News

The National Weather Service in Birmingham is getting some shiny new radar equipment.

After well over 20 years of continuous operation, the Doppler radar at the National Weather Service – Birmingham office in Calera, Alabama is getting a service life extension upgrade of most of its electronic and mechanical components. The radar will be offline until the upgrades are completed.

Selma Police Chief John Brock has announced his plans to retire.

Brock says the city's new mayor, former state representative Darrio Melton, has decided to move in a different direction and asked Brock to step down.

Brock has spent 31 years with the department and was promoted to chief in September 2015. He called his time spent with the department "a great ride."

The city reportedly issued a news release earlier this week saying Brock's leadership would be missed.

Bentley preparing to interview Senate candidates

Dec 13, 2016

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley says he is preparing to interview potential replacements for U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions.

The governor says the interviews could begin as soon as this week. He has not decided how many candidates he will interview.

President-elect Donald Trump named Sessions as his attorney general. Sessions is expected to step down once he is confirmed.

Alabama hotel, built in 1837, at center of legal battle

Dec 13, 2016

A company that sought to redevelop a historic hotel overlooking the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma says that city leaders broke their contract for the hotel's sale.

The Janee Hotel Corp. made the allegations in a federal lawsuit filed today in U.S. District Court.

The Illinois-based company says it offered to purchase the St. James Hotel hotel for $100,000 and commit $4.5 million to redevelop it. The company maintains that city councilors voted in August to accept the offer, but later backed out.

Dr. Kathryn Burns
Tom Dodge / Columbus Dispatch

The chief psychiatrist for Ohio’s state prison system says Alabama fails to spot mental illness in many of its inmates and lacks the mental health staff to effectively treat those who are diagnosed.

Al.com reports Dr. Kathryn Burns testified yesterday as an expert witness on behalf of inmates suing Alabama's correctional system.

Burns says the percentage of inmates identified as mentally ill in Alabama — about 14 percent — is about half that seen in other states. She says that suggests many mentally ill prisoners aren’t being counted.

SantaCon
David A. Smith / DSmithScenes

Dozens of Santas took to the streets of Tuscaloosa this weekend for an event known as SantaCon.

The Santas followed a winding route to hit many of the city’s bars and microbreweries. But the main focus of the evening was on charity. The group donated hundreds of toys to Turning Point of West Alabama, an organization serving victims of domestic violence and sexual assault and their children. They also received donations of toiletries for the mothers at Turning Point.

An internationally renowned biotechnology company in Huntsville is planning to expand.

HudsonAlpha Institute for Biotechnology says it's starting work on a new, 100,000-square-foot building that will provide extra work space. A groundbreaking ceremony is scheduled for tomorrow.

The HudsonAlpha campus already has three buildings where more than 700 people are employed.

A company associated with HudsonAlpha, Conversant Bio, will be one of the first occupants of the new building. It provides human tissue and viable cell samples to researchers.

Group trying to save mansion at old Alabama hospital

Dec 11, 2016

Historic preservationists are trying to save a building located at a one-time mental hospital in southwestern Alabama.

The Mount Vernon Historic Preservation Society is raising money to restore a mansion at the old Searcy Hospital near Mobile.

The house was built in the late 1800s. It was the home of hospital superintendent E.L. McCafferty in the early 1900s.

The state closed Searcy in 2012. Many of the 19th-century buildings at the site are dilapidated, and the newer 20th-century buildings are dormant.

Craft beer breweries planned in Mobile

Dec 11, 2016

The port city of Mobile is getting into the craft beer boom.

WKRG-TV reports that two new breweries are scheduled to open next year in Mobile.

The former Crystal Ice Co. warehouse is being renovated to house Haint Blue Brewing. A few streets away, an old Goodyear Tire Center will transform into Serda Brewing Co.

Keith Sherill says he hopes to get Haint Blue Brewing open in early 2017, and the other company is expected to open in the summer.

The city's board of adjustment recently approved changes to get both breweries off the ground.

A "people's parade" is being planned on Dauphin Island for the upcoming Carnival season.

Though the Island Mystics Mardi Gras organization will no longer parade on Dauphin Island, town leaders say the good times will continue to roll during the upcoming Carnival season.

The Dauphin Island Town Council recently voted to sponsor and organize a parade to replace the Island Mystics parade on Feb. 4.

Council member Gene Fox says it will be "a people's parade" similar to the Joe Cain Day parade in Mobile.

Pet Holiday Travel

Dec 10, 2016
LifeSupercharger (John Liu) [Flickr]

For their safety as well as your own, pets should not be allowed to roam freely in a moving vehicle.  One option is a restraint that connects to a seat belt and attaches to the pet's harness.  Your furry friend can stand or lie down, but will not distract the driver.  It will also be safer in the event of a collision.

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Prison commissioner: No evidence inmate suffered

Dec 9, 2016

Alabama's prison commissioner says there were no visible signs that an inmate suffered during an execution last night.

Commissioner Jeff Dunn issued the statement Friday on the execution of inmate Ronald Bert Smith Jr.

Dunn says Smith coughed early in the execution Thursday night, "but at no time ...was there observational evidence that he suffered."

Carbon monoxide leak at Redstone sends 7 to hospitals

Dec 9, 2016

What's being described as a carbon monoxide leak at Huntsville's Redstone Arsenal resulted in seven people being sent to a hospital.  The problem occurred this morning at Redstone Arsenal's Fox Army Health Center.

An official says Redstone firefighters confirmed elevated levels of carbon monoxide at the building when they responded to an alarm.

Post spokesman Chris Colster says four people were sent to the hospital at first, and three more were taken to a hospital after the health center reopened for a short time later.

Alabama death row inmate Ronald Bert Smith was executed last night for the 1994 killing of a Huntsville man.

But the way he died may lend additional support to those attempting to outlaw the use of the sedative midazolam in a three-drug lethal injection cocktail. During the 34-minute execution last night at Holman Correctional Facility, Smith reportedly coughed and heaved for nearly 15 minutes.

The Alabama State Fire Marshal’s Office is reminding residents to pay attention to possible fire hazards in the home now that the holiday season is in full swing,

Scott Pilgreen is the Alabama Fire Marshal. He says one hazard people don’t usually think about during the holiday season is burning candles.

State: Alabama graduation rate not accurate

Dec 8, 2016

Alabama's 89 percent graduation rate is not accurate, but it may be months before the correct numbers are revealed.

A review of the state's graduation rates by the U.S. Department of Education's Office of Inspector General shows the state misstated its rates by counting students who received Alabama Occupational Diplomas in its numbers.  They also did not properly oversee local school systems' awarding of class credits, resulting in some diplomas that weren't honestly earned.

Southern states still in drought's crosshairs

Dec 8, 2016

The recent rain across Alabama is providing some relief from the ongoing drought, but the dry conditions that have plagued the state are far from over.

The worst of the drought is in central Alabama, including Jefferson County and communities in the eastern part of the state.

John Christy is the Alabama state climatologist. He says the rain has helped but the drought far from over…

Alabama’s teachers are getting some good news about their retirement savings.

Al.com reports investments by the Alabama Teachers’ Retirement System, managed by the Retirement Systems of Alabama earned 10.4% during the most recent fiscal year ending September 30. That’s up from just 1.04% the year before. As Alabama state treasurer Young Boozer puts it, “What happened was we moved the decimal point one place to the right.”

An Alabama man is just hours away from execution by lethal injection. Ronald Bert Smith was sentenced to die for killing a convenience store clerk in 1994. It would be the first execution in the state since 2013. But it’s how a judge arrived at the death penalty in this case that has civil rights groups crying foul…

Ronald Smith’s jury recommended life in prison. The judge overturned that suggestion and imposed the death penalty. Alabama is the only state where a judge is empowered to do that. The APR news team reported on this policy during our series on justice reform.

Report: LGBT students face discrimination at US schools

Dec 7, 2016

A report from an international human rights organization concludes many public schools are still hostile environments for LGBT students in Alabama and other states.

The lengthy report from Human Rights Watch was released today and offered suggestions of ways for states to make policy changes.

It was based on hundreds of interviews primarily with current and former high school students, parents, administrators and teachers in Alabama, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas and Utah.

The Secret Life of Santas

Dec 7, 2016
Steve Pennington
Allison Mollenkamp / APR

Some things happen like clockwork this time of year. Trimming the Christmas tree, long lines at the shopping mall—and for parents of small children, there’s the traditional photo with the kids on Santa’s lap. There are plenty of children waiting to talk to Kris Kringle, and that means an annual recruiting drive for Santas to keep up with demand. APR student reporter Allison Mollenkamp takes this look into the secret life of Santas…

UAB Campus
UAB

A gathering in Birmingham is looking for more answers on how the human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, impacts women.

The University of Alabama at Birmingham Center for AIDS Research is hosting the 2016 Joint Symposium on HIV Research in Women. The conference will bring together junior and senior HIV investigators.

Presentations will be divided among three focus areas. The list includes vulnerable Populations, how HIV impacts women infected with the virus that causes AIDS, and what medical care these patients receive.

pipeline explosion
Alabama EMA

Officials with the Occupational Health and Safety Administration say a second worker who was injured in the Colonial Pipeline explosion in late October has died.

OSHA says the worker died on Nov. 22 from injuries received during the explosion in Shelby County.

The federal agency says the worker's employer, Heflin-based L.E. Bell Construction, did contact OSHA to inform the administration of the death.

OSHA did not identify the worker.

Colonial officials say eight people on the nine-member crew that was working on the pipeline were employees of L.E Bell.

Alabama AG Strange seeks to replace Sessions in Senate

Dec 6, 2016

Alabama Attorney General Luther Strange says he will seek the U.S. Senate seat left open if incumbent Jeff Sessions is confirmed to be attorney general under president-elect Donald Trump.

Gov. Robert Bentley would appoint Sessions' interim replacement until there's an election to fill the rest of the term. That election would be held next year or in 2018.

Strange issued a statement Tuesday saying he will be a candidate for the position and already has filed the necessary paperwork with federal election officials.

Alabama opposing execution stay for condemned inmate

Dec 6, 2016

The state of Alabama is asking the U.S. Supreme Court to allow the execution of an inmate scheduled for lethal injection on Thursday.

The attorney general's office asked the justices in court papers Tuesday to deny a stay requested by Ronald Bert Smith, convicted of killing Huntsville store clerk Casey Wilson in 1994.

An attorney representing a white Alabama police officer charged with the fatal shooting of a black man is hoping for a new venue for the trial.

The lawyer for Montgomery police officer Aaron Smith filed a motion last week seeking to move the upcoming trial. He argues the publicity of the case and protests over the shooting death of 58-year-old Montgomery man Greg Gunn would make a fair trial difficult to obtain in the state capital.

The Alabama businessman who started a one-of-a-kind store selling the contents of unclaimed airline baggage has died.

A spokeswoman for the Unclaimed Baggage Center in Scottsboro says founder Doyle Owens died Saturday night. He was 85.

Store spokeswoman Brenda Cantrell says relatives haven't released details on Owens' death, but services are planned for Saturday.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley says the statewide burn ban which has been in effect since early November is being lifted.

Alabama Forestry Commission officials say the state has received enough rainfall over the last few days to reduce the threat of dangerous wildfires.

Bentley said the forestry commission now believes "the worst of the drought has ended."

Testimony is set to begin today in a massive lawsuit alleging inmates in Alabama’s prisons aren’t receiving the minimum level of health care guaranteed by the Constitution.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson is set to begin hearing the non-jury, class-action lawsuit later today. It was originally filed by a group of inmates against the Alabama Department of Corrections back in 2014.

Starting next year, visitors to Fort Conde in Mobile will have to pay to get in.

The tourist attraction, operated by Activation Management, will continue to be free until sometime next year.

Manager Scott Tindle tells WKRG-TV it's an exciting opportunity for the fort, which will begin to be changed quarterly to reflect its diverse heritage. He says admission charges will begin once some new changes to Fort Conde are implemented. Tindle says the new additions to the museum will include technology and live action characters appropriate for the fort.

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