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Judge: Teen rape suspect shouldn’t be tried as an adult since he ‘comes from a good family’

WQAD News -

NEW JERSEY – In 2017, a 16-year-old boy in New Jersey was accused of raping an intoxicated 16-year-old girl in the dark basement of a house party. According to court documents, the boy filmed the encounter, the girl’s bare torso exposed and her head repeatedly banging against a wall. He allegedly shared the video with friends, and it continued to circulate for months despite the girl’s pleas for him to stop its dissemination.

At one point, according to documents, he texted friends: “[w]hen your first time having sex was rape.”

Prosecutors called his actions “sophisticated and predatory” and pushed for him to be waived from the juvenile court system and tried as an adult. However, in July 2018, a family court judge denied the request, and his reasons are now drawing serious reproach from an appeals court.

Boy was headed for a ‘good college,’ judge says

In his denial, Judge James Troiano of Monmouth County Superior Court said the boy’s actions were not predatory and not necessarily rape because “traditional” rape cases involve “two or more generally males involved, either at gunpoint or weapon, clearly manhandling a person.”

He said the boy shouldn’t be tried as an adult because he “comes from a good family who put him into an excellent school,” because he was an Eagle Scout, because he was probably headed for a “good college” and because his “scores for college entry were very high.”

Troiano said the girl and her family should have been told that bringing charges against the boy could have a “devastating effect” on his life.

A court hands back the case

On June 14, the Appellate Division of the New Jersey Superior Court reversed Troiano’s decision and sent the case back down for further judgment.

The appeal claimed that Troiano “erred in denying the waiver motion because, in the process, he substituted his judgment for that of the prosecutor.”

The appeals court judges agreed, and their decision specifically cited Troiano’s mention of the boy’s background.

“That the juvenile came from a good family and had good test scores we assume would not condemn the juveniles who do not come from good families and do not have good test scores from withstanding waiver applications.”

A decision hangs in the balance

Now that the case is back in Monmouth County courts, prosecutors are planning their next move and could seek to indict the defendant in criminal court.

“While we have the utmost respect for the Family Court and the judge in this case, we are grateful that the Appellate Division agreed with our assessment that this case met the legal standards for waiver to Superior Court,” Monmouth County Prosecutor Christopher Gramiccioni said in a statement. “As with all cases, we are assessing our next steps, which will include discussions with the victim and her family.”

New Jersey Courts Director of Communications Peter McAleer said Troiano has no comment on the most recent developments.

The defendant’s attorney has not responded to a request for comment.

A closer look at the case

A lot of information about the case, including the defendant’s name, is sealed because he is a minor. However, court documents reveal additional details about the incident: The girl, referred to in documents as “Mary,” which is not her real name, was visibly drunk at the party before the encounter. At some point, she and the defendant entered a darkened part of the house’s basement.

The appeal decision describes what happened next:

“While on the sofa, a group of boys sprayed Febreze on Mary’s bottom and slapped it with such force that the following day she had hand marks on her buttocks.”

Mary, who according to court documents had slurred speech and stumbled as she walked, entered a darkened part of the house’s basement with the defendant where the alleged assault took place.

Afterward, the defendant left, and his friends found Mary on the floor, vomiting. She was eventually driven home by a friend’s mother.

“The following morning, Mary discussed with her mother her fear that sexual things had happened at the party. She did not understand how she could have gotten bruise marks on her body or how her clothing had torn,” the decision reads.

Mary and her family decided to press charges several months later, after Mary learned that the defendant was sharing video of the incident among their social circles despite telling her that there was no video.

“Flag man” involved in accident leaving Fulton County deputy’s funeral, Community steps up to help with repairs

WQAD News -

LITTLE YORK, Illinois - Larry "The Flag Man" Eckhardt was on his way home from Cuba, Illinois when he was involved in an accident on July 1.

Eckhardt is known for a legacy he has been planting for the past 14 years.

With the help of upwards of 50,000 volunteers, across 14 states, he often places American Flags along funeral procession routes when an American soldier or first-responder is killed in the line of duty.

On Monday, he was driving back from Cuba, Illinois after the funeral for Fulton County Sheriff's Deputy Troy Chisum when his tire blew.

"It just popped, and once it popped it swung the back end of the van around," said Eckhardt.

He and his flags ended up in a ditch on fire. A construction worker had to put the flames out, according to Eckhardt.

"Yeah, it was a Jesus take the wheel type moment because once you get one of them things jackknifed and sliding sideways you are not going to control it," he said.

Nobody was hurt, but the van and trailer both had thousands of dollars worth of damage.

"I mean we travel with anywhere from 2600 flags up to 3600 flags and they just don`t go anywhere without the van and the trailer," said Eckhardt who had to put his mission on hold.

After years of medical issues, The Flag Man said he did not have enough money to make the repairs to his van and trailer.

"It`s just not feasible to even expect it to be there. The insurance helps but it just doesn`t do it," he said.

Eckhardt is 62 and is fighting cancer. He says he will never give up.

Larry and his caretaker set up a GoFundMe Account.

"Makes me cry. As much as I hate to admit it, it does," said Eckhardt when WQAD News 8 asked about the online support he has gotten.

The community reached Eckhardt's $3,000 goal and surpassed it in just two days.

"It re-affirms their belief that these men and woman deserve the tributes that we give them," said Eckhardt.

Now, The Flag Man says he will be able to soon continue his mission of making sure the men and women who give their lives for American's are never forgotten.

Kindergarten teacher at private Christian school charged with sex assault, child porn solicitation

WQAD News -

BURBANK, Ill. — A suburban Illinois kindergarten teacher is facing charges after being accused of engaging in sexual conduct with two underage students.

Shannon Griffin, 49, a teacher Jordan Baptist School was taken into custody Monday and charged with sexual assault and solicitation of child pornography.

Investigators said Griffin sent nude pictures and videos of herself to a high school junior and requested he do the same.

The alleged conduct began in 2013 and continued through March of this year, according to the Cook County Sheriff's Office.

Griffin is married to the pastor of Jordan Baptist Church.

The couple have three daughters, two who teach at the school, according to the school’s website.

The school teaches about 100 students grades pre-K through 12.

The Illinois Department of Children and Family Services also has an ongoing investigation into multiple allegations of abuse.

Griffin was also charged with grooming and distribution of harmful materials.

On Wednesday, a judge set Griffin's bond at $750,000. Her attorney said the family will try and raise the $75,000 needed to get her released.

Kansas homeowner finds burglar stuck upside down on inversion table

WQAD News -

SALINA, Kan. – A Kansas homeowner woke up to the sounds of a burglar in his basement, but they weren’t the sounds of breaking glass or moving objects, according to KSNW.

The homeowner reportedly heard the burglar yelling for help from the basement after he strapped himself to an inversion table and could not free himself, the Saline County Sheriff’s Office said.

The burglar reportedly told the homeowner “They told me to come here” when asked what he was doing in the home.

Once he was freed from the table, Jeremy Sanders was taken to a hospital to be checked for drug use.

KSNW reported he was then taken to Saline County Jail and charged with aggravated burglary for taking cranberry juice from the man’s home.

Ben Butterworth Parkway reopens

WQAD News -

MOLINE, Illinois-Ben Butterworth Parkway (22nd – 55th Street, along River Drive) will be reopened for the Holiday weekend.

Wednesday, July 3, the Parkway will be reopened.

The Parks and Recreation Department is asking the public to be aware of areas still covered in mud/silt.

"It is suggested that the public stay on paved surfaces. All amenities including bathrooms, the playground, bicycle/pedestrian trail, etc. are open and usable."-Lori Wilson

Muscatine road closing indefinitely in anticipation of potential landslide

WQAD News -

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MUSCATINE, Iowa — City leaders are closing a portion of Fletcher Avenue which has been deemed as a potential hazard.

The roadway is being closed from Hershey Avenue to the top of the hill at 3 p.m. on Wednesday, July 3 “due to the potential for a massive landslide that could result in the loss of life or property,” read a statement from Muscatine Communication Manager Kevin Jenison.

There is no timeline on when Fletcher Avenue could reopen.  It will be closed indefinitely “until the hazard mitigates itself or is removed by the property owner.”

Jenison said the city has seen issues with this road before, including a landslide in March.

“It’s been an area of concern for a long time,” said Jenison.

Erosion was found about two-thirds of the way up the hill on the west side of the road, according to Jenison’s statement.  Some material has already slid down and with large trees in the area, a landslide there could create a “dangerous situation.”

“Now that we know about the danger, we are obligated to protect the traveling public from becoming trapped or blocked by a landslide,” Brian Stineman, Public Works Director, said. “Therefore we are taking this precaution.”

Jenison said the erosion and potential hazard is mostly weather-related.

WWII veteran who escaped Nazi prison train gets a surprise 175-mph ride in IndyCar

WQAD News -

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. - The first time Tommy Mascari entered the Indianapolis Motor Speedway it was in the 1930s when he and his buddies would rush the fence as soon as the morning canon sounded on race day.

“We used to wait until the bomb went off and there’d be about 25 bigger boys and we used to tear off and that’s when the wood fences were out here and we would drop ‘em and when the bomb went off everybody ran," he told WXIN. “They could never catch me."

On the eve of his 97th birthday, Tommy’s family gave the World War II veteran something else to remember: A 175 mph tour of the speedway from the back seat of an IndyCar.

“This is something I never did and it's gonna be something,” said the spry old Italian as he walked Pit Row toward the waiting two-seater. “I can’t wait for it.”

Considering Mascari’s WWII exploits it's amazing that Uncle Tommy, as his family calls him, considered the Brickyard hot loops the biggest thrill of his life.

As one of the U.S. Army’s legendary Darby’s Rangers stationed in Italy, Mascari and his comrades were assigned to cut German Army supply lines in battles after the landings in Anzio during the Italian Campaign in 1942.

A German counterattack left the Rangers exposed and landed Mascari and his friends in a prisoner of war camp for six months.

When the Americans received word they were being moved to another camp closer to the German heartland, Mascari decided he had had enough and led three other GIs in leaping from a transport train into the Italian mountains.

“That was nothing to get off of a train cuz we used to hang on to ‘em and ride ‘em,” said Mascari, recalling his youth during the Depression on Indianapolis’ south side when a nickel was too much to pay to ride a trolley car to a favorite swimming hole.

Mascari said he was able to avoid SS troops searching for escaped prisoners in the small towns of Italy because of his Italian heritage and looks and a smattering of dialect he picked up to fool the Nazis.

In his racing suit, Mascari was reminded of another famed Italian racer, one Mario Andretti, and was asked that if the two retired countrymen would race, who would win?

“Oh, he would,” Uncle Tommy said with a twinkle and a laugh as a nephew told him to slow down when he burst into a shuffling dash to the track.

On the civilian side of the pit wall, a crew member fitted Mascari for a helmet and protective gloves.

Strapped into the back seat of the metallic blue racer, Mascari gave a final thumbs up as the car roared out from beneath a canopy and shot toward turn one.

After one completed lap, a fast pass down the front straight and once more into the four corners of the speedway and the biggest thrill of Mascari’s life was quickly over.

“It was great. I didn’t realize the G forces they go through. When they go through those turns, the G forces were great,” he said. “Great God.”

Once out of his gear, Mascari shared a hug with another veteran, retired driver Sarah Fisher who marveled at Mascari’s claim that his ride around the track was a bigger rush that leaping from a moving German POW train.

“No way. Are you serious?” she said.

Mascari assured her he was.

“Great, great. What a thrill.”

All that was missing was a bottle of cold milk to pour over the winner’s head.

500 driver Sarah fisher meets WWII vet tommy Mascari who celebrated 97th bday at 175 mph at #IMS

— Russ McQuaid (@RussMcQuaidNews) July 2, 2019

7-year-old boy saves sister who was having a seizure from drowning in pool

WQAD News -

BRANTLEY COUNTY, Ga. – Morgan Smith, 20, was on the bottom step of the pool in her family’s backyard in Brantley County, Georgia when she said black spots started to take over her vision.

Smith has no memory of what happened next.

Luckily for Smith, her 7-year-old brother, Aiden McCullough, was nearby when she had a seizure and fell backwards into the pool.

When he saw his sister fall into the pool, McCullough told CNN affiliate WJAX, “I was thinking, like, ‘Oh, my god. Oh, my God. She’s going to die.'”

McCullough quickly sprung into action, and he said that his instincts kicked in as he grabbed Smith by her hair and held her above the water while he screamed until help came.

“He has never been taught how to help me,” Smith told CNN. “He just knew I needed to be helped and did it.”

Smith said that she would have drowned if not for her brother.

“I know that there are real life angels because I’m lucky enough to call him mine,” Smith said of McCullough. “I have an everyday superhero in my life.”

Smith said she was having seizures two to three times a day, but she recently started taking an anticonvulsant medication and has not had any seizures since.

This was the first swimming incident in which she suffered a seizure, she said and now she plans to always have an adult with her when she goes swimming.

“I love you and I’m so thankful for you every day,” Smith said to McCullough. “You are forever my hero and every day I’m only more thankful that I get to call you my little brother. Sissy always loves you.”

PETA is asking an Idaho town to rename Chicken Dinner Road

WQAD News -

CALDWELL, Idaho – People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals is asking the Mayor Garret L. Nancolas of Caldwell to rename Chicken Dinner Road on behalf of the namesake poultry, according to KBOI.

“We’re not trying to ruffle any feathers, but words matter and have the power to change lives, both human and nonhuman,” Tracy Reiman, PETA executive vice president said in the letter. “Chickens are intelligent, sensitive animals who feel pain and empathy and form strong bonds with one another, and they shouldn’t be considered “dinner.”

The road’s name apparently has a storied history, involving Governor C. Ben Ross and a dinner invitation, according to the Idaho Press.

“PETA is asking Mayor Nancolas to change this road’s name to one that celebrates chickens as individuals, not as beings to kill, chop up, and label as ‘dinner,'” the letter said.

No response to the request has yet been recorded.

Arctic fox amazes scientists with 2,000-mile trek from Norway to Canada – in just 76 days

WQAD News -

The young female arctic fox covered an incredible distance. (Jon Leithe/Norsk Polar Institute/CNN)

A young female Arctic fox has shocked scientists by traveling over 2,175 miles from Norway to Canada in just 76 days.

The journey took her from Spitsbergen, the largest island of the Svalbard archipelago, which sits between mainland Norway and the North Pole, to Ellesmere Island, Canada, according to research published in the journal Polar Research.

Scientists from Norway’s Polar Institute, which fitted the Arctic fox with a satellite transmitter, say it undertook one of the longest dispersal events – a movement from the birthplace to a potential breeding location – ever recorded for the species.

Researcher Eva Fuglei said the team couldn’t believe what they were seeing as they tracked the fox.

“We didn’t think it was true,” said Fuglei in a statement.

It covered an average of 28.8 miles per day, and amazingly traveled 96.3 miles in just one day as it crossed the Greenland ice sheet.

This is the fastest rate recorded for this species, 1.4 times faster than the previous known record held by an adult male Arctic fox that was tracked in Alaska.

The Arctic fox broke the record for the longest distance covered by the species in one day. (Arnaud Tarroux/Nina/CNN)

Scientists believe the fox may have sped up as it crossed the ice sheet due to limited foraging opportunities.

However it slowed down significantly on two occasions, covering less than 6.2 miles per day for 48 hours.

This may be due to physical barriers on the sea ice, bad weather, or good feeding opportunities.

Experts have previously speculated that the Arctic fox may eat crustaceans from open water.

The fox left Spitsbergen on March 26th, 2018 and arrived in Canada just over two months later.

Its current whereabouts is unknown as the transmitter stopped working on February 6th, 2019.

The Arctic is undergoing important changes as warming temperatures affect the ice.

The fox was fitted with a transmitter so researchers could track its movements. (Elise Stromseng/CNN)

It is heating up twice as fast as the global average, causing massive melting of sea ice and opening up the area to exploration.

Russia is set to tow a floating nuclear power plant to the Arctic port town of Pevek next month as part of plans to expand its interests in the region.

These plans have sparked concerns in the US, which also sees economic opportunities as Arctic sea ice melts.

Have the rain gear on standby if you’re heading to your favorite fireworks display this evening

WQAD News -

Temperatures have been getting a boost after seeing a few isolated thunderstorms in parts of the area ear;y this morning.  With just enough sunshine, temperatures will peak at the 90 degree mark with plenty of humidity to make it even warmer.

A couple of thunderstorms are already beginning to pop up in parts of the area.  Like yesterday, we’ll see this coverage increase for the next several hours with one or two of these storms likely producing some heavy rainfall and a good rush of wind.  Coverage will show signs of dissipating as we head toward dusk.  Hopefully, the timing will be perfect for many firework displays that will be going off tonight.  Keep in mind, the ground will be wet and muddy so be sure to have the chairs instead of the blankets. And don’t forget the mosquito repellent!  The rest of the night, a few isolated thunderstorms may pop up with overnight lows in the lower 70s.

Related: 4th of July fireworks in the area: Your go-to list of celebrations

After another muggy night, More scattered thunderstorms will develop on the 4th during the peak heating of the day which is around the mid to late afternoon hours.  Due to its timing, temperatures will reach around the upper 80s.

This unsettled weather pattern will continue through Saturday before a cool front slides across the area and ends our daily shower and thunderstorm chances starting on Sunday.

Read More: Kings Harvest needs volunteers to cuddle their pets during fireworks, and it could be you!

Chief meteorologist James Zahara

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New York high school student granted nearly $60 million for injuries after failed chemistry experiment

WQAD News -

A New York jury granted nearly $60 million in civil damages to a high school student who was severely burned in a 2014 class chemistry experiment.

The award is the culmination of a years-long lawsuit by the family of Alonzo Yanes, who was a student at New York’s Beacon High School at the time of the experiment.

Yanes is still being treated for his injuries, requiring autografts to replace tissue, his lawyer said.

“He hasn’t had a day without pain,” lawyer Ben Rubinowitz said. “They are more than just scars on his face.”

The lawsuit accused the New York City Department of Education and the Board of Education of failing to alert teachers to the dangers of the experiment, known as the rainbow demonstration.

The experiment was intended to demonstrate colors of flame produced by the combustion of various metals or salts. When Yanes attempted it in his sophomore chemistry class, it generated an explosion that caused a fire, the lawsuit states.

Several months after the incident, the American Chemical Society’s Committee on Chemical Safety put out a safety alert recommending schools no longer use the experiment.

“We find it unfortunate that the Department of Education and the teacher did not step up to the plate and admit that they were careless,” Rubinowitz said. “The bottom line is that the teacher completely controlled the demonstration and was responsible for the safety of all the children in that class.”

The explosion left Yanes with severe burns and injuries to his upper body that required numerous operations, leaving him disfigured and with permanent scars, according to the lawsuit.

The jury awarded approximately $29 million for pain and suffering, including his surgeries, and another $29 million for future rehabilitation, Rubinowitz said.

The rainbow demonstration is no longer used in the classroom, said Nick Paolucci, director of public affairs and press secretary for the New York City Law Department.

The department is also looking at its “legal options to reduce the award to an amount that is consistent with awards that have been upheld by the courts in similar cases,” Paolucci said.

In March 2014, three months after the explosion, the Committee on Chemical Safety released a statement citing a video that the US Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board put out in December 2013, warning of the experiment’s dangers.

“When carried out on an open bench using a flammable solvent, the rainbow demonstration is a high-risk operation,” committee Chairman Robert Hill Jr. said at the time.

The jury’s award will help Yanes continue receiving treatment, potentially plastic surgery, his lawyer said. But it can’t fix the past.

“Needless to say, the injuries suffered by Alonzo were horrific. They were life-changing and, unfortunately, disfiguring.”

License to kill: homeowners encouraged to kill iguanas in Florida

WQAD News -

(CNN) -- Think Florida: sandy beaches with lines of palm trees, all bathed in gorgeous sunshine.

Now add iguanas to that mental picture. Lots of them.

That's the reality in the Sunshine State, where homeowners are now encouraged to kill green iguanas they find on their properties, a statement on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission's website reads.

"Homeowners do not need a permit to kill iguanas on their own property, and the (wildlife commission) encourages homeowners to kill green iguanas on their own property whenever possible," the statement reads. "Iguanas can also be killed year-round and without a permit on 22 public lands in south Florida."

The declaration follows an exponential increase in recent decades in sightings of the large lizards as their sheer numbers have caused more and more problems for residents.

They're seen all over the state

Green iguanas are considered an invasive species -- they're not native to Florida but come from Central and South America -- by the wildlife commission.

Solid tallies of exactly how many iguanas are in Florida are hard to come by, but the wildlife commission says public sightings of the lizards have grown increasingly common since the 1960s. Once only seen in Miami-Dade County, the spiked reptiles can now be found in much of the south and southwest parts of the state, as well as some parts of the panhandle.

They're thriving in Florida because of the state's subtropical climate, its ever-growing human population (which inadvertently provides the lizards with plenty of shelter and food) and a lack of natural predators. The only thing keeping them from spreading north is the relatively colder weather.

Homeowner Mike Espada said iguanas are so numerous at his Broward County home that he sometimes can't get through his front door.

"Some days we come home, there's 20 to 30 of them all over the property," he told CNN affiliate WPBF. "They're in our courtyard, and so we actually have to find a different door to get in the house. We've become the guests. They're the residents now."

Floridians who don't feel comfortable killing the iguanas can also call someone to trap the animals and get them off their property.

They do a lot of damage

Iguanas can do a lot of damage. They eat plants and dig tunnels that can erode and collapse sidewalks, seawalls and the foundations of homes, the wildlife commissions said. Their droppings can be found almost anywhere, including on sidewalks, porches, patios, decks and inside swimming pools. They can also transmit salmonella.

Iguanas mostly eat plants, but they sometimes consume animals, like snails and certain kinds of butterflies, thereby posing a threat to native and endangered species.

Homeowners are encouraged to take steps to make their properties less appealing to iguanas by removing dense thickets of vegetation that the lizards can use as cover, filling in holes to discourage burrowing and even spraying them with a water hose to make them leave.


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