ATLANTA (AP) — Tougher laws have led to a decline in boating accidents and incident-related fatalities for a second straight year, but not all the numbers are promising.
Boating under the influence citations are up, and there's been a significant uptick in drownings — 33 so far in 2014, up from 22 the year before. There was nearly another drowning Monday on Chattahoochee River where, according to WSB-TV, a unidentified female kayaker tipped over and was hospitalized in critical condition.
Still, the overall trend lines are moving in the right direction. There have been only six boating incident-related fatalities in 2014, one-third the annual average of 18 since 1985. While the drownings have risen since 2013, the totals are still well below the average of 52 each of the past 15 years, according to the Georgia Department of Natural Resources.
The uptick in BUIs reflect new laws that lowered the blood-alcohol content threshold from .10 to .08, state law enforcement officials say, but the 158 citations issued is still a far cry from the annual average of 274 over the last two decades. Legislators strengthened boating laws following two well-publicized incidents on Lake Lanier in 2012 that killed three children, including two brothers.
Taking note of the stricter standards, Vince Smith apparently drew the short stick as he celebrated the holiday with 23 friends on a rented houseboat.
"I'm the designated driver," said Smith, 24, as his friends sipped cocktails with music booming from the radio, "so I'm not too worried."
Also this year, the state began mandating safety courses for boaters born after July 1, 1998. Also, renters of boats with a 10-horsepower engine or larger are now required to take safety classes.
"The Labor Day weekend is not usually as busy as Memorial Day or the July 4th weekends," said Lt. Col. Jeff Weaver, assistant director of DNR's Law Enforcement Division. The volume appeared manageable Monday on Lanier — which draws 7.5 million visitors annually — even in Sunset Cove, a popular destination for revelers.
"We were planning on going to a quieter cove by now but it really hasn't been that crowded here," said Ashley Elliott, 39, of Cumming.
Elliott said she's noticed an increase in law enforcement on the lake, a development she said she welcomes, "to a point."
DENVER (AP) — Colorado's pot regulators are trying to make sure the state's marijuana growers aren't producing more pot than they can legally sell — a hedge against Colorado-grown pot ending up in states where it's not legal.
WALDO, Fla. (AP) — The north Florida town of Waldo has long had a reputation as a speed trap, and it's no wonder. A small segment of highway that runs through Waldo requires drivers to speed up and slow down six times: 65 mph becomes 55 mph; 55 becomes 45; then goes back to 55; then back down to 45; to 55 again and eventually, 35 mph.
AAA named the tiny town between Jacksonville and Gainesville one of only two "traffic traps" nationwide and even placed an attention-getting billboard outside the limits of the town to warn drivers to slow down before entering.
Now Waldo faces a scandal following allegations that the town victimizes motorists to turn a profit. Two police chiefs have been suspended, the police department has rebelled and the state is investigating possible wrongdoing.
The situation simmered for years until this month, when Police Chief Mike Szabo was suspended Aug. 12, apparently in response to an investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement into suspected improprieties in the way officers write tickets.
The issue then burst into the open two weeks later at a Waldo City Council meeting, when a group of police officers said they had been ordered by Szabo to write at least 12 tickets per 12-hour shift or face repercussions.
The officers also leveled allegations at the Aug. 26 meeting against Cpl. Kenneth Smith, who had been picked to fill in for Szabo. The officers complained that Smith had, among other things, mishandled evidence. The city council then suspended Smith.
Not surprisingly, things are tense at the tiny stucco storefront office that serves as Waldo City Hall. On Friday morning, Mayor Louie Davis and City Manager Kim Worley met in a small cluttered office to discuss the controversy, slamming a door shut with a "no comment" when a reporter walked in seeking information.
Waldo has long had a reputation as a speed trap, but the allegations made by the police officers were particularly stunning since ticket quotas are illegal under Florida law.
In 2013, Waldo's seven police officers filed 11,603 traffic citations, according to records obtained by the Gainesville Sun newspaper. That compares with 25,461 citations in 2013 for much larger Gainesville, which has 300 officers and 128,000 residents, including thousands of college students.
The fines paid by motorists are a big money-maker. According to the city's 2013 budget, about half of its $1 million in revenue came from "court fines" from tickets issued.
After council appearance, the officers filed a complaint with the Florida Inspector General's Office seeking protection under the Florida Whistleblower Act. The officers said they were forced to go public because Worley failed to conduct an investigation after they told her about the quotas, the mismanagement of evidence and other problems, according to the complaint.
"City manager Worley broke the trust of the concerned members and went straight to Chief Szabo," the officers said in the complaint. "Chief Szabo then took a retaliatory stance against the members for approximately six months."
In a written statement released after the council meeting, Worley said the city takes the officers' allegations seriously but will not comment further. She has requested that a commander from the Alachua County Sheriff's Office take over leadership of the department.
The State Attorney's Office in Alachua County said it is waiting for the FDLE to finish its investigation of ticket quotas and other wrongdoing before deciding whether to file charges against either Szabo or Smith. The FDLE did not return a message seeking comment.
The Florida Department of Transportation is in charge of setting speed limits, but says it did factor in requests from Waldo officials when setting up speed limits there.
Because the stretch of highway with six different speed limits runs by schools and a popular flea market that draws many pedestrians, the department said the speed changes are legal. But enforcing speed limits is Waldo's responsibility, said Tony Falotico, a traffic operations engineer at FDOT.
Waldo residents said many people do drive through town too quickly, but hope the multiple speed limit changes could be reduced to make it easier to comply with the law.
Some welcomed news of the state's investigation, saying people are tired of the harassment.
"I'm glad they're doing something about it," said Mike Barrs, 35, a longtime Waldo resident who said he's gotten at least 20 tickets. "If I had a light out on my trailer they'll pull me over for that, for anything."
AAA, which named Waldo and nearby town of Lawtey as the nation's two worst speed traps, said it opposes traffic enforcement practices designed to raise revenue rather than increase road safety.
"AAA condemns all practices," spokeswoman Karen Morgan said, "whereby law enforcement agency rates the efficiency of its officers based upon the number of arrests made or citations issued."
WASHINGTON (AP) — A federal investigation that included surprise inspections was unable to substantiate 16 accusations by advocacy groups that the government packed into frigid cells children caught crossing the border alone, made them sleep on hard floors and provided inadequate food or medical care. Other claims about treatment of the children are still under review, according to the Homeland Security Department.
Inspector General John Roth said in a memo made public Tuesday that immigrants alternately complain that detention facilities are too cold or too hot, but either way, there are cloth or disposable blankets. Likewise, Roth said food service has also improved since the American Civil Liberties Union and four other advocacy groups in June made 116 allegations of wrongdoing, mistreatment and abuses by border agents. Among the complaints was a lack of food.
In the memo to Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson, Roth said his investigators couldn't substantiate any of 16 allegations it investigated. Its investigative findings were presented to federal prosecutors, who declined to prosecute "based on the absence of criminal activities," Roth said.
Roth told Johnson that the remaining 100 complaints are still being investigated by the Immigration Enforcement's Office of Professional Responsibility, CBP's Office of Internal Affairs and the DHS Office for Civil Rights and Civil Liberties.
In June, the ACLU and others complained of "systematic abuse" of immigrant children caught crossing the border alone. The groups said more than 80 percent of the immigrants complained that they received inadequate food and water, about half were denied medical care, and about one of every four was physically abused.
The complaints included a 13-year-old boy who said he was threatened by an official with a metal rod and was later sexually molested while in custody, a 14-year-old girl who reported her asthma inhaler was confiscated, and a 14-year-old boy who said he was unable to sleep for five days because the lights were always on. A 16-year-old boy said an official told him, "You are in my country now, and we are going to bury you in a hole."
The ACLU did not immediately return a telephone message seeking comment.
Roth's memo said most of the 41 Border Patrol facilities where investigators made 57 unannounced visits in Texas and New Mexico were complying with laws and department policies about treatment of the children. The requirements include providing access to clean toilets and sinks, adequate food and water and access to emergency medical care and telephones.
Since last Oct. 1, more than 62,000 child immigrants have been caught crossing the border alone, mostly in the Rio Grande Valley in South Texas. The wave of unaccompanied children overwhelmed the Border Patrol's facilities, prompting the agency to house children in temporary holding cells. Thousands of children were also transferred to other Border Patrol facilities along the border.
Roth said investigators from his office also made three unannounced visits to a family detention center in Artesia, New Mexico, where more than 600 immigrant women and their children have been held since late June. He said investigators did not see any misconduct during any of the site visits.
WASHINGTON (AP) — The leader of the Somalia-based al-Shabab extremist group was the target of U.S. military airstrikes that struck an encampment and a vehicle there on Monday night, a Pentagon spokesman said Tuesday.
Navy Rear Adm. John Kirby said the results of the strike are still being assessed and he can't confirm if Somali Ahmed Abdi Godane, the rebel leader, was hit.
According to Kirby, the strikes against Godane were conducted by special operations forces using manned and unmanned aircraft. He said the U.S. launched the operation based on "actionable" intelligence, and they struck using several hellfire missiles and precision-guided munitions.
Kirby said the airstrikes "hit what we were aiming at," and if Godane was killed, it would be a "significant blow" to the organization and its abilities.
Godane is also known as Mukhtar Abu Zubeyr and is the spiritual leader of the al-Qaida-linked group. The U.S. offered a reward of up to $7 million for information leading to his arrest.
The attack took place 105 miles (170 kilometers) south of Mogadishu, where al-Shabab trains its fighters.
ATLANTA (AP) — A child aid group says Georgia is among 21 states failing to meet standards for protecting kids during natural disasters.
Save the Children on Tuesday released its 2014 National Report Card on protecting Children in Disasters.
After Hurricane Katrina, the National Commission on Children and Disasters reviewed the nation's disaster preparation and made final recommendations in 2010. Save the Children boiled those down to four areas for child care providers: evacuation and relocation plans, family-child reunification plans, special needs student plans and a written emergency plan at all K-12 schools.
According to the study, Georgia met one of the criteria by requiring schools to have emergency plans. The study says a January storm that stranded some Atlanta-area students at schools or on buses overnight demonstrates why more preparation is needed.