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    From the ground up, every slide and every swing has been a labor of love for the Sandy Ground Project: Where Angels Play, because each of the playgrounds represents an angel from Sandy Hook Elementary School.

    “It makes me feel like a million dollars. It’s the best thing we’ve ever done,” said Bill Lavin, founder of The Sandy Ground Project.

    The project was both an effort to rebuild coastal communities in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut that were damaged by Superstorm Sandy and a way to honor the lives of the 20 children and six adults who were killed in Newtown last year.

    “We thought that too much focus was on the way these children left us. We wanted to celebrate who they were, their favorite colors, have their personalities reflected, and while doing that, have other children benefit,” said Lavin.

    The playground in New London is built in honor of Emilie Parker. It has the special touches of Emilie’s drawings and her favorite colors of pink, black and blue. It’s a playground Emilie’s father says she would love.

    “She was someone who was all about community and love and making sure that everybody felt welcomed, so that’s what’s going to happen here,” said Robbie Parker, Emilie’s father.

    It will happen on all of the 26 playgrounds that are built. So far there are 15 completed, and the work is far from over. The playground dedicated to Josephine Gay was just completed this week in Bridgeport, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.

    “A great way to overcome the anniversary with a celebration of her life,” said Michele Gay, Josephine’s mother.

    “From something ugly that is happening, something beautiful is coming out of it,” said Carlos Soto, whose daughter, teacher Vicki Soto, lost her life in her classroom at Sandy Hook.

    Organizers feel the memory of the 26 angels will forever live on through these playgrounds, the passion of the volunteers who built them and the children who will be able to enjoy them every day.

    “I want parents when they come here with their kids to put their cell phones away and just really enjoy the pure joy that kids embrace and fill our lives with,” said Robbie Parker.

    “The gift of hope and giving and people coming together against all odds and in the wake of such horror, I think will live on for generations,” said Bill Lavin.



    Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

    A playground in New London is dedicated to Emilie Parker.A playground in New London is dedicated to Emilie Parker.

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    Signing up for health insurance has been a long and frustrating process for Valerie Gumpper and her husband Philip Kushner.

    The Bridgewater couple has spent weeks trying to get health coverage through the state health exchange.

    It all started back in October when the small business owners received a notice that their current Anthem health plan was going to be cancelled.

    So, they decided to go on the exchange.

    They were able to get through the entire process on the website but at the end they got this message: "You are currently not enrolled in a health plan."

    "We're putting all our information in but we're not getting anything back out," said Gumpper.

    They said calling Access Health CT wasn't much easier.

    "First we were told we don't know anything about you, we don't have any information for you," she said.

    Then once the operators found their information, Gumpper said they never received any kind of e-mail or confirmation saying they had completed the process.

    "We were told just wait and we would receive a package of materials in the mail and we never did," she said.

    Worried they wouldn't receive their insurance by January 1, they went to an enrollment fair last week.

    "They were as confused as we were initially," she said.

    Two and a half hours later they received a confirmation number but even as of December 12, their online account still shows they haven't completed the process.

    "This is not an inexpensive investment on the part of the consumer, or Valerie and myself so that we do want to make sure we're getting right product," said Kushner.

    NBC Connecticut contacted Access Health CT. They couldn't immediately say why this happened and they said they are looking into this specific issue.

    The deadline to enroll is December 23.

    Philip and Valerie are holding out hope that they will be covered by the new year.


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    For the next two months the federal government will be keeping a very close eye on Metro-North after the deadly train derailment in the Bronx nearly two weeks ago.

    On Monday they'll launch "Operation Deep Dive," a 60 day investigation of Metro North. It's unclear how many people will be on this safety team but it's clear they'll be looking at everything from track maintenance and repair practices to how long long an operator can drive a train.

    "It's just nerve-wracking to know that it has happened," said Anthony Brunner who says Metro North is the best way for him to get to school and work. "So I'm glad to hear that they're investigating into it whether it's freak incidents or if it's an actual problem with this system."

    It's a system that will be under a heavy microscope by the Federal Railroad Administration in the next 60 days with this new operation.

    "They're going to not just be looking at safety, they're going to be looking at compliance for every federal regulation that governs the railroads," said John Harwell from the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, adding that Metro-North is in dire need of a thorough examination.

    "We need to make sure that Metro North is in fact living up to all the things they've talked about over the years. They've had a good safety record until 6 months ago."

    The Department of Transportation says this will be a comprehensive safety assessment of the railroad, which has had a series of setbacks in the past six months.

    The MTA has said that they've already been "engaged in a deep and searching review of safety concerns since the Bridgeport derailment in May."

    The incident in Bridgeport goes along with one in May when a track worker was struck and killed by a train at the West Haven Metro-North station that was under construction at the time.

    The derailment in the Bronx in early December killed four and injured dozens more.

    "I think they need to do a lot of looking into what the infrastructure is like for the trains," said Robert Foley of Bridgeport.

    "It's very reassuring to know that someone is actually looking into it; that there's someone out there who will look into it," Brunner added.

    Whatever investigators uncover the Rail Council is hopeful it'll lead to the safest ride possible for all Metro-North riders.


     


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  • 12/12/13--12:07: Luxury Car Theft Ring Busted

  • Police in New York have arrested 18 people in connection with an elaborate luxury car theft ring that targeted Connecticut, New York and New Jersey.

    Police said the group stole 48 high-end vehicles worth $2.4 million. 

    One of the cars was a Bentley Continental GTC Convertible worth $196,000, according to the District Attorney in Queens, New York, and eight had been stolen from BMW of Darien in August 2012, according to local police. 

    With help from the New York Police Department, Darien police were able to recover seven of the eight stolen vehicles before they were resold.

    Richard Brown, the District Attorney in Queens, announced the charges on Wednesday. All 18 people are from New York and New Jersey.

    He said the group stole the cars, changed the vehicle identification numbers, registered them with forged titles and used brokers to resell the stolen vehicle.

    The suspects have been charged with enterprise corruption, grand larceny, forgery and other crimes. Three others also face drug charges, police said.

    The Darien Police were able to collect evidence from vehicles that were recovered in Queens and have sent it to the State La. Results are not yet available.





     



    Photo Credit: District Attorney of Queens, New York

    Police have busted a luxury car theft ring.Police have busted a luxury car theft ring.

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    It’s the last thing Bay Area commuters wanted to hear: BART management and its two biggest unions back at the bargaining table again after what one side is calling a mistake.

    At issue is a provision referred to as “4.8” that would give BART union workers six weeks of paid family medical leave. Luna Salaver, a BART spokesperson, said that provision would cost the district anywhere from $1.45 to $44 million for the duration of the four-year contract.

    “Quite frankly, BART cannot afford to pay the employees six weeks for family medical leave, so we’re hoping we could resolve this dispute within the next two days,” Salaver said. “And then the Bay Area can have BART labor peace for the next four years and employees can start getting the benefits of this new contract.”

    PHOTOS: BART Unions Strike

    According to BART, the unions brought up the new language of the provision May 30, two weeks after bargaining began. On June 5, the unions withdrew the proposal of the provision, which was formally rejected by BART within the same week – twice.

    Salaver said June 24th was the last time the provision was brought up, and that was by the management’s chief negotiator, Tom Hock, who reaffirmed the withdrawal.

    Fast-forward four months: Good news came with the two sides reaching a tentative agreement. However, just two weeks after that, on November 4, BART said its board caught the erroneous inclusion of the provision and immediately initiated contact with the unions.

    The question is how the provision ended up in the contract that was given to the unions in the first place. Salaver said it was a temporary employee tasked with drafting the tentative agreement who misread notes by the management team, and instead of sticking with the original district language for the family medical leave provision, used the unions’ language.

    Union leaders called BART’s explanation a misleading one.

    “If I sign an agreement my word is my bond, then we have to live with that,” said Antonette Bryant, president of ATU 1555. “They signed an agreement, they have attorneys that reviewed it. That was not a mistake.”

    MORE: BART Unions Sue Board Over "Illegal" Negotiations

    BART riders who spoke with NBC Bay Area said, if management didn’t catch what BART considers a mistake, someone should be disciplined or even terminated.

    “Somebody’s supposed to proofread this stuff, and professionals are in charge, so to blame it on a poor temp is a sorry excuse in my opinion,” said BART rider Celso Ortiz, of Danville.

    “How do you miss that? That’s what you get paid for, and get paid big bucks to do that,” added Cynthia Grisez, who rides BART every day. “I feel all those people all the way down need to go.”

    Still, Grisez said that doesn’t mean BART and especially not its riders should have to pay for the medical leave.

    “I don’t think they deserve it at all. Do we get that as people who work out here? No, we don’t.”

    Meanwhile, AFSCME 3993, BART’s third and smallest union, which represents roughly 215 members who work as train controllers and in other professional roles, ratified its contract on December 4. Melissa Miller, a union spokesperson, said AFSCME 3993 had never introduced the new language for the six weeks of paid family medical leave. The BART board is set to approve the contract December 19th.

    The talks involving a federal mediator helping BART management and the two other unions, ATU 1555 and SEIU Local 1021, are set to resume Friday morning at BART headquarters in Oakland.



    Photo Credit: AP

    Bay Area Rapid Transit trains are shown sitting on the platform at the station in Millbrae, Calif., Monday, July 1, 2013.  (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)Bay Area Rapid Transit trains are shown sitting on the platform at the station in Millbrae, Calif., Monday, July 1, 2013. (AP Photo/Jeff Chiu)

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  • 12/13/13--11:52: Stabbings Near Football Game

  • The stabbings of three people outside Sports Authority Field at Mile High in Denver, Colo., Thursday night are not linked to the Chargers vs. Broncos game, a Denver Police Department officials confirmed Friday.

    Three men were stabbed in a parking lot near the stadium just after the end of the San Diego Chargers' 27-20 victory over the Broncos, KUSA, our NBC affiliate in Denver, reported Thursday.

    According to a video (seen below) released by the Denver Police News on Friday, the three victims sustained non life-threatening injuries in the assault. Initially, police believed a fourth victim may have been stabbed, but that person has not been located by officials.

    The Denver PD sergeant confirmed the stabbing doesn't appear to be connected to the Chargers vs. Broncos game. Instead, it may have been the result of a road rage-type incident that escalated in the parking lot.

    “It doesn’t appear that this was related to the outcome of the game. It doesn’t appear that this was Broncos vs. Chargers,” said the sergeant with the Denver Police in the video release. “It appears this stemmed from a traffic altercation in which the suspects were backing out of a traffic space and nearly struck the victim’s vehicle.”

    The sergeant said three people were taken into custody for questioning following the stabbing.

    Two suspects have been released pending the ongoing investigation. A third suspect -- a 29-year-old man -- is being held on three counts in connection with the case. The sergeant said the stabbings are not gang-related, as far as investigators can tell.

    The conditions of the victims have been upgraded and they are expected to survive, the official said Friday.

    The stabbing happened at around 8:30 p.m. in a parking lot adjacent to the stadium.

    Identities of the victims and suspects have not been released. Initially, authorities would not comment on whether or not team affiliation had anything to do with the stabbings.

    Now, it seems that is not the case.

    In another unrelated incident earlier this month, also in a parking lot near a stadium, a man died following an altercation that took place in the Arrowhead Stadium lot after Kansas City's game against Denver, The Associated Press noted.

     



    Photo Credit: Courtesy of KUSA

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    A Connecticut father facing criminal charges for allegedly allowing dozens of teenagers to drink on his property the night of a fatal car crash that killed one attendee was warned about the underage parties in the past, court documents say.

    Paul Sibiga was arrested Thursday and charged with reckless endangerment and allowing minors to drink on his property. Police said the 66-year-old father of three's negligence led to a deadly crash by his Marlborough home that killed 17-year-old Paige Houston.

    The tragic August crash wasn't the first incident involving teen drinking reported at the property, according to police. Sibiga’s arrest warrant shows police had warned him in April of 2012 about his kids throwing underage parties at his place on North Parker Road after a teen was run over by a car during a party and rushed to the hospital. 

    Investigators said they told Sibiga at the time that he could be liable if there were more problems. He now faces criminal charges.

    The revelation alarmed one local parent whose daughter had friends attending the party.

    “If he knew what was going on and allowed that to happen…it’s terrifying,” Luke Olden said.

    Police say Sibiga admitted that his son had a party the night Houston, a student and cheerleader at RHAM High School, was ejected from a car driven by another teen who was at the gathering. In all, detectives said 28 teens were there, including some who admitted there was drinking and drug use. 

    Court documents show that teens said there were parties at Sibiga’s almost weekly during the summer, and they had access to liquor, marijuana and “Molly,” a drug similar to ecstasy.

    According to investigators, Sibiga usually had a rule for the teens who showed up: If they drank they had to give up their car keys and stay overnight. 

    Sibiga’s attorney said his client, who was charged with 28 counts of reckless endangerment and letting minors have alcohol, did not have a previous criminal record.  He was released from jail Thursday night.



    Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut and submitted

    Paige Houston, a RHAM High School student, was killed in a crash in Hebron early this morning.Paige Houston, a RHAM High School student, was killed in a crash in Hebron early this morning.

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    Friday's Mega Millions jackpot is estimated to be $400 million after no one matched all six numbers in Tuesday's drawing.

    Five tickets worth $1 million were sold in New Jersey, Connecticut, Massachusetts and Ohio. Those tickets matched the first five numbers of 5, 12, 22, 41 and 65.

    The Mega Ball was 13.

    Tuesday's jackpot was an estimated $344 million.

    The game revised its drawings in October to increase the number of prize winners among those who purchase the $1 tickets. The minimum jackpot for Mega Millions went from $12 million to $15 million, and will grow by at least $5 million after each drawing if nobody matches the numbers.

    Under the new system, the number of white balls increased from 56 to 75, and the number of gold balls will decrease from 46 to 15. The changes mean the new overall odds of winning a prize are one in 15.

    A record-setting $656 million was won on March 30, 2012. The next largest prizes in the 17-year history of Mega Millions were worth $390 million and $380 million.

     


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    Charges were filed against the man prosecutors said owned a loaded gun that a 7-year-old boy brought to a suburban Chicago school.

    Rashaad Byrd of Romeoville was charged with unlawful possession of a weapon by a felon and child endangerment.

    Authorities said the 27-year-old was staying with the boy's family and that the second grader found the gun and brought it to his Elgin school Thursday.

    It was a phone call from the school that brought Erica Singletary back to the Gifford Elementary school Thursday to pick up her son early.

    "I got a call today and they were saying that a kid brought a gun to school," she said. "They got it and called police and everything is ok. But I want to check if my child is ok."

    According to school officials, it was another student who noticed a gun in a backpack and alerted the teacher who brought the backpack and the student to the office. Police recovered a loaded 9mm from the backpack and detained the 7-year-old boy who brought it to school.

    "It's unfortunate in this day and age that kids can get their hands on a weapon of this nature," said John Heiderscheidt, U46 Schools Coordinator. "Something we are counting on the police department to fully investigate."

    After the gun was discovered students were held in their classrooms while dogs sniffed lockers, backpacks and hallways for another weapon. Nothing was found.

    Elgin Police Chief Jeff Swoboda said no charges will be filed against the boy. He wouldn't discuss the boy's motive for bringing the gun to school.

    Heiderscheidt said he's confident students will be safe to come back to school on Friday. 

    Singletary is still angry. 

    "I'm upset," she said. "I am scared because what was the motavation of a baby to bring a gun to school."

    It was unclear if Byrd has an attorney.



    Photo Credit: Getty Images/OJO Images RF

    FILE - A black gunFILE - A black gun

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    The controversial cross on Mt. Soledad was deemed unconstitutional by a federal judge in San Diego on Thursday, meaning the cross could come down within the next few months.

    A federal judge issued an order declaring the 43-foot Latin cross violates the Establishment Clause of the Constitution and unlawfully endorses one religion over others.

    The cross, part of the Mt. Soledad Veterans Memorial, was challenged in 2006 lawsuit by the Jewish War Veterans of the United States of America and several local residents, all represented by the American Civil Liberties Union and the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties.

    In 2011, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the cross violated the First Amendment. The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, and it was sent back to federal court in San Diego, where Thursday’s order was issued.

    The order states the cross must be moved within 90 days. If there's an appeal on that ruling, the process could be delayed. Read the full ruling here.

    “We support the government paying tribute to those who served bravely in our country’s armed forces,” said Daniel Mach, director of the ACLU Program on Freedom of Religion and Belief, in a press release Thursday. “But we should honor all of our heroes under one flag, not just one particular religious symbol.”

    “A national war memorial should stand for all of those who served,” said Norma Chavez-Peterson, executive director of the ACLU of San Diego & Imperial Counties, in a press release. “It is inappropriate and unconstitutional to declare a deeply religious symbol that excludes those outside of that faith as a monument to all veterans.”

    The cross was erected in La Jolla in 1954 and dedicated at an Easter Sunday ceremony in which the monument was described as “a gleaming white symbol of Christianity,” according to the ACLU.


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    A security guard is accused of stealing Lakers championship rings and nearly $20,000 worth of gift cards from the team’s training facility in El Segundo, authorities said.

    Eddie J. Monterroso was arrested outside the training facility Tuesday as he left work, according to the El Segundo Police Department.

    Photos: Kobe Bryant on the Court

    The Los Angeles District Attorney’s Office on Thursday filed felony charges of burglary and grand theft against the 23-year-old security guard.

    Investigators on Dec. 5 began probing a theft from the Lakers training facility including championship rings from the Lakers’ 2009 and 2010 wins, and $20,000 in gift cards, police said.

    18 LA Deputies Face Civil Rights, Corruption Charges

    Detectives said they found "evidence of the theft" and two championship rings at Monterroso’s Inglewood home.

    "The person who did steal is probably a Laker fan and wanted to keep it for himself," Sgt. Mike Gill, with the El Segundo Police Department, said. "I would imagine stealing a Laker ring would be very difficult to pawn or sell off."

    Monterroso had worked as a security guard at the Lakers' training facility for about a year when he was arrested, police said. He was third-party contractor hired by Anschutz Entertainment Group (AEG).

    Police are also investigating a photo posted to what is believed to be Monterroso's Facebook page showing the Los Angeles Kings' Stanley Cup championship on a finger, possibly the suspect's.

    The Kings also practice at the facility where Monterroso worked.

    NBC4's Kate Larsen contributed to this report.

    More Southern California Stories:


    Eddie J. Monterroso, 23, was arrested on suspicion of stealing championship rings from the Lakers' El Segundo, Calif., training facility, where he worked as a security guard.Eddie J. Monterroso, 23, was arrested on suspicion of stealing championship rings from the Lakers' El Segundo, Calif., training facility, where he worked as a security guard.

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  • 12/13/13--17:59: Sandy Home Vandalized

  • UPDATE: Community Rallies to Help Staten Island Family After Vandals Destroy Sandy-Ravaged Home

    A Staten Island family whose home was devastated by Sandy has to make repairs for the second time in less than two years after vandals broke in this week.

    Nancy Fisher and Ruben Vazquez have lived in their Midland Beach home for more than 35 years, but had been staying with friends for the past 14 months and were looking forward to returning home for the holidays.

    "We were almost back," Nancy Fisher said. "We were looking to come back next week." 

    "This for me represented a new beginning," she added. 

    But on Thursday, the couple walked through their front door to find their living room again destroyed. 

    Vandals had ransacked the living room, shattering glass, smashing holes in the new drywall and busting up the new refrigerator. They left beer cans, urinated on the floor and even destroyed the lone ornament on the family's Charlie Brown Christmas tree. 

    "I saw everything was devastated and I just broke down," Fisher said. 

    Word of the break-in traveled quickly; neighbor and fellow Sandy survivor Aiman Youssef made a house call with food and supplies. 

    "Somebody just went in and broke their homes. It's horrible," he said.

    Police processed the scene and removed potential evidence in their investigation. 

    Nancy Fisher is still hoping to return home with her husband and children before the holidays but wonders why her home was targeted. 

    "I don't have hatred in my heart, but I don't understand why someone would do something like this," she said. 


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    The judge who handed down a sentence of probation and treatment for a wealthy North Texas teen who killed four pedestrians in a drunken driving wreck is facing public outrage and calls for her removal.

    Controversy surrounding the sentence has become focused on the defense's strategy which included testimony that 16-year-old Ethan Couch suffered from "affluenza" -- a diagnosis not recognized by the American Psychiatric Association which refers to an upbringing so privileged that a person is unable to discern right from wrong.

    On Tuesday, Judge Jean Boyd sentenced Couch to 10 years of probation and treatment, possibly to be served at an expensive California rehab facility that would be paid for by the teen's parents. Prosecutors had sought the maximum sentence of 20 years in state custody.

    Boyd's decision has led to public calls for her resignation and an online petition on Change.org demanding that Gov. Rick Perry remove Boyd from the bench.

    Under current Texas law, the governor can remove a sitting judge from the bench with approval of two-thirds of Texas House and Senate members.

    Boyd, who previously announced she is retiring at the end of her term next year, declined to comment on both the sentencing decision and the calls for her removal when contacted by NBC 5.  Boyd said speaking about the situation would be unethical.

    The outrage over the sentencing decision is largely linked to the testimony of psychologist Gary Miller, a witness for the defense who said  Ethan Couch suffered from "affluenza," a term suggesting his parents' wealth and privilege taught him there were no consequences for bad behavior.

    In addition to the APA, other mental health practitioners believe that diagnosis should not have been used by the defense to justify wrongdoing.

    Other critics feel the sentence, and the use of the "affluenza" defense, sends a bad message about personal responsibility.

    "I think once you're behind the wheel it doesn't matter where you're from, who you are, how famous you are, how poor, how rich, how anything ... I think when we're given a driver's license, that's a privilege and a part of that privilege has a responsibility," Jeff Miracle, with Mothers Against Drunk Driving, told NBC 5.

    Couch's attorneys argue that the judge's sentence will have a significant impact on the convicted teen and his life going forward.

    Scott Brown, Couch's lead attorney, said the teen could have been freed after two years if he had drawn the 20-year sentence. Instead, the judge "fashioned a sentence that could have him under the thumb of the justice system for the next 10 years," he told the Star-Telegram.

    "And if Ethan doesn't do what he's supposed to do, if he has one misstep at all, then this judge or an adult judge when he's transferred can then incarcerate him in prison," Brown said. "He's taken away from his family, he's taken away from all the things that he's been given."



    Photo Credit: NBC 5 News

    Ethan Couch, center.Ethan Couch, center.

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    I-84 eastbound has in Farmington after a car fire.

    A car caught fire just before near Exit 37 just before 9 a.m., according to state police.

    The eastbound lanes were closed while firefighters put out the fire.  All lanes have since reopened.



    Photo Credit: Stephanie O'Connell

    A car fire closed I-84 East in Farmington on Friday morning.A car fire closed I-84 East in Farmington on Friday morning.

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  • 12/13/13--17:37: Mega Million Odds

  • The Mega Millions jackpot is the second-largest ever at $425 million, which could make someone extra lucky on Friday the 13th. The bad news: you have a better chance of being struck by lightning than taking home Friday's winnings.

    You also have a better chance of contracting West Nile Virus and being murdered than winning the Mega Millions jackpot.

    Recent changes in the game have lowered the odds of winning, which means the pot is rolling over for increasingly bigger jackpots. The odds of winning the jackpot used to be 1 in 176 million, but those odds have changed to 1 in 259 million, thanks to changes in October that included picking six numbers from 1 to 75 instead of the previous 1 to 56. There hasn't been a single winner since Mega Millions changed the game.

    Here are other events more likely to occur than you rolling in the dough:

    Being murdered: You have a 1 in 18,989 chance of getting murdered, according to DiscovertheOdds.com, which curated data from the Centers for Disease Control.

    Finding E.T.: Scientists say that one in five of the Sun-like stars in the Milky Way have habitable planets. That means 8.8 billion planets could be home to other life forms.

    Toeing the poverty line: The odds of being poor in the U.S. are 1 in 6. That's 49.7 million people in the U.S. living in poverty, which the Census Bureau defines as an income less that $23,283 for a family of four.

    Getting West Nile Virus: The odds of contracting the deadly disease is 1 in 66,592. The odds of dying from it are 1 in 1.4 million.

    Being struck by lightning: Perhaps one of the most well-known statistics out there, the odds of getting struck by lightning in a given year are still 1 in a million, according to DiscovertheOdds.com. The odds could change depending on "cloud-to-ground lightning density rates, population size, indoor vs. outdoor activity setting and safety adherence," according to the website. The odds of getting struck by lightning in a lifetime, given that you live to about 80 years old, are about 1 in 3,000, according to statistics from the University of Illinois in Chicago.



    Photo Credit: AP

    A woman buys Mega Millions lottery tickets at a newsstand Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in Philadelphia. Mega Millions, the lesser known lottery game alongside Powerball, is stepping up to the plate with an estimated $425 million jackpot for Friday's drawing, an amount that comes less than two months after a major game revamp that is supposed to create bigger jackpots and open potential players' wallets. The jackpot is the fifth largest ever in U.S. history and the second largest in Mega Millions history, trailing behind the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot in 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)A woman buys Mega Millions lottery tickets at a newsstand Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013, in Philadelphia. Mega Millions, the lesser known lottery game alongside Powerball, is stepping up to the plate with an estimated $425 million jackpot for Friday's drawing, an amount that comes less than two months after a major game revamp that is supposed to create bigger jackpots and open potential players' wallets. The jackpot is the fifth largest ever in U.S. history and the second largest in Mega Millions history, trailing behind the $656 million Mega Millions jackpot in 2012. (AP Photo/Matt Rourke)

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    The Transportation Security Administration is looking into why Miss Connecticut USA, Desiree Perez, tweeted that she was allowed to board a plane at Bradley International Airport Friday without having proper identification.

    Perez tweeted "I forgot my ID at home and didn't realize until I got to the airport! Thank you TSA and @united for letting me use my sash & crown as my ID." The tweet has since been deleted.

    Perez told NBC Connecticut she did post the tweet and doesn't see anything wrong with it, but deleted it after questions were raised.

    A spokesperson for the Miss Connecticut USA Pageant first confirmed to NBC Connecticut that Perez forgot her ID on Friday and was allowed to use her sash and crown as verification to let her board a United Airlines flight departing from the Windsor Locks, Conn., airport.

    Perez was headed to West Virginia for a photo shoot, the spokesperson said.

    In a later phone conversation, the spokesperson said Perez also showed a credit card as a secondary form of identification.  After contacting Perez, the pageant spokesperson said the beauty queen used a credit card and a phone bill as identification and that she showed a ticket agent her sash and crown, which was in a bag.

    After NBC Connecticut aired the story at 6 p.m., a pageant organizer called us to say Perez had used a college ID with a photo at the security checkpoint.

    The TSA website does not list a credit card, phone bill or a college ID as an acceptable forms of identification, but there are  protocols for passengers who do not have identification.

    The agency is investigating the incident, but disputes the tweet from Perez.

    “TSA at Bradley Airport has reviewed the video footage of Ms. Perez’ screening experience and at no time did she show the TSA officer her sash or her crown so they could not have been factors in allowing her into the checkpoint as she asserts,” said Ann Davis, a spokesperson for the TSA.

    A spokesperson for United Airlines said the ticket agent used the credit card as identification, but did not know what Perez used to get through the TSA screening area.

    Rahsaan Johnson, the United spokesperson, later released a statement:

    "The customer approached the counter without her photo identification and showed at the United agent’s request two other forms of ID that are acceptable in such situations. Consistent with procedures, the United agent noted the customer’s boarding pass to ensure TSA was aware she had not shown photo ID."



    Photo Credit: Twitter

    Miss Connecticut USA, Desiree Perez, tweeted on Friday that she was allowed to use her sash and crown as identification at Bradley Airport after she forgot her photo ID.  She has since deleted the tweet.Miss Connecticut USA, Desiree Perez, tweeted on Friday that she was allowed to use her sash and crown as identification at Bradley Airport after she forgot her photo ID. She has since deleted the tweet.

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    We now know the official cause of death of the British patient found dead in a stairwell at San Francisco General Hospital 17 days after she disappeared from her hospital room.

    The city’s chief medical examiner says 57-year-old Lynne Spalding died from probable electrolyte imbalance, which is essentially dehydration, and delirium, which is known as clinical sepsis.

    DOWNLOAD: Lynne Spalding’s Medical Examiner’s Report

    The report says Spalding was originally in the hospital due to complications of ethanolism, which is another term for chronic alcoholism. A chemical imbalance due to alcoholism led to her death, the coroner has determined.

    David Perry, a family spokesman who knew Spalding for six years, said he had been pressing for the medical examiner report's release for weeks. He also denied that Spalding ever had an alcohol problem.

    "Lynne was certainly not an alcoholic nor was she in any program that I was aware of,'' he said.

    Spalding was admitted to the hospital for treatment of a bladder infection on Sept. 19. She disappeared two days later. On Oct. 8, her body was found in a locked, rarely used hospital stairwell.

    The medical examiner's report does not specify when Spalding died but noted she was "deceased for some days before being found" in the stairwell. Her death is considered accidental.

    According to the report, Spalding's dead body was clad in street clothes when it was discovered -- including a black-and-white jacket, a black top, black pants, and a pair of black boots. There were no signs of injury.

    An exact time of death was not determined.

    Perry said he was disappointed that no time of death was released.

    "The only issue is did she die on Sept. 21 or sometime later,'' he said. "If the answer is she died after Sept. 21, then her family and friends feel that Lynne Spalding was killed through the neglect and malfeasance of San Francisco General Hospital and the San Francisco Sheriff's Department.''

    In a statement released Friday, hospital spokesman Tristan Cook said a number of new measures had been put into place after Spalding's death, including daily stairwell checks and new training for security staff.

    "Everyone here at San Francisco General is shocked and saddened by Ms. Spalding's loss,'' Cook said. "We have been doing everything we can to learn the facts and to ensure that it never happens again.''

    Just how Spalding ended up in the stairwell has never been fully explained. Last month, the San Francisco Sheriff's Department announced staffing changes following Sheriff Ross Mirkarimi's admission of mistakes made by the department in the handling of Spalding’s disappearance.

    An attorney for Spalding’s family claimed that sheriff’s deputies “did not conduct a thorough search” despite requests to search the medical center for the missing patient.

    MORE: Lost Witness Surfaces in SF General Death Probe

    The Associated Press contributed to this report.


    Lynne SpaldingLynne Spalding

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    To quote her husband's favorite singer, Patti Blagojevich suggests it’s going to be a blue Christmas.

    The former First Lady of Illinois took a seat in the front row of the imprisoned ex-governor’s appeal hearing Friday, telling reporters that "there isn’t a day that goes by that my daughters and I don’t feel the emptiness of the absence of my husband."

    "We’ve just gone through our second Thanksgiving, our second Christmas without him," she said.  "And we just hope and pray that he can be home soon with his family."

    Toward that end, Blagojevich’s lawyers argued before the court that he had been deprived of the right to present a defense and that his conviction should be overturned.

    "He was literally left on the stand with no defense," declared attorney Leonard Goodman. "The government doesn't even dispute that this was unfair!"

    While the government did dispute that, the three judges on the appellate panel took turns asking pointed questions of both sides.

    "Is there any earlier case in which there was a criminal prosecution based on a promise to swap one political job for another?" Judge Frank Easterbrook asked. He was joined by judge Ilana Diamond Rovner, who noted that "politics is about winning friends, influencing people and using appointment power."

    "Where is the line that differentiates legal horse trading from a federal offense that puts you in prison?" Rovner asked.

    Easterbrook pointedly cited the example of Earl Warren, former governor of California, who famously traded political support for a guarantee from Dwight Eisenhower that he would be appointed to the United States Supreme Court.

    "If I understand your position," he told prosecutor Debra Riggs Bonamici, "Earl Warren should have gone to prison, and Dwight Eisenhower should have gone to prison!"

    When Bonamici attempted to suggest that the Blagojevich scenario was different, Easterbrook interrupted.

    "This proposed trade was a trade for the presidency of the United States for a position on the Supreme Court," he said. "The line between that and this can’t be the distinction between historical honor, and felon status!"

    That said, judges on the Appellate Court are notorious for playing devil’s advocate, and their questions often do not telegraph their final rulings.

    Indeed, they were equally contentious with the defense.

    Rovner noted an undercover tape, where Blagojevich lamented the fact that then President-elect Obama was only willing to offer "appreciation" for the appointment of his friend Valerie Jarrett to the U.S. Senate.

    "Doesn’t that tend to show that he was acting for private gain, rather than any public interest?" she asked.

    Attorney Goodman insisted Blagojevich attempted nothing in secret, and had open discussions even outside his circle of advisors about a hope of being appointed to the Obama cabinet.

    "This was not some backroom deal, that, when the smoke clears, he thought he was going to be Health and Human Services Secretary!" Goodman declared. 

    The judges took the Blagojevich appeal under advisement. Afterwards, Goodman expressed hope that his arguments had hit home.

    "His trial was fundamentally unfair," he said. "The jury did not get both sides of the story.  He was prevented, barred, from presenting his defense, and we’re praying that were successful in those arguments."


    Rod Blagojevich's attorney Len Goodman presents arguments to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal Judges.Rod Blagojevich's attorney Len Goodman presents arguments to the 7th Circuit Court of Appeal Judges.

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    New surveillance video exclusively released to NBC Connecticut shows the car involved in a deadly hit-and-run in Hartford last month. Police are asking for the public's help in locating the person responsible.

    Authorities are still searching for the driver who hit and killed 34-year-old Roberto Cruz of Hartford. He was struck by a car and killed in the early morning hours on Novemeber 24th. 

    In grainy surveillance video, you can see other vehicles drive by seconds before the incident on Maple Avenue. When comparing speed, you can see the suspected car is traveling much faster. Investigators say the driver was going over the speed limit.

    Cruz is seen at the top right of the screen attempting to cross the road before he's struck.

    Moments later, the vehicle passes a nearby Citgo and video there captures the suspected car and shows what appears to be damage to the front right of the vehicle.

    Police describe the vehicle as a four-door 2004 to 2006 Infinite G35 with silver/gray coloring. 

    Investigators believe the vehicle received damage to its lens, headlamp, and is missing an amber light.  While there are crosswalks in the area of Maple Avenue and Adelaide Street, investigators are not certain if Cruz was on one at the time he was struck.

    Those who cross the intersection say it can be a dangerous area and that cars sometimes fly.

    "It's very bad," said Jose Rubert. "It makes you think, 'Is somebody going to hit me crossing the street?'"

    "That area of Maple Avenue can be tricky and possibly given 2.30am, the suspect driver may have been coming from a bar, so that could be something else we're looking at," said Lt. Brian Foley.

    In the video you can see it appears the Infinite crosses into another lane momentarily. Investigators say the victim was walking to his home on Otis Street. While they've spoken to witnesses, they have not been able to locate the vehicle or a suspect, but a witness did tell police there was more than one person in the car.

    Anyone with  information on this case is asked to contact Hartford Police at 860-757-4440.



    Photo Credit: Hartford Police

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    An Enfield woman is under arrest, charged with a horrific case of animal abuse. Police said Carla Bushnell was supposed to be pet-sitting when she starved a dog to death.

    “That dog was not my pet…he was my son,” said Andrew Zander, the dog's owner.

    When Zander got a call from Enfield Police a few weeks ago about the death of his dog, Bandit, he couldn’t believe it.

    “I immediately broke down,” Zander said.

    Investigators said Carla Bushnell was responsible, according to police.

    Zander said Bushnell was a family friend and he asked her to continuously check on Bandit at his apartment. He was away for a few months to help his wife at a Massachusetts hospital.

    “There was no reason for my wife or I to have any doubts she would be a good caretaker. She insisted she wanted to take care of them,” Zander explained.

    According to police, a postal worker saw mail piling up outside Zander's place in November and became suspicious. The carrier then looked in the window and saw the dog dead on the floor.

    Exam results showed there was absolutely no food in Bandit’s system.

    Carla Bushnell was arrested Thursday night and charged with animal cruelty. Investigators said she was liable because she made an agreement to watch the dog and Zander left instructions for Bushnell with her name on them on his kitchen cabinet.

    “The dog had been starved for at least a month. Carla said in her statement that she was there every day,” Zander said.

    NBC Connecticut tried talking to Bushnell after she bonded out of jail on Friday, but she would not answer any questions.

    Zander hoped for an explanation.

    “I would have rather seen him pass by old age or hit by a car than to starve to death,” he said.

    He wants Bushnell held accountable for the suffering his dog went through.



    Photo Credit: Enfield Police

    Carla Bushnell is facing animal cruelty charges after being accused of letting a dog starve to death.Carla Bushnell is facing animal cruelty charges after being accused of letting a dog starve to death.

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