From the passing of Apple's Steve Jobs and the rise (and eventual fall) of Herman Cain to the death of Osama Bin Laden and Charlie Sheen's winning personality, Willie Geist brings us all of the big news of 2011.
From the passing of Apple's Steve Jobs and the rise (and eventual fall) of Herman Cain to the death of Osama Bin Laden and Charlie Sheen's winning personality, Willie Geist brings us all of the big news of 2011.
NEW YORK -- The skies above New York City were clogged with planes waiting to land in winds gusting up to 50 mph Tuesday night, forcing long delays at two of the three major metropolitan airports and causing some flights to be diverted to other cities.
National Weather Service meteorologist Adrienne Leptich said the delays occurred because the number of planes that can land each hour must be decreased in high winds, forcing some planes to circle the region or be diverted to other airports if fuel runs low.
"The winds were a little bit stronger than we anticipated," she said. "We're getting into the season now where we have stronger storms. It's not completely out of the ordinary that this would happen."
The Federal Aviation Administration reported at 10 p.m. ET that some arriving flights at Newark International Airport were delayed an average of 2 hours and 8 minutes while flights into LaGuardia Airport were delayed an average 1 hour and 34 minutes. Kennedy International Airport reported minor delays.
By early Wednesday, all three airports were reporting average delays for arrivals and departures of less than 15 minutes.
Daniel Kennedy said his 4:48 p.m. Delta flight operated by Shuttle America left Madison, Wis., bound for New York's LaGuardia Airport, only to be diverted to Albany, where passengers were kept on board while the plane was refueled. It did not land in New York until shortly before midnight.
"Our gate is occupied by another aircraft diverted from LaGuardia as well," one of the plane's pilots could be heard telling passengers as Kennedy spoke to The Associated Press while the plane was on the ground in Albany.
"They tell us we can't get up because we're sitting on an active taxiway," Kennedy said. Shortly afterward, a flight attendant announced that they could get up one at a time to use a restroom.
'People are behaving'
After landing in New York, Kennedy said the flight attendants had been helpful, passing out bottled water at one point to passengers who remained in good spirits. He said he wished there had been more communication from the pilots.
"I'm impressed by how well people are behaving," he said.
Chris Kelly Singley, a Delta spokeswoman based in Atlanta, said two LaGuardia-bound Delta aircraft were diverted to Boston Tuesday night "as a direct result of the winds we were seeing in the three New York airports."
She said the diversions are necessary when fuel starts to get low as planes circle while waiting for their turn to land.
A message left Tuesday with Shuttle America's parent company, Republic Airways, was not immediately returned.
Leptich said the space between planes must be increased in bad weather conditions. She had good news for those traveling in or out of New York City through New Year's, saying the next possibility of any kind of significant storm appeared to be at least eight days away.
Meanwhile, NBC New York reported that strong winds ripped off the roof and blew out the windows of a hangar at MacArthur Airport in Ronkonkoma. However, no injuries were reported.
The Associated Press, msnbc.com staff and NBC New York contributed to this report.
Allen Count, Ind., Sheriff's Office
Michael Len Plumadore was held without bond after his arrest Monday night in the death of Aliahna Lemmon, 9.
Updated at 7:57 p.m. ET: Michael Len Plumadore, the man accused of killing and dismembering 9-year-old Aliahna Lemmon at his home in Fort Wayne, Ind., has been on the run for 11 years for battery of a Florida law enforcement officer.
Florida Department of Correction records show that Plumadore, now 39, fled the state after he was sentenced to a year in prison in May 2000. Details of the incident in Miami Beach weren't immediately available.
Updated at 6:45 p.m. ET: The Associated Press, quoting one of the 15 sex offenders living at Northway Woods, reported that Aliahna Lemmon's mother had recently moved to the trailer park to take care of her father, James E. Lemmon, a convicted sex offender who had emphysema.
James Lemmon died Dec. 3 at age 66, Oberlin-Turnbull Funeral Home of Hamilton said. State prison records show that he was convicted March 6, 2006, of child molestation.
The official cause of Aliahna's death was pending completion of an autopsy Wednesday, but a preliminary coroner's report concluded that "the manner of death was homicide."
Original post: The Indiana trailer park that was home to 9-year-old Aliahna Lemmon — whose dismembered body was found this week — is also home to an extraordinary number of registered sex offenders, police and court records show.
An affidavit filed Tuesday by Allen County sheriff's investigators said Michael Len Plumadore, 39, of the Northway Woods trailer park in Fort Wayne, confessed to having killed and dismembered Aliahna on Friday. Her head, hands and feet were found in a freezer in Plumadore's home; the rest of her body was scattered elsewhere in the area.
Plumadore lives in the same trailer park as Aliahna — who a relative said was partly blind and deaf — and her two younger sisters, and he often baby-sat for them. The girls had been staying with Plumadore for about a week because their mother was ill.
The affidavit doesn't say why Plumadore would have wanted to kill Aliahna. He isn't on the county's sex offender registry — court records show only convictions for trespassing, assault and auto theft in Florida and North Carolina.
(The initial version of this post Tuesday said the nature of Aliahna's murder would qualify for adjudication under the section of the Indiana Code that includes the state's version of Megan's Law, a national template for monitoring and registration of sex offenders. Authorities clarified Wednesday that Plumadore's case would qualify for a possible death penalty prosecution because the homicide meets two of three standards in the code: Aliahna was under the age of 12, and she was dismembered.)
Northway Woods is one of an increasing number of isolated locations around the country that have become havens for registered sex offenders, who in most states must not live within a certain distance of places where children congregate, such as schools and churches.
The Allen County sheriff's registry shows that 15 sex offenders live at Northway Woods, a small mobile home park with 54 lots, only about 25 of which are occupied. Among them are men with multiple felony convictions for sexual abuse of a minor and child molestation.
In other words, three-fifths of the occupied units house a registered sex offender. That's an extraordinary concentration in Indiana, which has only 137 registered sex offenders per 100,000 population — the third-lowest ratio among all 50 states, according to data compiled by the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children.
Seven other registered offenders live within 2 miles of the trailer park, the registry shows — meaning nearly 5 percent of all of the county's 537 registered sex offenders live within a short walk of one another.
"You see it on TV all the time in other states, in other places, but this is in our own backyard," said Kathleen McKee, who lives in the Northway Woods park. "It's in our own home, and it's scary."
"I feel for the family, because I have three children myself — two daughters and a son," McKee told NBC station WISE of Fort Wayne. "I can't imagine what that family is feeling, especially around Christmas time."
Before he was arrested, Plumadore gave a brief interview Monday morning to WISE. The station hasn't aired the interview, but it reported that Plumadore said he was going in to take a polygraph test and that he, too, was eager to find Aliahna.
WISE constructed and aired this timeline of the hours leading up to Plumadore's arrest:
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A father dressed as Santa Claus arrived to his family's Christmas party with two guns, executed his entire family and then killed himself -- and planned the entire thing, police said Tuesday.
Police believe the Christmas Day massacre in Grapevine, Texas, which left seven people dead still surrounded by Christmas presents and wrapping paper, was premeditated, Grapevine Police Sgt. Robert Eberling said.
Late Tuesday afternoon, Grapevine police officially released the name of the gunman and his victims.
Police confirm what family friends said Monday, that Azizolah "Bob" Yazdanpanah, 56, fired the fatal shots in the murder-suicide.
Grapevine police identified the victims as his wife, Fatemah "Nasrin" Rahmati, 55; their daughter, Nargis "Nona" Yazdanpanah, 19; and their son, Ali Yazdanpanah, 14. Nasrin's sister, Zohreh Rahmati, 58; her husband, Mohamad Hossein Zarei, 59; and their daughter, Sahra Fatemah Zarei, 22; were also killed, police confirmed.
Police received a 911 call from an apartment in the 2500 block of Hall Johnson Road on Christmas morning. When officers arrived, they found the door locked from the inside, and the worst crime in Grapevine history.
Police recovered two weapons on the scene -- a Smith and Wesson 915 model 9 mm pistol with a 15-round magazine, and a Glock 23 .40-caliber pistol with a 10-round clip, according to Eberling.
Both guns were used in the murder-suicide, but Eberling would not say how many shots were fired; only saying that there were still bullets in both guns.
Last year, a bank foreclosed on Bob Yazdanpanah's house, and he separated from his wife in the March.
Police had previously said a text message prior to the shooting indicated Bob Yazdanpanah was probably invited to the party, but police on Tuesday afternoon changed their story.
Police now say Bob Yazdanpanah apparently was not invited.
At 11:16 a.m., one of the victims sent a text message to a friend indicating who was at the gathering at the apartment. The text message mentioned the gunman's name and that he was dressed as Santa. Police said there was no indication of fear or concern in the text.
Eighteen minutes later, someone placed a call to 911 from a landline inside the apartment. Investigators could make out a muffled cry for help in the background, Eberling said.
All of the victims were found in the same room with no sign of a struggle, according to Eberling, but he said some of the victims had defensive wounds that indicate they tried to shield themselves from the bullets.
Police will wait for the Tarrant County Medical Examiner to release the identities of the victims, Eberling said.
The gunman had some prior dealings with at least two other police departments but not Grapevine Police, according to Eberling. He did not say what kind of dealings, or when or how many incidents there were.
Investigators are still piecing together information, but Eberling said they aren't sure of a motive and may never know what led to the worst crime in Grapevine history.
Friends paint picture of loving family in turmoil
Yazdanpanah married Fatemah "Nasrin" Rahmati in 1987, according to court records. They had a daughter, Nargis "Nona," 19, who graduated from Colleyville Heritage High School in May and a son, Ali, 15, a high school freshman. All four are believed to be among the dead.
Neighbors say the family seemed tight-knit, and Aziz Yazdanpanah seemed protective of his children.
"He was pretty outgoing," said neighbor Fred Ditmars. "If you saw him, he'd say 'hi' to you and everything."
"It seemed like their whole existence was about family, so it's utterly shocking to me," said another neighbor, Terri Baum, whose daughter attended school with his daughter.
A close friend of the Yazdanpanah family said Fatemah "Nasrin" Rahmati's sister Zohreh, her husband Hossein Zarei and their 22-year-old daughter Sahra were also killed.
Sahra (pictured left in blue) was a pre-med student at the University of Texas at Arlington, and according to family friends she was a part of the Tri Delta sorority at UTA.
"Bob loved his kids. And I can't even fathom that that's what happened," Baum said.
The mother, Fatemah "Nasrin" Rahmati, worked the past four years doing manicures at a salon on Southlake's town square. The manager said she often talked about her family, but never in a bad way.
Police cautioned the investigation is far from over.
NBC 5's Scott Gordon, Ray Villeda and Ben Russell contributed to this report
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KARE 11 TV
This image taken from a YouTube video and aired on KARE 11 TV shows someone throwing a chair at people inside the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minn., on Monday.
BLOOMINGTON, Minn. -- More security officers were patrolling the nation's largest mall on Tuesday after a series of fights among dozens of young adults and juveniles broke out Monday afternoon, the day after Christmas and one of the busiest shopping days of the year.
Police arrested at least nine individuals for disorderly conduct after a fight that started in the Mall of America's food court spread throughout the mall, said Cmdr. Mark Stehlik with the Bloomington police department.
Mall officials briefly ordered a lockdown as shoppers fled into stores that shut their doors as those fighting rushed by.
Some witnesses said the melee had the feel of a "smash and grab" flash mob that knocked down shoppers and grabbed items from them as well as kiosks, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
"I was on the third-floor railing and saw a massive group of people" on the first floor, said Makenzie Shofner, 15, of Maple Plain, Minn. "It looked like they were trying to pull people's stuff out of their bags."
"A lot of parents (were) on their cell phones trying to find their kids," added Jennifer Reiland of Burnsville, Minn. "This was a harrowing experience for myself, my mother and my 5-year-old daughter."
Dan Jasper, a mall spokesman, said no significant injuries were reported but called the incident "disturbing."
"As a preventive measure we will ramp up security even more this week to make sure it doesn't happen again," Jasper said.
At one point at least 30 police officers were on the scene to respond, restoring order inside the mall after an hour.
Fights continued outside the grounds for a brief time.
Reuters contributed to this report.
They play. They giggle. But, then, say some angry consumers, the You and Me Play and Giggle Triplet dolls say "OK, crazy b****."
The adorable-looking dolls, clad in their pajamas with matching nightcaps, make babbling sounds and move their heads and are made exclusively for the Toys "R" Us brand, reported NBCPhiladelphia.com on Monday. The store defended the product and said what customers claim they are hearing is a misunderstanding.
"Obviously we would not sell a doll that uses profanity. What you’re hearing is just baby babble...There are no plans to pull it off the shelves," Toys “R” Us spokeswoman Jennifer Albano told the NBC Philadelphia's Lu Ann Cahn.
But others disagreed. An Oaklyn, N.J., grandmother, Pauline Davis, had bought the Giggle Triplets as a last-minute gift on Christmas Eve and was appalled when she got home to test out the dolls before giving them to her grandchildren, the website reported.
“I'm stunned ... There’s no mistake about it. The baby does use the B-word that ends in H,” Davis said.
Davis called up the Cherry Hill, N.J. store where she bought the dolls. The store apologized to her, Davis told NBC Philadelphia.
"They were appalled," Davis said. "But it still doesn't change things. Who released this doll?"
NBC Philadelphia went to the Cherry Hill Toys "R" Us to test out the dolls and found them on sale, all saying the same thing. Toys "R" maintained the toy wasn't using profanity, and said they had no plans to take it off shelves.
For the past few weeks, a meteorological question has been bubbling up: When will some measure of "snow sanity" return to the East?
Part of the problem generating snow this season in the Midwest and East has been the lack of sufficient cold air to keep the falling ice crystals in the form of snow at the ground.
The map below is our "Cold Air Tracker". Typically by the end of December, you'll see at least some subzero cold either lurking across the border in Canada or dipping into the northern tier of states.
However, according to the map below, there are parts of the Northern Plains and Canadian prairies that aren't even colder than 30 degrees! The subzero cold (pink shading) is wayyyyyy in northern Canada, bottled up for now.
Keep this relative lack of cold air in mind as we march through our forecast.
A wet storm system will spread moisture from the South into the Ohio Valley, Great Lakes, and East on Tuesday. With marginal cold air in place, rain is changing to snow over the middle-Mississippi and Ohio Valleys. This transition from rain to snow will continue into the eastern Great Lakes and interior Northeast through the day on Tuesday into Tuesday night.
How much snow are we expecting? Check out our forecast map below. The heaviest snow should target the Adirondacks of New York and hills of southwest New York and far northwest Pennsylvania (6"+ in pink shadings). A little good news for both snow-lovers and ski resorts suffering due to lack of natural snow!
Elsewhere, locations in the light gray shadings can expect 1 to 3 inches while areas colored in white could see 3 to 6 inches.
Bookmark alert: weather.com ski conditions
Unfortunately, for snow fans along the I-95 Boston-Washington corridor, the path of the surface low means warm air will be drawn ahead of this storm, so more rain, not snow, can be expected there.
This may lead to airport delays Tuesday, and possibly lingering into Wednesday, due to lingering winds.
By the way, this precipitation will only add to what is, for some, a record wet 2011. As you can see below, it is likely Burlington, Vt., will join the list of cities that have set their record wettest year in 2011 thanks to this upcoming storm.
SAN BERNARDINO, Calif. -- The man wanted in connection with the shooting of a soldier who was attending his own welcome home party Friday in San Bernardino turned himself in Monday afternoon.
The suspect, identified as Ruben Ray Jurado, surrendered to authorities at the Chino Hills Sheriff’s Station.
Ruben Ray Jurado is accused in the shooting of soldier Christopher Sullivan.
Jurado was to be brought to San Bernardino City Police station for questioning and then booked, according to police.
Earlier Monday, authorities released a mug shot of Jurado, who allegedly shot Army Spec. Christopher Sullivan. The 22-year-old soldier, who was on leave, remained hospitalized Monday in critical condition.
Family members say the Purple Heart recipient suffered two gunshot wounds, which shattered his spine and left him paralyzed.
Sullivan was at his own welcome home party Friday night in the 2800 block of North Garner Avenue.
At the party, Sullivan's brother got into an argument over football teams with Jurado, who was an acquaintance of Sullivan and had played football with him in high school, police Sgt. Gary Robertson said.
Jurado punched Sullivan's brother and Sullivan intervened. Jurado then pulled a gun and fired multiple shots, hitting Sullivan in the neck, Robertson said.
Sullivan was wounded in a suicide bombing attack last year in Kandahar while serving with the 101st Infantry Division. He suffered a cracked collar bone and brain damage in the attack and had been recovering in Kentucky, where he is stationed. He was home on leave when the shooting occurred.
The Los Angeles Times reported that Sullivan joined the military in 2009.
Fabian Salazar, a soldier who served with Sullivan in Afghanistan, said Sullivan rushed back to try to rescue other soldiers after the bomb blast propelled him several feet, leaving him dizzy and disoriented.
"I know he would take a bullet for his brother," Salazar told the newspaper. "And if you asked him again after all this... if he would take a bullet for him again, he would say yes. That's the type of person he is."
Information from The Associated Press and NBC Los Angeles.
DETROIT -- The deaths of two women found inside a burning vehicle on Christmas morning are connected to the deaths a week earlier of two other women, Detroit's police chief said Monday.
All four deaths were ruled homicides and three of the four women were involved in an escort website, Police Chief Ralph Godbee told reporters.
The latest victims were found after firefighters responded to a car fire inside a home's garage at 1 a.m. on Christmas, clickondetroit.com reported. Their bodies were found inside the trunk.
The women's names were not released but police said they were 28 and 29 years old and had worked for an escort service listed on backpage.com.
On Dec. 19, the bodies of Renesha Landers, 23, and her 24-year-old cousin, Denesha Hunt, were found dead in the truck of Landers' car.
"Three of the four females have a connection" to backpage.com, Godbee said.
NEW YORK -- An elderly couple and their cat were rescued Christmas night by an off-duty firefighter who just happened to be driving past their home as it was engulfed in flames, the New York City Fire Department said Monday.
"I saw the flames from a block away," firefighter Steven Carl was quoted as saying after the rescue on Staten Island.
Carl was returning home with his family from his parents' house just before midnight. He said he was met outside the burning home by a woman with burns on her face and screaming that her "babies" were still inside.
Unable to get in the front door due to the fire, Carl ran to the back where he saw an elderly couple on a tiny second-floor balcony, the department stated.
Grabbing a ladder in the backyard, Carl aided the couple, and their cat, to safety. The woman had burns and the man had cuts. Both were taken to a local hospital.
"Those people were in a bad spot and I’m just was glad I was able to help," he added.
Carl said he'd asked the couple about the babies the other woman referred to, and that those were two dogs, one of which was later rescued by responding firefighters. The other dog was unaccounted for.
As for the cause of the fire, officials said it was due to lights igniting the family's Christmas tree.
The department did not release the names of the victims or the condition of the home.
A TSA agent takes a woman's cupcake at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas, reportedly due to concerns over the frosting.
PEABODY, Mass. -- An airport security officer confiscated a frosted cupcake amid fears its icing could be a security risk, according to reports.
Rebecca Hains said the Transportation Security Administration agent at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas took her cupcake Wednesday. According to Hains, he told her its frosting was enough like a gel to violate TSA restrictions on allowing liquids and gels onto flights to prevent them from being used as explosives.
"I just thought this was terrible logic," Hains said Friday.
Hains said the agent didn't seem concerned that the red velvet cupcake, which was packaged in an 8-ounce mason jar, could actually be explosive, just that it fit some bureaucratic definition about what was prohibited.
"Once he had identified it as a security threat it was no longer mine and I couldn't have it back," Hains told NBC station WHDH.
Hains, a 35-year-old communications professor at Salem State University, said she told the agent she had passed through security at Boston's Logan International Airport earlier in the week with two cupcakes packaged in jars, gifts from a student. But she said the agent told her that just meant TSA officials in Boston didn't do its job.
"The TSA agent who saw them, picked them up and said, 'these look delicious,' and sent me on my way," Hains told WHDH.
The TSA, which is entrusted with protecting the nation's transportation system, was reviewing the incident, agency spokesman Nico Melendez said. Passengers are allowed to take cakes and cupcakes through checkpoints, he said.
Hains, who lives in Peabody, just north of Boston, said the encounter highlighted the ludicrousness of TSA policies.
"It's not really about the cupcake; I can get another cupcake," she added. "It's about an encroachment on civil liberties. We're just building up a resistance and tolerance to all these things they're doing in the name of security, when it's really theater. It is not keeping us safe."
The Associated Press, NBC News station WHDH and msnbc.com staff contributed to this report.
A San Francisco man who allegedly posed as a doctor and performed liposuction on an unsuspecting woman then flushed the fat down her toilet was arrested Thursday and is facing several felony charges, prosecutors said.
Carlos Guzmangarza, 49, also known as Carlos Guzman, allegedly operated a dermatology clinic in the 2500 block of San Francisco's Mission Street called the Derma Clinic and assumed the identity of a physician's assistant with a similar name to his, according to the district attorney's office.
Guzmangarza, who has no medical license, claimed the clinic was operated by himself and a doctor, but neither the doctor or the real physician's assistant is affiliated with the clinic, prosecutors said.
In early 2010, a victim seeking to have liposuction done on her stomach, as well as an eye lift procedure, was referred to Guzmangarza who agreed to perform the procedures for $3,000, an amount much lower than other quotes she received.
On the day of the procedure, Guzmangarza picked up the woman at her house, drove her to the office, and had her hold her IV bag for him during the procedure, during which he smoked a cigar, prosecutors said.
A few days after the surgery, Guzmangarza showed up at the woman's house with what he said was six pounds of fat that was removed during the liposuction, and dumped it down her toilet.
The victim's abdomen later became infected and she was forced to see another doctor, at which point she learned that Guzmangarza was not a real doctor. She has since undergone corrective surgery, according to the district attorney's office.
Guzmangarza also treated the victim's daughter for acne with a series of injections of an unknown substance in her face, prosecutors said.
He was arrested Thursday and is set to be arraigned this afternoon on four felony counts of practicing medicine without a license, along with three counts of assault with force likely to cause great bodily harm and one count of battery for the procedures he performed on the two victims.
Guzmangarza is also charged with felony counts of false impersonation and grand theft.
He is currently in custody on $750,000 bail and could face up to 12 years in state prison if convicted of all charges.
"The defendant put lives at risk by performing medical procedures he was not licensed or qualified to perform," District Attorney George Gascon said in a statement. "My office will hold people accountable for endangering the lives of innocent people."
Dan Wood, spokesman for the Medical Board of California, said, "This is a very serious matter and we take it very seriously. We're very glad to be able to shut this person down."
Anyone else who may have been treated by Guzmangarza at his clinic is encouraged to call investigator Douglas Becker of the state Medical Board at (408) 437-3680 or Lt. Carlos Sanchez with the district attorney's office at (415) 551-9500.
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A San Diego jury awarded a man and his wife nearly $7.5 million Friday in their civil suit against Starbucks after the man fell inside a North County business in 2008.
The case, which was filed in 2009, centered on Anthony Zaccaglin, who reportedly sustained a concussion after falling inside a Starbucks located on Melrose in Vista. Zaccaglin slipped and hit his head on a cash register as he was walking from the cashier to the pickup counter, according to Zaccaglin's attorneys, who added that witnesses at the scene said a manager had just mopped the area where Zaccaglin slipped and also said that that employee later apologized for not "dry mopping."
Zaccaglin alleged that he suffered complications stemming from the fall and was unable to return to work as a chiropractor.
Starbucks initially offered a $100,000 settlement to Zaccaglin; he declined to accept that proposal, however, said Zaccaglin's attorney John Gomez.
After two and a half weeks in court, a jury returned a verdict against Starbucks on Friday, awarding $6,456,230.50 to Zaccaglin. His wife was awarded $1 million for loss of consortium, or the loss of her husband’s love, companionship, comfort and care.
The total amount could grow to as much as $8.5 million, including added costs, Gomez said.
Starbucks spokesman Jim Oslo said the company was disappointed with the size of verdict:
Providing a safe environment for our customers is always a top priority for us at Starbucks. We are sorry that Mr. Zaccaglin was injured at our Vista, Calif., store. However, we are disappointed with the size of the verdict as we made every effort to reach a mutually agreeable and reasonable settlement with Mr. Zaccaglin. We are reviewing the decision to determine what, if any, steps we may take in response.
If Starbucks appeals, it could take up to two more years for the case to be settled, according to Gomez.
"For a national chain, Starbuck's safety policies were shockingly inadequate and inconsistently applied," Gomez said. "The family hopes that today's verdict will cause Starbucks to take safety as seriously as it does sales."
Gomez added that he and Zaccaglin were hoping to work it out with Starbucks to avoid an appeal.
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AP photographer Anja Niedringhaus photographed a Marine medevacked from Afghanistan with severe injuries in June. After months of searching for him to find out what happened, they were finally reunited in December. She showed him her photos from that day and brought with her a piece of wheat she'd plucked from his uniform and saved.
From Anja's story:
Anja Niedringhaus / AP
Cpl. Burness Britt reacts after seeing pictures of his evacuation laid out on his bed in the Hunter Holmes Medical Center in Richmond, Va., Dec. 13. Britt is facing a long recovery after a large piece of shrapnel from an IED in Afghanistan in June 2011 cut a major artery on his neck. During his first operation in Afghanistan he suffered a stroke and became partially paralyzed.
Sitting on his bed, he looked at me and asked: "Did you bring some pictures with you?" He wanted to see those moments in the helicopter.
He studied each photo. When he looked up, he had tears in his eyes. "Thank you so much," he said.
I pointed to one of the pictures with the piece of wheat. I told him I had brought it with me. He couldn't believe it.
Anja Niedringhaus / AP
United States Marine Cpl. Burness Britt reacts after being lifted onto a medevac helicopter from the U.S. Army's Task Force Lift "Dust Off," Charlie Company 1-214 Aviation Regiment, June 4, 2011. Britt was wounded in an IED strike near Sangin, in the Helmand Province of southern Afghanistan.
He was leading a group of 10 Marines through a wheat field when there was an explosion. He doesn't know how far away, maybe a few yards. He was thrown into the air, and landed with a thump in the field, a searing hot pain raging in his neck. He had been hit by a huge piece of shrapnel from a bomb and a major artery was cut.
Anja Niedringhaus / AP
Cpl. Burness Britt points to the scar on his head in his room in the Hunter Holmes Medical Center in Richmond, Va., Dec. 13.
Anja Niedringhaus / AP
Cpl. Burness Britt walks on the grounds of the Hunter Holmes Medical Center in Richmond, Va., Dec. 13, wearing a helmet protecting his head after part of his skull had been removed.
Anja Niedringhaus / AP
Cpl. Burness Britt tries to lift a ball with his right hand during a therapy session at the Hunter Holmes Medical Center in Richmond, Va., Dec. 13,
His speech comes with a great deal of difficulty these days, and sometimes he is hard to understand. During the many surgeries that followed his injury, he had a major stroke and is partially paralyzed on his right side.
His smile, though, is unchanged. The nurses at the Hunter Holmes Medical Center in Richmond, where we met for the first time since the helicopter ride, call him "Sunshine" because their youngest patient is always joking and in a good mood.
A man who was injured by Manhattan subway gunman Bernhard Goetz has been found dead in what appears to be a drug overdose 27 years to the day after the shooting, NBCNewYork.com reported Friday.
James Ramseur, one of four then-teenagers wounded in the notorious 1984 incident, was discovered dead in a Bronx motel room on Thursday, with two empty prescription pill bottles next to the bed. The labels were scratched off of the bottles, The New York Daily News reported.
His death is being investigated as an apparent overdose and as a possible suicide, sources told The Daily News. They said Ramseur, 45, checked into the motel Tuesday and was scheduled to check out Thursday morning.
His body was found by the motel manager who went into his room after he didn't return the keys Thursday, The Daily News said. No note was left.
Ramseur was freed from prison last year after serving 25 years for a rape, according to NBCNewYork.com. He was one of four black teens shot by Goetz on a train on Dec. 22, 1984, in a shooting that earned Goetz the nickname of "subway vigilante" by city newspapers.
Goetz claimed he opened fire because the teenagers were trying to rob him; they said they had simply asked him for five dollars. What is indisputable was that after shooting and wounding all four teens, Goetz ran off of the subway car, fled the city and didn't turn himself in until eight days after the shooting.
Stan Honda / AFP - Getty Images, file
Bernhard Goetz, seen in April 2011
Ramseur suffered a severe wound and was in a coma briefly afterward.
The shooting divided New York, with some hailing Goetz as a hero who had stood up against petty subway crime and others calling him a racist.
At his trial, a mostly white jury acquitted Goetz of all charges except illegal weapons possession. He served 250 days on Rikers Island.
According to Biography.com, Goetz still lives in New York City and has opened a store called Vigilante Electronics.
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A wolf-dog roaming the streets of Brooklyn was picked up by animal control workers this week.
The three-year-old female was wearing a chain and collar and was found Wednesday near Elton Street and Vandalia Avenue in Ozone Park.
The wolf-dog isn't a wild animal, authorities say, but she was picked up because it's against the law to have a wolf hybrid as a pet in New York City.
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Animal care officials say she has been acting timid and nervous because of the unfamiliar surroundings, but otherwise appears to be healthy.
Authorities did not release any information about her owners.
A rare violin worth $172,000 left onboard a Boston-to-Philadelphia bus Tuesday night has been found, much to the relief of the music student who forgot it in the overhead compartment.
Muchen Hsieh, who was borrowing the violin while she studied at Boston's New England Conservatory of Music, noticed she didn't have it after getting picked up by the family hosting her visit to the Philadelphia area.
She called Megabus, the low-cost bus company that had transported her, but was told the instrument - made in Naples in 1835 by Vincenzo Jorio - hadn't been found.
She told CBS Philadelphia the violin was insured, but irreplaceable.
“I’m a violin major so I really hope that the person that took it can give it back to me so I can continue my studies because right now, I can’t do anything,” she told the station, which described her as "fatigued."
The violin had last been seen on a Megabus on Tuesday at 29th and Market Street in Philadelphia. Philadelphia police started a search and told the public it could be returned to one of their stations with no questions asked.
Hsieh told investigators that she left the instrument in an overhead bin. The violin was loaned to her by the Chi Mei Culture Foundation in her native Taiwan while she studies in the U.S.
Meanwhile, Megabus was desperately searching for the valuable piece of lost luggage, which hadn't actually been stolen, but had just been moved off of the bus to a holding area in one of Megabus's facilities.
"She contacted us about a half hour after she got off, but by then, [the bus] had moved on. We couldn't trace down the luggage immediately," Megabus USA director Bryony Chamberlain told msnbc.com on Friday. "It was found by our cleaners yesterday. I'm very relieved. We're very lucky."
It was a particularly fortunate find during the holidays when travel is up, Chamberlain said.
"We carried about 22,000 people [nationwide] yesterday. People will leave luggage behind while going to see their loved ones, so we do whatever can - it shows our procedures worked correctly."
As of Friday morning, the violin had been picked up from Megabus by the police and was on its way to Hsieh, who could not immediately be reached by msnbc.com for comment.
While Chamberlain said Megabus is "very pleased" with the find, she said the tale serves as a lesson for travelers.
"It's an awfully high value to put into the luggage compartment," she said. "We do recommend if you have expensive items, take them with you to your seat."
The instrument bears the original label of its maker, Vincenco Jorio 1835 Vi CM Post #9901.
The Associated Press and msnbc.com's Alastair Jamieson contributed to this report.
W.A. Clark Memorial Library
Huguette Clark's estate will now be managed by a public official, not her attorney and accountant. Still to be determined: Which of her documented wills should the court honor?
NEW YORK — Based on "shocking" evidence of tax fraud, a judge on Friday suspended the attorney and accountant for reclusive copper heiress Huguette Clark from handling her $400 million estate.
The judge said there was more than enough evidence that the two men engaged in a tax fraud that allowed the elderly woman to run up an IRS bill of $90 million in unpaid gift taxes, interest and potential penalties.
The decision costs each man about $8 million he would have earned as an executor.
Also Friday, a remaining executor of the estate said he will try to recover at least one of the gifts given from Clark's accounts in recent years, a $5 million check written by Clark's attorney to Clark's registered nurse, Hadassah Peri. Clark's attorney had no authority to make that gift, the executor alleged. The $5 million was part of about $26 million given to the nurse over the past 15 years, even before Clark left more than $30 million to Peri in her will.
In Surrogate's Court in Manhattan, Surrogate Kristin Booth Glen took away the powers of Clark's attorney, Wallace "Wally" Bock, and accountant, Irving Kamsler. The two men remain under criminal investigation by the Manhattan district attorney for the way they managed her estate. They have not been charged with any crime and have said they acted appropriately.
The judge only suspended the men's privileges in handling her estate, instead of revoking them permanently, because their attorneys said a conflict of interest has arisen, apparently indicating that the two men are starting to tell different stories about the handling of Clark's affairs over the past 15 years. Until that is sorted out, attorney Barry Vasios said, the attorneys couldn't file an answer to the claim of tax fraud.
Even without hearing from the two men, the judge said she couldn't imagine how they could refute the claim that they are "unfit to serve" for wasting money from the estate, violating rules of conduct, dealing dishonestly with authorities and violating their fiduciary duty. She called the allegations shocking and suspended them immediately. If they want back into the case, she said, they can file a petition. And she said the two men may have to pay some of their own attorney fees, instead of having them paid by the estate, if their delay or dishonesty ran up the legal bills.
The estate will now be managed entirely by attorneys for the public administrator, who earlier this week alleged the tax fraud. Details on the allegations are in our earlier story: Tax fraud alleged in estate of heiress Huguette Clark; accountant resigns. Earlier this week, the accountant, Kamsler, told the court through an attorney that he planned to resign as an executor. He had not yet resigned by the time of Friday's hearing, however.
An attorney for the public administrator, Peter Schram, said an expert in legal ethics "could tell you how many ethical considerations and disciplinary rules Mr. Bock has violated. My guess is you'd need two hands and a couple of toes to count them."
Huguette Clark, daughter of William A. Clark, who was a senator from Montana and a copper magnate.
The judge also ruled on a second question, whether to allow Clark's relatives, descendants from her father's first marriage, to become parties to the case during the accounting of the estate. The judge blocked the family from entering the case now, saying that the interests of the estate are being well looked after by the public administrator, who was appointed at first as a third temporary executor to watch over Bock and Kamsler. This ruling will not keep the family from entering the case later. The family's entry was opposed by Clark's nurse, Peri.
Clark, who died in May at age 104, gained public attention in a series of articles on msnbc.com over the past two years, focusing at first on the mystery of her empty mansions and then the financial dealings of her attorney and accountant. The full series of articles is at http://clark.msnbc.com. Born in 1906, Clark was the youngest child of former U.S. Sen. William Andrews Clark (1839-1925), a copper miner and U.S. senator from Montana, said to be one of the richest men in the world. Below are links to the full story.
A dozen lawyers stood before Judge Glen on Friday morning in the courtroom in lower Manhattan, less than a mile from the office where Clark's father managed his mines, railroads and other properties until his death in 1925. Huguette, born in Paris in 1906, was his youngest daughter.
Clark signed two wills, in 2005, at age 98. The first left $5 million to the nurse, and the rest to the relatives. The second, signed just six weeks later, left nothing to the family, more than $30 million to the nurse, about $12 million to a goddaughter, $500,000 each to her attorney and accountant, $1 million to Beth Israel Hospital in New York City, $100,000 to her physician, a Monet painting worth about $25 million to the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington. It also set up a charitable foundation to run an art museum at her oceanfront estate in Santa Barbara, Calif., to be controlled by her attorney and accountant. Her apartments on Fifth Avenue in New York City and her country home in Connecticut would presumably be liquidated.
The public administrator alleges that while Clark lived as a recluse in New York City hospital rooms for the last 20 years of her life, attorney Bock and accountant Kamsler:
The new allegations raise the possibility that the men could face federal charges, with the public administrator noting that it is a felony to willfully submit fraudulent tax returns.
The accountant, Kamsler, 64, from the Bronx, N.Y., is a convicted felon and a registered sex offender who pleaded guilty in 2008 to attempting to distribute indecent materials to teenage girls in a chat room on AOL, under the moniker "IRV1040." The court granted Kamsler a "relief from civil disabilities," a document that allowed him to keep his state license as a certified public accountant. The attorney, Bock, 79, is from Queens, N.Y.
Msnbc.com reported last year that the two men also handled the affairs of another elderly client, Donald Wallace, who in fact was the previous attorney for Huguette Clark. After the man's will was revised six times, during years when his relatives said he was suffering from dementia, Bock and Kamsler ended up as his executors and also beneficiaries in his will, getting his New York apartment and his Mercedes.
An attorney representing Bock and Kamsler in the estate case, John Dadakis of the firm of Holland and Knight, issued this statement Wednesday through a spokesman: "For 30 years, Irving Kamsler was Mrs. Clark's accountant, and for 15 years Wallace Bock was her attorney. There is no allegation in the papers filed that either individual was taking anything out of her account for themselves. Their entire handling of her affairs was an effort to protect and preserve Mrs. Clark's chosen lifestyle."
Documents (PDF files)
Previous stories in the Huguette Clark mystery on msnbc.com:
Photo narrative, "The Clarks: An American story of wealth, scandal and mystery," Feb. 26, 2010.
Printable version of the photo narrative, Feb. 26, 2010.
Clark family notes and sources, Feb. 26, 2010.
Investigative report, part one, "At 104, the mysterious heiress Huguette Clark is alone now: Relatives are kept away. Only her accountant and attorney visit. Who protects HuguetteClark, with 3 empty homes and no heirs?" Aug. 19, 2010.
Investigative report, part two, "Who is watching Huguette Clark's millions? Reclusive heiress's assets are sold by two advisers, one an accountant with a felony conviction. Another elderly client signed over his property to the same accountant and attorney," Aug. 20, 2010.
"Criminal probe begins into the finances of reclusive heiress Huguette Clark: Manhattan DA's Elder Abuse Unit is on the case. The same unit prosecuted the Brooke Astor case — though Clark has about four times the wealth," Aug. 24, 2010.
"Report sparks welfare check on heiress Huguette Clark," Aug. 25, 2010.
"Huguette Clark, the reclusive heiress, has signed a will, attorney says," Sept. 2, 2010.
"Attorney for 104-year-old heiress defends his handling of her finances," Sept. 7, 2010.
"Huguette Clark, the reclusive copper heiress, dies at 104," May 24, 2011.
"Family excluded from Huguette Clark burial," May 26, 2011.
"Heiress Huguette Clark's will leaves $1 million to advisers," June 22, 2011.
"The 1 percent of the 1 percent: How Huguette Clark's millions were spent," Nov. 19, 2011.
Brendan McDermid / Reuters file
Soldiers carry the casket of U.S. Army Pvt. Danny Chen for his funeral procession in New York in this Oct. 13 file photo.
Army prosecutors will be in a tough spot pursuing charges of negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter against five soldiers in connection with the death of an Asian-American GI whose family and advocates say was the victim of racial taunting, bullying and hazing, according to military law experts.
Pvt. Danny Chen, 19, of New York, was found dead in a guard tower in southern Afghanistan from an apparent self-inflicted gunshot on Oct. 3, according to Army investigators.
Eight soldiers, including an officer, were charged Wednesday in connection with Chen's death, and five were accused of the most serious charges -- involuntary manslaughter to negligent homicide. They “relate to conduct that occurred in the time leading up to his death,” Dave Connolly, chief public affairs officer for Regional Command South in Afghanistan, wrote in an email, declining to provide further detail.
At the time of his death, Chen had been in the military for seven months; he had deployed to Afghanistan in August.
The negligent homicide and involuntary manslaughter charges in cases of hazing leading to suicide in the U.S. military appear to be a first, said Grover Baxley, a former member of the U.S. Air Force Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps, and Hank Nuwer, who has done decades of research on hazing in schools and the military.
“It’s interesting that they’re making -- as I see it -- a leap from hazing to being criminally responsible for a self-inflicted gunshot death,” said Baxley.
He said that in similar cases where the government had gotten hazing convictions, prosecutors could argue in the sentencing phase that hazing was an aggravating factor contributing to death.
“In the Army case, they've taken it a step further and they're actually charging them with criminal responsibility for … Private Chen’s death, and that’s a big distinction,” he said.
Prosecutors still must present their evidence at an “Article 32” hearing – the equivalent of a grand jury in civilian law – after which an investigating officer will determine whether to sustain the charges.
Negligent homicide is defined in military law as "the killing of another person through simple negligence," Baxley said. The US Legal website defines involuntary manslaughter as "manslaughter without any malice or intention," it said.
Under the negligent homicide charge, the government must show that Chen’s death not only resulted from a negligent act by the soldiers but was the “proximate cause” of it, said Baxley, who now has a private practice, JAG Defense.
“That is, that Pvt. Chen’s death was the natural and probable result of the soldiers’ negligent acts,” he wrote in an email. “While I have not seen the evidence in this case … if repeated acts of hazing by numerous individuals are the ‘negligent acts’ that form the basis for the charge, it’s going to be difficult to demonstrate that any one particular soldier’s behavior was the proximate cause of Pvt. Chen’s self-inflicted gunshot wound.”
Greg Rinckey, a former attorney with the U.S. Army JAG Corps, said he agreed with that assessment and noted that the defense would likely try to find evidence, for example, that Chen was fragile, had previously been suicidal or didn’t want to deploy. “They’re going to look at all these things to try and shift the blame from these soldiers are the proximate cause as to, ‘No, the proximate cause was he was predisposed really to suicide,’” he said.
The most serious charges also could be a way of trying to pressure one or more of the defendants into cooperating with prosecutors in exchange for lesser charges or immunity, Rinckey said.
Little is known about the Army's case at this point, but prosecutors "might have a hard time proving this. What could very well happen in a case like this is there could be a plea,” said Rinckey, managing partner of Tully Rinckey PLLC.
“It’s the first person that comes forward is usually the one that gets the sweetest deal,” he added.
A combination of factors – racial, political, a military superior focused on ending hazing – could have also led the Army to impose the rare charges, said Nuwer, an author of several books on the issue.
“Look at the climate in the country. There is a lot of public outcry over the death of Robert Champion at Florida A&M … and it’s kind of outraged the country,” he said, referring to the hazing death of a university band member on Nov. 19. “The other is the hazing has gotten to a point where we’ve now had a death in a fraternity or athletic team or band in a college every year from 1970 to 2011, and sometimes more than that.”
Nuwer, who noted that he was unaware of any similar charges being filed in a civilian court, said that hazing and harassment are rarely aimed at causing death
The soldiers at Combat Outpost Palace in the Panjwa'i district of Kandahar province, where Chen was stationed, may have been trying to push him out of the service or giving him the chance to change his behavior, he said.
“It’s going to be very rare that somebody tries to drive somebody to suicide,” Nuwer said of the hazing. “There’s a theatrical aspect to it. The verbal abuse is often manufactured and escalated to put a lesson into the person, and in effect, the men are often acting for each other. ...
“Then you have a kind of group think that takes over, and a kind of group energy where the whole group together does things to the individual that all of them alone would not have done.”
The military has a "zero-tolerance" policy of hazing, but it still happens, experts say.
“It's a delicate balancing act, because it’s always been in the military and it’s always going to be,” Rinckey said. “It’s very hard for soldiers and sailors that are going to be going into combat together to not have initiation rituals.”
But, he noted: “I think the military is beginning to take hazing very seriously and I think this case is a highlight of that … to how serious they’ll take it, where they’ll charge soldiers with manslaughter and negligent homicide.”
One recent case was that of Lance Cpl. Harry Lew, who was hazed by fellow Marines, according to a U.S. military report on his April 3 death. The military accused three Marines of beating Lew hours before he killed himself and charged them with hazing. They face court martial, The San Jose Mercury News reported.
After a Wednesday morning press conference held in New York by Chen’s family and Asian-American advocates, a senior Pentagon official offered condolences to the soldier’s relatives.
“We treat each other with respect and dignity or we go home -- that’s it,” Navy Capt. John Kirby said, according to a Pentagon news service report. “The tolerance is absolutely zero and the system itself, because it works and works well, is in fact, a deterrent to future behavior.”
“Unfortunately, you’re never going to be 100 percent perfect in this. And there’s going to be those few who want to (flout) what the uniform stands for and what the regulations require … when that happens they’re going to be dealt with.”
Chen's family and advocates are not convinced that his death was a suicide, despite the initial finding that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound, and have asked forensic expert Henry Lee to conduct an independent autopsy. Chen's mother, Su Zhen, 49, said she had not wanted her only child to join the Army and at the press conference said she “could not figure out why they (the soldiers) would do this to him."
OuYang, of the OCA, said her organization does not want the defendants to be allowed to plea bargain.
"It's one thing to charge them with high charges, but it means nothing if they plea bargain to something very low," she said. "... If they are responsible for his death they need to be charged and found guilty of that."
PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. - Port St. Lucie police are on the lookout for a group of teens vandalizing businesses.
The video was posed on YouTube.
Port St. Lucie police spokesman Tom Nichols confirms that at least one of the incidents in the video occurred in Port St. Lucie, but for now, they will not say which incident it is. Police don't know if the teens are local.
No criminal complaints have been filed with Port St. Lucie Police Department, according to Nichols.
The YouTube video shows several teenagers knocking items off store shelves.
In the five-minute video posted below, the teens are seen ransacking a Walmart store, a Target store, and a Sears store.
One aisle at a time, the teens knocked items such as paper plates, toilet paper and dog food off the shelves.
Bread once neatly stacked, was thrown on the floor.
They are also seen running through a mattress store, jumping on the beds, before being chased out by a store employee. The teens are also spotted skateboarding into a fountain outside a Friendly’s restaurant.
"What are they gaining by that you know, other than making somebody else's life hard?" says shopper Mark Cobb.
Not all shoppers at a local Port St. Lucie Walmart were disturbed, some found the incident funny.
"I wouldn't think it was that big of a deal unless I had to work in the store and clean it up," said Jason Wolfe.
The video also shows the teens at a local restaurant and other big box retailers where they skateboard their way into display piles.
Psychotherapist Fran Sherman watched the video, and while she cannot legally diagnose them based off the video, she says it's not healthy behavior and obvious the kids have no fear of being caught.
"They're really doing this without regard for society, rules or regulations," Sherman said.
"They're getting joy out of torturing people and things," she added.
Port St. Lucie police continue to look for the teenagers and say it's no laughing matter and criminal charges could be filed.
Mollie Reynolds and Neal Bennett of WPTV NewsChannel 5 contributed to this report.
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With a forecast of winds up to 70 mph on Thursday and Friday, drivers and residents across Southern California were on their guard.
Winds knocked over a big rig early Thursday in San Bernardino County below the Cajon Pass, NBCLosAngeles.com reported. No injuries were reported.
While this week's winds could be a serious hazard, they weren't forecast to approach the magnitude of a storm on Nov. 30 that spawned gusts approaching 100 mph. In that storm, trees were toppled, power poles snapped, homes were damaged and electricity was cut to nearly 650,000 homes and businesses.
This time around, northeast winds could reach 65 mph in many mountain areas and 40 mph in the valleys, the National Weather Service warned.
High-wind warnings were in effect from 1 a.m. PT Thursday to 1 p.m. PT Friday in Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino counties, it said.
Isolated gusts greater than 70 mph were possible below the Cajon and Banning passes in the Santa Ana Mountains, the weather service added.
"The winds will make driving difficult, especially for motorists with high profile vehicles. ... Watch for broken tree limbs and downed power lines," it said.
In the Pasadena area, one of the hardest hit by the November storm, crews are still clearing debris. "Work crews are working in 12-hour shifts," said city spokeswoman Ann Erdman. "They continue, night and day, to get the debris picked up. ... We have a ways to go."
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Southwest Airlines had to re-route a plane due to bad weather, sending an unaccompanied 9-year-old girl to the wrong state without contacting her family. WVIT's Amanda Raus reports.
Southwest Airlines is apologizing to a Clarksville, Tenn., family and investigating how a 9-year-old girl flying as an unaccompanied minor from Nashville to New York on Tuesday ended up re-routed and delayed for five hours without the airline notifying the family.
Chloe Boyce is fine and will be getting a special patch from her junior Girl Scout troop to mark her adventure, but her mom, Elena Kerr, is upset.
“The flight arrived and my daughter didn’t get off,” Kerr told msnbc.com. “Someone went on the plane to see if she was there and my sister called me and said, ‘Where’s Chloe?’ The Southwest guys told her there were no unaccompanied minors on that flight.”
Kerr had put Chloe on a flight in Nashville headed for New York’s LaGuardia Airport with scheduled stops in Columbus and Baltimore.
Southwest's policy only allows unaccompanied children to be booked on itineraries that don’t include plane changes. Chloe's flight, however, made an extra stop in Cleveland due to weather, and upon arriving in Baltimore she was rebooked on another flight to New York.
Unfortunately, no one from the airline called Kerr to inform her of the delay. The airline also did not contact Chloe’s aunt, who was waiting at the gate in New York.
Kerr said she started frantically calling Southwest and that it took more than an hour for the airline to locate Chloe and even longer to explain what happened.
“At BWI, the flight attendant took her off the plane, walked her to Hudson News to get her a drink and some snacks and the pilot bought her dinner,” Kerr told msnbc.com. “But while she was there no could tell us where she was.”
Kerr said she understands delays. “We just don’t understand why we weren’t called, especially because the Southwest policy states that someone must be available to answer phone calls during the flight time in the event of a flight irregularity.”
Southwest Airlines has apologized to Kerr and refunded the cost of Chloe’s ticket.
“Our unaccompanied minor policy aims to minimize these kinds of situations ... by only ticketing them on itineraries that don't require an aircraft change,” said Southwest spokesperson Brad Hawkins in an email to msnbc.com. “In this case, the unscheduled change of planes resulted in the connection, a delay and distress for the family which we certainly regret and have apologized for in our conversation with the family of our customer.”
Kerr is not convinced she should let Chloe fly alone again.
“I’m going to be driving the 17 hours to New York to get her,” she said.
This site in Sanmen, China, will house a Westinghouse AP1000 nuclear reactor and is set to go online in 2013. China is building four AP1000s, and U.S. regulators on Thursday gave the green light for use here.
Opening the door to a new generation of nuclear reactors, federal regulators on Thursday approved a design that a nuclear watchdog group acknowledged is an improvement but still not ideal.
The AP1000 reactor, designed by Westinghouse Electric Co., is safer than the current generation of U.S. reactors, which date back 30 years or more, members of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission said in voting for approval.
"The design provides enhanced safety margins through use of simplified, inherent, passive, or other innovative safety and security functions, and also has been assessed to ensure it could withstand damage from an aircraft impact without significant release of radioactive materials," NRC Chairman Gregory Jaczko said in a statement.
Fears of an aircraft impact were heightened after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.
The Nuclear Energy Institute praised the approval. NEI's chief nuclear officer, Tony Pietrangelo, called it "an important step closer to the construction and operation of advanced-design reactors that can strengthen America’s energy security while producing large amounts of affordable electricity to help drive economic growth."
Westinghouse uses this chart to showcase the AP1000's simpler design compared to traditional reactors.
Key features of the AP1000 are its fewer moving parts than in traditional reactors, especially in an emergency where radioactive fuel needs to be cooled. Current systems rely on pumps to supply water, but the AP1000 uses a massive water tank atop its structure that uses gravity to release the coolant.
Utilities in Georgia and South Carolina are seeking approval to build four AP1000 reactors, which Westinghouse touts with a trademarked campaign: "The Nuclear Renaissance Starts Here." China is among its earliest buyers, with four AP1000s being built there now.
No nuclear reactors have been built in the U.S. since the 1979 Three Mile Island accident and talk in recent years of a renaissance was dealt a setback with Japan's Fukushima disaster last March.
The Obama administration, which has offered the project in Georgia $8.3 billion in loan guarantees, is "committed to restarting America’s nuclear industry -- creating thousands of jobs in the years ahead and powering our nation’s homes and businesses with domestic, low-carbon energy," Energy Secretary Steven Chu said Thursday in praising the approval. He said it "marks an important milestone towards constructing the first U.S. nuclear reactors in three decades."
Nuclear energy does have an advantage over fossil fuels in that it does not emit the greenhouse gas carbon, but it faces stiff price competition from natural gas, which is much cleaner than oil and has dropped dramatically in price. Moreover, building a nuclear reactor is much more expensive and takes much longer than a power plant fueled by natural gas.
The Union of Concerned Scientists, which says it is not against nuclear power in principle, said in an earlier analysis of the AP1000 that its simplified design "is far less vulnerable than existing reactors to a total loss of AC power" during an accident. "As a result, risk assessments by the designers find that the probability that these reactors will experience a severe accident is much lower. For example, these analyses show that the probability of a core meltdown is 100 times lower than that for today’s plants.
But the group added that "little experience with full-scale reactors operating at full power is available to validate computer models of these safety systems, producing significant uncertainties."
It also faulted the AP1000 for "less robust containment systems, less redundancy in safety systems, and fewer safety-grade structures, systems, and components."
Westinghouse, in its statement announcing the approval, touted the safety features and noted that lessons from Fukushima were factored in.
"The innovative passive safety design was recognized by the NRC as providing significant added capability that allows the plant to safely cope with a Fukushima-type event, a significant reason why the NRC Near-term Task Force Review of Insights from the Fukushima-Daiichi Accident recommended" approval, it stated.
UCS senior scientist Edwin Lyman told msnbc.com that the recommendation does not constitute a formal re-analysis "to identify and correct any vulnerabilities based on lessons learned from the Fukushima accident."
"It would be more efficient and cost-effective to address problems that could be corrected at the design stage now, before any new plants are constructed," he added. "After plants are built, any new safety requirements would have to be addressed through costly retrofits and additional dependence on operator actions."
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PUL-E-ALAM, Logar Province, Afghanistan – Exactly one year since the ban on gays serving openly in the military was lifted, here’s a different way of gauging how the repeal of “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is playing out: How good is the media access to gay soldiers?
The short answer: It’s still a work in progress.
Ultimately, we got our story for NBC’s Nightly News. We spoke with a dozen or more gay or lesbian soldiers and airmen – both on relatively safe rear guard bases, but also on the front lines.
That wouldn’t have happened without the approval of military commanders and the cooperation of our “minders” – the Public Affairs Officers who were our liaisons to a gay community which, only months ago, still had to socialize covertly.
But it was an uphill, two-week battle, full of last minute changes and disappointments. And while in the end the military let us tell the story, we often felt, along the way, that some commanders simply didn’t want us snooping around such a sensitive issue for fear of opening a massive can of worms.
Reconciling ‘two lives’
For instance, the sudden cold feet of a young, gay combat engineer – who did not want to be named, based in eastern Afghanistan. Even though he had told his story to the national media before, he had never been publicly identified, and he canceled our interview just as we were to chopper out to meet him.
It turned out, like many gay soldiers, he had lived two separate lives. In this soldier's case, his private, gay life and his “normal” life with a wife and child back home. He had never “come out” to his wife or family.
But he faced an even bigger problem: By admitting to a gay relationship while married, he would also violate U.S. military laws against adultery, which can result in a dishonorable discharge. It made me realize how complicated the coming-out process can be for gay and lesbian service members.
As a Plan B, I made a quick call to see if we could set up a military embed on a large base in northern Afghanistan. Could we spend a couple of days with U.S. soldiers over Thanksgiving and get their story out to loved ones and our viewers? I asked.
“That shouldn’t be a problem, Jim,” was the answer from the very can-do Public Affairs Officer I spoke with.
“Good,” I replied. “And while I’m up there I’d also like to ask some soldiers a few questions about how the lifting of the ban on openly gay service members is going in their units.”
After a long pause, I heard: “I don’t think I’ll mention that to the boss.”
“Fine,” I said. “It was just a thought.”
A few hours later the same PAO left a text message: “Request not granted – sorry, Jim. The boss thinks it’s too unsafe up here right now.”
Slow ripple effect
There were other setbacks, usually a result of that gap “between two lives” – straight and gay, civilian and military. Many gay soldiers still choose NOT to tell their story rather than be caught in the collision.
It’s only been three months since the repeal took effect in the field, and the ripple from that change still has a long way to travel, despite the real freedom from the fear of being discharged from the military that all gay soldiers we spoke with now enjoy.
One example, the same military policeman who had no problem showing his face on-camera during a gay “coffee hour” at Bagram Air Field, canceled a more personal one-on-one interview the next day near his work station. An articulate soldier with a macho swagger, the MP apologized for the change of heart. But he hadn’t yet come out with some of his colleagues and wasn’t yet ready to do so.
A year ago the U.S. military was almost evenly divided over the lifting of DADT during war time. But we saw huge strides forward in retraining soldiers to deal with a new reality: Gays always served with honor during war and made their country proud, only now they’re able to do so without having to hide or lie.
Still, old habits die hard.
After conversing with gay male and female service members – many of them officers – at one of the “coffee hours,” our PAO was driving us back to our sleeping quarters when an overhead light caught the condensation on our front windshield and one word, written hastily by someone’s finger, appeared for all of us to see.
“Idiots!” belted out our PAO, excoriating his own comrades.
And I thought to myself, “Now that’s the reality check.”
Adek Berry/AFP/Getty Images
US Marine Corporal Jessica L. Williams (L) and Lance Corporal Shawnee Redbear of 2nd Battalion, 1st Marines Golf Company patrol in Basabad, Helmand Province, on March 9, 2011. The US Marines deployed about 40 Female Marines in Helmand province and Nimruz for the Female Engagement Team (FET) programme to interact with Afghan civilians, specifically women and children.
Women in the U.S. military are more likely than ever to see combat, says a study released Thursday.
Though men continue to make up the bulk of the fighting force, the proportion of women in the military is soaring, says the Pew Research study, which also found a greater share of women than men in the military are black and a smaller share of females are married compared to their male counterparts.
Female veterans are also more apt to be critical of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan than male veterans, the study found.
Since 1973, when the U.S. ended the draft and established an all-volunteer force, the proportion of women in the military has soared. The ranks of enlisted females have increased from 2 percent to 14 percent, and the share of female officers has quadrupled, from 4 percent to 16 percent, according to the Pew study, "Women in the U.S. Military: Growing Share, Distinctive Profile."
"The presence of women is felt now more than in any other previous era," said Kim Parker, researcher and co-author of the report. "And what we see is that it’s not just in the enlisted ranks, but there are many more women in leadership role. The military has become a place of opportunity for both racial minorities as well as for women to take on leadership roles."
Women are still less likely than men to go to combat, but their exposure to battle has increased because of long wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and a policy change in the 1990s that allowed women to serve in a greater variety of combat-related roles, such as flying in combat aircraft and serving on combat ships. Only 7 percent of women service members before 1990 had served in combat zones, according to the study, while after 1990 that proportion rose to 25 percent.
"The nature of the wars, where the battle lines are often uncertain, has exposed more women to combat," Parker said. "Even though they’re not the same roles as men. And women are reporting some of the same emotional effects of combat, like PTS (post-traumatic stress)."
More women may see combat in the future. The Pentagon is considering a recommendation by an advisory panel commissioned by Congress that recommends that the military do away with a policy banning women from serving in combat units. That policy is under department review and when complete will be delivered to Congress, Cynthia O. Smith, Department of Defense spokeswoman, told msnbc.com.
In the meantime, "Women will continue to be assigned to units and positions that may necessitate combat actions within the scope of their restricted positioning -- situations for which they are fully trained and equipped to respond," Smith said.
According to the Washington Post, 138 women have been killed in the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Despite their expansion of roles, active-duty women are more heavily concentrated in administrative and medical roles than men. The study found 30 percent of active-duty women are administrators, but only 12 percent of active-duty men serve in that capacity.
Female veterans, it turns out, are also more critical than their male counterparts of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to the Pew study, which found 63 percent say the Iraq war was not worth fighting (men: 47 percent) and 54 percent say Afghanistan has not been worth it (men: 39 percent). Surveys of the general public have shown no significant differences by gender in the share of people who say the post-9/11 wars were not worth fighting.
And women are also equally likey to have had emotionally traumatic or distressing experiences as men -- 47 percent of women, as opposed to 42 percent of men.
Still, women and men overwhelmingly say their military experience was positive, and 78 percent of women (82 percent, men) say they would advise a young person close to them to join the military.
The Pew report draws on two Pentagon studies on overall trends in military participation, as well as demographic and occupational profiles of male and female military personnel. It also draws on data from two surveys of military veterans: a Pew Research Center survey of a nationally representative sample of 1,853 veterans conducted July 28-Sept. 4, 2011, as well as a larger July 2010 Current Population Survey of veterans.