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Lone, wild pink flamingo mysteriously appears in Florida Panhandle after hurricane

A solitary, wild American flamingo has ornithologists from Michigan, Arkansas and other parts of the country coming to Florida to catch a glimpse of it. 

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The sight of wild pink flamingos was once plentiful in Florida’s tropical climes in the 1800s. But by the end of the century, through settlement, hunting and feather and egg harvesting sightings of the birds have been scarce, according to the Audubon Society.

The bird was first spotted Oct. 31 at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Tallahassee Democrat reported

“It just captivates people. How often do you get to see something like that in nature?” Refuge Ranger Robin Will told the Tallahassee Democrat. “It is that people are fascinated when nature does something unexpected like that.”

This is the second time Will has seen a flamingo at the preserve in the 40 years she has worked there. The last time was in 1995. The previous recorded sighting of one at the park as in 1972. 

It is not tagged so it is not from Busch Gardens, any other zoos, or from the established flock at the Hialeah Racetrack. 

“I am going to assume he or she was swept up in a big part of (Hurricane) Michael’s turning radius and somehow maybe landed further west then made its way to the refuge,” Will told the Democrat.

The last time the birds were seen at the park were after Hurricane Allison in 1995 and Hurricane Agnes in 1972. 

The birds are known to fly considerable distances in response to changing conditions, according to the Audubon Society. 

Before Hurricane Michael struck the Panhandle, it threatened Mexico and the Caribbean, known flamingo habitats. 

Although once considered exotic to the state, researchers determined that Florida was once home to a thriving population of flamingos and appears to be repopulating.

A flock of flamingos have been seen in the Everglades coming back over the last few years, according to the Audubon Society.

“For a long time, the thought was that the majority of the free-flying birds escaped,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell told the Democrat. “Is it that it’s a bird that is unusual in north Florida or a harbinger of what could be one of Florida’s comeback stories?”

After the research was published in February, Florida wildlife officials removed the flamingo from its listing of nonnative species.

Georgia start-up developing new airplane

Since Richard Hogan was a boy, watching military planes fly from the Air Force base not far from his home, he’s been drawing designs for new aircraft.

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He dreamed of being a pilot.

But when he was 12 years old, his grandfather took him for ice cream and a frank talk.

“He said, ‘Richard, your eyes aren’t good enough’” to be a pilot. His grandfather suggested he consider airplane design, given all the sketches that occupied his time.

Hogan would go on to make a career in another field, while occasionally returning to his design hobby. Then seven years ago — when he was in his mid-50s — he decided to go all-in. He left a full-time job in facilities management to get Commuter Craft off the ground.

He’s now the man behind an unusual looking propeller plane called The Innovator, which utilizes a design that allows pilots to land at a slower, less-intimidating speed without stalling.

In a cavernous warehouse in an industrial area of Cartersville, Hogan employs about a dozen people.

“It actually began with a design I did in high school,” says Hogan, who grew up in the Fort Worth, Texas area. At the beginning, “we did a couple of radio-controlled models.”

His goal — once the airplane is fully developed and flight tested — is to sell the kit planes to pilots, who would build most of the carbon-fiber composite plane themselves at Commuter Craft’s facility over a three-week period. Then, he said, his professional aircraft builders will finish off the plane within three months.

“When he left, that was his dream, I guess, his goal. Aviation — everything that surrounds it, and building his own airplanes and things like that,” says Ed Gee, founder and president of Duluth-based Ises Corp., where Hogan used to work. “He’s one of those unique guys that kind of grabs it by the seat of the pants and goes out and does it.”

Experimental aircraft

It’s a variation on the home-built airplane that falls under the Federal Aviation Administration’s experimental aircraft category.

If someone builds at least 51 percent of a plane, it can be registered as an amateur-built aircraft and licensed by the FAA as experimental.

There are more than 30,000 home-built planes registered in the United States, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association.

At the budget end of the airplane market, a small plane such as a used Piper Cub can be had for less than $50,000. A new Cessna 172 can cost close to half a million dollars, and a personal jet can cost millions.

The price tag for a kit plane can start even lower than a Piper Cub, but also can reach more than $1 million at the high end.

“It’s always fun to see the new designs come out,” said Dick Knapinski, a spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Hogan plans to sell his new planes for around $150,000 for the basic model and about $210,000 for a premium edition. He says he has already taken 55 orders. While early orders placed were discounted, Hogan is now charging $2,500 to reserve a position for the plane once it’s in production.

Risky business

It’s not easy to develop a new airplane. Many such start-ups have failed, even after years of growth.

Hogan has thought hard about the potential pitfalls.

“At some point in life, you say, ‘This is who I am. I’ve got to do this,’” he says.

There are benefits to developing a kit plane versus a full-fledged factory-built plane. It costs less to develop, because the plane doesn’t have to meet the standards, testing and regulations to be “type certificated” by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But kit planes still must be registered with the FAA and inspected, and must receive an airworthiness certificate. A pilot must fly 25-40 hours of test flights before he or she can take up passengers in an amateur-built plane, which is also subject to condition inspections every year, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Taking the kit plane route “was to reduce the risk” and cut the cost to bring it to market, Hogan says. But, he acknowledges, “It’s still risky. The economy could change.”

Steve Champness, who is senior associate publisher of aircraft buy-and-sell publication Trade-a-Plane and heads the Aero Club of Metropolitan Atlanta that Hogan is a member of, says Commuter Craft is fortunate to be preparing to enter the market with good timing.

“Any new company’s got the challenges of how to scale up operations,” Champness says. But “aircraft sales have rebounded dramatically in the last 12 months.”

With a strong economy, “there’s enough buyers that have financial resources that are needed to purchase an aircraft like this,” he said. Hogan has “an innovative design that is priced, I think, in a very buyer-friendly zone for new aircraft. … It has a lot of people that are very excited about it.”

Getting off the ground

It has been four years since Hogan first began traveling to aviation shows to unveil his vision for The Innovator, which has a futuristic look with an extra-wide fuselage, a high twin-boomed tail and canard wing at the nose.

“It being such a unique design, I wanted to see if anyone liked it,” he says.

In 2015, a prototype of the plane took its first flight with a test pilot in the cockpit.

The following year, Hogan was preparing to begin production, and general aviation publications wrote articles telling of the imminent debut of The Innovator.

Upon seeing a photo of the plane in a publication, “a friend of mine knew it had to be me, because it looked just like the planes I used to draw in high school,” Hogan says.

But the plans to begin production were ultimately put on hold, as the company worked on new features.

To continue, Hogan brought in an investment partner to help fund development.

The goal today: to produce about a dozen aircraft by the end of 2019, 40 in 2020, and 80 in 2021.

Folding wings

Hogan’s first customers will be what he calls “alpha builders” — experienced airplane builders who are helping to finalize the company’s builder’s guide.

So far, Commuter Craft has built two versions of The Innovator, improving on the design after the first model was built, with the second version aimed at being production compliant.

And the planes that will be sold to customers first are a bit different from what Hogan initially envisioned.

“When you come up to [The Innovator] you go, ‘Wow, this is like a Ferrari,’” Champness says. “It’s like the sports car of airplanes.”

In fact, The Innovator does look like a bit like a car with wings.

That’s no accident. In fact, Hogan originally wanted to design a “roadable” version of the aircraft — in other words, a flying car.

But many who have observed aviation over the decades — or watched a sci-fi movie or two — roll their eyes at the notion of a flying car gaining popularity.

Hogan put the flying car idea aside and says The Innovator he will launch first will actually be a traditional airplane.

The idea now is that future models could include a roadable version, including folding wings. Wings nearly 24-feet wide that can fold to just eight-feet wide also will be an option on the traditional plane, Hogan says. That makes it small enough to pull in a trailer.

“The aircraft was designed as a multi-vehicle platform,” he says. “We didn’t set out to build an airplane. We set out to build an airplane company.”

For the aviation world and for Hogan himself, apparently, “the flying car was one of the great undying dreams,” he says.

Knapinski said that’s partly because “everybody is looking for the answer how do we get more people involved in flying.”

“Something like the Commuter Craft design, “People look at it and say, ‘Wow, I can see myself in that aircraft,’” Knapinski says.

Depending on how you count it, less than 2/10 of 1 percent of the U.S. population is certified as an airplane pilot.

Hogan thinks a plane that’s accessible to a broader swath of the population could help change that.

If one out of 700 people are pilots, Hogan says, “That means that the other 699 don’t know what they’re missing.”

Universal Orlando to raise minimum pay to $12 an hour

The Universal Orlando Resort said Thursday it will raise starting pay for its employees to $12 an hour, beginning Feb. 3.

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"(We) will continue to review and adjust our rates so that we stay competitive in the market," said Bill Davis, the resort's president and chief operating officer, in a letter to employees.

Also on Thursday, about 100 Walt Disney World workers rallied outside the Universal Orlando Resort, asking for raises for their Universal counterparts.

"They work hard like us," said Gurthe Auguste, a Disney housekeeper. "They pay bills. They have families like us. We need a raise for them."

After more than a year of negotiations, Disney and the unions that represent 38,000 of its workers in August reached a deal that will raise minimum pay from $10 to $15 by 2021.

The union members said they want other theme parks and hotels to follow suit.

"We're fighting for the whole community," Disney worker Boletha Jarrett said. "We want this community to move up. We won at Walt Disney World, and we want them to win, too."

Disney worker Krysta White said her employer has set the standard.

"We have a pathway out of poverty," she said. It's great that Universal has taken that first step, but we want to push them to go all the way. We're looking for $15 by 2020."

Security camera shows dog going on shoplifting spree

Security cameras in Istanbul, Turkey, captured an unusual shoplifter -- a stray dog trying to steal a garment from a clothing shop in a shopping center.

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The dog made several attempts, as one of its efforts was foiled by a security guard.

Security cameras show the same animal stealing a white T-shirt from another shop, as well as a shawl from a cafeteria in the shopping center

The management of the shopping center said there was a pack of stray dogs roaming in the vicinity, but that they had no problem with their presence.

Murder charges withdrawn against man, 21, jailed 5 weeks

The murder charges against a man who said he was wrongly jailed for the crime have been withdrawn. 

Suffolk County Prosecutors officially withdrew the charges against 21-year-old Kevin Williams Friday.

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The move comes a week after Williams was released from jail, where he had spent the previous five weeks. 

"I’m happy, I’m very happy," Williams said after the news broke. "They freed an innocent gentleman, you know, I’m innocent. There’s a bunch of cases like mine that need to get solved.

Williams’ family told Boston 25 News he had been falsely arrested for the murder of a gas station attendant in Dorchester. 

"They arrest him and my whole world crashed," Williams' mother Regina Hunter said. "I will step up for my kid when he is 100 percent not guilty. And I can say that with 100 percent confidence, because he was at home with me."

Jose Luis Phinn-Williams, an attendant at Fabian Gas Station on Washington Street, was shot to death during an apparent robbery Oct. 6. 

Suffolk County District Attorney John Pappas said the decision to withdraw the charges came from a “review of the evidence gathered and analyzed” since the night the 67-year-old was murdered. 

“The ethical step was to withdraw the charges prior to the first scheduled court date as that investigation continues,” Pappas said in a statement. 

Prosecutors said Williams’ arrest was supported by a detailed description, but the 21-year-old’s family disputes that claim. 

“We don’t force the evidence to fit the case,” said Pappas, whose office notified the victim’s family and defendant’s attorney of the development. “We follow the facts wherever they lead, and today they led us to this decision. The investigation remains open, it remains active and it remains a priority for us.”

Williams' attorney tells us he was at home with his mother packing for the family's move that next morning when the shooting occurred. When he left the house to visit his girlfriend a few blocks away from the homicide, Boston police arrested him and later charged him with gun charges and murder.

Jose Williams was shot shortly after 11:30 p.m. on the night of Oct. 6 while working at the gas station. Police are still seeking information on suspects in his murder. 

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross released a statement on the situation, agreeing with the decision:“I agree with the decision made by Suffolk County District Attorney John P. Pappas to withdraw the charges against Kevin Williams in the homicide of Jose Luis Phinn Williams. The Boston Police Department continues to work closely with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to solve this case and hold those responsible accountable of their actions.”

Now, Williams' mother wants more for her son, saying she wants his record cleared and a public apology, while also saying her son is far from the only one being falsely accused.

"There is a system that is broken," Hunter said. "There is a system that needs to be fixed." 

18-day-old giraffe suddenly dies at Ohio zoo

Ubumwe, the female giraffe calf that was born Oct. 30, died Saturday, Columbus Zoo officials said.

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Zoo officials said in a series of Facebook posts that Ubumwe had been energetic and nursing well in her first two weeks, weighing an estimated 130 pounds a week ago. But she began experiencing “gastrointestinal discomfort” Friday afternoon, leading to multiple tests and treatment.

An ultrasound showed an abnormality of the bowel, but after receiving intensive care from the zoo’s animal care professionals, Ubumwe appeared comfortable overnight, according to the zoo’s statement.

But early Saturday morning, the Masai giraffe calf deteriorated rapidly, and she soon passed away. Zoo officials said the cause of death is unknown, pending an autopsy and a pathology report that will take several weeks.

Thousands of people followed Ubumwe’s birth and first weeks, watching via the online “Giraffe Cam” through National Geographic. One of the zoo’s other giraffes, Cami, is expecting a calf soon.

Turkey fryer fire destroys garage, causes $20K in damages

Fire officials in Wisconsin said a turkey fryer left unattended led to a structure fire and costly damages.

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The fire occurred Wednesday afternoon in a home's garage, WISN reported.

The Racine Fire Department said the fryer, which was left unattended for an unspecified amount of time, caught fire inside the garage and caused the structure to go up in flames. The garage was destroyed, and the fire caused approximately $20,000 in damages, WISN reported.

The Racine Fire Department posted Wednesday on its Facebook page, "Please be safe when cooking holiday meals," and linked to a YouTube video from the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, which shows just how quickly a turkey fryer can catch on fire. The CPSC urges consumers to not operate a turkey fryer in a garage or porch, and don't overfill the fryer.

Good Samaritan couple finds, returns bag filled with $25,000

A good Samaritan couple found and returned a business owner’s deposit bag that was filled with $25,000. 

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Jeff and Michelle Green recovered the bag, which belonged to Gautambhai Patel, the Rincon Police Department said

“We always encourage citizens to do the right thing both morally and legally, because if you find property that is not yours and do not attempt to find the owner, it is called theft of lost or mislaid property,” the department wrote in a social media post

Lee Corso wears full mascot outfit for UCF pick

Saturday is a historic day for the nation's largest university as it made its debut on ESPN's "College GameDay."

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An estimated 20,000 fans filled the University of Central Florida's sprawling Memory Mall to witness the live three-hour broadcast in person.

"I'm stoked," UCF fan Caroline Klaffer said. "I got my sign ready. It's going to be a long day, but it's worth it all, because I'll never be able to do it again."

Famous for presenting paternity test results, talk show host Maury Povich appeared on Saturday's program with an envelope and said, "UCF: You are the winner!"

The show culminated with Orlando native and Lake Mary resident Lee Corso -- who typically puts on a mascot costume head to reveal his prediction for a game's winner -- donning a full Knightro mascot costume.

Corso shouted, "Go Knights! Go Knights! Go Knights!" as black curtains surrounding a stage were dropped, revealing his pick. The crowd roared with cheer and applause.

"I think this could really open up some eyes and give people an opportunity to have a good look at UCF and what (it has) been able to build here," ESPN commentator Rece Davis said.

UCF and the University of Cincinnati are Top 25 teams eager to show college football fans what they and the American Athletic Conference are all about.

The undefeated, 11th-ranked Knights and the once-beaten No. 24 Bearcats take a shot at stating their case Saturday in a prime-time, nationally televised matchup with league championship implications.

Police: Suspected drunken driver stopped in car without windows, missing tire

A Nebraska man was arrested on suspicion of DUI after being found driving in a heavily damaged vehicle, police said.

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An alert citizen contacted police after seeing the vehicle, which was missing a tire and had most of its windows smashed out, on the road, the Bellevue Police Department tweeted early Saturday morning.

Police said the driver and vehicle were involved in a rollover crash overnight but kept on driving. Police suspected the man was under the influence of alcohol.

The man was taken to the hospital for treatment, then will be transported to jail, police said.

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