34 Dead in California Diving Boat Fire

 

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The U.S. Coast Guard has recovered all but one body after a commercial diving boat named the Conception, caught fire in the early hours of Monday morning off the coast of Santa Cruz Island in Southern California. The only survivors were five crew members of the 75-foot vessel who were sleeping on or above deck.  All 33 passengers and one crew member sleeping below deck at the time of the fire were killed in horrific disaster.  Authorities have yet to determine the cause of the fire.

The boat and company, Truth Aquatics Inc., are well-known in the tight-knit Southern California diving community, which is now reeling from the horrific maritime tragedy that killed teenagers, families, veteran divers, and one crew member, who were wrapping up a three-day scuba diving trip.  Divers were inspecting the ship’s wreckage with plans to raise it from the ocean floor, but that process may be complicated by forecast high winds in the coming days.

The surviving crew members told a harrowing story of their frantic attempts to save the passengers trapped below deck in a bunk room already engulfed in flames.  One member of the crew told of hearing a noise from his bunk on the wheelhouse deck of the Conception and that when he opened the door of the wheelhouse, he saw flames erupting from the galley area but never heard smoke alarms.  He told investigators he tried to get down a ladder but flames had engulfed the ladder.

Scrambling, the other crew members jumped from the bridge of the boat to the main deck. One person broke their leg doing so. They then rushed to the galley’s double doors to try and reach the passengers below, but the fire was already too intense.

At around 3:15 a.m., the captain made a frantic mayday call to authorities, telling them that the boat was engulfed, 33 people couldn’t escape, and “there’s no escape hatch for any of the people on board.”  At that point, due to heat, flames, and smoke, the crew had to jump from the boat.  Two crew members swam to the back of the Conception to get the inflatable skiff, then collected the others and made it to a nearby fishing boat, the Grape Escape.

Shirley Hansen, owner of the Grape Escape, said that she and her husband awoke at 3:30 a.m. to “horrific pounding” and a group of distraught, wet men, some injured and just in their underwear.  Once on the Hansen’s boat, the men tried to call 911 for rescue and two crew members then took the dinghy boat back to the Conception to try and rescue any survivors but there were none.  The Hansen’s said you could hear explosions from the engulfed diving boat every couple of minutes.

Officials have been looking at the dive boat’s maintenance and inspection records, which the Coast Guard said were up to date, and trying to understand if the 34 victims who had been sleeping in rows of narrow bunks even had a chance to escape.  Officials are using advanced DNA technology to identify the victims.  None of the names of the dead, who ranged in age from 17 to 60, have been publicly released by authorities but friends and family have confirmed who was on the boat.  Among the victims were a family of five, a teacher and his daughter, and a diving instructor and marine biologist.

 

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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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A Northern California gunman, 19-year-old Santino William Legan, killed three people and wounded at least 19 others at the annual Gilroy Garlic Festival. Legan died at the scene of a self-inflicted gunshot wound while exchanging fire with police.  Authorities say they are still determining a motive for the attack, but the gunman’s social media activity shows him promoting a manifesto on white supremacy just moments before the rampage. He also wrote in a post Sunday, “Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats?”

Authorities say the gunman used an assault rifle that was purchased legally in Nevada. The AK-47-style weapon could not have been legally purchased in his home state of California because of stricter gun regulations.  Six-year-old Stephen Romero was the youngest victim of the shooting. Another child, 13-year-old Keyla Salazar, and 25-year-old student Trevor Irby also lost their lives in the massacre.  At least 19 victims were treated at area hospitals, including some who were treated but not admitted. The patients ranged in age from 12 to 69; 11 had gunshot injuries and eight had other injuries.

Police say Legan entered the festival by cutting through a wire fence along Uvas Creek, thus evading security screening.  He began shooting at random with an assault-style rifle he bought in Nevada weeks earlier, authorities said.  Police believe he acted alone.  Officers at the scene reportedly engaged the shooter within a minute of the start of the shooting.  The police chief credited the fast response to a heavy police presence with “many, many officers in the park”.  The three officers who fired their handguns have been hailed heroes for engaging the shooter so quickly.  All three have been placed on administrative leave.

Legan appeared to post a photograph from the festival on his Instagram account soon before the shooting, with captions expressing his disdain for the event.  “Ayyy garlic festival time,” he wrote beneath a picture of people walking through the festival grounds. “Come get wasted on overpriced s***.”  Another photograph posted on Sunday showed a sign warning of a high danger of forest fires. Its caption urged people to read “Might is Right,” a racist and sexist treatise written in the 19th century.

“Why overcrowd towns and pave more open space to make room for hordes of mestizos and Silicon Valley white twats?” the caption said, referring to people of mixed race. The account was only a few days old, and was deactivated a day after the shooting.

The city’s Police Chief Scot Smithee identified the officers as Eric Cryar, a 23-year law enforcement veteran; Hugo Del Moral, a 17-year veteran and Robert Basuino, a 13-year veteran of the Gilroy department.  Smithee described his officers as incredibly humble.  “I think they’re heroes. I don’t think they view themselves that way,” Smithee said. “I think they view themselves that they were just doing their job.  And I don’t think they’re particularly excited about being in the limelight, but I certainly think that they deserve recognition for what they did.”

Police and FBI agents were trying to determine a motive for the shooting.  “As we look at the injuries and the victims that are out there, it doesn’t seem clear that he was targeting any particular group,” said John Bennett, the special agent in charge of the FBI’s San Francisco office.

Epstein Under Suicide Watch After Being Unconscious In Cell

 

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Jeffrey Epstein, 66, was moved to a suicide-watch unit in a New York City detention center after the financier facing sex-trafficking charges was found unconscious in his cell with marks on his neck.  Epstein is being held pending trial at the Metropolitan Correctional Center in Manhattan. He faces two counts related to alleged sex trafficking of minors.  Epstein has pleaded not guilty to federal charges of sex trafficking minors, after his arrest in July 6.   The charges allege that he lured young girls to homes in Manhattan and Florida between 2002 and 2005 for purposes of trafficking. If convicted, he faces 45 years in prison.

Sources say when Epstein was found he was on the floor of his cell in a fetal position in a semi-conscious state, with marks on his neck.  Some believe Epstein may have tried to hang himself but some say Epstein’s injuries were not serious, and raised the possibility that he may have used the incident to try obtain a transfer from the jail.

On July 18, a federal judge rejected bail and Epstein’s request to be placed under house arrest in his Manhattan home, instead ordering him to be detained.  The judge calling him a danger to the community and a considerable flight risk. Days earlier, prosecutors said a search of his home turned up a phony passport and about $70,000 in cash.  Judge Richard Berman also noted the fact that Epstein had in recent months made large payments to potential witnesses against him, and the discovery by FBI agents of a trove of lewd photographs of young women at his Manhattan townhouse.

“This newly discovered evidence also suggests that Mr. Epstein poses ‘ongoing and forward-looking danger,’” the judge wrote. “Mr. Epstein’s dangerousness is considerable and includes sex crimes with minor girls and tampering with potential witnesses.”  Prosecutors say he sexually abused dozens of underage girls from 2002 through 2005 at his New York City townhouse and Palm Beach, Florida, who visited him under the guise of giving him massages. Some of the girls were as young as 14 years old.

In 2008, Epstein was charged with molesting and trafficking dozens—and potentially hundreds—of underage girls in Florida. He ended up serving just 13 months in county jail in what’s been described as “one of the most lenient deals for a serial child sex offender in history.”  The investigation into that case started in March 2005 when a woman contacted Florida’s Palm Beach Police Department and alleged that her 14-year-old stepdaughter had been taken to Epstein’s mansion by an older girl. There she was allegedly paid $300 to strip and massage Epstein.  She had allegedly undressed, but left the encounter wearing her underwear.  Police began an 11-month undercover investigation of Epstein, followed by a search of his home. Police alleged that Epstein had paid several girls to perform sexual acts with him.  Items found in Epstein’s trash and home allegedly showed that some of the girls involved were under 18 and a police search of Epstein’s home found two hidden cameras and large numbers of photos of underage girls throughout the house, some of whom the police had interviewed in the course of their investigation.  The lawsuit filed in 2006 that Epstein installed concealed cameras in numerous places on his property to record sexual activity with underage girls by prominent people for criminal purposes, such as blackmail.  Epstein allegedly “lent” girls to powerful people to ingratiate himself with them and also to gain possible blackmail information. A former employee told the police that Epstein would receive “massages” from young girls three times a day.

Man Charged In Murder of Civil Rights Activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph

 

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Police in Louisiana are releasing new details about the man accused of killing popular Baton Rouge civil rights activist Sadie Roberts-Joseph.  Ronn Jermaine Bell, 38, was arrested on one charge of first degree murder.  According to police, Bell was her tenant and owed her about $1,200 in rent.  Both circumstantial and physical evidence led to his arrest after her body was found in the trunk of her car outside a vacant home about 3 miles away from her home last week. According to the arrest report, Bell admitted to being in the area where her car was abandoned, surveillance cameras place him in the area and his DNA was found on her body.

The death of Roberts-Joseph shocked and saddened the community and sparked a swift and coordinated investigation.  Baton Rouge police credited both the community and detectives in helping find Roberts-Joseph’s accused killer. Police say Bell suffocated the 75-year-old on Friday and then placed her body in the trunk of her own car. According to the East Baton Rouge district attorney, Bell was previously arrested after being accused of raping an 8-year-old girl in 2004. He pleaded guilty to sexual battery and served seven years in prison. He was not on probation or parole but was under indefinite supervision as a sex offender.  Officials say they do not believe Roberts-Joseph knew of Bell’s sex offender status.

Bell was already in jail when he was identified as a suspect in Roberts-Joseph’s murder, for violating sex offender registration requirements.  Bell was booked into jail Monday for not paying the $60 annual registration fee required of all sex offenders. He was then rebooked on Tuesday on the murder charges.  Bell told investigators that the activist had allowed him to stay in the home he was renting as long as he paid her something.  However, in the affidavit, investigators noted that Roberts-Joseph’s own notes suggested that she ” intended to contact the defendant on the day of her murder … in regards to the back payments.”

Roberts-Joseph was considered a local icon in Baton Rouge, where she founded the Odell S. Williams Now and Then African American Museum and hosted the annual celebration of Juneteenth, which she fought to have recognized as a state and national holiday.  She also started the Community Against Drugs and Violence (CADAV), a nonprofit to empower people to combat drugs and street violence in order to create a safer environment for children.

Hundreds gathered in the Louisiana heat at the African American history museum Sadie Roberts-Joseph founded nearly two decades ago to mourn the loss.  Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome said “Having known her for decades, she was one of the standout matriarchs of Baton Rouge. She was a part of the fabric of Baton Rouge and we will make her legacy a priority in Baton Rouge because of what she gave to so many here.”

Roberts-Joseph’s daughter, Angela Machen, said that although this experience has been heartbreaking and “heinous,” there has been solace in seeing the community unite to solve her mother’s killing and honor who she was as a person.  “All my mother ever wanted was for this community to come together,” she said. “It’s ironic that this happened in death. What she wanted to happen in life came to fruition in death. We will see to it that her legacy continues.”

 

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.

 

Bodies Of Missing Oregon Mother and Son Found

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The bodies of a missing Salem, Oregon mother and her son were found in a remote area of Oregon.  Karissa Fretwell, 25, and her 3-year-old son, William “Billy” Fretwell were reported missing last month. Family members said they had not seen or heard from them since May 13.  Karissa’s cause of death was determined to be from a single gunshot to the head, and the manner of death was determined to be homicide.  The cause and manner of death of Billy is yet to be determined, pending additional testing.

Despite the lack of bodies, Michael John Wolfe, 52, was charged last month with two counts of aggravated murder and two counts of kidnapping. Court documents identify him as Billy’s biological father and Karissa’s friends and family say Billy was conceived through an affair.  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.  Fretwell had sole custody of her son, and the two had been living in West Salem.  Billy Fretwell’s babysitter told police Karissa Fretwell reported being threatened by Wolfe and his wife, who said they would take custody of the boy.  Police say the wife is not a person of interest in the case at this point, but that detectives continue to look at anyone who could be connected.

The sheriff’s office said ongoing efforts by detectives to locate the missing mother and son led searchers to a remote area of Yamhill County, about 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill.  Crews searched the heavily wooded and remote area for about two hours before finding two bodies.  Yamhill-area police conducted about 20 searches looking for the bodies since they were reported missing in mid-May.  At one point, they searched about 800 yards away from where the bodies were eventually found partially covered by debris in a forested part of Weyerhauser property 10 miles west of the city of Yamhill.  Investigators say that Wolfe fished and had a permit to cut wood on the Weyerhauser property where the bodies were eventually found.

Detectives obtained data from Karissa Fretwell’s cellphone showing her phone used a cell tower southeast of Gaston, which provides coverage to Wolfe’s rural property.  Cell data also placed her phone Wolfe’s place of work, a steel mill in McMinnville. He told police he was working the night of May 13 and morning of May 14, but detectives believe surveillance video and cell tower activity disputes that.  Footage at the mill shows Wolfe leaving his work area on a golf cart and walking toward a line of trees and bushes to a nearby parking lot.

Wolfe reappears through the trees almost five hours later and drives the golf cart back to his work area while carrying a white trash bag filled with unknown items.  Phone records from May 13 also show Wolfe’s phone pinged cell towers “away from his place of work” shortly after he disappeared through the trees. That evening, Wolfe’s phone pinged a tower that would cover Fretwell’s apartment in Salem and pinged towers near his workplace about the time he reappeared at his workplace. Wolfe told detectives he had not been to Salem in more than a year.