TIME celebrities

Tracy Morgan Flashes a Smile and a Peace Sign, and Offers Thanks for Support

The comedian appears in good spirits after leaving hospital

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Tracy Morgan flashed a smile and a peace sign to photographers outside his home on Monday, in one of the comedian’s first appearances since the June 7 car accident that left him in critical condition.

“I’m O.K.,” he said. “I love you very much. Thank you. I appreciate everything.”

The 30 Rock star has been released from rehabilitation and will continue his recovery efforts at home, his representative told Entertainment Tonight. “He asked me to pass along his sincerest gratitude to everyone who has helped him get to this point,” the rep said. “He would also appreciate some privacy during this crucial point in his recovery.”

Morgan has launched a lawsuit against Walmart for negligence leading to the accident, which took place when one of the store’s trucks slammed into the limousine the comedian was riding in. The Walmart driver had allegedly fallen asleep at the wheel.

Plaintiffs also include comedian Ardie Fuqua, Morgan’s assistant Jeffrey Millea and Millea’s wife Krista Millea.

[Entertainment Tonight]

TIME Accident

Six Flags Sued by Injured Roller Coaster Riders

Roller Coaster Accident
Members of the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park security staff monitor the situation at the exit of the park after riders were injured on the Ninja coaster Andy Holzman— AP

22 passengers were injured after a tree branch fell on roller coaster tracks

Two riders who injured their heads Tuesday in a roller coaster accident at the Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California are suing the amusement park. Jeremy Ead and Olivia Feldman were among 22 riders who suffered injuries Monday after a tree branch fell on the roller coaster track, derailing the car in which they were riding. Fire fighters rescued the passengers after they spent two hours suspended 40 feet above the ground.

The Ninja roller coaster was built 25 years ago and weaves among many trees. Attorney Barry Noack says his clients, Ead and Feldman, question how safe it is to build a ride in the “wilderness.” They are seeking unspecified damages after suffering “direct trauma,” according to NBC Los Angeles. Ead told the Los Angeles Times that a branch fell on his head: “I was there bleeding from my head.”

The California Department of Industrial Relations is still investigating whether the park is responsible for the crash. “The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority and as a precaution, the ride will remain closed until a thorough inspection of the area is complete,” park officials said in a statement after the derailment.

[Los Angeles Times]

TIME Environment

A Year After a Deadly Disaster, Fears Grow About the Danger of Crude Oil Shipped By Rail

The U.S. is producing more oil than it has in decades—and much of that oil is being transported by railroads that travel through crowded cities

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When 21-year-old mother Kahdejah Johnson was told two years ago that she’d secured a spot at the Ezra Prentice Homes, a quiet housing project in Albany, she felt confident she’d found a stable home to raise her newborn son. With its manicured lawns and tidy beige row houses, the Ezra Prentice Homes are a far cry from the crumbling housing projects of large cities. “When people come into town they’re like ‘These are your projects? These are condos!'” says Johnson.

But today, Johnson is losing sleep over how close her house is to railroad tracks congested, day and night, with tanker cars carrying crude oil, visible just outside her bedroom window. The fear of an accident is so great that Johnson has taken to evacuating her apartment some nights, to spend the night at her mother’s home, further from the tracks. “Now I’m afraid to be in my own home,” she says. “Do you know how fast we could die here?”

Albany is one of a growing number of cities where residents like Johnson fear the devastating consequences of accidents involving railcars filled with crude oil. They have reason to fear—on July 6, 2013, a train carrying oil derailed in the Canadian town of Lac-Megantic, causing an explosion that destroyed more than 30 buildings and killed more than 40 people. This past Sunday, Johnson and other Albany residents held a vigil to commemorate the Lac-Megantic derailment—and draw attention to the growing opposition to transporting crude oil by rail

“Jo-Annie Lapointe, Melissa Roy, Maxime Dubois, Joanie Turmel,” participants in the vigil intoned into a microphone, naming Lac-Megantic residents killed in the explosions. In a line, they held portraits of each of the deceased and read their names, pinning the pictures to a black metal fence. “You may not say that they lived right next door to you, but they were your neighbors,” said Pastor McKinley Johnson, who officiated part of the ceremony. “You may not say that you understand all the language, but they’re your sister and your brother.”

As in Lac-Megantic, oil tankers containing highly flammable crude oil from the Bakken oil fields in North Dakota and Montana roll right through their residential areas. Rows of train-cars filled with crude oil often stand idle for hours on the tracks that hug the curves of the housing project, so tightly only 15 feet at most separate the two in some areas. “Once I found out that these are the same tanks that were in Canada, I was like ‘Oh my God, someone pray for us, We’re in danger’,” Johnson said.

This fear is a consequence of the unconventional oil boom in states like North Dakota, where for the last several years producers have been using hydrofracking techniques to pump oil previously locked in underground shale rock. The new oil fields have helped America’s oil production rise to a 28-year high. But that crude oil has to get to refineries, most of which are located in coastal cities—and much of that oil is moving by rail. Nationally, transport of crude oil by train has jumped 45-fold between 2008 and 2013, according to a recent Congressional Research Service report.

While the U.S. has yet to experience a rail catastrophe on the scale of Lac-Megantic, the country has had its share of close calls. The National Transportation Safety Board counts five “significant accidents” of trains containing crude oil in the United States in the past year alone. The latest, in Lynchburg, Virginia, saw a train carrying crude Bakken oil derail and burst into flames in the town’s center this April, producing black plumes of smoke and billows of flames taller than buildings nearby. The crude oil also spilled into the James River, though one was injured.

The worrying trend has opened a new front to the national environmental debate. Some 40 cities and towns across the country scheduled similar events to mark Lac-Megantic’s one-year anniversary. Many of the rallies will take place in the usual hotbeds of environmental activism —in places like Seattle and Portland—but also in blue-collar tows like Philadelphia and Detroit, where activists will voice demands ranging from a moratorium on oil-trains traffic to increased safety controls.

But the problem has also presented environmentalists with a conundrum. One of the factors behind the rapid rise of railroad shipment of crude oil has been the shortage of oil pipelines, which could move greater quantities of oil from landlocked states to coastal refineries. Front and center to this debate is the multi-billion dollar Keystone XL pipeline project, which would connect the oil sands of western Canada to the Gulf Coast, but which President Obama has yet to approve—in part because of objections raised by environmentalists, who fear the potential for a spill.

Fewer pipelines has meant more oil moved via rail. “If Keystone had been built we wouldn’t be moving nearly the volume of oil that we’re moving by rail,” said Charles Ebinger, the director of the Energy Security Initiative at the Brookings Institution.

That has exposed the Keystone’s opponents to criticism that by standing in the way of pipeline projects, they are raising the risk of rail accidents. Though hazardous material like crude oil makes its way safely via rail 99.998 percent of the time, according to the Association of American Railroads, a plethora of research suggests that pipelines result in fewer spillage incidents, personal injuries and fatalities than rail. That includes an authoritative environmental review the State Department released last January, which concluded that “there is… a greater potential for injuries and fatalities associated with rail transport relative to pipelines.”

Still, environmentalists like Ethan Buckner of ForestEthics, the group coordinating the string of events to commemorate the Lac-Megantic tragedy, reject that dichotomy. “The industry is trying to present Americans with a false choice between pipelines and rails,” he says. “We want to choose clean energy.”

Back in Albany, the vigil was deemed a success, drawing a crowd of about a hundred. But Kahdejah Johnson wasn’t among them. Why not? Her fear, she said, got the best of her. “Honestly, I don’t really hang by my house,” she said. “I don’t like to be in that area if I don’t have to be there.” She is now on a waiting list to be transferred to another development—something she’s told could take up to four years. In the meantime, the trains will keep rolling.

TIME Crime

Man Visiting Jail Gets Trapped for 30 Hours

He escaped after breaking a sprinkler head

A man visiting his son in Chicago’s Cook County Jail ended up a prisoner himself—trapped alone in a maximum security visitor’s room for 30 hours, according to media reports. The man, who has not been identified in the press, was rescued when he broke a sprinkler head.

“We’re tremendously sorry for what this man went through,” Cara Smith, the jail’s executive director, told the Chicago Tribune.

The man, who set foot in the jail on Saturday afternoon for his weekly visit with son, was directed to an unfamiliar area and entered the wrong room, which was closed so contractors could add security cameras. When two steel doors closed behind him, he was trapped with little recourse. He banged on the steel doors, but he could not be heard on the other side.

“There’s about two feet of cement and two steel doors between him and the outside,” Smith told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Finally, the man broke off a sprinkler head to prompt a fire department response and attract the attention of jail officials. Firefighters rescued him around 1:30 a.m. on Monday, according to the local ABC affiliate.

The man, who has not been identified, left the jail in good spirits and appeared to forgive the error, jail officials told the Tribune. He was treated in a local hospital for injuries to his hand sustained as he broke the sprinkler.

“We’re been looking at how and why and what went wrong,’’ Smith told the Tribune. “Multiple things obviously failed including a contractor leaving a door open while they did work in our jail. It was a perfect storm of circumstances that led to this horrible incident.’’

[Chicago Tribune]

TIME Accident

Riders Stuck for Hours After Tree Hits Roller Coaster

Roller Coaster Accident
Members of the Six Flags Magic Mountain amusement park security staff monitor the situation at the exit of the park after riders were injured on the Ninja coaster Andy Holzman— AP

22 passengers were suspended 40 feet above the ground for more than two hours

A fallen tree branch obstructed and derailed a roller coaster at Six Flags Magic Mountain in Valencia, California Monday night.

22 passengers, including four who suffered injuries, were stuck in a “precarious position” 40 feet in the air on the “Ninja” coaster for more than two hours, Los Angeles County Fire Department dispatch supervisor Michael Pittman told the Los Angeles Times.

All riders were safely evacuated by 8:30 p.m.. A pair of passengers were taken to a local hospital as a precaution, but their injuries appear to be minor.

“The safety of our guests and employees is our number one priority and as a precaution, the ride will remain closed until a thorough inspection of the area is complete,” park officials said in a statement.

Ninja opened in 1988 and takes up to 28 passengers on a ride that tops out at 55 miles per hour.

[LAT]

TIME Caffeine

Prom King Died From Caffeine Powder Overdose

Logan Stiner, 18, died after ingesting a toxic amount of caffeine

Correction appended

The death of an Ohio high school senior just shy of his graduation has officially been attributed to a caffeine overdose.

On May 27, recently elected prom king Logan Stiner, 18, came home for lunch and ingested enough caffeine powder to cause an irregular heartbeat and seizures. His brother found him dead next to the white powder.

“I never thought it would hurt an 18-year-old child,” neighbor Lora Balka told WKYC.

Lorain County Coroner Steven Evans said Saturday that 1/16 a teaspoon of power has the caffeine equivalent of one can of Mountain Dew or a high-power energy drink. No one saw how much powder Stiner drank or knows where he got it from, but Evans said that it can be purchased online.

In October 2013, a British man died from a caffeine overdose after eating too many Hero Instant Energy Mints. Every mint contains the caffeine found in a can of Red Bull and the label advises taking no more than five in a 24-hour period. The coroner did not disclose how many pills John Jackson, 40, ingested.

“I am as certain as I can be that Mr. Jackson did not know he was exposing himself to danger,” said Coroner Robin Balmain, who vowed to write to the U.K.’s Department of Health regarding the potential dangers of high energy products.

In 2010, a 23-year-old man died in Nottingham, England after ingesting two spoonfuls of caffeine powder at a party with friends, which is the equivalent of 70 cans of Red Bull. The label warned to only take one-sixteenth of a teaspoon.

“Caffeine is so freely available on the internet,” coroner Nigel Chapman said, “but it’s so lethal if taken in the wrong dose and here we see the consequence.”

This article originally misstated how Lora Balka was related to the victim. She is a neighbor.

TIME Transportation

Woman Survives Being Run Over By 3 NYC Subway Trains

Nyc subway train in. Motion
Jens Karlsson—flickr Editorial/Getty Images

Mary Downey was drunk when she fell off the platform, officials said

A 22-year-old New York City resident survived being run over by three subway trains Sunday morning, according to the police.

Mary Downey, an Irish immigrant from Woodlawn in the Bronx, was drunk when she fell onto the tracks at the W. 49th Street station in Manhattan around 6 a.m., law enforcement authorities said. Two train operators drove over Downey without noticing her; fortunately, a third saw the woman’s waving hand, but was not able to stop the train before some of its cars passed over her. Officials speculated that Downey must have rolled to a position in between the platform and the trains before she was run over.

Downey was rushed to Bellevue Hospital after being removed from the tracks, but appeared to have suffered nothing more than a fractured shoulder. She was released several hours later.

TIME Accident

Power Failure Strands Dozens on a SeaWorld Ride

A four-hour wait, 200 feet above the ground

Dozens of people were left dangling more than 200 feet in the air for hours after a ride at SeaWorld San Diego malfunctioned on Sunday.

Forty-six guests and two SeaWorld staff were stuck for four hours on the Skytower waiting for engineers to fix a power failure, the Associated Press reports. “The guests were never in danger and park officials were in constant communication with them while the power failure was being addressed,” park spokesman David Koontz said in a statement. “Two SeaWorld employees were also in the Skytower providing guests with water and snacks.”

The ride takes visitors through a revolving capsule that rises up a 320-foot tower to give them views of the park.

After the four-hour wait, engineers restored power and the capsule descended just before 7:30 p.m., AP reports. The 48 people left the ride uninjured, though one 17-year-old boy was taken to hospital to be treated for anxiety.

[AP]

TIME Accident

Florida Man Killed in ‘Horrifying’ Wood Chipper Accident

Cleanup of the scene lasted well into the night

Authorities in Florida say a tree service worker died on Monday after he accidentally fell into a wood chipper.

“You hear about this stuff in the movies, but then all of the sudden it happens right outside your door step,” Joseph Horta, a nearby resident, told CBS Miami. “All the sudden I hear all these sirens and I look outside and I see some piles of blood. It was horrifying.”

The victim, whose name is being withheld until his family is notified, fell into the teeth of the machine and his body was pulled completely through. Cleanup on the street reportedly lasted well into the evening.

“This isn’t something you see every day,” Davie Police Capt. Dale Engle said. “It’s not something you can just go home and forget about.”

There were 11 wood chipper deaths between 2000 and 2013, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

[CBS Miami]

TIME Transportation

Amtrak Train Derails in Massachusetts

No injuries reported among passengers or crew

An Amtrak train en route from Washington, D.C., to Boston partially derailed early Monday morning after it hit a truck that was obstructing the tracks, officials said, temporarily halting service to and from Boston.

None of the 222 passengers or crew on the busy Northeast Regional line train were injured, Amtrak said. Police confirmed to WCVB that the truck was occupied, but wouldn’t say what happened to the people inside, only that the area is now a “large crime scene.”

Passengers, who were stranded for about four hours after the crash took place at about 4:30 a.m., were taken to Boston on a regional train line. Amtrak said at about 7 a.m. that service between Boston and Providence had been restored.

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