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16 servicemen killed.jpgSixteen service members were killed after a military transport plane that was being used on a training flight crashed in Mississippi, prompting an urgent rescue effort in one of the South’s most rural regions, the authorities said.  A Marine Corps spokeswoman at the Pentagon, Capt. Sarah Burns, said that one of the service’s KC-130 aircraft had “experienced a mishap.” The Marines use KC-130s for aerial refueling.

The cause of the crash, in an unincorporated part of Leflore County, was not immediately clear.  The plane crashed along County Road 547, a dirt road that connects acres of farmland between Itta Bena and Moorhead.  Military aircraft are a common sight in the skies of rural Mississippi.  Witnesses described the plane as disintegrating in the air as it neared the ground, leaving a debris field about five miles in diameter.  Many speculate that the plane experienced an explosion mid-air because of the large debris field.

The air tanker was based at Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, New York, and was on its way from a Marine installation at Cherry Point, North Carolina, to a naval air field at El Centro, California, when it went down, officials said.  The planes final destination was Yuma, AZ.  The plane vanished from air traffic control radar somewhere over Mississippi before the crash that killed all fifteen marines and a navy corpsman on board.

Six of the Marines and the sailor were from an elite Marine Raider battalion at Camp Lejeune, N.C.. Nine were based out of Stewart Air National Guard Base in Newburgh, N.Y., home of a Marine Aerial Refueling and Transport Squadron.  The service members were identified as Cpl. Dan Baldassare, 20; Staff Sgt. Robert Cox; 28, Capt. Sean Elliott; 30, Maj. Caine Goyette; 41, Gunnery Sgt. Mark Hopkins; 34, Sgt. Chad Jenson,; 25, Gunnery Sgt. Brendan Johnson; 46, Sgt. Julian Kevianne; 31, Staff Sgt. William Joseph Kundrat; 33, Sgt. Talon Leach; 27, Sgt. Owen Lennon,; 26, Sgt. Joseph Murray; 26, Cpl. Collin Schaaff;  22, Sgt. Dietrich Schmieman; 26, Staff Sgt. Joshua Snowden; 31 and Navy Hospital Corpsman 2nd Class Ryan Lohrey, 30.

Witnesses reported hearing a loud bloom around 4pm  and then the plane began spinning down to the ground.  Eyewitnesses recall hearing ammunition exploding after the crash.  The Marine Corps acknowledged that ammunition was on board the flight without specifying what kind. Due to the presence of the ammunition, restrictions were placed on who could initially approach the scene of the crash, officials said.

The force of the crash nearly flattened the plane and witnesses said there were bodies across a highway, more than a mile from the crash site.  Firefighters tried to put out the fire but withdrew after an explosion forced them back. The fierce blaze produced black smoke visible for miles across the flat region and continued to burn after dusk, more than four hours later.  The fire department used about 9,000 gallons of foam to extinguish the blaze.

Marine Corps officials are being aided in their investigation by a number of different agencies, including the Mississippi Management Association, the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

 

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A senior cardinal and top adviser to Pope Francis will return to Australia to face charges of sexual assault. Cardinal George Pell is the third-highest-ranking official in the Roman Catholic Church.  Pell was charged in his native Australia with multiple counts of sexual assault from years ago.

The charges against Pell were announced in Melbourne by Victoria State Police Deputy Commissioner Shane Patton.  Pell was ordered to appear in court July 26 to face multiple counts of “historical sexual assault offenses”.  Patton said there are multiple complainants against Pell, but he gave no other details.

It is unclear what the criminal charges against Pell involve, but two men, now in their 40s, have said that Pell touched them inappropriately at a swimming pool in the late 1970s, when Pell was a senior priest in Melbourne.

In 2014, the Vatican admitted nearly 850 priests have been dismissed and more than 2,500 have been disciplined in a sprawling sexual abuse scandal dating back decades.  Cardinal Pell said Pope Francis granted him a leave of absence to return to Australia to defend himself.  The 76-year-old Pell — the highest-ranking Vatican official ever implicated in the scandal and has forcefully denied the accusations.

In a statement read to the press, Vatican spokesman Greg Burke said the Vatican respected Australia’s justice system but recalled that the cardinal had “openly and repeatedly condemned as immoral and intolerable” acts of sexual abuse against minors.  He noted Pell’s cooperation with Australia’s Royal Commission investigation of sex abuse and that as a bishop in Australia, he worked to protect children and compensate victims.

Pell’s actions as archbishop came under scrutiny in recent years by a government-authorized investigation into how the Catholic Church and other institutions have responded to the sexual abuse of children. The Royal Commission revealed that 7 percent of priests were accused of sexually abusing children in the past several decades.

Last year, Pell testified to the commission that the church had made “enormous mistakes” in allowing thousands of children to be raped and molested by priests. He conceded that he, too, had erred by often believing the priests over victims who alleged abuse. He vowed to help end a rash of suicides that has plagued church abuse victims in his hometown of Ballarat.

It was unclear if Pell would face a church trial stemming from the accusations. The Vatican has clear guidelines about initiating a canonical investigation if there is a semblance of truth to sex abuse accusations against a cleric. In the case of a cardinal, it would fall to Francis himself to judge. Penalties for a guilty verdict in a church trial include defrocking.

 

Cholera-outbreak-in-Yemen.-806x450-640x357.jpgThe United Nations says Yemen is now facing the world’s worst cholera outbreak.  The World Health Organization (WHO) says more than 200,000 people in Yemen are infected with cholera and that number is growing by 5,000 a day, they say.  “In just two months, cholera has spread to almost every (part) of this war-torn country,” said World Health Organization (WHO) Director-General Margaret Chan and UNICEF Executive Director Anthony Lake in a joint statement.

Since the beginning of the outbreak, 1,310 people have already died, a quarter of them children.  A UN report has said children account for half of the registered cases to date.  Cholera is a highly contagious bacterial infection spread through contaminated food or water. If left untreated, it can cause severe dehydration and can be fatal within hours.

Rarely seen in the U.S. and other industrialized nations, it primarily affects developing areas that lack adequate water treatment or sanitation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  Cholera is preventable and easily treatable but the collapsing infrastructure in Yemen has cut off an estimated 14.5 million people (about half the country’s population) from regular access to clean water, increasing the likelihood for the disease to spread. There are reportedly 7.3 million people on the brink of famine.

The outbreak began last year but a second wave of the waterborne disease has spread even more quickly in the last two months.  UNICEF and WHO have attributed the outbreak to malnutrition, collapsing sanitation and clean water systems due to the country’s ongoing conflict.  April’s cholera resurgence began ten days after Sana’a’s sewer system stopped working.

The impact of the outbreak has been exacerbated by many factors including the collapse of the Yemeni health services, where many health workers have remained unpaid for months. Less than half of Yemen’s medical centres are still functional. Hospitals are lacking medical equipment, rehydration solutions and medicine while still receiving patients from all over the country.  They are also dealing with a shortage of doctors and nurses so they have been working round the clock to deal with the crisis.

philando-castile-mother.jpgThe city of St. Anthony, Minnesota will pay nearly $3 million to the family of Philando Castile to settle a wrongful death lawsuit, less than two weeks after officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted on manslaughter charges for killing Castile during a 2016 traffic stop.  Castile, a 32-year-old elementary school cafeteria worker, was shot five times by Yanez during a traffic stop after Castile told the officer he was armed.

The settlement is to be paid to Castile’s mother Valerie Castile, who is the family’s trustee.  The $2.995 million settlement will be paid by the League of Minnesota Cities Insurance Trust, which holds the insurance policy for the city of St. Anthony. The plan for distribution of funds requires approval by a state court.

Attorney Robert Bennett, who is representing Valerie Castile, said a decision was made to move expeditiously rather than have the case drawn out in federal court, a process that would “exacerbate and reopen terrible wounds.” The settlement will also allow the family, the city and community to work toward healing, Bennett said.

The settlement will help benefit the Philando Castile Relief Foundation.  Bennett said the foundation’s mission is to provide financial support, grief counseling, scholarships and other help to individuals and families affected by gun violence and police violence.

The Philando Castile Relief Foundation hopes to continue to award an annual $5000 scholarship.  Through donations and part of the settlement, organizers hope to establish a permanent endowment to fund the annual $5,000 scholarship.  In May, 18-year-old Marques Watson was announced as the first recipient.

Watson intends to study mechanical engineering. He’ll take advantage of a tuition-free offer at St. Paul College this fall and hopes to complete his four-year degree at a historically black college or university.  Watson has participated in AVID, a school-based program that prepares underrepresented students for college, since seventh grade. He said he’ll be the first in his extended family to attend college.

Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who witnessed the shooting and posted video seconds after, is not part of the settlement. Reynolds has also hired an attorney, but it’s not clear if she is still planning a lawsuit or has any standing for a federal claim.

A claims manager with the League of Minnesota Cities, said St. Anthony’s insurance coverage is $3 million per occurrence. If Reynolds were to file and win a claim, the city’s remaining $5,000 in coverage would be paid to her and St. Anthony would have to cover any additional money awarded.

 

 

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It’s been estimated that hundreds of tower blocks in England could be covered in similar cladding to Glenfell Tower.  So far tests have revealed that combustible cladding has been found on at least three tower blocks across the UK.

Prime Minister Theresa May had ordered inspections of 600 high-rise buildings across Britain, after a massive fire in Grenfell Tower left at least 79 people dead and over 70 injured.  Dozens more are missing and presumed dead.  Workers were seen removing highly flammable cladding from a tower in North London.  The materials are similar to those used in the Grenfell high-rise, despite the fact the cladding is banned in the U.S. and Europe.

The June 14th fire started in the 24-storey, 220-foot high tower block of public housing flats in North Kensington, west London.  The tower contained 127 flats, with 227 bedrooms.    The fire started in a faulty fridge-freezer in a fourth-floor flat. The building’s recently added exterior cladding is believed to have played a role in the speed at which the fire spread.

Documents show that aluminium composite material (ACM) was used in Grenfell Tower’s rainscreen cladding. ACM is essentially a sandwich of two aluminium sheets with materials for insulation inside.  ACM panels often have a polyethylene core, which can be highly flammable. It is not yet clear whether this material was used in Grenfell Tower’s cladding.

Hundreds of firefighters and 45 fire engines were involved in efforts to control the fire which burned for 60 hours until it was finally extinguished.  Many firefighters continued to attempt to control pockets of fire on the higher floors after most of the rest of the building had been gutted. Residents of surrounding buildings were evacuated due to concerns that the tower could collapse, though the building was later determined to be structurally sound.

Prime Minister Theresa May announced a $5 million fund for victims of the fire; all those made homeless were to receive an initial down payment of $5,500, with each household to be given at least $500 in cash and $5,000 paid into an account. On June 21st, the government announced that 68 new flats in the same borough as Grenfell Tower are to be made available to survivors of the fire.

 

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After five days of deliberations, a jury has acquitted the Minnesota police officer, Jeronimo Yanez, of all charges in shooting death of Philando Castile.  Officer Yanez, an officer for the suburb of St. Anthony, had been charged with second-degree manslaughter and endangering safety by discharging a firearm in the shooting.  Yanez and the 12 jurors were quickly led out of the courtroom after the verdict was announced.

In July 2016, Castile was pulled over for a broken tail light and was shot within 62 seconds of his encounter with Officer Yanez.  Castile’s girlfriend Diamond Reynolds, who was in the passenger seat, began Facebook livestreaming less than a minute after the shooting as her 4 year old daughter hid in the backseat and Castile slumped over dying.

Dash cam footage shows Officer Yanez approach the vehicle and exchange greetings with Castile and informing him of a brake light problem. He asks for Castile’s driver’s license and proof of insurance.  Castile who had a concealed carry license hands the officer his insurance card and says “Sir, I have to tell you that I do have a firearm on me.” Officer Yanez replies, “Okay” and places his right hand on the holster of his gun and says “Okay, don’t reach for it.” Castile responds “I’m not pulling it out,” as Officer Yanez continues to yell “Don’t pull it out.”  Yanez pulled his gun and fired seven shots in the direction of Castile.  Reynolds yelled, “You just killed my boyfriend!”  Castile moaned and said, “I wasn’t reaching for it”, which were his last words.

Reynolds started live-streaming onto Facebook about 40 seconds after the last shot.  In a shaky voice she explains that the officer has just killed her boyfriend and that he was licensed to carry.  Yanez can be heard shouting “I told him not to reach for it. I told him to get his hand off of it.” Reynolds replies “He had, you told him to get his ID, sir, and his driver’s license. Oh my God. Please don’t tell me he’s dead.”

Officer Yanez’s recollection of the events was that Castile told him he had a gun at the same time he reached down between his right leg and the center console of the vehicle.  Yanez stated “He put his hand around something,” and said Castile’s hand took a C-shape, “like putting my hand up to the butt of the gun.”  Yanez said he then lost view of Castile’s hand.  “I know he had an object and it was dark,” he said. “And he was pulling it out with his right hand. And as he was pulling it out, a million things started going through my head. And I thought I was gonna die.”  Yanez said he thought Castile had the gun in his right hand and he had “no option” but to shoot.

Officials in St. Anthony, Minn., released a statement saying that Yanez will not return to the police department after the trial. They said they have decided “the public will be best served if Officer Yanez is no longer a police officer in our city.”  “The city intends to offer Officer Yanez a voluntary separation agreement to help him transition to another career other than being a St. Anthony officer.”

Shortly after the verdict was announced, several hundred protesters amassed around the steps of the state Capitol in St. Paul.  Police said about 500 activists later moved to Interstate 94, one of the main highways in the Twin Cities area. A few dozen people briefly moved onto the road itself while facing police in riot gear, but most of the protesters soon dispersed.

3 Dead In UPS Shooting

 

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The gunman who killed three men at a UPS facility in San Francisco and then killed himself has been identified as 38-year-old Jimmy Lam.  The victims were Wayne Chan, 56, and Benson Louie, 50, both of San Francisco; and 46-year-old Michael Lefiti of Hercules, California.  Two others were shot but survived the Wednesday morning shooting at the UPS San Francisco Customer Center.

Officers responded to a report of an active shooter about 8:55 a.m. local time at the UPS package sorting and delivery facility.  When officers entered the building, they found the suspect armed with an assault pistol.  The suspect immediately killed himself and no officers fired their weapons during the incident.

Lam, had worked as a driver for the Potrero Hill facility which employs 350 people.  He was wearing his uniform during the shooting spree and opened fire on coworkers during a morning meeting for UPS drivers.  Joseph Cilia, with a local Teamsters union that represents UPS workers in San Francisco has stated that Lam filed an internal grievance in March saying he was working excessive overtime.  Cilia told the Associated Press that Lam did not seem angry when he filed the grievance.

A police official said it appears that Lam felt disrespected by co-workers, but it’s not clear if that was the motivation for the bloodshed.  Lam appears to have targeted the three drivers he fatally shot.  Shaun Vu, a senior UPS driver, has said Lam also struggled with personal issues and was depressed a few years ago. Vu said that Lam had shown improvement but seemed troubled a few weeks ago-which was around the time he filed the grievance.

Another UPS driver Leopold Parker, who witnessed the shooting, said that he was standing a few feet behind Benson Louie during the morning meeting when Lam walked up and shot Louie in the head.  Lam then glanced at Parker but walked the other way so Parker jumped into the cab of his truck and later ran to the roof of the building.

Parker said drivers at the warehouse generally got along and didn’t mind working there. If they did have a problem with colleagues, they would talk to them or ignore them. He also stressed that drivers spent much of their time alone in their trucks, so they had limited interaction with their colleagues.  He recalls that Lam sometimes complained about the workload but he never suspected that he would turn violent.

Other witnesses said that Mike “Big Mike” Lefiti was fleeing from the building as Lam followed him into the street and shot him.  Mike McDonald, an area resident was walking home from work when he found Lefiti face down, bleeding profusely from the back.  McDonald stayed with him and tried to comfort him until help arrived.  McDonald said that in his final moments, Lefiti spoke lovingly about his three children.  “He said he loves his family, he loves his children and that he didn’t do anything to this man.”

cosby trial.jpgBill Cosby’s sexual assault trial has ended in a mistrial after jurors remained deadlocked on all counts after 52 hours of deliberation.  Cosby faced three counts of aggravated indecent assault. Andrea Constand has accused Cosby of drugging and sexually assaulting her at his home in 2004.  Constand is the former director of operations for the women’s basketball team at Temple University where Cosby was a trustee.

Constand is one of about 60 women who have accused Cosby of sexual assaults dating back decades.  It’s the only criminal case stemming from dozens of accusations of sexual misconduct — all of which the comedian/actor denies.  She says she was “paralyzed” by pills he gave her while he claimed it was just Benadryl and that the encounter was consensual.

Cosby did not take the stand, but his lawyers have maintained the physical contact was mutual and raised questions as to why Constand kept in phone contact with Cosby after the alleged incident.  They also questioned why she did not report it for a year. Prosecutors declined to charge Cosby in 2004 but reopened the case after the scandal erupted two and a half years ago.

The jurors were chosen in the Pittsburgh area and bussed in to Philadelphia for the trial.  After six days of testimony, the jury of seven men and five women began deliberations.  They were soon deadlocked but continued to deliberate, reviewing reams of testimony.  After 52 hours of deliberations, Montgomery County Judge Steven O’Neill accepted a defense motion for a mistrial.

Montgomery County District Attorney Kevin Steele immediately announced that he plans to retry the case and ordered that Cosby can remain free on $1 million bail he posted when he was first charged.  Steele later told reporters that there “was no pause or hesitation” in deciding to retry the case and that “we had a significant amount of evidence … now we have to prove (the case) beyond a reasonable doubt.”  Prosecutors will retry him on three counts of aggravated indecent assault, a charge that carries 10 years in prison.

Outside the courthouse, lawyer Gloria Allred, who represents some of the women who have accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, said that “round two may be just around the corner, and this time, justice may prevail.”  She commended her client Kelly Johnson, the only other accuser allowed to testify at the trial, and thanked all the accusers who have spoken out.  Several of Cosby’s accusers have been attending the trial.

 

According to state and county data, drug overdose deaths surged in 2016, killing nearly 60,000 Americans last year.  It is an alarming 19% increase over the 52,404 recorded in 2015 and the largest annual jump ever recorded in the United States.  All evidence suggests the problem has continued to worsen in 2017.  The epidemic of opioid and heroin abuse means that for Americans under the age of 50, drug overdoses are now the leading cause of death.

The New York Times compiled estimates for 2016 from hundreds of state health departments and county coroners and medical examiners.  The initial data points to large increases in drug overdose deaths in states along the East Coast, particularly Maryland, Florida, Pennsylvania, and Maine. The Times analysis suggests that the exponential growth in overdose deaths in 2016 didn’t extend to all parts of the country. In some states in the western half of the United States, overdose deaths may have leveled off or even declined.

The Times data showed that heroin and fentanyl-related deaths are still increasing across the United States – particularly in the Northeast and Midwest.  The death rate from synthetic opioids, like fentanyl, surged 72% in 2015, and heroin death rates increased nearly 21 percent.

In Ohio, overdose deaths increased more than 25% in 2016, largely driven by Cook County, where 1,091 of the state’s 3,310 overdose deaths were reported.  Last week, the state of Ohio filed a lawsuit against the pharmaceutical industry, accusing drug manufacturers of aggressively advertising opioids and lying to both doctors and patients about the dangers of addiction.

The Drug Enforcement Agency wrote in a 2016 report detailing what the organization calls a global threat “The United States is in the midst of a fentanyl crisis, with law enforcement reporting and public health data indicating higher availability of fentanyls, increased seizures of fentanyls, and more known overdose deaths from fentanyls than at any other time since the drugs were first created in 1959.”

California had the largest total number of overdose deaths at 4,659 in 2015, followed by OH with 3,310, which like West Virginia has been hard hit by the epidemic.  The Drug Abuse Warning Network estimated that misuse or abuse of narcotic pain relievers were responsible for more than 420,000 emergency department visits in 2011, the most recent year for which we have data.

Experts warn a key factor of the surge in deaths is fentanyl, which can be 50 times more powerful than heroin.  Fentanyl has been popping up in drug seizures across the country.  It is usually sold on the street as heroin or drug traffickers use it to make cheap counterfeit prescription opioids. Fentanyls are showing up in cocaine as well, contributing to an increase in cocaine-related overdoses.

Research suggests that since heroin and opioid painkillers, (including prescription ones) act similarly in the brain.  Opioid painkillers are often referred to by some doctors as “heroin lite” and taking one (even “as directed”) can increase one’s susceptibility to becoming hooked on the other.

Portland Train Stabbing

Two men died and a third is recovering after being stabbed on an Oregon train while defending two teenage girls from harassment.    Jeremy Joseph Christian, 35, has been charged with two counts of aggravated murder, attempted aggravated murder, first-degree assault, three counts of unlawful use of a weapon and two counts of intimidation.

According to witness accounts and the arrest affidavit, Christian boarded a MAX light rail train on Friday, May 26, at 4:19 p.m. at the Rose Quarter stop.  He then went on an anti-Islam tirade directed at two African-American teenagers on board — one who was wearing a traditional Muslim hijab. Christian shouted for the teens to get out of his country and to go home.

After making several threatening comments about “decapitating heads,” several men stepped in to diffuse the situation.  Frightened, the two teens moved to the back of the train while other passengers told him he couldn’t treat people that way.

Videos from the train camera and a passenger’s phone showed Christian “making a sudden move” toward one of the victims, Taliesin Myrddin Namkai-Meche, 23, of Portland. Namkai-Meche responded by standing up as Christian shouted into his face “Do something!”  Another passenger, 21-year-old Portland State University student, Micah Fletcher stood up as well and Christian shouted “Do something!” as he shoved Fletcher in the chest.

This is when Christian appears to pull a folded knife from his pocket that he concealed in his hand, the affidavit said.  Fletcher shoved Christian so hard the suspect lost his balance. Fletcher told Christian to get off the train and Christian shouted “hit me again”.

Video shows Christian swinging his arm and stabbing Fletcher in the neck.  He then  stabbed Namkai-Meche twice in the neck.  Ricky John Best, 53, of Happy Valley moved forward to intervene and was stabbed in the neck.  Namkai-Meche had sat down to try to stop the bleeding from his wound when  Christian pushed Best into him and stabbed both men again.

When the train came to a stop Fletcher who was clutching his neck, exited the train as passengers on the platform tried to help him.  He was treated for his injuries and released by the hospital. Fletcher said in an interview that his injuries missed being fatal by one millimeter.

Ricky Best fell to the floor and two men rushed over to start CPR but the veteran and father of four, died at the scene.  Namkai-Meche lay on the floor as passengers-including one of the teens he defended-reassured him and tried to stop the bleeding.  He later died at the hospital.

The train video showed Christian grabbing his belongings and a bag dropped by the Muslim teenager and leaving the train while waving his knife as he got off the train.  He threatened several people on the platform with his knife and tossed the teen’s bag onto the freeway as he exited.  Several witnesses followed Christian and directed responding police officers to his whereabouts.

After his arrest, Christian admitted to drinking Sangria before and while on the train.  He has what appears to be an extremist ideology with an affinity for Nazis and political violence, according to his social media postings.