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Amid Safety Fears, Feds Release Guardrail Crash Findings

freeteo/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — After analyzing dozens of real-world car crashes, a federal task force said Friday that a controversial guardrail system blamed by victims for gruesome injuries and deaths is not uniquely dangerous and could stay on American highways.

The finding comes as the maker of the guardrail system, Trinity Industries, faces a federal investigation into its dealings with state and federal safety officials and is fighting a state Department of Transportation over new crash tests for the embattled guardrail system.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO) had created a task force to investigate crashes in which vehicles hit guardrail end terminals after it was revealed in 2012 that one of the guardrail makers, Trinity, had modified one of its end terminal models, the ET-Plus, years before and failed to notify state or federal officials as required. One of the modifications, making a five-inch wide piece of metal four inches, was estimated by an employee to save the company $50,000 per year.

In the years since, the modified end terminals were blamed by accident victims and critics for gruesome injuries and deaths after critics alleged that when hit a certain way, the tweaked guardrail would “lock up” and spear straight through the vehicle, rather than absorbing the impact as it was designed.

The modified end terminals, which were the subject of an ABC News 20/20 investigation last September, were already installed next to some highways across the country by the time a Texas court found Trinity had committed fraud and ordered it to pay more than $600 million in damages and penalties.

Late last year and early this year the FHWA conducted additional crash tests with the modified guardrail and said they passed, despite controversy of over one test that critics called a “clear” failure.

On Friday, the FHWA/AASHTO task force said that while all the guardrail end terminal models it analyzed, including those from other guardrail makers, from real-world crashes had “performance limitations,” the ET-Plus was not singled out and the task force said further testing was unnecessary.

“They did find some performance limitations, but the performance limitations that they found were similar for all devices,” FHWA Executive Director Jeff Paniati told reporters.

In part, the limitations dealt with the installation and maintenance of the guardrails, as well as issues with all of the guardrail types when it came to vehicles hitting the end terminals at various directions and angles – impacts different than those for which the guardrails are crash tested. The task force made eight recommendations, including moving on to the “next generation of guardrail terminals” and conducting “in-service performance evaluations” of existing terminals, but did not recommend removing any guardrails from the roads. The task force said it started by looking at more than 1,000 crashes, but determined 161 of those were worthy of performance analysis — 15 “key” instances of which “highlighted performance limitations.”

After the previous controversial crash tests, questions were raised by lawmakers as to whether FHWA officials had become “too cozy” …read more […]

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Dramatic 911 Call Reveals New Details in New York Kayak Murder Case

Vincent Viafore is seen in an undated handout image. (ABC News)(NEW YORK) — A tape of the 911 call obtained by ABC News’ 20/20 reveals how Angelika Graswald, the woman accused of intentionally killing her fiancé while kayaking in the Hudson River, appeared to have reacted as he drowned.

Graswald, 35, called 911 on April 19, saying that she and her fiancé Vincent Viafore, 46, had been out kayaking on the Hudson River when his kayak flipped over and she wasn’t able to reach him.

“Oh my God. I’m in a red kayak, but he fell in, I couldn’t swim to him. I couldn’t paddle to him,” Graswald is heard telling the 911 operator. “He’s getting farther and farther away from me. He’s going to drown. Please call somebody.”

Graswald told the 911 operator that high winds and waves prevented her from getting to him.

“He has something that he’s holding onto, but it’s getting very bad. The waves are very strong, I can still see his head,” Graswald said during the 15-minute call.

Then, before the call ends, Graswald says, “I think he drowned, I need him to be rescued.”

Viafore’s body was found in the Hudson River near the United States Military Academy at West Point about a month later on May 23. The Orange County, New York, medical examiner ruled Viafore’s death by drowning, according to the autopsy report, a copy of which was obtained by ABC News.

There is controversy surrounding the medical examiner’s conclusion that Viafore’s death was a homicide by a “kayak drain plug intentionally removed by other.” Graswald’s attorney HAS disputed these findings, saying it was based on investigators’ speculation. And experts tell ABC News a missing drain plug would not cause a kayak to sink, even in rough water.

Graswald, a Latvian national, initially told authorities that she fell out of her kayak while trying to help her fiancé, then was found by a boater and rescued, police said. Police noted at the time of the incident that Graswald was treated for hypothermia at a local hospital and released.

Then, prosecutors said in April that Graswald admitted to investigators that she had tampered with Viafore’s kayak and paddle. Prosecutors said at the time Graswald also told police that she watched Viafore struggle in the Hudson’s icy waters for several minutes before he went under, and that it “felt good knowing that he was going to die,” implying that “this was her only way out.”

“It is also alleged that she moved the paddle away from him as he was struggling to stay afloat with water temperatures in the 40 degree range, and failed to render him assistance including timely calls for help,” the Orange County, New York, District Attorney’s office said in a news release in May.

Graswald was indicted on second-degree murder charges and second-degree manslaughter charges in May. She has pleaded not guilty, and her bail is set at $3 million in cash or $9 million bond. She is due in court next on Oct. 16.

The second-degree murder charge in the …read more […]

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Last Known Living 9/11 Search-and-Rescue Dog Honored in New York City

Bretagne is pictured with Denise Corrliss, taking a nap while working at Ground Zero in 2001. (Blake Wallis / Barcroft USA / Getty Images)(NEW YORK) — The last known living 9/11 search-and-rescue dog was recently honored with a weekend full of surprises in New York City, where she also celebrated her 16th birthday.

Bretagne the golden retriever and her handler Denise Corliss are a part of Texas Task Force 1, one of the FEMA national urban search-and-rescue programs that responded to Ground Zero to help find survivors and, later, to help recover the lost bodies of victims.

“Responding to the World Trade Center was our first deployment,” Corliss told BarkPost, which sponsored their trip and commemoration in the city. “We were there to try and find survivors. When our task force arrived in Ground Zero, I just couldn’t believe the magnitude. And then I look down to her, and she seemed stoked and ready to work.

“Towards the end of our mission, it changed from a search mission to a recovery mission. I was just so grateful to have a canine partner that helped me get through it.”

Corrliss and Bretagne arrived in New York City last Friday, and they spent the entire weekend being honored and thanked with surprises and gifts from various companies and organizations in the city.

They were treated to a special suite at 1 Hotel Central Park, where Bretagne got a luxury doggie bed, dozens of toys and even room service dining.

They got to ride in a vintage yellow cab, and when they were taken to Times Square, a huge billboard with Bretagne’s photo lit up.

“NYC welcomes you and your mom,” it read. “Thank you for both your services.”

The 16-year-old golden retriever then got a little playtime at the Hudson River Park, where she was presented the “doggie equivalent of the key to the city — a bone to the city” made by Tiffany and Co.

Along the way, dozens of New Yorkers stopped to pet Bretagne and thank her for her service.

At the end, she was treated to an “epic” Sweet 16 party, where she received hundreds of gifts and even got her own dog-friendly birthday cake.

Perhaps most special of the gifts was a cobblestone dedicated to Bretagne at the 9/11 memorial plaza by the National September 11 Memorial Museum.

Though Bretagne is now retired, she continues to volunteer at school programs that help children learn to read.

Her career in recovery work includes not only her service at Ground Zero, but in other major disaster zones, including New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

“When we deployed to some of the disasters, what I didn’t anticipate is the role that they take on as a therapy dog,” Corliss said. “It provides an opportunity for people to have support from a dog and comfort from a dog.”

She added, “I’ve had several canine partners, but Bretagne is that one dog for me.”

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Arizona Freeway Shootings: Two People Questioned, Police Say

iStock/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) — Authorities in Arizona say they have detained two people of interest for questioning in connection with a spate of shootings that has targeted the heavily-traveled Interstate 10 freeway that runs through Phoenix, leaving commuters terrified for days.

According to ABC News affiliate ABC15.com, officers with the state’s Department of Public Safety surrounded a Chevy Tahoe in a parking lot and then took two individuals into custody.

Investigators said Thursday that they were investigating at least 11 separate shooting incidents along I-10, after they confirmed a bullet hole found in the side of a truck Friday.

Col. Frank Milstead, director of the state’s Department of Public Safety, told ABC News on Wednesday that it was unclear whether all of the incidents are related and also unclear whether all incidents involved bullets.

He classified the incidents as “domestic terrorism,” calling the person or people responsible cowards who are putting innocent lives at risk.

“What I say ‘domestic terrorism,’ I don’t know what else you would call it. When you’re, you know, inflicting terror on a community, what else is it?” he said recently. “These are bad people trying to do harm to good people.”

The department said that the incidents dated back to Aug. 29, 2015 and that every shooting had happened along a short eight-mile stretch of road.

“We have a hard crime to solve because it’s such a large area and there so many different vantage points for someone who wants to do something wrong,” Milstead said.

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Ex-Cop Speaks for First Time in Court Since Killing Walter Scott

Charleston County Sheriffs Office(NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C.) — The former South Carolina policeman accused of murdering an unarmed man as he ran away spoke in court for the first time Friday, asking a judge to release him on bond.

Former police officer Michael Slager, 33, fatally shot Walter Scott, 50, after a traffic stop in North Charleston, South Carolina, in April. He was arrested and charged with murder April 7, three days after he shot Scott.

Slager said, “I’m not a flight risk,” explaining that he would follow the rules of house arrest and would like to see his infant son. During Slager’s bond hearing Thursday, his attorney asked for house arrest. The judge said he would take the request under advisement and will rule on the motion later.

Judge Clifton Newman said from court Friday, “I’ll do that as expeditiously as possible.”

Slager faces a possible 30 years to life without parole if convicted. Prosecutor Scarlett Wilson has declined comment on the case outside of the courtroom.

The former North Charleston police officer’s attorney, Andy Savage, said his client should be released on bond in alignment with similar cases in South Carolina. A motion filed Tuesday by attorneys for Slager included court documents showing other defendants in Charleston County who have been charged with murder but released on bond. Savage said this was an on-the-job incident, and Slager has no prior incidents, which gives him another advantage towards bond.

Savage told ABC News Wednesday enhanced video shows a fight between the two men. Savage alleges that at one point during the altercation, Scott was in possession of Slager’s Taser.

The release of cellphone footage shot by an eyewitness had a direct effect on Slager’s arrest, police said immediately after. It showed Scott’s running away from the officer when he was shot multiple times.

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Shooting Incident Reported at Washington’s Union Station

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — A shooting incident has taken place at Union Station in Washington, D.C.

A source with knowledge of the incident tells ABC News initial indications are that a man stabbed a woman at Union Station, the main train hub in the nation’s capital. Police then shot the suspect.

The suspect is still alive, and the woman attacked is described as “OK.”

The incident comes amid a day of heightened security as Friday marks the 14th anniversary of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

Park Police says the station has re-opened.

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Brothers Who Allegedly Tried to Kill Their Parents Due in Court

Gwinnett County Sheriff(SNELLVILLE, Ga.) — The two brothers who allegedly tried to kill their parents in their upscale Atlanta-area home over the weekend will be making their first court appearance Friday afternoon.

Christopher and Cameron Ervin will be in Gwinnett County Court Friday for a preliminary hearing in their case.

Christopher, 22, and Cameron, 17, were arrested and each charged with aggravated assault and arson after their mother and her husband were found bleeding and badly beaten Saturday in the family house in Snellville, Georgia, according to police.

Investigators have since stated that they believe the attack was premeditated.

“It is apparent that the brothers launched a plot to kill both of their parents,” the Gwinnett County Police Department said in a press release.

Officers found Christopher Ervin in a second-floor bathroom and Cameron Ervin was arrested as he left the garage, according to a police report, which also noted that Cameron Ervin allegedly told an officer, “I tried to kill my f****** parents. Who does that?”

Their mother Yvonne Ervin’s 911 call has already been released and she said that she did not know why the brothers allegedly turned on her and her husband.

“I don’t know what’s going on. I don’t know why they’ve done this. I really don’t,” she said.

Both parents have been treated and released from the hospital for unspecified injuries.

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FBI Warns of ISIS-Inspired Cyber Attacks on 9/11 Anniversary

MARWAN IBRAHIM/AFP/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — The FBI is warning that an ISIS-inspired group of hackers is threatening to mark Friday’s anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks with a new cyber-assault against U.S. government-related websites.

Twitter users claiming to be associated with the group, branding themselves with the “hashtag” moniker #AmericaUnderHacks, have already been posting online what they say is sensitive information about U.S. government personnel. But the information is available through basic Internet searches and is “recycled” from several years ago, sources told ABC News.

Nevertheless, the FBI wants companies doing business with the U.S. government to be able to defend their networks should hackers try to “commemorate the anniversary of the terrorist attacks” with more serious action, according to a “private industry notification” issued Thursday citing the recent threats.

“Will penetrate … governmental sites in September 11 to commemorate the destroyed skyscrapers,” threatened one recent tweet from the ISIS-inspired group of hackers, who call themselves the “Islamic Cyber Army.”

It’s unclear how credible such threats are, and in its notice Thursday, the FBI characterized the threats only as “possible.”

But in its notice, the FBI says the group (ICA) has successfully “hacked and defaced” certain governmental websites, and similar campaigns by “extremist cyber actors” have targeted networks associated with the U.S. government and banking industry.

“ICA would most likely seek to attack targets of opportunity based on technical vulnerabilities and a perceived connection to the United States or other Western countries,” the FBI says in its notice to private companies. “Web site defacements and/or any possible unauthorized releases … of personally identifiable information (PII) by ICA likely would be accompanied by messages expressing support for ISIL, and possibly language threatening additional cyber or physical terrorist attacks.”

The notice also predicts ICA “is likely to make claims of responsibility” for any successful hacking activity online by other groups.

The FBI describes ICA as an “ISI[S]-sympathetic hacking group,” comprised of members of like-minded hackers from the “Elite Islamic State Hackers” and others.

In its notice Thursday, the FBI suggests several “precautionary measures” companies can take “to mitigate a range of potential hacktivism threats by this group.”

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Armed Suspect Shot, Killed After Chase and Standoff in California

Fuse/Thinkstock(LOS ANGELES) — An armed suspect was shot and killed Thursday after leading deputies on a high-speed, multi-city chase in California that turned into a hostage standoff, authorities said.

The suspect — whose name has not been released — allegedly carjacked two vehicles through the streets of Los Angeles County. The man was seen weaving in and out of traffic, driving on the wrong side of the road and barreling through intersections, nearly crashing into several oncoming cars.

Deputies deployed a PIT maneuver, or precision immobilization technique, which is a pursuit tactic used to send a car sideways.

The suspect emerged from the vehicle, firing his gun in the air and running into a nearby restaurant, Chris’ and Pitt’s barbecue restaurant in Downey.

Steve Switzer was standing nearby when the man entered the restaurant.

“He’s running, no more than 10 feet from me, pistol in the air, shooting,” Switzer said. “I thought he shot someone.”

Dozens of employees and patrons flocked out of the restaurant, hands in the air, as officers surrounded the building. A standoff ensued, with the suspect holding at least four hostages in the restaurant, authorities said.

SWAT teams fired flash-bang equipment before making their move and shooting the man. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene, authorities said. No one else was hurt.

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Nation Marks 14 Years Since 9/11 Attacks

Spencer Platt/Getty Images(NEW YORK) — Solemn ceremonies will be held across the U.S. on Friday to mark 14 years since the 9/11 attacks.

In New York City, bells will ring followed by moments of silence to mark the exact times when al Qaeda hijackers flew two planes into the World Trade Center towers in lower Manhattan. As has been done every year since Sept. 11, 2001, the names of the dead will be read.

Over in Washington, President Obama will observe a moment of silence on the South Lawn of the White House alongside first lady Michelle Obama and White House staff. The president will later travel to Fort Meade in Maryland, where he will hold a town hall with service members.

In all, nearly 3,000 people were killed in the attacks. Hijackers also flew a plane into the Pentagon building in Washington that day. A fourth plane crashed in a field in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, after passengers and crew rushed the cockpit.

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