Technology helps police guide Autistic boy home

– Two police officers in Camden County are receiving praise for helping a young boy with Autism find his way home. The boy was spotted wandering Walt Whitman Park. He couldn’t communicate to the officers where he lived and that’s when the officers used their detective skills to figure it out.

He’s just 5, he’s autistic and, the other day, Daniel Lugo woke up early and wandered away from his home in Camden. He walked out the front door, down the street and kept going. His parents were still sleeping. Someone saw him and called the police.

“My partner was approached by an area resident with the kid telling him, ‘Hey I got this kid. I don’t know him from my area. He’s running around,’” said Officer Vidal Rivera.

Patrolman Rivera and his partner approached the boy, but he couldn’t tell them anything. They knocked on a few doors, but no one knew the boy.

“He happen to have an iPad in his hand, but it was dead. So, we said let’s give this thing some juice. Maybe figure it out, maybe there was a picture that would show another person,” Patrolman Rivera said.

No luck with that, but they tried something else. The tablet was connected to WiFi, so they started searching for signal strength walking up and down the streets with the device.

“We got one bar, so we thought were closer. Then two bars – we’re here, we’re close. Then we got that third bar and we said it has to be within this immediate area,” Patrolman Rivera explained.

Sure enough, they found Daniel’s home and brought him inside.

“He doesn’t communicate with people, he doesn’t talk. I honestly want to thank them for actually helping my brother get home safe,” said Alyiha Colon, Daniel’s sister.

“It’s extremely commendable. They were creative, they used resources, they were determined, they were not gonna give up,” said Captain Gabriel Camacho with the Camden County Police.

It ended well. Daniel’s parents say Daniel unlocked two locks to get out while everyone was sleeping. In this situation, it was a good thing the boy had the tablet with him.
 

Made in America Festival set to open Saturday

– On the eve of the 7th year of Made in America things are lit up, barricades have been put up and sound checks are bringing a different kind of life to the parkway.

The two-day music festival starts at one tomorrow afternoon and Sunday.  Gates open at noon. Sarah Wilson is excited.

“I’m looking forward to it honestly,” she said.  She lives in Fairmount, the neighborhood with an up close and personal experience with the festival.

In years past some neighbors have complained about the crowds, noise and parking restrictions to name a few concerns.  Sarah isn’t one of them.

“You have plenty of events right down there on the parkway between races and other concerts so I don’t think this is any different,” she said.  New this year though the city says it’s trying to comfort neighbors who are concerned.

Officials have set up a hotline for any questions or complaints surrounding the event and an email that they say will be monitored to address community-related incidents.  The hotline is 917-732-7501 and will be made available for any questions, concerns, or complaints. The hotline will be staffed from 8 AM – 8 PM beginning Monday, August 27th to Friday, August 31st. During the Festival, the hotline will be staffed during Festival hours on Saturday, September 1st and Sunday, September 2nd. During off hours, messages will be collected, reviewed and processed during business hours. Info@madeinamerica.com will also be monitored to address community-related incidents.

 “They’re definitely not going to be able to solve the problem within every single call,” said Nicholas Jordan. He also lives in Fairmount and says it’s a great idea but he’s not convinced the hotline will be that effective.

“They’re going to be getting blown up so much. I don’t think they’re really going to be able to pick up on it and make something happen right away,” he said.  Philadelphia Police have also made a change that affects safety for those attending the event. 

“We had some issues with dark areas of the venue that we all pointed out after last year that we improved that this year. We actually set that lighting up and looked at it in the dark. We lit up the dark areas where we had problems,” said Deputy Commissioner Dennis Wilson.
 

More than a dozen forced out of homes in N. Philly

– More than a dozen people were forced out of two North Philadelphia homes Friday, homes they’ve lived in for weeks and say they fixed up.

The problem is the Philadelphia Housing Authority owns those homes. Officials were on hand Friday to clear everyone out.

On the North Philadelphia street, a woman wept. Others gathered their belongings, while some just watched a crew from the Philadelphia Housing Authority cut plywood and board up the two homes on Sharswood Street.

“We fixed up the house. We painted it. We put money into it, we turned on the electricity, we did everything. We made it nice and stuff. Just livable for us,” said activist Brandon Johnson.

According to city land records, the houses are owned by the PHA – the city’s largest landlord – housing low income residents.

The group of about 15, who say they were part of the ICE immigration protest at City Hall, says it found 2320 and 2322 Sharswood empty two weeks ago, so they moved in and started repairs. 

They say photos taken show what it looked like when they got there and what it is now.

“Now there’s a full bathroom. There’s a full floor, a living room,” said activist Trenae Jones.
“But, you’re out?” asked FOX 29’s Jeff Cole.
“It’s an actual living space. We weren’t squatters,” Jones replied.

But, the PHA thought they were.

Group leaders say they received a notice to vacate from the PHA on Wednesday. Friday morning, they were made to leave.

A truck was filled with some of what PHA found and driven off, while belongings were scattered in a lot across the street.

Security at PHA headquarters say staff went home at 1 p.m. Friday for the holiday and there would be no comment.

The activists say they’re simply trying to make things better. 

“This place was found a couple of weeks ago. People started moving in and fixing up the place since we’ve been here. The goal has been to have a positive impact,” said activist Tina Mascitti.
 

Crossing guard shortage issue for Philly schools

– Imagine children walking to school and back without any crossing guards. Parents tell FOX 29 that is the case in some sections of Philadelphia.

Crossing guards were back at their posts this week at intersections along Oregon Avenue in South Philly as schools opened, but not at all the intersections around the schools.

“That’s dangerous. They definitely need to have someone there to watch over our children at the intersections around here,” said parent Renae Johnson.

“There should be more security for the kids. They should not be walking alone. There should be somebody watching them the whole time, no matter how old they are,” stated another parent Anna Davis.

FOX 29 viewers say the usual guards at 9th and Johnston, 7th and Johnston near the Mastery Charter School, as well as 9th and Bigler were nowhere to be found this week. The city says there’s a shortage of guards.

“That’s not safe because there’s crazy drivers out there and they do not pay attention. Half the time, they’re on the phone,” Davis said.

Philadelphia police confirm that some corners aren’t being covered by crossing guards because of the guard shortage. City council recently authorized funding for 1,037 guards city wide. Right now, that number stands at about 900.

“School just started but they should have been working on that over the summertime and they should have been out here before school came into session,” said Johnson.

“Put it out there, advertisements all over, that crossing guards are needed everywhere,” said Davis.

Police are actively hiring guards to get up to the maximum, but with background checks and training, that takes time. In the meantime, when officers are available, they are manning those intersections where there are no guards available.

“I want my babies safe. I want both of them safe. I have two children who go down here. One goes to the elementary and the other to the senior school,” explained Johnson. 
 

Ocasio-Cortez stumps for fellow progressive Harris in Delaware’s U.S. Senate race

Kerri Evelyn Harris, the progressive Democrat challenging three-term incumbent Tom Carper in Delaware’s U.S. Senate primary Thursday, hopes to catch lightning in a bottle and topple a politician with 13 straight electoral wins — the most in state history.

So to help boost her chances, Harris was joined on the campaign trail Friday by a fledgling New York City politician who this year has already ousted an incumbent.

Her stumping partner was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who became an overnight U.S. political sensation on June 26 when she trounced three-term incumbent U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley in the Democratic primary race to represent parts of Queens and the Bronx.

Harris helped her fellow progressive in that race, so the New Yorker returned the favor with visits to the University of Delaware and Kingswood Community Center in Wilmington.

“Kerri was there. She had my back, and I’m here to have hers because that’s how the progressive movement really works,” Ocasio-Cortez told the crowd of about 300 students and older residents at UD who showered the pair with applause.

Both women support a $15 minimum wage, Medicare for all and reforming the criminal justice and immigration systems. While the New Yorker favors free public universities, Harris supports free pre-K schooling.

Progressives must unite and draw more followers to make the government serve people’s true needs, Ocasio-Cortez said.

“When we build coalitions, when we break down barriers and show the importance of not only championing our own values but championing the values of our neighbors, we can create an unstoppable force in our politics,” she said. “We can transform not just the Democratic Party but the United States of America, and that’s what we’re here to do.”

Harris moved to Delaware when she served in the U.S. Air Force at the Dover base as a loadmaster and decided to stay.  An openly-gay, biracial woman with two young children, Harris does community organizing and has worked a variety of jobs, including auto mechanic. She contends the she has the pulse of working men and women who must sacrifice to support their families.

Harris, who has portrayed the centrist Carper as a politician who favors corporate interests over the general public, urged her listeners to do their research.

“Look at voting records. Did it serve you and your family and your communities the way they were supposed to,’’ she exhorted. “Vote your conscience, not what other people are telling you to do. Change can come, but only if you choose it.”

Harris and Ocasio-Cortez have attracted voters such as UD graduate student Ethan Scott Barnett.

“It’s an exciting moment in politics, and there’s a change in ideologies and an explosion in politics,’’ he said before Friday’s town hall. Harris and Ocasio-Cortez “are pushing on both sides of the ballot, and I think Delaware has an opportunity to be part of this expansion in political thought.”

In an interview earlier this week, Carper said he doesn’t engage in negative campaigns and always runs for office as if he’s 20 points behind, even as he tends to business in Washington. Results from regular polls that his campaign has conducted are encouraging, he said. And he alluded to working with Ocasio-Cortez should she win her overwhelmingly Democratic district.

“I’m told she’s a very impressive young woman,’’ said Carper, who has also been Delaware’s treasurer, governor and congressman. “Hopefully I’ll get to meet her somewhere down the line.”

The primary vote election is on Thursday. The Carper-Harris winner faces the winner of a Republican primary contest between Rob Arlett and Gene Truono.

No NAFTA deal: Canada-U.S. talks to resume next week

Updated at 4:39 p.m. ET

After days of intense negotiations, the U.S. and Canada failed to agree on a deal by a Friday deadline to update the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said that President Trump notified Congress of his intent to sign a trade agreement with Mexico “and Canada, if it is willing – 90 days from now.”

Lighthizer said the talks with Canada were “constructive, and we made progress. Our officials are continuing to work toward agreement.” U.S. trade officials will meet with their Canadian counterparts next Wednesday, he said.

Trump said he intends to enter into an agreement “in a timely manner, to meet the high standards for free, fair, and reciprocal trade,” in a formal letter to Congress. Trump said the proposed deal would help American farmers through improved market access, create “a more level playing field” for American workers, and include tough labor and environmental rules.

In a news conference, Canadian Minister of Foreign Affairs Chrystia Freeland confirmed that the talks toward an agreement with all three countries would continue.

“We know that a win-win-win agreement is within reach and that is what we are working toward,” she said. “We’ve made good progress, but there’s still work to be done.”

Canada rejoined NAFTA talks on Tuesday, a day after the U.S. and Mexico reached a deal, tweaking the free trade agreement. Trump said he had a new name for that pact: the United States-Mexico Trade Agreement.

The White House had said a deal with Canada had to be reached by Friday, when it would send the Mexico agreement to Congress for a 90-day review required by law.

The new agreement would take over for NAFTA, the landmark pact reached in 1994. That deal was struck among three countries — Canada, the U.S. and Mexico — and removed many barriers to trade and investment among them.

Originally proposed by President Ronald Reagan, NAFTA was approved by Congress after lengthy negotiations and signed into law by President Bill Clinton.

Since the agreement took effect on Jan. 1, 1994, trade among the three countries has skyrocketed, and industries such as autos and trucks have flourished under elaborate supply chains that crisscross national borders tariff-free.

NPR’s Jim Zarroli contributed to this story.

Copyright 2018 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Street trees at center of Frankford storm damage

– Heavy rain Thursday made a mess of things in Philadelphia’s Frankford section. As is often the case, street trees were at the center of the damage. They provide beauty and shade when the sun is shining, but when wind and rain arrive, they start falling like dominoes.

As tree removal crews delicately cleared debris from the top of his 1994 Volvo, Gary Simmons could only sigh.

“They don’t make them like that no more,” Simmons exclaimed.

It was shortly after 7 Friday morning, in the midst of monsoon rains, when Gary and his neighbors on the 4700 block of East Wingohocking heard the telltale sound everyone in these tree-lined neighborhood fears.

“It was like a cracking, that’s all it was,” said neighbor Lydia Pimentel.
“You look out the window, what do you see?” asked FOX 29’s Bruce Gordon.
“The tree is down!” Pimentel exclaimed.

“About ten seconds later, when I hung up with 911, it fell off. This one fell down and sparks flew all over the place,” another neighbor, Angelica Rondon said.

A massive street tree next door to Simmons’ place toppled over and took with it power lines, a utility pole and a huge limb from another tree that crashed down on Simmons’ car.

Simmons said he’s been complaining about the tree for several years and he contacted the city’s 311 hotline for help in mid-June.    

“They were going to come out and assess the problem, maybe trim it back or cut it down, depending on what the problem really was,” explained Simmons.
“And that was in June?” asked Gordon.
“That was around June,” answered Simmons.
“And nobody ever came out?” asked Gordon.
“Nobody ever came out,” Simmons replied.

The city sent crews out Friday morning, only because the downed trees were blocking the street. PECO crews had to cut power to several homes for several hours while the mess was cleaned up.

As for Gary Simmons’ Volvo? Just another casualty of the overgrown and under maintained trees all over the city.

And, that June telephone call for help? 

“You just do the best you can. You make the right reports to the right offices and hope they do what they’re supposed to do. And, you leave it in their hands,” Simmons said.

It’s not clear what kind of help the city would have, or could have, provided.

As has been reported by FOX 29, street trees – though planted by the city, perhaps years before the homeowner moved in – are, indeed, the homeowner’s responsibility.

Most residents say they can’t afford to maintain the trees, which, in a lot of cases, grow far too large for the spot in which they were planted.
 

Nonbelievers win suit over Pennsylvania House prayer policy

A federal judge has halted the Pennsylvania House of Representatives’ policy banning people who don’t believe in God from giving the invocations made at the start of each day’s legislative floor session.

U.S. Middle District Judge Christopher Conner on Wednesday sided with atheists, agnostics, freethinkers and humanists who challenged the policy that has limited the opening prayers to those who believe in God or a divine or higher power.

Conner said the restrictions on who may serve as guest chaplain violate the U.S. Constitution’s prohibition on making laws that establish a religion.

The judge said Republican House Speaker Mike Turzai, whose office manages the guest chaplains, has denied the people and groups who challenged the policy the ability to give an invocation “due solely to the nontheistic nature of their beliefs.”

“In light of this nation’s vastly diverse religious tapestry, there is no justification to sanction government’s establishment of a category of favored religions — like monotheistic or theistic faiths — through legislative prayer,” Conner wrote .

He said it was “the content of the prayers, rather than their theistic or nontheistic nature, that matters.”

Turzai and the other defendants had argued the Establishment Clause was not violated because they allowed people of different faiths to give the invocation, so no one religion was being favored.

A spokesman for the House Republican caucus said the decision will be appealed.

The head of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, which helped represent the plaintiffs, said the case was about government treating all citizens alike, no matter their religious beliefs or lack of belief.

“Pennsylvania’s House of Representatives failed in that task, and we’re glad the court has set them straight,” said Americans United chief executive Rachel Laser.

The lawsuit said 575 of the 678 House sessions over eight years started with an invocation. Non-lawmakers delivered it 265 times: 238 were Christian clergy, 23 were rabbis, three were in the Muslim tradition and one was not affiliated with a religion and gave a monotheistic prayer.

In recent years, there have been two that were not Christian or Jewish — a Sikh in 2017 and a Native American invocation by a Christian House member in 2015, Conner said.

The plaintiffs said they did not plan to disparage any faith and instead wanted to give an uplifting message, as one of them has done before the start of a Pennsylvania Senate session.

The state House maintained a permanent chaplain to give the opening invocation from 1865 until 1994. Guest chaplains were involved after that, and in 2004 they or incumbent state representatives would open the session. About a decade ago, the House began to invite guest chaplains or have the prayer made by lawmakers.

Then-Speaker Sam Smith, a Republican, denied a request in 2014 by a member of the Dillsburg Area Free Thinkers to give the invocation, and House rules were subsequently amended to dictate that all guest chaplains must be “a member of a regularly established church or religious organization” or a sitting member of the House. The plaintiffs sued in August 2016.

The lawsuit also challenged coercion by House staff to get people to stand during the opening invocation. That policy has since been changed to make standing optional. Conner said the former policy was not constitutional but it passes muster under the changes.

Labor Day weekend marks end of shore season

– Labor Day weekend is here and the inevitable wrap up of the summer Jersey shore season is upon the region. 

In a brief summary of the 2018 Jersey shore season, shops along the Ocean City Boardwalk were in consensus, admitting the season has been average to fairly slow. The reason? Many blame the rainy, damp and cool start to summer. Many say that hurt business.

One business owner admitted this has been the worst season he has seen in 40 years. Others say business was down roughly 10 to 20 percent.

According to FOX 29 Weather Authority, eight out of 13 weekends saw some precipitation.