Together We Thrive: Tucson and America." The somber event included music, moments of silence, prayers and other speeches.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Obama Visits Giffords and Other Victims in the Hospital

Photo Courtesy - ABC News(TUCSON, Arizona) -- After touching down in Tucson, Arizona on Wednesday afternoon, President Obama went straight to the University Medical Center to see Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, R-Ariz., and several other victims of Saturday's mass shooting at the hospital.

"The president wanted to begin this solemn trip by stopping first at the hospital where Congresswoman Giffords and others continue to recuperate,” White House press secretary Robert Gibbs said in a statement about the 45-minute visit led by Dr. Peter Rhee.

With first lady Michelle Obama, President Obama visited Giffords and her husband in the intensive care unit on the second floor of the medical center, staying for nine minutes.

On Tuesday, Giffords’ doctors told reporters that she was capable of breathing in her own, although they were keeping her on a respirator to avoid infection.

Her neurosurgeon said she has “no right to look this good” based on the severity of the injury from being shot in the head at close range, but cautioned that her recovery will be slow and, possibly, without much progress on a day-to-day basis.

The Obamas also met with four other victims of Saturday’s attack -- including Giffords' staffers Rob Barber and Pam Simon.

Afterward, at the McHale Memorial Center, the president and first lady met with the families of those who lost their lives in the shooting to extend condolences in person. With them were Attorney General Eric Holder and Sens. John McCain, R-Ariz., Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and John Barrasso, R-Wy.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio


Jared Loughner Stopped for Traffic Violation Hours Before Shooting 

Photo Courtesy - Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images(TUCSON, Ariz.) -- Accused Tucson gunman Jared Loughner ran a red light and was stopped by police last Saturday, just hours before he allegedly opened fire in a grocery store parking lot where six people died and 14 were wounded.

When the officer determined that there were no outstanding warrants for Loughner, he was allowed to proceed to his destination with a warning to drive carefully.

Loughner was stopped at approximately 7:30 a.m. on Saturday by an Arizona Game and Fish Department officer, according to a statement released by the department.

"They do not routinely make traffic stops, except when public safety is at risk, such as running a red light," read the statement. "The officer took Mr. Loughner's driver's license and vehicle registration information and ran it through dispatch. The check came back with no wants nor any outstanding warrants on either the subject or his vehicle."

Later that morning, at 10:11 a.m., Loughner allegedly shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords in the head and sprayed the crowd around her with rounds from a 9mm Glock handgun.

Also that morning, Loughner's father saw him take a black bag out of a car trunk. When the father approached him, his mumbling son took off running and the father chased him in his car, investigators said. Police haven't said what was in the bag, but they continue to search for it.

News of Loughner's behavior on the morning of the shooting spree comes as investigators tell ABC News they are reviewing any past contacts police may have had with the suspect to determine whether the massacre could have been prevented.

Immediately after the assault on Giffords and 19 others who attended her sidewalk meeting, Dupnik said that Loughner had never been on his department's radar.

He did say, however, "There have been law enforcement contacts with individuals where he made kill."

Public records indicate that Loughner was booked by police once in 2007 for possession of drug paraphernalia and was cited in 2008 for graffiti, according to public records and media reports.

Copyright 2011 ABC News Radio

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