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Renting a truck is easy, and tough for authorities to stop

Published: Wednesday, November 01, 2017 @ 1:00 PM
Updated: Wednesday, November 01, 2017 @ 1:00 PM


            A law enforcement officer walks by a crime scene Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, after a driver mowed down people on a riverfront bike path near the World Trade Center on Tuesday in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)
A law enforcement officer walks by a crime scene Wednesday, Nov. 1, 2017, after a driver mowed down people on a riverfront bike path near the World Trade Center on Tuesday in New York. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

ATLANTA (AP) — It doesn't take a firearm or a bomb to wreak havoc. All it takes is a driver's license, a valid credit card, some proof of insurance — and as little as $19.

The attack on a riverfront bike path in New York City was carried out with a pickup truck that home contractors or do-it-yourself handymen can get with no background check and little worry it will raise red flags among law enforcement.

Eight people were killed and 12 seriously injured in the Tuesday afternoon attack when, authorities say, Sayfullo Saipov, a 29-year-old from Uzbekistan, barreled along the path for more than a dozen blocks.

Angela Hrdlicka, a former Secret Service agent who is now a private security consultant, said for the attackers, the rentals are a perfect recipe to carry out attacks: easy to get, cheap and with virtually no vetting.

"It's easy to do and it's very, very difficult to defend against," she said.

Home Depot officials said in an email to The Associated Press that it does not screen renters. All of its stores require a valid driver's license, insurance information and a credit card deposit. Other rental companies, including Hertz, Enterprise and U-Haul, mention similar guidelines on their websites. In most cases, the cost to rent a truck from Home Depot or U-Haul is much cheaper than a rental car.

Matthew Harrigan, a Home Depot spokesman, said there's no thought at this time to change how the company vets people who rent their vehicles.

John Miller, deputy commissioner for New York City Police, said Wednesday that authorities are working to put together a timeline of Saipov's whereabouts leading up to the attack.

New York City has a program called "Project Shield" in which law enforcement works with businesses to help identify potential threats. It wasn't immediately known if the store where Saipov rented the vehicle had been one of visited by authorities. So far in this case, Miller said, "there was certainly nothing unusual enough to cause anybody to call."

Vehicles have been used in scores of terror attacks around the world, including the July 2016 attack in Nice, France, when a large cargo truck drove into a crowd on a promenade. Eighty-six people were killed. In March, a Hyundai sedan rammed into a crowd on Westminster Bridge in London, killing five.

In the United States, terrorists used a Ryder van to detonate a bomb at the World Trade Center in 1993. And in 1995, a rented Ryder truck was used by Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols in the Oklahoma City bombing that killed 168.

"It doesn't have to be a big vehicle," Hrdlicka said. "You can mow down just as many people almost with a minivan and a crowd like that. If you started making them do background checks on rental vehicles they could just steal one or borrow their neighbors or use their own personal vehicle. That's not going to fix the potential risk."

Anthony Schilling, an adjunct professor of homeland security at the University of New Hampshire who's been involved in security since the 1970s, called it the nightmare scenario in a lone wolf attack. Vehicles are easy to rent and aren't subject to deep background investigations. "Even if you have a record, you can still rent a vehicle."

Bruce Alexander, a security and terrorism expert, said the World Trade Center and Oklahoma City bombings proved decades ago how easy it is to use these vehicles for destructive purposes. Those attacks helped raise awareness about the easy ways one can "weaponize" commonly available tools. But there's always a balancing act.

Companies want to ensure the customer's experience is as easy and simple as possible, and that vetting of customers is time- and cost-effective.

"It is very difficult to come up with a workable cost-effective model that also fits within the constraints of civil liberties and is also practical from a business standpoint," Alexander said.

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Follow Lisa Marie Pane on Twitter at www.twitter.com/lisamariepane

Pittsburgh hospital employee accused of exposing himself to patient

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 7:18 PM

Patient Accuses Hospital Employee Of Exposing Himself

A food server at a Pittsburgh hospital is accused of exposing himself in front of a patient. 

Police said Michael Booker, 37, a dietary server at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center Mercy, approached the female patient at the walking bridge that joins the parking garage and the hospital. 

>> Read more trending news

WPXI reported that the woman told investigators Booker approached her, said something vulgar and started fondling himself. 

Booker is facing charges that include open lewdness. Officials said he has since been terminated from his position as a server. 

Booker faces a preliminary hearing next month.

Serena Williams marries Alexis Ohanian in New Orleans, reveals wedding dress

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:42 PM

Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian are reportedly married
Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly/Getty Images For Entertainment W
Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian are reportedly married(Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images For Entertainment Weekly/Getty Images For Entertainment W)

Serena Williams is officially a married woman, according to reports.

People reported that the tennis legend and her fiance, Reddit co-founder Alexis Ohanian, were married Thursday in New Orleans.

>> Read more trending news

Reports bubbled this week that the pair was getting married at the Contemporary Arts Center

E! News reported that the nuptials came two years after Ohanian and Williams began dating. They welcomed daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. in early September.

Related: Report: Serena Williams and Alexis Ohanian set to wed Thursday

On Wednesday, the pair and 100 guests reportedly attended  a rehearsal dinner at Emeril Lagasse’s Meril restaurant. Eva Longoria and Colton Hayes were among those at the dinner, as was Williams’ mother, Oracene Price, and sister, Venus Williams.

Williams’ wedding gown was seen being brought into the city the same day.

What You Didn’t Know about Serena Williams

Williams posted a caption-free image of her in a ball gown silhouette wedding dress on Instagram Friday. 

“Entertainment Tonight” reported that Beyonce, Venus Williams, Kelly Rowland, Lala Anthony, Kim Kardashian and Ciara were among the famous wedding guests. According to an ET source, daughter Alexis Olympia was also in attendance. 

Related: Serena Williams welcomes baby girl with fiance Alexis Ohanian

Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena Williams’ tennis coach, offered the couple congratulations in an Instagram post on Thursday.

“I send you all my positive feelings for that very special day. I wish you a very happy wedding, a fantastic party and a full life of happiness,” he captioned the post.

Trump delays lifting ban on import of elephant trophies from Africa

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:37 PM
Updated: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 8:37 PM



Cameron Spencer/Getty Images
(Cameron Spencer/Getty Images)

Update (Friday, November 17)

President Donald Trump said in a tweet Friday he’s delaying a new policy allowing the body parts of African elephants shot for sport to be imported until he can review “all conservation facts.”

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service said Thursday that it will allow the importation of body parts from African elephants shot for sport. The agency said encouraging wealthy big-game hunters to kill the threatened species would help raise money for conservation programs.

Animal rights advocates and environmental groups criticized the decision. On Friday, the Republican chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee urged the administration to reverse the policy, calling it the “wrong move at the wrong time.”

Trump said that the policy had been “under study for years.” He says he will review the issue with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Earlier

The Trump administration plans to lift a ban on Friday that barred big game hunters from bringing trophies from elephants killed in a pair of African nations to America, according to multiple reports.

>> Read more trending news

A spokesperson for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service told ABC News in a statement Wednesday that the decision was made after officials in Zimbabwe and Zambia provided them with information to support a reversal of the ban.

"Legal, well-regulated sport hunting as part of a sound management program can benefit the conservation of certain species by providing incentives to local communities to conserve the species and by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation," the spokesperson told ABC News.

The decision will overturn a 2014 ban implemented by President Barack Obama’s administration in response to falling elephant populations. 

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act. A provision in the act, however, allows for the government to give permits that let people import trophies from such animals if evidence shows that hunting them helps conservation efforts, according to NBC News.

The rule reversal will apply to elephants hunted in Zimbabwe from Jan. 21, 2016, to Dec. 31, 2018, the news station reported. It will also apply to elephants killed in Zambia in 2016, 2017 and 2018 and “applications that meet all other applicable permitting requirements,” a Fish and Wildlife spokesperson told NBC News.

According to the 2016 Great Elephant Census, Savanna elephant populations fell by 30 percent between 2007 and 2014. About 352,000 elephants were spotted during the survey, 82,300 in Zimbabwe and 21,700 in Zambia.

Both countries had areas that saw substantial declines in elephant populations along the Zambezi river in Zambia and in Zimbabwe’s Sebungwe region, according to the census.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Expert details how to best handle an active shooter situation

Published: Friday, November 17, 2017 @ 9:34 PM

Terrence Brown (WPXI.com)
Terrence Brown (WPXI.com)

Mass shootings have been becoming more common in America, with one happening nearly every week. But have you considered what to do if you're in a dangerous situation with someone opening fire and attacking you? 

>> Read more trending news

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security released a video recommending "run, hide, fight" for active shooter situations.

WPXI sat down with security expert Terrence Brown, who trains people and companies on how to handle emergencies.

"So, running's fine, but the issue with running ... is that you need to know where you're running to," said Brown.

Brown is retired from the U.S. military and is a former Pittsburgh police officer. He said a lot of people instinctively "fight, flight and freeze" in a crisis, which is understandable, but not good.

"You're fighting yourself. You're in disbelief that this is actually happening," said Brown.

Brown said it's important to be prepared and have a plan. That means before running, you should identify a safe place to shelter. David Johnson and Brown walked through WPXI, with Brown identifying what to look for: rooms and doors with no glass, and rooms that open to the inside, so they can be barricaded against an intruder.

When it comes to going to large outdoor events, it's just as important to be prepared.

"Get to know the areas, get to know the buildings that will be open late," said Brown. "To my right, I see a parking garage ... multiple levels, so that's wonderful."

Good places to run and hide are thick and solid, and don't have glass. That provides you safety from someone firing a gun at ground level or from up above. And when you're at an event where everyone is focused on one thing, like a performer, force yourself to look away and scan the crowd every once in a while.

Brown said it's all about awareness, whether in your workplace, in any other building or outdoors, especially where there are large crowds. 

As for the last recommendation, fight, that's for when all else fails. In that case, you're trying to save your life, and the lives of others, in any way you can.