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Robert Durst charged with murder of former wife

Myung J. Chun-Pool/Getty Images

(NEW YORK) -- Robert Durst has been charged in Westchester County with the murder of his former wife, Kathie, who disappeared in 1982, according to the district attorney's office.

A criminal complaint was filed Tuesday of this week.

"The Westchester County District Attorney's Office can confirm that a complaint charging Robert Durst with the murder of Kathleen Durst was filed in Lewisboro Town Court on Oct. 19, 2021. We have no further comment at this time," a statement from a spokesperson for Westchester DA Mimi Rocah said.

The complaint follows last week's sentencing in Los Angeles of Durst to life in prison for the 2000 murder of Susan Berman, an associate whom prosecutors said Durst killed because he feared she would have revealed details of Kathie Durst's death.

It wasn't immediately clear whether Durst had retained an attorney in New York. A call to his longtime attorney Dick DeGuerin was not immediately returned.

Durst, 78, recently tested positive for COVID-19 and was put on a ventilator, DeGuerin has said. He appeared frail during his murder trial in Los Angeles and sat in a wheelchair during his sentencing.

Kathie Durst's body has never been found, though authorities have periodically searched over the years. There was never an established crime scene.

Robert Durst, eldest son of Seymour Durst, has long been estranged from his wealthy family. He was acquitted of a second murder in Galveston, Texas.

This is a developing story. Please check back for updates.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Baby goes home from hospital 5 months after mom stabbed while pregnant

Amorn Suriyan/ iStock

(ATLANTA) -- A infant who was born at 25 weeks, after his mom was stabbed while walking on a trail in Atlanta, went home this month after spending nearly five months in the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU).

The baby, Theodore Jude, was released from the Children's Hospital of Atlanta at Egleston on Oct. 8 with a farewell parade from nurses, who lined the halls with rattles to say goodbye.

"We're obviously super grateful and praising that he's alive and with us," said Theodore's mom, Valerie Kasper. "It's been a long journey and it's already been exhausting and like a rollercoaster, and now that he is home, this is the start of a new thing."

Kasper, 34, was walking near her car with her 3-year-old son, Benjamin, on June 5, when she was stabbed multiple times by a homeless man who later admitted to the stabbing, according to the Associated Press. Police said they believe "mental illness played a role" in the case.

While Benjamin sustained no physical injuries in the attack, Kasper was transported to a local hospital, where she underwent an emergency C-section.

"The trauma of the attack was pretty intense obviously and the moment of going into surgery was just as scary," said Kasper. "When I went into surgery I was crying, saying, 'Save my baby and save my uterus,' because I thought if he didn't make it, I would want to have another baby."

Theodore weighed just two pounds when he was born, and was immediately whisked away to the NICU, according to Kasper.

While they were performing the C-section, doctors also repaired Kasper's colon and liver, which she said were both damaged in the attack.

She was not able to see her newborn son until 24 hours after giving birth, when she went in a wheelchair to visit him in the NICU.

"I was in so much pain that I couldn't handle sitting in the wheelchair and I almost passed out in the NICU," recalled Kasper, who was also not able to hold her son because he was still so fragile. "It was really hard."

Kasper spent the next week in the hospital recovering from her injuries and from giving birth. Shortly after she was discharged on June 12, Kasper received a call from the NICU that Theodore was not doing well and would have to be transferred to another hospital for surgery.

"That was devastating," she said. "I was thinking, 'This is it. This is the life of the NICU. How am I ever going to fall asleep waiting for these phone calls?'"

Theodore survived what would be the first of four surgeries following his birth.

Kasper and her partner, Steven Barkdoll, both teachers, spent the next several months traveling back and forth between the NICU and their home, where they stayed with Benjamin.

Kasper was only able to hold Theodore for the first time during a visit to the NICU on June 28, three weeks after his birth.

"It took like three people to help me into the chair, to help the baby in my arms, and he was still intubated so it was just extremely fragile moving him," she said. "I was sitting there kind of in pain, wanting to enjoy the moment but also having to be aware of my own limitations."
After several more months of treatment, doctors discharged Theodore from the NICU on Oct. 8.

It was then that he met his older brother, Benjamin, for the first time.

"Benjamin just like ran over to the stroller, so excited to see his brother," Kasper said of the meeting, five months in the making. "That was a big day."

Though the family is now home under one roof for the first time in months, the recovery continues for both Theodore and Kasper, who still has limited mobility and pain from her wounds.
Theodore remains on oxygen and a feeding tube, as well as a heart monitor, according to Kasper. He also takes several medications and has frequent appointments with doctors and specialists.

"It's like bringing home a newborn baby that needs lots of attention, and he needs a little even more attention," said Kasper. "He's a cutie pie and we love all the snuggles, but it's still a stressful situation to be in."

"We're just monitoring him as he grows and supporting him the best we can to try to get him off all the machines and let him be a big boy," she said of Theodore, who now weighs 11 pounds.

Kasper said she and her family have been touched by the outpouring of support they have received, from a GoFundMe account that has raised over $100,000 to friends and family offering support and the nurses and doctors who helped she and Theodore recover.

"It's definitely a big motivator and relief, in a way, to know that evil can happen, or bad things can happen, and the love shines through," she said. "I just get overwhelmed by that."

"I feel that once we're back on our feet, we're going to have to be giving back for sure," Kasper added.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 live updates: Pfizer vaccine highly effective in children 5-11

Bill Oxford/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- More than 731,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.9 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 66.9% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.

Oct 22, 8:56 am
Pfizer vaccine highly effective in children 5-11

The Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine is nearly 91% effective against symptomatic illness in children ages 5-11, according to new data posted Friday ahead of a major FDA advisory committee meeting on Tuesday.

The vaccine also appeared safe, with none of the children experiencing a rare heart inflammation side effect known as myocarditis. If authorized in children 5-11, the Pfizer vaccine will be given at a smaller, one-third dose.

This efficacy estimate is from the company's clinical trial of 2,268 children in which some children got a placebo, and some children got the Pfizer vaccine. During the trial, 16 children who got the placebo shots developed COVID-19. Only three children who got the real vaccine developed COVID-19.

A small number of the children who were vaccinated and later developed COVID-19 experienced symptoms far fewer and milder than the children who were unvaccinated. For example, none of the vaccinated children developed a fever, while a majority of the unvaccinated children developed a fever along with other symptoms.

None of the children experienced serious adverse events. Many experienced typical symptoms like pain at the injection site, fatigue and headache.

The FDA's advisers will meet Tuesday to vote on whether to authorize the vaccine. From there, the FDA itself and the CDC will need to sign off -- a process that can take several days -- before shots could become available to children nationally.

Oct 21, 8:39 pm
CDC signs off on Moderna, J&J boosters

Hours after the unanimous vote from its independent advisory committee, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has signed off on recommending booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines for certain populations.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky recommended boosters for Pfizer and Moderna recipients with no preference on the brand, leaving that decision up to the individual.

People who are 65 and older, or individuals as young as 18 who have underlying medical conditions or live in high-risk or long-term care settings, are eligible to receive either a Pfizer or Moderna booster at least six months after their second shot, the CDC said.

The one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine is eligible to anyone aged 18 and up, at least two months after their initial dose, the CDC said.

Oct 21, 5:44 pm
CDC recommends Moderna and J&J boosters

An independent Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advisory committee voted unanimously Thursday evening to recommend booster shots for both the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccines for certain populations.

The panel recommended a third dose of the Moderna vaccine at least six months after a person’s initial course for those 65 and older, as well as those as young as 18 who are at higher risk due to underlying health conditions or where they work or live.

A second dose of the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine was recommended for anyone aged 18 and older, at least two months after the first dose.

The panel also cleared the way for allowing mixing and matching of booster doses.

The recommendations fall in line with the Food and Drug Administration’s authorization of the boosters Wednesday.

CDC Director Rochelle Walensky must now sign off on the panel's recommendations. A decision is expected within a day.

Oct 21, 3:14 pm
Hospital admissions on the decline

COVID-19 hospital admissions in the U.S. have dropped by about 9.7% in the last week, according to federal data.

Death rates are also falling, though they remain persistently high, with an average of just under 1,250 Americans dying from the virus each day, according to the data.

Alaska currently has the country's highest infection rate, followed by Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and North Dakota.

The U.S. is currently averaging around 76,000 new cases per day, down from 160,000 in early September. Despite boasting high vaccination rates, several Northern states continue to see cases tick up as the weather gets colder.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Winter weather outlook: California drought could worsen, what else to expect

ABC News

(NEW YORK) -- The devastating drought in Southern California is expected to continue or worsen this winter, with drier-than-average conditions forecast for the hard-hit Southwest, including Southern California, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday in its winter weather outlook.

NOAA predicts drought conditions to continue in the Southwest, Plains and Missouri River Basin. But drought improvement is possible in Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Hawaii, NOAA said.

Drier-than-average conditions are also forecast for the Southeast this winter. Wetter-than-average conditions are forecast in areas including the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, NOAA said.

NOAA predicts a warmer-than-average winter in the Southeast and much of the eastern U.S.

Temperatures may fall below average from the Pacific Northwest through the northern Plains.

But more-than-normal snow and rain is forecast for the Ohio Valley and some of the inland Northeast, from western Pennsylvania to western New York to parts of Vermont.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


USC suspends fraternity after reports of 'possible drug-facilitated sexual assaults'

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(LOS ANGELES) -- The University of Southern California in Los Angeles has suspended a fraternity following reports of an alleged sexual assault and "possible drug-facilitated sexual assaults" at its house, school officials said.

"The university has received a report of sexual assault at the Sigma Nu fraternity house," the school said in an alert posted on its Department of Public Safety website Wednesday. "The university also has received reports of drugs being placed into drinks during a party at the same fraternity house, leading to possible drug-facilitated sexual assaults."

The university reported the information to the Los Angeles Police Department, according to the alert, which encouraged anyone with information "relevant to the crimes" to contact the school's Department of Public Safety and police.

An LAPD spokesperson told ABC News Thursday the department is aware of four alleged victims, none of whom have reached out to police yet. The LAPD opened an investigation on Thursday, the department said.

The alleged assaults occurred on Sept. 25 at a fraternity party and involved unlawful administration of a controlled substance, possibly through an alcoholic beverage, police said. There is no suspect information at this time.

The Sigma Nu fraternity has been placed on interim suspension and is barred from hosting parties, social gatherings or any other activities at its house, the school said.

The national Sigma Nu Fraternity said in a statement Thursday that it is "concerned by these serious allegations" and aims to work with USC on investigating them.

"The Fraternity will determine its further actions based upon the investigation," the statement said. "Sigma Nu Fraternity remains committed to responding appropriately to all matters of confirmed misconduct."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Husband charged in Maya Millete's killing, pleads not guilty in court

imaginima/iStock

(SAN DIEGO) -- Larry Millete made his first court appearance Thursday, two days after he was arrested on one count of unlawfully killing his 39-year-old wife and mother of his three children, Maya Millete. Millete was also charged with illegal possession of an assault weapon.

He has plead not guilty and will continue to be held without bail until a review hearing on Nov. 4.

The whereabouts of Maya Millete, who disappeared in January, are still unknown. San Diego District Attorney Summer Stephan said at a press conference Tuesday that California law allows for murder charges to be filed despite the absence of a victim's body.

"The law is so crystal-clear that we cannot let someone murder someone and gain a benefit by hiding the body in a way that we can't recover it," Stephan said.

Investigators from the Chula Vista Police Department said that Maya wanted a divorce after a year of marital issues, and her husband was against it.

Stephan said Millete is believed to have been unwilling to accept that his wife was seeking to end their marriage and he killed her after she contacted the attorney.

Investigators say family and friends described Millete's behavior as "controlling" and "stalker-like" as Maya began taking steps to separate herself from her husband.

The investigation also found that Millete made multiple searches online for drugs that can be used to incapacitate people. He then tried to get help from "spellcasters," who claim to sell spells that could salvage the relationship. In later emails to the spellcasting companies, he asked them to "punish May and incapacitate her enough so she can't leave the house."

Detectives found that the couple had an argument shortly before she was reported missing by her family members.

The last call recorded from Maya's phone was to a divorce attorney on Jan. 7.

According to court documents, Larry Millete was seen moving his Lexus on Jan. 8 at 5:58 a.m., repositioning the car so that the rear was in the garage and not visible to cameras in the area.

Millete then left the home for 11 hours and 21 minutes. He left his phone behind, so investigators were unable to track the GPS or location of his vehicle at the time.

The nine-month investigation included 66 search warrants, 87 witness interviews and more than 100 tips, authorities said.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


How the search for Brian Laundrie, boyfriend of Gabby Petito, unfolded

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(NEW YORK) -- A massive search for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of slain 22-year-old travel blogger Gabby Petito, took a dramatic twist Thursday with the announcement that human remains found in a Florida nature preserve are those of the wanted fugitive, according to the FBI.

The remains were recovered Wednesday, nearly five weeks after Petito's body was recovered in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming. The Teton County Coroner ruled her death a homicide by strangulation.

The search for the 23-year-old Laundrie was centered around North Port, Florida, where investigators said he returned to his home on Sept. 1 without Petito but driving her 2012 Ford Transit.

Laundrie had been named by police as a "person of interest" in Petito's disappearance and a federal warrant had been issued for him alleging unauthorized use of Petito's credit card.

He refused to speak to the police and vanished on Sept. 13. His parents told investigators they believed he was headed to the Carlton Reserve in North Port.

The case grabbed national attention as Laundrie and Petito had been traveling across the country since June, documenting the trip on social media. Petito's parents reported her missing on Sept. 11 after not hearing from her for two weeks.

Here is how the weekslong search for Laundrie unfolded:

Oct 21, 5:06 pm
'Skeletal remains' recovered at Florida nature preserve

Apparent human "skeletal remains" were recovered Wednesday in a Florida wildlife preserve where the search for Brian Laundrie has centered, police told ABC News on Thursday.

“We have confirmed skeletal remains," said Josh Taylor, spokesman for the North Port, Florida, Police Department.

Asked of media reports describing portions of the remains recovered, Taylor said, "We have not said anything about a skull.”

Oct 21, 3:08 pm

ID of remains could take several days: Medical examiner

Dr. Russell Vega, the chief medical examiner for Florida’s 12th District, confirmed to ABC News that he is working on trying to identify the apparent human remains found Wednesday in a nature preserve along with Brian Laundrie's backpack and notebook.

Vega said it could take several days to identify the remains. He declined to confirm media reports that the remains discovered at the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port, Florida, were bones.

Early in the search for Laundrie, FBI agents collected samples of Laundrie's DNA from his parents home in North Port, according to the Laundrie family attorney.

Oct 20, 6:06 pm
Laundrie family attorney reacts to discovery of apparent human remains

Steven Bertolino, the family attorney for the Laundrie family, spoke with New York ABC station WABC Wednesday evening after law enforcement found human remains and items belonging to the fugitive at a Florida park.

The attorney said the area where investigators found Brian's belongings was shown to police two weeks ago when Laundrie's father, Chris, aided in the search.

"I can't say for certain that Chris showed this particular area to police at that point in time, but I can say that this is an area that we initially notified the FBI that Brian liked hiking," Bertolino said.

The attorney said the family is waiting for a proper identification before making any comments.

"As you can imagine, the parents are very distraught. ... At this moment in time they're grieving," he said.

Oct 20, 4:42 pm
Police find apparent human remains, personal items belonging to Laundrie

Police have recovered apparent human remains that have not been identified in the search for Brian Laundrie, the FBI said Wednesday.

Authorities also found items belonging to Laundrie, like a backpack and notebook, officials said.

FBI Special Agent in Charge Michael McPherson said the area where the items were found had previously been underwater. McPherson said a team would be on site for several days processing the scene.

Oct 20, 2:55 pm
Remains found at park, not clear if human

A law enforcement source told ABC News remains were found at a Florida environmental park. The source said investigators are working to determine whether the remains are human and whether the remains and other discovered articles are linked to Laundrie.

Oct 20, 2:19 pm
FBI confirms 'items of interest' found

The FBI said "items of interest" in connection to the search for Laundrie were found at the Carlton Reserve Wednesday morning and an evidence response team is processing the scene.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Brian Laundrie's remains found after monthlong search

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(NORTH PORT, Fla.) — Remains found Wednesday during the search for Brian Laundrie, the boyfriend of slain travel blogger Gabby Petito and a person of interest in her death, have been confirmed to belong to Laundrie, according to the FBI.

The skeletal remains were found in the Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park in North Port, Florida, a nature park that's been the center of the search for Laundrie. His parents led authorities to the scene, where they said their son was known to frequent. Laundrie's backpack and notebook were found near the remains, which authorities said had been underwater until recently.

Dental records were used to identify the remains, FBI Denver said.

"On October 21, 2021, a comparison of dental records confirmed that the human remains found at the T. Mabry Carlton, Jr. Memorial Reserve and Myakkahatchee Creek Environmental Park are those of Brian Laundrie," Amy Jewett Sampson, public affairs specialist for the FBI, said in a statement.

The Laundrie family's lawyer, Steven Bertolino, released a statement on behalf of Brian's parents: "Chris and Roberta Laundrie have been informed that the remains found yesterday in the reserve are indeed Brian's. We have no further comment at this time and we ask that you respect the Laundrie's privacy at this time."

Petito, 22, had been on a cross-country road trip with Laundrie, 23, when Petito went missing. Laundrie returned from the road trip without Petito, arriving home in Florida on Sept. 1.

"Gabby's family is not doing interviews or making a statement at this time," Rick Stafford, a lawyer for Petito's family, said after the identification of Laundrie's remains. "They are grieving the loss of their beautiful daughter. Gabby's family will make a statement at the appropriate time and when they are emotionally ready."

Laundrie was named by investigators as a person of interest and was the subject of a massive nationwide search. He refused to speak to investigators and disappeared on Sept. 14.

He was never charged in his girlfriend's death, but was being sought for illegally using her debit card to withdraw money after she had died.

Petito's body was found in the Bridger-Teton National Forest in Wyoming on Sept. 19. Teton County Coroner Dr. Brent Blue announced last week she had died by strangulation.

ABC News' Alondra Valle and Kristin Thorne contributed to this report.

 

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


New twist in the tale of those escaped zebras: animal cruelty charges

WJLA

(WASHINGTON) — There's a new twist in the tale of those zebras -- still on the loose in Maryland since escaping two months ago.

Earlier this week, authorities filed criminal charges of animal cruelty against Jerry Lee Holly, after three of the zebras got away from his 300-acre farm back in Prince George's County outside Washington.

The charges included depriving the zebras of "necessary sustenance," inflicting "unnecessary suffering or pain" and a failure “to provide [a] Zebra with nutritious food in sufficient quantity, and proper shelter while said animal was in his charge and custody,” according to legal documents obtained by ABC News.

The charges come after one of the escaped zebras was found dead in a field after getting caught in an illegal snare trap, within feet of the enclosure where Holly’s 36 other zebras are held, according to the documents.

"The animal should have been seen or heard while it was dying from being caught in the snare if the caretaker had attended to the zebras in the fenced enclosure," the court filing said.

Earlier this week, another zebra was found dead, this time within Holly’s zebra enclosure, authorities said. It had been dead long enough to develop rigor-mortis before authorities were called, the documents said.

These instances are "sufficient circumstantial evidence of neglect to warrant a criminal charge," the filing said.

It noted that the zebras pose a threat to the community and themselves.

“The zebras at-large are a public nuisance. The animals are dangerous, and serve a risk to persons approaching them, and a risk to drivers on the public roadways. Zebras running at large are by County code declared a nuisance and dangerous to the public health, safety and welfare," the filing said.

ABC News reached out to Holly for comment but got no immediate response.

The saga of the escaped zebras has been bewildering. Originally, five zebras were reported to have escaped, but then the number was corrected to three.

Now, after the tragic snare trap incident, the number of escaped zebras is down to two. The latest effort to capture the two remaining zebras adds yet another twist to the story.

Two zebras have been placed in a corral, which is supposed to attract the two fugitive zebras with food and companionship.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Reward grows to $75,000 in deadly ambush of 3 Texas deputies

Houston Police

(NEW YORK) — The reward for information leading to the arrest of a gunman who investigators said ambushed and killed a Texas constable deputy and wounded his two colleagues outside a Houston sports bar has grown to $75,000.

Saying he was "frustrated and angry" over the Saturday morning attack, Houston Mayor Sylvester Turner pleaded with the public to help authorities bring the "person or persons responsible for these shootings" to justice.

"These persons are still out there, and I'm a firm believer that somebody knows or has information that can lead to their arrest and conviction," Turner said at a news conference Wednesday afternoon.

Tilman Fertitta, the billionaire owner of the Houston Rockets NBA basketball team, joined Turner to announce that he is adding $40,000 to the reward fund. Fertitta said another $25,000 had been offered by an anonymous donor while Crime Stoppers of Houston and the 100 Club, a nonprofit city police support group, combined to put up $10,000.

"We're going to come after you if you commit a deadly crime in this city," said Fertitta, directing his words at the killer or killers. "You pull that gun out and you shoot somebody, you are going to spend the rest of your life in prison because we are going to catch you and we are going to do whatever it takes in this city not to be like other big cities.”

Killed in the triple shooting was deputy Kareem Atkins, 30, a married father of two children, ages 2 years and 6 months, who had just returned to work from paternity leave. Deputy Darrell Garrett, 28, was shot in the back and critically wounded, authorities said. The third deputy, Juqaim Barthen, 26, was discharged from the hospital on Wednesday after he sustained a non-life-threatening gunshot wound.

The Harris County Precinct 4 constable deputies were working an extra job around 2:15 a.m. on Saturday at the 45 Norte Sports Bar in the Independence Heights neighborhood of north Houston when they were called outside to intervene in a possible robbery in progress, according to the Houston Police Department.

Atkins and Garrett entered the parking lot and began to arrest a possible suspect when a second suspect emerged and opened fire with an AR-15 rifle, striking both, according to police. Upon hearing the gunshots, Barthen rushed to help and was shot in the foot.

The suspected gunman was described by police as a heavy-set, bearded Hispanic man in his early 20s who was wearing a white T-shirt and blue jeans.

"They were slaughtered," Constable for Precinct 4 Mark Herman said of his deputies. "The way this happened should have never happened anywhere."

Herman said Garrett, who's engaged to be married, remains in critical condition and described his status as "touch and go."

"His body is devastated," Herman said. "He's had three long surgeries.”

Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said investigators are pursuing leads that have come in from the public but acknowledged no suspects are in custody.

"But I stand here strong with our community members," said Finner, whose agency has mourned four officers killed in shootings in the past 21 months. "We're not going to stand by while somebody is murdering police officers and anybody else."

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Freshman fraternity member at Kentucky dies from 'presumed alcohol toxicity'

iStock/Motortion

(LEXINGTON, Ky.) --

A freshman at the University of Kentucky has died from alcohol toxicity after he was found unresponsive at his fraternity house, officials said.

University police officers were called to FarmHouse Fraternity at about 6:22 p.m. Monday where Thomas Lofton Hazelwood, an 18-year-old fraternity member, was unresponsive, the university said.

The agricultural economics major was taken to a hospital where he died Monday night, the university said.

Hazelwood's cause of death was "presumed alcohol toxicity" pending investigation, and the manner of death was ruled an accident, the Fayette County Coroner's Office said.

"Foul play is not suspected, but police are investigating the circumstances of his death," the university said in a statement Tuesday.

University President Eli Capilouto and Vice President for Student Success Kirsten Turner in a statement Tuesday evening vowed to determine "what happened, how it happened and why."

The university has launched two investigations: one through the university police and another through the school's Office of Student Conduct, said Capilouto and Turner.

"Both of these investigations will be made public including any findings and recommendations, subject to necessary redactions to protect the privacy of students," they said. "But we will understand better what happened and we will communicate with Lofton's family and our university family."

Activities have been suspended indefinitely for new members of all of the university's fraternities, University of Kentucky officials said Thursday.

The university is also looking to "increase awareness and education" regarding "hazing, alcohol use and bystander intervention," officials said.

FarmHouse Fraternity CEO Christian Wiggins said in a statement, "We are deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Thomas 'Lofton' Hazelwood, a new member of the University of Kentucky chapter of FarmHouse Fraternity. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family, friends, and loved ones as well as the entire community. We have encouraged all members and new members to cooperate with any investigation prompted by Mr. Hazelwood's death."

Counseling and other services will be offered, the university officials added.

ABC News' Henderson Hewes contributed to this report.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


COVID-19 updates: CDC panel hours away from vote on Moderna, J&J boosters

scaliger/iStock

(NEW YORK) -- The United States has been facing a COVID-19 surge as the more contagious delta variant continues to spread.

More than 730,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 while over 4.9 million people have died from the disease worldwide, according to real-time data compiled by the Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University.

Just 66.8% of Americans ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to data from the CDC.

Here's how the news is developing. All times Eastern:

Oct 21, 3:14 pm

Hospital admissions on the decline

COVID-19 hospital admissions in the U.S. have dropped by about 9.7% in the last week, according to federal data.

Death rates are also falling, though they remain persistently high, with an average of just under 1,250 Americans dying from the virus each day, according to the data.

Alaska currently has the country's highest infection rate, followed by Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and North Dakota.

The U.S. is currently averaging around 76,000 new cases per day, down from 160,000 in early September. Despite boasting high vaccination rates, several Northern states continue to see cases tick up as the weather gets colder.

-ABC News' Arielle Mitropoulos

Oct 21, 2:56 pm

US vaccination initiation average at one of its lowest points

The U.S. vaccination initiation average is at one of its lowest points since the introduction of vaccines nearly 10 months ago, according to federal data. Just over 182,000 Americans are receiving their first dose each day, while roughly 335,000 Americans are receiving a booster shot each day.

More than 112.5 million Americans remain unvaccinated and about 64.3 million of the unvaccinated are over the age of 12, and thus currently eligible for a shot, according to federal data. 

The FDA authorized boosters for Moderna and J&J late Wednesday. The Moderna booster is authorized for adults 65 and older and those at high-risk. The J&J booster is authorized for adults at least two months after their primary vaccination.

The FDA said it's OK to mix a booster but did not say any booster combination was preferred over another.

-ABC News' Sony Salzman, Arielle Mitropoulos

Oct 21, 8:53 am
CDC panel hours away from vote on Moderna, J&J boosters

A CDC committee is meeting Thursday to discuss and vote on booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, as well as if people can mix and match their booster doses.

On Wednesday evening, the FDA authorized Moderna and J&J boosters for some people and allowed for the mixing and matching booster doses.

The next step of the process is for the CDC panel to deliberate and ultimately vote on whether to recommend those boosters, and whether to allow mixing and matching. The CDC panel vote is expected around 4:30 p.m.

After the panel vote, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky will make the final decision, likely within one day. The panel's vote is nonbinding and the CDC is not required to follow the panel's recommendations.

Boosting for eligible Moderna and J&J recipients would be able to start once Walensky gives the greenlight.

The FDA has made it clear that there is no preferred booster vaccine for the mixed dosage, but the CDC panel on Thursday is likely to discuss available data on what booster blend might offer the strongest immunity.

Oct 21, 1:01 am
US delivers 200M vaccine doses globally: White House

The U.S. has now donated and delivered 200 million COVID-19 vaccines globally, according to a White House official.

The figure is part of 1.1 billion doses President Joe Biden has pledged to more than 100 countries around the world.

"These 200 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have helped bring health and hope to millions of people, but our work is far from over," Samantha Power, administrator for the U.S. Agency for International Development, which is assisting in the global vaccine effort, said in a statement. "To end the pandemic, and prevent the emergence of new variants, as well as future outbreaks within our nation’s borders, we must continue to do our part to help vaccinate the world."

The Biden administration has received criticism for getting Americans booster shots while many around the world have yet to get one. Though the White House has insisted the U.S. can provide boosters to its citizens while funneling doses overseas -- and working to increase vaccine production abroad.

Oct 20, 10:09 pm
US deaths estimated to continue to fall in weeks ahead, though thousands more lost

Forecast models used by the CDC are predicting that weekly COVID-19 death totals in the U.S. will likely continue to drop in the weeks to come, though thousands of Americans are still expected to lose their lives to the virus.

The model expects approximately 18,000 deaths to occur in the next two weeks, with a total of around 757,000 deaths recorded in the U.S. by Nov. 13.

The ensemble model estimates that 19 states and territories of the U.S. have a greater than 50% chance of having more deaths in the next two weeks compared to the past two weeks, and that four states and territories (Alaska, Nebraska, Ohio and American Samoa) have a greater than 75% chance of an increase over the next two weeks.

Oct 20, 5:21 pm
FDA authorizes booster shots for Moderna, J&J vaccines

The FDA authorized booster shots for the Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines for some populations Wednesday.

Moderna's vaccine can be administered at least six months after the second dose for people ages 65 and up and those ages 18 through 64 who either are at high risk of severe COVID-19 infection or have occupational exposure to the virus, the FDA said.

The J&J booster can be administered at least two months after the single-dose shot to those ages 18 and up, the agency said.

The FDA, which authorized Pfizer's booster dose last month, also said it will allow people to mix booster doses.

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Winter weather outlook: California drought could worsen, what else to expect

ABC News

(New York) — The devastating drought in Southern California is expected to continue or worsen this winter, with drier-than-average conditions forecast for the hard-hit Southwest, including Southern California, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said Thursday in its winter weather outlook.

NOAA predicts drought conditions to continue in the Southwest, Plains and Missouri River Basin. But drought improvement is possible in Northern California, the Pacific Northwest, the upper Midwest and Hawaii, NOAA said.

Drier-than-average conditions are also forecast for the Southeast this winter. Wetter-than-average conditions are forecast in areas including the Pacific Northwest, Great Lakes and Ohio Valley, NOAA said.

NOAA predicts a warmer-than-average winter in the Southeast and much of the eastern U.S.

Temperatures may fall below average from the Pacific Northwest through the northern Plains.

But more-than-normal snow and rain is forecast for the Ohio Valley and some of the inland Northeast, from western Pennsylvania to western New York to parts of Vermont.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Benton Harbor, already dealing with lead crisis, now entirely without water after main break

SergeyKlopotov/iStock

(BENTON HARBOR, Mich.) — A water main break in Benton Harbor, Michigan, has resulted in a city-wide loss of water pressure that has shuttered schools and upended businesses on Thursday.

The rupture in the major artery for the city's water supply -- which officials warned can allow disease-causing bacteria to enter the tap water -- comes as the predominately Black community was already told not to drink the city's water due to a crisis of toxic lead that residents have been grappling with for years.

The mounting issues afflicting Benton Harbor's drinking water have raised allegations of environmental injustice in the town where some 45% of residents live in poverty and 85% are Black, according to most-recent Census data. It has also shined a harsh spotlight on the real-world impacts of the nation's dilapidated infrastructure as lawmakers in the nation's capital are mulling over the Biden administration's "Build Back Better" infrastructure plans.

Benton Harbor Mayor Marcus Muhammad tweeted Thursday morning that the burst in the 89-year-old water main "is taking longer than expected to address."

"The contractors are still working on getting the water level down in order to repair the water main," Muhammad added. "Thank you for your patience and understanding. We will continue to provide you with updates."

The water main break occurred Wednesday afternoon and resulted in a "system-wide loss of water pressure across the city," according to a statement from the Berrien County Health Department, urging residents "not to drink the water until further notice."

"City water customers have previously been recommended to use bottled water, and should continue to use bottled water for cooking, drinking, making ice, brushing teeth, washing dishes, rinsing foods, and mixing powdered infant formula at this time, as well as after water is restored," the statement added. "After the water pressure is restored, residents should flush the water taps for 5 minutes before using the water for washing hands, showering or bathing."

The statement said these precautionary actions are being taken not because of the elevated levels of lead that has already been detected in the water, but "due to the potential for bacteria to enter the water supply after a loss of water pressure."

County officials did not say what caused the break.

Free bottled water is being made available to Benton Harbor residents. Muhammad said in a second tweet Thursday that a YMCA in the area was offering its facilities to residents for showers.

Meanwhile, the Benton Harbor Area Schools Superintendent Andraé Townsel said in a letter to parents and caretakers posted on the school system's website that six local schools will not have class on Thursday due to the water main break. He added that they anticipate school resuming on Friday.

The latest crisis comes just days after Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer visited Benton Harbor, and issued a new call for the state legislature to provide an additional $11.4 million investment needed to help expedite the replacement of lead pipes and service lines in the city.

Elevated levels of lead have been detected in the Benton Harbor's water system since at least 2018, according to a Natural Resources Defense Council petition filed last month to the Environmental Protection Agency on behalf of local advocacy groups and residents.

Residents continue to live with "significant and dangerous levels of lead contamination three years after the contamination was first discovered with no immediate solution in sight," the petition states, calling it an "environmental justice" issue.

Frustration among residents has mounted in recent months, in part due to what they see as delayed responses from the state and local government.

"Three years of this is ridiculous," Rev. Edward Pinkney, a local faith leader told the local news outlet MLive, after a water handout organized by the state's department of health ran out of water bottles 30 minutes after it was supposed to start earlier this month. Rev. Pinkney said he and his grassroots organization have been passing out 2,000 cases of water per month on their own dime since 2019.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


Judge denies Ghislaine Maxwell's request for private juror screening

Michał Chodyra/iStock

(NEW YORK) — A federal judge on Thursday denied requests from Ghislaine Maxwell, the accused accomplice of deceased sex offender Jeffrey Epstein, to have prospective jurors for her criminal trial questioned privately -- outside the view of the public and the press -- and to keep a jury questionnaire under seal.

Maxwell's attorneys had argued that the extraordinary measures were necessary to effectively screen for potential bias and for exposure to a "tsunami" of publicity about the high-profile sex-trafficking case.

"This case amplifies the likelihood that jurors will be more apprehensive and constrained to respond openly and honestly in open court within earshot of other jurors, members of the public, and the media," Maxwell attorney Bobbi Sternheim wrote in a court filing last week.

The proposal from Maxwell's defense team, which federal prosecutors opposed, would have been a departure from typical procedure in the Manhattan federal court where her trial is scheduled. In most instances, a judge conducts screenings of groups of prospective jurors in open court after consulting with prosecutors and defense counsel about the questions to be posed.

In a court filing last week, prosecutors contended that Maxwell had presented "no persuasive reason" to depart from the "well-established practice."

"The Court should ask most questions in open court and ask sensitive questions, such as those that relate to sexual abuse and media exposure, at sidebar," wrote Assistant U.S. Attorney Alison Moe.

But Maxwell's lawyers argued those conventional procedures are "inadequate" to ferret out potential bias and prejudice because of the sensitive nature of the charges and the "intense negative media coverage" about Maxwell and Epstein "in every conceivable form."

"The negative publicity has been so pervasive, vitriolic, and extreme that Ms. Maxwell has been demonized in the press," Sternheim wrote.

Private and individual questioning "would encourage potential jurors to answer questions more completely and honestly because the jurors would not be influenced by (or influence) the answers given by fellow jurors or fear embarrassment in giving an honest response," Sternheim added.

U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who's overseeing Maxwell's trial, also denied a request to allow Maxwell's lawyers and prosecutors to question each potential juror individually for up to three minutes after the court concludes its inquiries.

The initial jury pool for the case is estimated to include about 600 people, who will fill out jury questionnaires in early November, Nathan said. She expects to reduce the pool to about 50 to 60 people before she questions each prospective juror in person. The final panel will consist of 12 jurors and six alternates.

Late Wednesday, the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press and a coalition of 17 media organizations registered objections to Maxwell's proposed secrecy surrounding the jury selection process, known as "voir dire."

"Voir dire is a critical stage of criminal proceedings, and the public interest in favor of access to voir dire is correspondingly weighty," RCFP attorney Katie Townsend wrote in a letter to U.S. District Judge Alison Nathan, who's overseeing Maxwell's case.

The media coalition, which includes ABC News, argued that a proposed jury questionnaire that was filed under seal last week by Maxwell's attorneys -- without government objection -- should be made part of the public record. Maxwell's lawyers contended the documents should remain sealed "to avoid media coverage that may prejudice the jury selection process."

"Giving jurors the opportunity to view the questionnaire before they come to court to fill it out is like a take-home exam, and they can fill out all the answers and do all the research and decide what answers they want to put on those papers," Sternheim said during the hearing Thursday. "I think there's an opportunity for people motivated to want to sit on this jury for a variety of reasons."

But Nathan ruled that Maxwell's generalized concerns about media coverage were not sufficient to overcome the public's First Amendment right of access to court proceedings, including the jury selection process.

"The parties' sole rationale for sealing the submission is to avoid, at a general level, media coverage that may prejudice the jury selection process," Nathan said. "But jurors are sworn to give true and complete answers to the questionnaire and voir dire."

"If a juror is being dishonest, we will smoke that out," the judge added.

Maxwell, 59, has pleaded not guilty to charges that she "assisted, facilitated and contributed" to Epstein's abuse of four minor girls from 1994 to 2004. Prosecutors allege Maxwell befriended the young girls and helped to put them at ease, knowing that they would eventually be sexually abused by Epstein.

Maxwell's lawyers have argued in court filings that federal prosecutors pursued charges against her as a "substitute" for Epstein, who died by suicide in a New York federal jail in 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

Jury selection is set to begin in Maxwell's case on Nov. 15, with the trial scheduled to open two weeks later.

Copyright © 2021, ABC Audio. All rights reserved.


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