TIME Crime

Another Black Church Burns in the South, the 8th in 10 Days

#WhoIsBurningBlackChurches trended on Twitter throughout the week

Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, a prominent African-American church in Greeleyville, S.C., caught fire late Tuesday. It is the eighth black church in the Southern U.S. to burn in 10 days.

Greeleyville, about 60 miles northwest of Charleston, S.C., has seen similar fires before, the Charleston Post and Courier reports. Mount Zion was burned to the ground by the KKK in 1995, part of a string of 30 fires in black churches that spanned two years.

An investigation into the fire’s cause will begin after it is safely extinguished, chief of the South Carolina State Law Enforcement Division Mark Keel told the Post and Courier. He noted that the thunderstorm that pounded the town of 375 on Tuesday evening could have ignited the church. Meteorologist Pete Mohlin of the National Weather Service told the paper that there was a lot of lightning in the area around 7 p.m., but he could not say if it had caused the fire.

Parishioners across the South are surveying the damage that a string of similar fires has caused this week, the Southern Poverty Law Center reports, starting in Knoxville, Tenn., on June 21 and moving to Macon, Ga., and Gibson County, in Tennessee, on June 23; Charlotte, N.C., on June 24; Elyria, Ohio, on June 25; and Tallahassee, Fla., and Warrenville, S.C., on June 26.

Three of those fires have been ruled arson, one was determined to be caused by a falling branch and faulty wiring, and the others remain under investigation. Several have been blamed preliminarily on lightning; weather in the South this week has been turbulent.

State senator Cezar McKnight was on the scene as the fire continued to burn at 10 p.m. “South Carolina has been through a lot the last two weeks, and we’ve made the best of a terrible situation,” he said. “I would hate for this to be something somebody did on purpose to try to poison the love and fellowship.”

The Post and Courier recalled that then President Bill Clinton visited Mount Zion after it was rebuilt following the 1995 attack. His remarks at its dedication have resonance still:

“The men and women of Mount Zion have shown us the meaning of these words by refusing to be defeated and by building up this new church. Others have come together with you,” Clinton said on June 12, 1996. “The pastor told me he got contributions from all over the world to help to rebuild this church. In just a few days we’ll have a joyful noise coming out of this church … I want to ask every citizen, as we stand on this hallowed ground together, to help to rebuild our churches, to restore hope, to show the forces of hatred they cannot win.”

[Post and Courier]

TIME Florida

Boys Rush Into Burning Mobile Home to Help Rescue 5 People

"I'm just thinking, 'Stay calm, keep your mind straight, stay focused on what you're doing'"

Two boys have been credited with helping to save five people from a burning mobile home on Tuesday.

Isiah Francis, 10, and Jeremiah Grimes, 11, called 911 and then rushed into the residence in Orange County, Florida, NBC station WESH reported.

“It felt like 150 degrees in there. I’m just thinking, ‘Stay calm, keep your mind straight, stay focused on what you’re doing,'” Grimes told the station.

The boys found and rescued two babies, aged eight months and one, Orange County Fire officials told WESH.

Two other children, a five and a two-year-old, were injured in the blaze and are…

Read the rest of the story from our partners at NBC News

TIME Retirement

This Is the Worst City to Retire In

FRANCE-ELDERLY
Philippe Huguen—AFP/Getty Images An elderly couple walks in le Touquet, northern France, on September 8 ,2013

Retirees should look to Arizona instead

If you want to retire well, set out for Arizona. According to a new Bankrate survey out Monday, the Grand Canyon state is home to three of the country’s best cities for retirees, ranked by metrics like cost of living, weather, crime rate, health care, taxes, walkability and the well-being of seniors living in the area.

“It’s just a great place for a low-maintenance, outdoor type of lifestyle,” Chris Kahn, a Bankrate analyst, told USA Today. “Your dollar is going to stretch further in Arizona.”

But where’s the worst place to call it quits? That’s New York City.

The survey’s full results for the best places to retire are as follows:

1. Phoenix metro area, including Mesa and Scottsdale

2. Arlington/Alexandria, Virginia.

3. Prescott, Arizona

4. Tucson, Arizona

5. Des Moines, Iowa

6. Denver, Colorado

7. Austin, Texas

8. Cape Coral, Florida

9. Colorado Springs, Colorado

10. Franklin, Tennessee

Meanwhile, the worst cities for retirees include the Big Apple; Little Rock, Ark.; New Haven, Conn.; and Buffalo, N.Y.

TIME Scott Walker

Scott Walker Suggests He May Sit Out Florida Primary

Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a meeting with area Republicans on April 19, 2015, in Derry, N.H.
Jim Cole—AP Republican Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker speaks during a meeting with area Republicans on April 19, 2015, in Derry, N.H.

The not-yet-declared candidate may take a state off the map.

Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker hasn’t even officially declared his presidential candidacy but he’s already considering sitting out at least one state.

In an interview with conservative radio host Laura Ingraham Tuesday, Walker said he may allow Florida Sen. Marco Rubio and former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush duke it out for support in their home state.

“If we chose to get in, I don’t think there’s a state out there we wouldn’t play in, other than maybe Florida, where Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio are,” Walker said, suggesting that the expensive contest could equalize the money gap between himself and the better-funded Bush.

“Some of the polls essentially tied and they’re going to eat up a good amount of that financial advantage that Gov. Bush is going to have,” he added, noting that incumbent Florida Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election campaign spent about $100 million in 2014. “A good chunk of that will be going up to the Florida primary.”

Walker is scheduled to attend a cattle-call hosted by Scott next week in Orlando.

In 2012, Florida’s primary was fourth in the calendar, held on Jan. 31, and proved to a pivotal moment in the campaign for former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney, cementing him as the far-and-away front-runner for the nomination. In 2016, the state’s primary will be held much later in the cycle, on March 15, the first day under Republican National Committee rules that a state can award its delegates on a winner-take-all basis.

Just months ago Walker was referring to himself as the race’s front-runner. Asked about being signaled out by President Obama in a recent speech, Walker said, “Well, it suggests maybe we’re the frontrunner.”

TIME Accident

3 Children Injured in Bounce House Sent Flying by Waterspout

Accidents in inflatable houses have become increasingly common

Three children were injured Monday in Florida when the bounce house they were in was lifted into the air by a waterspout and carried several feet.

The bounce house, which had been secured to a basketball court, flew above a tree line and across four lanes of traffic, according to police in Fort Lauderdale. The children were dumped out of the bounce house onto the sand shortly after it was airborne. Police later confirmed that two of the children had been released from the hospital with minor fractures while the third was being held overnight for observation. The bounce house had been provided for public use as part of a city Memorial Day event and was properly secured, police said.

MORE: Bounce-House Injuries Become an ‘Epidemic’

Bounce-house injuries among children have grown increasingly frequent in recent decades, as it’s become easier for anyone to buy and set up the inflatable structures. In 2010, about 31 kids per day were sent to the emergency room in the U.S. for inflatable-bouncer-related injuries in the U.S.

TIME Crime

Florida Man Falls Asleep While Robbing a House

The victim woke up to find him sleeping on her couch

A burglar from Sarasota, Fla., reportedly fell asleep while breaking into a home over the weekend.

A woman who lived in the house told Sarasota police officers she woke up around 7:20 a.m. on Saturday to find 29-year-old Timothy Bontrager sleeping on her sofa, reports WTSP.

When she asked what he was doing in her house, Bontrager reportedly apologized. After telling him she was going to call the police, the burglar started walking around the living room and left the house, making off with her wallet, driver’s license, credit cards and personal checks.

Bontrager, who was picked up by police walking along a nearby road, has been charged with felony burglary of an occupied dwelling.

[WTSP]

TIME Crime

George Zimmerman Involved in Florida Shooting, Police Say

Reportedly suffered a minor gunshot wound

George Zimmerman, the onetime neighborhood watchman acquitted of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in 2013, was involved in another shooting incident Monday, according to Florida police.

Lake Mary police chief Steve Bracknell said the incident involved two men in Lake Mary, local TV station WESH reports. Zimmerman’s condition is unknown, but police at the scene said he appeared to sustain a minor wound.

Police spokeswoman Bianca Gillett told CNN the shooting appeared to be a road rage-related incident, but TIME was unsuccessful in reaching Gillett to confirm Zimmerman’s involvement.

The Florida resident fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, in February 2012 after an apparent altercation. The shooting and subsequent trial sparked a national debate about racial profiling that acted as a precursor to recent protests over police brutality of young African American men.

He was arrested in January after being accused of assault by his girlfriend. The charges were dropped after she recanted her story.

[WESH]

TIME jeb bush

How Jeb Bush’s Union-Friendly Pension Law Could Haunt Him

Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to supporters at an early morning GOP breakfast event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on March 18, 2015.
Richard Ellis—ZUMA Press/Corbis Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to supporters at an early morning GOP breakfast event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Mar. 18, 2015.

Democratic lawmaker calls it "the most union friendly bill I've ever seen"

Shortly after he was sworn in as governor in 1999, Jeb Bush signed a union-backed bill that some argue led Florida’s cities to massively underfund their municipal pensions. As he squares off against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others in the Republican presidential primary, the law may come to haunt him.

“If you’re Governor Walker, you can say ‘I took on the unions, while he gave them what they wanted,’” said Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “It plays as something where he held the line, and Governor Bush didn’t.”

The law set a minimum standard for fire and police pension benefits and used state money to encourage cities to enhance pensions above those amounts. The goal was to increase pension benefits without letting cities simply pass their baseline obligations onto the state.

During the boom years of the early 2000s, the system worked well. But when the Florida economy crashed in 2008, the law prevented cities from getting help from the state to cover their pension losses. Instead, to avoid leaving state money on the table, cities ended up continuing to add extra benefits, leaving local taxpayers on the hook for the core of the pensions and increasing government spending overall.

“Now you have a hole in your underlying funding,” explains Mike Sittig, president of the Florida League of Cities. “That hole has to be filled, and in most cities that hole is filled with property taxes. It means that property taxes went up, or some other local priority was cut out of the budget.”

In the 16 years since the law was passed, pension spending has skyrocketed as some cities have tried to make up for pension fund losses in the market. A bill to reform the 1999 law passed the Florida legislature on April 24th — it ends the rule that state funds only be used for extra pension benefits, but incentivizes cities and unions to directly negotiate on the municipal level. That bill is awaiting Governor Rick Scott’s signature, but the damage may already be done. A 2014 report card of Florida municipal pensions conducted by the Leroy Collins Institute and Florida TaxWatch found that almost 50% of municipal pension plans got “D” or “F” grades.

Police and firefighter unions stood by the 1999 law as a way to ensure that first responders get their due, regardless of a city’s budget problems. “That’s not the police officer’s fault, that’s not the union’s fault, that’s the fault of city leaders who did not put in the money that they should have,” says John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association. But both unions also support the recently passed legislation.

Gov. Bush’s campaign team says the economic problems are the fault of the cities’ mismanagement, not the law itself. “The intent was always that these benefits be funded in a fiscally sound way,” says Kristy Campbell, a Bush spokeswoman. “Some cities did not.” She added that the candidate supports the recent reform, noting that it’s “consistent with the original purpose and intent of the 1999 law,” which she says was to ensure that funding for benefits was “fiscally sound.”

Opponents to the law have been trying to raise awareness about the $10 billion unfunded liability in Florida municipal pensions. Florida TaxWatch, a research institute and government watchdog, has even started a coalition called Taxpayers for Sustainable Pensions to explain the problem and encourage reform.

So far, the pension issue has not become a major rallying cry in the Sunshine State, and none of the other 2016 Republican hopefuls have picked it up as an attack line. But it could become a headache for Bush if the race narrows with Walker, who defeated public-sector unions in a high-profile fight that avoided any cuts to police or fire employee pensions in Wisconsin.

“You’ve got pension funding problems in almost every state in the country, so that’s something that can resonate with people,” Biggs says. “If you work out how generous public employee pensions are compared to what you or I are going to get in a 401(k) … it looks like a giveaway to a group that is already getting a better pension than you or me.”

The pension problem is ultimately the local government’s responsibility, though critics blame unions’ role in state politics for exacerbating it.

“Jeb Bush likely credited them for his victory in ’99, and this was the reward,” says state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Democrat who sponsored the recent reform bill. “It was the most union-friendly bill I’ve ever seen.”

The pension drama has the potential to cast a cloud on Bush’s claims that during his time in the governor’s mansion he was the “most conservative governor in the country.” While he cut billions in taxes and balanced the state’s budget, he did so at a time of strong economic growth. When the market collapsed a year after he left office, many of the gains under his tenure eroded. Critics contend Bush should have pursued policies that would have been more resilient during a downturn.

Many of the Floridians who opposed the bill in the 1990s say that the law has done exactly what they feared it would. Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox’s father was the first president of the Florida police union, but the younger Maddox fought against the bill when he was Tallahassee mayor in 1999. “It keeps adding to that benefit, even if it wasn’t asked for,” he says. “It makes no sense to me.”

“I’m for local control, and I’m for collective bargaining, and I’m fiscally conservative,”says Maddox, a Democrat who also served as President of the Florida League of Cities. “If you’re any of those three things, I don’t know how you can support that legislation.”

TIME Crime

Florida Couple Found Guilty of Sex on the Beach Face 15 Years in Jail

Elissa Alvarez, 20, right, and Jose Caballero, 40, listen to witness testimony during their trial for lewd and lascivious exhibition on May 1, 2015, at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton.
Paul Videla—Bradenton Herald Elissa Alvarez, 20, right, and Jose Caballero, 40, listen to witness testimony during their trial for lewd and lascivious exhibition on May 1, 2015, at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton.

Witnesses said the incident was seen by a 3-year-old

A Florida couple found guilty Monday of having sex on a public beach could face up to 15 years in prison for the crime.

Jose Caballero, 40, and Elissa Alvarez, 20, were convicted of two counts each of lewd and lascivious behavior for having sex on Bradenton Beach in 2014. The jury took only 15 minutes to reach a verdict, Ronald Kurpiers, their lawyer, told TIME.

“It’s a horrifically harsh potential penalty for what they’re alleged to have done and that’s really the rub here,” he said.

Witnesses said the incident was seen by a 3-year-old and other children, the Miami Herald reports. Lewd conduct crimes are prosecuted more severely in Florida if minors are present, and both Caballero and Alvarez will be required to register as sex offenders.

The couple’s lawyer maintains that even though the incident was caught on video, there was no evidence of explicit sexual activity. Kurpiers said that Alvarez and Caballero declined to accept a plea deal with the state prosecutor because they didn’t do anything wrong.

Caballero is likely to serve a full 15-year sentence because he was in jail on a felony cocaine trafficking charge within the last three years, Assistant State Attorney Anthony Defonseca told the Miami Herald. Alvarez, who has no prior convictions, is expected to receive a significantly lighter sentence.

Kurpiers added that the couple had not decided whether they will appeal the verdict.

The state attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TIME Drugs

Emerging Drug Flakka Causing More Naked Rage and Paranoia Incidents

The new drug causes body temperature to spike dangerously

Flakka, a new designer drug popular in Florida, is continuing to generate bizarre incidents of naked rage and paranoia among users — but officials say it’s no laughing matter.

The synthetic drug has spawned a number of tales including how one Florida man believed he was Thor, and ran naked through a neighborhood and then tried to have sex with a tree, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Another flakka user ran nude down a busy city street, convinced he was being chased by a pack of German shepherds.

Flakka, which is similar to bath salts and usually smoked via electronic cigarettes, causes the naked incidents because it causes a spike in body temperature of up to 106 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Like amphetamines, flakka users seek the high of the drug’s stimulation but may also become prone to violent outbursts, paranoia and hallucinations.

“I’ve had one addict describe it as $5 insanity,” Don Maines, a drug treatment counselor in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told AP. “They still want to try it because it’s so cheap.”

Flakka has spread to other states besides Florida, where most incidents have been reported, including Ohio, Texas and Tennessee, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Read next: See Which State Has the Highest Daily Use of Mood-Altering Drugs

[AP]

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