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U.S. Investigating Tenn. Shooting as 'Act of Terrorism'


The Chattanooga shooting is being investigated by the joint terrorism task force as an act of terrorism, U.S. Attorney Killian said at a press conference held Friday.

While it may be premature to speculate the shooter's motive, the FBI is still investigating whether the shooter acted alone, FBI said Friday. 

FBI also confirmed the shooter, Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, had two "long guns" and one handgun and at least one of them were purchased legally.

"The suspected was not wearing body armor but he was wearing a load-bearing best to carry magazines of ammunition while moving on foot," Ed Reinhold with the FBI said. In addition, Reinhold confirmed Abdulazeez never left the fenced-in area of the military base where all four marines were killed.

At this time, officials have no indication that the shooter was inspired by or directed by "anyone other than himself" and while they will not confirm this was an ISIS-inspired motive, they will be exploring that option.

U.S. authorities are looking into a trip to the Middle East last year made by the gunman who killed four Marines in attacks on military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, NBC News reported.

Abdulazeez left the United States in April, returned in November and traveled through Jordan.

LifeStar Responding to Crash in Washington


State police and a LifeStar medical helicopter are responding to Washington, Connecticut, after two cars collided early Friday afternoon.

Police said troopers are just getting to the scene at Baldwin Hill Road and Kinney Hill Road, where they said two cars crashed shortly before 12:30 p.m.

Injuries have been reported, and LifeStar dispatch said a helicopter is flying out.

No additional information was immediately available.

Check back for updates.

School Committee Chairman Solicited Girls for Sex: Cops


The Cohasset, Massachusetts, school committee chairman has been arrested in a sex sting, according to Cambridge Police.

The investigation began on June 30 when a craigslist job soliciting an office assistant was determined to be a "false job which is actually soliciting girls for sex," according to the special investigations unit.

The job description read in part:

"compensation: depends on experience (Looking for an outgoing, fun, energetic, cute office assistant. Ideal candidate would have some college training or a college degree and be between 22 and 32 years old. Dress code is casual, but short skirts area always preferred because it's mostly guys!)"

The special investigations unit worked to arrange a meeting between an undercover officer and the suspect, 43-year-old Paul Ognibene of Cohasset. On July 14 around 6:30 p.m., they met at a prearranged location as the special investigation unit conducted surveillance.

As Ognibene looked over the resume, he told the undercover officer that her duties would include filing, computer work, and driving Ognibene around. He said that the officer would also be his personal assistant, which would include lunch dates, hanging out in a hotel hot tub, massages with a "happy ending," and fantasy phone sex. He stated that the assistant would be paid $50 per hour.

The suspect asked the undercover officer is she would do a trial run later that night. They agreed to meet at his office between 10 and 10:30 p.m.

Cambridge Police approached Ognibene and placed him under arrest. He has been charged with sexual conduct for fee. He was arraigned in Cambridge District Court and released on personal recognizance bail, under the condition that he stay away from the Cambridge Side Galleria Mall where the alleged incident took place.

Ognibene will appear in court again on July 27.

Cohasset Public Schools Superintendent Barbara Cataldo says Ognibene has stepped down.

N.H. Sisters on a Presidential Selfie Mission


Taking a selfie with @PrezSelfieGirls has become a must-do for candidates campaigning in New Hampshire.

Take Thursday at Donald Trump’s rally in Laconia, when his staff shepherded Addy and Emma Nozell over and introduced the sisters from Merrimack with, “These are the girls.” 

“He knew about us,” said 17-year-old Addy. “He was ready to take that selfie.”

Since the first spur-of-the moment photo with New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie at the beginning of the month, the girls have collected 15. Their goal: all of the presidential candidates. 

“We started off as a joke,” Emma, 15, said, “and then Addy decided why not get everyone.”

Next up: Marco Rubio on Monday when he will be in their hometown. Still to come are Hillary Clinton, Jim Webb and Bernie Sanders among the Democrats and Ted Cruz, Mike Huckabee, Rick Santorum and Rand Paul among the Republicans.

Sanders might be tough because of the crowds, said their mother, Wendy Thomas, the executive director of The New Hampshire Challenge, an organization for families with disabilities.

The girls listen to the candidates’ speeches either before or afterward, and they are particularly interested in their views on education and on the Middle East. One of their brothers is at Norwich University, a military school in Vermont.

“The girls are really paying attention when they hear the candidates talk about increasing the military,” their mother said.

Addy will turn 18 in time to vote in the general election, and the girls said they are often the only young people at the candidates’ events. Their friends do not pay as much attention to politics as they do.

Thomas said she and her husband, Marc Nozell, have been taking the girls to candidate events since they were babies. Nozell, who works at HP, takes photographs as a hobby, lots of political ones among them.

“If you live in New Hampshire what a fabulous, fabulous opportunity to see these people and listen to them,” Thomas said.

Now, she said, “Kids are getting involved because of these selfies.”

Follow them on Twitter here.

Passerby Helps Free Trapped Driver in Weston


A passerby helped free a driver trapped in a rolled-over car on Route 53/Newtown Turnpike in Weston early Friday morning, according to the fire officials.

The Weston Volunteer Fire Department said a car crashed on the dirt section of the road around 6 a.m. Friday.

A passerby broke one of the car's rear windows and the cut driver's seat belt, helping the driver climb out before firefighters arrived, according to the fire department.

Firefighters said the driver underwent a medical evaluation at the scene and declined to go to the hospital.

Route 53/Newtown Turnpike was closed in Weston between Valley Forge Road and Tudor Road, according to the Department of Transportation.

Photo Credit: Weston Volunteer Fire Department

Sandy Bland's Family Disputes 'Depression' Reasoning


The family of the woman found dead in a Texas jail said Friday that a video from March in which she talked about battling depression does not tell the whole story. 

On Thursday, a prosecutor said that the video from earlier in the year suggest Bland "may have been suffering from some sort of mental illness" which, lead to her apparent suicide. 

But the 28-year-old's family claims Bland "may have used the term 'depression,' but that statement in March had very little to do with her mindset" before she died, the family's attorney, Cannon Lambert Sr., said on MSNBC on Friday. 

Bland was found hanging in her jail cell on Monday, days after she was arrested for allegedly assaulting a police officer during a traffic stop. An autopsy on Bland's body on Tuesday ruled her death a suicide by hanging, a spokeswoman told the Chicago Tribune.

She was upbeat and looking forward to her new future in Houston, where she had just moved for a new job at A&M University, her sister, Sharon Cooper, told MSNBC on Friday.  

Lambert told MSNBC that authorities are trying to conflate the circumstances of Bland's death with what she may ahve said about depression in her past. In the video, which was uploaded to Facebook and confirmed by her family, Bland says: "I want you guys to know that I am a human, and so if there are any of you that are dealing with those same things, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder— it's OK."

Man Stole Golf Clubs From 10 Glastonbury Homes: Cops


A Glastonbury man is accused of stealing high-end golf clubs from 10 homes in town late last year.

Derek Benson, 29, of Glastonbury, was first arrested in December 2014. Since then, he has been charged in connection with a total of 10 burglaries.

Police served the final two arrest warrants when Benson appeared in Manchester Superior Court Friday.

He's accused of stealing expensive golf equipment from open residential garages in late 2014. Police said he targeted homes in the southern and southeastern section of town.

Police believe Benson sold many of the stolen items at a golf outlet in Hartford.

He was charged Friday with two counts each of third-degree burglary, third-degree larceny, conspiracy to commit third-degree larceny and conspiracy to commit third-degree burglary.

An alleged accomplice, Justin Scalise, 22, of West Hartford, is also facing charges.

Photo Credit: Glastonbury Police Department

Police Fire Gun, Taser After Driver Nearly Runs Over Trooper


Police have arrested a driver who they say led troopers on a chase from Interstate 84 in Newtown to Route 7 in New Milford early Friday, almost running over one of them and prompting police to fire a gun and Taser.

Kenneth Lyden, 32, of Wolcott, has been charged with criminal attempt at first-degree assault, two counts of assault on an officer, reckless endangerment, interfering with an officer, engaging police in pursuit, reckless driving and misuse of license plates.

Police said Lyden sped off around 3 a.m. Friday when troopers tried to pull him over on I-84 westbound in Newtown.

Troopers used "stop sticks" near exit 6 in Danbury in an effort to slow him down, but Lyden kept driving. Police said he left the roadway and barreled toward a trooper who was on foot helping another driver. The trooper pulled out his gun and fired at Lyden's car.

Lyden crashed in the area of Routes 7 and 37 in New Milford. He got out of the car and fought off troopers who tried to arrest him, prompting one to shoot Lyden with a Taser, according to state police.

Lyden was taken to Danbury Hospital for a medical evaluation. Police said troopers involved in the chase were also checked out at the hospital but did not appear to be hurt.

State police spokesman Trooper Kelly Grant originally told NBC Connecticut the driver was intoxicated, but Lyden has not been charged with driving under the influence.

Route 7 was closed at Route 37 for several hours Friday morning but reopened around 9:30 a.m., according to NBC Connecticut crews at the scene.

This Command Can Cause Siri to Call 911


If you need to charge your iPhone, it's probably best not to ask Siri.

Some users have discovered that asking Siri to "charge my phone 100 percent" will result in a five second delay before automatically calling 911 services, according to CNBC.

While this could cause problems to users who simply want their phone on full power, others have said the feature may come in handy during times of trouble.

It is unclear whether the function is intentional by Apple or a glitch in the system, according to NBC News.

Photo Credit: AP

Hartford Police Arrest Suspect in March 19 Murder


Hartford police have arrested a suspect in the city's fifth homicide of 2015.

The charges stem from the March 19 murder of Hartford resident Teniel Mack.

Police investigating the case arrested James Canidate, 38, of Hartford, at a hotel in Berlin the following day. Canidate was charged with assaulting Mack, threatening and violating a protective order.

He has now been charged with Mack's murder.

Canidate is accused of shooting Mack, 31, in the head at 668 Blue Hills Avenue the night of March 19. Mack was rushed to Saint Francis Hospital, where he died.

Police obtained a new warrant Thursday charging Canidate with murder, criminal use of a firearm and criminal possession of a firearm. Canidate is already in the custody of the state Department of Correction.

Since Mack's murder, the city has seen 12 more homicides, bringing the total to 17 so far this year.

Marine Killed in Tennessee Attacks Was Iraq War Vet


One of the four Marines killed in Thursday's attacks on two military centers in Chattanooga, Tennessee, has been identified as a decorated Iraq War veteran from Massachusetts.

Forty-year-old Sgt. Thomas Sullivan grew up in the East Forest Park section of Springfield. His brother and grandmother confirmed Sullivan's death in posts to their Facebook pages, NBC News reported.

Sullivan's family told The Springfield Republican that he served two tours of duty in Iraq and earned a Purple Heart. According to his Facebook profile, Sullivan had served in the Marines since 1997 after graduating from high school.

His parents live in Hamden.

In a statement, Springfield Mayor Domenic Sarno said Sullivan's death "is a tragic loss not just for the Springfield community, but for our entire nation."

Nathan Bill's Bar & Restaurant, which is owned by Sullivan's brother, paid tribute to the Marine on its Facebook page.

"He was our hero and he will never be forgotten. Please keep his family & friends in your thoughts & prayers. Thank you Tommy for protecting us," the post said.

John Bobrowski, a professional window washer in Springfield, stopped by the restaurant Friday to clean the windows of the business.

He did not know the family but said he wanted "in my own way" to give his condolences to them over their tragic loss.

"I was on my way to the next job site and I felt that I wanted to come in and pay it forward," he told necn.

Sullivan and three other Marines killed in the attack were identified Friday afternoon by the Marines as Staff Sgt. David A. Wyatt of Burke, North Carolina; Sgt. Carson A. Holmquist of Polk, Wisconsin; and Lance Cpl. Squire K. "Skip" Wells of Cobb County, Georgia. 

A Navy sailor was critically injured in the attacks. 

The gunman, 24-year-old Mohammad Youssuf Abdulazeez, was killed in a shootout with law enforcement during the attacks, which started at a Marine recruiting station and ended seven miles away at a Marine and Naval reserve center, where the soldiers were killed, according to authorities.

A motive in the attack was unclear but the FBI is investigating a blog that may provide some clues. According to the SITE Intelligence Group, Abdulazeez posted three days before the rampage that "life is short and bitter" and the Muslims should not let "the opportunity to submit to Allah ... pass you by." The blog has not been confirmed by NBC News. Law enforcement officials said there are "indications" it may have been ISIS-inspired, but declined to be specific.

Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker has ordered all flags at half staff beginning at sunrise Friday.

In a statement, Baker said, "The senseless violence that occurred in Tennessee is a terrible tragedy made worse by the fact that the brave individuals whose lives were taken answered the call to serve and protect our nation. Today, our hearts and prayers are with the wounded as we wish them a full recovery and our hearts are with the loved ones left behind by the heart breaking loss of four American patriots."

NECN was able to confirm that Sullivan spent time as a Marine recruiter in South Boston.

Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is stepping up patrols at certain federal facilities. In Massachusetts, according to The Boston Herald, local and state police as well as the National Guard are remaining alert to any threats.

However, the National Guard tells necn protection measures remain in effect following standard procedures at this time.

The Herald says Boston police officers are being reminded to be vigilant while going about their work.

A Massachusetts National Guard spokesperson told the paper they are reminding their staff to be aware of their surroundings at all times. There are more than a dozen recruitment centers in the state and they are open to the public.

As for state police, they tell the Herald troopers are looking at all intelligence for possible or credible threats here and have not detected any at this time.

Photo Credit: Facebook/Nathan Bill's Bar & Restaurant
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Increasing Humidity Means Chance of Passing Storms This Weekend


High pressure in command will make for an great finish to the work week Friday, but humidity will increase again this weekend and could bring a passing storm.

We're expecting plenty of sunshine Friday, though clouds will increase this afternoon and evening. High temperatures will be in the lower-80s.

Tim McGraw takes the stage at the Xfinity Theatre in Hartford at 8 p.m. By then, temperatures will be falling quickly through the 70s and into the 60s, with a good amount of clouds in the sky.

Humidity ramps up Saturday after the passage of a warm front.

Saturday will start with low clouds, fog and perhaps a shower. We'll see some sunshine by afternoon. If enough sun sticks around, there can be a thunderstorm developing by late afternoon or evening.

The pick of the weekend is Sunday, with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the lower-80s at the shore and near 90 degrees inland. It will be a great beach day, as Long Island Sound water temperatures are now in the lower-70s.

A disturbance in the upper-atmosphere comes through later Sunday, and with the humidity in place and the heating of the day, there may be enough lift to fire off some thunderstorms.

This situation needs to be monitored, as severe weather is a possibility, should the ingredients align. The setup also supports storms even after the sun sets, so there may be storms lingering into Sunday night and Monday morning.

A cold front comes through Monday, resulting in an abundance of clouds, showers and thunderstorms. Temperatures will be in the lower- and mid-80s.

High pressure returns in the middle part of next week, coinciding with low levels of humidity. As such, the weather will dry out Tuesday, with lots of sunshine.

Wednesday and Thursday look great, with a mix of clouds and sun as temperatures remain steady in the 80s.

Stay with the NBC Connecticut First Alert weather team for the very latest forecast on-air, online and on the app.

Boston Marathon Bomber Moved to Supermax Prison


Convicted Boston Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev has been transferred to a Colorado supermax prison, according to federal prison records.

Tsarnaev, 21, was listed Friday as being housed in the United States Penitentiary Administrative Maximum Facility, also known as ADX or "supermax," in Florence, Colorado, according to Bureau of Prisons records.

Tsarnaev was convicted in April and sentenced to death on June 24 for the terror attack that killed three people on April 15, 2013.

The prison is the most restrictive prison in America, and prisoners spend about 23 hours a day in solitary confinement in small cells with a single window.

Photo Credit: AP

Route 3 Northbound to Close This Weekend


Route 3 northbound will close Friday night as construction continues on the Putnam Bridge, which connects Glastonbury and Wethersfield.

Northbound closures will take effect at 8 p.m. July 17 and last through 5 a.m. July 20, according to the Department of Transportation. Drivers will be rerouted onto Route 2 from Interstate 91 northbound to the Charter Oak Bridge.

The northbound side will close again next weekend, from July 24 to July 27, and the southbound lanes will be closed July 31 to Aug. 3.

It's part of a $35 million project to rehabilitate the bridge.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Probe Into Sandra Bland's Death


As investigations continue into the death of a suburban Chicago woman inside a Texas jail, the district attorney in Waller County, Texas, said her death "will not be swept under the rug."

Sandra Bland, 28, of Villa Park, was found hanged in a cell in the Waller County Jail in Hempstead, Texas, on Monday. Bland traveled from Chicago to Texas last week and was scheduled to begin a new job at a local college. 

Three days before her death, Bland was charged with assaulting a peace officer after an altercation during a routine traffic stop, which landed her in jail.

During a press conference Friday, Waller County District Attorney Elton Mathis said video footage of the hallway outside of Bland's cell did not show anyone entering her cell before her death. There is no video footage taken inside the cell, however.

It took jail officials about an hour and a half to find Bland after she died in the cell, Mathis said.

The videos showing the hallway outside Bland's cell and footage of the traffic stop that led to her arrest will not be released until the FBI inspects them.

As Mathis addressed the press, more than 100 people gathered outside the Waller County Jail on Friday as friends and family of Bland's questioned the official account of how she died. Family members said they were shocked by her death and do not believe Bland would commit suicide.

"There is nothing we are going to hide, we are going to get justice for Sandra Bland," Mathis said.

Father Says 'Flying Gun' Drone Video Broke No Laws


The father of an 18-year-old boy who built a drone with a gun attached and posted video of it on YouTube  with the title "flying gun" says they broke no laws.

The footage appears to show a gun affixed to a drone hovering several feet off of the ground in a wooded area. The gun appears to discharge several times while the drone is in flight. In the posting, Austin Haughwout, 18, describes the device as a "homemade multi-rotor with a semi-automatic handgun mounted on it."

Haughwout's father Brett Haughwout said his son is an engineering student at Central Connecticut State University, custom built a drone device that included a spot for a handgun and the capability to fire it midflight. The gun belongs to Brett. 

Brett said the video that shows the drone firing the weapon was shot on their property in Clinton, Connecticut. The father and son duo did "extensive research" before assembling the flying weapon to make sure they wouldn't break any laws. 

The Clinton Police Department was alerted to the YouTube video this week and were concerned for public safety. Local law enforcement officials said, however, they do not believe the device violates any state law.

The Federal Aviation Administration was also investigating the video.  

“The FAA will investigate the operation of an unmanned aircraft system in a Connecticut park to determine if any Federal Aviation Regulations were violated. The FAA will also work with its law enforcement partners to determine if there were any violations of criminal statutes,” said Jim Peters, a spokesperson for the FAA.

This isn't the first time Austin Haughwout has drawn the attention because of a drone video. In 2014, he was involved in an altercation on Hammonasset Beach last year after he flew a homemade drone over the beach. He posted a clip of that incident to the same YouTube channel where the 'flying gun' video was posted.

Haughwout said his son made ad revenue from the previous YouTube and used it to purchase parts for the 'flying gun.' He said he believes Austin could make approximately $1,500 in advertising revenue associated with the "flying gun" video, depending on how many views the video receives. He said Austin will use that money to fund his next project, though it is unclear what he will build.

Though it does not appear any state statute was violated, local police said the idea of a "flying gun" can be discharged remotely is disquieting.

“Our number one job in law enforcement is public safety, first and foremost, the protection of the citizens of the community we serve," said Sgt. Jeremiah Dunn. “That’s alarming,” he said of the device.

Photo Credit: YouTube

Report: Hartford Police Needs 100 More Officers


A report obtained by NBC Connecticut that was commissioned to analyze the levels of staffing within the Hartford Police Department concluded that 108 more officers are needed to provide full patrols of the city.

The document also criticized the city for using overtime hours for existing police as a way to make up the staffing shortfalls.

The report came to light in the midst of a firestorm for the Segarra Administration and the Hartford Police which are dealing with the 17th homicide of the year, just two shy of last year's total.

When reached for comment Friday morning, Mayor Pedro Segarra said he believes, after consulting with Police Chief Rovella, that staffing levels are good enough.

"I believe so with the overtime and the increases we’ve put toward overtime we have enough coverage" he said.

He added that adding the necessary 100 police officers could mean a tax increase in order to pay for it, which is why the city council approved 20 new recruits.

"It's been a balance trying to get sufficient coverage but also not break the backs of our residents our taxpayers and our businesses" he said.

Critics of the mayor lined up to take issue with the mayor and his handling of the crisis.

Bruce Rubenstein is a member of the Hartford Internal Audit Commission and saw the police staffing report months ago. He says there's a correlation between the rash of killings in the city and decisions by the mayor and city council.

“There is a direct nexus between Pedro’s ignoring the report and violent crime namely because there’s not enough of a police presence out in the community" he said.

Rubenstein even went so far as to say that the mayor is in fact responsible for what's gone on in the city saying, “I find it laughable that he’s consoling these families but of course he’s not telling them that he created the atmosphere for their son or daughter to die.”

Mayoral candidates vying for Democratic nomination say the mayor has proven that his public safety platforms haven't helped the city.

Judge Robert Killian, the longtime Probate Judge for the City of Hartford said the city had to prioritize hiring more police months and years ago and said they knew more police were needed.

“We have an academy" Killian said. "We have an ability to do it"
As for how to pay for additional police, he said, "I would beg, borrow, or steal the money from other functions that are less of an immediate source of concern for us.”

He said the city needs to get more police on the streets and out of their offices. He said the city has to utilize existing resources.

“We have the trainers. They’re going to be paid whether they’re training somebody or not."

Luke Bronin, the former Chief Legal Adviser to Governor Dannel Malloy, said of Segarra's attitude, “I think it’s a failure to plan and a failure to prioritize that’s been years in the making.”

Bronin said the city has to take the necessary steps to ensure that it holds on to police officers who are eligible to retire.

“First of all we have to make sure that we’re retaining as many as we can in the coming years so that we make an already bad problem worse. Secondly, we’ve got to step up our recruitment efforts. This is an urgent issue.”

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

1 Arrest as Protesters Mark Year Since Death of Eric Garner


At least one protester was arrested Friday amid several demonstrations that were planned for the one-year anniversary of the death of Eric Garner -- the Staten Island man whose death after being placed in a chokehold by police was recorded on amateur video and spurred protests nationwide.

Hundreds of people were at a protest near Columbus Circle Friday evening. At least one person was arrested outside Central Park as protesters chanted, "Shame! Shame! Shame!" News 4 New York video of the arrest shows a man being handcuffed and taken away by police as protesters surround them.

"The one's responsible for Eric Garner's death are free, walking the streets, and there was the non-indictment," one protester said. "That is wrong." 

Demonstrators planned to march again to mark the anniversary, with marches, rallies and vigils planned on Staten Island and in other parts of the city.

The solemn day began with Garner's youngest daughter, Legacy Miller, and her mother, Jewel Miller, releasing doves in front of the Tompkinsville store where Garner had his fatal confrontation with officer Daniel Pantaleo on July 17, 2014. Video of the altercation showed the heavyset Garner shouting "I can't breathe!" repeatedly after being brought to the ground in front of the store. He lost consciousness and was pronounced dead a short time later. 

One group rode the Staten Island Ferry to mark the anniversary, while another announced plans to block off traffic in Columbus Circle -- a common practice across the city during the intense protests in the days following a grand jury's decision in December not to charge Pantaleo with a crime in Garner's death. Pantaleo had no comment Friday. 

The anniversary comes days after New York City settled a civil suit filed by Garner's family for nearly $6 million. Garner's family said that the civil agreement wasn't a victory and they will continue pressing for federal civil rights charges. 

The U.S. Justice Department and the U.S. attorney's office in Brooklyn are investigating whether there is evidence to warrant charges that the officer deliberately violated Garner's civil rights. Such cases are rare after grand jury inaction or acquittal at state level.

Pantaleo, meanwhile, has not been on active duty in the year since Garner's death and remains under an internal affairs review. The NYPD is refraining from making any decisions on Pantaleo's future with the department until after the federal probe has been completed. 

Pantaleo's attorney declined to comment on the anniversary. 

Photo Credit: AP

Brush Fire Set Cars Ablaze in Calif


A typical Friday afternoon commute became an inferno when a brush fire jumped the 15 Freeway in the Cajon Pass and ballooned to 3,500 acres, lighting cars on fire, burning homes, sending billows of black smoke into the sky and paralyzing traffic in both directions. 

High winds hindered firefighters' efforts to battle the growing blaze which started at 2:33 p.m. Officials dubbed it the North Fire. 

Mandatory evacuations were in place in the Baldy Mesa areas east of Sheep Creek Road, north of Highway 138, west of the 15 Freeway and Highway 395, and south of Phelan road, according to the San Bernardino County Fire Department.

An evacuation center was set up at Serrano High School in Phelan.

Residents with large animals could be move them to the San Bernardino County Fairgrounds in Victorville.

Capt. Josh Wilkins from San Bernardino County fire confirmed several structures caught fire. At least five homes were swallowed by the flames.

Fire officials urged commuters to stay in their cars because, "water drops can severly injure you." But, as the 3,500-acre brush fire shut down the freeway, the NBC4 live stream showed stranded commuters, faces covered, walking along the edge of the freeway as they tried to escape the fire.

Plumes of black smoke surrounded vehicles that were left stranded in the path of the burning blaze. At least 20 vehicles were destroyed and 10 damaged. A  boat on a trailer burned before the fire made its way to a semi that burst into flames. According to KLLM Transport Services, the company that owns the semi, the driver got away safely and the truck was empty.

Two motorists suffered minor injuries and were treated at the scene, Wilkins said. The cause of their injuries was unknown.

Traffic was snarled for miles in both directions on the freeway. Southbound lanes were closed at Oak Hill Road and traffic was stopped from the Main Street exit. Two northbound lanes were reopened after 5 p.m., Officer Steve Carapia said, of the California Highway Patrol.

Some drivers were led through dirt roads away from the freeway and from the fire. Other drivers desperate to escape the blaze took to the unmarked roads on their own through the desert area.

Officials from the CHP requested assistance from tow companies in the Victorville area to help remove vehicles from the freeway.

"Stay away from Cajon Pass no matter which direction you're traveling tonight," Terry Kasinga said, of Caltrans.

An assessment of the road would be made before officials reopened it completely, she added.

According to the San Bernardino County Fire Department the fire moved at a "rapid rate." 

Crews from SBCFD and CalFire battled the blaze.

As of 9 p.m., the fire was only 5 percent contained.

Photo Credit: Tony Shin

Bakery Raises $300K in Donations to Pay Legal Fines


Bakers who refused to make a wedding cake for a lesbian couple on religious grounds have raised $372,000 in donations to help pay fines.

A Christian couple, Aaron and Melissa Klein, the owners of Sweet Cakes by Melissa in Oregon, closed their bakery in 2013 amid backlash over their decision to refuse service to the lesbian couple. Earlier this month, the bakery owners were ordered to pay a total of $135,000 in damages to the couple "for emotional and mental suffering resulting from the denial of service," according to court documents from the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries.

The donations made on the site Continue to Give were almost triple the goal and raise the most money of any personal fundraiser on the site to date, Continue to Give founder Jesse Wellhoefer said.

"Not only is our platform the perfect place for the Kleins to raise money, but we also appreciate the stand they are making for religious freedom," Wellheofer told NBC News.

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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