The Wire

  • 16-year-old murder suspect admits setting fire that killed mother, records state

    Excerpt from AL.com:

    Nicholas Lamons is charged in his mother’s fire death.

    A teen murder suspect admitted setting the Morgan County fire that killed his mother and sent two others to the hospital, court records state.

    Nicholas Lamons, 16, is charged in the Tuesday-morning fire death of his mother, 32-year-old Kimberly Lamons, at their Alabama 67 home in the Joppa area.

    “Nicholas was located a short time later asleep in the van in Somerville,” Investigator Jeff Reynolds wrote in an arrest affidavit. “Nicholas was questioned and admitted that he had started a fire in his bedroom prior to leaving the residence. Nicholas also stated that he came back by the house a short time later and saw the trailer burning but did not make an effort to notify anyone.”

  • Moore slams Washington Post’s Pulitzer Prize in fundraising email

    Excerpt from Associated Press:

    Former U.S. Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama is trying to raise money by pointing to the Pulitzer Prize that The Washington Post won for its investigation of him.

    In a Friday fundraising email to supporters, Moore’s legal defense fund, said The Post won for “lies and slander.” The email sent by the Moore for U.S. Senate Legal Defense Fund then asked for people to help replenish his legal fund.

    The Post won a Pulitzer for investigative reporting for its stories revealing allegations that Moore pursued teenage girls sexually decades ago while he was in his 30s. Moore denied any misconduct.

  • Birmingham considering another Democratic National Convention bid

    Excerpt from WBRC:

    Birmingham is going after another Democratic National Convention, but the city says this time the committee asked to make a pitch.

    Last month, the Democratic National Committee reached out to Mayor Randall Woodfin about the city applying to host the 2020 convention.

    In a statement to WBRC, Mayor Woodfin says he’s considering applying.

    “We are very excited that the Democratic National Committee has recognized the City of Birmingham as an attractive, possible site for the 2020 Democratic National Convention. Such recognition shows how much progress our city is making when we receive these kinds of unsolicited invitations,” Woodfin said.

5 hours ago

Alabama Sen. Doug Jones could be a deciding vote in Pompeo confirmation

(PolitiFact/YouTube)

With Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) publicly opposed to CIA Director Mike Pompeo’s confirmation to be Trump’s secretary of state, Pompeo is seeking to win votes from Democratic U.S. Senators to get across the finish line.

Among the possible Democratic targets for Pompeo are Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Sen. Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Alabama’s own Sen. Doug Jones (D-Mountain Brook).

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At a town hall meeting for University of Alabama students in Tuscaloosa last week, Jones addressed the Pompeo matter and explained how he sought to follow in the footsteps of one of his predecessors, former Alabama Sen. Howell Heflin.

“I start with any presidential nomination with a needle in favor of the president,” Jones said. “I go back to my role as a staff member for the late Sen. Howell Heflin from Alabama.”

According to Jones, Heflin began with a view of the confirmation process in favor of the nominee.

“As chief justice [of the Alabama Supreme Court], he always felt constitutionally bound that his role and his view that the president should be given the benefit of the doubt with regard to nominations,” Jones said. “However, that does not mean that it would take a lot to move that needle back. If you do the appropriate work, you can figure this out and determine for yourself whether or not a nomination is qualified, whether or not they’re going to uphold the law. And that will mean voting for someone that I did not personally agree with and would not have personally appointed if I were king or I were president.”

At the time the Tuscaloosa event on April 13, Jones had not met with Pompeo. A representative from Jones’ office told Yellowhammer News Jones and Pompeo met on Thursday.

“He has been making the rounds on Capitol Hill,” Jones said. “He has not made it to my office yet. I fully expect him to at some point. I want to reserve my judgment on him. He has been confirmed once.”

Critics of Pompeo have opposed his confirmation on the grounds of his view on U.S. involvement in the Middle East and the use of “torture” as a means of interrogation.

“I have heard and understand the criticism and concerns and I want to talk to him about it,” Jones said.

For the time being, Jones remains non-committal on the confirmation, especially given he was not a U.S. Senator when Pompeo was confirmed to be CIA director in 2017.

“The jury is out for me at this point as a freshman senator that didn’t have the benefit of voting on him the last time,” he said.

@Jeff_Poor is a graduate of Auburn University and is the editor of Breitbart TV.

Editor note: This story was updated to reflect Jones had met with Pompeo two days earlier per Jones’ office.

6 hours ago

University of Montevallo breaks ground on new Center for the Arts

(University of Montevallo)

The University of Montevallo this week held the groundbreaking for its new multi-million-dollar Center for the Arts.

The 36,000-square-foot facility will allow the College of Fine Arts at UM to provide a more comprehensive teaching and learning space giving fine arts programs a location to collaborate more across disciplines.

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“This facility is to create a new kind of environment that draws together students and faculty from all of the departments,” said Dr. Steven Peters, dean of the College of Fine Arts. “Our students and professors will have the opportunity for more conversations across disciplines in the arts and encourage more high quality, specific and interdisciplinary activity. This will be a creative engine for discovery and innovation.”

The Center for the Arts will provide opportunities for campus and community use with the following key features:

• Performance venues and hospitality space
• University art gallery
• Theatre Department offices and multipurpose classrooms and studios
• Multi-use digital fabrication lab
• Scene design and wardrobe shops along with versatile storage spaces

“I am thrilled that we, at Davis Architects, have been fortunate to work with the University of Montevallo and their outstanding theatre, music and art faculty and staff to bring to reality this wonderful new facility that they need and deserve,” said Don Cosper, Davis Architects.

The performance venue will include a 350-seat theater with state-of-the-art acoustics and technology for music concerts and theater performances, a 100-seat black box theater and a courtyard suitable for outdoor performances and receptions. Overall, the Center is a $25 million investment for the University.

“It’s exciting to be part of a historic project for the University of Montevallo,” said Ken Upchurch, TCU Consulting Services, LLC. “Working with Dr. Stewart on this project to connect the University, the arts, and the Montevallo community has been a true pleasure.”

The additional classrooms and labs will serve as a major asset for the University of Montevallo’s college’s recruitment program.

“This new Center for the Arts will be a state-of-the-art facility able to accommodate growth including up to 150 students in the fine arts programs over the next five years,” said Dr. John W. Stewart III, president of the University of Montevallo. “The cross function of disciplines under one roof will provide students with more marketable skills for their future occupations.”

Not only will the new Center for the Arts serve to promote integrated thinking within the University, it will also act as an artistic hub for the community.

“The facility will immerse students’ experiences in the arts,” said Peters. “The impact on the University of Montevallo, the Shelby County community and our university will be endless.”

The College of Fine Arts’ work focuses on creativity — but not only on creativity: the school’s mission includes integrating undergraduate education with arts advocacy and leadership, diversity and inclusion, engagement with social and cultural issues and partnership with individuals and organizations locally and regionally. University of Montevallo faculty and staff, as well as Shelby County leaders believe this new facility will prepare students to join the next wave of professional artists, performers, musicians, arts educators and communication experts.

“This beautiful new facility will benefit Shelby County and the State of Alabama as a whole,” said Alex Dudchock, Shelby County Manager. “We are taking the business approach to attract national and regional talent. Our goals include student retention and growth, as well as working to keep Montevallo graduates staying in Shelby County.”

Regardless of major, students are being guided to find their own creative signature, to discover what kind of independent thinkers they are, how they are uniquely creative, how they can become more thoughtful communicators and problem-solvers and how they can become more productive, creative collaborators. By doing so, the community is endeavoring to build the 21st century creative workforce at this beautiful place called Montevallo in the heart of Alabama.

“The College contributes to the development of intellectual curiosity, artistic depth and breadth. It provides a solid liberal arts foundation and professional training according to the highest standards to prepare our students to pursue the career trajectory they may choose,” said David Wheeler, Board of Trustees, University of Montevallo. “For us, an education in the arts is central to the academic mission of UM since it is a kind of liberation—a framework for creative interaction with the world.”

7 hours ago

Senate will now allow senators to bring their babies on the floor

(Pixabay)

The United States Senate unanimously voted Wednesday night to allow senators to bring their children under the age of one onto the floor.

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Senators with a baby are now able to have their children with them during votes — a move Sen. Tammy Duckworth pushed. The previous rule banned senators from bringing babies, which may have proven problematic for lawmakers trying to balance being a parent and working on Capitol Hill late at night.

“By ensuring that no Senator will be prevented from performing their constitutional responsibilities simply because they have a young child, the Senate is leading by example and sending the important message that working parents everywhere deserve family-friendly workplace policies,” Duckworth said of the measure.

Duckworth became the first senator to give birth while in office, causing her to push for the rule change allowing babies on the Senate floor. While some senators voiced concern about breastfeeding or crying, other lawmakers believed it could be beneficial.

“I think it will do us good in the United States Senate, every once in a while, to see a pacifier next to the antique inkwells on our desk or a diaper bag next to one of these brass spittoons which sits on the floor, thank goodness, never used,” Sen. Dick Durbin said.

(Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.)

10 hours ago

Birmingham’s Bill Oliver makes debut as feature film director at Tribeca Film Festival

(B. Oliver)

Years ago, Bill Oliver was a sixth-grader at Highlands Day School in Birmingham when his math teacher started a photography club.

“I signed up for that, and that’s where I fell in love with photography,” says Oliver, who went on to be editor and photographer of the yearbook and to start a movie club while a student at Indian Springs School.

Little did he know where that would lead him.

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This week, Oliver is debuting his first feature film as a director. “Jonathan” makes its bow at the prestigious Tribeca Film Festival in New York on Saturday.

Oliver, who wrote “Jonathan” with his longtime writing partner Peter Nickowitz, describes it as “a science-fiction drama about two brothers who share a secret and what happens when one of them falls in love and begins to neglect their relationship.”

The movie stars Ansel Elgort (“The Fault in Our Stars,” “Baby Driver”), Oscar nominee and Emmy winner Patricia Clarkson (“The Untouchables,” “The Dead Pool,” “Six Feet Under”), Golden Globe winner Matt Bomer (“American Horror Story,” “The Normal Heart”)  and Suki Waterhouse (“Love, Rosie,” “Insurgent”).

Elgort was cast first.

“I knew him from ‘The Fault in Our Stars,’ but I didn’t know any of his other work,” Oliver says. “I saw one side of his character in ‘Fault in Our Stars,’ charming and outgoing, but he was also in ‘Men, Women & Children,’ where he played a very introverted character. We met for lunch and he was just very charming, very smart, very enthusiastic about the project and won me over.”

Casting Elgort helped land Clarkson, a veteran of stage and screen.

“She responded to the script and also had met Ansel at the Toronto Film Festival and fell in love with him, too,” Oliver says. “She was excited to work with him.”

Waterhouse, a British model-turned-actress, worked with Elgort in the upcoming “Billionaire Boys Club.”

Cast and crew gathered for 22 days in fall 2016 to shoot the movie.

It wasn’t Oliver’s first time behind the camera – he’s shot several short films since graduating from Princeton University and going on to directing school at the American Film Institute – but “Jonathan” is his first feature-length project.

“It was definitely scary, but I felt prepared and made sure I was prepared,” he says. “You do all your homework. You have to understand everyone’s job and be prepared to talk to all of them about it. I did my research, did my homework, did my analysis of the script.”

The Tribeca Film Festival is a big step, and “Jonathan” is already getting noticed. More than 100 feature films are being screened, and the show business publication Variety picked “Jonathan” as one of the nine with the most buzz.

“Jonathan” will screen four times between Saturday and April 28. Oliver is hoping to find a distributor to put “Jonathan” out in theaters, and other film festivals might be in its future.

But for now, the director just wants people to see his movie.

“I’m very happy with it and very proud of it,” says Oliver, who lives in New York. “I’m excited to show it to an audience.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

12 hours ago

Students walked out of school on Columbine shooting’s 19th anniversary

(The Denver Post/YouTube)

Students walked out of school to commemorate the 19th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colo., Friday.

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Students across the country staged a walkout to protest gun violence 19 years after the Columbine shooting in 1999, The Washington Post reported. Connecticut’s Ridgefield High School student Lane Murdock, 16, organized the walkouts in order to pay respects to the Columbine High School massacre, where seniors Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris opened fired and killed 13 students and one teacher before killing themselves. Students from 2,500 different schools around the United States are expected to walk out of their high schools at 10 a.m. in their time zone to commemorate the tragedy, according to the HuffPost.

However, Columbine officials are less enthusiastic about the walkouts. Current principal Scott Christy and Frank DeAngelis, the principal during the 1999 shooting, wrote a letter, asking students to instead do a day of community service.

“April has long been a time to respectfully remember our loss and also support efforts to make our communities a better place,” the letter read. “Please consider planning service projects, an activity that will somehow build up your school … as opposed to a walkout.” Columbine high school does not hold classes on the anniversary in a practice started in 2000 in order to pay respects to the victims. Many students instead volunteer at soup kitchens, read to preschoolers, and help clean up parks.

“We feel like doing anything on that day is disrespectful for the families of people who died,” Columbine high school sophomore Rachel Hill said. “There’s a time for protest, but it’s not that day.” Hill didn’t think high school’s respected or listened to Columbine’s opinions, in regards to the walkout, the sophomore added.

The walkouts follow the March For Our Lives rally in Washington, D.C., March 24. The rally was held to advocate for gun reform following the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting spree in Parkland, Fla., Feb. 14.

Content created by The Daily Caller News Foundation is available without charge to any eligible news publisher that can provide a large audience. For licensing opportunities of our original content, please contact licensing@dailycallernewsfoundation.org.

1 day ago

Grand jury considers Alabama woman’s stabbing of husband with sword

(Lawrence County Sheriff)

A grand jury in Alabama will hear the case of a woman accused of fatally stabbing her husband with a sword.

Authorities say 50-year-old Jeannette Hale stabbed her husband, Mark, in the chest while he played a guitar in their home on April 2.

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Lawrence County Sheriff Gene Mitchell tells AL.com that responding deputies found Mark Hale bleeding on their front porch. The sword was in the yard.

Mitchell says the husband later died at a hospital. An autopsy released Wednesday said the cause was complications of being stabbed.

The sheriff says Jeanette Hale was arrested on charges involving domestic violence and drugs.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama forward Braxton Key says he will transfer

(UA Athletics)

Alabama sophomore forward Braxton Key is leaving the team and plans to transfer.

Crimson Tide coach Avery Johnson said Friday Key has been granted his release. He says Key “certainly has a bright future, but he has to do what’s best for him.”

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Key started 17 games last season after missing the first 10 with a knee injury. He averaged 7.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game.

He led the Tide in scoring his first season and was named to the Southeastern Conference’s all-freshman team. Key averaged 12 points and 5.7 rebounds as a freshman while ranking second on the team in assists.

He says it wasn’t an easy decision to make.

The Tide is also expected to lose point guard Collin Sexton, who declared for the draft.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

School shootings: Univ. of Alabama launches program to track student warning signs, prevent next Parkland

(Bama at Work/YouTube)

Warning signs are easy to spot in retrospect, but identifying them early can save lives.

That is the driving force behind an innovative partnership between the University of Alabama and a private company called Firestorm. They have launched a program called BERTHA — Behavioral Risk Threat Assessment, an online training program designed to help schools with grades kindergarten through 12th grade identify early signs of potential violence and then intervene.

The program, which went online last fall, is free for Alabama schools that sign up by Sept. 1. After that, schools will pay a $2,500 annual licensing fee.

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Brenda Truelove, program manager for corporate engagement at the university’s College of Continuing Education, said the initiative is getting a good response from schools, both in and outside of Alabama.

“The goal is we don’t want anymore parents to realize, ‘My child’s not coming home today’ because somebody missed something,” she said. “Some of the benchmarks and clues were missed.”

Truelove said the school and Firestorm have been developing the program for about five years. She said as far as she knows, it is the only one of its kind in the country. She said schools are eager for help.

“They need resources, and this is a tangible resource,” she said.

Many troubled teenagers who have committed mass shootings have exhibited similar behaviors that might have predicted the outbursts.

Those are easy to see in retrospect. For instance, Nikolas Cruz — accused of the Valentine’s Day shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida — has lost his parents and gotten in trouble at school. Law enforcement officers had been called to his home 39 times.

Truelove said BERTHA helps schools develop systems to track students’ behavior over time, detect changes and provide help.

“It allows them to say, ‘Johnny had problems in the third grade, and now he’s still having problems in the fifth grade,” she said.

BERTHA aims to train local school officials to identify trouble signs that might be more subtle than the giant flashing lights Cruz presented. Those factors include:

— Student has experienced multiple losses.
— Student has suicidal thoughts.
— Student has made threatening, specific plans.
— Student is laughed at or talked about negatively.
— Student has demonstrated volatile mood swings.
Truelove said the response does not have to be punitive. Signs that a student might be a threat to commit violence often are signals that he or she is suffering. Getting a student appropriate help early may not only help him but prevent a tragedy years down the road, she said.

The university’s partner, Firestorm, bills itself as one of America’s leading crisis and risk management firms. It has been working with schools to prevent mass shootings since after the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.

“We didn’t get into this to make money but to save lives,” founder and CEO James Satterfield said in a statement provided by the University of Alabama. “What we’re trying to do is get the issue back to where it needs to be. How do you act before there’s an act of violence? BERTHA is ready to address that.”

Truelove said she believes BERTHA should be a part of every school’s toolkit.

“BERTHA is not the answer to every problem,” she said. “But it’s a framework.”

@BrendanKKirby is a senior political reporter at LifeZette and author of “Wicked Mobile.”

 

1 day ago

Port of Mobile taps partners to develop $60M auto export facility

(Made in Alabama)

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina – The Port of Mobile is poised to become a major hub of auto export activity, with a new facility that will allow vehicles to be driven directly onto cargo ships bound for markets around the world.

On Tuesday, representatives of the Alabama State Port Authority and AutoMobile International Terminal, a joint venture of Terminal Zárate S.A. and SAAM Puertos S.A., signed a Memorandum of Understanding to develop and operate a vehicle processing roll-on/roll-off (RO/RO) facility at the Port of Mobile.

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The signing took place in Buenos Aires, the headquarters of Terminal Zárate S.A. and also the site of a trade mission involving Alabama business leaders. The state delegation is visiting Argentina and Ecuador this week to find new markets for their products and services.

The agreement is a giant step forward in supporting automotive logistics in the Americas and abroad, according to James K. Lyons, director and CEO of the Port Authority.

“This agreement represents a key step in diversifying the Port Authority’s business while providing a strategic asset to regional automotive shippers,” Lyons said.

IMPORTANT INFRASTRUCTURE

Automobiles have long been Alabama’s top export, topping $7.75 billion last year alone. State-made models are currently loaded onto ships at ports in other states, so the new RO/RO facility at the Port of Mobile will provide a more convenient option for state automakers.

“Alabama is the No. 3 auto exporter among U.S. states, with shipments to 88 countries last year,” said Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“This new facility is an important piece of infrastructure that will help our automakers maintain their competitive edge as they continue to grow.”

Construction on the automotive RO/RO terminal is scheduled to start by the end of this year, with completion expected by the end of 2019.

The new terminal would convert approximately 57 acres of a former bulk material handling facility into a state-of-the-art automotive processing and logistics terminal. The 40-foot ship draft facility is served by five Class I railroads serving all of North America and immediate, unencumbered access to two interstate systems (I-65 and I-10).

The overall project represents a total investment of approximately $60 million. Proceeds from the Port Authority’s recently-awarded $12.7 million Transportation Infrastructure Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant and the $28.8 million grant from the Alabama Gulf Coast Recovery Council as authorized under the Resources and Ecosystems Sustainability, Tourism Opportunities and Revived Economy of the Gulf Coast Act of 2011 would contribute toward the cost of the project.

IDEAL PARTNERS

In late 2016, the Port Authority initiated a Request for Proposal process to identify a potential partner in the construction of the facility to meet the region’s growing demand for finished automobile import/export facilities in the U.S. Gulf of Mexico.

The Authority selected the partnership between Terminal Zárate S.A. and SAAM Puertos S.A. and began concession agreement discussions for the construction and operation of the new facility.

Terminal Zárate S.A. specializes in port services; cars, containers and project cargo handling operations; storage and logistics services; warehousing; equipment rental and other activities providing value to client logistic chains, economic sectors and overseas trade.

It is among the largest RO/RO terminals in the Americas with a 9 million vehicle throughput to date.

“This project is a significant component of our growth strategy and given our strong experience as a RO/RO terminal we are convinced we will develop AutoMobile International Terminal into a world class RO/RO processing and handling facility,” said Robert Murchison, president of Terminal Zárate S.A.

The other partner in the joint venture, SAAM Puertos S.A., is a subsidiary of Sociedad Matriz SAAM S.A., a Chilean multinational company that provides foreign trade services by means of port terminal operations, towage and logistics.

With a network of 11 ports in six countries, SAAM Puertos S.A. is one of the major port operators in South America and partners with the world’s leading shipping companies.

“We look forward to work together with Terminal Zárate and the Alabama State Port Authority and bring all our knowledge and experience to the service of the terminal, and consolidate our position in America,” said Yurik Díaz, manager of SAAM Puertos S.A.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 day ago

Autocar opens $120 million heavy-duty truck factory in Alabama

(Made in Alabama)

BIRMINGHAM, Alabama — Indiana-based Autocar Thursday marked the official opening of a $120 million heavy-duty work truck assembly plant in Birmingham that adds a new dimension to Alabama’s growing vehicle manufacturing industry.

Governor Kay Ivey joined top Autocar executives and local leaders at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the company’s operation, located in a 1 million-square-foot industrial complex off the Pinson Valley Parkway.

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The facility will employ 746 people at full production and today stands at more than one third that number. When Autocar announced the factory in September 2017, the company said the average annual base compensation for its workforce would be more than $58,000.

“Right here, Alabamians will build on the rich history of Autocar while producing forward-thinking trucks that will continue to modernize the way their customers work,” Governor Ivey said.

Autocar Chairman Andrew Taitz said the Alabama facility and its workforce are helping to build a foundation for the maker of heavy-duty cab-over-engine trucks used in many different industries.

“We are proud to be part of this Alabama family and look forward to building trucks, communities and dreams together,” added Autocar President Jim Johnston. “It’s a great day for Autocar, and it’s a really great day for Alabama. I want to commit to you that it’s only the beginning.”

‘CITY OF BUILDERS’

Autocar was founded in 1897 and is the oldest motor vehicle brand in the United States. The company built the U.S.’s first truck in 1899 and pioneered many technical innovations now common in all cars and trucks.

“Birmingham is and has always been a city of builders so it stands to reason that the biggest, baddest trucks in America should be built nearby,” said Josh Carpenter, director of economic development for the City of Birmingham.

Once fully operational, the Autocar facility will generate $645.1 million in annual economic impact, which includes a nearly $229 million annual contribution to Alabama’s GDP and $130 million in earnings to Alabama households from 2,655 direct and indirect jobs, according to a study by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama’s Culverhouse College of Commerce.

The company occupies the former Meadowcraft furniture building, straddling the cities of Birmingham and Center Point. The vast structure had been empty since 2009.

ADDED DIMENSION

Autocar’s new truck assembly operation in Jefferson County will add a new layer to the state’s robust automotive sector, which is anchored by the presence of Mercedes-Benz, Honda, Hyundai and Toyota, along with a vast supply chain.

In addition, Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA, a joint venture between the two automakers, will soon start construction on a $1.6 billion assembly plant with 4,000 workers in Huntsville.

Autocar said it has already built Alabama-made trucks in use in 46 states and provinces.

Autocar worked closely with the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Jefferson County Commission, the City of Center Point, the City of Birmingham, AIDT, the Birmingham Business Alliance and others on the project.

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

1 day ago

Alliance aims to spur ecotourism, interest in Alabama delta

(Alabama Delta Alliance)

Several people and groups are joining forces to promote south Alabama’s Mobile-Tensaw River Delta and its natural resources.

The formation of the Alabama Delta Alliance was announced at a news conference this week.

The alliance aims to support the region and attract tourism.

Mobile Mayor Sandy Stimpson said the delta is “a hugely untapped resource for ecotourism.”

The Mobile-Tensaw River Delta is home to more than 600 species of fish, mammals, reptiles, amphibians and birds. With habitats that include huge swaths of swamps, marshes and wetlands, it’s a maze of tributary creeks, rivers, streams and bayous.

The Alabama Delta Alliance calls it one of the nation’s largest deltas, and one of the world’s most bio-diverse bodies of water.

The alliance also announced a new website about the region at this link.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 day ago

Wells Fargo to pay $1B for mortgage, auto lending abuses

(M. Mozart/Flickr)

Wells Fargo will pay $1 billion to federal regulators to settle charges tied to its mortgage and auto lending business, the latest chapter in a wide-ranging scandal at the banking giant. However, it appears that none of the $1 billion will go directly to the victims of Wells Fargo’s abuses.

In a settlement announced Friday, Wells will pay $500 million to the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, its main national bank regulator, as well as a net $500 million to the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. The action by the CFPB is notable because it is the first penalty imposed by the bureau under Mick Mulvaney, who President Trump appointed to take over the consumer watchdog agency in late November. The $500 million is also the largest penalty imposed by the CFPB in its history, and matches the largest fine ever handed out by the Comptroller of the Currency.

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The fine against Wells Fargo had been expected. The company disclosed last week that it was in discussions with federal authorities over a possible settlement related to its mortgage and auto lending businesses, and that the fine could be as much as $1 billion.

“While we have more work to do, these orders affirm that we share the same priorities with our regulators and that we are committed to working with them as we deliver our commitments with focus, accountability, and transparency,” said Wells Fargo Chief Executive Tim Sloan in a statement.

The $500 million paid to the Comptroller of the Currency will be paid directly to the U.S. Treasury, according to the order. The $500 million paid to the CFPB will go into the CFPB’s civil penalties fund, which is used to help consumers who might have been impacted in other cases. But zero dollars of either penalty is going directly to Wells Fargo’s victims, and the bank has already been reimbursing customers in its auto and mortgage businesses for these abuses. Wells Fargo has been refunding auto loan customers since July and been mailing refund checks to impacted mortgage customers since December.

While banks have benefited from looser regulations and lower taxes under President Trump, Wells Fargo has been called out specifically by Trump as a bank that needed to be punished for its bad behavior.

“Fines and penalties against Wells Fargo Bank for their bad acts against their customers and others will not be dropped, as has incorrectly been reported, but will be pursued and, if anything, substantially increased. I will cut Regs but make penalties severe when caught cheating!,” Trump wrote on Twitter back in December.

The abuses being addressed Friday are not tied directly to Wells Fargo’s well-known sales practices scandal, where the bank admitted its employees opened as much as 3.5 million bank and credit card accounts without getting customers’ authorization. But they do involve significant parts of the bank’s businesses: auto lending and mortgages.

Last summer Wells Fargo admitted that hundreds of thousands of its auto loan customers had been sold auto insurance that they did not want or need. In thousands of cases, customers who could not afford the combined auto loan and extra insurance payment fell behind on their payments and had their cars repossessed.

In a separate case, Wells Fargo also admitted that thousands of customers had to pay unnecessary fees in order to lock in their interest rates on their home mortgages. Wells Fargo is the nation’s largest mortgage lender.

Wells Fargo has been under intense scrutiny by federal regulators for several months. The Federal Reserve took a historic action earlier this year by mandating that Wells Fargo could not grow larger than the $1.95 trillion in assets that it currency held and required the bank to replace several directors on its board. The Federal Reserve cited “widespread abuses” as its reason for taking such an action.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

1 day ago

Alabama education board to choose next state superintendent

(YHN)

Alabama State Board of Education members will choose the state’s next superintendent of education Friday.

Board members will interview the four finalists Friday in Montgomery to pick the next head of Alabama’s education system.

The finalists are Jefferson County Superintendent Craig Pouncey, Hoover City Schools Superintendent Kathy Murphy, Superintendent Association of Alabama Executive Director Eric Mackey and former Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott.

The board is seeking a replacement for former Superintendent Michael Sentance who resigned in September after one year and one day. He stepped down after he received a poor performance evaluation.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 day ago

Alabama ex-chief pleads guilty to taking money from police group

(Chilton County Jail)

The former chief of an Alabama police department has pleaded guilty to criminal charges.

State Attorney General Steve Marshall told Alabama media that Brian Allan Stilwell pleaded guilty Thursday to violation of ethics law and the fraudulent use of a credit card.

The plea ended a trial that began Monday.

The crimes he pleaded guilty to happened between 2010 and 2015 while Stilwell was the Clanton Police Chief and treasurer of the Chilton County Fraternal Order of Police.

Prosecutors said Stilwell took money from the FOP by using the organization’s bank debit card. They said he also used his position as chief to unlawfully take money from the Clanton Police Department.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

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1 day ago

Alabama inmate becomes oldest executed in US modern times

(Alabama Department of Corrections)

An Alabama inmate convicted of the mail-bomb slaying of a federal judge during a wave of Southern terror in 1989 was executed by lethal injection Thursday, becoming the oldest prisoner put to death in the U.S. in modern times.

Walter Leroy Moody Jr., 83, was pronounced dead at 8:42 p.m. following an injection at the Alabama prison at Atmore. He had no last statement and did not respond when an official asked if he had any last words shortly before the chemicals began flowing.

Authorities said Moody sent out four mail bombs in December of 1989, killing Judge Robert S. Vance, a member of the Atlanta-based 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, in Alabama and Robert E. Robinson, a black civil rights attorney from Savannah, Georgia. Two other bombs, including one mailed to the NAACP office in Jacksonville, Florida, were intercepted and did not explode.

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At his 1996 trial, prosecutors described Moody as a meticulous coward who killed Vance with murder by mail because of his obsession with getting revenge on the legal system, and then committed additional package bombings to make it look like the Ku Klux Klan was behind the judge’s murder.

Moody became the oldest U.S. inmate put to death since executions resumed in the U.S. in the 1970s, according to the non-profit Death Penalty Information Center. His attorneys argued in court filings and a clemency petition to Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey that his age and vein condition would make lethal injection more difficult.

The U.S. Supreme Court temporarily stayed execution plans Thursday evening to consider Moody’s late appeals, but later lifted the stay without comment, allowing the execution to go forward.

Vance was at his kitchen table in Mountain Brook, Alabama, on Dec. 16, 1989, when he opened a package after a morning of errands and yard work.

The explosion ripped through the home near Birmingham, killing Vance instantly and severely injuring his wife, Helen. Prosecutors said Moody, who had attended law school, had a grudge against the legal system because the 11th Circuit refused to overturn a 1972 pipe-bomb possession conviction that prevented him from practicing law.

Moody was first convicted in 1991 in federal court and sentenced to seven life terms plus 400 years. He was later convicted in state court in 1996 and sentenced to death for Vance’s murder.

Vance’s son, Robert Vance Jr., now a circuit judge in Jefferson County and Democratic candidate for chief justice in Alabama, said it’s important that people remember how his father lived, not just how he died.

“He was a great judge, a great lawyer before that, and a great father,” he said earlier as the execution loomed. As chairman of the Alabama Democratic Party in the 1960s and 1970s, Vance worked to bring African Americans into the party and often “butted heads” with segregationist Gov. George Wallace, his son said.

Friends said the senior Vance quietly fought for the rights of underprivileged as both a jurist and a politician.
Moody had always maintained his innocence.

In recent weeks, Moody had sent a letter to the younger Vance claiming he was the innocent victim of a government conspiracy. “Had my Dad been murdered, I would want to know who had done it,” Moody wrote. The younger Vance said he put the letter in the trash.

Vance said he had to make peace with his father’s death, but said he has no doubt that Moody is guilty. He did not witness the execution.

The lethal injection procedure began at 8:16 p.m. Moody did not open his eyes or respond as the warden read his death warrant and asked him if he had any last words.

Moody’s attorney, Spencer Hahn, said he wanted to know what the prison system “gave him before to knock him out and prevent him from getting to give his last words. There was no dignity in that room. This dishonored the memory of Judge Vance and Mr. Robinson,” Hahn said.

Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn said Moody was not given any sedatives.

In last-hour appeals, Moody’s attorneys had asked the U.S. Supreme Court to stay his execution in order to review whether his federal sentence, which was handed down first, could be interrupted. They also argued that the aggravating factors used to impose a death sentence were improper. The nation’s high court had no comment on those last-minute appeals Thursday.

Moody’s attorneys, in their unsuccessful clemency petition argued that his victim was opposed to the death penalty, and halting the execution would honor Vance’s beliefs. Vance’s son said his father opposed the death penalty personally, but also believed in following the law.

Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said Thursday night that after nearly 30 years, “Tonight, Mr. Moody’s appeals finally came to a rightful end. Justice has been served.”

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Gulf of Mexico charter red snapper season June 1-July 21

(David Rainer)

Federal authorities have set the red snapper season for charter boats in the Gulf of Mexico, giving them from June 1 through July 21 to catch the popular sport and table fish.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says the total recreational quota is about 6.7 million pounds (3 million kilograms), with a 2.3-million-pound (1 million kilograms) target for charter boats.

A news release Wednesday said people on federally permitted for-hire vessels cannot fish for or possess red snapper in federal or state waters when the federal season is closed, even if the captain is just taking his family fishing.

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Under a two-year experiment, states are setting opening dates for recreational anglers and must close those seasons when their quotas are met.

The charter boat season ends at 12:01 a.m. July 22.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Alabama mayor: ‘Poop train’ finally empty; sludge gone

(CBS News/Youtube)

The last train car full of New York City sewage sludge that has stunk up a small Alabama community for more than two months has finally been emptied, the town’s mayor said this week.

For more than two months, the sludge has blown an unbearable stench throughout the tiny town of Parrish, Alabama, population 982.

All of the containers have now been emptied from the so-called Poop Train, Parrish Mayor Heather Hall said on social media Wednesday. Some of the containers are still at the site, awaiting shipment back to the northeast U.S., she said.

The sludge is a byproduct of New Yorkers’ excrement. It was shipped to the nearby Big Sky landfill. Hall said after a public outcry, the Norfolk Southern railroad required Big Sky to hire more truck drivers so the sludge could be removed from the train cars more quickly.

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“Other towns and cities have been fighting this material in their towns for years,” Hall said in announcing the end of what she described as a nightmare. “While what happened in Parrish was, to our understanding, an unprecedented event, there are still small towns like Parrish fighting this situation on a smaller scale.”

Experts say some cities send their waste to Alabama and other Southern states due to low landfill fees and lax zoning laws. New York has discontinued shipments to Alabama for now.

New York City has a goal of sending “zero waste” to landfills by 2030, according to its long-term strategy “One New York: The Plan for a Strong and Just City.”

Environmental advocates say there’s nothing just about a city dumping waste in poor communities that lack the political clout to stop it. In Alabama, residents of tiny Parrish say they felt blindsided by the sudden horrid smells that enveloped their town in late January.

“Would New York City like for us to send all our poop up there forever?” said Sherleen Pike, who lives about a half-mile from the railroad track in Parrish. She’s been dabbing peppermint oil under her nose because the smell is so bad.
It has become more challenging and costly for New York City to dispose of its sewage sludge in recent years, city documents show.

New York was forced to find new methods after the federal government in 1988 banned the city’s longtime practice of dumping it in the ocean.

In recent years, New York City contractors had dumped the waste at landfills relatively close to the city, but those landfills have significantly reduced the amount of waste they will accept, according to a city budget document.
Sending it to other communities also has prompted complaints about the smell. Two landfills in Pennsylvania, for instance, quit accepting sludge from New York City after odor complaints and violations, according to the documents.
New York City projects higher disposal costs through fiscal year 2020, partly because the waste will have to be transported farther away from the city.

In her Facebook post announcing that the last container of sludge had been removed, Hall remarked, “This material does not need to be in a populated area … period.”

“It greatly diminishes the quality of life for those who live anywhere near it.”

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Notre Dame, Alabama set to face off in 2028, 2029 openers

(Alabama University)

Iconic football programs Alabama and Notre Dame will meet in a pair of season openers, starting in a decade.

The schools announced Thursday that they’ll open the 2028 season in South Bend and 2029 in Tuscaloosa.

The Crimson Tide and Fighting Irish have met seven times, including Alabama’s 42-14 win in the BCS championship game to end the 2012 season.

Notre Dame holds a 5-2 advantage in the head-to-head matchups.

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As Alabama athletic director Greg Byrne says, “It doesn’t get much more tradition-rich than Alabama and Notre Dame when it comes to college football.”

The programs first met in the 1973 Sugar Bowl and faced off again two years later in the Orange Bowl. They had home-and-home series in 1976 and 1980 and again in the mid-1980s.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Birmingham police chief steps down amid protection order

(BPD)

Birmingham’s interim police chief has stepped down after the mother of his two children sought a court order against him protecting her from abuse.

Al.com reports the woman filed court documents against 55-year-old Orlando Wilson that were made public before the city announced his departure Wednesday.

Wilson came out of retirement to serve as interim chief two months ago. The mayor’s office says he is taking leave to undergo a medical procedure.

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The woman filed a request on April 11, requesting an order protecting her and the children from contact with Wilson.

Wilson has neither filed a response nor commented publicly on the claims.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

House where Rosa Parks sought refuge will be displayed

(F. Mendoza/YouTube)

The house where Rosa Parks sought refuge after she fled the south will be displayed in Rhode Island for at least a month after all because several groups have provided money.

The future of the rebuilt house from Detroit was uncertain after it was taken on a trans-Atlantic journey and Brown University reneged on plans to exhibit it.

A nonprofit arts organization, WaterFire Providence, will put it on display within two weeks.

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WaterFire is receiving money from the Nassh Family Foundation, one of the original exhibit sponsors, NAACP Providence, and others.

Brown will pay for the dismantling and transportation after the exhibit ends.

It runs through at least June 3.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)

2 days ago

Survey: Optimism abounds as Alabama business owners project hiring, wage increases

A tight labor market and mounting economic enthusiasm among business owners could equal more jobs and higher wages for Alabama workers in the next six months.

The findings in PNC Financial Services Group Inc.’s Spring 2018 Economic Outlook survey for Alabama suggest small business owners across Alabama are increasingly optimistic about near-term labor and wage trends despite questions regarding tariffs and tax reform. The bi-annual survey by the Pittsburgh-based company examines hiring, pricing, sales and other economic trends for the state’s small and mid-size business owners.

PNC Chief Economist Gus Faucher said projected hiring and compensation boosts reflect increased economic confidence by Alabama business owners that could lead to the highest rate for wage increases in the six-year history of PNC’s Alabama survey. Faucher pointed to the following key takeaways from the most recent report:

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–Reflecting new highs for the survey, nearly 68 percent of respondents anticipate increased sales during the next six months, compared with only 54 percent last fall, while 55 percent expect increased profits, compared with 46 percent in fall 2017;
–Thirty-nine percent of Alabama business leaders surveyed anticipate boosting employee compensation in the next six months, compared with 32 percent in the fall;
–One-quarter of respondents expect to add full-time staff, while 20 percent plan to hire part-time employees, compared with 20 percent and 13 percent respectively in the fall;
–Forty-one percent of respondents anticipate the new tax legislation will have a positive impact on their bottom lines, with 16 percent expecting no change and only 6 percent anticipating a negative impact; and
–Forty-four 44 percent of respondents expect the legislation to have a major or moderate positive effect on their business taxes.

In addition, 49 percent of respondents describe their outlook for the national economy as optimistic, compared with only 32 percent in fall 2017. Meanwhile, half are optimistic about their own companies’ prospects for the next six months, compared with only 39 percent last fall.

“The Alabama economy is doing really, really well,” Faucher said, noting it mirrors or outperforms national trends during the second-longest period of economic growth in U.S. history. The current expansion is tied at 106 months with a 1960s expansion and trails only the 120-month expansion of the 1990s.

Specifically, he said, Alabama’s statewide unemployment rate of 3.7 percent for February fell below the national rate of 4.1 percent for the same period, or less than one-third of its peak 11.8 percent reported during the Great Recession. Statewide job growth in 2017 of 1.5 percent nearly doubled the national rate of 0.8 percent for the same 12-month period.

The Alabama industries leading job growth include manufacturing, professional and business services and hospitality and leisure, while the trade, transportation/utilities and information sectors are soft.

Alabama wages, Faucher said, are “solid right now” because employers are finding it difficult to recruit the skill sets needed to fill open positions, so existing employees’ wages will continue to increase until that gap is bridged.

“So far this year, wages in Alabama are up about 3.5 percent from one year ago, which is a little better than the national average. This reflects the tighter job market, businesses competing for workers and the lower unemployment rate. All of this is good for Alabama incomes and consumer spending,” he said.

With federal spending increasing, Faucher said Alabama’s defense contractors and facilities stand to continue benefiting from the uptick well into 2019. Auburn University at Montgomery economist Keivan Deravi contends the current optimism among Alabama business owners is “totally justified and explainable,” but he cautioned against projecting too far into the future because of recent volatility across the national economic landscape.

“One month ago, the stock market was surging, and then came the tax changes that were very lopsided toward corporations,” he said, noting many operations saw their tax burden slip from 33 percent to 22 percent and chose to sink those savings into capital investments, stock buy-backs and even employee bonuses.

Moreover, with both national and state unemployment rates so low, projected wage increases of 3-4 percent “could easily be handled” and the removal or relaxing of federal banking and environmental regulations are encouraging to bottom lines, he said.

“You look at this big picture, and you see the economy is doing fine. Consumers are spending, and the optimism is there. All of the sudden, rather than standing still, something is pushing us forward,” Deravi said.

Within the past month, however, the Federal Reserve has indicated rate hikes are imminent, the stock market has become “erratic” and talk of an international trade war is “generating a little uncertainty in the business community.”

“The optimism, especially in Alabama, is warranted, but nothing is guaranteed,” Deravi said. “Successful businesses like two things: money and certainty. If the certainty is removed – even if they have money – they’re going to pause and say, ‘Wait a minute. What’s going on?’ And the past month is proof that uncertainty can creep in from several different directions very quickly.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

Birmingham Civil Rights Institute opens ‘Foot Soldiers’ exhibit

Photographer Chester Higgins Jr., right (B. Brown)

The silent heroes of Birmingham’s human rights struggles during the 1950s and ‘60s included cooks, drivers, trainers, guards, strategists and hundreds of other people from all walks of life. These “foot soldiers” who helped make possible the civil rights movement are being honored by former New York Times photographer and Alabama native Chester Higgins Jr. in a photographic exhibit called “Foot Soldiers: Profiles of Courage Then and Now.”The exhibit fills the Odessa Woolfolk Gallery at the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute (BCRI) through November, after which the exhibit will travel to other cities such as Memphis. The exhibit’s April 16 launch commemorated the 55thanniversary of the penning of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s “Letter From Birmingham Jail.”

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“This exhibit gives praise to the Birmingham foot soldiers for making a difference when it was dangerous to do so,” Higgins said. “These portraits honor the brave, committed souls who as young teenagers exhibited a remarkable sense of character in a most difficult time in their lives and in our nation’s history. Fueled by the belief that all people are entitled to the full rights of citizenship and justice, their struggle has enriched and enhanced all our lives.”

The photographs of an older generation should strike a chord among today’s generation.

“Fine art can be a bridge between a painful history and an inspirational future,” said Andrea Taylor, BCRI president and CEO. “Chester Higgins’ artistry is transcendent, connecting new audiences today with these courageous foot soldiers of the past.”

(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)

2 days ago

Alabama National Guard sniper keeps cool as snake slithers across his rifle barrel

A snake slithers across a sniper’s rifle (U.S. Army)

Snakes … why did it have to be snakes?

U.S. Army Sgt. William Frye took what had to be his unit’s photo of the year: a southern black racer slithered across a rifle held by an Alabama National Guard sniper during a recent training exercise at Eglin Air Force Base in Florida.

The sniper was Pfc. William Snyder of Alabama’s 1-174 Infantry, and he kept his cool in a way that would have even impressed the late c.

“Our snipers are trained to remain perfectly still for hours on end when in position and remain invisible to enemies … and even wildlife,” read a post on the unit’s Facebook page.

Army Strong!

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Police: Security guard charged in shooting outside Alabama Walmart

(Homewood PD)

Police say a security guard has been charged in connection with an early-morning shooting outside a Walmart in Alabama.

AL.com reports that 34-year-old Anthony Lamont Winston was charged with attempted murder. It’s unclear if he has a lawyer.

The shooting happened about 1 a.m. Tuesday.

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Homewood police Sgt. John Carr says the contract security guard got into an altercation with another man and ended up shooting him in the upper torso. The victim was taken to the hospital, treated and released.

Police say the security guard was not trying to prevent a crime at the time of the shooting.

It’s unclear if Winston has a lawyer.

(Associated Press, copyright 2018)