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Maryland Mansion Fire: Dry Christmas Tree Blamed for Deadly Blaze


Photo by Jonathan Newton / The Washington Post via Getty Images(ANNAPOLIS, Md.) -- An electrical failure that set ablaze a 15-foot Christmas tree caused a mansion fire in Annapolis, Maryland, earlier this month that killed six people, authorities announced Wednesday.

Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agents also concluded that the fire, which started in the home's great room, was an accident.

"While the explanation that has been shared with us today does not bring solace, it does start us down the long road to acceptance," read a statement issued Wednesday by the Boone and Pyle families.

It took almost a week for six bodies to be found in the burned-down mansion. All those who were thought to be inside are believed to be accounted for, according to fire department officials.

The 16,000-square-foot mansion was owned by tech executive Don Pyle and his wife Sandra.

According to relatives, the Pyles had four of their grandchildren -- Alexis (Lexi) Boone, 8; Kaitlyn (Katie) Boone, 7; Charlotte Boone, 8; and Wesley (Wes) Boone, 6 -– over at the time of the four-alarm fire. All six died in the blaze.

Crews started going through the wreckage last Wednesday, according to ABC affiliate WJLA, a process that ATF investigators said could take weeks.

The house was "built more like a commercial structure," Anne Arundel County Fire Capt. Russ Davies told reporters, so searching is a "time-consuming process."

Initially the fire had been handled as a criminal investigation.

Relatives described the Pyles as loving grandparents nicknamed “Pop-Pop” and “Dee-Dee.” The night before the blaze, Don and Sandra treated their four grandchildren to a special outing to Medieval Times, according to a family spokeswoman -– even taking them to Target beforehand to pick up costumes for the occasion.

Family members of the victims thanked well-wishers last week in a statement. Attributed to "the Boone and Pyle families," it said in part, “We wish to express our gratitude and appreciation for the love and support being shared with us during this tragic event. We are blessed that so many family, friends, and neighbors have come together for us in our time of need."

“Life is fragile," the statement concluded. "Make time today to embrace your loved ones."

Authorities said at Wednesday's news conference that they would conduct additional tests and analysis.

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Wells Fargo Museum Gold Robbers Planned Heist With Two Cars


KGO-TV(SAN FRANCISCO) -- The FBI and San Francisco Police are on the hunt for three thieves who rammed their SUV into the lobby of the Wells Fargo Museum in San Francisco on Tuesday morning.

Surveillance photos show that the SUV that crashed into the windows of the building carried just the driver and two other suspects appeared from another car, a Sedan, that was parked alongside the curb, authorities said.

The men, who were wearing ski masks, stole gold nuggets, ABC's San Francisco affiliate KGO-TV reported.

The museum on Montgomery Street is the site of the first Wells Fargo that opened in 1852.

The property features an "impressive display of gold dust and ore from California's Gold Country and a special collection of Gold Rush letters carried by hundreds of express companies."

One suspect restrained a guard after holding a pistol to the guard’s head, FBI spokesman Brian Weber said, though details of how he was restrained are being withheld.

Wearing ski masks and black gloves, the suspects were described as about six feet tall, according to authorities.

In view from the glass exterior of the building was a Wells Fargo stagecoach that "carried passengers and gold across the western plains."

Police were alerted about the robbery at 2:26 a.m. Tuesday.

The men took off in a sedan and left the SUV inside the bank, police said.

Authorities were looking for three men in a white Ford Taurus who were last seen heading eastbound across the Bay Bridge, according to KGO's report.

Wells Fargo spokeswoman Diana Rodriguez told ABC News on Tuesday that the bank is cooperating with the San Francisco Police Department's investigation.

"We’re disturbed this happened to the Wells Fargo History Museum, but are grateful no team member was harmed," she said in a statement to ABC News. "Additionally, the historic stagecoaches on site were not damaged. Rest assured, the museum will reopen, so it can continue to serve the thousands of visitors and Bay Area residents who visit it each year."


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USGS Reports Magnitude 5.7 Earthquake in Northern California


Tomislav Zivkovic/iStock/Thinkstock(FERNDALE, Calif.) -- The United States Geological Survey reported a magnitude 5.7 earthquake in northern California on Wednesday afternoon.

The quake was centered just offshore, about 25 miles southwest of Ferndale, says the USGS. The tremor was focused about 10 miles underground.

According to the Northern California Earthquake Data Center, there is a 40-percent likelihood of an aftershock magnitude five or larger in the next seven days. Between 20 and 50 smaller aftershocks are expected in that same time period.

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Handcuffed Woman Accused of Stealing Police Car, Leading Cops on High-Speed Chase


Center Township Police(PITTSBURGH) -- A police cruiser's dash-cam caught a handcuffed woman's alleged 10-mile high-speed drive outside Pittsburgh after she crawled through an opening in the police car's partition and took control of the wheel, police said.

Cops chased 27-year-old Roxanne Rimer, who drove down Route 51 as fast as 100 mph with her hands cuffed behind her back, Center Township Police Chief Barry Kramer told ABC News Wednesday.

"She probably was able to reach her cuffed hands to the side of her hip and drive," Kramer said. "I'm not completely sure though because there was no camera that captured the inside of the car. [Rimer] was very thin, long-armed and lanky, so it's possible she was flexible enough to reach over the side of her hip and grab the wheel."

The incident, which happened earlier this month, occurred when Rimer was originally arrested after trying to run away from security at Kohl's for allegedly stealing earrings, Kramer said. She fled into her grandfather's car in the parking lot, he said, and her grandfather, who was driving, was unaware of what happened moments before.

When police stopped the car, police asked Rimer to step out and she was handcuffed after a confrontation, Kramer said.

"She gave a fake name and told police she was a juvenile," Kramer said. "After being handcuffed and put in the rear seat [of the patrol car], police went to check her grandfather's car. It was during this time that Rimer somehow crawled through a roughly 12.25-inch by 11.5-inch window in the plexiglass partition."

The dash-cam video shows officers running toward the car after Rimer allegedly got control of the vehicle. The vehicle is then seen ramming into her grandfather's car with her grandfather still in it and almost hitting two police officers before zooming down the road.

"Police chased her for most of her 10-mile drive, but they backed off towards the end because she was going so fast," Kramer said.

The video shows the patrol car weaving between cars at high speeds. At one point, it seems Rimer has trouble getting around a bend in the road. And then a woman's voice can be heard in the video, allegedly Rimer's, calling out to a passerby, saying, "Hello! Can you help me? Can you help me drive, please?"

Rimer later stops the patrol car and gets out, police said.

"At this point in the video, you can see the suspect abandon the car, still handcuffed, and run into the woods," Kramer said. "She went into a nearby home, but they told her to get away. Shortly after, one driver saw her walking in handcuffs. He picked her up and brought her to the station, but she jumped out and fled again. Another driver picked her up, thinking she just needed help, but then told her to get out of the car after they saw the handcuffs."

Police finally caught her walking on a street in Aliquippa, a town on the outskirts of Pittsburgh, and she was placed in jail, Kramer said.

Rimer is facing multiple charges, including aggravated assault, reckless endangerment, fleeing and eluding police and robbery.

The trial will likely be held sometime in May, Kramer told ABC News.

Rimer is currently being held at Beaver County Jail, according to her attorney, Steven Valsamidis.

Valsamidis told ABC News he believes many of the charges fit the video, but a portion involving aggravated assault does not.

"Aggravated assault means she intended or did cause serious bodily injury," he said. "But she didn't seriously injure or intend to seriously injure anyone. She just wanted to escape the situation."

"Thank God nobody was killed because that video is extraordinary," Valsamidis added.

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Blizzard 2015: New England Digging Out After Getting Slammed by Storm


Kayana Szymczak/Getty Images(BOSTON) — New England is digging out Wednesday morning after receiving more than 30 inches of snow in some areas from a massive Nor’easter, which blew through with blizzard conditions.

A travel ban was lifted at midnight in Massachusetts, but authorities are urging drivers to stay off the roads as cleanup efforts continue.

Public transportation service from the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority is slated to resume Wednesday. Airlines were expected to begin flying at Boston's Logan Airport Wednesday morning and to have full schedules back in place by Thursday, according to an airport official.

A blizzard warning for Boston ended Tuesday evening as the snow tapered off, but one remained in effect for the south coast, Cape Cod and nearby islands.

Strong winds and coastal flooding were reported from the coastline of Long Island, New York, to Massachusetts. Wind gusts reached 60-75 mph during the storm.

The storm's heaviest snow bands stayed north and east of New York City, leaving the nation's biggest metropolis at the lower end of the snow forecast. Snowfall at LaGuardia Airport, in the relatively heavy-hit eastern New York borough of Queens, stood at 11 inches.

Fearing the worst late Monday, officials shut down mass transit systems from New York City to Boston, and closed roads to traffic in all or parts of five states. Thousands of flights were canceled because of the storm.

In all, seven states -- including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Rhode Island and New Hampshire -- declared states of emergency.

On Tuesday, after a huge snowfall failed to materialize in some cases, officials in some Northeast cities and states lifted the travel bans and defended their decision to impose them in the first place.

"My job as a leader is to make decisions, and I will always err on the side of safety or caution," New York Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "To me, it was a no-brainer. We have to take precautions to keep people safe."


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Boston Police Search for Person Who Shoveled Marathon Finish Line


mjbs/iStock Editorial/Thinkstock(BOSTON) -- Boston Police have released photographs of a man who shoveled the iconic finish line of the Boston Marathon route on Boylston Street during Tuesday's raging blizzard.

Using the hashtag #WhoShoveledTheFinishLine, Boston Police asked the public to help solve the mystery of the hardy soul.

Help Boston solve a #BlizzardOf2015 mystery. #WhoShoveledTheFinishLine? #BostonStrong pic.twitter.com/1icgPcW9Vc

— Boston Police Dept. (@bostonpolice) January 28, 2015

The finish line has special significance as the site of the twin bombings at the Boston Marathon that killed three people on April 15, 2013.

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Blizzard 2015: Snowblower Attack Leads to Arrest of 61-Year-Old Woman


Arlington Police Department(ARLINGTON, Mass.) -- A Massachusetts woman was arrested during the blinding blizzard that walloped New England after she attacked her neighbor with a snowblower, police said on Wednesday.

The incident took place as the freezing winds and snow continued to fall at 4:30 p.m. Tuesday.

Police were called to a home in Boston's upscale suburb of Arlington to find a 60-year-old woman suffering from lacerations to her foot.

Her alleged attacker, Barbara Davis, 61, was arrested on charges of assault and battery with a dangerous weapon, violating a restraining order, and mayhem. Anderson had a long-standing dispute with the victim, who was not seriously injured, police said.

"Emotions may run high during a historic weather event like the blizzard we just endured, but that is no excuse for violence," said Arlington Police Chief Fred Ryan. "We are supposed to come together as a community during events like this, and I am very disappointed with these allegations."

Anderson was held on $35,000 bail and is expected to be arraigned on Thursday, police said. Suffolk County courts remain closed Wednesday after the massive storm that left Boston digging out from more than two feet of snow that fell Monday into Tuesday.

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NASA Photos Show Scope of Blizzard from Space


NASA/NOAA GOES Project(NEW YORK) -- As the Northeast digs out from a wild winter storm, NASA has released images showing what the snow and strong winds looked like from space.

An image from a satellite operated by NASA and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association showed the winter storm system near its peak as it covered the Northeast around 1:45 a.m. ET on Tuesday.

Nighttime & daytime views of the #blizzardof2015 from @NOAASatellites & @NASANPP: http://t.co/KLkxf2wo4o pic.twitter.com/sVJLzkQO7E

— NASA (@NASA) January 27, 2015

The winter storm was so intense that it managed to obscure the bright lights of the big cities as the high cloud tops moved through the area.

New England was hit the hardest by the winter storm, which blanketed the area with more than 30 inches of snow in some areas.

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Massive Snowball Fight Breaks Out in Portsmouth, New Hampshire


Brand X Pictures/Stockbyte/Thinkstock(PORTSMOUTH, N.H.) -- Residents in Portsmouth, New Hampshire found the perfect way to endure Tuesday’s snowy conditions -- a snowball fight.

The dustup, which was publicized in a Facebook post, broke out at 1 p.m. in Market Square and lasted for about 45 minutes. The event was organized with a playful nod to the town’s settlers, as organizers hearkened back to the fictitious “inaugural Portsmouth Snowball Fight” of 1624.

Dozens of people tossed snow at each other, a spirited showing as the Northeast was blanketed by wintry weather. One person was seen waving a pirate flag.

“Oh, it was worth it,” participant Calum Ryan told ABC News affiliate WMUR-TV.

For Portsmouth residents, the snowball fight offered the chance to bring a humorous touch to a serious storm.

“A lot of people were scared, you know: ‘Stay inside, it’s going to be really chilly,'" participant Ben Goodwin told WMUR. "But you get outside and get some exercise, and it’s just nice."

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WATCH: Helmetcam Captures Rescue of Children from Apartment Fire


Monkey Business Images/Thinkstock(FRESNO, Calif.) -- The Fresno Fire Department released dramatic helmetcam video from an apartment fire on Sunday in which three children left home unattended were rescued by firefighters.

The video shows firefighters in the California city battle through flames and smoke as they attempt to locate the children, whose ages range from 1 to 4 years.  According to a statement from the department, firefighters were able to locate and remove the kids within four minutes of arrival on the scene.

“The firefighters would say it’s just their job. But to get a rescue of this magnitude is something we really don’t come across every day,” said Agapito Martinez, the public information officer for the department.

Martinez says the video contains helmet camera footage from two different firefighters. The rescue came as a surprise to officials, as firefighters were originally called to the scene for reports of smoke in a building, according to Martinez.

The three children were taken to a nearby hospital with critical injuries due to smoke inhalation, according to the statement. No firefighters were injured in the rescue.

The Fresno Police Department is investigating why the children were  left home without supervision.

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Blizzard 2015: Amazing Time-Lapse Video Shows Snow Accumulation in MA


iStock/Thinkstock(BOSTON) — The snow rises, and rises, and rises.

A time-lapse video shows snow piling up over the course of 24 hours on a backyard deck in Massachusetts.

The recording starts the night of Monday, Jan. 26, and continues into Tuesday, Jan. 27. The video shows the snow accumulating, almost reaching the deck’s railing -- nearly three feet of snow.

 

Coastal New England was walloped by the storm, which led to travel bans and mass transit shutdowns across the northeast.


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Massachusetts Nuclear Plant Shut Down During Winter Storm


Photo by David L Ryan/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(PLYMOUTH, Mass.) -- The Pilgrim Nuclear Power Plant in Plymouth was shut down early Tuesday morning as a result of the strong winter storm that swept through the Northeast.

The U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Committee said on its website Tuesday that the plant experienced an automatic shutdown after one of the site's offsite power lines was deenergized due to weather concerns and a second was tripped early Tuesday morning. At that point, at about 4 a.m., the reactor was shut down.

A third, less powerful, offsite power line remains available, but the primary source of power -- for safety systems -- are the plant's emergency diesel generators.

The exact cause of the loss of the second offsite power line is still under investigation.

Messages posted to the plant's Twitter account explained that it is in "safe, stable shutdown" and "has enough fuel onsite to operate our emergency generators for 10 days." More fuel can also be delivered as needed. The plant says it is in stable condition and there is no threat to the safety of workers or the public.

 

Status Update (1/2): Pilgrim remains in safe, stable shutdown and using emergency onsite diesel generators to run our safety systems

— Pilgrim Nuclear (@PilgrimNuclear) January 27, 2015

 

 

Status Update (2/2): Pilgrim has enough fuel onsite to operate our emergency generators for 10 days.More fuel can be delivered as needed.

— Pilgrim Nuclear (@PilgrimNuclear) January 27, 2015

 

 

NOTE: As backup, the plant has additional standby power available from an offsitte power line and another onsite emergency generator

— Pilgrim Nuclear (@PilgrimNuclear) January 27, 2015

 

 

Plant conditions are stable and there is no threat to the safety of plant workers or the public. All systems worked as designed.

— Pilgrim Nuclear (@PilgrimNuclear) January 27, 2015

 

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WVU Student Who Died in Fraternity Pledging Had Blood Alcohol Six Times Legal Limit


pixelpup/iStock/Thinkstock(MORGANTOWN, W.Va.) -- A West Virginia University student who died during a fraternity pledge event had a blood-alcohol level of more than six times the legal limit, well above what health officials consider lethal, police said Tuesday.

Nolan Burch, 18, of Williamsville, N.Y., died Nov. 14, after suffering a "catastrophic medical emergency" during a pledging ceremony at Kappa Sigma fraternity, police said.

Burch and 19 other fraternity pledges were taking part in an initiation function known as "Big-Little," Morgantown Police Chief Ed Preston said in a statement released Tuesday.

Burch and the others were taken to a room in the fraternity where they were blindfolded and then taken to another house where they were presented to the "Big," a senior member or alumnus of Kappa Sigma, and given a bottle of liquor, Preston said.

After he drank a large quantity of alcohol, Burch was taken back to the fraternity house, where he was so intoxicated he was laid on a table, the police chief said.

Later that night, a fraternity member noticed that Burch's face was blue and tried to wake him, but it was found that he had no pulse, Preston said.

While some fraternity members performed CPR, a call was placed to 911. He later died at a Morgantown hospital. A report from the medical examiner is still pending, the police chief said.

Subsequent tests revealed that his blood-alcohol level was 0.493, Preston said.

The day after Burch's death, the school put a moratorium on Greek activity on the campus.

"And while some events such as chapter meetings, philanthropic activities and educational programming are allowed, the ban remains in place for social activities with the exception of alcohol free/dry events, pending approval of plans," WVU officials, the WVU InterFraternity Council, the WVU Pan-Hellenic Council and the WVU National Pan-Hellenic Council said in a joint statement released Tuesday evening.

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Surveillance Video Shows Moment Man Allegedly Hit Pregnant Girlfriend With Car


welcomia/iStock/Thinkstock(PASCO COUNTY, Fla.) -- Surveillance footage released by Florida police shows the terrifying moment a pregnant woman was struck by a car driven by her boyfriend, according to police.

Justin Colby, 33, was arrested on charges of attempted homicide after he allegedly hit his pregnant girlfriend, Crystal Noordhuizen, with his car on Monday.

Noordhuizen, about seven months pregnant, suffered minor injuries and was recovering at an area hospital, according to a police spokesman.

She told police she had been fighting with Colby, her live-in boyfriend, when she decided to leave their home, according to the arrest report from the Pasco County Sheriff's Office in Pasco County, Florida.

Officials from the Pasco Sheriff's Department said video of the incident shows Noordhuizen being hit by a car they said was driven by Colby.

Noordhuizen told police she was waiting across the street for a ride when Colby reportedly called to her and said, “Are you ready for your abortion date?” according to the police report.

Colby then allegedly drove his car onto the sidewalk where Noordhuizen was standing, striking her before he hit a nearby pole.

He was arrested a short time after the crash and was being held at the Pasco County Jail on charges of attempted murder and attempted murder of an unborn child.

Public defenders for Colby did not immediately respond to a request for comment.


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Defendants in Vanderbilt Rape Trial Found Guilty on All Counts


iStock/Thinkstock(NASHVILLE, Tenn.) -- A jury has found the defendants in the Vanderbilt rape trial guilty.

After just a few hours of deliberation, the jury returned a guilty verdict on all seven charges against Cory Batey and all nine charges against Brandon Vandenburg.

Vandenburg and Batey, along with two other former football players for Vanderbilt University, were accused of raping an unconscious student in a dorm room at the university in June 2013. Attorneys in the case gave their closing arguments this week after 10 days of testimony.

The two other players, Brandon Banks and Jaborian McKenzie, also face charges of rape and sexual battery, but have not yet gone to trial. All pleaded not guilty.

Batey and Vandenburg were each found guilty Tuesday on four counts of aggravated rape, one count of attempted aggravated rape and two counts of aggravated sexual battery.

According to prosecutors, the four players, who have since been kicked off the team, laughed at the victim before they allegedly assaulted her. Vandenburg allegedly recorded the assault on his phone and was additionally found guilty on one count of tampering with evidence and one count of unlawful photography. Prosecutors claim Vandenburg sent pictures and video of the attack to his friends, and later searched online how to delete photos so the police can't find them.

Prosecutors then accused the former players of texting each other about the alleged attack, trying to cover it up.

Vandenburg and Batey had their bond revoked, and the two are expected to be sentenced in March.

The university released a statement following the announcement of the verdict, calling the evidence shown at trial "profoundly disturbing and utterly unacceptable."

"Our heart goes out to the victim," the statement read, "her testimony was forceful and brave. She has received our care and support." Vanderbilt noted that it had taken action against the two men after it was determined that they had violated the school's sexual misconduct policy, saying the school is "confident we acted appropriately."

The school vowed to continue cooperating with law enforcement, while calling "the safety and security of our students" its "top priority."


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