Review Category : Top Stories

Alabama Confirms Multiple Twisters, Assesses Damages

iStock/Thinkstock(ROSALIE, Ala.) — It took just two minutes for a powerful twister to cause death and devastation after it touched down in rural Jackson County, Alabama early Wednesday morning.

The EF-2 tornado packed 127-mph winds over a distance of just 200 yards, but that was enough to claim the lives of three people sheltering down in a mobile home in the community of Rosalie, officials said.

The deadly storm also flattened a strip mall and gas station as well as a church in Rosalie.

Jackson Co-Rosalie prelim tornado info: EF-2, Path Length: 1.7 miles, Max Path Width: 200 yards, Max Winds: 127 mph, 3 fatalities #HUNwx pic.twitter.com/anjPt96Wt0

— NWS Huntsville (@NWSHuntsville) December 1, 2016

It was the same deadly storm that touched down with even greater force in nearby Dekalb County, this time with an EF-3 twister packing 145 mph winds over a destructive 7.5-mile path.

In its wake a 24-hour daycare had been completely torn apart and seven people had been injured, including three children.

Officials say as many as 20 confirmed twisters hit northern part of the state.

10-20 Tornadoes confirmed north of I-59. Heaviest damage DeKalb, Jackson, Marshall Co’s. 3 confirmed fatalities.

— Gov. Robert Bentley (@GovernorBentley) November 30, 2016

Alabama Governor Robert Bentley issued a state of emergency after the deadly storm system produced “severe thunderstorms, hail, straight line winds, and tornadoes,” in 12 counties.

Some 20 homes were destroyed in Jackson County and 45 others were damaged, according to an initial assessment.

“The people of Alabama have already suffered because of this week’s severe weather and we are experiencing more today,” Governor Bentley said on Wednesday afternoon. “This State of Emergency will activate state agencies to assist communities in whatever way necessary, to ensure our people get the help they need.”

Prior to Wednesday’s storms, the state had already been battling a severe drought and 11 large wildfires, the governor said.

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Dolly Parton Promises $1,000 Per Month to Families Who Lost Their Homes in Tennessee Wildfire

iStock/Thinkstock(PIGEON FORGE, Tenn.) — Dolly Parton has promised to donate $1,000 per month to families who lost their homes in a devastating wildfire that has burned some 15,000 acres and scorched 700 buildings in the Great Smoky Mountains of Tennessee.

The famed country singer and owner of a resort that barely escaped the wildfire’s path said her Dollywood Company would set up a fund to benefit the victims in a statement released late Wednesday night.

“I’ve always believed charity begins at home and my home is some place special,” Parton said. “We want to provide a hand up to those families who have lost everything in the fires. I know it has been a trying time for my people and this assistance will help get them back on their feet.”

The “My People Fund” will provide $1000 each month to Sevier County families who lost their homes, Parton said in the statement.

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Police Standoff at House in Tacoma Where Officer Fatally Shot

iStock/Thinkstock(TACOMA, Wash.) — Police have surrounded a Tacoma, Washington home where an individual who shot and killed a police officer is believed to be holed up.

Police describe the scene as active, chaotic and potentially dangerous and say a woman and children who were in the home have been led to safety.

The police officer was shot several times in the line of duty at about 4 p.m. Wednesday while responding to a domestic disturbance and later died in the hospital.

The scene in the 400 block of E. 52nd is still active. Police are maintaining a large perimeter. Please shelter in place or stay out of area

— Tacoma PD (@pio1tpd) December 1, 2016

Officers called for backup shortly after responding to the disturbance and quickly reported shots fired, Loretta Cool, spokeswoman for the Tacoma Police Department, told KOMO.

The suspect barricaded himself in the house with a rifle and fired multiple shots, according to police.

The area around the house has been shut down to traffic and is surrounded by a strong police presence.

A law enforcement helicopter, patrol cars, and officers from multiple state and local agencies have responded to the shooting.

“All of Washington grieves with Tacoma, which tonight lost one of their finest,” said Washington state governor Jay Inslee in a statement.

“Our hearts are with the men and women of the Tacoma Police Department, their families, and their brothers and sisters in law enforcement across Washington.

“We don’t have all the answers from tonight’s shooting, and the crime scene is still active,” he added.

Police and residents from across the state paid their respects.

Dozens of uniformed and plainclothes officers line up outside @TacomaGeneral in honor of fallen officer. #komonews pic.twitter.com/zdfkrLbvCU

— Suzanne Phan (@SuzannePhan) December 1, 2016

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Michael Slager’s Murder Trial Concludes With Closing Arguments

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — In closing arguments this afternoon in the state trial of former police officer Michael Slager, who is accused of murdering an unarmed black man in South Carolina, the defense blasted the media for creating what was described as a false narrative, while the prosecution told the jury, “You can get it right.”

Slager, who is white, is accused of killing Walter Scott at a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston while Slager was an officer with the city’s police department.

Witness video that surfaced shortly after the deadly encounter appears to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. The video garnered national attention, propelling Slager into the spotlight. He was fired from the force after the shooting, according to The Associated Press.

Slager has pleaded not guilty to murder. His attorneys have said the witness video doesn’t show the whole struggle between Slager and Scott, and does not give the perspective of events from Slager’s point of view.

In this state trial, the jury can now also consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials told ABC News today. The voluntary manslaughter charge was requested by the prosecution and the judge allowed it based on testimony he heard during the trial.

“The court must let the jury decide if the force used was reasonable,” Judge Clifton Newman said today. “That’s the essence of the case.”

In the prosecution’s closing arguments, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson described murder and voluntarily manslaughter. She said murder involves malice, which “has to be in the mind before the shots are fired.” She said malice is a feeling and an emotion. Voluntarily manslaughter, meanwhile, “is an unlawful killing in the heat of passion,” Wilson said.

Wilson said jurors must decide the difference between heat of passion and malice “because from a distance they can look the same.”

She also discussed reasonable doubt.

“There are a lot of things that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ does not mean,” Wilson said. “The judge will give you an instruction and you’ll see that it’s the kind of doubt that [makes] you hesitant to act.

“It means that it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt when we have proven our case, not beyond every doubt, not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but a reasonable doubt,” Wilson said.

She said reason is used because “in life, it’s almost impossible to prove things beyond all doubt 100 percent.”

Wilson told the jurors to look at reasonable doubt as proof that leaves them “firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt.”

Wilson also praised the jury. “Y’all have been remarkably alert. Y’all have been remarkably attentive,” she said. “We know that we made the right decision. … We know that you can do this. You can get it right.”

She told the jury: “Nobody has had as much information about this case as you do.” Wilson also said the jury has seen a lot of “smoke” and “mirrors” but said “these are complicated, important decisions,” that must be made on facts.

Wilson said the defense made Scott look like a “deadbeat dad,” but in reality, Wilson said, Scott’s college-age son was living with him, and his other son, for whom he owed child support, spent the night before the shooting at Scott’s.

Furthermore, said the defense was “trying so hard to make y’all think he’s a thug,” Wilson said. She said that the defense calling Scott “armed and dangerous” was based on a 1991 conviction. Wilson added that when Scott was pulled over, “What does he do? … He’s such a thug he calls his girlfriend … can’t get her, and he calls his mother.”

When defense attorney Andy Savage gave his closing arguments, he blasted the media for creating what he described as a false narrative.

Savage said the media misleads the public and because of what the public has been told, “They have certain expectations.”

Savage said the narrative surrounding the shooting in the media focused on a white cop’s shooting a black motorist and that “Mr. Scott got out of the car and ran and was shot.”

“The impression that the media has, and the state is trying to sell you, is that nothing happened — he just ran after him and shot him in the back,” he said.

Savage said that “Mr. Scott did not get shot because he had a broken taillight” — he said Scott was shot “because of what he did on April 4.”

“You hear the media … say … ‘unarmed man,'” Savage said. “Did Slager know that? Did he have a chance to frisk him?” Savage asked the jury. “Did he have a chance to pat him down?”

Savage said Slager shot Scott because he was in fear for his life. Savage added that Slager didn’t know what Scott would do and said Scott could have hurt someone if he got away.

“What do you think if a police officer stops you?” Savage asked the jury. “Some people may want to run … but if you’re warned with a Taser,” he asked, wouldn’t you say, “‘Hands up, don’t shoot?'”

“This is not about a brake light,” Savage said, and not about “Mr. Slager’s decisions.” It’s about Scott’s “felonious conduct,” Savage said. “He made decisions to attack a police officer.”

Savage also implied that there must have been a fight between Slager and Scott, saying, “If there was no fight, how was Slager injured?”

Savage dismissed the jury’s consideration of a voluntary manslaughter charge, saying, “They think that if they give you ‘manslaughter'” as an option, “You might say, ‘It’s not murder.’ … You compromise.”

Ahead of closing arguments, jurors spent this morning at the scene of the shooting. On Monday, Slager testified in his own defense, saying that Scott was a threat and that he kept shooting him until the threat was over.

Scott’s family and family attorney held a news conference this evening, mentioning the “long, hard” weeks of enduring the high-profile trial. Scott’s brother said it was hard to hear his brother’s clear voice on the video, which was played in court, and he said he found it very hurtful.

Slager also faces a federal trial, which is scheduled for next year.

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Seven Dead, at Least 53 Injured in Tennessee Wildfire, Officials Say

File photo. (iStock/Thinkstock)(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — At least seven people have died from the massive eastern Tennessee wildfire that has burned more than 15,500 acres in Sevier County, officials said today.

Authorities said they are still working on identifying the deceased.

The blaze — which has devastated the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and surrounding areas — has also injured 53 people, scorched more than 700 homes and forced thousands to evacuate, officials said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said that the wildfire is the state’s biggest in 100 years.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in the county, and we’ll never see anything like it again,” said Sevier County Mayor Larry Waters.

The fire was exacerbated on Tuesday by what authorities have described as “hurricane-force” winds of up to 87 mph.

The heavy winds have presented a challenge to firefighters, who said that fallen trees have limited access to certain areas, according to Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller.

Though heavy rain helped suppress the fire today, it also presented new challenges, Miller said. Firefighters are now experiencing some rock and mudslides, he said.

The fire chief added that unless the rain penetrates deep into the brush fire, there is still a threat.

Over 200 firefighters remained on the ground this morning, according to Miller.

Gatlinburg mayor Mike Werner said at a news conference on Tuesday that it was a “devastating time” for the city but that its people were “strong and resilient.”

There are still areas that authorities are trying to reach, Werner said, noting that “nobody had a clue” the fire would spread “that fast.”

The blaze was “a scary sight to see,” he said, adding that “people were basically running for their lives.”

Officials from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency have said that it is likely that 14,000 residents and visitors have been evacuated from the city of Gatlinburg alone.

Numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines as a result of the fires, officials said.

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Families Search for Missing Loved Ones Amid Tennessee Wildfires

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two families are searching for loved ones who went missing after a massive wildfire destroyed their homes in Gatlinburg, Tenneesee.

Both families last heard from their missing relatives on Monday evening, reported ABC affiliate WATE in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Michael Reed told WATE that he had been out on a drive with his son Monday night to check if the fire they saw on the news was close to their home.

He said that his wife, Constance Reed, and his two daughters — 9-year-old Lily and 12-year-old Chloe — had stayed behind.

While stuck in traffic, Michael Reed said he received a phone call from his wife around 8:15 p.m.

“She said that there were flames across the street from our house,” Michael Reed said through tears. “She said that she didn’t know what to do. I told her to call 911.”

That was the last time he heard from his wife and daughters.

Michael Reed said he is “just hoping for a miracle.” He added that he and his son were able to drive back to what was left of their homes on Wiley Oakley Drive and that there were signs his wife and daughters were able to escape.

Another woman who lived on the same road also remains unaccounted for, WATE reported.

Her name is Alice Hagley and she is the mother of brothers James Wood and Lyle Wood.

James Wood told WATE that his mother last called him around 8:30 p.m. on Monday night, saying that the “house was on fire.”

“I told her to get out immediately, and we got disconnected and have not been able to get in touch with her since,” he said. “She’s not anywhere to be found as far as we know right now.”

Lyle Wood, who came up to Tennessee from Georgia with his wife, Rachel Wood, told WATE, “We’re here, [and] we’ve come to find her.”

“If you see her now and you’re talking to her, she’s probably talking about her grandkids or about her wonderful family,” he said. “She loves us a lot, and we love her a lot, too. Our hope is that people see and maybe get in touch with us.”

The massive eastern Tennessee wildfire — which has devastated the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Force and surrounding areas in Servier County — has killed four people and injured 45 others, officials said at a news conference this morning.

The deceased have not yet been identified, officials said.

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said on Tuesday that this is the state’s biggest fire in 100 years.

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Michael Slager Murder Trial: Closing Arguments Begin

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — Closing arguments are underway Wednesday afternoon in the state trial of former police officer Michael Slager, who is accused of murdering an unarmed black man in South Carolina last year.

Slager, who is white, is accused of killing Walter Scott at a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston while Slager was an officer with the city’s police department.

Witness video that surfaced shortly after the deadly encounter appears to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. The video garnered national attention, propelling Slager into the spotlight.

Slager has pleaded not guilty to murder. His attorneys have said the witness video doesn’t show the whole struggle between Slager and Scott, and does not give the perspective of events from Slager’s point of view.

In this state trial, the jury can now also consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials told ABC News Wednesday. The voluntary manslaughter charge was requested by the prosecution and the judge allowed it based on testimony he heard during the trial.

“The court must let the jury decide if the force used was reasonable,” Judge Clifton Newman said Wednesday. “That’s the essence of the case.”

In the prosecution’s closing arguments, Solicitor Scarlett Wilson described murder and voluntarily manslaughter. She said murder involves malice, which “has to be in the mind before the shots are fired.” She said malice is a feeling and an emotion. Voluntarily manslaughter, meanwhile, “is an unlawful killing in the heat of passion,” Wilson said.

Wilson said jurors must decide the difference between heat of passion and malice “because from a distance they can look the same.”

She also discussed reasonable doubt.

“There are a lot of things that ‘beyond a reasonable doubt’ does not mean,” Wilson said. “The judge will give you an instruction and you’ll see that it’s the kind of doubt that [makes] you hesitant to act.”

“It means that it’s proof beyond a reasonable doubt when we have proven our case, not beyond every doubt, not beyond a shadow of a doubt, but a reasonable doubt,” Wilson said.

She said reason is used because “in life, it’s almost impossible to prove things beyond all doubt 100 percent.”

Wilson told the jurors to look at reasonable doubt as proof that leaves them “firmly convinced of the defendant’s guilt.”

Wilson closed by praising the jury.

“Y’all have been remarkably alert. Y’all have been remarkably attentive,” she said. “We know that we made the right decision. … We know that you can do this. You can get it right.”

The defense is addressing the jury now.

Ahead of closing arguments, jurors spent Wednesday morning at the scene of the shooting.

On Monday, Slager testified in his own defense, saying that Scott was a threat and that he kept shooting him until the threat was over.

Slager also faces a federal trial, which is scheduled for next year.

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Four Dead, at Least 45 Injured in Tennessee Wildfires, Officials Say

File photo. (iStock/Thinkstock)(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — Another fatality has been confirmed in the massive eastern Tennessee wildfire — raising the death toll to four, officials said Wednesday.

The blaze — which has devastated the cities of Gatlinburg, Pigeon Forge and surrounding areas in Sevier County — has also injured 45 people, burned hundreds of homes and forced thousands to evacuate, officials said.

The deceased have not yet been identified, officials said

Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam said on Tuesday that the wildfire is the state’s biggest fire in 100 years.

The fire was exacerbated Tuesday by what authorities have described as “hurricane-force” winds of up to 87 mph.

The heavy winds have presented a challenge to firefighters, who said that trees have been falling and limiting access to certain areas, according to Gatlinburg Fire Chief Greg Miller.

Though rain Wednesday morning has been very helpful in controlling the fire, it has also presented new challenges, Miller said. Firefighters are now experiencing some rock and mud slides, he said.

The fire chief added that unless the rain penetrates deep into the brush fire, there is still a threat.

Over 200 firefighters remained on the ground Wednesday morning, according to Miller.

Gatlinburg Mayor Mike Werner said at a news conference on Tuesday that it was a “devastating time” for the city but that its people were “strong and resilient.”

There are still areas that authorities are trying to reach, Werner said, noting that “nobody had a clue” the fire would spread “that fast.”

The blaze was “a scary sight to see,” he said, adding that “people were basically running for their lives.”

Officials from the Tennessee Emergency Management Agency have said that it is likely that 14,000 residents and visitors have been evacuated from the city of Gatlinburg alone and that the wildfire is still burning.

Numerous roads remain closed and blocked by fallen trees and power lines as a result of the fires, officials said.

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Michael Slager Murder Trial: Closing Arguments to Begin Wednesday

iStock/Thinkstock(CHARLESTON, S.C.) — Closing arguments are expected to begin Wednesday afternoon in the state trial of former police officer Michael Slager, who is accused of murdering an unarmed black man in South Carolina last year.

Slager, who is white, is accused of killing Walter Scott at a traffic stop on April 4, 2015, in North Charleston while Slager was an officer with the city’s police department.

Witness video that surfaced shortly after the deadly encounter appears to show the moment Slager fatally shot Scott as he ran away. The video garnered national attention, propelling Slager into the spotlight.

Slager has pleaded not guilty to murder. His attorneys have said the witness video doesn’t show the whole struggle between Slager and Scott, and does not give the perspective of events from Slager’s point of view.

In this state trial, the jury can now also consider a voluntary manslaughter charge, officials told ABC News Wednesday. The voluntary manslaughter charge was requested by the prosecution and the judge allowed it based on testimony he heard during the trial.

“The court must let the jury decide if the force used was reasonable,” Judge Clifton Newman said Wednesday. “That’s the essence of the case.”

On Monday, Slager testified in his own defense, saying that Scott was a threat and that he kept shooting him until the threat was over.

Ahead of closing arguments, jurors spent the morning at the scene of the shooting.

Closing arguments are expected to begin at 1 p.m.

Slager also faces a federal trial, which is scheduled for next year.

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Cop Who Shot Keith Lamont Scott ‘Acted Lawfully,’ DA Says

Stockbyte/Thinkstock(CHARLOTTE, N.C.) — Brentley Vinson, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg police officer who shot Keith Lamont Scott, “acted lawfully,” Mecklenburg County District Attorney Andrew Murray said Wednesday.

Scott’s death in September sparked days of protest and unrest in Charlotte, North Carolina after a series of videos of the encounter were released to the public.

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