Review Category : National News

Southern California Brush Fire Rages Across 500 Acres in Calabasas and Topanga

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — A raging brush fire in Southern California spread to more than 500 acres of land in areas of Calabasas and Topanga on Sunday, putting nearly 5,000 residents in danger.

The fire was 30 percent contained as of Sunday morning after crews made “a lot of progress overnight,” Los Angeles County Fire Department Deputy Chief John Tripp told ABC News.

Crews fighting the blaze included 400 firefighters and water-dropping helicopters.

Tripp said the fire is still a very large challenge on the east and south side because it’s “up on a mid slope of the canyon.”

“That makes it extremely dangerous … to do a direct attack and try to get containment of that,” Tripp said.

Tripp cautioned that if the sun and heat reach the fuel, the fire “could get up and start moving again like it did yesterday.”

About 3,700 homes in Calabasas and Topanga were evacuated, impacting about 5,000 residents, Los Angeles Sheriff’s Department Capt. Eddie Rivero said.

Evacuations were lifted in Calabasas at 2 a.m. but mandatory evacuations for Topanga remain in place Sunday, Rivero said.

Officials cautioned that residents returning to Calabasas may be going back without power, though the specific number of power outages was not immediately clear.

Officials said a large event structure at a camp was destroyed and two single-family homes suffered damage.

Fire officials said Saturday the cause of the fire was not confirmed but there were reports that the fire had three separate starts.

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One Dead After Two Skydivers Collide Over South Carolina

Hemera/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two skydivers collided in midair Saturday night during CarolinaFest, an annual skydiving event hosted in South Carolina, resulting in one death, according to police.

The body of Bond Springer was found this morning in a wooded area near Skydive! Carolina, a popular “drop zone” for skydivers.

“Both skydivers in the incident were experienced and executing advanced wingsuit maneuvers at the time of the crash,” a statement from Skydive! Carolina said. “No malfunction is believed to have occurred with any equipment and all was normal leading [up] to the collision.”

A “wingsuit” is a one-piece garment that enables a skydiver to glide through the air during his or her fall.

The whereabouts and health of the other diver are unknown at this time. Police said that the case is still under investigation.

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Fort Hood Releases Names of Soldiers Killed in Training Accident

iStock/Thinkstock(KILLEEN, Texas) — Fort Hood officials released on Saturday the names of eight of the nine soldiers who died June 2 after the Light Medium Tactical Vehicle they were riding in overturned in a creek.

According to a statement from the Fort Hood Public Affairs Office, “The circumstances of the accident are unknown at this time, pending an investigation by a team from the Army Combat Readiness Center, Fort Rucker, Alabama.”

One of the soldier’s next of kin is still pending formal notification, and that individual’s identity will be released when the notification is complete, officials said.

The eight deceased soldiers identified were:

Staff Sgt. Miguel Angel Colonvazquez, 38, of Brooklyn, New York

Spc. Christine Faith Armstrong, 27, of Twentynine Palms, California

Pfc. Brandon Austin Banner, 22, of Milton, Florida

Pfc. Zachery Nathaniel Fuller, 23, of Palmetto, Florida

Pvt. Isaac Lee Deleon, 19, of San Angelo, Texas

Pvt. Eddy Raelaurin Gates, 20, of Dunn, North Carolina

Pvt. Tysheena Lynette James, 21, of Jersey City, New Jersey

Cadet Mitchell Alexander Winey, 21, of Valparaiso, Indiana

Biographical information about the soldiers was posted on the Fort Hood Facebook page.

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Memphis Police Officer Struck, Killed by Shooting Suspect’s Car

iStock/Thinkstock(MEMPHIS, Tenn.) — A police officer was killed in Memphis, Tennessee Saturday night after being he struck by a vehicle — while clearing an intersection of pedestrians — driven by a triple shooting suspect fleeing police.

The officer was Verdell Smith, 46, an 18-veteran of the Memphis Police Department, officials said.

Following the incident, Memphis mayor Jim Strickland wrote in a Facebook post that he was “angry at the absolutely unacceptable level of violence in our city.”

The chain of events kicked off at 9:57 p.m. when officers responded to a dispatch call and arrived at Westy’s Restaurant and Bar to find two males who had been shot, Memphis Police Director Michael Rallings said during a press conference. Both victims were then transported in critical condition to Regional One Health.

Then at 10:02 p.m., officers received another call, this time to Bass Pro Shops across the street. When they arrived there, officers located a male who had been shot. He was transferred to Regional One in non-critical condition, MPD’s Rallings said.

The male suspect believed to be responsible for the three shootings fled in a vehicle, which was located soon after — but officers lost sight of him. The suspect was spotted again, but “he fled again from officers,” Rallings said.

A few blocks away from where the suspect had fled, Officer Smith was clearing the area of pedestrians. That’s when the suspect struck him.

“The suspect then fled from the vehicle and was taken into custody after a brief foot chase,” Rallings said. “Officer Smith was transported to Regional One in critical condition were he later succumbed to his injuries.”

The suspect was also transported to Regional One in non-critical condition.

Rallings said at the press conference, “We are currently working several different scenes in connection with this incident. Details are still being gathered and no charges have been filed at this point due to the fact that this is an ongoing investigation.”

Mayor Strickland wrote in his Facebook post, “My family joins all of Memphis in mourning the loss of Officer Verdell Smith, who gave his life in service to our city. I call on every Memphian to remember Officer Smith’s family in prayer and reflection today and in the coming days — and to be grateful for the dangerous, important work our men and women of MPD perform every day.”

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3,000 LA-Area Homes Evacuated as Brush Fire Sweeps Across 200 Acres

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — Three thousand homes were evacuated in the Calabasas and West Hills areas of Los Angeles County Saturday, as a fast-moving brush fire encompassing more than 200 acres swept throughout the area, the Los Angeles County Fire Department said.

Around 8:30 p.m. local time on Saturday, officials announced that 15 percent of the fire had been contained. About 200 firefighters, aided by bulldozers and water-dropping helicopters, battled the blaze.

Initially, officials said they expected evacuees to begin returning to their homes around 8 a.m. on Sunday, barring winds or flare-ups, but around 1 a.m. local time, the LACFD tweeted, “#OldFire Update** residents in Calabasas area will be allowed to go back @ 2am. Note power might still be out.Topanga evac still in place.”

A handful of fires erupted in Calabasas — located in the hills west of the San Fernando Valley — and neighboring West Hills, but the West Hills blaze was doused quickly, while the other fires combined and grew to more than 200 acres.

@LACo_FD @LACoFDPIO being supported by fire crews from all over south land AMAZING – THANK YOU!!

— City of Calabasas (@CityofCalabasas) June 5, 2016

Between 500 and 600 of the 3,000 evacuations were mandatory, LACFD captain Roland Sprewell said Saturday night, adding that he was unable to provide a figure on the number of homes damaged. Earlier in the evening, though, officials had said about 350 structures were threatened.

#LIVE: CHP says Topanga Canyon Blvd. closed between PCH and Cezanne Ave due to #OldFire

— ABC7 Eyewitness News (@ABC7) June 5, 2016

More than 5,000 people were impacted by the fire, Sprewell said. That figure includes those affected by evacuations and road blockages.

The cause of the fire remains unknown, but officials are investigating. According to a statement from the City of Calabasas, the fire had three separate starts.

At its peak, 50-foot-high flames raced along ridgelines and torched trees and brush near many of the area’s multi-million-dollar homes.

Firefighters getting water from Calabasas Lake

— City of Calabasas (@CityofCalabasas) June 5, 2016

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Adorable Kid Returns Stolen Sequoia Cone to Park

NPS Photo/Meredith Elgart(VISALIA, Calif.) — One young visitor to Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks took the message of preservation adorably to heart, returning a stolen cone.

The pilfered cone and a note of apology were mailed to the park, spokesperson Dana Dierkes told ABC News.

“I took a [pinecone] out of the forest and I wanted to return it,” the note reads. “I hope it will be placed near the General Grant tree because that is where I took it.”

The writer adds: “I am sorry for my decision.”

Although the park notes in a Facebook post that is in fact a Sequoia cone, not a pinecone, it applauds the visitor for returning it. Sequoia and Kings Canyon National Parks “rarely” get items back — “a few each year,” Dierkes said.

Dierkes hopes that next time the visitor will remember to “take only pictures and leave only footprints.”

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Inside the Flag Lowering Ceremony in Louisville for Muhammad Ali, Ky.) — Flags were lowered to half-staff in a solemn ceremony Saturday morning in downtown Louisville, Kentucky, in honor of hometown hero Muhammad Ali, who died Friday in Arizona.

Ali “lived a life so big and bold, it’s hard to believe any one man could do everything he did … in the course of just one lifetime,” Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer told the crowd at this morning’s ceremony. “This man, this champion, this Louisvillian, ended his 74 years yesterday as a United Nations messenger of peace, a humanitarian and champion athlete who earned Amnesty International’s lifetime achievement award, the Presidential Medal of Freedom, Sports Illustrated’s sportsman of the century.”

Ali and his wife also co-founded the Muhammad Ali Center, “which promotes respect, hope and understanding” in Louisville and around the world, Fischer said.

Fischer said Ali “belongs to the world — but he only has one hometown.”

“We heard him in a way no one else could. As our brother, our uncle, and our inspiration,” Fischer said. “I am so grateful that I had the chance to know him and see how he leveraged his fame to share his message of love, peace and compassion.”

Fischer said flags on government buildings would remain at half-staff until Ali has been laid to rest.

The hometown newspaper remembers a hometown hero as the world mourns Muhammad Ali @courierjournal

— Mayor Greg Fischer (@louisvillemayor) June 4, 2016

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Inside One of the Police Videos Released in ‘Historic’ Chicago Document Dump

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CHICAGO) — Shocking video from a Chicago block party that appears to show a woman being thrown against a squad car and an officer striking a man with a baton is one of the many materials released today by Chicago’s Independent Police Review Authority as a part of a new transparency policy.

Video, audio and other materials from 101 open cases involving the Chicago police were made public today in what IPRA Chief Administrator Sharon Fairley called a “historic” release. The materials released were released by the city’s IPRA — which investigates complaints of police misconduct — marking the implementation of a new transparency policy regarding the release of materials related to serious incidents involving Chicago police.

Chicago has “struggled with so many questions about policing,” Fairley said at a news conference today. “There’s a lack of trust,” she said, adding that “increased transparency is essential in rebuilding that trust.”

This video, which the IPRA said was taken at a July 2014 block party, documents the arrests of Lisa Simmons and Jeremiah Smith, who later sued Chicago on claims of police brutality. The case was settled out of court, with Simmons and Smith getting $100,000 between the two.

According to Simmons’ arrest report, an officer at the block party saw Simmons drinking and placed her under arrest. A crowd began to form, and when the officer started to bring her to another squad car, she “pulled away” and the officer thought she was fleeing, the arrest report said, so the officer “restrained her against his squad car.”

The video made public today appears to show Simmons roughly thrown against the squad car. An officer can be heard yelling at the crowd, “Get out of the street or you’re going to jail!”

The video then appears to show the officer striking Smith with a baton and forcing him to the ground. The police report noted that his forceful actions were warranted because Smith was “throwing a punch,” leaving the officer “in fear of receiving a battery.” The officer “defended himself by using his impact weapon,” the report said, and “during the dynamics of the altercation the offender was struck in the ear area.”

The video, while partially obscured by another officer, appears to show Smith lurching backwards as the officer reaches for him.

“It should be noted that while the offender was on the ground he was reaching for an unknown object in his right pocket,” the police report said, later stating that a knife was recovered from his pocket.

The arrest report says Smith was taken into custody and treated for bruising and swelling to the ear area.

Smith was initially convicted of misdemeanor resisting arrest, but the conviction was vacated, court records show. Simmons had no convictions from her arrest on that day.

Simmons and Smith’s attorney, Rahsaan Gordon, told ABC News today that Smith was brutally struck in the head, after which Smith was arrested and spent almost two weeks in jail. Smith pleaded guilty to resisting arrest — which Gordon says was a false confession so he could be released from jail. Gordon said once he was involved in the case and the video emerged, he convinced the prosecutor to persuade the judge to vacate the guilty plea.

Gordon told ABC News the video showing his clients’ arrests “speaks for itself.”

“These videos shed light on how these communities have been policed for a long time,” Gordon said. “In the video, you see a woman holding a very small child — it shows that even young children are witnessing this extreme violence by police. This leaves impressions on a whole community.”

IPRA spokeswoman Mia Sissac told ABC News that IPRA cannot comment specifically on ongoing cases, but said “the release of materials today does not necessarily mean that there’s been a determination regarding the officer’s conduct.” Sissac said the new transparency policy is not anti-police, but rather it’s “about providing information to the public that we found is in the interest of the public, according to the policy written and recommended by the police accountability task force.”

Fairley, the IPRA chief administrator, told reporters this morning that the released materials “may not convey all of the facts and considerations that are relevant to an investigation of an officer’s conduct. Sometimes videos may capture only a portion of an event and leave out critical facts and context that are also relevant in assessing the conduct of anyone that is involved.”

Fairley added, “the release of these materials has no bearing and makes no representation about the status or outcome of any of the underlying IPRA investigations.”

The materials released by IPRA today “are still open, ongoing investigations,” Chicago Police Department spokesman Frank Giancamilli said in a statement to ABC News today. “Superintendent [Eddie] Johnson has stated that accountability begins with him down to the last probationary police officer and that if these investigations determine intentional misconduct that those responsible will be held fully accountable.”

The Chicago Fraternal Order of Police did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on the Simmons and Smith case, but in a statement earlier today called the overall document release “irresponsible” and “sad.” The FOP said its representatives met with police, city and IPRA members less than 24 hours before the release, claiming they were given “minimal notice.”

“To say this meeting turned contentious would be an understatement,” the FOP statement said.

The FOP said they were told reports would be redacted and not reveal who is being investigated.

“It is our hope that the Department, the City and IPRA consider our advice and add audio as well as an explanation of what the video shows,” the FOP said. “It is sad when, with all the talk about transparency and communication, they decide to operate in this manner.”

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Law Enforcement ‘Improperly Delayed’ During San Bernardino Investigation

iStock/Thinkstock(SAN BERNARDINO, Calif.) — In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in San Bernardino, federal bureaucracy and a lack of coordination led to a bottleneck as investigators attempted to locate a friend of one of the shooters in connection with the attack, a new report says.

The delay cost 30 minutes and sparked calls for approval all the way to Washington, D.C., during the urgent investigation, according to an Inspector General report released Friday.

On Dec. 3, 2015, the day after the San Bernardino shooting that left 14 people dead, Homeland Security Investigations (HSI) received word that Enrique Marquez’s wife had an appointment to adjust her immigration status that day at a United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office.

Marquez, a friend of gunman Syed Rizwan Farook, was being sought in connection to the shooting and was later arrested on terrorism-related charges. He has pleaded not guilty.

When HSI agents arrived at the office, Federal Protective Service (FPS) agents told the them they had to wait in the lobby until the USCIS Field Office Director approved their entry.

After 15-20 minutes, the Field Office Director was eventually reached and the agents were escorted inside.

About 10 minutes later, the Field Office Director told the agents they were “not allowed to arrest, detain, or interview anyone in the building based on USCIS policy, and that she would need to obtain guidance from her superior before allowing them access,” said the IG report. The director denied saying that, but the IG found her account of the encounter to be inconsistent.

After several phone calls to superiors and some more back-and-forth, the USCIS staff determined that Marquez’ wife never checked in for her appointment.

Despite the miscommunication and delay, the investigation itself was not impacted, the report said.

The IG concluded that the USCIS Field Office Director “improperly delayed” HSI agents from conducting a lawful and routine law enforcement action.

“The report from the Office of Inspector General confirms whistleblower complaints I received about a dangerous lack of coordination between ICE and the USCIS,” said Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.), Chairman of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

In a statement, Homeland Security said coordination has been improved.

“ICE and USCIS have since improved their protocols for facility access and information sharing in circumstances with potential national security or public safety implications, in order to avoid any such delays in the future,” the agency said in a statement. “FPS is also clarifying with its employees, Facility Security Committees, and protective security officers the agency’s policy of allowing law enforcement partners access to federal facilities during emergency situations.”

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UCLA Shooter Killed Estranged Wife Before Campus Incident: Police

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — Mainak Sarkar, the man who shot and killed a UCLA professor Wednesday before turning the gun on himself, is also believed to have climbed through a window to kill his estranged wife in her Minnesota home prior to the UCLA incident, authorities said.

The Hennepin County Medical Examiner’s identified a body found in an apartment in Brooklyn Park as 31-year-old Ashley Erin Hasti. The couple had been separated for some time, according to the Brooklyn Park Police Department. No previous calls to been placed relating to Hasti or Sarkar, police said.

Police responded to a welfare check at the apartment building Thursday morning and found Hasti dead from an apparent gunshot wound. The apartment had a broken window, and police believe that Sarkar climbed through it to gain access to the residence. Early indications are that the shooting occurred prior to the UCLA incident, police said.

Sarkar’s car was found Friday afternoon in Culver City, California, according to the LAPD.

Sarkar had a note on him when he died requesting that whoever found it check on his cat, police said. The note also listed the Minnesota address where Hasti’s body was found.

After killing his wife, Sarkar then drove to Los Angeles, police said.

Professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering William Klug was killed by Sarkar on Wednesday. Klug was Sarkar’s teacher, according to law enforcement officials, and the two had a long-standing poor relationship, the LAPD said. Police believe that Sarkar’s grades may have been a factor in the killing.

Klug, who was married with two children, would coach soccer and Little League Baseball in his time away from the university, ABC-owned station KABC in Los Angeles reported after his death.

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