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Former student sues fraternity after alleging hazing ritual left him with brain damage

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By Louis Milman

vladans/iStock/Thinkstock(NORMAN, Okla.) — The son of a legendary Dallas Cowboys player is now suing a University of Oklahoma fraternity, alleging that a hazing ritual left him with permanent brain damage so severe he can no longer remember his Social Security number.

According to lawyer Christopher Cooke, Blake Novacek, 20, whose father is former NFL tight end Jay Novacek, was subjected to numerous hazing incidents as he pledged the Gamma Phi chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity in the fall semester of 2015.

“Frankly, Blake’s parents sent him off as a happy, healthy, well-adjusted boy and he came back a basket case,” Cooke said.

In court documents related to the lawsuit, Blake Novacek said that on Oct. 11, 2015, he was taken into Shane Musselman’s room, where Musselman asked him to recite pledge facts.

When he was unable to do that, the complaint alleges, Novacek was struck in the stomach with a baseball bat, which caused him to “fall backwards and strike his head on a hard object, knocking [him] unconscious.”

Cooke, his lawyer, said he was knocked unconscious around 2:30 a.m. and woke up at noon. According to the complaint, he awoke “on a couch in the fraternity house. His clothes had been laundered and were folded beside him.”

The complaint alleged that after the incident, Novacek “was then confronted by Defendant Gavin Martindale, who told Plaintiff to keep his mouth shut about the hazing incident.”

The lawsuit also includes Martindale and Musselman.

In a statement to the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Musselman said: “The allegations against me are completely false, and I have no idea why they are being made. My family is hiring an attorney, and I intend to aggressively fight this suit and defend my reputation.”

Martindale told OUDaily: “I’m bewildered by this lawsuit. The allegations are entirely untrue, and I’m mystified why this person is making these claims against me. To be honest, I’m angry about this, and I will be hiring a lawyer to aggressively defend me against these baseless accusations.”

Cooke said Novacek had been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury, bipolar disorder and postconcussive syndrome, and is under the care of numerous doctors.

“All of this was brought on by the injury,” Cooke said. “As time has gone on and he realizes the extent of his brain injury, he felt compelled to bring this lawsuit.”

“Blake dropped out after the fall semester and he does not currently attend class,” he said.

In a statement, the fraternity called Novacek’s allegations “false and inflammatory.”

“We take any allegations of this character very seriously. However, since learning of this lawsuit, we have performed an initial investigation of Blake’s allegations and have yet to uncover any evidence whatsoever which corroborates the substance of his claims. To the contrary, we have numerous witness accounts and other evidence which contradict Blake’s story and which question his credibility. Based on our investigations to date, we firmly believe Blake’s allegations are false and that his lawsuit is entirely without merit,” the fraternity said.

“We note in particular that Blake’s petition alleges the subject events occurred in the early morning of Sunday, October 11, 2015. In fact, no pledge or other fraternity activities occurred on that date. This date occurred during the weekend for the OU-Texas football game in Dallas, Texas, which was attended by nearly all the fraternity’s members and pledges, including Blake and the two individual members named in the suit.

‘Furthermore, while the plaintiff claims to have been in Norman the morning of October 11, 2015, he was actually in Arlington, Texas for the Dallas Cowboys game that day…Witness accounts confirm that he did not return to Norman until late that evening, and that neither he nor any other pledges were at the chapter house at any point during that day.”

The University of Oklahoma said in a statement: “The university investigates every report of a violation of the Student Rights and Responsibilities Code. It would not be appropriate to comment on matters involved in pending litigation.”

The fraternity’s national office said in a statement: “Active litigation prohibits specific commentary on the matter, but Beta Theta Pi’s position on hazing is unequivocal and unwavering: it is not condoned and it will not be tolerated. As such, and given that Beta has long been one of OU’s hallmark student and alumni organizations, the General Fraternity is working closely with local alumni and undergraduate leaders in Norman to determine the basis for allegations they deem to be unfounded and without merit. We remain convinced that Beta’s record of leadership and character will shed important light on these claims, and are committed to that truth, whatever it may be.”

Cooke told ABC News Friday that after Novacek was injured, he lost the ability to process dates. Cooke said the Oct. 11, 2015 date was the closest in Novacek’s mind, and that the incident had happened sometime shortly after the OU-Texas game.

Cooke said he plans to amend court papers.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News


Paramedic searched for victims inside Vegas hotel where shooter was: 'We went from floor to floor, room by room'

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By Louis Milman

ABC News(LAS VEGAS) — When Joe DiGaetano showed up for his 24-hour shift as a paramedic coordinator at 7 a.m. Sunday morning, he was ready for anything, but expected it to just be another Sunday.

After a typical weekend day of paperwork, answering calls, and making some deliveries, DiGaetano and his team were settling in for the night.

“Everybody winds down around 9 o’clock. We go into the room, we take our boots off,” he told ABC News in an exclusive interview. Several members of the team turned on HBO and started watching a movie.

But at 10:08 p.m., the call came in: Reports of a “mass casualty incident.”

“When my phone rings, for serious calls, it rings differently,” he said.

In less than 60 seconds, he grabbed his radio off the charger and was on his way to the spot where Jason Aldean had just left the stage amid a hail of gunfire.

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DiGaetano is an EMS flip coordinator and has worked with Las Vegas Fire and Rescue for 20 years. The vehicle he drives into emergencies is stocked with various medical supplies, from bandages to medications that can “bring someone back to life after they’ve died from smoke inhalation,” he said. He is accustomed to walking into tragedies. He says he switches gears in high-pressure situations.

“You find ways to take emotion out of the emergency because when you show up, they want to make sure that they called the right guy who’s going to fix this, not a guy who’s going to be sad with them and be upset with them. They don’t need that, they’re already there.”

DiGaetano says by the time he arrived at 10:20 p.m., four command centers had already been set up, and he reported to the southern command post at Russell Road and Las Vegas Boulevard.

“When I arrived, the shooting had stopped. It was still I would say a scene of chaos. We didn’t know at any moment, any car driving toward us was that the bad guy getting away, was that a good guy or these people shot,” he said.

Amid the chaos, DiGaetano jumped in and immediately began triaging patients who had arrived at the center. He says when he arrived they immediately started filling the ambulances with the most critically wounded.

“We have a golden hour from the moment the trauma happens, the moment the surgeon gets to do his thing. There’s an hour there where you really have a good chance of keeping these people alive. After that, it really goes down by a significant amount. It’s like falling off a cliff.”

Triage levels were assigned based on criteria like breathing rate, amount of blood lost, pulse rate and consciousness. Decisions were made in moments using a color system.

“’Black’ means you’re deceased, ‘red’ means you’re very critical, ‘yellow’ is you can stay on scene for a minute, and ‘green’ means you’re walking wounded, you have, you know, a sprained ankle, a cut that’s manageable, nothing that’s gonna need an ambulance or a hospital now,” he said.

But making those determinations could be painful for both the paramedic and the patient. “You had to actually tell people with gunshot wounds, ‘You’re not as critical as this person. Wait a minute.’ To them it was the worst thing in their life, and we’re telling them to hold on.

“Within about 20 minutes, we had used up all of the ambulance resources that we had,” said DiGaetano. So he called his battalion chief and called for all the ambulances from Las Vegas County that were available. “I told him, hey, there’s a big event in the county, I’m going to drain your fleet of rescues.”

As the EMS flip coordinator, DiGaetano’s vehicle full of supplies was critical to help the dozens of people with injuries. Around 11 p.m., he was called to the eastern command center, which ran along the eastern fence line of the concert on Reno Avenue.

“We get there and that’s the area where people were coming out. They were jumping over the walls from the venue into the street and into a church across the street,” he said.

He also organized groups of paramedics and armed officers called “force protection teams.” He says people of all stripes, mostly self-reported off-duty servicemen and women, were stepping forward to help.

“Anybody who wanted to help, we would take you. Off-duty firefighters, off-duty cops, civilians from out of town who were off-duty firefighters, they made themselves known. I’m not going to lie, we believed them, we put them to work.

“The initial critical people were being organized and led by the off-duty firefighters and cops. They were actually turning over cattle gates, loading people up and picking up like stretchers and hand carrying them out.”

The force protection teams were dispatched into the concert area to search for more wounded people who had scattered in fear.

“You had people hiding in that church in a parking lot in their cars. You had people hiding in semi trucks, people hiding in the venue, under tables and behind walls and they stayed there for 20 or 30 minutes.”

At about midnight, DiGaetano says he reported to the northern command post, at Tropicana Boulevard and Reno Road, where he says his help was needed taking part in a force protection team himself.

“I was given my team of firefighter paramedics. I was also given a team of patrol and detective officers from Metro who were armored and with their AR-15s — heavy weaponry.”

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Source:: National News


Tropical Storm Nate could strike New Orleans as hurricane, kills 22 in Central America

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By Louis Milman

Guido Amrein/iStock/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — A tropical storm which killed 22 people in Central America is forecast to strengthen into a hurricane that could affect the U.S. Gulf Coast later this weekend.

Hurricane watches and warnings were already in effect for coastal areas of four southeastern U.S. states, including metropolitan New Orleans, according to the National Hurricane Center. Tropical storm warnings have extended into central Alabama, Mississippi, northern Georgia — including Atlanta — and the western panhandle of Florida.

Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards declared a state of emergency on Thursday as the state braces for a direct hit. Edwards mobilized 1,300 National Guard troops, with 15 going to New Orleans to monitor the troubled pump and drainage system there.

In a press conference Friday afternoon, Edwards instructed Louisianans in affected areas to gather supplies now and be positioned to hunker down by 8 p.m. Saturday.

On Friday, Edwards’ pre-disaster emergency declaration request for 17 Louisiana Parishes was approved by President Donald Trump, according to a statement form the governor’s office. This will help the state to more easily access federal response resources in the event that they become necessary.

New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu declared a state of emergency for the city ahead of the storm’s approach. Landrieu warned that the areas outside of the levee protection system could see a 3-to-6-foot storm surge. A citywide curfew goes into effect at 7 p.m. Saturday, Edwards announced on Friday.

Landrieu said officials are working “around the clock” to repair all power and pumps for the city’s drainage system, which is stricken from flooding from recent rain. As of Thursday afternoon, 108 of the city’s 120 pumps were working, the mayor said.

St. Bernard Parish, just 5 miles southeast of downtown New Orleans, has declared a state of emergency and issued a mandatory evacuation for residents outside of the levee system.

St. John the Baptist Parish, located 30 miles northwest of New Orleans, issued a voluntary evacuation for areas north of the Interstate 55 exit ramp, specifically Peavine, Frenier and Manchac.

As much as a foot of rain could fall in parts of Mississippi and Louisiana with storm surge of 4 to 8 feet along the coast.

As of 5 a.m. on Friday, Tropical Storm Nate was moving off Honduras and re-entering the Caribbean Sea, according to the National Hurricane Center. The system strengthened into a tropical storm near the coast of Nicaragua Thursday.

Maximum sustained winds had strengthened to 45 mph and it was moving northwest at 14 mph, as of early Friday. The storm is expected to continue to strengthen Friday as it moves over warm water and crosses over Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula Friday night as a strong tropical storm with winds of about 60 mph, according to the National Hurricane Center. The resort cities of Cancun and Cozumel in Mexico will feel the full brunt of the storm.

The tropical storm pounded Nicaragua with rain heavy enough to cause life-threatening flash floods and mudslides. Up to 30 inches of rain is possible in some areas of Central America through Friday night.

Nate could reach hurricane status as early as Saturday afternoon while entering the Gulf of Mexico. Its trajectory has it on track to make landfall somewhere between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Mobile, Alabama, on Saturday night or Sunday morning as a weak Category 1 hurricane, with winds of about 80 mph. Then, the storm is expected to weaken to a post-tropical system, according to the National Hurricane Center. But the track and the storm’s strength are subject to change.

Residents from Louisiana to Florida are being warned to monitor the system as it approaches this weekend. The area is still feeling the effects of hurricanes Harvey and Irma.

In preparation for the storm, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey issued a statewide state of emergency that went into effect at 7 a.m. ET Friday.

Ivey said in a press conference Friday that while the coast will experience the worst of the storm, Birmingham could experience strong winds and rain. Meteorologist Jim Stefkovich advised Alabama residents to be in a safe place by noon on Saturday.

Florida Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in 29 counties Thursday afternoon to prepare for the tropical storm’s approach.

Oil and gas companies began evacuating six production platforms on Thursday, the Bureau of Safety Environmental Enforcement said in a report. While one movable rig was taken out of the storm’s path, no drilling rigs have been evacuated, according to the report.

So far, the Atlantic has seen five major hurricanes (Category 3 or higher) during the 2017 season; two short of the record set in 2005, when seven major hurricanes hit.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News


Man faces murder charges in deaths of two women over a decade

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By Louis Milman

3drenderings/iStock/Thinkstock(KANSAS CITY, Mo.) — A man is facing murder charges in connection to the deaths of two women over the past decade.

The suspect, Kylr Yust, allegedly told acquaintances he “just snapped” when killing 17-year-old Kara Kopetsky, his ex-girlfriend, in 2007, according to documents filed Thursday. Days before Kopetsky vanished in Kansas City in May of that year, she filed a protective order against Yust, according to police reports. In her protective order, Kopetsky wrote Yust had kidnapped, restrained and choked her. She wrote she was “unsure of what [Yust] will do next because the abuse has gotten worse over time.” But for years, her remains went unfound and an arrest eluded police.

Then, this April, Kopetsky’s remains — and those of another woman — were found in a rural area south of Kansas City. The second remains belonged to Jessica Runions, 21, another local young woman, who disappeared last year.

Runions was reported missing by her mother and boyfriend on the night of Sept. 9, 2016. Early in the morning on Sept. 10, Runions’ car was found burned in a desolate, wooded area, police said. But Runions was nowhere to be found.

Runions’ family says friends told them Runions was last seen giving Yust — her boyfriend’s longtime friend — a ride home from a party.

After police found the vehicle, Yust was arrested, accused of setting Runions’ car on fire. He was charged with “knowingly burning” a vehicle and pleaded not guilty.

Since Runions’ disappearance, her family and Kopetsky’s grew close, leaning on each other for support as they searched for their missing daughters, drawn together by their girls’ connection to Yust.

But Yust was not accused of killing either victim — until this week.

Yust is now charged with two counts of first-degree murder and two counts of abandonment of a corpse, according to documents filed in Cass County court on Thursday, which include a probable cause statement.

Here is what we know about his alleged involvement in the girls’ deaths, according to the probable cause statement:


In April 2007, Kopetsky told police she had recently ended her relationship with Yust, and as she was leaving her job, he allegedly kidnapped her, forcing her into his car; Kopetsky said he drove around and eventually let her out.

After Kopetsky went missing that May, Yust allegedly told police he didn’t have any contact with her the day she went missing. But Kopetsky’s phone records reveal Yust wasn’t truthful about the last time he had contact with her: It’s alleged Yust called her May 4 at 9:20 a.m., one minute after she left her high school; she was last seen alive on surveillance footage at 9:19 a.m.

In 2010, a man who had been roommates with Yust the year Kopetsky vanished told police that in 2009, Yust told him that he was angry with Kopetsky because he didn’t want her to love someone else. Yust allegedly told the roommate he “just snapped, and that something bad happened to the victim.”

In 2011, someone identified in the statement as “KF” told law enforcement that Yust confessed to choking Kopetsky to death, watching her breathe her last breath and falling back against a chair, staring at her body for a short time before packing her up and depositing her in the woods.

In 2016, a roommate of Yust’s told police that several years earlier, Yust had said he choked someone to death and no one would find the body unless he told them where it was.

In 2016, a cellmate of Yust’s — while Yust was jailed on federal drug charges — told authorities that Yust allegedly admitted to killing “the victim by strangulation” and disposing of her body.


Witnesses said the night Runions disappeared, Yust was possessive toward Runions and the two were arguing.

Someone identified as “JC” told police in 2016 that “Yust told him that he strangled and killed” Runions and dragged her body into a wooded area. JC claimed Yust wanted help with burning her car and that he was with Yust when Yust set her car on fire.

Yust’s attorney, Molly Hastings, did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

The charge of “knowingly burning” a vehicle in Jackson County has been dismissed and Yust was expected to be transferred to Cass County this afternoon; Cass County court said Yust’s court date will not be set until he arrives in Cass County.

Jessica Runions’ mother, Jamie Runions, told ABC News: “I just want honorable justice for my daughter and for her to be respected.” Kopetsky’s mother did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment.

Copyright © 2017, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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Source:: National News


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