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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 Hewitt 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. This article was written by WSB Radio
  • 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.
  • Lead, follow or get out of the way,' said Ted Turner, entrepreneur, media mogul and philanthropist. One of the highlights of the 2019 Georgia Bulldog football season, was the naming of Dooley Field in Sanford Stadium in Athens to honor legendary former UGA football coach and Athletic Director, Vince Dooley. The honor was well over-due.  I think Georgia, and our capital city of Atlanta, should do more, and sooner than later to recognize two other individuals, as well as two families who have made many historic and lasting contributions to Atlanta and to Georgia. I'm speaking specifically of former Ohio Governor James Cox and the Cox family and media mogul and environmental philanthropist Ted Turner.  Cox was a former three-term Governor of Ohio before he ran for President in 1920, with Franklin Delano Roosevelt as his unsuccessful running mate. Traveling the country by rail, F.D.R. introduced Cox to Warm Springs, southern hospitality and the people of Georgia. Though Dayton, Ohio remained the Governor's home, he would move much of his family and business holdings to Atlanta, initially purchasing The Atlanta Journal & Georgian in 1938, and eventually growing those properties into Cox Enterprises and the Cox Media Group.  Turner turned a modest billboard company into the nation's first cable Super-Station, investing in cable networks and programming in their infancy, as well as serving as a longtime owner of the Atlanta Braves. Turner became a billionaire before selling his many media holdings to Time Warner, later getting into the restaurant business, in part to restore the species of Buffalo to the plains of North America.  When the Atlanta Braves, under new ownership, left for the suburbs of Cobb County and the likely soon to be renamed SunTrust Park, that ended the name of Turner Field and the life of a baseball stadium just over 20 years old. Though it was assumed that the name came as Turner's Braves were the 'home team' at the converted baseball park, retro-fitted from the Centennial Olympic Stadium after those games in 1996, it is seldom shared or publicized that Turner spent more than $40-million stabilizing and retro-fitting that structure for baseball and the fans, without seeking tax-payer assistance, subsidies or tax breaks.  Jim Cox Kennedy, grandson of Governor Cox and still the Chairman of Cox Enterprises, earlier developed a passion for bike riding which would grow into the creation of the PATH Foundation. PATH's first trail connected Stone Mountain Park to downtown Atlanta and Centennial Park and over the past 25 years has constructed more than 300 miles of pedestrian and biking trails all across Georgia. The Cox Foundation recently co-funded a pedestrian bridge with the City of Atlanta, named for former Mayor Ivan Allen, Jr., which connects the Atlanta Beltline to those PATH trails at Marietta Street downtown, not far from the former AJC headquarters, and reconnects the downtown Eastside and Westside, straddling the massive and exiting railroad tracks of CSX and Norfolk Southern.  The Cox family through another gift to the PATH Foundation, are funding an extension of the Atlanta Beltline and PATH, connecting to the Silver Comet Trail in Cobb County. When completed, this trail will reach from Stone Mountain Park to Anniston, Alabama and become the longest continuous trail path in the United States.  Those who have previously blocked more substantial recognition for the Cox or Turner families have focused on their personal politics or others flaws and foibles. None of us are perfect and we should stop expecting perfection among our community and business leaders.  The Cox family still owns the Atlanta Journal & Constitution, and the new owners of Cox Media Group plan to keep that name, And while Turner's name continues to adorn a several blocks of Spring Street in downtown Atlanta, and parts of his former corporate campus now owned by Time-Warner Media, more significant and visible honors are well overdue both families.  Some students at Georgia State University have recently called on Atlanta’s Mayor to remove the downtown statue of another newspaper giant, Henry W. Grady, another impactful but flawed leader of the post-Civil War ‘New South.’ Grady’s name adorns Grady Hospital, Grady High School and the Grady College of Journalism at the University of Georgia. I don’t support his name or statue coming down, but those are a few fine examples worthy of like consideration for Ted Turner as well as Ohio Governor Jim Cox and the Cox family.
  • SunTrust and BB&T have combined into a megabank with a new name, Truist, but the completion of their merger won't immediately change the name of the Atlanta Braves home field. Officials of both companies said in a statement on Monday that Truist is now the nation’s sixth-largest bank serving about 10 million customers. But it could take up to two years for the old brand names to be replaced on larger properties such as the Cobb County baseball park, as well as bank branches, office buildings, websites and automated teller machines, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported. The company plans to reveal more details about the Truist brand in early 2020, spokesman Thomas Crosson told the newspaper. Clients can continue to use their respective branches, websites and financial advisers, among other services as the transition rolls out over the next two years, Truist said. SunTrust bank was headquartered in Atlanta while BB&T was based in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. Truist's headquarters is now in Charlotte, North Carolina, but the company says it has pledged more than $100 million in philanthropic commitments between both states.
  • The SunTrust name will remain on the gates to the home field of the Atlanta Braves at least until early next year.   Although the merger of SunTrust and BB&T was finalized Monday, creating Truist, the nation’s sixth-largest bank, it will take up to two years for the now-obsolete brand names to be replaced, officials of the new entity said.   “While we are proud to have completed our merger of equals, it will take some time for Truist to convert all existing SunTrust and BB&T branded assets,” said Thomas Crosson, spokesman for Truist. “We are still in the process of finalizing the Truist brand, and plan to reveal it in early 2020.”   That goes for branches, office buildings, Web sites and automated teller machines – as well as for the Braves Park.   The Braves’ first home game of the 2020 baseball season is April 3 against the Miami Marlins.   The former home of the Braves, in downtown Atlanta, was named after Ted Turner, longtime owner of the team.    Corporate naming is increasingly common, although there have been mixed conclusions from academics about their value. And after departing Atlanta, the Braves opened their 2017 season in the new Cobb County stadium under the SunTrust logo.    The bank, which was based in Atlanta, agreed to a 25-year pact in which it would pay $10 million a year for the right to place its name on and inside the ballpark, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution previously reported.   
  • The merger between Atlanta-based SunTrust and Winston-Salem, N.C.-based BB&T has been completed, creating the nation’s sixth-largest bank, serving about 10 million consumer households, officials of the combined company announced Monday. The merged bank, now named Truist, is based in Charlotte, although Atlanta retains the corporate and investment banking division and the community bank headquarters will remain in Winston-Salem. “This is a historic moment for Truist – a financial services organization created from two companies with shared values and a deep commitment to building a better future for our clients and communities,” said Kelly King, the merged bank’s chairman and chief executive officer, in a statement released Monday morning. SunTrust, based in its namesake tower on Peachtree Street, had been Georgia’s largest bank. In metro Atlanta, SunTrust was first in both deposits and the number of branches. But BB&T also had a sizeable presence, ranking fourth in total deposits and retail locations. SunTrust has said it would continue its longterm sponsorships of a number of Atlanta area organizations, including the Atlanta Falcons and the Georgia Aquarium. When the companies announced the merger in February, bank officials said they expected to find cost reductions of $1.6 billion annually. Because the banks’ coverage overlaps, that implies branch closures and layoffs. About 740 of the banks’ more than 3,000 branches are located within two miles of each other The companies have already closed a number of branches as business shifts online. Officials said that the transition to the Truist brand will take about two years, eventually extending to bank branches and office towers, as well as to the Atlanta Braves stadium in Cobb County. In the meantime, bank officials said customers of SunTrust and BB&T will continue to use their current branches, websites, mobile apps, checks and payment cards. For information, bank officials directed customers to Truist.com. Officials said the merged bank will make good on previously announced plans to support low- and moderate-income communities by lending to borrowers and small businesses, as well as support of local groups. Truist said Monday it “will fulfill a financial commitment of $17.4 million annually for Winston-Salem, North Carolina and the Piedmont Triad community, and $100 million annually for the Atlanta community.” The pact was approved by shareholders earlier this year. In early November, the U.S. Department of Justice signed off after the banks agreed to sell 30 branches, the largest such divestiture in more than a decade. Two of the locations were in Georgia: Jesup and Dahlonega. The rest were in North Carolina and Virginia. In recent weeks, the final obstacles were cleared as regulators from the Federal Reserve System and the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation granted approval to the plan.
  • Maria Vescio didn’t run away last year when her parents took her Christmas shopping at the mall. Her dad is grateful for that. It was during a special “quiet shopping hour” tried out by Town Center at Cobb. The program’s purpose was to do the virtually unthinkable: amid the busiest shopping season of the year, make the mall a calm place for kids with autism, for whom sensory overload can be debilitating. This year the program spread to several other metro Atlanta centers — Lenox Square, the Mall of Georgia, Phipps Plaza and Sugarloaf Mills as well as Town Center — all run by Simon Property Group, one of the nation’s largest mall owners. Each set aside a quiet hour in the late morning or early afternoon last Sunday. It’s just the latest example of steps to help families that have kids with autism take part in the kinds of activities that are common for others. In recent years, most local malls have begun offering sessions with Santa specifically for special needs kids. Several are scheduled in metro Atlanta malls later this holiday season. The changes go beyond the holidays. More places are carving out times to make accommodations, including at Atlanta Braves games, some Chuck E. Cheese restaurants, movie theaters, museums, the Georgia Aquarium and performing arts productions. Any place with haphazard crowds, loud noises, bright lights and humming fluorescents can be excruciating for certain kids with autism. Mark Vescio has seen what his 10-year-old daughter faces. “I always describe it as the feeling that you are drowning and you can’t get out. You are helpless and the things surrounding you are harming you.” “We learned the hard way that that doesn’t work so well in a crowded mall,” he said, even if Maria is wearing headphones to cancel out sound. In a space packed with people moving in different directions, she would suddenly bolt. And yet, she wondered about what she was missing out on that her friends go to do, her dad said. “Maria every once in a while says, ‘I just want to be a normal kid.’” So when Town Center tried a quiet hour last year during the holiday shopping rush, the Vescios gave it a try. It worked. “It was good to see her smile through that process,” Maria’s dad said. The mall picked an hour early in the day, before many shoppers had arrived. It gave retailers recommendations from the Marcus Autism Center about how to limit triggers that might make the kids uncomfortable. Workers were told what to expect. They dimmed lights, turned off music, held off on vacuuming. It lasted just an hour as the Marcus Center suggested, though Shelly Weidner, Town Center’s marketing and business development director, said the mall would be open to considering more time. About a third of the mall’s retailers participated last year. This year, about 40 Town Center stores participated. The mall also held a quiet hour for Easter shopping last year. A mall without bright lights and piped in music? “We can do without that for an hour just to make these families comfortable,” Weidner said. She remembered getting hugs last year from parents. In 2011, Town Center was one of seven malls nationally where Cherry Hill Programs rolled out what it calls its Caring Santa program for kids with special needs. The company, which already provided traditional mall Santas and Easter Bunnies along with photo services, has since expanded Caring Santa to 581 locations around the U.S. and Canada. The program is designed to make the Santa experience easier for kids with autism and their families. Nearby escalators and fountains are turned off. Waits in line are eliminated. And Santa often has more time to work with the kids. A man who self-identifies as Santa and works shifts for Cherry Hill at Town Center, recalled getting a visit from twin boys who were focused on the Christmas décor and, in particular, a small fan. Santa got on the floor with them and pushed a button to make the fan oscillate. “The mother,” he said, “was crying. She said it was the best Christmas experience she ever had.” According to the Centers for Disease Control, about one in 59 children has been identified as having autism spectrum disorder. They can struggle with social skills and communication, though the CDC says nearly half have average to above average intellectual ability. Ashley Mahoney’s son, Connor, used to have meltdowns when distractions became too great. At their worst he would fall to the floor, sometimes hitting his head against the floor. “I’d have to sit on the floor and hold his arms,” she said. Sometimes other adults would ask her why she allowed him to act that way, apparently unaware he had autism. Connor is 12 now, and can communicate more before things get too overwhelming, his mom said. Mahoney has taken him to see Santa for special needs kids at Town Center. He’s also taken part in sensory controlled events at the Georgia Aquarium and at an Atlanta Braves game. They didn’t have to get in a line to enter SunTrust Park, they were seated in the shade and near a quiet area, with easy access to exits if being there got overwhelming. Mahoney has noticed more and more offerings like that. “There’s not the stigma that there use to be. You want them to go out to experience the world, and the world is letting them experience it at their own pace.” Kimberly Dick, the executive director of the Georgia chapter of nonprofit Autism Speaks, said she’s noticed the change, too. Local chapters often provide online listings of upcoming events such as quiet hours. “I’d love to see this continued for different activities year round,” she said, including back-to-school shopping. Of course, technology is offering everyone, including parents of special needs kids, the ability to shop online and skip many stores. But Dick said it would be “a thousand times easier” to taker her son, who has autism, to the mall. While she can buy clothes for him online, picking colors he likes and avoiding buttons or tags he doesn’t, he’s likely to find some component he doesn’t go for, she said. More everyday retailers may open their doors even wider. In the United Kingdom, grocery chain Morrisons launched a weekly “quieter hour” for shoppers with autism, according to the BBC. In addition to dimming lights and turning off music, store workers turn down the beeps at check out for an hour every Saturday morning.
  • Cleveland Indians pitcher Carlos Carrasco and Atlanta Braves third baseman Josh Donaldson have won the Comeback Player of the Year awards. Major League Baseball made the announcement on Wednesday. Carrasco won the American League award. He was diagnosed with chronic myeloid leukemia in early June, missed three months while undergoing treatment and returned to the Indian in a relief role in September. In October, the 32-year-old right-hander from Venezuela won the Roberto Clemente Award presented for the character he's shown on and off the field. Donaldson won the National League honor. He played only 52 games for Toronto and Cleveland in 2018 because of injuries, but bounced back for a big year with the Braves. The 2015 AL MVP hit 37 home runs and had 94 RBIs for the NL East champions. Donaldson became the second straight Braves player to win the NL comeback award after pitcher Jonny Venters last year. The awards were chosen by the 30 team beat writers for MLB.com. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports
  • Skiing and snowboarding in metro Atlanta? It may seem far-fetched, but it's happening at SunTrust Park in just a few weeks. U.S. Ski and Snowboard is hosting a big air competition Dec. 20 and 21 in partnership with the Atlanta Braves. [Click here to buy tickets for the event] The Visa Big Air Presented by Land Rover will take place on a 15-story-tall steel scaffold jump structure consisting of up to 29,000 unique pieces, which is then covered with up to 800 tons of snow to create a surface on which the world's best freeskiers and snowboarders can perform. Athletes will drop into an approximately 40-degree in-run, then launch themselves off the jump at speeds up to 40 miles per hour to perform their biggest tricks while traveling up to 70 feet in the air. The first-of-its-kind event in metro Atlanta is part of a multiyear commitment by U.S. Ski and Snowboard to bring big air events to new places each season leading up to the Olympic Winter Games in Beijing in 2022. 'The Visa Big Air at SunTrust Park will bring our sports out of the mountains and to the people in a major metropolitan area,' said U.S. Ski & Snowboard President and CEO Tiger Shaw. 'We are very excited to have Visa as our title sponsor and to partner with the Atlanta Braves to continue to grow the fan base of this exciting sport for our athletes, sponsors and the snow sports industry ahead of the 2022 games in Beijing.' There will be two days of competition starting at 7 p.m. Dec. 20 and 21. Tickets start at just $25. 'We are proud to showcase SunTrust Park to a global audience as the host of this world cup ski and snowboard event,' said Derek Schiller, Atlanta Braves president and CEO. 'In collaboration with U.S. Ski and Snowboard, SunTrust Park and The Battery Atlanta will provide an incredible venue for fans from around the region to witness this truly unique event.  It's our privilege to host these world-class athletes.' U.S. Freeski Olympians Julia Krass (Hanover, N.H.) and Maggie Voisin (Whitefish, Mont.), as well as two-time Olympic medalist Nick Goepper are set to compete. In addition, Olympic gold medalists Red Gerard (Silverthorne, Colo.), Jamie Anderson (S. Lake Tahoe, Calif.) as well as the 2018-19 FIS Snowboard Overall Crystal Globe Winner Chris Corning (Silverthorne, Colo.) will represent the U.S. Snowboard Team.
  • Alex Anthopoulos believes Cole Hamels can help the Atlanta Braves win big in next season— and help the team's young starters have more success for years to come. Hamels, who turns 36 this month. agreed Wednesday to an $18 million, one-year contract with the busy Braves, one of the more active teams this offseason. Anthopoulos said young Braves starters Max Fried and Mike Soroka will benefit from Hamels' 14 seasons in the majors. “How you quantify that is hard, but I think there is real value,' Anthopoulos said. “We're signing Cole first and foremost because we think he's going to help us win a lot of games ... and hopefully get to the World Series. No doubt in my mind ... I think Max Fried will get better just be seeing him and being around him. I think Soroka will get better.' The Braves have won two straight NL East division titles but failed to win a playoff series. Hamels said the Braves “were one of six teams I was really following and really rooting for' in free agency. He said Anthopoulos, the Braves general manager, was the first to initiate serious discussions. “I reward the first team that actually does what they say they're doing,' Hamels said, adding when a financial agreement was reached “boom, we were there and it was going to happen.' Hamels said he is impressed by the Braves' young talent. “I've always been following them in hopes of maybe having an opportunity to pitch with some of those guys,' he said. “... I think what I can provide might be beneficial.' Anthopoulos said he had interest in Hamels before the 2018 season, when the pitcher signed with the Cubs, and again last year, before Chicago exercised a team option. Anthopoulos moved quickly this offseason after first addressing two other needs in free agency. Atlanta gave left-handed reliever Will Smith, a possible closer, a $40 million, three-year contract and added catcher Travis d'Arnaud for a $16 million, two-year deal. Atlanta also has re-signed four players: outfielder Nick Markakis, catcher Tyler Flowers and relievers Darren O'Day and Chris Martin. Anthopoulos said he needed to be active because the Braves had a large number of expiring contracts. “It hasn't been by design,' Anthopoulos said. “We had a lot of free agents ... so we had a lot of work to do.' Anthopoulos said he's still looking for help at third base after Josh Donaldson became a free agent. He didn't rule out the possibility of adding another starting pitcher. Hamels replaces Julio Teheran, who became a free agent after his $12 million team option was declined. Hamels joins Soroka (22), Fried (25) and Mike Foltynewicz (28) in the projected rotation. Anthopoulos said left-hander Sean Newcomb, who spent most of the 2019 season in the bullpen, will be given a chance to win a starting job. Among other contenders for the final spot in the rotation will be Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson and Ian Anderson, one of the team's top prospects. The one-year deal with Hamels leaves room for Anderson to move into the rotation in 2021, if not before. Hamels was 7-7 with a 3.81 ERA in 27 starts last season. has 163 wins and a 3.42 ERA in 14 seasons. He began his career with Philadelphia, where he was a three-time All-Star in 10 seasons. He finished fifth in the NL Cy Young Award voting for the Phillies in 2011, when he was 14-9 with a 2.79 ERA. He was 17-6 with a 3.05 ERA in 2012. ___ More AP MLB: https://apnews.com/MLB and https://twitter.com/AP_Sports

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.