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Witness to Martin Luther King Jr. assassination speaks out 50 years later

Published: Tuesday, April 03, 2018 @ 6:27 PM

What You Need To Know: Martin Luther King Jr.

Mary Ellen Ford was a 21-year-old cook at Memphis’ Lorraine Motel in April 1968, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. checked in for the last time.

King, who was in town to help lead striking sanitation workers, was one of a bevy of prominent black Americans who stayed at the Lorraine over the years. The motel, owned by Walter and Loree Bailey, was a safe place for prominent African-Americans to stay in the segregated South. 

One of the motel’s most distinguished guests was the iconic civil rights leader. 

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“Mr. Bailey would be running around, ‘Get this room straightened up because Dr. King is coming,’” Ford told “Today” this week -- speaking out publicly about her experiences for the first time in five decades. 

“He just wanted to make sure everything was perfect.”

>> Related: Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 

Ford, known in 1968 as Mary Ellen Norwood, told “Today” she loved her job at the motel, where she got to see celebrity guests like B.B. King, Aretha Franklin and, her favorite, Isaac Hayes.

She also had occasion to spot King as he came and went about his business in Memphis. On one occasion, she delivered a tray of hamburgers to him and the other civil rights leaders gathered with him in his hotel room, Room 306.

The Rev. Ralph Abernathy, King’s good friend and Southern Christian Leadership Conference colleague, once joked that the pair stayed in that particular hotel room so much that they called it the “King-Abernathy suite.” 

Pictured is the interior of Room 306 of the former Lorraine Motel, where the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was staying on April 4, 1968, when an assassin's bullet took his life as King stood on the balcony outside the door. The former motel, along with the rooming house from which the fatal shot was fired, are now part of the National Civil Rights Museum, which has kept the room as King and his friend and colleague, Rev. Ralph Abernathy, left it that day.((AP Photo/Greg Campbell))

“When I took the tray in, I set it on the table,” Ford said. “He was laying on the bed … smoking a cigarette, ‘cause he smoked.”

Ford said she was cooking in the kitchen of the motel just after 6 p.m. April 4 when the crack of a rifle shot pierced the night. 

“At first, I thought it was firecrackers, you know? People shooting off firecrackers,” Ford said in her interview. “Then we all ran outside to see what was going on, and he was laying on the balcony.”

An iconic photo taken moments after the assassination shows King lying at his associates’ feet on that balcony, dying, as several of them frantically point police officers in the direction from which the gunfire came. A small group of stunned onlookers is down below.

Ford can be seen in that group, her arms crossed in front of her. 

“I’m standing there. I’m just dumbfounded, you know?” she said. “Shocked, like, ‘What just happened? This don’t happen here.’” 

Mary Ellen Ford, highlighted in oval, was a cook at the Lorraine Motel on April 4, 1968, when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was struck down by an assassin's bullet as he stood on the balcony outside his room, Room 306. Ford, who is pictured in the background of an iconic photo taken moments after the assassination, spoke out publicly for the first time this week as the nation prepares to observe the 50th anniversary of King's assassination.((Joseph Louw/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images))

Ford crumpled into a ball in her chair, crying as the emotional memories got to her. She told “Today” that other than a few close family members, she never told anyone she was at the Lorraine Motel the night King died. 

Her own brother did not know she was there that night until about five years ago. 

“After all these years, you still get emotional,” NBC’s Craig Melvin said

“Yes,” Ford said. “I guess because I never even talked about it. Because I do, I get so emotional.”

It was later determined that escaped convict James Earl Ray shot King with a high-powered hunting rifle from the window of a rooming house less than 300 feet away, the Washington Post reported. A bag holding the gun, a radio with Ray’s prison inmate number scratched on it and a six-pack of beer, all bearing Ray’s fingerprints, were found dumped on a sidewalk nearby. 

Ford described the chaos following the shooting, with people screaming and shouting, “They shot Dr. King! Somebody shot Dr. King!”

“That’s all you could hear,” she told “Today.” 

The Rev. Jesse Jackson stands on the balcony at the Lorraine Motel where the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated on April 4, 1968, in Memphis, Tenn. Jackson was at the motel when King, who was staying in Room 306, was struck down by a sniper's bullet. The former motel, along with the rooming house from which the shot was fired, are now part of the National Civil Rights Museum.((AP Photo/Mark Humphrey))

Ford, who was listed in police logs as “Witness No. 43,” and other employees were kept locked down at the motel for three days as the investigation progressed. Ford said she and her coworkers initially didn’t think King would die of his wounds.

“You didn’t. Why?” Melvin asked.

“He can’t,” she said.

Ford said she prefers not to relive the tragedy she witnessed at the Lorraine Motel, which, along with the boarding house Ray fired from, has been turned into the National Civil Rights Museum. Instead, she recalls the reaction of Memphis residents when they knew King was in town and staying at the motel.

“The thing that really stands out to me the most is seeing all these people sitting on the brick wall, waiting to get a glimpse of Dr. King,” she told “Today.”

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Man tries to hire hitman to kill ex-wife for $10,000, Hawks tickets

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 @ 11:14 PM

Michael McEarchern, a Cobb County man man in Bartow County jail, promised $10,000 and two Atlanta Hawks tickets to anyone who would kill his ex-wife and her current boyfriend.
Bartow County Sheriff's Office
Michael McEarchern, a Cobb County man man in Bartow County jail, promised $10,000 and two Atlanta Hawks tickets to anyone who would kill his ex-wife and her current boyfriend.(Bartow County Sheriff's Office)

An Acworth inmate promised $10,000 and two Atlanta Hawks tickets to anyone who would kill his ex-wife and her current boyfriend. Word got around, including to an FBI informant.

>> Read more trending news 

Michael Lawrence Dane McEarchern, 29, was sentenced to 10 years in prison Monday, according to federal court documents.

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McEarchern was in Bartow County jail during October on drug charges when he started circulating his the word that he wanted to hire a hitman.

The FBI found out from the confidential informant and they had McEarchern send a $800 down payment to a P.O. box in late November to see if he was serious, according to federal court records. His girlfriend at the time sent the money for him.

McEarchern told the would-be assassin where his ex-wife lived in Smyrna, what the best time of day would be to find her, and the name of the barbershop where the current boyfriend worked.

>> Trending : Atlanta mayor racks up nearly $12,000 in limousine tab in less than 5 months

McEarchern was indicted on charges in the murder-for-hire plot at the start of the year. He pleaded guilty and was convicted in late April.

Federal court documents show he’ll have three years of supervised release after prison.

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Video shows black bear snarfing down family’s picnic in Georgia

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 @ 10:22 PM

(WSBTV.com)
(WSBTV.com)

A bear made a beeline for a picnic table in Pickens County, Georgia. The incident was caught on camera, WSB-TV reported.

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Video shows black bear snarfing down family’s picnic in Georgia.

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The large female black bear can be seen in the video climbing onto the picnic table and grabbing a package of hot dogs buns at the Big Canoe community in Jasper.

The family was unable to scare the bear off, according to WSB-TV.

“(The bear is) not afraid of people, so the last thing I want is a child sitting there eating a sandwich, and the bear decides he wanted that sandwich first,” community general manager Jill Philmon said.

The bear turned out to be a mother with three little cubs nearby. State wildlife biologists said the bears have probably been fed by people or have gotten used to eating out of the residents’ trash cans. 

The Department of Natural Resources told the news station they have set some traps to attempt to catch the bears if they continue to return for food.

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Atlanta mayor racks up nearly $12,000 in limousine tab in less than 5 months

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 @ 11:01 PM

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  
Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence
Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms speaks onstage during the 2018 Essence Festival presented by Coca-Cola at Ernest N. Morial Convention Center on July 7, 2018 in New Orleans, Louisiana. (Paras Griffin/Getty Images for Essence)

Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms has spent nearly $12,000 of taxpayer money on limousines in just five months, according to an investigation by WSB-TV and the  Atlanta Journal-Constitution and AJC.com.

>> Read more trending news 

An Atlanta City Hall spokesperson said that you can’t put a price tag on the mayor’s safety, calling Bottoms’ use of a

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luxury car service “an expedient solution that had already been assessed for safety.”

Through an open records request into Bottoms’ city-issued credit card statements, the WSB/AJC investigation found 27 separate charges to Carey Limousine during out of town trips. The average bill was $431.

There was a $3,900 charge in April. The city said the limo company billed the city late for services during the Super Bowl in Minneapolis and the company may have mistakenly kept the car on standby status during a day-long event.

“The public will have to be the judge as to whether they think that’s excessive or not,” City Council President Felicia Moore said.

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Bottoms’ monthly limo spending is outpacing former Mayor Kasim Reed.

Reed’s bills show more than $28,000 spent with Carey Limousine, but that was over his final three years in office. Reed’s average charge was about $200.

“If Mayor Bottoms wants her administration’s legacy to be a ‘we’re too greedy to care,’ then they’re off to a great start,” said former federal prosecutor Jeff Brickman.

In a written statement, a city spokesperson said, “Mayor Bottoms relied heavily upon the procedures previously used, including the use of a secure and vetted car service. As the use of the service was being examined by the Bottoms’ administration, a significant increase in the trajectory of the costs over the course of those first few months was noted. She immediately began to explore alternative methods of ground conveyance.”

Our review of credit card statements for members of Bottoms’ executive protection unit showed they booked about a dozen far cheaper out-of-town Uber and Lyft trips in April and May. 

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That’s a trend Brickman hopes will continue.

“If you really want to be transparent, and you really want to separate and distinguish yourself from the previous administration, show us, you know, ways that you are really meaning what you’re saying. Do it. Don’t just say it,” Brickman said.

The city said the best use of ground transportation will be determined on a case-by-case basis.

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Parents file lawsuit after daughter drowns when she’s swept over dangerous dam while kayaking

Published: Tuesday, July 17, 2018 @ 10:29 PM

The Dashields Locks and Dam is located along the Ohio River, north of Sewickley in Moon Township, Pennsylvania
U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/via Wikicommons
The Dashields Locks and Dam is located along the Ohio River, north of Sewickley in Moon Township, Pennsylvania(U.S. Army Corps of Engineers/via Wikicommons)

The parents of a kayaker who drowned after she was swept over a dam on the Ohio River last year are suing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

>> Read more trending news 

Brittany Evans and Helene Brandy, both 25 years old, were killed when they went over the Dashields Dam in May of 2017. 

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The dam is located along the Ohio River, north of Sewickley in Moon Township, Pennsylvania.

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Evans' parents have now filed a wrongful death lawsuit.

"Too many people are losing their lives on that river. We wanna be part of the process to correct that," said Helene's uncle, Ken Brandy. 

According to the lawyer who filed the federal lawsuit, Evan's parents are echoing those concerns. The couple contends the Army Corps of Engineers has not provided adequate warnings about the dangerous Dashields Dam to boaters and kayakers.

The lawsuit is asking for more warning signs along the river.

Evans' family is also asking for earnings potential and damages for pain and suffering.

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