News Blitz: Dec. 31, 2020

Louisiana

National News

WASHINGTON (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has all but shut the door on President Donald Trump’s push for $2,000 COVID-19 relief checks. The Republican leader says Congress has provided enough pandemic aid and he’s blocked another attempt by Democrats to force a vote. McConnell is unwilling to budge, despite political pressure from Trump and even some fellow GOP senators. Trump wants the recent $600 checks increased threefold. But McConnell is dismissing the idea of “survival checks” in a House-passed bill, saying the money would go to plenty of American households that don’t need it.

Louisiana News

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Severe storms capable of spinning up tornados are expected across the Deep South. Forecasters say the storms are expected to strike the region on Thursday — New Year’s Eve. The national Storm Prediction Center says the area most at risk of severe weather on Thursday includes parts of Louisiana, Mississippi and southeast Texas. The region at enhanced risk of severe weather includes more than 4 million people and the metropolitan areas of New Orleans; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; and Beaumont, Texas. Forecasters say the risk of severe weather will later spread into Alabama and parts of the Florida Panhandle.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) — Louisiana is reporting a record one-day total of coronavirus infections, while New Orleans has canceled New Year’s fireworks and told its bars and breweries that state pandemic restrictions mean they must close indoor seating. A tweet from the Louisiana Department of Health says 6,754 positive tests were reported since Tuesday. That’s more than 50% above what the department gave as the previous record of 4,339 on Dec. 9. New Orleans said in a news release that bars, breweries and adult entertainment venues must close indoor seating at 11 p.m. Wednesday. A state health department spokesman says only three parishes meet state requirements for indoor seating at such businesses.

UNDATED (AP) — A Louisiana State Police trooper has died in an apparent suicide as colleagues searched his home as part of a criminal investigation. Three state law enforcement officials told The Associated Press that Senior Trooper August “Gus” McKay shot himself Wednesday after authorities arrived at his home in Washington Parish. The officials were not authorized to discuss McKay’s death and spoke to AP on the condition of anonymity. State Police declined to comment on specifics of the death or the probe. McKay made headlines this year after State Police apologized for failing to discipline him for sending a recorded racial slur to a Black colleague.

BATON ROUGE, La. (AP) — The death of Louisiana’s newest Republican member of the U.S. House from complications related to COVID-19 stunned the state’s political circles and became the latest brutal reminder of how dangerous the coronavirus can be. Luke Letlow passed away Tuesday, only days before he would have been sworn in to office. He was 41. His spokesman Andrew Bautsch confirmed the congressman-elect’s death. Letlow was elected in a December runoff and was set to take office in January. He was admitted to a Monroe hospital on Dec. 19 after testing positive for the coronavirus. He was later transferred to Ochsner-LSU Health Shreveport and placed in intensive care, where he died.

Paul Norton Lake Travis School

Texas News

VIRUS OUTBREAK-TEXAS

Texas sees delays amid push for faster vaccine rollout

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Texas health officials are acknowledging some vaccine shipments have been delayed or have had to be replaced. And some Texas hospitals are reporting  they don’t yet have enough to start giving shots to the next round of eligible patients. Some shipments expected last week didn’t arrive until Monday or Tuesday. The Texas Hospital Association said Wednesday that several shipments of the Moderna version of the vaccine had to be set aside and replaced because of concerns that cold storage requirements had been compromised. A spokesperson for the Secretary of Defense, which is overseeing seeing the Trump Administration’s vaccine rollout, confirmed the temperature storage problems.

WINTER WEATHER

Heavy snow expected in Texas; storm could spawn tornadoes

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A winter storm moving across parts of Texas and Oklahoma could dump up to 18 inches of snow in places before moving eastward and possibly spawning tornadoes. The National Weather Service says 12 to 18 inches of snow in southwestern Texas is possible by Thursday.  Some snow is also expected in northwest Arkansas. Forecasts say the storm then will move eastward, creating a threat of tornadoes across Louisiana and southern Mississippi on New Year’s Eve as the colder temperatures are met with moisture and warmer air. The storm produced what forecaster Jeremy Grams said was likely a brief tornado in Corsicana, Texas, on Wednesday.

OBIT-SERIAL KILLER

Man called most prolific serial killer in US history dies

LOS ANGELES (AP) — The man authorities say was the most prolific serial killer in U.S. history has died at 80. California corrections department spokeswoman Vicky Waters said Samuel Little died Wednesday. He had been serving a life sentence at a California prison after being convicted of three counts of murder in 2013. It was not until 2018 that Little began to reveal to Texas Ranger James Holland that he had killed 93 people in 19 states between 1970 and 2005. Almost all were women, mainly prostitutes, drug addicts and others living on the margins of society.

CFP SEMIFINAL-SITE

Pasadena allows Rose Bowl name to be used in Texas

PASADENA, Calif. (AP) — The College Football Playoff semifinal in Texas will be allowed to call itself the Rose Bowl Game, but Pasadena officials don’t want the New Year’s game relocated in the future. Pasadena officials agreed to allow the Tournament of Roses to move the game to Arlington, Texas, on New Year’s Day. No. 1 Alabama will play fourth-ranked Notre Dame in the first CFP semifinal at AT&T Stadium outside Dallas. The Tournament of Rose will pay the city $2 million to help Pasadena with its expenses and lost revenue as a result of the game being relocated.

HOUSTON SHOOTING

Sheriff: 4 dead in Houston domestic violence shooting

HOUSTON (AP) — Four people have been killed at a Houston home in what authorities say was likely a domestic violence shooting that included a man firing at police before turning a gun on himself. Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says officers went to a home in the city’s northeast after receiving a call saying a woman had been shot and were met with gunfire. Gonzalez says that as a SWAT team was going inside they heard “a final gunshot.” They found two women and two men dead inside. The sheriff says one of the men likely shot the others and then himself.

AP-US-MUSIC-GRAMMYWATCH-RENÉE-ZELLWEGER

Being Judy Garland won Zellweger an Oscar. Is a Grammy next?

NEW YORK (AP) — Renée Zellweger is known for acting but you could easily write a thesis about her love for music. The entertainer won an Oscar for portraying Judy Garland in last year’s “Judy,” for which Zellweger did her own singing in front of live audiences. She was praised for her performance in 2002’s “Chicago.” And she’s an avid concertgoer who jumped up and down in her gown when Eminem surprised the audience at last year’s Oscars and even sneaks out to concerts in her native Texas just to get her music fix. So it should be no surprise that Zellweger’s earned her first Grammy nomination this year for the soundtrack to “Judy.”

AP-LT-VENEZUELA-US-SANCTIONS

US sanctions Venezuelan judge for conviction of oil managers

MIAMI (AP) — The Trump administration has imposed sanctions on the Venezuelan judge and prosecutor behind the conviction on corruption charges of six American oil executives. The six employees of Houston-based Citgo were lured to Caracas just before Thanksgiving in 2017 on the pretense of attending a business meeting. Once there, they were hauled away from the headquarters of Citgo’s parent company, state-run oil company PDVSA, by heavily-armed, masked security forces. The men, all but one a U.S. citizen, were convicted last month and sentenced to between 8 and 13 years in prison.

AP-US-LONGLEAF-PINE-RESTORATION

Restoring longleaf pines, keystone of once vast ecosystems

DESOTO NATIONAL FOREST, Miss. (AP) — Three centuries ago, much of what is now the southern United States was covered with fire-dependent savannas anchored by lofty pines. By the 1900s, less than 3% of America’s longleaf pine forests remained. Logging, clear-cutting for farms and development and fire suppression had all but eliminated the trees and the grasslands beneath where hundreds of plant and animal species flourished. Now, landowners, nonprofits and government agencies are working in nine coastal states from Virginia to Texas to bring back longleaf pines. The trees are named for the footlong needles prized by Native Americans for weaving baskets.

MURDER SUSPECT-VAN ESCAPE

Escaped murder suspect recaptured in northwest Indiana

EAST CHICAGO, Ind. (AP) — Authorities say a murder suspect who escaped from a security company’s van while the vehicle was stopped at a McDonald’s in northwest Indiana has been recaptured Wednesday morning after more than two weeks on the lam. Lake County Sheriff Oscar Martinez says 22-year-old Leon Taylor of Hammond, Indiana, was taken into custody Wednesday morning by officers searching for him in neighboring East Chicago. Taylor escaped Dec. 14 after the van stopped in Gary as an agent with REDI Transports of Green Bay, Wisconsin, was moving him from Texas via O’Hare International Airport to the Lake County Jail.

FORT SAM HOUSTON-SKELETAL REMAINS

Partial skeletal remains found near Fort Sam in San Antonio

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Air Force officials said partial human skeletal remains have been found near Salado Creek at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston. According to the San Antonio Express-News, the remains were first seen Sunday evening in the northeast part of the post. Air Force Office of Special Investigations did not disclose details on the body, including gender, personal effects or if the person had died recently. It’s unclear how a body would show up on Fort Sam’s grounds given it is gated and closed to the public. Air Force officials said they are working with San Antonio-area police agencies.

Arkansas News

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) — The number of people hospitalized in Arkansas because of the coronavirus has hit another new high, while the state’s prisons went into lockdown because of an increase in virus cases among staff. The Arkansas Department of Health on Wednesday reported the state’s hospitalizations due to COVID-19 rose by 13 to 1,174. The state’s virus cases rose by 3,184 to 222,430. The state reported 34 more deaths from the coronavirus. That brings its total fatalities since the pandemic began to 3,637. Gov. Asa Hutchinson said the state is continuing to see capacity pressure on its hospitals. He’s urging Arkansas residents to be careful as they approach the New Year’s Eve holiday.

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — A winter storm moving across parts of Texas and Oklahoma could dump up to 18 inches of snow in places before moving eastward and possibly spawning tornadoes. The National Weather Service says 12 to 18 inches of snow in southwestern Texas is possible by Thursday.  Some snow is also expected in northwest Arkansas. Forecasts say the storm then will move eastward, creating a threat of tornadoes across Louisiana and southern Mississippi on New Year’s Eve as the colder temperatures are met with moisture and warmer air. The storm produced what forecaster Jeremy Grams said was likely a brief tornado in Corsicana, Texas, on Wednesday.

HOT SPRINGS, Ark. (AP) — Police in Hot Springs say a woman and her young son have been found dead and homicide is suspected. Police Corporal Patrick Langley says in a news release Wednesday that the bodies of 21-year-old Shaquilla Watts and 5-year-old Zay’vion Watts were found Tuesday afternoon by officers conducting a requested welfare check at an apartment on the city’s west side. A suspected cause of the deaths was not released. Langley said no arrests have been made.

Sports

College Basketball

AUBURN, Ala. (AP) — JD Notae scored 19 of his 21 points in the second half and Arkansas placed five in double figures to remain undefeated with a 97-85 win at Auburn to open Southeastern Conference play. Notae came into halftime with just one shot and two points but became a force in the second half, scoring 19, pulling down three defensive rebounds, making four steals and blocking a shot. Desi Sills led the Razorbacks with 23 points, making four 3-pointers, Connor Vanover added 17, Moses Moody 16 and Jalen Tate 12. Jamal Johnson scored 21 points, Allen Flanigan tossed in 19 points with 10 rebounds for Auburn.

WACO, Texas (AP) — No. 2 Baylor is still the Big 12’s only undefeated team after winning its second game in a 23-hour span. The 8-0 Bears beat Alcorn State 105-76. They returned from their Christmas break with midweek afternoon games on back-to-back days. MaCio Teague had 18 points to lead six players in double figures for Baylor. Jared Butler had 17 points. Tyree Corbett had 24 points for 0-5 Alcorn State. Preseason Big 12 favorite Baylor resumes Big 12 play Saturday at Iowa State.

FORT WORTH, Texas (AP) — Mike Miles had 18 points and career highs of nine rebounds and six assists to lead TCU to a 66-61 victory over Prairie View A&M. Miles, a freshman guard who collected his second Big 12 Newcomer of the Week award of the season after scoring 26 points against North Dakota State on Dec. 22, also had two 3-pointers, a steal and block against Prairie View (1-4). Kevin Easley added 14 points for TCU (8-2). Kevin Samuel had 12 points, 14 rebounds and blocked two shots. Cam Mack scored 16 points for Prairie View. The Horned Frogs pulled away with a 12-1 run, capped by Samuel’s dunk, and led 60-49 with 3:32 to play. It was TCU’s largest lead of the game.

NBA

DALLAS (AP) — LaMelo Ball scored 22 points, Miles Bridges had 20 points and 16 rebounds and the Charlotte Hornets blew out Dallas 118-99 in the Mavericks’ home opener. Terry Rozier hit a pair of 3-pointers early in a 14-0 run to start the second half with the Hornets coming off their first win, over Kevin Durant, Kyrie Irving and the Brooklyn Nets. Charlotte silenced Luka Doncic and the Mavericks. Doncic scored 12 points. Dallas was coming off its first victory as well, a 51-point blowout at the Los Angeles Clippers that included an NBA-record halftime lead of 50 points.

SAN ANTONIO (AP) — Becky Hammon has become the first woman to serve as head coach in an NBA game, working the last 2 1/2 quarters of the San Antonio Spurs’ 121-107 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers. Hammon took over the clipboard when Gregg Popovich was ejected midway through the second quarter. She said after the game that the historic moment hadn’t sunk in yet.

College Football

ARLINGTON, Texas (AP) — Spencer Rattler threw for three touchdowns and ran for another score as eighth-ranked Oklahoma clobbered No. 10 Florida, 55-20 in the Cotton Bowl. Oklahoma racked up 684 total yards, with Rhamondre Stevenson rushing for 186. Heisman Trophy finalist Kyle Trask was picked off three times in the first half after throwing just five interceptions during the regular season.

Today in History

Today is Thursday, Dec. 31, the 366th and final day of 2020.

Today’s Highlight in History:

On Dec. 31, 2019, the health commission in the central Chinese city of Wuhan announced that experts were investigating an outbreak of respiratory illness and that most of the victims had visited a seafood market in the city; the statement said 27 people had become ill with a strain of viral pneumonia and that seven were in serious condition.

On this date:

In 1775, during the Revolutionary War, the British repulsed an attack by Continental Army generals Richard Montgomery and Benedict Arnold at Quebec; Montgomery was killed.

In 1857, Britain’s Queen Victoria decided to make Ottawa the capital of Canada.

In 1862, President Abraham Lincoln signed an enabling act paving the way for Virginia’s western counties to become the state of West Virginia, which took place in June 1863.

In 1879, Thomas Edison first publicly demonstrated his electric incandescent light by illuminating some 40 bulbs at his laboratory in Menlo Park, New Jersey.

In 1904, New York’s Times Square saw its first New Year’s Eve celebration, with an estimated 200,000 people in attendance.

In 1951, the Marshall Plan expired after distributing more than $12 billion in foreign aid.

In 1972, Major League baseball player Roberto Clemente, 38, was killed when a plane he chartered and was traveling on to bring relief supplies to earthquake-devastated Nicaragua crashed shortly after takeoff from Puerto Rico.

In 1974, private U.S. citizens were allowed to buy and own gold for the first time in more than 40 years.

In 1978, Taiwanese diplomats struck their colors for the final time from the embassy flagpole in Washington, D.C., marking the end of diplomatic relations with the United States.

In 1986, 97 people were killed when fire broke out in the Dupont Plaza Hotel in San Juan, Puerto Rico. (Three hotel workers later pleaded guilty in connection with the blaze.)

In 1999, Russian President Boris Yeltsin announced his resignation (he was succeeded by Vladimir Putin).

In 2001, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani spent his final day in office praising police, firefighters, and other city employees in the wake of 9/11, and said he had no regrets about returning to private life.

Ten years ago: Tornadoes fueled by unusually warm air pummeled the South and Midwest, killing a total of eight people in Arkansas and Missouri.

Five years ago: Belgian authorities announced the arrest of a 10th person in connection with the Nov. 2015 bloodbath in Paris. A towering inferno engulfed a 63-story luxury hotel in Dubai as officials went ahead with a massive New Year’s fireworks display (there were no serious injuries reported). Death claimed singer Natalie Cole at age 65; actor Wayne Rogers at age 82; and actor Beth Howland at age 74.

One year ago: Dozens of Iraqi Shiite militiamen and their supporters broke into the U.S. Embassy compound in Baghdad and set fire to a reception area; the mob had been angered over deadly U.S. airstrikes targeting the Iranian-backed militia. Pope Francis slapped the hand of a well-wisher who had grabbed him and yanked him toward her as he strolled in St. Peter’s Square to admire the Vatican’s Nativity scene; the pontiff apologized a day later for his “bad example.” Former Nissan chairman Carlos Ghosn (gohn), who had skipped bail while awaiting trial in Japan on allegations of financial misconduct, surfaced in Lebanon, saying that he had fled to avoid “political persecution.” Wall Street finished its best year since 2013; the S&P 500 soared 28.9 percent during 2019, with technology stocks leading the gains.

Today’s Celebrity Birthdays: TV producer George Schlatter is 91. Actor Sir Anthony Hopkins is 83. Actor Tim Considine (TV: “My Three Sons”) is 80. Actor Sarah Miles is 79. Actor Barbara Carrera is 79. Rock musician Andy Summers is 78. Actor Sir Ben Kingsley is 77. Producer-director Taylor Hackford is 76. Fashion designer Diane von Furstenberg is 74. Actor Tim Matheson is 73. Pop singer Burton Cummings is 73. Actor Joe Dallesandro is 72. Rock musician Tom Hamilton (Aerosmith) is 69. Actor James Remar is 67. Actor Bebe Neuwirth is 62. Actor Val Kilmer is 61. Singer Paul Westerberg is 61. Actor Don Diamont is 58. Rock musician Ric Ivanisevich (Oleander) is 58. Rock musician Scott Ian (Anthrax) is 57. Actor Gong Li is 55. Author Nicholas Sparks is 55. Actor Lance Reddick is 51. Pop singer Joe McIntyre is 48. Rock musician Mikko Siren (Apocalyptica) is 45. Donald Trump Jr. is 43. Rapper PSY (Park Jae-sang) is 43. Rock musician Bob Bryar is 41. Rock musician Jason Sechrist (Portugal. The Man) is 41. Actor Ricky Whittle is 41. Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., is 41. Actor/singer Erich Bergen is 35. DJ/vocalist Drew Taggart (The Chainsmokers) is 31. Olympic gold medal gymnast Gabby Douglas is 25.

Crazy News Stories

COVID CLUCKERS: PANDEMIC FEEDS DEMAND FOR BACKYARD CHICKENS

ROSS, Calif. (AP) – The coronavirus pandemic is coming home to roost in America’s backyards. Forced to hunker down at home, more people are setting up coops and raising their own chickens, which provide an earthy hobby, animal companionship and a steady supply of fresh eggs. Amateur chicken-keeping has been growing in popularity in recent years as people become more focused on environmental sustainability and the food they eat. The pandemic has accelerated those trends, prompting more people to take the leap into poultry parenthood. Businesses that sell chicks, coops and other supplies say they’ve seen a surge in demand since the pandemic took hold.

WELL-PRESERVED ICE AGE WOOLLY RHINO FOUND IN SIBERIA

MOSCOW (AP) – A well-preserved Ice Age woolly rhino with many of its internal organs still intact has been recovered from permafrost in Russia’s extreme north. Scientists are waiting for ice roads in the Arctic region to become passable to deliver it to a lab for studies. The carcass is among the best-preserved wooly rhino specimens found to date. Recent years have seen major discoveries of mammoths and other animals as the permafrost increasingly melts across vast areas of Siberia because of global warming. Scientists dated the specimen as anywhere from 20,000- to 50,000-years-old. More precise dating will be possible once it is delivered to a lab for radiocarbon studies.

2020: A YEAR WHERE THE FIST-BUMP BECAME MAINSTREAM GREETING

UNDATED (AP) — This was the year of the fist-bump. The handshake was simply a causality of the coronavirus. Once a customary greeting, it has become beyond frowned upon. No less of an authority than Dr. Anthony Fauci (FOW’-chee), the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, flatly called for the end of shaking hands believing it not only would be a deterrent against spreading coronavirus, but even other viruses such as influenza. So, now we bump, not shake. The bump has been around for decades, and its popularity probably never higher.

VIRTUALLY SHIVERING: CROWDED JAN. 1 POLAR PLUNGES PUT ON ICE

PORTLAND, Maine (AP) – The tradition of taking an icy plunge into the ocean to ring in the new year is going to be different during the pandemic. Organizers of many traditional “polar plunges” have resolved to stay safe on New Year’s Day instead of potentially contributing to the COVID-19 surge. Maine’s Lobster Dip benefitting Special Olympics and the Polar Plunge benefitting the Natural Resources Council of Maine are among those that have ditched mass gatherings. Beth Comeau from the Natural Resources Council said, “This is the year where you want to jump in, wash it off and start afresh.”