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National

    Many tourists are reconsidering traveling to the Dominican Republic amid news that at least nine Americans have mysteriously died there since June 2018. Here's what you need to know if you're thinking about canceling your trip: >> Read more trending news 1. Is it safe to travel there?  In April, the U.S. State Department issued a travel advisory urging American tourists to 'exercise increased caution in the Dominican Republic due to crime.'  'Violent crime, including armed robbery, homicide and sexual assault, is a concern throughout the Dominican Republic,' read the advisory, which is still in effect. 'The development of a professional tourist police corps, institution of a 911 system in many parts of the country, and a concentration of resources in resort areas means these tend to be better policed than urban areas like Santo Domingo. The wide availability of weapons, the use and trade of illicit drugs, and a weak criminal justice system contribute to the high level of criminality on the broader scale.' Despite the death reports, officials have not revised the notice to include any health warnings. In fact, the department said Wednesday that it has 'not seen an uptick in the number of U.S. citizen deaths' in the popular vacation destination, ABC News reported. 'The overwhelming majority travel without incident,' a department spokesperson said of the 2.7 million Americans who go there each year. 2. Flight cancellations are on the rise.  Although the State Department's position hasn't changed, more travelers appear to be canceling their trips to the Dominican Republic in wake of the reports. According to The Washington Post, flight cancellations have risen 45% in recent weeks, while bookings have declined 59%, flight-data company ForwardKeys said. Meanwhile, Kayak reported a 19% decline in searches for flights to the Dominican Republic. 3. How are airlines responding? Many airlines, including Delta, Southwest, United, American and Sun Country, told the Post that they will consider individual travelers' requests to cancel or change their flights to the Dominican Republic 'on a case-by-case basis.' Southwest added that it offers 'full store credit (since we don't levy punitive change fees)' to customers who cancel flights to any destination 'as long as they are canceled up to an hour before departure,' WSYX-TV reported. So far, no carriers have announced blanket waivers for all customers with Dominican Republic travel plans, the Post reported. The waivers, which are issued during emergencies or natural disasters, let customers change their flights without incurring fees, according to the newspaper. 4. What are hotels saying? Not much. The Post said many Dominican Republic resorts 'did not immediately respond to questions'; however, Marriott International told the newspaper that it 'will work with guests on a case-by-case basis if they are looking to change an existing reservation.' The company operates six resorts in the Dominican Republic. 5. Experts recommend getting travel insurance. Fred Kerner, a consultant with Grandview Travel in Ohio, told WSYX that travelers to any destination should purchase insurance. 'If the State Department by chance issues a higher travel warning than maybe they currently have, that would force people not to be able to go – Americans in specific,' he told the station. 'Then the insurance would probably kick in at that point and allow you to cancel.' Many companies even offer upgraded policies that will issue up to a 75% refund to a traveler who cancels a trip – no matter why, the Post reported. Travel insurance comparison website Squaremouth reported a 24% rise in the number of travelers who have bought insurance for Dominican Republic vacations over the past few weeks, according to the Post. In addition, about 113% more customers have purchased upgraded policies, the company said.
  • A California police officer has died after a shooting in Sacramento, multiple news outlets reported late Wednesday. >> Read more trending news Check back for updates to this developing story.
  • Police in Marietta, Georgia, used an interesting tactic Wednesday to catch more than 100 drivers violating the Hands Free Georgia Act that prohibits texting or holding cell phones while driving. >> Read more trending news  Three Marietta officers dressed as city utility workers fanned out across the intersection of Cobb Parkway and Roswell Road near the Big Chicken and watched for motorists violating the hands-free law or not wearing their seat belts. When they spotted violators, the undercover cops radioed the vehicle descriptions to uniformed officers waiting in nearby parking lots, who then pulled over the vehicles. The operation was coordinated by Marietta police with the help of the Cobb County Police Department and Georgia State Patrol. Marietta officer Jake Rakestraw said Wednesday’s operation began around 9:30 a.m. and ran until around 11:45 a.m. Georgia state troopers wrote 29 tickets, and Marietta and Cobb police wrote 141 tickets and made three arrests. Two of the arrests were related to driver’s license issues and one was a person wanted for an earlier crime. Sgt. Wayne Delk, spokesman with Cobb County police, said the traffic detail was done to remind drivers that the state’s hands-free law is still in effect and to reduce the number of collisions caused by distracted driving. >> Trending: Cosmetics injuries send more than 4,000 kids to the ER each year Georgia’s hands-free law went into effect July 1, 2018, and while it got lots of publicity at the time, some drivers may have returned to bad habits. “People assume that if they are not getting pulled over for this law that it’s still OK to slip back into that habit of using their phone while they are driving,” Chuck McPhilamy, spokesman for Marietta police, said. “We’re asking the public to realize that the law is in effect for a reason. It’s there to protect you from an accident as well as save lives.” McPhilamy added the 15 states that have passed similar laws have collectively experienced a 16% drop in traffic accidents in the two years after their laws went into effect. Georgia’s law prohibits drivers from using their hands or parts of their body to hold or support a cell phone or other mobile device. Drivers are also banned from writing, sending or reading any text messages, emails or instant messages; browsing the web or using smart phone applications; watching a video or movie unrelated to GPS navigation; or recording a video. Drivers are allowed to make and receive calls using hands-free technology such as a Bluetooth device or headset. Exceptions are also in place for when a driver is reporting a traffic crash or medical emergency; public safety and first responders who are performing their jobs; utility service employees or contractors acting within the scope of their duties; and when a vehicle is lawfully parked. For the first hands-free offense, a driver is fined $50 and gets one point on their driver’s license. The second conviction will bring a $100 fine and add two points to a driver’s license. The third and subsequent convictions cost $150 and three points to that person’s license. >> Related: Study: Georgia cellphone law reduced distracted driving Wednesday’s traffic detail was another example of law enforcement agencies working together to remind drivers about the importance of obeying the hands-free law, Delk said. “This is just one concerted effort to remind people that the law exists for a reason and we do want people to be safe,” he said. “We are as law enforcement officers are bound to enforce the law. This is not something we pick and choose.”
  • Wildlife officials discovered a potentially new species of cat prowling around remote areas on the French island of Corsica and, so far, scientists have counted 16 of the golden-striped felines. >> Read more trending news  Called a cat-fox, it resembles a domestic house cat at first, but it also shares some features with more aggressive animals, according to the Agence France-Presse. “We believe that it’s a wild natural species which was known but not scientifically identified because it’s an extremely inconspicuous animal with nocturnal habits,” Pierre Benedetti, the chief environmental technician with the National Hunting and Wildlife Office, told the AFP. The cats are bigger than a normal house cat, measuring about 35 inches long from head to tail when fully grown. They have bushy ringed tails, usually with a black tip, sharp, highly developed canine teeth, very wide ears and short whiskers, Benedetti said. Other distinguishing features, according to the AFP, include stripes on the from legs, very dark hind legs and a russet stomach. >>Trending: Stunning photo shows sled dogs traveling on water above melting Greenland sea ice Benedetti said islanders started calling the animal a cat-fox because of its size and its bushy tail. Cat-foxes were first captured in 2016 for study and tagging, but stories about the animals have made the rounds on Corsica for generations. Wildlife officials hope to get the animal recognized and protected in the next few years.  
  • Iran’s news agency, Fars News is claiming that a U.S. RQ-4 Global Hawk drone has been shot down over Iran’s Hormozgan province. >> Read more trending news The U.S. military has declined to comment, according to The Associated Press. Capt. Bill Urban, a U.S. Central Command spokesman, declined to comment when asked if an American drone was shot down. However, he told The Associated Press, “There was no drone over Iranian territory.” The reported shoot down comes amid heightened tensions between Iran and the U.S. It takes root in President Donald Trump’s decision a year ago to withdraw America from Iran’s nuclear deal with world powers. The unmanned aircraft that Fars News claimed was shot down is a high-altitude, long-endurance, remotely piloted aircraft. With a wingspan of around 130 feet, the Global Hawk is one of the largest remotely piloted surveillance aircraft in use by the U.S. military. The aircraft has a range of 12,300 nautical miles and can remain in flight for up to 34 hours. The Associated Press contributed to this report.
  • The family of Maleah Davis, the Houston 4-year-old who was allegedly killed by her stepfather last month, is preparing to lay the little girl to rest in a special casket at a private funeral this weekend. >> Read more trending news  Her father, Craig Davis, shared a photo of the “My Little Pony”-themed coffin on social media Wednesday. The rainbow-colored casket with characters from the long-running animated show features the little girl riding a blue pony with her name above in pink block letters. >> Related: Maleah Davis case: Body found in Arkansas identified as missing 4-year-old It was built and donated to the family by SoulShine Industries, according to KTRK-TV. The family will bury Maleah Davis on Saturday in a private funeral service. The girl’s stepfather, Derion Vence, reported her missing May 4. Her body was found in late May in Arkansas. A friend of Vence’s told authorities he confessed to dumping the girl’s body and that her death was an accident. >> Trending: Magician attempting famous Houdini-style stunt drowns in river in India The cause of death is still under investigation. Vence remains jailed on related charges.
  • Washington authorities are investigating the discovery of two suitcases full of methamphetamines Monday in the Okanogan National Forest on Monday in Mazama, Washington, according to news reports. >> Read more trending news  An Okanogan County sheriff’s deputy and his K-9 partner found the drugs, which are valued at an estimated $1 million, KREM-TV reported. The suitcases were discovered in an area covered in heavy brush and was part of an investigation in the area. >>Trending: Stunning photo shows sled dogs traveling on water above melting Greenland sea ice The K-9 unit was actually given to the Sheriff’s Office by community residents, who raised the money to buy the dog for law enforcement.    
  • The body of an Indian magician who was attempting to recreate a famous trick by the legendary illusionist Harry Houdini died Sunday after he was lowered into a river in West Bengal state, according to media reports. >> Read more trending news  Chanchal Lahiri, also known as Mandrake, was shackled with six locks and chains around his body and lowered into the Hooghly River from a boat as crowds of spectators on shore and in boats watched, according to the BBC.  When he didn’t resurface within 10 minutes, police were called in to search for him. Lahiri’s body was identified late Monday, washed ashore near the site of his Houdini trick. A local newspaper photographer told the BBC that he spoke with Lahiri before the stunt. “I asked him why he risked his life for magic,” Jayanta Shaw said. “He [Lahiri] smiled and said, ‘If I do it right, it's magic. If I make a mistake, it becomes tragic.’” Lahiri also said he wanted to do the trick to “revive interest in magic.” Lahiri did a similar trick 20 years ago when he was lowered into the same river in a glass box, the Press Trust of India reported. He successfully escaped that time.  Shaw said he witnessed that stunt, too, according to the BBC. >> Trending: Stunning photo shows sled dogs traveling on water above melting Greenland sea ice 'I never thought he would not come out of the water this time,' he said. Houdini performed a number of death-defying stunts, including escaping from ropes, chains, straitjackets and handcuffs while submerged in packing crates, wooden boxes and other vessels.  
  • Nature’s Touch Frozen Foods Inc. has issued a voluntary recall of its Signature Select Avocado Chunks due to potential listeria contamination, the Food and Drug Administration announced Tuesday. The recall concerns Avocado Chunks with a best before date of Oct. 11, 2020.  “Nature’s Touch is issuing this voluntary recall based on strict precautionary measures after the company was informed by the FDA that a routine sampling program found a positive result for Listeria monocytogenes in one sample bag of the Product,” officials with the FDA wrote in a news release.  According to the CDC, listeriosis is a serious infection usually caused by eating food contaminated with the bacterium listeria monocytogenes. Click here to read more.  No illnesses have been reported, the FDA said.  The recalled avocado chunks were distributed in Washington and Alaska, Arizona, California, Colorado, Hawaii, Idaho, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Wyoming, Texas and Utah at the following stores:  1. Albertsons2. Safeway3. Safeway Community Markets4. Carrs-Safeway5. Eagle6. Lucky7. Pak N Save8. Pavilions9. Vons Those who have purchased the recalled avocado chunks can discard the product or return it to the place of purchase for a full refund.  The Nature’s Touch Consumer Service Team is available to answer questions by phone at 1-877-850-2663 Monday through Friday 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. EST or by email at info@naturestouch.ca.
  • A Danish scientist captured a stunning shot of a sled dog team traveling over melting sea ice in North West Greenland to retrieve meteorological instruments before they sank into the sea. >> Read more trending news  The sea ice melt started earlier than expected this year in April, instead of the normal time frame of June through August. >> Related: Major Greenland glacier growing again, after years of ice loss in surprise for scientists Climate scientist Zack Labe told USA Today the Arctic is experiencing above average temperatures this year and that they were 40 degrees above average last week in Greenland.  Researcher Rasmus Tonboe with the Danish Meteorological Institute said the phenomenon that makes it look like the dogs are walking on water has to do with the unusually warm weather. “Rapid melt and sea ice with low permeability and few cracks leaves the melt water on top,” Tonboe said in a social media post.  >> Related: 6 signs of climate change and why it’s already here The ice under the water was still stable at the time of the photo.  This year’s sea ice melt started April 30, the second earliest melt ever since record-keeping started in 1980.