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3 weeks ago · by · 600 comments

Investigative Reports Prompt Puerto Rico To Review All Deaths After Maria

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Facing mounting evidence that Puerto Rico has vastly undercounted the number of people who died because of Hurricane Maria, Gov. Ricardo A. Rosselló ordered that every death on the island since the devastating storm be reviewed.  Officials will look review all deaths attributed to natural causes after the hurricane, which made landfall Sept. 20 and knocked out power to 3.4 million Puerto Ricans and to their hospitals and clinics.

Roselló made the order to the Puerto Rico Demographic Registry, which is the island’s vital statistics bureau, and to the Department of Public Safety following the investigative media reports on the death toll and after residents claiming deaths of their loved ones were caused by Maria.  The governor also said he’d create an expert panel to review the island’s death certification process.

The Puerto Rican government has put the official death toll at 64 but several investigations have revealed that nearly 1,000 more people died.   The prolonged blackout hampered critical medical treatment for some of the island’s most vulnerable patients, including many who were bedridden or dependent on dialysis or respirators. But if they died as a result, the storm’s role in their deaths may have gone officially unrecorded.

Several news organizations, including The New York Times, conducted independent analyses and found that the number of deaths traceable to the storm was far higher than the official count.  The Times’s review, based on daily mortality data from Puerto Rico’s vital statistics bureau, found that 1,052 more people than usual had died across the island in the 42 days after Maria struck. The analysis compared daily figures for 2017 with an average of figures for the corresponding days in 2015 and 2016.

The leading causes of death on the island in September were diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease, Puerto Rican government data show.  There was a sharp 50 percent spike in the number of recorded deaths from sepsis, a complication of severe infection that can be tied to delayed medical care or poor living conditions.    Reports emerged of people being unable to use oxygen and dialysis equipment, unable to refrigerate insulin, evacuated from hospitals that lost emergency power and other problems.

Reviewing the circumstances surrounding each death will require interviewing family members and doctors who signed death certificates to find out if, for example, a heart attack might have been brought on by stress from the hurricane, or might have been fatal because an ambulance could not get through debris-blocked streets in time to help.

The governor’s announcement comes as the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico reported that nearly three months since the storm, 45 people are still listed as missing and efforts by Puerto Rico’s police to locate them have been minimal or almost nonexistent.    Parts of the island are still without power leaving many to celebrate Christmas in the dark.   The power grid is only operating at 70 percent of capacity and officials say power won’t be fully restored until the end of May.

 

 

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3 weeks ago · by · 109 comments

Amtrak Train Derails In Washington State

 

 

 

Officials say three people are confirmed dead and 70 injured in the derailment of an Amtrak passenger train that plummeted off an overpass in Washington state.  Part of the train was left dangling over a busy freeway between Olympia and DuPont at the height of the Monday morning commute.   The high-speed passenger train was on a trip from Seattle to Portland when it derailed.  Federal investigators say the Amtrak train was traveling at 80 miles per hour when it barreled off the tracks in a 30-mile-per-hour zone. The accident sent some of the train’s cars tumbling onto the highway below.

The train, identified by Amtrak as the high-speed Train 501 from Seattle to Portland, was carrying 77 passengers and seven crew members when it derailed just after 7:30 a.m. local time.   All but one of its cars and engines jumped the tracks and at least one fell to the roadway below.  Multiple vehicles on the roadway below were struck by train cars that left the train tracks.   Washington Governor Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency to aid the response to the crash, which also clogged one of the state’s busiest roadways, used by some 60,000 people every day.

Amtrak Cascades trains began using a faster, more direct route that day, making this its inaugural trip.  Previously, it used to snake along the edge of Puget Sound, which was a slower route but began running on tracks known as the Point Defiance Bypass, which are owned by the Sound Transit agency. The Washington State Department of Transportation says the Federal Railroad Administration funded and reviewed recent upgrades to the tracks. All told, the project’s budget was nearly $181 million.

The change in route was met with criticism from some residents in the area after it was announced. Lakewood Mayor Don Anderson even predicted a deadly accident.   “Come back when there is that accident, and try to justify not putting in those safety enhancements, or you can go back now and advocate for the money to do it, because this project was never needed and endangers our citizens” Anderson said.

The National Transportation Safety Board says it’s too early to tell what caused the derailment and that its investigators would spend a week or more scouring the wreckage for clues. Ahead of the crash, the mayor of the city of Lakewood raised safety concerns about the new rail line, predicting earlier this month it could lead to multiple deaths. The train was not utilizing positive train control—a technology mandated by Congress, but rarely operating in Amtrak trains—which could have prevented the crash.

 

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4 weeks ago · by · 16 comments

Disney’s Bid To Buy 21st Century Fox

 

 

 

Disney is set to buy a major part of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion.  Both sides have  said it will likely take 12 to 18 months to complete.  They will still have to sell the deal to government regulators, who must review the merger to determine its effects on competitors and consumers.   That task will likely fall to the Justice Department, which weeks ago took the rare step of suing companies in a different blockbuster deal: AT&T’s bid for Time Warner.

Members of Congress have already stated that they want to hold hearings on Disney’s billion dollar bid to buy 21st Century Fox.  Key voices on competition and consumer protection fear the deal will only solidify Disney’s dominance in entertainment — granting it too many major box-office franchises and too much power over regional sports networks and streaming video services.  Lawmakers don’t actually have a say in major mergers but they tend to scrutinize them anyways since the Department of Justice investigations happen outside of public view.  Hearings-sometimes featuring testimony from major chief executives — can ultimately shape public opinion about the companies’ plans.

If the deal goes through, Disney will own the rights to everything from the Avatar movies to FX’s The Americans.  They will also own the film rights to the Marvel comics characters associated with the X-Men and Fantastic Four, which Marvel sold off to Fox long before either was a Disney subsidiary.  Federal Communications Commission regulations state that no one company can own more than one broadcast network and since Disney already owns ABC, Fox broadcast network was off the table.

Fox, will maintain the rights to Fox News, Fox Sports 1, the Fox broadcast network and the Fox studio lot in Los Angeles.  Fox broadcast network is home to everything from The Simpsons to New Girl to The X-Files. The network launched in 1986 and by the mid-’90s, it was a mainstay in most American homes, competing with ABC, CBS, and NBC.

The massive deal would consolidate two of the biggest players in Hollywood and would reshape the media and entertainment industries.  Disney will also get Fox’s 30 percent share of ownership of Hulu in this deal.  Disney already owns a 30 percent share so Fox’s share will now make Disney the majority shareholder in Hulu.  NBC still owns a 30 percent stake and Warner Bros. owns the remaining 10 percent.

Disney already announced plans for its own streaming business in 2019, which will feature films from Disney and Pixar, content that specifically won’t be available on Netflix.  Hulu already has 12 million subscribers so it remains to be seen whether Disney will piggyback their own streaming business with Hulu or just convert Hulu into Disney’s streaming service.  Disney’s Marvel and Lucas film franchise will still appear on Netflix as part of a multiyear agreement, but that runs out in a few years and will almost certainly be exclusive to their own streaming service.

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4 weeks ago · by · 27 comments

Grenfell Tower Memorial

 

 

Around 1,500 people including, bereaved family and survivors of the deadly Grenfell Tower fire gathered at St. Paul’s Cathedral in London for a memorial service, along with British Prime Minister Theresa May, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn and the royal family.   The fire killed 71 people when it swept through a poorly built public housing tower and was the worst fire in Britain since World War II.  The memorial ceremony lasted just over an hour and at the end of the service, a Grenfell banner was carried out of the cathedral, followed by mourners, who held white roses and photographs of their loved ones.

Of the 293 people believed to be in the 27 story building, 222 escaped; 65 of those survivors were rescued by firefighters.  Some residents appear to have moved up the building to escape the flames, only to become trapped in the apartments of friends and neighbours on the upper floors. Twenty one people died on the top floor of the tower block and the fire to raged for 60 hours before finally being contained.

Two days after the disaster, the Prime Minister promised families would be rehoused within three weeks.  Six months after the fire, according to a report published by the government, of the 395 households displaced by the fire, 300 were living in hotels, 75 were in apartments, nine were living with friends and family on a temporary basis and only 11 had found new permanent accommodation by the end of September.

Maxine Holdsworth, the official responsible for rehousing the people who lost their homes in the Grenfell Tower fire says Theresa May made and unachievable commitment in the aftermath of the fire.  The current promise is that everyone will be rehoused within a year.  The number of staff working on rehousing Grenfell tenants has increased since the summer from five to 20.   They have been given a budget of $235 million to replace the homes lost in the tower. They are currently in the process of buying 300 new homes, at a rate of two a day, and hope to have done that by Christmas.

A review of building regulations ordered after the Grenfell Tower fire found the system is “not fit for purpose” and open to abuse by those trying to save money.  The report into building safety called for an overhaul of the construction industry to put safety above cutting costs.  The report called for an end to cost-cutting on materials. It is suspected that an attempt to drive down the price of refurbishing the tower in west London led to cheaper, flammable material being installed on its exterior.

The tower was built in 1974 but was remodeled in 2016.  Fire safety experts have pointed to cladding on the building as a possible reason the blaze spread so quickly.  New cladding was fitted as part of the refurbishment of the tower in May of last year.  Footage has shown the fire travelling up one side of the building, before engulfing the entire block.

 

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1 month ago · by · 0 comments

Nearly 1,000 People Died In Puerto Rico After Maria Hit

 

 

 

 

 

An investigation by the Center for Investigative Journalism in Puerto Rico has revealed that nearly 1,000 more people died in the 40-day period after Hurricane Maria hit Puerto Rico compared to that same time period last year. These findings sharply contradict the storm’s “official” death toll of 62.   The government allowed 911 bodies to be cremated without being physically examined by a government medical officer to determine if they should be included in the official death toll from the storm.  Each cause of death was listed as being of “natural causes.”

The revelation of the new data also coincides with accounts from relatives’ reports of victims that point to problems with essential health services such as dialysis, ventilators, oxygen, and other critical circumstances caused by the lack of electricity in homes and hospitals throughout Puerto Rico.

The majority of the deaths were men and women over 50 who died in hospitals and nursing homes from conditions such as diabetes, Alzheimer’s, kidney disease, hypertension, pneumonia and other respiratory diseases. When compared to the same time period from 2016, there was a significant increase in deaths, especially in hospitals and nursing homes.

Some have said they considered heart attacks and people who died of lack of oxygen because of lack of power as hurricane-related deaths, while others said they considered those “natural causes.”  Accurate information about the death toll is important because it allows victims’ families to claim federal relief aid.  It has also been used as a measure of how effective relief efforts have been.  The official death toll likely fails to take account of all those who died as a result of the deadly hurricane.

Demographer José A. López, the only person at the registry in charge of analyzing this data, has said that the increase in deaths in the first two post-Maria months is significant and the government’s inability to link more deaths to the hurricane shows that the current process of documenting causes of death in a disaster is not working and must be reformed.  López and the Department of Health appeared before Puerto Rico’s Senate to request that a dialogue begin about the issue and that they lead to changing the system.

Currently, linking a death to a disaster depends almost exclusively on a physician making an annotation related to the hurricane in the death certificate and listing the clinical cause of death, but both doctors and hospitals maintain that their responsibility and knowledge are strictly tied to the clinical cause of death.  In most cases, the doctor who certifies the death may not be the same doctor who was in charge of the patient.   Because of this, most death certificates do not include additional information about the other circumstances that could lead to death — such as the stress caused by an emergency; lack of power, transportation services or medications; lack of access to health services; changes in diet; and increases in ambient temperatures, among others.

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1 month ago · by · 0 comments

Ex-Officer Michael Slager Sentenced To 20 Years

 

 

 

Former South Carolina police officer Michael Slager, 36, was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison for the deadly shooting of unarmed motorist Walter Scott-who was pulled over for a broken tail-light.  U.S. District Judge David Norton ruled that Slager committed second-degree murder and obstruction of justice, when he shot and killed 50-year-old Scott on April 4, 2015. The second-degree murder ruling came with a recommended 19 to 24 year sentence.  Slager has 14 days to appeal.

Slager initially claimed self-defense, but witness cellphone video that surfaced shortly after the encounter showed the officer fatally shooting Walter Scott five times in the back as he ran away. He was fired from the force after the shooting.  Slager was charged in South Carolina with murder and pleaded not guilty. During the state murder trial, Slager’s attorney said his client shot Walter Scott because he was in fear for his life.

Federal prosecutors sought a life sentence, arguing Slater, had committed second-degree murder and also should be punished for obstructing justice by providing the South Carolina Law Enforcement Division with false statements.  In 2016, the case ended in a mistrial. The state retrial and federal trial were expected to take place this year, but in May, Michael Slager pleaded guilty to violating Walter Scott’s civil rights in federal court, ending the federal case against him and also resolving the state charges that were pending after the mistrial.

Before the sentence was announced, Scott’s family addressed the court and gave the judge their victim impact statements.  Judy Scott broke down in tears as she recalled the memory of her son.  Speaking to Slager, Scott also said she forgave the former officer, a sentiment echoed by Walter Scott’s brother, Anthony Scott.  Scott’s family has repeatedly expressed forgiveness to Slager, saying they needed to in order to let go of the pain of losing Walter.

Before hearing his sentence in federal court, Michael Slager called each family member out by name and apologized, thanking them for forgiving him. “I wish this never would have happened,” he said. “I wish I could go back to the day and change the events, but I can’t.”  For the past 31 months, he said, he had thought about the moment he opened fire.  “Walter Scott is no longer with his family, and I’m responsible for that,” Slager said, adding the Scott family would be forever changed without Walter.

The Scott family said at the subsequent press conference that Slager had sought to make amends with them.  “He apologized to the family,” said Rodney Scott, one of Walter’s brothers. “He called each and every last one of our names in court today and apologized. So who are we not to forgive?”

He said his family is “thankful for the justice system that worked on our behalf,” but added that “a lot of work” still needs to be done in the justice system.  Another one of Walter Scott’s brothers, Anthony Scott, thanked Feiden Santana, the witness who filmed the shooting, for being “brave” enough to film what he saw that day.

 

 

 

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2 months ago · by · 869 comments

Utah Nurse Wins Settlement

 

 

 

Utah Nurse Alex Wubbels has won a $500,000 settlement after being violently arrested by police at The  Utah University Hospital for refusing a police officer’s demand that she draw a blood sample from an unconscious car crash patient.  Police body cam video shows an officer grab Wubbels, dragging her out of the hospital and into an unmarked car.  The incident happened on July 26 but the story went viral when bodycam footage was released weeks later.

In the video, Salt Lake City Detective Jeff Payne is seen arguing with Utah nurse Alex Wubbels, the charge nurse working the night shift on the burn unit at Utah University Hospital.   Wubbels was following hospital protocol and the law when she calmly refused to allow a blood draw on an unconscious patient without consent or a warrant.   She presented the officers with a printout of hospital policy on drawing blood and said their request did not meet the criteria.  Hospital policy specified police needed either a judge’s order or the patient’s consent, or the patient needed to be under arrest, before obtaining a blood sample.

The dispute ended with Payne handcuffing Wubbels and dragging her outside while she screamed that she’d done nothing wrong.  She was detained for 20 minutes and later released without charge.  Salt Lake City police detective Jeff Payne insisted on drawing the blood, maintaining in his report that he wanted the sample to protect the man rather than prosecute him. He was supported by his supervisor, Lt. James Tracy, who said the nurse could be arrested if she didn’t agree.

After the footage surfaced, the hospital said police would no longer be permitted in patient care areas, such as the burn unit where Wubbels was working that day.  Payne had 20 years on the force at the time.  He and a second officer, Lt. James Tracy, were put on full paid administrative leave by Salt Lake City police during an investigation involving the FBI.  On Oct. 11th, the Salt Lake City Police Department announced that Payne had been fired and Lt. James Tracy was demoted over the incident.

The patient in question, William Gray, was a reserve police officer with the Rigby, Idaho police department.  He worked as a truck driver and had been severely burned following a fiery head-on crash caused by a man in a pickup truck who was fleeing the Utah State Highway Patrol.  He spent two months in the University of Utah burn center before he passed away on September 25th.

Karra Porter, Wubbels’ attorney said her client has met the five goals she set when this incident occurred.  She wanted changes to policy, accountability from those who were involved in the incident, to start a public discussion about the urgent need for body cameras, to be compensated and to help other people who have a need for evidence obtained on body cam videos when these types of situations happen to them.  Wubbels said she plans to use a portion of the settlement toward a new initiative to help others pay for access to police body camera video clips.  “We all deserve to know the truth and the truth comes when you see the actual raw footage and that’s what happened in my case,” Wubbels said.  “Any person in the State of Utah who wishes to obtain body cam footage of an incident involving them will be able to do so, no charge to them.  Our law firm, Christensen & Jensen, will provide any legal services necessary to accomplish that,” Porter said. “Thanks to Alex, there will be more transparency.”

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3 months ago · by · 125 comments

Executive Order Allows Air Force To Recall Up To 1000 Retired Pilots

 

 

A combat pilot shortage has prompted the invoking of the National Emergencies Act as an executive order was signed that allows the Air Force to voluntarily recall up to 1,000 retired aviators for active duty.  The order could help ease the combat pilot shortage in the force and improve military readiness as the administration steps up its new Afghanistan war strategy to defeat the Taliban and terrorists. The new strategy includes additional U.S. troops going to Afghanistan as well as increased U.S. air support for the Afghan military.

According to the Pentagon, the Air Force is currently short by about 1,500 pilots.  Before the order was signed, the Air Force was allowed to rehire up to 25 retired officers under what’s known as the Voluntary Retired Return to Active Duty program and bring them back to active duty in critical aviation-related staff positions.   The executive order now allows the Air Force to temporarily exceed the limit of 25 rehires.  Other branches of the U.S. military also need more pilots, including the Navy, and the executive order could be used later to help address those challenges.

A release issued by the Air Force said they are now looking to have retired pilots return to the service for up to 12 months in positions that require qualified pilots.  The service is looking for retired fliers of any pilot specialty code — which includes bomber, fighter, helicopter, tanker, and remotely operated aircraft pilots — to fill “critical-rated staff positions” and allow active-duty pilots to stay with units where they are needed to meet mission requirements.

The Air Force is combating the pilot shortage with various incentive programs to keep officers in uniform longer.  A program launching later this year includes a 100 percent promotion opportunity and an aviator retention pay bonus worth up to $350,000 over a 10-year term that is already in effect.  Pay for officers and enlisted personnel will increase for the first time since 1999.  Incentive pay, also called flight pay, will increase for all officers, with those who have over 12 years of service potentially seeing the biggest boost, up to a maximum of $1,000 a month. Incentive pay will also increase for enlisted aircrew members — up to a maximum of $600 for those with over 14 years of service.

An Air Force official indicated they had no current plans to act on the authority granted to them by the president’s order.  “The Air Force does not currently intend to recall retired pilots to address the pilot shortage,” “We appreciate the authorities and flexibility delegated to us.”

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3 months ago · by · 127 comments

Red Cross Downsizing in Afghanistan

 

 

After more than three decades of medical work by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) in Afghanistan, it’s pulling most of its staff out of Afghanistan after a string of attacks on its employees.  The decision came after seven ICRC employees were killed in a series of attacks this year.  On December 19 2016,  ICRC employee Juan Carlos was abducted as he travelled from Mazar-e Sharif to Kunduz and held hostage for a month.  In February 2017, six Red Cross employees were shot dead by unidentified gunmen in northern Jowzjan province. Two others were abducted and later released.

Last month, Red Cross physiotherapist Lorena Enebral Perez was killed by a patient in Mazar-e Sharif.  Perez helped people who had lost limbs or had other forms of disability, learn to stand, walk or feed themselves again.  She was targeted by one of the patients, a man who had suffered polio as a child and had been coming to the rehabilitation center for 19 years, ever since he was two years old. He shot her with a gun he had concealed in his wheelchair.

The ICRC country head said the “painful decision” meant people in the north would no longer get help they needed.  She said they would not leave Afghanistan but they have to limit the risks faced by its staff as threats continue.  “After internal discussions with our highest level at the headquarters, we have reached the conclusion that we have no choice but to drastically reduce our presence and activities, and in particular in the north of Afghanistan.”

The ICRC’s operation in Afghanistan is the their fourth largest worldwide, with about 1,800 staff offering medical assistance, helping disabled people and visiting inmates in jail as well as enabling them to keep in contact with their families.  In some areas, particularly in the north, the ICRC is the only international group offering such services.  Many other humanitarian organizations have pulled out of Afghanistan in recent years as Taliban and Islamic State militants have stepped up attacks.

Head of delegation, Monica Zanarelli, announced the reduction. “After 30 years of continuous presence in the country, we are reducing our presence and operations.”  She went on to say that it’s hard to say whether they are being specifically targeted or if these are random attacks that they have suffered.

The ICRC is laying off staff and closing two of its offices, in Faryab and Kunduz provinces, while its sub-delegation in Mazar-e Sharif will be “seriously downsized.”  Those three ICRC offices cover nine provinces in the north and north west of Afghanistan. Activities run out of the Mazar office will now be limited to the ICRC’s Re-establishing Family Links program (tracing separate family members, facilitating phone calls to detainees and arranging family visits) and cooperation with the Afghan Red Crescent Society.   The orthopedics center in Mazar, which treats those who have lost arms and legs and need prosthetic limbs as well as those with other disabilities, will remain open for now, but the ICRC is looking for others to run it. All other activities out of Mazar will be stopped, including the ICRC’s assistance programs.

Most international humanitarian organizations, including the ICRC, have already modified their operations to try to protect staff while continuing to reach the most vulnerable. The ICRC has a reputation for neutrality and service built up over decades but has had to accept that it can no longer work safely in parts of Afghanistan.  Many believe it is a sign of just how brutal the conflict in Afghanistan has become.

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3 months ago · by · 129 comments

Harvey Weinstein Scandal

 

 

 

 

An investigation by The New York Times exposed allegations of sexual harassment and unwanted physical contact by Harvey Weinstein that stretched nearly three decades.  The scandal was uncovered through interviews with current or former employees and film industry workers as well as legal records, emails and internal documents from the businesses he has run, Miramax and the Weinstein Company.  Among other victims, the Times piece revealed that Rose McGowan had reached a $100,000 settlement with Weinstein after an encounter in a hotel room during Sundance Film Festival in 1997.  Later, the actress revealed Weinstein had raped her.

Shortly after, The New Yorker published another expose that alleges the producer raped three women.  The New Yorker article contains on-the-record accounts from 13 actresses who reported Weinstein forcibly received or performed sexual acts on the women.  A slew of women have sine come forward to accuse Weinstein of sexual harassment, assault and rape.  Among his accusers are some of Hollywood’s most well-known actresses including Ashley Judd, Gwyneth Paltrow, Angelina Jolie, Rosanna Arquette, Kate Beckinsale and Heather Graham.

Many of the instances occurred during meetings that agents, studios and assistants set up for Weinstein under the guise of a potential movie role.  The common theme in the accusations is that the harassment took place early in their careers and they kept quiet out of fear that they would destroy their budding careers.  Other lesser known actresses and models have come forward as well.  Weinstein’s lewd behavior seemed to be an open secret in Hollywood for decades.  Fear of Harvey Weinstein’s influence helped keep his treatment of women shrouded for years with a network of aggressive publicists and lawyers helping.

New revelations have surfaced showing his studio, Weinstein Company, knew for at least two years that he had been paying off women who accused him of sexual harassment and assault. Weinstein was fired from the company shortly after the New York Times article was published.   Police in the US and outside the country are investigating allegations of sexual assault involving Harvey Weinstein as the scandal surrounding the disgraced Hollywood movie mogul mounts.

A spokeswoman for Weinstein denied the rape allegations in a statement.  “Any allegations of non-consensual sex are unequivocally denied by Mr. Weinstein,” the statement read. “Mr. Weinstein has further confirmed that there were never any acts of retaliation against any women for refusing his advances.”  Weinstein sent an official statement to The New York Time in response to the accusations saying “I appreciate the way I’ve behaved with colleagues in the past has caused a lot of pain, and I sincerely apologize for it.  Though I’m trying to do better, I know I have a long way to go. That is my commitment.”

Shortly after The New Yorker piece came out, Harvey Weinstein’s wife of a decade, Georgina Chapman, announced she was She said in a statement, “My heart breaks for all the women who have suffered tremendous pain because of these unforgivable actions,” the statement read. “I have chosen to leave my husband. Caring for my young children is my first priority and I ask the media for privacy at this time.”

 

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