5th Death Linked to Vaping

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Five deaths in the US have been linked to vaping as health officials continue to grapple with the dangers of e-cigarette use and the exact cause of the deaths.  All five died after developing a severe lung illness that is believed to be linked to vaping.  The exact cause of the deaths and the dangers of vaping still remain unclear but are being investigated on both the federal and state level.

More than 450 possible cases of respiratory illnesses have been reported in 33 states after use of e-cigarette products, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.  The average age of those with the illness is 19, which is not surprising considering of the almost 10 million vapers in the US, nearly half of those are under 35, with 18-24-year-olds the most regular users.

Those who have suffered from the lung illness reported experiencing coughing, chest pain or shortness of breath before their health deteriorated to the point of respiratory failure and they needed to be hospitalized, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Respiratory failure is where your body either can’t break down oxygen, produce carbon dioxide, or both. The result is that your lungs stop working and breathing becomes difficult.  Other reported symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fatigue, fever and weight loss. Many victims have ended up with acute respiratory distress syndrome, a life-threatening condition in which fluid builds up in the lungs and prevents the oxygen people’s bodies need to function from circulating in the bloodstream.

Those affected used a number of different devices from vaporizers to smaller e-cigarettes and a variety of different brands of liquids and cartridges.  Health officials recently said many cases involved products that contained THC, the mind-altering substance in marijuana.  The FDA has now collected over 120 samples to test for different chemicals, including nicotine, cannabinoids, additives and pesticides.

They also recently identified a common contaminant in some of the cannabis products used by patients across the country — an oil derived from vitamin E.  It remains unclear whether this is the cause or one of the causes of the illnesses.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a statement that advised against using electronic cigarettes while it investigates the issue.   The agency also said people should stop buying vaporizers, cartridges and liquids off the street or modifying vaping products bought legally.

New York Health officials have focusing their investigation on Vitamin E acetate after they found high levels of it in nearly all of the cannabis-containing vapes tested.  At least one vape containing both cannabis and vitamin E has been linked to every patient who submitted products for testing, the New York health department said.  Vitamin E isn’t known to be harmful if ingested as a vitamin supplement, but it could be dangerous if inhaled because of its “oil-like” properties. It has not been approved as an additive for New York’s medical marijuana program.

Federal health officials are warning that vitamin E is likely only one piece of the puzzle. The CDC is running its own tests on more than 100 samples for vitamin E, pesticides, opioids, poisons and other toxins.  “No one substance or compound, including vitamin E acetate, has been identified in all the samples tested,” Zeller said. “The samples we’re continuing to evaluate show a mix of results.”

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Newark NJ Water Crisis

 

 

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Newark, New Jersey’s water crisis is growing worse as authorities temporarily halted their distribution of bottled water to families whose tap water is contaminated with lead.  The Environmental Protection Agency told city officials to distribute bottled water “as soon as possible,” after it determined that water filters were ineffective at safely filtering lead from the water supply of thousands of homes. State and local officials began offering free bottled water to 15,000 Newark households, and hundreds of people queued in long lines in the summer heat for their allotment.  Officials stopped handing out the water after discovering many of the bottles had exceeded their best-by date.

The levels of lead in Newark, New Jersey’s drinking water are some of the highest recently recorded by a large water system in the United States.  City and state officials have been violating the Safe Drinking Water Act in several ways, such as failing to treat its water to prevent lead from flaking off from pipes into residents’ drinking water and neglecting to notify people about the elevated levels and the health risks.  For years, the city has had the greatest number of lead-poisoned children in New Jersey. This likely stems from a variety of exposures to lead, including from contaminated tap water and other sources.

One way lead particles get into water is through corrosion in pipes and it’s believed to be the cause in Newark.  The metal in lead service plumbing lines starts to tear away and mix with the water passing through. This is often apparent in older pipes; in some affected Newark neighborhoods, pipes are over 100 years old.  Citywide tests conducted in June 2017 showed that more than 10% of homes across Newark had twice the amount of lead that is considered safe according to federal law.

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), an environmental and health advocacy group, sent a letter to officials in Newark later that year saying that they had failed to address the lead contamination issue.  After the city failed two more citywide lead tests in December 2017 and June 2018, the city announced in October that year that it would provide over 40,000 water filters to residents.  After the city then failed a fourth consecutive lead test in December 2018, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka wrote an open letter to the President asking for federal help to fix the water system in the city.

The city failed another lead test in June 2019 and in August, after testing three homes that were using water filters provided by the city, officials found that two of those homes still had elevated levels of lead in them.  After the results of their water filter tests, city officials have begun handing out packages of bottled water to Newark residents, in accordance with guidance from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

There is no safe level of lead exposure and pregnant women and children are most at risk.  Even low lead levels are associated with serious, irreversible damage to developing brains and nervous systems. Lead exposure is also linked to fertility issues, cardiovascular and kidney problems, cognitive dysfunction, and elevated blood pressure in otherwise healthy adults.newark.jpeg

Investigation Launched After Epstein Suicide

 

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Federal investigators are probing the death of 66-year-old accused serial sex abuser and trafficker Jeffrey Epstein after he was found dead in his Manhattan jail cell of an apparent suicide by hanging around 6:30 AM.  Epstein’s death came less than 24 hours after hundreds of pages of court documents were unsealed with testimonies from former employees and new details of sexual abuse committed by Epstein, which also implicated a number of well-known politicians and others in the public eye.  Epstein was facing sex-trafficking and conspiracy charges, which carried jail sentences of up to 45 years.

Others implicated include former New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson; former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell; Alan Dershowitz, the Harvard law professor; Prince Andrew; and “a well-known Prime Minister.”  Many have denied the allegations.  Prosecutors say he lured dozens of underage girls into giving him erotic massages and engaging in other sexual acts in the early 2000s at his mansions in New York City and Palm Beach, Fla.  The girls were paid hundreds of dollars in cash for the encounters and, once recruited, were asked to return to his homes several times, where they were abused again, the indictment against him said.

Epstein was reportedly unsupervised in his cell despite being put on suicide watch on July 23rd after he was found unconscious with marks on his neck.  Six days later, prison officials determined he was no longer a threat to himself and returned him to a cell in a special housing unit known as 9 South.  He was supposed to have been housed with a cellmate and to have been monitored every half-hour by the two guards who patrolled the wing.

The night before he was found dead, however, he had been left alone after his cellmate was transferred. The two employees assigned to guard him had not checked on him for about three hours before he was discovered.  The two prison guards were suspended and a warden temporarily reassigned from MCC amid widespread reports that 30-minute checks, required within Epstein’s unit, were not carried out properly.  Officials said the employees, who have been placed on leave, were sleeping for some or all of that time.  One guard was working a fifth straight day of overtime shifts, it was reported, while another was forced to work mandatory overtime that night.

Guards at New York’s Metropolitan Correctional Center had been forced to work overtime to make up for the staffing shortages, according to the union representing the prison guards.  Eric Young, president of the American Federation of Government Employees Council of Prison Locals said in a statement that a hiring freeze has left thousands of staff vacancies across the Bureau of Prisons, creating “dangerous conditions” for both staff and inmates.  The remaining officers are regularly forced to work 70- and 80-hour work weeks, Mr. Young said.

The Department of Justice has launched an investigation into how Epstein was able to die in New York’s highly secure Metropolitan Correctional Center (MCC).  Attorney General William Barr said officials have uncovered “serious irregularities” at the jail, which has housed other high-profile detainees such as Mexican drug baron El Chapo and fraudster Bernie Madoff.  Barr has also promised that Epstein will continue to be investigated in order to bring to justice any other possible conspirators.

James Fields Sentenced In Federal Court

 

 

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James Fields, the self-described neo-Nazi who killed activist Heather Heyer at an anti-hate rally in 2017, was sentenced to life in prison. Fields plowed his car into a crowd of anti-racist protesters in Charlottesville at a counter-protest of the white supremacist “Unite the Right” rally.  Lawyers for Fields, 22, had pleaded for mercy, citing his difficult childhood and mental health problems.  “I’d like to apologize,” Mr. Fields told the judge before his sentencing Friday, according to one of his lawyers. “I apologize to my mother for putting her through all of this. Every day I think about my actions and how this could have gone differently. I’m sorry.”

 

Mr. Fields had previously admitted he intentionally targeted the counter-protesters.  The sentencing came nearly two years after Fields’ attack killed Heather Heyer, a 32-year-old paralegal who was demonstrating against the hundreds of white nationalists who took to the streets that day.  Susan Bro, Heyer’s mother, asked for a life sentence but said she hoped Mr. Fields “can heal someday and help others heal.”

Fields was among hundreds of white supremacists who swarmed Charlottesville in August 2017 for the rally, in which they shouted anti-Semitic phrases, marched with tiki torches and attacked a racially diverse group of counter-protesters. The rally appeared to be winding down when Mr. Fields drove his car into a crowd of those counter-protesters.  Fields’s lawyers had asked the judge for a sentence that would allow him to eventually be released from prison. Mr. Fields had been trying to leave the rally to return home to Ohio, his lawyers said, but found the street blocked by counter-protesters and made the split-second decision to drive through them.  The incident followed violent clashes that erupted at the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Attorneys for Fields had asked the federal authorities to be more lenient than jurors in his state-court murder trial had been late last year when he was sentenced to life plus 419 years.  Mr. Fields pleaded guilty to 29 federal charges earlier this year, including a hate crime for Ms. Heyer’s death. Federal prosecutors dropped another charge that could have led to the death penalty.  Prosecutors had argued that Mr. Fields’s racist, anti-Semitic beliefs motivated his decision to attend the “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville and to attack counterprotesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.

“This was calculated, it was coldblooded, it was motivated by this deep-seated racial animus,” Thomas T. Cullen, the United States attorney for the Western District of Virginia, said after the sentence was announced. He said the case set a precedent for future instances of domestic terrorism.  The incident was immortalized in a photo that shows Mr. Fields’ car ramming into the crowd and those hit flying into the air. In addition to killing Ms. Heyer, the attack hurt more than 30 people, whose injuries ranged from fractured skulls to damaged organs to broken arms, Mr. Cullen said Friday.

 

Minnesota Officer Sentenced In 2017 Shooting

 

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A Minneapolis judge sentenced Mohamed Noor, the former police officer who shot and killed Justine Ruszczyk Damond in 2017, to 12.5 years in prison. In April, Noor was found guilty of third-degree murder and second-degree manslaughter. Noor’s lawyers had argued for a light sentence but Judge Kathryn Quaintance sentenced the 33-year-old Noor to the identical sentence recommended under state guidelines.

Speaking in court before the sentence was read, Noor said that he had felt “fear” as he pulled the trigger. But when he saw Ruszczyk Damond on the ground, “I knew in an instant that I was wrong.  I caused this tragedy and it is my burden,” he said. “I wish though that I could relieve that burden others feel from the loss that I caused. I cannot and that is a troubling reality for me. I will think about Ms. Ruszczyk and her family forever. The only thing I can do is try to live my life in a good way going forward.”

The court also heard from Don Damond, Ruszczyk Damond’s fiancé, during an emotional victim impact statement that the day of her death was “the last time I felt a sense of happiness, a sense of trust and that everything could be OK.”  “How do I sum up the pain, the trauma, of these last 23 months… How can I provide the court the impact of a lost future? What would have potentially been 30 to 40 years filled with love, with family, with joy, with laughter,” he said.

The July 15, 2017, shooting occurred after Ruszczyk Damond called 911 to report a possible sexual assault in an alley behind her home.  When Noor and his partner Matthew Harrity arrived, Ruszczyk Damond approached the driver’s side of the squad car in her pajamas.  Harrity testified, he heard a “thump” and a “murmur.” Noor, who was seated in the passenger seat, shot Ruszczyk in the abdomen through the open driver’s-side window of the vehicle as she approached his police cruiser.  Noor testified that he feared for his partner’s life as Ruszczyk approached their squad car in the dark, empty alley.

Noor testified that Harrity’s terrified expression and the sight of Ruszczyk with her hand raised jolted him into action. Although he did not see a gun in Ruszczyks’ hand, he feared his partner might be shot as she began to raise her hand, he said.  Noor’s lawyers maintained at trial that Noor “acted as he has been trained” and that he should never have been charged with a crime.

“The narrative behind this tragedy really began long before the events that occurred in that alley,” Noor’s defense attorney, Thomas Plunkett, said on Friday. “Ms. Ruszczyk was doing her civic duty, she didn’t deserve this.” But he said that the fear that exists between police and members of the public was behind what happened that night.  “A prison sentence only punishes Mr. Noor for a culture that he didn’t create,” his lawyer said.

9/11 Victims Compensation Fund Extention Passes A Day After Jon Stewart’s Passionate Testimony

 

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The House Judiciary Committee unanimously passed a bill which would permanently reauthorize the 9/11 Victim Compensation Fund, the day after comedian Jon Stewart gave impassioned testimony in support of the bill.  The bill will now go to the floor for a full vote in the House of Representatives, where it is likely to pass.  Congress passed the James Zadroga 9/11 Health and Compensation Act in 2010 and the act was reauthorized in 2015 for 90 years. But a portion of the law — the Victim Compensation Fund — was only funded for five years, through the end of 2020.

The fund aimed to provide necessary financial support for the thousands who suffered serious medical issues, including a spate of cancer diagnoses, after the 2001 attacks.  New York City health officials say the number of people who have been diagnosed with 9/11-linked cancers has tripled.  Thousands of first responders rushed to the scene of the attacks and in doing so, exposed themselves to toxic debris in the air, including asbestos, lead, and pulverized concrete, which causes silicosis.

Nearly 5,500 first responders and local residents have now been diagnosed with cancers linked to the toxic smoke and dust of 9/11.  As of September 2018, 2,000 deaths were attributed to 9/11 related illnesses. By the end of last year, many estimate that more people will have died from toxic exposures than were actually killed in the attack.

The spike in claims has left the VCF at risk of a massive funding shortfall. As a result, future payouts to 9/11 victims and their families may be cut by as much as 70%.  The bill that passed the judiciary committee on Wednesday aims to make the VCF permanent and grant additional funding to the bill. A specific amount has not yet been allocated.

At an emotional congressional hearing, Stewart, who has been a longtime advocate for the fund, blasted lawmakers for their inaction ahead of a vote on renewing healthcare funding for 9/11 responders.  During his testimony, Stewart became upset several times as he appealed to Congress. “Behind me, a filled room of 9/11 first responders. And in front of me, a nearly empty Congress. Sick and dying, they brought themselves down here to speak to no one. Shameful. It’s an embarrassment to the country, and it is a stain on this institution. And you should be ashamed of yourselves, for those that aren’t here. But you won’t be, because accountability doesn’t appear to be something that occurs in this chamber.”

Stewart made several points during his passionate speech.  “The official FDNY response time to 9/11 was five seconds. ​Five seconds. That’s how long it took for FDNY, for NYPD, for Port Authority, EMS to respond to an urgent need from the public. ​Five seconds. Hundreds died in an instant.  Thousands more poured in to continue to fight for their brothers and sisters.”  He went on to point out that as lawmakers had at first, denied the health issues were caused by the debri left behind the attack and when they no longer could deny it then then said it was a New York issue.    “More of these men and women are going to get sick and they are going to die. And I am awfully tired of hearing that it’s a 9/11 New York issue. Al Qaeda didn’t shout “Death to Tribeca.” They attacked America ​and these men and women and their response to it is what brought our country back. It’s what gave a reeling nation a solid foundation to stand back upon. To remind us of why this country is great, of why this country is worth fighting for. And you are ignoring them.”

 

Oregon Man Charged With Murder in Disappearance of Young Mother and Son

 

michael-wolfe.jpgAn Oregon man, Michael John Wolfe, 52, was arrested and charged in the presumed kidnapping and murder of a 25-year-old woman and her 3-year-old son.  Karissa Fretwell and the pair’s son, William “Billy” Fretwell were reported missing by relatives on May 17, four days after they were last seen or heard from. Wolfe was charged with two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping while police continue to search for Karissa and Billy.

Fretwell’s vehicle is reportedly still parked on the street in front of her apartment with a child’s car seat is in the back.  Karissa Fretwell is described as a white female who is 5 feet 9 inches tall and weighs about 135 pounds. She has blue eyes and naturally blond hair that is dyed red.  Billy Fretwell is described as a white male who is about 3 feet tall and weighs about 30 pounds. He has blond hair and blue eyes.  Police have been searching a rural Yamhill County property in the Hopewell area and Wolfe’s Gaston home he has shared with his wife for 10 years, as part of the investigation.

Wolfe, who is married to another woman, was established as Billy’s biological father through a DNA test in 2018 after Fretwell filed a petition to establish the boy’s paternity.  Wolfe and Fretwell had an affair while working together at a local steel mill and the two were locked in a custody battle.  Court documents state Fretwell and Wolfe were in court as recently as April, and Wolfe was ordered to pay over $900 a month in child support and provide health insurance coverage for Billy.  The court documents state Fretwell believed Wolfe wouldn’t pay child support without a court order.

Two months prior to Fretwell’s disappearance, her neighbor said he heard fighting taking place in her apartment. Neighbor Robert Allen said “We heard a man and woman arguing incredibly loud. The man was swearing a lot and there was a kid crying in the background, and the woman was yelling at him to get out of her apartment.”

A close friend of Karissa’s, Bethany Brown, told reporters she felt some relief that Wolfe is behind bars.  “How could he do that to her and him? Little Billy, that’s his son! God, it hurts,” she said. “She was a good mom. She was just trying to make it through life.  “I hope he rots in prison for the rest of his life,” she said.  Brown said Wolfe was apparently trying to hide the affair.  “He’s married and has another kid and he didn’t want anything to do with Karissa or Billy. He didn’t want his wife finding out about the affair and she did find out, and that’s when everything went sour.  He told her ‘Don’t ruin my marriage,’ and, ‘I can’t afford this $1,100 amount in child support,'” Brown said.

Another friend, Mykeal Moats said Fretwell met Wolfe when she was living in McMinnville and was a delivery driver for a sandwich shop. She made deliveries to Cascade Steel Rolling Mills in McMinnville, where Wolfe worked. Moats said Fretwell subsequently got a security job at the industrial plant but was no longer working there.   Another friend, Bethany Brown, said Karissa had told her she found out she was pregnant three days after finding out he was married and that Wolfe had cosigned on an apartment for her provided he have a key.  Karissa told her she would come home to find him in her apartment which led her to move into a new apartment.  Moats said that Wolfe would not stop calling Karissa or showing up at her work.  She couldn’t get away from him.” Moats said.