Review Category : National News

TSA Faces Daunting Task This Memorial Day Weekend

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — While holiday travelers enjoy their time off this Memorial Day weekend, crowding highways and airports across the country, aviation security will be put to the test.

The Transportation Security Administration, an agency that has come under fire from lawmakers and the general public for its mismanagement and understaffing, will face the daunting task of protecting our nation’s skies during one of the year’s busiest travel weekends.

In an upcoming interview with ABC News, TSA Administrator Peter Neffenger is expected to address how the security agency will tackle not only this Memorial Day weekend, but a summer with airline passenger numbers that have been forecast to reach all-time highs, according to an analysis by Airlines for America, an industry group.

The Department of Homeland Security took a big step Thursday night to address this.

Secretary Jeh Johnson submitted a request to Congress to transition 2,784 Transportation Security Officers from part-time to full time — a step that Johnson said would allow an additional 82,000 passengers to be screened per day.

“I hope Congress will act on this request soon,” Johnson said in a statement Thursday.

This comes on the heels of an approved request for the agency to reprogram $34 million for the hiring of 768 new TSOs. They are expected to be on board by mid-June — an action expected to increase passenger screening capacity by 220,000 per day.

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At Least One Killed in Severe Flooding in Southeast Texas

iStock/Thinkstock(BRENHAM, Texas) — At least one person is dead in Southeast Texas after heavy rains and extreme flooding barreled through the area, officials said.

The death was reported in Brenham, located about half-way between Austin and Houston. Two people are also missing there, the Brenham Fire Department said.

Brenham recorded its wettest day ever Thursday with 16.6 inches of rain.

Brenham schools are closed Friday and fire officials said several homes suffered damage.

Thirty-six water rescues were reported Thursday in Washington County, Texas, which encompasses the city of Brenham.

Hog Branch #brenham #flood #txwx pic.twitter.com/AJJgdOWubQ

— Josh Reddoch (@JoshReddoch) May 27, 2016

At least two people were reported missing in Travis County after getting trapped in a car in high waters, according to Angel Flores, spokesman for the Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. And at least 12 people in Travis County were rescued from high waters, Flores said.

The severe weather extended beyond southeastern Texas with much of the Plains and the South suffering from flash flooding.

Scary moment for the Patrol Sergeant through the heavy storms last night! Please be careful! pic.twitter.com/8QLh09GsXb

— Everman Police Dept (@EvermanPolice) May 27, 2016

Flooding in Magnolia/Greenfield Forest Estates #abc13eyewitness pic.twitter.com/UMbCnpAPL9

— Janet Coe (@jcoe84) May 27, 2016

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Feds Arrest Virginia Woman for Unique Million-Dollar Handbag Scheme

iStock/Thinkstock(ARLINGTON, Va.) — Federal authorities arrested a Virginia woman on Thursday for a unique handbag-related scheme that targeted several major department stores and involved brands such as Gucci, Burberry and Fendi.

The scheme was so prolific that at one point she was a major department store’s top online customer in the entire world, an agent from Homeland Security Investigations says in court documents.

For years, Praepitcha Smatsorabudh would allegedly buy high-end handbags — many costing more than $2,000 apiece — from department stores online. She would then allegedly return the bags and receive refunds in-person at stores across the country. But what she really was returning were fake handbags that she ordered from suppliers in China and Hong Kong, according to federal authorities.

Smatsorabudh would then sell the authentic, high-end handbags to unwitting customers online, usually through eBay or an Instagram account, federal authorities say.

In a September 2014 email to one fake handbag supplier, she allegedly wrote: “The best fake bag I’ve ever seen! Can you send me more … from this factory. They make bag IMPaCABLE!!!!” [sic]

She allegedly traveled to at least 12 different states to return fake bags at various locations of one department store in particular, though authorities would not identify the store.

Over the past two years, she allegedly received more than a million dollars in refunds from the one department store alone – an alleged windfall that doesn’t include the money she then allegedly made from selling the authentic high-end handbags online.

Federal authorities were able to build a case against her with help from the department store’s fraud investigators, the Arlington County Police Department and an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent, who posed as a customer and purchased an authentic handbag from Smatsorabudh, court documents show.

In March, federal authorities raided her home in Arlington, Virginia, and found 572 handbags, many of them fake, according to court documents.

Smatsorabudh, who is in her early 40s, has been charged with one count of wire fraud. If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison. She will be arraigned next week in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.

She was born in Thailand, but her immigration or citizenship status was not immediately known.

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Body-Camera Footage Shows Moments Before Police Fatally Shoot Unarmed Father of Two

iStock/Thinkstock(MESA, Ariz.) — A judge has released portions of a former police officer’s heavily redacted body-camera footage showing the moments leading up to a deadly police-involved shooting at a Mesa, Arizona, hotel.

Daniel Shaver, a 26-year-old father of two, was staying at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in January on a work trip from Texas.

A 911 call was made claiming a gun was being pointed out the window of a hotel room, according to court records. Police say they found two pellet guns, which he used for his pest-control job, inside the room after Shaver had been killed.

The footage begins with a police officer telling the occupants of room 502 to listen to his instructions or it was going to “become very uncomfortable.”

Police asked for any female occupants to step out, then shouted several times for Shaver to come out. The officers, surveying the scene from the hallway, discussed whether to call Shaver’s room from a lobby phone or access the room with a key card.

Shaver then comes out of the room unarmed, following officers’ commands to crawl toward them, according to the incident report. Shaver begged the armed officers not to shoot him, the report says.

Officer Philip Brailsford fired his gun five times, killing the father of two.

The body-cam video resumes with another officer’s escorting a female out of the hallway and outside to the front of the hotel, trying to keep her calm.

Brailsford later told investigators that he thought Shaver was reaching for a weapon. “I perceived this as a threat. It was just a scary situation,” Brailsford told ABC Phoenix affiliate KNXV.

But the investigation report indicating Shaver’s motion was “consistent with attempting to pull his shorts up as they were falling off,” additionally noting, “No other purposes for this movement appear to be viable.”

Shaver’s widow, Laney Sweet, said of the incident, “He was executed. He was begging for his life. Saying please don’t shoot me.”

The former Mesa police officer is now awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges.

Mike Piccarreta, Brailsford’s attorney, released a statement, saying, “This is a sad and unfortunate situation. Officer Brailsford followed his training and all procedures.”

He added, “When you’re dealing with an individual who is potentially armed and they reach into a known position where weapons are located you are obligated to defend yourself and the other officers. There was no animosity, no bad feelings against the deceased.”

Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sam Myers redacted a large portion of the footage, including the moment where Shaver is killed, to respect Brailsford’s right to a fair trial, saying it might prejudice potential jurors.

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Rapper Troy Ave Arrested for Attempted Murder in Connection with Shooting at T.I. Concert

NYPD(NEW YORK) — Rapper Roland Collins — whose stage name is Troy Ave — has been arrested in connection with the shooting Wednesday night at the NYC venue Webster Hall were rapper T.I. was slated to perform, the NYPD announced Thursday.

Earlier in the day, police released footage of the shooting, that left one dead and two others wounded. Collins also wounded himself.

The NYPD tweeted that Collins, 33, was charged with attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon. He has also been charged with reckless endangerment.

Police say Collins is believed to be the only suspect, but they are not ruling out other individuals.

ARREST UPDATE: Roland Collins (A.K.A. Troy Ave), 33, charged with Attempted Murder & Criminal Possession of a Weapon https://t.co/pb7IbuwbK5

— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) May 26, 2016

The video footage appears to show Collins come out of a VIP room at Irving Plaza, located near Union Square in lower Manhattan, and fire a shot.

Collins appears to pause and look around the crowd before firing the shot and exiting the screen.

WANTED: Info/witnesses regarding homicide at Irving Plaza in Manhattan. Call #800577TIPS. https://t.co/HuL0YszMK8 pic.twitter.com/hto8W6M42D

— NYPD NEWS (@NYPDnews) May 26, 2016

T.I., who was not on stage during the shooting, took to Twitter Thursday, writing, “My heart is heavy today. Our music is intended to save lives, like it has mine and many others. My heartfelt condolences to the family that suffered the loss & my prayers are with all those injured. Respectfully, Tip.”

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Florida Man Charged with 2nd-Degree Murder of Ex-Wife Accepts Plea Deal

Martin County Sheriff’s Office(HOBE SOUND, Fla.) — The ex-husband of a missing Florida woman has accepted a plea deal in exchange for disclosing the location of the missing woman’s body, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday night.

In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the Martin County Sheriff’s Office said, “Today Steven Williams, former husband of Tricia Todd, plead no contest to 2nd degree murder. He will receive 35-years in prison. As part of the plea deal, he agreed to lead MCSO and members of the state attorney’s office to the site of Tricia’s body located deep inside the Hungryland State Preserve off of Pratt Whitney Rd.”

The post, which includes video of teams searching the area, continued, “At this hour, Sheriff William Snyder, MCSO detectives, forensic teams, members of the state attorney’s office, and MCFR are on scene to begin excavating a specific site. We will be working through the night, and will update everyone as we can.”

Williams, 30, was arrested on second-degree murder and child neglect charges, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Wednesday at a press conference.

During a news conference Wednesday morning, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Williams confessed to killing Todd in April. The Air Force airman was arrested Tuesday in North Carolina.

She was last seen at a Publix supermarket on April 26 and reported missing the next day.

Snyder says Todd’s 2-year-old daughter was there when her mother was killed. She is now living with family members.

It is unclear whether Williams has a lawyer.

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Scripps National Spelling Bee Nets Two Winners

Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) — Despite the Scripps National Spelling Bee creating new rules this year to try to crown one champion instead of co-champions, the final two spellers Thursday night went the distance as the Bee ran out of words.

The winners of the 89th annual competition — held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland — are Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Corning, New York, and Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas.

The winning words were: Feldenkrais and Gesellschaft

Both champions will receive a $40,000 cash prize, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a reference library from Merriam-Webster, $400 worth of Encyclopedia Britannica products, and a trip to New York City, where they will appear on LIVE with Kelly.

There were 284 contestants total.

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Authorities Probe Link to 2 Mystery Church Fires in Washington State

Ingram Publishing/iStock/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, Wash.) — Authorities are investigating mysterious fires at two churches in the Vancouver, Washington, area that occurred within a day of one another.

“We have two churches in one fire district and that’s not normal,” said David Schmitke, the public information officer with Clark County Fire District 6. “We’re not quite to the point where we can say they’re connected just yet. The fire marshal hasn’t gotten to that point yet.”

On Wednesday, around 3 a.m., firefighters responded to reports of a three-alarm fire at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hazel Dell, Washington. Fire investigators estimated the damages to be around $2 million, according to ABC affiliate KATU-TV.

Nearly 24 hours later, firefighters were back at it after they were called to a blaze at Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene, about 10 minutes away from First Congregational United, in Vancouver.

Inside Liberty Bible Church, the smell of fuel was unmistakable, authorities said. Fire investigators said that a Molotov cocktail had been thrown through a window to the church’s nursery.

The Rev. Larry Rounsley, a pastor at Liberty Bible Church, said the building had sustained mostly water damage. He said a recently installed, brand-new sprinkler system had likely saved the church from being totally destroyed.

“You know, it’s hard to put yourself in the mind of why someone would do that,” Rounsley said today. “Why they would pick a church of all places. I look at it with extreme sadness for the sacrifices that people make that are part of this community to have a special place like this.”

Rounsley said the church had no known enemies and no threats had been made.

“The church is received really well in the community,” he said. “We have a good relationship with neighbors.”

In the meantime, fire investigators today continued their probe into the blazes, looking for a link to the two churches.

“The sheriff has been telling other people, other churches, to be mindful, to be vigilant. … [And] also telling people who live around faith-based centers to keep an eye out,” Schmitke said.

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19 Rescued After Flash Flood Traps Them in Kentucky Cave

ehrlif/iStock/Thinkstock(HORSE CAVE, Ky.) — Nineteen people have been rescued after a flash food trapped them in a Kentucky cave Thursday afternoon, officials said.

It is unclear how the rescue unfolded.

Around 10 a.m., 21 college-aged students entered the cave on a guided tour, said Kerry McDaniel, Hart County emergency management director. Afternoon thunderstorms around 2 p.m. produced flash flooding, which caused rising water to cut off passages and access points at the Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum, McDaniel said.

A police officer who went in to retrieve the students was among the people trapped, McDaniel said. The students were accompanied by experienced guides, who officials had hoped would bring them to a safe passage known as the “Attic Room.”

It was not clear what happened to the other students, but all are accounted for.

There is no cell service in the cave, and no one can hear the people who were trapped, McDaniel said.

The cave sits under the town of Horse Cave. Three dive teams responded to the scene, and officials initially thought it could take anywhere from 12 to 14 hours before a rescue attempt could be made due to the rough river currents.

Some people were trapped as far as five miles in the cave, McDaniel said.

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18 Rescued After Flash Flood Traps Them in Kentucky Cave

ehrlif/iStock/Thinkstock(HORSE CAVE, Ky.) — Eighteen people have been rescued after a flash food trapped them in a Kentucky cave Thursday afternoon, officials said.

It is unclear how the rescue unfolded.

Around 10 a.m., 21 college-aged students entered the cave on a guided tour, said Kerry McDaniel, Hart County emergency management director. Afternoon thunderstorms around 2 p.m. produced flash flooding, which caused rising water to cut off passages and access points at the Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum, McDaniel said.

A police officer who went in to retrieve the students was among the people trapped, McDaniel said. The students were accompanied by experienced guides, who officials had hoped would bring them to a safe passage known as the “Attic Room.”

It was not clear what happened to the other students, but all are accounted for.

There is no cell service in the cave, and no one can hear the people who were trapped, McDaniel said.

The cave sits under the town of Horse Cave. Three dive teams responded to the scene, and officials initially thought it could take anywhere from 12 to 14 hours before a rescue attempt could be made due to the rough river currents.

Some people were trapped as far as five miles in the cave, McDaniel said.

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