Review Category : Top Stories

NTSB Considering Investigation into Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Weather Troubles

ANDER GILLENEA/AFP/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The U.S. National Transportation Safety Board is considering a possible investigation into events surrounding the storm that rocked a cruise ship off the Carolina coast and forced it to turn around.

Royal Caribbean Cruises’ Anthem of the Seas left New Jersey on Saturday headed for a week-long trip to the Bahamas, but abandoned its course Monday after experiencing hurricane-force winds and waves reaching 40 feet on Sunday.

Now, after receiving a request from a U.S. senator, the NTSB may investigate in conjunction with another investigation that is already underway.

The NTSB is already investigating the sinking of the cargo ship El Faro in October after it left Florida for Puerto Rico.

“That investigation includes a weather group that is investigating TOTE Maritime’s decision-making processes regarding vessel operations in hurricanes and other heavy weather occurrences,” the NTSB said in a statement released Tuesday, referencing the owner of the El Faro. “The Anthem of the Seas incident may provide us an additional opportunity to learn best practices that cruise line operators employ for operating in heavy weather.”

The cruise ship is now headed back to its home port in Bayonne, New Jersey, and is expected to dock at around 9 p.m. Wednesday.

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Unruly Passenger Forces Cross-Country Flight to Divert, Airline Says

iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(DENVER) — An Alaska Airlines flight made an unscheduled landing in Denver after a passenger became agitated and “issued a threat,” according to an Alaska Airlines spokesperson.

Scheduled to fly directly to San Diego, Flight 769 departed Boston Logan International Airport around 6:30 p.m. ET Tuesday before a male passenger, whom the airline said was intoxicated, in row 13 became upset and began verbally abusing others on the flight, according to the airline.

The flight crew asked the disruptive man to calm down and intervened several times, the airline said, but the agitated passenger then threatened the safety of the flight.

The captain decided to land at the nearest airport “out of an abundance of caution,” according to the airline, causing a 45-minute delay for the flight.

Video of the incident shows passengers applauding when the unruly passenger was removed from the plane.

While the Denver airport called the incident a “customer service issue only,” the Federal Aviation Administration deemed it a “security issue.”

No arrests were made, according to the airport in Denver.

The flight landed in San Diego at 10:18 p.m. PT., according to flight tracking website FlightAware.com.

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Asia McClain Speaks Out About Adnan Syed

ABC News(BALTIMORE) — His story has been heard by millions since the 2014 launch of investigative podcast, Serial, turning listeners into armchair detectives.

Adnan Syed was convicted in the 1999 murder of his high school ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee, who was found strangled in a Baltimore park. At age 17, Syed was arrested and later sentenced to life in prison. His attempts to appeal were unsuccessful until a Maryland court agreed to give him another chance to present new evidence –- including an alibi witness.

In an exclusive interview with ABC News, Asia McClain explained why she is speaking up 17 years later.

“I was compelled by my children. Keeping that legacy, integrity, and stepping up to tell the truth was very important to me,” she said. “I want my kids to know their mom was strong.”

McClain testified during Syed’s post-conviction hearing last week, saying she spoke with him at the public library on Jan. 13, 1999 at the very time the state says Syed killed Lee.

“I just happened to be at a specific place at a specific time,” she says.

McClain says she didn’t rehearse for her testimony, and was nervous. She also avoided making any eye contact with Syed during her testimony.

“I didn’t know what the temperament of the prosecutor was going to be,” she said. “Just not knowing what to expect was a little fearful.”

Though she testified for Syed, she recognizes that the decision as to whether Syed will get a new trial ultimately lies with the judge. The state maintains he belongs behind bars.

“I hope that enough information was presented to the judge for him to be able to make a rational decision,” she said. “Whatever that might be, is in his hands.”

And her message to Syed?

“I would just personally apologize that I didn’t come forward in 2010,” she said, of when the defense lawyer reached out to her to testify.

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Martin Shkreli’s Lawyer Fires Back at Congress

Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call(WASHINGTON) — The lead lawyer for former pharmaceutical company CEO Martin Shkreli is firing back at lawmakers on Capitol Hill after his controversial client was sharply questioned at a hearing last week on drug prices, defending his client’s tweet that referred to members of Congress as “imbeciles.”

In a letter published online by the New York Law Journal, Benjamin Brafman, a defense attorney who has represented musicians Jay-Z, Sean “Diddy” Combs and Michael Jackson, accused the House Oversight Committee — which subpoenaed Shkreli — of ordering the “Pharma Bro’s” appearance to “publicly humiliate him.”

“They demanded his appearance and then ridiculed and condemned him for invoking his constitutional rights that Congress is expected to respect and defend, not ridicule,” he said.

The 32-year old Shkreli, the former CEO of Turing Pharmaceuticals, was heavily criticized after Turing dramatically raised the price of a drug used to treat parasitic infections, from $13.50 to $750.

Shkreli, who also faces an unrelated securities fraud charge, invoked his Fifth Amendment right at the hearing and did not answer lawmakers’ questions — only responding in a tweet as he left Capitol Hill.

Brafman defended the tweet as the expression of “raw outrage at the forced spectacle he was required to participate in.”

A spokesperson for the House Oversight Committee did not immediately return a request for comment.

Shkreli, who has pleaded not guilty to the securities fraud charges, will next appear in federal court on May 3.

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Adnan Syed’s Chance at New Trial Rests in Judge’s Hands

Karl Merton Ferron/Baltimore Sun/TNS via Getty Images(BALTIMORE) — The fate of Adnan Syed — the man at the center of Serial — now rests in the hands of a retired Baltimore City judge, who says he will make a decision about whether or not Syed gets a new trial in the coming weeks.

Syed, a convicted killer, has spent 16 years in prison, after the state says he killed his former high school classmate Hae Min Lee. The pair had dated. Lee was found strangled in Leakin Park in 1999.

“I am proud to represent this man,” said C. Justin Brown, at the start of his closing arguments standing next to a jumpsuit-clad Syed, hands shackled at the waist. “He didn’t kill Hae Min Lee. He couldn’t have.”

The court reopened Syed’s 2012 post-conviction hearing so that his lawyers could present new evidence thanks in part to “Serial.” The post-conviction hearing was originally slated to last three days but went on for five because of the amount of witnesses called to testify. On Tuesday, counsel provided rebuttal evidence and presented their closing arguments, rehashing days’ worth of evidence and testimony before the judge.

“We proved our case, your honor,” Brown said. Syed’s lawyers, Brown and Christopher Nieto, called seven witness during the hearing. They argued for a new trial for Syed on two points: an alibi witness who said she saw Syed at the Woodlawn Public Library at the same time the state says he killed Lee but was never sought out for her testimony in Syed’s 2000 trial, and cellphone location data that was deemed “unreliable” by AT&T that was used against him during his trial, pinpointing him near the wooded area where Lee was buried.

“I’m incredibly grateful for the opportunity to present new evidence before the court,” Syed said in a statement. “I’m incredibly grateful for the love of my family and friends who stood by me all this time.”

Both of these issues, Syed’s lawyers say, are due to “failures” of Syed’s 2000 trial lawyer Cristina Gutierrez. Several of the witnesses Brown and Nieto called previously worked with Gutierrez, each remarking that Gutierrez was overworked and declining in health, unable to perform her job to the best of her abilities.

But in the state’s closing arguments, Maryland Deputy Attorney General Thiruvendran Vignarajah called Gutierrez a “meticulous” and “tenacious” lawyer, saying she did everything she could do to “vigorously advocate” for Syed, “pouring every ounce of her great talent” into defending him.

“To have her name smeared as it is, as a vehicle to make this case…it is not fair,” Vignarajah said.

The state called only two witnesses of its own to testify against Syed: a former Woodlawn Public Library security guard, and FBI Special Agent Chad Fitzgerald, who corroborated the testimony of a cellphone expert who placed Syed at the scene of the burial.

The security guard was called to verify that there were not security cameras in the library. However during testimony he said “it’s possible” there were.

Perhaps the most crucial part of the hearing was last week, when Brown called Asia McClain (now Campbell) to testify as the alibi witness or “missing piece of the puzzle.”

McClain testified that she was with Syed at the time of the killing, but she says she didn’t call the police initially to divulge her story because of fear.

“I started to call the police and then I chickened out. I think I hung up cuz I got scared.”

She didn’t make herself known to Gutierrez but she wrote letters to Syed. Syed told Gutierrez, didn’t pursue the angle.

Before Tuesday, the judge also heard from defense witness David Irwin, an award-winning lawyer with experience both as a prosecutor and defense attorney.

“An alibi witness is the best possible defense you can have,” he said. “The defense, Cristina Gutierrez, was on notice that Asia McClain was an alibi witness. She [was] willing to put herself on the line to tell what she believes is the truth.”

But the victim’s family members are still convinced Syed is her killer.

“The events of this past week have reopened wounds few can imagine,” the family said in a statement released Sunday by the Maryland Attorney General’s office. “It remains hard to see so many run to defend someone who committed a horrible crime, who destroyed our family, who refuses to accept responsibility, when so few are willing to speak up for Hae. She stood up for what was right, regardless of popular opinion.”

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Fire Sparked by Hoverboard Destroys Nashville Mansion, Authorities Say

Nashville Fire Department(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) — A fire sparked from a hoverboard destroyed a Tennessee mansion last month, fire officials said, spreading so quickly that a 16-year-old girl had to jump from a second-story window into her father’s arms.

On the evening of Jan. 9, two teenagers hid upstairs in their Nashville home after hearing noises coming from the first floor, unaware that they were coming from a Fiturbo F1 hoverboard that had burst into flames, the Nashville Fire Department said in a statement as it unveiled the results on an investigation into the blaze. After the 16-year-old girl jumped from the second floor as smoke approached, the father helped her 14-year-old brother climb down with a ladder, fire officials said.

The teenagers were taken to the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt with minor injuries, the fire department said. Their father, who injured his arm while catching his daughter, drove himself to the emergency room.

Nashville Fire Department

The 4,000-square-foot home, worth $1 million, was completely destroyed in the fire, Nashville Fire Department Public Information Officer Brian Haas told ABC News Tuesday. It is unclear if the family will rebuild the home, he added.

The hoverboard that caused the fire was burned so badly that fire officials will likely be unable to determine whether it was charging at the time the fire sparked, Haas said.

“We are fortunate that there were only minor injuries in what was an extremely dangerous fire,” Nashville Fire Chief Rick White said. “We hope Nashvillians use extreme caution before purchasing or using these hoverboards.”

Nashville Fire Department

After an investigation, the fire department discovered that another Fiturbo F1 hoverboard, bought from the same batch by friends of the family, sparked a small fire in the battery compartment as it was charging, according to the fire department. Only the hoverboard was damaged in that fire.

The Fiturbo F1 hoverboard is no longer available on Amazon.com. A representative for Fiturbo did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Nashville Fire Department advised that hoverboard owners always use the manufacturer-supplied charger and to follow the manufacturer’s recommended charging times. It also advised against overcharging the devices and leaving a device unattended while it charges.

“If you’re going to be charging it, make sure you’re there watching it,” Haas said. “Do not leave it plugged in overnight.”

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission is currently investigating dozens of fires across the United States thought to be caused by hoverboards, according to the Nashville Fire Department.

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Royal Caribbean Cruise Captain: Weather Forecast Wasn’t ‘Anything Near’ What Happened

Courtesy Sean Ferguson(NEW YORK) — The captain of the Royal Caribbean cruise ship that was rocked by terrifying, hurricane-force winds off the coast of the Carolinas Sunday told passengers that the forecast wasn’t “anything near what we actually experienced.”

“What we experienced yesterday, that was something very special,” Anthem of the Seas’ ship master Claus Andre Andersen said in a video produced by Royal Caribbean on Monday. “I honestly have not seen a low pressure that was not forecasted, anything near what we actually experienced.”

The captain’s video aired on an in-house channel in guest staterooms Monday, one day after passengers and crew members endured wind gusts topping 76 miles per hour and waves nearly 40 feet high. The rough seas forced the captain to turn the Bahamas-bound ship around.

In Royal Caribbean’s video, which passenger Sean Ferguson filmed and provided to ABC News, Andersen tells the cruise director that at 10 a.m. Sunday, “everything was nice and dandy.” At 1 p.m., after speaking on the phone with the Miami office, Andersen walked onto the bridge as the winds started to pick up.

That’s when Andersen noticed the wind was “stronger than what it was forecasted. Quite a bit stronger…it just didn’t stop.”

“It just became so intensified. In eight or nine hours, it goes from being nothing to a full-blown storm,” he said.

The weather toppled chairs, broke ceilings and shattered glasses. No one was seriously injured. Passenger Jessica Sheridan, who’s on the ship with her husband and 20-month-old son, told ABC News Tuesday that she was afraid for her life as the boat tipped side to side.

Anthem of the Seas originally left Cape Liberty, New Jersey, on Saturday for a seven-night cruise to the Bahamas. The 10-month-old ship has 2,090 staterooms and can hold over 4,000 guests. After the storm, Royal Caribbean announced that the ship would be heading to Port Canaveral, Florida. However, on Monday, the cruise line announced that the ship was turning around and is now headed back to port in New Jersey, where it’s expected to arrive early Wednesday evening.

The captain addressed the change of plans in the Monday video, saying a low pressure system was expected to form off Florida’s Atlantic coast near Jacksonville, Florida, fueled by the storm system in the ocean, and that could “be very, very strong, as well.”

While the ship was safe, the captain said “there is no need” to “make guests and crew that have already been scared or been in fear … to have that manifested again.”

He also said Nassau — one of the planned stops and where is said this new weather system might affect — is “notorious” for strong winds.

Andersen said the “right thing to do” was “return to New York.”

He said the ship handled the weather very well.

“I’m very pleased with the ship and its condition,” he said. “Yes it was uncomfortable … very scary for many.”

“You are always, always on my mind,” he said looking at the camera to the guests, explaining that the safety and comfort of guests, the crew and the ship is paramount.

A Royal Caribbean spokesperson told ABC News earlier Tuesday, “We are sensitive to the fact that our guests went through an uncomfortable ride.”

“Every time one of our ships sets sail, our single focus is to give our guests a wonderful, outstanding vacation,” the spokesperson said. “Clearly, due to the weather, we were unable to deliver the Royal Caribbean cruise vacation anticipated, and that we were looking forward to providing. The Anthem team maintained a safe environment, continued to deliver needed services, and did their best to reassure worried guests.”

Royal Caribbean noted Monday that the ship’s seaworthiness had not been affected in spite of the “extreme wind and sea conditions” which included “wind speeds higher than what was forecasted.”

“We know it was tough day on Sunday and apologize for their discomfort,” Royal Caribbean said in a statement Monday. “We also thank our captain and crew for guiding the ship safely back to better weather.”

“Safety is our highest priority and ships are designed to withstand even more extreme circumstances than Anthem of the Seas encountered,” the statement said.

The company said on Twitter that all guests were “safe and accounted for” and that all guests will receive a full refund and a future cruise certificate for 50 percent of the cruise fare paid.

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Man Accused of Tossing Gator Into Wendy’s Drive-Thru Window

Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission(LOXAHATCHEE, Fla.) — A man was arrested Monday for allegedly tossing a live alligator through the drive-thru window of a Wendy’s restaurant in Loxahatchee, Florida, according to Palm Beach County officials and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Joshua Douglas James, 23, of Jupiter, Florida, allegedly admitted to officials that he picked up the American alligator on the side of a road and later threw it from his white pickup truck into the Wendy’s kitchen after ordering a large soft drink, according to an FWC incident report obtained by ABC News. The alligator was later seized by FWC officers and released into a nearby canal, the report said.

Though the incident happened on Oct. 11, 2015, James was only taken into custody on Monday, according to online booking records for the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office.

According to an Incident Summary Report, officers were able to identify James as the suspect in the case by tracing information from a bank card he used at a 7-Eleven gas station just before going to the Wendy’s. The report said that time stamps from 7-Eleven surveillance footage of James aided in the investigation as well.

James now faces multiple charges, including aggravated assault with a deadly weapon without intent to kill and unlawful possession and transportation of an alligator, according to the FWC incident report and Palm Beach County online court records.

James appeared in court for the first time Tuesday, where a judge set his bail at $6,000 and ordered that he stay out of all Wendy’s restaurants, according to online court records.

It was not immediately clear if James had met bail or entered a plea to the charges against him, and the Palm Clerk & Comptroller’s Office did not immediately respond to ABC News’ requests for additional information.

Online court records listed James’ attorney as a public defender without specifying a name, and a spokesperson for the Palm Beach County Office of the Public Defender told ABC News Tuesday that it was too early to tell which attorney from the office would be assigned to his case.

Though surveillance video from Wendy’s of the alligator toss was shared with the FWC, the footage is currently being held by the Palm Beach County State’s Attorney Office and will not be publicly released at this time, FWC public information coordinator Rob Klepper told ABC News.

Wendy’s sent the following statement to ABC News Tuesday: “This unfortunate incident occurred last year. The safety and security of our restaurant teams is very important to us, and we’re glad that no one was injured as a result of what happened.”

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Lithium Batteries Could Spark ‘Catastrophic’ Plane Fires, FAA Warns

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Lithium ion batteries power our phones, laptops, and cameras –- but if handled improperly, they also have the power to potentially bring down a plane.

Following a series of disquieting tests, the FAA on Tuesday issued a safety alert warning airlines that transporting these batteries as cargo carries the “risk of a catastrophic hull loss.”

Lithium ion battery fires can lead to a “catastrophic explosion,” which fires suppression systems are “incapable of preventing,” the FAA said in the alert.

Such fires downed Boeing 747s in Dubai and South Korea in 2010 and 2011, killing all crew members (no passengers were on board). Then, a series of battery fires in the batteries of Boeing 787s prompted the FAA to ground the entire Dreamliner fleet in 2013.

As recently as late last year, a smoking lithium ion battery in a flight attendant’s credit card reader prompted an emergency landing in Buffalo.

The FAA is now urging airlines to conduct safety assessments and reevaluate their lithium ion battery protocols.

Most commercial passenger airlines voluntarily prohibit rechargeable lithium ion batteries, and just last month, a UN panel recommended banning rechargeable lithium battery cargo from all passenger jets.

However, a recent FAA funding bill failed to ban shipping such batteries by air.

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Biggest Threats to US Include Homegrown Terror, North Korea, Intel Chiefs Say

Alex Wong/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Top U.S. leaders laid out the major worldwide threats facing the United States at Tuesday’s Senate Armed Services Committee hearing — including homegrown terrorism and North Korea’s nuclear program.

“It’s a very accurate litany of doom,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK) during the testimony by James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, and Marine Corps Lt. General Vincent Stewart, director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Here are some of the highlights:

Terrorism in the US: Stewart cautioned against homegrown threats, saying, “ISIL will probably attempt to conduct additional attacks in Europe, and attempt to direct attacks on the U.S. homeland in 2016.” In his written statement, Clapper similarly warned that “the perceived success of attacks by homegrown violent extremists in Europe and North America, such as those in Chattanooga and San Bernardino, might motivate others to replicate opportunistic attacks with little or no warning, diminishing our ability to detect terrorist operational planning and readiness.” He said that U.S.-based homegrown violent extremists pose “the most significant Sunni terrorist threat to the US homeland in 2016.”

Taking Back Mosul: Stewart said he was not optimistic about taking Mosul from ISIS in the near term, saying it’s unlike to happen in the next year. “We may be able to begin the campaign, do some isolation operations around Mosul,” he said. “But securing or taking Mosul is an extensive operation and not something I see in the next year or so.” Stewart also mentioned there is still work to be done to secure Ramadi.

North Korean Nuclear Power: Clapper said North Korea has expanded their Yongbyon nuclear facility not far from the capital of Pyongyang. “We assess that North Korea has followed through on its announcement by expanding its Yongbyon enrichment facility and restarting the plutonium production reactor,” he said. “We further assess that North Korea has been operating the reactor long enough so that it could begin to recover plutonium from the reactor’s spent fuel within a matter of weeks to months.” On Saturday, North Korea successfully launched a long-range missile, apparently into space.

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