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Photos: New FAO Schwarz toy store opens at 30 Rockefeller Plaza

Images of the opening of the new FAO Schwarz toy store in New York.

Tyler Perry announces tour dates for Madea farewell stage play

Last month, Tyler Perry announced he would be saying goodbye to his beloved Madea character, and now, he’s revealed dates for her final performances

>> On AJC.com: Tyler Perry to end ‘Madea’ franchise

“Madea’s Farewell Play Tour,” which will kick off next year in January, marks the filmmaker’s 21st play and the end of the Madea franchise. 

“I just don’t want to be her age [still] playing her,” he joked during an interview in October.

>> Read more trending news 

The character Mabel Earlene “Madea” Simmons, played by Perry himself, first appeared as a 68-year-old in the 1999 stage play “I Can Do Bad All by Myself,” followed by the play and film, “Diary of a Mad Black Woman.”

According to Vanity Fair, Madea has appeared in dozens of productions since — and her films alone have grossed upwards of $500 million globally.

Perry wrapped up on the last series film, “Madea Family Funeral,” two years ago. The movie is set to premiere in March 2019.

Tickets for the January shows of “Madea’s Farewell Play Tour” are on sale now, with additional dates slated for announcement in coming weeks. Take a look below to find out which cities are on the schedule so far:

>> On AJC.com: How to get a job at the Tyler Perry Studios

  • Jan. 18-20, 2019 - Oakland, CA at Paramount Theatre
  • Jan. 22, 2019 - Phoenix, AZ at Comerica Theatre
  • Jan. 23-26, 2019 - Los Angeles, CA at Dolby Theatre
  • Jan. 27, 2019 - Las Vegas, NV at Planet Hollywood at Zappos Theater

Christmas 2018: Rise in online shopping could lead to holiday shipping delays

Shoppers will want to purchase their holiday gifts earlier than usual this year, as a major jump in online holiday shopping could complicate the delivery system.

Target, Walmart and other retailers have started offering free two-day delivery with no minimum purchase amounts for the holidays, a move to compete with Amazon’s Prime delivery options. Upping the ante, Amazon announced that Prime members would have access to free same-day delivery on some products and everyone else would receive free standard delivery this season.

>> Read more trending news 

“Where things will get interesting is the amount of congestion it causes in the network, especially when you compare the ground versus express networks,” said Sri Sridhar, CEO of lateshipment.com, one of the largest independent trackers of companies’ carrier packages.

While the service seems to all but guarantee timely delivery, experts say shoppers should still plan to purchase holiday gifts and send their packages early as an increase in online sales is likely to congest delivery networks.

That National Retail Federation expects consumers to spend about $720.89 billion this holiday season, up roughly 4.8 percent amid a healthy economy. That includes a 15 percent increase in e-commerce sales, as forecast by Adobe Analytics.

With the increased sales, United Parcel Service, FedEx and the United States Postal Service expect to handle a record number of packages this year.

While ground shipments typically have more volume, the major hike in free two-day shipments could lead to an increase in the number of delays among express shipments compared to the average holiday season, Sridhar said, reaching potentially 14 to 15 percent. Across all service types including standard shipping, about 15 to 23 percent of packages are usually delayed during the holidays.

“The easier technology makes it for consumers to shop; the sooner, the earlier, consumers really need to be willing to pick the gifts, order their gifts and be willing to accept the gifts. ... If they don’t do that, they just jeopardized being able to have the products they want delivered in time for Christmas,” said retail analyst Brittain Ladd.

>> On DaytonDailyNews.com: Kroger offering new way to order groceries

During the last several holiday seasons, delivery companies such as UPS, FedEx and the United States Postal Service have struggled to keep up with a growing number of online holiday sales. Consumers last year had major concerns as the second week of December 2017 rolled around and the delivery companies still had major delays after a record Cyber Monday.

And this year, they plan to have record years again, with UPS expecting to handle more than 800 million packages between Thanksgiving and New Years Day, up from 700 million last year and nearly double the peak of most normal delivery days, said spokeswoman Kim Krebs.

FedEx also plans to deliver a record number of packages this year, with the Mondays between Black Friday and Christmas expected to be the busiest in FedEx history, spokesman Jonathan Lyons said.

“The biggest challenge that shipping carriers face during the holiday season, they know the rush is coming and forecast that it’s going to be record volume again, but then it’s almost impossible for them to find temporary resources ... so there is going to be a crunch,” Sridhar said.

UPS plans to hire 100,000 seasonal employees to work at its facilities, some of which are new or expanded. FedEx also plans to hire 55,000 over the next several weeks while operating extended shifts and increasing hours for current employees.

>> On DaytonDailyNews.com: 5 ways your smartphone can enhance your shopping experience this holiday season

“The technology has simply made it easier to engage with retailers, but the supply chain, the logistics, the last-mile delivery, it doesn’t have an ability to become that much more efficient in that short period of a time. There’s only so many trucks; there’s only so many fulfillment centers, there’s only so many drivers,” Ladd said.

Retailers are exploring ways around the congested package carriers during the peak holiday season, including early Black Friday-like sales in the first days of November. The deals attempt to persuade consumers to shop early as a way to spread out the delivery congestion following the Thanksgiving, Black Friday and Cyber Monday sales.

They’re also experimenting with in-house delivery options and third parties like Shipt, Deliv and Instacart that primarily deliver groceries but could also handle general merchandise used for gifts.

And in the future, consumers can expect to hear about Christmas in February and March as retailers look to use artificial intelligence and machine learning to determine what consumers want for the holidays by July, which could eliminate inventory issues slowing down delivery, Ladd said.

“This is really an evolution; every year there is a change in technology, an improvement in the supply chain,” he said.

'SNL': Steve Carell, 'Office' co-stars reunite, troll fans during opening monologue

Want a reboot of "The Office"? Looks like you'll have to keep on waiting.

Actor Steve Carell, who played Michael Scott on the popular NBC sitcom, hosted this week's "Saturday Night Live" – and managed to both treat and hilariously troll fans with a mini-cast reunion during his opening monologue.

>> Click here to watch the full monologue (WARNING: Linked video contains profanity.)

I am so excited to be back here tonight," Carell began. "It's been awhile; it's been 10 years, and I've been pretty busy doing movies. I actually have one coming out pretty soon –"

But before Carell could tell the audience about the film, a series of familiar faces – including "SNL" stars Heidi Gardner and Kenan Thompson, followed by "Office" cast members Ellie Kemper, Ed Helms and Jenna Fischer – interrupted to ask whether "The Office" would return to TV.

"People would really love to see an 'Office' reboot, especially because I need that money. Let's get that money, Steve!" Kemper joked.

Helms later added: "So I just don't think you understand how much money we're talking about. Like, you wouldn't have to do all those sad movies anymore."

>> Read more trending news 

Fischer also chimed in: "Steve, do you remember the last words that Pam secretly whispered to Michael as she left for Denver?"

"Not really," Carell replied.

"OK, she said, 'Steve, don't be a [expletive]. Do the reboot!'" Fischer said.

After another cameo by Carell's wife, Nancy, he turned to the audience.

"Feels like everybody wants this to happen," Carell said. "Do you guys want to see an 'Office' reboot? Is that's what's going on?"

As the crowd cheered, Fischer, Helms and Kemper took the stage for the ultimate fake-out.

"Alright, I am proud to announce, officially, that ... we have a great show tonight!" Carell said to groans from the audience.

Read more here.

Joe Biden adopts rescue dog, a German shepherd named Major

There's a new addition to the Biden family.

According to the Delaware News Journal, former Vice President Joe Biden and his wife, Jill, adopted a rescue dog Saturday from the Delaware Humane Association after fostering the pooch, a young German shepherd named Major, for eight months.

>> Need something to lift your spirits? Read more uplifting news 

Major will join the Bidens' other German shepherd, Champ.

"Today is Major’s lucky day!" the shelter said in a Facebook post. "Not only did Major find his forever home, but he got adopted by Vice President Joe Biden & Dr. Jill Biden! The Bidens have gotten to know Major while fostering him and are now ready to make the adoption official. Best of luck and thank you for being one of our Friends for life!"

>> See a photo here

Major and five other puppies had been exposed to "something toxic" in their previous home before they were brought to the shelter earlier this year, the post said

>> Read more trending news 

"The puppies were surrendered to our care due to financial constraints, and working with a local veterinary emergency center, we were able to provide them with lifesaving medical care," the post said.

All six puppies are now in "loving homes," according to Patrick Carroll, the shelter's executive director.

Read more here or here.

>> See the Facebook post here

Low-carb diets can help keep the weight off, study says

There are several diets that promote weight loss, including low-carb plans. Now experts have more evidence to prove they work, according to a new report

>> On AJC.com: Should you avoid carbs? Here's what the science says

Researchers from Boston Children’s Hospital recently conducted a small study, published in the British Medical Journal, to determine the link between weight loss maintenance and carbohydrates. 

For the first phase of the study, they examined 234 overweight and obese adults, who were fed a weight-loss diet that helped 164 of them drop 10 to 12 percent of their body weight within 10 weeks.

During the second phase, those participants, who were tracked for an additional five months, were required to follow one of three diets: one made up of 20 percent carbs, the second made up of 40 percent carbs and the third made up of 60 percent carbs. The protein remained at 20 percent for each diet, and the calorie intake was controlled to help the subjects maintain their previous weight loss.

After analyzing the results, they found those on the low-carb diet burned about 250 more calories a day than those on the high-carb diet.

>> Read more trending news 

“If this difference persists — and we saw no drop-off during the 20 weeks of our study — the effect would translate into about a 20-pound weight loss after three years, with no change in calorie intake,” Cara Ebbeling said in a statement.

Those with the highest insulin secretion in the low-carb group had even more dramatic results. They burned about 400 calories more per day than the high-carb group. Furthermore, the low-carb dieters had significantly lower levels of ghrelin, which is known as the hunger hormone.

“Our observations challenge the belief that all calories are the same to the body,” Ebbeling said. “Our study did not measure hunger and satiety, but other studies suggest that low-carb diets also decrease hunger, which could help with weight loss in the long term.”

Want to learn more about the findings? Take a look at the full assessment here

These jobs have the highest suicide rates in the country, CDC says

Jobs can be stressful, but there are some that cause more of a mental strain than others, according to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

>> On AJC.com: CDC: Suicide rate up 16 percent in Georgia 

The agency recently conducted a study to determine the occupational groups with the highest suicide rates. To do so, they examined data from 17 states that participated in the 2012 and 2015 National Violent Death Reporting System. 

Overall, the researchers analyzed the suicide deaths of 22,053 Americans of working age, and they identified jobs by using the Standard Occupational Classifications set by the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. 

After assessing the results, they found the construction and extraction field, which includes jobs such as carpenters, electricians and miners, had the highest rates of suicide for men in 2015, calculating 53.2 suicides per 100,000 working people. 

As for women in 2015, careers in arts, design, entertainment, sports and media had the highest suicide rates, with 15.6 suicides per 100,000 working people. Those jobs include illustrators, tattooists and professional sports players.

The largest suicide rate increase among males occurred in the arts, design, entertainment, sports, and media occupational group. There was a 47 percent hike between 2012 and 2015. The biggest increase for women between 2012 and 2015 was in the food preparation and serving-related group, where there was a 54 percent surge.

>> On AJC.com: US suicide rates: Rates among teen girls reach 40-year high

The education, training and library field, which includes teachers, professors and archivists, had the lowest suicide rates for both men and women.

The analysts were unable to pinpoint a specific reason for the link between certain careers and suicide rates, because they believe there are several explanations.

“The etiology of suicide is multifactorial, and identifying the specific role that occupational factors might play in suicide risk is complicated,” the team explained. “Both work (e.g., little job control or job insecurity) and nonwork (e.g., relationship conflict) factors are associated with psychological distress and suicide.” 

>> Read more trending news 

The scientists did note some limitations. They acknowledged the findings were not nationally representative as only 17 states participated. However, they said there should be more knowledge about suicide rates from each career group. 

“A better understanding of how suicides are distributed by occupational group might help inform prevention programs and policies. Because many adults spend a substantial amount of their time at work, the workplace is an important but underutilized location for suicide prevention,” the authors said. “Additional and tailored prevention approaches might be necessary to support workers at higher risk.”

>> On AJC.com: New CDC report, recent deaths put focus on suicide prevention 

Want to learn more about the evaluation? Take a look at the full report here

Florida man from Paradise, California working to help family who lost everything in deadly fire

A Jacksonville, Florida, man is trying to find help for his mother and brother who lost everything in the deadliest wildfire in California history.

>> Read more trending news

His family is from Paradise, where teams are searching for more than 1,000 people.

Mark Hudson’s home in Paradise is now nothing but ashes.

“It’s just really surreal, all of it. It’s hard to even explain,” Hudson said.

Hudson said he woke up Nov. 8 and knew something was wrong.

“Went out back and saw the plumes of smoke coming my way,” Hudson said.

All he grabbed was his cat from his home. He then picked up his girlfriend and her two kids before hitting the road.

“I was terrified. Most scared I’ve been in my life,” Hudson said.

As the fire started to spread, he said, propane tanks were exploding

It was like "being in a war zone during the bombing,” Hudson said.

The road to evacuate was bumper-to-bumper traffic and plumes of black smoke were making it hard to even see.

“I couldn’t see a car three feet in front of me because of the smoke,” Hudson said.

The normal 15-minute drive to the closest town, took him three and a half hours. He said the heat from the fire melted the paint off the car.

“It got so bad that the flames got to where they were hitting the glass so hot on the windshield you couldn’t touch it,” Hudson said.

His brother, Jeff, said he also grew up in Paradise, but now lives in Jacksonville.

“It hits at the heart. All the iconic landmarks you grew up with and you look at pictures and they aren’t there anymore,” Hudson said.

Their mother also had to evacuate from her retirement home, which burned .

“They have to start all over,” Hudson said.

Family members said they are just taking it one day at a time, as recovery teams continue to search for more victims in their town.

“I don’t even know where to go from here,” Hudson said.

Hudson said his family is in a hotel and his mother is with her sister, while they all look for housing.

He said they might not be able to rebuild for about three years because crews have to remove toxic material in ground.

The family has a GoFundMe account.

Look up! Leonid meteor shower visible this weekend

Calling all cosmophiles: The 2018 Leonid meteor shower peaks this weekend.

>> Read more trending news

With clear skies, there's a good chance you may be able to see a meteor early Saturday and Sunday nights.

According to the American Meteor Society, spectators can expect 10 to 15 meteors per hour during this year’s peak times: the early morning hours of Saturday and Sunday.

“Earth will pass through the thickest part of the Leonid swarm at 7 p.m. EST (2300 GMT) on Nov. 17,” according to experts at Space.com. “But the best time to look will be during the after-midnight hours of Sunday morning, once the source the meteors appear to stream from, called the radiant, comes above the horizon for observers in North America.”

Dawn is the best time to view the Leonids because viewers will be able to avoid the glare from a waxing gibbous moon, which sets before 2 a.m. local time, experts added. And under ideal dark-sky conditions, the meteors “ram into our upper atmosphere at 45 miles (72 kilometers) per second — faster than any other meteor shower.”

The meteors are connected to the comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered by German astronomer Ernst Wilhelm Tempel and American astronomer Horace P. Tuttle in 1865. Both astronomers discovered the comet independently.

The comet “makes fairly frequent passes through the inner solar system,” according to David Samuhel, senior meteorologist and astronomy blogger at AccuWeather. “This lays out fresh debris in the path of the Earth's orbit every 33 years.”

When it does make a close approach to the planet, stargazers get to revel in explosive showers. In 1833, stargazers reported as many as 72,000 shooting stars per hour, according to National Geographic. Later, in 1966, a group of hunters reported seeing 40 to 50 streaks per second over the duration of 15 minutes.

Scientists currently predict the next major outburst won't take place until 2099. But, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported last year, the comet will be returning closer to Earth in 2031 and 2064, meaning more intense storms are on the horizon. Smaller showers, like the one occurring this weekend, happen annually.

While the 2018 shower won’t bring hundreds of shooting stars per hour, it’s sure to be a delight in areas with clear skies and the absence of moonlight.

What’s the difference between a meteoroid, meteor and, meteorite anyway?

Bill Cooke, head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, told Space.com that a meteoroid is essentially space debris. For example, the “crumbs” left behind from Halley’s Comet trail are meteoroids.

These “crumbs” can also be left behind by asteroids, such as the 3200 Phaethon.

Once the meteoroids enter Earth’s atmosphere, they become meteors (or shooting stars).

Though most meteors disintegrate before hitting the ground, meteors that do strike the surface of the planet are called meteorites, Cooke said.

How to watch the meteor shower

Clear skies are essential for prime meteor shower viewing. Skyglow, the light pollution caused by localized street lights, will block out the stars and negatively affect your viewing experience, so head somewhere far from city lights.

When you’re outside in the dark, lie flat on your back with your feet facing south and look up at the vast sky. Give yourself 30 minutes for your eyes to adapt to the environment.

Be sure to bring warm clothing, a sleeping bag, blanket or lawn chair and leave your telescope at home.

Learn more about the Leonids at space.com.

Third autopsy concludes there was foul play in Georgia gym mat death case

Results from a third autopsy conducted in Lowndes County, Georgia, on the body of Kendrick Johnson — the second performed at the behest of Johnson’s parents — have been released, contradicting an earlier conclusion that the 17-year-old’s death was accidental. But the new autopsy’s impact is likely to be minimal, as a lengthy federal investigation already concluded there was no evidence of foul play.

>> Read more trending news

Johnson, the Lowndes High School sophomore whose body was found in a rolled-up gym mat nearly six years ago, died from non-accidental blunt force trauma between his neck and abdomen, the third autopsy concludes. That mirrors the findings from the first autopsy, paid for by Kendrick’s parents, Kenneth and Jackie Johnson, who once again hired William Anderson to examine their son’s body. 

The state medical examiner’s office found the cause of death to be “positional asphyxia,” meaning he became trapped in a position that caused him to suffocate. That finding led the Lowndes County Sheriff’s Office to classify Johnson’s death as an accident. A review of the autopsies commissioned by federal investigators determined the GBI’s autopsy was more credible.

But the Johnsons have never accepted the official line. 

“Kendrick KJ Johnson WAS MURDERED but we already knew that,” Jackie Johnson posted to Facebook on Friday morning.

The Johnsons remain convinced their son was killed by brothers Brian and Branden Bell, sons of a local FBI agent. Video evidence showed the Bells were nowhere near the old gymnasium of Lowndes High when Johnson was last seen alive.

State and local investigators believe he got stuck inside the large, rolled-up gym mat, presumably reaching for a pair of sneakers. A lengthy federal investigation followed.

In 2016, the Justice Department concluded there was “insufficient evidence to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that someone or some group of people willfully violated Kendrick Johnson’s civil rights or committed any other prosecutable federal crime.”

Subsequent civil lawsuits filed by the Johnsons alleged a vast conspiracy and cover-up that included an FBI agent, a former sheriff and Lowndes County’s school superintendent.

The Johnsons were ordered last year to pay attorneys’ fees to multiple defendants named in one of their suits. The judge in the case accused the Johnsons and their attorney, Chevene King, of fabricating evidence to support their claims.

Betsy DeVos releases controversial campus sex assault reporting rules

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos is moving to change the rules regarding sexual assault on college and university campuses.

>> Read more trending news 

At the University of Washington, students may have a heightened awareness of the issue, but they also know it's still difficult for many to report sexual assault or harassment. 

“I know people who have been assaulted in the past and have not had their voices heard, and it's a very real issue,” said student Cameron Zinke in a brief interview.

“I think it depends on the person a lot of the time. I would hope that they'd report it 'cause it's some really serious stuff,” said student Matthew Cinnamon.

The new rules proposed by DeVos narrow the definition of sexual harassment and allow schools to offer accusers accommodations such as no-contact orders instead of investigating the incident.

The old definition was broadly defined as unwelcome sexual conduct. The new rule is limited to conduct so severe and pervasive that it denies a person access to the school's education program.

“We are absolutely for fairness. We believe in clear and transparent processes, and we want the truth to come out," said Mary Ellen Stone, director of the King County Sexual Assault Resource Center.

She believes the new proposal will discourage victims.

“It sounds like they are going to be rolling back some of the progress that we've made specifically, (rules encouraging) victims of sexual assault to come forward.”

Stone believes the changes could in fact make campuses more dangerous for victims and others.

“It doesn't offer the victim any meaningful protection. It also puts other students at risk.”

There will now be a 60-day comment period before the new rules take effect.

Teacher thanks students standing for Pledge of Allegiance, banned from school

A Missouri substitute teacher has been banned from his former school after thanking students who stood for the Pledge of Allegiance.

>> Read more trending news

Jim Furkin says he's been a substitute teacher for the St. Louis County, Missouri, school district for about 10 years.

He’s filled in at Parkway South almost daily for the past five years, until now.

Furkin says 22 of 24 students he was teaching stood during the Pledge of Allegiance, and he thanked them.

“So I say, 'Thank you very much, all of you that participated. I appreciate that, and I'm sure all of those families that lost loved ones so we could have the freedoms we have today would appreciate that, too.’” Furkin said. “That's what I said."

School officials said his actions were a form of bullying to at least one student who didn’t stand.

District officials said Furkin can’t teach anymore at Parkway South, but he can teach at other schools in the district.

He said he will pass on the offer.

“Yeah, I've had enough, and it's a shame,” Furkin said. “That's what I'm going to miss. I'm going to miss the kids."

In a letter home to parents and staff, the school superintendent said the pledge incident was not the only factor in Furkin being banned from Parkway South, but they didn’t elaborate because it was a “personal matter.”

Florida man tries to steal vending machine

A Florida man tried to steal a vending machine from an apartment building in May.

>> Read more trending news 

“He was quite brazen and he was all caught on camera,” Kenia Fallat, Miami police spokesman, told WSVN.

In the video, he attempts to maneuver the big machine by scooting it inch by inch. After about three minutes, he pushes the machine full of food onto the elevator and takes it from the first floor up to the eighth.

“When he got to the eighth floor, he pushed it into the hallway and it appears that he was intending to take the money that was inside the vending machine,” Fallat said.

The machine was found with damage to the money slot, but the man had no luck getting inside to take money or food.

Police are looking for the man seen in the video.

Police: Ex-boyfriend drove to teenager's house, shot her to death 

A teenager was shot and killed in Munhall,  Pennsylvania, on Saturday afternoon, and police say her boyfriend has confessed to the crime.

>> Read more trending news

Police in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, identified the suspect in custody as Darion Abel, 20.

Investigators say Abel and the victim had just ended a yearlong relationship, and Abel became angry about a future court appearance. He allegedly drove to her home, shot her several times, and then drove to the police station to turn himself in.

Abel is charged with criminal homicide, burglary and carrying a concealed firearm without a license.

They found the 19-year-old woman with multiple gunshots wounds, who was pronounced dead at the scene, police said.

Lone, wild pink flamingo mysteriously appears in Florida Panhandle after hurricane

A solitary, wild American flamingo has ornithologists from Michigan, Arkansas and other parts of the country coming to Florida to catch a glimpse of it. 

>> Read more trending news 

The sight of wild pink flamingos was once plentiful in Florida’s tropical climes in the 1800s. But by the end of the century, through settlement, hunting and feather and egg harvesting sightings of the birds have been scarce, according to the Audubon Society.

The bird was first spotted Oct. 31 at the St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge, the Tallahassee Democrat reported

“It just captivates people. How often do you get to see something like that in nature?” Refuge Ranger Robin Will told the Tallahassee Democrat. “It is that people are fascinated when nature does something unexpected like that.”

This is the second time Will has seen a flamingo at the preserve in the 40 years she has worked there. The last time was in 1995. The previous recorded sighting of one at the park as in 1972. 

It is not tagged so it is not from Busch Gardens, any other zoos, or from the established flock at the Hialeah Racetrack. 

“I am going to assume he or she was swept up in a big part of (Hurricane) Michael’s turning radius and somehow maybe landed further west then made its way to the refuge,” Will told the Democrat.

The last time the birds were seen at the park were after Hurricane Allison in 1995 and Hurricane Agnes in 1972. 

The birds are known to fly considerable distances in response to changing conditions, according to the Audubon Society. 

Before Hurricane Michael struck the Panhandle, it threatened Mexico and the Caribbean, known flamingo habitats. 

Although once considered exotic to the state, researchers determined that Florida was once home to a thriving population of flamingos and appears to be repopulating.

A flock of flamingos have been seen in the Everglades coming back over the last few years, according to the Audubon Society.

“For a long time, the thought was that the majority of the free-flying birds escaped,” Audubon Florida Executive Director Julie Wraithmell told the Democrat. “Is it that it’s a bird that is unusual in north Florida or a harbinger of what could be one of Florida’s comeback stories?”

After the research was published in February, Florida wildlife officials removed the flamingo from its listing of nonnative species.

Georgia start-up developing new airplane

Since Richard Hogan was a boy, watching military planes fly from the Air Force base not far from his home, he’s been drawing designs for new aircraft.

>> Read more trending news

He dreamed of being a pilot.

But when he was 12 years old, his grandfather took him for ice cream and a frank talk.

“He said, ‘Richard, your eyes aren’t good enough’” to be a pilot. His grandfather suggested he consider airplane design, given all the sketches that occupied his time.

Hogan would go on to make a career in another field, while occasionally returning to his design hobby. Then seven years ago — when he was in his mid-50s — he decided to go all-in. He left a full-time job in facilities management to get Commuter Craft off the ground.

He’s now the man behind an unusual looking propeller plane called The Innovator, which utilizes a design that allows pilots to land at a slower, less-intimidating speed without stalling.

In a cavernous warehouse in an industrial area of Cartersville, Hogan employs about a dozen people.

“It actually began with a design I did in high school,” says Hogan, who grew up in the Fort Worth, Texas area. At the beginning, “we did a couple of radio-controlled models.”

His goal — once the airplane is fully developed and flight tested — is to sell the kit planes to pilots, who would build most of the carbon-fiber composite plane themselves at Commuter Craft’s facility over a three-week period. Then, he said, his professional aircraft builders will finish off the plane within three months.

“When he left, that was his dream, I guess, his goal. Aviation — everything that surrounds it, and building his own airplanes and things like that,” says Ed Gee, founder and president of Duluth-based Ises Corp., where Hogan used to work. “He’s one of those unique guys that kind of grabs it by the seat of the pants and goes out and does it.”

Experimental aircraft

It’s a variation on the home-built airplane that falls under the Federal Aviation Administration’s experimental aircraft category.

If someone builds at least 51 percent of a plane, it can be registered as an amateur-built aircraft and licensed by the FAA as experimental.

There are more than 30,000 home-built planes registered in the United States, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association.

At the budget end of the airplane market, a small plane such as a used Piper Cub can be had for less than $50,000. A new Cessna 172 can cost close to half a million dollars, and a personal jet can cost millions.

The price tag for a kit plane can start even lower than a Piper Cub, but also can reach more than $1 million at the high end.

“It’s always fun to see the new designs come out,” said Dick Knapinski, a spokesman for the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Hogan plans to sell his new planes for around $150,000 for the basic model and about $210,000 for a premium edition. He says he has already taken 55 orders. While early orders placed were discounted, Hogan is now charging $2,500 to reserve a position for the plane once it’s in production.

Risky business

It’s not easy to develop a new airplane. Many such start-ups have failed, even after years of growth.

Hogan has thought hard about the potential pitfalls.

“At some point in life, you say, ‘This is who I am. I’ve got to do this,’” he says.

There are benefits to developing a kit plane versus a full-fledged factory-built plane. It costs less to develop, because the plane doesn’t have to meet the standards, testing and regulations to be “type certificated” by the Federal Aviation Administration.

But kit planes still must be registered with the FAA and inspected, and must receive an airworthiness certificate. A pilot must fly 25-40 hours of test flights before he or she can take up passengers in an amateur-built plane, which is also subject to condition inspections every year, according to the Experimental Aircraft Association.

Taking the kit plane route “was to reduce the risk” and cut the cost to bring it to market, Hogan says. But, he acknowledges, “It’s still risky. The economy could change.”

Steve Champness, who is senior associate publisher of aircraft buy-and-sell publication Trade-a-Plane and heads the Aero Club of Metropolitan Atlanta that Hogan is a member of, says Commuter Craft is fortunate to be preparing to enter the market with good timing.

“Any new company’s got the challenges of how to scale up operations,” Champness says. But “aircraft sales have rebounded dramatically in the last 12 months.”

With a strong economy, “there’s enough buyers that have financial resources that are needed to purchase an aircraft like this,” he said. Hogan has “an innovative design that is priced, I think, in a very buyer-friendly zone for new aircraft. … It has a lot of people that are very excited about it.”

Getting off the ground

It has been four years since Hogan first began traveling to aviation shows to unveil his vision for The Innovator, which has a futuristic look with an extra-wide fuselage, a high twin-boomed tail and canard wing at the nose.

“It being such a unique design, I wanted to see if anyone liked it,” he says.

In 2015, a prototype of the plane took its first flight with a test pilot in the cockpit.

The following year, Hogan was preparing to begin production, and general aviation publications wrote articles telling of the imminent debut of The Innovator.

Upon seeing a photo of the plane in a publication, “a friend of mine knew it had to be me, because it looked just like the planes I used to draw in high school,” Hogan says.

But the plans to begin production were ultimately put on hold, as the company worked on new features.

To continue, Hogan brought in an investment partner to help fund development.

The goal today: to produce about a dozen aircraft by the end of 2019, 40 in 2020, and 80 in 2021.

Folding wings

Hogan’s first customers will be what he calls “alpha builders” — experienced airplane builders who are helping to finalize the company’s builder’s guide.

So far, Commuter Craft has built two versions of The Innovator, improving on the design after the first model was built, with the second version aimed at being production compliant.

And the planes that will be sold to customers first are a bit different from what Hogan initially envisioned.

“When you come up to [The Innovator] you go, ‘Wow, this is like a Ferrari,’” Champness says. “It’s like the sports car of airplanes.”

In fact, The Innovator does look like a bit like a car with wings.

That’s no accident. In fact, Hogan originally wanted to design a “roadable” version of the aircraft — in other words, a flying car.

But many who have observed aviation over the decades — or watched a sci-fi movie or two — roll their eyes at the notion of a flying car gaining popularity.

Hogan put the flying car idea aside and says The Innovator he will launch first will actually be a traditional airplane.

The idea now is that future models could include a roadable version, including folding wings. Wings nearly 24-feet wide that can fold to just eight-feet wide also will be an option on the traditional plane, Hogan says. That makes it small enough to pull in a trailer.

“The aircraft was designed as a multi-vehicle platform,” he says. “We didn’t set out to build an airplane. We set out to build an airplane company.”

For the aviation world and for Hogan himself, apparently, “the flying car was one of the great undying dreams,” he says.

Knapinski said that’s partly because “everybody is looking for the answer how do we get more people involved in flying.”

“Something like the Commuter Craft design, “People look at it and say, ‘Wow, I can see myself in that aircraft,’” Knapinski says.

Depending on how you count it, less than 2/10 of 1 percent of the U.S. population is certified as an airplane pilot.

Hogan thinks a plane that’s accessible to a broader swath of the population could help change that.

If one out of 700 people are pilots, Hogan says, “That means that the other 699 don’t know what they’re missing.”

Universal Orlando to raise minimum pay to $12 an hour

The Universal Orlando Resort said Thursday it will raise starting pay for its employees to $12 an hour, beginning Feb. 3.

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"(We) will continue to review and adjust our rates so that we stay competitive in the market," said Bill Davis, the resort's president and chief operating officer, in a letter to employees.

Also on Thursday, about 100 Walt Disney World workers rallied outside the Universal Orlando Resort, asking for raises for their Universal counterparts.

"They work hard like us," said Gurthe Auguste, a Disney housekeeper. "They pay bills. They have families like us. We need a raise for them."

After more than a year of negotiations, Disney and the unions that represent 38,000 of its workers in August reached a deal that will raise minimum pay from $10 to $15 by 2021.

The union members said they want other theme parks and hotels to follow suit.

"We're fighting for the whole community," Disney worker Boletha Jarrett said. "We want this community to move up. We won at Walt Disney World, and we want them to win, too."

Disney worker Krysta White said her employer has set the standard.

"We have a pathway out of poverty," she said. It's great that Universal has taken that first step, but we want to push them to go all the way. We're looking for $15 by 2020."

Security camera shows dog going on shoplifting spree

Security cameras in Istanbul, Turkey, captured an unusual shoplifter -- a stray dog trying to steal a garment from a clothing shop in a shopping center.

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The dog made several attempts, as one of its efforts was foiled by a security guard.

Security cameras show the same animal stealing a white T-shirt from another shop, as well as a shawl from a cafeteria in the shopping center

The management of the shopping center said there was a pack of stray dogs roaming in the vicinity, but that they had no problem with their presence.

Murder charges withdrawn against man, 21, jailed 5 weeks

The murder charges against a man who said he was wrongly jailed for the crime have been withdrawn. 

Suffolk County Prosecutors officially withdrew the charges against 21-year-old Kevin Williams Friday.

>> Read more trending news 

The move comes a week after Williams was released from jail, where he had spent the previous five weeks. 

"I’m happy, I’m very happy," Williams said after the news broke. "They freed an innocent gentleman, you know, I’m innocent. There’s a bunch of cases like mine that need to get solved.

Williams’ family told Boston 25 News he had been falsely arrested for the murder of a gas station attendant in Dorchester. 

"They arrest him and my whole world crashed," Williams' mother Regina Hunter said. "I will step up for my kid when he is 100 percent not guilty. And I can say that with 100 percent confidence, because he was at home with me."

Jose Luis Phinn-Williams, an attendant at Fabian Gas Station on Washington Street, was shot to death during an apparent robbery Oct. 6. 

Suffolk County District Attorney John Pappas said the decision to withdraw the charges came from a “review of the evidence gathered and analyzed” since the night the 67-year-old was murdered. 

“The ethical step was to withdraw the charges prior to the first scheduled court date as that investigation continues,” Pappas said in a statement. 

Prosecutors said Williams’ arrest was supported by a detailed description, but the 21-year-old’s family disputes that claim. 

“We don’t force the evidence to fit the case,” said Pappas, whose office notified the victim’s family and defendant’s attorney of the development. “We follow the facts wherever they lead, and today they led us to this decision. The investigation remains open, it remains active and it remains a priority for us.”

Williams' attorney tells us he was at home with his mother packing for the family's move that next morning when the shooting occurred. When he left the house to visit his girlfriend a few blocks away from the homicide, Boston police arrested him and later charged him with gun charges and murder.

Jose Williams was shot shortly after 11:30 p.m. on the night of Oct. 6 while working at the gas station. Police are still seeking information on suspects in his murder. 

Boston Police Commissioner William Gross released a statement on the situation, agreeing with the decision:“I agree with the decision made by Suffolk County District Attorney John P. Pappas to withdraw the charges against Kevin Williams in the homicide of Jose Luis Phinn Williams. The Boston Police Department continues to work closely with the Suffolk County District Attorney’s Office to solve this case and hold those responsible accountable of their actions.”

Now, Williams' mother wants more for her son, saying she wants his record cleared and a public apology, while also saying her son is far from the only one being falsely accused.

"There is a system that is broken," Hunter said. "There is a system that needs to be fixed." 

18-day-old giraffe suddenly dies at Ohio zoo

Ubumwe, the female giraffe calf that was born Oct. 30, died Saturday, Columbus Zoo officials said.

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Zoo officials said in a series of Facebook posts that Ubumwe had been energetic and nursing well in her first two weeks, weighing an estimated 130 pounds a week ago. But she began experiencing “gastrointestinal discomfort” Friday afternoon, leading to multiple tests and treatment.

An ultrasound showed an abnormality of the bowel, but after receiving intensive care from the zoo’s animal care professionals, Ubumwe appeared comfortable overnight, according to the zoo’s statement.

But early Saturday morning, the Masai giraffe calf deteriorated rapidly, and she soon passed away. Zoo officials said the cause of death is unknown, pending an autopsy and a pathology report that will take several weeks.

Thousands of people followed Ubumwe’s birth and first weeks, watching via the online “Giraffe Cam” through National Geographic. One of the zoo’s other giraffes, Cami, is expecting a calf soon.

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