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Pete Combs

    In the midst of a bountiful holiday season, the people of southwest Georgia and the Florida panhandle are struggling. Two months after Hurricane Michael roared ashore near Panama City, they’re still disoriented by the breathtaking extent of the storm’s destruction. While we celebrate the holidays with friends and family, hurricane survivors like Yalonda Crews, who are living under blue tarps, in hotels and shelters say, “We’ve been forgotten.”
  • President Trump's allegations of partisanship aimed at members of Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team could have wide-ranging and long-lasting effects on the American judicial system. LISTEN TO A FULL REPORT FROM WSB’S PETE COMBS BELOW:
  • He looks great in tights, wears a red cape, and can leap tall buildings in a single bound. Superman turns 80 this year and he’s getting the birthday treatment this weekend at a huge sci-fi convention called Dragon Con in Atlanta. For years, Dragon Con has been the go-to place for fans of science fiction, fantasy and horror. This year, 85-thousand people are filling downtown hotels. There will be a huge parade on Saturday, before the five-day convention winds down on Monday.
  • “If you watch people—how they interact—they interact mostly with their digital devices,” Zellmer tells WSB’s Pete Combs. “To then get into a car and viscerally experience what can be done on a track is something people appreciate obviously. And we’re very happy about that.” In this case, the experience involves driving on a closed track in a way you can’t drive on the highway. At the Atlanta Porsche Experience Center, that involves pushing both car and driver to the limits of their abilities. For 90-minutes, paying customers drive company cars on this road course. That may not seem like a long time, but Porsche bets it’s long enough to fall in love.  It’s also a learning experience. Drivers are instructed by Porsche experts who ride along, providing tips and cautions all along the way.  The course is set up in several parts.  “There’s a road course that’s designed to mimic a windy road in the North Georgia Mountains,” says Operations Manager Geoffrey Lowdermilk.  There’s a kick plate course where the road actually turns underneath the car, forcing it to slide. “That’s an effective way to learn how to control oversteer by turning into the slide,” he points out.  There’s also a multi-faceted off-road course built specifically for the Porsche Cayenne, an all-wheel drive SUV.  “You’d be surprised at what that vehicle can do right off the showroom floor,” Lowdermilk says with a smile.  Finally, there’s a “launch pad,” where drivers can feel the wind in their hair, accelerating from 0 to 60 mph in around 3.2 seconds.  How do customers react to a brand land like the Porsche Experience Center?  “I just wanted to experience it more than I would if I was driving it around the block at the Porsche dealership,” says Suwanee retiree Terry Jordan. As he’s speaking, a bright blue roadster speeds up to a circular pad of polished concrete. It’s a drift pad, where drivers fling their Porsches into a sliding 180 degree turn, tires screeching all the way. “You know, like that,” he says, motioning over his shoulder.  It’s hard to be objective about the Porsche Experience Center once you’ve driven the course, met the people who work there, dine in the elegant café and see the remarkable collection of fine sports cars parked all over the property.  And that’s quite the point.  Porsche says the Experience Centers are a boon to sales and to the company’s cache. The point, says Zellmer, is that people want this sort of hands-on experience. He believes “brand lands” will work in a number of industries worldwide.  Says one employee at the Porsche’s Atlanta facility, “It’s like Disneyland for adults who like to drive really fast.”
  • A vehicle of interest has been identified in Tuesday’s QuikTrip robbery. 
  • An extremely dangerous robbery in Cobb County has police looking for the suspect who got away. WSB’s Pete Combs explains.
  • Long before McDonalds, before Burger King or Wendy’s – the Varsity was founded in 1928 by a former Georgia Tech student named Frank Gordy. The fast-food phenomenon shows no sign of slowing down, even as it prepares to celebrate its 90th anniversary with a birthday party on Aug. 18. WSB Radio’s Pete Combs spoke with Gordon Muir, president of the Varsity and grandson of founder Frank Gordy, and employees who have worked for the chain for decades about the Varsity’s legacy. LISTEN TO COMBS’ FULL REPORT HERE.
  • They thought it was a dud – a three-inch artillery shell on display at a museum in Marietta.  But it wasn’t.  It was actually one of several shells that could have exploded at any moment. WSB’s Pete Combs reports Amy Reed, curator at the Marietta Museum of History, always assumed the 150 or so artillery shells on display were all safe. But her friend, historian Michael Hitt, had been nagging her for weeks to get them checked out. He was worried they weren’t duds at all. So, Reed called Marietta Police. Several officers checked out a number of shells that showed no indication of having been rendered inert. They found seven.  “They said, ‘Okay, well, this one’s not good, so we’re going to take it with us,” Reed recalled. “Then they took a couple of others and said, ‘Okay, we’ll be leaving now!’” Reed says, in retrospect, she wasn’t scared. She’d moved the 3-inch shell circa World War I from place to place within the museum. She even knocked it over once. Rather than afraid, she felt lucky. “They told me to buy a lottery ticket,” she said, “because it was a miracle….” The heavy, 3-inch round was apparently fired toward Kennesaw Mountain in 1917 by a group of officer candidates training to take over the newly-created Camp Gordon, which was located where DeKalb-Peachtree Airport is now. The battery of guns fired hundreds of shells toward the mountain. But at the end of their training exercise, historian Michael Hitt says the cadets’ aim went wild. Several shells flew over the top of the mountain. One landed near the present-day intersection of Stilesboro Road and Mossy Rock Road at the edge of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield, killing two men and a woman. Another shell found its way to the museum. It, along with several shells from WWI and the Civil War were safely detonated at the Vulcan quarry in Kennesaw by the Cobb County Police Bomb Squad and explosives experts from Dobbins Air Reserve Base.   Hitt and Reed are no longer worried about the possibility of finding live bombshells at the museum. But they do worry about the likelihood there are countless live rounds buried in the backyards of homes all over Cobb and DeKalb Counties. Hitt is especially worried about sites near PDK, site of a housing construction boom. He hopes police in Brookhaven and Chamblee will send out precautionary warnings to residents of the former Camp Gordon site—beware of unexploded ordnance.   “If you find something like this,” Hitt warned, “don’t go playing with it.” “Yeah,” Reed agreed, “don’t go putting it on your mantel.”
  • The first numbers are coming in, and it looks like Georgia’s new Hands-Free Law is saving lives. In July last year, statewide, there were 136 wrecks where cell phones were a factor. WSB Radio’s Pete Combs reports that after the law went into effect, that number was down to 107.  The law does not just apply to texting or talking on the phone, The AJC’s Amanda C. Coyne reports. You cannot go through your Spotify playlist, browse Twitter, play Candy Crush or take a selfie on Snapchat unless you’re lawfully parked.  The law bans the phone from touching any part of the driver’s body, even when stopped at a stop sign or red light.  You can adjust a GPS app or device while driving.  In Gwinnett County, the first violation comes with a $50 ticket and one point on your license. The penalty for a second violation is a $100 fine and two points on your license, and the third violation carries a $150 fine and additional points on your license.  During a ride-along in Marietta, Police Officer Jared Rakestraw tells WSB’s Pete Combs the state’s new hands-free law does seem to be working.  The number of accidents involving cell phones last month, when the law went into effect, was 27 percent lower than a year ago.  And that is why Rakestraw says he is still out here – looking for cell phones.
  • A little Jonesboro boy should be celebrating his birthday.Instead... as WSB's Pete Combs reports... the boy is missing... and authorities are increasingly worried about his safety.

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.