A former Arkansas state senator was reportedly found dead at her home this week, and authorities are investigating her death as a homicide.
The body of a woman was discovered Tuesday night at Linda Collins-Smith’s residence in the city of Pocahontas, some 145 miles northeast of the state capital, Little Rock. The Randolph County Sheriff’s Office said its deputies responded to the scene and then asked the Arkansas State Police to be the lead investigative agency in what is currently being treated as a homicide investigation.
“The condition of the body prevented any immediate positive identification,” Randolph County Sheriff Kevin Bell said at a press conference Wednesday. “The body has been sent for an autopsy to determine the positive identification and cause of death.
Authorities wouldn’t say if Collins-Smith is the victim, and a judge has issued a gag order sealing the documents and statements obtained by police.
“Arkansas State Police has not, as of this hour, issued a statement that positively identifies a homicide victim in this case,” Arkansas State Police spokesman Bill Sadler told ABC News in an email early Thursday morning.
However, Collins-Smith’s former press secretary, Ken Yang, told Little Rock ABC affiliate KATV that she was found shot to death inside her home and her body was wrapped in some sort of blanket. Neighbors apparently reported hearing gunshots a day or two before her body was discovered.
Collins-Smith, who ran for reelection last year but was defeated in the Republican Party primary, was “someone who truly cared about Arkansas, truly cared about her district,” according to Yang. She was 57.
“It was shocking,” he said during an interview Tuesday night. “This was not just a political relationship. This was a close personal friendship that I had with Linda.”
Politicians on both sides of the aisle expressed shock and sadness at the news of the death of their Republican colleague.
“I’m both stunned and saddened by the death of former State Senator Linda Collins-Smith,” Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson said in a statement on Wednesday afternoon. “She was a good person who served in the public arena with passion and conviction. The First Lady and I extend our deepest sympathies to her family and friends during this difficult time.”
“Today, we learned of the untimely death of former Senator Linda Collins Smith. She was a passionate voice for her people and a close member of our Republican family,” the Republican Party of Arkansas said in a statement on Tuesday evening. “We are praying for her loved ones during this difficult time.”
“To so many of us, Senator Linda Collins-Smith was more than just a colleague,” the Democratic Party of Arkansas said in a statement via Twitter on Tuesday night. “She was a friend and warm person. We are stunned and saddened to hear of her death. Please join us in prayer as we remember her family and her loved ones.”
Collins-Smith lost to James Sturch in the Republican Party primary for the 19th district in Arkansas in May 2018 by fewer than 600 votes. She previously served one term in the Arkansas House of Representatives from 2011 to 2013, switching parties after being elected as a Democrat.
Jussie Smollett Pleads Not Guilty in Chicago, expected Back in Court in March
Just when it looked as though former Empire star Jussie Smollett may have dodged the criminal charges that were filed last year and later dropped in the controversial case in which he allegedly faked an assault, he’s back in court again. This time, a Chicago grand jury indicted Smollett on six new charges as of Tuesday, which, according to court documents, allege that the actor “planned and participated” in staging a hate crime against himself.
Jussie Smollett entered a plea of not guilty in criminal court Monday nearly a year to the day that he appeared in the same court on similar charges related to allegations of a staged hate crime attack.
Earlier this month, a grand jury returned a six-count indictment accusing the 37-year-old former “Empire” actor of lying to Chicago police.
Smollett, dressed in all black and wearing sunglasses, arrived at court with an entourage and walked past dozens of reporters gathered in the lobby of the Leighton Criminal Court Building on the city’s southwest side. He was accompanied by family members who had flown in from California, Smollett’s lawyer Tina Glandian told reporters.
Smollett first appeared before Presiding Judge LeRoy K. Martin Jr. Smollett and his family quietly occupied a row in the courtroom gallery, waiting for his name to be called. At one point, a woman leaving the courtroom spotted Smollett, stopped and pointed, and yelled, “Hey, you were good in Empire!” Smollett smiled.
Martin assigned Smollett’s case to Associate Judge James B. Linn, and dozens of people rushed upstairs to Linn’s seventh-floor courtroom. Two other judges that Martin called were out sick.
Upstairs, Glandian entered Smollett’s not guilty plea and told Linn that she has asked the Illinois Supreme Court to put a stay on the case. She told Linn that she has filed a motion to dismiss the charges as “double jeopardy.”
“Previously he did forfeit his bond in the amount of $10,000. That, in essence, was a punishment stemming from the criminal proceedings and, therefore, trying to punish him again a second time around is not permitted under the double jeopardy clause. You don’t just get a do-over,” Glandian told reporters after the hearing.
Linn said Smollett wasn’t a flight risk and set a $20,000 personal recognizance bond, meaning that Smollett does not have to pay the bond so long as he shows up to scheduled court appearances. Smollett was not taken into custody.
Lawyers set a court date for March 18.
“He’s obviously frustrated to be dragged through this process again,” Glandian said. “It’s really hard to believe that we’re all here, one year later.”
Glandian said that Smollett would not be entering any plea other than not guilty. “If that requires us to go to trial, we will,” she said.
Olabinjo and Abimbola Osundairo, the brothers who claim Smollett hired them to stage the attack, were present in court Monday, raising some questions about why they were present. Should Smollett’s case go to trial, the brothers would be key witnesses.
Gloria Schmidt Rodriguez, who represents the brothers, said that they were present to support the criminal justice process.
“They will be here ’til the very end of this process. They are committed to the public healing. They are committed to the public knowing the truth,” she said. “They want the city of Chicago to be made whole.”
Smollett faces six felony counts of disorderly conduct, charging the actor with making four separate false reports to Chicago Police Department officers “related to his false claims that he was the victim of a hate crime, knowing that he was not the victim of a crime,” special prosecutor Dan Webb said in a statement.
Last March, Smollett was indicted on 16 felony counts of filing a false police report, but prosecutors in the Cook County State’s Attorney’s office dropped the charges three weeks later, angering police and City Hall officials and leading to the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate.
The special prosecutor said the investigation into why Cook County State’s Attorney Kim Foxx dropped the charges is ongoing.
Glandian released a statement saying the new charges call into question the fairness of the investigation.
“This indictment raises serious questions about the integrity of the investigation that led to the renewed charges against Mr. Smollett, not the least of which is the use of the same CPD detectives who were part of the original investigation into the attack on Mr. Smollett to conduct the current investigation, despite Mr. Smollett’s pending civil claims against the City of Chicago and CPD officers for malicious prosecution,” she said.
Foxx, meanwhile, is weeks away from an election. Her campaign questioned the timing of the special prosecutor’s indictment.
“What’s questionable here is the James Comey-like timing of that charging decision, just 35 days before an election, which can only be interpreted as the further politicization of the justice system, something voters in the era of Donald Trump should consider offensive,” the Foxx campaign said in a statement.
It all began in January of 2019 when Smollett told police that attackers yelled homophobic and racist slurs at him, threw liquid on him and draped a noose around his neck. Smollett alleged that the attackers screamed “This is MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s 2016 campaign.
But after several weeks of investigation, Chicago police claimed he made the whole thing up, hiring the Osundairo brothers to pretend-attack him in order to boost his profile and paycheck on the Fox show “Empire.”
The city of Chicago went to state court in April to sue Smollett to recoup the cost in police overtime – set at $130,000 – in investigating his original claims. The lawsuit was later moved to federal court after Smollett’s attorneys argued that is the proper venue because Smollett, who lived in Chicago while filming “Empire,” is actually a California resident.
Smollett’s lawyers sought to have the lawsuit thrown out on multiple grounds, including that Smollett did not direct Chicago police to spend weeks investigating his claim and could not have known how much time and money would be spent.
U.S. District Judge Virginia Kendall, however, said “it isn’t unreasonable to think” the Chicago police would make a strong effort to investigate a purported racist and homophobic attack, especially given Smollett’s celebrity and the “volatile climate” of the city.
In June, Chicago police released video of Smollett with the rope around his neck and of supplies being purchased for the allegedly staged attack. Other files released include surveillance footage collected by police and footage of the brothers, who say they were paid to orchestrate the attack.
Smollett has insisted he is innocent and was exonerated.
“Empire” is in its sixth and final season, and Smollett lost his role on the show shortly after the scandal hit headlines.
Victims In Kobe Bryant Crash Have Now All Been Identified
Here’s what is known so far about the tragic helicopter crash that claimed the lives of Kobe Bryant and eight other people.
Nine people were on board the Sikorsky S76 when something went wrong just before 10 a.m. Sunday.
The passengers were on their way to a basketball game when the chopper went down.
The helicopter’s flight path shows it going from Orange County to the San Fernando Valley and then hovering over the Glendale area as it waited for clearance to travel through the Valley to Calabasas. The tracking ends at the crash site in Calabasas.
Kobe Bryant’s 13-year old daughter Gianna was among those killed. Gianna — often called “Gigi” — was the second oldest of Bryant’s four daughters.
Bryant had coached Gianna’s AAU basketball team out of his Mamba Sports Academy training facility in Thousand Oaks for the past two years.
They were all reportedly headed to an AAU game when the crash happened.
In addition to Bryant and his daughter, three members of one family died in the crash.
John Altobelli was the head baseball coach at Orange Coast College in Costa Mesa. His wife Keri and their daughter Alyssa were also on board.
The husband of Christina Mauser posted on Facebook that she died in the helicopter crash. Mauser was a basketball coach at Harbor Day School in Newport Beach, where Kobe’s daughter attended school. Mauser’s husband says he and his kids are devastated.
Sarah Chester and her middle school aged daughter Payton were on also on board the helicopter piloted by Ara Zobayan.
Kobe Bryant’s Death in Helicopter Crash Stuns the World
Helicopter rotors chopped through the foggy canyon Sunday morning, too loud, too low.
Scott Daehlin was taking a smoke break while setting up the sound at his church in Calabasas. It was 9:44 a.m. He tracked the sound in the sky toward an empty hill across Las Virgenes Road.
The helicopter hit the slope in a violent crush of metal, followed by the boom of an explosion that reverberated across the canyon — and soon enough, around the world.
Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest basketball players of all time — a beloved, at times frustrating star who mesmerized Los Angeles for his 20 legendary years as a Laker — was killed in the wreckage at age 41.
His 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, died alongside him, as did seven others — everyone on board. Bryant appears to have been headed to Thousand Oaks to coach his daughter’s basketball team in a travel tournament. He leaves behind his wife, Vanessa, and three daughters — Natalia, 17, Bianka, 3, and Capri, seven months.
Officials did not release the names of the other victims, but Orange Coast College confirmed that its baseball coach, John Altobelli, his wife, Keri, and daughter, Alyssa, were among them. Christina Mauser, an assistant coach of a girls basketball team at the Mamba Sports Academy, also died, her husband said on Facebook.
Los Angeles County Fire Chief Daryl Osby said firefighters responding to a 911 call at 9:47 a.m. found a debris field in steep terrain amid a quarter-acre brush fire. Paramedics arriving by helicopter searched the area but found no survivors.
Bryant, who had homes in Newport Beach and Los Angeles, was known to keep a chartered helicopter at Orange County’s John Wayne Airport.
A Sikorsky S-76 helicopter, built in 1991, departed John Wayne at 9:06 a.m. Sunday, according to publicly available flight records. The National Transportation Safety Board database shows no prior incidents or accidents for the mid-size helicopter.
Around the city and far beyond, people gasped and struggled to accept the news. Friends texted friends: Are you OK? They cried in bars and churches, on street corners and golf courses and basketball courts. Restaurants closed Sunday night to honor his memory, and people placed basketballs outside their front doors, like flags at half staff.
“Did you hear?” a cashier at the Trader Joe’s in the Fairfax district asked quietly to another staffer just after noon on Sunday.
“Yeah, but is it for real?” the other man replied.
“Yeah, just confirmed. Unbelievable.”
Shoppers came to a halt in the aisles, staring gravely at their smartphones as news alerts pinged.
“He was the best,” a shopper spoke aloud to himself.
At an East Hollywood Metro station, a man wearing earphones watched a YouTube video on his phone — “Kobe Bryant’s TOP 40 Plays of His NBA Career!” Two other men walked up behind him to see. He nodded and unplugged his earphones so everyone could hear the audio.
They watched in silence, as a clip of Bryant, in his Laker purple, jumping toward the backboard and dunking in his own missed shot. “The greatest who ever lived,” one man said.
Many fans drifted toward Staples Center, even as final preparations were underway inside for Sunday night’s Grammy Awards. They formed a makeshift memorial.
On it, Sam Krutonog, 19, of Studio City, placed a painting of Bryant he bought when he was 13 and had hung in his bedroom.
“This is a day I’ll never forget … It’s bigger than basketball. I called my grandpa. My grandpa is 82 and just had two heart attacks, and he was crying on the phone. It’s just so terrible,” Krutonog said.
Giselle Mejia, 33, placed her hand over her mouth, her face red and eyes watery. She was thinking of his family. They had lost a father and sister. “That hits home — I have a daughter,” she said.
Mejia was having breakfast with her friend Marcela Vasquez, 33. They grew up together playing basketball and watching Bryant, seeing him as a role model.
“It was his drive. His work ethic,” Vasquez said. “He was so inspiring.”
Mejia even took on the nickname “Kobe.”
“I still have her name saved on my phone as Kobe,” Vasquez said.
Around the world, political leaders, athletes and celebrities registered their grief and condolences on social media: Presidents Obama and Trump, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Kareem Abdul Jabbar, Trevor Noah and Tom Brady, among many.
“Kobe Bryant, despite being one of the truly great basketball players of all time, was just getting started in life,” Trump wrote. “He loved his family so much, and had such strong passion for the future. The loss of his beautiful daughter, Gianna, makes this moment even more devastating.”
“Kobe Bryant was a giant who inspired, amazed, and thrilled people everywhere with his incomparable skill on the court — and awed us with his intellect and humility as a father, husband, creative genius, and ambassador for the game he loved,” Mayor Eric Garcetti said in a statement. “He will live forever in the heart of Los Angeles, and will be remembered through the ages as one of our greatest heroes.”
Those who knew him best grappled with how to express the shock of the loss.
“To have been such, particularly when he was young, to be a part of his life and to watch his career grow, watch him grow, this is one of the most tragic days of my life,” Jerry West, who as general manager of the Lakers first signed Bryant in 1996, told The Times. “I know somewhere along the way I guess I’ll come to grips with it. … This is going to take a long time for me.”
Magic Johnson told KCBS’s Jim Hill: “It’s just amazing that we were blessed to have a chance to know him, but also to see him play. But to me, his greatest joy was really after basketball, was being a husband and a father and being a coach of his daughter’s basketball team.
“The city needs heroes, Jim. We need our heroes to be here. And this is not a good day for the city of Los Angeles because we needed Kobe to still be around our kids who idolized him, the fan base who idolized him.”
Shaquille O’Neal, who led the Lakers to three championships with Bryant, tweeted that he was “SICK.” “There’s no words to express the pain Im going through with this tragedy of [losing] my neice Gigi & my brother @kobebryant I love u and u will be missed.”
With Bryant as shooting guard and O’Neal as center, the Lakers won three consecutive NBA championships — in 2000, 2001 and 2002.
But he bickered with O’Neal, who was ultimately traded, possibly costing the team additional titles. He still racked up records, and scored 81 points against Toronto on Jan. 22, 2006 — second in NBA history only to the 100 scored by Wilt Chamberlain in a 1962 game. The Lakers returned to form in 2009, with Bryant leading the team to championships that year and the next and securing his legacy as one of the sport’s best ever.
He won Olympic gold medals in 2008 and 2012. He was an All-Star 18 times, second most in NBA history, and was the fourth highest all-time scorer with 33,643 points — surpassed for third place the night before his death by LeBron James.
“Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames.” Bryant wrote in his final tweet. “Much respect my brother.”
In Atlanta, Jay Mitchell, a 28-year-old audio engineer, rode with his girlfriend downtown Sunday afternoon to watch the Atlanta Hawks play the Washington Wizards at the State Farm Arena.
“Kobe was my idol growing up,” he said. “I’m sick right now.”
Mitchell nearly didn’t go to the Hawks game. But he imagined Bryant calling him soft, remembering his famous interactions with his Lakers teammate Dwight Howard.
“He would have been, “Dude, go to the game!”
So Mitchell, a Knicks fan from New York, put on his purple and gold jersey. “I had to represent somehow,” he said, putting a hand to the Lakers logo on his chest as a stream of basketball fans in red filed past him.
Although Bryant’s exact destination was not released, he was scheduled to coach a tournament game in Thousand Oaks at the Mamba Sports Academy, which bears his nickname.
Anthony Nolen, a boys coach from Victorville, said he saw Bryant coach a girls game on Saturday.
“They were down by 10 at the time,” Nolen said. “Kobe being Kobe, he wasn’t screaming at the refs, he wasn’t screaming at the players. He was poised. Him being down by 10, he was upset but as usual, he gave the other coach a Kobe stare to ensure him, you could beat me now as a team but not one on one.”
The tournament was canceled upon the news of Bryant’s death. “There were no players that wanted to continue,” Nolen said.
Bryant’s death also cast a pall over preparations for the Grammys.
Crews worked quickly to place Bryant’s rafter jerseys — Nos. 8 and 24 — side by side, illuminated by floodlights.
News of the crash dominated the rehearsal. Ariana Grande had just finished a lavish performance, and Billie Eilish was about to perform an acoustic song with her brother. But all eyes were on the jerseys at the other end of the floor, as staff and observers watched in disbelief.
Early in the evening’s ceremony, host Alicia Keys spoke about Bryant: “We’re all feeling crazy sadness right now because earlier today Los Angeles, America and the whole wide world lost a hero. And we’re literally standing here heartbroken in the house that Kobe Bryant built.”
Bryant’s fame and popularity spanned many cultures and locales — from Los Angeles to Italy, where he grew up, to Philadelphia, where he went to high school, to China, where he was beloved.
On the Chinese social media platform Weibo, “Kobe dies” shot to the top of trending posts, along with a hashtag “Can we restart 2020?” Many combined posts mourning Bryant’s death with grief about the growing Wuhan coronavirus epidemic.
The hashtag “eternal 4 a.m.” went viral, reflecting the time when news of the death came out in China as well as Bryant’s famed predawn workouts. He once answered a reporters here about the secret of his success: “Have you ever seen Los Angeles at 4 a.m.?”
“I’ve never seen Los Angeles at 4 a.m., but I heard the news of your death at 4 a.m.,” thousands of fans posted, many adding stories of staying up crying all night.
The Lakers were the first NBA team to broadcast in Korean, in 2013, prompting crowds in Seoul and Los Angeles to swarm karaoke bars and restaurants to catch Kobe in action — and to learn more about the sport through the intimacy of their native language.
“He’s one of these athletes that transcend race and nationality,” recalled Alex Kim, 47, a public relations executive in L.A. “The fact that the team participated in outreach to our community only made them more popular.”
Jesse Hiram, spinning rock en español hits Sunday at a restaurant in downtown Santa Ana, said he was “devastated.”
“Kobe represented the Southland and brought such positivity to us,” Hiram said.
Hiram said he worked for a couple of months as a security guard at Bryant’s gated community in Newport Coast in 2007. “He’d see we were sad or bored, so Kobe would usually bring us Jack-in-the-Box tacos, or leave us big tips. He was just so nice.”
At El Camino Real in Fullerton, the staff was “really sad,” said manager Rodolfo Garcia. Bryant patronized the Mexican restaurant for 20 years, a favorite of his and of his wife, a Fullerton native. If he couldn’t come in person, Bryant would have friends get big orders to take back to his Newport Coast mansion.
“He liked the carnitas and flan,” Garcia said. “He loved this place because people treated him like a normal person. Kobe would just stand in line, like anyone else. He’d tell us, ‘Don’t treat me like a star; I’m just a customer here.’”
Ryan Apfel, a USC student from Redondo Beach, broke down crying in his apartment. He put on his Kobe jersey, thought to himself, I have to pay my respects, and went to L.A. Live.
“Growing up in LA, it’s such a big diverse spread out city. One of the things that I realized growing up here that brought us together was the Lakers and Kobe,” Apfel said. “Even after he retired, this is a Kobe town.”
In Redondo Beach, Al Beck stood at the busy intersection of Grant Avenue and Aviation Boulevard, holding a neon-orange sign with one word he had written in black marker: “KOBE.”
Beck stands on the corner often, normally holding political signs. People often swear at him.
On Sunday, he said, pausing for several seconds to choke back tears, ”It’s been nothing but good vibes.”
Beck was watching golf Sunday morning and flipped over to the news to check for the latest on resident Trump’s impeachment trial when Bryant had died. He immediately covered up his political sign with the “KOBE” sign and rushed to the street corner.
Beck, originally from Philadelphia just like Bryant, initially didn’t like watching the young basketball phenom play, thinking he was too big of a ball hog.
It took Beck a few years to realize that was part of Bryant’s brilliance on the court.
“I don’t care what anybody says. If anybody’s got the ball, it’s going to be him. … He knew he had the ability to score whenever it was needed.”
Beck said he still couldn’t believe he would never watch Bryant play again. He was inspired by the amount of work Bryant put into his game, which, he said, no one will ever replicate.
He wiped his eyes.
“Fly, Kobe, fly.”
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