Alabama Florida and Georgia News Dec 23

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) -- Merchants in Alabama says it's looking like robust Christmas shopping season so far and they're hoping procrastinating shoppers will make the season even merrier.
At the Robert Moore & Co. Christmas Town in Mobile, general manager Larry Heard says he's seeing a trend of last-minute shoppers.
A spokeswoman for the Alabama Retail Association, Nancy Dennis, said her organization is estimating that $9 billion will be spent by shoppers in Alabama during November and December. She said a 4 percent growth in sales is expected from 2011.
She says it could well be the best Christmas shopping season since the recession.

NEW ORLEANS (AP) -- A federal judge has given final approval to BP PLC's settlement with businesses and individuals who lost money because of the 2010 Gulf of Mexico oil spill.
BP estimates it will pay $7.8 billion to resolve more than 100,000 claims by businesses and individuals.
U.S. District Judge Carl Barbier approved the settlement in a 125-page ruling Friday.
He wrote that the settlement is fair, reasonable and adequate -- and no objection has proved otherwise.
Barbier has not ruled on a medical settlement for cleanup workers and others who say exposure to oil or dispersants made them sick -- just on economic and property damage settlements.
The settlement covers people and businesses in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and some coastal counties in eastern Texas and western Florida.

Small Ala. town to pay for elementary school guard
ALTOONA, Ala. (AP) -- About the time that National Rifle Association executive Wayne LaPierre stood near the U.S. Capitol and called for armed guards at every school in the U.S., the city council in this northeastern Alabama town were already one step ahead.
The Gadsden Times reports ( ) that the Altoona council will cover the salary of a school officer for West End Elementary School when classes resume Jan. 3. Mayor Rick Nash said it is the right thing to do. Nash did not say how much the city will spend on the post.
Currently, West End and a second elementary school share an Etowah County sheriff's deputy assigned primarily to West End High School.
The decision comes a week after 20 students were fatally shot at a Connecticut elementary school.

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) -- A judge has borrowed from the classic Christmas movie "A Miracle on 34th Street" in dismissing a challenge to President Barack Obama's eligibility for office. Circuit Judge Kevin Carroll noted that the government delivered mail to Santa Claus. And since the government considers Obama the president, his court won't challenge that.

Cruise ship returns to Florida after child falls
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) -- A cruise ship headed to the Bahamas had to return to port in central Florida after a young child was injured in a fall aboard ship.
Royal Caribbean officials say a 14-month-old from India fell Friday aboard the Monarch of the Seas. The ship left Port Canaveral on Friday for a Bahamas cruise.
Cruise line officials say the child initially received medical treatment on board the ship but needed to be hospitalized. The ship turned around and returned to Florida, where the child was taken to a hospital.
No additional information about the child's injuries was released.
Royal Caribbean officials say Monarch of the Seas is sailing a three-night itinerary to CocoCay and Nassau, Bahamas.

Stepmother charged in SW Florida girl's death
SARASOTA, Fla. (AP) -- A southwest Florida woman has been charged with aggravated child abuse in the death of her 11-year-old stepdaughter.
Authorities previously charged only Melissa Stoddard's father in her death. The Sarasota County Sheriff's Office says the girl was repeatedly strapped down to a board or tied up for hours.
The sheriff's office tells the Sarasota Herald-Tribune ( ) that Kenneth and Misty Stoddard told investigators that they tied up the girl for "behavioral issues." The medical examiner determined that Melissa died from a lack of oxygen to the brain.
Melissa died after being found unresponsive at home Dec. 12.
Kenneth Stoddard was held without bond Saturday on a charge of aggravated child abuse. His wife Misty was held on $50,000 bond. Jail records did not show whether either had an attorney.

Bay of Pigs veterans remember release from Cuba
MIAMI (AP) -- Veterans from the failed Bay of Pigs invasion are celebrating 50 years since their release from Cuba.
The first planeload of prisoners arrived at Homestead Air Force Base on Dec. 23, 1962. Some survivors from those flights planned a reunion Saturday at the Bay of Pigs Museum in Miami's Little Havana.
More than a 1,100 Bay of Pigs fighters were held for 20 months following the disastrous April 1961 invasion to overthrow Fidel Castro's government. They were eventually released under an agreement in which Cuba would receive more than $50 million worth of food and medical supplies.
Veteran Jose Andreu tells The Miami Herald ( ) that he remembers "a lot of hugging and crying" when his sister, father and fiancΘe welcomed him back to Miami.

Burglary at Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk's Fla. home
BRADENTON, Fla. (AP) -- Manatee County Sheriff's detectives are investigating a break-in at the home of baseball Hall of Fame catcher Carlton "Pudge" Fisk.
Officials say thousands of dollars in collectible silver coins were stolen.
The Sarasota Herald-Tribune reports ( that it's unclear exactly when Fisk's home was burglarized. Detectives say Fiske was out of town when a pool serviceman arrived Thursday and noticed the break-in.
Investigators say it doesn't appear anything else was stolen.
Fisk was a catcher for the Boston Red Sox and the Chicago White Sox for years, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2000. His dramatic, often-replayed home run clinched Game 6 of the 1975 World Series for the Boston Red Sox against the Cincinnati Reds, although the Reds ultimately won the Series.

ALBANY, Ga. (AP) -- A criminal case from south Georgia is a holiday story of family aggression, vengeance and self-defense.
Dougherty County police arrested Samuel Williams after a physical altercation involving his wife and daughter late Thursday night. Based on police records, the Albany Herald reports that Williams started choking his wife because he was angry over their son allegedly stealing money.
Sgt. Chad Kirkpatrick said the 36-year-old Williams pinned his wife to the floor and grabbed his daughter. As he reached for his gun cabinet, his daughter broke free, retrieved a kitchen knife and returned to stab her father.
Authorities said the daughter then ran to a neighbor's house and called 911.
Williams was taken to the hospital and released Friday.
He is charged with family violence and battery.

ATLANTA (AP) -- A top aide to Georgia's public schools chief says his boss supports the National Rifle Association's proposal for armed guards in every American school. But state Superintendent John Barge believes the state would have to help local school districts with the cost. That could be at least $47 million annually.

Sheriff: Arrest made in Griffin 9-year-old's death
ATLANTA (AP) -- Authorities in Spalding County have arrested a 40-year-old man in the death of 9-year-old Griffin girl who was found dead in the woods overnight after going missing the day before.
The body of Skylar Dials was discovered about 2 a.m. Saturday off Yarbrough Mill Road in Spalding County after a widespread land and air search.
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports Shane Clifton Collett of Griffin was arrested later in the day.
Spalding County Sheriff Wendell Beam did not say what led authorities to Collett.
Authorities told Channel 2 Action News that the girl was known to walk through the woods where she was found. They said she was taking her usual path late Friday morning on the way to visit friends.

Shells preserved in wall where they hit Sumter
FORT SUMTER NATIONAL MONUMENT, S.C. (AP) -- Historians say Charleston and Fort Sumter have been bombarded more than any other place in the Western Hemisphere. And it's evident because several shells from Union guns are still lodged in the walls of the fort where the Civil War began.
This month, the Clemson University Restoration Institute worked to conserve the shells where they are. That's because removing them would damage both the shells and the fragile masonry around them.
Scientists applied deionized water to help to remove salt that has gotten into the iron shells. Then they applied a substance to consolidate the shells so no more metal flakes off.
Rick Dorrance of the Fort Sumter National Monument says the work is being done under a $900,000 agreement between the National Park Service and Clemson.

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