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    Longtime WSB Radio, Atlanta Reporter Pete Combs has died after a short illness. He was diagnosed with lung cancer in September, just over a month after his 60th birthday and was in hospice care near Atlanta when he died. Combs had two stints at WSB. He reported and anchored for the heritage news station from 2006-2015, and returned in May, 2018 to report for WSB and ABC News Radio, covering events in Atlanta and the Southeastern US. In between, he reported and anchored for KOMO-AM, Seattle. Combs also reported for CBS News Radio as a freelance journalist from 2003-2015. His earlier career path was typical of many broadcasters, who tend to move from city to city. There were stops in Tulsa, Pittsburg and Topeka, Kansas, Tulsa, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Dallas, Charlotte and other towns. He was a journalist for many legendary news operations including WGST-AM, Atlanta, KRLD-AM and the Texas State Network, Dallas, USA Radio News, Dallas, WINK-AM Fort Myers, FL, and WBT-AM, Charlotte. He also reported for TV station in Charlotte and Tulsa during the early 1990s. After his arrival in Atlanta in 2006, WSB sent him to big stories in the region-and occasionally to far flung places. His last travel assignment was to cover Hurricane Dorian as it approached the Carolina coast last summer for ABC and WSB. But sometimes he went much further. In July 2011, he reported on NASA’s final Space Shuttle Mission from the Kennedy Space Center. In January, 2010, he went to Haiti to report on the earthquake that killed hundreds of thousands of people for WSB and CBS. Just a few months later, and closer to home, he wound up in the Gulf, commandeering a boat and reporting on the BP Oil Spill, up close and personal, for WSB, CBS and the radio stations of the Cox Radio Group. He covered numerous hurricanes for WSB, CBS and ABC while based in Atlanta. Longtime WSB News Director Chris Camp was glad to get Combs back to Atlanta last year. He calls him a “reporter’s reporter” who knew a good story and always had his bag packed and ready to go. That included the aftermath of Hurricane Michael in the Florida panhandle, where, he says, “I’m not sure if Pete ever gave anyone the shirt off his back but he did give up his shoes to a poor soul who’d survived the storm but lost everything.” He says Combs returned in December for follow up reporting. “He was struck by all the blue tarps on damaged roofs in place of homes and businesses with Christmas decorations.” The result was an award winning documentary, appropriately called Blue Tarp Christmas. When Combs returned to WSB last year, it was under a joint agreement with ABC News Radio that provided WSB with another in-house journalist while giving the network a dedicated radio reporter in the South. Andrew Kalb was ABC’s Executive Director of Programming and News at the time and calls Combs a “unique all-star storyteller. You always wanted to hear more Pete. It didn’t matter what the story was. When the opportunity came about to have Pete join ABC News Radio, it was a very easy decision. He was among the best at his craft….and an even better person.”  Marshall Adams was the Program Director at WBT, Charlotte, when he –and CBS- hired Combs for the legendary station’s news department, and to give the network another reporter in the Southeast- in 2005. Adams recalls his first assignment…the aftermath of a drag racing crash that wrecked a Dairy Queen store. “Pete brought the story alive -- trotting around the building during live shots tethered to a cell phone headset, waving his arms and 'showing' listeners the damage, stamping his lively storytelling skills on an event that without him would have been told flat. I listened from the front seat of the news car and knew we had something special.” His other assignments there included coverage of what was expected to be Billy Graham’s last Crusade in New York, and Hurricane Ophelia, when he brought back an invoice for the motel room door he knocked down after locking himself out. “He didn’t want to miss a live shot,” Adams says, with a laugh. “The station sent the motel owner a check, quickly. “Pete’s expense reports,” he says, “were always intriguing.”  CBS News Radio Correspondent Peter King covered several stories with Combs, and remembers sharing a hotel room with him in Kenner, Louisiana, during the BP Gulf oil spill. He says, “One morning, Pete was doing live reports for several of the Cox radio stations, not just WSB. He was really scrambling to keep up and was SO busy, he had a network reporter-me-fetching his coffee every few minutes! He never let me forget that I’d been his ‘coffee boy’ for a morning!” King says they had already become lifelong friends in the aftermath of Hurricane Charley in 2004, and though they often lived in separate states, he says they saw each other often on assignment-or during personal visits. “He was a fine reporter, extremely industrious, and never turned down an assignment. He was dedicated to a fault. But he was also a good human being and our bond went far beyond our work. We helped each other through all kinds of personal and professional things and you couldn’t have found a better listener than Pete.”  Combs loved technology and gadgets and was always on top of new ones that could help him get his job done, but occasionally, they worked too well. WSB’s Camp recalls he bought a strong battery powered lamp to be used in a power outage, when he was working out of one of the station’s news vehicles. “It was so hot, he melted the back seat of the truck! We never had it repaired and we laughed about it many times.” Combs’ career includes 5 Edward R Murrow Regional Awards, and nearly three dozen other awards from Associated Press Broadcasters Associations in Georgia, Florida and Oklahoma as well as other organizations starting in 1985. Combs was a licensed pilot and an avid aviation enthusiast who wrote and produced podcasts for the National Business Aviation Association, and founded two companies, Human Factor Productions and Earful Productions. He also reported while serving as Senior Editor for Aero-News.Net in the early 2000s. Family members recall that he loved great restaurants, great food, especially barbeque, and wine. In his spare time, he also loved playing his guitar, although his sister, Cathy Williamson, remembers that he played “Stairway to Heaven” one too many times during junior high and says she nearly hit him over the head with it to make him stop.  Combs was an Air Force veteran, serving as a Broadcast Information Specialist in the US and overseas. He received his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Journalism from Georgia State University, attending classes while working professionally in Atlanta.  When he learned that his cancer was spreading rapidly, Combs’ friends say, he kept his sense of humor (enjoying the gift of a Looney Toons DVD Box set during his final weeks) and never gave up hope. He was buoyed by text and Facebook messages on a special “Pete’s Journey” page set up by his wife, Karen, for friends and family. CBS’s King says during their last visit, Combs said he hoped the two of them would be able to watch the Atlanta Braves opening day game for 2020 together. Perhaps more prophetically, he told him that he knew his time was probably short, and that “every day is a gift.”  Combs was born in Arlington, Virginia, on August 8th, 1959, but considered Tulsa Oklahoma, his home town. He’s survived by his wife, Karen Hewett Combs, the co-founder and President of the couple’s Earful Productions, their dog, a silky coat, wire hair Doxie named Stella, his son Daniel, of Seattle WA, Morgan Roberson of Peachtree City, Blake Floyd of McDonough, a brother, Stephen, and his wife, Ann, of Keller, TX, and a sister, Cathy Williamson of Houston, TX. Funeral or Memorial arrangements will be announced when plans are complete.
  • It’s the final weekend of Clark’s Christmas Kids--the last opportunity you have to buy Christmas gifts for Georgia’s foster kids. Shimaine Quimbley, 22, is a former foster child who aged out of the foster care system last year. She is among those who have benefited from the program now in its 29th year.“Christmas didn’t start getting exciting until I was like 13… I think I was in my fourth or fifth placement at that time. When I started receiving Christmas gifts, I thought they were rewarding me or something,” she tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.
  • Health officials have confirmed a case of scabies at an Atlanta charter school. Administrators at KIPP STRIVE Academy confirmed the diagnosis to Channel 2 Action News. In a statement, the school, which serves grades five through eight, said it has contacted parents and is sharing information about the highly contagious skin condition. Scabies is caused by an infestation of the skin by a microscopic mite. The mite burrows into the upper layer of skin, where it lives and lays eggs, according to the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The most common symptoms of scabies are intense itching and a pimple-like skin rash, which are treated by a topical skin medication. Symptoms can sometimes take four to eight weeks to develop after a person is infested, according to the CDC. Those with scabies can spread it before they know they are contagious.   The disease usually is spread by direct, prolonged, skin-to-skin contact with a person who has scabies. It is not clear how the student contracted it. Four other KIPP STRIVE families reached out to the school with suspected scabies cases, but those students were checked by medical officials who determined they were not infected, according to school administrator Dave Howland. KIPP schools are supported by the Atlanta Public Schools system.  A representative from the Georgia Department of Public Health is scheduled to answer parents’ questions about scabies at the school Monday, according to Channel 2. 
  • The first mile of the Peachtree Creek Greenway, a multi-purpose trail similar to the Atlanta Beltline, will officially open to the public on Thursday, Dec. 12. A $10 million project, the first portion of the path runs between North Druid Hills Road and Briarwood Road in Brookhaven, along the North Fork Peachtree Creek. Eventually, proponents of the project hope it will extend for 12 miles, ultimately connecting with the Beltline. A grand opening celebration for the first segment is scheduled for Thursday at 11 a.m. at 1801 Corporate Boulevard. It falls on the exact one-year anniversary of the groundbreaking for construction of the greenway. “This is just the first of the project’s three construction phases,” Brookhaven Mayor John Ernst said in a statement. “As each phase is completed, residents will have for their enjoyment a multi-use trail that will provide alternate transportation, enhance the environment, encourage economic opportunities and promote healthy lifestyles for those along its growing corridor.” Follow DeKalb County News on Facebook and Twitter  In other news:
  • Ambulances are still not taking patients to Grady Memorial Hospital, four days after a two-foot water pipe burst and flooded several floors of the building. The hospital, which advertises itself as the busiest trauma center on the East Coast, went into diversion mode Saturday afternoon after the broken pipe caused water damage to several floors. Paramedics are being told to bring patients to other area hospitals including Emory and Piedmont hospitals, putting strain on their resources. The flooding also caused electrical issues in the patient care tower and “significantly damaged” dozens of hospital rooms, Grady said in a statement Wednesday afternoon. The electrical repairs may take up to three weeks to complete. In the meantime 30% of its elevators are out of service. READ MORE: Emory hospital diverts patients due to flooding at Grady At least three patient floors were affected by the flooding. Grady said 158 beds will be “off-line” for several months while crews address the damage. About 60 other rooms that were damaged could reopen within a week, the hospital said. After the pipe burst, the hospital originally said its ER would be back to normal by Wednesday. But in its statement, Grady said it is still working to “eliminate full diversion at Grady, as this will relieve some of the burden experienced by Atlanta’s other hospitals.” “We are grateful that some Atlanta hospitals have been able to step in and deliver patient care during our emergency,” the hospital said. “We recognize the serious burden these institutions experienced as they collectively provided care to those who were not able to come to our emergency department via ambulance.” Grady, considered a regional leader in trauma care, typically sees more than 450 emergency room visits every day. But because of the diversion status, about 200 patients per day who arrived to the ER on their own have received care. Emory Healthcare said Tuesday that its midtown location went into diversion mode because of the high volume of patients from Grady. Grady transferred 45 patients to other hospitals and transported 30 to post-acute care facilities. 
  • Ahead of frigid temperatures, the city of Atlanta will open an emergency warming center in anticipation of frigid temperatures, officials said.  The warming center, located at the Old Adamsville Recreation Center, opens at 8 p.m. and remain open through Thursday morning, the city said.  The warming center is located at 3404 Delmar Lane in northwest Atlanta. Transportation will be provided from Gateway, which is located at 275 Pryor Street.  Atlanta temperatures are expected to be in the mid-30s Wednesday night, according to Channel 2 Action News. RELATED: WEATHER-TRAFFIC: Arctic air keeping North Georgia cold 
  • Brookhaven has grown by about 2,000 residents as a large neighborhood was annexed into the city Tuesday night. About 675 properties in the LaVista Park area became part of the city. The annexation was accomplished through the “60% method,” where at least 60% of the registered voters — as well as the owners of 60% of the land — must agree to be annexed. That method avoids the need for a ballot referendum. Brookhaven, which had an estimated 54,000 residents last year, said it was the largest number of properties in state history to be annexed using the 60% method. The City Council approved the measure after a public hearing Tuesday.  “All of you should be commended for your Herculean effort,” Mayor John Ernst said in a statement. “We are really excited about having this dynamic community come into Brookhaven fold. I hope our new residents will remain active with the city, and perhaps take leadership roles on some of our boards and committees.” The annexation extends Brookhaven’s footprint south of I-85 in north-central DeKalb. The neighborhood is almost all residential and sits between I-85, Briarcliff Road, and Lavista Road. Previously, the neighborhood was in unincorporated DeKalb County.  The neighborhood was not proposed to be part of the prospective city of Vista Grove, according to the latest maps from supporters of the new municipality.  The city has already made plans to “bring this area up to Brookhaven standards as it pertains to parks, paving and stormwater infrastructure,” City Manager Christian Sigman said. Over the next two days, Brookhaven plans to deploy street sweepers in LaVista Park; the city said it has also identified 18 potholes that will be filled before the end of the week. Follow DeKalb County News on Facebook and Twitter  Wouldn’t you like to support our strong journalism? Your subscription helps us cover your communities in a way that no one else can. Visit https://subscribe.ajc.com/hyperlocal or call 404-526-7988 to begin or renew your subscription.
  • A Gwinnett County megachurch is donating more than $62,000 to pay off school lunch debt in three metro school systems where it has campuses. 12Stone Church made the announcement to it members as part of a larger effort called Knock Out Hunger.  Nearly $45,000 will go to Gwinnett schools, $11,000 to Hall County schools and $6,000 to Barrow County schools to pay off the debt of those students who are awaiting approval of their free and reduced lunch applications.  “During that window of time, they incur student meal debt. And we’re paying that off,” says Chief Financial Officer Norwood Davis.  While Gwinnett schools couldn’t quantify the number of students it will help, the total amount of school lunch debt in the county is around $100,000.  “We’re going after tackling food-insecurity here in Gwinnett County and the greater metro area. One in six kids are described as food-insecure sometime throughout the year where they don’t know where their next meal will come from,” says Davis.  He says it’s only the beginning of a long-term effort to help families in need.  For the month of December, church members are being asked to provide a days-worth of food for a family of four in a box that’s provided to them. So far, it has collected 2,000 boxes that will be distributed to six local co-ops around Gwinnett County.  “The better life that God promises us is when we give more than we take. And we think that’s true not just on food, but it’s true in all relationships,” he says.
  • A rear-end crash in Marietta on Tuesday morning sent the driver of a sedan to a hospital with life-threatening injuries. A passenger in the Mercedes-Benz sedan was also injured when the impact of the collision sent the vehicle spinning into a sign and a utility pole, according to Marietta police. The passenger, identified by police as 21-year-old Iyanna Miller of Marietta, was taken to WellStar Kennestone Hospital. She is expected to survive, Marietta police spokesman Jared Rakestraw said. The driver, whose name was not released, is also being treated at Kennestone. According to investigators at the scene, the Mercedes was traveling south on Powder Springs Street approaching Club Drive when it collided with a Nissan Rogue. The sedan slammed into the Nissan’s bumper before starting to spin. The driver and a passenger in the Nissan, 52-year-old Marvin Coates and 42-year-old Lucyanne Ndungu, both of Marietta, were not seriously injured. The department’s traffic unit is investigating the crash. Anyone with information is asked to contact Sgt. Brian Honea at 770-794-5344. — Please return to AJC.com for updates. In other news: 

News

  • The remains of six victims of a deadly volcano eruption in New Zealand have been recovered. Sixteen people were killed on White Island when a volcano there unexpectedly erupted Monday, The Associated Press reported. Eight military specialists recovered six of the eight victims believed to be on the island, and the bodies will be taken to Auckland for identification, CNN reported. Due to toxic gases still being released from the volcano, the team had to wear protective suits and breathing gear to be on the island, the AP reported. The search had to end as air supplies ran low, the New York Times reported. An additional recovery mission is planned to find a tour guide and boat captain who had taken tourists to the island. At least one of them is expected to be in the water, but the other person’s location is unknown, the AP reported. Forty-seven tourists, many from a Royal Caribbean cruise, and guides were on the island when the volcano exploded. Many of the people who survived were burned. Fifteen tourists not from Australia are in burn units across the country with 11 listed as very critical. Thirteen Australians who were part of the tour have all returned to their home country, the AP reported. Skin banks are sending tissues to hospitals to help treat the burns, as medical teams from Australia, Britain and the U.S. travel to New Zealand to help treat patients, the AP reported.
  • A Minnesota man was sentenced Wednesday to more than 24 years in prison in the death of his 13-day-old son. Michael Herkal, 33, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder, nearly 16 months to the day after Apple Valley police responded to an Aug. 12, 2018, medical call for an infant not breathing, WCCO reported. The child died two days later, after doctors determined he had suffered a skull fracture and bleeding in his brain. Herkal was charged initially with felony assault and malicious punishment of a child, but three additional charges of murder were filed after authorities received the autopsy report, KARE11 reported. According to WCCO, Herkal initially told authorities his toddler pulled the newborn off the couch twice but later claimed the baby slipped from his hands and fell onto a coffee table during a diaper change. During his plea hearing, however, Herkal admitted he also shook the infant violently and slapped him, the TV station reported.
  • Major League Baseball announced substantial changes Thursday to its drug use and testing policy, multiple news outlets reported. In addition to removing marijuana from its “drugs of abuse” category – making it the first major US sports league to do so – the organization announced mandatory testing for the presence of opioids, cocaine, synthetic THC, LSD and fentanyl, ABC News reported. Per the policy revisions, players will still be tested for “natural cannabinoids” such as THC, CBD, and marijuana, but punishment for violations will now be treated similarly to those of the alcohol and violence policies, ABC News reported. 'Going forward, marijuana-related conduct will be treated the same as alcohol-related conduct under the Parties’ Joint Treatment Program for Alcohol-Related and Off-Field Violent Conduct, which provides mandatory evaluation, voluntary treatment and the possibility of discipline by a Player’s Club or the Commissioner’s Office in response to certain conduct involving Natural Cannabinoids,” the league, in association with its players union, stated. According to NPR, the policy changes will take effect during 2020 spring training.  “The opioid epidemic in our country is an issue of significant concern to Major League Baseball,” MLB Chief Legal Officer Dan Halem said in a prepared statement, adding, “It is our hope that this agreement - which is based on principles of prevention, treatment, awareness and education - will help protect the health and safety of our Players.” Read more here and here.
  • Seeking emergency mental health assistance could soon be as simple as dialing 988, federal regulators announced Thursday. The Federal Communications Commission formally began the process Thursday to designate 988 as a nationwide suicide prevention and mental health crisis hotline. “The three-digit number is really going to be a breakthrough in terms of reaching people in a crisis,” Dwight Holton, CEO of suicide prevention nonprofit Lines for Life, told USA Today. “No one is embarrassed to call 911 for a fire or an emergency. No one should be embarrassed to call 988 for a mental health emergency.' According to The Wall Street Journal, the new hotline is intended to simplify access to services available currently by dialing 1-800-273-TALK, the existing National Suicide Prevention Hotline. Once operational, dialing 988 would connect callers to the existing hotline and then route them to nearby crisis centers equipped to provide assistance. “We believe this historical and critical effort will turn the tide on reducing suicides and promote mental wellness in the United States,” said a statement from Kimberly Williams, chief executive of Vibrant Emotional Health, the nonprofit that administers the lifeline, The Journal reported. Read more here and here.
  • An emergency landing by a single-engine plane snarled traffic Thursday night on Interstate 5 in San Diego, multiple news outlets reported. Ian Gregor, public affairs manager for the Federal Aviation Administration, told KNSD the Cessna 182 made a hard landing on the southbound lanes around 7:15 p.m. Within 30 minutes authorities had re-opened two southbound lanes, KFMB reported. Carlsbad Fire Division Chief Mike Lopez told KNSD a man and a woman were on board traveling from the San Gabriel Airport in Los Angeles to McClellan-Palomar Airport in Carlsbad. According to KFMB, no injuries were reported, and the plane did not strike any motorists. “They did a pretty good job landing this thing,” Lopez told KNSD, adding, “The skill of that pilot, he did a stellar job.”
  • A Fort Gibson man recently showed off his blacksmith skills by taking first place in a competition television show. Nic Overton, 23, earned the top spot on the History Channel’s “Forged in Fire,” which is centered around blacksmith work. Along with bragging rights, Overton won a $10,000 prize. Overton told KOKI he’s been fascinated with blacksmithing since he was a child and crafted his first knife out of a railroad spike. He managed to turn his hobby into a career. He owns his own business called Nix Knives.