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Cold snap expected to contribute to spike in manatee deaths

Florida is on pace to set an annual record for manatee deaths, according to officials with a nonprofit government watchdog group.

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Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility officials said the first two months of 2018 have been especially deadly for Florida manatees.

According to Florida Fish and Wildlife statistics, through March 9, there have been 183 reported manatee deaths. Of those, 52 deaths are contributed to cold stress.Cold stress occurs in manatees as a result of exposure to prolonged cold weather.

Experts said exposure to water temperatures below 68 degrees Fahrenheit for long periods can put a manatee at risk for cold-stress syndrome. It leads to weight loss, internal fat loss, dehydration and other issues.

Ron Mezich with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said young manatees are especially vulnerable to death from cold stress.

“It’s one of the factors that manatees typically have to deal with, and a lot of young animals tend to be more susceptible to cold winters when they’re out on their own for the first time,” Mezich said. 

A recent Florida-wide synoptic manatee survey found there are 6,131 manatees, which is down from 6,620 in 2017.

Escaped horses stop traffic on busy Atlanta highway

A prominent highway in DeKalb County had a different type of traffic problem Saturday morning.

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Horses were seen running along U.S. 78 East, with Triple Team Traffic tweeting that the highway was shut down past Montreal Road due to the incident.

Police were on the scene about 9 a.m. trying to contain the animals, and all lanes were back open about 30 minutes later, Channel 2 Action News reported.

Ranchers near U.S. 78 forgot to close a gate Friday night, DeKalb police spokesman Lonzy Robertson said.

Saturday morning, the horses ran onto U.S. 78 before they were “corralled” and taken back to the ranch, Robertson said.

No injuries to horses or people were reported.

Police K-9 bites girl, 4, while chasing suspect

A Shelby police dog chasing a man wanted on felony warrants bit a 4-year-old girl during the pursuit, officials said.

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The police chief told Channel 9 the suspect jumped on top of a car while trying to get away from the dog. 

At some point, the suspect opened the back door of the car and a girl inside was bitten. 

She was taken to the hospital to be checked out. The extent of her injuries is unknown.

After being denied marriage license, terminally ill woman, fiancé marry

Nearly a week after being denied a marriage license, a terminally ill woman and her fiancé have married. 

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Aubri Gillilan and husband Andrew Hendrickson wed at their home Friday afternoon

A relative officiated the wedding as their four children and other loved ones watched. 

A normally lethargic, Gillilan was giddy as she spoke the words she’d dreamed of saying: “I, Aubri, take you, Andrew, to be my husband.”

The couple was earlier denied a marriage license after they were repeatedly told they both needed to physically be present at the Fulton County South Annex to get their license.

Gillilan’s malignant melanoma prevented her from leaving her Fairburn home.

"I told them she was under hospice care, bedridden. She wasn't able to come," Hendrickson told Channel 2's Tom Jones earlier this week. 

The chances of getting married proved even more difficult after Fulton County Probate Judge Pinkie Toomer said it's difficult to send a worker to someone's home because of security issues. 

But Toomer eventually worked with the couple, sending a deputy and court clerk to their home to get the paperwork completed.

“There's no reason why we should have had to gone to this length to get married,” Gillilan said. 

Hendrickson said people in similar positions should be able to use Skype of Facetime for verification purposes. 

But, for now bride Gillilan is happy her wish came true: “It's great. We finally got married.”

Florida firefighter falls off bridge into river while rescuing woman from fiery crash

An off-duty firefighter in Florida fell off a bridge and into the St. John’s River while rescuing a woman from a fiery crash. 

Orange County Fire Rescue Lt. John McNally said he’s lucky he survived plummeting nearly 40 feet down into the river. 

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He said he was heading to work about 6:40 a.m. Friday when he saw the crash. 

“I saw one vehicle scrape a concrete barrier and then burst into flames,” he told WFTV

According to a report, Zachary Daniels, 30, crashed into Rhonda Nagy, 54, causing her vehicle to catch fire.

McNally said he pulled on his gear and he and Daniels rushed to help Nagy. 

He said her door was jammed against the bridge. He put one foot over the barrier hoping to pull her to safety, but he fell over the bridge.

“About halfway down, I realized I was falling and I just braced myself to hit the pavement,” he said. “I was so relieved to hit the water.”

He and Daniels, who also fell in, swam to safety, WFTV reported.

“He (Daniels) deserves more credit than I do because I’m trained for this,” McNally said. 

McNally said he was surprised and grateful that everyone survived. “Miraculously, no injuries. I can just equate it to pure luck,” he said. “It’s unbelievable. It’s astonishing.” 

Florida Highway Patrol troopers said the crash remains under investigation and charges are pending.

Elderly woman navigates busy traffic in Memphis on mobility scooter

A woman alarmed drivers in Memphis on Friday night as she drove a mobility scooter onto a dangerous highway. The woman, who appeared to be in her 70s or 80s, was seen driving around 7 p.m. The incident was recorded live on Facebook

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The video was being filmed as a cry for help. Facebook user, Towanna Murphy, asked her friends to please share the information with police as she followed the woman onto I-240.

"Whoever is watching this video, please call 911, so we can get this lady where she's going,” Murphy said.

The video ended with a Memphis police officer working to assist the woman off the scooter, but she refused to comply. 

Police said the woman is now safe and with officers.

Video shows family getting kicked off Southwest flight

A video showing a family being escorted off a Southwest Airlines plane just before takeoff at Chicago’s Midway International Airport has has gone viral, WGN reported.

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Alexis Armstrong, 24, filmed part of the incident on her cellphone. The video showed attendants telling a couple and their 2-year-old daughter to leave after the child had insisted on sitting in her father’s lap, WGN reported. The father said the girl had calmed down and there was no need to leave, but one of the attendants said “The decision has been made."

Armstrong, who was sitting a row back and across the aisle from the family, told WGN she did not think the family should have been kicked off the plane.

In a statement, Southwest said the conversation “escalated” between the crew and the customer.

“We always aim for a welcoming and hospitable experience and regret the inconvenience to all involved,” Southwest said in the statement. “The traveling party was booked on the next flight to Atlanta after the original flight continued as planned.”


Cables tightened on FIU bridge before it collapsed, possible cracks reported

Officials with The National Transportation Safety Board said construction workers were tightening cables on the newly constructed pedestrian bridge at Florida International University on Thursday before the structure collapsed, killing at least six people. And days before the collapse, a lead engineer reportedly noticed cracks in the bridge, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. 

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Friday night, NTSB Chairman Robert Sumwalt said their investigation is still in the early stages, but they know what workers were doing before the collapse. At this point, they don’t know if the work that was being done was the cause of the collapse. 

“Our mission is to find out not only what happened -- we know what happened, the bridge collapsed,” he said. “We want to find out why it happened.”

At about 1:30 p.m. Thursday, law enforcement responded to the intersection of Southwest Eighth Street and Southwest 109th Avenue west of Miami to the bridge collapse. Several people were taken to the hospital and six were confirmed dead as of Friday evening. Authorities said they expected to find other victims during their recovery efforts.

>> Miami bridge collapse: 6 confirmed dead, police say

On the day of the collapse, the main NTSB investigator for the said that there are 10 “diagonal members” that connect the walkway portion of the bridge to the canopy portion. He said on Thursday, construction workers were tightening cables within those diagonal supports. 

“Construction crews were applying post-tensioning force that is designed to strengthen the diagonal member,” he said.

During the news conference, officials were asked about possible cracks in the structure. They said at this time, they have not confirmed that on their own.

Friday night, the Florida Department of Transportation released the transcript of a voicemail left Tuesday by the lead engineer with FIGG, the firm that designed the bridge. The engineer, Denney Pate, said there were cracks in the concrete.

“Um, so, uh, we’ve taken a look at it and, uh, obviously some repairs or whatever will have to be done but from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there so we’re not concerned about it from that perspective although obviously the cracking is not good and something’s going to have to be, ya know, done to repair that,” Pate said.

FDOT said in their release that no one in the office heard the voicemail until Friday, a day after the collapse. 

Additionally, FDOT said that neither FIU nor the engineering firm ever warned them of any “life-safety issue.”

NTSB investigators were also asked about the cables shown in the photo renderings of what the bridge would look like when complete. In those depictions, the cables spread across the upper portion of the bridge much like the sail of a boat. Investigators said from their understanding, those cables “were only cosmetic; they were not structural members.” They had not been installed at this point because the second part of the bridge had not been built or installed. 

Florida Highway Patrol Lt. Alejandro Camacho said that Southwest Eighth Street between Southwest 107th Avenue to Southwest 117th Avenue will remain closed indefinitely as the recovery efforts and investigation continue. 

Sumwalt said they expect NTSB investigators to spend between five and seven days at the scene. 

“That’s really just the beginning of our investigation because there’s a lot of work that goes into this,” he said. 

United Airlines has another pet-related glitch 

United Airlines acknowledged its third animal-related mistake in a week, as a flight from Newark to St. Louis was diverted to Akron, Ohio when a pet was loaded onto the flight by mistake, CNN reported.

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United is already under scrutiny after one dog died in an overhead bin and another was accidentally flown to Japan.

>> Dog dies on United Airlines flight

On Friday, the airline announced that Flight 3996 was diverted to Akron after officials discovered the animal was on the flight bound for St. Louis, airline spokeswoman Maggie Schmerin said. The pet was supposed to be on a plane traveling from Newark to Akron, CNN reported.

United told CNN the unidentified animal was "safely delivered to its owner." Airline officials said it offered compensation to all passengers.

>> United mistakenly flies dog to Japan

"As we stated, we take full responsibility and are deeply sorry for this tragic accident. We remain in contact with the family to express our condolences and offer support," United spokesman Jonathan Guerin said. 

Police: Woman stole 1969 Preakness Cup from South Florida storage unit

The 1969 Preakness Cup trophy, the prize of a major thoroughbred horse race won by a stallion that nearly landed a Triple Crown, was among the items an alleged looter grabbed from a storage unit in South Florida, police said.

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Alicia Elaine Murphy, 59, of Boca Raton, faces several charges of burglary and grand theft. Investigators said she cut the locks on at least 12 storage units at a CubeSmart in Delray Beach and took electronics, household items, musical instruments and taxidermy.

And one storage unit had more than $300,000 worth of goods, including family heirlooms and memorabilia from the 1969 Preakness Stakes. Majestic Prince, a thoroughbred colt, won the race that year, two weeks after winning the Kentucky Derby.

Murphy sent the Preakness Cup, and other mementos including gilded horseshoes, to an auction house in New York that specializes in sports collectibles, police said.

The auction company had given Murphy a $15,000 advance on the cup before detectives arrested her Wednesday.

Police value Murphy’s total haul at between $350,000 and $400,000, the report says.

Murphy told detectives that she rented a storage unit at CubeSmart for 24-hour access, and routinely broke into other units using bolt cutters. She rented a large vehicle and hired laborers at Home Depot to help load trucks with stolen merchandise, according to the police report.

Murphy broke into the lockers at night when workers weren’t present, police said.

Murphy has been convicted of several felonies since the early 1990s, including cocaine possession, fraud, grand theft and forgery, according to state records. Most recently, Murphy served eight months in the state prison in 2005 on charges of grand theft and fraud.

The lucrative horse race memorabilia belonged to Francine McMahon, a Delray Beach resident whose father, Canadian industrialist Frank McMahon, owned Majestic Prince, according to news reports. Frank McMahon helped develop lucrative gas and crude oil pipelines in Canada.

Majestic Prince nearly won the Triple Crown, a rare feat in thoroughbred racing earned when a horse wins three prestigious races in a six-week span — Kentucky Derby, Preakness and Belmont Stakes. Only twelve horses have won the Triple Crown, the last in 2015 by American Pharoah.

Majestic Prince was the first horse to enter the Belmont Stakes undefeated in 1969. But he had injured a ligament in his right front leg before the race, according to news reports. McMahon had wanted to rest “The Prince” as media called the champion thoroughbred, but changed his mind.

Majestic Prince finished second by 5½ lengths to Arts and Letters in the Belmont and never raced again.

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