Pedestrian fatalities on U.S. roads hit almost 30-year high

Pedestrian fatalities on U.S. roads hit almost 30-year high
By David Shepardson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – U.S. traffic deaths fell 2.4% in 2018 to 36,560 although the number of pedestrians killed rose to its highest level in nearly three decades, the U.S. auto safety agency said Tuesday.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) said traffic deaths fell for the second straight year – down 913 from 2017. The fatality rate fell by 3.4% to 1.13 fatalities per 100 million vehicle miles traveled, the lowest rate since 2014.

Despite the decrease in overall deaths, pedestrian and bicyclist fatalities continue to rise, with deaths of those on foot climbing 3.4% to 6,283 last year. The number of people killed on roads while using bicycles and other non-motorized vehicles rose 6.3% to 857.

More pedestrians and cyclists were killed in 2018 than in any year since 1990. Deaths of pedestrians have jumped by 42% in the last decade even as the combined number of all other traffic deaths has fallen by 8%.

Auto safety experts say the growing number of drivers distracted by mobile devices is at least partly to blame. NHTSA said Tuesday it is looking for ways to reduce fatalities among pedestrians and bicyclists.

The Governors Higwhway Safety Association said in February the increasing shift in U.S. vehicle sales away from passenger cars to light trucks is a factor in the rising number of deaths. The group said the number of pedestrian fatalities involving SUVs increased at a faster rate — 50% – from 2013 to 2017 compared to passenger cars, which increased by 30%.

Earlier this month, AAA said its research showed that automatic emergency braking systems designed to stop vehicles from striking pedestrians did not always work effectively and had a significantly higher failure rate at night.

Three-quarters of all pedestrian deaths take place at night, NHTSA says, while 38% of pedestrians killed had some alcohol in their systems and 74% were not at intersections when struck.

NHTSA said last week it may include vehicle technologies tied to the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists when it revises its five-star New Car Assessment Program.

In 2017, the United States had 6.4 million traffic crashes reported to police agencies resulting in 2.7 million injuries, according to a NHTSA report released last month.

Still, U.S. roads are far safer than they were a half-century ago, when the fatality rate was nearly five times higher and more than 50,000 people died annually in crashes.

(Reporting by David Shepardson; Editing by Stephen Coates)

His cross to bear: carpenter creates memorial for yet another shooting

FILE PHOTO: People pray next to a row of crosses representing each of the victims at a growing memorial site two days after a mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, U.S. August 5, 2019. REUTERS/Callaghan O'Hare/File Photo

By Daniel Trotta

EL PASO, Texas (Reuters) – Volunteers on Monday planted crosses, each representing a fatality in Saturday’s mass shooting at a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, at a shrine to the victims that included “El Paso strong” signs, flowers, candles, bible verses and U.S. and Mexican flags.

Police have not released the names of the victims of the attack, which authorities have called an act of domestic terrorism that appeared to target Hispanics. Hours later, a separate mass shooting in Dayton, Ohio, killed nine people. The attacks injured dozens more.

Greg Zanis of Crosses for Losses, who has been making white, waist-high wooden crosses for victims of tragedies since 1986, provided them for the shrine to the victims near the Walmart store.

“Today is the worst day. I’m going to have to go to Dayton, Ohio, right now. I don’t know how I can handle this day,” Zanis told reporters at the shrine.

Zanis said he has made more than 26,000 crosses since the master carpenter began his one-man mission after finding the body of his father-in-law, who had been shot to death.

In 1999, he erected 13 crosses in Colorado in honor of the victims of the shooting rampage at Columbine High School. Last year he went to Pittsburgh to deliver 11 Stars of David in remembrance of the worshippers shot dead on Oct. 27 at the Tree of Life synagogue, and barely two weeks later to Thousand Oaks, Calif., for the 12 victims of a shooting there, and then to Paradise, Calif., the following month after a wildfire destroyed the town, killing at least 85.

He was even forced into action for a workplace shooting on Feb. 15 in his home town of Aurora, Illinois that killed six.

“These people all don’t think it will happen in their towns, and I was dumb enough to think it wouldn’t happen in mine,” Zanis said.

MEXICAN NATIONALS

At least eight of the victims in the border city of El Paso were Mexican nationals. One funeral home is offering free cremation services for the victims as the city mourned.

At the Walmart shrine, Tony Basco, 61, planted a cross for his partner of 22 years, Margie Reckard, 67, according to the name and age on the cross.

“I’ve been lost. I’m like a puppy run away from its momma. She took care of me,” Basco said. “But my wife, she’d say get up off your rear end and grow up. Because now I’ve got to take care of the bills, take care of the cat.”

Basco was unaware Zanis would be presenting her cross. He just happened to be visiting the site for the first time since the massacre.

“I just wanted to go where she died,” Basco said.

(Reporting by Daniel Trotta; writing by Bill Tarrant; editing by Bill Berkrot)

Migrant deaths rise among Venezuelans, Central Americans: U.N.

FILE PHOTO: The U.S.-Mexico border is seen near Lukeville, Pima County, Arizona, U.S., September 11, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson/File Photo

By Stephanie Nebehay

GENEVA (Reuters) – At least 380 Latin American migrants have died on their journeys this year, many of them Venezuelans drowning in the Caribbean or Central Americans perishing while trying to cross the U.S.-Mexico border, the U.N. migration agency said on Tuesday.

The toll, 50 percent more than the 241 recorded as of mid-June 2018, also coincides with tightened security along the U.S. southern border, which often leads migrants to turn to underground criminal smugglers and take riskier routes, it said.

President Donald Trump has made reducing illegal migration one of his signature policy pledges. His administration on Monday cut hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras, after Trump blasted the three Central American countries because thousands of their citizens had sought asylum at the U.S. border with Mexico.

“This month has been marked by several tragedies on the U.S.-Mexico border, where at least 23 people have died since May 30 May, that is more than one per day,” spokesman Joel Millman of the International Organization for Migration told a briefing.

IOM figures show that so far, 144 migrants are known to have died in Mexico, 143 in the Caribbean, 66 along Mexico’s southern border with Central America and 27 in South America.

A further 42 reported deaths were under investigation in Mexico, and of several dozen more refugees and migrants crossing the Darien jungle in Panama, he added.

“So we are seeing a level of fatality that we haven’t seen before. We caution that with the summer months just beginning, with the intense heat that brings, we can expect it to get worse,” Millman said.

Four million Venezuelans have fled their homeland, most of them since an economic and humanitarian crisis began in 2015, the U.N. refugee agency says. Most went overland to Colombia, Peru, Ecuador and Brazil.

But in images reminiscent of desperate Cubans fleeing their homeland in decades past, Venezuelans increasingly are taking to the sea in rickety boats.

The overall toll includes more than 80 Venezuelans who have died or disappeared in three shipwrecks in the Caribbean in the past two months, Millman said.

UNHCR spokesman Babar Baloch called for better search and rescue operations to save Venezuelans fleeing via the Caribbean.

“As Venezuelans continue to use dangerous sea routes to leave their country, the U.N. refugee agency is calling for more coordinated search and rescue efforts to prevent further loss of life,” Baloch said.”It is also absolutely vital that people are able to access safe territory in ways that do not require them to risk their lives,” he said.

(Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Mark Heinrich)

Fireworks blasts kill at least 24 near Mexico City

A firefighter talks to a resident at a site damaged due to fireworks explosions in the municipality of Tultepec, on the outskirts of Mexico City, Mexico July 5, 2018. REUTERS/Daniel Becerril

MEXICO CITY (Reuters) – Two explosions at fireworks workshops outside Mexico City on Thursday killed at least 24 people, including rescue workers, and injured dozens more, officials said, in the latest deadly blast to hit a town known for its fireworks production.

After a first blast in the municipality of Tultepec, firefighters, police and other rescue workers arrived at the scene when a second explosion occurred, the state government said in a statement.

“Emergency crews attended the call of the first explosion, when a second incident occurred, killing and injuring members of these groups,” the statement said.

Television images showed a plume of smoke rising over buildings on the outskirts of Tultepec and scores of firefighters and rescue workers at the scene.

The attorney general’s office for the state of Mexico, the country’s most populous state which rings the capital, said that 17 people had died at the blast site and another seven died in hospital.

Another 49 people were injured, the statement added.

A series of blasts have taken occurred at the fireworks markets, workshops and depots in Tultepec, about 20 miles (32 km) north of Mexico City, including massive explosions in a market in December 2016 that killed around three dozen people.

Luis Felipe Puente, the head of Mexico’s civil protection agency, said the sale of fireworks in the area would be suspended and permits of manufacturers would be reviewed.

(Reporting by Diego Ore; Additional reporting by Noe Torres; Editing by James Dalgleish and Richard Chang)

Flooding in wake of storm Alberto kills four in Cuba

FILE PHOTO: A view of a partially flooded farm as Subtropical Storm Alberto passes by the west coast of Cuba, in Bahia Honda, Cuba, May 26, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

HAVANA (Reuters) – Flooding in central Cuba caused by torrential rainfall in the wake of the subtropical storm Alberto has killed four people and prompted the evacuation of tens of thousands, Cuban state-run media said late on Tuesday.

After rain dumped more than 4 inches (10 cm) of water in 24 hours, flood waters swept away a bridge and damaged roads and other infrastructure, leaving many communities cut off and nearly 60,000 people without electricity, the media reported.

Authorities had to close down part of the national highway after a nearby river burst it banks when they opened the floodgates of the Palmarito reservoir because it had exceeded its maximum capacity.

Interior Minister Julio Cesar Gandarilla said in a government meeting with provincial authorities headed by new President Miguel Diaz-Canel that four people had died in the flooding.

Seventy-seven year old Cuban Quintiliano Simó Ortega died when trying to cross a flooded river by horseback in Trinidad on the south central coast to get to his farm, the Cuban News Agency reported.

This is the second crisis Diaz-Canel has faced since being selected six weeks ago to replace Raul Castro as Cuba’s president. The floods come 11 days after a plane crashed shortly after takeoff from Havana, killing 112.

On each occasion, he has appeared publicly at the forefront of the crisis management, striking a contrast that many Cubans have welcomed to Castro who operated behind the scenes.

Diaz-Canel was cited by state media as saying that authorities should focus on re-establishing basic services such as electricity and transportation when the weather started to improve.

Alberto, the first storm of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season, which only officially starts on June 1, already weakened into a subtropical depression on Tuesday after making landfall in the south of the United States, according to the U.S. National Hurricane Center (NHC).

U.S. forecasters said last week they expected the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season to be near-normal to above-normal in number and intensity of storms.

Last year, Hurricane Irma killed at least 10 people during a devastating three-day rampage along the length of Cuba.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh; Editing by Sam Holmes)

Islamic State claims responsibility for church attack in Chechnya

The Islamic State militant group claimed responsibility for an attack on a church in Russia’s Chechnya republic that killed three people, the group’s Amaq news agency said on Sunday.

The group offered no evidence in support of the claim.

Four people attacked the Orthodox church on Saturday, killing two policemen and a churchgoer, Russia’s investigative committee said in a statement. The attackers were killed.

“Islamic State fighters executed an attack on ‘Michael’ Church yesterday in Chechnya’s capital, Grozny,” Amaq said.

Russia, which hosts the soccer World Cup next month, has fought two wars with separatists in the mainly Muslim internal republic since the 1991 Soviet collapse, but such attacks have become relatively rare in Chechnya.

The wider North Caucasus region remains volatile, however, with unemployment and corruption pushing some to embrace radical Islam.

(Reporting by Polina Devitt in Moscow and Ahmed Tolba in Cairo; Writing by Polina Devitt; Editing by Dale Hudson)

Accused Texas high school gunman described as bullied loner in a trench coat

A picture shows Dimitrios Pagourtzis, the suspect in the Santa Fe High School shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, U.S., in this undated picture obtained from social media, released on May 18, 2018. Courtesy GALVESTON COUNTY SHERIFF'S OFFICE/via REUTERS

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – The teen accused of killing 10 people in a mass shooting at his Texas high school on Friday was described by fellow students as a quiet loner who played football but kept to himself and was reportedly the victim of some bullying.

The suspect, identified as 17-year-old Dimitrios Pagourtzis, was a junior at Santa Fe High School near Houston. Classmates remembered he often wore a trench coat, similar to the garment authorities said the assailant used to conceal the two firearms he carried into the school.

Texas Governor Greg Abbott told reporters the gunman was armed with a shotgun and a .38 revolver, both of which he had taken from his father. It was not known if the father was aware his son had possession of the guns.

While Abbott said there were few advance warning signs that the suspect had violent tendencies, one ominous social media post was an image of a black T-shirt with the words “Born to Kill” found on the Pagourtzis’ Facebook page.

The Dallas Morning News reported that the Facebook page also bore the image of a trench coat with Nazi insignia. The newspaper said classmates characterized Pagourtzis as unpopular and often the target of bullying.

“He was really quiet and wore like a trench coat every day,” Santa Fe High student Mateo Twilley, 15, told CNN on Friday afternoon. Twilley said he had played football with the suspect.

Another student, who was not identified, told reporters in a local television news interview Pagourtzis “stuck to himself. He never really talked to other people.”

The Houston Chronicle reported that a caption on the suspect’s Instagram page said, “we all die sometime.”

Pagourtzis was being held without bond Friday afternoon at the Galveston County Jail after being charged with capital murder, authorities said.

(Reporting by Ernest Scheyder in Santa Fe, Texas; Additional reporting by Jon Herkovitz in Austin. Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Tom Brown)

Many feared dead, injured in passenger plane crash in Cuba

Firefighters work in the wreckage of a Boeing 737 plane that crashed in the agricultural area of Boyeros, around 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana, shortly after taking off from Havana's main airport in Cuba, May 18, 2018. REUTERS/Alexandre Meneghini

By Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta

HAVANA (Reuters) – A Boeing 737 plane crashed on Friday shortly after taking off from Havana’s main airport on a domestic flight, with a number of people feared dead or injured, Reuters witnesses and officials said.

There were at least three possible survivors among the 105 passengers plus nine crew, Cuban state-run media reported, adding that there were five children on board. Earlier reports on state media said there were 104 passengers.

The number of casualties was not immediately known, but Cuban President Miguel Diaz-Canel, visiting the site of the crash, told Agence France Presse: “It appears there is a high number of victims.”

Wreckage was strewn over the area and ambulances and firefighters were at the scene, a Reuters witness said. The fire had been put out, and blackened parts of the fuselage could be seen.

“We heard an explosion and then saw a big cloud of smoke go up,” said Gilberto Menendez, who runs a restaurant near the crash site in the agricultural area of Boyeros, 20 km (12 miles) south of Havana.

A worker at Havana’s Calixto Garcia hospital told Reuters three victims of the accident had arrived so far. One had died from burns and other trauma and the other two were in a serious state.

“She is alive but very burnt and swollen,” said a distressed relative of one of the survivors at the hospital.

The flight was destined for Holguin and was leased by airline Cubana from a small Mexican airline called Damojh or Global, Cuban state media said. Cubana declined to comment.

Holguin in eastern Cuba is home to some of the island’s most pristine beaches, and attracts tourists. The nationality of those on board was not immediately clear. State media said that the crew were foreign, but provided no further details.

Flight tracking websites indicated the flight was CU972, departing Havana at 11 a.m. (1500 GMT).

Boeing Co said in a Twitter post: “We are aware of news reports out of Cuba and are closely monitoring the situation.”

A Damojh representative told Reuters in Mexico: “There is still no information, we are gathering what we can to give correct information. As the day progresses there will be more information.”

The last fatal crash in Cuba was in 2017, the Aviation Safety Network said. It was a military flight that killed all eight personnel aboard. In 2010, a commercial Aero Caribbean plane crashed in central Cuba. All 68 people on board were killed.

(Reporting by Sarah Marsh and Nelson Acosta in Havana; additional reporting by Anthony Esposito and Dave Graham in Mexico, Writing by Rosalba O’Brien; editing by Grant McCool)

At least eight dead, explosives found in Texas school shooting: sheriff

First responders following a shooting at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe, Texas, May 18, 2018. Courtesy Harris County Sheriff's Office/via REUTERS

By Erwin Seba

SANTA FE, Texas (Reuters) – At least eight people died in a shooting at a Santa Fe, Texas, high school on Friday and police searching the building said they had taken into custody a student suspected of the attack and found explosives in the school building.

The sound of gunshots tore through the air at Santa Fe High School shortly before 8 a.m. CT (1300 GMT) on Friday, witnesses told local media, and live TV images showed lines of students evacuating the building while heavily armed police responded to the scene.

The incident was the latest in a long series of deadly shootings at U.S. schools. Seventeen teens and educators were shot dead at a Parkland, Florida, high school in February, a massacre that stirred the nation’s long-running debate over gun ownership.

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez said that eight to 10 people, both students and adults, died in the incident at the school about 30 miles (48 km) southeast of Houston.

“There is one person, a suspect, in custody and a second possible person of interest that is detained and being questioned,” Gonzalez said at a news conference.

Explosive devices had also been found at the school and off campus, Gonzalez tweeted. “Law enforcement is in the process of rendering them safe. School has been evacuated.”

The suspect is a 17-year-old male, a law enforcement source who spoke on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to publicly discuss the investigation, told Reuters.

At least nine people were taken to area hospitals for treatment, hospital officials said. The conditions of those people was not immediately clear. Gonzalez said a police officer was also being treated for injuries.

Sophomore Leila Butler told the local ABC affiliate that fire alarms went off at about 7:45 a.m. local time (1245 GMT) and students left their classrooms. She said some students believe they heard shots fired, and that she was sheltering with other students and teachers near campus.

‘WE ALL TOOK OFF’

A male student, who did not identify himself, described fleeing the scene in an interview with CBS affiliate KHOU.

“Three shots that I heard, so we all took off in the back and I tried to get into the trees, I didn’t want to be in sight. I heard four more shots, and then we jumped the fence to somebody’s house,” the student said.

Another sophomore, Dakota Shrader, told Fox 26 TV her 17-year-old girlfriend told her by phone that she was wounded but was recovering in a hospital. “My friend got injured,” said an emotional Shrader. “Her leg, she got shot in the leg.”

Dr. David Marshall, chief nursing officer at the University of Texas Medical Branch, said that the hospital was treating at least three patients – two adults and one person under 18. He said it was not immediately clear if that child was a student.

U.S. President Donald Trump called the latest school massacre heartbreaking.

“My administration is determined to do everything in our power to protect our students, secure our schools and to keep weapons out of the hands of those who pose a threat to themselves and to others,” Trump said at the White House.

Days after the Parkland shooting, Trump said that elected officials should be ready to “fight” the powerful National Rifle Association lobby group. Early this month he embraced that group, telling its annual meeting in Dallas “your Second Amendment rights are under siege.”

The Second Amendment of the U.S. Constitution protects the right to bear arms.

No major federal gun controls have been imposed since Parkland, though the administration is pursuing a proposed regulatory ban on “bump stocks,” which enable a semi-automatic rifle to fire a steady stream of bullets. The devices were used in an October 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas that killed 59 people but have not played a role in other major U.S. mass shootings.

(Additional reporting by Ernest Scheyder and Liz Hampton in Houston, Gina Cherelus and Peter Szekely in New York and Mark Hosenball and Ian Simpson in Washington; Writing by Daniel Wallis and Scott Malone; Editing by Bernadette Baum and Susan Thomas)

Power outages linger as U.S. Northeast recovers from deadly storm

Commuters wait as service was temporarily suspended on all Metro North lines at Grand Central Terminal due to storms in Manhattan, New York, May 15, 2018. REUTERS/Herbert Lash

NEW YORK (Reuters) – A violent spring storm that killed at least five people in the northeastern United States downed trees and power lines, leaving hundreds of thousands of people without power on Wednesday.

By daybreak, more than 370,000 residents were without power in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and Pennsylvania, down from more than 600,000 on Tuesday night.

Amtrak and most local commuter railroads in the New York metropolitan area said their services were back to normal on Wednesday. Some schools canceled classes or delayed their openings.

The line of strong thunderstorms with wind gusts of 50 to 80 miles per hour (80 to 129 kilometers per hour) sped eastward across the region Tuesday evening, causing local flooding, scattering debris and dropping hail as large as tennis balls.

Falling trees killed an 11-year-old girl and a woman in separate incidents in Newburgh, New York, police said. Falling trees also killed two people in Connecticut in separate incidents, as well as a person in Pennsylvania, local media reported.

Local news showed footage of trees resting on top of crushed cars and houses, and vehicles submerged in water.

There were more than 100 reports of hail in states including Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Connecticut, the National Weather Service said.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo declared a state of emergency in several counties in southeast New York and deployed members of the New York National Guard to assist with the recovery.

Officials in Brookfield, Connecticut, declared a town disaster and told residents to stay inside until they could assess the damage.

“Please be aware that there are hundreds of downed trees, utility poles and electrical lines. AVOID all down trees and utility poles as they may still involve LIVE power lines,” the Brookfield Police Department said on Facebook.

(Reporting by Peter Szekely in New York and Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee; Editing by Alison Williams and Susan Thomas)