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Latest from Veronica Waters

    On Monday, the Georgia Supreme Court allowed Ryan Alexander Duke’s trial for the alleged 2005 murder of Irwin County teacher Tara Grinstead to go forward. Anticipating Duke’s next day in court, WSB Radio’s Veronica Waters is taking an in-depth look back at his pre-trial appeal. Prior to Monday, Duke's lawyers asked the state Supreme Court to decide that it has the authority to hear Duke's pre-trial appeal over being denied indigent defense funding--without the trial judge okaying the appeal first. His attorneys, who are working pro bono--meaning for free--said they needed money for expert witnesses and defense investigators.  >>LISTEN TO WATERS’ ON-AIR REPORTS WITH WSB LEGAL ANALYST PHIL HOLLOWAY BELOW. Irwin County Judge Bill Reinhardt denied the defense lawyers efforts to get money from the public defender's office, while acknowledging that Duke had presented a compelling need for the experts. He did not give the certificate of immediate review Duke's team requested in March, so the Duke team asked the state's highest court to take the case without the judge's signing off on the interlocutory appeal.  Justices had tough questions for lawyers on both sides of the arguments.  'You say that if we don't review this now, this failure to fund experts will be reversible error on appeal. That may well be true. But if it's reversible error on appeal, how has Mr. Duke lost an important right by waiting for that appeal?' Justice Nels Peterson asked Duke attorney Evan Gibbs.  Justice Keith Blackwell told the State it seems to him they should want this issue decided pre-trial as well.  “I understand the desire to move on with the trial and in that sense a delay is bad,” Blackwell told prosecutor J. D. Hart, 'but it strikes me from the State's perspective that what's even worse is if you were to get a conviction, the possibility you might have to try all this again at some point. It seems to me the issue on funding is a very murky one.”  He also called it 'odd' that the State would decide that because a defendant is not exercising his right to appointed counsel that he must forfeit his right to get help with respect to experts.  'Seems odd that you would forfeit one constitutional right just to exercise another,' said Blackwell.  Blackwell indicated to both attorneys that if justices decide they cannot step in, both sides should be willing to talk with the judge to resolve this themselves.  The Duke case had been set for trial in April. Justices agreed in late March to hear these arguments, which were made May 7.  Authorities arrested Ryan Alexander Duke in February 2017, more than a decade after Grinstead disappeared from her home. Another man with a similar name, Bo Dukes, was convicted in Wilcox County in March of helping conceal Grinstead's death by burning her body, and was sentenced to 25 years in prison.
  • When you're buying heroin with bank robbery money, you can afford a lot of heroin.'   That's why Adam Meacham says he's okay with having been arrested after a short series of robberies that landed him in the dragnet of Roswell police and the FBI.   'I think I would have died,' he says. 'So I'm glad I got caught.'   He was called the 'photogenic bank robber' in 2011, but Meacham, now 34, says seeing the surveillance video of himself, giving a Roswell bank teller a demand note makes him sad.   'I look at those pictures and it makes me sick,' Meacham tells WSB, pointing out his dyed-black hair and too-pale features. 'I was 70 pounds lighter, and I looked like I was going to die.'   Sitting at a coffee shop in north Fulton County, Meacham says if he's honest with himself, he always felt different. His father was out of the house a lot behind bars; his mom worked a lot. He had a lot of alone time. He tried drinking in middle school and was using hard drugs by the time he was 14; he just liked the feeling, he says. That led to a series of addiction-fueled crimes that landed him in and out of jail for years, where he served short stints and brushed up against the confrontational nature of life behind bars more than once.   By the winter of 2011, his drug habit was costing him $200 a day, although today, he is clearly hesitant to quantify it. What if, he wonders, hearing the dollar amount is harmful to someone else who then believes their drug use isn't as detrimental as his was, since they may not spend as much money on it?  Is revealing that information anything other than a ‘wow’ factor? But that winter, the expensive habit led him to try to find a way to fund it.   'The thing that I remember the most about robbing the first bank was the feeling--like, I was terrified,' he recalls. 'I didn't want to do it, but I felt like I had to. And that's the thing I remember more than anything is this feeling is that 'I have to do this.' Almost like I would die if I didn't. I know that sounds absurd, but that's what it felt like. I had to.   'I had rent to pay, and I was a heroin addict.'   He walked around for about 15 minutes, he says, at war with himself about going through with it and trying to talk himself out of it. He didn't.   He gave a teller a note, got money--he says he doesn't remember how much--and walked away. He went to retrieve the backpack he'd stashed on a college's campus nearby, hearing sirens headed toward the bank, and then headed to Perimeter Mall, expecting to blend into the crowds there.   The second and third times, however, he says it got a lot easier. Perhaps a month after the first one, Meacham committed another robbery. Then, maybe five days later, he says, the third one. While he threatened violence in his notes, he didn't actually carry a gun, but he agonizes over the fear his crime instilled back then.   Meacham's photo went out to the news media. The day he was captured in February of 2011, he says, he was picking up his then-girlfriend at Perimeter Mall, asking her what she wanted for dinner, when suddenly, 'Everyone around me turned into a cop.' He recalls seeing officers from at least three agencies and the FBI on the scene.   Behind bars, he learned that his father was the one who'd dropped a dime on him. His father--who had himself battled drug addiction and served time for robbing banks--wrote his son a letter behind bars, telling Adam how proud he was of him for 'going big' when he decided to commit a crime.   Adam took a deal, pleading out to robbery by intimidation. He was sentenced to 10 years to serve three; he was behind bars less than two years. and got out of prison in late 2012.   'The psychological aftereffects are horrendous,' he says, recalling that for six months afterward, he had a hair-trigger of a temper. Meacham repaid all the money in installments. He met a woman and they got married. He got sober shortly after he learned he was going to become a father. He'd used once after his release, and had run into trouble with the law again. The same judge he'd had on his criminal case sentenced him to five years' probation, concurrent with his parole.   When the marriage failed, Adam got custody of his now-kindergarten-age daughter, whom he adores.   'She's awesome. She's so cool,' he gushes, swiping through photos of the smiling tot on his phone. 'She's kind and loving, smart and hilarious--she's a great kid, man. I'm so lucky.'   Adam's relationship was breaking up at the same time the opioid crisis was hitting hard. He went to 13 funerals in one year, he says, and decided to quit his job at a treatment center to go back to school. He took out 'a bunch of loans' and enrolled at Kennesaw State University, where he is close to finishing his bachelor's degree. His goal is to get a master's degree in social work, then work in the prison system or in criminal justice reform.   'Maybe just having a non-judgmental in some of those men's lives will make a huge difference for them, even if they're never getting out one day,' says Meacham.   He's quick to say that he's not trying to be anybody's inspiration--he's a realist.   'Look, I would love to inspire somebody. That would be really cool, right? That would be amazing, good for my ego,' Adam chuckles. 'But I don't think that's the right way to look at this stuff.   'I don't think anybody who's currently in the situation that I was in would tell you that 'a lack of inspiration' is one of their primary concerns. The issues are deeper than that. As much as I would love to take credit for my story turning out happier than some others, at the end of the day I believe that if I had been a young black man or a young Hispanic man, I would still be in prison. I think I've done a pretty good job at making good choices when the opportunity was given to me, but I also believe those opportunities were primarily presented to me because of my skin color.'   Today, he calls himself 'a big square.' His old heroin addiction has been replaced with the need to make life good, safe, and secure for his little girl. He tries not to stress himself over making sure he has enough money for tuition, and making enough money to pay his student loans. He thinks about the way he will tell his story to his daughter one day and hopes to protect her, keep her feeling loved and wanted.   'I want to give her something that I didn't have, and I want her to be okay,' says Meacham. 'A lot of this is about her.' Click below for the radio version below:
  • Police are hoping the public can help identify a man who allegedly burglarized a home in Paulding County -- and cut the homeowner’s neck while holding her at knifepoint. Angie Vaughn returned home after a night out on March 28, interrupting a man who was burglarizing her home on Ginnity Drive.  Paulding County Sheriff’s Sgt. Ashley Henson says the man surprised the homeowner, grabbing her from behind and holding a knife to her throat. At one point she was able to break away, but the ‘smelly suspect’ snatched her back and continued to hit her, while hurling vulgar language at her, before he fled the scene and got away with money and credit cards.  “He was just a very grungy, dirty individual -- and just very violent with her,” Sgt. Henson tells WSB Radio’s Veronica Waters. Henson adds that Vaughn noted the suspect was “very soiled and smelled of cigarettes.” The homeowner, Angie Vaughn, chimed in on the Paulding County Sheriff’s Facebook page, correcting those who were assuming that the attack was not harmful to her. “This attack happened against me, so to the ones sharing and offering to pray for me I really appreciate it and to the ones that think this is a joke you should really be ashamed of yourselves,” Vaughn’s post reads. “And for some of you to say well we thought she was just pushed, well how would you like someone to invade your home and push you? But just so you know I wasn't just pushed, he beat me, cut my throat and robbed me. “This sketch wasn't just to help get me some kind of justice it was also to save all of you jokers from the same fate.” “One of the things that she noted in her post was that he was able to cut her throat harshly -- not slice it open or anything like that -- but as a result of having a knife to her throat, she got cut a little bit,” Henson explains to WSB. He adds, “To come home and interrupt a burglary, and to be abused the way she was, is a very unsettling incident.” Henson says that that since posting the suspect’s sketch on their Facebook page, tipsters have posted photos of possible suspects, some of whom appear to be homeless. Police have said they are not counting out anything at this point as to the man’s identity or living situation.   Vaughn described the white male as having a foul odor consisting of a mixture of cigarettes and body odor. He is believed to be in his late 30’s to early 40’s and has brown hair. He was also described as having facial hair covering his top lip and appeared to be very dirty.  Tipsters are asked to call the Criminal Investigations Division of the Sheriff’s Office at (770) 443-3015.
  • A convicted sex offender wins an appeal before the Georgia Supreme Court after contending that his lifetime electronic monitoring was unconstitutional.    Joseph Park was convicted of child molestation and nine counts of sexual exploitation of a minor in Douglas County in 2003. He was classified as a 'sexually dangerous predator,' released from prison in 2011, and finished probation in 2015.   The following year, Park was arrested, then indicted, in DeKalb County for destroying his ankle monitor. He fought back in court, arguing that the GPS monitoring under the Georgia law amounted to an unreasonable search, as he had already completed all of his sentence.   The state's highest court agrees, ruling that the monitoring patently violates the Fourth Amendment which protects people against unreasonable searches and seizures.   'The Court's saying that once someone pays their debt to society, and they're not under sentence, it's unreasonable to require them to submit to electronic monitoring for the rest of their life,' says WSB legal analyst Phil Holloway. 'This is yet another clear indication, I think, that the Georgia court is taking a more libertarian stance when it comes to freedoms of all types, not just in the context of the Fourth Amendment.'    Justices said it's unconstitutional to use a 24/7, warrantless GPS monitoring 'to the extent that it authorizes such searches of individuals, like Park, who are no longer serving any part of their sentences in order to find evidence of possible criminal conduct,” writes Chief Justice Harold Melton.   Georgia Code § 42-1-14 sets up a risk classification system on the ground that “recidivist sexual offenders, sexual offenders who use physical violence, and sexual offenders who prey on children are sexual predators who present an extreme threat to the public safety.” Park was listed in the most severe category, Level III.   Holloway notes, however, that the state Supreme Court made a note that such monitoring could be allowed if the law is changed. The Justices pointed out that some states have made lifetime GPS monitoring allowable when it is instituted as a part of the sentence itself. Justice Keith Blackwell noted this in a concurring opinion, writing that the decision “does not foreclose other means by which the General Assembly might put the same policy into practice.”   'Electronic monitoring of any person--whether or not they're classified as a predator or an ordinary citizen who's never been convicted of a crime does constitute a search,' explains Holloway. 'The Court has invited the legislature to change this, because all they would have to do is say that someone who is such a predator is going to be under sentence for the remainder of their life.'    He adds that there may be criticism of the idea from some corners.   'People who think that criminal sentences are already too long, and groups that do not like mandatory minimum sentencing, will not like this Court's invitation to the legislature to lengthen already-long sentences,' says Holloway.   The Georgia Bureau of Investigation's Sex Offender Registry website lists some 456 people as 'sexually dangerous predators.
  • Former attorney Michael Cohen testified Tuesday about Donald Trump's involvement in a $130,000 hush money payout to an adult film actress. But that money is only a fraction of how much the testimony is costing American employers.Andy Challenger, vice president at executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas, says the enormously-anticipated testimony before the U.S. House Oversight Committee is being watched and discussed around the country--including by folks at work. Live-streaming of the testimony can add up to big distractions, he says.
  • Although they remain desperate to see their daughter for the first time in more than two years, JonJelyn and Tim Savage are frozen in Atlanta even after R. Kelly's arrest.  The Savages contend their daughter, Joycelyn, is being held as a part of an alleged sex cult by Kelly. They hoped to reconnect with her as soon as possible after Robert Sylvester Kelly was arrested on 10 counts of sexual abuse in Cook County, Illinois. Instead, their attorney Gerald Griggs says 'very serious death threats' are keeping them grounded in Georgia for now. A manager of Kelly, Don Russell, and former manager Henry James Mason, are under investigation for threatening the Savages ahead of the Lifetime docuseries 'Surviving R. Kelly.' The couple believe Kelly has brainwashed their daughter, who met him at 19 in 2015, and spoke about that in the program. A Henry County police report says an officer overheard Mason's telephone threat last year. Mason surrendered and bonded out on the charge last month in Henry County.  Griggs says Russell was seen with Kelly as the singer, 52, surrendered to police. He tells WSB that they had always planned to have the assistance of law enforcement in traveling to Chicago. The actions of Joycelyn Savage and another alleged sex cult member, Azriel Clary, at Kelly's Saturday bond hearing have delayed those plans.  'Specifically, Joycelyn Savage was asked by numerous reporters if she'd had contact with her parents, when she planned on reconciling and talking to them,' said Griggs. 'She did not respond. She just kept looking straight forward, and kept being whisked off by Mr. Kelly's entourage.'  That concerned her parents even more, because they haven't spoken to her since December 2016. Clary's reaction was similar, yet perhaps even more chilling because her parents were in the courtroom, too, says Griggs.  'They were seated on the same row, and they tried to make direct contact with her. She kept her face and eyes forward. .She did not respond. She did not even look at her parents,' he says, before she was also briskly taken away by Kelly's staff. He likens their actions to those of Patty Hearst, a college student kidnapped by domestic terrorists in 1974 who then went on to commit crimes with her captors.  'It fits into the mental manipulation and the Stockholm Syndrome that we believe they are suffering from,' says Griggs, who also believes that Fulton County prosecutors can bring a case against Kelly for actions targeting both Savage and Clary at Kelly's former home in Johns Creek.  The threats and the women's actions in court caused authorities to urge the Savages to reschedule. Now is the time, contends Griggs, for Kelly's lawyer Steve Greenberg to back up the claim that the women are not being controlled or harmed.  'If your client has nothing to hide, make them available,' he says. 'We'll meet with Mr. Greenberg, and members of Cook County's [state's] attorney's office, and Joycelyn Savage. The ball's in his court. His client's the one that's facing the possibility of never seeing the light of day.
  • A new judge is getting up to speed on the upcoming murder trial of former DeKalb County police officer Robert Olsen. Olsen fatally shot 27-year-old Anthony Hill, an unarmed man and Afghanistan war veteran who had been meandering naked through his Chamblee apartment complex in 2015.  The trial had been scheduled to start February 25, almost two weeks before the four-year anniversary of the March 9 fatal shooting, but was delayed after a recent shakeup involving the judge who had been overseeing the case. Superior Court Judge LaTisha Dear Jackson began a status conference Friday morning acknowledging she is coming into the trial with a blank slate. “I don’t know anything about this case other than it is a defendant that is charged with murder and it happens to be a police officer,” said Dear Jackson.  Earlier this month, Judge J.P. Boulee unexpectedly recused himself from the case in a court order in which he said even the appearance of impartiality should be avoided in trials. He had recently donated money to an anti-domestic violence fun run sponsored by the district attorney. Dear Jackson, who is newly elected to the bench in DeKalb County Superior Court, accepted the case after three other judges recused themselves as well. Assistant District Attorney Pete Johnson filled in the judge on the history of the case, including 2018’s immunity hearing in which Olsen unsuccessfully sought to have the previous judge dismiss the charges on the grounds of self-defense. The lawyers discussed the framework of a giving potential jurors a questionnaire, which had been drafted while Boulee was still on the case, and estimated the trial would take no longer than three weeks from jury selection to verdict.  While Johnson estimated picking a jury would take no more than two days, defense attorney Amanda Clark Palmer thinks jury selection itself could take up to four days. “I think that in large part depends on how many jurors we get who know about the case, but then also there are just some underlying kind of societal issues with this case that people may have strong feelings about,” she says.  The defense says it will have a motion to argue seeking to bar the State from presenting certain facts. The lawyers and judge also discussed scheduling conflicts for potential trial dates. Clark Palmer detailed upcoming trials and travel plans a couple of the defense team have, including an expected two-month federal case beginning in April. “I will get you a date within a week,” said Judge Dear Jackson. “We’ll be ready as soon as the Court is able to schedule it,” said Johnson.
  • He lives in north Fulton County, voted for Donald Trump, and is married to an undocumented immigrant. Now, these parents find themselves supporting their son—who has cancer—from both sides of the Mexican border.“The first time I saw her, I thought she was beautiful,” recalls Jason Rochester about Cecilia Gonzalez. “I loved her laugh.” The pair have known each other more than 15 years and will have been married for 12 years this May. They have a five-year-old son, Ashton. But until the past year, he says, even some of their friends didn’t know of Cecilia’s immigration status. She had been in the United States for about 18 years, having immigrated illegally twice, and been caught and sent back to Mexico twice. Rochester was quick to note that she has never been in trouble with the law or had any type of government assistance.
  • A Fulton County judge found probable cause Wednesday to send the case of the Opera Atlanta nightclub sex assault suspect to a grand jury for not just one--but two cases.Dominique Williams, 34, was arrested on a charge of aggravated sodomy in late January, after a woman who had been celebrating her birthday at Opera said that Williams assaulted her sexually twice there--once on the dance floor, and again on a back patio after carrying her limp body off the dance floor. Jasmine Eiland, 30, believes something had been slipped into her drink--an allegation described by her attorney Chris Stewart earlier this week.
  • The Gwinnett County woman accused of starving her stepdaughter to death and burning the 10-year-old’s body in 2013 has learned the date of her death penalty trial. Superior Court Judge George Hutchinson set the first phase of Tiffany Moss's jury selection and orientation for April 8, 2019. That's when the people who received jury summonses will be in hearings as they seek to be excused from the jury pool. The heart of jury selection begins the following week, April 15.  In court Thursday afternoon, Tiffany Moss had little to say in a status conference that lasted barely five minutes. Shackled and wearing a green jumpsuit, she responded politely, with a 'No, sir,' when the judge asked her if she needed anything as she prepares to represent herself in her death penalty case. She told him she had no questions.  Emani Moss, her stepdaughter, weighed only 32 pounds when her burned body was found in a trash bin outside her family's Lawrenceville apartment. The girl's father, Eman Moss, has already pleaded guilty and agreed to testify for the state. He is serving life without the possibility of parole. While Moss says she has received divine guidance to act as her own attorney, lawyers Brad Gardner and Emily Gilbert from the state Office of the Capital Defender remain her legal advisors on standby in the case. The state Supreme Court has essentially said that Moss has made no mistakes representing herself and can continue to act as her own attorney. Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter says he has never tried a death penalty case in which the defendant does not have legal representation.  He's aware of another case--though not in his jurisdiction--in which a death penalty defendant represented himself at trial. Jamie Hood, accused of killing an Athens-Clarke County police officer, did not get himself acquitted but he did get a sentence of life without the possibility of parole instead of being sent to death row. He says Hood did not need help in the case because he seemed to know what he was doing. But Moss, he notes, is not preparing for her death penalty trial in any traditional way.  'There are boxes of discovery out at the jail. She has not requested access to that, and she has not requested access to the law library,' says Porter.  Is it a fair fight?  'I’m going to do everything I can to make sure it's as fair as it can be under the circumstances,' says Porter, “and that’s going to be part of the challenge of the case.” He says it remains to be seen just how much help Moss will need at trial. He already knows that he will have to do certain things and ask certain questions to protect the record, because there’s no defense attorney making tactical decisions. But maybe she’s preparing in another way, he says. 'She's confident. In hearings, she's very confident. She's completely ready to go, is what she says.' 
  • Veronica  Waters

    Reporter

    Veronica Waters is an anchor and reporter for News/Talk WSB. She is also the staff expert on legal affairs and the courts. In 2007, the Radio-Television News Directors Association named Waters' series on "Snaring Internet Predators" best in the region with an Edward R. Murrow award for Investigative Reporting.She has been honored by several professional organizations for news and sports feature reporting, and was named in 2003 as the Atlanta Press Club's Radio Journalist of the Year. Waters has covered an assortment of high-profile cases from Mayor Bill Campbell's corruption trial to the murder trials of activist-turned imam Jamil Al-Amin and of former DeKalb County, GA Sheriff Sidney Dorsey.She served as the station's correspondent for the murder trial of accused "Black Widow" Lynn Turner, and the death penalty case of double murderer Stacey Humphreys. One of the biggest legal cases in Atlanta history involved the notorious Gold Club racketeering trial. Waters covered this unfolding drama not only for WSB Radio and radio stations throughout America, but also for a worldwide audience on BBC Radio. Waters joined WSB in 1997 as an anchor and reporter. She began her journalism career at the Southern Urban Network and Mississippi Network in Jackson, MS. Waters attended Alcorn State University and Mississippi State University, and enjoys cheering for the NFL's Tennessee Titans.

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  • Romance author Judith Krantz, best known for writing 'Scruples' and nine other best-selling novels, has died at age 91, multiple news outlets reported Sunday. >> Read more trending news According to The Associated Press, Krantz died of natural causes Saturday afternoon at her home in Los Angeles' Bel-Air neighborhood, said one of her sons, producer Tony Krantz. Before she published the racy 'Scruples' at age 50 in 1978, Krantz wrote for women's magazines such as Cosmopolitan, McCall's and Ladies' Home Journal. She eventually wrote 10 novels that sold more than 80 million copies around the world, CNN reported. She also published a memoir, 'Sex and Shopping: The Confessions of a Nice Jewish Girl,' in 2001. Several of Krantz's books, including 'Scruples,' 'Princess Daisy' and 'Mistral's Daughter,' were adapted into television miniseries in the '80s and '90s. A remake of the 'Scruples' miniseries was 'still in the works' when she died, Tony Krantz told the AP. Krantz was preceded in death by her husband, producer Steve Krantz. She is survived by their two sons and two grandchildren, the AP reported. Fellow authors took to Twitter after learning of Krantz's death, calling her a 'legend.' Read more here. – The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Police are investigating a shooting that left one person dead and two hurt in a South Fulton County apartment complex.  Channel 2’s Kristen Holloway is at the scene, where she talked to neighbors who say they heard about 12 gunshots.  The shooting happened at the Avery Park Apartments in the 2600 block of Charlestown Drive in College Park Monday. We’re at the scene talking to police about the shooting and the victims, for LIVE reports on Channel 2 Action News This Morning. BREAKING: Just got the scene of shooting at an apartment complex in College Park. Stay with @wsbtv for updates. pic.twitter.com/HE0HjejFRP — Kristen Holloway (@KHollowayWSB) June 24, 2019  
  • The search for a missing New York girl came to a sad end late Sunday when authorities found her body in Ontario's Casey Park. >> Read more trending news According to New York State Police, Zyvette Marquez-Rivera, 3, was found dead 'in a small body of water' about 11:43 p.m., nearly five hours after she was reported missing. Emergency crews, including an underwater rescue unit, responded to the park to look for the girl. The Monroe County Medical Examiners' Office will perform an autopsy on the child to determine her cause of death, authorities said. The investigation is ongoing.  If you have information about the case, call New York State Police at 585-398-4100. Read more here.
  • A New York man died unexpectedly while visiting the Dominican Republic last week, becoming the latest of at least 11 Americans who have died in the popular tourist destination since June 2018. According to Fox News, 56-year-old Vittorio Caruso, a recently retired pizzeria owner from Glen Cove, Long Island, died June 17 after he fell sick at Santo Domingo's Boca Chica Resort.  >> Read more trending news 'We found out he was brought by ambulance to the hospital in respiratory distress after drinking something,' Lisa Maria Caruso said of her brother-in-law, who had gone to the island nation alone. She said family members learned of Caruso's death via phone just minutes after officials had called to say he was sick, News 12 Long Island reported. However, Dominican Republic National Police told CNN that Caruso had begun 'receiving medical attention' six days earlier, on June 11. Caruso 'was not a sick person' and had been in good health, Lisa Maria Caruso told Fox News. A doctor said Caruso's cause of death was respiratory failure, but officials are still awaiting autopsy results, CNN reported.  Caruso's case appears to be similar to the other American deaths reported recently in the island nation. Most of the travelers died from respiratory failure, pulmonary edema and/or a heart attack, officials said. Some had taken drinks from a hotel minibar before falling ill, family members told multiple news outlets. According to CBS News, the Federal Bureau of Investigation 'is assisting Dominican authorities' as they look into the deaths. So far, investigators reportedly have not found any evidence that the incidents are connected.  'There are no mysterious deaths here,' Dominican Republic Tourism Minister Javier Garcia told Fox News. ''Mysterious' implies that things happened that science cannot explain.' Although the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory in April urging American tourists to 'exercise increased caution in the Dominican Republic due to crime,' officials have not revised the notice to include any health warnings. In fact, the department said last week that it has 'not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths' in the popular vacation destination, ABC News reported. 'The overwhelming majority travel without incident,' a department spokesperson said of the 2.7 million Americans who go there each year.
  • Cardi B, Beyoncé, Bruno Mars, Childish Gambino and the late Nipsey Hussle won top honors at the 2019 BET Awards, held Sunday night at the Microsoft Theater in Los Angeles. >> Read more trending news Here's the complete list of winners:  Album of the year: Cardi B, 'Invasion of Privacy' Best new artist: Lil Baby Best female hip-hop artist: Cardi B Best male hip-hop artist: Nipsey Hussle Coca-Cola viewers choice award: Ella Mai, 'Trip' Best collaboration: Travis Scott feat. Drake, 'Sicko Mode' Best international act: Burna Boy (Nigeria) Viewers' choice: Best new international act: ShoMadjozi (South Africa) Best female R&B/pop artist: Beyoncé Best male R&B/pop artist: Bruno Mars Young stars award: Marsai Martin Best group: Migos Video of the year: Childish Gambino, 'This Is America' Video director of the year: Karena Evans Best actress: Regina King Best actor: Michael B. Jordan Dr. Bobby Jones best gospel/inspirational award: Snoop Dogg feat. Rance Allen, 'Blessing Me Again' Sportsman of the year: Stephen Curry Sportswoman of the year: Serena Williams BET HER award: H.E.R., 'Hard Place' Best movie: 'BlacKkKlansman' Lifetime achievement award: Mary J. Blige Ultimate icon award: Tyler Perry Humanitarian award: Nipsey Hussle
  • Plans to develop thousands of acres of Ohio farmland to take advantage of the sun’s energy — but not for growing food — have divided area rural communities. >> Read more trending news  Solar energy development companies are seeking approval from the Ohio Power Siting Board for construction of large solar farms in the state’s rural areas. Some land owners have agreed to long-term leases with solar companies, while their neighbors who oppose the massive electric-generating facilities are hoping to stop the projects from going forward. The recent increase in solar arrays in Ohio is partially because solar power technology has improved to make it more competitive with other energy sources, according to Doug Herling, director of business development at Open Road Renewables. >> Related: Greene landowners concerned over potential solar farm “Until recently, solar did not make sense in Ohio,” Herling said. “The technology is vastly more efficient and can now compete with wind and coal. It comes down to the economy of producing power. We can’t build one of these if it’s not competitive on the power market.” Open Road Renewables has applied to install two solar arrays in Preble County. A grassroots effort is underway to try to block the projects. Among residents opposing the projects is Rachel Vonderhaar, who farms thousands of acres as a family business. Vonderhaar questions the transparency of the process, saying few people took notice of the flyer that came in the mail two weeks prior to the first public meeting. “When it comes to transparency, there’s a real problem with how the system operates,” Vonderhaar said. “Two weeks before a meeting is not enough notice for someone to figure out what their rights are, let alone to participate, to prevent an application from being submitted.” >>Trending: Cops pose as utility workers to catch distracted drivers Daniel Sawmiller, Ohio’s energy policy director for the Natural Resource Defense Council, said solar is becoming more prevalent in Ohio as coal plants are shutting down. Sawmiller, who was formerly with the Sierra Club, said he worked on the settlement with American Electric Power, which resulted in a commitment by AEP to add 900 megawatts of renewable energy sources, including 400 megawatts from solar power. Projects in Highland and Brown counties, where the local economy has been hit hard by the decline in the coal industry, are a direct result of that settlement, Sawmiller said. Sawmiller said adding solar and other renewable energy sources to the grid will ultimately result in “lower wholesale energy prices,” which leads to lower electric rates for consumers. Solar farms as big as a lake Six solar electric generation facilities have been approved in four Ohio counties, amounting to 12,573 acres, according to records on file with the Ohio Power Siting Board. By comparison, Grand Lake St. Marys is 13,500 acres across Mercer and Auglaize counties. Three proposed projects are pending approval by the OPSB, including two in Preble County that would occupy about 1,800 acres of farmland, according to records. >> Trending: 7 motorcycle riders killed in fiery crash identified; range in age from 42 to 62 The three pending applications were filed with the state in December 2018; among the approved projects, the first application was in March 2017 for approximately 1,200 acres in Vinton County, according to the records. Greene County property owners near Yellow Springs and Cedarville have also been approached about lease agreements for a solar farm there. Open Road Renewables is an Austin, Texas-based company that has applied for the two solar projects in Preble County, called Alamo and Angelina. Herling said the solar arrays proposed in Preble County would result in $1.7 million annual tax revenue, $9,000 per megawatt generated, that would benefit the county, school district and other taxing jurisdictions. ‘Animosities with neighbors’ Concerned Citizens of Preble County is a grassroots effort aimed at stopping the projects. The group of residents who live or own land near the proposed sites say they were not aware of the projects until late last year, despite representatives from Open Road Renewables beginning talks with local officials and land owners years earlier. The group has myriad concerns beyond what they said will be negative effects on the aesthetics of their farming community and their property values. Among the group is Joe DeLuca, former superintendent of Eaton schools. DeLuca said he’s always been an admirer of solar power, but it’s concerning when out-of-state companies looking to make a profit on large projects can go to the state level for approval and not worry about local opposition. >> Trending: Exonerated 5, formerly Central Park 5, bring crowd to their feet at BET Awards “The big picture for me: why would anyone want to take some of the best productive farm land in the state or anywhere and put solar panels on it to take it out of production?” DeLuca said. In Oregon, a commission for land conservation and development has implemented a temporary ban on installing solar arrays on prime farmland. Resident Marja Brandly’s home on Fairhaven College Corner Road is surrounded by hundreds of acres used for growing soy beans and corn. Brandly, who is the fifth generation to inherit the property, pointed to the horizon where one of the proposed solar arrays would be within sight. “It really has torn us apart and created animosities with neighbors, because we feel by their secrecy and not letting the rest of us know that they really set out to knife us in the back,” Brandly said. “If these same people had come to us two years ago, I would have had a lot more respect for their openness and forthrightness. Now, nobody trusts them. We don’t want them on our property … That’s how far down the relationship has descended.” Greene County next? The groundwork preparing for other potential solar farms is also happening in the state before any official applications are filed. The Dayton Daily News reported in May about farmers in Greene County who are being solicited for lease agreements by a law firm working on behalf of Australia-based Lendlease, which has plans to install solar arrays on more than a thousand acres around Yellow Springs and Cedarville. Greene County resident Mark Pinkerton said he is bothered by what he described as the sneaky way in which solar development companies are securing lease agreements. Pinkerton said he also questions the efficiencies espoused by solar array proponents after he invested in a project that wasn’t profitable in Colorado. “Certainly there needs to be some land use policies put in place. There needs to be public hearings ahead of time,” Pinkerton said. “I want people to use the land how they feel is appropriate, but those of us who have invested in the community want to protect our investment and property as well.” Cedarville resident Ryanne Rinaldi, an environmental biology and chemistry student at Grace College, said a neighbor’s field behind her family’s home is one of the areas where the solar array would be installed. She said her research has given her concerns for the toxins that are inside the solar panels, the impact to wildlife and the environment. “This will ultimately reduce our property value, and we won’t be able to either sell or enjoy the space that we live in anymore,” Rinaldi said. >> Trending: SEE: Hot air balloon crash-lands into crowd at Missouri festival Lendlease has not submitted a formal application with OPSB. Messages left with the company have not been returned. Approval, but no construction yet The OPSB technical staff has recommended approval of the Preble County projects, with conditions, according to Matt Schilling, spokesman for the Public Utilities Commission of Ohio. Though the power siting board has approved six projects in the state, no construction has begun on any of them, Schilling said. An evidentiary hearing is scheduled July 26 for the projects in Preble County. The Preble solar projects could come up for the state board’s consideration before the end of the year, according to Schilling. State approval is required of energy projects that produce 50 or more megawatts. By comparison, the village of Yellow Springs’ solar array sits on a little more than 6 acres and is designed to produce 1 megawatt of power. Ohio House Bill 6 has passed the Ohio House of Representatives and could come up for a Senate vote this week. If the bill becomes law, electric rates for Ohio consumers would be raised to pay for subsidies on two nuclear power plants owned by FirstEnergy Solutions as well as two coal-fired plants owned by Ohio Valley Electric Corp. >> Trending: Former Pennsylvania Rep. Joe Sestak jumps into crowded Democratic primary The proposed legislation also seeks to remove existing renewable energy and energy efficiency standards established since 2008. Proponents of HB 6, including Ohio Clean Energy Jobs Alliance, say it’s needed to keep jobs from disappearing with the closure of two nuclear power plants within the next two years. Opponents, including Americans for Prosperity, say the bill is a bailout for the company operating the nuclear power plants, First Energy Solutions, which filed for bankruptcy protection last year.