iStock/Thinkstock(CONROE, Texas) -- A group banded together to rescue a trapped woman from fast-moving floodwaters in Conroe, Texas, in a dramatic moment caught on camera.
The woman was trapped in a van Thursday off of Interstate 45 in Conroe -- about 40 miles north of Houston -- when the group of rescuers, struggling to stay standing in the rushing waters, extended a ladder towards her.
As the rescuers held up the ladder, they also held onto each other so no one would be washed away.
The ladder successfully reached the woman, who crawled out of the van and was then carried to safety.
The Texas flooding has proved to be damaging and deadly. At least one person died from the flooding in Brenham, a city located about halfway between Austin and Houston.
And the threat is not over -- flash flood warnings are in effect this afternoon in Texas counties including Harris, Liberty, Montgomery and San Jacinto.
The severe weather also extended beyond southeastern Texas, with much of the Plains and the South suffering from flash flooding.
ABC News(NEW YORK) -- U.S. meteorologists are predicting more tropical activity this year compared to recent years but expect the summer hurricane season to be near-normal levels.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said there is a 70 percent likelihood that there will be 10 to 16 named storms this season (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which four to eight could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher). In a "normal" year, there are 12 named storms, six hurricanes and two to three major hurricanes, NOAA said.
This is one of the toughest hurricane season outlooks ever made due to the abundance of atmospheric variables, said Gerry Bell, lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA's Climate Prediction Center.
The most influential variable would be the AMO (Atlantic Multi-Decadal Oscillation). This pattern is characterized by cooling and warming of water temperatures in the Atlantic and intensity of the monsoon season over West Africa. If the Atlantic water temperature is warmer than normal and the monsoon season in West Africa is active, this pattern tends to produce more tropical systems in the Atlantic Basin. If the reverse happens, it tends to yield toward below-normal hurricane season. These patterns can last over 20 years.
Another important variable this upcoming hurricane season is the fading El Nino and forming La Nina. El Nino tends to suppress tropical activity in the Atlantic and La Nina does the opposite. This year, there is a 70 percent chance that La Nina will form by the end of this summer and early fall. Coincidentally, August, September and October happen to be the average peak of hurricane season, with 90 percent to 95 percent of tropical storms forming during this period.
Finally, even if a tropical system forms in the Atlantic Basin, small scale atmospheric conditions and patterns have to be just right for it to make landfall in the United States. Last time a major hurricane (winds 111 mph, Category 3 or higher) made landfall in the United States was in 2005. During 2003, 2004, and 2005 seasons, there was a persistent area of high pressure over the Southeastern U.S. pushing any formed storms in the western Atlantic toward the US's East and Gulf Coasts. But in the recent years, we had a persistent area of low pressure pushing storms away from the U.S. These small scale, short term patterns can be only forecasted a couple of weeks in advance, making the entire hurricane season forecast that much more difficult.
Hurricane season doesn’t officially start until June 1, but we are already tracking a tropical system that could affect parts of the Eastern U.S. It is likely to become the named storm “Bonnie” over the next 24 hours, if not sooner. Even though this system is forming before the official start to the Atlantic Hurricane season, it does not mean that this has never happened before or that is unusual. NOAA officials are warning anyone that lives or is traveling to Georgia or the Carolinas this Memorial Day weekend to monitor the forecast for updates.
U.S. Customs and Border Protection(NOGALES, Ariz.) -- U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers have arrested an Arizona woman who they say attempted to smuggle a pound of methamphetamine inside burritos through a Nogales, Arizona, entry port.
At least two people were reported missing in Travis County after getting trapped in a car in high waters, according to Angel Flores, spokesman for the Austin Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management. And at least 12 people in Travis County were rescued from high waters, Flores said.
The severe weather extended beyond southeastern Texas with much of the Plains and the South suffering from flash flooding.
iStock/Thinkstock(ARLINGTON, Va.) — Federal authorities arrested a Virginia woman on Thursday for a unique handbag-related scheme that targeted several major department stores and involved brands such as Gucci, Burberry and Fendi.
The scheme was so prolific that at one point she was a major department store’s top online customer in the entire world, an agent from Homeland Security Investigations says in court documents.
For years, Praepitcha Smatsorabudh would allegedly buy high-end handbags — many costing more than $2,000 apiece — from department stores online. She would then allegedly return the bags and receive refunds in-person at stores across the country. But what she really was returning were fake handbags that she ordered from suppliers in China and Hong Kong, according to federal authorities.
Smatsorabudh would then sell the authentic, high-end handbags to unwitting customers online, usually through eBay or an Instagram account, federal authorities say.
In a September 2014 email to one fake handbag supplier, she allegedly wrote: "The best fake bag I’ve ever seen! Can you send me more ... from this factory. They make bag IMPaCABLE!!!!" [sic]
She allegedly traveled to at least 12 different states to return fake bags at various locations of one department store in particular, though authorities would not identify the store.
Over the past two years, she allegedly received more than a million dollars in refunds from the one department store alone – an alleged windfall that doesn’t include the money she then allegedly made from selling the authentic high-end handbags online.
Federal authorities were able to build a case against her with help from the department store’s fraud investigators, the Arlington County Police Department and an undercover Homeland Security Investigations agent, who posed as a customer and purchased an authentic handbag from Smatsorabudh, court documents show.
In March, federal authorities raided her home in Arlington, Virginia, and found 572 handbags, many of them fake, according to court documents.
Smatsorabudh, who is in her early 40s, has been charged with one count of wire fraud. If convicted, she could face 20 years in prison. She will be arraigned next week in federal court in Alexandria, Virginia.
She was born in Thailand, but her immigration or citizenship status was not immediately known.
Mark Bowen/Scripps National Spelling Bee(NATIONAL HARBOR, Md.) — Despite the Scripps National Spelling Bee creating new rules this year to try to crown one champion instead of co-champions, the final two spellers Thursday night went the distance as the Bee ran out of words.
The winners of the 89th annual competition -- held at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center in National Harbor, Maryland -- are Jairam Hathwar, 13, of Corning, New York, and Nihar Janga, 11, of Austin, Texas.
The winning words were: Feldenkrais and Gesellschaft
Both champions will receive a $40,000 cash prize, a $2,500 U.S. savings bond and a reference library from Merriam-Webster, $400 worth of Encyclopedia Britannica products, and a trip to New York City, where they will appear on LIVE with Kelly.
Martin County Sheriff's Office(HOBE SOUND, Fla.) — The ex-husband of a missing Florida woman has accepted a plea deal in exchange for disclosing the location of the missing woman's body, the Martin County Sheriff's Office said Thursday night.
In a statement posted to its Facebook page, the Martin County Sheriff's Office said, "Today Steven Williams, former husband of Tricia Todd, plead no contest to 2nd degree murder. He will receive 35-years in prison. As part of the plea deal, he agreed to lead MCSO and members of the state attorney's office to the site of Tricia's body located deep inside the Hungryland State Preserve off of Pratt Whitney Rd."
The post, which includes video of teams searching the area, continued, "At this hour, Sheriff William Snyder, MCSO detectives, forensic teams, members of the state attorney's office, and MCFR are on scene to begin excavating a specific site. We will be working through the night, and will update everyone as we can."
Williams, 30, was arrested on second-degree murder and child neglect charges, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Wednesday at a press conference.
During a news conference Wednesday morning, Martin County Sheriff William Snyder said Williams confessed to killing Todd in April. The Air Force airman was arrested Tuesday in North Carolina.
She was last seen at a Publix supermarket on April 26 and reported missing the next day.
Snyder says Todd's 2-year-old daughter was there when her mother was killed. She is now living with family members.
NYPD(NEW YORK) — Rapper Roland Collins -- whose stage name is Troy Ave -- has been arrested in connection with the shooting Wednesday night at the NYC venue Irving Plaza where rapper T.I. was slated to perform, the NYPD announced Thursday.
Earlier in the day, police released footage of the shooting, that left one dead and two others wounded. Collins also wounded himself.
The NYPD tweeted that Collins, 33, was charged with attempted murder and criminal possession of a weapon. He has also been charged with reckless endangerment.
Police say Collins is believed to be the only suspect, but they are not ruling out other individuals.
ARREST UPDATE: Roland Collins (A.K.A. Troy Ave), 33, charged with Attempted Murder & Criminal Possession of a Weapon https://t.co/pb7IbuwbK5
T.I., who was not on stage during the shooting, took to Twitter Thursday, writing, "My heart is heavy today. Our music is intended to save lives, like it has mine and many others. My heartfelt condolences to the family that suffered the loss & my prayers are with all those injured. Respectfully, Tip."
iStock/Thinkstock(MESA, Ariz.) — A judge has released portions of a former police officer's heavily redacted body-camera footage showing the moments leading up to a deadly police-involved shooting at a Mesa, Arizona, hotel.
Daniel Shaver, a 26-year-old father of two, was staying at the La Quinta Inn & Suites in January on a work trip from Texas.
A 911 call was made claiming a gun was being pointed out the window of a hotel room, according to court records. Police say they found two pellet guns, which he used for his pest-control job, inside the room after Shaver had been killed.
The footage begins with a police officer telling the occupants of room 502 to listen to his instructions or it was going to "become very uncomfortable."
Police asked for any female occupants to step out, then shouted several times for Shaver to come out. The officers, surveying the scene from the hallway, discussed whether to call Shaver's room from a lobby phone or access the room with a key card.
Shaver then comes out of the room unarmed, following officers’ commands to crawl toward them, according to the incident report. Shaver begged the armed officers not to shoot him, the report says.
Officer Philip Brailsford fired his gun five times, killing the father of two.
The body-cam video resumes with another officer’s escorting a female out of the hallway and outside to the front of the hotel, trying to keep her calm.
Brailsford later told investigators that he thought Shaver was reaching for a weapon. "I perceived this as a threat. It was just a scary situation," Brailsford told ABC Phoenix affiliate KNXV.
But the investigation report indicating Shaver's motion was "consistent with attempting to pull his shorts up as they were falling off,” additionally noting, "No other purposes for this movement appear to be viable."
Shaver's widow, Laney Sweet, said of the incident, "He was executed. He was begging for his life. Saying please don't shoot me."
The former Mesa police officer is now awaiting trial on second-degree murder charges.
Mike Piccarreta, Brailsford's attorney, released a statement, saying, "This is a sad and unfortunate situation. Officer Brailsford followed his training and all procedures."
He added, "When you're dealing with an individual who is potentially armed and they reach into a known position where weapons are located you are obligated to defend yourself and the other officers. There was no animosity, no bad feelings against the deceased."
Maricopa County Superior Court Judge Sam Myers redacted a large portion of the footage, including the moment where Shaver is killed, to respect Brailsford's right to a fair trial, saying it might prejudice potential jurors.
Ingram Publishing/iStock/Thinkstock(VANCOUVER, Wash.) -- Authorities are investigating mysterious fires at two churches in the Vancouver, Washington, area that occurred within a day of one another.
"We have two churches in one fire district and that's not normal," said David Schmitke, the public information officer with Clark County Fire District 6. "We're not quite to the point where we can say they're connected just yet. The fire marshal hasn't gotten to that point yet."
On Wednesday, around 3 a.m., firefighters responded to reports of a three-alarm fire at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Hazel Dell, Washington. Fire investigators estimated the damages to be around $2 million, according to ABC affiliate KATU-TV.
Nearly 24 hours later, firefighters were back at it after they were called to a blaze at Liberty Bible Church of the Nazarene, about 10 minutes away from First Congregational United, in Vancouver.
Inside Liberty Bible Church, the smell of fuel was unmistakable, authorities said. Fire investigators said that a Molotov cocktail had been thrown through a window to the church's nursery.
The Rev. Larry Rounsley, a pastor at Liberty Bible Church, said the building had sustained mostly water damage. He said a recently installed, brand-new sprinkler system had likely saved the church from being totally destroyed.
"You know, it's hard to put yourself in the mind of why someone would do that," Rounsley said today. "Why they would pick a church of all places. I look at it with extreme sadness for the sacrifices that people make that are part of this community to have a special place like this."
Rounsley said the church had no known enemies and no threats had been made.
"The church is received really well in the community," he said. "We have a good relationship with neighbors."
In the meantime, fire investigators today continued their probe into the blazes, looking for a link to the two churches.
"The sheriff has been telling other people, other churches, to be mindful, to be vigilant. ... [And] also telling people who live around faith-based centers to keep an eye out," Schmitke said.
ehrlif/iStock/Thinkstock(HORSE CAVE, Ky.) -- Nineteen people have been rescued after a flash food trapped them in a Kentucky cave Thursday afternoon, officials said.
It is unclear how the rescue unfolded.
Around 10 a.m., 21 college-aged students entered the cave on a guided tour, said Kerry McDaniel, Hart County emergency management director. Afternoon thunderstorms around 2 p.m. produced flash flooding, which caused rising water to cut off passages and access points at the Hidden River Cave and American Cave Museum, McDaniel said.
A police officer who went in to retrieve the students was among the people trapped, McDaniel said. The students were accompanied by experienced guides, who officials had hoped would bring them to a safe passage known as the "Attic Room."
It was not clear what happened to the other students, but all are accounted for.
There is no cell service in the cave, and no one can hear the people who were trapped, McDaniel said.
The cave sits under the town of Horse Cave. Three dive teams responded to the scene, and officials initially thought it could take anywhere from 12 to 14 hours before a rescue attempt could be made due to the rough river currents.
Some people were trapped as far as five miles in the cave, McDaniel said.
Stockbyte/Thinkstock(BALTIMORE) -- Earlier this week a judge found Baltimore police officer Edward Nero not guilty on four misdemeanor charges for his role in the events leading up the arrest and death of 25-year-oldFreddie Gray. Gray broke his neck while riding unsecured in the back of a police van in April 2015. His death ignited days of protests and riots in Baltimore, helping to fuel the national Black Lives Matter movement.
Nero was just one of six officers charged and is the first to receive a verdict. Five more officers will be tried in the coming weeks and months, including Officer William Porter, whose first trial ended with a hung jury.
Here’s Why Nero Was Found Not Guilty
“Based on the evidence presented, this Court finds that the State has not met its burden to prove, beyond a reasonable doubt, all required elements of the crimes charged. Therefore, the verdict for each count is not guilty,” Baltimore Circuit Court Judge Barry Williams said Monday.
Williams determined that prosecutors failed to prove their case against Nero. Williams said he could not find evidence that Nero was involved with detaining and arresting Gray, citing the testimony he heard from fellow Baltimore police officer Garrett Miller, who said he acted alone in handling Gray. Miller, who is also facing charges in Gray’s death and has pleaded not guilty, was granted immunity in Nero’s trial, so his testimony will not affect his impending trial. Moreover, the court said that Nero had "probable cause" to touch Gray and that any contact between the two men was "not unlawful and unwarranted." Williams also found that it was not Nero’s responsibility to seat belt Gray.
The Baltimore Police Department said in a press release after the verdict that "although the criminal case against Officer Edward Nero has come to a close, the internal investigation has not. With that, Officer Nero's status will remain unchanged. He will remain in an administrative capacity while this investigation continues. The internal investigation is being handled by other police departments. The internal investigation will not be completed until all of the criminal cases against the other five officers are completed because they will likely be witnesses in each case."
Nero's lawyer released a statement on Monday following the verdict. "His hope is that the State’s Attorney will reevaluate the remaining five Officer’s cases and dismiss their charges," the statement read.
The next officer on trial is Caesar Goodson, who faces several charges, including second-degree depraved-heart murder. Goodson was behind the wheel of the police transport vehicle where prosecutors say Gray suffered his fatal spinal cord injury. Goodson, who is charged with the most serious crime of the six officers, will go on trial June 6. It is unclear whether he wants to be tried by a jury or by a judge.
Lt. Brian Rice is charged with involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment. He will go on trial July 5.
Officer Garrett Miller is charged with second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. He will go on trial July 27.
Officer Porter has a trial date of Sept. 6, where he will be retried for involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office, and reckless endangerment.
And finally, Sgt. Alicia White is facing charges of involuntary manslaughter, second-degree assault, misconduct in office and reckless endangerment. She will go on trial Oct. 13.
These five officers have all pleaded not guilty.
Porter and White Take on the State’s Attorney
In a surprise move, Porter and White have both filed a lawsuit against Marilyn Mosby, Baltimore City state’s attorney, Maj. Sam Cogen of the Baltimore Sheriff’s Office and the state of Maryland for defamation and invasion of privacy. Both officers are facing involuntary manslaughter charges, and claim that Mosby and Cogen made false statements during a May 2, 2015, news conference when she first announced the charges.
The officers asked for the lawsuit to be sealed, but electronic court records show that motion was denied on Wednesday.
Rochelle Ritchie, communications director for Baltimore City State’s Attorney Office, told ABC News that "a gag order was issued in all matters related to Freddie Gray, so we will not be able to comment on the lawsuit."
Major Sabrina Tapp-Harper, public information officer with the Baltimore Sheriff’s Office, said "we’re not commenting on this particular situation because of pending litigation.”
Legal experts say the lawsuit is a long-shot and will likely not be successful for the officers.
fergregory/iStock/Thinkstock(TALLAHASEE, Fla.) -- A man has been arrested for the 2014 murder of Florida State University law professor Daniel Markel, the Tallahassee Police Department said on Thursday, but the probable cause for the case has been sealed.
On July 18, 2014, Markel died of a gunshot wound to the head, according to a statement by police.
On Wednesday, more than a year and a half after the murder, Tallahassee police arrested Sigfredo Garcia, 34, in connection with the case. Garcia was taken into custody by the Hallandale Beach Police Department in Broward County, Florida, Tallahassee police said.
"The murder of Professor Markel struck a deep chord within this community that resonated around the country," Police Chief Michael DeLeo said during a news conference on Thursday.
DeLeo added that the investigation is ongoing and the probable cause for this case has been sealed by a judge, and that the police department was not able to provide any more details on the case at this time.
Police declined to answer questions about whether Garcia knew Markel, whether more arrests would be made, or what the possible motive for the murder could have been. He was arrested on a homicide warrant but it was unclear what the charges are against him.
Garcia appeared in court this morning and declined a public defender, according to local ABC affiliate WTXL, saying he had a lawyer but could not remember the name, and that he had the lawyer's business card in his wallet, which was confiscated. It was unclear if Garcia entered a plea.
Markel, a Harvard grad, was a beloved law professor at Florida State University and father to two young sons, according to a memoriam posted by the university.
"Professor Markel’s contributions to the law and broader community were pervasive and lasting. He will be deeply missed but his memory will live on in the College of Law community," the memoriam reads.
The mystery of the professor’s death has baffled the Tallahassee community for almost two years. According to a report of the 911 call released by the Tallahassee Police Department, Markel was found by a neighbor in his garage, in his vehicle with the driver's side window bashed open. The neighbor said he heard a loud bang and that Markel was bleeding but still moving.
Jalisco State Prosecutor | Tarrant County Sheriff(FORT WORTH, Texas) -- Tonya Couch, the mother of "affluenza" teen Ethan Couch, has been indicted by a grand jury in Texas on charges of hindering apprehension of a known felon and money laundering, court documents show.
"The defendant did harbor or conceal Ethan Couch, or provide or aid Ethan Couch with the means of avoiding arrest or effecting escape by financing and transporting Ethan Couch in his flight from the jurisdiction of the court and the state of Texas," the indictment stated.
Tonya Couch was also charged with money laundering for allegedly withdrawing "$30,000 or more but less than $150,000," which authorities believe was intended to further the commission of criminal activity, namely hindering Ethan's apprehension, according to the indictment.
The search for Ethan began in December after he missed one of his monthly check-ins, a condition of his probation related to a 2013 case. He and his mother fled to Mexico on Dec. 11 and were later detained by Mexican authorities. Tonya Couch was brought back to the U.S. in early January and released from Tarrant County Jail on $75,000 bond. Ethan was transferred to the U.S. later that month.
Ethan was ordered by a Texas judge to stay in jail for nearly two years after he appeared in adult court last month. He was initially put on probation in 2013 after killing four people while driving drunk at the age of 16.
The term "affluenza" was coined during his sentencing hearing when a psychologist hired by the defense testified that the teen's irresponsible behavior was a product of his affluent upbringing.
Tonya Couch's lawyers, Stephanie Pattern and Steve Gordon, did not immediately respond to ABC News' request for comment.
KTRK-TV(HOUSTON) -- More than a week after an 11-year-old boy was stabbed to death in Houston, police say they have obtained a knife found "a number of blocks" away from where Josue Flores' body was discovered.
Police, however, are cautious to call this a break in the case.
"We will take it into our property room and do some tests to see if there was a possible link" to Josue's slaying, Houston Police Department spokesperson John Cannon told ABC News Thursday. "It could be involved in this incident, or any other incident. It's just a found piece of property."
Cannon confirmed the knife was spotted on Wednesday in a storm sewer drain by a female passerby.
Police said the Marshall Middle School student was fatally stabbed around 4:45 p.m. on May 17 near the city's Northside neighborhood, where Josue lived and went to school. He'd reportedly stayed late at school that day to attend a science club party.
Authorities released a resident's home-security surveillance footage Tuesday showing Josue's journey home from school moments before he was brutally killed. The incident, which allegedly occurred two blocks away from where he was filmed, was out of range of the surveillance camera.
According to police, witnesses said they "heard loud screaming" and saw the sixth-grader struggling with someone who eventually ran off.
His attacker is described as a black male, 25 to 30 years old, about 6 feet tall and weighing 180 to 200 pounds. Police said he had short hair and was wearing a black shirt, black pants and had a green jacket over his shoulders at the time of the attack.
Investigators are still awaiting results on DNA evidence.
"I wake up believing it's just a horrible dream, that I'll wake up and be able to see my brother again, talk to him about this," Juan Flores, Josue's brother, told ABC News Houston station KTRK. "When the burial is over it's something I have to accept, that it's reality."
Josue's funeral was held Tuesday.
"This is a monstrous crime -- and I say that not just as district attorney but as a mother," Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Monday at a news conference. "There is a monster who is out among us. You may know who he is...your conscience needs to be your guide."