Tuscaloosa

Judge lifts driver license suspension of former astronaut

Sep 22, 2016

A judge in Tuscaloosa has delayed the driver license suspension of a former astronaut charged in the traffic deaths of two girls.

Records show the court delayed the state's move to take James Halsell's driver's license. An order issued earlier this month says the one-time space shuttle commander can keep his license until his case is resolved.

Law officers in Tuscaloosa County were able to rein in a wayward horse by corralling it in a gated softball field at Holt High School.

They're trying to find the horse's owners, which remained a mystery as of early Friday.

Sgt. Alex Miles tells the news site that deputies were sent to the area late Thursday night after people spotted the loose horse, which appeared to have an injured leg and hoof.

Physical and mental health is the subject of a town hall tomorrow at the Tuscaloosa VA Medical Center.

A representative from the Veterans Benefits Administration will be on hand to teach veterans how to file claims for illnesses or injuries while they were on active duty.

Damon Stevenson is the Public Affairs Officer for the Tuscaloosa VA. He says learning how to file claims can help veterans take care of their health.

Lyric and Alabama Theaters
Joe de Sciose

The Alabama House of Representatives approved Gov. Robert Bentley's proposed state lottery last night by an extremely tight margin.

Representatives voted 64-35 for the bill late last night, barely clearing the 63 votes required to clear the 105-seat House. The vote came after 10 hours of back-and-forth debate and two vote attempts.

Lottery supporters cheered in the House as newly-elected Speaker Mac McCutcheon announced the bill's eventual success.

Federal aviation investigators say a pilot told air traffic controllers that fuel pumps aboard the plane were failing before it plunged to the ground and caught fire near Tuscaloosa, killing six people from Mississippi.

A preliminary report on the crash released this morning by the National Transportation Safety Board says the pilot reported one fuel pump failure.  After that, when he was a few miles from Tuscaloosa's airport, reported that the plane lost "the other fuel pump."

Alabama Senators will be debating how to divvy up the state’s portion of oil spill settlement money amid a looming hole in the Medicaid budget.

The Alabama Senate is expected to take up the settlement bill today. A version of the legislation passed the House last week. Debate on the Senate floor could get contentious, though, as Senators can’t seem to agree on how much money should help Medicaid and how much should go toward road projects on the Alabama coast.

Alabama's unemployment rate is on the decline.

A statement issued Friday by the governor's office says Alabama's July unemployment rate was 5.7 percent, down three-tenths of a percent from June. It's also below the jobless rate of a year ago.

State unemployment is still well above the U.S. rate of 4.9 percent. But the Labor Department says the July rate represents the fewest number of unemployed people in Alabama since 2008.

The state has added almost 28,000 jobs in the last year.

Alabama Senators have once again failed to vote on a lottery proposal.

The Senate spent much of the day yesterday debating and revamping a lottery bill backed by Senator Jim McClendon that would establish a state lottery as well as electronic gambling machines in several Alabama locations. But Senators ultimately decided not to vote, after a test vote indicated the bill didn’t have enough support to pass.

Alabama’s Legislature is once again scrambling to find additional funding in a special session.

Governor Robert Bentley reconvened the House and Senate in order to find new revenue for Medicaid, infrastructure, and state debt repayment. One of the most popular approaches seems to be constitutional amendment to establish a state lottery to direct revenue into Alabama’s General Fund budget. Several legislators are pushing their own versions of lottery bills, many of which include other forms of gambling as well.

The fate of Alabama’s embattled Chief Justice now rests with the Court of the Judiciary. APR’s Alex AuBuchon has the latest from Montgomery.

Supporters of Chief Justice Roy Moore and gay rights advocates packed the steps of the Alabama Judicial Building this afternoon.

The state Court of the Judiciary heard oral arguments this afternoon in a case that could result in Moore’s removal from office.

Suspended Chief Justice Roy Moore will appear before the Alabama Court of the Judiciary this afternoon.

Moore is facing judicial ethics violations that could result in his removal from the head of the Alabama Supreme Court. The charges stem from an order Moore gave the state's probate judges back in January encouraging them not to issue same-sex marriage licenses. That was in defiance of a U.S. Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage nationwide.

2011 Tornadoes: A Forecaster's nightmare

Aug 6, 2016

The April 2011 tornado outbreak caused widespread destruction, costing lives and billions of dollars in damage.  Local TV weathercasters helped spread the word on where tornadoes were and where they’re going. But what happens when the weatherman becomes a victim of the severe weather while he’s on the air? APR’s MacKenzie Bates has the story of one forecaster where on April 27th, 2011, the saying the story hits close to home takes on a whole new meaning.

Ask anyone in the TV news business, and they’ll tell you people tune in mostly for the weather.

Advanced Band
Alex AuBuchon / APR

Say “the blues,” and Mississippi might come to mind. But Alabama has just as much heritage when it comes to this musical form, and for the past 20 years, the Tuscaloosa-based Alabama Blues Project has been working to preserve that heritage for future generations. Tomorrow, the nonprofit will celebrate its 20th anniversary with a concert in Tuscaloosa. APR’s Alex AuBuchon reports some of the musicians are only as big as their guitars.

State lawyers are hoping to set a date for the execution of a death row inmate who unsuccessfully challenged Alabama's lethal injection method as unconstitutional.

Last week, the Alabama Attorney General's office asked the Alabama Supreme Court to set an execution date for Thomas Arthur "as soon as possible." The request comes after a federal judge ruled for the state and against Arthur's claims that the state's lethal injection method was unconstitutional earlier this month.

Democratic National Convention
Wikimedia

Alabama lawmakers are currently being polled about support for lottery legislation as Governor Robert Bentley contemplates calling a special session on Medicaid funding.

Senate President Pro Tem Del Marsh says legislative leaders are gauging interest from state legislators. Marsh says the discussions come as Governor Bentley contemplates calling a special session that could include a lottery bill.

Supporters of the family of a 19-year-old man shot and killed by a Mobile police officer last month are calling for criminal charges against the officer and governmental changes.

Fourth of July celebrations in Tuscaloosa and Northport were complicated yesterday as the area continues to address a massive sewage spill.

Northport officials say four pump stations were forced to close Saturday in order to perform emergency repairs on the main sewer pipeline. The pumps overflowed, leaking raw sewage into three area creeks and the Black Warrior River. The city’s initial estimate is 100,000 gallons spilled, but other estimates put the total closer to several million.

The Tuscaloosa City Council has approved a deal that will allow the ride-sharing service Uber to begin operations in the city within a month.

The Tuscaloosa News reports the council voted 6-1 yesterday to change its vehicle-for-hire ordinance to allow Uber and similar companies to begin operations in the city.

Tuscaloosa Mayor Walter Maddox says he plans to sign the amended ordinance into law.

The families of two girls who were killed in a DUI crash involving a former NASA astronaut in rural west Alabama have filed wrongful-death lawsuits in state and federal courts.

Authorities say 11-year-old Niomi James and 13-year-old Jayla Parler were killed in a crash that left two others injured on June 6 in rural west Alabama.

Former NASA astronaut 59-year-old James Halsell has been charged with reckless murder in the crash and now faces wrongful-death lawsuits in Tuscaloosa County and in federal court.

A new LGBT organization in Tuscaloosa is looking to expand. APR’s Alex AuBuchon has more.

Druid City Pride held a fundraiser this past weekend to help shape the future of the organization.

The group formed late last year to organize the city’s annual Pride festival. But thanks to community interest and recent events, they’ve taken on advocacy efforts as well. The first step is becoming an official nonprofit.

“It costs a little chunk of change to become a non-profit, which is funny.”

The Montgomery County District Attorney says his county’s court system is drowning in a massive backlog of pending drug cases.

District Attorney Daryl Bailey tells the Montgomery Advertiser that a backlog of more than 1600 cases means that anybody arrested for drug-related charges would currently be waiting more than two years for trial as evidence is processed.

Bailey says the state's budget crisis and staff cuts mean the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences is struggling to keep up with the number of cases it needs to analyze.

Alabama Department of Public Health officials say a new law allows people and businesses to keep epinephrine injectors on hand in case of an allergic reaction.

A new state law allows people and organizations including camps, child care centers, restaurants and others to keep single-dose epinephrine auto-injectors on hand.  It’s in case someone has an allergic reaction because of anaphylaxis. Anaphylaxis is often caused by insect stings, foods and medication.

Suspended Alabama Chief Justice Roy Moore is asking a state judicial panel to dismiss ethics charges against him. Moore says he never told probate judges to refuse marriage licenses to gay couples.

Moore is accused of violating judicial ethics with a 2016 administrative order.  It came six months after the U.S. Supreme Court effectively legalized same-sex marriage.

His lawyers say the order only noted correctly that a state court injunction to refuse same-sex marriage licenses had not been lifted.

Supreme Court
Equal Justice Initiative

The U.S. Supreme Court says lower courts in Alabama and two other states must re-examine three death penalty convictions for evidence of racial prejudice in jury selection.

The court ruled yesterday in the cases of Christopher Floyd of Alabama, Jabari Williams of Louisiana and Curtis Giovanni Flowers of Mississippi.

A committee of lawmakers opened impeachment hearings against Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, beginning a probe on whether there are grounds to remove the two-term Republican from office.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Mike Jones opened the hearings Wednesday by noting the seriousness of the committee's task.

Twenty-three representatives in April signed impeachment article accusing Bentley of corruption and neglect of duty. The articles were filed after Bentley admitted making sexually-charged remarks to a top aide.

Former House Speaker Mike Hubbard's name has been removed from the Alabama Legislature's website and his legislative district is listed as vacant in the wake of his conviction on ethics charges.

A jury convicted Hubbard Friday evening on 12 felony ethics charges. The felony convictions caused Hubbard's automatic and immediate removal from office.

House Speaker Pro Tem Victor Gaston is fulfilling the speaker's duties.

Tuscaloosa vigil
Alex AuBuchon / APR

Gay rights advocates in Tuscaloosa are remembering the dozens of victims of a gruesome mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando Sunday.

Druid City Pride, an LGBTQ organization in Tuscaloosa, held a candlelight vigil last night along with countless other groups across the state and throughout the country. Those taking part memorialized the 49 people killed and remembered the dozens more injured in the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history.

Hubbard trial
Todd J. Van Ernst

Mike Hubbard’s political career appears to be over.

The former Alabama House Speaker faces sentencing next month after being convicted on 12 of the 23 felony ethics charges. APR’s MacKenzie Bates was at the Lee County Courthouse and files this report.

Hubbard’s defense attorney put his arm around him as the verdicts were read one by one convicting him of using his political office for personal gain.

Hubbard maintained his innocence throughout the indictments, saying the transactions that were made fell within the state ethics law.

Philip Anderson family
Pat Duggins / APR

The family of a dead Tuscaloosa County prison inmate is defending him before the press. APR’s Pat Duggins met with Philip Anderson’s relatives who are filing a federal civil rights suit.

“...it hurts…he was my best friend…”

Erika Fykes is Phillip Anderson’s youngest daughter. She says she got the phone call from her father’s cellmates saying that Anderson had been screaming in pain for a week. Only then, his family claims, did jail officials take him to a hospital. Anderson later died on the operating table from a perforated ulcer.

The former state law enforcement chief who accused Governor Robert Bentley of having an affair with an adviser has been questioned by federal investigators about the governor's administration.

Kenny Mendelsohn, an attorney representing former state law enforcement secretary Spencer Collier, revealed yesterday that the questioning occurred. But he refused to elaborate on what questions investigators asked.

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