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Guardrail Manufacturer to Halt Device Sales Amid Safety Concerns


zebra3/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Trinity Industries is halting sales of its controversial ET-Plus guardrail system, a device meant to protect motorists across the country that instead has been blamed by accident victims for dozens of injuries and deaths.

The move came late Friday in response to a request by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to conduct crash tests on the device or face suspension of its eligibility for sale. Earlier this week Trinity lost a civil trial in Texas in which the jury found the company had defrauded the government by misrepresenting changes made to the guardrail nearly a decade ago.

“In light of FHWA’s request, the right thing to do is to stop shipping the product until the additional testing has been completed,” Gregg Mitchell, President of Trinity Highway Products, wrote in a press release. "We have confidence in the ET-Plus System as designed and crash tested by Texas A&M Transportation Institute. It has met all tests previously requested by FHWA. We take the safety of the products we manufacture very seriously."

The company says it will work with the FHWA on further crash testing and will not ship any more ET-Plus units until testing is completed.

The announcement came at the end of a week that saw more states suspend the installation of the popular end terminal pending further investigation, a demand by the FHWA to further crash test the ET-Plus, and a mammoth jury verdict in the federal whistleblower case in Marshall, Texas. In that case, Trinity was found to have defrauded the federal government and has been ordered to pay $175 million.

At the center of the case were modifications made by Trinity Industries in 2005 to the design of guardrail end terminals used alongside many roads from coast to coast, and the company’s failure at the time to disclose all the changes to the federal government or any state transportation departments.

The modified guardrail, called the ET-Plus, was the subject of an ABC News 20/20 investigation in September that looked into allegations from crash victims that the modified guardrail can malfunction when struck from the front by their vehicles’. Rather than ribboning out and absorbing the impact as designed, the guardrails “locked up” and speared straight through the cars, severing the motorists’ limbs in some cases.

The whistleblower in the case against Trinity, a competitor of the company's who uncovered damning documents indicating the company made the changes to its guardrail end terminal to save money, told ABC News Saturday that he believes the company's decision to stop selling the ET-Plus is just one more step to a total recall of the product from all U.S. highways.

"We are getting closer to that product recall," said Josh Harman. "A product recall is something that just has to happen, because too many lives have already been lost."

In addition to their promise to work with the government, Trinity has indicated it will appeal the Texas court's decision in the whistleblower case, saying the ruling "will not withstand legal scrutiny."

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Federal Judge Issues Restraining Order Blocking Sports Betting in NJ


AndreyPopov/iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A federal judge has issued a temporary restraining order preventing New Jersey racetracks and casinos from allowing sports gambling.

Gov. Chris Christie had signed a law earlier this month repealing the state's bad on sports wagering, and one racetrack was expecting to start taking bets on National Football League games on Sunday. The judge issued the restraining order on Friday, however, after a request from the four major professional sports leagues and the National Collegiate Athletic Administration.

The judge said that the leagues showed they would be irreparably harmed if sports gambling was allowed. New Jersey would have been just the second state in the nation -- after Nevada -- to allow sports betting.

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SpaceX Cargo Ship Expected to Splashdown Saturday Afternoon


Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images(NEW YORK) -- The SpaceX Dragon cargo spacecraft was released from the International Space Station on Saturday morning and is expected to splashdown in the Pacific Ocean at about 3:39 p.m.

The spacecraft was designed to deliver cargo and people to "orbiting destinations," according to the SpaceX website. "Dragon made history in 2012 when it became the first commercial spacecraft in history to deliver cargo to the International Space Station and safely return cargo to earth, a feat previously achieved only by governments."

NASA says that the capsule is expected to land about 265 miles west of the Baja peninsula.

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Man Beats One in 9.7 Trillion Odds to Win Same Lottery Twice


Hemera/Thinkstock(NORWOOD, Mass.) -- A man accidentally won the same lottery twice for a payout of $546,000.

Kenneth J. Stokes, of Norwood, Mass., is a lottery season ticket holder, which automatically enters him into every drawing of a certain lottery with specific, pre-set numbers of his choosing.

Forgetting that his family had gifted him a season pass to the Massachusetts State Lottery Lucky for Life drawing with their lucky numbers, Stokes bought a second ticket with the exact same numbers on Monday.

Then, he got a fateful call from the lotto officials on Tuesday morning.

“The representative called the individual who was the owner of the season ticket and informed him of that and then he was obviously elated to find out that he had won on that ticket,” Massachusetts State Lottery director of communications Christian Teja told ABC News. “They hung up and he realized that he had purchased the same ticket on his own for that same drawing. During the phone call when they had spoken, the representative had mentioned there was another winner form Norwood. He called back and it all came together when he was like, ‘I’m that guy in Norwood.’”

Stokes brought in his winning tickets on Thursday morning to collect his prize. He had won $25,000 a year for up to 20 years, which equals a $500,000 maximum. Stokes opted for a one-time cash option payment, which brought the prize down to $390,000 pre-tax, or $273,000 after tax. For Stokes, however, his winnings were doubled to $546,000.

The odds of Stokes winning twice in one drawing are one in 9.7 trillion. He plans to use the winnings to pay for his son's college tuition and his daughter's remaining car payments, as well as take his family on a vacation.

“I saw him yesterday. He was certainly in a good mood with a big smile on his face, as you can imagine,” Teja said. “He’s still somewhat in disbelief but very appreciate of his good fortune.”

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Stocks End Week on a High Note


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Strong earnings pushed stocks higher, allowing the markets to end the week in positive territory.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went up 127.51 points ending the day at 16,805.41. The Nasdaq climbed 30.93 points to 4,483.72, and the S&P 500 went up 13.76 points to 1,964.58.

We're taking less vacation now than at any point in the last four decades. The U.S. Travel Association says workers took an average of 16 days last year, compared to 20 in 2000.

Looking for a holiday job? UPS is predicting an 11% jump in December shipments and will hire up to 95,000 seasonal workers to handle the volume.

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New Home Sales Up 0.2% in September


iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) -- The housing market continues to bounce back.

The Commerce Department reported on Friday that sales of new homes rose 0.2 percent last month to a seasonally adjusted rate of 467,000.

David Crowe, chief economist at the National Association of Home Builders, said the numbers are actually better than they appear at first glance.

"August was really high when it was reported in August and that's since been adjusted down, so now we have for the September number, we have the highest number since July 2008," he told ABC News Radio.

Crowe said the market is getting healthier -- albeit at a slow pace.

"We're still at a very good number. It still indicates that we're moving forward in new home sales, although admittedly in a relatively slow pace," he noted.

He said several factors are keeping some potential buyers away.

"It's a whole variety of things. Certainly, mortgage qualification is a big part of it. It's particularly true for younger, first time home buyers who maybe have a ding on their credit, don't have as much down payment," Crowe explained.

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Fire Sale: Why Amazon's Much-Hyped Phone Flopped


Amazon(NEW YORK) -- Amazon's much-hyped Fire phone didn't even create a spark in the smartphone market. Four months after its debut, the device, which featured what Amazon called "breakthrough" technology, is now selling on Amazon for 99 cents with a contract -- placing it at about the same price point as a fast food hamburger.

Where Amazon went wrong was creating a device geared toward drawing in new Amazon shoppers, according to Patrick Moorhead, principal technology analyst at Moor Insights and Strategy. He said the smart phone and Amazon were a classic case of a "brand mismatch."

"I think that Amazon was more interested in monetizing its buyers than actually delivering a compelling experience," Moorhead told ABC News.

The Fire phone is equipped with a feature that allows users to identify almost any product -- from a book to a game or a container of kosher salt. It then directs users to Amazon to make purchases.

The 3-D display, ideal for game play, was touted by Amazon as another breakthrough feature of the phone. From Moorhead's perspective, it's one place the company had a chance to shine but executed the technology entirely the wrong way.

"I could imagine on a 10-inch tablet playing some really cool 3-D games, but their display was too small," he said. "It was the wrong platform."

Reviews of the Fire phone, which averages about 2-stars on Amazon, range from "extremely sad and dissatisfied" and "I wanted to love you" to "five stars."

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Turns Out Sunday's the Best Day to Buy Airfare


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Your employer can rest easy knowing that if you're spending work hours shopping for airfare, at least you won't likely get a deal while doing it. At least not compared to if you had taken some time out of your weekend to search.

A study released this week from the Airlines Reporting Corporation (ARC) found that Sunday -- not Tuesday, as is the commonly-held belief -- is the least expensive day to purchase airfare. Saturday is also preferable to Tuesday when it comes to cheaper prices.

And it's not chump change: The average fare paid on a Sunday, the least expensive day, is $71 cheaper than that paid on a Monday, the most expensive day. The average price paid for a domestic flight on a Sunday is $432 compared to $503 on a Monday.

The study examined all airline tickets sold by U.S.-based travel agents and settled by ARC between January 2013 and July 2014 -- nearly 130 million in all. ARC is a technology company providing transaction settlement and data information services. The analysis is based on full ticket price (including fares, taxes and fees) to reflect the amount travelers actually pay for air travel and does not include baggage fees, seat charges or other fees collected by the airlines separate from the original ticket purchase.

Tuesday shoppers can take comfort in the knowledge that that day is still the cheapest of the weekdays to buy airfare.

"Tuesday was considered hot because airlines used to announce their new fare schedules and promotions on a Monday," said Gabriel Shaoolian, digital trends expert and CEO of Blue Fountain Media, a company that services the websites of some of the airline industry's major players. "On Tuesday, there was some competitive price-matching as the market adjusted to the latest incentives, so that was seen as the time to jump in."

But Shaoolian points out business travelers, a big chunk of the travel market, aren't generally shopping for airfare on Sundays.

"Seats that haven’t sold earlier in the week to business travel agents are generally put on sale to attract leisure travelers, those who have time on the weekends to go online to all of the travel websites and research fares, stimulated by Sunday newspaper travel sections and, facing another work week, the desire to make a recreation getaway happen. Airlines are wise to this and provide the attractive fare accordingly -- before announcing new fare schemes for the next set of business buyers on Monday," Shoolian said.

Sundays are likely to offer the cheapest tickets for both domestic and international travel. The lowest ticket prices for domestic travel were seen at 57 days prior to departure and 171 days for international trips.

A Texas A&M study released earlier this year also found weekends were the time travelers were most likely to find deals. That study showed ticket prices were 5 percent lower on the weekends than on weekdays.

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How to Find People on Facebook's Pseudo-Anonymous App 'Rooms'


Facebook(NEW YORK) -- Catering to the obscure, Facebook's new pseudo-anonymous app, "Rooms," lets users geek out on niche topics without ever having to reveal their real identities.

Less than 24 hours after the app launched, a slew of new rooms have been created, covering a spectrum of topics that span from "Mormon Living" to "Men's Speedo Lovers."

The chat room and message board hybrid allows like-minded people to create rooms to discuss any topic of interest. A QR code is generated, which the room's creator can distribute to others as an invitation to join the conversation.

While Rooms doesn't have a discovery feature, Josh Miller, product manager for the app, advised users to search Instagram using the hashtag #Rooms to find public invitations for topics that may interest them.

To use the invitation, users must take a screen shot of the QR code by simultaneously pressing the home and power buttons on their iPhones.

Then, they must open the rooms app, choose "use invite," and find the shot on their camera roll to gain access to the room they wish to join.

Once inside, users are treated to a feed of videos, photos and text on the given topic of interest.

While Facebook has a real name policy, Rooms lets users choose any username they want, and their handles can differ for each room they're a member of.

Miller said Rooms allows people to revel in the sides of themselves that they may not get to show their friends.

"One of the things our team loves most about the internet is its potential to let us be whoever we want to be," he said in a blog post on Thursday. "This can be liberating, but only if we have places that let us break away from the constraints of our everyday selves. We want the rooms you create to be freeing in this way."

Rooms is available in the Apple app store for users in the United States and United Kingdom and other English-speaking countries, Facebook said.

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WOW Air Offers Flights from US to Europe for $99


WOW Air(NEW YORK) -- Could your overseas flight soon cost less than your baggage fees?

Icelandic airline WOW Air announced this week its plan to offer flights from the U.S. to Europe for only $99.

The carrier is taking advantage of the growing sector of budget travelers, catered to by low cost airlines, which generally skimp on traditional amenities in order to pass savings on to customers.

The one-way flights are limited to a few cities at the onset: Boston and Washington, D.C., with transatlantic flights to Iceland, London and Copenhagen, Denmark.

WOW said the deep budget flights could become available as soon as March 2015. Still, many fliers have already secured reservations to fly next year.

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Amazon on the Defensive After Hefty Quarterly Loss


Amazon(NEW YORK) -- Amazon will be on the defensive Friday, as the web giant takes a hit from investors after posting its largest quarterly loss in 14 years.

In pre-market trading, Amazon stock was already down more than 10 percent.

On Thursday, the online retail giant released its third quarter earnings report, which showed a far greater than expected net loss and revenue that did not meet expectations, as well as weak guidance for next quarter’s earnings.

The company has been criticized for many of its expansionist policies, including new products like the Amazon Fire phone, which has generally been seen as an unsuccessful product.

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Airlines Profits Soaring


iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- The nation's airlines are flying high -- maybe higher than they ever have before.

Several carriers, including American, Alaska, Southwest, and JetBlue Airlines posted record third-quarter profits Thursday. Even United Continental, which hasn't been keeping up with the pack, said they enjoyed an excellent third quarter.

All the airlines expect the good times to continue during the upcoming holiday season, barring setbacks that might include anxiety over Ebola.

As for what accounts for the huge earnings, industry analysts say it has to do with more people flying, higher ticket prices and of course, those extra fees for checked bags and other things that used to be free.

There's one other factor that's putting the airlines in the cockpit seat: lower prices of crude oil, which means cheaper fuel.

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Holiday Shoppers May Be Wary of Compromised Retailers


Target(NEW YORK) -- All signs are pointing to a profitable 2014 holiday season for retailers but an unfortunate sign of the times is that hackers also profit from getting the credit and debit card information of shoppers.

That’s probably not going to be enough to stop Americans from buying gifts this year but as a new CreditCards.com survey points out, those stores that have been compromised might very well see a drop-off in business.

Among the 865 adults surveyed, 45 percent said they would “definitely” or “probably” not shop at one of retailers who were victimized by hackers over the past 12 months.

That would of course include Target, Home Depot and Neiman Marcus, among others.

However, what people say and what they actually do are often two different things and CreditCard.com’s Matt Schulz says that shoppers may just go about their business as usual.

Meanwhile, those expressing the greatest reluctance to shop at breached retailers were people in households earning $30,000 annually while Americans making $75,000 or more were the least likely to be put off by the possibility of having their personal information compromised.

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Three Ways Your Smartphone Can Help You Get Out of Debt


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Thomas and Megan Sneed’s daughter, Nora, is growing fast, but so are their bills.

“We’re like a lot of people. We graduated with college debt, we put our honeymoon on our credit card and then a year after being married, we had a baby,” Thomas said. “We found ourselves in debt, just like that.”

With the holidays around the corner, they had one unique wish: to be free of debt by Christmas.

With $14,000 in debt left to go, the Sneeds said they knew it would take discipline. To cut the biggest bill — housing — Thomas, an IT specialist, and Megan, a nurse, moved back in with their parents.

To help them address the rest of the debt, the “Real Money” team connected the Greenville, South Carolina, couple with Will Parker, another Greenville resident who climbed out of his own $20,000 debt in just nine months.

“I’m just a guy with a smartphone,” he said. “Anybody can do it!”

Parker shared the following tips with the Sneeds to help them on their way to a debt-free Christmas:

  1. Reach for your phone rather than your wallet. Track what you’re spending on groceries, gifts and entertainment. Parker suggested using apps like Simple, WalletUp or Mint to see exactly where your money is going.
  2. Eliminate late fees and higher interest rates. Average overdraft fees are at a record high of $32.74, so set notifications on your phone to warn you when you’re getting close to your limits and deadlines. If you’re late on a payment just once, some banks can hike their interest rates from the average 15 percent to 30 percent. If you make only the minimum payments, it would cost you an extra $18,586 in interest to pay off a $5,000 debt, according to Bankrate.
  3. Be careful about where you get cash. ATM fees have risen 23 percent in the last five years to an average of $4.35 for out-of-network transactions, no matter how little cash you take out. Use locators on your phone to find the nearest “no-fee” ATMs in your area.

Parker said it was all about setting a budget and sticking to it.

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Nasdaq and S&P Have Best Day Since January 2013


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Strong earnings helped the markets soar on Thursday.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average went up 216.58 points, closing at 16,677.90.

Thursday was the best day for the Nasdaq and the S&P 500 since January 2013. The Nasdaq gained 69.94 points, closing at 4,452.79, and the S&P climbed 23.71 points to 1,950.82.

After falling to a 14-year low, more people filed for unemployment last week. The Labor Department says despite the increase of 17,000, applications are still at historically low levels, which suggests hiring is strong.

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