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LOCKPORT, N.Y. (WIVB) — Cell phone videos obtained Friday by News 4 show the moments leading up to the fatal Aug. 10 fire in Lockport that killed 14-year-old Joseph Phillips.
These videos, and especially the voicemail, which the court witnessed during testimony the past month, are simply, hard to see and hear.
But News 4 believes this story has immense public interest, because it kept people from their homes and effectively shut down the city of Lockport for several days. It required hundreds of thousands of tax dollars and required every fire department in Niagara County to fight. Most importantly, it cost Phillips his life, and left two families including the teen on trial — forever changed.
The videos show from the teen’s perspective, what happened inside the abandoned building on the property of HTI Recycling.
Phillips and his friend are first seen sneaking through the corner of the sprawling property, ducking brush and stepping over discarded trash. Phillips is in the lead.
Then they come to the building, once used as an office and long since abandoned, with an old fire escape still intact and attached to the side of the brick exterior wall. That’s how the teens get to window on the roof.
Once inside, there are plenty of signs that someone had been there before. There’s graffiti on the walls, and piles of ashes on the ground where previous fires had been started and then extinguished. The court was told during trial that Phillips and his friends had been in building muliple times before the Aug. 10 fire.
Prosecutors introduced them to show the teen on trial was at least partially responsible.
The teen’s attorney, Angelo DiMillo, said he offered the plea bargain several months ago.
“He was not the fire-setter, it was not his lighter, not his idea, first time he went in there with Joe with that purpose in mind,” DiMillo said. “My client did not cause the death of Joe. It’s his best friend. I said this from day one, he’s heartbroken over this. These are two young boys who are screwing around with fire and never appreciated the danger and how quickly things to get out of hand.”
Additional videos taken moments after the teens are inside show Phillips is using a lighter to ignite pieces of paper. But soon, his friend can be seen using additional pieces of rolled up paper to “explore,” as he put it.
He’s walking through the darkened building, sparks and ashes falling to the floor. From another angle, the video shows the teen leaving behind him a trail of embers.
“Our purpose when we presented these matters to the court was to provide a clear picture to the community of what occurred on August 10,” said Niagara County Attorney Claude Joerg. “Those videos give the best narrative of what happened. They’re not subject to anyone’s interpretation or voices or testimony. People actually get to see what happened on that particular day.”
These videos were played as evidence in Niagara County Family Court — during the sentencing phase, to prove that Phillips wasn’t alone in responsibility for this massive fire.
The trial is scheduled to resume on April 4, when the judge is expected to issue his final decision from the bench.
The teen standing trial faces a maximum of 18 months in a juvenile detention center and 15-hundred dollars in restitution, the maximum penalties in juvenile court.
WASHINGTON (AP) — In a humiliating setback, President Donald Trump and GOP leaders pulled their “Obamacare” repeal bill off the House floor Friday after it became clear the measure would fail badly.
It was a stunning defeat for the new president after he had demanded House Republicans vote on the legislation Friday, threatening to leave “Obamacare” in place and move on to other issues if the vote failed. The bill was withdrawn minutes before the vote was to occur.
The president’s gamble failed. Instead Trump, who campaigned as a master deal-maker and claimed that he alone could fix the nation’s health care system, saw his ultimatum rejected by Republican lawmakers who made clear they answer to their own voters, not to the president.
Republicans have spent seven years campaigning against former President Barack Obama’s health care law, and cast dozens of votes to repeal it in full or in part. But when they finally got the chance to pass a repeal bill that actually had a chance to get signed, they couldn’t pull it off.
What happens next is unclear, but the path ahead on other priorities, such as overhauling the tax code, can only grow more daunting.
And Trump is certain to be weakened politically, a big early congressional defeat adding to the continuing inquiries into his presidential campaign’s Russia connections and his unfounded wiretapping allegations against Obama.
The development came on the afternoon of a day when the bill, which had been delayed a day earlier, was supposed to come to a vote, come what may. But instead of picking up support as Friday wore on, the bill went the other direction, with some key lawmakers coming out in opposition.
Congressman Rodney Frelinghuysen of New Jersey, chairman of a major committee, Appropriations, said the bill would raise costs unacceptably on his constituents. Rep. Barbara Comstock of Virginia, a key moderate Republican, and GOP Rep. David Joyce of Ohio also announced “no” votes.
The defections raised the possibility that the bill would not only lose on the floor, but lose big.
In the face of that evidence, and despite insistences from White House officials and Ryan that Friday was the day to vote, leadership pulled back from the brink.
The GOP bill would have eliminated the Obama statute’s unpopular fines on people who do not obtain coverage and would also have removed the often-generous subsidies for those who purchase insurance.
Republican tax credits would have been based on age, not income like Obama’s, and the tax boosts Obama imposed on higher-earning people and health care companies would have been repealed. The bill would have ended Obama’s Medicaid expansion and trimmed future federal financing for the federal-state program, letting states impose work requirements on some of the 70 million beneficiaries.
The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office said the Republican bill would have resulted in 24 million additional uninsured people in a decade and lead to higher out-of-pocket medical costs for many lower-income and people just shy of age 65 when they would become eligible for Medicare. The bill would have blocked federal payments for a year to Planned Parenthood.
Democrats were uniformly opposed. “This bill is pure greed, and real people will suffer and die from it,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.
We will be shifting into a warmer, yet wetter weather pattern over the next several days. The warmer air moving over the relatively cold water of Lake Erie may result in some fog along the Lake Erie shore this evening. Rain will also redevelop tonight and continue into Saturday. The bulk of these showers will be from Buffalo northward with drier conditions to the south of the city. Our in-house computers are hinting that it may be cool enough to the northeast of Buffalo that a little patchy sleet may try to mix in during the midday/afternoon along the Lake Ontario shoreline closer towards Rochester. There will be a big temperature range across WNY Saturday ranging from 30s near Orleans County to near 60 toward Bradford. On and off rain showers continue into Sunday and even Monday, but there should be some dry time during Sunday. There is a continued threat of rain showers Tuesday as well so this will be a rather extended period of unsettled weather. Drier conditions return toward the middle of next week.
FRIDAY NIGHT: Rain redevelops, more frequent Buffalo-northward, Some areas of lakeshore fog, Low: 36 north, 48 south, Wind: SW/N 8-16.
SATURDAY: Cloudy, Rain Likely most from Cattaraugus Creek northward, scattered showers south. Warmer South, Cooler North. High: 36 Orleans Co., 42 metro, 54 well south, Wind: NE 8-14, Low: 35.
SUNDAY: Showers mainly early and later in the day, High: 60, Low: 47.
MONDAY: Rain tapers to Rain Showers, High: 57, Low: 46.
TUESDAY: Cloudy, Rain Showers, High: 58, Low: 39.
WEDNESDAY: Partly to Mostly Sunny, High: 49, Low: 31.
THURSDAY: Mostly to Partly Sunny, High: 48, Low: 30.
FRIDAY: Mostly Cloudy, Rain Showers, High: 5, Low: 37.
GEORGETOWN, S.C. (WBTW) – A new search connected to the 2009 disappearance of Rochester native Brittanee Drexel started Friday morning just outside Georgetown, South Carolina city limits.
FBI Supervisory Agent Don Wood confirms FBI agents are involved in “investigative activity” just outside the city limits of Georgetown in connection with the disappearance of Drexel. Wood says the FBI is being assisted by the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office.
Myrtle Beach Police Lt. Joey Crosby confirms investigators from Myrtle Beach are also involved in Friday’s search.
Unmarked SUVs, trucks, and trailers line a dirt road just off of Highway 521 in Georgetown County. FBI agents and investigators with the Georgetown County Sheriff’s Office can be seen canvassing a wooded area.
Agent Wood was not able to release any information regarding what new evidence or tip led federal agents to the specific area in Georgetown County. He also denied expanding upon what specific evidence agents hope to find in the area or how long the search would last.
Nexstar contributors reached out to Drexel’s mom, Dawn Drexel, for comment on Friday’s search, but she said she was unable to comment and directed us to reach out to her lawyer. News13 has a call into Dawn Drexel’s attorney, but that call had not been returned at the time of this posting.
Drexel was 17-years-old when she vanished during her spring break trip to Myrtle Beach on April 25, 2009. Since that time FBI agents, officials from Myrtle Beach, Horry County, Georgetown County and SLED, have been involved in numerous searches for the teen or any evidence in the case.
The CUE Center reports Drexel was abducted while walking street side to her hotel after retrieving her shoes from a person staying at the Blue Water Inn. Drexel is seen on surveillance video leaving the Bluewater Resort in Myrtle Beach, walking north on South Ocean Boulevard.
In June 2016, the FBI, partnering law enforcement agencies, and the Drexel family hosted a press conference in McClellanville to ask for the public’s help in gaining new information that could reveal what happened to Drexel the night she went missing. A $25,000 reward was offered to anyone who can offer information that leads to an arrest and conviction in the disappearance and presumed killing of Drexel.
During that press conference, FBI Special Agent in Charge David Thomas says investigators believe Drexel was taken from the Blue Water Inn in Myrtle Beach to McCllelanville, and was held against her will for several days.
“We believe she traveled from the Blue Water, here, to this general area, and was here for several days,” Thomas said during the press conference. “We are confident in the fact that she was here.”
No arrests have been made in her disappearance. Drexel’s cell phone transmitted its last known signal the day after she disappeared near the South Santee River, between McClellanville and Georgetown.
Just two months after the press conference, in August 2016, court documents show an FBI agent testified in court that eyewitnesses say Drexel was taken to a stash house in McClellanville where she was gang-raped, shot after trying to escape, and her body was fed to alligators.
In those same court documents, the name Timothy Da’Shuan Taylor is brought up in connection with Drexel’s disappearance. FBI agents name Tequan Brown as an eyewitness who says Taylor and others sexually abused Drexel. Brown says he saw Drexel try to run from the house and she was pistol whipped, and taken back inside. Brown says he later heard two gun shots and assumed Drexel was shot. FBI agents say several witnesses told them Drexel’s body was then fed to alligators. Drexel’s body has not been found and Davis has never been charged in her disappearance or presumed death.
FBI agent Gerrick Munoz testified in August 2016 that he believes more witnesses will soon come forward to confirm Taylor’s involvement in Drexel’s murder, but as of right now, no one has been charged.
If you know anything about Brittanee Drexel and what may have happened to her, call Wilmington-based CUE Center for Missing Persons 24 hour tip line at (910) 232-1687, or visit http://www.ncmissingpersons.org.
This story was originally published by WSPA, a Nexstar contributing station.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB)- Erie County Executive Mark Poloncarz joined local and state leaders Friday to unveil a package of actions he feels will help keep local seniors safe.
“Ruthie’s Law” is named for 82-year-old Ruth Murray. The Alzheimer’s patient was fatally beaten at the Buffalo’s Emerald South Nursing Home and Rehabilitation Center in August 2016.
Poloncarz said the measure aims to make sure a tragedy like that never occurs again.
The measure will require certain actions not mandated by the state.
The county executive was joined by Hogues, Social Services Commissioner Al Dirschberger, and New York State Assemblymember Sean Ryan.
At the state level, Ryan is supporting a measure that would boost the maximum fines allowable for nursing homes.
In the Ruth Murray case, Emerald South was fined $10,000, which Poloncarz called ” a drop in the bucket.”
The state push Ryan is supporting would up that to $50,000.
The assemblymember noted another instance of alleged elder abuse continues to be investigated; an elderly woman was reportedly sexually abused at the Waterfront Center in Buffalo Jan. 3rd.
The suspect, a level three sex offender, was transferred the facility from prison; his previous victims were elderly women.
The administrator of the Waterfront Center claims to have not been notified of the suspect’s specific criminal history.
Assemblymember Ryan said facts still need to be ironed out, like why the man was transferred to that facility in the first place. The Department of Corrections maintains they did inform the nursing home of the man’s sex offender status.
Poloncarz also unveiled an executive order Friday, to create a county database where local nursing home rankings will be published.
“Ruthie’s Law” is being submitted to the county legislature next week.
CHEEKTOWAGA, N.Y. (WIVB) — Police say Ajak Rieang, 26, was struck by a vehicle in Cheektowaga Thursday night.
The crash happened at Genesee Street and Cunard Avenue just after 9:30 p.m.
Police say the woman is in critical condition, and that the driver was drunk. The driver, Pedro Barnwell, 55, was charged with DWI.
Barnwell is cooperating with police.
BUFFALO, N.Y. (WIVB) — The Buffalo man accused of committing an August murder was arraigned in Erie County Court.
Jaylin Wiggins, 18, was accused of fatally shooting Laron Watkins, 22, and injuring two others on Sherman St. an hour after shooting someone on Maple St.
Wiggins pleaded ‘not guilty’ to charges of murder, attempted murder, assault and criminal possession of a weapon.
He was jailed without bail.