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Tuesday
Dec122017

El Faro captain partially responsible for ship's sinking: NTSB

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  The National Transportation Safety Board laid partial blame for the 2015 sinking of the El Faro on the ship’s captain, Michael Davidson, the investigative agency announced Tuesday.

All 33 crew members, including the captain, perished when the 790-foot cargo ship sunk near the path of Hurricane Joaquin in October 2015.

"The captain had multiple opportunities to reroute the vessel to avoid the hurricane," but despite repeated warnings from his second and third mates, he refused to substantially alter course, said NTSB investigator Carrie Bell. "The captain endangered El Faro and its crew."

Davidson, who repeatedly reminded the crew that he’d endured storms in Alaska, likely felt “overconfident” in his ability to withstand foul weather and may have worried that selecting a new route would cost him time and fuel, Bell said.

The junior officers -- who repeatedly expressed concern about the ship’s route -- treated Davidson in a “deferential” manner, and appeared “reluctant” to question his judgment, according to Bell.

"Had the deck officers more assertively stated their concerns ... the captain's situational awareness might have been improved," NTSB Chair Robert Sumwalt said. His suggestion riled some of the late crews' family members in the office.

"I took it as like, an attack against the officers, because, you know, they have to follow a chain of command," Claudia Shultz told ABC News through tears. Her husband, Steve, was chief mate. "My husband is not here to defend himself, and neither are the other officers."

And her feelings towards the late captain? "Poor choices were made," she said.

Based on audio captured from the ship’s voyage data recorder, Capt. Davidson seemed unaware that he was relying on weather data that was six hours old. (Though more current data was available onboard the ship, it was transmitted in a different format and required laborious manual charting, the NTSB found.)

Making matters worse, he also issued the command to abandon ship "too late" -- but even if the crew had been given more time to evacuate, the lifeboats likely wouldn't have provided adequate protection for crew, because they were "open," rather than enclosed, the NTSB said.

Though open lifeboats have been considered obsolete since the 1980s, almost half of the U.S. ocean-going fleet is still equipped with open lifeboats, the NTSB noted. Because it was built in the 1970s and its subsequent modifications hadn’t been classified as “major” conversions, Tote’s lifeboats hadn’t been updated.

Compounding the captain’s apparent mismanagement was the “weak safety culture” at El Faro’s owner Tote Maritime, which failed to monitor the ship’s position in relation to the hurricane or offer support as the storm barred down, Bell said. Tote also failed to provide adequate training and neglected to document its “dwindling confidence” in Davidson.

Tote spokesperson Darrell Wilson said in a statement to ABC News, "We as a company intend to learn everything possible from this accident and the resulting investigations to prevent anything similar from occurring in the future. Tote also remains focused, as we have from the start, on caring for the families of those we lost and working daily ashore and at sea to safeguard the lives of mariners."

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Tuesday
Dec122017

Skirball fire sparked by illegal cooking fire, California officials say

Marcus Yam/Los Angeles Times via Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The Skirball brush fire that caused residents of Los Angeles' affluent Bel-Air neighborhood to flee their multimillion-dollar mansions last week was sparked by an illegal cooking fire, the Los Angeles Fire Department said in a press release Tuesday.

The fire broke out on Dec. 6 just before 5 a.m. at an encampment under Interstate 405 and Sepulveda Boulevard in Long Beach , the fire department said. The fire was then spread by arid landscapes and Santa Ana winds, which also fueled five other fires throughout the state last week.

No one was present when authorities arrived at the area of origin, and no arrests have been made in connection with the fire, officials said.

The Skirball fire burned more than 400 acres and destroyed six homes and damaged 12 others in Bel-Air, the fire department said. As of Tuesday, it was 85 percent contained, but dozens of firefighters continued to work to achieve 100 percent containment, according to fire officials.

Last week, the Skirball fire caused all Los Angeles Unified School District schools in the San Fernando Valley and 17 schools on Los Angeles' Westside to shutter due to the poor air quality, officials said. All evacuations due to the Skirball fire have now been lifted.

About 90 percent of wildfires in the U.S. are human-caused, according to the National Park Service. The fires are often caused by campfires that are left unattended, the burning of debris, cigarettes that are discarded negligently, and intentional acts of arson, the National Park Service said. The remaining 10 percent of wildfires are caused by lightning or lava, according to the park service.

Five fires are still blazing through the Golden State.

The Thomas fire, threatening more than 18,000 structures in Santa Barbara and Ventura counties, remains the main concern for firefighters at just 25 percent containment.

More than 6,000 fire personnel are still battling the Thomas fire, which has singed through more than 236,000 acres so far, growing by more than 50,000 acres on Sunday alone. The Thomas fire has destroyed nearly 800 structures and damaged at least 187, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Severe fire weather will continue to promote significant fire growth in Santa Barbara County, the Department of Fire said.

The remaining fires, the Lilac, Creek and Rye fires, were all at least 92 percent contained as of Tuesday afternoon, officials said.

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Tuesday
Dec122017

23-year-old Google employee found dead in San Francisco Bay 

ABCNews.com(SAN FRANCISCO) --  Authorities are investigating the death of a 23-year-old Google employee whose body was found in San Francisco Bay.

Last Thursday morning, a man riding his bicycle on the Bay Trail called 911 to report a naked body floating in the water of the bay, the Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety said.

The body -- later identified as 23-year-old Chu Chu Ma -- was found by authorities, floating face down in a drainage canal along the Bay Trail, the department of public safety said.

Ma's boyfriend filed a missing persons report Thursday with the police in Mountain View, which is a few miles away from Sunnyvale, the Mountain View Police Department said.

Sunnyvale Department of Public Safety Captain Shawn Ahearn told ABC News that nothing has been ruled out in the investigation as police await the results of the autopsy report.

A Google spokesperson said that Ma "was an excellent software engineer in our developer product team."

"We are devastated to learn of her passing, and our deepest condolences are with her family and friends," the spokesperson said.

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Tuesday
Dec122017

Tennessee man arrested for having 5 pipe bombs in his home

iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) --  When officers made a routine probation visit to a Tennessee man, they found what they say were five pipe bombs and the materials to make more.

The probation officer and an accompanying Marion County Sheriff’s deputy paid Christopher Owens, who turned 32 that day, a visit at his Allen Lane home in Kimball at around 4:00 p.m. on Monday. When they searched his bedroom, they allegedly found the homemade bombs.

Owens, who was convicted of committing theft over $1,000, was home with his girlfriend and a child when the authorities performed the "home check," Kimball Police Chief Timothy Allison told ABC News.

The police chief said that the devices, which were filled with black powder, were not that potent.

“I don’t think they were powerful enough to hurt anyone else, but they were a danger to the people in that home,” he said.

Owens was charged with eight counts of reckless endangerment because there were eight people living in the home, Allison said.

In addition to reckless endangerment, Owens was charged with felony possession of a firearm, kidnapping, domestic assault, possession of explosive components and drug possession, according to Allison.

It was not immediately clear if Owens has retained a lawyer or if a court date had been set.

Owens has lived at the one-story ranch-style house where the nearest neighbor is around 100 yards away for two decades, Allison said.

When the devices and materials to manufacture more were discovered, he continued, police assembled the Chattanooga bomb squad and “the five pipe bombs were detonated right there.”

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Tuesday
Dec122017

Police shoot, injure suspect carrying pellet gun who attempted to access school

iStock/Thinkstock(ATLANTA) --  An Atlanta police officer shot and injured a man who appeared to be armed with a weapon and was attempting to access a middle and high school, officials said.

School officials contacted the Atlanta Public Schools Police Department when they saw the man enter school grounds and approach Forrest Hills Academy in Atlanta's Hammond Park neighborhood with the apparent weapon Tuesday morning, Georgia Bureau of Investigation Public Information Officer Nelly Miles said in a press conference Tuesday.

When officers arrived on campus, they observed the apparent weapon as the man was leaving the premises, and an officer fired one round at him, Miles said. It is unclear if the suspect pulled or pointed the apparent weapon at officers, but he did not fire it, she said.

Authorities later determined that the suspect was armed with a pellet gun, the GBI said in a press release.

The suspect, whose name was not released, was transported to Atlanta's Grady Memorial Hospital to be treated for his injuries, Miles said, adding that investigators were interviewing him at the hospital.

The Atlanta Public Schools Police Department has issued arrest warrants for the suspect for having a weapon on school property, Miles said. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation was contacted because the case involves an officer-involved shooting, Miles said.

Authorities do not yet know if the suspect knew anyone at the school, Miles said.

No staff or students were injured during the incident, and classes resumed soon after, Miles said.

Atlanta Public Schools did not immediately return ABC News' request for comment.

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Tuesday
Dec122017

Military wife creatively includes deployed husband in Christmas card

ABC News(NEW YORK) --  ’Staff Sgt. Andrew Smith will spend his first Christmas away from his 3-year-old daughter this year, but he was not forgotten from his family’s Christmas card.

Smith, a nearly 10-year veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, was Photoshopped into a card with his wife, Andrea Smith, and their daughter, Charlotte.

The photo shows Andrew Smith in his military uniform stepping in to help as Charlotte stands atop toys in a Target grocery cart and Andrea Smith sits on the floor drinking a Starbucks.

"I know so many families are going through the same thing as us," Andrea Smith, 28, told ABC News. "If we can make awareness that families are still missing people serving away from home, it’s worth it."

Andrea Smith chose to take the photo at Target because it is Charlotte’s favorite store. Sitting on the floor drinking coffee was meant to be a fun way to show all Andrea Smith does as a single, stay-at-home mom while her husband serves the country.

"People think of the guys that are deployed but it’s hard on everybody," she said. "I truly just want everybody to know we’re thinking of other families."

Andrew Smith, 29, has been stationed with his family at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina for the past three years. Andrea Smith was not able to disclose his length of deployment or location.

"His first reaction was, 'This is fantastic,'" Andrea Smith said of the first time her husband saw the Christmas card. “He was completely blown away."

Andrea Smith said the photo of her entire family together took her breath away.

"When I saw us all together, I thought, 'This is perfect,'" she said. "There was not another word for it."

"It took my breath away because we were all able to be in the same card even though we’re miles and miles away."

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Tuesday
Dec122017

What we know about the NYC bombing device

iStock/Thinkstock

(NEW YORK) --  The explosive device detonated in the New York City subway system Monday morning did not fully shatter but had the ability to impose more injuries, according to a law enforcement source.

Authorities called the homemade device -- allegedly made by 27-year-old Akayed Ullah -- an "improvised low-tech explosive."

Ullah "had strapped to his body an I.E.D., a pipe bomb that he had made using a metal pipe filled with ... screws held together under his jacket with wires and zip ties," Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference Tuesday.

The bomb was built from a 12-inch-long pipe, black powder and rigged with a 9-volt battery and a wire that came from a Christmas light, a law enforcement source told ABC News.

“He did follow some of the instructions that you can find readily online, unfortunately, to create such a device,” New York Police Department counterterrorism chief James Waters told ABC News. “A Christmas light bulb is one of those components.” Ullah allegedly aimed to "murder as many innocent human beings as he could and to blow himself up in the process -- all in support of a vicious terrorist cause," Kim said.

But the pipe failed to fully shatter and a 6-inch piece was discovered completely intact.

“This could have been worse,” the law enforcement source said.   Ullah is charged with five federal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use.

The charging document said law enforcement personnel found a 9-volt battery inside Ullah’s pants pocket, wires connected to the battery running under his jacket and fragments of metal pipe. There was also a remnant of what appeared to be a Christmas tree light bulb attached to the wires.

Kim said a search Monday "of his apartment in Brooklyn revealed metal pipes, pieces of wires and metal screws, consistent with the bomb materials recovered at the scene."

The FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, and the NYPD bomb squad are analyzing components of the explosive.

The Monday morning explosion occurred in an underground passageway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal, sending commuters scrambling to evacuate a major transit hub just blocks from Times Square.

Despite the rush-hour crowds, officials said, only five people suffered minor injuries.

Ullah, originally from Bangladesh, made statements to police indicating he “was inspired by ISIS to carry out” the attack and said, “I did it for the Islamic State,” according to the charging document.

Some of the material he viewed included instructions to attack at home if unable to travel overseas to join ISIS on the battlefield, the document alleges.

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Tuesday
Dec122017

NYC bombing suspect wrote on Facebook, 'Trump you failed to protect your nation'

iStock/Thinkstock

(NEW YORK) --  The man accused of detonating an explosive in the New York City subway system wrote on Facebook the morning of his alleged attack, “Trump you failed to protect your nation," according to the federal complaint against him.

Akayed Ullah, 27, an immigrant from Bangladesh, is accused of setting off the homemade bomb in an underground passageway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal Monday morning, sending commuters scrambling to evacuate the major transit hub just blocks from Times Square. He allegedly selected the location and time to maximize human casualties, according to officials.

Joon Kim, acting U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York, said at a news conference Tuesday that Ullah allegedly aimed to "murder as many innocent human beings as he could and to blow himself up in the process -- all in support of a vicious terrorist cause."

Despite the rush-hour crowds, however, only five people suffered minor injuries, officials said. Ullah was badly injured. Ullah made statements to police indicating he “was inspired by ISIS to carry out” the attack and said, “I did it for the Islamic State,” according to the charging document.

Ullah's radicalization began in at least 2014 when he began viewing pro-ISIS material online, the document stated.

Some of the material he viewed included instructions to attack in homelands if unable to travel overseas to join ISIS on the battlefield, the document alleged.

Inside Ullah's passport was a handwritten notation: "O America die in your rage," the document said.

There is no evidence he received funding or specific direction from any overseas group, according to police sources.

Ullah is charged with five federal counts, including the use of a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use. Ullah could face life in prison. The death penalty is not a possibility in this case because there were no deaths resulting from his alleged crimes.  Ullah began researching how to build improvised explosive devices a year ago, the charging document said.

Ullah built the bomb in his Brooklyn home a week before his alleged attack and began compiling materials a few weeks earlier, according to the complaint.

"He had strapped to his body an IED [improvised explosive device], a pipe bomb that he had made using a metal pipe filled with … screws held together under his jacket with wires and zip ties," Kim said.

The charging document said law enforcement personnel found a 9-volt battery inside Ullah’s pants pocket, wires connected to the battery running under his jacket and fragments of metal pipe. There was also a remnant of what appeared to be a Christmas tree light bulb attached to the wires.

The FBI lab in Quantico, Virginia, and the NYPD bomb squad are analyzing components of the explosive.  

Ullah’s family members in Bangladesh, including his wife and her parents, were taken in for questioning by counterterrorism police in Dhaka, the capital, according to Bangladeshi government officials.

The Embassy of Bangladesh in Washington said in a statement Monday, "Government of Bangladesh is committed to its declared policy of 'Zero Tolerance' against terrorism, and condemns terrorism and violent extremism in all forms or manifestations anywhere in the world, including Monday morning's incident in New York City."

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Tuesday
Dec122017

Former homeland security chief visits tunnel after terror attack: 'We're not afraid'

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(NEW YORK) --  Former Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson has a message for would-be terrorists: "We're not afraid."

Johnson spoke with ABC News at the scene of Monday's terror attack in an underground passageway near the Port Authority Bus Terminal just blocks from Times Square. Five people suffered minor injuries in the attack. The bombing suspect, Akayed Ullah, 27, was badly injured from the explosion and has been charged with five federal counts, including use of a weapon of mass destruction and bombing a place of public use.

Tuesday, Johnson, who served as DHS secretary under President Obama, confirmed that the Port Authority passageway was part of his daily commute. When the pipe bomb partially exploded Monday, Johnson said he happened to be walking above ground in a break with his normal routine.

"Today, I wanted to make a point of coming through this subway at this specific passage, at this time to demonstrate what a lot of New Yorkers are demonstrating -- which is that events like this happen, but we're strong, resilient," Johnson said. "We're not afraid. It's important to show that terrorism cannot prevail."

According to the charging document, Ullah made statements to police that indicated he “was inspired by ISIS to carry out” the attack and said, “I did it for the Islamic State.”

Ullah allegedly detonated a homemade pipe bomb during morning rush hour around 7:30 a.m. The charging document said law enforcement personnel found a 9-volt battery inside Ullah’s pants pocket, wires connected to the battery running under his jacket and fragments of metal pipe. There was also a remnant of what appeared to be a Christmas tree light bulb attached to the wires.

Johnson went on to say that the incident underscores the need for public vigilance.

"Terrorism can strike at any moment," Johnson said. "Yesterday's event reflected the current threat environment: so-called terror-inspired attacks by lone actors," he said. "'If you see something, say something' is more than a slogan."

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Tuesday
Dec122017

Man dies after he's carjacked, run over by his own vehicle: Police

iStock/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) --  A man was killed on Monday night after he was carjacked and run over by his own vehicle in Los Angeles, police said.

The carjacking occurred inside a parking structure in the 600 block of South Carondelet Street at about 6:25 p.m., police said.

The victim -- whose name or age was not released by authorities -- was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

The suspect -- whose only description is that he is an adult male -- fled in the victim's car, police said.

No arrests have been made, police said, adding that the case is being actively investigated.

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