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Inside Pa.'s ICE Immigrant Family Detention Center


Three thousand, seven hundred miles from home, a Honduran couple and their 4-year-old son were about to cross into Canada through upstate New York.

The family planned to seek asylum there. U.S. Border Patrol agents found them first.

The husband was sent to the Buffalo Federal Detention Center. The wife and child were taken to the Berks County Residential Center in Leesport, Pennsylvania.

Mother and son spent the next 140 days at the county-run, federally-funded prison before being released July 27.

The father was also released and the family is on their way to Florida to live while continuing to fight for asylum, according to one of their pro bono attorneys, Bridget Cambria.

A worse fate befell 10 other mothers and their children at Berks. After spending more than two years at the former nursing home 80 miles west of Philadelphia, they all were deported in May.

“That was May 11, the worst day of our lives,” Cambria’s colleague, attorney Carol Anne Donohoe, said of the previously unreported removals of nine of the families. One mother and her child were first deported May 3.

The varied outcomes for asylum seekers, and the incredible amounts of time they can spend at Berks, is telling about a place critics describe as child immigrant purgatory. It’s the only facility of its kind in the country where parents and children can be held for an indefinite time.

“There’s a 16-year-old, Victor. He’s spent two years behind these walls. These stupid walls are all he knows,” Cambria said. “The whole thing is torture. You’re contained inside this building. They’ll say, ‘We see the same walls. All day, every day.’”

Advocates call the center a humane approach to detaining immigrants in the midst of a labyrinthine process for asylum. Federal officials granted NBC10 a tour of the facility, though the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) administrator was not available for an interview. ICE also did not allow a reporter to talk with detainees or use a camera.

“People are treated rather well,” said Kevin Barnhardt, one of three locally-elected county commissioners. “It’s not my fault they are there for a longer period of time because they filed appeals to their immigration.”

Since 2011, the county has made nearly $7 million from operating the detention center for ICE, an arm of the Department of Homeland Security.

“My view is the county works in cooperation with the federal government. They’re performing an important function,” another county commissioner, Mark Scott, said. “I’m more than happy to provide some assistance to them.”

‘They Won the Worst Lottery Ever’

When the 10 recently deported women crossed into Texas over two years ago, they claimed to be escaping sexual abuse, violence and possibly death back in their Central American countries. They came from an area known as the Northern Triangle, a trio of countries with the highest murder rates in the world.

No one is able to say with certainty why the immigration and judicial systems funneled them, in particular, to Berks and left them in legal limbo as hundreds of other immigrant men, women and children came and went.

“It’s the luck of the draw to end up in detention,” Cambria said. “They won the worst lottery ever.”

They’re known collectively as the Castro mothers, named for the court case: Castro v. Department of Homeland Security. The Supreme Court in April declined to hear their appeal, which challenged a lower court ruling denying the families further judicial relief from ICE expedited removal orders.

Cambria, Donohoe and a fellow attorney, Jacquelyn Kline, continued to argue that the mothers and children be freed and granted asylum because many of the children had already received Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) status.

“The purpose of the SIJ program is to help foreign children in the United States who have been abused, abandoned or neglected,” according to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Despite that, on May 3, the first mother and child were deported to Honduras. Cambria and Kline said they heard about their clients’ removals while in court for another case. That deportation initially garnered national attention after U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., unleashed a flurry of tweets calling unsuccessfully for the reversal of ICE’s removal order.

Eight days later, the sweeping removal of the nine other mothers, and their children, evoked no publicity.

They and thousands of other men, women and children have fled El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras in the last decade, an exodus spurred on by drug wars between murderous gangs like MS-13.

Honduras and El Salvador have the two highest murder rates in the world, at 75 per 100,000 and 62 per 100,000, respectively, according to 2014 figures from the World Bank. Guatemala has the seventh highest rate at 32 per 100,000.

The murder rate for the United States is 3.9 per 100,000, according to the most recent data available.

In the last five years, a tiny fraction of asylum requests from those three countries have been granted, according to statistics provided by the U.S. Justice Department’s Executive Office of Immigration Review.

Federal Money for County Coffers

The Berks County facility is one of only three Immigration and Customs Enforcement family detention centers. The other two are in Texas, and those facilities are not allowed to detain immigrants for more than 20 days. (A recent Associated Press report, however, found that the limit may be not adhered to by authorities.)

Berks is not privately run, but it does make a tidy profit for the county — more than $1 million in 2016.

Kevin Barnhardt, the county commissioner, said the profit comes from renting office space inside the building to ICE. That rental income totaled $1.08 million last year, though ICE’s regional deputy director Josh Reed said during a recent tour of the facility that only a handful of agents operated out of the building.

“We make money from renting floor space,” Barnhardt said. “We do not make profit on the families.”

The county’s annual financial report is less definitive, indicating that the center had an operating income of $1,097,553 in 2016, which factored into what is described as a “total net position” of $6.8 million since its 2011 opening as an immigrant family detention center. Both commissioners interviewed said annual profits from the facility go into the county’s general fund.

Up to 96 immigrant men, women and children can be held at any time. During the walkthrough in late July, Reed said about 67 people were held at that time, but that the number fluctuates. For decades, the building housed a nursing home. When the county decided to build a new one, Scott said they found ICE eager to utilize the space.

Berks County previously held immigrants at another county detention facility in a partnership with ICE, so the relationship was already established, Scott said.

“Many years ago, the county had some criminal aliens who were detained and mixed in the prison population,” he said. “We were dealing with adult males back then. I think what happened is the feds realized they had this issue with people with small children.”

Accounts differ greatly of the living conditions inside the center. A county staff of 65 operate and manage the facility. The attorneys for the detainees say a recent influx of male parents with children has created an unsettling environment.

“There are examples of a father and his daughter sharing a room with mothers and their children,” Cambria said. “Where else is that allowed?”

The building’s first floor includes a visitation area for phone calls and meetings with attorneys, a large communal space with eight computers called the Program Floor, an indoor playroom for small children and an exit to a rear playground, picnic area and small sports field. There is also a wing with four classrooms.

The second-floor has a cafeteria and another common area separating two wings of sleeping quarters. Each wing has shared bathrooms with showers. A guard watched over one while a short line formed. A corridor leads to a medical wing.

Each bedroom consists of six to eight beds, with some rooms occupied by four adults and four children, others by three and three. Locker-style closets served as storage space.

Reed said the facility makes every effort to keep those detained there in comfortable conditions. He touted classrooms run by the Berks County Intermediate Unit as providing children with access to teachers that is “a little more one-on-one here than in public schools.”

The center’s contract with the county Intermediate Unit has skyrocketed since 2011. The BCIU is now paid $78,000 a month for education services, according to vendor contracts obtained through a Right-To-Know request.

BCIU executive director Jill Hackman did not return a message seeking comment.

Three Lawyers Who Won't 'Shut Up'

The Castro case still looms over the center. Four mothers and their children, who were also plaintiffs, are still there. They remain in court appeals for the right to stay in the country.

Their collective story has brought attention to a federal center tucked amid the foothills of the Appalachian Trail.

State support has waned under Gov. Tom Wolf, who wants the federal government to look at alternatives for housing asylum seekers. He allowed the Pennsylvania Department of Human Services to consider revoking the center’s license as a “child residential facility.”

A DHS spokeswoman said a departmental review remains under consideration.

Wolf made his preference clear in May.

“Gov. Wolf has repeatedly urged the U.S. Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security to consider community-based options to serve these families whenever possible,” the governor’s spokesman J.J. Abbott said at the time. “He believes that the center should no longer detain these families and his administration continues to pursue the revocation of their state license.”

Mark Scott, the county commissioner, said he could not discuss the licensing issues, but said the state inspects the facility frequently. Kevin Barnhardt, another commissioner, said Berks has been inspected 30 times already in 2017.

"We understand there are people who have an ax to grind and want open borders. But in our case, it’s not a political issue," Scott said. "We’ve had people who objected to the center. We gave them a tour and they shut up."

That's not the case for the three pro bono lawyers Cambria, Donohoe and Kline. They continue almost daily treks from their Reading office to meet with detainees.

They are in near constant communication with one asylum seeker or another. Their detestation for Berks is evident in the numerous stories they pass along from clients.

The psychologist who says long-term detainees have stabilized.

“They come fleeing from violence and abuse in their home countries. They have all these traumas on their journey here,” Kline said. “Now, they’re re-traumatized.”

The staff counselors always watching.

“We’ve had one of our clients who was told she smiled too much, and she was written up for it,” Cambria said.

The coming of age inside a federal detention center.

“How can we live in a country where we can accept that a child is being detained?” Donohoe said. “It’s absurd.”

Photo Credit: Immigration and Customs Enforcement
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Lane Open After Crash on I-95 North in East Lyme


Interstate 95 North was closed in East Lyme after a crash involving three cars and a tractor-trailer, but the right lane is now open.

Minor injuries are reported in the crash, which happened at exit 74.

Police urge drivers to reduce their speed while approaching the area.

Photo Credit: Connecticut Department of Transportation

Whale Sighting Reported Near Westport and Norwalk: Police


A year after several humpback whales were spotting in Long Island Sound, two police departments from shoreline towns are reporting seeing a whale today. 

A large humpback whale was spotted near Cockenoe Island in the waters off Westport Friday morning, according to police.

Norwalk police also shared video the Norwalk Police Department Marine Unit took of a whale today. 



This is the third consecutive year that one humpback or more was spotted in the Sound, according to the Maritime Aquarium.  

Several humpback whales were spotted in Long Island Sound this time last year as well. 

Curt Johnson, the executive director of Connecticut Fund for the Environment’s Save the Sound, said last year that investments in cleaning up the water have made way or whales in search of food.

All marine animals are protected by the Federal Marine Mammal Protection Act.

Officials from Maritime Aquarium said one of the three humpbacks that turned up in the Sound two years ago was killed by "blunt force trauma," which was likely caused by a collision with a sailboat.

They ask that boaters not go out and chase the whale and they strongly ask boaters to cut their engines or drop their sails and just watch.

If you spot a whale, report the sighting by email to John Lenzycki and Dave Hudson at the Maritime Aquarium.

Photo Credit: Norwalk Police
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Weekend Storm Out to Sea, Gusty Winds Saturday


NBC Connecticut Meteorologists continue to track an out of season Nor'easter. 

The latest track has the center of the low staying hundreds of miles off of the Connecticut shoreline. 

The storm will still usher in scattered showers to southern Connecticut tomorrow morning. The greatest chance for rain showers is areas of southern New London county.

Take a look at First Alert Future Radar at 7 a.m. Saturday. You can see periods of rain along the shoreline and mostly cloudy skies throughout the rest of the state. 

In addition to the scattered showers the winds will be quite gusty. Winds will pick up overnight with gusts from 20 to 30 mph tomorrow morning through the afternoon hours.

The clouds will begin to break by the afternoon as the storm continues to progress east. Looks for mostly sunny skies by Saturday afternoon and evening.

The weather will be quite pleasant for Sunday with partly cloudy skies and temperatures in the low to middle 80s.

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Crime Scene Camp Inspires Teens to Pursue Forensics


What looked like a Hollywood set on Rockdale Road in West Haven Friday was a staged, yet realistic, crime scene created for 35 teens.

The high school students from across the country put their skills to the test after learning advanced techniques all week at Crime Scene Investigation Camp at the University of New Haven.

Program director Peter Massey and his staff transformed the Rockdale Road house, which is owned by the university, into a bloody crime scene, scattered with fake drugs, blood splatter evidence and cotton mannequin bodies.

“It’s a lot more intense when you’re doing this here because you have to take everything that you were taught and everything that you’ve learned, and apply it,” Jacob Bladd, of Middletown, said.

Massey emphasized the importance of training his students in a simulated situation and “in the correct, right way.”

“Again, we don’t want to do shortcuts. We don’t want to cause trouble for anybody. We just want to make sure it’s done right,” he said.

New to the ninth year of the camp were two pieces of advanced technology currently being used by crime units across the country.

The first device identifies fingerprints on site faster than ever. The second, a portable photometer, detects unknown powders. Teens were able to use both during their simulated investigations.

Reece Purdie traveled all the way from Riverside, California to attend the camp and is interested in working as a forensic scientist.

“There’s just a hammer chilling in a barbeque pit,” Purdie said. “That’s awesome because you don’t know what the hammer’s there for. It could’ve been there for someone who was having a barbeque or it could be part of the crime scene. We won’t know until we test it.”

The university’s forensic department uses the Rockdale Road house during the academic year for all of their field work.

CTE Reports, Concussions Deter Parents From Youth Football


Lori Anderson grew up with a big, traditional, football-loving family in Austin, Texas, and moved her own family to midwest Michigan. There, she did what was once unthinkable: She did not let her 13-year-old son play football.

"I feel it is my job as a parent to make those hard decisions and this was one of them," she said. "I told him that there were studies that showed that some hits injured the brain, and that I didn’t want him to possibly have problems later in life."

Most of the brains of deceased football players analyzed in a study of professional and non-professional athletes released this week found the existence of Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy, or CTE. The disease was even found in some high school players.

While the National Football League is the professional authority on the sport, the future of American football relies on the engagement of young children. It seems revelations from CTE studies are deterring some parents from starting their children in the sport. Some, though not all, leagues say they have had declining participation rates in football. And youth organizations like Pop Warner have responded to the fears by making more concerted efforts to protect their young players with rule changes and more training for coaches.

Anderson said she sat her son down when he was 9 or 10 years old and explained to him that it wasn't going to be safe for him to play football. When he was 12, his friend was badly injured and ended up in a neck brace. That "hit home for him," Anderson said. After that, her son began looking up CTE for himself on the internet and made peace with not being allowed to play. 

Over 1 million high school students played football in the 2015-16 season, according to an annual participation survey by the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). But participation has steadily decreased since the 2008-09 season. The most recent report shows a 2.5 percent drop, or about 28,000 fewer players than nine years ago.

The report published Tuesday by the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA), found that 177 of the 202 deceased football players had CTE. The disease was found in 110 of 111 brains from former NFL players; 48 of 53 college players; nine of 14 semi-professional players; seven of eight Canadian Football league players; and three of 14 high school players.

"Essentially this says it's a problem for football, it's a problem at all levels at high school and above," said the study's lead author Dr. Ann McKee, a Boston University neuroscientist. "We need to now look for ways to detect it in living people, and most importantly, to treat it in living people."

CTE is linked to repeated blows to the head, resulting in irreversible changes to the brain, including memory loss, depression and dementia. As of now, the disease has no known treatment.

Anderson's 13-year-old son is on the track team and runs for the cross country team. She said he also swims and wants to play golf next year.

"He still has the teamwork aspect, which I do feel is important to experience at his age," she said. "He is still learning about hard work and time management."

Dr. Barry Kosofsky is the chief of child neurology at Weill Cornell in New York City and director of the pediatric concussion clinic. His general rule about receiving concussions while playing sports is "three strikes, you're out." But that should not apply to children under 14, who, in his opinion, should not play tackle football in any capacity.

"Football is not safe for children to play, no," he said. "Football is bad for your brain."

While the JAMA study represents a skewed sample, Kosofsky said it still managed to make breakthroughs on CTE. 

"They've shown, which no one else has shown, that you can get it at earlier ages with less football exposure," he said. 

USA Football, the national governing body for amateur football, uses numbers provided in the Sports and Fitness Industry Association's Topline Participation Report for tackle and flag football, for players ages 6-17. The report’s trend since 2012 has shown a drop in enrollment by 1.7 percent, a smaller percentage decline than shown by the NFHS survey.

"The youth game is taught and played differently today than it was a few short years ago," a USA Football representative said in response to questions about the latest CTE report.

Carrie Bembry is a mother of three in Centerville, Ohio. Her youngest is 10 years old and he is passionate about football. He has played since kindergarten, she said, and she does not intend to keep her son from the sport, unless he receives another concussion.

Bembry's oldest child is 17 years old and he stopped playing football after his freshman year of high school. He was sidelined by a series of concussions that lead to noticeable cognitive difficulties. Bembry said her once-honor roll, popular son is now withdrawn, depressed and struggles in school. He has difficulty completing multi-step tasks. Doctors have correlated the recent issues to concussions.

"Of course I worry about concussions with my youngest playing football, but even with my oldest son's post-concussion problems, it is a risk that we are willing to take because he loves the game so much," Bembry said. "[But] yes, it for sure weighs heavily on my mind."

Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., is fighting against CTE in Congress, calling for legislation to protect players. Last year, as a member of the House Committee on Energy and Commerce, she pressed a NFL spokesman to note the link between CTE and football. In a statement following Tuesday's report, she said, "The time for denying facts and looking the other way is over."

"We must now actively seek out ways to protect the health and well-being of players, from Pop Warner to the NFL and every league in between," Schakowsky said. "It is also imperative to ensure that the American people are informed about the dangers associated with playing football."

Pop Warner, a youth football program with players across the country, is one of the oldest and largest of its kind. According to spokesman Brian Heffron, enrollment has remained steady over the past five years. Their last significant drop in enrollment was from 2010-12, when "certainly the concussion issue played a role."

Heffron attributes their since-steady participation to Pop Warner's aggressive campaign for player safety, including banning kickoffs and head-on blocking, and mandating a coaching education.

"As an organization driven by player safety, we're grateful for the scientific community's focus on the issue," Heffron said. "We think there are valuable learnings in this study, but even the researchers point out that this was a narrow study."

The JAMA report is a continuation of research that began eight years ago and serves as the largest update on the study. The subjects of the study were not randomly chosen; they were submitted by players themselves or their families because of repeated concussions and/or troubling symptoms before death.

Dr. Greg Landry is a member of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ sports council, and co-authored the guidelines on concussions and return to play. The son of a football coach, Landry played from ages 11 to 22, and was a team doctor for the University of Wisconsin for 25 years.

The JAMA study, he said, leaves many questions from the "biased sample" and he believes "youth football is low risk." But "coaches and officials need to do more to help football players protect their heads," he said. 

NFL spokesman Brian McCarthy said the JAMA study was "important to further advancing the science and progress related to trauma."

"As noted by the authors, there are still many unanswered questions relating to the cause, incidence and prevalence of long-term effects of head trauma such as CTE," McCarthy said. "The NFL is committed to supporting scientific research into CTE and advancing progress in the prevention and treatment of head injuries."

The NFL pledged $100 million to research on neuroscience-related topics last year, after settling a $1 billion concussion lawsuit brought forth by former players.

Christina Barrett, of Macomb, Michigan, said all the reports on CTE and the movie "Concussion" were enough to convince her that her 10-year-old son should not play football.

"No sport is worth endangering a child’s health," she said. "While sports are important, they aren’t more important than my child’s health or academics. His future successes will be dependent upon his brain, not his athletic skills."

Photo Credit: John Greim/LightRocket via Getty Images

Lewd, Rude, Crude? The White House Has Heard It All


You think the Mooch is so bad? That's bull — He's got bipartisan company in the foul-mouthed world of American politics. 

Anthony Scaramucci, the new communications director at the White House, might have taken public sector profanity to a new low in this week’s New Yorker interview, but the country boasts a long history of occasionally salty presidents, their vice presidents and aides. You just may not have known it at the time. 

From “Give ‘Em Hell Harry” Truman who called General Douglas MacArthur a “dumb son of a b----” to Vice President Dick Cheney telling Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy to “f--- yourself,” America’s top politicians have not been reluctant to express themselves in strong language.

Scaramucci shocked more than a few readers with his vulgarity during a telephone call with a New Yorker writer Wednesday night, saying of Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, “Reince is a f------ paranoid schizophrenic, a paranoiac.” Of chief strategist Steve Bannon, he said to Ryan Lizza, “I’m not Steve Bannon. I’m not trying to suck my own c---.”

Scaramucci later tweeted that he had “made a mistake in trusting in a reporter,” but Lizza says Scaramucci never asked that the conversation be off the record.

As Rolling Stone recalled in a round-up of presidential profanity in 2012, Richard Nixon and the Watergate tapes put the phrase “expletive deleted” on the map. The difference today is the expletives are blasted on social media and make their way into news stories immediately instead of over hot mics or years later when unearthed by historians. News organizations have wrestled with how explicit their reports should be in recent years. Ground zero in the latest round: Donald Trump's infamous "p---y" tape. 

The decade-old Access Hollywood recording was released in October during the presidential campaign.

“I’m automatically attracted to beautiful women — I just start kissing them, it’s like a magnet,” Trump said to Billy Bush, then an anchor for the show, in 2005. “Just kiss. I don’t even wait. And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab 'em by the p----."

His predecessors had their moments, too — rude, profane, sometimes crude if not as misogynistic, at least not publicly. Here are a few of them.

Truman explained to Merle Miller, the author of “Plain Speaking: An Oral Biography of Harry S. Truman,” why he had fired MacArthur in these words: “I fired him because he wouldn’t respect the authority of the President. That’s the answer to that. I didn’t fire him because he was a dumb son of a b----, although he was, but that’s not against the laws for generals. If it was, half to three-quarters of them would be in jail.”

President John F. Kennedy told his brother, Robert, of the Canadian prime minister John Diefenbaker: “I don’t want to see that boring son of a b---- again.”

Many of President Richard Nixon's racist, bigoted comments were, of course, caught on the White House tapes. Here are some of his observations about various ethnic groups: “The Jews have certain traits. The Irish have certain - for example, the Irish can't drink. What you always have to remember with the Irish is they get mean. Virtually every Irish I've known gets mean when he drinks. It's sort of a natural trait. Particularly the real Irish," Nixon said.

“The Italians, of course, just don't have their heads screwed on tight,” he said. “They are wonderful people, but . . ." he trailed off, adding later: "The Jews are just a very aggressive and abrasive and obnoxious personality."

And on the day that Nixon announced Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, domestic policy aide John Ehrlichman, White House counsel John Dean and Attorney General Richard Kleindienst were resigning, he told Haldeman: “It’s a tough thing, Bob, for you, for John, the rest, but God damn it, I never want to discuss this son of a b---- Watergate thing again. Never, never, never, never.”

Nixon’s attorney general, John Mitchell, when informed of one Watergate article the Washington Post was about to publish, famously said of its publisher, Katharine Graham, "All that crap, you're putting it in the paper? It's all been denied. Katie Graham's gonna get her t-- caught in a big fat wringer if that's published."

One of the most repeated stories about Lyndon Johnson is that he consulted with advisers, even with biographer Doris Kearns Goodwin, while on the toilet.

President Jimmy Carter, whose adultery was committed in his heart, once told a group of congressmen in 1979 that if Kennedy were to challenge him, "I'll whip his ass."

As far as profane comments, here is one example, according to President George H.W. Bush, who had told Johnson he wanted to run for the U.S. Senate:  “And he said, ‘The difference between the Senate and the House is the difference between chicken salad and chicken s---,’” Bush said.

President Bill Clinton’s aide Rahm Emanuel warned British Prime Minister Tony Blair,  “Don't f--- it up,” during Blair’s 1998 visit to the White House during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

George W. Bush did not realize the microphone in front of him was on when he insulted then New York Times reporter Adam Clymer during the presidential campaign in 2000. Bush called Clymer a “major-league a------.”

Cheney cursed at Leahy during an argument on the Senate floor in 2004 over Cheney’s ties to the Halliburton Co. and the company’s contracts in Iraq. Cheney later acknowledged the comment.

And President Barack Obama in an interview with Rolling Stone in 2012 called his Republican rival, Mitt Romney,  “a bull------er.”

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

7 Moments From GOP's Failed Health Care Vote


President Donald Trump's priority to repeal and replace Obamacare was thwarted after senators voted down early Friday morning, after hours of debate on the floor, a GOP health care bill.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, just a week after surgery and with black-and-blue bruising on his face, was one of three Republicans to cast the "no" votes that felled the GOP's seven-year effort to repeal the Affordable Care Act — at least for now.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he "regret[s] that our efforts were not enough this time."

The results of the Senate vote — 51 against and 49 in favor — sparked a flurry of responses on social media from politicians, pundits and celebrities.

Here are seven of the more remarkable moments from the GOP's "skinny repeal" vote:

7) McConnell says of the failure, "It's time to move on."

6) Trump responds on Twitter: "3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!" 

5) Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, of New York, expresses relief about the bill's failure. "We are not celebrating; we are relieved," he says.

4) Trump called McCain to try to sway him to vote for "skinny bill" by assuring him it wouldn’t end up passing into law, a source with knowledge of the call told NBC News.  

3) GOP Sens. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Susan Collins of Maine both voted "no" on the repeal. "I want us to try to get back to how we can restart, because the work is not done," Murkowski told NBC News. "We cannot let the public believe that we are done with healthcare. We’re just beginning."

2) Hawaii Democratic Sen. Mazie Hirono talks about battling kidney cancer. "Where is your compassion?" she asked her colleagues "Where is the care that you showed me when I was diagnosed with my illness. I find it hard to believe that we can sit here and vote on a bill that is going to hurt millions and millions of people in our country."


1) McCain flashes a thumbs-down sign as he casts his decisive "no" vote on the bill. Gasps can be heard from the Senate chamber as McCain casts his vote, which decided the fate of the repeal. 

Photo Credit: Getty Images
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How Safe Are Amusement Park Rides?


A ride malfunction at the Ohio State Fair that left one dead and seven injured has thrill seekers across the country questioning the safety of amusement park rides.

“I just don’t think I’ll ever ride a ride again,” Kaylie Bellomy, who was next in line, told WMCH Columbus.

A lack of comprehensive data on ride-related accidents makes it difficult to determine how risky the attractions are. Some in the industry are calling for stricter federal regulation of the rides.

One study from the Center for Injury Research and Policy at Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, Ohio, estimated that 92,885 children sought emergency room treatment for injuries from rides between 2000 and 2010, approximately 4,400 per year. The study did not include deaths or injuries among adults.

Kathy Fackler, founder of amusement park safety organization Saferparks, said that insufficient data is a result of a piecemeal regulatory system.

“Carnival rides like this one, anything that travels from place to place, is subject to oversight from the Consumer Product Safety Commission," she said of the Ohio State Fair ride. "Fixed site rides at amusement parks like Six Flags are exempt from federal oversight. Some states and some local governments have instituted safety regulations but that varies across the board.”

Fragmented regulation was not always the case. When amusement park rides first appeared in the United States they fell entirely under the jurisdiction of the Consumer Product Safety Commission. The rules were changed in 1981 because of pressure from industry leaders, said amusement park safety consultant Ken Martin. Under the current regulatory system, rides in some states are not subject to government inspections. 

In 2016 10-year-old Caleb Schwab was killed on the Verrückt water raft ride at Schlitterbarn waterpark in Kansas City, Kansas. Verrückt had not been inspected since its grand opening in 2014. The Kansas Legislature has since tightened regulations of amusement park rides. 

In Ohio 18-year-old Tyler Jarrell was killed Wednesday when a row of seats detached from a spinning pendulum ride called the Fire Ball.

Ohio's chief inspector of amusement ride safety, Michael Vartorella, told the AP that the Fire Ball was inspected three or four times before the fair opened. 

Even when a ride has been properly tested, Martin said accidents can still occur, especially if structural issues are not identified during the building phase. 

“You had all those people look at this ride and they didn’t find any defects," Martin said. "That alone tells me there was some type of catastrophic failure that has previously been undetected."

Industry consensus standards set by the American Society for Testing and Materials help to ensure that amusement parks take safety precautions but, Martin said he believes these optional guidelines do not go far enough.

“There’s one thing that’s missing from the standards right now and that’s the fact that they have no bite," he said. “There’s nothing in the regulations to really make people comply.”

To protect park-goers and ensure that ride owners and manufacturers are held accountable for malfunctions, some are calling on the federal government to regain wider oversight of the industry.

“We are calling for a national injury reporting system for all mobile and fixed site rides that would allow for better surveillance and more consistent enforcement of standards,” said Tracy Mehan, a researcher from the Center for Injury Research and Policy.

Until changes are made on the federal level, Mehan said it would be up to riders to use common sense in order to minimize potential risks.

“Trust your instincts,” she said. “Before you get on a ride take a good look at the ride and all the equipment. If you don’t feel comfortable or you don’t feel like it will be safe, pick another activity.”

Photo Credit: Sergio Quintana/NBC Bay Area

Police Searching for BMW After Shooting of 5-Year-Old & Man


Police are investigating a drive-by shooting on Great Hill Road in East Hartford Thursday that injured a 5-year-old boy and a 19-year-old Windsor man and they are searching for a BMW that has some front-end damage.

The shooting happened just before 4 p.m. Thursday at the 5-year-old’s home, police said. Police said the 19-year-old victim does not live in that home, according to authorities.

East Hartford Police detectives are looking for a light-blue or gray four-door BMW with tinted windows and minor passenger-side front-end damage.

“Our hearts go out to the victims and their families, as well as their neighbors, who all deserve to live in a safe community,” East Hartford Police Chief Scott Sansom said in a statement. “Incidents like this are simply unacceptable. I can assure that we are actively investigating this shooting, and pursuing each and every lead. We will not rest until justice is served.”

Both victims are listed in stable condition.

Anyone with information about this shooting or the vehicle is asked to call East Hartford Police Detective Daniel Ortiz at 860-291-7669 or the East Hartford Police anonymous tip line at 860-289-9134.

Photo Credit: East Hartford Police

Enfield Apartment Still an Eyesore Nearly 4 Years After Fire


People in one Enfield neighborhood said a burned out and blighted apartment building isn't doing any good for their tidy neighborhood.

"It's your property. You got paid for it, tear it down- it needs to come down, it's an eyesore for the neighborhood," Paul Reddell told the NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters.

The property caught fire three and a half years ago and residents say it still looks exactly as it did back then.

The owner blames the town and the town blames the owner. Neighbors don't know who to blame, but they said they want something done.

"It’s got to come down, but for some reason, the town isn't getting on the owner's butt about it," Reddell said. "It’s an eyesore, it's been boarded up two or three times, with kids playing there."

NBC Connecticut was there when flames ripped through the multi-family home on Church Street in Enfield, days before Christmas in 2013

"It's horrible, the grass is overgrown, I mean, there's garbage on the street. I'm always picking it up," Lisa Squires said.

Realtor Henry Foley owns Century 21 in town and said someone almost bought the apartment. 

"I had it for sale, we had a deposit on it. But there were so many blight fees from the Town of Enfield, the buyer couldn't put the deal together so he walked away," Foley said. 

NBC Connecticut Troubleshooters requested the numbers from the town hall. According to the assessor’s office, taxes owed since February total more than $17,000.

Town Manager Bryan Chodkowski told NBC Connecticut to tack on another $185,000 for blight ordinance fees, liens, penalties and fines.

Chodkowski said it will be sold at auction in September.

"The total property will be listed for sale at auction somewhere around $225,000.00. Assuming no one is willing to purchase that property at that value then what we will do, the town will acquire that parcel for this fee of $1," Chodkowski said.

Chodkowski called John T. Forrest a non-responsive property owner, but he admits there's no one size fits all solution.

"If the owner's willing to step forward and engage the town in a discussion between now and the tax sale we're more than happy to sit and meet with him to try and come up with a resolution,” Chodkowski said.

By phone,  Forrest said, "My position is I had a buyer two years ago and the town wouldn't move the price down to work with the local contractor in town. Ever since I haven't been able to get a buyer to take it off my hands."

A response people living on the same street don't want to hear.

"It makes the neighborhood look like trash. I think they should get a hold of the landlord and make him pay to tear it down," Redell said.

By the time the house does sell after that September sale, it could take as long as a year before the property is demolished.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

New London Dealing With at Least 8 Possible K2 Overdoses


Emergency crews in New London responded to at least eight probable overdoses on K2, or synthetic marijuana, on Friday alone.

This comes after more than 14 prior possible K2 overdoses in the city over a span of about a week. Fire officials said one of the overdoses Friday was on Montauk Avenue, the same area where some of the prior overdoses were.

Most of the people who overdosed Friday were homeless, according to Battalion Chief Edward Sargent.

Jeanne Milstein, New London’s director of human services, said the city, substance abuse service providers, first responders, Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, the Homeless Hospitality Center and the state Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services are aggressively working together to combat the problem.

The main goals including getting people treatment so they stop using and working with law enforcement to get the drugs off the streets.

"We are not arresting addicts. We are going after the dealers. We’re trying to get the addicts help. Substance use disorder is a disease," Milstein said.

There are currently outreach workers on the street trying to get people help and police are actively looking into where the drug is coming from, she added.

Peta Mandry, kitchen manager for the New London Community Meal Center on Montauk Avenue, said she’s seen people overdose on K2 around her facility more now than in her almost eight years at the center. People have also overdosed inside, she added.

"You’re talking about young people in their 20s, 30s," Mandry said of the K2-using demographic.

Members of different clergy are trying to help by talking to people at the center and building up trust, Mandry said, to potentially connect them to addition resources.

Cathy Zall, executive director of the New London Homeless Hospitality Center, previously said her staff can see about 600 different people within the course of a year. They’re working with police, the city and detox facilities but know they all can be doing more.

Part of the solution is tapping into why someone developed the substance abuse issue in the first place, Zall said.

A woman who lives in New London, but didn’t want to be identified, said she knows the effects of K2. Her ex-boyfriend is an addict.

"It looks like a heroin high and they chase it like cocaine. They get sick, they have seizures, they go to the bathroom on themselves," she said, adding her ex-boyfriend would travel all the way to Waterbury to get the synthetic marijuana.

"He’s very young, had a lot of potential," the woman told NBC Connecticut. "He’s on the streets now like a bum. He begs for dollars at the store. It’s like a completely different character. Almost like a zombie."

She said rehabs need to realize that K2 is a drug people need to detox from.

"These people are withdrawing and they have hallucinations," she said.

NBC Connecticut will continue to stay on this continuing story of probable K2 overdoses in New London and report the latest developments.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

$5,000 Reward Offered in West Haven Arson Case


The West Haven Fire Marshal’s office needs your help to identify who may have set a house on fire.

Charles Virzi is the owner of the 339 Center Street home that caught fire on July 11. He told NBC Connecticut on Friday that he will match the fire marshal’s office reward of $2,500. Now, a $5,000 reward will be offered to whoever gives authorities a tip that leads them to make an arrest.

Tenants of the home woke up to the home on fire around 3 a.m. on July 11. Fire Marshal Keith Flood said evidence shows ignitable liquids were found in the stairwell of the entryway of the two-family home.

The fire trapped a woman on the second floor and sent her to the hospital for several days. The stairs even burned completely, causing the woman to be rescued through a second flood back window.

“I’m concerned about my tenants because I look at them more like family than tenants. And if there’s something I could do to find out who did this to these people, that’s what I’m willing to do,” Said Virzi.

If you have any information, call the Connecticut arson hotline at 1-800-84-ARSON. You can also call Westport Police.

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

Lawmakers Want Standards for Crumbling Foundations


There's still no financial help for homeowners in 42 Connecticut towns saddled with crumbling foundations.

It may be of little consolation to them, but Connecticut’s U.S. senators have taken a step toward preventing this from happening in the future. They want a standard for how much of the corrosive mineral causing crumbling foundations is safe to have in concrete.

The senators got a provision attached to a bill that would establish what are acceptable levels of the mineral known as pyrrhotite. Senators are also still working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to redefine what is known as a natural disaster to get funding. Many crumbling foundations are not covered by insurance, and the statute of limitations to recover funds from concrete installers or manufacturers have expired.

U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal said at the capitol Friday, "Pyrrhotite was not the cause of these crumbling foundations by virtue of anything that man did. It should be regarded as a natural disaster. And we've been urging FEMA to take action that would provide relief."

Our congressional delegation is also still talking with another federal agency, insurers, plus state and local governments to get homeowners aid in the form of grants and loans.

Customers Bid Farwell to Hardware Store After 143 Years


A beloved family-owned hardware store in the Unionville section of Farmington set to close its doors later this summer after more than 140 years.

At Parsons Hardware Friday, many customers came in not for supplies but goodbyes.

"It brings back many fond memories of shopping here with my father. He'd tell me when something broke you didn't throw it out you actually fixed it and you came to Parsons to fix it," Michael Campbell said.

For Campbell, the store stirs a flood of memorable times and he had to come from Canton to bid farewell.

The store now set to close in late August after a 143-year run.

"They say I can't believe you're closing oh my gosh what am I going to do," Owner Michael Parsons said.

Parsons said the decision is bittersweet but competing against the big hardware stores is a battle the family owned business just couldn't handle.

"If you're not making enough to keep it going then there's no sense, we had to make a tough decision. I feel bad that we have to go and leave everybody," Parsons said.

With each farewell, Parsons is hoping to help customers keep a bit of the store with them.

While Parsons said he'll miss the people, it's time his family's beloved store to shut its doors.

"Sad but time to move on but you got to move on, you got to move on,"Parsons said.

DHS Chief Kelly to Replace Priebus as WH Chief of Staff


His White House in turmoil, President Donald Trump abruptly announced late Friday he was appointing Homeland Security Secretary John Kelly to be his chief of staff, ending the tumultuous six-month tenure of Reince Priebus.

After months of speculation about Priebus' fate, Trump tweeted his decision just as he landed in Washington after a speech in New York in which he lavishly praised Kelly's performance at Homeland Security.

Priebus, the former Republican National Committee head, was the frequent target of rumors about his job security amid infighting and confusion within the White House and a long whisper campaign by Trump allies. Then, on Thursday, he was the subject of a remarkable and profane public rebuke by Trump's newly appointed White House communications director, Anthony Scaramucci.

Priebus told allies that he had offered his resignation to Trump on Thursday.

"I think the president wanted to go a different direction," Priebus told CNN just hours after his exit was announced. He added that he agreed the White House might well benefit from "a reset," and he said, "I'm always going to be a Trump fan. I'm on Team Trump."

Of his replacement, Priebus said in an earlier statement that he "can't think of a better person than General John Kelly to succeed me."

Trump's announcement on Twitter said, "I am pleased to inform you that I have just named General/Secretary John F Kelly as White House Chief of Staff. He is a Great American ... and a Great Leader. John has also done a spectacular job at Homeland Security. He has been a true star of my Administration."

He also saluted Priebus, the chief of staff he had just pushed out.

"I would like to thank Reince Priebus for his service and dedication to his country. We accomplished a lot together and I am proud of him!"

Kelly is a retired Marine four-star general. Trump had focused on him in recent days, telling those close to him that he believed military discipline was what his administration needed.

In a statement released Friday afternoon Kelly said that when he left the Marines, he never thought he would find as committed, as professional, as patriotic a group of individuals. But he was wrong, he said.

Priebus never could bring a semblance of order to the team of in-fighting rivals that populate Trump's West Wing, and questions about his future have long swirled around the office. Those questions sharply escalated this week with the arrival of Scaramucci, the hard-charging communications director who was hired over Priebus' objections.

Priebus' already tense relationship with Scaramucci took a darker turn over the past two days when the communications chief suggested in a late-night tweet that Priebus was one of the "leakers" that Trump has railed against. The New Yorker magazine published an interview Thursday in which Scaramucci called Priebus, amid an avalanche of vulgarity, a "paranoid schizophrenic."

Priebus, who hails from Wisconsin and has deep ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, had grown increasingly isolated in the White House, as past Republican National Committee colleagues and other allies have left or been pushed out. Those who have departed include former deputy chief of staff Katie Walsh, former communications chief Mike Dubke, press secretary Sean Spicer and press aide Michael Short. Another early departure from the Trump White House was National Security Adviser Michael Flynn.

Ryan, in a statement, said Priebus "has left it all out on the field, for our party and our country." Ryan added that he looked forward to working with Kelly

Both Scaramucci and Priebus traveled to New York's Long Island with Trump on Friday for a speech in which the president highlighted efforts to crack down on the gang MS-13. Priebus took the return flight to Washington, which had to circle the runway due to a storm, his fate sealed in the tweets that were sent by the president just as he stepped off the plane.

Shortly before the president deplaned, Priebus' black SUV pulled away, leaving the rest of the motorcade, including the president's vehicle, in the distance. The president eventually emerged, umbrella in hand, and delivered a brief statement on the runway as driving rain poured.

Rep. Peter King of New York sat across from the outgoing chief of staff on Air Force One's return flight to Washington and said Priebus "kept a poker face."

Priebus did not respond to reporters' shouted questions though he later released a statement saying it was "one of the greatest honors of my life" to serve as chief of staff. He also pledged to continue to support Trump's agenda. His term ends in fewer than 200 days, the shortest tenure for any president's first White House chief of staff since the post was formally established in 1946.

From day one, Priebus' power has been limited compared with past officials with his title. In a highly unusual arrangement, Trump said at the outset that Priebus and chief strategist Steve Bannon would serve as "equal partners" in implementing his agenda.

Scaramucci was the latest top aide to be granted a direct line to Trump, and it became increasingly unclear who actually reported to Priebus. Though Priebus forged an uneasy truce with his former foe Bannon, powerful White House aides Ivanka Trump and her husband, Jared Kushner, were both supportive of Kelly's hire, according to a person familiar with the matter but not authorized to speak publicly about private discussions.

Priebus, whose departure was the latest in a string of early exits from the administration, also was blamed by some within the White House for the failure of the Republican health care plan, with some Trump allies believing that Priebus' longtime relationships with Republicans on Capitol Hill should have ensured the bill's passage.

Priebus, a political operative and attorney, is expected to look for a corporate job or possibly write a book about his experience in the center of the Trump storm. One of the final establishment Republicans in the White House, he was a frequent target of barbs from Trump over not being an early backer of the celebrity businessman's candidacy.

As Homeland Security secretary, Kelly has taken the lead on some of Trump's most controversial policies, including his executive orders suspending the admission of refugees and temporarily barring visitors from several Muslim-majority nations. Those orders have been stripped down by courts pending a Supreme Court review this fall.

People who know Kelly told The Associated Press that he was not aware of the details of those initial orders until around the time that Trump signed them. Yet, just days after taking office, Kelly had to lead the agency as it dealt with the chaos and confusion that ensued at airports in the U.S. and around the world. He defended the orders to reporters and lawmakers and insisted that he indeed had been part of the decision-making process.

Kelly has also pushed for support for Trump's signature campaign pledge to build a wall along the southern border, though he acknowledged at his confirmation hearing that "a physical barrier in and of itself will not do the job."

Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, a frequent Trump critic, said that, as Homeland Security chief, Kelly has "been very effective in engaging members of Congress and communicating a coherent message for the President."

"Secretary Kelly is one of the strongest and most natural leaders I've ever known," Graham said.

Photo Credit: AP/File
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83-Year-Old Woman, Son Hired Hitman to Kill Postal Worker


An 83-year-old New Hampshire woman and her 63-year-old son are accused in a plot to hire a hitman to murder a postmaster.

Pauline Chase and Maurice Temple, both of 455 Old County Road in Plainfield, New Hampshire, are charged with conspiracy to commit murder, solicitation to commit murder and attempt to commit murder.

The would-be victim, according to authorities, is the postmaster in Plainfield, and her customers say it's hard to believe anyone would be out to get her.

"Very helpful and always kind," Plainfield resident Ellen Herrin said of Jean Temple, Maurice Temple's ex-wife.

"This guy must be crazy, because Jean is an amazing person," said lifelong Plainfield resident Samantha Mitchell.

Police say Jean Temple had a target on her back for weeks after her ex-husband and his mother hired someone to kill her.

"It's usually a pretty quiet little town," Herrin said. "Yeah, that's kind of shocking."

Sitting in a wheelchair, Chase tried to explain herself to a judge in Claremont District Court Friday.

"I'm trying to tell you," she said.

"Let your attorney speak on your behalf," said the judge.

Chase and her son allegedly paid a man $5,000 to murder Jean Temple. Sullivan County Attorney Mark Hathaway says the hired hit man went straight to police and helped them through the investigation.

"We are very grateful for that individual's courage in coming forward," Hathaway said.

The would-be victim sat in the courtroom Friday, but declined to comment on camera.

"The charges themselves characterize our feelings on how serious this matter was," Hathaway said. "We're very pleased that ultimate harm didn't take place here."

Chase and her son are both being held on $1 million cash bail and scheduled to be back in court Aug. 7 for a probable cause hearing.

The affidavits in this case remain sealed while the investigation continues.

Photo Credit: New Hampshire State Police

Conn. Breathes Sigh of Relief Following Health Care Vote


Hundreds of thousands of people in the state have healthcare because of the Affordable Care Act with those signups occurring through either the marketplace Access Health Connecticut, or through the expansion of Medicaid.

More than 104,000 people are covered through plans purchased through the marketplace, and another 208,000 receive care through Medicaid expansion, a key tenet of the Affordable Care Act.

After the votes to repeal the entire law failed early Friday, Sen. Richard Blumenthal now says it's the president's responsibility to ensure the system works.

“He cannot conduct this vendetta with the sacrifice of some people’s lives," Blumenthal said. "The collapse or explosion of the exchanges will cost lives and the president should be bolstering and supporting the insurance exchanges and making the present system work as well as possible.”

On Twitter, and in public statements, President Donald Trump has talked about impending failure of the healthcare market, which he says would be the fault of Democrats.

Trump tweeted early Friday morning, shortly after a proposal to repeal the individual mandate and part of the employer mandate failed, "3 Republicans and 48 Democrats let the American people down. As I said from the beginning, let ObamaCare implode, then deal. Watch!"

Senator Chris Murphy hopes Republicans work with Democrats to fix the law.

"They know if the health system goes belly-up that politically they are going to bear the responsibility and so they are better off working with us to shore up the Affordable Care Act rather than letting Donald Trump undermine it," Murphy said.

Jonathan Miller, from Meriden, had a marketplace plan for years to help him cover bills for Cystic Fibrosis. He describes the Affordable Care Act as a lifeline since he was born with a pre-existing condition.

“I needed that access to the marketplace and without it, I would not have been able to afford my treatments," he said.

Miller was relieved that GOP efforts to repeal the law failed, but said Congress still has to address the costs that lead so many to struggle to pay for healthcare.

"I needed that access to the marketplace and without it, I would not have been able to afford my treatments," Miller said. 

Photo Credit: NBC Connecticut

One Dead, Four Injured in Plymouth Crash


One person has died and four others were injured after an early morning crash in Plymouth.

Police received a 911 call around 12:23 a.m. Saturday from a resident of the Town Hill Road area to report hearing a loud crash.

When officers arrived, they found a 2006 Chevy Cobalt with heavy damage at the intersection of Town Hill Road and Cross Road.

There were five occupants in the car. Four were transported to the hospital via ambulance, one via LifeStar.

The patient transported by LifeStar died. The four other occupants are suffering from serious injuries.

Plymouth officers and the K9 unit are actively searching for one or possibly two individuals that fled the scene of the accident and maybe injured.

The Connecticut State Police reconstruction team is assisting the investigation.

What’s Going to Happen to Health Care


Health care legislation is dead for now, but the White House and Congress have yet to announce their next step, NBC News reported. But their decisions, expected in coming days, could have major implications for Affordable Care Act's exchanges next year.

Republican leaders are weighing three options: They can keep fighting for a GOP health care bill in the hopes of a late breakthrough, work with Democrats on a bipartisan package to make insurance markets function smoothly in the short term, or encourage the ACA exchanges to collapse in the hopes of building pressure for repeal and replacement.

President Donald Trump has sent mixed signals on his intentions, but he’s threatened to cut off insurer payments. These threats have gotten louder recently and Trump said Friday that he wanted to "let Obamacare implode."

Trump’s push for collapse comes as insurance markets show improvement this year after a period of significant premium hikes.

Photo Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images, File
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