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SoCal Blaze Flares Up, Ruins Homes


An erratic fire tearing a devastating path through one San Diego County community abruptly flared up Thursday with "explosive growth," destroying and threatening more homes in San Marcos even as its eastward spread into Escondido challenged fire crews battling five blazes across the region.

The Cocos Fire burned at least one home in San Marcos completely, and as it spread Thursday afternoon, another structure went up in flames on Phoenix Way.

Explosions were heard as flames leapt toward more structures off Country Club Drive near Kauana Loa Drive in Escondido, also.

The fire jumped Coronado Hills Drive and approached several homes across the brush divide, moving faster than firefighters could over the hilly terrain and narrow, one-way roads, according to an NBC 7 News crew near the scene.

Flames could be seen marching up the hillside, burning eucalyptus trees in the backyards of homes along Via Del Caballo and Camino Hermoso. However, quick action from fire crews and shifting winds moved the flames away from the area.

From Bresa De Loma Drive, flames could be seen cresting the hill behind Harmony Grove Road, near structures. Fires are known to move quickly uphill, but a NBC 7 crew said this blaze is racing downhill just as fast -- as if pulled by gravity. 

The flare-up came hours after fire officials identified the Cocos Fire as their number one priority among a spate of active brush fires that have ravaged the county over the last three days.

The fire, which was about 5 percent contained and burning 1,200 acres Thursday morning, has already destroyed at least five structures and forced the evacuation of Cal State San Marcos and at least 29,000 homes.

Evacuation notices were in effect for Questhaven, Harmony Grove, Elfin Forest, Coronado Hills, San Elijo Hills, Cal State San Marcos and Discovery Hills by noon Thursday.

Mandatory evacuations were ordered for Escondido residents living north and west of West Valley Parkway between Via Rancho Parkway and Highway 78 at 2 p.m.

To the south of the fire, residents were ordered to evacuate in the communities of Del Dios and Mt. Israel, north of Lake Hodges. 

A new evacuation point has been set up at Escondido High School, at 1535 N. Broadway.

The fire was one of at least five still burning across the county Thursday, down from nine separate blazes that have scorched more than 9,000 acres. In all, the concurrent fires had consumed or damaged more than a dozen structures and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage.

The timing and proximity of the fires has fueled speculation that arson could be involved, though officials said it would be premature to comment on a cause in the early stages of the investigation. They noted that current weather conditions could cause even a small spark to ignite a brush fire.

"The grass out there is nothing but kindling for these fires, and we had winds, you know, very high speeds," San Diego County Sheriff Bill Gore said. "It only takes -- I was told by Cal Fire -- a few hundred degrees to ignite that grass."

Thursday afternoon, crews had to battle ever-changing wind patterns that began to pull behind the "plume-driven" fire, according to Cal Fire's Mike Mohler. 

"So we actually have wind on this fire, but the fire is creating that wind. So you’ve seen the explosive fire growth this afternoon," Mohler said. 

Crews have been on the fire line for more than 36 hours, so officials ordered in additional resources and started rotating the firefighters out. 

Among those entering their third day of work is a Heartland Fire crew protecting homes on Cycad Drive, just off Coronado Hills Drive. 

There, the fire got so close to one house that it melted the blinds inside the windows. 

Firefighter Joe Howard said all the flame and heat went down both sides of the house.

“Initially when it came through, this was all red – fire on fire – so we had to wait for it to go through before we could actually get back here and start putting stuff out,” said Firefighter Joe Howard. 

Overgrown brush on the property became an issue for the crew, and the flames destroyed a shed and a truck on the property.

Still, firefighters were able to save the house.  

While a DC-10 Super Tanker was requested but not available, officials said in a morning briefing that the support ground crews received from San Diego helicopters with night drops overnight made a difference in controlling the fire.

Map of Wildfire Activity and Open Shelters

Complete List of School Closures | List of Areas Under Evacuation

Hot, dry conditions did nothing to help. Temperatures reached 94 degrees as of 10 a.m. but were likely to reach 101. Humidity was at 6 percent with winds at 3 mph. The extreme heat created additional challenges for firefighters, including those battling the fast-moving Tomahawk Fire charring 6,000 acres near Camp Pendleton.

Even with gains in parts of the county, including the complete containment of several of the fires, life remained on pause for many residents. School closures throughout San Diego kept more than 100,000 children home and thousands of homes and businesses remained under evacuation orders Thursday. Residents were urged to stay off the roads to make way for emergency vehicles. Schuler asked residents to respect the mandatory evacuation orders so crews can do their jobs.

“One of the challenges we faced yesterday is getting homeowners to leave and while we’re doing that we’re unable to fight the fire,” he said.

Gore echoed that messaging, saying 120 deputies have been stationed in San Marcos alone to protect the vacated properties.  He advised residents to follow the directions of firefighters and stay out of the area as long as requested.

“We are watching your neighborhoods,” Gore said.

At its peak, officials said 250 people used the evacuation shelter at Mission Hills High School, and while about half had left by Thursday morning, organizers saw a new influx later that day as flare-ups continued. 

The school will remain closed Friday so county officials can continue to use it as a shelter. 

“It’s a crisis. We have to shift from education to taking care of folks. So that’s what we’re going to do,” said Mission Hills High School's Courtney Goode. “Tests can be made up and what not but lives are being heavily impacted right now so that needs to be our focus.”

Resources are available to all residents who may need recovery information through the county’s recovery website at sdcountyrecovery.com.

Check back for updates on this story.

Driver Exposes Himself to Woman, Baby: Police


Police arrested a driver who allegedly flashed a mother and baby Wednesday at Norton Park in Plainville.

Kevin Dellavecchia, 26, of Plainville, faces a public indecency charge after exposing his genitals "for the purpose of gratification to a female visitor of the park," Plainville police said in a press release.

The incident happened around 4:30 p.m. on May 14. The driver, naked from the waist down, pulled up next to a woman in her car with her 1-year-old daughter, police said. His Chevy sedan was very close to the driver's side of the woman's car and caused her to glance over and see that he was half-nude, according to police. Dellavecchia drove away after making eye contact with her, police said.

Police confirmed that the perpetrator matched Dellavecchia's description. Dellavecchia confessed to the crime after a patrol officer located him. Police also charged him with second-degree breach of peace.

Police released him him after he posted a $10,000 bond. He is scheduled to appear at Bristol Superior Court on May 27.

Photo Credit: Plainville Police Department

Lawmakers Vote to Ban Chocolate Milk in Schools


Connecticut lawmakers voted to ban chocolate milk from school lunchrooms statewide as they wrapped up their legislative session Wednesday, in a move that critics warned could change kids' lunchtime habits for the worse.

The legislation, which next heads to Gov. Malloy's desk, makes revisions to the education statutes in order to comply with new federal school lunch standards on sodium, which is found in chocolate milk.

Lonnie Burt, the chief nutritionist of Hartford Public Schools, has concerns about the impact this legislation will have on children’s nutrition. Chocolate milk provides calcium, Vitamin A, potassium and other nutrients, she said.

“What concerns me is that if chocolate milk is not one of the available options, then I believe students will decrease consumption of milk overall,” Burt said.

The American Heart Association seems to agree and said the nutritional value of milk, even flavored milk, outweighs concerns about the amount of sodium in diets.

At the Environmental Sciences Magnet School in Hartford, chocolate milk is popular, and students don’t like the idea of getting rid of it. 

“Everyone likes it. The majority of the school wants it, and not many people like regular milk,” seventh-grader Maddy Lanzi said.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Calif. Roller Coaster Turns 90


She’s turning 90 this weekend, and her party promises to give her guests wild ride.

There will be one hour of free stomach-lurching thrills on Saturday for anyone who wants to wish the Giant Dipper a happy birthday, as the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk's iconic roller coaster -- California's oldest -- celebrates a time when coasters cost $50,000 to build and 15 cents a ride.

"It's an unforgettable ride," said Will Pemble of Orinda, also known as the "Coaster Dad." His son, 11-year-old Lyle, also said he thinks the wooden coaster is "fun" and he likes the "old-time ride," even though it's a little "wobbly."

Still, the roller coaster "isn't that tall and isn't that fast" in the sixth grader's eyes, as Lyle noted that "most amusement parks would have torn down an old ride like that."

The coaster is indeed old.

It's California’s oldest, designed by Frank Prior and Frederick Church and built in 1924 by Arthur Looff, according to Boardwalk history.

When it opened on May 17 that year, the Santa Cruz Sentinel ran a full-page black-and-white ad for the ride, promising a “wonderful kick from start to finish.” In 1987, the Giant Dipper was designated a National Historic Landmark.

The coaster is billed as the 5th oldest in the country and the 9th oldest in the world. The oldest is in Altoona, Pennsylvania, built in 1902.

An ad in 1924 announcing opening day of the Giant Dipper. Source Santa Cruz Boardwalk Archives.

Since opening day, 60 million people have coasted down the half-mile track, which stands 70 feet tall, and is the iconic visual image seen across the beachside city of Santa Cruz.

Among those riders have been famous actors like Michelle Pfeiffer when she filmed “Dangerous Minds,” Vincent Price when he made a horror documentary in 1978 called “America Screams” and basketball legend Wilt Chamberlain, who took a spin in 1968.

Wilt Chamberlain rides the Giant Dipper at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk in 1968. Source Santa Cruz Boardwalk Archives.

“It’s definitely our signature ride,” said park spokeswoman Brigid Fuller. “Everyone loves the Dipper. It’s beautiful. And that sound of the clickety-clack is so great. It’s a pretty special ride.”

In honor of the coaster's birthday, the park is offering free Giant Dipper rides on Saturday for one hour from 10 a.m to 11 a.m., which Fuller said is something the boardwalk has never done before. The Boardwalk kicks off its summer season on that day too, with a Drum Corp presentation and a free beach concert.

Fun Facts About the Dipper:

  • The Giant Dipper was built in just 47 days at a cost of $50,000.
  • The fare was 15 cents in 1924; today it is $6.
  • Record day was June 27, 1987, with 13,729 riders.
  • When the Dipper received a fresh coat of paint last fall, painters used over 4500 gallons of paint and primer to cover an estimated 327,000 board feet of lumber.
  • The 2013 project cost nearly $300,000, six times the original cost to build the ride in 1924.

(Source: Beach Boardwalk)

Photo Credit: Santa Cruz Sentinel

Fatal Crash Closes Route 66 in Hebron


Route 66 in Hebron is closed as State Police investigate a fatal two-car crash.

The road is closed near the intersection with Stone House Road.

More information will be provided as it becomes available.


Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Life on Hold as Fires Scorch SoCal


Wildfires continued to rage throughout San Diego County Thursday morning, leaving tens of thousands of residents unsure of when, and whether, they might be able to return home.

At least nine fires have ravaged more than 9,000 acres, destroying homes and forcing thousands to flee in communities throughout North County. Local officials say the blazes, which prompted Gov. Jerry Brown to declare a state of emergency, are the worst they've seen in years.

"I’ve never seen anything like this in 20 years," San Diego County Supervisor Bill Horn said. 

By Thursday, six separate fires remained, and crews turned their attention to containing what officials described as the "top priority" blaze: an 800-acre fire burning in San Marcos that has already destroyed at least three structures and forced 21,000 from their homes. That blaze, named the Cocos Fire, was just 5 percent contained Thursday morning.

In all, the concurrent fires had consumed or damaged more than a dozen structures and caused tens of millions of dollars in damage. Firefighters readied for another day of battling the blazes, as the National Weather Service warned of hot and dry conditions that could further stoke the flames.

"It’s one of those things where you see it on the news, you see it on TV and movies and it's weird to look at your own house and be like it's no longer my home," said Adam Gilmore, whose family home in Carlsbad was gutted by the Poinsettia Fire. "That kind of brings this weird feeling. It's not really sadness it's not really depression, it’s just this weird feeling that this is the end."

While some evacuation orders were lifted Thursday, life for many residents remained on hold. Officials urged people stay off the road in affected areas to make way for emergency vehicles. All schools in San Diego and many in more than 20 nearby cities are closed Thursday, forcing 130,000 children and teens to stay home. Cal State at San Marcos would remain closed Thursday, too. All three MiraCosta College campuses will be closed on Thursday, May 15. Final examinations on all sites were postponed.

All flights in and out of Palomar Airport are cancelled for Thursday including United Express. The FAA has issued a temporary flight restriction at Palomar Airport overnight.

In San Marcos, the erratic Cocos Fire destroyed at least three homes and forced the evacuation of Cal State and 21,000 homes, as flames spread down the hillside behind the campus. The school canceled this weekend's commencement ceremonies due to the blazes, too.

Complete List of School Closures | List of Areas Under Evacuation

That fire was the biggest immediate concern for firefighting crews late Wednesday, officials said, and they planned rare overnight air drops in an effort to best it. But despite those efforts, the "erratic" fire continued on its southbound path, spreading to 700 acres.

Further west, the Poinsettia Fire was scorching a twisting path through Carlsbad and its canyons, after it destroyed four homes and two commercial buildings and damaged others. In all, 22 dwelling units were destroyed, Chief Mike Davis said Thursday.

Greg Skaska lived in the home for more than 30 years and said when he realized the fire was threatening the house, he had no time to grab any personal things.

“No time. We had to leave. But it’s OK. I'm alive," he said.

That fire was 60 percent contained by Thursday morning.  "saved hundreds of homes."

“We’ve had many devastating events similar to this and we’ve had tragic events in this community and one thing I know to be true about this community is that it always comes together,”

By far the region's largest fire, the Tomahawk Fire, scorched thousands of acres on Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton. That fast-moving brush fire prompted evacuations, but military aircraft were making inroads in battling it.

Hundreds also fled the Highway Fire, as it scorched hundreds of acres in the Bonsall and Fallbrook area of North County.

Fallbrook resident Sam Curreri told NBC 7 he was worried about leaving his home behind. "You've got mementos in there, you've got pictures, you've got clothes. I may only walk out of here with what I've got on, right?" he said.

In Oceanside, dry brush and heavy vegetation were feeding another wildfire that first broke out in the San Luis Rey River riverbed Wednesday. Residents and an elementary school were urged to evacuated voluntarily, as Oceanside officers went door to door to dozens of homes.

And some of North County's most exclusive communities were threatened Wednesday by the Bernardo Fire, as it scorched more than 1,500 acres after first sparking Tuesday. Firefighting crews had made major progress fighting it Wednesday, though, and as of early Thursday it was 50 percent contained.
Santaluz resident Kara Hansen said the fire came "unbelievably" close to homes. She was getting her hair done when she got a phone call about the blaze, and after she got home, she managed to grab only the dogs and her family's passports before a police loudspeaker told her to evacuate.

"It’s time to get outta here," she realized, she said, after she saw thick, black smoke.


Photo Credit: NBC 7

Study Links Calif. Drought, Earthquakes


Groundwater pumping amid California’s historic drought may be affecting earthquakes along the San Andreas fault, according to a new study.

The pumping, which has been going on for decades in the usually fertile San Joaquin Valley, is now leading to an increase in temblors in the area, according to the study published in science journal Nature.

"As the valley is going down, you are unclamping the San Andreas fault,” said Dr. Susan Hough of the U.S. Geological Survey. "When you take out the water, it’s the weight of the water that is affecting the crust and the faults.”

The study spearheaded by Western Washington University suggests that while the Central Valley is sinking, while the mountain ranges that surround it, including the coastal range and the Sierra Nevada, are climbing upward.

Hough said adding water to a fault zone can also alter an earthquake fault.

"If a big reservoir in particular is filled up, that can sometimes induce earthquakes, and we've seen some quite damaging earthquakes as a result of reservoirs being filled,” Hough said.

Altogether though, Hough said that while groundwater pumping and reservoirs may cause temblors to happen more quickly than normal, chances are the quakes were going to happen at some point anyway.

"An earthquake that is induced is going to happen anyway. If you hasten it a little bit, maybe it will happen in September instead of January, but it’s not really a game changer,” Hough said.

Popular Spa in Guilford Closes Suddenly


Unhappy customers are surprised and employees are worried after  Rituals Spa in the heart of Guilford closed suddenly.

"No warning," said Veronica Ormond, skin care specialist at Rituals for four years. "No warning to clients, no warning to employees."

She hasn't been able to find the owner of the spa and said she's worried about money he owes her and other employees.

"We have paychecks due next Friday and everyone's a little on edge if we're gonna be paid or not.  It's our livelihood.  This is our job.  We spend half of our life here," she said.

The client book lists 4,000 names, she said.

Michelle Kendrioski said she couldn't get clear answers to questions last week and told her 85-year-old mother, "I have a feeling this place is closing up.  Unfortunately, she didn't use it (a gift card for a pedicure) fast enough."

The spa has been part of Whitfield Square, at Water and Whitfield in Guilford, for years.  The owner of the building said he will get a new tenant.

"There will be another owner in here because it's a great location," said Larry Lupone.  "I'll make sure that the next tenant is gonna offer quality service and I will make sure that somehow, the next owner will honor those cards and I want everyone to keep their card because I will do my best to make sure nobody loses their money."

He said there could be as much as $18,000 outstanding in gift cards.  Customers can file complaints with the office of the state attorney general, employees with the department of labor.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Man in Newington Standoff Shoots Self: Police


A Newington man who barricaded himself inside a home on Church Street shot himself, according to police.

Police said a man called 911 at 12:05 a.m. on Thursday and said he was armed and planned to harm himself.

Authorities evacuated the residents of the apartment complex at 722 Church St. and arranged for accommodations.

Police negotiators remained in contact with the man for several hours trying to get him to come out.

The situation ended around 10:30 a.m. when the man shot himself, police said.

He was rushed to the hospital. His condition has not been released.

Residents have since been allowed to return to their apartments.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com

Hernandez Indicted in Boston Double Murder


Former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez has been indicted for a double murder in 2012 that authorities called an ambush and execution after a chance encounter at a Boston nightclub.

District Attorney Daniel Conley, of Suffolk County, Massachusetts, said Hernandez is accused in the homicides of Daniel de Abreu, 29, and Safiro Furtado, 28, during the early morning hours of July 16, 2012 and is expected to be arraigned in the near future, possibly next week.

“For us, this case was never about Aaron Hernandez. It was about two victims who were stalked, ambushed and senselessly murdered on the streets of the city they called home,” Conley said during a news briefing this morning.

Hernandez'a attorneys released a statement on Thursday afternoon.

"It is one thing to make allegations at a press conference, and another thing to prove them in a courtroom," a statement from Charles W. Rankin and James L. Sultan says. "Unlike the District Attorney, we are not going to try this case in the media. Under our system of justice, Aaron Hernandez is innocent of these charges and looks forward to his day in court."

Hernandez, who is awaiting trial on murder charges in a July 2013 shooting death of 27-year-old Odin Lloyd near his home in North Attleboro, Massachusetts, was seen on surveillance footage in Club Cure, the same Boston nightclub the victims visited on the night of the July 16, 2012, attack in Boston, authorities have said.

A search warrant released in January said Boston police had been investigating whether Hernandez, a Bristol, Connecticut native and former New England Patriot tight end, might have been the gunman in the double slaying.

Conley said today that this Hernandez and the victims had a chance encounter. There was no indication that Hernandez and the victims knew each other, but coincidentally arrived at the nightclub at the same time, around 12:30 a.m.

“(T)heir chance encounter inside the club triggered a series of events that culminated in these murders,” Conley said. 

At 2 a.m., the victims left the club. de Abreu was driving and, unbeknownst to him, Hernandez followed, Conley said.

When de Abreu stopped at a traffic light, Hernandez’s SUV pulled up to the vehicle and fired a .38-caliber revolver, several times, from the driver’s side of the car, according to the district attorney.

The driver was shot several times and died from a gunshot to the chest. Furtado, who was in the front passenger seat, was also shot several times and died from a gunshot to the head. Three other people who were also in the car survived, Conley said. Two ran off without being injured. One person who stayed with the victims was shot in the arm.

On June 19, 2013, when Boston police learned that Hernandez was being investigated for a homicide in North Attleboro, detectives recalled seeing a man "clearly recognized as Aaron Hernandez" in video footage from Club Cure on the morning of the Boston shooting, a search warrant released in January states.

On June 22, North Attleboro police received an anonymous tip from a caller saying he had knowledge that the Lloyd homicide and the double homicide were related, according to the warrant.

When asked about any possible connection between the two cases, Conley referred calls to Bristol County, Massachusetts District Attorney Sam Sutter.

The SUV driven at the time of the Boston murders was found in a relative’s garage in Bristol, Connecticut, according to Conley. When police investigated, a resident of the Lake Street home in Bristol said Hernandez has left the car at the house for a year and no one else drives it.

Hernandez’s cousin, Tanya Singleton, was subpoenaed to testify before the grand jury investigating the murders about the SUV and offered immunity, but refused to testify on Sept. 13, 2013, Conley said.  The grand jury returned an indictment, charging her with criminal contempt at conspiracy.

Photo Credit: Boston Globe via Getty Images

Dead Fish Wash Up on Jersey Shore


Authorities are scrambling to clean up thousands of dead fish washing up on the Jersey Shore before crowds flock to the beaches amid sunny weather this weekend.
Dead fish were first spotted in the Shark River early Monday, and have now washed through an inlet into the ocean and onto beaches. The fish, believed to be moss bunker, are spread for about 3 miles along the shore, from Belmar down to Spring Lake.
Prisoners from the Monmouth County Jail have been brought in to help pick up the fish in Neptune Township, where more than 5 tons have been found dead this week alone.

State environmental officials say there is no indication of disease, and that the fish, which normally produce in large numbers and consume a lot of oxygen, simply overproduced.

Belmar Mayor Matt Doherty says crews will be patrolling the beaches this weekend to clear any dead fish out of the way of beachgoers.

--Brian Thompson contributed to this story



Photo Credit: NBC 4 New York

Hate-Crime Charge in Walmart Attack


A horrific crime is now being called a hate crime.

Prosecutors say a transient woman accused of attacking a 4-year-old girl and her father inside a San Jose Walmart store targeted her victims because they were of Asian origin.

Maria Garate, a 20-year-old transient, was charged on Thursday with attempted murder and assault with a deadly weapon, both with hate crime allegations. She appeared briefly in a Santa Clara County courtroom with a public defender, but did not enter a plea.

"This was every parent's worst nightmare,” deputy district attorney Kalila Spain said at a news conference outside the Hall of Justice in San Jose.

Garate is being held without bail. The attempted murder charge could come with a life sentence.

At about 11 a.m. Tuesday, San Jose police were informed of an assault with a deadly weapon at the Walmart on Story Road.

A woman later identified as Garate allegedly went up to an Asian man who was with his 4-year-old daughter, then struck the girl over the head, police Sgt. Heather Randol said.

Walmart security guards detained Garate until police arrived. Police arrested Garate on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and booked her into county jail.

Spain said that the girl and her father were shopping "like any other day" and "the defendant came in and hit the victim over the head with a lug nut wrench and also attacked the father as well."

The girl was treated for her injuries, which were not considered major.

Spain declined to be specific concerning the evidence the district attorney's office has except that the alleged assault was "a premeditated, willful act" on Garate's part.

Spain, asked by a reporter if Garate may be mentally ill, said that the prosecutors "don't know why people commit the crimes that they do."

"Sometimes we do, sometimes we don't," she said. "There are a variety of defenses for any type of crime that we charge. Any additional information will come out later."

Shoppers at the Walmart store on Story Road told NBC Bay Area on Thursday that they see a lot of homeless people in the area. An encampment nearby is commonly referred to as "the jungle.”

Garate is due back in court on May 23.

No information regarding a defense attorney representing Garate was available Thursday.


The Associated Press and Bay City News contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: SJPD

Metro-North Announces New Safety Measures


Saturday will mark one year since a train derailment in Bridgeport injured 76 people and interrupted service for days.

That derailment was the first of several problems that led to serious safety questions for Metro-North, and on Thursday, the rail line revealed new measures it is taking to protect its passengers.

Since early December, Metro-North says it's put in new speed reductions and it's going to add on board cameras and new equipment to make sure conductors are alert. Yet some feel Thursday's announcement is nothing new.

"I see nothing in [Thursday's] announcement that I haven't heard for the last couple of months," said Jim Cameron, long time critic of Metro-North.

The sweeping series of reforms is supposed to ensure the safety of passengers and employees. They were reforms identified during several major catastrophes last year including the Bridgeport derailment.

"The report came out in March," Cameron said. "Metro North basically said then what they've repeated now."

The report he's referring to is Operation Deep Dive. Experts from the Federal Railroad Administration conducted a 60-day assessment of the railroad after this train derailed and killed four in the Bronx.

In that March report, Cameron said, "they've had safety stand downs, they instituted emergency secret tip line for employees to tip each other off if there's something wrong."

The railroad emphasizes safety is the priority above everything including on-time performance.

"Why is it a big headline that they're now being safe? Were they not being safe before?" Cameron added.

Safety is still on the minds of some passengers.

"I think once a month there's usually some major train delay and that's the way it's been for the last seven or eight years," said Tom Connon of Stamford.

The rail line is also making a number of safety changes as part of its 100 day plan. That 100-day deadline ends.


2 Arrested in SD for Small Fires


Two teens were arrested Thursday evening after police say they started at least two brush fires in San Diego’s Escondido area, as several destructive blazes continued to burn across the county.

Police said 19-year-old Isaiah Silva of Escondido, and a 17-year-old juvenile were arrested on suspicion of attempted arson at about 8:20 p.m. near South Escondido Boulevard.
Police said that between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., they received calls reporting that two people were setting small fires near South Escondido Boulevard and at Kit Carson Park, which is located miles away from Westfield North County Mall. The teens matched the description provided by a caller, Lt. Neal Griffin of Escondido police said. Griffin said, at the moment, investigators could not connect them to any of the larger fires currently burning across the county.
One witness, who called the sheriff’s department at around 6:30 p.m., said he put out one of the fires near South Escondido Boulevard, Griffin said. Another caller, who was at the Westfield North County Mall, told police at about 7:25 p.m. that he tried to chase the teens, who were on bicycles at the time. 
Although the caller was unable to catch up with the pair, he gave a description that police said matched the earlier incident.
Escondido police who were on patrol in the area later found Silva and the 17-year-old and took them into custody.
Griffin said evidence found on Silva and the juvenile, as well as statements they gave while in custody, further confirmed that they were responsible. Both will be investigated for incidents of arson, Griffin added. The suspects were said to be cooperating with police.
As of Friday morning, Silva was still in custody, scheduled to be arraigned Monday on felony arson of property and held on $50,000 bail.  

Escondido police will continue investigating the incident. 

Griffin applauded the quick-thinking witnesses who reported the fires, as residents across the county are on edge due continuing blazes.
“This arrest is completely to the credit of citizens who did exactly what we need them to do,” Griffin said. “Unfortunately, in these sorts of circumstances – wildfires – a lot of times we do wind up with incidents where there are incidents of copy-cats."

Photo Credit: Getty Images

AA Flight Reports Flames in Engine, Makes Emergency Landing


American Airlines Flight 2287 made an emergency landing at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport Thursday afternoon after a report of an engine fire.

The pilot of the Boeing 757 declared an emergency due to flames in the right engine, according to the Federal Aviation Administration.

Air traffic control noticed the engine fire, immediately.

"Hey American 22-87, your right engine appears to be on fire, sir," could be heard on air traffic control recordings obtained through liveatc.net. "For 22-87, we saw flames on the right side engine, yes, so we saw flames from the right side engine."

The plane circled around the airport and landed around 2:07 p.m., with fire trucks waiting for its arrival. The pilot was able to land without incident.

Breanne Server was on board the flight, seated on the left side of the aircraft.

"We heard a big boom and then the plane was just kind of flying lopsided, and this little girl behind me just started screaming and crying, and everyone was kind of like gasping and pulling out their phones and stuff," Server said. "you just heard the explosion, luckily I didn’t see the flames or smoke, but yeah it was so loud, there was no not hearing it."

"After that it was kind of like OK, well we’ll get you guys a new plane, and that was it, no like sorry this happened or any explanation," said Server.

Flight 2287 is a daily run between DFW and Tulsa, Oklahoma. It leaves DFW at 1:31 and arrives in Tulsa at 2:25 p.m.; it departs Tulsa at 3:17 p.m. and arrives back at DFW at 4:21 p.m.

American Airlines officials would not confirm the fire but said mechanics were looking at the aircraft.

All 183 passengers booked on the flight were being boarded on another aircraft Thursday afternoon.

On Wednesday, American Airlines Flight 1461 made an emergency landing in Tulsa en route to DFW after the pilot reported mechanical issues. That pilot landed the MD-80 without incident.

No injuries were reported in either incident.

NBC 5's Stefan Gorman, Ray Villeda and Scott Gordon contributed to this report.

Photo Credit: NBC 5 News

Church Leader Accused of Sexually Exploiting Teen


Federal investigators are making some disturbing allegations against a church leader in Waterbury accused of luring a 14-year-old into having a sexual relationship.

Miguel Torres is now behind bars and facing federal charges. Investigators say he met the teen through his wife's youth group at the Iglesia Cristiana Fuente de Agua Viva Church in Waterbury.

A warrant for his arrest shows Torres was a church official involved with mass and preaching. He knew the victim through a youth group that his wife ran and told the teen he would be her mentor.

The documents go on to reveal that in August, the girl’s mother found alarming text messages from Torres on the teens iPod touch and promptly called Waterbury police.

Investigators say he and the 14 year old were sending naked pictures and graphic videos to each other for months and detectives saw the evidence.

According to the criminal complaint, the two had sexual contact in the church.

"I met him in the hallway," the teen told authorities, according to court paperwork. "Miguel came close to me and started... kissing me."

"I was so nervous," she went on to admit.

Court documents show Miguel Torres admitted to sending inappropriate text messages.

Torres has been assigned a public defender, whose office was closed when NBC Connecticut reached out for a comment.

The church pastor declined to comment.

Photo Credit: Waterbury Police Department

Police Ask for Help to ID Driver in Vernon Crash


Vernon police are looking for the driver who hit a pedestrian in Vernon on Tuesday night.

Police said a man in a silver car stopped after hitting a pedestrian around 9:30 p.m. on Ward Street in Vernon, but was never identified.

The driver has brown hair, is likely between 5-feet-7 and 5-feet-10, was wearing glasses and had facial acne, according to a news release from police. 

Anyone who has information that could help police identify the driver should call Officer Roberge at 860-872-9126, extension 256.

Flash Flood Watches Issued


Flash flood watches are in effect as the state braces for heavy rain this evening and tonight.

Thunder is also possible tonight.


Once the rain clears out, we are looking at a pleasant weekend, with temperatures in the 70s on Saturday and near 70 on Sunday. 

Locked Out of Grocery


For Quiana McKissick, there’s no such thing as a quick stop at her neighborhood grocery store.

Nearly every time the 38-year-old West Philadelphian, who has limb deformities and uses a motorized wheelchair, tries to shop at The Fresh Grocer at 56th and Chestnut Streets she is forced to wait outside. Not because the store doesn’t have a way for her to get in, but because they keep the accessible entrances padlocked.

"So 98 percent of the time I’m on my own. I have to rely on the kindness of strangers to go and get the guard for me," McKissick said while sitting next to a locked handicapped accessible gate outside the store. "In the meantime, I just have to sit here and look silly, and it’s rather humiliating, really."

The supermarket uses metal poles, anchored into cement, to prevent people from taking carts out into the parking lot, and the two accessible ways through the blockade are chained and kept under lock and key.

PHOTO: Quiana McKissick waits outside the Fresh Grocer in West Philadelphia, which has been locking its handicap accessible door preventing her from entering whenever she wishes.

So no matter the weather, McKissinck says she’s forced to wait outside for a security guard to let her in -- which could range from a minute or so to 10 or more, depending on what the guard is dealing with. When no one is around to help, McKissick said she’s forced to go home empty-handed.

"It’s very degrading. I should be able to come and go as I please,” she said. "I shouldn’t have to stand out here and wait in the cold or rain or in the heat just to get in or out of the store. It’s embarrassing."

McKissick says she’s been dealing with the issue for nearly six years and her complaints have yet to produce a permanent positive change. The woman said several years ago she spoke with a former store manager who said the gates are kept locked to prevent the carts from being stolen.

His solution, she says, was to install a bell outside for her to ring when she wanted to shop.

"He says, ‘Well, we’ll put a bell out there and you can ring the bell.’ And there was a bell there for about two days. That was humiliating," she said.

McKissick says she also contacted the Department of Licenses & Inspections twice about the issue. Both times, she said the problem was immediately addressed. But within a few weeks, she said the gate was again locked up.

“My concern is, what if there’s a fire or something inside of there and everybody is scattering? The guard’s not going to be thinking about me,” the woman said.

PHOTO: A view of the Fresh Grocer Store at 56th and Chestnut Streets in West Philadelphia.

The supermarket’s current manager, Jeff Beaky, declined to comment and referred the issue to the chain’s corporate office. The store is one of seven locally-owned supermarkets that operate as part of the Wakefern Corporation grocery store co-op. The organization runs Fresh Grocer and ShopRite stores.

Carly Spross, spokeswoman for the local supermarket group, was shocked to hear about the issues McKissick has been encountering and said the gate is only supposed to be locked while the store is closed.

“I feel terrible that it’s gone unnoticed,” she said. “Per our standard operating procedures, the handicap access gate is to be locked each night after closing and unlocked each morning upon the store’s opening.”

Spross apologized, saying managers are reviewing opening and closing procedures with all store employees to ensure the issue is resolved.

Ralph DiPietro, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Licenses & Inspections, said the department is investigating whether the building code at the time the grocery store was opened requires the gate to be accessible. If that is the case, DiPietro said an inspector will be dispatched to the store to investigate and, if needed, issue a violation.

Asked about whether L&I would enforce compliance of the Americans With Disabilities Act, DiPietro said the city cannot directly enforce the law because it's federal legislation. However, building codes recognized by the city do mimic the federal law.

So why does McKissick continue to shop at the store that makes it so difficult for her to shop?

“I shouldn’t have to go out of my way just to get the things that I need, if this is the closest one to my home. Why should I have to travel?” she said.

Contact Vince Lattanzio at 610.668.5532, vince.lattanzio@nbcuni.com or follow @VinceLattanzio on Twitter.

Photo Credit: NBC10.com

Fire at Multifamily House in Naugatuck


Firefighters responded to a small fire at 11 Washington Street in Naugatuck, a multifamily home.

Officials believe it started in the kitchen on the first floor.

Everyone got out of the fire safely, with no injuries.

While the fire was small, it melted the siding and firefighters had to deal with heavy smoke.

No information was available on when the residents will be able to return home.

Photo Credit: NBCConnecticut.com
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