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Pianos, snowboards, wine; federal spending jumps as agencies 'use it or lose it'

At the end of every fiscal year, a spending spree of billions of federal tax dollars occurs in a matter of days. But not all of that money goes to essential items. We found examples of federal purchases for wine, snowboards, pianos, guitars and fancy gym equipment.

We dug through thousands of federal contracts for September, the last month of the fiscal year. In just one month, the U.S. government spent more than $6.2 million dollars on gym equipment. That includes millions spent on CrossFit equipment, one of the country’s hottest fitness trends. The State Department specified in a contract for jump ropes that they specifically needed the brand endorsed by CrossFit star Rich Froning.

We also found orders for music equipment, like a $20,000 grand piano, Fender guitars and saxophones. Other contracts included $10,000 for snowboards and dozens of iPads.

>> Read more trending news 

The end-of-year spending is part of a practice called “Use it or Lose it” budgeting. Federal agencies worry they will not receive as much money in the next year’s budget if they don’t spend every penny they currently have.

One out of every nine dollars spent by the federal government occurs in just the last seven days of the fiscal year, according to Adam Andrzejewski of Openthebooks.com, a government watchdog group.

“When the bureaucrats cannot even spend all the money that Congress is sending them, there's a problem,” Andrzejewski said.

We looked at spending in the nearly two months since the fiscal year ended. So far in October and November, only two contracts were issued for gym equipment, totaling $20,000. That is compared to the more than $6.2 million dollars spent the month before.

Openthebooks.com has been tracking government purchases as well. They placed an ad in USA Today and the Wall Street Journal listing more than one hundred examples of wasteful federal spending. Last year, they found thousands of dollars in year-end spending specifically on fidget spinners, liquor and wine.

“We identified in the last fiscal year that $50 billion dollars of contract spending went out the door in the last 7 days of the fiscal year,” Andrzejewski said.

Sen. Rand Paul, R-KY, introduced a bill that would award bonuses to federal employees who cut budgets. We first reported on that legislation two years ago, and so far it has gone nowhere.

We asked the Defense Department why they needed these purchases in a short period of time, and they referred us to individual branches of service. The Army, the largest spender among the military, has not yet responded to our questions.

Khashoggi killing: Read Donald Trump's statement in support of Saudi Arabia

President Donald Trump signaled in a statement Tuesday that he plans to stand beside Saudi Arabia after the death of journalist Jamal Khashoggi.

>> Read more trending news

Khashoggi, a Saudi journalist and critic of the country’s leadership, was last seen entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, on Oct. 2. Intelligence officials in the U.S. and Europe believe Khashoggi was killed by a team of Saudi agents and then dismembered, The Washington Post reported.

Trump said in a statement Tuesday that the U.S. does not condone the killing of the U.S-based columnist, but that “foolishly” canceling $110 billion in arms sales — as some in Congress have suggested — would only mean that Saudi Arabia would go to other countries to acquire them.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered the killing, an unidentified U.S. official told The Associated Press.

“Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t!” Trump wrote in Tuesday’s statement.

Read the full statement from the president:

The world is a very dangerous place! The country of Iran, as an example, is responsible for a bloody proxy war against Saudi Arabia in Yemen, trying to destabilize Iraq’s fragile attempt at democracy, supporting the terror group Hezbollah in Lebanon, propping up dictator Bashar Assad in Syria (who has killed millions of his own citizens), and much more. Likewise, the Iranians have killed many Americans and other innocent people throughout the Middle East. Iran states openly, and with great force, “Death to America!” and “Death to Israel!” Iran is considered “the world’s leading sponsor of terror.” On the other hand, Saudi Arabia would gladly withdraw from Yemen if the Iranians would agree to leave. They would immediately provide desperately needed humanitarian assistance. Additionally, Saudi Arabia has agreed to spend billions of dollars in leading the fight against Radical Islamic Terrorism. After my heavily negotiated trip to Saudi Arabia last year, the Kingdom agreed to spend and invest $450 billion in the United States. This is a record amount of money. It will create hundreds of thousands of jobs, tremendous economic development, and much additional wealth for the United States. Of the $450 billion, $110 billion will be spent on the purchase of military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great U.S. defense contractors. If we foolishly cancel these contracts, Russia and China would be the enormous beneficiaries – and very happy to acquire all of this newfound business. It would be a wonderful gift to them directly from the United States! The crime against Jamal Khashoggi was a terrible one, and one that our country does not condone. Indeed, we have taken strong action against those already known to have participated in the murder. After great independent research, we now know many details of this horrible crime. We have already sanctioned 17 Saudis known to have been involved in the murder of Mr. Khashoggi, and the disposal of his body. Representatives of Saudi Arabia say that Jamal Khashoggi was an “enemy of the state” and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, but my decision is in no way based on that – this is an unacceptable and horrible crime. King Salman and Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman vigorously deny any knowledge of the planning or execution of the murder of Mr. Khashoggi. Our intelligence agencies continue to assess all information, but it could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event – maybe he did and maybe he didn’t! That being said, we may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder of Mr. Jamal Khashoggi. In any case, our relationship is with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. They have been a great ally in our very important fight against Iran. The United States intends to remain a steadfast partner of Saudi Arabia to ensure the interests of our country, Israel and all other partners in the region. It is our paramount goal to fully eliminate the threat of terrorism throughout the world! I understand there are members of Congress who, for political or other reasons, would like to go in a different direction – and they are free to do so. I will consider whatever ideas are presented to me, but only if they are consistent with the absolute security and safety of America. After the United States, Saudi Arabia is the largest oil producing nation in the world. They have worked closely with us and have been very responsive to my requests to keeping oil prices at reasonable levels – so important for the world. As President of the United States I intend to ensure that, in a very dangerous world, America is pursuing its national interests and vigorously contesting countries that wish to do us harm. Very simply it is called America First!

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Principal accused of raping 12-year-old student found dead

A North Carolina charter school principal accused of raping a 12-year-old student on campus was found dead of an apparent self-inflicted injury, The News & Observer reported, citing a police report.

>> Read more trending news 

Authorities in Orange County found Richard Omar Knight, 35, in a wooded area near Mebane on Friday, WRAL reported. Two hunters found his body and called 911, the Orange County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. Police said no foul play was suspected, the television station reported.

Goldsboro police announced Knight’s death Monday afternoon, but said the investigation into his alleged crimes would continue, WRAL reported.

Goldsboro police learned of the student’s allegations Thursday and obtained a warrant Friday, charging Knight with statutory rape, a sex act and indecent liberties with a female at Dillard Academy Charter School, The News & Observer  reported. Knight, of Smithfield, was principal of the charter school.

According to his LinkedIn page, Knight had been principal at the school since July 2016.

"This has had a devastating effect on this school and the school community as a whole," Hilda Hicks, executive director of Dillard Academy, told WRAL.

Hicks started the school in 1998. 

“I can safely say this is the most difficult school day that we've ever had," Hicks told WRAL.

Pregnant 14-year-old killed by stray bullet, family says

Police said a 14-year-old girl was killed Monday night when a bullet tore through the ceiling of an Atlanta apartment.

The teen, identified by the Fulton County Medical Examiner’s Office as Sanja Star Harrison, was shot in the head at 6:30 p.m., the Atlanta Police Department said.

>> Read more trending news 

Police found her dead at the scene. Her family told WSB that Harrison was eight months pregnant. The baby also died, the news station reported

Police think the shot was fired from an upstairs apartment. 

“Investigators are working to determine if the shooting was accidental and at this time there has been no arrest made,” Atlanta Police Department spokesman Officer Jarius Daugherty told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in a statement. 

“She was a good person. She didn’t bother anyone,” her brother, who didn’t want to be identified because the investigation is ongoing, told WSB. “She didn’t deserve it.”

White House turkey pardon: Trump names National Thanksgiving Turkey, pardons both Peas, Carrots

It's that time again.

President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump hosted the annual presidential turkey pardoning ceremony Tuesday afternoon in the White House Rose Garden, where one lucky bird will be named the National Thanksgiving Turkey. 

Trump announced that Peas won the election with Carrots, despite a recount, according to the president.

>> Which restaurants are open on Thanksgiving? Here’s a list

The pardoning has been an annual tradition since 1989, but Thanksgiving turkeys have been presented to presidents for seven decades, The Associated Press reported.

>> Read more trending news 

This year, Peas and Carrots, two turkeys from South Dakota, vied for the honor. Peas, a 39-pounder with a 36-inch wing span, loves Brad Paisley and popcorn, while the 41-pound Carrots enjoys yoga and boasts a "strong and confident" gobble, the White House joked on its website.

>> See their stats here

In true reality show fashion, supporters of Peas and Carrots could vote for their favorite gobbler on the White House website or on Twitter.

>> See the poll here

After the ceremony, Peas and Carrots will live at Gobbler's Rest at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia.

Read more here.

– The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Family says woman died from wasp sting after ambulance failed to show up

A family is demanding changes to protect others after a woman died after she was stung by a wasp and neither of her county’s ambulances came when called.

Donna Martin died in her yard over the summer in Madison, Georgia. Her daughter, Ellen Sims, told WSB Martin suffered a severe allergic reaction within minutes. Martin’s niece called 911 for an ambulance.

“You call with the expectation that someone is going to be coming and when they don’t, it’s a big game of Russian roulette,” Sims told WSB.

An ambulance from a neighboring county eventually came 28 minutes after the call to 911. By that point, Sims said, Martin was too far gone. She later died at a hospital.

>> Read more trending news 

“In 28 minutes, when you’re in cardiac arrest and you’re not breathing and your brain’s not receiving oxygen, you don’t have a chance,” Sims said.

“Our job is here to help people in need,” Huey Atkins, director of National EMS for Morgan County, told WSB. “That’s what we’re here for and anytime there’s a death, we take that seriously.”

Atkins said that at the time Martin’s emergency took place, both county ambulances were busy on other calls.

"There are occasional instances where everybody is busy and, just, you know -- an immediate truck to send is not available.”

National EMS said those instances are rare and it would be open to adding a third ambulance, if Morgan County can find the money to pay for it.

Martin’s family is now pressuring the county to find a solution that could have saved Martin’s life.

“She’s not going to be at the Thanksgiving table. It’s a hard thing to swallow as a family," Sims said.

Morgan County manager Adam Mestres told WSB the county still has confidence in National, but also said they are constantly reviewing their performance to see if any additional resources might be needed.

“The County reviews National EMS call data on a quarterly basis to ensure compliance within the scope of the contract for services,” Mestres said in a statement to WSB. “Public Safety response throughout the County is fluid and with that we cannot predict time or severity of an emergency. What we can do however, is review public safety data on a continuous basis to help determine if additional resources are needed whether temporary or permanent. With the resources the county has, we strive to provide the best service we can to our community.”

Texas day care worker accused of pinning down, hitting child

A Texas day care teacher is accused of assaulting a 4-year-old boy who was being disruptive, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported.

Tracy Ludwig, 36, is accused of straddling the child on the floor and slapping him more than 10 times while they were in a playroom, the newspaper reported, citing an arrest warrant. Ludwig, of Lake Worth, is also accused of pinching the boy several times on the neck when he would not stop kicking.

>> Read more trending news 

The alleged incident occurred Nov. 6 at Little Country Daycare in Haslet, WFAA reported.

Kindsie Andreason, the victim’s mother, said video surveillance showed her son, Hunter, pinned to the ground by a woman. The woman in the video was identified as Ludwig, the television station reported.

“She straddled him, pinned him down to the floor, and she just started hitting him and beating him across the face and chest,” Andreason told WFAA.

Brenda Ward, the owner of Little Country, said she was “cooperating fully with the investigation,” but declined further comment, the Star-Telegram reported. 

The incident allegedly happened after the boy was removed from his room because he was being disruptive at nap time, Tarrant County Sheriff Bill Waybourn told KXAS.

Paul Andreason came to the center to pick up his son after receiving a call that Hunter had been disruptive, the Star-Telegram reported.

“When my husband asked about the (boy’s) scratches, he was told that he had scratched himself,” Andreason told the newspaper in a telephone interview Monday. “Then when I asked about it, I was told that his jacket caused the marks.”

After hearing her son had been disruptive, Andreason put the boy in timeout. She told WFAA her son was scared to tell her what happened.

“Just to know that we got onto Hunter and we reprimanded him for kicking whenever he was just trying to defend himself against a 36-year-old woman that was pinning him down and beating him – it just makes you sick,” Andreason told the television station.

After Hunter’s redness turned into bruises, Andreason went to the day care center. The boy’s teacher told her to demand answers from Ward, WFAA reported. Ward showed Andreason a 10-minute surveillance video.

“She (Ward) acted as though she had never seen the video,” Andreason told the Star-Telegram. “They all apologized.”

Andreason then contacted authorities. She is filing a lawsuit against the day care, its owner, director, two teachers and Ludwig, WFAA reported.

Friendly feline bonds with California firefighter after rescue

A California firefighter found an unlikely friend as he surveyed debris from the Camp Fire -- an affectionate cat who was more than happy to bond with the responder.

Ryan Coleman, of Fairview Valley Fire Inc., found the gray cat in the fire-ravaged city of Paradise, the San Francisco Chronicle reported.

The fluffy feline was not only friendly, but also clingy after Coleman’s rescue. 

Coleman took several photos and a video of the cat perched contentedly on his shoulders, the newspaper reported.

>>Read: California wildfires: How to help victims and firefighters

“Kitty rescue," Coleman wrote on Facebook. "She just chilled on my neck and shoulders as I'd walk around."

The video of Coleman and the cat has gone viral on Facebook, where it has been viewed more than 1.7 million times and shared more than 8,000 times.

>> Read more trending news 

Facebook, Instagram down for some users

Employees of Facebook are investigating issues Tuesday morning that caused errors and delays for some as users reported outages to the social media platform.

>> Read more trending news

Users also reported outages on Instagram, the photo and video focused social media site also owned by Facebook.

It was not immediately clear if the reported issues were related.

Update 11:10 a.m. EST Nov. 20: Employees of both Facebook and Instagram took to Twitter on Tuesday morning to say they continue to work troubleshoot issues reported on the social media sites earlier in the day.

It was not immediately clear when the issues would be resolved.

Original report: Facebook officials said the company started investigating issues on the site around 5:30 a.m. EST.

According to downdetector.com, a majority of U.S. users who reported issues with Facebook or Instagram on Tuesday morning were on the east coast. Users reported that pages that were slow to load or failed to load entirely, among other issues.

Check back for updates to this developing story.

Military father reunited with three daughters at Penguins game

While the Pittsburgh Penguins may be on a four-game losing streak, one moment outshone what was happening on the ice Monday night at PPG Paints Arena.

Sgt. Daniel Lehman has been deployed for the past 11 months in Kuwait as part of the Pennsylvania Army National Guard. 

But Lehman is back on U.S. soil, much to the surprise of his three daughters, who thought he was going to be coming home at Christmas.

Lauralyn, 12, Rayanne, 8, and Janelle, 6, went to the Pens vs Buffalo Sabers game with their mom Mary, who was in on the plan. 

The reunion happened during the first TV timeout in the first period. The girls, who thought they were there as part of a promotion where three families of deployed military members were invited to a game, were playing a game with the in-arena host. 

They apparently needed a little extra help solving the puzzle, so they turned around to see their dad waiting behind them with open arms ready for his father/daughters hug. 

>> Read more trending news 

Lehman said he’s a lifelong fan of the Penguins and got his wife and daughters hooked so they watch games together at home as a family. Monday’s game was his daughters’ first in-person hockey game.

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