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Published: Tuesday, January 16, 2018 @ 10:27 PM
— A Georgia man who poured gasoline on his ex-girlfriend and set her on fire was sentenced to life in prison with the possibility for parole, according to the Clayton County District Attorney’s office.
Mervin Woodard, 40, was found guilty of multiple felonies in the 2016 crime, which left Melita Curtis in a coma for two weeks. Curtis was burned over 25 percent of her body, but survived the attack. Six months before burning Curtis, Woodard also beat the woman, according to prosecutors.
In the first incident, Woodard beat Curtis, put a knife to her throat and forced her to drive to an ATM to withdraw $600, the DA’s office said. Curtis told police that Woodard threatened to burn her house down with her inside.
Then on June 1, 2016, Curtis came home from work and Woodard was waiting for her, prosecutors said. Curtis tried to run, but Woodard pulled her inside, threw gasoline on her and set her on fire, she told investigators. Woodard put out the fire with a plastic sink sprayer, then drove Curtis to Grady Memorial Hospital and dropped her off. Woodard was later found hiding in the woman’s home and was arrested.
Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:54 PM
NEW YORK — Two New York state troopers are being credited with an immense kindness after they paid for the flight of a young woman to Florida to say goodbye to her friend, one of the 17 victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School massacre.
Jordana Judson, 23, told NBC News that she was devastated to learn that her childhood friend, Meadow Pollack, was among the victims of the Valentine’s Day shooting at her alma mater. Former Stoneman Douglas student Nikolas Cruz, 19, is accused of killing 14 students and three faculty members with an AR-15 rifle.
Pollack, an 18-year-old senior, and Judson were lifelong friends, NBC News reported.
“They were like our second family our whole lives,” Judson said of the Pollacks.
Judson said she showed up at LaGuardia Airport on Thursday, the day after the shooting, frantic to get a flight home to Florida, where she’d grown up.
“As soon as I got out of the car at the airport, I started hysterically crying,” she said.
Troopers Robert Troy and Thomas Karasinski spotted the distraught young woman and asked if she was all right. She tearfully explained that a friend was killed in the school shooting in Florida and that she needed help figuring out where to buy her ticket.
The troopers led her inside to the JetBlue counter, where an agent told her a one-way ticket to Florida would be almost $700, Judson told the news station. Unable to afford the cost, she begged the agent to lower the price or allow her a bereavement discount.
The agent could not accommodate her, and was about to give the ticket to another passenger when Troy and Karasinski stepped in.
“I look up, and the state troopers are standing there and they’re both handing over their credit cards,” Judson told NBC News. “I’m telling them that they don’t have to do this. This is crazy. They said, ‘It’s already done. We want you to be home with their families.’”
A rabbi who sat Shiva with the Pollack family confirmed that Judson made it home to be with the family and to attend Meadow’s funeral on Friday, where the Miami Herald reported that she was described as a star with “a smile like sunshine.”
Meadow’s father, Andrew Pollack, and her older brother, Hunter, both lamented the fact that they couldn’t protect her when she needed them.
“This piece of (expletive) killed my kid, and I couldn’t do anything about it,” Andrew Pollack said, according to the Herald. “That’s never happened to me in my life. I’m always able to protect my family in any situation.”
Hunter Pollack said he always looked out for his sister.
“I wanted to be the over-supportive brother my whole life, and I feel like I failed,” Hunter said. “So all I can do is hope that (her killer) gets what he deserves.”
Judson told NBC News that the troopers’ gesture to get her to the funeral made her heart “full and heavy at the same time.”
New York State Police Superintendent George P. Beach II told the news station in a statement that, as law enforcement officials, all troopers take an oath to protect and serve.
“We also instill in our members the importance of acting with respect and empathy for the people they encounter,” Beach said.
Troy told the news station that he sympathized with Judson’s dilemma.
“The sense of just being there for your family and friends, you want to be there for them,” Troy said. “You’re going to go through anything to get there.”
Explaining that he has five younger sisters, the trooper said it was a “sigh of relief” to be able to help Judson.
Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:21 PM
Updated: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 5:21 PM
ATLANTA — An Uber Eats driver who police said shot and killed a customer turned himself in Monday afternoon.
According to WSB-TV, Robert Bivens, 37, arrived at the jail with his attorney. The Atlanta Police Department's Homicide Unit secured an arrest warrant for felony murder Monday.
The shooting happened Saturday night at a condominium on Pharr Road in Buckhead, Georgia.
Police said Ryan Thornton ordered food from Uber Eats and the driver delivered the food around 11:30 p.m. At some point, authorities said words were exchanged between Thornton and the driver.
The Uber Eats driver then shot the 30-year-old, police said.
Thornton died at Grady Memorial Hospital.
Uber said in a statement on Monday, saying Bivens no longer has access to the app:
“We are shocked and saddened by this senseless act of violence and our hearts go out to Ryan’s friends and family. We have been working with the Atlanta Police Department, and the driver can no longer access the app.”
A spokesperson for Uber told WSB-TV Bivens passed a background check and had only been an Uber Eats driver for about a week. Bivens was an Uber Eats delivery partner only and did not drive passengers.
Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 12:34 PM
ARVADA, Colo. — Leyana had planned her birthday to a T. She even picked the right outfit. Then, the waiting began. Despite handing out invitations to everyone in Leyana’s class, no one showed up for the first-grader’s party, except for the actress who was hired to portray Elsa from Disney’s “Frozen.”
Now, Lindsay Robert, who has been dressing up as Elsa and appearing at birthday parties, has reached out on Facebook to tell Leyana’s story.
"It was soul crushing. When I open the door, I’m used to all the kids running up to me. But she was just all by herself. Just looking down. Just so sad and she just launched herself into my arms,” Robert told KDVR.
During the time she was scheduled to arrive, there was supposed to be a house-full of kids. But it was only Leyana so she and Robert danced, sang and formed a friendship, KDVR reported.
“I wasn’t kidding when I told you that every princess is smart and brave and kind, and you are all those things,” Robert told Leyana while KDVR videotaped the pair’s reunion.
Robert took to Facebook to tell Leyana’s heartbreaking story. Not only is she sending a fairy garden to the little girl, “Because Elsa will never let you down,” she also visited Leyana with her “sister,” an actress playing Anna, and is planning another surprise for the 7-year-old.
Published: Monday, February 19, 2018 @ 2:33 PM
PARKLAND, Fla. — Peter Wang died proudly wearing his gray JROTC uniform, holding open doors so several of his classmates could escape the gunfire at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School last week.
Though those classmates made it, Peter did not. And now, a White House petition has been established seeking full military honors at the burial of the 15-year-old freshman who was among 17 people killed in the Valentine’s Day school shooting.
As of Monday morning, the petition had reached just over 23,000 signatures. A petition must reach 100,000 signatures to get a response from the White House.
The petition states that Peter was last seen, in uniform, holding doors open so that other students, teachers and staff members could escape.
“His selfless and heroic actions have led to the survival of dozens in the area,” the petition states. “Wang died a hero, and deserves to be treated as such, and deserves a full honors military burial.”
Friends of the teen said they want people to know how selfless he was, according to WPLG News 10 in Pembroke Park.
“I want people to know that he died a hero; that he died saving many people,” friend and classmate Aiden Ortiz told the news station.
His selflessness extended into his everyday actions, classmate Rachel Kuperman said. She recalled the last time she saw Peter, the day before he was slain.
“I forgot my lunch that day, and he went to the vending machine with me and he bought me Sprite and candy and snacks,” Rachel said. “He put others before himself.”
Fox News reported that it would take government intervention for Peter to receive a military funeral, since JROTC does not provide basic training and thus does not count as military service. JROTC, or the Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, is a federal program for middle and high school students that focuses on citizenship, service to the community and country and personal achievement.
Peter was not the only JROTC cadet credited with springing into action that day. Colton Haab, a junior at Stoneman Douglas, heard gunshots and ushered several dozen people into the JROTC room.
There, he and other cadets grabbed Kevlar sheets used for marksmanship practice and held them up in front of the students huddled together.
“We took those sheets and we put them in front of everybody so they weren’t seen, because they were behind a solid object and the Kevlar would slow the bullet down,” Colton told CNN the day after the shooting. “I didn’t think it was going to stop it, but it would definitely slow it down to make it from a catastrophic to a lifesaving thing.”
Peter’s cousin, Aaron Chen, described him to the Miami Herald as brave, while Peter’s best friend, Gabriel Ammirata, said he was “funny, nice and a great friend.”
“He’s been my best friend since third grade,” Gabriel told the Herald.
Gabriel planned to celebrate Chinese New Year with Peter the day after the shooting at the Chinese restaurant Peter’s family owns, the Herald reported. Instead, he and members of Peter’s family started the new day frantically searching for information on Peter’s whereabouts.
The teen’s parents speak Mandarin and very little English.
Jesse Pan, a neighbor of Peter’s, has been sharing information about him and his funeral arrangements on social media. Peter’s family has a funeral planned for Tuesday at Kraeer Funeral Home, in Coral Springs.
An obituary on the funeral home’s website reiterates Peter’s ultimate sacrifice in the face of danger.
“He loved being in the JROTC and planned on attending (the) United States Military Academy at West Point,” the obituary read.
Peter loved the Houston Rockets, hip-hop music, playing basketball and spending time with friends. He also aspired to become a world-renowned chef.
He is survived by his parents and two younger brothers.
A GoFundMe page created to help his family with expenses exceeded its $15,000 goal in just three days.