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Traffic Team fundraisers to benefit Toys for Tots Captain Herb loved so much. He loved his family, his job, his colleagues and his community. One of the many charities he helped was metro Atlanta Toys for Tots. To honor his legacy, the WSB Traffic Team still hosts his annual toy drive at Fred’s BBQ House, and it’s quite a show! Bring the family, and plan to join them and the Douglas County community this holiday season on Saturday, December 8th in Lithia Springs. Two events prior to that which will take place this fall are the 2nd annual Tossing for Tots Disc Golf Tournament and the Atlanta-area Toys for Tots Golf Tournament! To get involved in the disc golf tournament on September 29th in Henry Co., you can now REGISTER HERE. Stay tuned for information pertaining to the golf tournament, which will take place November 9th at Bear’s Best Atlanta in Suwanee! Call our traffic center with traffic incident 24/7/365 at 404-897-7358. You can also get through to us using the “Triple Team Traffic Alerts” app, free in your phone’s app store! The app provides real-time, traffic incidents recorded by WSB radio traffic reporters.

The Gridlock Guy- Doug Turnbull

  • We saw a doozy on I-20 Wednesday afternoon. A tanker truck and a tractor trailer collided just after 4 p.m. on I-20/westbound just before Six Flags Dr. (exit 47) and eventually completely shut down the interstate in that direction. Traffic was a nightmare and my colleagues and I with WSB Triple Team Traffic went into hustle mode. Our Traffic Troopers, commuters who call us with info, gave us the alert before the police or GDOT did. » RELATED: I-20 reopens in Cobb County after massive fuel spill cleanup “I got the original call from traffic trooper Joey. At the time, he told me that there was a crash involving two tractor trailers and some cars,” reporter Jill Nelson said. She and teammate Alex Williams began sending both myself and Newschopper 2’s Jason Durden vital information on the crash. “The left lane was still moving at that point. By the time Alex found it on the WSB Jam Cam, they had closed all lanes.” Whereas the WSB Skycopter flies on a fixed rush hour schedule, Durden and Channel 2 Action News’ helicopter fly a la carte when various news stories break. He got to the scene within minutes and began relaying information back to us and to Channel 2 viewers both on TV and social media. The Traffic Team and I broke into programming on News 95.5/AM750 WSB with the traffic RED ALERT and also sent push notifications out on the Triple Team Traffic Alerts App and the WSB Radio App. This is Atlanta traffic’s version of a tornado warning; every second matters when someone is planning their commute. As we began to learn that this was a tanker truck overturned and that it had nearly 9,000 gallons of fuel, we knew this wouldn’t be an ephemeral closure. “When crews started spraying foam on the fuel spill, we knew it was going to be a bigger deal — then the DOT notes updated saying it was a Hazmat situation,” Williams explained. Williams discovered that at least 100 gallons of fuel had actually spilled. With this crash happening not far from the Chattahoochee River bridge, cleanup crews had to treat the cleanup with extra care. One insight that traffic reporters give that an app like Waze, Google Maps or Apple Maps cannot is just how severe or specific a problem is. When Durden, Williams, Nelson, and I processed what we were seeing, we knew this would not be the average interstate closure and we reported as much. Mike Shields joined WSB Triple Team Traffic in June and had just been on I-20, before arriving at the WSB studios in Midtown Atlanta before 5 p.m. He found out about the closure just as he pulled into the parking deck. » RELATED: Georgia roads reopen after tanker truck crash, oxygen leak “This was the largest traffic event I have covered and the domino effect on all the other interstates was unreal,” Shields said. The backup in the already stacked I-285 and I-20 interchange in Fulton County was extreme. From the WSB Skycopter, I saw I-285/southbound start jamming hard at Paces Ferry Road (exit 18) and stay slow all the way to I-20. The right lane line to exit at Hollowell Parkway (exit 12) started before the Chattahoochee River bridge, as people sought an alternate. Indeed, the impacts on side roads like Hollowell/Highway 78, Camp Creek Parkway and Highway 166 were extreme. Fulton Industrial Boulevard was jammed, as police diverted I-20/westbound traffic onto that exit before the closure. “Phone calls I received were people asking about is there any way to get around it,” Shields said. And while there technically were open roads, those alternates were gridlocked. Calls to WSB about alternate routes got trumped, however, by calls of frustration. “Most calls we got were that people were blocking emergency vehicles from passing on the shoulder and they hadn’t moved in hours,” Nelson said. And we saw this in the Skycopter: drivers stuck in the closure between Fulton Industrial (exit 49) and the crash scene began driving the wrong way on the shoulders without any directive from the police. This is completely illegal and dangerous. It prevented more rescue units from getting to the scene. Additional equipment instead had to go up to Six Flags and turn around the wrong way. We watched above as police eventually got a couple hundred vehicles turned around and exiting one at a time, the wrong way up the Fulton Industrial entrance ramp and off of the freeway. Nelson did not mince words: “I’ve covered plenty of bad crashes before, but this one stands out because of the jam that drivers caused themselves, by blocking up the shoulders. It took over two hours to finally get everyone out of there who was stuck.” » RELATED: Report finds Atlanta has some of world's worst traffic The crash cleanup eventually lasted into the night, with overnight traffic guru Steve Winslow taking the Traffic Center helm at 8:30 p.m. The crash lasted his entire shift. “The biggest issue for re-opening I-20 seemed to be the safety workers’ need to unload the overturned tanker’s load of fuel. Having to drill into a hole into the overturned tanker to siphon the combustible fuel out safely took at four hours alone,” Winslow explained. He said that this tedious process forced the closure of I-20/eastbound, the opposite direction, starting at Thornton Road (exit 44). The scene didn’t clear until almost 4:30 a.m., over 12 hours after the wreck happened. Our entire team was in unison about where this wreck ranks. “This one,” Winslow said, “made a “normal” overnight become almost as intense as a Friday evening commute.” “Aside from the [I-85] bridge collapse, this is probably the second-worst single traffic incident I’ve ever seen, due to how long it lasted and how much it impacted surface streets — even as far back as inside the Perimeter,” Williams, who joined Triple Team Traffic in 2015, recalled. And I agree with my crew. This I-20 tanker truck crash ranks as one of the worst single wrecks, in terms of traffic impact and the length of closure, that I have seen. It once again shows how vital our roads are and how just one problem can delay people for miles around for hours. The I-20 extended closure also shows how important planning your commute and keeping your radio and phone on for updates during that drive is, too. » RELATED: Metro Atlanta's 10 most consistently awful traffic hotspots Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.
  • Now that most schools have resumed, the commute out of neighborhoods gets longer. More people go back to their normal post-summer work and errands schedules, so volume increases. Delays and patience often have an inverse relationship. Drivers simply make riskier decisions and have more stress when they are in a hurry. But extra patience is mandatory in school zones. » RELATED: Traffic hassles return as metro Atlanta schools open this week “The start of the school year is a challenging time for parents because of new routines and increased traffic,” AAA spokesperson Garrett Townsend told the AJC and WSB. “We encourage anyone taking children to school to establish habits to help them stay focused on the task of driving. Extra vigilance and patience is required so that everyone can get to their destination safely.” AAA Georgia Field VP Sasha Marcincyzk shared this resonating fact in the Gridlock Guy column on this subject a year ago: children hit by cars traveling 35 mph are three times more likely to die than at 25 mph. And the highest age group at risk of pedestrian injury are children between ages 5 and 14. This message should be enough for anyone to drive with a proverbial eggshell beneath the throttle in a school zone. The July 1st advent of the Hands-Free Georgia Act plays right into this. As we have extensively covered here, the new law mandates drivers keep their phones out of their hands and imposes more restrictions on types of texting, app use, and audio streaming allowed. The law, however, does not magically eliminate distracted driving; it is another attempt to nudge motorists in the right direction. Any hands-free precautions taken on the open road should be more so in a school zone. There are more distractions and greater consequences when kids are crossing the streets and being, well, kids. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: What the new Hands-Free Georgia Act bans and allows Drivers should not gauge the caution they take simply on how recent laws have changed. House Bill 978 also went into effect on July 1st and increased automated enforcement of traffic laws around school buses, a measure met with big opposition. But it also eased the restrictions of who stops around buses. Now drivers going the opposite direction of a school bus on a multilane highway (which is two or more lanes in each direction), do not have to stop, if there is a turn lane in the middle. “Vehicles traveling in opposite direction must use caution!” Townsend emphatically explained. This softening of the law, which before only allowed oncoming vehicles to stop if there was a raised or grassy median, also met resistance. Vehicles behind stopped school buses, no matter their lane, still must stop when buses are offloading kids. Drivers in both directions still must halt on two-lane roads, even if those have turn lanes. And people violate these existing laws all the time, in the name of “I can just squeak right by” or “this is totally unnecessary.” Kids are expected to behave — so, too, must motorists. Lives are at stake. » RELATED: Why a small change in law could create danger for students AAA’s legacy School Safety Patrol Program, something I was honored to be in 20 years ago, is still going strong and is a great way to both enforce safety and teach students themselves the importance of caution and common sense. “Prior to participating in the patrol program, I really didn’t know what safety meant,” AAA Georgia School Safety Patrol of the Year, Xavier Sellers, said. The program also teaches students how to better lead their peers and even adults. “Now that I have the responsibility of keeping my school safe, I can see the importance of being a better leader and developing qualities that will help me operate with excellence.” Sellers attended Anderson Elementary School in Clayton County, which means Clayton County has produced the Safety Patrol of the Year twice in a row. Alyce Washington won the honor a year ago. Whether new laws, news stories, public service announcements, safety patrollers in neon belts, amber school-zone lights, or some mixture of all grab attention during this time, they should prompt action. Children deserve extra attention in many ways, not the least of which being behind the wheel. » RELATED: Georgia cameras may catch school-zone speeders Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com.
  • Officials haven’t set an official opening date for the new Northwest Metro Express Lanes, a reversible tolling system along new overpasses on I-75 and I-575 in Cobb and Cherokee counties, yet. But the targeted opening is still the end of the summer. Plans have been in place for years to improve the northwest corridor, and GDOT and SRTA got tasked with taking a big swing at it. » RELATED: School traffic is back. What to know as metro schools and buses return  The lanes will resemble the lanes that opened along I-75 in January 2017 in Henry County. They will run in the preferred rush hour directions in the weekday mornings, will close at 11 a.m. to be “flushed” of errant cars and debris, then re-open mid-afternoon for PM drive. Not just building the lanes, but training first responders and testing the equipment are big steps that need completing before they open. Smilin’ Mark McKay brought in GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and SRTA/Xpress Executive Director Chris Tomlinson to the News 95.5/AM750 WSB studios Wednesday, for a special “Peach Pass” edition of Atlanta’s Evening News. They were enlightening, to say the least. “We’re trying to take a system approach,” Tomlinson stated, referencing the news that had just broken about SRTA’s new uniform pricing system for all Peach Pass lanes in Georgia. SRTA has set a minimum rate for the lanes during times of dynamic pricing at $.10 per mile. They dynamically adjust the lane rates, based on traffic demand, so to maintain the express lanes’ average speed at 35-45 mph. In the overnight hours total trips will not cost more than $.50 in any express lane in Georgia. » RELATED: New express lanes may have drivers paying to drive along  In the Northwest Metro Express Lanes system, there are 30 miles of new lanes, but the longest trip can be 20 miles, whether a trip starts on I-75 or I-575. Trips begin on I-75 from the Hickory Grove Road access point (north of Wade Green Road) and I-575 from Sixes Road. With the new pricing structure, the minimum cost for a full trip in the lanes is $2.00 during rush hour or another high demand time, when dynamic pricing is in place. The new Peach Pass lanes in Cobb and Cherokee counties also provide new access to the freeway from some roads that had just been overpasses. “We have 10 new access points; five of those on I-75 are interchanges that are at different locations than the interchanges today,” McMurry explained with his big Peach Pass system map spread about in the WSB Radio studio. Those new I-75 interchanges are at Hickory Grove Road, Big Shanty Road, Roswell Road, Terrell Mill Road and Akers Mill Road. PeachPass.com shows the full map and explains this in more detail. McMurry sees the benefit of these new tied-in roads, “Those are new interchanges that will give you direct access from those streets, directly into the express lanes.” This means a Peach Pass user who lives off of Hickory Grove Road in Acworth can pay a small amount and save several minutes on their commute by driving straight onto I-75. » RELATED: Peach Pass Retail Center open in Kennesaw “This is the largest of this type of project that Georgia has ever seen and has the ability to move the needle on mobility and congestion like we haven’t seen in Metro Atlanta in a long time,” McMurry said. The most crowded part of I-75 in Cobb County — near Windy Hill Road and I-285 — sees 290,000 vehicles per day. He also noted that this is just about the biggest single express lanes project in the nation; crews began work in 2015. The lanes also aid mass transit in providing a more reliable, faster trip for the Xpress and GRTA buses that before had used the main through lanes. The first similar lanes, the I-85 HOT lanes between Suwanee and Chamblee in Gwinnett and DeKalb counties, have a federal mandate that includes a certain portion of funding actually going to public and mass transit. The newer lanes do not have that restriction, but are built to move more people faster, both McMurry and Tomlinson said.  » RELATED: Here's what happens if you use the Peach Pass lane illegally And more Peach Pass toll lanes are coming. “We are eventually going to have the lanes across the top half of I-285 [anywhere north of I-20]. There will be system-to-system connectivity, where you can go from one to the other,” Tomlinson said. Though each new batch of lanes may be slightly different, the goal is to make driving in them seamless, especially as Georgia builds more. GA-400 will also seem them in the near future. This proliferation influenced SRTA’s standardizing the pricing system. Some quirks exist. The I-85 lanes in Gwinnett and DeKalb allow exemptions for carpoolers with three or more passengers and certain fuel-efficient vehicles. The current I-75 lanes in Henry County and the new ones northwest of town will not. Law enforcement/first responder vehicles and public transit are the only ones exempt from being charged in these lanes. Speaking of I-85, GDOT is extending the current HOT lanes on I-85 in Gwinnett from Old Peachtree Road to Hamilton Mill Road, a project set for completion by the end of 2018. This extension took less time that the I-75 and I-575 lanes, because GDOT could simply construct them in the median. “What most people don’t realize is there also is a general purpose lane in that,” McMurry said. The I-85 HOT lanes that opened in the fall of 2011 took over an existing HOV lane. The new lanes are additional and will add one toll lane and one regular lane in each direction. This should be a big boon for I-85, especially when it files down to two lanes north of the Mall of Georgia. Many people oppose toll lanes, because they are seen as only benefiting the rich. But truthfully, they are added capacity to crowded roads and they are controlled by the pricing. Even those who don’t use the new lanes will gain the benefit from not having to drive share the road with the people that pay. Keeping a Peach Pass in the back pocket (really, on the windshield) for an especially testy commute is not a bad card to have if it needs playing. » RELATED: Pay n Go Peach Pass available at Walgreens, CVS Listen to the full podcast with McMurry, Tomlinson, McKay and Turnbull, to learn more about the new Northwest Metro Express Lanes, the I-85 HOT lane extension, and how the Peach Pass works. » RELATED: More Atlanta traffic news from the AJC
  • Doug 'Fireball' Turnbull and Smilin' Mark McKay went long form with GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and SRTA/Xpress Executive Director Chris Tomlinson on the ins and the outs of the new I-75/I-575 Northwest Metro Express Lanes, how the Peach Pass works, and where these types of lanes will open down the road in Metro Atlanta. McMurry and Tomlinson reveal a new pricing structure for the current and future lanes, the complicated construction process, and how HERO units play a key role in reversing the lanes. Listen for more and read Turnbull’s “Gridlock Guy” column in Monday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Listen to the full show:
  • I have the privilege of volunteering for TEAM Georgia, a safe and sober driving coalition that signs up people to pledge not to drink and drive. TEAM Georgia is at every event at the Infinite Energy Center in Gwinnett, getting event attendees to take the oath and not drink alcohol that night. For doing so, they receive a free soft drink coupon, by the way. But I digress. » RELATED: GDOT ramps up I-285/Ga. 400 interchange work One gentleman and I struck up a conversation at this past Sunday’s Smashing Pumpkins concert. No, it wasn’t about Billy Corgan’s nasally voice either. When he found out my vocation as a WSB Traffic Team reporter and author of this column, our talk pivoted to Atlanta traffic. He started with a statement I will paraphrase and edit for content: “Let me tell you how much the DOT (stinks)!” I immediately retorted that I knew the people running GDOT and that while we disagree on how some things go, there is a group of really talented and dedicated people at the helm. To undergird my statement even more, I explained how I know GDOT Commissioner Russell McMurry and how responsive both he and the rest of his team are when we notice problems from the WSB Skycopter and the WSB 24-Hour Traffic Center. But this man didn’t let up. “Oh — the commissioner (stinks)!” I questioned him after that and realized he meant his county commissioner, to whom he had complained about a traffic issue. According to him, the county had been unresponsive to his queries, or at the very least, they had not given him the answer he wanted. But when I said I knew the commissioner, he immediately assumed it was his and not the state’s. I bring this up because we live in a society full of finger-pointing, complaining, and ranting. Whether via calls, social media, emails, or snail mail, government can hear from its constituency more easily than ever. But with that ease comes volume: the comment pile is big. As someone who deals often with customer service in my job, I can tell you that the feedback that is well thought out and constructive receives far more consideration. » RELATED: GDOT acknowledges Fayette traffic signal problem  This relates heavily to one’s advocacy about their commute. As local officials sift through comments about stop lights, potholes, bad signage, or any other road-related problem, they have to prioritize their responses. If a citizen doesn’t know the right person to complain to, they hurt their chances of getting the proper attention. If a problem is very localized — on a small street without a highway number, for example — the state won’t be handling it. Either the county or city will handle the potholes or trees on that street. If a road has a highway number, either a state or U.S. route, then check with the state DOT first. Counties and cities may handle those, but the state is often aware of issues. Some complaints may seem like they fall under GDOT’s umbrella, but the flow chart is more complicated. Take the I-85 HOT lanes in Gwinnett. They came into being because of a federal grant that stipulated certain characteristics about them. The State Road and Tollway Authority actually manages the lanes, while the Department of Public Safety/Georgia State Patrol handles enforcement. GDOT just handled construction and takes care of certain repairs. If one is upset about something with those lanes, they help their case by pinging the right department. Now, this jurisdictional confusion is not straightforward in the least. The general public may spend more time trying to navigate the bureaucratic waters than the size of the delays their traffic problems cause. This may mean a complaint ends up in the wrong public servant’s hands, which is very understandable. This gives even more credence to the idea of being civil, informed, specific, and thoughtful in the feedback. Messages completely in ALL CAPS and with “misspeld wirds” also garner less consideration. When you play the blame game with your commute, do it amicably and with consideration of the difficulty in fixing the problem. Before throwing a named official under the bus, research if they are even the one to blame. Play the traffic blame game the right way. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on News 95-5 FM and AM-750 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at  Doug.Turnbull@coxinc.com . » RELATED: GDOT warns more potholes are popping up this time of year

News

  • A 61-year-old woman was pinned between her car and a gas pump after a four-car crash at a Lithonia gas station, DeKalb County police said.  Her grandchildren were inside the her car at the time, according to Channel 2 Action News.  The woman was taken to the hospital in critical condition following the Monday evening wreck at the Circle K gas station in the intersection of Covington Highway and Evans Mill Road, DeKalb County spokeswoman Shiera Campbell said.  Campbell said the woman was pumping gas when a gray vehicle sped into the gas station at a high rate of speed. The car crashed into a pick-up truck, causing it to crash into a Nissan SUV, Campbell said. The SUV slammed into the woman’s car, pinning her against the gas pump.  Campbell said the people, believed to be juveniles, inside the gray vehicle ran from the scene.  No other details were released.  In other news:
  • A man accused of shooting and killing a man in a Walmart parking lot appeared in court Tuesday.  Gwinnett County District Attorney Danny Porter said that while he does believe Troy Hunte killed Fadil Delkic, a refugee from the Bosnian War, in the parking lot of a Snellville Walmart Sunday, he is not convinced there was malice involved. “Clearly there was provocation on both sides, so that's the reason they made that choice,” Porter said. Sunday afternoon, shoppers at the Scenic Highway store were sent into a panic after a shot was fired outside.  “All you saw was everyone running,” witness Robin Reynolds told Channel 2 Action News. [READ MORE: Bosnian War survivor identified as victim in Walmart parking lot shooting] Witnesses said Hunte, his girlfriend and their child were heading into the store as Delkic was driving away. Hunte's girlfriend apparently thought Delkic pulled too close to them in a crosswalk. TRENDING STORIES: Buford schools superintendent recorded in racist rant, lawsuit says Man arrested in death of Mollie Tibbetts details what happened Girl, 15, says police officer sexually assaulted her for hours; GBI investigating The two argued, she slapped Delkic, then police said Hunte shot and killed the Bosnian refugee.  Hunte made his first court appearance Tuesday on what are now voluntary manslaughter charges.   Porter said the charges may change as his team investigates. He hinted Hunte may claim self-defense. “There are two questions in this case. Number one: Was there a right to defend him or his girlfriend? And number two: Was he justified in using deadly force?” Porter said. Delkic is getting a lot of support. An online fundraising effort has taken in $25,000 in less than a day.  Some of Delkic's family are not only asking why the suspect is not charged with murder, but why the woman who first argued with Delkic has not also been charged. “There was a child to consider. There were other issues that taking her into custody at this point was not necessary for the public safety,” Porter said. Porter said the woman is not entirely cleared yet. “That's something that is still under investigation and she may be (charged),” Porter said.
  • Shanann Watts’ father sobbed in a Colorado courtroom Tuesday as a judge recited the charges against his son-in-law -- charges that indicate detectives believe Chris Watts may have killed his children before his pregnant wife returned home from a business trip.  Chris Watts, 33, of Frederick, was charged Monday with nine felony charges: five counts of first-degree murder, including two for killing a child under the age of 12 while the defendant was in a position of trust, one count of unlawful termination of a pregnancy and three counts of tampering with a deceased human body. He is being held without bail in the Weld County Jail.  The defendant faces a potential death penalty on the murder charges.  In a confession to police, Chris Watts alleged that he strangled Shanann Watts, 34, after seeing her do the same to their two daughters, Bella, 4, and Celeste, 3. Disbelieving investigators charged him with all three murders, as well as with the death of the couple’s unborn child.   >> Related story: Colorado father charged with killing pregnant wife, 2 daughters, says wife killed children Shanann Watts was 15 weeks pregnant with a son they planned to name Niko, friends and family have said. A Change.org petition started by friends demands that Colorado adopt a new law, named “Niko’s Law,” to make the killing of an unborn baby like the Watts’ son first-degree murder. As Chris Watts sat stone-faced throughout Tuesday’s proceedings, which were streamed live by CBS Denver, Judge Marcello Kopcow advised Watts of the updated charges levied against him. Watts had been in custody since Wednesday on suspicion of murder and tampering with evidence.  Chris Watts told 9News in Denver in an interview the day before his arrest that he had nothing to do with the deaths of his family.  “Everybody’s going to have their own opinion on anything like this,” Watts said in the TV interview. “I just want people to know that I want my family back. I want them safe and I want them here.” The charges Kopcow read in court state that Chris Watts caused the death of his wife on Aug. 13, the day she and her daughters were reported missing by a friend. The charges related to Bella and Celeste, however, state that he caused their deaths “between and including Aug. 12, 2018, and Aug. 13, 2018.” Shanann Watts was out of town until early Aug. 13.  An arrest affidavit released Monday states that the friend who reported Shanann and the girls missing, Nickole Utoft Atkinson, dropped Shanann off at the Watts’ home just before 2 a.m. that day. The two women had been on a business trip to Arizona for Le-Vel, a health and wellness company that sells nutritional products.  “Nicole (sic) stated Shanann was 15 weeks pregnant and was not feeling well during the trip,” the affidavit states.  Atkinson became concerned later that morning because Shanann Watts missed a 10 a.m. doctor’s appointment and was not answering phone calls or texts. She went to the couple’s home at 2825 Saratoga Trail to check on her.  Read the charges against Chris Watts below. “(Nickole) went to Shanann’s residence and discovered her car in the garage with car seats positioned inside of it,” the affidavit says. “(She) attempted to enter the front door, but a latch prevented it from opening more than three inches.” Atkinson called Chris Watts at work and asked him to return home to check on his wife, the court document reads. She was afraid that Shanann Watts, who reportedly had lupus, had passed out or was suffering some other medical emergency.  Atkinson also called police, who arrived before Chris Watts did. Once Chris Watts arrived and allowed officers into the house, they found Shanann Watts’ personal belongings -- her cellphone, purse, wallet and medication -- inside.  They also found a pair of women’s shoes kicked off by the front door and a suitcase, apparently from her Arizona trip, at the bottom of the stairs, the affidavit states.  Chris Watts initially told investigators that around 4 a.m. that day, he told his wife he wanted a separation. He said it was an emotional conversation, with both of them upset and crying, but that it was not argumentative.  Chris Watts told detectives that when he left for work just before 5:30 a.m., Shanann Watts told him she and the girls would be going to a friend’s home later in the day. He said that he backed his work truck up into the driveway to load some tools into it before leaving.  Read the warrantless arrrest affidavit in the Chris Watts case below. The truck’s movements were captured by a neighbor’s security camera, the affidavit says.  During the investigation into the disappearance of Shanann Watts and her daughters, investigators learned that Chris Watts was having an affair with a female co-worker at Anadarko Petroleum Corp. -- an affair that he denied in previous interviews.  Chris Watts was taken into custody Wednesday night, at which time Anadarko fired him. In a subsequent police interview Thursday, after being allowed to speak to his father, Chris Watts admitted strangling Shanann Watts the morning of Aug. 13, the affidavit states.  “Chris stated after he told Shanann he wanted a separation, he walked downstairs for a moment and then returned to his bedroom to speak with Shanann again,” the affidavit states. “While in the bedroom, via baby monitor located on Shanann’s nightstand, he observed Bella ‘sprawled’ out on her bed and blue and Shanann actively strangling Celeste. “Chris said he went into a rage and ultimately strangled Shanann to death.” Chris Watts told detectives that, when he backed his truck into the driveway, it was his wife and daughters’ bodies he loaded into the back seat, the affidavit states. He said he drove the bodies to an Anadarko work site just north of Roggan, an unincorporated area of Weld County about 40 miles from the family’s home in Frederick.  A Google Maps search using the coordinates of the site, which are included in the affidavit, shows a desolate area in which a dirt road leads to a couple of large oil tanks.  Chris Watts told investigators buried Shanann in a shallow grave near the tanks and dumped his daughters’ bodies inside the tanks.  “Chris was presented an aerial photograph of the tank battery area and identified three separate locations in which he placed the bodies,” the affidavit reads. Prior to Watts’ alleged confession, investigators did a drone search of the site and spotted a bedsheet in a field near the tank battery, the document says. The sheet matched the pattern of pillow cases and a top sheet discovered stuffed into a trash can in Watts’ kitchen earlier Thursday.  Shanann Watts’ body was found that afternoon, buried in a shallow grave near the oil tanks. Bella and Celeste were found inside the tanks, which were almost completely full of crude oil.  The girls’ bodies had been submerged in oil for four days, according to court documents filed by Chris Watts’ defense lawyer. The attorney, James Merson, sought to have defense experts at the autopsies of the victims, and to have DNA swabs done on the necks of the children, an apparent bid to prove that Shanann Watts killed her daughters.  Kopcow on Friday denied the motion to have defense experts present at the autopsies, but granted the request to for DNA swabs of Bella and Celeste’s necks. He denied the defense’s request that their expert take the swabs, however.  “Furthermore, defendant’s request to order prosecution to collect evidence in the manner described by defense expert is denied,” the order reads. “This court cannot order the prosecution and/or coroner how to conduct their investigation.” Kopcow said there was no indication that prosecutors or the coroner would destroy evidence, improperly collect it or fail to collect it.  The disappearance and killings of Shanann, Bella and Celeste Watts have captured national attention, and inspired gut-wrenching emotion from those who knew them. Shanann Watts’ father, Frank Rzucek, tearfully spoke publicly Monday ahead of the news conference at which Weld County District Attorney Michael Rourke announced the charges against Chris Watts.  “We would like to thank everyone in the Frederick Police Department and all the agencies involved for working so hard to find my daughter, granddaughters and Niko,” Rzucek said. “Thank you, everyone, for coming out to the candlelight vigil and saying all your prayers. They are greatly appreciated. “Keep the prayers coming for our family.” Rzucek has also been active on his Facebook page, posting photos of Bella and Celeste smiling and playing together. In one post, he uploaded the song “Let It Go” from the Disney movie “Frozen.” “Dear Bella and Celeste and Nico,” Rzucek wrote. “Pop Pop loves you. God bless you.” He also posted several photos of Shanann Watts.  “Dad loves you,” he wrote on one. On another, he wrote, “We got you, baby.” Family friends who let Chris Watts stay in their home after his wife and daughters went missing expressed shock over the accusations against him -- and apologized for taking him in and defending him against swirling rumors.  “Had we had any inclination that we thought he was involved at all, no way would I have let him in my house with my wife and kid,” Nick Thayer told 9News Thursday, the day Watts confessed and the bodies were found.  “They were family,” his wife, Amanda Thayer, told the news station. “They spent Thanksgivings with us and Fourth of Julys and all the holidays. It’s just unreal.” The couple, who also took in the Watts family’s dog, Deeter, until Shanann’s family could pick him up, is now left figuring out how to tell their 5-year-old daughter that her playmates are dead. They are also struggling to understand the crime themselves, 9News reported.  “I’m so sorry. We didn’t know. We thought we were doing the right thing,’ Nick Thayer said. “It’s all we can do is say we’re sorry that we defended him on social media. We really had no idea that he was capable of doing something like we’ve.... I hate it. I hate all of this.”
  • Court documents detail what a man charged with murder told investigators about the abduction and killing of Mollie Tibbetts. An affidavit filed Tuesday says the 20-year-old Tibbetts was running on July 18 in a rural area near Brooklyn, in central Iowa, when a car driven by Christian Bahena Rivera approached her. During questioning Monday, Rivera acknowledged making contact with Tibbetts, first by pursuing her in his car and then getting out and running beside her. Rivera told investigators he became angry when Tibbetts showed a cell phone and threatened to call police. He says he panicked and then “blocked” his memory. He says he does not recall what happened but found an earpiece from headphones in his lap and realized he’d put Tibbetts’ in his trunk. TRENDING STORIES: 7 scenic drives that will make you love Georgia even more Man accused of killing wife, daughters says he walked in on wife strangling children Girl, 15, says police officer sexually assaulted her for hours; GBI investigating He opened the trunk and noticed blood on the side of her head. The affidavit says he carried Tibbetts’ body to a cornfield and covered her with corn stalks. When he was questioned by authorities, he led investigators to the site. Rivera has been charged with first-degree murder.
  • President Donald Trump’s longtime personal attorney, Michael Cohen, pleaded guilty Tuesday to eight charges, including multiple counts of tax evasion and a campaign finance charge stemming from so-called “hush money” payments made to adult film actress Stormy Daniels and former Playboy Playmate Karen McDougal. >> Read more trending news Cohen, 51, entered a plea deal Tuesday with prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. Update 6:25 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: 'There is no allegation of any wrongdoing against the President in the government's charges against Mr. Cohen,' Trump's attorney, Rudy Giuliani, said in a statement after Cohen entered his plea Tuesday. 'It is clear that, as the prosecutor noted, Mr. Cohen's actions reflect a pattern of lies and dishonesty over a significant period of time,' Giuliani said. Cohen said in court Tuesday that he coordinated with Trump to pay hush money to Daniels and McDougal, who both claim they had affairs with Trump years before he was elected. Cohen did not name Daniels, McDougal or Trump in court. Update 6:10 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: Daniels’ attorney, Michael Avenatti, told MSNBC that he and his client have been “vindicated” after Cohen pleaded guilty Tuesday to charges including tax evasion and a campaign-finance violation. >> From Cox Media Group’s Jamie Dupree: Read the documents from Michael Cohen’s guilty plea 'A lot of this stems from her courage,” Avenatti said. “We're going to get to the bottom now in connection to the civil case as to what the president knew, and what he knew about it, and when he knew and what he did about it.' Daniels claims that she had sex with Donald Trump in 2006, more than a decade before he became president. She is suing Trump and Cohen, seeking to invalidate a nondisclosure agreement she signed days before the 2016 presidential election. Cohen said in federal court in New York that he paid Daniels, who was not named, $130,000 in exchange for the nondisclosure agreement to influence the election. The payment was made at the direction of Trump, who also was not named, Cohen said. Update 5:40 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: Deputy U.S. Attorney Robert Khuzami said after Cohen entered his guilty plea Tuesday that he submitted false invoices to the Trump’s company to obtain reimbursement for unlawful campaign contributions made in the form of payments to Daniels and McDougal. In his plea, Cohen did not name the two women or even Trump, recounting instead that he worked with an 'unnamed candidate.' But the amounts and the dates all lined up with the payments made to Daniels and McDougal. Cohen said in federal court in New York on Tuesday that he made the payments  in coordination with Trump to influence the election. Both women claimed Trump had affairs with them, which he denies. The other charges Cohen pleaded guilty to involve bank fraud and income tax evasion. As part of his plea agreement, Cohen agreed not to challenge any sentence from 46 to 63 months. Khuzami said Tuesday that Cohen’s “lies and dishonesty” were particularly egregious because of his profession. “(He) decided he was above the law and for that he’s going to pay a very serious price,” Khuzami said. Update 5:10 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: At a hearing Tuesday afternoon in federal court in New York, Cohen said he made payments to Daniels and McDougal on behalf of Trump, who was not named, “to influence the election,” according to The Associated Press. Daniels said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. She signed a non-disclosure agreement shortly before voters went to the polls for the 2016 presidential election in exchange for $130,000 from Cohen. McDougal claimed she had a nearly year-long affair with the president in 2006 and 2007. The rights to McDougal’s story were bought in August 2016 by American Media Inc., the company that publishes the National Enquirer, The Wall Street Journal reported, but her story was never published.  Update 4:55 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: Cohen admitted in court Tuesday to working at Trump’s discretion to silence Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate who claimed she had a nearly year-long affair with the president in 2006 and 2007, according to The New York Daily News. He also told the court that he paid adult film star Stormy Daniels $130,000 in the run-up to the 2016 presidential election “with and at the direction of the same candidate (Trump),” the newspaper reported. The money went to Daniels in exchange for her signing a non-disclosure agreement that barred her from talking about a sexual encounter she said she had with Trump in 2006, a decade before he was elected to office. A judge set Cohen’s bond at $500,000, according to Reuters. He is expected to appear in court for sentencing on Dec. 12. Update 4:40 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: The charges Cohen pleaded guilty to Tuesday include five counts of tax evasion, according to The New York Daily News. Update 3:45 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: An unidentified source told The Washington Post that Cohen's plea deal came Tuesday after prosecutors 'claimed he risked more than dozen years in prison.' Unidentified sources told Fox News that Cohen’s plea included three to five years of jail time. Update 3:25 p.m. EDT Aug. 21: It was not immediately clear whether Cohen agreed to cooperate in special counsel Robert Mueller’s ongoing investigation surrounding Trump as part of the agreement, The Washington Post reported. Cohen surrendered Tuesday afternoon to FBI officials, according to the newspaper. Original report: Two unidentified people familiar with the investigation told The Associated Press that Cohen’s attorneys were in negotiations with prosecutors earlier Tuesday. Cohen has been under investigation for possible fraud related to his businesses, the AP reported. Officials with the FBI raided his hotel room, home and office in April, seizing his computer, his phone and hundreds of thousands of records, The Washington Post reported. >> FBI sought records related to Trump 'Access Hollywood' tape in Cohen raid: reports Authorities sought details on Cohen’s efforts to stave off negative publicity about Trump, CBS News and The New York Times reported. Among other things, authorities sought information on the release of an infamous tape in which the president could be heard on a hot mic making derogatory comments about women and payments Cohen made to a pair of women who claim they had sexual relationships with Trump, The New York Times reported. Adult film star Stormy Daniels said she had a sexual encounter with Trump in 2006. Karen McDougal, a former Playboy Playmate, claimed she had a nearly year-long affair with the president in 2006 and 2007. Officials also sought details on the role that the publisher of The National Enquirer played in keeping the women’s stories from going public, according to The Times. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • Montana's governor is standing by his recent comments that he'd support a ban on some semiautomatic weapons, saying Tuesday that it's one of several measures that should be considered to curtail gun violence. The two-term Democratic governor, who is considering a 2020 presidential run, first voiced his support for a weapons ban Sunday in answer to a question posed during an interview on CNN. Gov. Steve Bullock held a news conference in the Montana Capitol on Tuesday and clarified his position: No taking away weapons from law-abiding gun owners and no ban on semiautomatic weapons that are conventionally used by hunters. 'When I view an assault weapons ban, it's sort of military, semiautomatic, typically removable clips, a magazine of 10 or more — it's like the AR-15s,' Bullock said of the rifle that has been used in several mass shootings, such as the one earlier this year at a Parkland, Florida, school shooting where 17 people died. Bullock said gun violence should be looked at as a public health crisis and that he wants a conversation on a range of restrictions that would make schoolchildren and communities safer. They include universal background checks, cracking down on straw purchases of weapons, banning bump stocks and passing so-called red-flag laws that allow a court to temporarily restrict a person's access to firearms. 'Frankly, I'm just tired of lowering the flags for school mass shootings and I'm tired of gun violence being part of our collective discussion for a week or two after another mass school shooting and then we move on,' he said. Amy Hunter, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said Bullock is kowtowing to the gun control lobby and dismissing the constitutional rights of his constituents, many of whom are staunch gun-rights supporters. 'By doubling down on his support for a ban on commonly owned rifles, Gov. Bullock proved beyond any doubt how out-of-touch he is with Montana voters,' Hunter said. Gun control advocates praised Bullock for supporting a ban and other policies. 'I'm hopeful the Montana state legislature will follow Gov. Bullock's lead and pass common-sense laws to keep our families safe,' said Kiely Lammers, who heads the Montana chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. Bullock said he is not proposing any specific bills or policy changes at this time. He also denied that the timing of his announcement had anything to do with his exploration of a possible presidential bid. Bullock is in between trips to early voting states, after speaking at the Iowa state fair last week and heading to New Hampshire on Friday.