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Abandoned 3-year-old found sleeping on porch nearly 1,200 miles from home

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iStock(NEW YORK) — A toddler was found sleeping on a porch of a home in New York this week amid an intense search for his missing parents.

Three-year-old Noelvin was found early Monday morning on a porch in Buffalo, New York, nearly 1,200 miles away from his home near Orlando, Florida, according to police.

“The child is in good spirits,” Buffalo Police Department Captain Jeff Rinaldo told reporters on Tuesday. “He is currently in the custody of Child Protective Services and we are working with CPS and the grandmothers, to begin the process of reuniting them.”

The woman who found the toddler said he told her that his family’s car was on fire, investigators said. Police found a charred vehicle in a wooded area nearby later that night with evidence of human remains inside, but they said it’s too early to say if the cases are related.

Rinaldo said the vehicle was completely burned out and it will take “quite some time” to trace its origin or identify the human remains inside.

After making contact with the child’s grandparents, police said he may have been on a road trip with his parents — Nicole Merced Plaud, 24, and Miguel Valentin-Colon, 31 — and 29-year-old Dhamyl Roman-Audiffred, a family friend.

The young boy’s family said they didn’t know his parents had planned to go out of town, but it wasn’t unusual from them to take road trips.

“We’re heartbroken, we’re worried, we’re scared,” Noelvin’s grandfather, Jorge Oquendo, told ABC affiliate WFTV-TV on Wednesday. “We’re all devastated. … We’re all devastated for a lot of reasons. We have no answers, we don’t know what happened, we don’t know if it happened.”

Officers with the Buffalo Police Department’s homicide division released images of parents and Roman-Audiffred on Tuesday, saying they were “attempting to make contact with these three individuals or speak to anyone who has seen them in the past few days.”

“We believe that these people may have arrived in Buffalo sometime late Sunday night and were here and possibly are still in the Buffalo area,” Rinaldo told reporters Tuesday. “We will not know the identities of the people found in the vehicle for quite some time. It is requiring the services of forensic anthropologist to put together exactly what happened.”

Police said they’re reviewing video evidence in an effort to create a possible timeline of events. They said anyone who may have saw the vehicle on fire or should contact police immediately.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Sheriffs raid drug house producing marijuana-infused Cheetos, Sour Patch Kids

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iStock(PHOENIX) — Authorities in Arizona busted an alleged drug house producing cannabis-infused snacks, modeled after Cheetos, Sour Patch Kids and Wheat Thins, as well as vaping cartridges and other marijuana products.

Among the items seized by the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office at the alleged drug lab was 300 pounds of marijuana, as well as semi-automatic weapons, four handguns, 1,100 THC vape cartridges and $3,000 in cash. All told, the seized property was worth about $380,000, according to the sheriff’s office.

The most expensive item seized: eight jars of narcotic distillate worth about $300,000.

Tucker Reese and Kolby Stevens, both 23, were arrested following the Sept. 12 bust in Phoenix. They have both been charged with sale of narcotic drugs, possession of narcotic drugs, possession of manufacturing equipment for narcotic drugs, possession of marijuana for sale and possession of a weapon in a drug offense — all felonies.

The sheriff’s office singled out the vape cartridges, especially in the wake of the current epidemic of illnesses in the country.

“These cartridges have been located throughout the country and have been associated with recent vaping deaths, were being manufactured in the residence,” the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office said in a statement Wednesday announcing the arrests. “Base (sic) on the equipment and the products located inside the residence, detectives believe this location was an apparent Closed Loop BHO Manufacturing Lab.”

The Food and Drug Administration has specifically warned consumers against using THC-infused vaping products.

“In many cases of illness reported by the states, patients have acknowledged recent use of THC-containing vaping products while speaking to healthcare personnel, or in follow-up interviews by health department staff,” according to an FDA release from Sept. 6.

In addition to the THC vaping cartridges, the pair was apparently extracting cannabis and adding it to snack food to sell. Among the products were “Weedos,” “Sour Dab Kids” and “Weed Thins.”

Police said they were tipped off to the drug house, and then conducted surveillance on the residence for days before getting a warrant.

“We are focused on protecting the young adults in our community,” Maricopa County Sheriff Paul Penzone said. “We will not tolerate criminal activity targeting adolescence for profit and at the expense of health.”

The sheriff’s office also seized a boat and an ATV from the residence.

A vote to legalize recreational use of marijuana failed in Arizona in 2016, though users would only have been able to possess an ounce legally. The 300 pounds found by authorities in the Phoenix home is 4,800 ounces.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

New Jersey referee suspended after forcing teen wrestler to cut dreadlocks or forfeit match

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iStock(BUENA, N.J.) — A New Jersey referee who forced a black teenager to cut his dreadlocks or forfeit a wrestling match was suspended on Wednesday, concluding a months-long racial bias investigation.

The white referee at the center of the December incident was suspended from the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association for two years and other officials were ordered to undergo anti-bias training to “help prevent such discrimination in the future,” according to the state’s attorney general.

Video of the incident sparked outrage online, showing Andrew Johnson — a 16-year-old wrestler at South Jersey’s Buena Regional High School — wincing as a gloved staff member chopped his locs on the mat. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy even tweeted about the video when it surfaced, saying “no student should have to needlessly choose between his or her identity & playing sports.”

Johnson was wearing his usual headgear and covering, but the referee said it was not in compliance with rules by the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association.

“Student athletes should be able to compete with each other on a level playing field,” said New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal said in a statement Wednesday. “Racial discrimination in the enforcement of the rules of any sport is inconsistent with the spirit of fair play.”

He said the ruling, handed down by his office’s civil rights division, “makes it less likely that any student athlete will have to endure discrimination that not only undermines fair competition but also violates our state laws.”

Grewal’s office also issued new “Guidance on Race Discrimination Based on Hairstyle” to explain how treating someone differently based on a hairstyle could violate the state’s anti-discrimination laws, according to the statement.

The guidance states that discrimination on the basis of race includes discrimination based on a trait “inextricably intertwined with or closely associated with race,” including hairstyle. It also clarifies that policies that ban, limit or restrict hairstyles closely associated with being black or having black ancestry — including twists and locs — may violate New Jersey law, the statement said.

The office did not release the referee’s name in its statement, but ABC’s Philadelphia affiliate WPVI-TV identified him as Anthony Maloney, who it said was previously accused of calling a fellow referee the N-word during an argument in 2016.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Woman kidnapped at gunpoint, raped by Lyft driver and two others: Lawsuit

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iStock(NEW YORK) — When Alison Turkos first noticed that her Lyft driver appeared to be going in the wrong direction, she said her first thought was that he might be trying to “scam me out of $20 or $30 dollars.”

As he became more aggressive, she realized something more serious might be underway. When the car stopped at a light, she said she tried to open the door to jump out, but she realized the child lock was on. As she tried the door on the other side of the car, she said, “the driver pulled a gun on me and I put my hands up.”

“That was when I realized that this was not just someone trying to scam $20 or $30 out of me,” Turkos told ABC News. “It was going to be the worst night of my life.”

The driver would eventually bring her from New York to New Jersey, where he held her at gunpoint, raped her and stood by as two other men raped her, Turkos said.

On Tuesday, Turkos sued Lyft in federal court in California, where the company is based, for what she believes was their negligence and their “appallingly inadequate” response to the “sexual predator crisis amongst Lyft drivers,” the suit states. Earlier this year, she also sued the New York Police Department saying that they mishandled her case.

Lyft did not immediately respond to ABC News’ request for comment on this case. They did issue a statement to other outlets, including The Verge, where a company spokesperson said “What this rider describes is awful, and something no one should have to endure. The unfortunate fact remains that one in six women will face some form of sexual violence in their lives — behavior that’s unacceptable for our society and on our platform. In this case, the driver passed the New York City TLC’s background check and was permitted to drive.”

Meghan McCormick, one of Turkos’ attorneys from Levin Simes Abrams LLP, said that they felt the Lyft statement was “absolutely offensive.”

“I think Lyft has been on notice since at least 2015 that passengers are being sexually assaulted by Lyft drivers,” McCormick told ABC News.

“They were on notice of the problem and they took no meaningful action to address it,” she said.

The lawsuit comes as ride share safety is at the forefront of crackdowns in other jurisdictions. On the same day that the suit was filed in California, Oregon’s Portland Department of Transportation confirmed to ABC News that they suspended or revoked the permits for 168 ride-share drivers since 2015, including two Lyft drivers who were convicted felons — one convicted of sexual assault and the other for assault with intent to murder.

Last week, Lyft shared a blog post about ways they are expanding their safety efforts, including building the ability to call 911 from within their app and a safety check feature.

McCormick and Turkos want more, however.

“Ultimately we’re seeking systemic change from Lyft,” McCormick said.

The lawsuit, which includes six counts relating to negligence, three relating to employer’s liability, one count of intentional misrepresentation and one of breach of contract, seeks damages and a jury trial. McCormick said that it will be amended to seek declaratory relief in addition to monetary and punitive damages. A petition has been filed to group this along with more than 32 other cases Lyft is facing in the California state court system, McCormick said.

“From the beginning, there was nothing but a robotic response from Lyft. They have never held themselves accountable they have never taken responsibility,” Turkos said. “They say that the safety of their customers and riders is their number one responsibility but they charged me $12.81 to be kidnapped raped and trafficked by one of their drivers which to me proves that profit is their number one priority.”

Since the alleged attack, which Turkos said took place in October 2017, Turkos has emerged as a fierce critic of how ride-share companies protect their passengers and has shared her story on social media.

The criminal investigation has been passed from the NYPD to the FBI, Turkos said, but no arrests have been made.

The ordeal, she said, began when she left a bar in the Brooklyn neighborhood of Crown Heights at 2:30 a.m., and called a Lyft to make the short trip to Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

She said the FBI has requested that she not reveal specific details where in New Jersey she was taken. But she said that when they arrived, “two other men are there waiting for us.”

“I am instructed by the driver who’s holding a gun to take off my clothes… [and] lay down in the back of the car.”

She said that over the course of “approximately 20 to 23 minutes,” the three men allegedly sexually assaulted and raped her.

“They’re laughing, high-fiving each other, cheering each other on,” Turkos said.

Turkos, who was 29 at the time of the alleged assault, said that she had previously been sexually assaulted twice as a teen and “one of the skills I’ve inherited from my past self” is to be able to disassociate from what was going on. The driver then told her to put her clothes back on, she said, and proceeded to take her to her original destination in Williamsburg.

Turkos said that she had “very significant memory loss” after the incident, and didn’t remember the kidnapping at gunpoint or the rape the next morning. But it was clear something was wrong.

“I remembered almost nothing, but my body was so exhausted and I physically could not lift my head from the pillow. I could not move myself from bed,” she said.

She said that she saw on the Lyft app that she was charged $106 for her ride, which was originally slated to cost $12.81. She said she reported the discrepancy to Lyft through the app within 24 hours of the ride, and had a call with the company’s trust and safety department about the ride, but in neither did she mention the alleged kidnapping and sexual assault. She said that the company reimbursed her for the excessive charge but still charged her the original amount of $12.81.

According to the lawsuit, Turkos had a rape kit performed and reported the assault to police two days after the alleged attack. The kit later confirmed “evidence of semen from two men on the clothing” she wore the night of her Lyft ride.

As part of the investigation, when the NYPD’s Special Victims Unit accompanied her to retrace the route taken that night. It was then that Turkos said “all of my memories came back.”

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

Bloodhounds find missing Florida boy with special needs in woods

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iStock(SANTA ROSA COUNTY, Fla.) — A boy with special needs was found safe after he went missing in the woods, thanks to some Florida deputies and their bloodhounds.

The missing 3-year-old child had unknowingly wandered into “an extremely wooded and muddy area” on Sunday after unlocking a door in his home, according to the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office.

He was reported missing, but an immediate search was unsuccessful, the sheriff’s office wrote on Facebook.

The sheriffs then enlisted their bloodhounds to track the area and the animals managed to locate the boy about 200 yards into the woods.

He was huddled under a heavy brush area, the sheriff’s office said, and taken to EMS personnel to be checked out.

Boy being carried out of forest by his rescuers.

“We are glad to report the child is back home,” according to the office. “Other than a few scratches and bug bites, he is doing well.”

Sheriff Bob Johnson brought bloodhounds into the agency about a year ago. The hounds have since helped find nine people, including missing senior citizens, criminals on the run and missing children.

Copyright © 2019, ABC Radio. All rights reserved.

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