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    A family was forced to flee their Paradise Hills home just days before Christmas as a fire in their garage began spreading to the rest of the house Friday. 

    Several neighbors called 911 after seeing smoke and flames coming from the home located on Deauville Street, in a neighborhood near the Interstate 805 and State Route 54 junction, just before 5 a.m., according to San Diego Fire-Rescue. 

    When crews arrived, the fire, which had started near the back of the garage, had spread into the home and a back patio. 

    SDFD Battalion Chief Michael Howell said the family, four adults and a child, were able to evacuate on their own, running from the home with only the clothes on their backs as the fire began to spread.

    Firefighters also evacuated residents on either side of the house due to fears that the fire could spread to neighboring homes. 

    No one was injured, Howell said, but the residents were visibly distressed. 

    "The occupants were very emotional, as would anyone at this time of year," he said. 

    The Red Cross was called to assist the family with living arrangements. Howell said their home was not livable. 

    Both SDFD and the National City Fire Department tackled flames but extensive damage could be seen to the garage, which was connected to the home. A car parked outside the home was also burned on the front. 

    The garage was totaled and the home had significant smoke and water damage. Howell said "significant" repairs would need to be made. 

    MAST investigators were working to determine what caused the fire but part of the garage's structure had collapsed making their investigation more difficult, Howell said.

    No other information was available.

    Please refresh this page for updates on this story. Details may change as more information becomes available.

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    The San Diego County Sheriff's Department was investigating a deputy-involved shooting in Fallbrook Friday.

    The shooting happened near the intersection of Reche and Ranger roads, north of State Route 76 and less than two miles north of Pala Mesa Resort, just before 4:30 a.m., according to SDSO. 

    Medics with North County Fire Protection District responded. 

    At the scene, a baseball bat could be seen on the ground within the crime scene tape perimeter. It was not clear how, if at all, the bat was connected. 

    SDSO said there was no danger to the community. 

    Reche Road was shut down in both directions from Ranger Road to S. Old Highway 395 as detectives investigated the shooting. 

    No other information was available.

    Please refresh this page for updates on this story. Details may change as more information becomes available.

    This story uses functionality that may not work in our app. Click here to open the story in your web browser.

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    An oil painting that was stolen from Nazi-occupied Eastern Europe during World War II was recovered by federal agents in the D.C. area, the News4 I-Team has learned.

    At least two people travelled to the Washington, D.C. area to attempt to sell the painting, court filings reviewed by the I-Team show. The duo was  scheduled to attend an auction in November 2017. 

    The painting, "Secret Departure of Ivan the Terrible Before the Oprichina" by Mikhail N. Panin, was produced in 1911 and was the among the first works of art displayed in the collection of the Ekaterinoslav City Art Museum when it opened in 1914.

    The painting "disappeared during the occupation of the city during the Second World War," according to court filings. The museum was in a region of central Ukraine occupied by the Nazis between August 1941 and October 1943. 

    Court filings from the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia said the painting is believed to have been held and displayed for decades in a Ridgefield, Connecticut home after World War II.

    The court filings said a Swiss citizen who emigrated to the United States in 1946 sold the home in 1962 and left the painting behind. The home was sold again in 1987, and the painting was left behind during that home sale as well, the court records said. 

    The U.S. Attorney has formally asked a federal judge to allow the forfeiture of the picture to the U.S. government. Federal agents have already obtained records from the Embassy of Ukraine in D.C. to prove the authenticity of the painting. 

    In their filings with the court, the U.S. Attorney said the painting was scheduled to be auctioned on Nov. 18, 2017, and was published in an auction house catalogue. The filings also said at least two people hired a company to transport the 7.5- by 8.5-foot painting to the D.C.-area for the attempted sale. 

    A representative from the Dnepropetrovsk State Art Museum in Ukraine sent an email to the auction house before the attempted sale to stop the auction. The email said, "Attention! Painting “Ivan the Terrible” was in the collection of the Dnepropetrovsk Art Museum until 1941 and was stolen during the Second World War. The museum documentation confirms this fact. Please stop selling this painting at auction!!! According the international rules of restitution of stolen works of art, the picture should return to Ukraine.” 

    The FBI and the Ukraine Embassy to the United States did not immediately return requests for comment.

    Photo Credit: Court records

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    The carpool lane is a perk that hundreds of thousands of solo drivers have enjoyed in the Bay Area and across California, and now they’re about to lose it.

    The lanes have grown so crowded, the state is making moves to eliminate access for a lot of solo drivers, no matter what type of car they drive. On Jan. 1, vehicles with white and green stickers allowing use of carpool, or high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, will be invalid, affecting more than 220,000 drivers.

    A federal law stipulates that carpool lanes must have an average speed of at least 45 mph, and that's not always the case on Bay Area roads. So the carpool lanes are being cleaned out.

    The move is sending some people to take a serious look at new electric cars.

    "It's a big advantage," one driver said about carpool lanes."Especially here in the Bay Area. Yeah, traffic is terrible."

    No matter what kind of battery-powered car has those green or white stickers, it won't be allowed in the carpool lanes with a solo driver starting next month.

    The California Air Resources Board is responsible for the official list of vehicles eligible for the clean-air vehicle stickers. The current list includes zero-emission or low-emission vehicles dating back to 1997. But if a vehicle was originally issued a white or green decal before 2017, it is not eligible for the red decal and will no longer be eligible to participate in the CAV decal program after Jan, 1, the air resources board said.

    Department of Motor Vehicles officials say applications for new red stickers are up 35 percent from last year.

    At Premier Nissan, the belle of the ball is the new electric Leaf. It qualifies for a red sticker.

    "Most of them just want it for commute, just to get the carpool lane, to get to work and get home faster," Premier's Olu Betiku said of Leaf buyers.

    Also, there will be an income ceiling on e-vehicle benefits in the new year. Single people who make more than $150,000 a year or couples pulling in $300,000 will have to choose either the state rebate for going electric or the red sticker. They won't get both.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images

    A Toyota Prius with a California A Toyota Prius with a California "clean air vehicle" sticker drives in the carpool lane on Highway 101 in San Rafael, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

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    If the federal government shuts down, can you get that passport renewed for your January trip? What about your Social Security check? And do you have to file your taxes?

    We have answers.

    Q: How much of the government could shut down?

    A: What's threatened now is a "partial" shutdown. Many agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, are already funded for the year and will continue to operate as usual, regardless of whether Congress and the president reach an agreement over funding for a border wall.

    Still, the dispute could affect nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, The Associated Press reported.

    Q: How many government workers could see their paychecks delayed?

    A: More than 800,000 federal employees would see their jobs disrupted, including more than half who would be forced to continue working without pay, the AP reported.

    According to a report by Democrats on the Senate Appropriations Committee, more than 420,000 federal employees deemed essential would continue to work without pay during a partial shutdown. That includes employees working in law enforcement, corrections, Homeland Security, TSA, Customs and Border Protection agents and 42,000 Coast Guard employees.

    But more than 380,000 employees will be furloughed. 

    All employees should be paid back in full once the government reopens.

    Q: What about federal contractors?

    A: Government contractors are in an even tougher situation. If their contract is funded, they are likely to be OK -- but in past shutdowns some furloughed agencies have issued stop-work orders to contractors, according to the National Law Review.

    Contractors may not be made whole after a shutdown. And remember, not all contractors are big-money corporations -- the janitors at many government buildings are also contractors.

    Q: I ordered my holiday presents from Amazon! Will they get here?

    A: The U.S. Postal Service wouldn't be affected by any government shutdown because it's an independent agency and has its own sources of revenue. FedEx and UPS are private companies and would not be affected.

    Q: I rely on my income from Social Security. Will my check still arrive?

    A: Social Security checks will still go out. So will payments to Medicaid and Medicare programs and for veterans' programs, including the GI Bill and VA hospitals. But if you are applying to join one of those programs, you might have to wait. 

    And the U.S. food stamp program has only limited funding, if the shutdown stretches on.

    Q: What about the Mueller investigation?

    A: It is funded "from a permanent indefinite appropriation and would be unaffected in the event of a shutdown," a Justice Department spokesperson told CNN.

    Q: Can I go see Independence Hall in Philadelphia, the Smithsonian's National Zoo in Washington, D.C. and other national parks?

    A: That depends. Most national historic sites, including Independence National Historic Park, have areas funded by the National Park Service and other areas funded by private organizations. Some Park Service-funded locations would probably close.

    Independence Hall would likely shut down, but the privately funded Museum of the American Revolution would remain open, public radio and TV station WHYY has reported. Similarly, the National Constitution Center will stay open; the Liberty Bell pavilion probably won't.

    The Washington Monument would close, but the 11 Smithsonian museums and galleries along the National Mall and the National Zoo will stay open through Jan. 1 by using prior-year funds. They'll close on Christmas Dad as usual. 

    In the past, the vast majority of national parks were closed to visitors and campers, but during the last government shutdown in January the Interior Department tried to make parks as accessible as possible despite bare-bones staffing levels. It was not clear Monday if that effort will be repeated.

    Q: Can I renew my passport?

    A: The State Department will keep issuing passports, Bloomberg reported. But you might have a little trouble accessing their offices if the passport office you want to go to is inside a building run by another agency and that agency gets shut down.

    Q: Do I have to pay my taxes?

    A: Yes. 

    However, the IRS would have to furlough parts of its staff, which could affect the number of people available for tax prep help or investigations.

    Q: Can my kids still track Santa? 

    A: Yes. NORAD said that even if the government shuts down it will continue with its 63-year tradition of NORAD Tracks Santa in collaboration with more than 1,500 volunteers. 

    Photo Credit: Getty Images, File

    A closed sign was posted In January in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. If the government partially shuts down again in December, National Parks could be affected.A closed sign was posted In January in front of Independence Hall in Philadelphia. If the government partially shuts down again in December, National Parks could be affected.

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    A gruesome head-on crash on State Route 94 east of Dulzura left two people dead Thursday night. 

    The crash happened just before 11 p.m. near Barrett Junction, according to California Highway Patrol. It was not immediately clear what caused the cars to collide. 

    Images of the scene showed fire marks on both cars, which were crushed from the impact of the crash. Crews with Cal Fire did respond to assist CHP, according to the agency. 

    No other information was available.

    Please refresh this page for updates on this story. Details may change as more information becomes available.

    Photo Credit: SDNV

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    A San Diego woman is suing the electric scooter company, Bird, after what she says was a fall due to malfunctioning brakes. 

    In September, Ngoneh Secka found herself on the ground, in pain and bleeding after attempting to test the brakes of an electric scooter, she told NBC 7.

    “Next thing I know I am on the ground, the scooter is in front of me and a woman was next to me saying, 'Do I need to call 911? And I am like "no, I am fine,' and she said 'no you are not'," Secka said. 

    Secka had gotten a hold of a Bird electric scooter on 2nd Street near Elm Avenue in downtown San Diego, a routine she was used to. But when she hopped on the scooter to test the brakes she suddenly realized they did not work, according to Secka.

    "I took it off the curb to start testing the brakes right off the street and it wasn’t working, so I was doing everything I could to stop it and get off it, but as you can see it is a steep hill it just kept pummeling down," Secka said.

    She suffered a cut above her right eyebrow, road rash, and injuries to her knee and big toe. 

    "Though scooter companies report that the top speed of the scooters is 15 mph, I believe that the scooters may go much faster downhill,” said Secka’s personal injury attorney Catherine Lerer. "I believe that the brakes may be insufficient to stop a scooter going down a steep hill."

    Secka’s injury on an electric scooter is just one example of the many that her attorney is seeing.

    "My Santa Monica personal injury law firm has been inundated with scooter accident calls beginning in April of this year," said Lerer. "The most common malfunctions we hear about are the brakes failing, the throttle sticking, and the scooter dying mid-ride."

    Secka told NBC 7 that when the ambulance arrived she was told that she was "one of the lucky ones" and that emergency responders see "no less than four a day" of scooter-related injuries.

    Despite the accidents, more electric scooters are appearing across San Diego.

    Lyft is now joining the trend and plans to unload 200 scooters in San Diego by the end of the week.

    "We know that scooters are new and there is still a lot of education to be had. That’s why we’re building in education directly into our app, and are working closely with cities to implement the right solutions for safe streets," said a Lyft spokesperson via e-mail to NBC 7.

    "Compared to other operators in this space – we have docks that are a responsible way for riders to park their scooters on streets, and we’re working with cities to place these docks in areas where there is high demand, near transit stations, etc."

    Lyft said their team will pick up scooters nightly to charge and perform maintenance.

    Secka wants all scooter companies to ensure that they are providing functioning scooters on the streets.

    "It’s a mode of transportation," said Secka. "The same laws that apply to cars should apply to scooters. You can’t have a scooter with failed breaks. You can’t have cars on the street with failed breaks."

    We reached out to Bird about Secka’s case and their safety measures and they have not responded to our questions.

    This story will be updated once Bird responds to the lawsuit.  

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    Big Bear Mountain Resort shared flake-tastic photos depicting the result of the most recent snowstorm.

    Photo Credit: Jared Meyer/BBMR

    There's snow in those mountains: On Friday, Dec. 7, Big Bear Mountain Resort shared several snow-laden looks at its most recent snowfall, which immediately followed a few other significant flake-accumulating storms.There's snow in those mountains: On Friday, Dec. 7, Big Bear Mountain Resort shared several snow-laden looks at its most recent snowfall, which immediately followed a few other significant flake-accumulating storms.

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    A woman gave birth to a baby in a minivan alongside a road in Lakeside.

    San Diego County sheriff’s deputies and the Lakeside Fire Department were called out around 3 a.m. to a location on Julian Avenue in order to help a woman who had apparently delivered a baby inside the vehicle.

    The woman was reportedly on her way to the hospital.

    One firefighter held the newborn as the baby’s mother was loaded into the back of an ambulance. The baby was then gently handed over to the woman before she was transported to Kaiser Hospital in La Mesa.

    This is a developing story.

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    San Diego Unified School District officials are informing parents and former students there was a data breach that could expose student records.

    Student records from 2008 up to the present are impacted, district officials told NBC 7.

    More than 121,000 students are served by the San Diego Unified School District, the second largest school district in the state of California.

    Because the breach includes former students, district officials estimate nearly a half of a million students and former students may be impacted by this data breach. 

    School police and employees with the district's IT department are working on the data breach.

    District officials said the information they can release was limited because the investigation into what happened is ongoing. 

    This is a developing story.

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    City officials announced the first of three plans to improve lanes for cyclists and scooter riders downtown Friday, during a time when people have been critical of electric scooter companies for injuries and clutter.

    Entitled the Downtown Mobility Plan, it called for 9.3 miles of two-way tracks on major roadways for bike and scooter riders.

    “Today we launch a new era of mobility in San Diego,” Mayor Kevin Faulconer said. “As we encourage people to get out of their cars more, we need to build transportation networks that provide safe paths of travel for everyone.”

    The project is divided into three phases to be completed over the next three years, according to the city.

    The first phase will create tracks on:

    • Beech Street from Pacific Highway to Sixth Avenue
    • Sixth Avenue from Beech Street to Harbor Drive
    • J Street from 1st Avenue to Park Boulevard

    These tracks are described by the city as special bike lanes that provide a right-of-way for cyclists and scooter riders within the roadway.

    “The incredible growth of bike and scooter use in our city over the last year has really created a sense of urgency to improve the infrastructure,” the mayor said.

    Parked cars, flex posts, and or grade variations will separate the tracks from vehicular traffic, according to the city.

    “This investment will improve the quality of life for those living and working downtown while moving San Diego closer to achieving our Climate Action Plan benchmarks,” said City Councilmember Chris Ward.


    Once completed, the plan will have created tracks on the following roads:

    • Pacific Highway
    • State Street
    • Third Avenue
    • Fourth Avenue
    • Fifth Avenue
    • Park Boulevard
    • Hawthorn Street
    • Grape Street
    • B Street
    • C Street
    • Broadway

    In total, the tracks will account for 16.5 percent of the total downtown street network, the city said.

    The mobility plan hopes to create safer passage from Balboa Park to the San Diego Convention Center, as well as other popular destinations, according to the city.

    “We hope that other neighborhoods will join the course too, to truly interconnect all the communities across San Diego,” Ward said.

    The tracks will be painted green.

    Construction began this week. Faulconer estimated the first phase will be completed in a few months.

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    An incident at a New Jersey high school wrestling tournament in which a black wrestler was forced by a white referee to cut off his dreadlocks has once again sparked a social media backlash and questions about the treatment of young people of color.

    A video originally tweeted by a SNJ Today reporter shows Buena Regional High School junior Andrew Johnson standing dejected in the school's gym after being forced to choose between getting his hair cut or forfeiting.

    In the video, fans and coaches watch an official cut off Johnson's dreadlocks with a pair of scissors before he is allowed to compete.

    The crowd cheers as Johnson wins the match - which helped his school to a tournament victory - but despite having his hand raised after the victory the junior stands with his shoulders slumped and head down as he walks off the mat to be comforted by his team.

    The American Civil Liberties Union's New Jersey chapter responded by tweeting that, "This is not about hair. This is about race. How many different ways will people try to exclude Black people from public life without having to declare their bigotry?"

    On Friday, the New Jersey State Interscholastic Athletic Association said it was conducting an investigation and had contacted Buena Regional High School officials and the referee involved in the incident.

    The association also said it was forwarding preliminary information to the New Jersey Division of Civil Rights and that, "given the degree of attention being focused on this matter," it would recommend that the referee not be assigned to any event until the incident "has been reviewed more thoroughly."

    The Buena Regional High School athletic department did not return a phone call seeking comment.

    Photo Credit: SNJ Today
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    “Oh, kids?”...“Check?” 

    “Driver’s License?” ...“Oops...”


    Traveling during the holidays can test even the most organized people. And even they are apt to forget those seemingly unforgettable items while traveling through the airport on what Transportation Security Administration (TSA) says will be the busiest holiday travel season ever.

    “TSA nationwide is expecting a six percent increase in the number of travelers over last year, and last year was a record breaker for holiday season travel,” says Lorie Dankers, spokesperson for the TSA.

    The peak travel day, says Dankers, will be on December 26th, the day after Christmas. That day is expected to be TSA’s busiest day on record.

    To help get you through the airport quicker, NBC 7 Responds is here for some tips while traveling during the holidays such as, what can you do if you arrive at the airport without your identification.

    Dankers says don’t fret...and don’t try to rush home from the airport just to grab your I.D.

    “If you have something like an ATM card with your picture on it, or a Costco membership card, anything that has your name and picture. Go ahead and show that at the TSA checkpoint,” says Dankers.

    “A TSA officer will do a check of publicly available databases in order to verify your identity.”

    But Dankers says that doing so takes time, so patience is key.

    Traveling during the holidays could pose other challenges, such as what to do with all those gifts you’ve wrapped.

    Dankers says wrapped gifts are allowed in security. They are screened just like any other carry-on item. Be prepared, however, if the TSA agent asks to open the gift.

    “If our TSA officer believes that there is a threat item in the bag, if they can’t tell what it is, they will unwrap it,” says Dankers.

    Dankers suggests using gift bags when traveling, just in case the item gets flagged in security.

    “That way there’s no unwrapping and you have your gift ready to go at your destination.” 

    And, if you’re unsure if the item is allowed through security or not, then there are other options.

    Log on to the TSA’s Facebook page or Twitter profile and ask them directly.

    “You can even take a picture and sent it via social media and you will get a response, usually in less than a half-hour,” says Dankers.

    Above all else, Dankers says, be prepared for long lines in security checkpoints until several days after Christmas.

    “It doesn’t matter where you’re departing from, the country is on the move and you’ll be in the middle of that.”

    Photo Credit: Bob Hansen

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    A man climbed the National Christmas Tree on the Ellipse just south of the White House Friday evening, U.S. Park Police confirmed.

    Police believe he was in some kind of emotional distress and negotiated with him to get out of the tree.

    He was taken to a hospital for psychiatric evaluation.

    Some tree lights were damaged during the incident.

    People had lined up to get in to see the tree, but police closed the White House pageant area and will keep it closed the rest of the evening.

    D.C. Fire and EMS assisted Park Police.

    Photo Credit: Getty Images
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    File photo from the National Christmas Tree lighting.File photo from the National Christmas Tree lighting.

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    Several cars were damaged when an auto shop in Grantville went up in flames Friday night.

    Mission Gorge Auto Shop and Upholstery caught fire just after 8 p.m. and by the time firefighters arrived it was engulfed in flames.

    The San Diego Fire Department said crews could only fight the flames from the front and sides of the building.

    Some of the shop's metal walls started to buckle under the high heat but the structure didn't collapse, firefighters said.

    Investigators said they were concerned about gasoline and other hazardous materials commonly found in automotive businesses adding fuel to the fire.

    An employee was in the shop when the fire sparked but they made it out uninjured.

    The shop is located at 5959 Mission Gorge Road. No nearby businesses were damaged.

    No other information was available.

    Please refresh this page for updates on this story. Details may change as more information becomes available.

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    A woman was kidnapped and sexually assaulted in Mount Hope late Thursday night by a suspect who may have committed a similar crime in Chula Vista, San Diego police said.

    The woman was walking on the street around 11:30 p.m. in the 3900 block of Delta Street near Balboa Elementary school when a man in an older, white, two-door pickup truck pulled up alongside her, Lt. Jason Weeden said.

    The man then got out of the car, threatened to “taze” the woman and forced her into his truck, he said.

    The man then drove her to a secluded area in near 39th Street and Broadway in Mount Hope and raped her, the lieutenant said.

    The suspect then drove the woman to Logan Heights and after the victim pleaded with the suspect to let her go, the woman was released near the area of 32nd Street and National Avenue, Weeden said.

    The Chula Vista Police Department reported a similar assault from a similarly described suspect earlier Thursday night in Chula Vista, he said.

    The suspect was described as between 5-foot-6 and 5-foot-8, 40 to 50 years old with short black hair, a graying goatee and weighing between 160 and 170 pounds with a muscular build. He was last seen wearing a black or dark blue T-shirt and gray basketball shorts.

    The suspect’s truck possibly has blue horizontal stripes on the side. A truck matching that description was captured on surveillance video near the E Street trolley station in Chula Vista.

    Chula Vista police are investigating the sexual assault in their jurisdiction.

    Anyone with information on the identity of the suspect was urged to call the SDPD’s Sex Crimes Unit at (619) 531-2210 or the Crime Stoppers anonymous tip line at (888) 580-8477.

    Photo Credit: SDPD

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    Kids all over the world can hardly wait until Christmas Day to open their presents, but one deserving little girl in Lakeside got to open hers early.

    Zoey Figuroa, 7, was diagnosed with cancer earlier this year. Her mother Sheena says if you’d ever seen her smile you wouldn’t have a clue she’s fighting for her life.

    Sheena told NBC 7 Zoey is battling stage 4 neuroblastoma, a rare and aggressive form of cancer. She started getting sick in August of 2017 and was officially diagnosed in late February 2018.

    “The treatment for these kids is one of the harshest that they treat kids with,” Sheena said.

    She’s been fighting for her life at home for the last 10 months, but thanks to a non-profit that remodels rooms for families whose children are going through medical crises, she’ll have a fun and stimulating place to spend her time on her road to recovery.

    Susan Wintersteen and her team at the non-profit Savvy Giving by Design came into the Figuroas’ home and completely transformed little Zoey’s room. Wintersteen says her organization focuses on subtle details in the room that will complement each child’s healing journey.

    “That someone would actually put on those matching touches that matter so much to our family. And her health is nothing short of a Christmas miracle,” Sheena said.

    Zoey’s room was unveiled Friday afternoon. You can probably guess how elated she was

    "I feel happy! I feel happy!” Zoey said.

    The non-profit also redid Zoey’s brother’s room.

    For more information on how you donate to Savvy Giving by Design’s cause, click here.

    You can also follow along with Zoey’s journey on Facebook.

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    Two people riding tandem on an electric scooter down University Avenue in Hillcrest lost control and crashed, resulting in a skull fracture for one of the riders, police said.

    SDPD said both riders were intoxicated and neither were wearing helmets. When they lost control, a woman, 42, fell back and hit her head on the ground, according to police.

    She was transported to the hospital with life-threatening injuries, SDPD said. The second rider was not injured.

    The crash happened just before 9 p.m. near Vermont Street.

    Westbound University Avenue was closed to traffic as officers investigated the crash. Investigators were seen examining an electric scooter in the bushes along the median of the road.

    No other information was available.

    Please refresh this page for updates on this story. Details may change as more information becomes available.

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    A 17-year-old boy from Fallbrook who moved to Arizona to live with his mom was killed in a car crash Tuesday, police said.

    Johnathan Mendez was killed on Arizona State Route 95 when he drifted off the side of the highway near Lake Havasu. It was unclear why he lost control of the car.

    His father, Ismael Mendez, said Johnathan was involved with the Boys Scouts and played several sports in high school, including basketball. Johnathan was the eldest of four brothers.

    His brother, Ismael Miguel Mendez, said the sudden loss has been very difficult, especially during the holiday season.

    “It felt so unreal,” he said. “I don’t know. It just didn’t feel like it was real. I’m not sure if it’s sunk in. I don’t know if it’s sunk in yet.”

    Macaria Mendez, Johnathan’s grandmother, was also in disbelief when he heard the news. She didn’t believe it herself.

    “I did not want to believe it, I knew it was true,” she said in Spanish. “We're going to miss him. I don’t know why God took him away so soon.”

    Ismael Miguel said his brother was a big part of the family and has always been there for him and his brothers when they needed him.

    “He was my best friend,” he said. “No matter what happened, we were always there for each other.”

    It’s going to hard know that his brother was not going to be a part of his life anymore, Ismael Miguel said.

    Photo Credit: NBC 7

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    The founders of a church in North San Diego County have filed a lawsuit against the County of San Diego for shutting their church down and confiscating their sacrament.

    That sacrament: cannabis.

    On Oct. 25, San Diego County Sheriff’s deputies arrived at the Jah Healing Kemetic Temple of the Divine in Fallbrook.

    Once inside deputies detained four church ministers and carted away more than $1 million in cannabis products, used by the church’s 500-members as a sacrament.

    According to documents obtained by NBC 7 Investigates, the raid was ordered because the church did not have the necessary permits in place. County planning officials considered the temple was operating as a dispensary and not a church.

    But April Mancini, one of the church’s founders, said planning has nothing to do with it, instead, the county is targeting them for their beliefs.

    “This is our belief. We believe cannabis brings us closer to our maker,” she said. “It's used to heal people. We pray with people and they can use the sacrament or they’re also able to take the sacrament home with them.”

    Issues with the church began in May of this year. That’s when Mancini received a letter from San Diego County’s Planning Department ordering her to “cease operating immediately” and referred to the church as a “marijuana collective.”

    The county sent another letter in June.

    “[Y]our property must be immediately rectified by ceasing the illegal occupancy associated with the operation of a marijuana dispensary,” reads the June 21 letter.

    An attorney for the church, according to public documents, responded, telling the county that a special permit is not needed because Jah Healing Kemetic Temple is registered with the state as a non-profit religious entity.

    The church refused to close its doors. The county did not acquiesce. In late October deputies showed up at the church to close it down.

    “They threw ministers around, handcuffing and detaining them,” Mancini said. “Then they took all of the sacrament. They took everything from us.”

    In addition, deputies placed a “red tag” on the building, preventing anyone from entering or using the building.

    “We have a lot of people with a lot of problems, whether that’s being mentally ill or just in need of a prayer,” Mancini said. “We were there for that. The temple was not just for them to come and get Cannabis, this is something that heals them.”

    The Fallbrook facility is not the only cannabis church that has been closed down this year.

    Mancini also runs another cannabis-minded church in Big Bear. She said that church was also raided this year, along with her home and her parent’s home.

    In February, San Diego police raided and closed down another cannabis church. In that raid, officers confiscated estimated approximately $1.1 million in marijuana. 

    Last week, attorneys for the Jah Healing Kemetic Temple in Fallbrook filed a lawsuit against San Diego County for closing the church’s doors. 

    “It really goes against the grain of what religious freedom is in America,” said Matt Pappas, the lead attorney for the church.

    But Pappas claims there may be more to the purpose behind this raid and others around the state.

    “The attacks on the churches have been in the last couple of years, more so since the legalization of marijuana,” Pappas said. “I think part of the problem for the county is it is not getting regulatory fees from these churches as is the case with a licensed dispensary. I think a lot of it is about the money.”

    The county of San Diego declined to comment, citing pending litigation.

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