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Ind. Pileup Survivor Speaks


Harrowing stories of survival are starting to emerge from the massive chain-reaction crash on I-94 near Michigan City, Indiana Thursday.

Three people died and 23 others were injured in the crash that involved up to 46 vehicles, 15 of them semi-trailers.

Devon Nash was caught in the middle of the crash, and for a moment, imagined the worst. He was asleep on the passenger side and woke up to find the car he was riding in spinning out of control.

"We smacked the car in front of us, and then after that, another car came and hit us from behind. And then I seen a semi coming toward us, so I just closed my eyes. I thought we were going to die, honestly," Nash told NBC 5 from his hospital bed.

Even veteran emergency responders couldn't believe what they saw.

"A lot of the vehicles were on top of one another. It was very hard to determine the magnitude of the scene," Laporte County EMS tech Andrew McGuire said.

Indiana Laporte Hospital nurse Tina Thomas said one crash victim described a scenario she was powerless to avoid.

"When she tried to stop when she saw everything happen, she said she was not able to. She said it was like a sheet of ice under the snow," Thomas said.

Scott Collins, 17, of Chesterton, Ind., was riding in a car with three other teens and saw the crash happen just behind them.

"One of the semis started sliding and I think it jackknifed in the middle of the road" and collided with another semi, he said. "After that happened, multiple semis locked up."

He said a box truck got stuck on a guardrail and nearly went over into a waterway.

"We were pretty nervous," he said.

Keeping Children Safe in Brutal Cold


It is brutally cold, but children still have to go to school and there are some steps you can take to keep them safe.

Dress your children in layers because they lose body heat much faster than adults do.

Pediatricians say it’s best to dress children in multiple light layers and protect their head, hands and feet.

If your child is walking to school or waiting outside for the bus, be mindful of cold-weather safety.

Small children should typically wear one layer more than an adult would wear.

State Police Cruiser Involved in Route 9 Crash


A state police cruiser has been involved in a crash on Route 9 South in the area of exit 22 in Berlin. 

The road remains open, but traffic is backed up on the highway.

No additional information was available.  

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

McDonnell, Wife Released on Bond


Former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell and his wife, Maureen, entered not guilty pleas Friday during their first court appearance on federal corruption charges.

"It's not guilty, your Honor," the former Republican governor said in court before the judge set a July 28 trial date for both.

The couple walked hand-in-hand to their arraignment after being released on their own recognizance during an earlier bond hearing. Both courtrooms were packed with friends and supporters of the McDonnells.

"God has blessed me with great friends and family," Bob McDonnell said afterward.

The McDonnells were also ordered not to leave the country. The former governor's lawyer said the couple already surrendered their passports.

McDonnell and his wife were indicted Tuesday after a lengthy federal investigation of his relationship with a former CEO of a dietary supplement maker.

Both judges made stern pronouncements about the media attention the case has been getting.

"This case is going to be tried in the courtroom; it's not going to be tried in the media," U.S. Magistrate Judge David Novak said. "The gamesmanship with the media ends now."

Novak sternly lectured lawyers from both sides not to discuss the case with the media. He warned that such conduct violates a local court rule and could result in contempt of court charges.

The former Republican governor and his wife were indicted on 14 counts Tuesday after a lengthy federal investigation of his relationship with a former CEO of a dietary supplement maker.

Federal prosecutors allege the McDonnells accepted more than $165,000 worth of loans and gifts from Jonnie Williams, the former head of Star Scientific Inc. Prosecutors say that in return, the McDonnells improperly helped Williams promote his company's products.

McDonnell is also charged with an additional count of making a false statement to a financial institution, and Maureen McDonnell is charged with one count of obstruction of an official proceeding.

The indictment traces years of an alleged relationship between the McDonnells and Williams, whose company's dietary supplements allegedly helped people stop smoking and reduce inflammation.

Before McDonnell was even elected, the indictment claims, he used a jet owned by Williams. By the time McDonnell was about to take office, his wife allegedly reached out to Williams for help finding a designer dress for her husband's inauguration.

The case has clearly taken toll on the couple. In response to routine questions from the judge, Maureen McDonnell said she's taking medication for concentration issues and anxiety.

Bob McDonnell was once a rising star in the Republican Party. He has denied doing anything illegal.

McDonnell left office earlier this month after four years in the governor's office. Virginia law limits governors to a single term.

The Associated Press also contributed to this report.

Metro-North Service Restored, But Expect Delays


Metro-North service has been restored after all trains traveling between New York and Connecticut were halted due to signal problems Thursday night, but MTA officials warn commuters to expect residual delays of up to 35 minutes.

There will also be substitute bus Service on the Danbury Branch for the 7:33 a.m. train leaving South Norwalk this morning.

MTA officials said a problem in the control room at Grand Central Terminal forced trains to stop at the stations nearest them or before track interlockings. All trains had power, light and heat.

Service was restored by 9:40 p.m. and trains have begun running again, according to the MTA.

An announcement at the Fairfield Metro Station said trains were delayed an hour and a half.

The railroad has asked police in towns where stations are located to assist with crowd control, New Haven police spokesman David Hartman said on Thursday night.

Signal problems began just before 8 p.m. on Thursday, and Metro-North issued the following alert around 8:30 p.m.:

"Hudson, Harlem and New Haven Line service is currently stopped due to signal issues. Appropriate personnel are responding. We will provide additional details as they become available."

A passenger on a train from Grand Central to Milford said officials announced that the main computer at Grand Central Terminal had crashed and that train service would be suspended indefinitely.

Commuters were advised to get off the train and find alternate forms of transportation.

Amtrak service from New York to New Haven was also delayed as a result.


Climate Institute to Open at UConn


A new research center to help residents, communities, and businesses better prepare for the impacts of more severe weather and rising sea levels will open at UConn’s Avery Point campus in Groton.

The Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation will bring together experts in the natural sciences, engineering, economics, political science, finance and law, according to Gov. Dannel Malloy’s office.

“Over the past couple of years, our state has witnessed severe weather events that have threatened lives, destroyed property, damaged our infrastructure, and inflicted billions of dollars in harm to our state’s economy,” Malloy said.  “We must find ways to reduce the risks posed by the extreme weather that climate change is bringing to Connecticut and beyond.”

The plan for the Institute for Community Resiliency and Climate Adaptation is included in Special Act 13-9 and the work is being jumpstarted after a court settlement of an environmental violations case that earmarked $2.5 million in funding for it. 

The Hartford Courant reports that the settlement was the settlement between the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection and Unilever.

UConn and DEEP are looking for additional funding as well.

“This Institute will be a world-class, cutting edge center that harnesses the research and outreach capabilities of UConn with the practical regulatory expertise of Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection,” Malloy said. “It will take sound scientific research and turn it into concrete local actions needed to better adapt to the changing climate and improve the future resilience and sustainability of Connecticut’s coastline and inland watersheds.”

Areas the institute will focus on include:

  • Improving scientific understanding of the changing climate and its local and regional impacts;
  • Encouraging strategies that will reduce the loss of life, property, natural resources and limit social disruption from future high impact weather events as well as from sea level rise, flooding, erosion and other hazards – while respecting environmental resources, the ecology, and aquatic and wildlife.
  • Hardening of the electric grid and shoreline infrastructure such as roads, bridges, train tracks, and wastewater treatment plants;
  • Designing innovative financial options for property owners seeking to make their homes and businesses more resilient;
  • Workshops and on-line decision support tools for regional and local officials;
  • Increasing public understanding of climate issues so that residents and community leaders can make scientifically informed and environmentally sound decisions about climate adaptation.

“Work at the Institute will ultimately ensure that Connecticut has the tools needed to make our coastline and coastal communities more resilient,” UConn President Susan Herbst said in a statement. “The Institute will build upon UConn’s rich history of excellence in Marine Science research, Long Island Sound preservation and coastal observation and protection.”   

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said major storms, including Sandy and Irene, “have spelled disaster and destruction for far too many Connecticut families, communities, and businesses.”

He called the new institute “a profoundly important and positive step in preventing climate change and its tragic, costly consequences.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy also released a statement.

"We’ve long-since reached a point in Connecticut when it’s no longer enough to rebuild the damage done to our state by massive storms. We need to be smarter about both how we rebuild and how we prepare for the impacts of future severe storms. Our coastal communities need strong science and robust planning to help gird for these new challenges, and I was thrilled to be able to advocate for this worthy project at the federal level," Murphy said.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com\

3 Dead in Ind. Semi Truck Pile-Up


Three people were killed and more than 20 injured Thursday in a chain reaction crash involving at least 45 vehicles that shut down Interstate 94 near Michigan City, Ind., authorities said. 

One of the victims, 65-year-old Jerry Dalrymple, was from Chicago. His dog was also killed in the crash. The other two victims, 67-year-old Thomas Wolma and 65-year-old Marilyn Wolma, were  from Grand Rapids, Mich., LaPorte County Coroner John Sullivan told NBC Chicago.

More than 20 others were injured, and there were at least five people who were trapped in their vehicles and needed to be extricated, officials said.

The 3 p.m. crash in the eastbound lanes of I-94 at mile marker 36 in LaPorte County involved 18 tractor-trailers, two trucks, and more than 20 passenger cars, vans and SUVs, Indiana State Police Sgt. Ann Wojas said Friday.

"It went from sunshine to complete no visibility, so when they entered in, it turned into slide off, crash, crash, and multiplied into what we have now," she said.

Wojas identified the critically injured victims as Jeffery Rennell, 48, from Ada, Mich., and Henry Imboden, 79, from Merrillville, Ind. Rennell, who had been airlifted after crews worked for three hours to free him from his vehicle, was treated and released from Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn on Friday afternoon.

Poor weather conditions were factors in the crash that shut down both directions of a 10-mile stretch of the interstate for several hours, officials said. The westbound lanes reopened hours later, but the eastbound lanes remained closed until just before 9:30 a.m. Friday as crews worked to remove the mangled mess of vehicles.

"It’s just a mess out there right now," Sullivan said.

St. Anthony's medical center in Michigan City received 13 crash victims over a three-hour period, most with a variety of contusions, bruises and minor fractures. Other crash victims went to Porter Regional Hospital in Valparaiso and Indiana University Health hospital in LaPorte.

Drivers stuck in the backup Thursday could only wait and try to stay warm as temperatures hovered around 10 degrees. Dixie Juchcinski, who talked to NBC Chicago in stand-still traffic about four miles from the crash, said the accident occurred in white-out conditions.

"When we first came to a stop, it was a complete white-out," Juchcinski said. "It was kind of a surprise to us because we could only see one or two cars in front of us." 

Dominick Fontana and Tyler Cobb live two miles away from the accident scene and heard the vehicles crash from inside their homes.

"It sounded like a train coming off the rails," Fontana said.

Stacey Johnson, 37, had a family emergency and was traveling from western Michigan to Tennessee with her three sons, ages 3, 9 and 10. She told The Associated Press she'd researched road conditions before leaving because she was worried about the weather. She didn't know about the accident until traffic started crawling and then stopped.

Nearly five hours later, long after she'd planned to stop for dinner, her car was still sitting on the westbound side of highway. A woman in the car next to hers noticed she had children with her and offered cereal, popcorn and fruit to tide the family over.

Police said city buses were brought in to warm stranded motorists and transport the injured, though Johnson said she hadn't seen them. But she felt fortunate that she'd gotten gas before leaving Michigan.

"If it weren't for the fact that I have a full tank and a safe car, this could be a really dangerous situation," she said.

A band of heavy lake-effect snow was dropping up to 2 inches of snow per hour with visibility at a quarter-mile or less at the time of the wreck, National Weather Service meteorologist Evan Bentley said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Police Investigate Armed Robbery at Newington Shell Station


Newington police are investigating an armed robbery at the Shell gas station located at 1593 Southeast Road just before 11 p.m. on Thursday. 

The victim said a masked man robbed him at knifepoint and ran off.

Police from Newington, New Britain, West Hartford, Farmington and a CT State Police K-9 unit searched the area, but did not find the robber.

The clerk said the man was around 5-feet-10. He was wearing all black clothing, a black mask and gloves and ordered the clerk to give him money, police said.

The clerk opened the cash register and the robber ran off with a large quantity of cash. 

He was last seen running east toward the Marriott Hotel. 

Police said a vehicle might have been parked, waiting in the hotel lot. 

Anyone with any information is asked to call Officer Shannon Gonzalez at (860) 666-8445.

Photo Credit: Getty Images

Man Charged in Newington Home Invasion


Police have arrested a man accused of forcing his way into a Newington apartment when a young child was home and cutting a woman with a kitchen knife.

Newington Police Department responded to the report of a home invasion at Lowery Place Apartment complex just before 7:30 p.m. on Thursday and found Mario Francois, 21, of East Hartford, leaving the building, police said. 

Francois went into the home intending to assault a man with a knife, according to police, and the man was not the only one there. A woman and a 6-year-old child were also in the home during the incident.

Police said Francois allegedly forced his way into the apartment and was pushed back out into the hallway. 

During an altercation to keep Francois from entering the apartment, the woman was cut on her forearm. 

Police said they found a kitchen steak knife in the hallway of the apartment building and took Francois into custody without incident.

He was charged with home invasion, risk of injury to a minor, third-degree assault, second-degree reckless endangerment, threatening and breach of peace.

Photo Credit: Newington Police

Fire Damaged Home on Kish Place in Wallingford


Fire caused damage to the kitchen, basement and upstairs of the house at 6 Kish Place in Wallingford this afternoon.

Someone noticed fire coming from the home around 1:30 p.m. and reported it. No one was in the home when it happened, according to Wallingford Deputy Fire Chief Stephen Alsup.

The road was closed as a precaution.

Thirty five firefighters responded and the fire was under control with 40 minutes.

No injuries were reported.

The cause of fire remains under investigation


Privacy Breach Affects 850 St. Francis Hospital Patients


Saint Francis Hospital and Medical Center has reached out to more than 850 patients after records were stolen from a doctor’s vehicle in December to notify them of the privacy breach.

The hospital released a statement saying it has notified 858 patients after learning that paper records were stolen from Dr. Bindu Vanapalli’s vehicle on December 27.

Vanapalli is an independent contractor physician who works in the Emergency Department at Saint Francis, according to the hospital, and information stolen included certain demographic information printed on patient labels, such as patient name, date of birth and medical record number.

The hospital said no social security numbers, financial information, or addresses were included in the stolen material. 

The hospital is located in Hartford, but the theft happened in New Haven, and New Haven Police have been involved in the investigation.

Saint Francis said it has added internal information safeguards and offered credit monitoring for up to two years to the 858 patients.

Patients with any questions about the privacy breach should call 1-866-328-1993 from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m., Monday through Friday. 

The hospital said they do not have evidence that there have been attempts to gain inappropriate access to any information pertaining to these patients.

 “Our goal has always been to help ensure adequate safeguards are in place to protect our patients’ confidentiality. Education of our staff has already been completed and we are evaluating other opportunities to strengthen our compliance program,” John Rodis, M.D., executive vice president and chief operating officer and chief physician executive, said.

The hospital said removing patient information from the hospital is a violation of policy and disciplinary action has been taken.


Photo Credit: Getty Images

Bear Startles Scottish Tourists


Talk about a bear scare.

A Scottish couple visiting Pasadena had a close encounter with a young bear earlier this week, and the incident was captured by a surveillance camera.

Images: Adorable Zoo Babies | Unbelievable Animal Stories

Bobby and Irene McKeown left the home they were staying at Tuesday morning. Bobby McKeown turned to lock the door as his wife waited nearby -- but neither noticed the furry figure that can be seen  lurking in the background on the security video.

The bear appeared to take a step back when the couple first exited the house onto the porch. But instead of continuing the retreat, the curious young bear followed the McKeowns out to their car.

Bobby Mckeown suffered a nip or claw to his calf in an incident off-camera.

WATCH: Caught on Camera: Tourists' Close Encounter With SoCal Bear

"There were a couple of scratches," Bobby McKeown said.

Despite the minor injury, the couple characterized the encounter as just another story to tell their friends about their Southern California visit.

"I’m very lucky. Never had such excitement," Bobby McKeown said.

WATCH: Bear Munches on Trash in Altadena Backyard

Neighbors in the area are very familiar with bears, and one family says this bear regularly eats their family’s trash, according to an NBC4 report.

Some think he may be here with his mother, a bigger bear seen in the Pasadena area on Thursday.

READ: Search Called Off For Wayward Bear

There is speculation that this bear could be from same bear family that was spotted two years ago in a tree in an Altadena neighborhood.

WATCH: Mother Bear, Cubs Climb Trees, Fence in Altadena

"He doesn’t look too harmless but he’s a wild animal, you never know. So it's probably safe to tranquilize him or get him out of here somehow, you know," a neighboring Pasadena resident said.

Loskarn Dead in Suspected Suicide


A former top Senate aide accused of possessing child pornography was found dead in a possible suicide Thursday, the Carroll County, Md., Sheriff's Department confirmed.

At about noon Thursday, family members reported finding 35-year-old Jesse Ryan Loskarn unresponsive in his parents' basement in the 6900 block of Kenmar Lane in Sykesville, according to the sheriff's department. The preliminary investigation found he may have killed himself. His body was taken to the medical examiner for autopsy.

"We loved our son very much, and we're devastated by his death," read a statement from his parents. "Please respect our privacy at this difficult time and let us grieve in peace. Pray for him, his family and friends."

Loskarn, the former chief of staff of Sen. Lamar Alexander, R- Tenn., had been living in his parents' home since Magistrate Judge John M. Facciola released him to their custody Dec. 16. The judge had ordered he wear a monitoring device and not use the Internet.

"For everyone involved, this is a sad and tragic story from beginning to end," Sen. Alexander said in a statement Friday.

Loskarn was arrested in December at his southeast D.C. home as a result of a child pornography investigation involving U.S. and Canadian authorities, who identified him as a customer of a company that sold DVDs and downloads. Those videos, according to investigators, showed children as young as 5 or 6 years old involved in sexual acts with other minors or adults. Loskarn was accused of offering one video for distribution on a peer-to-peer file sharing network.

As investigators were at Loskarn's front door to arrest him, he was seen placing a computer hard drive outside a rear window, according to court documents. Authorities found images of children engaged in sex acts on it.

Alexander replaced Loskarn as chief of staff after the arrest.

Judge Facciola had explained his decision to release Loskarn to his parents, rather than keeping him in custody, in a memo. The judge said Loskarn's parents had assured the court the only devices in their home that could access the internet were iPads protected with a password they would not share with Loskarn, so the risk of Loskarn downloading more child pornography was not great.

Loskarn faced up to 10 years on the possession charge and a minimum of five and maximum of 20 years on the distribution charge.

Anthem Continues to Resolve ACA Issues


Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield said Friday they are continuing to make progress in enrolling people who have signed up for plans under the Affordable Care Act.

The insurance company admitted there has been a backlog because of all of the new enrollees. They were supposed to have health coverage by Jan. 1.

Anthem would not release specific numbers as to how many they have now enrolled.

They have extended the payment deadline to Friday, Jan. 31.

The Connecticut Insurance Department set up a special hotline, which can be reached at 860-297-3900, to help expedite the process.

Anthem is encouraging customers to stop by their Wallingford headquarters to get help in person and they also have a dedicated email address to helping Connecticut customers.

For more more information, visit the Anthem website.

21-Year-Old Injured in Ski Accident


A 21-year-old man was transported to the hospital via LifeStar after skiing into a tree at Mohawk Mountain Ski Area in Cornwall, according to Litchfield County Dispatch.

Ski area officials said the victim was conscious after the accident. He was taken by ambulance to Sharon Hospital and was then transported to Hartford Hospital via LifeStar helicopter.

The victim has not been identified. His condition is unknown.

The accident was dispatched around 8:10 p.m., officials said. State police and fire officials responded.

No additional information was immediately available. 

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Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

UNH Group Weighs in on Sochi Terror Threat


A Connecticut group is tracking the terror threat at the Sochi Olympic Winter Games.

The Institute for the Study of Violent Groups, associated with the University of New Haven, released a report that paints a sobering picture about the growing threat in that region of Russia.

"It's been a very active area since the 90s," said Samuel Belton, a researcher with ISVG. "There's been two major civil wars in the region."

The Olympics will be located within 300 miles of Chechnya, Dagestan and Ingushetia, an area within the North Caucasus.

"Really what this is, is this is an evolution of the same people participating in the civil wars moving on to a jihadist ideology," said Belton.

That's why their report concludes that the "capabilities of these groups and proximity of these groups creates a substantial threat to the Olympic Games and the subsequent influx of athletes and spectators in the region."

ISVG is made up of professors, undergraduates and grads. They study and analyze global terror hot spots around the world. In their Sochi report they looked at hundreds of variables based on the most recent attacks in the region, including the bombing at a train station.

"Their attacks closely mimic Al Qaeda groups," said Belton.

In response to threats, including the possibility of female suicide bombers, Russia has created a so-called ring of steel around the Olympic city. The U.S. has also sent to warships to the region in case Americans need to be evacuated.

ISVG won't make predictions about what may or may not happen but they do look at patterns.

"That is of concern to us obviously because even though we cannot predict a violent we can say that these people have the means motive and opportunity to commit an attack," said Belton.

Read their report here.


Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

1906 Earthquake Survivor Turns 108


There are only two known survivors of the 1906 earthquake that devastated San Francisco more than a century ago. Friday, San Francisco’s fire chief made a special visit to the North Bay to celebrate the 108th birthday of one of those survivors.

Bill Del Monte never thought he would live to see his 108th year.

“It’s something I just can’t believe,” Del Monte said.

A lot can change in 108 years.  Friends and family members have come and gone, and he has watched the San Francisco that burned in the earthquake more than a century ago, when he was just three months old, rebuild and transform.

“It wasn’t too much of a city then, but it sure is now,” Del Monte said.

Del Monte never had children, and his wife died more than 20 years ago.

He now lives in a retirement home in Greenbrae. That’s where San Francisco Fire Chief Joanne Hayes-White met him on Friday for lunch, catered by John’s Grill.

Over some steaks and a glass of scotch, Del Monte recalled his mother’s memory of the moments after the 1906 quake, when he was just a baby.

"My mother in the kitchen, she put the table cloth around me, wrapped it around me as a bundle, and put me on a cart and went we down Broadway Street to the ferry," Del Monte said. “There was fire on both sides of the street.”

Hayes-White said Del Monte is not just a connection to San Francisco’s past. He reminds us all how to live a long, satisfying life.

“Just his love for life, living day by day, not taking things for granted, but just appreciating life in the moment,” Hayes-White said. “He gives me that. He’s a true gift.”

As for a secret to longevity, Del Monte said, there is no real secret. He’s just taking life as it comes.

“Live and enjoy it while you’re here,” Del Monte said. “Even though it’s a long time, when you’re gone, you’re gone.”

Del Monte said he is not planning to attend the ceremony at Lotta’s Fountain on Market Street in April to mark the 108th anniversary of the quake, so he taped a video message that will be shown.

The ceremony happens April 18 at 5:13 a.m. Del Monte and the only other survivor, 112-year-old Ruth Newman, said they would both rather sleep in this year.

Photo Credit: Monte Francis

East Windsor Robbery Suspect Caught in Enfield


A 28-year-old East Hartford man is facing charges after police say he robbed a Rite Aid Pharmacy in East Windsor at gunpoint and fled north into Enfield.

The robbery happened around 4:30 p.m. Friday at the Rite Aid on Bridge Street in East Windsor. Police said Hogg displayed a handgun and stole several items.

Police tracked him down on Weymouth Road in Enfield and arrested him there around 5 p.m.

Officers recovered the handgun, a black mask worn during the robbery and stolen items from Hogg’s car, police said.

Hogg is charged with first-degree robbery, first-degree larceny and felony possession of a firearm.

Photo Credit: East Windsor Police Department

Baker Wins Mavericks Surf Contest


With the best of conditions under sunny skies, the Mavericks Invitational, the so-called Super Bowl of surfing, was won by South African Grant "Twiggy" Baker.

Baker also won the title in 2006 and reclaimed the title on Friday afternoon, with Hawaiian Shane Dorian coming in second in  his first Mavericks contest and Ryan Augenstein of Santa Cruz coming in third.

Fellow Californians Tyler Fox of Aptos, Greg Long of San Clemente  and Anthony Tashnick of Santa Cruz rounded out the six surfers who made the finals.

“I got lucky today. I didn't get bucked off," Baker said.

Now Baker takes home the $12,000 -- and a lot of respect from fellow surfers.

"Mavericks is a one-of-a-kind wave that you've got to prepare for, for life and for years,” competitor Rich Peters said. “So it's not something to take lightly. I really respect these guys. They're athletes just like any other athlete."

The competition kicked off Friday morning off the coast of Pillar Point north of Half Moon Bay, Calif.

As predicted, the big waves reach astounding heights of between 40 and 50 feet.

The surfing conditions were so ideal, that Hawaii-based professional surfer Mark Healey told NBC Bay Area that there are "no excuses" for surfers not to do well during the contest.

First place is $12,000, second place is $6,000 and third place is $5,000, according to Mavericks Invitational spokeswoman Jessica Banks.

Surfers this year hailed from Santa Cruz, Pacifica, San Francisco, San Clemente South Africa, Hawaii, Brazil and Australia.

Crowds began gathering on Thursday because they were anxious to snap and sketch pictures of practicing surfers from a vantage point they won’t be able to get on Friday because of restrictions that keep the public away from the beach.

In 2010,  several contest onlookers were injured by large sneaker waves.

PHOTOS: Waves Wipe Out Mavericks Spectators

That’s why, this year, spectators were able to watch at a beer garden being constructed outside the Oceana Hotel, or one of the many bars and restaurants anxious for this year's Mavericks.

But Mavericks pioneer Jeff Clark said the upwards of 40-foot waves are exactly what make his Mavericks competition so challenging and the trophy such a prize.

"I would say this is pretty close to the Lombardi trophy for surfing,” Clark said. “It takes everything you know about the ocean to compete and survive and be successful at Mavericks when it's this big."


Bay City News contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC Bay Area

Officer Involved in Fatal Shooting in Hartford


Police are investigating this morning's fatal shooting involving a Hartford police officer.

The shooting happened near Winchester and Vine streets. Police were in the area investigating a report that shots had been fired just before 1 a.m. Saturday when they noticed a car driving dangerously.

Officers believed the driver to be the shooter and tried to pull him over, according to Hartford police.

The driver of the car stopped the car and took off on foot. Police said the officers chased the suspect and caught up with him behind a home on Winchester Street.

State police said gunfire was exchanged, and a bullet struck and killed the suspect, who has not been identified. The suspect was pronounced dead at the scene.

The officer was taken to St. Francis Hospital with minor injuries, according to Hartford police.

State police have identified that officer as Randall Finucane, who has been with the department about two years. The second officer is identified as Craig McLennan, who has two-and-a-half years of experience with Hartford police.

State police and the Chief Medical Examiner are investigating.

Part of Winchester Street was closed throughout the morning and afternoon while authorities investigated.


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