Four Florida nursing home workers face charges in post-hurricane deaths

By Zachary Fagenson

MIAMI (Reuters) – Police in Florida have issued arrest warrants for four nursing home workers accused of criminal conduct in the death of a dozen elderly patients exposed to sweltering heat with little or no air-conditioning after Hurricane Irma struck in 2017, defense lawyers said on Sunday.

The employees of the Rehabilitation Center of Hollywood Hills were expected to surrender to police on Monday morning and make their initial court appearance before a Broward County judge in nearby Fort Lauderdale, the defense attorneys said.

Two of the defendants, the nursing home’s administrator, Jorge Carballo, and the charge nurse on duty at the time, Sergo Collin, are expected to be booked on 12 counts of manslaughter, according to their lead attorney, David Frankel.

The other defendants, both nurses, are expected to face less serious charges, he said. Defense lawyers said their clients are innocent of criminal wrongdoing.

The loss of life at the Hollywood Hills center stirred outrage at the time at what many saw as a preventable tragedy and heightened concerns about the vulnerability of Florida’s large elderly population amid widespread, lingering power outages across the state.

“We believe that when the evidence comes out it will show that the staff at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills was dedicated to their roles as caretakers and did everything they could under the emergency-disaster circumstances after the hurricane,” Frankel said.

He told Reuters that prosecutors have yet to decide how or whether to formally charge the four employees.

Lawrence Hashish, an attorney for one of the nurses, said his client and her colleagues were caring for residents under natural disaster conditions.

“No one could have anticipated the tragedy to come,” Hashish said.

That nurse was working for the facility as a contract employee at the time, her co-counsel, Hilham Soffan, told Reuters.

“The real crime is that the state is looking to blame selfless care givers,” Soffan said.

The Hollywood Police Department declined through a spokesman to comment, saying only that a statement on the case would be issued on Monday.

TWO-YEAR PROBE

The deaths have been the subject of a criminal investigation since they were first reported in the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which was blamed for killing more than 80 people in the Caribbean and the U.S. mainland in September of 2017.

City officials said the nursing home continued to operate with little or no air conditioning after the storm knocked out its electricity, and daytime temperatures in the Miami area rose to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (32 degrees Celsius).

State authorities said nursing home managers placed eight portable air coolers throughout the building and fans in hallways.

The facility was finally evacuated, under conditions described by workers at the time as chaotic, when four residents were found dead three days after the storm made landfall. Four more died at or en route to a nearby hospital during the evacuation, and four others ultimately succumbed to the effects of heat exposure, bringing the death toll to 12.

The medical examiner ruled the deaths homicides. Frankel said the majority of those who died had been under hospice care or otherwise gravely ill.

Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration suspended the facility’s license after determining that medical personnel at the home had delayed in calling for emergency assistance when temperatures inside reached excessive levels.

The case is reminiscent of the prosecution of the owners of a New Orleans-area nursing home who were charged with negligent homicide in the deaths of 35 patients who drowned in flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in August 2005.

The couple, Salvador and Mabel Mangano, were acquitted by a jury in September 2007.

(Reporting by Zachary Fagenson in Miami; Additional reporting and writing by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler)

Missouri River towns face deluge as floods move downstream

A flooded parcel of land along the Platte River is pictured in this aerial photograph at La Platte, south of Omaha, Nebraska, U.S. March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Drone Base

By Humeyra Pamuk

VALLEY, Neb. (Reuters) – A string of small Missouri towns prepared for the next deluge along the raging Missouri River on Wednesday after flooding wreaked nearly $1.5 billion in damage in Nebraska, killing at least four people and leaving another man missing.

High water unleashed by last week’s late-winter storm and melting snow has already inundated a large swath of Missouri, Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River, North America’s longest river. States of emergency have been declared in all or parts of the three Midwestern farm states.

The Missouri River’s next major flood crest was forecast to hit St. Joseph, Missouri, at 6 a.m. on Friday and Kansas City, Missouri, 55 miles (88 km) to the south, about 24 hours later, said Mike Glasch of the Omaha District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Homeowners and businesses across Leavenworth County, Missouri, where 81,000 people were under a flood warning on Wednesday, were placing sandbags around property as they have watched the river rise over the last few days, Kim Buchanan, the county’s deputy director of emergency management, told Reuters.

“We have moderate flooding at this time,” she said, noting that the forecast shows the river cresting seven feet above flood stage on Thursday or Friday. “Anybody with river interest has already instigated their flood plans and have taken their defensive actions.”

FOUR DEAD

The floods killed four people in Nebraska and Iowa since last week, and officials warned the damage toll would rise as receding waters revealed more devastated roadways, bridges and homes.

A fifth man has been missing since the collapse of the Spencer Dam along the Niobrara River last. He was identified by the Omaha World-Herald newspaper as Kenny Angel.

Authorities said they had rescued nearly 300 people in Nebraska alone.

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

FILE PHOTO: Homes sit in flood waters after leaving casualities and causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damages, with waters yet to crest in parts of the U.S. midwest, in Peru, Nebraska, U.S., March 19, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Dillon

A levee break prompted the evacuation of the small community of Craig, Missouri. Real estate agent Jamie Barnes said everyone in town had time to get out before it was flooded, and water was now flowing south through farmland toward communities such as Forest City, Forbes and St Joseph.

“There’s just water as far as the eye can see, from bluff to bluff. In some places its five miles, in some 15,” Barnes said by phone.

Several other communities in that area of northwest Missouri have also been evacuated, the Army Corps of Engineers said at a briefing.

“Much of the levee system remains compromised, and as of noon Wednesday there are more than 30 total breaches across the system,” in the three states experiencing flooding, Lieutenant Colonel James Startzell, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Omaha District told the briefing.

AIR FORCE BASE FLOODED

“I was driving out to get one more load of corn from the bins when the levee broke, and there was a wall of water coming at me,” said Howard Geib, 54, whose farm is near Craig. “I was on the phone with my son-in-law, who was driving out to help, telling him, ‘Stop! Stop! Turn around!'”

The flooding killed livestock, destroyed grains in storage and cut off access to farms because of road and rail damage.

Across the Missouri from Craig, the village of Rulo, Nebraska, drew a small crowd of onlookers to see the deluge, said Kelly Klepper, owner of Wild Bill’s Bar & Grill.

“We’re kind of a tourist attraction right now,” Klepper said by phone.

Missouri emergency managers said they may be spared the worst of the flooding because of breaches further north.

“It’s really sad that we had a couple levies fail upstream, but that’s helped everyone downstream,” said Steven Bean of Kansas City’s emergency management agency.

But Bean said the kind of flooding hitting the Midwest is typically seen in June and July, after the final snow-melt and the spring rains.

“This is March, and we haven’t had the final snowmelt,” he said. “We haven’t had the spring rains. The reservoir is full. They have got to get it empty.”

More than 2,400 Nebraska homes and businesses were destroyed or damaged, with 200 miles (322 km) of roads unusable and 11 bridges wiped out, Governor Pete Ricketts said on Wednesday.

Ricketts estimated the floods caused at least $439 million in damage to public infrastructure and other assets and $85 million to privately owned assets. He put flood damage for the state’s agricultural sector at nearly $1 billion.

Offutt Air Force Base near Omaha, which houses the U.S. Strategic Command, remained heavily flooded, though base officials said on Twitter the facility was still “mission-capable.”

In Valley, Nebraska, outside Omaha, Pete Smock, 42, worked to clear deep mud surrounding his home and construction business.

“Devastation is everywhere. I haven’t seen anything like this in my lifetime,” Smock said. He had rented heavy equipment to fill deep holes cut by the floods with gravel and repair driveways leading to his office and garage.

(Reporting by Humeyra Pamuk; Additional reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York, Rich McKay in Atlanta, Jarrett Renshaw in Philadelphia, P.J. Huffstutter and Mark Weinraub in Chicago, Brendan O’Brien in Milwaukee, Andrew Hay in Taos, N.M. and Steve Gorman and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Bill Tarrant and Alistair Bell)

Mike Pence to visit Nebraska amid deadly floods

Lanni Bailey and a team from Muddy Paws Second Chance Rescue enter a flooded house to pull out several cats during the flooding of the Missouri River near Glenwood, Iowa, U.S. March 18, 2019. Passport Aerial Photography/Handout via REUTERS

(Reuters) – U.S. Vice President Mike Pence will visit Nebraska on Tuesday to survey the devastation left by floods in the Midwest which have killed at least four people and caused hundreds of millions of dollars in damage.

The floods, the result of last week’s ‘bomb cyclone,’ a term used by meteorologists to describe the powerful winter hurricane, inundated stretches of Nebraska and Iowa along the Missouri River. It swamped homes, covering about a third of the U.S. Air Force Base that is home to the United States Strategic Command, and cut off road access to a nuclear power plant.

FILE PHOTO: One of many areas near the southeast side of Offutt Air Force Base affected by flood waters is seen in Nebraska, U.S., March 16, 2019. Courtesy Rachelle Blake/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

FILE PHOTO: One of many areas near the southeast side of Offutt Air Force Base affected by flood waters is seen in Nebraska, U.S., March 16, 2019. Courtesy Rachelle Blake/U.S. Air Force/Handout via REUTERS

Farms were deluged and rescuers could be seen in boats pulling pets from flooded homes.

About 74 Nebraska cites had declared states of emergency by Monday evening, according to Nebraska Emergency Management Agency (NEMA). More than 600 residents were evacuated and taken to American Red Cross-operated shelters.

“Heading to Nebraska today to survey the devastating flood damage. To the people of Nebraska, Iowa, South Dakota, Kansas, all regions impacted: we are with you,!” Pence said in a post on Twitter early Tuesday. He will tour the zone with Nebraska Governor Pete Ricketts and Iowa Governor Kim Reynolds.

The flood waters are the result of snowmelt following heavy rains last week and warm temperatures, said Bob Oravec, a meteorologist for the National Weather Service’s Weather Prediction Center.

“Most of the snowpack in Nebraska is now gone, but upriver in North and South Dakota, there’s significant snowpack of up to 20 plus inches (51 cm) and it’s melting,” he said.

Flooded Platte River seen in this DigitalGlobe Satellite image over Nebraska, U.S., March 18, 2019. Picture taken on March 18, 2019. ©2019 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

Flooded Platte River seen in this DigitalGlobe Satellite image over Nebraska, U.S., March 18, 2019. Picture taken on March 18, 2019. ©2019 DigitalGlobe, a Maxar company/Handout via REUTERS

The Missouri River, the longest in North America, has flooded much of Nebraska between Omaha and Kansas City.

The river was expected to crest at more than 47 feet (14.5 meters) on Tuesday, breaking the previous record, set in 2011, by more than a foot (30 cm), NEMA said.

At least one person was missing on Monday. The four reported deaths included one person in Iowa who was rescued from flood waters but later succumbed to injuries, according to the Fremont County Sheriff’s Office.

“This is clearly the most widespread disaster we have had in our state’s history,” in terms of size, Governor Ricketts told reporters Monday.

Damage to the state’s livestock sector was estimated at about $400 million, said Steve Wellman, director of the Nebraska Department of Agriculture.

The state’s highway system suffered hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, said Kyle Schneweis, director of the state Department of Transportation.

(Reporting by Gina Cherelus in New York and Rich McKay in Atlanta; Editing by Scott Malone and Bernadette Baum)

At least four people killed in Maryland newspaper office shooting: reports

E.B Furgurson talk on the phone as police officers respond to an active shooter inside a city building in Annapolis, Maryland, U.S., June 28, 2018. REUTERS/Greg Savoy

(Reuters) – A gunman fired through a glass door at a newspaper in the Maryland capital of Annapolis and sprayed the newsroom with bullets on Thursday, killing at least four people and injuring several others, news reports said.

The suspect has been apprehended and no motive is known for the attack at the Capital Gazette newspaper, local news reports said.

For now, the Annapolis shooting is being treated as a local incident and not one that involves terrorism, a law enforcement official said. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is on the scene assisting local authorities, the official said.

Phil Davis, who identified himself as a courts and crime reporter at the Capital Gazette, tweeted that multiple people had been shot.

Davis said a single shooter “shot multiple people at my office, some of whom are dead.”

“There is nothing more terrifying than hearing multiple people get shot while you’re under your desk and then hear the gunman reload,” he tweeted.

President Donald Trump has been briefed on the shooting, White House spokeswoman Lindsay Walters said.

“Our thoughts and prayers are with all that are affected,” she said. Trump was aboard Air Force One, returning to Washington from an event in Wisconsin.

Agents from the Baltimore office of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were responding to the incident, the bureau tweeted.

Live video images showed people leaving the building, walking through a parking lot with their hands in the air. Scores of police vehicles were on the scene.

Police also went to the offices of the Baltimore Sun as a precaution, that paper reported.

(Writing by Jon Herskovitz; Additional repeorting by Mark Hosenball and Jeff Mason in Washington, DC, Colleen Jenkins in North Carolina; Editing by Daniel Wallis, Phil Berlowitz and Richard Chang)

Waffle House shooting suspect arrested by Nashville police

Travis Reinking, the suspect in a Waffle House shooting in Nashville, is under arrest by Metro Nashville Police Department in a wooded area in Antioch, Tennessee, U.S., April 23, 2018. Courtesy Metro Nashville Police Department/Handout via REUTERS

By Tim Ghianni

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (Reuters) – Nashville police on Monday arrested the suspect in the weekend killing of four people at a Waffle House restaurant, ending a manhunt that began when the gunman ran naked from the scene into nearby woods, authorities said.

Photos posted online by police showed Travis Reinking, a 29-year-old construction worker suspected of opening fire at the restaurant early Sunday, in the back of a police car. Looking disheveled, he was wearing a torn red shirt and dirty blue jeans, and had scratches on his shoulder.

Metro Davidson County Police inspect the truck of Travis Reinking, the suspected shooter, at the scene of a fatal shooting at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

Metro Davidson County Police inspect the truck of Travis Reinking, the suspected shooter, at the scene of a fatal shooting at a Waffle House restaurant near Nashville, Tennessee, U.S. April 22, 2018. REUTERS/Harrison McClary

Metropolitan Nashville police Lieutenant Carlos Lara said that as soon as a detective saw Reinking and ordered him to get on the ground, the suspect cooperated. “He did not try to run,” Lara told reporters in a news conference near the Waffle House.

The arrest ended a protracted search for the gunman, a man with a history of bizarre behavior who evaded capture for more than 30 hours after the shooting.

Police said they did not know what the gunman’s motive was in opening fire at the 24-hour chain restaurant. In addition to the four deaths, two people were injured in the attack.

“We need to move on as a community and do what we can to curb this violence,” Nashville Mayor David Briley told reporters.

Reinking, who had a handgun and ammunition in his backpack when he was arrested about two miles (3 km) from the Waffle House, immediately requested a lawyer and refused to answer questions, police said. He will be taken to a hospital for a checkup before being booked.

The suspect, who was originally from Illinois before moving to Nashville, will be booked on four counts of criminal homicide, police spokesman Don Aaron said.

Reinking had multiple encounters with law enforcement in recent years, including an episode in Washington in July 2017 where he was arrested for trying to get into the White House, according to police records.

Afterwards, Illinois authorities revoked his license to carry concealed weapons, but his father broke a promise to police and gave the suspect access to guns, authorities said.

The killings in Tennessee’s capital were the latest in a string of high-profile U.S. mass shootings in which a gunman used an AR-15 rifle. A nationwide debate on gun control has intensified since Feb. 14, when a former student killed 17 people with an AR-15 at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

In Reinking’s hometown in Tazewell County, Illinois, police released incident reports about Reinking from the last couple of years. They showed he had multiple encounters with law enforcement about his delusions that people, including singer Taylor Swift, were following him.

During the shootings, the suspect was wearing only a green jacket that he shed before leaving on foot, police said. That jacket contained two clips of ammunition for the assault-style rifle used in the shootings, police and school officials said.

After Reinking’s gun license was revoked, his father told police he would lock up his son’s guns, which they said included the AR-15 rifle used in the Waffle House shooting. But the father relented and returned the weapons to his son, Nashville police said on Sunday.

Marcus Watson, an agent with the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, said Reinking’s father Jeffrey could face federal charges if he knowingly transferred weapons to a person who was prohibited from owning them.

Reinking is accused of shooting two people to death outside the restaurant around 3:30 a.m. on Sunday, and killing two inside. The suspect fled after a 29-year-old diner, James Shaw Jr., wrestled the rifle from him.

Shaw, who was grazed by a bullet during the attack, was praised by authorities for his courage, but on Sunday he denied he was a hero. “I just wanted to live,” he said.

David Hogg, a Marjory Stoneman student and prominent leader in a student movement for gun control that has emerged from the Parkland, Florida, attack, used Shaw’s example to taunt the National Rifle Association, which lobbies for gun rights, on Twitter.

“So only a good guy with a gun can stop a bad guy with a gun?” Hogg wrote in a message directed at the NRA.

An NRA representative could not immediately be reached to comment.

(Additional reporting by Rich McKay in Atlanta, Bernie Woodall in Fort Lauderdale, Florida; Jonathan Allen in New York; Editing by Frank McGurty and Jonathan Oatis)