New testimony on Ukraine could be a game changer

iStock(NEW YORK) — Bill Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, has emerged as a cudgel in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. In explosive new testimony, the longtime Foreign Service officer provided lawmakers with painstaking details on how he came to suspect the White House was withholding aid unless Ukraine agreed to launch an investigation aimed at President Donald Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden.

It was, as he put it, “a weird combination of encouraging, confusing and ultimately alarming circumstances.”

Here’s why Taylor’s testimony matters:

Taylor is not a partisan, or anonymous

A West Point graduate and Vietnam veteran, Taylor became a Foreign Service officer who was eventually appointed as ambassador to Ukraine in 2006 by Republican President George W. Bush.

When Taylor did seek outside advice — last spring, he said, he hesitated to take the job because of rumors of unusual political influence — Taylor said he turned to his wife and a longtime mentor who happens to be a former senior Republican official. (He said his wife voted against the job, but his mentor swayed him by saying he should serve his country if asked and if he believed he could be effective.)

Taylor also isn’t an unnamed source. After an unnamed whistleblower filed a complaint in August alleging misconduct by Trump, the president alleged that person was politically motivated despite a finding by the intelligence community’s inspector general that the person’s allegations were credible. (The whistleblower’s lawyers have said the person is a career intelligence officer who has advised both Democrats and Republicans.)

With it nearly impossible to dismiss Taylor as partisan, Trump is noting that Taylor hired John Bellinger as his attorney, a senior official in the Bush administration who opposed Trump’s candidacy.

Taylor alleges a firm ‘quid pro quo’

In his written testimony, Taylor described learning of backchannel efforts involving Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, to pressure Ukraine into launching an investigation that Giuliani thought would benefit Trump.

By mid-July, Taylor said it was “becoming clear” that if Ukraine’s leader wanted to meet with Trump, he would have to agree to investigate the widely debunked theory that Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election, as well as probe the Ukraine gas company Burisma, that once employed Biden’s son, Hunter, as a board member.

Around the same time, Taylor said he learned in a staff meeting that the president himself had ordered a hold on nearly $400 million in U.S. aid for Ukraine. By Sept. 1, Taylor said he was told by Gordon Sondland — a Trump megadonor and hotelier who was appointed by the president to become the top U.S. ambassador to the European Union — that “everything” was contingent upon Ukraine launching an investigation, including the military aid.

Trump and his close allies suggested on Wednesday that a quid pro quo wasn’t possible because Ukraine didn’t know about the hold up of aid.

“You can’t have a quid pro quo with no quo,” Trump tweeted, citing an interview Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, gave to Fox News.

According to Taylor’s testimony, Ukraine was feeling pressured as early as July 10, following a meeting at the White House with senior administration officials. Taylor said a senior Ukraine official told him that President Volodymyr Zelenskiy “did not want to be used as a pawn in U.S. re-election campaign.”

By mid-August, the Ukrainians took the unusual step of asking the U.S. to submit its request for an investigation in writing. And by Aug. 29, a senior Ukrainian official reached out to Taylor expressing serious concern about the hold-up in aid money, Taylor said.

Taylor outlines in detail why he thinks Trump wasn’t acting in US interests

Another reason Taylor’s testimony is so problematic for Trump is that he outlines in painstaking detail why Trump’s decision to withhold U.S. support was not in America’s best interest.

To hear Taylor tell it, U.S. support of the new government in Ukraine fit in with America’s decades-long priority of deterring Russian aggression and there was little debate among seasoned diplomats involved that the U.S. should throw its full weight behind the new government. Ukraine had taken serious, concrete steps toward tackling corruption, he testified, and desperately needed U.S. military aid to continue fighting Russian troops at its border.

“If Ukraine succeeds in breaking free of Russian influence, it is possible for Europe to be whole, free, democratic and at peace,” he wrote. “In contrast, if Russia dominates Ukraine, Russia will again become an empire, oppressing its people and threatening its neighbors and the rest of the world.”

Taylor put everything in writing

Taylor created a paper trail, at one point encouraged by then-national security adviser John Bolton to write down his thoughts and sent via cable to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

According to Taylor, he warned Pompeo specifically that “Russia was watching closely to gauge the level of American support for the Ukrainian government.”

“I told the Secretary I could not and would not defend such a policy,” Taylor wrote.

Taylor said he heard later Pompeo carried his letter with him into a White House meeting on military aid for Ukraine. But Pompeo, he said, never responded.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Haunted house requires doctors letter, background check and signed 40-page waiver

iStock(NEW YORK) — A haunted house has a long list of requirements for anyone who is brave enough to step inside, or patient enough to fill out a detailed 40-page waiver.

McKamey Manor is not for the faint of heart and even the most extreme scare seekers must first consult a doctor, pass a drug test and clear a background check.

As a safety precaution, the haunted house located in Summertown, Tennessee, lists the following “basic” prerequisites for any potential visitors on its website.

– 21 and above, or 18-20 with parents approval.
– Completed “Sports Physical” and Doctors letter stating you are physically and mentally cleared.
– Pass a background check provided by MM.
– Be screened via FB face time or phone.
– Proof of medical insurance.
– Sign a detailed 40-page waiver.
– Pass a portable drug test on the day of the show.

According to the website, the waiver process alone takes three to four hours.

“This is an audience participation event in which (YOU) will live your own Horror Movie,” according to the description on the site. “This is a rough, intense and truly frightening experience. You must be in GREAT HEALTH to participate. Last year’s haunt was absolutely nothing compared to the new MCKAMEY MANOR.”

The owner and operator, Russ McKamey, also records a video of each experience and shares the videos on his YouTube channel with thousands of subscribers.

McKamey Manor has been featured on two different Netflix series that explore scary and haunted experiences.  The haunted house promises to test guests to their very core, but rest assured, “If things become too much, you can always quit…if we let you.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Family of man killed in Hard Rock collapse file wrongful death lawsuit against developers

iStock(NEW ORLEANS) — The family of one of the men who died when the Hard Rock hotel collapsed two weeks ago in downtown New Orleans has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the building’s developers.

The hotel was under construction on Oct. 12, when the top floors came tumbling down, killing three construction workers and injuring dozens of others. The cause of the collapse is currently under investigation.

Kamren Schexnayder and Angela Magrette Ortega, the daughter and twin sister of one of the victims, Anthony Magrette, said in their lawsuit that the developers failed to provide a safe working environment for the workers.

Schexnayder and Ortega said Magrette, 49, was “alive at the time the Hard Rock began to collapse” and the companies are responsible for “his conscious physical pain and suffering and mental anguish immediately preceding his death.”

They are also suing for their own mental suffering.

Both women arrived at the scene of the collapse before rescue workers could find Magrette and witnessed his body removed from the rubble, according to the lawsuit.

The two filed the suit on Tuesday in Orleans Parish Civil District Court against multiple companies: 1031 Canal, Kailas Development, Citadel Builders, Moses Engineers, Harry Baker Smith Architects, and Heaslip Engineering.

“Our highest priority is the care and concern for the families involved,” 1031 Canal said in a statement. “While there are many questions that are unanswerable at this juncture, our prayers and sympathies are with the good men and women who have been affected. We are hopeful that the thoughts and prayers throughout the community will help us as we continue to work with local authorities and the General Contractor to identify the causes of the incident.”

A statement on Citadel Builder’s website read, in part, “safety has always been and shall remain a priority for our employees and subcontractors.”

Harry Baker Smith Architects declined to comment, and the remaining companies did not respond to requests for comment from ABC News.

The majority of the companies named in Tuesday’s lawsuit are facing separate litigation from victims who were injured in the collapse and have alleged negligence.

The bodies of the two other victims who died, 63-year-old Jose Ponce Arreola and 36-year-old Quinnyon Wimberly, have not been removed from the building.

Quinnyon Wimberly II, the son of the elder Wimberly, filed a wrongful-death lawsuit on Monday, according to the New Orleans Advocate.

NOLA Ready, the city’s emergency preparedness agency, said that the recovery efforts of the two victims is “top priority” and will begin as “as soon as it is safe to do so.”

Mayor LaToya Cantrell’s office did not immediately respond to ABC News as to when that would be.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Hundreds of thousands of California residents brace for another planned blackout as high winds persist

iStock(SAN FRANCISCO) — Mass blackouts will be affecting hundreds of thousands of California residents in an effort to prevent wildfires amid a forecast of hot and windy weather.

The forecast poses a higher risk for damage and sparks on the electrical grid, which could contribute to “rapid wildfire spread,” Pacific Gas and Electric Co. said in a statement.

About 179,000 customers in 17 counties in Northern California will be affected by the public safety power shutoff, or PSPS. The shutoffs will happen in waves in different counties, beginning at 3 p.m. local time.

The peak high-winds period should end around noon Thursday in the Sierra Foothills, North Bay and San Mateo County and by noon Friday in Kern County, according to PG&E.

After the high winds subside, technicians will inspect the de-energized lines to ensure they weren’t damaged and restore power as quickly as possible. The “vast majority” of customers should have electricity within 48 hours after the weather passes, according to PG&E.

Southern California Edison also announced Wednesday afternoon that more than 308,000 customers could have their power cut, and San Diego Gas & Electric may cut power to 23,944 customers.

PG&E began warning customers on Monday about the possibility of the second deliberate blackout this month.

The heavy wind gusts during the last PSPS, which affected more than 2 million people, caused more than 100 instances of serious damage and hazard on PG&E’s distribution and transmission lines.

In Southern California, the deadly Saddleridge Fire ignited on Oct. 10 near an electrical transmission line operated by Southern California Edison. The company had shut down some of its power lines, but not the one running through Sylmar in Los Angeles County.

“The sole purpose of PSPS is to significantly reduce catastrophic wildfire risk to our customers and communities,” PG&E officials said in a statement on Monday. “We know that sustained winds above 45 mph are known to cause damage to the lower-voltage distribution system and winds above 50 mph are known to cause damage to higher-voltage transmission equipment.”

The announcement of the most recent blackout drew anger from community members who criticized the power company for not working to find alternative solutions sooner.

PG&E spokeswoman Tamar Sarkissian told ABC San Francisco station KGO-AM that it’s installing devices to divide the grid into smaller segments so blackouts are targeted in smaller areas.

The company aims to end PSPS events within the next 10 years, PG&E President and CEO Bill Johnson said before the California Public Utilities Commission on Friday.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Soccer star Alex Morgan is pregnant with a baby girl

iStock(NEW YORK) — Soccer star Alex Morgan has other types of kicks on her mind these days — she’s pregnant!

The U.S. women’s national team co-captain and her husband, fellow soccer player Serva Carrasco, announced Tuesday that they’re expecting a baby girl in April 2020.

A source close to Morgan confirmed that the Orlando Pride forward will intends to compete in the 2020 summer Olympics in Tokyo.

This will be the first child for the couple who married in 2014.

“We are already in love and we haven’t even met her yet. Newest member of the Carrasco family, coming soon,” Morgan wrote on Instagram, alongside a photo of her with her husband.

“Can’t wait to meet my baby girl,” added Carrasco in his own post.

Morgan, 30, made headlines earlier this year when she helped lead the national team to the country’s second straight FIFA Women’s World Cup championship, and advocated for equal pay along the way. According to a lawsuit obtained by The New York Times Morgan and her teammates filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Soccer Federation alleging gender discrimination.

“We are standing up for what we believe in,” Morgan told Vogue magazine, “and we’re standing up for other women in sports who aren’t getting opportunities or respect around the world.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

2 helicopters collide in midair as pilots herd deer on Texas ranch: FAA

iStock(HEBBRONVILLE, Texas) — Two helicopters collided in midair as the pilots herded deer on a ranch in Texas, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

The two Robinson R22 helicopters crashed Wednesday morning shortly after 9 a.m. local time on a ranch near Hebbronville, Texas, about 150 miles south of San Antonio, FAA officials announced in a statement.

The conditions of the occupants have not been confirmed, officials said. Their identities were not released.

The FAA and National Transportation Safety Board are investigating the crash.

Additional information was not immediately available.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Service dog lucky to be alive after nearly suffocating in owner’s car

iStock(BERLIN, N.J.) — A service dog in New Jersey is lucky to be alive after she was nearly strangled by her collar — to the point of passing out — and had to be rescued by firefighters.

Debbie Mazza was driving in Berlin, New Jersey, recently with her puppy, named Ava, traveling in a crate in the back of her car. Ava’s collar got ensnared on her crate, cutting off her breathing, causing the puppy to pass out, according to ABC News’ Philadelphia station WPVI-TV.

Mazza, who was given Ava as a service dog after Mazza lost her daughter to melanoma last year, immediately called 911 for assistance.

“When we walked up to the car we noticed that the dog’s paw was entangled in the cage,” said Chief Michael Kernan with the Berlin Borough Fire Company. “It was in trouble and it was gasping for breath.”

Kernan, along with two others who responded to Mazza’s call, treated the puppy on the scene.

“I remember saying to one of them…please don’t let her die,” recalled Mazza.

Mazza told WPVI-TV that she is incredibly grateful to the first responders for saving Ava’s life.

Mazza later took Ava to the Berlin Borough Fire Company so she could thank the firefighters in person, and she brought dinner for the firehouse as a thank you.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Report: TMZ’s Van Lathan reportedly got fired after putting hands on his co-worker

TMZ(LOS ANGELES) — After it was reported that TMZ personality Van Lathan was fired from his job after getting into a heated confrontation with his co-worker, more details have now emerged as to what allegedly happened.

According to Page Six, during Lathan’s on-air dispute with Michael Babcock, which happened on October 8, sources tell the gossip site that Lathan also put his hands around Babcock’s throat. 

In a Twitter feed of four frames, captured by a fan online, Lathan is seen putting his hands on Babcock’s neck from behind while Babcock sits in the TMZ Live host’s chair. In that frame, Lathan is seen seemingly whispering something into Babcock’s ear. In the second frame, Babcock appears shocked and turns to look at Lathan. In a third, Babcock follows Lathan out of the frame, and in a fourth, TMZ staffers are seen turning around in their seats to see what the commotion is about.

A source tells Page Six that Lathan had finished filming his segment but decided to return to confront Babcock.

“He walked all the way across the room, came from behind [Babcock] and grabbed him,” the insider said, noting that the segment was about Ellen DeGeneres hanging out with George W. Bush at a recent football game.

The insider also claims that Lathan wouldn’t have been fired if he hadn’t put hands on Babcock.

As previously reported, Lathan became a standout on TMZ after he famously stood up to Kanye West when he said “slavery was a choice.”

So far, neither Van nor Babcock has officially spoken publicly about the alleged incident.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Former House Speaker Paul Ryan sends sweet surprise birthday message to Meghan McCain on ‘The View’

iStock(NEW YORK) — The View co-host Meghan McCain celebrated her 35th birthday on Wednesday, and she had no idea she’d be getting a surprise birthday message from former House Speaker Paul Ryan.

McCain celebrated her birthday with The View guests Shooter Jennings and RuPaul’s Drag Race queens Nina West and Monét X Change, all of whom had their own set of surprise gifts for the birthday girl. But nothing compared to the shock factor of realizing that Ryan had a personal message just for her.

“Hey Meghan, Paul Ryan here. I just wanted to wish you a happy birthday. I’m sorry I couldn’t be there to celebrate with the rest of the folks of The View’ with you today,” Ryan said in his video message. “I want to make sure you know a lot of us are rooting for you and wishing you a happy birthday today.”

“You’re a class act. You show what it takes to handle stress and adversity very, very well. You speak from your heart. You know who you are, you know how you stand and you do it with class,” he added. “So, happy birthday and have a great year.”

An ecstatic McCain joked, “That’s my boyfriend!” Admitting that he is her “crush,” McCain said that she and husband Ben Domenech laugh about it together.

“We’ll just keep that between us and all the millions of people watching,” McCain said.

As someone who doesn’t normally care much about age, McCain said that she felt differently about her 35th birthday on Wednesday.

“I’m 35, and I’m, like, all up in my feelings about turning 35,” she said. “I never care about age and all of a sudden I’m, like, 35 is, like, real. It’s the age everybody starts talking about kids and stuff, and I still want to dress like Johnny Cash.”

Jennings, a country music star, performed his song “Rhinestone Eyes” for McCain, which he also sang at her and Domenech’s wedding in 2017. Later on, Nina West and Monét X Change walked out with a cactus cake and gifts.

For McCain’s 2018 birthday, Andy Cohen, a TV personality who is also close friends with McCain, surprised her with a colorful, sequin Jovani jumpsuit worn by Real Housewives of New York cast member Dorinda Medley. McCain’s favorite Real Housewives of Beverly Hills star Ericka Jayne also joined in for the birthday festivities and performed her hit song “Expensive.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019

Man who allegedly raped, strangled teen in 1984 identified with genetic genealogy: Sheriff

iStock(NEW YORK) — Genetic genealogy has led authorities to the man who allegedly raped and strangled to death a Wisconsin teenager decades ago.

But there will be no arrest since the suspect, Philip Cross, died of a drug overdose in 2012, Ozaukee County Sheriff Jim Johnson said at a news conference on Tuesday.

On the morning of Dec. 15, 1984, Traci Hammerberg, 18, was found battered and naked from the waist down, lying on a driveway, Johnson said. She had been violently raped, strangled and repeatedly struck on the side of her head, the sheriff said.

The night before, she had gone to a party with friends, and was last seen leaving the party on foot, the sheriff said.

“She was known to accept rides from people she knew, or hitchhike,” the sheriff said.

Cross, who was 21 at the time of the crime, was identified as a suspect this year after investigators turned to genetic genealogy, which uses an unknown suspect’s DNA from a crime scene to trace his or her family tree based on relatives who voluntarily submitted their DNA to a public database.

The first public arrest through genetic genealogy was the April 2018 arrest of the suspected “Golden State Killer.”

Since then, genetic genealogy has helped lead to dozens of other suspect identifications. But it has also drawn criticism from some civil liberties advocates, who say it raises significant privacy concerns.

The DNA left on Hammerberg’s body was uploaded to a public genetic genealogy database, which analysts used to begin building a family tree of the possible suspect, the sheriff said.

The closest relative was a second cousin, the sheriff said, and from there, analysts started building a family tree and looking for related men who could have been a suspect.

On Aug. 28, Philip Cross was identified as a potential suspect, the sheriff said. His DNA was obtained from his 2012 autopsy, and on Sept. 3, investigators got confirmation that the DNA profile from Hammerberg’s body was consistent with Cross’ DNA, Johnson said.

Cross was never interviewed in connection to Hammerberg’s killing, authorities said, though they might have known one another. Hammerberg’s brother says Cross used to ride the same school bus as them, authorities said.

In a police interview in 1978 following a reported car theft, Cross allegedly said he “sometimes” “does things without realizing what he’s doing,” the sheriff said.

Cross served time in prison for forgery and was released in April 1984, Johnson said.

In 1991 Cross allegedly tried to strangle a woman; the woman escaped and said she did not know what triggered Cross to attack her, Johnson said.

The sheriff said he has “mixed feelings” that Cross cannot be arrested for this crime.

“I wanted him to face greater justice. He stole Traci’s life. He was able to live the life he wanted,” Johnson said.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Posted On 23 Oct 2019