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Man Found Not Guilty in Shooting Death of Drunk Driver Who Killed Two Sons


iStock/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- A jury returned a verdict of not guilty Wednesday for a Texas father accused of the shooting death of a drunk driver who killed his two sons.

David Barajas was accused of fatally shooting 20-year-old Jose Banda in December 2012 after Banda plowed into a vehicle that Barajas and his two sons had been pushing on a rural road in Alvin, about 30 miles southeast of Houston.

The Barajas family broke into tears in the courtroom while Jose Banda's family sat in stunned belief.

"I am relieved but still in pain. My two boys are dead and nothing will bring them back," Barajas said afterward.

David Jr., 12, and Caleb, 11, were killed in the accident.

If Barajas had been convicted, he faced a potential life sentence.

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Surfing 'The Wedge,' California's Monster Waves


iStock/Thinkstock(NEWPORT BEACH, Calif.) -- Thousands of spectators lined the beach as surfers, bodyboarders, and other brave athletes went headlong into 20-foot waves at California's "The Wedge" wave break Wednesday.

The waves, which were categorized by Surfline.com as "Good to Epic" in size, were delivered by Hurricane Marie, swirling off the coast of California.

Surfing legend Laird Hamilton, who was at the beach Wednesday morning, helped rescue a stranded surfer who lost his board and his leash as the monstrous waves slammed into shore, according to ABC station KABC. Hamilton, who was on a paddle board when the surfer got into trouble, came to shore to put on fins and swam out to help rescue the surfer, who was injured but stable.

Newport Beach's The Wedge is known as one of the more difficult breaks on the West Coast for its power and shape: the wave breaks right on the beach, posing a danger to surfers who fall off their boards.

Tara Finnigan, spokeswoman for the city, said the waves had attracted about 3,000 to 4,000 spectators at The Wedge and another 500 at another break in town called The Point.

"There is no parking left at the beach at this point," Finnigan said.

The town is also experiencing beach flooding, with high tide expected at 11 a.m. Spectators have been getting soaked by waves come up over the berm, Finnigan said.

Extra lifeguards are on hand at The Wedge to try and educate surfers and swimmers and prevent less experienced swimmers from going in.

Emergency personnel lined the beach, and local news station KTLA reported that two swimmers had to be rescued after becoming stranded in the water.

One Twitter user described The Wedge as "shallow as a bathtub" because the waves crash right onto the shallow sand bottom of the ocean there.

The lifeguards have made three minor rescues, including a stand up paddle-boarder who got pulled beneath a pier by a strong current and lost his board on a piling, becoming trapped when his leash got caught.

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Two Rescued from Disabled Boat Nearing Niagara Falls


iStock/Thinkstock(NIAGARA FALLS, NY) -- Two people were rescued from a disabled boat that was drifting dangerously close to Niagara Falls, authorities said.

The U.S. Coast Guard said the boaters weren’t in “dire” danger but had floated into the “exclusion zone,” about a mile from the brink of the falls, in the Niagara River.

A Coast Guard helicopter hoisted them to safety late Monday, around midnight. There were no injuries.

The boaters, who did not want to be identified, were in a 19-foot motor boat and had dropped anchor.

Earlier, a commercial rescuer tried to help but got caught on the rocks in the shallow water.

The boat was salvaged by a local company.

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Computer Glitch Costs Student Full Scholarship?


iStock/Thinkstock(SAN MATEO, Calif.) -- A student from northern California says a computer glitch at his high school cost him a full ride to Stanford University.

Lincoln To, 17, finished in the top five of his class at Serra High School in San Mateo and was a finalist for a full scholarship to the university, he told San Diego 6.

But he was disqualified when his school failed to send his transcripts before the deadline, To said.

The school has since admitted it was a technical error that led to the delayed transcripts.

“We have to do what’s right by our students, and we made a mistake,” San Diego Unified School District spokesperson Ursula Kroemer told ABC affiliate KGTV.

Cindy Marten, the school district’s superintendent even sent an official letter to universities explaining that a new computer system led to problems sending the transcripts, and asking for an extension.

In To’s case, it was already too late. He was disqualified, and lost out on his chance for a scholarship to Stanford.

Stanford University has not yet responded to ABC News' request for comment.

The school district says it is looking into the computer system so the same error doesn’t happen again.

As for To, he moved into the dorms this week at UCLA, where has a full scholarship.

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Girl, 9, Accidentally Kills Instructor While Firing an Uzi


iStock/Thinkstock(MOHAVE COUNTY, Ariz.) -- An Arizona gun instructor was shot and killed Monday while showing a nine-year-old girl how to use an automatic Uzi.

Charles Vacca, 39, of Lake Havasu City was pronounced dead shortly after being airlifted to a hospital from the Bullets and Burgers outdoor gun range in White Hills, Arizona, about 25 miles south of Las Vegas,

Mohave County Sheriff Jim McCabe said that after demonstrating single shots, Vacca let the girl fire the Uzi as fully automatic. However, the gun recoiled, lifting the girl's shoulder, which resulted in Vacca suffering a fatal bullet wound to the head.

Neither the girl nor her parents, who were also at the firing range were injured. The family is from New Jersey.

Calling it a tragic accident, McCabe remarked, "The child is of course in everybody's thoughts because she's only nine years old and the parents have got to have some terrible feelings as well. But the truth of the matter is it was a tragic accident and our heart goes out to everyone."

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Two Men Abducted, Drowned in Philadelphia River, Third Man Escapes, Police Say


iStock/Thinkstock(PHILADELPHIA) -- The bodies of two men, who had been bound, were found Wednesday dumped in a Philadelphia river and a third man was repeatedly stabbed but narrowly escaped the abductors believed to be responsible for the double homicide, police said.

The survivor, a 20-year-old man, was taken off the street by four or five men early Wednesday morning and thrown into the back of a van, police said.

He was then stabbed about nine times, in the torso and legs, Philadelphia police said, and his hands were tied behind his back with duct tape while his ankles were bound as well. Duct tape was also placed over his mouth, and once in the van, he realized there were two other people in the van who had also been bound, police said.

All three were taken to the Schuylkill River in Fairmount Park, where they were thrown into the water, police said, noting that the two other people were tethered to some kind of weight and drowned in five to 10 feet of water.

The 20-year-old was able to get out of the water, even though his legs and arms were still partially bound, and made it to a nearby road where he screamed at passing cars, triggering some drivers to call 911, police said.

The bodies were found just before 4 a.m., police said.

The victim told police he did not know the other two people in the van, nor did he know his kidnappers.

The man is in stable condition at Hahnemann University Hospital, police said.

Police declined to give the location where the man was abducted, but noted there are security cameras in the area and that they hope the abduction was captured on video.


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Freed American Thanks 'Brave, Determined' People Who Fought for His Release


ABC News (BOSTON) -- Freed writer Peter Theo Curtis has spoken out for the first time Wednesday since being released by Syrian militants, thanking the "brave determined and big-hearted people" who helped save him.

In a brief news conference held down the road from his mother's home in Massachusetts, Curtis said how "total strangers" have been coming up to him and telling him how grateful they are for his release.

"I suddenly remember how good the American people are and what kindness they have in their hearts," he said.

"I had no idea that so much effort was being expended on my behalf," he added. "I am overwhelmed by emotion."

Curtis, 45, was held for nearly two years and his release came just days after militant group ISIS executed fellow American journalist James Foley. Al-Nusra's decision to release Curtis was seen by many as a move to distance themselves from ISIS as no ransom money was reportedly handed over as part of the deal.

He did not go into any details about his time in captivity, but appeared eager to move forward.

"I have to bond with my mother and my family now," he said before adding that he will not be giving any further statements in the near future.

The writer was released by Syrian jihadist group Jabhat al-Nusra this past Sunday. He arrived back in the United States on Tuesday night.

His flight from Tel Aviv, Israel arrived at Newark Liberty International Airport in New Jersey on Tuesday evening but he was reunited with relatives -- including his mother Nancy -- when he flew from there home to Boston.


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Mystery Surrounds USC Football Player's Dramatic Pool Rescue


David Buchan/Getty Images(LOS ANGELES) -- The University of Southern California has received several calls questioning the authenticity of football player Josh Shaw’s story about saving his nephew from potentially drowning and is investigating the matter, coach Steve Sarkisian said.

Shaw, 22, a cornerback on the Trojans football team, said he suffered a pair of ankle sprains Saturday night after jumping from the second story of an apartment complex to save his 7-year-old nephew, Carter, who was struggling in the pool.

The fifth-year senior said he landed on concrete before crawling into the pool and steering his nephew to dry land before grabbing a ladder and lifting himself out of the water using just his arms.

As story of the rescue gained attention, other accounts emerged conflicting with Shaw’s story.

"We've gotten a few phone calls contradicting what Josh said occurred Saturday night, so we're going to continue to vet it," Sarkisian said.

At this point, it's unclear who made those calls or what part of the story is being challenged. Shaw did suffer sprains in both ankles, and he remains sidelined indefinitely.

"The X-Rays and MRIs we have taken on him have come back negative," Sarkisian said. "So far, we don't see anything structurally wrong with him, but he is very sore."

Shaw was noticeably absent from practice Tuesday.

Over the weekend, he was voted a team captain. He was expected to be a major contributor for USC this season.

Shaw's sister Asia -- Carter’s mother -- said she didn't witness the incident but was quick to defend her brother.

"My child is safe, and it's because of Josh," she told ABC News. "I really do praise God and I just hope that he has a speedy recovery."

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WATCH: Drama at 3,000 Feet When Parachutist Dangles in Air


File photo. (Hemera/Thinkstock)(NEW YORK) -- A video posted to YouTube shows parachutists jumping out of a plane in quick succession before one of them becomes stuck in his lines and gets towed by the plane.

The jumpers are in military-type uniforms and a Mexican flag sticker is taped to the back of one helmet. The men appear to be practicing jumps out of the back of a plane from 3,000 feet.

At least seven jumpers successfully launch before one becomes stuck -- his parachute chords becoming wrapped around something on the outside of the plane. The snag leaves him dangling.

The frightening scene ends when the man is pulled back into the plane.

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Hurricanes on Both Coasts Bring Dangerous Surf


iStockphoto/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Hurricanes in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans are primed to make their closest approaches to the continental United States this week, and while they aren't expected to make landfall, they could still bring choppy surf and dangerous waters.

Hurricane Marie is currently a category 2 hurricane with max sustained winds at 100 mph, and will be no direct threat to land as it moves out to sea in the Eastern Pacific. However, the storm will likely bring large waves and rip currents to the Southern California coast from 800 miles offshore.

Breakers could reach 10 to over 15 feet for south/southeast-facing beaches in Los Angeles and Ventura counties, with high surf also possible for the Santa Barbara south coast. Swells are expected to peak Tuesday and Wednesday, with some subsiding Thursday into Friday. Minor coastal flooding, beach erosion, and structural damage are all possible as well.

On the other side of the country, Hurricane Cristobal is making its way across the open Atlantic Ocean. It will directly impact the United States, but will bring another type of danger this week – strong and frequent rip currents.

Cristobal is projected to travel north and then make a northeasterly turn, gaining some strength. Bermuda is under a Tropical Storm Watch, and although it will not get a direct hit, it could see Tropical Storm conditions this week, with winds over 40 mph and rainfall up to 6 inches.

Swells generated by Cristobal will reach the East Coast in the form of breakers and cause rough surf and dangerous rip currents from Florida to Maine. From Florida to the Carolinas surfers and beach-goers need to be aware of life-threatening conditions in the water through Wednesday. Then, from Virginia to NJ and up into the New England coast, people should take caution through Friday.

Luckily, waters on both coasts should calm down just in time for Labor Day weekend.


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Fifteen-Year-Old American Makes History at US Open


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- An American female tennis player made history at the U.S. Open -- and it was not Serena or Venus Williams.

Catherine Bellis, a 15-year-old wild card in the tournament, became the youngest American woman to win a U.S. Open match on Tuesday in 28 years when she defeated the tournament’s 12th seed, Dominika Cibulkova, in the first round.

“It’s crazy to think that I’m actually here right now with all these other people,” Bellis, of Atherton, Calif., told reporters after her 6-1, 4-6, 6-4, win at the U.S.T.A. Billie Jean King National Tennis Center.

“I’m still in shock after the match,” she said.

Bellis, who goes by the nickname Cici, was playing in just her 13th professional tennis match Tuesday against Cibulkova, the 13th ranked player in the world and runner-up at this year's Australian Open.

Bellis is ranked 1,208 in the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) rankings.

The last time a 15-year-old won a match at the U.S. Open was now 33-year-old Anna Kournikova's win in 1996, before Bellis was even born.

Bellis will next face Kazakhstan’s Zarina Diyas, a 20-year-old ranked No. 48 in the world.

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Alleged Serial Stowaway Marilyn Hartman Arrested for Third Time this Month


iStock/Thinkstock(PHOENIX) -- Alleged repeat stowaway Marilyn Hartman was arrested Tuesday at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport on a criminal trespass charge, according to police.

It was the third time the 62-year-old, who has a history of trying to board planes without a ticket, has been arrested this month.

Airport employees recognized Hartman loitering around 11:30 a.m. in terminal 4 near the baggage claim area, according to Phoenix police, who said she was not in possession of a ticket.

The arrest came after Hartman was caught on Aug. 14 trying to enter a Sky Harbor security checkpoint without a ticket. Hartman was let go with a warning at the time and was removed from airport property, police said.

Phoenix police said they were requesting Hartman undergo a mental health evaluation.

Hartman was arrested earlier this month on a misdemeanor trespassing charge after she flew on a Southwest Airlines flight from San Jose to Los Angeles without a ticket, authorities said.

Several days after she was released from police custody, Hartman was seen scouting terminals for about an hour at Los Angeles International Airport, according to airport police. She was arrested and charged with violating the terms of her probation, which included staying out of airports unless she had a ticket to fly.

Hartman was released from a Los Angeles jail earlier this month because of overcrowding, according to ABC News' Los Angeles station, KABC.

While she has an extensive history of trying to board planes, Hartman's arrest earlier this month was the first time she successfully was able to fly without a ticket, authorities said.

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Kindergartener Goes to School with Loaded Gun in Backpack


iStock/Thinkstock(ALIQUIPPA, Pa.) -- A five-year-old reportedly brought a loaded handgun to school in a backpack.

A teacher at the school in Aliquippa -- a town near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania -- found the small revolver in a kindergartner's bag.

The school called police and no injuries were reported.

The school sent letters home to parents saying the gun was never visible to any student. Police said no one handled the gun and it is not believed he intended to hurt anyone.

Police are investigating how the gun ended up in the bag, and whether to file charges.

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Freed Hostage Peter Theo Curtis Arrives Back in United States


Nancy Curtis Speaks with ABC's Amy Robach. Photo Credit: ABC News(BOSTON) -- American writer and journalist Peter Theo Curtis, who was held captive for nearly two years by Syrian militants believed to be allied with Jabhat al-Nusra, returned to the United States Tuesday, two days after his captors released him, his family said.

Curtis, 45, flew from Tel Aviv, arriving at Newark Liberty International Airport late Tuesday afternoon, and then flew on to Logan International Airport in Boston, where he met his mother, Nancy Curtis, according to a statement from his family.

"I have been so touched and moved, beyond all words, by the people who have come up to me today -- strangers on the airplane, the flight attendants and, most of all, my family to say welcome home," Theo Curtis said, according to the statement.

He also thanked the "U.S. officials who have worked on my case" and the government of Qatar.

His mother said she was "overwhelmed" to have her son home.

"I am overwhelmed with relief that this day has come and my son is standing beside me," Nancy Curtis said. "But this is a sober occasion because of the events of the past week. My heart goes out to the other families who are suffering."

He had been held for 22 months by Syrian terrorist group Jabhat Al-Nusrah, a different terror group than the ISIS extremists who beheaded U.S. photojournalist James Foley.

Curtis was handed over to United Nations peacekeepers in the Al Rafid village, located in the Golan Heights region between Syria and Israel, Sunday evening, 6:40 p.m. local time, according to the United Nations. He received a medical checkup before he was given to U.S. officials. After he was freed, Nancy Curtis said she got the chance to briefly speak with him on the phone.

Curtis' return home comes as U.S. officials say they are closing in on the ISIS executioner who killed Foley. Prior to his death, Foley had been held hostage by ISIS for two years.

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Feds Say Two Men Robbed, Killed Violinist at Her Home in the Middle of the Day


iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- A New York City violinist who was at her summer home was brutally murdered when two men knocked on her door and attempted to rob her, federal authorities said.

Mary Whitaker, 61, was a musician who played on Broadway, toured with Barbara Streisand, was a member of the Westchester Philharmonic, and spent her summers playing for the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra, according to the Philharmonic.

She was at her summer home in Westfield, N.Y., when the incident occurred, according to federal documents.

Two homeless men, Jonathan Conklin and Charles Sanford, approached her home in the early morning hours of Aug. 20 with the intent to rob her, according to the criminal complaint. Sanford told police that Conklin wanted to rob a homeowner so he could buy drugs and "live like a rock star," the criminal complaint says.

In a chilling series of events, Sanford allegedly knocked on Whitaker's door and asked to the use phone because he had run out of gas. When she said yes, Conklin emerged from hiding and allegedly pointed a rifle at her, authorities said.

"This is a robbery. Don't make this any worse than it is," Conklin said, according to the complaint.

Whitaker screamed, prompting Conklin to allegedly fire a round from the rifle that hit Whitaker in the torso, authorities said.

Whitaker then grabbed the rifle and struggled with Conklin for it, another shot was fired and hit Whitaker in the leg. Whitaker fell backward, hitting her head against the garage door, and Sanford dragged her inside the garage, authorities said.

The pair then robbed Whitaker's home, taking her keys, credit cards, cell phone and checkbook, while Conklin ordered Sanford to finish killing Whitaker with a knife, according to authorities.

They then took off in her Chrysler P.T. Cruiser and drove back to Pennsylvania, where they used the credit cards and cell phone, which allowed police to track them.

Friends of Whitaker's found her body in the garage and called police, who quickly tracked the pair. Sanford provided much of the information in the account to detectives.

Both Conklin and Sanford are now charged with stealing the car, unlawfully using the firearms, and illegally transporting commerce over state lines, which are the crimes that fall under federal jurisdiction. A local grand jury in Westfield will consider the murder charges.

Conklin and Sanford both entered pleas of not guilty on Friday in U.S. District Court in Buffalo, N.Y., and are being represented by public defenders. Their detention hearings are set for Thursday morning.


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