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Latest from Sandra Parrish

    The first bill Governor Brian Kemp signs into law corrects a problem created last year when it comes to when a vehicle must stop for a school bus.  Senate Bill 25 requires all vehicles to stop unless there is a grassy median or physical divider. It corrects a bill passed in the final minutes of last year’s session that inadvertently changed the law allowing oncoming cars to pass on roads with a center turn lane.  “This was a team effort from the General Assembly, law enforcement, educators and concerned citizens to do the right thing and help save kids’ lives,” Gov. Kemp says.  Col. Mark McDonough, head of the GSP, tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish that last year’s change in the final minutes of the legislative session led to confusion for drivers.  “It takes that confusion away. We’re falling back to the way it was—the way it should be,” he says.  The bill took affect the moment it was signed into law.
  • The State Senate moves to fix a problem with a bill that became law last year that many say puts children’s safety at risk. In the final minutes of last year’s session, both the House and Senate approved the bill unaware it would no longer require cars to stop for school buses if there is a center turn lane. “Immediately one of my directors of pupil transportation reached out to me and said, ‘Oh y’all have made a fatal error that will put our students at risk all across the state’,” says Sen. Bill Heath (R-Bremen). His new bill, which passed the Senate unanimously today, reverts to the original law requiring vehicles to always stop unless there is a grassy median or some other physical divider. It now goes to the House. If approved there, it would go to Gov. Brian Kemp and take effect upon his signature. Heath says he is still unsure how the bill last year got changed in those final minutes leading to the unintended consequences. “That’s the problem that we have with the way the Legislature works. When things show up in conference committee reports, sometimes in a substitute bill in committee, or something happens on the floor, the people who are affected by these changes… sometimes they have no warning that the Legislature is about to do something that takes away your liberties,” he says.
  • The lone survivor of a plane crash in Union County just before Christmas is speaking publicly about the ordeal and her efforts to walk again. Brittany Whitener suffered spinal injuries in the crash that killed three of her close friends who all worked together at one point in time at a medical facility in Blue Ridge. “I consider them more like family,” she tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish. Robert Atkinson, a 56-year-old pharmacist who had recently left to open a pharmacy in Blairsville, had been trying for months to get Whitener, 55-year-old Renea Greiner and 50-year-old Michelle Seay to go up in his single-engine Piper.  Whitener says December 19 was a time they could all finally get together. “It was just out of the blue, ‘Hey, let’s go on a night flight and look at Christmas lights’,” she says. Whitener, who was seated up front next to Atkinson, says they flew around north Georgia for about 30 minutes enjoying the lights and then headed back to Blairsville Municipal Airport. She remembers Atkinson pointing out the controls as they were getting ready to land and she even took a picture of the runway lights just before the crash. “I don’t remember much of what happened. I just know we were coming in to land and then the next thing I know I was hollering. I could see the rescuers in the woods and I just continued to holler until they got there,” says Whitener. She was air-lifted to a hospital in Gainesville and would learn following surgery that her three friends didn’t make it. “At first, I did have survivor’s guilt. You know, why didn’t they survive. I mean if I could survive, what’s the difference?” But Whitener says the spouses and family members of her three friends assured her she shouldn’t feel bad. Now the community is coming together to help the 29-year-old with medical expenses, including a t-shirt sale by the Blue Ridge Pharmacy, a GoFundMe page set up by the doctor’s office where Whitener works, and a benefit auction and dinner which will be held Feb. 16 at the Union County Civic Center. “We all four come from two small communities and for everybody to rally behind me — people I don’t even know — that’s more than what words can express,” she says. Whitener says her prognosis is good. She has already regained some feeling in her legs and is hopeful she’ll be walking again soon. “If I survived the plane crash and made it this far… it may take me a while, but I’ll walk again one day.”
  • A South Carolina group that advocates against gun violence among young people visits a Gwinnett County neighborhood where two teens lost their lives New Year’s Eve.  Jack Logan, founder of “Put Down the Guns Now Young People”, was so touched by the tragedy in which 15-year-old Devin Hodges took his own life after accidentally shooting and killing his 17-year-old friend Chad Carless, that he and a volunteer drove from Greenville to pass out more than 300 gun safety locks to neighbors in the rain.  “This is the worst gun violence in America to me. All of them are sad, but this one takes precedence over the rest of them,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  Gwinnett County Police investigators say the two teens were among a group of four inside a make-shift shed when Hodges took out a handgun to show them. It went off, hitting and killing Carless before help could get there. As police arrived, Hodges was seen running between two homes where he then took his own life with the same gun.  “Out of all the malice with gun violence and all the other tragedies, this one has touched me the worst,” says Logan.  He says he is not opposed to legal gun ownership, but wants to promote safety.  “This could have been prevented,” says Logan. “We’re trying to prevent this from happening again in this subdivision or any other subdivision.”
  • A former Gwinnett County band director pleads guilty to 21 counts involving sex with four students.With his mother openly weeping in the courtroom, 45-year-old Villie Jones entered guilty pleas to 20 counts and an Alford plea to another—maintaining his innocence although admitting there was enough evidence to find him guilty.
  • Five years after allegations of tax evasion were first brought against him, Snellville Mayor Tom Witts takes a plea to avoid jail time. The 70-year-old entered what is called an Alford plea to 11 felony counts including tax evasion and making false statements -- meaning he is not admitting guilt, but acknowledges a jury would likely find him guilty based on the evidence.  “Quite honestly, if I had the physical condition and the financial wherewithal, I would have fought it until the end,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  Instead, Witts will serve six months house arrest and 10 years of probation. He must also repay the state $40,000 immediately in back taxes and still faces an additional $112,000 in taxes owed that he says he will fight since he had previous business losses that carried forward.  “I don’t owe that money, I never did owe it. I have all my tax returns where they were filed,” he says.  But District Attorney Danny Porter disagrees.  “He’s been trying to sort of ride that business loss claim. But the truth of the matter is, he needed to claim that six years ago and he can’t now go back and claim it,” says Porter.  Witts was indicted in September 2017 on more than 60 counts for using campaign funds for personal expenses such as a cruise, rent, and porn. He is also accused of undercutting city bids so his own company could do the work.  Porter says the sentence is appropriate since Witts is battling colon cancer and is also caring for his ailing wife.  “I think we’ve accomplished what we wanted to accomplish as far as he’s concerned, but there are going to be people who wanted to throw him under the jail,” says Porter.  Witts also agreed to immediately resign as Snellville’s mayor and never serve in political office again.  “I’m very proud of everything I did for the city Snellville. I think I left Snellville in a better place than I found it,” he says.
  • The Georgia Bureau of Investigation celebrates 20 years of its ability to use DNA to solve crimes in Georgia. The agency began using the Combined DNA Index System or CODIS in 1998 which enables federal, state, and local forensic laboratories to exchange and compare DNA profiles electronically. Since that time, it has solved nearly 7,000 cases and assisted in more than 9,000 others.  “The GBI is proud that DNA not only identifies the guilty, it also exonerates the innocent,” says GBI Director Vernon Keenan.  A prime example is the case of John Jerome White, who spent 22 years in prison accused of raping, beating and robbing an elderly woman in Worth County in 1979. In 2007, the Georgia Innocence Project took on his case and DNA evidence, which wasn’t available to test during his trial, pointed to another man. James Parham, who was already in jail, had been in the original lineup but the victim pointed to White instead.  Keenan says the technology the GBI crime lab uses has also improved over the past 20 years.  “When we started out, it required a sample the size of the bottom of a Coke can to be analyzed and three to four months of analysis work. Now, we can take evidence the size of the top of a pin and have the work done in two to three days,” he tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  The latest technology being tested is a rapid DNA test that would take just a couple of hours and a sample size not visible by the human eye.
  • One Gwinnett middle school student is in custody, while another is being called a hero after a teacher is stabbed inside her own classroom at Trickum Middle School in Lilburn.  As classes were changing, eighth-grader Mason Watler watched as a fellow classmate pulled an 8-inch butcher knife from his bookbag and stabbed his favorite teacher in the chest.  “I saw he called over the teacher. I don’t know what he wanted; but when he did, he pulled out the knife and stabbed the teacher right under her breast,” Watler tells WSB’s Sandra Parrish.  Watler immediately went to the teacher’s aide and held his hoodie on her wound until help could arrive.  He then saw the 13-year-old suspect hold the knife to another student before being apprehended by the school’s resource officer.  “We’re very pleased that the officer was able to take the weapon away from the student without any other injuries to the officer or other students or anybody else at the school,” says Gwinnett County Schools spokesperson Sloan Roach.  She says the student faces charges of aggravated assault and bringing a gun onto school property. He will face school disciplinary action as well.  Roach says the teacher was alert and talking when she taken to the hospital.  Counselors will be at the school Tuesday for both students and teachers. The school’s principal sent out a second email to parents Monday night.  “As part of our response, we are making personal calls to the families of students who were in the classroom during this incident. That said, we are taking steps tomorrow to ensure we can support our students and staff and to help them have as normal a school day as possible. We will have an additional police presence at school tomorrow to provide our students and staff with an additional sense of security and to calm any anxiety.”  Watler says he still cannot believe what he witnessed. His mother Nikki McCart says she is proud of her son’s quick action to help his teacher.  “There were several teachers that called and thanked me and his dad, as well, for the job that we’ve done (and) for his heroism and that he just acted fast,” she says.
  • School in a mall-- it might just be the dream of some students but one in Gwinnett County will be dedicated later today.Phoenix High School’s new satellite location at Sugarloaf Mills will open its doors to students on Monday. Intended for 45 students, enrollment has already more than doubled. “They may work in the mall. They may live close by. They may frequent this area. This is on the public transportation route. So, it’s a good opportunity for students to have a place where they can come work or it’s close to their home,” says Gwinnett Schools Associate Superintendent Steven Flynt.
  • A robber who has targeted Subway restaurants around Metro Atlanta has been arrested in Tennessee.In the latest robbery last week at a Subway on Medlock Bridge Road in Gwinnett County, police say 34-year-old Zachary Miller can be seen patiently waiting for a sandwich before he jumps the counter and orders the employee to open the cash register.
  • Sandra Parrish

    News Anchor Reporter

    Sandra Parrish has been a reporter for WSB Radio since 1995 and covers political, legislative, transportation, and educational news. She graduated from the University of Georgia's Grady College of Journalism in 1989 and worked as an anchor/news director for WPLO in Lawrenceville, an anchor/assistant news director for WNGC in Athens and an anchor/reporter for WDUN in Gainesville before joining the WSB news team. Over the years, she has received over a dozen Regional Edward R. Murrow Awards for "Best Use of Sound", "Best Series", and "Best Sports Reporting". She's also received numerous awards from the Associated Press, Georgia Association of Broadcasters, Society of Professional Journalists, and National Association of Black Journalists. Sandra is a former member of the board of the Georgia Associated Press Broadcast Association. She is married with two daughters.

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News

  • A marriage proposal in a room filled with swine may not seem ideal, but a Texas man was perfectly willing to hog the attention away from the pigs Sunday morning. >> Read more trending news  Will Hussey made his “pig-posal” to Kate Jimerson at the San Antonio Stock Show and Rodeo, KSAT reported. Hussey’s marriage proposal came four years after they met at the show’s swine barn, the television station reported. Jimerson thought her family was at the Stock Show to watch her younger sister compete in the barrow show, but Hussey surprised her. 'He got down on one knee and said, 'This is where I met you four years ago. I knew then I wanted to marry you.'” Jimerson told KSAT. “So then he asked me and I started crying.” 'The Stock Show already holds a special place for both of us, so why not make it something we can tell our kids about someday,' Hussey told the television station. The couple has not set a wedding date, but they already have next year’s Stock Show on their calendar, KSAT reported.
  • When he made the announcement he was declaring a national emergency, President Donald Trump said he expected to be sued over the move. So far, a handful of activists and even state attorneys general have said they are looking at taking the president to court or have filed a lawsuit already.  Take a look at the lawsuits that are currently pending or will soon be filed. Public Citizen Public Citizen is an advocacy group that filed a suit Friday after the president’s Rose Garden announcement. The group is filing on behalf of three Texas landowners and an environmental group to block the emergency decree. The suit was filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, D.C., The Washington Post reported. >>Read: Can Congress repeal the national emergency declaration? Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington hasn’t filed suit directly on Trump but instead is suing the Justice Department, claiming documents were not provided, including legal opinions and communications, related to Trump’s decision, USA Today reported. The group is using a Freedom of Information Act request submitted concerning the proposed border barrier. Center for Biological Diversity Center for Biological Diversity is an environmental group. It claims the president did not identify a legal authority to declare the emergency. The group said the wall will block wildlife from its natural habitat “and could result in the extirpation of jaguars, ocelots and other endangered species within the United States,” according to the Post. >>Read: Trump signs funding bill to avoid government shutdown, declares emergency to build border wall American Civil Liberties Union The ACLU has not yet filed but is preparing a suit that says that Trump can’t redirect the money paid by taxpayers unless it is for construction that directly supports the military, the Post reported. ACLU officials said the suit will be filed early this week, saying, “There is no emergency. Members of Congress from both parties, security experts, and Americans who live at the border have all said so. What the president is doing is yet another illegal and dangerous power grab in the service of his anti-immigrant agenda.” The group called the declaration an “abuse of power” and says it “violates the constitutional checks and balances that protect us.” >>Read the latest from our Washington Insider Jamie Dupree The ACLU is using the president’s own words against him from when he said, “I didn’t need to do this, but I’d rather do it much faster.” >> Read more trending news  California attorney general Xavier Becerra, the attorney general of California, will be joined by New Mexico, Oregon, Minnesota, New Jersey, Hawaii and Connecticut in trying to stop the emergency declaration from proceeding. >>Read: National emergency likely to be blocked by courts, DOJ tells White House: reports “We’re confident there are at least 8 billion ways that we can prove harm. And once we are all clear, all the different states are clear, what pots of money that taxpayers sent to D.C. he’s going to raid, which Congress dedicated to different types of services -- whether it’s emergency response services or whether it’s fires or mudslides in California or maybe tornadoes and floods in other parts of the country or whether it’s our military men and women and their families who live on military installations that might -- that might have money taken away from them, or whether it’s money taken away from drug interdiction efforts in places like California, a number of states, and certainly Americans, will be harmed. And we’re all going to be prepared,” Becerra said on ABC News’ “This Week.”  >>Read: Trump's border wall: What is a national emergency? A spokesperson for the attorney general of Colorado, Phil Weiser, said his state will also be joining the suit, KDVR reported. The spokesperson said Weiser decided that the state will be hurt if money is transferred from military installations to the wall, according to KDVR.
  • From a court watcher’s perspective it’s apparent to most that the upcoming trial of Ryan Duke, charged with the 2005 murder of South Georgia high school teacher Tara Grinstead is sure to be nothing short of a spectacle of epic proportions. We got a preview of things to come during - of all things - a bond hearing where Duke asked, for the first time in two years, to be released on bond. It wasn’t the denial of bond, nor the fact that Duke asked for bond that is particularly noteworthy. It’s what the bond hearing devolved into that raised eyebrows. Despite losing the motion, the defense unexpectedly was able to depose the lead GBI investigator on a wide range of topics in a dress rehearsal for what promises to be a most controversial trial.  To start, let’s have a look at what a bond hearing is supposed to be.  It’s uncommon for bond to be set in murder cases but it’s not unheard of. Courts are supposed to consider the following factors in making bond decisions and the burden of proof is on the defendant to show that he:  Poses no significant risk of fleeing from the jurisdiction of the court or failing to appear in court when required;  Poses no significant threat or danger to any person, to the community, or to any property in the community;  Poses no significant risk of committing any felony pending trial; and  Poses no significant risk of intimidating witnesses or otherwise obstructing the administration of justice.  Probable cause is not an issue and of course neither is guilt or innocence. A bond hearing is not a trial.  The Duke bond hearing started out as most bond hearings do. The defense called Duke’s brother to testify regarding each of the factors set out above. But then it started a downward spiral into the surreal when the prosecutor called the lead GBI case agent as a witness - presumably as a rebuttal to the defense. A state’s witness, such as an investigator, can occasionally testify - to a point - about “what happened” because that’s relevant - to a point - for the court to determine whether the person poses a danger to the community. But in this case, the testimony was literally all over the place and went into minute detail about many things that have never been heard before. The “bond hearing” was effectively transformed into a deposition - a legal luxury not normally available to a criminal defendant in Georgia.  So just what did we learn from this “bond” hearing? We learned that DNA from the bodily fluid of a police officer was mixed with the victim’s blood on some bedding and that “touch DNA” from Grinstead and Duke (along with DNA from at least two other people) was on a latex glove found outside her residence. “Touch DNA” has its own share of problems in terms of reliability and we can safely expect the defense to explore those problems at trial. Some of that other unidentified DNA from the glove could have come from Bo Dukes - the person accused of helping cover up the murder - and who the defense claims is the actual killer.  We learned there were many investigative steps that could have been taken to verify statements made by both Duke and Dukes. The defense will argue that these follow up steps point to a biased investigation. This could have a huge impact in a trial where the defense will claim that the defendants confession was a false confession.  We learned the GBI, in a breach of protocol and constitutional law, interviewed / talked with Duke twice after he had a lawyer. These interviews were undocumented in the GBI case file. They were not recorded. The DA apparently was unaware at the time that this tactic was being employed by the GBI until the defense raised it with them. The agent didn’t even sign in at the jail. We can only speculate as to why not.  On top of all this, an abundance of otherwise inadmissible evidence consisting of hearsay and innuendo managed to come out publicly at a bond hearing. Most of this wouldn’t have seen the light of day at a trial. As the prosecution correctly pointed out “hearsay” may be admissible at a bond hearing, but it still has to be reliable evidence - not a regurgitation of all the salacious rumors from 2005. And it must be relevant to the issue of bond. It may turn out that the DA made a great tactical mistake by calling their lead case agent to testify and turn this bond hearing into an evidentiary free-for-all with no apparent boundaries. At a minimum it was surely heartbreaking for friends and family of the victim to have to re-live all the pain of the last 13 years by having old wounds reopened in such painful detail.  I’ve previously written about why the venue for this trial really needs to be changed. Now more than ever the jury pool is really tainted - as if it weren’t already. Philip Holloway, WSB legal analyst, is a criminal lawyer who heads his own firm in Cobb County, Georgia. A former prosecutor and adjunct professor of criminal justice, he is former president of the Cobb County Bar Association's criminal law section. Follow him on Twitter: @PhilHollowayEsq The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author. 
  • Police in Kansas City, Kansas, arrested a man Sunday suspected of carjacking a vehicle, stealing the driver’s phone and taking off with two children in the car, the The Kansas City Star reported. >> Read more trending news  Police said a woman was making a delivery in the area when the suspect, armed with a rifle, took the vehicle, WDAF reported.  The woman ran to a store to call police, the Star reported. “It was as bad as you would think if someone had your kids,” the store manager, Robert Edwards, told the newspaper. “She was as stressed as you would imagine. I’m glad she got the kids back.” The two children, 4 and 7, had been taken out of the car and were found by a neighbor, who called police the Star reported. The children were not injured and were returned to their mother, the newspaper reported. According to Kansas City police, the suspect returned to the scene, leaving the original vehicle and then stole a second car at gunpoint, WDAF reported. Police were able to catch the suspect, who was driving a blue SUV, and returned it to its owner, the Star reported.
  • At the same time President Donald Trump was making a Rose Garden announcement Friday declaring a national emergency to fund a wall along the country’s southern border, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer announced they would fight Trump’s declaration “using every remedy available.” >> Read more trending news Pelosi and Schumer did not lay out specific remedies they might employ to stop the president from diverting funds from other projects to use to construct a border wall, but several Democrats members of Congress have promised a joint resolution of disapproval aimed at repealing the declaration and stopping Trump’s plans. Would Congress be successful in passing a resolution that would hamper the president’s bid to fund border security by declaring a national emergency? It’s possible, but not likely. >>Trump's border wall: What is a national emergency? Here’s a look at what could happen. A resolution of disapprovalCongress could approve a resolution that contests the status of the national emergency Trump has declared. They can do so under the National Emergencies Act of 1976. The resolution, if passed, would stop the plan to divert money from other government programs to build the border wall. The resolution could pass with a simple majority vote in the House and Senate – 218 votes in the House and 51 in the Senate. There is a Democrat majority in the House where a resolution could easily pass. There are 48 Democrat members of the Senate. Democrats would need four Republicans to vote with them to pass a joint resolution. Reps. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, have said they will introduce a bill in the House to block the declaration. By Friday afternoon, Castro told The Washington Post he had gathered more than 60 co-sponsors for the resolution. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, told ABC's “This Week” that she believes the Senate has enough votes for such a resolution. 'I think we do,' she said. 'Now, whether we have enough for an override and veto, that's a different story. But frankly, I think there's enough people in the Senate who are concerned that what he's doing is robbing from the military and the DOD to go build this wall.' If a resolution should pass both chambers of Congress, it would go to the president’s desk for a signature. The president would almost certainly veto the resolution, marking the first time in his term he has used the veto power. If he does veto the resolution, it would go back to Congress where it would require a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate to override the veto. In the House, 290 votes would be needed. In the Senate, the number would be 67. A lawsuit – or several of them The president has broad powers under the National Emergencies Act, so until the provisions of Trump’s declaration are made public, it’s unclear what someone could sue him over concerning the declaration. But sued he will be -- some suits are already in the works  -- and here is where those suits could come from: Congress: It’s likely that House Democrats would sue on grounds that the president overreached his powers by bypassing the power Congress has to control funding for government programs and projects. However, Democrats in Congress would have to first establish that they have the right to sue the White House, and that can be difficult since the president was given the authority to declare a national emergency under the National Emergencies Act in 1976. The House could challenge Trump's definition of an emergency, but the definition in the National Emergency Act is vague, leaving what is a national emergency pretty much up to the president. Activist groups: The American Civil Liberties Union said on Friday it plans to sue the president over what they call his “unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities.” Landowners: Those who own land along the area where the president has proposed a border wall could file suit over the seizure of their property if that happens. However, the government is generally allowed to buy up private property for public use – such as when privately-held land is taken to make room for a freeway. The practice is called eminent domain. It is often an uphill fight for landowners. States: California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has promised that he will file a suit against the White House claiming that his state will be harmed if Trump diverts funds from other projects to build a wall. He said that four other states, New Mexico, Oregon, Hawaii and Minnesota will join his state in the pending lawsuit.Nevada’s attorney general has also threatened a suit.
  • A man has been targeting dessert shops in a Texas town, committing four robberies -- two in the same business, KHOU reported. >> Read more trending news  The Orange Leaf Frozen Yogurt shop in Cypress was robbed Jan. 15, the television station reported. Surveillance cameras caught a bald man with a goatee, who walked up to the cash register, yanked it open and took the money, KHOU reported. 'I saw him and I saw what he was doing,' store manager Debra Santos told the television station. 'You just don't know people now a days. I didn't know if he had a gun or a weapon.' On Feb. 14, the bald bandit struck again, robbing a different Orange Leaf in Cypress, KHOU reported. Later that day, the man robbed Shipley’s Donuts in Cypress. The manager chased the thief, but the man sped away in a white car, the television station reported. On Feb. 16, the thief returned to the Orange Leaf he had robbed a month earlier, taking the store’s second cash register, according to KHOU.  'He said, ‘I'm sorry I have to do this,’ and he ripped the cables and took off again,' Santos told the television station. Santos said she hopes the thief’s robbery pattern will trip him up. 'I hope they catch him soon,' Santos told KHOU. 'He seems to be repetitive, so hopefully he'll have a break in his pattern and they'll catch him.