TIME weather

More Storms Coming as Oklahoma Reels From Tornadoes, Floods

An antique car sits in a pile of debris following a tornado in Oklahoma City on May 7, 2015.
Jazz Bishop—Demotix/Corbis An antique car sits in a pile of debris following a tornado in Oklahoma City on May 7, 2015.

Oklahoma is still reeling from a rare combination of tornadoes and flash flooding from the latest round of thunderstorms

(OKLAHOMA CITY) — As the nation’s midsection braces for another bout of severe weather, many residents in Oklahoma are still reeling from a rare combination of tornadoes and flash flooding spawned from the latest round of thunderstorms that rumbled across the state.

Conditions appeared to be ripe on Friday and Saturday for storms that could produce even more powerful tornadoes across an area covering southern Kansas, western Oklahoma and parts of North Texas, said meteorologist John Hart of the Storm Prediction Center in Norman.

Storms that spawned 51 tornadoes in several southern Plains states late Wednesday also brought torrential downpours in central Oklahoma so heavy that a 43-year-old Oklahoma City woman drowned after becoming trapped inside her underground storm cellar.

“It just flooded with her in it, and she couldn’t get out because it was like a river coming down on top of her,” said police Sgt. Gary Knight. “I don’t recall it ever raining like that before.”

Skylyna Stewart’s body was discovered in an older, underground shelter detached from the home, and Knight and other emergency management officials said such cases are extremely rare.

The 7.1 inches that fell in Oklahoma City was the third highest rainfall for any day on record, dating back to 1890, said state climatologist Gary McManus, and radar data from the southeast part of the city where Skylyna Stewart’s body was recovered indicated as much as 8 to 12 inches may have fallen.

“Part of the problem was that we had gotten a lot of rain earlier,” McManus said. “The soils were moist, and the rain had nowhere to go.”

A few miles away in Moore, Kelly Ruffin said she and her family took shelter from the storms in an underground shelter installed in their garage when water from the heavy rains began leaking in.

“It was a heavy trickle at first, and within about 10 or 15 seconds, it was gushing,” Ruffin said. “We had to decide if we were going to stay down there and drown or get out, because the sirens were going off. We decided to get out.”

Blake Lee of F5 Storm Shelters & Safe Rooms has been installing shelters in Oklahoma for nearly five years and described the drowning as a “really, really freak deal.”

“It was a flash flooding situation, and we got more rain yesterday than we typically get in a month,” Lee said. “The underground garage model, to this day I’ve never heard of anyone dying in them.”

Blake said it’s not uncommon for an underground shelter to leak, and he encouraged people who have one to check them every few months to make sure they’re not filling up with water.

“If you’ve been doing this long enough, you’re going to have shelters that leak. It can happen,” he said. “But it’s a really easy fix.”

TIME Crime

Oklahoma Sheriff Apologizes to Family of Man Shot By Reserve Deputy

Eric Harris (R) poses with his brother Andre in this undated photo.
Andre Harris/Smolen, Smolen & Roytman, PLLC—AP Eric Harris (R) poses with his brother Andre in this undated photo.

"We are sorry Eric was taken from you"

An Oklahoma sheriff offered an apology on Monday to the family of Eric Harris, the unarmed man who was shot and killed by a reserve deputy who says he confused his gun for a Taser.

“We are sorry Eric was taken from you,” said Sheriff Stanley Glanz of Tulsa County. “My sympathy goes out to that family.”

The sheriff said his department was still trying to find all the training records for the reserve deputy, Robert Bates, a 73-year-old former insurance executive who volunteered with the department.

But the sheriff told reporters that it was proper for Bates to have…

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

TIME Crime

The Dawn of a New Form of Capital Punishment

Why Oklahoma became the first state to approve nitrogen gas as a lethal injection alternative

In the weeks following the execution of Clayton Lockett, the Oklahoma death row inmate whose botched lethal injection triggered a statewide moratorium on executions, lawmakers there began rethinking their approach to capital punishment. Among the people they called on to help was Michael Copeland.

Copeland is a criminal justice professor at East Central University, a public school with about 6,000 students in Ada, Okla. From 2010 to 2013, he was the director of the anti-fraud unit at the Oklahoma Insurance Department. Before that, he was an assistant attorney general for the Republic of Palau, a small island nation in the Pacific Ocean. Copeland is not a doctor. He has no medical training. But what he does have is a close relationship with Oklahoma legislators, some of whom he’s known for years. And they often ask Copeland to conduct research and gather data that could help shape bills. He’s worked with legislators on reducing the number of uninsured motorists, for example, and helped draft guidelines for the transportation of the mentally ill who are a danger to themselves and others.

About a year ago, Oklahoma Rep. Mike Christian, who attended high school with Copeland, asked his old friend for ideas on how to replace the increasingly problematic method of lethal injection. After studying the issue, Copeland recommended death by nitrogen, a method that has never been used for a state-sanctioned killing in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Oklahoma has embraced the idea. On Friday, Gov. Mary Fallin, a Republican, signed a bill into law, based on Copeland’s research, that would make nitrogen asphyxiation the state’s execution method if lethal injection is ruled unconstitutional or the necessary drugs are no longer available. The law marks a new frontier in the increasingly charged debate over the future of capital punishment in America. And it ensured that the state where lethal injection originated three decades ago has resumed its place as the nation’s execution laboratory.

The Problems With Lethal Injection

The idea of nitrogen asphyxiation or “nitrogen hypoxia” has been been batted around as a method of capital punishment for years. A 1995 National Review article titled “Killing With Kindness: Capital Punishment by Nitrogen Asphyxiation,” for example, recommended that states use nitrogen gas after a federal district court deemed California’s gas chamber unconstitutional. But the method largely remained on the fringes of the capital punishment debate.

MORE: Texas Running Out of Execution Drug

Twenty years later, the landscape has changed dramatically. Today, a number of states are facing severe lethal injection drug shortages after pharmaceutical companies stopped providing drugs for the procedure. Texas, for example, is down to enough pentobarbital for just a handful of executions. Legislators in Alabama, Tennessee and Virginia have introduced legislation to bring back the electric chair because of problems obtaining drugs, while Utah has resurrected the firing squad. And looming over it all is a Supreme Court case this summer involving Oklahoma’s three-drug protocol. The court’s decision could potentially force states to abandon lethal injection altogether.

“The problem we’re having in Oklahoma now and several other states is that while lethal injections used to be an effective and humane way to execute someone, it’s really not anymore,” Copeland says. “The facts on the ground have changed. Now it’s like an experiment every time. Here’s some drugs and maybe we’ll have a paramedic administer it and let’s see what happens. Maybe this will kill ‘em. It’s kind of haphazard, and I think it’s only going to get worse.”

No one could’ve foreseen lethal injection’s problems in 1977, when an Oklahoma legislator asked Dr. Jay Chapman, the state medical examiner, to develop what was intended to be a more humane execution alternative to firing squads. Chapman developed a three-drug cocktail that soon became the default method of executions nationwide. But by 2010, European drug makers acceded to pressure from death penalty opponents and stopped selling drugs for use in executions. As supplies dwindled, states scrambled to figure out how to keep killing without the three drugs they had long relied on: sodium thiopental, a sedative; pancuronium bromide, a paralytic agent; and potassium chloride, a compound that stops the heart.

Some states switched to using just one drug, often pentobarbital, a barbiturate. Others began using midazolam, a sedative that has been scrutinized by some anesthesiologists for not being strong enough to properly induce unconsciousness and is at the heart of the upcoming Supreme Court case. Many states have turned to compounding pharmacies, which are unregulated by the federal government, for their supply while passing secrecy laws to keep those drug makers shielded from public view.

Last year, there were three executions widely considered botched, all of which included the sedative midazolam. Dennis McGuire, an Ohio inmate convicted of rape and murder, died after reportedly snoring and snorting during his lethal injection. Joseph Wood, an Arizona inmate, reportedly gasped on the gurney in an execution that took nearly two hours. And in Oklahoma, Lockett died in a lethal injection that went so awry that documents obtained by the Tulsa World show that Lockett essentially helped his executioners find a vein after they failed multiple times to insert IVs into his arms and legs. It was that chaotic scene that sent Oklahoma legislators on the search for an alternative.

The Search For A Better Way to Kill

Copeland says there were four main criteria he tried to meet in recommending a new execution method: 1) it had to be humane; 2) it couldn’t have supply problems; 3) it had to be simple to administer; 4) it could be done without medical professionals. Nitrogen, Copeland says, satisfies all four.

MORE: The Harsh Reality of Execution by Firing Squad

The method would likely consist of a gas mask that covers the head and neck, which would be filled with pure nitrogen from a nearby canister. That nitrogen would displace the oxygen, leading to death by oxygen deprivation, says Solomon Snyder, a neuroscientist at Johns Hopkins Medical School who is not involved in the Oklahoma bill.

The method’s supporters cite accidental deaths that were reportedly peaceful — such as divers who took in too much nitrogen and pilots whose oxygen levels fell too low — as evidence of the chemical’s efficacy. Nitrogen hypoxia has also been recommended by some advocates of euthanasia in places without so-called right to die laws. The gas is also relatively cheap and abundant, decreasing concerns about supply problems.

“Execution via nitrogen hypoxia is a painless form of capital punishment that is simple to administer, doesn’t depend upon the aid of the medical community, and is not subject to the supply constraints we are faced with when using the current three-drug cocktail protocol,” State Rep. Mike Christian, who wrote the House bill authorizing nitrogen gas, said in an e-mail.

Copeland says that physicians, who declined to testify in front of state legislators, confirmed for a 14-page study he co-authored that a lack of oxygen would lead someone to pass out within about 15 seconds, halt brain waves within 30 to 45 seconds and stop the heart within two to three minutes. In September, Copeland presented his findings to the Oklahoma House Judiciary Committee. His presentation included YouTube videos of people passing out from too much helium, another inert gas. Pilots testified about experiencing hypoxia, describing the gradual decrease of oxygen as undetectable, and Copeland claims the effects with nitrogen would be similar.

“We have a lot of parallels,” Copeland says. “We’ve just never used [nitrogen] in this context.”

Changing the context could prove problematic. Administrating the gas within a prison is much different than the instances in which pilots and divers have slowly and accidentally experienced a lack of oxygen. Dr. Michael Weiden, a pulmonary expert at NYU School of Medicine, says that while nitrogen could be administered without medical professionals, using it for capital punishment could create an ironic consequence: the need for sedation.

“What’s going to prevent someone from holding their breath and prolonging their execution?” says Weiden, who supports the death penalty for certain crimes. “People are going to hold their breath as the oxygen leaks out of their bodies. They’ll struggle, and somebody who thinks that an individual who’s asphyxiating will not freak out without sedation is foolish.”

The American Medical Association’s ethical guidelines require that “physicians can only certify death, provided that the condemned has been declared dead by another person,” according to spokesman R.J. Mills. The association does not have a position on the Oklahoma bill.

Despite the unanswered questions, more states appear to be considering nitrogen as they plan for a future without lethal injection. Copeland says he has been in touch with corrections officials in several states, some of which he says are “ahead of us in terms of protocol.” Copeland would not disclose the states.

Oklahoma Sen. Anthony Sykes, who sponsored the nitrogen bill in the state Senate, says Louisiana and Texas have both shown interest in the method. Louisiana Department of Corrections Secretary James LeBlanc told a legislative committee last year that “nitrogen is the next big thing” and described it as a “painless way to go.” In February, the state’s corrections department issued a report recommending nitrogen hypoxia as an alternative method of execution.

A spokesperson for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice would not confirm that the state was considering alternative execution methods.

To some lethal injection experts the interest in nitrogen has familiar echoes of the discussion nearly 40 years ago, when states were contemplating methods other than firing squads and gas chambers.

“It looks fool-proof,” says Deborah Denno, a law professor at Fordham University who opposes the death penalty over what she says is its inequitable application in the U.S. “It’s easy to look at these incidents in a non-prison setting and say they die humanely. But implementing that into a prison setting, the conditions aren’t the same. The people doing this aren’t the same.”

Corrections officials have varied levels of training and experience with lethal injection, which can lead to the sorts of errors that contributed to Lockett’s prolonged execution. Denno cautions that the same problems could happen with the administration of nitrogen.

Richard Dieter, the senior program director of the Death Penalty Information Center, an anti-death penalty group, says Oklahoma would essentially be conducting another experiment if it went adopted nitrogen hypoxia.

MORE: Georgia Postpones 2 Execution Over ‘Cloudy’ Drugs

“This method has never been used before in an execution,” Dieter says. “I think it’s premature to accept a legislator’s promise that all will go well. It’s one thing to say that people have died of oxygen deprivation and another to strap an unwilling subject in a chamber and watch the reactions and resistance for the first time.”

Now that Fallin has signed the bill into law, Oklahoma has sidestepped something a number of other states have been forced into: a return to methods that were all but abandoned decades ago.

“You got to remember that if this doesn’t pass, the alternative is not to go back to lethal injection,” Copeland said in February. “If for some reason lethal injection either becomes unavailable or it’s unconstitutional, we go to the electric chair. Maybe you don’t believe in the death penalty, but certainly you believe that if we’re going to have a death penalty, it should be done in a humane way. And I think [nitrogen] is better than the electric chair by a wide margin.”

TIME public health

Antibiotic-Resistant Bacteria From Texan Cattle Yards Are Now Airborne, Study Finds

A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas
Tom Pennington—Getty Images A herd of longhorn cattle stand as wildfire rages near on September 1, 2011 in Graford, Texas

Researchers say the bacteria are capable of "traveling for long distances"

A new study says the DNA from antibiotic-resistant bacteria found in American cattle yards has become airborne, creating a new pathway by which such bacteria can potentially spread to humans and hinder treatment of life-threatening infections.

Researchers gathered airborne particulate matter (PM) from around 10 commercial cattle yards within a 200 mile radius of Lubbock, Texas over a period of six-months. They found the air downwind of the yards contained antibiotics, bacteria and a “significantly greater” number of microbial communities containing antibiotic-resistant genes. That’s according to the study to be published in next month’s issue of Environmental Health Perspectives.

“To our knowledge, this study is among the first to detect and quantify antibiotics and antibiotic resistance genes…associated with airborne PM emitted from beef cattle feed yards,” said the authors, who are researchers in environmental toxicology at Texas Tech University and at a testing lab in Lubbock.

Co-author Phil Smith told the Texas Tribune that the bacteria could be active for a long time and “could be traveling for long distances.”

His colleague, molecular biologist Greg Mayer, told the paper that some of the study’s findings “made me not want to breathe.”

Because antibodies are poorly absorbed by cows they are released into the environment through excretion. Once in the environment, bacteria will undergo natural selection and genes that have acquired natural immunities will survive.

The genes that have gone airborne are contained in dried fecal matter that has become dust and gets picked up by winds as they whip through the stockyards.

The Texas Tribune reported that representatives from the Texas cattle industry (estimated to control around 14 million beef cows) criticized the study, saying it portrayed the airborne bacteria as overly hazardous to human health.

But the mass of PM2.5 particles (the kind that can be inhaled into lungs) released into the atmosphere is eye opening, with the study estimating the total amount released by cattle yards in Colorado, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Texas exceeds 46,000 lbs.(21,000 kg) per day.

Antibiotic-resistant bacterial DNA is already known to be transferable to humans if ingested via water or meat.


TIME Education

Oklahoma University Frat Members Learned Racist Song at National SAE Event

The Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at the University of Oklahoma on March. 9, 2015.
Nick Oxford—AP The Sigma Alpha Epsilon house at the University of Oklahoma on March. 9, 2015.

Frat members refuse to say where they learned the song

The University of Oklahoma says it has determined that fraternity members learned a racist chant at a national event organized by Sigma Alpha Epsilon four years ago — and it wants to know what the leaders are doing about it.

OU President David Boren is expected to announce the results of the school’s investigation into the disgraceful episode at 1 p.m. CT Friday, but revealed some findings in a letter to the frat’s executive director.

“The chant was learned by local chapter members while attending a national leadership cruise sponsored by by the national SAE organizations four years ago,” Boren wrote…

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

TIME weather

Witness the Deadly Tornadoes That Hit Oklahoma

Tornadoes ripped through large portions of Oklahoma on Wednesday, marking the start of tornado season. The storm killed at least one person and left scores with damaged homes and tens of thousands of households with no power

TIME weather

Oklahoma Governor Declares State of Emergency After Deadly Tornadoes

First responders work to free a man from a rubble pile after a round of severe weather hit a trailer park in Sand Springs, Okla., on March 25, 2015.
Matt Barnard—Tulsa World/AP First responders work to free a man from a rubble pile after a round of severe weather hit a trailer park in Sand Springs, Okla., on March 25, 2015.

Tornado season has arrived

Oklahoma’s governor declared a state of emergency for 25 counties Thursday, a day after severe weather whipped through large swathes of state, resulting in one death and widespread power outages.

Governor Mary Fallin announced the declaration in the city of Moore, after touring a stricken elementary school, according to NBC News. No students or staff were injured at the school, which was closed when the tornado hit.

“It’s hard to believe that two years later, we’re back at a Moore public school, surveying damage,” Fallin said. “I am very thankful that this school did not sustain damage during school hours.”

Outside Tulsa, a tornado cut through a mobile home park in the suburbs of Sand Springs Wednesday night, killing at least one person and injuring three others.

“Right now, rescue efforts are continuing and officers are aiding the injured and helping those who need immediate medical care,” Shannon Clark, with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office, told CNN. “It’s very tough conditions right now — very touch and go. The conditions my people are working in right now are deplorable at best.”

Further south, near Oklahoma City, officials reported that another tornado touched down outside the town of Moore, overturning vehicles, uprooting trees and injuring at least three people. However, no deaths were reported in the area.

Thousands of Oklahoma residents were without power early Thursday as officials mobilized rescue efforts.

Read next: Doctors Can’t Explain Why People in Kazakhstan Are Falling Asleep For Days

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

TIME Crime

Oklahoma Teenager Gets Life in Prison for Role in Shooting of Australian Athlete

Michael Jones
AP This undated booking file photo provided by the Stephens County Okla., Sheriffs Department shows Michael Dewayne Jones, of Duncan, Okla.

Michael DeWayne Jones pleaded guilty to driving the car from which his friend shot Christopher Lane apparently at random

An Oklahoma teenager was sentenced to life in prison on Tuesday, after pleading guilty to his involvement in the 2013 shooting that killed an Australian baseball player in Duncan, Okla.

High school dropout Michael DeWayne Jones, 19, admitted driving the car from which his friend, Chancey Allen Luna, shot Christopher Lane, The Oklahoman reported.

Lane, a 22-year-old rising senior from Melbourne at East Central University in nearby Ada, was in Duncan visiting his girlfriend and was out for a jog when Luna shot him in the back.

“I saw Chancey shoot the jogger,” said Jones in his statement. “I believe that Mr. Lane died as a result of me driving my car while Chancey Luna fired the revolver at him.”

Jones also tendered an emotional apology to Lane’s girlfriend, Sarah Harper, who was in the courtroom with her parents. He said he was “truly sorry” for their loss and hoped they would forgive him. “I pray for you all daily,” he said.

Jones’ guilty plea was part of an agreement that reduced his charge from first-degree to second-degree murder, making him eligible for parole in 36 years. The Associated Press reported that as part of the plea deal, Jones will not testify against Luna, whose trial is set to begin next month.

TIME weather

Expect More Bad Weather in the Southern U.S. and Rockies on Monday

An Oklahoma Department of Transportation sand truck rest on it's top in the median of US 412 west of Enid, Okla. Sunday, after it was involved in an accident with another vehicle on Feb. 22, 2015
Billy Hefton—AP An Oklahoma Department of Transportation sand truck rest on it's top in the median of US 412 west of Enid, Okla. Sunday, after it was involved in an accident with another vehicle on Feb. 22, 2015

Motorists should prepare for hazardous travel conditions

The Rocky Mountains and Southern Plains are in for snowy and icy conditions Monday as a winter storm continues to move across the region.

Multiple accidents have already been attributed to the storm, with injuries being reported in Utah and Kansas, according to the Weather Channel. Motorists should continue to take utmost caution.

Those planning on catching a flight may want to double-check the status of their bookings. Dallas–Fort Worth International Airport canceled about half of the flights scheduled for Monday after already grounding around 160 flights on Sunday. Denver International canceled more than 330 flights over weekend, according to Denver’s Channel 7 News.

Meanwhile, schools in Texas, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, Tennessee, Louisiana, New Mexico and Alabama have announced cancellations or delays of classes due to weather concerns.

Read next: 7 Reasons to Love This Freezing Weather

TIME Know Right Now

Know Right Now: Why Oklahoma Schools Are Changing U.S. History Classes

This week, Oklahoma lawmakers passed a bill aimed at replacing the AP U.S. History curriculum. Bill sponsor Rep. Dan Fisher claims the current curriculum only teaches “what is bad about America.”

For more on this developing story, watch the latest #KnowRightNow.

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