National News

How the search for Brian Laundrie, boyfriend of Gabby Petito, unfolded

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(NEW YORK) -- A massive search for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of slain 22-year-old travel blogger Gabby Petito, took a dramatic twist Thursday with the announcement that human remains found in a Florida nature preserve are those of the wanted fugitive, according to the FBI.

The remains were recovered Wednesday, nearly five weeks after Petito's body was recovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The Teton County Coroner ruled her death a homicide by strangulation.

The search for the 23-year-old Laundrie was centered around North Port, Florida, where investigators said he returned to his home on Sept. 1 without Petito but driving her 2012 Ford Transit.

Laundrie had been named by police as a "person of interest" in Petito's disappearance and a federal warrant had been issued for him alleging unauthorized use of Petito's credit card.

He refused to speak to the police and vanished on Sept. 13. His parents told investigators they believed he was headed to the Carlton Reserve in North Port.

The case grabbed national attention as Laundrie and Petito had been traveling across the country since June, documenting the trip on social media. Petito's parents reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not hearing from her for two weeks.

Here is how the weekslong search for Laundrie unfolded:

Oct 21, 5:06 pm
'Skeletal remains' recovered at Florida nature preserve

Apparent human "skeletal remains" were recovered Wednesday in a Florida wildlife preserve where the search for Brian Laundrie has centered, police told ABC News on Thursday.

“We have confirmed skeletal remains," said Josh Taylor, spokesman for the North Port, Florida, Police Department.

Asked of media reports describing portions of the remains recovered, Taylor said, "We have not said anything about a skull.”

Oct 21, 3:08 pm

ID of remains could take several days: Medical examiner

Dr. Russell Vega, the chief medical examiner for Florida’s 12th District, confirmed to ABC News that he is working on trying to identify the apparent human remains found Wednesday in a nature preserve along with Brian Laundrie's backpack and notebook.

Vega said it could take several days to identify the remains. He declined to confirm media reports that the remains discovered at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port, Florida, were bones.

Early in the search for Laundrie, FBI agents collected samples of Laundrie's DNA from his parents home in North Port, according to the Laundrie family attorney.

Oct 20, 6:06 pm
Laundrie family attorney reacts to discovery of apparent human remains

Steven Bertolino, the family attorney for the Laundrie family, spoke with New York ABC station WABC Wednesday evening after law enforcement found human remains and items belonging to the fugitive at a Florida park.

The attorney said the area where investigators found Brian's belongings was shown to police two weeks ago when Laundrie's father, Chris, aided in the search.

"I can't say for certain that Chris showed this particular area to police at that point in time, but I can say that this is an area that we initially notified the FBI that Brian liked hiking," Bertolino said.

The attorney said the family is waiting for a proper identification before making any comments.

"As you can imagine, the parents are very distraught. ... At this moment in time they're grieving," he said.

Oct 20, 4:42 pm
Police find apparent human remains, personal items belonging to Laundrie

Police have recovered apparent human remains that have not been identified in the search for Brian Laundrie, the FBI said Wednesday.

Authorities also found items belonging to Laundrie, like a backpack and notebook, officials said.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson said the area where the items were found had previously been underwater. McPherson said a team would be on site for several days processing the scene.

Oct 20, 2:55 pm
Remains found at park, not clear if human

A law enforcement source told ABC News remains were found at a Florida environmental park. The source said investigators are working to determine whether the remains are human and whether the remains and other discovered articles are linked to Laundrie.

Oct 20, 2:19 pm
FBI confirms 'items of interest' found

The FBI said "items of interest" in connection to the search for Laundrie were found at the Carlton Reserve Wednesday morning and an evidence response team is processing the scene.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Brian Laundrie's remains found after monthlong search

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(NORTH PORT, Fla.) — Remains found Wednesday during the search for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of slain travel blogger Gabby Petito and a person of interest in her death, have been confirmed to belong to Laundrie, according to the FBI.

The skeletal remains were found in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port, Florida, a nature park that's been the center of the search for Laundrie. His parents led authorities to the scene, where they said their son was known to frequent. Laundrie's backpack and notebook were found near the remains, which authorities said had been underwater until recently.

Dental records were used to identify the remains, FBI Denver said.

"On October 21, 2021, a comparison of dental records confirmed that the human remains found at the T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve and Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park are those of Brian Laundrie," Amy Jewett Sampson, public affairs specialist for the FBI, said in a statement.

The Laundrie family's lawyer, Steven Bertolino, released a statement on behalf of Brian's parents: "Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the remains found yesterday in the reserve are indeed Brian's. We have no further comment at this time and we ask that you respect the Laundrie's privacy at this time."

Petito, 22, had been on a cross-country road trip with Laundrie, 23, when Petito went missing. Laundrie returned from the road trip without Petito, arriving home in Florida on Sept. 1.

"Gabby's family is not doing interviews or making a statement at this time," Rick Stafford, a lawyer for Petito's family, said after the identification of Laundrie's remains. "They are grieving the loss of their beautiful daughter. Gabby's family will make a statement at the appropriate time and when they are emotionally ready."

Laundrie was named by investigators as a person of interest and was the subject of a massive nationwide search. He refused to speak to investigators and disappeared on Sept. 14.

He was never charged in his girlfriend's death, but was being sought for illegally using her debit card to withdraw money after she had died.

Petito's body was found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19. Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announced last week she had died by strangulation.

ABC News' Alondra Valle and Kristin Thorne contributed to this report.

 

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New twist in the tale of those escaped zebras: animal cruelty charges

WJLA

(WASHINGTON) — There's a new twist in the tale of those zebras -- still on the loose in Maryland since escaping two months ago.

Earlier this week, authorities filed criminal charges of animal cruelty against Jerry Lee Holly, after three of the zebras got away from his 300-acre farm back in Prince George's County outside Washington.

The charges included depriving the zebras of "necessary sustenance," inflicting "unnecessary suffering or pain" and a failure “to provide [a] Zebra with nutritious food in sufficient quantity, and proper shelter while said animal was in his charge and custody,” according to legal documents obtained by ABC News.

The charges come after one of the escaped zebras was found dead in a field after getting caught in an illegal snare trap, within feet of the enclosure where Holly’s 36 other zebras are held, according to the documents.

"The animal should have been seen or heard while it was dying from being caught in the snare if the caretaker had attended to the zebras in the fenced enclosure," the court filing said.

Earlier this week, another zebra was found dead, this time within Holly’s zebra enclosure, authorities said. It had been dead long enough to develop rigor-mortis before authorities were called, the documents said.

These instances are "sufficient circumstantial evidence of neglect to warrant a criminal charge," the filing said.

It noted that the zebras pose a threat to the community and themselves.

“The zebras at-large are a public nuisance. The animals are dangerous, and serve a risk to persons approaching them, and a risk to drivers on the public roadways. Zebras running at large are by County code declared a nuisance and dangerous to the public health, safety and welfare," the filing said.

ABC News reached out to Holly for comment but got no immediate response.

The saga of the escaped zebras has been bewildering. Originally, five zebras were reported to have escaped, but then the number was corrected to three.

Now, after the tragic snare trap incident, the number of escaped zebras is down to two. The latest effort to capture the two remaining zebras adds yet another twist to the story.

Two zebras have been placed in a corral, which is supposed to attract the two fugitive zebras with food and companionship.

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Reward grows to $75,000 in deadly ambush of 3 Texas deputies

Houston Police

(NEW YORK) — The reward for information leading to the arrest of a gunman who investigators said ambushed and killed a Texas constable deputy and wounded his two colleagues outside a Houston sports bar has grown to $75,000.

Saying he was "frustrated and angry" over the Saturday morning attack, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded with the public to help authorities bring the "person or persons responsible for these shootings" to justice.

"These persons are still out there, and I'm a firm believer that somebody knows or has information that can lead to their arrest and conviction," Turner said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire owner of the Houston Rockets NBA basketball team, joined Turner to announce that he is adding $40,000 to the reward fund. Fertitta said another $25,000 had been offered by an anonymous donor while Crime Stoppers of Houston and the 100 Club, a nonprofit city police support group, combined to put up $10,000.

"We're going to come after you if you commit a deadly crime in this city," said Fertitta, directing his words at the killer or killers. "You pull that gun out and you shoot somebody, you are going to spend the rest of your life in prison because we are going to catch you and we are going to do whatever it takes in this city not to be like other big cities.”

Killed in the triple shooting was deputy Kareem Atkins, 30, a married father of two children, ages 2 years and 6 months, who had just returned to work from paternity leave. Deputy Darrell Garrett, 28, was shot in the back and critically wounded, authorities said. The third deputy, Juqaim Barthen, 26, was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday after he sustained a non-life-threatening gunshot wound.

The Harris County Precinct 4 constable deputies were working an extra job around 2:15 a.m. on Saturday at the 45 Norte Sports Bar in the Independence Heights neighborhood of north Houston when they were called outside to intervene in a possible robbery in progress, according to the Houston Police Department.

Atkins and Garrett entered the parking lot and began to arrest a possible suspect when a second suspect emerged and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, striking both, according to police. Upon hearing the gunshots, Barthen rushed to help and was shot in the foot.

The suspected gunman was described by police as a heavy-set, bearded Hispanic man in his early 20s who was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans.

"They were slaughtered," Constable for Precinct 4 Mark Herman said of his deputies. "The way this happened should have never happened anywhere."

Herman said Garrett, who's engaged to be married, remains in critical condition and described his status as "touch and go."

"His body is devastated," Herman said. "He's had three long surgeries.”

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said investigators are pursuing leads that have come in from the public but acknowledged no suspects are in custody.

"But I stand here strong with our community members," said Finner, whose agency has mourned four officers killed in shootings in the past 21 months. "We're not going to stand by while somebody is murdering police officers and anybody else."

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Freshman fraternity member at Kentucky dies from 'presumed alcohol toxicity'

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(LEXINGTON, Ky.) --

A freshman at the University of Kentucky has died from alcohol toxicity after he was found unresponsive at his fraternity house, officials said.

University police officers were called to FarmHouse Fraternity at about 6:22 p.m. Monday where Thomas Lofton Hazelwood, an 18-year-old fraternity member, was unresponsive, the university said.

The agricultural economics major was taken to a hospital where he died Monday night, the university said.

Hazelwood's cause of death was "presumed alcohol toxicity" pending investigation, and the manner of death was ruled an accident, the Fayette County Coroner's Office said.

"Foul play is not suspected, but police are investigating the circumstances of his death," the university said in a statement Tuesday.

University President Eli Capilouto and Vice President for Student Success Kirsten Turner in a statement Tuesday evening vowed to determine "what happened, how it happened and why."

The university has launched two investigations: one through the university police and another through the school's Office of Student Conduct, said Capilouto and Turner.

"Both of these investigations will be made public including any findings and recommendations, subject to necessary redactions to protect the privacy of students," they said. "But we will understand better what happened and we will communicate with Lofton's family and our university family."

Activities have been suspended indefinitely for new members of all of the university's fraternities, University of Kentucky officials said Thursday.

The university is also looking to "increase awareness and education" regarding "hazing, alcohol use and bystander intervention," officials said.

FarmHouse Fraternity CEO Christian Wiggins said in a statement, "We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Thomas 'Lofton' Hazelwood, a new member of the University of Kentucky chapter of FarmHouse Fraternity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and loved ones as well as the entire community. We have encouraged all members and new members to cooperate with any investigation prompted by Mr. Hazelwood's death."

Counseling and other services will be offered, the university officials added.

ABC News' Henderson Hewes contributed to this report.

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COVID-19 updates: CDC panel hours away from vote on Moderna, J&J boosters

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(NEW YORK) -- The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.

More than 730,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.9 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 66.8% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Oct 21, 3:14 pm

Hospital admissions on the decline

COVID-19 hospital admissions in the U.S. have dropped by about 9.7% in the last week, according to federal data.

Death rates are also falling, though they remain persistently high, with an average of just under 1,250 Americans dying from the virus each day, according to the data.

Alaska currently has the country's highest infection rate, followed by Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and North Dakota.

The U.S. is currently averaging around 76,000 new cases per day, down from 160,000 in early September. Despite boasting high vaccination rates, several Northern states continue to see cases tick up as the weather gets colder.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Oct 21, 2:56 pm

US vaccination initiation average at one of its lowest points

The U.S. vaccination initiation average is at one of its lowest points since the introduction of vaccines nearly 10 months ago, according to federal data. Just over 182,000 Americans are receiving their first dose each day, while roughly 335,000 Americans are receiving a booster shot each day.

More than 112.5 million Americans remain unvaccinated and about 64.3 million of the unvaccinated are over the age of 12, and thus currently eligible for a shot, according to federal data. 

The FDA authorized boosters for Moderna and J&J late Wednesday. The Moderna booster is authorized for adults 65 and older and those at high-risk. The J&J booster is authorized for adults at least two months after their primary vaccination.

The FDA said it's OK to mix a booster but did not say any booster combination was preferred over another.

-ABC News' Sony Salzman, Arielle Mitropoulos

Oct 21, 8:53 am
CDC panel hours away from vote on Moderna, J&J boosters

A CDC committee is meeting Thursday to discuss and vote on booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as if people can mix and match their booster doses.

On Wednesday evening, the FDA authorized Moderna and J&J boosters for some people and allowed for the mixing and matching booster doses.

The next step of the process is for the CDC panel to deliberate and ultimately vote on whether to recommend those boosters, and whether to allow mixing and matching. The CDC panel vote is expected around 4:30 p.m.

After the panel vote, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will make the final decision, likely within one day. The panel's vote is nonbinding and the CDC is not required to follow the panel's recommendations.

Boosting for eligible Moderna and J&J recipients would be able to start once Walensky gives the greenlight.

The FDA has made it clear that there is no preferred booster vaccine for the mixed dosage, but the CDC panel on Thursday is likely to discuss available data on what booster blend might offer the strongest immunity.

Oct 21, 1:01 am
US delivers 200M vaccine doses globally: White House

The U.S. has now donated and delivered 200 million COVID-19 vaccines globally, according to a White House official.

The figure is part of 1.1 billion doses President Joe Biden has pledged to more than 100 countries around the world.

"These 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have helped bring health and hope to millions of people, but our work is far from over," Samantha Power, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is assisting in the global vaccine effort, said in a statement. "To end the pandemic, and prevent the emergence of new variants, as well as future outbreaks within our nation’s borders, we must continue to do our part to help vaccinate the world."

The Biden administration has received criticism for getting Americans booster shots while many around the world have yet to get one. Though the White House has insisted the U.S. can provide boosters to its citizens while funneling doses overseas -- and working to increase vaccine production abroad.

Oct 20, 10:09 pm
US deaths estimated to continue to fall in weeks ahead, though thousands more lost

Forecast models used by the CDC are predicting that weekly COVID-19 death totals in the U.S. will likely continue to drop in the weeks to come, though thousands of Americans are still expected to lose their lives to the virus.

The model expects approximately 18,000 deaths to occur in the next two weeks, with a total of around 757,000 deaths recorded in the U.S. by Nov. 13.

The ensemble model estimates that 19 states and territories of the U.S. have a greater than 50% chance of having more deaths in the next two weeks compared to the past two weeks, and that four states and territories (Alaska, Nebraska, Ohio and American Samoa) have a greater than 75% chance of an increase over the next two weeks.

Oct 20, 5:21 pm
FDA authorizes booster shots for Moderna, J&J vaccines

The FDA authorized booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for some populations Wednesday.

Moderna's vaccine can be administered at least six months after the second dose for people ages 65 and up and those ages 18 through 64 who either are at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection or have occupational exposure to the virus, the FDA said.

The J&J booster can be administered at least two months after the single-dose shot to those ages 18 and up, the agency said.

The FDA, which authorized Pfizer's booster dose last month, also said it will allow people to mix booster doses.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Winter weather outlook: California drought could worsen, what else to expect

ABC News

(New York) — The devastating drought in Southern California is expected to continue or worsen this winter, with drier-than-average conditions forecast for the hard-hit Southwest, including Southern California, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday in its winter weather outlook.

NOAA predicts drought conditions to continue in the Southwest, Plains and Missouri River Basin. But drought improvement is possible in Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Hawaii, NOAA said.

Drier-than-average conditions are also forecast for the Southeast this winter. Wetter-than-average conditions are forecast in areas including the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, NOAA said.

NOAA predicts a warmer-than-average winter in the Southeast and much of the eastern U.S.

Temperatures may fall below average from the Pacific Northwest through the northern Plains.

But more-than-normal snow and rain is forecast for the Ohio Valley and some of the inland Northeast, from western Pennsylvania to western New York to parts of Vermont.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Benton Harbor, already dealing with lead crisis, now entirely without water after main break

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(BENTON HARBOR, Mich.) — A water main break in Benton Harbor, Michigan, has resulted in a city-wide loss of water pressure that has shuttered schools and upended businesses on Thursday.

The rupture in the major artery for the city's water supply -- which officials warned can allow disease-causing bacteria to enter the tap water -- comes as the predominately Black community was already told not to drink the city's water due to a crisis of toxic lead that residents have been grappling with for years.

The mounting issues afflicting Benton Harbor's drinking water have raised allegations of environmental injustice in the town where some 45% of residents live in poverty and 85% are Black, according to most-recent Census data. It has also shined a harsh spotlight on the real-world impacts of the nation's dilapidated infrastructure as lawmakers in the nation's capital are mulling over the Biden administration's "Build Back Better" infrastructure plans.

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad tweeted Thursday morning that the burst in the 89-year-old water main "is taking longer than expected to address."

"The contractors are still working on getting the water level down in order to repair the water main," Muhammad added. "Thank you for your patience and understanding. We will continue to provide you with updates."

The water main break occurred Wednesday afternoon and resulted in a "system-wide loss of water pressure across the city," according to a statement from the Berrien County Health Department, urging residents "not to drink the water until further notice."

"City water customers have previously been recommended to use bottled water, and should continue to use bottled water for cooking, drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, rinsing foods, and mixing powdered infant formula at this time, as well as after water is restored," the statement added. "After the water pressure is restored, residents should flush the water taps for 5 minutes before using the water for washing hands, showering or bathing."

The statement said these precautionary actions are being taken not because of the elevated levels of lead that has already been detected in the water, but "due to the potential for bacteria to enter the water supply after a loss of water pressure."

County officials did not say what caused the break.

Free bottled water is being made available to Benton Harbor residents. Muhammad said in a second tweet Thursday that a YMCA in the area was offering its facilities to residents for showers.

Meanwhile, the Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Andraé Townsel said in a letter to parents and caretakers posted on the school system's website that six local schools will not have class on Thursday due to the water main break. He added that they anticipate school resuming on Friday.

The latest crisis comes just days after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited Benton Harbor, and issued a new call for the state legislature to provide an additional $11.4 million investment needed to help expedite the replacement of lead pipes and service lines in the city.

Elevated levels of lead have been detected in the Benton Harbor's water system since at least 2018, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council petition filed last month to the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of local advocacy groups and residents.

Residents continue to live with "significant and dangerous levels of lead contamination three years after the contamination was first discovered with no immediate solution in sight," the petition states, calling it an "environmental justice" issue.

Frustration among residents has mounted in recent months, in part due to what they see as delayed responses from the state and local government.

"Three years of this is ridiculous," Rev. Edward Pinkney, a local faith leader told the local news outlet MLive, after a water handout organized by the state's department of health ran out of water bottles 30 minutes after it was supposed to start earlier this month. Rev. Pinkney said he and his grassroots organization have been passing out 2,000 cases of water per month on their own dime since 2019.

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Judge denies Ghislaine Maxwell's request for private juror screening

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(NEW YORK) — A federal judge on Thursday denied requests from Ghislaine Maxwell, the accused accomplice of deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, to have prospective jurors for her criminal trial questioned privately -- outside the view of the public and the press -- and to keep a jury questionnaire under seal.

Maxwell's attorneys had argued that the extraordinary measures were necessary to effectively screen for potential bias and for exposure to a "tsunami" of publicity about the high-profile sex-trafficking case.

"This case amplifies the likelihood that jurors will be more apprehensive and constrained to respond openly and honestly in open court within earshot of other jurors, members of the public, and the media," Maxwell attorney Bobbi Sternheim wrote in a court filing last week.

The proposal from Maxwell's defense team, which federal prosecutors opposed, would have been a departure from typical procedure in the Manhattan federal court where her trial is scheduled. In most instances, a judge conducts screenings of groups of prospective jurors in open court after consulting with prosecutors and defense counsel about the questions to be posed.

In a court filing last week, prosecutors contended that Maxwell had presented "no persuasive reason" to depart from the "well-established practice."

"The Court should ask most questions in open court and ask sensitive questions, such as those that relate to sexual abuse and media exposure, at sidebar," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe.

But Maxwell's lawyers argued those conventional procedures are "inadequate" to ferret out potential bias and prejudice because of the sensitive nature of the charges and the "intense negative media coverage" about Maxwell and Epstein "in every conceivable form."

"The negative publicity has been so pervasive, vitriolic, and extreme that Ms. Maxwell has been demonized in the press," Sternheim wrote.

Private and individual questioning "would encourage potential jurors to answer questions more completely and honestly because the jurors would not be influenced by (or influence) the answers given by fellow jurors or fear embarrassment in giving an honest response," Sternheim added.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who's overseeing Maxwell's trial, also denied a request to allow Maxwell's lawyers and prosecutors to question each potential juror individually for up to three minutes after the court concludes its inquiries.

The initial jury pool for the case is estimated to include about 600 people, who will fill out jury questionnaires in early November, Nathan said. She expects to reduce the pool to about 50 to 60 people before she questions each prospective juror in person. The final panel will consist of 12 jurors and six alternates.

Late Wednesday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 17 media organizations registered objections to Maxwell's proposed secrecy surrounding the jury selection process, known as "voir dire."

"Voir dire is a critical stage of criminal proceedings, and the public interest in favor of access to voir dire is correspondingly weighty," RCFP attorney Katie Townsend wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who's overseeing Maxwell's case.

The media coalition, which includes ABC News, argued that a proposed jury questionnaire that was filed under seal last week by Maxwell's attorneys -- without government objection -- should be made part of the public record. Maxwell's lawyers contended the documents should remain sealed "to avoid media coverage that may prejudice the jury selection process."

"Giving jurors the opportunity to view the questionnaire before they come to court to fill it out is like a take-home exam, and they can fill out all the answers and do all the research and decide what answers they want to put on those papers," Sternheim said during the hearing Thursday. "I think there's an opportunity for people motivated to want to sit on this jury for a variety of reasons."

But Nathan ruled that Maxwell's generalized concerns about media coverage were not sufficient to overcome the public's First Amendment right of access to court proceedings, including the jury selection process.

"The parties' sole rationale for sealing the submission is to avoid, at a general level, media coverage that may prejudice the jury selection process," Nathan said. "But jurors are sworn to give true and complete answers to the questionnaire and voir dire."

"If a juror is being dishonest, we will smoke that out," the judge added.

Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she "assisted, facilitated and contributed" to Epstein's abuse of four minor girls from 1994 to 2004. Prosecutors allege Maxwell befriended the young girls and helped to put them at ease, knowing that they would eventually be sexually abused by Epstein.

Maxwell's lawyers have argued in court filings that federal prosecutors pursued charges against her as a "substitute" for Epstein, who died by suicide in a New York federal jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Jury selection is set to begin in Maxwell's case on Nov. 15, with the trial scheduled to open two weeks later.

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Parents of 6-year-old girl who died on amusement park ride file wrongful death lawsuit

Estifanos family

(GLENWOOD SPRINGS, Colo.) -- The parents of a 6-year-old girl who died on a ride at a Colorado amusement park last month have filed a wrongful death suit against the operator after a state investigation found she wasn't strapped into her seat before the ride plunged 110 feet.

Wongel Estifanos was visiting Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park, located atop Iron Mountain in Glenwood Springs, with her family on Sept. 5 when she went on the Haunted Mine Drop ride, a free-fall drop down a pitch-black shaft.

Her uncle took Wongel, two of his children, his wife and another relative onto the ride, according to a complaint filed Wednesday in Denver County District Court.

"Wongel's uncle specifically observed the ride operators interacting with Wongel, and he trusted that they were properly securing Wongel on the ride," the complaint stated.

After they dropped 110 feet down the shaft, her uncle "checked to see whether Wongel had enjoyed the ride" and was "stricken with terror to see that Wongel was not in her seat" but at the bottom of the shaft, according to the complaint.

The family "screamed in horror" as they were pulled back to the top of the shaft, the complaint stated.

"Wongel had fallen to her death, suffering numerous fractures, brain injuries and internal and external lacerations," according to the complaint.

In a report released last month, the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety determined that the two ride operators failed to buckle her seatbelts, as required, even after a monitor alerted them to a seatbelt safety issue. "Multiple operator errors" and "inadequate training" contributed to the fatal accident, the report stated.

The complaint from Wongel's family extensively cited the findings of the report, charging that Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park "breached its duty by recklessly failing to properly supervise and train its operators on safety procedures of the Haunted Mine Drop ride."

The complaint also alleged that the amusement park was aware of at least two prior incidents in 2018 and 2019 in which " angry and terrified customers" on the Haunted Mine Drop weren't strapped into their seatbelts until repeatedly telling the ride operators.

The family is seeking unspecified monetary damages as well as a jury trial and "post-trial finding that the acts causing the death of Wongel Estifanos constitute a felonious killing."

"Their mission is to protect other families by holding all who are responsible for the killing of their daughter fully accountable, and by sending a loud and clear message to the entire amusement park industry," attorney Dan Caplis said in a statement on behalf of the Estifanos family.

Glenwood Caverns Adventure Park declined to comment to ABC News on the lawsuit. "Our hearts go out to the Estifanos family and those impacted by their loss," it said in a statement.

Following the release of the state's investigation, the amusement park's founder, Steve Beckley, said in a statement, "Safety is, and always has been, our top priority."

"We have been working closely with the Colorado Division of Oil and Public Safety and independent safety experts to review this incident," he said, noting that the amusement park will review the report "carefully for recommendations."

"More than anything, we want the Estifanos family to know how deeply sorry we are for their loss and how committed we are to making sure it never happens again," he added.
 

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Unarmed man shot 8 times by police files $26 million lawsuit

The Cochran Firm

(NEW YORK) -- Isiah Brown, who was shot eight times by police earlier this year in Virginia, is filing a lawsuit for $26.35 million against two officers involved in the shooting.

On April 21, Brown was on the street near his mother's home, speaking to a 911 dispatcher on the phone when Spotsylvania County Sheriff’s Deputy David Turbyfill drove up, exited his car and shot Brown several times, according to the lawsuit.

Earlier that night, at the home, a disagreement ensued, 911 was called and Turbyfill was dispatched to address the dispute, the lawsuit states.

In a portion of the 911 call released by police, Turbyfill seems to have thought that Brown had a gun. The officer is heard yelling at Brown to drop a gun on the recording. Brown was unarmed, according to the Virginia State Police, which investigated the incident.

Brown's attorney states that his client was holding a phone at the time of the shooting and obeyed all police and dispatcher commands. In a statement, Sheriff Roger Harris said that he then ordered the deputy to begin providing first aid, and later contacted the Virginia State Police Bureau of Criminal to investigate the incident.

"Today we filed a lawsuit in federal court on behalf of Isiah Brown against Spotsylvania County Police Chief Roger Harris and Deputy David Turbyfill for their roles in the totally unnecessary shooting incident involving Mr. Brown that occurred April 21," said Brown's attorney David Haynes of The Cochran Firm in a statement to ABC News.

The lawsuit states that Turbyfill was negligent, committed battery and used excessive force during the incident. Turbyfill's lawyer, Mark Bong, declined ABC News' request for comment on the lawsuit.

Turbyfill was also charged with felony reckless handling of a firearm, according to a special grand jury indictment in July. Turbyfill had been placed on administrative duties since the shooting, according to a past statement from the Spotsylvania Sheriff’s office.

The county sheriff is also listed as a defendant in the lawsuit, and is stated to have responsibility for the actions by directing and supervising Turbyfill's deputies.

Haynes said that the shooting caused life-altering injuries for Brown, which will "leave him with permanent damage for the rest of his life."

"Isiah Brown's life will never be the same after his tragic encounter with David Turbyfill," Haynes said. "Our hope is that this lawsuit will provide a measure of justice for Mr. Brown and force the Spotsylvania Police Department to enhance their training and update their policies and procedures so that this never happens to another person."

The Spotsylvania County Sheriff's Office did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

ABC News' Sabina Ghebremedhin contributed to this report.

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Michigan Gov. Whitmer visits Benton Harbor amid water crisis in predominately Black community

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(BENTON HARBOR, Mich.) -- Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited Benton Harbor as a crisis of toxic lead poisoning the city's drinking water has stoked mounting frustration and fury.

The governor issued a new call for the state legislature to provide an additional $11.4 million investment to help expedite the replacement of lead pipes and service lines in the predominately Black community within the next 18 months.

The estimated cost to replace all of the lead service lines in Benton Harbor is $30 million, and the state has so far earmarked some $18.6 million, according to a statement from the governor's office. Whitmer called on the legislature to secure the additional $11.4 million by tapping into federal money made available to Michigan through the pandemic-era American Rescue Plan.

Her visit to the western Michigan community to meet with residents and local leaders on Tuesday came days after she signed an executive directive that aimed to coordinate all available state resources to deliver safe drinking water to residents.

"Every Michigander deserves safe drinking water," Whitmer said in a statement, saying she visited Benton Harbor "to hear from community leaders doing the work on the ground and residents living through water challenges every day."

"I cannot imagine the stress that moms and dads in Benton Harbor are under as they emerge from a pandemic, work hard to put food on the table, pay the bills, and face a threat to the health of their children," she added. "That's why we will not rest until every parent feels confident to give their kid a glass of water knowing that it is safe."

For some Benton Harbor residents, the government attention and action comes too late. Elevated levels of lead have been detected in the city's water system since at least 2018, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council petition filed last month to the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of local advocacy groups and residents.

Residents continue to live with "significant and dangerous levels of lead contamination three years after the contamination was first discovered with no immediate solution in sight," the petition states, calling it an "environmental justice" issue.

Some 85% of Benton Harbor's approximately 9,700 resident are Black and 5% are Hispanic, according to the most-recent Census data. More than 45% of the population lives in poverty, the Census data states, and the median household income is $21,916.

Moreover, nearly 28% of the population is children under 18 years old. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns on its website that lead generally affects children more than it does adults, and children tend to show signs of severe lead toxicity at lower levels than adults.

Lead poisoning can bring a slew of detrimental health impacts, the CDC warns, including: abdominal pain, constipation, headaches, irritability, loss of appetite, pain or tingling in the hands and/or feet and weakness.

The petition from the Natural Resources Defense Council notes that Benton Harbor's residents "are not only subjected to a disproportionately high level of lead exposure from a variety of sources beyond their drinking water, but also often lack access to high quality health care and are exposed to a wide array of other threats that can exacerbate the negative health effects associated with lead exposure."

Earlier this month, Michigan's Department of Health and Human Services announced it was increasing the availability of free bottled water for Benton Harbor residents. The agency said in a statement that residents are being encouraged to use bottled water for cooking, drinking, brushing teeth, rinsing foods and mixing powdered infant formula.

The distribution of water bottles has faced hurdles, and the overall handling of the crisis has created mounting frustration among residents.

"Three years of this is ridiculous," Rev. Edward Pinkney, a local faith leader told the local news outlet MLive, after a water handout organized by the state's department of health ran out of water bottles 30 minutes after it was supposed to start.

Pinkney said he and his grassroots organization have been passing out 2,000 cases of water per month on their own dime since 2019.

Willie Mae Jones, a resident who said she and her four children have been drinking city water their entire lives, told the outlet they didn't even know about the issue.

"We didn't know we had lead in our water until probably a month ago," Jones told MLive earlier this month. "We still have to pay for that water, and we can't even use it. Now that's ridiculous."

The crisis in Benton Harbor also puts a harsh spotlight on real-world impacts of the nation's dilapidated infrastructure, at a time when lawmakers on Capitol Hill are mulling over President Joe Biden's massive infrastructure spending proposal.

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Two plead guilty to throwing Molotov cocktail at NYPD car during May 2020 protests

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(NEW YORK) -- Two attorneys pleaded guilty Wednesday to throwing a lit Molotov cocktail into an unoccupied vehicle belonging to the New York Police Department in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, during May 2020 demonstrations to protest the murder of George Floyd.

Colinford Mattis, an associate at Pryor Cashman, and Urooj Rahman, a public interest lawyer, exchanged text messages the night of May 30, 2020, that prosecutors quoted during the plea hearing.

"I hope they burn everything down. Need to burn all the police stations down," assistant U.S. Attorney Ian Richardson quoted one message saying.

"Set a police car on fire after a lot of fights and check my story to see the trajectory of burning," Richardson said in quoting another message from Rahman.

The reply text from Mattis said, "Go burn down 1PP," an apparent reference to NYPD headquarters at One Police Plaza.

"What is your plea to count seven?" U.S. District Judge Brian Cogan asked.

"Guilty," Rahman replied.

"I plead guilty your honor," Mattis said.

"Are you aware you are all but certain to be disbarred as a result of this plea?" the judge asked.

"Yes, Your Honor," both attorneys said.

Rahman and Mattis will be sentenced on Feb. 8, 2022, and would each face up to 10 years in prison if the judge applies a terrorism enhancement, Richardson said.

"On May 30, 2020, I knowingly possessed a destructive device, a Molotov cocktail," Rahman said. "My actions occurred on a night of civil protest in Brooklyn following the murder of George Floyd. I deeply regret my actions."

Mattis expressed similar regret.

"On the night of May 30, 2020, I knowingly possessed a destructive device," Mattis told Judge Cogan. "I deeply regret my conduct and wish I had made better choices on that night."

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Recommendations to improve 911 call center made as part of settlement in teen's car death

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(CINCINNATI) -- A settlement in the death of a teenager who died while trapped in his car after calling 911 has included recommendations to improve the call center that failed to help him.

Kyle Plush, 16, died in April 2018 of asphyxia due to chest compression after he became stuck while trying to retrieve his tennis equipment from the third-row bench of his 2004 Honda Odyssey. He had called 911 twice to plea for help but was not located by officers who arrived on the scene, in a parking lot across the street from Seven Hills School, minutes later.

"I'm trapped inside my gold Honda Odyssey van in the ... parking lot of Seven Hills," a distressed Plush told 911 in the second call. "This is not a joke."

A family member found Plush in the van hours later, and he was declared dead.

The two 911 dispatchers who took Plush's calls and the two officers who were sent to search for him were named in the 2019 wrongful lawsuit against the city. The lawsuit also alleged that the former city manager was aware that the call center struggled with inadequate staffing and training at the time of Plush's death.

As part of the settlement, the city of Cincinnati must pay Plush's family $6 million, and long-term recommendations were made for changes to the Cincinnati Emergency Communications Center, according to a 47-page report released by the family's attorney Tuesday.

Staffing, morale and improvements to technology were among the recommendations. The report found that employees continue to leave due to low morale, which it said results in problems the call center cannot "hire its way out of."

Overall, the report concluded that as a whole, the call center has "extremely passionate, dedicated employees."

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Chicago police union takes fight against vaccine mandate to court as some hold-out cops sent home without pay

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(CHICAGO) -- A battle pitting the mayor of Chicago and the superintendent of the police department against some officers defying a vaccine mandate for all city employees heads to a courtroom on Wednesday where the police union is asking a judge for a temporary restraining order.

A court hearing over the union's request for a temporary restraining order was delayed Wednesday, but that did little to ease tensions over the city's attempt to get all police officers vaccinated.

Police Superintendent David Brown said compliance with the COVID-19 shot mandate by officers and civilian employees of his agency went up to 67% on Tuesday from 64% a day earlier.

"I will say and do anything to save an officer's life," Brown said during a news conference on Tuesday. "If it takes going through a counseling session, going to a no-pay status, going to internal affairs or a direct order, if that's what it takes, I'm willing to do it."

As of Tuesday, about 2,000 officers had yet to upload their vaccine or testing status on a city online portal and, so far, 21 officers have been stripped of their police powers and sent home without pay, Brown said.

Brown said "several hundred" hold-out officers were summoned to police headquarters this week and given a chance to change their minds and hear of the consequences they face for refusing.

"I don't know if we've changed their minds or if they've made the decision themselves to get in the portal," Brown said.

City officials released an update on the vaccine mandate on Monday showing that 79% of all city employees had complied and registered their vaccine status on the online portal. Officials said 84% are fully vaccinated.

The police department has the lowest level of compliance, officials said.

The mandate set a deadline of last Friday for employees to comply.

The Fraternal Order of Police, the union that represents officers, has asked Cook County Circuit Court Judge Cecilia Horan to issue a temporary restraining order against the mandate. A hearing on the issue is scheduled for Wednesday.

At the same time, the union is asking Horan to recuse herself from the case after she granted the city a temporary restraining order on Friday barring FOP President John Catanzara from publicly telling union members to defy the mandate.

Mayor Lori Lightfoot said Catanzara's statements are allegedly putting the public in danger.

"By doing so, and by predicting that 50% or more officers will violate their oaths and not report for duty, Catanzara is encouraging an unlawful strike and work stoppage which carries the potential to undermine public safety and expose our residents to irreparable harm, particularly during an ongoing pandemic," Lightfoot wrote in a court filing.

Following the ruling, Catanzara posted a video on the union's YouTube channel informing members that he has been silenced.

"Everybody has to do what's in their hearts and minds, whatever that is," Catanzara said in the video. "But I will just leave you with this: policy starts at the top in this city and it has proven time and time again that the top of this city's policy needs to change."

Holding up a sign bearing a so-called "Thin Blue Line" flag with the words "John Catanzara for Mayor 2023," he said "enough is enough."

With Chicago in the midst of a surge in violent crime with shootings up 9% this year over 2020, some city leaders said they fear Lightfoot and Brown are playing with fire by taking officers who don't comply with the vaccine mandate off the streets.

"We are simply not in a position to fire 2,000 police officers right now," Second Ward Alderman Brian Hopkins told ABC station WLS in Chicago. "We can't do that. That is not in our best interest."

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