Friday, January 29, 2010

Some rather vote on bingo law, others side with Gov. Riley

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Friday's electronic gambling raids have prompted Alabamians to debate whether the game should be legal or illegal. The issue has never come up for a vote in Alabama, but some people think it should.

At this time, there is a bill in Montgomery to legalize electronic gambling, but first, Alabama lawmakers would have to pass a consitutional amendment calling for a vote.

UAB political analyst, Dr. Larry Powell, said it is very possible the state could see a referendum on electronic bingo. However, he said it would be hard to predict what would happen in the election.

"Right now I would say the pro-gaming interest would lead 60-40," said Dr. Powell, "But, if they were to call an election, as the election gets closer, I think it would get tight. Whether it would pass or fail would be 50-50."

Opponents like Citizens for a Better Alabama claim electronic gambling is immoral, and think it has a negative impact on the community. Supporters say it should be legal, because it would bring in additional money to the state. Birmingham-area residents have mixed opinions.

"I think it should be allowed and legal," said Scott Chastain. "The state should be making money off it."

"From a Christian standpoint, I don't approve of gambling," said Morgan Smith, "But like everything else, the individual has to decide what they want to do. I guess it is okay as long as they aren't hurting somebody else."

"I think the best solution is let people vote," said Dax Whitfield, "Let the people decide if it is right or wrong."

Dr. Powell said he doesn't think the issue is going away anytime soon.

"I think you will see it will keep up," said Dr. Powell, "We may or may not have a referendum. It will be a hard fought one, and it may lose again."

Lawsuit claims McGregor gaming machines are rigged

SHORTER, AL (WBRC) - In a recently amended lawsuit, a woman from Shorter claims Milton McGregor arranged for former Birmingham Mayor Larry Langford to win more than $1.5 million at Victoryland and Quincy’s 7-7-7.

Susan Howard’s lawsuit claims the winnings came from hundreds of different jackpots over three years. She is suing the facilities, saying the games are rigged.

Daycare operator charged with sexual abuse

CAHABA HEIGHTS, AL (WBRC) – The Vestavia Hills Police Department says that the operator of a Cahaba Heights daycare has been arrested on two accounts of sexual abuse.

74-year-old Robert Frost was taken into custody around 5:00 p.m. on Thursday at Christian’s Day Care and Learning Academy.

Frost is charged with two counts of first degree Sexual Abuse. An investigation by Vestavia Hills police and DHR found two 5-year-old girls to be victims. The investigation will continue to determine if there are any additional victims.

Frost is being held in the Jefferson County Jail.

Friday marks anniversary of clinic bombing

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Friday marks a somber anniversary for Birmingham.

Twelve years ago, Eric Robert Rudolph planted a bomb in the New Women's All Women Health Clinic, killing off-duty Police Officer Robert "Sandy" Sanderson and seriously injuring nurse Emily Lyons.

Rudolph is currently serving a life sentence without parole in a federal prison in Colorado.

Gubernatorial candidate Bill Johnson to spend Friday night at homeless shelter

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Republican candidate for Governor Bill Johnson and his wife Kathy plan to spend the night in homeless shelters in Birmingham.

Johnson plans to spend Friday night at the Old Firehouse Shelter and his wife will be at the Lovelady Center.

Johnson is a former member of the Birmingham City Council, where he said he worked on homeless issues.

The candidate said that to keep from displacing anyone during tough economic times, he and his wife have donated cots to the shelters.

State troopers prepping for raid on Victoryland, Country Crossing

SHORTER, AL (WBRC) - Governor Bob Riley's gambling task force has been busy early Friday morning.

Dozens of state troopers and other officers have been on stand-by to raid Victoryland in Shorter since just after three this morning.

Victoryland is run by Milton McGregor and has 6,000 machines.

Governor Riley believes gaming at that facility is illegal.

Several state troopers are inside Victoryland, but have not yet started the raid. Reportedly, they told the gamers inside to ‘cash out and get out.’ Moving trucks have also pulled up to Victoryland but there is nothing moving out of the establishment.

According to WSFA, the head of the Governor’s Illegal Gambling Task Force, John Tyson, and the attorney for Victoryland have both been meeting with a judge on Friday morning.

On a related note, state troopers also appear to be on stand-by to raid Country Crossing in Houston County.

Earlier this month, the state's highest court ruled that the governor's task force on gambling did have the authority to raid Country Crossing. However, a lower court judge blocked the raid earlier this month.

Mayor Bell urging private sector to help non-profits

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - New Birmingham mayor William Bell is urging the private sector to step in and help non-profits since the city is facing money troubles. On the second full day on the job Mayor Bell addressed the annual meeting of United Way. Bell's message was to continue to support the agency's mission of taking care of those in need. "But if we as a community don't support United Way with our contributions, they won't be able to help the people suffering at this time," Bell said.

Last year, United Way raised more than $37 million in the worst economy since the depression. The President and CEO of United Way says 2010 will also be challenging. "There is no question it's tough and it's not tougher for United Way it's tougher for the people we help," Drew Langloh said.

The city of Birmingham has been forced to cut back its financial support of non-profit organizations. Bell is also facing a $20 million budget deficit. "When the reduction in the economy starts cutting into the city's ability to provide basic services, we are hard pressed to keep out commitments to those who non-profit agencies out there," says Bell.

Mayor Bell is urging the corporate sector to do more in support non-profit goals. The head of United Way says it is going to take everyone working together to raise funds and still provide needed services. "One of the biggest things we learned, this idea of participating private and public partnerships. Collaboration between agencies is the way to get things done in this economy," Langloh said.

Toyota dealers feeling impact of recall

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Toyota auto dealers are feeling the impact of a massive recall of vehicles. Gas pedals are sticking on some models. On Tuesday, a Saks woman crashed her vehicle after her gas petal stuck on her 2009 Camry.

"The gas pedal got stock on my way to school this week and my car kept going and going it wouldn't stop," Queanna Cole said.

Cole managed to get the car stopped with only a scratch but she was left upset by the incident. "No, I'm scared to drive my car. It's been parked since Tuesday. I haven't driven it anywhere, I'm scared," Cole said.

Over at Limbaugh Toyota in Birmingham, Bruce Limbaugh fully understands Cole's and other Toyota customers concerns about the recall. "Our first consideration and concern is the for our customers. Their safety, for them and their preconceived concerns," Limbaugh said.

Limbaugh is urging all of his customers of the affected models to call and speak to dealerships. "We don't have the answer to the fix yet, which is why we want names and phone numbers so we can contact them as soon as they have information," Limbaugh said.

Limbaugh says as soon as a solution is found, Toyota will move quickly to fix it. In the meantime, other auto dealerships are moving to take advantage of Toyota's troubles by offering deals for drivers to turn in their Toyotas. "I'm disappointed to see our competition try to take advantage of this situation. Having said that I understand it's a real world," Limbaugh said.

Cole's faith in Toyota may be shaken; Limbaugh is confident customers will continue to buy their vehicles as in the past.

Transportation leaders to discuss high-speed rail system

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Transportation leaders from across the south will gather on Friday in Birmingham. The goal is to come up with a strategy to build high speed rail systems connecting Alabama to other southern states.

The conference follows President Obama’s announcement of billions in stimulus money for high speed rail.

Amtrak's Crescent already serves Birmingham, but there is new talk of reviving the Gulf Breeze Corridor too. The state is getting a $200,000 grant to look at that line which once linked Mobile, Montgomery and Birmingham.

Nearly all of Amtrak’s service is standard heavy rail, but the new push is for high speed lines linking major cities like in Europe and Asia.

Richard Finley’s Southern High Speed Rail Commission is a group that's pushing for high speed rail systems in Alabama. They are holding a conference in Birmingham and one of the topics is high speed rail service between Birmingham and Atlanta.

“We've also had consultation with major real estate developers so that once these station heads are set up you begin to develop residential properties around those stations,” says Finley. “Cities of the future are going to be designed around public transportation.”

The Alabama High-Speed Rail Conference starts at 8:30 on Friday morning at the Double Tree Hotel on University Avenue in Birmingham.

Alabama court system facing 600 layoffs

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - Alabama's court system could be losing up to 600 employees if Governor Bob Riley's 2011 budget is passed as it is now.

Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb opposes the budget plan. She says more cuts would be disastrous for the state judicial system.

Jefferson County Presiding Judge Scott Vowell says with personnel already at an all time low, the courts cannot afford to lose any more employees.

"We don't want it to happen. We can't let it happen. The courts are just essential. That's where people solve their problems and if we dont' offer that up to them, they will solve their problems somewhere else and that's not good for any of us," says Vowell.

The Governor's Office says it gave Cobb recommendations to cut spending.

Demopolis company closing ends 350 jobs

DEMOPOLIS, AL (WBRC) - The New Era Cap Company in Demopolis is closing, putting 350 people out of work.

The mayor of Demopolis says the impact will be seen in at least five-counties. Many employees live outside Marengo County.

The facility will likely close in April.

Warrior delays tax collections in Blount County

ONEONTA, AL (WBRC) - Round one goes to Blount County in its fight with the city of Warrior over a controversial tax.

On Thursday, Warrior agreed to delay collecting a police jurisdiction tax in Blount County until April 1st, instead of February 1st as previously planned.

A lot of businesses say the tax is unfair because they never even see Warrior police in their area.

Blount County asked a judge to stop the tax from being collected. The judge has scheduled a hearing on the tax dispute for March 16th.

Birmingham police report fatal hit-and-run

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – The Birmingham Police Department says that a Birmingham man was killed in a hit and run while he attempted to cross Interstate 59 on Thursday night.

54-year-old Curtis Davenport was struck and killed around 9:35 p.m. Investigators say he was crossing the interstate on foot when a dark colored Honda SUV struck the victim and never slowed down or stopped.

Birmingham Rescue and Fire declared Davenport dead on the scene.

The suspect vehicle is believed to have damage to the front end as well as the side.

If there is anyone who has any information pertaining to the case, they are encouraged to contact the Crime Stoppers Unit @ 254-7777.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Locals want to adopt Haitian children, but cannot

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Many thoughts are with the children who are suffering in Haiti after the deadly earthquake, especially for those who lost their parents.

Lifeline Children's Services in Birmingham has been inundated with calls from people who want to either foster or adopt an orphan from Haiti, but unfortunately, they can't.

Executive Director Herbie Newell says the U.S. and Haitian governments are not processing new adoptions.

That's because in the midst of the devastation and chaos officials are having a hard time determining which children have no one to take care of them.

"They want to make sure they don't send those children out of the country for adoptions. Only children where literally there are no family that want to take care of them," said Herbie Newell. "Haiti has to rebuild infrastructure to be able to identify legitimate orphans."

About 1,000 adoptions from Haiti are being processed right now, but that's because those adoptions were identified and matched before the earthquake.

Newell says it could be six months to a year before the adoption process for children in Haiti will resume.

Senator's sponsored bill would toughen animal cruelty laws

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A bill in the Alabama State Senate aims to crackdown on animal cruelty cases. Senate Bill 246 is sponsored by Cullman Senator Zeb Little.

It would add an additional component to existing animal cruelty laws, and would specifically apply to animals that are seized as a part of a criminal investigation.

When these animals are seized, many times the local humane society or animal control takes care of them for an extended period of time, and that can get expensive.

The bill would order the animal's owner to pay those costs. It would also allow a judge to prevent the animals from being returned to the owner if they are convicted on animal cruelty charges.

President of Birmingham Jefferson County Animal Control Steve Smith said holding and caring for animals for an extended period of time can take a toll on their resources, that's why he supports the bill. He said if passed, the bill could make things much easier on them.

"I think any law that puts more responsibility on the owner, be it financial or anything else, is going to be a tremendous asset, and help to agencies like us that provide this care," said Smith.

Mindy Gilbert, the Alabama State Director of the United States Humane Society said animal cruelty cases can especially take a toll on shelters in smaller counties or rural areas that have limited resources. She said this bill is needed.

"For shelters not to have to be financially crippled by stepping up and doing the right thing to assist law enforcement, this is a tool to put in that tool box to help defray the costs," said Gilbert.

Next the bill will go before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

New steel processing plant breaks ground in Jeffco

JEFFERSON COUNTY , AL (WBRC) - Sixty new jobs and a $19 million investment are coming to Jefferson County as part of a new steel processing plant.

Birmingham Mayor William Bell helped break ground for the project Thursday.

The POSCO AAPC steel plant project broke ground today. It is one project that Mayor Bell helped recruit while he was in charge of economic development on the Jefferson County Commission. He helped break ground, adding that changing jobs hasn't changed his mindset in terms of recruiting new businesses in spite of Birmingham's cash-strapped budget.

"The Birmingham region is within 2/3 of the population of the U.S," Bell said. "That means we have markets all over the country."

Bell was still selling the city's economic strengths at Thursday's groundbreaking even though the Korean steel company has already been convinced. But with the city's budget facing a $20 million deficit, there is little money to offer incentives. So salesmanship may have to count for a little extra.

The Birmingham Business Alliance's CEO says cooperation between the city and county as well as state dollars may help fill in the gaps in terms of economic recruitment.

"It needs to be understood that our region, the Birmingham region, is by far the economic driver of the state of Alabama," BBA CEO Dalton Smith said. "And it's imperative that not only we recognize that, but the state recognize that."

Mayor Bell says he's committed to finding enough cash to start a fund to help small homegrown business grow.

"We're gonna look at setting up a venture capital fund program for some of the tech that's coming out out of UAB, Jeff State, Lawson State, and Miles College so that we can retain those products inside the city limits of Birmingham," Bell said. "That venture capital program will be unfolded over the next 6 months and it'll be a big boost to our economy."

"We have so much intellectual property, that if we can commercialize it, and the more and more we commercialize it, and turn it into businesses here with tangible jobs, it will continue to grow our local economy," Smith said. "That's what we want."

Sue Schmitz to report to prison

LEXINGTON, KY (WBRC) - Former State Representative Sue Schmitz will soon report to federal prison.

Schmitz is to report to a minimum security prison camp for women in Lexington, Kentucky by two o'clock Thursday to begin serving her 2 ½ year sentence.

Schmitz was convicted on charges she used her influence as a legislator to get a job with the two-year college system and then did little work.

Jeffco Commission special election may have court problems

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The June 1st special election to replace William Bell on the county commission could face a court challenge.

The U.S. Justice Department pre-cleared the law which calls for a special election to fill a vacancy on the county commission.

If there is a runoff, there could be a problem. State law calls for a runoff in three weeks. The federal Help America Vote Act mandates six-weeks between the election and a runoff.

Chelsea moves forward with shopping center despite economy

CHELSEA, AL (WBRC) - The shaky economy is not stopping one city in Shelby County from moving forward. Developers in Chelsea are continuing with plans for another shopping center.

Highway 280 near County Road 39 is the future site of the Chelsea Crossroads Shopping Center. A Publix will anchor the development with plenty of room for other businesses like restaurants, banks and other stores.

Last year, the city of Chelsea experienced a 5% decrease in sales taxes.

Mayor Earl Niven hopes the new choices will keep people in Chelsea to spend their money.

Hearing taking place over Warrior tax issue

ONEONTA, AL (WBRC) - A court hearing will take place on the Warrior tax issue on Thursday. It will begin at 9:30 a.m. at the Blount County Courthouse in Oneonta.

The Blount County district attorney is asking for an injunction against enforcing a new tax.

The city of Warrior voted to tax businesses outside the city limits if they are inside the city's police jurisdiction.

Anti-gambling task force leader facing accusations

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - The new leader of Governor Bob Riley's anti-gambling task force is being accused of accepting campaign contributions from political action committees that are tied to gambling interests.

The Mobile Press-Register cites campaign documents showing that John Tyson, Jr. received over $100,000 from PACS that were directly related to gambling interests or supporters.

Tyson is denying the allegations. “I would say this about it too. So what? The fact of the matter is the governor of the state of Alabama has asked me to help in what the governor describes is an epidemic problem,” says Tyson. “As district attorney, I am happy to abide by the governor's request.”

Tyson replaced former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber on the task force after Barber resigned after admitted to winning a Mississippi casino jackpot.

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - A special grand jury held a review of Attorney General Troy King's office again.

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - A special grand jury held a review of Attorney General Troy King's office again.

The grand jury met Wednesday at the Federal Courthouse in Montgomery.

King’s chief of staff, Chris Bence, confirmed his appearance before the panel but said federal prosecutors asked him not to discuss his testimony.

The grand jury has been meeting periodically in Montgomery for nearly a year.

Federal law prohibits prosecutors from commenting on grand jury proceedings.

Alabama to allow Haitian relief donations to be deducted

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - Alabama is following the federal government by allowing taxpayers to deduct donations to Haitian relief made this year from their 2009 tax returns.

Governor Riley and State Revenue Commissioner Tim Russell announced Wednesday that any money donated for Haiti relief between January 11th and March 1st will be eligible for the deduction. Just make sure you have a receipt.

Check with a tax professional if you have any questions.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

President Obama's confidence in America "has never been stronger."

BIRMINGHAM, AL - President Obama told America that in spite of double-digit unemployment and recent political setbacks, his confidence in the country "has never been stronger."

Saying he heard the message of anger and anxiety coming from voters in the last several weeks, President Obama admitted in his speech Wednesday night that he had made mistakes in his first year, but said many of the plans he is pushing in
Congress will help the economy recover and help create jobs.

"What the American people hope, what they deserve is for all of us, Democrats and Republicans, to work through our differences, to overcome the numbing weight of our politics," Obama said.

Democratic Representative Artur Davis chose not to attend the speech in person, remaining in Birmingham to focus on his gubernatorial campaign.

He said a return to focus on jobs and the economy is long overdue.

"Able-bodied people who want to work, do not have jobs," Davis said. "And that's the fundamental precondition to survival in this society, it's the fundamental thing you have to have to take care of your family, and I think there's a very real sense that Washington's lost its focus. The focus needs to be shoring up jobs in this country."

The President also focused heavily on his plans to reduce the $1.3 trillion budget deficit, asking for a freeze on most non-defense or homeland security programs and projects for the next 3 years.

"It's pretty much a drop in the bucket, but it signals something to the credit markets, and I think that's mostly what this move is about," said UAB economist Dr. Andreas Rauterkaus. "Because we rely on the credit markets, the Treasury needs to borrow money, and we're showing the markets we are serious about reducing the deficit."

Obama pledged to try and work with Republicans on issues like cutting the deficit, and one of Alabama's leading GOP lawmakers says his party is open to cooperation.

"The test is whether the President and Democrats in Congress really want to work with Republicans and Independents to make major cuts in spending now," said Rep. Spencer Bachus (R)-Vestavia Hills. "They need to be big cuts and they need to be now."

Rep. Bachus also said Republicans are willing to work with the President on issues like healthcare as well, but said the President would need to scale down the size of his plans before republicans could find common ground.

New retail development heading to Chelsea

CHELSEA, AL (WBRC) - The shaky economy isn't stopping Chelsea from moving forward. It recently broke ground on another shopping center.

Highway 280 near County Road 39 is the future site of the Chelsea Crossroads Shopping Center.

Publix is expected to be the anchor store with another 30,000 square feet of retail space and five lots for other businesses like restaurants, banks and other stores.

Last year, Chelsea experienced a five percent decrease in sales taxes.

Mayor Earl Niven says some folks leave the city to shop.

He says more choices will keep folks spending their money in the city.

"I think it will be great for this area we have to go 20 miles to get to a Publix," said Mickey Miller.

"I think having a Publix come in will just bring in restaurants. We don't have a lot sit down restaurants here, said Susan Shultz. "I think it'll bring in more residents."

Tree Top Adventure is also under construction at County Road 41 and Highway 280. It's an indoor laser tag and game room. And there are talks about an Applebee's Restaurant coming.

The other businesses coming to the shopping center are unknown.

The shopping center will be complete in January 2011 with the grocery store opening the following March.

Family has closure after man is sentenced for cold case murder

BESSEMER, AL (WBRC) - A man is sentenced in a Birmingham cold case, and the victim's family said they finally have closure.

Antonio Ross was sentenced to 22 years in prison for killing Emmett Ray Owens outside his Ensley home 22 years ago.

Owens' family members were in the courtroom to hear the sentencing, and said they felt relieved. They also praised Birmingham detectives for their work on the case.

Before the sentencing, Owens' daughter, Martha Owens Smith, addressed the courtroom and Ross. She spoke about her father, and said it was tragic his life ended at the age of 78.

"He was a gentle, good, and kind man," said Smith," He was a wonderful Dad. We loved him very much. We still miss him and think about him."

On the evening of July 19, 1987, Owens was walking from his car to his Ensley home.

Sixteen year-old Ross attacked him and beat him to death. Initially, leads on the case ran cold, but Detective Jody Jacobs with the Birmingham Police Department's Cold Case Unit started investigating the case again two years ago. He said it is great to see all the hard work pay off.

"It gave me a sense of what we are doing matters," said Det. Jacobs, "I'm happy for the family, and hope this will bring some closure to them."

2nd mistrial declared in Kayla Fanaei murder

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A mistrial was declared Wednesday in the murder trial of Maurice McCarty, the second time a mistrial has been declared in the murder case of UAB student Kayla Fanaei.

The judge declared a mistrial Wednesday afternoon in McCarty's case. McCarty was on trial for shooting and killing Fanaei in October 2007.

McCarty first went on trial in August 2009, but a mistrial was declared in that case on September 1, 2009, after jurors failed to reach a verdict.

Fanaei, 20, was found dead in her car in the parking lot of Glen Iris Elementary School near the UAB campus in October 2007. Investigators believe McCarty and three others attempted to rob Fanaei, then shot and killed her.

Capital murder trial continues for man accused of UAB student's murder

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Testimony continued Wednesday in the capital murder trial of a man accused of killing UAB student Kayla Fanaei.

Maurice McCarty is one of four suspects accused in the shooting death.

20-year-old Kayla was found dead in her car in the parking lot at Glen Iris Elementary school back in October of 2007, not far from the UAB campus.

Police believe McCarty and three others attempted to rob and then shot Kayla.

Tuscaloosa police searching for missing woman

TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - Tuscaloosa police need your help finding a missing woman.

26-year-old Tenessa Lee Smith was last seen two weeks ago on Crescent Ridge Road.

Officers say Smith has no other family in the area. Her boyfriend reported her missing.

If you have any information, contact the Tuscaloosa Police Department.

University of Alabama A-Day Game date set

TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) – The University of Alabama has announced the date when it will hold its annual A-Day Game.

The A-Day Game will conclude Spring football practice on Saturday, April 17th at the tentative time of 2:00 p.m. Further details on television coverage and events have not yet been released.

Spring practice for the Tide will begin on March 12th and will run through April 17th. Other than A-Day, practices are closed to the public.

Last season's A-Day Game was televised nationally by ESPN with a Bryant-Denny Crowd of 84,050 looking on.

William Bell sworn in as Birmingham Mayor

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Hundreds of people crowded around the steps of Birmingham City Hall to see William Bell sworn in as the 33rd mayor of Birmingham.

Bell’s wife Sharon held the Bible while former U.S. Judge U.W. Clemon administered the oath of office. Afterwards, Bell addressed the crowd, saying he would not let the city of Birmingham down.

“I will continue to champion the public safety and neighborhood stability and revitalization. I will be relentless in the quest for the finest education for all our children,” Bell said. “I pledge I will not squander our opportunity for great growth and economic expansion as the national and state economy improves. I will also use the mayor's to bring growth to Birmingham."

Also in the audience Tuesday, was Bell’s mentor and former Birmingham Mayor Richard Arrington. He sat alongside Bernard Kincaid, who beat Bell in the 1999 mayor’s race. He offered him some advice. “Heavy is the head that wears the crown. I tell him to follow your heart and do what’s right,” says Arrington.

Birmingham police looking for missing teen

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - 16-year-old Tamara Virginia Rutledge was last seen on Tuesday, January 26th around 2:20 p.m. She is a black female, 5’7”, 240 lbs, with brown eyes and black hair.

Rutledge has been diagnosed as bi-polar and suffers with type II diabetes. Rutledge has not taken medication for either condition. Rutledge is due to be treated for both conditions.

If there is anyone who has information pertaining to this case, they are encouraged to contact B.P.D. Family Services Unit @ 297-8445 or Crime Stoppers at 254-7777.

House committee to consider PACT bills

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - A House committee will consider two PACT bills on Wednesday and the powerful education lobby could flex its muscle.

On Tuesday, it was the Senate’s turn. The Senate Fiscal Responsibility and Accountability Committee passed a bill to spend $236-million to shore up the PACT program. The committee also appointed three members to work with this bill and other proposals to get one bill that the Senate can agree on.

Big changes could come Wednesday as the House Education Appropriations Committee considers plans to save PACT.

The Alabama Education Association wants the PACT bills to pass, but with a 2.5% limit on tuition increases at the higher education level. "It only works if you limit the amount they can charge,” says Paul Hubbert with the Alabama Education Association. “If you don't then you're writing a blank check saying charge whatever you want to...but what I’m saying is...if they charge as much in the future as they have in the past ten years, it will cost not 236-million, it cost over 700-million to pay the program off."

The House Education Appropriations Committee meets at nine Wednesday morning to consider two PACT bills.

Hearing resumes over funeral home purchase

BESSEMER, AL (WBRC) - A hearing resumes Wednesday for the company wanting to buy two funeral homes which have filed for bankruptcy protection.

Prime Acquisition Group is asking the court to approve the sale of Bessemer Brown Service and Brown West Chapel.

The decision could affect the pre-purchased burial plans that hundreds of people have bought.

Prime Acquisition Group says the new company will honor those contracts made after May 1st, 2002 or any in which payments were made after that date.

That is when a new state law went into effect that regulated such plans.

For any contracts made before May 2002, the new company will offer some benefits.
The hearing resumes at nine this morning in federal bankruptcy court.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Alabaster may prevent some development until roads are fixed

ALABASTER, AL (WBRC) - City councilors are trying to stop some new home construction in Alabaster.

That's because councilors say the homes are being built in neighborhoods that have unacceptable road conditions.

Councilors targeting developers of nine subdivisions to get roads repaired or finished.

For the past year, councilors have tried to get roads repaired or completed in those subdivisions. Little to no progress has been made.

People who live in those 9 subdivisions are upset about road conditions.

Some say they've dealt with this for more than 3 years.

Homeowners say they've had their tires busted and have spent thousands to fix front-end vehicle problems because of pot holes.

Councilor Adam Moseley says the city has sued some of the developers and is now going further by considering a moratorium.

It would prevent further development in those subdivisions until the roads are improved.

"Construction of homes will have to stop because it's not fair to residents who already live here. If you are having a home built in a subdivision, it's not fair to you," said city councilor, Adam Moseley. "It's almost as if you're defrauding these folks moving in with these roads like this."

"All of the homeowners work hard to keep property up and we have to put up with terrible roads and all of these promises that never come through," said homeowner George Riehle.

Councilors are also dealing with developers who have gone of out of business, leaving the road projects incomplete.

Citizens and developers are invited to come and speak about this matter at a public hearing.

It's February 18th at 7 pm at the Municipal Annex.

The council could possibly vote to pass the moratorium at that hearing.

Vincent residents continue to have disunity about quarry

VINCENT, AL (WBRC) - Hundreds of Vincent residents packed Vincent High's gym Tuesday night to voice their opinions about a proposed rock quarry.

The city's Planning Commission held the public hearing to get a sense of how people feel about the issue.

Supporters said the quarry would bring jobs and economic growth to Vincent. Opponents said it would bring noise, pollution, and affect property values of homes near the site.

"I just can't find too much good about a quarry," said Charles Cantrell,
"sinkholes, noise, pollution, and they will damage property."

"I am for this because it will create jobs," said Grover Abbott, "I won't be here much longer, but in the future, someone could get some good out of it."

Before construction can begin, the members of the city's Planning Commission will have to vote to rezone the property.

Representatives from White Rock Quarries also attended the meeting and listened to resident's opinions. They maintain the quarry would bring over 100 jobs to the city, and millions of dollars in economic benefits.

"White Rock has come into town and pledged to help schools, help the senior citizen facility, and recreational facility, with $1.6 million," said Rob Fowler, the attorney representing White Rock Quarries.

Vincent's mayor, Ray McAllister, said it isn't surprising this issue has sparked such strong reactions throughout the city.

"It has been a little testy from time to time, said Mayor McAllister, "But I think everybody still loves each other, and when it is over, we will still be one town."

The Vincent Planning Commission will take into consideration everything said at the public hearing, and vote on whether to rezone the property. Then, the issue will go before the town's council.

Former college administrators arrested on theft charges

TUSCALOOSA, AL (WBRC) - Two former Shelton State College administrators are facing theft charges.

Former President, Rick Rogers and former Dean of Business Services, Karen van Luvender were arrested Monday.

The grand jury indictment against them accuses Rogers and van Luvender of stealing around $2,500 from Shelton State.

Vincent residents get to voice concerns over proposed quarrry

VINCENT, AL (WBRC) - People living in Vincent will have the chance to voice their concerns about a proposed limestone quarry.

Vincent officials will hold a public forum Wednesday evening at 6:00 at Vincent High School.

City officials and representatives from White Rock Quarry will be there.

Many opponents say it will bring noise and pollution to the city.

Lawsuit filed over fatal motel fire

HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - The families of two of the young girls killed in a motel fire in Hoover have filed a lawsuit in the case.

The parents of Alondan Turner and Catherine Muse are suing the owners of the Days Inn along with 55-year-old Dhirajlal Bagot who was the maintenance worker on duty at the time of the fire.

Bagot told authorities he left incense burning on his shrine, which included a prayer rug.

The lawsuit alleges Bagot and the motel owners caused or contributed to the deaths of the four teenage victims.

Jeffco Commissioner Jim Carns will not run for re-election

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – Another Jefferson County Commissioner will not be returning after the current term.

Jefferson County Commissioner Jim Carns announced on Tuesday that he will not seek re-election.

Most of the current Commission will also not be returning. Commission President Bettye Fine Collins announced earlier that she would not seek re-election. Commissioner Shelia Smoot will be running Artur Davis’ Congress seat when he leaves to campaign for his bid to be governor. William Bell has already left the commission since being the newly elected mayor of Birmingham.

Only Commissioner Bobby Humphryes appears to be running for re-election.

Governor Riley appoints new Illegal Gambling Task Force leader

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - Gov. Bob Riley's new leader of his Illegal Gambling Task Force has a word of warning for the owner of the Victoryland.

On Monday, Riley named Mobile District Attorney John Tyson as the new head of the task force. Riley wants the group to continue to target illegal electronic gambling operations in the state. "I think the people of this state realize we have a quality of life here we don't want to see deteriorate," Riley said.

Tyson says it comes down to the rule of law what is legal or illegal in Alabama. "The electronic bingo devices we have here are nothing more than slot machines and slot machines are illegal in Alabama," Tyson said.

TV ads continue to run across the state attacking Riley for putting Barber in charge of the task force after it was revealed Barber won gaming revenue in Mississippi. Victoryland owner Milton McGregor told Fox6 News he hired professionals to follow Barber after hearing rumors of the casino trips. "I have watched with great disgust the hypocrisy and dishonesty of Governor Bob Riley and, here lately, David Barber," McGregor said.

Tyson, at his news conference, said he has not been to a casino in decades but the Mobile D-A questions McGregor's intent hiring someone to follow the last task force leader, David Barber.

"I think Mr. McGregor needs to be concerned whether or not he is going to intimidate law enforcement from doing their job. I think it borders on obstruction. I think we are going to take a look at that immediately," Tyson said.

William Bell to be sworn in

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - William Bell will be sworn in Tuesday as Birmingham's newest mayor. He has already started putting together his staff.

Bell is retaining some old faces, but he's also bringing in some news ones. He says he will retain Police Chief A.C. Roper and Fire Chief Ivor Brooks. Bell also today named Jim Holbrook of Stern Agee as his financial advisor and Chuck Faush as chief of staff. Holbrook will work with the city's finance department to come up with solutions for fixing the city's multi-million dollar budget deficit.

Bell says its important to surround himself with people who have his same vision.
"I'm not looking to see someone else's staff,” says Bell. “I'm looking to oversee William Bell's staff and that staff will be reflective of my personality and the way I want to see things progress"

Bell's win as mayor means his Jefferson County Commission seat was left vacant. The county's election commission will meet to certify last Tuesday’s election votes and set a date for a special election to replace Bell on the commission.

The election is called for under a new state law and was pre-cleared by the Justice Department.

Birmingham City Council to hold hearing over front yard parking ban

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham's city council will hold a public hearing regarding a ban on front yard parking.

Councilman Johnathan Austin, who is sponsoring the ordinance, says it is a public safety and beautification issue. Austin says no one wants to live next door to a parking lot.

The public will be allowed to voice opinions at the meeting beginning this morning at 9:30 at city hall.

Council member would like to re-develope Century Plaza

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - City Council member Kim Rafferty is pushing her plans for the re-development of the now empty Century Plaza Mall. The mall is in her district and it was shut down last year after the owners struggled with increasing vacancies.

Rafferty, one of the council's newest members, says she is ready to do something with the site. She would like to see it developed into a junior college or a vocational training center for high school students. Hotels, restaurants and family entertainment, such as a movie theatre, are also options she would like to promote. Rafferty says the site should be utilized, not demolished.
“It's a horrible sight to come through that area and not see anything but the back side of new Wal-mart shopping center. (We) need to get new development,” says Rafferty. “So it will invite people to come off the interstate spend their money."

Rafferty plans to meet with the owners of the property. She says she hopes to have a completed action plan by summer so that she can present her ideas to the mayor and council.

Anniston has first homicide of 2010

ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - Police say a home invasion led to Anniston's first homicide of 2010.

It happened Sunday night in an apartment on Brown Avenue.

Investigators say two masked men interrupted a viewing party for the NFC Championship Game.

Police say the men shot and killed 22-year-old Dariontae Brooks and wounded another man.

So far, police have no suspects or motive.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Councilor wants to see a change at Century Plaza building

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - There could be new life for an old empty shopping mall.

A Birmingham city councilor wants the site of the old Century Plaza to be re-developed.

The property is in Councilor Kim Rafferty's district two.

She's ready to do something with the site to bring in revenue for that part of Birmingham, and also to give folks something to do.

The mall was open for four decades.

But since June, it remains closed after the owners struggled with increasing vacancies.

Rafferty is looking at either developing the site into a junior college or vocational training center for high school students.

Hotels, restaurants, and family entertainment, like a movie theatre, are also options.

Rafferty doesn't want to demolish the site, but rather utilize the existing property.

"It's a horrible sight to come through that area and not see anything but the back side of new Wal-mart shopping center," said Kim Rafferty. "There needs to be new development so it will invite people to come off the interstate spend their money."

Rafferty doesn't think another mall would be successful. She says indoor shopping malls are not as popular now.

Rafferty plans to meet with the owners of the property to start moving forward.

This summer she wants to develop a real action plan, as she prepares to present ideas to city councilors and the mayor.

New proposal would change Jeffco government's infrastructure

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - There is a push for a new form of government in Jefferson County. State Representative Owen Drake of Leeds wants to abolish with the County Commission.

House Bill 53 would replace the County Commission set up a 5-member County Council.

A Chief Executive would be elected countywide, and would have veto powers over the County Council.

A County Manager would be appointed to run the day to day operations of the county.

Rep. Drake said this would not only save the county money, it would provide more accountability in the county.

"That is what this bill will do," said Rep. Drake, "Right now there are no checks and balances, and that is what brought us to this point."

Rep. Drake presented the bill at a public hearing in downtown Birmingham Monday night. Members of the Jefferson County Delegation, Sheriff's Department, and residents attended.

Jefferson County Sheriff Mike Hale said he supports the bill because something has to be done to prevent the constant budget battles that he and other county officials have fought over the last couple of years.

"What we have now is broke," said Sheriff Hale, "The citizens feel it. As the head of largest sheriff's office in the state, I feel it."

Rep. John Rogers has also presented another bill calling for a four-member County Commission with the President running countywide. He said he has some concerns with Rep. Drake's bill because it may bring too big of a change, to the county, but he is willing to listen.

"I think it needs to be vetted," said Rep. Rogers, "I think it needs to be discussed and see where we are."

Jefferson County Commissioner Shelia Smoot disagreed with the proposal and said lawmakers should be focusing on other things.

"I have problems when people start out a legislative session as if it is a county commission session," said Smoot, "Mr. Drake should be working on needs of people in his legislative district and actually that is not one of them at this point in time."

Both Rep. Rogers and Rep. Drake said they are hopeful lawmakers will vote on one of the bills in this legislative session.

Brothers help get residents to safety during fire

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A fire at an apartment complex could have been much worse if it was not for a pair of concerned brothers.

It happened on Monday morning at the Stonehenge at Crestline Apartment Homes on Montclair Road. There was heavy smoke and one unit was heavily damaged.

A pair of brothers saw what was happening and knocked on doors around the complex to make sure everyone was out and okay.

“I'm just glad i was here, me and my brother,” said Greg Pettri, one of the brothers. ”I'm sure they would have done it for me and my family, too.”

Many elderly people live at this particular complex.

Pettri is an animal lover and says he was happy to see cats and dogs make it out okay.

Robert Bentley makes big announcements in Birmingham

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Two big announcements were made by Republican candidate for governor Robert Bentley on Monday.

He made a stop in Birmingham on his campaign tour.

Bentley says there is pending legislation that would give companies a deduction on their taxes for hiring someone off the unemployment roll and keeping them in a job for a year.

He also made a bold promise that will affect his own pocketbook. “To identify with people that unemployed, I will not take the salary of governor until unemployment reaches full employment which would be approximately five to six percent,” said Bentley.

Bentley is one of seven people on the ballot for June’s Republican primary.

Lucy Baxley steps into PACT debate

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - Lucy Baxley is stepping into the debate over the future of the PACT program.

She says she removed all guarantees from promotional literature and contracts when she was state treasurer in 1995.

The plan's investments took a sharp downturn when the economy went into recession.

A number of lawmakers are joining parents in asking the state to fully fund the program.

Free the Hops looking to lift brewery restrictions

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - The group that worked to bring higher-alcohol content beer to Alabama wants state lawmakers to loosen restrictions on breweries and brew-pubs.

"Free the Hops" urges lawmakers to support the brewery modernization act. The measure would lift some restrictions on opening and operating breweries, as well as allowing consumers to sample beer. The bill would also change the state's stance on brewpubs, a move the group's lobbyist says could lead to job creation.

Police investigating murder in Anniston

ANNISTON, AL (WBRC) - Police in Anniston are investigating a murder.

Sunday evening, someone fired shots into a home on Brown Avenue.

Investigators say Dariontae Brooks was hit and killed. He was pronounced dead at 7:30 a.m. on Sunday night.

Bowling event will help to pay slain officer's mortgage

PELHAM, AL (WBRC) - A bowling event to benefit the family of Pelham Police Officer Philip Davis will be held on Monday. Officer Davis was shot and killed in Pelham during a traffic stop on December 4th of last year.

Oak Mountain Lanes will host an event Monday from 3-9 with 100 percent of the proceeds going to the Davis Mortgage Retirement Fund. Several other businesses have also committed to the fund. The goal is to raise $200,000.

Here are the upcoming restaurants that will be helping the retirement fund:
Tuesday 1/26 Chick Fil A (119) 10% of Sales
Wednesday 1/27 Nino's Italian Restaurant 10% of Sales
Thursday 1/28 Hooters Proceeds from Bingo Night
Golden Corral - $2 donated for each ticket redeemed from Oak Mountain Event
Friday 1/29 Sarris Café
Saturday 1/30 Applebee's Pancake Breakfast 7:30am-10am, $5 tickets
Margartia Grill 10% of sales from 5pm-9pm
Sunday 1/31 Johnny Ray's (Hwy 31) 10% of Sales

Center Point church evicted

CENTER POINT, AL (WBRC) - A Center Point church held its last Sunday service in its current building.

The Walking on Water Christian Church is being evicted Monday. It had been operating out of the former Cinema Six movie theater

The eviction comes after the building owners and church officials failed to agree on mortgage payments.

The church fell behind on payments and was to be evicted January 14th, but the eviction was delayed after the two parties agreed to talks.

Wild weather sweeps through Alabama

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - The thunderstorms that moved across much of north-central Alabama on Sunday caused some damage and flooding.

A tree fell across a car in Huffman, Sunday morning. No one was in the car at the time, but the tree did block the road and tear down power lines.

There were also reports of flooding. The National Weather Service says several streets in Birmingham and in the Center Point area were under water.

People in Huntsville spent the weekend cleaning up following Thursday’s tornado. The National Weather Service says the twister was an EF-2 with winds reaching 135 miles per hour. Several homes have roof damage. No one was seriously hurt.

Domed stadium work slowed

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Work continues toward building a $600 million domed stadium for Birmingham, but the BJCC board slowed down the process a little Friday.

The board put off a vote on sending out requests for proposals for a program manager. BJCC executive director Jack Fields says the program manager is critical to help keep the cost of the multipurpose facility down. "So they must be an entity that is knowledgeable of construction facilities of this nature. There is a high level of expertise that will be needed for the construction manager," Fields said.

Plans for a new entertainment district continue to go forward without a private developer. A Memphis developer failed to get enough financing for the district which will be built next to the domed stadium. The BJCC board plans to develop the project on a smaller scale, about $60 million than the original plan, called the Forge. "I think that is better. We need to have control on what goes on on our campus, and the best way is to have total control is to make sure you own every aspect of it," Field said.

Still the domed stadium got a bit of a boost Friday. Bob Coffen, president of the Birmingham Boat Show, was the first client ever to be signed by the BJCC some 39 years ago. Coffen thanked the board for their support and fully endorsed the domed stadium project. "It will mean money. Starting with money from the convention and travel show industry which fills hotel rooms and build the tax base. That is important to Birmingham," Coffen said.

Governor Riley, Milton McGregor at ends over gaming

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - A war of words is erupting between Governor Bob Riley and gaming businessman Milton McGregor. This comes as new TV ads are slamming former Jefferson County District Attorney David Barber over trips to a Mississippi casino.

Barber admits to winning $2,300. Barber is also head of Gov. Riley's Illegal Gambling Task Force.

"I have watched with disgust at the hypocrisy and dishonesty of Governor Riley and here lately, David Barber,” McGregor said to Fox6 News Friday.

McGregor says he gave the governor and Barber a week to come clean about the trips. "I made it a point to let Barber know I knew, and Riley know I knew," McGregor said.

On Friday, Gov. Riley insisted there was not deadline threat. "That is absolutely not true. I'm not responsible for what Milton McGregor says or doesn't say," Riley said.

Barber submitted his resignation from the task force a week ago to Riley. The governor took exception that anyone would be following task force members, who are also members of law enforcement. Riley also offered a bit of a warning. "Don't get too close. Don't get too close to families because all of the sudden everything changes," Riley said.

Those TV ads are run by the Sweet Home Alabama group which is advocating legalizing electronic bingo gambling in Alabama. Riley insists it is a bad bet. "That gives amnesty to the Democrats main contributors. You stop a $400 million tax owed to the state of Alabama," Riley said.

McGregor bets the constitutional amendment will pass if voters get a chance to vote on it. "The Sweet Home Alabama Plan would create 30-thousand jobs and 400-million in revenue," McGregor said

Birmingham police searching for missing student

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Birmingham Police Department is looking for a missing Lawson State student.

23-year-old Eric Sherrod Duff was last seen leaving class on the Lawson State Community College campus on Friday.

Duff is described as a black male, 6’3” tall, 180 lbs, with brown eyes and black hair.

If there is anyone who has information pertaining to this case, they are encouraged to contact B.P.D. detectives @ 254-1764 or Crime Stoppers at 254-7777.

Jim 'N Nicks sponsors Bell Center child

ALABASTER, AL (WBRC) - When you walk into Jim N Nick’s Bar-B-Q Restaurant in Alabaster, a smiling 2-year-old Connor Sawyer greets you. Below his picture sits a jar for “Connor’s Coins”. It is all a part of the restaurant’s efforts to raise funds for Connor which will ultimately go to support the Bell Center.

The center is dedicated to helping children with special developmental delays, like Down syndrome and Cerebral Palsy. Connor has Down syndrome and attends the Bell Center two days a week. It is just one of the centers that’s supported by the Mercedes Marathon.

For years, Jim N Nicks has supported the race with a post race party. But this year, each store is running for and raising money in honor of a child for the Bell Center. The Alabaster store chose Connor.

“He's all over the place. He's such a cute kid,” said Tricia Garret with Jim N Nicks. “The Bell Center operates primarily on donations. That's how they provide the resource for the child and parent.”

On Friday, January 29th, the Alabaster store is hosting “Connor’s Day.” They'll donate 10% of the sales to the Bell Center and also if you give $5, you'll get two free taco tickets.

You can also donate on line. The address: www.firstgiving.com/jnnalabaster.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Blount County sues Warrior over taxation

WARRIOR, AL (WBRC) - WARRIOR, AL (WBRC) - Blount County is now suing the city of Warrior. It claims the recently passed ordinance allowing Warrior to tax cities within its police jurisdiction is unjust.

It's the latest chapter in the ongoing dispute between the two cities.

Many Blount County businesses under Warrior's police jurisdiction are also fighting to incorporate into Hayden city limits. Neither do they want to pay taxes to Warrior.

Signs encouraging Hayden residents to boycott Warrior businesses are still present throughout the city.

The owner of Logan's General Store in Hayden, Bill Logan, said it shows how many people are unhappy with the tax ordinance.

"It was about the only way we had to fight it," said Logan, "except for this lawsuit the county filed. Believe me, the boycott, as much as I hate to see it hurt the business people, it has really affected them now."

In December, the Warrior City Council passed a 1.5% tax on all businesses within its police jurisdiction, and that includes part of Blount County.

Warrior Mayor Rena Hudson said the ordinance was designed to generate money for the city, and in exchange, providing police protection for Hayden.

"I'm somewhat shocked at the response," said Hudson, "I knew they needed police protection, and I knew we could provide it. I hope things can be amicably worked out."

However, business owners in Hayden said Warrior Police never patrol the area. So they shouldn't pay for the service.

"Warrior needs money too," said Shell Station cashier Chris Roberts, "I believe this has been in progression for some time now. They are trying to shift their police over here to get extra cash. I don't think its right."

People in both cities agree the situation has caused a lot of animosity between the two cities, and that is unfortunate.

"I think there will be a lot of tension for some time to come between Hayden and Warrior," said Roberts.

One dead in Walker County crash

WALKER COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - State troopers have reported a deadly accident in Walker County.

Troopers say Brian Nichols was killed in a one-vehicle crash on Wolf Creek Road. He was five miles outside Carbon Hill at the time.

Nichols died on the scene. He was 37-years-old.

Homewood adds light to tunnel for elementary students

HOMEWOOD, AL (WBRC) - The city of Homewood is making life safer for children in Homewood.

The tunnel is located underneath Highway 31 makes it safer for students to cross from the Piggly Wiggly to Shades Cahaba Elementary School, but the tunnel was dark inside.

The city has now added new lights to the tunnel to make travel across it easier.

Birmingham City Schools gather supplies for Haiti

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham City Schools are doing their best to help the folks in Haiti. On Friday, they gathered all sorts of supplies for the country.

All the supplies will be added to the city's donation drive that has been going on down at Boutwell Auditorium.

Acting Birmingham Mayor Roderick Royal set up a challenge for all Birmingham schools to help Haiti. The city school that collects the most donations will get $500 and a pizza party.

Unemployment rate in AL rises to 11%

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) – The Director of the Alabama Department of Industrial Relations made some upsetting news on Friday.

Director Tom Surtees announced that the unemployment rate for December 2009 rose to 11% from November’s 10.5%. This new rate represents 225,596 unemployed persons in the state. The wage and salary employment declined by 9,300 persons. Declines were largest in professional and business services, leisure and hospitality, construction, educational and health services, government, financial activities and manufacturing.

Not all of the announcement was bad news. Gains were made in trade, transportation and utilities, other services, natural resources and mining and information sectors.

“Although we became a little hopeful due to last month’s unemployment decrease, I think we all realize the reality of the economic situation in this country,” said Surtees. “We are continuing to see Alabamians suffer from the recession and remain committed to serving them.”

The counties with the lowest unemployment rates were: Shelby at 7.6%, Madison at 7.7%, and Coffee at 8.1%. Counties with the highest rates were: Wilcox at 24.5%, Monroe at 20.2%, and Dallas at 20.1%.

For 2009, Alabama’s preliminary average unemployment rate was 9.8%. Wage and salary employment declined by 65,100.

20-year-old charged with 17-year-old's death

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A 20-year old Bessemer man has been charged with the death of a Gardendale teen.

The Jefferson County District Attorney has charged Dustin Blake Legrand with murdering 17-year old Chase Alexander of Gardendale.

Police say it was January 15th when Woods’ family reported him missing. Investigators believe Legrand actually killed Woods in the early morning hours of January 14th. Authorities arrested Legrand and say he told him that he dumped the body in an abandoned strip mine off of Pumpkin Center Cut-Off near Quinton, AL. Woods’ body was found Wednesday afternoon.

On Thursday, Woods’ friends came together hoping it would help them deal with his death. They say they police have not given them a motive for the shooting. They describe Woods as outgoing and friendly.

“That boy, I loved him more than anything,” Woods’ girlfriend, Julia Robbin says. “And the fact I can't see him because someone has taken him away absolutely kills me.”

Woods’ best friend Alex Smoake sat next to her. “I wish I'd been there with him,” Smoake said. “I always felt like if something crazy went down, I'd be there with him. And we'd be alright. I didn't think it'd be like this."

Legrand is being held in the Jefferson County Jail on $75,000 bond.

Funeral arrangements for Woods are still pending.

Hanceville to vote on going wet

HANCEVILLE, AL (WBRC) - A big vote could change the stance on alcohol in Hanceville in Cullman County.

If folks want to buy beer, wine or alcohol they have to go package stores in surrounding counties such as Warrior in Jefferson County. Eddie Hamm, a Hanceville businessman wants to change that with a vote on legalizing alcohol sales in the city. "The revenue is going around the county. It's not going into the county. I think it's time," Hamm said.

Last week the Hanceville city council called for a referendum election set for March 2nd. The council did not wait until the June primary vote. Mayor Kenneth Nail says his city would benefit from additional revenue from taxes on alcohol sales. Nail is not taking a position on the referendum. Nail says the council did believe it would have been better for the voter to set the referendum for March rather than wait until June.

"Council felt there would be confusion in June. We have some people in Hanceville who live outside of the city. I think that might have created some confusion," Nail said.

The cost of the referendum could be up to $7,000. It will be a shorter time to set up the vote but City Clerk Tania Wilcox says the city will be ready. "For me it's getting your priorities lined up. Getting your slips lined up, who you need to contact. People you have to get source materials from." Wilcox said.

There will be strong opposition. Pastor Terry Phillips of the First Baptist Church of Hanceville says his church other church members will be campaigning against the referendum. "For the Christian people, I vote not the conscience but the scriptures. The scripture preaches abstaining from alcohol. That is the stand we have taken as Baptists," Phillips said.

Leaders unsure over William Bell replacement rules

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - Confusion continues to mount over how to replace William Bell on the Jefferson County Commission. Bell was elected Mayor of Birmingham on Tuesday.

Governor Riley has appointed people to the commission in the past, but a new law calls for a special election to fill a vacant seat. That leaves the governor's office considering options.

“I'll give you a definitive ‘I don't know.’ But we're looking at it right now,” says Governor. “I thought it was over, but someone came in today and said there's such a long interim period there that we've had some requests to go ahead and appoint someone until the election. I don't know if that's legally or feasibly possible, but we have our staff looking at it and next day or two we'll make a determination.”

Bell was elected to the Jefferson County Commission in 2008.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Authorities identify source of fatal motel fire

HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - More details were released today surrounding the fatal motel fire in Hoover.

Four college students were killed in the fire.

They were Jamelia Brown, Jaslynn McGee, Catherine Muse, and Alondan Turner.

Authorities are ruling the fire an accident.

An ATF spokesperson said the fire started in the room of the motel's maintanence worker.

He was of Hindu faith and had a small shrine on a table in his room.

Dhirajlal Bagot, an illegal immigrant, told authorities he left incense burning on his shrine which included a prayer rug.

He left his room for 30 minutes. He returned to heavy soot and smoke from the fire.

He told authorities he tried to entinguish the fire with an extinguisher, but it malfunctioned. He then went to alert the hotel's office staff.

He notified front desk about the fire, then he went after another extinguisher.

The fire quickly spread from his room, 268, in the corner bottom level of the building to the upper level.

The 4 women were in room 292. They were above and to the left of where the fire ignited. They became trapped.

"As the fire rolled, it involved this construction material. It actually rolled up and over with wind blowing across bringing fire. In doing so, blocked exit to room 292." said State Fire Marshall Ed Paulk.

Bagot had been living at the hotel for several years, but he had been living here illegally for the past 2 1/2 years.

He was taken into custody of immigration officials.

Authorities say although lives were lost, the fire will be ruled accidental.

Board approves new supt. and his compensation

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham has a new superintendent. Despite a last-minute legal challenge, Dr. Craig Witherspoon, Edgecombe County Schools' current leader, will take over the position.

The School Board voted 7-2 to make Dr. Witherspoon the next superintendent, but that was after a few chaotic moments caused by a lawsuit filed by the group, "Citizens for Better Schools."

The group filed a restraining order in an attempt to block the board from voting. However, the group didn't pay the necessary $500 bond, so the order was never made official, and the board was able to vote as planned.

After the official vote, Dr. Witherspoon addressed board members, and said he is excited about the opportunity, and anxious to get to work.

"I plan to do a lot of listening and learning," said Dr. Witherspoon, "Visiting schools, meeting with board members, community members, all those stakeholders, so I can get a good picture of what is going on."

Board President W.J. Maye said he believes Dr. Witherspoon is the perfect person to make the district stronger. "I think this young man is going to do a great job," said Maye, "He is energetic. He is an educator. He knows a lot about education, and he is a child sensitive person."

Opponents involved in the lawsuit claimed Dr. Witherspoon led a failing school district in North Carolina, and the school board has not been open with residents throughout the process.

"We want a change, but we want the right change," said Shelia Tyson, " We need a superintendent, but we need one that will give our kids a quality education, and that is not what they are getting."

Dr. Witherspoon said he feels he left his school district in North Carolina better than when he started. He hopes everyone can put their differences aside, and work together for the benefit of Birmingham.

"We want our students to achieve, and excel," said Dr. Witherspoon, "We want good programs. We want good schools, we all agree on that. There may be different ways on how to achieve that, but then that is coming to the table and working together to make that happen."

Dr. Witherspoon's 3-year contract includes a base salary of $185,000. The total compensation package of $242,000.

Dr. Witherspoon said he and his family plan to live within Birmingham's city limits. His son will enroll in Birmingham City Schools.

New details in Hoover motel fire

HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - Fire investigators revealed new information Thursday afternoon into the fire that killed four college students staying at a Hoover motel Saturday night.

Investigators held a news conference Thursday afternoon where they said they had determined the fire started in a room in the bottom level of the motel where a maintenance man was staying. Investigators said the man, identified as Dhirajlal Bhagat, 55, from India, tried to put out the fire, but could not.

Investigators said they do not yet know what caused the fire. They added they do not believe Bhagat was in the room when the fire started, but did say he was being held in the Hoover jail on unrelated immigration charges. They said he had lived and worked at the motel for several years, but had recently lost his work permit and was arrested after the fire by immigration.

The fire, which broke out around 8 p.m. Saturday, killed four young women, all freshman at the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi. Two of the women, Alondan Turner and Catherine Muse, were cousins from Walker County, graduates from Dora High School. Their funeral is scheduled for 1 p.m. Saturday at the Dora High School gymnasium.

School board approves contract despite restraining order

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Birmingham School Board approved a contract Thursday afternoon to hire a new superintendent, despite a judge's order earlier in the day preventing the board from doing so.

The board approved the contract late Thursday afternoon on the advice of their attorneys who told the board the judge's restraining order was legally flawed. Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Dan King issued the temporary restraining order earlier in the day, barring the school board from approving the contract.

The judge's ruling came after a court hearing requested by Citizens for Better Schools, an advocacy group for education in Jefferson County. The group claims the Birmingham Board of Education violated open meetings law when it discussed, in private, a contract proposal for Dr. Craig Witherspoon to become the city's new school superintendent.

The board announced this week it had reached a deal with Witherspoon to hire him as the new superintendent of Birmingham City Schools. It approved the contract after a meeting Thursday afternoon with Witherspoon to discuss details of the contract.

Witherspoon is the superintendent for Edgecombe County Public Schools in rural Tarboro, N.C.

Judge issues restraining order on new superintendent hiring

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A judge issued a restraining order Thursday afternoon, preventing the Birmingham Board of Education from voting to hire a new school superintendent.

Jefferson County Circuit Court Judge Dan King issued the temporary restraining order after a court hearing requested by Citizens for Better Schools, an advocacy group for education in Jefferson County.

The group claims the Birmingham Board of Education violated open meetings law when it discussed, in private, a contract proposal for Dr. Craig Witherspoon to become the city's new school superintendent. After the hearing, Judge King issued an order preventing the board from voting on the contract.

The board announced this week it had reached a deal with Witherspoon to hire him as the new superintendent of Birmingham City Schools. It was scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon with Witherspoon to discuss details of the contract.

Witherspoon is the superintendent for Edgecombe County Public Schools in rural Tarboro, N.C.

Birmingham man sentenced to 20 years for sex crime

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) – On Thursday, U.S. District Judge Karon Bowdre sentenced a Birmingham man to 20 years in prison for allegedly transporting a 9-year-old across state lines for the purpose of sexual conduct.

37-year-old Ronald Loyd Whitworth will serve the 20 years in accordance with the plea agreement he made with the court in September.

Whitworth will be placed on supervised release after serving his prison sentence and will not be allowed unsupervised contact with children under 18. He will also register as a sex offender.

U.S. Marshals arrested Whitworth as a fugitive in Linwood, Washington in August of 2008. He was living under the name “Richard Dailey.”

Electronic bingo bill passes House committee

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - Another big battle takes place in Montgomery.

Electronic bingo supporters traveled to the State Capitol for a committee hearing. A bill to temporarily legalize electronic bingo games passed in a House Committee before the eyes of busloads of supporters.

The bill would legalize games that are similar to ones already played in Alabama’s Indian casinos. It would also prevent the governor's gambling task force from raiding and shutting down operations.

Governor Riley says the bill provides casinos with amnesty from all taxes, criminal prosecution and civil lawsuits. He says it allows casinos anywhere in Alabama.

Governor Riley's spokesman Jeff Emerson issued this statement: "Alabamians thought the backroom deals made by Democrats in Washington to pass their health care bill was bad, but they've got nothing on how far the Alabama Democrats will go."

PACT bill finds date in legislative committee

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - A bill to fund the state's prepaid college tuition plan has a date in committee next week.

Senator Ted Little's PACT bill would take $236-million from the education trust fund over eight years and use it to shore up the pact plan.

The Alabama Education Association says Little's bill won't work unless universities are limited to a 2.5% tuition increase for program participants.

The bill gets a vote on Tuesday.

Missing Tuscaloosa County K-9 found safe

TUSCALOOSA COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - A missing Tuscaloosa County Sheriff's Department K-9 has been found safe and sound.

"Fozzie" disappeared Wednesday.

An email from the sheriff's department says that Fozzie returned home to his handler around 3:00 a.m. They thanked everyone who helped look for Fozzie.

Birmingham City Council to discuss Clas-tran funding

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Birmingham City Council committee will discuss funding Thursday for Clas-tran.

The transit service provides help for the elderly and disabled. It needs $600,000.

Clas-tran asked Jefferson County for half the money.

The commission says Birmingham and other cities will have to pitch in.

Formal charges expected for Gardendale teen's death

GARDENDALE, AL (WBRC) - Formal charges are expected Thursday for a 20-year-old man believed to have killed a Gardendale teen.

Police are not releasing the teen's name but say his body was found yesterday in a wooded area of Walker County. Investigators say the 17-year-old was shot and killed in Gardendale last week.

A 20-year-old suspect was picked up in Brighton and told investigators where the body was located.

Jeffco Sheriff's Office warns of new scams

JEFFERSON COUNTY, AL (WBRC) – The Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office says two new scams are using cell phones to steal debit card numbers.

In a press release, the Sheriff’s Office says that one scam will send a text message to a victim’s cell phone. The message will tell the victim that their debit card has been compromised and blocked and that they should press “1” to reactivate the card. A recorded message will then ask for the debit card number, PIN, expiration date and 3-digit number.

The second fraudulent phone message gives victims a phone number to call and reactivate their card. It says that the card was deactivated during a technical failure or billing errors.

The Sheriff’s Office reminds citizens to never respond to emails or messages to call toll free numbers to reactivate your debit or credit cards. Any such requests need to be verified at the bank.

Birmingham Superintendent search over

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Birmingham's superintendent search has ended. Dr. Craig Witherspoon has accepted the Board of Education's offer. He is expected to meet with board members on Thursday to finalize his contract.

Witherspoon is currently the superintendent of Edgecombe County Schools in North Carolina. It is a much smaller school district with only about 7,500 students.

Witherspoon has about 21 years of experience in education including being a teacher, an assistant principal and a principal.

The board's offer included a base salary of $185,000 and various incentives including a monthly car allowance, relocation expenses and temporary housing for 90 days. It also includes the basics like health benefits, vacation and sick time and annual salary increases. All in all the deal is worth about $242,000.

During his three and a half years in North Carolina, Witherspoon says he has managed to turn around the district's finances and build up a solid reserve fund.

Rabid bat found in Eastlake

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Jefferson County health officials are urging residents of an east Birmingham neighborhood to take precautions after a rabid bat is found in the area.

The sick mammal was found last week in the basement of a home in the Eastlake community. A test confirmed it did indeed have rabies. That is when officials began canvassing neighborhoods, passing out this literature, hoping to educate people.

“Generally when they're flying around they won't be a hazard to us,” said Ralls Coston who is an environmental health supervisor with the Jefferson County Health Department. “But when you find them lying on the ground, acting not like a bat would normally act, don't handle them because they may be rabid”.

Coston says, on average, about one or two rabid bats are found every year in Jefferson County.

In this case, the homeowner and the person who examined the bat were exposed, so they are being treated for exposure to rabies. Also, there were four dogs in that basement that may have been exposed to the bat. Three of them were euthanized because they were not vaccinated.

“One of the best barriers to getting rabies to the human population is to have your pets vaccinated,” Coston says.

If you see a live bat that appears sick, you can call the Alabama Wildlife Center at 621-3333 or Wild Birds Unlimited in Trussville at 655-8033.

Police officer and citizen chase down theft suspect

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A thef t suspect was taken into custody on Tuesday after a foot chase by a Birmingham Police officer and a citizen.

Homicide Sergeant Scott Thurmond witnessed one male chasing another in the 1900 block of 1st Avenue North and decided to investigate. Thurmond was informed that the suspect was had reportedly broken into a vehicle. The suspect was taken into custody in the 1800 block or Morris Avenue.

32-year-old Roger Lange was arrested on an Unlawful Breaking and Entering Vehicle charge.

The victim’s property was recovered.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Locals continue their support of Haiti

VESTAVIA HILLS, AL (WBRC) - United Methodist churches across North Alabama are apart of an ongoing relief effort to help earthquake survivors in Haiti who are left with nothing.

At Vestavia Hills UMC, an assembly line of volunteers packed 200 health kits for earthquake victims.

Everyday items we take for granted like towels, soap, toothbrushes and combs were put into bags, boxed, and will be shipped to Haiti.

Stella Langley brought her two children along to take part in this effort.

"For my children I really want to them to start learning at a young age how important it is to give back to community," said Stella Langley. "To realize it's a circle that we give when we can give and when we are in need someone else is going to step up and help us too."

Three-thousand kits have already been sent by United Methodist churches.

Church members will meet next week to put together more health kits.

Pelham sees rise in vehicle theft

PELHAM, AL (WBRC) - Pelham Police are warning residents to keep a close watch on their vehicles after a sudden increase in car burglaries.

The crimes have happened throughout the city, including in shopping centers and residential areas.

Lt. Scott Tucker at the Pelham Police Department said in many cases, the crimes could be prevented if people would just lock their doors.

"You get complacent. You go from home to work, to the store, to the same locations and nothing ever happens. You don't expect it to happen, and boom, now you are a victim," said Lt. Tucker.

Pelham police officers are asking residents to be cautious. Don't leave valuables in your car, park in well-lit areas, be aware of your surroundings, and of course, always lock up.

"If they would secure their vehicles, which includes in their driveway," said Lt. Tucker, "When you pull in your garage, sometimes if you leave the garage door unlocked, someone can come in and get your purse or your wallet."

Lt. Tucker said because the cases have been so widespread it is hard for police to crack down on the crimes.

They are asking residents to help them out and give them a call if they see anything suspicious.

Here's the number, (205) 620-6550.

Engineer presents cheaper, toll-free Highway 280 plans

HOMEWOOD, AL (WBRC) - There is a new challenge tonight to ALDOT's plans to expand Highway 280.

Dozens of homeowners from the Hwy 280 corridor heard an alternative plan tonight. And its designer says the plan would be cheaper than the state's plan.

It would also be less invasive to homeowners.

ALDOT's plan would cost about $800 million and calls for tolled, elevated express lanes along Highway 280 from I-459 eastbound.

Both of those features concern critics of the plan who say there is a cheaper alternative that doesn't involve tolls or elevated lanes, and tonight, they saw what that might look like.

A group called "Citizens to Save 280" hired traffic engineer, Walter Kulash, to design an alternative to Governor Riley's plan.

The state's idea is to create tolled express lanes, which includes expanding the highway from 6 to 10 lanes between Birmingham and I-459, and elevating lanes beyond that.

"I live on Hollywood Blvd. which has enough traffic already," said Homewood homeowner Betty Morrison. "And I'm just concerned about getting anymore."

This new alternative would only use the existing 6 lane footprint, but would make the inside 4 lanes into express lanes that would bypass traffic lights by going underneath current intersections.

It would cost about $440 million as opposed to the state's $800 million plan. It would also be toll-free.

So how could this idea move more traffic without adding lanes?

Kulash says ditching stop lights doubles or triples a traffic lane's capacity.

"So getting those 4 lanes out of traffic signal operation and getting them into this free-flow operation is almost like gaining 10 lanes of traffic surface," Kulash said.

"Our goal is not to put another check in the box for the Governor for his legacy before he leaves office," said Marc Beaumont, co-chair of "Citizens to Save 280. We think this is going to impact our lives for decades to come and we want a solution that not only works today, but works for the longtime future of our children as well."

"I wanna hear, just like the public wants to hear, all the options before we commit to a project like that," (R) Rep. Paul DeMarco. And it's important at the end of the day that those who live along the corridor have their say on what will happen."

Beaumont says his group will have a formal proposal to ALDOT and the Gov. Riley within the next 30 days.

Governor Riley has said he wants to begin work on ALDOT's plan by the time he leaves office.

Bank robbery suspects identified

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Birmingham police on Wednesday identified two suspects charged with robbing a Wachovia bank branch on Tuesday.

Police, in a statement to FOX6 News, said Brandi Gray-Usher, 16, and Royal Johnson, 18, both of Birmingham, were charged with first degree robbery.

Birmingham Police said the two suspects entered Wachovia Bank located at 6th Avenue South and 24th Street at approximately 9:34 a.m. Tuesday. Police said both suspects approached the tellers and presented handguns, grabbed an undetermined amount of cash, then fled the bank on foot.

Police said officers from the South Precinct arrested the suspects a short time later in the 2700 block of 7th Avenue South.

No one was hurt.

Larry Langford appeal denied

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Former Birmingham mayor Larry Langford was dealt another setback Wednesday in his efforts to appeal his federal conviction on felony corruption charges.

Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Scott Cogler denied Langford's motions for a new trial and acquittal. Langford was found guilty last October of accepting bribes from Montgomery investment banker Bill Blount in return for millions of dollars in bond work from Jefferson County.

In the motions, attorneys for Langford said the former mayor was not allowed to introduce evidence in the case and questioned the case presented by the government. Judge Cogler dismissed Langford's request on all counts.

Langford is scheduled to be sentenced March 5th.

Shooting victim passes away

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - A Birmingham man died Wednesday from injuries suffering during a shooting a week before Christmas.

Birmingham Police, in a statement Wednesday to FOX6 News, said Antonio Smith, 34, of 18th Place SW, died earlier in the day at Cooper Green Hospital. Smith was found wounded inside his home shortly after midnight on Dec. 20, 2009, by officers responding to a report of a shooting and robbery.

Police said no one had been arrested in the case, which remained under investigation. Anyone with information about the case was asked to call the Birmingham Police Department Homicide Unit at (205) 254-1764 or Crime Stoppers at (205) 254-7777.

Electronic bingo bill to be debated in State House

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - The debate over electronic bingo will soon heat up today in the House.

Members begin consideration on Wednesday of a bill that would legalize and regulate electronic bingo.

The developers behind one major bingo attraction are sending bus loads of people to Montgomery. Developers of Country Crossing in Houston County planned a rally in Montgomery.

Along with the bill being heard Wednesday, there are two other bills that would create a state gaming commission and allow gaming in cities with more than 100 thousand people.

Lawmakers continue debate over billion dollar bill

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - State lawmakers will take a second day to debate a one billion dollar road and bridge building bill.

On Tuesday, the State Senate voted to begin discussion on the bill sponsored by Fyffe Democrat Lowell Barron. The plan would take $100-million per year from the Alabama trust fund.

Senator Barron says his proposed bill would create 30,000 jobs.

Republicans argue now is not the time to spend money from the state's savings account.

Hobson City bingo hall destroyed by fire

HOBSON CITY, AL (WBRC) - A three alarm fire has destroyed Hobson City's biggest attraction.

The Calhoun County Sheriff's Office believes the fire that destroyed the I-20 bingo hall is suspicious. Oxford Fire Chief Gary Sparks says the roof was partially caved in when his firefighters arrived on the scene Tuesday night shortly after seven.

The mostly wooden 35-year-old building was a total loss. It had been home to the I-20 bingo operation since the early 1980s and a more recent bingo hall that operated in 2007.

Sparks says the owner had no insurance and had reported a series of break-ins.

Birmingham School Board to make offer to superintendent candidate

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The Birmingham school board is making its official offer to the candidate they want as their next superintendent. The deal includes a base salary of $185,000 and other incentives.

The leading candidate is Doctor Craig Witherspoon, who is currently the superintendent in Edgecombe County Schools in North Carolina.

While some board members said the deal is in line with what superintendents in comparable size districts make, others were worried it was too much.

“I think that we have to be extremely cautious and realize the amount of money that goes to the superintendent and not base salary, but incentives. That doesn't necessarily get you the best superintendent,” says school board member Virginia Volker.

The school board's attorney will present the offer to Doctor Witherspoon, and the negotiations will go from there.

U.S. Census looking to fill positions in Shelby County

SHELBY COUNTY, AL (WBRC) - The U.S. Census is looking to fill more than one thousand positions in Shelby County.

The census is holding an open house Thursday evening from five until seven to celebrate the opening of its office in Chelsea.

The office will have an administrative staff of 50 people and will employ more than 1,000 people to conduct various field operations.

County attorneys scrambling over Bell vacancy

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Replacing William Bell on the Jefferson County Commission may not be easy.

Attorneys for Jefferson County were scrambling Wednesday to figure out how the commission seat soon to be vacated by Birmingham mayor-elect William Bell will be filled. Bell plans to be sworn in next week as mayor of Birmingham after winning a special election Tuesday.

County attorneys were investigating Wednesday morning whether a law passed in 2009 by the Alabama legislature is valid. The law requires a special election be held to fill any vacancy on the county commission instead of allowing the governor to appoint.

However, attorneys said there are questions about whether the new law was pre-cleared by the U.S. Justice Department. If not, then the law could be ruled invalid and Gov. Bob Riley may be asked to appoint someone to fill Bell's seat on the county commission.

"There are issues of the validity of the act that has to be resolved," said Charlie Wagner, asst. Jefferson Co. Attorney. "If it's resolved in the positive then we will have to see when we set that special election if it's required."

A huge legal debate arose three years ago over this matter when Larry Langford left the county commission to become mayor of Birmingham. Gov. Riley, under authority he said was granted to him by the state constitution, appointed George Bowman to the county seat. The appointment was challenged in court by people who said the seat could only be filled by a special election, which was held on Feb. 5, 2008 -- an election that Bell won over Bowman. However, the Alabama Supreme Court sided with Gov. Riley and allowed Bowman to remain in the seat until the general election in November 2008, when Bell won election.

Bell won election as mayor of Birmingham on Tuesday, defeating Patrick Cooper in a runoff to replace Larry Langford. Langford was ousted from office in October 2009 after a federal jury convicted him on felony conspiracy and bribery charges.

If the new law is declared legal, then a special election will be scheduled, possibly on June 1st, which is the date of this year's statewide primary elections.

"If that date falls on June 1st, which is already the scheduled primary date, the cost is already provided for, so there will be no extra cost for that," said Barry Stephenson, Deputy Jefferson Co.Registrar. "It will be another name on the ballot."

A new county commissioner could drastically impact the county's sewer debt crisis.

"I'd love that person to support bankruptcy," said Bobby Humphryes, Jefferson Co. Commissioner.

Humphryes says it will be costly for any candidate who is forced to run in a special election and a primary election at the same time. Humphryes did this when he was forced to run in a special election and then a regular election running for the statehouse.

Meanwhile, Bell's resignation next week will leave four members on the five-member county commission. Commission President Bettye Fine Collins said this could create major problems.

"The reason you have five rather than four, back when it was three that worked, but even numbers, you would have absolutely gridlock," Collins said.

Commissioner Jim Carns says four county commissioners should not be a problem.

"If you have three Republicans who act like Republicans, we will act quickly and move on," Carns said. "If we have two act like Republicans and one act like something else, I can't make prediction." Carns said.

Alabama House passes texting ban

MONTGOMERY, AL (WBRC) - The Alabama House has voted to ban drivers from sending or writing text messages while driving. Now, the Senate will take up the measure.

The bill calls for a $25 fine for the first conviction, $50 for the second and $75 for each subsequent violation.

It also prohibits police officers from searching a vehicle that is stopped for texting while driving.

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

William Bell defeats Patrick Cooper for Birmingham mayor

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Jefferson County Commissioner William Bell defeated Birmingham lawyer Patrick Cooper Tuesday in a special election to become Birmingham's fourth mayor since October.

With 99 percent of the boxes counted, Bell had 25,354 votes, or 54 percent of the vote, to Cooper's 21,979 votes.

Bell, who served as interim mayor of Birmingham in July 1999 before losing to Bernard Kincaid, becomes Birmingham's fourth mayor since October. Larry Langford was removed from office in October after his federal conviction on felony conspiracy charges. Birmingham councilwoman Carole Smitherman became the interim mayor until late November, when the new Birmingham City Council elected Roderick Royal as council president, making him interim mayor.

Bell will serve out the remaining two years of Langford's term.

Census looking to fill 1000 jobs in Shelby County

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - The U.S. Census is looking to fill more than 1000 positions in Shelby County.

The Census is holding an open house Thursday evening at 5pm until 7pm to celebrate the opening of its office in Chelsea.


The office will have an administrative staff of 50 people and employ more than 1000 people to conduct various field operations.


The office is located at:

48 Chesser Crane Road, Suite K, Chelsea, Alabama 35043

For more information about the U.S. Census 2010 visit www.2010census.gov.

For employment information, visit www.2010censusjobs.gov.

Two Hoover fire victims 'loved life'

HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - As fire investigators rule out arson as the cause of a fatal fire in Hoover Saturday night, the families of Alondan Turner and Catherine Muse paused Tuesday to remember the young women.

Turner’s mother, Alondan, and Catherine’s father, Anyea, joined their mother, Annie Muse, Tuesday to talk to the media. They said the girls, both 18, were "beautiful young ladies who loved life."

"Anyone who met them knew their spirit was genuine," Anyea Muse said, holding back tears. "They were trying to go somewhere in life and their life's been cut short."

Alondan and Catherine were cousins and, according to family members, best friends who were always around each other and decided years ago to attend college together. They were freshman roommates at the Mississippi University for Women in Columbus, Mississippi. Alondan was majoring in accounting and journalism. Catherine was majoring in theatre.

Anyea Muse says the two girls came in town with their friends, Jamelia Brown and Jaslynn McGee, to shop and have fun over a long, holiday weekend. They were in their hotel room at the Days Inn in Hoover Saturday night when the hotel caught fire. Their bodies were discovered a couple of hours later after firefighters extinguished the blaze.

Alondan Turner’s mother says she was notified about the fire and was at the scene Saturday while firefighters fought the blaze.

"In my heart, I kept praying," Turner’s mother said through tears. "I kept praying that I could see her face, see her smile...that she would come out and say, 'Mom, it's going to be alright'."

Funerals for Turner and Muse will be held at 1:00 p.m. Saturday in the gymnasium of Dora High School, where both graduated in 2009.

Investigators on Tuesday said arson was not the cause of the fire, but did continue to ask the public for help. If you have any information that may help with the investigation, you are asked to call investigators at (205) 985-9796 or 1-888-ATF-FIRE.

Two arrested in Hoover burglary attempt

HOOVER, AL (WBRC) - Two men have been arrested in connection with a burglary attempt at an apartment in Hoover.

Hoover police, in a statement Tuesday to FOX6 News, said Darius Carl Jackson and Aaron Thomas, II, were arrested for attempted burglary and criminal mischief in connection with an incident Friday at an apartment home in the 1000 block of Rue Mason.

Police said they were called to the apartment by someone saying the two men were attempting to kick down the door. When they arrived, officers said the two men were attempting to flee the scene on foot.

Both men were arrested and each jailed on $310,000 bond.

Hoover fire victims remembered in vigil

COLUMBUS, MS (WBRC) - A candlelight vigil will be held Wednesday in Mississippi in memory of the four college students who died Saturday night in a fire at a hotel in Hoover.

The Mississippi University for Women, in a statement Tuesday to FOX6 News, said the memorial would be held Wednesday at 7 p.m. at the Pope Banquet Room in honor of Jamelia Brown, Jaslynn McGee, Catherine Ann Muse and Alondan “Angel” Turner. The four young women died Saturday night after a huge fire occurred at the Days Inn in Hoover.

MUW said the Rev. Tony Montgomery, pastor of Missionary Union Baptist Church, would be the guest speaker for Wednesday's service.

"This is an opportunity for the campus community to come together as one to honor these students," said Phillip Cockrell, director of student life at MUW. "We want to offer our students hope and support during this very difficult time."

The four women were all freshmen at MUW and residents of Kincannon Hall. Two of the victims, Muse and Turner, were cousins from Cordova.

MUW was offering counseling to students who needed assistance. Students were encouraged to call the MUW counseling center at (662) 329-7127.

Two arrested in jewelry store robbery

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Two people were arrested Tuesday in connection with a jewelry store robbery.

Birmingham Police, in a statement to FOX6 News, said the suspects were arrested in connection with a robbery that happened earlier in the day at the Midas Jewelry Store on Bessemer Road. Police said the suspects entered the store, showed automatic handguns, grabbed an undetermined amount of jewelry and fled in a white, four-door vehicle.

Birmingham police officers from the West Precinct saw the vehicle a short time later wreck on 31st Street in Ensley. The officers arrested the two suspects after a short foot pursuit. The jewelry and a handgun were recovered at the scene.

No one was hurt. The identity of the suspects was not immediately available.

Two bank robbery suspects arrested

BIRMINGHAM, AL (WBRC) - Two people were arrested Tuesday in connection with a bank robbery that happened in Birmingham earlier in the day.

Birmingham Police said the two suspects entered the Wachovia Bank located at 6th Avenue South and 24th Street at approximately 9:34 a.m. Tuesday. Police said both suspects approached the tellers and presented handguns, grabbed an undetermined amount of cash, then fled the bank on foot.

Police said officers from the South Precinct arrested the suspects a short time later in the 2700 block of 7th Avenue South.

No one was hurt.

The identity of the suspects was not immediately available.