Your News Companion by Ben Mathis-Lilley

Aug. 28 2014 3:36 PM

Painkiller Overdoses Up Considerably in New York City Since 2000

Overdose deaths involving painkillers are up more than 250% in New York City since the beginning of the century, the city's health department reported in data released today, though the number of drug overdose deaths overall has stayed relatively stable.

In the year 2000, only 59 overdose deaths in the city involved "opiod analgesics," i.e. painkillers like Percocet and Vicodin. In 2013, that number was 215. (The word "involved" is used rather than "caused" because many victims of drug OD's have multiple substances in their system.) Wealthy neighborhoods had the highest rates of painkiller-involved OD's, the report said.

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The number of total drug overdose deaths has generally stayed in the 600-800 range in the city since 2000—which is perhaps unusual given that drug overdose rates in the cocuntry as a whole have been steadily rising for decades.

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Aug. 28 2014 1:37 PM

Retired Marine, in Uniform, Becomes Unofficial  Elementary School Crossing Guard

It's been a rough summer, but here's something nice about retired Marine Cpl. Lewis Alston of Lancaster, Pennsylvania:

...when the school year started on Monday, Alston, who is a chaplain for the Lancaster County Marine Corps League, headed to the school and saw that they didn’t have a crossing guard at one busy intersection. Because he had been at a funeral service that day, Alston was still wearing his marine uniform.
“I had my uniform on, and I thought, ‘Wouldn't it be a golden opportunity for the students to see a marine help them cross the street?’” the former truck driver said.
Every day since then, Alston has gone to the school in his uniform in the mornings and afternoons when he can to walk the children safely across the street.

The chief of police tells ABC News he supports Alston's efforts. A school representative says another group of community volunteers helps guide students through a local park.

Here's video of Alston in action.

Go out and do something nice for someone today!

Aug. 28 2014 11:46 AM

Minnesota Father of Nine Killed Fighting for ISIS in Syria

Another American, Abdirahmaan Muhumed, has been killed fighting on behalf of ISIS in Syria. Muhumed was from Minnesota; Douglas McAuthur McCain, whose death in Syria was reported Tuesday, attended high school in Minnesota, though it's not clear whether the two men knew each other.

Minnesota Public Radio reported earlier in the summer that Muhumed was among the group of "as many as 15" Americans of Somali ancestry who had left the Twin Cities to fight in Syria:

"A Muslim has to stand up for [what's] right," Muhumed, 29, wrote in a Jan. 2 [Facebook] post. "I give up this worldly life for Allah."
Muhumed, who claims he wants to save the global Muslim community, said if that causes others to consider him a terrorist, he is "happy with it." He asked Allah to forgive him and to "make my mom strong for the decision that I made."

One man told a Twin Cities Fox affiliate that women are being recruited as well:

According to Abdi Bihi, a leader in the local Somali community, ISIS has recently begun trying to recruit young women from the Twin Cities to their cause as well.
"They are brainwashing them to marry them off to jihadists," he said. "They call them to help out as nurses, help out the wounded -- but the real catch is they will be sexually exploited."

Muhumed leaves behind nine children.

Aug. 28 2014 10:31 AM

Tsarnaev Sister Charged With Making a Bomb Threat

The sister of accused Boston Marathon bombers Dzokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev has been charged with aggravated harrassment for making a bomb threat against the mother of her boyfriend's children, the New York Post reports:

Ailina Tsarnaeva, who lives in North Bergen, NJ, allegedly phoned the woman at her Harlem home on Monday and warned her to keep her distance or face explosive consequences.
“Leave us alone. I know people who can put a bomb on you,” Tsarnaeva, 23, allegedly said.

Tsarnaeva turned herself in to police after the threat was reported and has since been released.

The article says she was charged with obstruction in 2011 for allegedly lying to police who believed she was connected to individuals suspected of using counterfeit money to pay for a meal at an Applebee's in Dorchester, Massachusetts. That charge was dismissed.

Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed while attempting to evade arrest. Dzokhar Tsarnaev is still awaiting trial.

Aug. 27 2014 8:31 PM

USC Football Player Admits Lying About Injuring Himself While Saving Drowning Nephew

The University of Southern California announced on Wednesday that cornerback Josh Shaw lied when he said he injured himself over the weekend while rescuing his 7-year-old nephew from drowning in a pool. USC released a statement saying Shaw “said that the story he told of rescuing his nephew in a pool in Palmdale, Calif., was a complete fabrication… He apologized for misleading his coaches, teammates, athletic department officials and the public.”

The reversal by the Trojans’ senior team captain came after he told USC coaches he sustained the injury this way (via CBS Sports):

Shaw was at a family social function when he saw his 7-year-old nephew, who cannot swim, in distress in a pool. Shaw lept from a second-floor balcony and injured himself landing on the concrete below. He then crawled into the pool and got his nephew out safely.

“I would do it again for whatever kid it was, it did not have to be my nephew,” Shaw said on Monday in a release. “That was a heroic act by Josh, putting his personal safety aside,” USC head coach Steve Sarkisian said of Shaw's story in a statement earlier this week. “But that's the kind of person he is. It is unfortunate that he'll be sidelined for a while and we will miss his leadership and play, but I know he'll be working hard to get back on the field as soon as possible.”

Discrepancies over Shaw’s version of events, however, caused the school to take another look at the player’s account. On Wednesday, USC announced Shaw had fabricated the story, suspending him indefinitely from the football team. Shaw’s attorney, Donald Etra, told USA Today “Shaw fell from a balcony on Saturday night August 3rd in Los Angeles and injured both of his ankles.”

“We are extremely disappointed in Josh,” Sarkisian said in a statement. “He let us all down. As I have said, nothing in his background led us to doubt him when he told us of his injuries, nor did anything after our initial vetting of his story. I appreciate that Josh has now admitted that he lied and has apologized.”

Aug. 27 2014 7:41 PM

The NRA Just Tweeted Instructions for “7 Ways Children Can Have Fun at the Shooting Range”

No matter the size of the gun-related tragedy, the NRA doesn’t normally let common decency get in the way of an opportunity to promote all things gun-related. Wednesday evening, however, NRA Women showed a new level of tastelessness, bordering on taunting, when it tweeted out this ill-timed story.

The problem—aside from the obvious potential problem of children playing with guns—is one of timing, and general respect for those affected by a particularly tragic shooting death where a 9-year-old girl accidentally shot her shooting instructor after losing control while firing an Uzi at an Arizona shooting range. The story mentioned in the now-deleted tweet comes from the Women’s Outdoor Network and was posted last week, before the Arizona shooting. “[I]f children continually shoot the same bull’s-eye target, they can become tired, exhausted or bored,” the story reads. “Sometimes they want, or rather need, to have fun at the range. That’s when it’s time to introduce other types of targets to change things up, so children have fun at the range.”

Aug. 27 2014 6:30 PM

Texas Monthly Profiles a Woman Who Has Seen 278 Executions

Michelle Lyons currently works in public relations for a company in Houston. Her last job was as spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, and before that she was a reporter who covered the prison system. In those capacities, she witnessed 276 men and two women executed by the state of Texas, and she's spoken about the weight of that experience to reporter Pamela Colloff for a new Texas Monthly story

Colloff quotes from a kind of audio journal recording that Lyons made:

“I support the death penalty,” she began. “I believe that there are some crimes that are so heinous that the only way you can truly pay your debt to society is with your life.” She spoke with the same deliberation she had used when addressing reporters outside the Walls after high-profile executions. “But in other cases, I feel very conflicted,” she added. “There are men I watched die that I don’t think should have.” A piece of folk art she had picked up on a trip to Austin—an evil-eye charm to ward off bad spirits—bobbed from her rearview mirror. “I thought being away from the prison system would make me think about it less, but it’s been quite the opposite,” she continued. “I think about it all the time.”

It's not a particularly sensational or political piece. But it is a detailed, literally up-close account of exactly what the death penalty is.

She noted in particular the small courtesies that the prison staff extended to the condemned, as when the warden ensured that a pillow be placed at the head of the gurney so the inmate would be more comfortable, or when the chaplain placed his hand on the right leg of the restrained prisoner, just below the knee, to reassure him during his final moments. Later, as Michelle went about her job as TDCJ’s spokesperson, the incongruous civility of these gestures would never be far from her mind.

Lyons and her old prison-system boss, Larry Fitzgerald, both told Colloff that they think often about the people they've seen killed; Fitzgerald has dreams about them.

"It’s just that when you look at that number," Lyons tells Colloff about all the executions she witnessed, "it’s a lot of death."

Aug. 27 2014 6:14 PM

Cops Shoot and Kill Crew Member of Cops TV Show While Filming Robbery Attempt

A crew member of the TV show Cops was inadvertently shot and killed while taping Omaha police officers attempt to breakup a robbery, Omaha police said on Wednesday. Police officers returned fire when a suspect shot what turned out to be a pellet gun during a robbery at a Wendy’s on Tuesday night. At least 30 shots were fired during the confrontation, the Omaha World Herald reports, one of which struck Cops sound technician Bryce Dion. The 38-year-old was wearing a bulletproof vest while trailing officers during the robbery, but, according to police, “a single bullet that hit his arm ‘slipped into a gap in the vest’ and entered his chest,” the Associated Press reports.

Here’s more from the AP:

The suspect fired from the pellet gun before officers returned fire, Police Chief Todd Schmaderer said at a news conference. He said witnesses and officers thought the robbery suspect's Airsoft handgun looked and sounded real, but discovered later that it fires only plastic pellets. The suspect was struck by the officers' gunfire, but fled outside of the restaurant before collapsing.
Schmaderer said video captured by another crew member of the "Cops" TV show shows the chaotic situation in the restaurant … Schmaderer said the incident began when one of the officers, on his way to another reported robbery, called about the robbery at the Wendy's and requested backup. The "Cops" crew members were with two officers who responded to that request. When police entered the restaurant and confronted the suspect, Dion, who was the sound operator, got separated from the cameraman, Schmaderer said.

Dion and the suspect were both killed; neither the cameraman nor any police officers were injured during the shooting. The reality TV show has been filming in Omaha throughout the summer and Schmaderer “had hoped that the TV show’s taping of Omaha police in action would improve relations with community members,” according to the World Herald. CNN’s Brian Stelter reports Dion is “believed to be the first member of the 'Cops' production staff killed in the 25-year history of the television show.”

Aug. 27 2014 3:54 PM

Soldier Who Shot Herself at Fort Lee Had Served for 13 Years, Including Iraq Tour

The Army has released information on the female soldier who shot herself Monday morning in an office on the grounds of Fort Lee in Virginia. The woman, Sgt. Paula M. Walker, died after being taken to a hospital. From the Army's statement, via The Wire:

Walker’s hometown of record is Yonkers, N.Y. She served on active duty for nearly 14 years after enlisting in September 2000. Prior to Fort Lee, Walker served at Fort Devens, Mass., starting in 2010 and Fort Eustis starting in 2006, among other installations.
Her career included a 15-month combat tour in Iraq in support of Operation Iraqi Freedom from 2007-2008.

The statement said Walker was a human resources specialist, though it isn't clear whether that was always her role in the service. (Human resource specialists can be deployed in combat.) Army Maj. Gen. Stephen Lyons told reporters that Walker had thrown objects in a "rampage" and spoken with negotiators who'd arrived on scene before shooting herself.

Walker was 33.

Aug. 27 2014 2:23 PM

Al-Qaida-Linked Rebels Helped Seize a Syria-Israel Border Crossing, Which Seems Bad

Rebels "including fighters from an al-Qaida-linked group" have taken control of the Syrian side of a border crossing with Israel, the Associated Press reports:

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said an array of rebel fighters, including from the al-Qaida-linked Nusra Front and the Western-backed Free Syrian Army, took the crossing after heavy fighting that left at least 20 Syrian soldiers and an unknown number of rebels dead.

A representative for the Western-backed rebel faction says his group has no interest in attacking Israel.

One Israeli officer was injured by errant fire, Israel says, and its forces responded by firing at Syrian government positions.

The crossing in question is in the Golan Heights, at the edge of an area seized by Israel during the Six-Day War in 1967 and claimed unilaterally in 1981. The border line is not officially recognized internationally, but is monitored by U.N. forces.

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