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Thursday
Oct122017

California wildfire outbreak among deadliest in state history

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) -- Dry conditions and strong winds are continuing to fuel a deadly outbreak of wildfires in Northern California. The blazes have torn through nearly 200,000 acres of forest and residential neighborhoods, destroyed thousands of homes and businesses, killed at least 29 people and injured over 100 others.

The devastation is among the worst the state has seen from wildfires in its history.

Twenty-two fires broke out in multiple couties beginning early this week and have so far destroyed some 3,500 structures and forced tens of thousands of people to flee.

It is already among the deadliest wildfire outbreaks in the state's history, and officials have said the death toll may go up as responders reach more areas struck by the out-of-control blazes.

Taken together, this week's outbreak of fires has taken more lives than all but one wildfire in state history.

The so-called Tubbs fire in Napa and Sonoma counties broke out on Sunday evening and has so far claimed at least 14 lives, making it by itself one of the deadliest in California history even as authorities say additional fatalities may be reported in the coming days.

That fire torched more than 30,000 acres and was just 10 percent contained on Thursday despite around-the-clock efforts by over 1,000 firefighting and emergency personnel.

But it's just one of the 22 blazes that are stretching state firefighting resources to the limit.

The nearby Redwood Valley fire in Mendocino county, sparked on Monday, has claimed at least 6 lives, scorched over 30,00 acres and sent over 8,000 fleeing.

Here's how the current crisis compares to the deadliest wildfires in California history:

Griffith Park, Los Angeles County (October 1933): 29 dead

Tunnel–Oakland Hills, Alameda County (October 1991): 25 dead

Cedar, San Diego County (October 2003): 15 dead

Rattlesnake, Glenn County (July 1953): 15 dead

Loop, Los Angeles County (November 1966): 12 dead

Inaja, San Diego County (November 1956): 11 dead

Hauser Creek,
San Diego County (October 1943): 11 dead

Iron Alps Complex, Trinity County (August 2008): 10 dead

Harris, San Diego County (October 2007): 8 dead

Canyon, Los Angeles County (August 1968): 8 dead

Source: California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

Family of five loses home, nearly every possession in California wildfire: 'We don't know where to start'

Justin Sullivan/Getty Images(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) -- A Santa Rosa, California, man said he doesn't know what he'll do next now that the home where he and his family lived has burned to the ground, leaving them without anything except the clothes on their backs.

Carlos Funez, who is a teacher, and his wife, a vice principal, had already put their three children, ages 11, 7 and 4, to bed Sunday when the power first went out around 11 p.m.

The couple heard strong winds and what sounded like falling trees, he said, and the power began to flash on and off.

In the middle of the night, they heard people knocking on doors and yelling; Funez said he first assumed that police were chasing a criminal. When the pounding started on his door, he said he looked through the window and saw an ambulance, fire trucks and police cars, as well as neighbors outside in pajamas.

Funez opened the door.

"They started yelling at us, 'Get out, get out, you need to get out,'" he told ABC News. "I said, 'What's going on?' [They responded,] 'There's a fire back there.'"

"We looked over the hill and all you can see is orange," he said. "Once we opened the door, you can smell the smoke."

So at 2 a.m., the family hurried into the car and left to stay at a friend's house.

But by Monday afternoon, Funez and his wife were desperate to see the fate of their home.

"We had to see it," he said. "We left the kids safe at a friend's home and hiked with my wife and a neighbor 30 minutes through the burned neighborhood."

They walked like zombies, he said, with the firemen just looking at them and nodding.

"Once we got to our neighborhood I said to my wife, 'Just prepare for it,'" he recalled.
"The whole neighborhood is just ... burned down," he said, comparing it to a "war zone."

Funez said it seemed "like a bomb went off."

At his own home, he said nothing was left.

"The only thing you see standing was the walls of the bathroom," Funez said. "Everything else is burned to the ground."

Nearly all of the family's possessions were destroyed. His wife had left behind her purse, with her wedding ring inside. All of the kids' belongings were gone, except his oldest daughter's teddy bear and blanket that she brought in the car with her.

Now, just a few days out, Funez said "it's hard to know what to start with" as they pick up the pieces.

The kids are "going through all the stages: first, shock," he said. "One is sad right now, the other two are angry." He said he himself went through shock, denial and anger.

The family doesn't have renters insurance, Funez said, and hopes they can register with FEMA. Friends are sending clothes.

"It's going to be hard. We don't know where to start," he said. "I just have a pair of shorts and two t-shirts."

But in the midst of all of the loss, Funez is still grateful. The family had moved to California from Texas last year.

"We found that people here in California, they have a great heart," he said. "We found support from families and friends ... we're very fortunate to be here in northern California."

Santa Rosa is among the hardest hit areas in the devastating California wildfires. Firefighters across the area are battling 21 large wildfires that have burned more than 190,000 acres and killed at least 26 people; at least half of the deaths are in Sonoma County, where Santa Rosa is located.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

A North Carolina professor's dedication wins over his students

Joey Hagan(GREENVILLE, N.C. ) -- One college professor should be dubbed "Professor of the Year" after he made an unexpected visit to a group of students studying the night before a big exam.

Kristina Mueller was one of the students, hurriedly preparing for her accounting exam last Thursday in the Joyner Library on East Carolina University's Greenville, North Carolina campus.

The senior accounting student emailed Dr. Doug Schneider at 10:46 p.m. after the four-person study group debated on how to solve a problem, given to them for preparation.

"We were kind of butting heads," Mueller, 20, told ABC News. "So we said, 'Why don't we just email him? If he answers, great! If not, we'll try to figure it out on our own."

What the students didn't expect was for Dr. Schneider to respond and then offer to come to the library and help them in person.

Dr. Schneider, who has been a professor since 1991, told ABC News he didn't mind the trip.

"I work late quite a bit anyways and the library is not too far from where my office is," he explained. "It was relatively easy to walk over to the library and I felt it was easier to go and explain the solution ... than trying to answer by email."

Still, the students were shocked.

"I've never really had a professor say that to me," Marissa Flood, who was also part of the study group, told ABC News. "The fact that he even took more time out...to go and help us, I thought it was really good."

Flood, 21, a senior accounting and marketing major, was so impressed by her professor that she tweeted a now viral photo of the scene.

"Sometimes ya just gotta appreciate professor who do everything possible to help you succeed," she captioned the photo, which has now been liked nearly 40,000 times on Twitter.

After the impromptu professor-led study session, Flood said the students felt "a lot more confident" for their exam the following day.

"No one expected him to do that," she added.

But Dr. Schneider didn't shock his fellow professor, Dr. Stan Eakins, the dean of the university's college of business.

"I’ve known Doug for more than 20 years, and I’m not surprised he stayed late helping a student," Dr. Eakins said in a statement. "He’s always been extremely engaged and passionate about making a difference in students’ lives. He is a testament to how we approach learning at the College."

"I think for many of us, working here is a calling as much as it is a job," Dr. Schneider emphasized. "I have found that the students here are deserving of my time and best effort."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

How Hollywood’s casting couch culture may have contributed to Weinstein's alleged behavior

Drew Angerer/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The casting couch has long been a cliche in Hollywood, but in the past week, it's become clear just how real, pervasive and menacing it can be.

"The casting couch has a long history in Hollywood and it is real even today," Martha M. Lauzen, the executive director for the Center for the Study of Women in Television, Film & New Media at San Diego State University, told ABC News.

The expression refers to the sexual exploitation that has long been rumored to take place during auditions in the entertainment industry.

For Melissa Silverstein, the founder and editor of the blog Women and Hollywood, the phrase doesn't even begin to cover the long history of sexism, misogyny and male dominance in Hollywood.

"It's not big enough. It's not enough to say that actresses are being chased around the couch to get jobs," she told ABC News. "It's what happens when you're a [female] grip on the set and they say you don't know how to do your job...or the director shows up and men don't listen to her."

Silverstein said the casting couch is part of rape culture, where assault and sexual harassment and the mistreatment of women are normalized. "It's about the kind of culture that demeans women’s experiences and capacity for success...and doesn’t value women for being human beings."

She added, "We have to pierce that veneer and peel it back."

That may be what happened in the past week.

Dozens of women, including Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow and Mira Sorvina, have now come forward in reports by The New York Times and The New Yorker accusing movie mogul Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and, in some cases, sexual assault. Some allegations date back three decades.

A spokesperson for the movie executive told The New Yorker, "Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein." In a statement, his spokesperson added that "there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances."

Weinstein’s lawyer said last week that he planned to sue The New York Times.

"The New York Times published today a story that is saturated with false and defamatory statements about Harvey Weinstein," attorney Charles J. Harder said in a statement last Thursday.

Despite Weinstein's apology and promise to better himself, he was fired by the board of The Weinstein Company, the entertainment company he co-founded.

On Wednesday, he spoke for the first time since the women came forward.

"Guys, I'm not doing OK but I'm trying. I got to get help. You know what, we all make mistakes. ... A second chance, I hope," Weinstein said in a video shot Wednesday outside his daughter Lily Weinstein’s Los Angeles home. The video was obtained by ABC News.

It was a spectacular fall from grace for one of Hollywood's most powerful men. But it also opened a window into a part of Hollywood that has largely been whispered about for years. According to Lauzen, it is a place where men dominate and hold sway over the less powerful.

"The fact that men have traditionally held the lion's share of powerful positions in the film and television industries is tremendously important in helping to construct and maintain an environment in which this type of behavior could not only occur but thrive," she said.

She said the fact that it could exist unchecked for so long is also part of the problem.

"This is the nature of power," Lauzen said. "It intimidates and silences the voices of the less powerful. Mr. Weinstein held the keys to potential careers in a very difficult and insecure business."

So why are these allegations reaching the public now?

Lauzen believes it's a combination of factors including "the sheer number of incidents Mr. Weinstein seems to have initiated over the years, perhaps his slightly diminished power in the business, and the shifting social environment in which these types of behaviors are increasingly being outed and admonished."

Silverstein, who's been writing about the gender disparity in Hollywood for 10 years, agreed that the shifting environment played a role.

"Several really brave women took down some other incredibly powerful men (Roger Ailes, Bill O'Reilly) recently. They slayed the dragons," she said. "We are taking our power and saying no more."

Lauzen pointed out that these issues are not unique to Hollywood.

"Where there is power, there are also abuses of power. Sexual harassment and assault occur in all types of industries, politics, and even academia," she said. "Hollywood does not exist in a vacuum. This type of behavior is part of our larger culture."

"It is not news that people in power abuse that power by mistreating people underneath them -- both men and women -- by denying them their humanity, their decency and their right to be treated with respect," Jeanine Basinger, the chair of the film studies department at Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, told ABC News. "This goes back to the beginning of time. The question is what are we going to do about it?"

Silverstein considers this a watershed moment for Hollywood.

"It's an industry-wide moment of reflection," she said, "where people are struggling with knowledge that this has gone on for so long."

How that will ultimately impact the industry remains to be seen.

"I think it depends on whether there are additional allegations, how long the story stays in the news, and whether more high-profile individuals are identified as engaging in this type of behavior," Lauzen said. "If Harvey Weinstein's behavior becomes part of a larger story about systemic sexual harassment and assault in the business, it's more likely to have an impact."

Lauzen is also waiting for the heads of major studios, union leaders and organizations such as the Motion Picture Association of America to chime in.

"Will any of the leaders in the industry suggest putting more women in positions of power in an effort to short-circuit or lessen the chances that this type of behavior will occur in the future? Or will they wait for the smoke to clear and conduct business as usual?" she said.

Weinstein's former company The Weinstein Company did come out with a statement on Oct. 10.

"The Weinstein Company’s Board of Representatives - Bob Weinstein, Lance Maerov, Richard Koenigsberg and Tarak Ben Ammar - are shocked and dismayed by the recently emerged allegations of extreme sexual misconduct and sexual assault by Harvey Weinstein. These alleged actions are antithetical to human decency. These allegations come as an utter surprise to the Board. Any suggestion that the Board had knowledge of this conduct is false," the statement read.

"We are committed to assisting with our full energies in all criminal or other investigations of these alleged acts, while pursuing justice for the victims and a full and independent investigation of our own," it concluded.

Silverstein is hopeful.

"It's an opportunity for an industry that is global to show that this is not tolerated," she said. "This industry has the opportunity to remake itself in a much more inclusive way."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

Las Vegas shooter was preparing for siege with authorities, sources say

ABC News(LAS VEGAS) -- Ten days have passed and investigators still have no clear sense of what led Stephen Paddock to open fire on a country music festival from his 32nd-floor hotel suite in Las Vegas, killing 58 people and wounding hundreds of others before taking his own life.

Multiple officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News on Tuesday night that detectives are still collecting evidence from Paddock's suite at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino. They said the 64-year-old retired accountant and high-stakes video poker player was clearly preparing for some sort of extended siege with authorities after carrying out the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The officials told ABC News that Paddock had jammed doors, making them difficult to open. He also had access to the hotel's service elevator and used it in the days leading up to the Oct. 1 shooting.

In an interview with local radio station KNPR, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department Undersheriff Kevin McMahill said that a number of items, including gas masks, found in Paddock’s hotel room suggest to investigators that he planned to escape the hotel.

Law enforcement officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News a handwritten note with numbers for wind, trajectory and distance was discovered on a nightstand in Paddock's hotel suite. The details of the note were first reported by CBS' "60 Minutes."

A 'meticulously planned' attack

Paddock checked into the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino on Sept. 25 and stayed in a different room before moving into the corner suite on Sept. 28 with 10 bags and at least 23 guns, including high-powered rifles. He set up surveillance cameras inside and outside his two-room suite.

There were two cameras on a room service cart in the hallway outside his suite, one on the peephole of the door to his room and a baby monitor in the living room. None of the cameras were recording, authorities said.

Paddock was inside his suite for three days at the giant hotel-casino, perched high above the site of the Route 91 Harvest Festival, which was taking place across the street. Room service was provided at some point during his stay, police said.

Investigators believe Paddock used a device similar to a hammer to smash two windows in his room before he opened fire on the music festival crowd about an hour after a rendition of "God Bless America."

Police responded to the hotel room, where Paddock was found dead. He is believed to have killed himself before police entered.

Less than 24 hours after the attack, the suspect's brother, Eric Paddock, told reporters outside his home that his brother had no connection to political or religious groups, and no obvious motives.

Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo said the attack was "obviously premeditated" and "meticulously planned," and that Paddock "evaluated everything he did."

Security guard shot before shooting began

On Monday, Lombardo announced a change to the sequence of events that occurred on Oct. 1, saying a security guard who encountered Paddock was shot at 9:59 p.m. local time, minutes before Paddock unleashed a hail of gunfire on unsuspecting concertgoers who were enjoying the final night of the three-day festival.

Authorities previously said the security guard, identified as Jesus Campos, was shot after Paddock had opened fire on the crowd.

Lombardo said Campos immediately reported to hotel security that he had been shot. However, responding officers did not know Campos had been shot until they arrived on the 32nd floor and found him, the sheriff said.

It's unclear what led Paddock to stop shooting at the crowd below. Officials originally thought Campos distracted him.

A 'plethora' of high-powered guns and ammo

Authorities have executed search warrants at three locations and for Paddock's vehicle parked at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino.

Experts say the weapons found in his hotel suite were high-end and high-powered, the kind used by U.S. special forces and commandoes.

In addition to the 23 guns recovered from Paddock's hotel room — which police said were purchased in Nevada, California, Utah and Texas — authorities found a computer and several pieces of media there. Law enforcement sources said multiple loaded high-capacity magazines and a modified bump stock rifle, which allows a gun to simulate rapid automatic gunfire, were discovered in the room as well.

Investigators are still in the process of examining the firearms to determine whether they were capable of firing automatically.

Meanwhile, 50 pounds of an explosive and about 1,600 rounds of ammunition were discovered in Paddock's car.

Explosive material and 19 additional firearms were also found at Paddock's home in a Mesquite retirement community about 70 miles north of Las Vegas.

Five handguns, two shotguns, numerous electronics and a "plethora of ammunition" were recovered from his property in Reno, according to Lombardo.

Jill Snyder, the special agent in charge at the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, told "CBS This Morning" in an interview Oct. 4 that Paddock had been stockpiling firearms since 1982. He bought nearly 50 guns legally, she said, but none of those purchases set off any red flags for the ATF.

"From October 2016 to Sept. 28, 2017, he purchased 33 firearms, majority of them rifles," Snyder said. "We wouldn't get notified of the purchases of the rifles. We would only get notified if there was a multiple sale, which would be two or more handguns in an individual purchase."

Suspect may have visited other music festivals

Officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News that Paddock booked hotel rooms in Chicago in early August during Lollapalooza, a massive annual music festival that attracted hundreds of thousands of people, including one of President Barack Obama’s daughters. One of the hotels where Paddock had reservations was the Blackstone on South Michigan Avenue, across from Grant Park, where the annual event takes place.

The Chicago Police Department said in an Oct. 5 statement, "We are aware of the media reports and have been in communication with our federal partners. As you saw earlier this week the city conducts extensive public safety planning and training around major events, in close coordination with our law enforcement partners, to ensure public safety."

A source with the Chicago Police Department confirmed for ABC News that Paddock had reservations at the Blackstone hotel.

However, a spokesman for the Blackstone told ABC News in an Oct. 5 statement, "We can confirm that there was no guest under [Paddock's] name who stayed at our hotel in August during the Lollapalooza music festival. We are cooperating with the authorities on this matter."

It's unclear whether Paddock traveled to Chicago at that time.

Officials briefed on the investigation also told ABC News that Paddock may have visited several music festivals in the greater Las Vegas area over the past several months. All the venues are believed to have been within driving distance of Las Vegas.

Paddock is also believed to have made regular trips to the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino starting Sept. 3 and through the rest of the month. He was known at most of the big casinos on the Las Vegas Strip because he was a major player who visited the casinos a lot, the officials said.

Investigators are also looking into whether Paddock tried to secure a room at El Cortez Hotel and Casino, at the opposite end of the Strip from the Mandalay Bay Hotel and Casino, on the weekend that the Life Is Beautiful music festival took place, from Sept. 22 to Sept. 24, the officials told ABC News.

During an Oct. 4 news conference, Lombardo confirmed that Paddock rented a room that weekend at the Ogden condominium building in downtown Las Vegas. Authorities have recovered items and surveillance video from when he stayed there, Lombardo said.

Paddock also searched online for hotels near Fenway Park in Boston, though there is no indication that he traveled there, sources briefed on the investigation told ABC News.

The Boston Police Department said in an Oct. 5 statement, "We are aware of the media reports referencing a Boston connection to the Las Vegas mass shooting incident that occurred on Sunday, Oct. 1, 2017. The Boston Regional Intelligence Center is in contact with our local and federal law enforcement partners here and in Las Vegas and continues to monitor the situation. There is currently no known threat to the Metro Boston homeland security region related to this incident."

Girlfriend added to travel watch list

Federal law enforcement officials confirmed to ABC News on Wednesday that Paddock's longtime girlfriend, Marilou Danley, has been put on a U.S. government watch list as the FBI continues to press her for information. Danley, who lived with Paddock at his home in a sleepy retirement community Mesquite, Nevada, has been designated a Transportation Security Administration selectee, meaning authorities will be notified if she attempts to board any commercial flight. The designation also gives TSA officers the authority to more aggressively search her luggage.

Investigators believe Danley's relationship with Paddock changed over time, evolving from intimate companion to more of a caretaker for him, officials said.

At this stage of the investigation, officials believe Danley played no part in — and had no knowledge of — Paddock's plan to attack the music festival.

Danley's attorney, Matthew Lombard, told reporters on Friday that she continues to cooperate with authorities.

"I knew Stephen Paddock as a kind, caring, quiet man," Danley said in a statement read by her attorney last week. "I loved him and hoped for a quiet future together with him."

Paddock's 'secret life'


Lombardo has described Paddock as a "disturbed and dangerous" man who had led a "secret life."

An employee at the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino told ABC News she spent a total of 16 hours serving Paddock in the casino during her shifts there over the weekend. She said she watched him gamble for eight hours straight, from Saturday night to Sunday morning.

He played high-stakes video poker on machines in a separate, "exclusive" section of the casino, she said.

As soon as she saw Paddock's picture on the news, identifying him as the suspected gunman, she said she knew it was the man who was her customer the night before the shooting.

Officials briefed on the investigation told ABC News that Las Vegas prostitutes have provided perhaps the most telling profile of Paddock, known by them as a regular customer and a cheap man who didn’t display emotion.

A person briefed on findings from the investigation told ABC News' Brian Ross that Paddock's mental state was deteriorating in the months prior to the attack, including weight gain, an increasingly slovenly appearance and an obsession with his girlfriend's ex-husband.
 
Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

Man finds his mother's body at her home destroyed by California wildfire

ABC News(SANTA ROSE, Calif.) -- After searching shelters and hospitals for his 69-year-old mother, missing since Monday when deadly wildfires struck Northern California, Bob Tunis says he found his mother's body Wednesday at the remains of her Santa Rosa home.

When his mother, Linda Tunis, woke up at 3:45 a.m. Monday, finding her entire home at the Journey's End Mobile Home Park engulfed in flames, she called his sister, who told her to get out, Tunis told ABC News.

Since then, Bob Tunis said he searched shelters and hospitals. His sister made up a missing persons flier and spoke to news media, and the siblings filed a missing person report with authorities.

But they didn't hear from her. So he said he had to go look for himself.

"She probably just didn't hear people knocking on her door at 3 a.m.," Bob Tunis said from the site of his mother's destroyed home after finding her body.

She was 69 and had health problems, he said. Officials have not confirmed the death.

Bob Tunis' sister came to the scene, too, and the two hugged in a long embrace in front of the rubble marked off by police tape.

"I don't want to see," she said.

Santa Rosa is among the hardest hit areas of devastating wildfires in California. Firefighters are battling 22 large wildfires across the state that have burned about 170,000 acres and killed at least 23 people; over half of the deaths are in Sonoma County, where Santa Rosa is located. As of Wednesday evening, 285 people remained missing in Sonoma County.

 Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

50,000 kids in foster care get duffel bag 'sweet cases' to replace trash bags for their belongings

Together We Rise (NEW YORK) -- Thanks to the work of volunteers, 50,000 kids in the foster care system will get "sweet cases" this year.

The sweet cases -- stocked with teddy bear, blanket, coloring book, crayons and a hygiene kit -- are duffel bags decorated for the kids by volunteers at Together We Rise, a non-profit organization that provides programs to helps children in foster care.

The stuffed duffel bags, according to Emmalee Jordan, the organization's community manager, replace the two trash bags generally given to kids in the foster care system to transport their belongings.

"When children are entering foster care or transitioning between homes they are usually given two trash bags to put their belongings in. Often times, children are removed from homes very quickly and this is all that social workers have on hand," Jordan told ABC News. "Through these transitions, children often lose many of their personal belongings."

Together We Rise is on a mission to change that. The organization said this year it has given sweet cases to more than 50,000 kids, the most any year since the program started in 2011, and has distributed a total of 140,000 cases over the years.

"The bags are important because they meet both the physical and emotional needs of children in foster care," Jordan said. "Physically, they provide a practical way for children to keep track of their belongings through their different placements and homes."

"Emotionally, the bags and the items inside provide comfort and a sense of stability to children going through a time of great instability and insecurity," she said. "The way the bags are decorated and filled are meant to portray hope to the children that are receiving them and instill in them a sense that they are valued."

Jordan said volunteers can either fundraise for the sweet cases or sponsor them and then Together We Rise ships the materials needed to decorate and fill them. The Sweet Case are then donated locally, in the volunteer's area.

Volunteers can certainly feel good about their work, she said, since many kids have expressed how much the cases have meant.

"The children are very excited when they receive their own bag and some of them even refer to the bags as presents," Jordan said. "We have an entire wall in our office filled with thank you's that we have received from children who have been given Sweet Cases."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

At least 31 dead in horrific California wildfires, hundreds missing

JOSH EDELSON/AFP/Getty Images(SANTA ROSA, Calif.) --  Massive wildfires sweeping through California have killed at least 31 people and damaged thousands of homes, businesses and other buildings, authorities said.

More than half of the deaths occurred in Sonoma County alone, officials said. The collective death tool ties with the 1933 Griffith Park Fire in Los Angeles for the deadliest fire in the state.

Firefighters were still battling 21 wildfires in multiple counties as of Thursday morning. Intensified by strong winds, the flames have charred more than 190,000 acres of land, damaged or destroyed at least 3,500 structures and forced nearly 20,000 residents to evacuate, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Containment of the fire has increased, and weather conditions r expected to improve overnight, official said Thursday.

The causes of the fires are unknown.

At least 8,000 firefighters and support personnel and 124 aircraft are battling the fires, according to the National Interagency Fire Center. California Gov. Jerry Brown has declared a state of emergency for Napa, Sonoma and Yuba counties in Northern California.

With firefighters stretched thin throughout the state, federal agencies as well as neighboring Nevada and nearby Washington state are assisting with resources. Authorities said 1,000 fire departments from San Diego to Oregon were assisting.

St. Joseph Health said 168 patients have been treated, many for burns and smoke inhalation, at three of its hospitals in Napa and Sonoma counties as of Monday night.

An additional 463 people were missing in Sonoma County as of Wednesday evening, according to the sheriff's office. There have been 900 total missing reports since the fires began, but 437 have those have been located safe.

Meanwhile, at least 7,000 people were without power Wednesday in Napa County alone.

In the wake of the fires, the Sonoma County Sheriff's Office announced Thursday morning that it has arrested five people for looting in evacuation areas.
Three of the individuals were Santa Rosa natives who were arrested and booked on a number of offenses. A 28-year-old man was found with two stolen bikes as well as narcotics, police said. A 48-year-old woman and a 49-year-old woman were also arrested, according to the Santa Rosa Police Department.

With mandatory evacuation orders still in place, many residents in the affected areas have been warned not to return to their homes until further notice.

"Life is more important than property," Sonoma County Sheriff Robert Giordano said at a press conference Tuesday.

He said he thinks the wildfires will be "one of the worst natural disasters in California history."

Here's a roundup of the main fires threatening the state:

Southern LNU Complex fires

The so-called Atlas, Nuns and Patrick fires are considered branches of one giant blaze in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties — collectively known as the Southern LNU Complex — according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Mandatory evacuations and road closures were underway in Napa, Solano and Sonoma counties, the heart of California's wine country, as the flames threatened thousands of structures.

The Atlas fire has scorched 42,349 acres in Napa and Solano counties since the inferno began Sunday night, and just 3 percent of the blaze was contained Wednesday morning. The enormous fire has destroyed 125 structures.

The Nuns fire has charred 7,626 acres in Sonoma County since Sunday night, and it was just 1 percent contained Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the Patrick fire has burned 9,523 acres in Napa County since Sunday night, and just 2 percent of it was contained Wednesday morning.

Central LNU Complex fires

The Tubbs and Pocket fires make up another enormous blaze, known as the the Central LNU Complex, in Napa and Sonoma counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection. More than 16,000 structures are threatened.

The Tubbs fire has singed 28,000 acres in Napa County since Sunday night. The fire has destroyed 571 structures, and is just 10 percent contained, authorities said. Most of the deaths -- 13 total as of Wednesday night -- were due to the Tubbs fire.

Meanwhile, the Pocket fire has scorched 5,000 acres in Sonoma County since Monday morning and is 0 percent contained.

Mendocino Lake Complex fires

The Redwood/Potter fires and the Sulphur fire make up a giant blaze, known as the Mendocino Lake Complex, in Lake and Mendocino counties, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Redwood/Potter fires have charred 29,500 acres in Mendocino County since Sunday night, and was just 5 percent contained Wednesday morning.

The Sulphur fire has burned 2,500 acres in Lake County since late Sunday night, and was 30 percent contained by Wednesday morning.

Wind Complex fires

The Cascade, La Porte, Lobo and McCourtney fires make up one huge blaze in Butte, Nevada and Yuba counties, collectively known as the Wind Complex, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Cascade fire has scorched 12,349 acres in Yuba County since it began Sunday morning, and it was 20 percent contained Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

La Porte fire has charred 3,700 acres in Butte County since the blaze ignited early Monday morning, and it was 15 percent contained by Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

The Lobo fire has burned 857 acres in Nevada County since early Monday morning and 30 percent was contained Wednesday morning.

Meanwhile, the McCourtney fire has singed 76 acres in Nevada County since early Monday morning, and was 65 percent contained Wednesday morning.

Canyon 2 fire

The Canyon 2 fire has scorched 8,000 acres in Southern California's Orange County since the flames started Monday morning. It was 45 percent contained Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

At least 3,000 residents were evacuated in and around Anaheim as thousands of structures were threatened by the blaze.

Cherokee fire

The Cherokee fire has charred 7,500 acres in Butte County since Sunday night, and it was 40 percent contained Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.

Thirty-seven fire


The 37 fire has burned 1,650 acres in Sonoma County since it started Monday afternoon. It was 65 percent contained by Wednesday morning, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection.


What's ahead for California


A cold front swept through much of California on Wednesday, bringing more gusty winds and lower humidity, according to ABC News meteorologists. The weather conditions have local authorities concerned about "aggressive" fire behavior.

The National Weather Service has issued red flag warnings for Central and Northern California for Wednesday through Thursday. Fire weather watches were issued for Southern California for Thursday through Saturday. An air quality alert was also issued for central California.

As firefighters work to snuff the raging blazes, Sonoma County Sheriff's Sgt. Spencer Crum told ABC News the county has asked everyone to "help us out."

Winds were expected to continue to be gusty on Thursday, with some up to 50 mph in central California. Relative humidity will be in the teens in central and northern California and in the single digits in southern California.

Crum confirmed that the alert system put in place gave residents ample time to evacuate and likely prevented many deaths.

"We have a subscription service where we can alert our residents, and we did that right away, trying to notify everybody where the fire was, where it was going and how fast it was going, and I think it saved a lot of lives," he said.

The sheriff's sergeant conceded that it could take a long time for communities to bounce back.

"We have a lot of rebuilding here," Crum said.

Santa Rosa resident Jeff Okrepkie said he fled his home of five years knowing that it could very well be leveled when he returned.

"All that good stuff, I'm never going to see it again," he told ABC's San Francisco station KGO on Monday.

Okrepkie said he and his wife tried their best to gather their most precious documents, photos and mementos, but it was impossible to grab everything in time.

Mike Turpen, 38, said he was at a bar in the Glen Ellen area of Sonoma County when someone stormed in wearing a smoke mask and yelled, "Fire!" He said he drove through the flames in his pickup truck with hopes of saving his home.

Turpen said his yard was scorched and still flaming in some spots, but he managed to keep his home from burning down.

"It was like Armageddon was on," Turpen told KGO. "Every branch of every tree was on fire."

Chris Canning, mayor of the city of Calistoga, said that while there has been no fire activity within city limits, residents are still being urged to evacuate.

"Your presence in Calistoga is not welcome if you are not a first responder," Canning said in a press conference Thursday morning, according to the Napa Valley Register. "Your choice to stay, and there have been very few of them, is a distraction to our first responders. You will not be given life safety support at this point. You are on your own."

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Thursday
Oct122017

Vegas shooting survivor sues hotel, festival organizer, 'bump stock' maker, Paddock estate

iStock/Thinkstock(LAS VEGAS) -- Paige Gasper came close to becoming one of gunman Stephen Paddock's victims when he shot into a crowd of 22,000 at a Las Vegas country music festival headlined by Jason Aldean last week.

Fifty-eight people were killed in the massacre, and hundreds, like Gasper, were wounded.

Luckily, the 21-year-old Sonoma State University student beat death in the nation's worst mass shooting in modern history with the aid of Good Samaritans who pulled her body into a pickup truck and transported her to a hospital.

Now, Gasper, of Wheatland, California, is suing the hotel, the concert organizers, bump stock manufacturers and retailers as well as the "Estate of Stephen Paddock" for “negligence” in failing to prevent Paddock's 11-minute terrorizing rampage.

She filed the lawsuit Tuesday in Clark County, Nevada.

Gasper's lawsuit alleges MGM Resorts International and its subsidiary Mandalay Corp., which own the hotel, and failed to properly monitor Paddock's activities and responded too late to the shooting of a hotel security officer. According to the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department, Paddock fired at the security officer six minutes before opening fire on the crowd below.

The lawsuit also accuses Live Nation Entertainment, Inc., the festival organizer, and unnamed event promotion companies of negligence for failing to provide adequate exits for festival-goers. The lawsuit also alleges Live Nation was negligent for improperly training staff for an emergency.

Another defendant named in the suit is Slide Fire Solutions, the maker of bump stock devices that Las Vegas officials claims were used by Paddock, of negligence, design and manufacturing defects.

At a press conference Wednesday, one of Gasper's attorneys, Michelle Tuegel, said the lawsuit was filed in order get "action and answers."

Also present was Gasper's mother Heather Selken who explained the impetus for the lawsuit: "[We] want things put in place so this won't happen to you or your family," she said.

MGM Resorts spokeswoman Debra DeShong responded to the lawsuit in a statement to ABC News, and said, "As our company and city work through the healing process, our primary focus and concern is taking actions to support the victims and their families, our guests and employees and cooperating with law enforcement ... Out of respect for the victims we are not going to try this case in the public domain and we will give our response through the appropriate legal channels."

A Live Nation rep said in a statement to ABC News that the company is "heartbroken" for the victims and their families and it is working with the FBI but it is "unable to comment specifically on pending litigation."

Messages left by ABC News for Slide Fire were not immediately returned.

And messages left by ABC News for an attorney representing Paddock's girlfriend, Marilou Danley, have also not been returned.

It is unclear if Paddock's family has retained an attorney.

As Paddock, the 64-year-old retired accountant and video poker playing high-roller was in his room on the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort and Casino making preparations for the shooting on the night of Oct. 1, Gasper was taking in the third day of the Route 91 Harvest Festival in the Las Vegas Village.

For 11 minutes, Paddock, after busting through two windows, showered the staging grounds with volleys of bullets, police have confirmed.

One bullet, according to the lawsuit, “believed to be from the weapon of Paddock” struck Gasper by entering her right underarm then “traversed right breast tissue, shattered ribs and lacerated her liver before exiting out her right side.”

After suffering the bullet wound, Gasper, the lawsuit adds, “was rendered physically incapacitated as a result of her injuries” and inadvertently trampled by friends and escaping crowds of people “as they tried to flee the concert venue.”

Fortunately, Gasper was aided to safety by numerous Good Samaritans.

One, the lawsuit notes, “helped her take cover behind a metal trash dumpster.” Another was led into the street to get out of the staging grounds and a third lifted Gasper amongst other injured concertgoers into the truck where she was delivered to the Spring Valley Hospital.

Tragically, Gasper was the only person in the pickup truck to pull through, the lawsuit claims.

 Bump Stock Makers and Dealers

The lawsuit claims that Moran, Texas-based Slide Fire Solutions LP and other unnamed bump stock dealers and makers, referred to in Gasper's lawsuit as "Doe Manufacturers" and "Roe Retailers," had a hand in the murderous act committed by Paddock.

Officials say the Las Vegas gunman had two "bump-stocks" that could have converted semi-automatic firearms into fully automatic ones.

The lawsuit claims that bump stock or bump fire devices "contributed to Paddock's commission of the mass shooting."

Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino

MGM and Mandalay Corp., the parent companies of the hotel where Paddock stayed, were accused of failing to train their personnel or supervise them "adequately." In addition, the lawsuit alleges that the companies failed to monitor the hotel premises for the shooter's delivery of guns and ammunition to his hotel room or monitor closed circuit television (CCTV) while Paddock planted video devices.

The police have confirmed that Paddock planted one video device in his hotel room peephole, and a second device was concealed in a Mandalay Bay food service cart left by Paddock in the hallway outside his room.

The cameras, according to the lawsuit, were used "to keep an eye on and to attempt to thwart law enforcement."

That echoed Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo's previous comments to reporters that the cameras were there to who could see "anybody coming to take him into custody."

The lawsuit also accused the hotel security of "failing to timely respond or otherwise act upon Paddock's shooting of Mandalay Bay Security Officers Jesus Campos..."

Campos, the lawsuit suggests, "was shot six minutes prior to Paddock's commencement of shooting towards the concert venue."

Sheriff Lombardo revised the timeline of the shooting during a press conference Monday, telling reporters, “What we have learned is Mr. Campos was encountered by the suspect prior to his shooting to the outside world."

The lawsuit comes days after LVMPD Police Chief came out supporting the hotel security's handling of the shooting.

“The Mandalay Bay security was fantastic,” Sheriff Lombardo last Tuesday. “I don’t want anyone to think that it’s not safe to stay at one of our hotels.”

Attempts by ABC News to get a response from the LVMPD were unsuccessful.

No Exits
The lawsuit accuses Live Nation, who were the promoters of the three-day country music concert and other unnamed promoters of making the Las Vegas Village unsafe.

The lawsuit claims that Live Nation "breached their duty" by "failing to design, build and mark adequate exits in case of emergency." The lawsuit also accuses the concert promoters of "failing to properly train and supervise employees in an appropriate plan of action in case of emergency."

The company refused to comment about pending litigation.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Wednesday
Oct112017

Questions persist about initial response to Vegas massacre

ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images(LAS VEGAS) -- The first report from a maintenance man that a gunman was firing down the hall of the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay hotel was not relayed to Las Vegas police until after the gunman had already begun his deadly rampage on the concert audience below, according to a person who has reviewed the records and spoke to ABC News on the condition of confidentiality.

Officials estimate the hotel’s delay in reporting the incident in which a hotel security guard was shot lasted about six minutes. But in a statement, hotel officials say that timeline “may not be accurate.”

The new details of the moments before the deadliest mass shooting in modern American history came as the lawyer for one victim began asking the first uneasy questions as part of what is expected to be a rash of victims’ lawsuits focused on the initial response by Mandalay Bay casino officials.

“Was 911 called? The whole chain of command seemed to be broken down here,” said Mohammed “Mo” Aziz, a lawyer hired by shooting victim Paige Gasper. “For six minutes nothing happened, and then this criminal started shooting at innocent people.”

The lawyer’s questions Tuesday have put a new focus on the still-murky timeline for the moments leading up to the shooting. The shifting accounts from authorities first indicated a casino security guard was the last person to be shot before the shooter took his own life. Then they said he was the first to be injured. Now the sheriff says the timeline is being revised yet again.

Sources close to Mandalay Bay told ABC News Tuesday the response by casino staff was swift and saved lives. The first call from hotel, the sources said, did not go out to police until after the rampage was underway – about six minutes after the initial hallway confrontation. And officers did not reach the 32nd floor suite of retired commercial property owner and frequent gambler Stephen Paddock until after the shooting had stopped.

New audio recordings made public by the hotel’s corporate owner, MGM Resorts, capture the moments when a hotel maintenance man, Steve Schuck, called in the first report of trouble.

“Call the police,” Schuck tells hotel security. “Someone’s fired a gun up here. Someone’s fired a rifle on the 32nd floor down the hallway.”

But neither the police account of the ensuing moments nor publicly transmitted police radio traffic indicate when the hotel security office dialed 911.

Approximately six minutes after Schuck made the request for help from police, Paddock began pouring rifle fire on concertgoers down on the Route 91 country music festival, 32 floors below. Officers did not reach the 32nd floor until at least 18 minutes after security guard Jesus Campos was shot in the thigh, and they appeared to have no idea he had been wounded at all before finding him.

“They weren't aware of him being shot until they met him in the hallway after exiting the elevator,” said Clark County Sheriff Joseph Lombardo.

"We have a security officer also shot in the leg on the 32nd floor. He's standing right by the elevator," a Las Vegas Metro policeman radioed, in a recorded transmission 20 minutes after Campos was hit by Paddock's gunfire.

Assistant Sheriff Tom Roberts told reporters Monday that police are still studying the timeline, but he does not think the lag was long under the circumstances.

“I don’t think the delay, or the time lapse is that long -- in my opinion,” Roberts said. “I think the security guard saved a lot of lives -- he interrupted this guy and sped up his plan, in my opinion.”

In part, the response time may have been slowed by a decision to shut down the elevators, a move by hotel management described by Schuck in an NBC News interview. Some police had to climb an unknown number of flights of stairs carrying weapons and body armor.

At 10:16 p.m., an officer radioed his dispatch to "contact Mandalay Bay and have 'em shut down their elevators so he [the gunman] can't get mobile and we can take the stairs and block all the stair exits."

One officer was later heard on police radio traffic breathing heavily and announcing he'd made it up to the same level the gunfire was erupting from. “I'm in a stairwell on the 32nd floor,” he says in a hushed voice.

Sgt. Mike Quick, a retired Las Vegas SWAT team veteran, said the Mandalay Bay is a sprawling property, with a number of impediments. “That's a 3,000-plus room casino hotel, I mean that's a major resort eating up acres and acres of property. So just parking and getting through the front doors is going to be an exercise in time.”

Marshalling an elevator could have taken time, he said. But climbing the stairs was an “extreme challenge.”

MGM Resorts spokesperson Debra DeShong issued a statement Tuesday in response to the lawsuit filed on behalf of Paige Gasper.

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