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Ricketts Eases Outbreak Restrictions

In a move mirroring other Republican governors, Nebraska’s Governor Pete Ricketts announced easing outbreak restrictions beginning early May. The region specific change in restrictions impacts much of the state, including the Omaha region. On May 4, certain businesses previously forced to close may reopen to serve customers.

Among the businesses allowed to reopen, Ricketts lists restaurants, tattoo parlors, and salons. In addition, restrictions lift on church gatherings to permit regular worship services.

However, the governor also noted social distancing measures remained in effect, even for reopened businesses. The director of the Nebraska Department of Economic Development, Tony Goins, reassured the public. “I want all Nebraskans to know that we are committed to resuming business operations safely and within guidelines,” he said.

For example, restaurants may only serve up to half their dining capacity at a time.

Ricketts cited hospital capacity as a determining factor for his decision. Nebraska still has nearly half its hospital beds, 77 percent of its ventilators, and 42 percent of its intensive care units available. Furthermore, restrictions remain effective in areas experiencing surges, such as Hall County.

Ricketts Decision Criticized

Despite the governor’s confidence in reopening Nebraska’s economy, several spoke out against his easing of restrictions. One state senator, Adam Morfeld, took to Twitter with his concerns.

Morfeld makes a point cited by others concerned with an early reopening, including health experts. Nebraska’s case count continues to rise, unlike other states that saw their peak already.

Additionally, testing fails to provide an accurate portrait of the state’s outbreak. Inadequate numbers of tests keep officials in the dark as to the actual number of cases. It is assumed to be far greater than the present confirmed case count of 3,358 as of Monday evening.

Still, Ricketts insists upon reopening the state’s economy. Meanwhile, health experts continue to warn against easing restrictions too early, which will likely result in resurgence.

Online Car Sales Replace Dealership Visits

In lieu of in-person visits to physical dealerships, online car sales take place digitally through websites during the global pandemic. With fears of infection looming over every social interaction, consumers look to minimize human to human contact every way they can. With websites offering a complete car shopping experience, they avoid the need to travel.

Many companies began offering online car shopping years ago to keep up with technological advancement. However, for most, the new option failed to eclipse the standard process. Now, several see their online car sales spike as people hole up at home to avoid potential spread.

One such buyer, Karen Murphy, spoke with CNN Business about her online car buying experience. She purchased a new crossover SUV from a dealership 65 miles away from her home. Then, the dealership delivered it directly to her driveway. “She’s in the garage. I named her Betty after my mom,” Murphy said.

The dealership that made the sale, South Oak Jeep Dodge Chrysler Ram, recently transitioned to offering online car sales. With a process increasingly more available, they arrange financing, delivery, and even trades.

Online Car Sales Way of the Future

While the use of websites to facilitate the entirety of the car buying transaction predates the quarantine, it grew considerably in the last weeks.

“If you currently have a dealership that’s been selling maybe 10% of its sales through an online system, maybe now it goes to a third,” said Jack Hollis, head of marketing Toyota in North America.

Most states imposed some form of social distancing orders, which closed businesses. Showrooms now sit quietly awaiting the end of the pandemic. However, as a result, consumers slowly discover the new method of car buying. Carvana, an online used car retailer, launched its service in 2012, which allows customers to view their selection of vehicles in 360 degrees.

Since, many other companies followed suit with entirely online car buying. The following year, GM unveiled their “Shop. Click. Drive.” experience. Auto dealers across the country opt in to list their inventory on the site. Customers buy and receive their vehicles via truck delivery straight to their home.

While the impact of quarantine shifts sales increasingly towards online purchases, many industry experts believe the move demonstrates a broader trend. Some call it the “Amazon effect,” after the massive tech company that offers online shopping for nearly every type of product. When quarantine ends, online car sales and dealer car transport are likely to continue growing.

Toilet Paper Nonprofit Fulfills New Demand

Among the most sought after items during the outbreak of covid-19, toilet paper in particular flew off store shelves in the early days of self-isolation. While many stores sold out, one manufacturer beefed up output in an attempt to meet rising demand.

Outlook Nebraska sold 40,000 rolls of toilet paper in 24 hours. The nonprofit is the largest employer of blind and vision-impaired individuals not just in Nebraska, but in a seven-state area surrounding it.

Ordinarily, the customers of Outlook Nebraska consist of businesses and government entities. For example, they make sales to prisons. However, recent demand surge prompted its leadership to start making direct sales to the public.

After 20 years of operation, they decided to expand their customer base temporarily to an online marketplace. To prepare, they ramped up production. Employees worked extra hours to provide product to the general public.

They amassed 1,000 cases of toilet paper, each containing 40 rolls. The cost of each case came out to $30, which break down to 75 cents per roll. They set the limit per customer to 5 cases.

When they opened for pickup last Thursday, cars lined up down the block to retrieve their toilet paper.

Outlook Nebraska’s senior public relations specialist Rachel Carver attributed the enthusiastic response to both increased demand as well as the convenient pick up process. Drivers could pull up to receive their toilet paper without having to enter a crowded supermarket.

Furthermore, Carver suggested buyers saw an added bonus in supporting a local nonprofit business.

While Outlook Nebraska sought to fulfill growing demand, they’re unlikely to continue at the same output. “Of course we want to do what we can for the community,” said Carver. However, she suggested the next sale might further limit the amount of cases available to each consumer.

Town Hall Meetings To Address Streets Bond

In the run-up to the May 12 ballot, Mayor Jean Stothert scheduled a series of town hall meetings to address voters’ questions on the streets bond proposal.

In order to fix Omaha’s increasingly troubling pothole problem, a new streets bond initiative seeks to raise $200 million. The funds shore up a gap in funding from previous years. Experts say Omaha spends drastically less each year than it needs to in order to keep up with road degradation.

Specifically, that gap amounts to $34 million per year. Presently, Omaha budgets $41 million annually to repair its streets. However, consultants specialized in engineering calculated a significantly higher figure. They say the city needs to spend $75 million each year to keep up.

Therefore, the bond initiative makes up the difference for the ensuing 5 years to combat the issue of street disrepair.

Mayor Stothert historically opposed raising taxes. Twice, she cut property taxes for her constituents. The new bond proposal raises property taxes. However, the added tax amount to $26 annually for every $100,000 of property value.

Because of her track record, she wanted to pose the question to voters. Hence the ballot initiative.

To prepare voters in advance of May 12, Stothert’s town hall meetings offer a chance for residents to familiarize themselves with the bond’s terms. This round of public interfacing follows another last year that resulted in the streets bond initiative.

She says the streets went underfunded for decades. She also states present revenue can’t manage to close the gap on its own.

For example, the city spent $13 million just patching potholes, a temporary solution.

In the town hall meetings, Stothert plans to lay out the city’s infrastructure needs, as well as how she plans to pay for them.

School Threat Determined To Be False Alarm

Wednesday morning, Omaha law enforcement responded to calls reporting a potential school threat at McMillan Magnet Middle School. However, upon further investigation, they determined the school grounds to be safe.

It began with a call from a mother. Her child, approaching the school, reportedly saw another student wielding a firearm near the portables. In response, police arrived at 3802 Reddick Ave to investigate. Five cruisers along with a K-9 officer pulled up to the school.

While they released no information regarding the potential school threat, notifications went out on social media.

Parents read the headline ‘possible armed party McMillian Magnet School, 3802 Reddick Ave.’ and panicked. Several rushed to the school ground to retrieve their children. An update followed with more details, explaining the initial call to police.

Several parents expressed frustration at receiving the notice from social media before hearing anything from the school, or law enforcement.

McMillan Magnet Middle School sent a letter to parents addressing the delay in communication. Signed by Principal Monica Green, the letter said, “In an effort to maintain the integrity of the investigation, communication to families was delayed.”

School Threat Indicative of Broader Nervous Tension

The parents’ response to the social media notification exhibits the omnipresent stress among parents in the United States. Last year nearly averaged one school shooting per week in the country. While most amount to only a few injuries, the frequency of violence perpetrated using a deadly firearm has prompted many schools to take action.

Across the country, schools engage in active shooter drills. Their intention focuses on student preparation. However, many now call their retirement. They argue drills do little to prepare students. Furthermore, they traumatize students by simulating the chaos and violence of a shooting.

Some have reported teachers being pelted with rubber bullets in drills often carried out without advance warning.

Additionally, some students have faced increased scrutiny from staff as a result of being flagged. Newly introduced administrative apparatuses permit teachers and students to report subjectively alarming behavior exhibited by isolated students. Subsequently, the school subjects these students to invasive searches, check-ins, and surveillance, more often further isolating the student than eliminating any threat.

Still, nervous tensions continue to prompt the adoption of such measures, influenced by the insidious normalization of random violence.

Shoveling Fines Issued By City Ordinance

An Omaha city ordinance stipulates all residents with public sidewalks must remove snow accumulation or face hefty shoveling fines.

Yesterday’s downfall laid a white blanket across Omaha neighborhoods. Now, if you fail to clear walkways in front of your home, the city bills you the cost of doing it themselves.

Though, to clarify, the city employs private contractors to complete the task. Shoveling fines pay the tab accrued by hiring these companies to remove snow from sidewalks.

Some residents perhaps recall once paying a local neighborhood youth a nominal fee for the service. The shoveling fines likely multiply that charge several times over.

Historically, the city use of private contractors to shovel sidewalks imposed bills of $300 to $700 dollars for Omaha homeowners. Those with lengthier sidewalks paid in excess of that. Though a fix to the ordinance forced Public Works to charge market rate, residents can still expect to pay hundreds.

Additionally, repeat offenders face a $300 dollar fine.

Shoveling Fines Amount to Hundreds Per Resident

During the 2018-2019 winter season, 184 property owners paid a combined $174,117 in shoveling fines. That averages to over $940 per property owner.

Effectively, the ordinance kicks in when neighbors report one another to either Public Works or the Mayor’s Hotline. Once reported, the city posts notice on a property, usually placed on the front door of a property.

If a homeowner fails to heed the written warning before the city’s hired contractors complete the work, the homeowner gets stuck with the bill.

The first written warnings went out Tuesday to some 30 homeowners. While the city hasn’t yet sent out their contractors to clean up the snow accumulation, property owners should expect them soon.

Cheaper contractor bids lower the prices this year. However, when years past saw residents paying nearly $1000 for sidewalk shoveling, a lower price may still be a financial hit.

Shooting New Years Eve Leaves 2 Dead, 1 Injured

A shooting followed a domestic dispute late Tuesday night. Omaha police responding to calls of a disturbance shot the suspect when he emerged from the apartment.

Three officers arrived at 10:10 pm on the fifth floor of Evans Tower, an Omaha Housing Authority property at 3600 N. 24th St, reports Omaha World-Herald. 911 received calls regarding a domestic dispute there involving an armed man. When they arrived, the officers heard cries of “No, Terry,” from behind the door.

The woman’s pleas and screams prompted the officers to kick in the door. Then they heard gunfire and moved away from the door.

When the suspect emerged into the hallway shouting, “Kill me,” two of the three police officers fired on him, killing him. The suspect has been identified as Terry Hudson, 57.

Inside the apartment, police discovered the first shooting victim’s body, Dana Wells, 58.

In addition to the two deaths, police report one of their own injured from a bullet to the leg. That officer has been treated and released from Nebraska Medical Center. While authorities haven’t spoken on the origin of the bullet, they didn’t report any return fire from the suspect as he entered the hallway.

Shooting Began as Verbal and Physical Row

In the ensuing investigation, witnesses reported to police Hudson having been physical with Wells. The reported seeing him place Wells in a chokehold in the hallway. Another reportedly saw Hudson retrieve the weapon from beneath a piece of furniture in the apartment.

That witness tried calming Hudson, until Hudson turned the gun on them.

Witness statements, as well as police body camera footage, corroborate the police hearing Hudson shout, “Kill me,” before they fired upon him. Police also found a small gun likely used to kill Wells.

This is the only officer-involved shooting for the Omaha Police Department in the year of 2019.

Authorities intend to make public more information once they complete an autopsy, ballistics tests, and officer interviews.

Snow Causes Pileups Throughout Omaha

OMAHA, NE – As snow moves into the metro area, the Omaha Police Department continues to warn motorists of the potential dangers. Additionally, because of the winter weather, police went on accident alert around 8:15 Monday morning.

Furthermore, police are asking drivers who are involved in noninjury crashes to document damages with photos. In addition to this, drivers should pull their vehicles over to a safe area before exchanging insurance information. As a result of the snow and inclement weather, several pileups in the metro area have been reported.

According to one onlooker’s photo, there was a seven-car pileup in the area of 42nd and Dodge streets.

Moreover, in the area of 60th and Center streets, another video captured a trooper crashing into a pileup.

Therefore, crews were called in around 4 a.m. to treat the roads, as reported by the Nebraska Department of Transportation. However, because of the low temperatures, they will have to treat the roads again today.

Importantly, snow at 7:00 in the morning isn’t ideal as it is during the rush hour commute. Officials called it a “mini blizzard.”  

Nevertheless, the city is still under a snow and wind advisory. Currently, wind speeds are around 45 mph at times.

Apart from this, around 7 a.m. snow began to move into the metro area, and subsequently conditions got worse. It should be noted that snow combined with high winds causes reduced visibility. As a result, the roads were covered, and visibility was decreased under ¼ mile at times.

According to officials, the snow in Omaha will end a little after 9 a.m. Additionally, it will accumulate between ½”-1.” However, high winds and extremely cold temperatures are expected to continue throughout the day. Temperatures will range from the teens and low 20s, while wind chills may reach below zero.

7 People Arrested In Shoplifting Spree

OMAHA, NE – 7 different suspects were arrested while allegedly shoplifting from 5 different stores in a 3-hour span this past week.

Lt. Charles Casey works for the burglary unit for the Omaha Police Department (OPD). This week he made a public announcement after detectives arrested 7 different shoplifting suspects on Monday.

He said, this past year, the city of Omaha, along with the Police Department, has organized a special operations program aimed to arrest shoplifters caught in the act.

Casey also noted that his unit is taking this duty very seriously. He also pointed to the importance of such a program as the holiday season beings.

The whole shoplifting spree took place in a four-hour time frame. Among the targeted stores Target, Walmart, and the Von Maur store at the Westroads Mall.

Detectives don’t believe the suspects worked together and they determined the shoplifting events were separate cases. However, several suspects targeted the same stores.  

Out of the 7 people arrested this Monday afternoon, the employees at an Omaha Target store flagged 2 of the suspects.

Annilee Gentry, 37, and Aniyah William-Smith, 18, were both spotted having suspicious behavior at the 72nd and Dodge Street Target. Both of them attempted to steal and were arrested in a two-hour span.

About an hour earlier, Kody Johnson, 21, and Angela Lilland, 27, were also flagged down by store staff at the Walmart on 50th Street and Ames Avenue. Both of them tried to leave with several unpaid items in their hands.

Upon their arrest, the authorities found a hidden knife on Johnson.

Meanwhile, shortly before 5 p.m., OPD stopped Makeasha Deramus, 24, at another Walmart store. He was allegedly trying to leave with unpaid food in the 72nd and Pine Street area.

The other two suspects arrested were Jerry Lewis Staten, 51, and Kellie Aunkst, 30. Staten was spotted swiping items by North Saddle Creek Road, while Aunkst was arrested for trying to steal clothing items at the Westroads Mall.

OPD declared that both suspects had notable separate warrants.

Casey acknowledged the important role store employees played in catching all these suspects. He also credited their good communication line with the OPD.

“They do have good teams of personnel. They know what to look for. They, again, are stores that routinely communicate with us. They do a good job, so it’s not surprising that they’re identifying what’s going on,” he said.

He also noted the importance of reporting shoplifters and getting them into custody.

“We see that as positive — that we’re identifying the right people who are stealing, we’re getting them in custody, and sending them to court to be held responsible for their actions,” Casey declared.

Omaha Man Sentenced For Day Care Sexual Assault

OMAHA, NE – An Omaha man has been sentenced to 30-34 years in prison for sexual assault charges that took place at his wife’s daycare.

William A. Harrison has faced his sentence today in court. The 63-year-old man took the chance to publicly apologize to the boy and his family, even though they weren’t present in court.

But prosecutor Beth Beninato made a point by stating that Harrison had continually abused the boy for four years since the child was 8.

“It happened routinely,” she said. “It happened almost every chance he had. He told the victim not to tell anyone because he was afraid of dying in prison.”

Beninato’s statement referred to the many times that Harrison, apparently, had begged the young boy not to tell anybody about the sexual encounters because he didn’t want to die in prison.

The truth came out earlier this year when the boy had an interview with Project Harmony. Then, the child described to the authorities how he had been sexually assaulted by Harrison for years. The boy went on to describe how Harrison performed oral sex on him and forced him to have oral and anal intercourse.

All the assaults took place at Harrison’s home, where his wife operated a children’s daycare. Deb’s Day Care was located near 83rd Street and Bedford Avenue. William Harrison was listed as the secondary caregiver in all department records. The daycare had a license to take care of up to 12 children.

Nebraska Department of Health and Human Services declared that Debra A. Harrison, now Michael’s ex-wife, will no longer be allowed to provide childcare, apart from her own children.

When detectives interviewed Michael Harrison at his home, he didn’t deny the boy’s accusations and admitted to the assaults.

The original charges that Harrison faced were two counts of first-degree sexual assault of a child. However, he was prosecuted today for two counts of attempted first-degree sexual assault of a child. He reached this deal by pleading no contest to the charges.

Harrison initially faced life in prison but was finally sentenced to 30 to 34 years. State sentencing guidelines usually cut jail time in about half, though. For Harrison, this would mean a mandatory period of 15 years of incarceration before being able to qualify for a parole hearing. Nonetheless, he will get a mandatory release after having served 17 years. By that time, he would be 80.

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