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tv   NBC Bay Area We Investigate  NBC  March 31, 2019 4:30pm-5:01pm PDT

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but you can. protect your family. visit tobaccofreeca.com. news specialtonight.vestigate." an nbc bay area male: kind of feels like somebody's reaching into my lungs and squeezing them. announcer: fighting for their lives after being exposed to toxic chemicals, we uncover a new war veterans are waging against their own military to get help. then-- donavan seguerra: i flew and then i hit the ground on my left knee. announcer: he went to a trampoline park and left with a broken leg. we examined what you need to know before your kids start jumping. plus-- john demers: it's a threat to the viability of the us. announcer: stealing secrets. we reveal how foreign spies are infiltrating silicon valley and threatening our economy. but first. connor kelly: this tragedy could've been prevented. announcer: tragedy at a bay area preschool.
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we investigate how a new play structure crushed a three-year-old girl. here's senior investigator reporter vicky nguyen. vicky nguyen: good evening and thank you for joining us. a bay area family has a warning tonight after their three-year-old daughter died at her preschool in newark. they say her death was preventable. when macie opperman's parents dropped her off at preschool, they never expected she wouldn't come home. and they say in the early days after her death, the school did not provide important information about what actually happened. three-year-old macie opperman loved playing at parkside preschool in newark, but on october 19 last year, according to a newly filed wrongful death lawsuit, a play structure toppled onto macie and pinned her, barely missing two other children who were also on the tire swing. connor: she suffered tragically very, very serious head injuries. vicky: connor kelly is the attorney representing macie's family.
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he says park side was negligent and reckless for installing the play structure improperly and failing to have it inspected. connor: this tragedy could've been prevented had park side preschool done what it was supposed to do. vicky: reports we obtained shows state inspectors issued two violations against park side, noting the play structure was not anchored to the ground, which allowed it to tip over, and that there was no cushioning to absorb falls, both violations posing an immediate health and safety risk to children. lucas eckels: i think they've been really deceptive. i think they've been trying to downplay everything. vicky: lucas eckels is the father of two children who attended park side. he launched this website after macie's death. why did you feel it was important to put this information out there? lucas: because the school wasn't doing a good job of explaining. there's no permanent record of what had happened. yeah, i can't imagine what it would be like to have your child die like this. it's hard for me to imagine what my son experienced on the playground that day. vicky: in a facebook video, school director heather mitchell speaks to parents after macie's death. heather mitchell: it's important for kids to see that this might be emotionally difficult.
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it's important for kids to see us cry. it's important that they know that this is a sad thing. vicky: an attorney for the preschool said, "we are unable to comment due to the ongoing litigation. however, we continue to work actively with the family and their counsel, and our church community continues to offer prayers for all concerned." the school has not yet filed a response to the lawsuit. connor: the family wants people to know that this was preventable, that park side preschool did not do its job and protect the health and safety of the children who are going to school there. vicky: a key takeaway here, parents should not hesitate to ask for inspection records or ask questions if they see new playground equipment at their children's school to make sure it was installed correctly and that it was inspected. announcer: they say toxic chemicals from their battlefield bases is killing them. up next, the fight some veterans are waging against their own military to get help.
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as military burn pits. for soldiers stationed in iraq and afghanistan, these around the clock trash fires were the preferred method of getting rid of garbage for years. but thousands of veterans say exposure to these pits have left them with breathing problems and chronic lung diseases. they're now waging a battle with their own military to get help in what's become a fight for their lives.
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in the fog of war, soldiers can't always spot every threat, that is unless it's billowing from their own military base. male: it was just so huge and it was just so, so black. bigad: this veteran asked us to protect his identity because of the sensitive nature of his work as an intelligence officer. male: yeah, we're under a mortar attack again. bigad: he spent a year stationed at the balad military base in central iraq. he recorded hours of home video to help him remember life in the army. male: that's smoke from our lovely trash pile here on anaconda. bigad: but now, there's so much he wishes he could forget. male: the fire just keeps-- you don't really see the fire, but you see the smoke. because you know the fire's there because all you do is you see these black-- this black plume of smoke, and you see it for miles. bigad: when something, anything needed to be discarded, it was tossed into the flames. male: refrigerators, plastics, body parts. they just threw jet fuel on top of it and they just burn it,
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just burn it all day long, all night long. bigad: what was the smell like? male: you could just taste it. it was like this sickening--it was like this sickening thing that kind of burnt the back of your throat like all the time. bigad: you would actually cough up blood at times? male: oh yeah, yeah. bigad: at just 39, he recently had a pacemaker put in because of a slow heart rate. he also suffers from chest pains and an incurable lung disease that makes it difficult to breathe. male: kind of feels like somebody's reaching into my lungs and squeezing them. bigad: is there any chance that the health problems you're experiencing now might be the result of something else? male: i doubt it. i mean, i was healthy when i came in the army, and for some reason i have a plethora of medical issues now. male: burn pits date back to the gulf war and were largely used on us military bases in iraq and afghanistan beginning around 2003.
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veterans returning from those wars showed increased signs of respiratory problems, including asthma, chronic bronchitis, and other lung diseases. female announcer: pollution from burn pits can affect your health. bigad: while the va's own website and research raised the possibility of health problems, the agency says there is no definitive evidence linking burn pits to long-term illnesses. as a result, veterans seeking medical care for exposure to burn pits often have their claims denied by the va. raul ruiz: they're either becoming 100% disabled or they're dying. bigad: california congressman raul ruiz spoke to us from dc. raul: we need to make sure that our veterans have access to the va, that they're not treated like they're making symptoms up, like they're-- like they're crazy. bigad: he's a doctor of 18 years, and he's pushing legislation that would guarantee medical care for veterans exposed to burn pits. that kind of automatic approval is how the va treats vietnam veterans exposed to the dangerous chemical known
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as agent orange. male: this is our agent orange, but they don't care. bigad: it's unclear just how many veterans have been exposed. but over the past decade, the va received more than 11,000 medical claims relating to burn pits. only 2,300 were approved. the va says air pollution in iraq and afghanistan may actually post a greater danger than exposure to burn pits. announcer: during your service, you may have been exposed to airborne hazards. bigad: and while the va admits there are toxins in burn pit smoke, the agency says most health effects are temporary. announcer: and goes away once you are away from the cause. bigad: dr. drew helmer is with the va. drew helmer: in some people, it might be making them sick. i think who is it making sick, how many people is it making sick, and what is the sick, what is the sickness, those are still questions that we don't have good answers for. bigad: the department of defense never answered our repeated request for an interview, and still has not released a comprehensive list
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of what the military burned and when. raul: if we don't know what was burned, then we won't be able to identify the health risks in order to outreach to our veterans. bigad: what does that lack of information from the department of defense tell you? raul: well, it tells me that they don't want to be forthcoming. it tells me that they're trying to skirt away from accountability and responsibility. bigad: more than a decade after returning home from iraq, this veteran says he's still suffering. his tattoo tells the story. male: so this is, you know, me dying in the burn pits. and then you got the flames from the burn pit, and then the smoke from the burn pit that's coming up. bigad: what is it about the burn pits that you wanted to sort of memorialize? male: i honestly feel like that is what led to everything that's wrong with me. bigad: congress heavily restricted the use of military burn pits about a decade ago. back then, there were more than 270 burn pits at us bases
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in the middle east. today, only 16 are burning. incinerators have largely replaced them, but the military still uses burn pits whenever announcer: coming up next,ons jump at your own risk, the surprise we uncovered about safety at trampoline parks.
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so do the number of people getting hurt. the industry says injuries are on par with or lower than
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other young sports, but many parents are now warning these facilities aren't as safe as you might think. we dug through ambulance calls to local trampoline parks and found the injuries, mostly among kids, can be pretty serious. male: for an eight-year-old female with a knee injury. liz: listen to these 911 calls. female: a little boy was jumping, and his arm is either broken or dislocated, and he can't move it at all. liz: to local trampoline parks. female: he was jumping and he fell. and we rolled him over, he wasn't able to talk and-- or move or anything. liz: this dispatcher even weighs in with a personal observation. female: you know, i don't really think it's a great idea to put a bunch of trampolines in one area and play sports on them, but that's just me. liz: donavan seguerra was having a blast at the rockin' jump in dublin back in 2015 until his mom says a bigger kid bounced him into the air. donavan: i flew, and then i hit the ground on my left knee. liz: he broke his leg. donavan: i couldn't walk, i had to use my wheelchair to go everywhere.
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jennifer seguerra: in a lot of pain. liz: jennifer seguerra says it took her son a year of rehab to get back to normal. when you took your son to this trampoline park, did you have any idea you would be taking him out with a broken leg? jennifer: no, no way, no way. i did not expect that my five-year-old son, still in preschool, simply jumping that he could get so seriously injured. i had no idea. liz: in your opinion, are trampoline parks dangerous? jennifer: well, this one is. liz: we checked ambulance logs for bay area counties and found 20 calls to seven rockin' jump locations last year alone. they involved injuries to the head, and snapped legs and ankles. a 2016 study by dr. stephen rogers, a pediatric emergency physician and research scientist at connecticut children's medical center, found an alarming rise in trampoline park injuries. stephen rogers: you're jumping higher than you normally would and you're landing on an uneven surface. so, it's already a high risk activity. liz: rogers' research showed a near 1100% spike
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in er visits from 2010 to 2014. the sharp jump makes sense when you consider the skyrocketing popularity of trampolines, but rogers found compared to home trampolines, trampoline parks are producing more serious injuries. stephen: i think trampoline parks are super fun for kids. i think we can do a better job of making them safer for them to use. liz: part of the problem, some experts say, is that the trampolines are interconnected. take a look at this surveillance video provided by an attorney representing injured jumpers. he says this woman hurt her leg bouncing from one trampoline to another. and this young girl fractured her ankle when she landed on a harder area near the trampoline's edge. rockin' jump, like most parks, warns trampolines pose risks, and the company requires jumpers to sign liability waivers. injury attorney bill smith believes these releases can encourage companies to cut corners. bill smith: they're not as careful as they would be if they didn't have a release, which means you've got to be careful as a parent.
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announcer: if you are a larger person-- liz: rockin' jump's safety video outlines the rules, like do not jump near smaller people. remember, that's how donavan seguerra's mom says he got hurt. but our camera saw big kids jumping by small children again and again with four monitors failing to stop it. and listen to what this employee told us. male: i kind of don't see anybody watch the video either. liz: you don't see anyone watch the video? male: i mean, not that i-- not that i-- i'm not sure if it's required or not. liz: rockin' jump declined to talk to us on camera, but told us in a statement, "since its inception, safety has been the number one focus of rockin' jump, both for our guests and staff." the company also says it will be addressing the concerns we exposed and pointed us to its website, which states rockin' jump regularly maintains its equipment. now eight years old, donavan is back on his feet. while his mom says she'd never take him back to a trampoline park, he'd jump at the chance to do it again.
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you would? why do you say that? donavan: 'cause it was fun. liz: trampoline parks are unregulated in much of the country. legislation in california failed a few years back. next year, the iatp, the industry's trade association, will require members to pass third party safety inspections. for now, members are encouraged to follow trampoline operation guidelines set by an international standards organization. announcer: up next, an emerging threat from a new type of spy. we examine who is stealing silicon valley secrets.
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federal authorities have charged two chinese nationals with stealing secrets from apple. and a chinese telecom giant is now facing a 13-count criminal indictment in another case. these are just two examples of the increased effort to infiltrate us companies and to steal their secrets. and silicon valley is right in the crosshairs. one justice department official told me these threats are, quote, "more serious and devastating than a terrorist attack against a building or an airplane because these kinds of attacks could bring down entire portions of this nation's economy." on this quiet, treelined street near downtown oakland sits this mail package store, where us counter intelligence agents say a spy ring for the people's republic of china, or the prc, used a po box inside as a front for its operations.
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according to court records, the lead spy, a man name walter liew, lived in this nondescript house in the hills of orinda nearby, and stashed his stolen secrets in a safety deposit box located in this bank of china branch. kevin phelan: they said to him, "here's a list of items that we need to help grow the prc to make the country stronger, and we need your help to get them." stephen: in this case, says fbi counter intelligence agent kevin phelan, the secret belonged to du pont chemical. the company spent decades and millions of its dollars developing a powder called titanium dioxide, the secret for the pure color white. it's added to everything from oreo cookies to twinkies, from paper to iphone cases, from home siding to buckets of paint. kevin: they make the white things the whitest and the highest quality. stephen: du pont isn't the first and certainly not the last major us company to have its secrets stolen by foreign agents. we dug through millions of us court records covering
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the last 20 years and found hundreds of economic espionage or intellectual property theft cases, including a spike in those cases in the last two years, especially here in silicon valley. craig fair: it is an overt effort on the part of the chinese government. stephen: craig fair is assistant special agent in charge of the counter intelligence unit for the fbi san francisco field division. he oversees this secret office located on the peninsula, base for 70% of all the nation's economic espionage cases. craig: it's an exceptional problem, one that is getting more notoriety these days, and comes at an exceptional cost to the american economy. stephen: among the victims, dozens of silicon valley tech companies, including powerhouses like apple, cisco, intel, and genentech. mark adams: the next world war won't be on the ground, it'll be a cyber-type activity. stephen: mark adams is ceo of lumileds, a silicon valley high-tech lighting company with $1.9 billion in revenue worldwide. last year, lumileds won a $66 million civil lawsuit against
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a former chinese employee who stole their secrets. mark: we're going to defend ourselves, and i think there's a process that allows us to defend ourselves and position ourselves to be able to invest in technology without worrying about it getting stolen. stephen: but our investigation found not every company cooperates with counter intelligence efforts here in the us because they're afraid of angering china, where they have manufacturing plants and millions of potential customers. sources confirm that dozens of economic espionage cases involving other stolen secrets over the years have quietly gone away, the public never hearing about them. john demers: it's a threat to the viability of the us as the leading world economic power. stephen: to get a better idea about this threat, we sat down with the man who oversees national security for the us justice department in washington dc, john demers. john: what we've seen is the chinese taking the same intelligence organizations, the same techniques, the same tools that they and other countries have developed
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over the centuries to spy on one another, and applying them to commercial espionage. stephen: demers says 90% of these cases are based out of china and no company, no matter how large, is immune from the threat. how many get through the cracks? how many do you not catch? john: there's some aspect of that you don't know. and there's some, investigations continue. but this is going on on a very wide scale. stephen: which brings us back to the color white. kevin: we approach these cases as a national security case. stephen: counter intelligence agent phelan now works out of paris. he says theft of these secrets by foreign spies threatens entire portions of the us economy. kevin: it's being able to protect these jobs that people have in silicon valley. in this case, it means entire towns in places like delaware and mississippi, you know, in tennessee. stephen: we found just such a town, new johnsonville, tennessee, population 1951, where chemours, formally du pont,
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employs about 1,000 people, the largest plant in the world manufacturing titanium dioxide or the color white. male: what would happen if that plant shut down? female: it would probably shut everybody down around here. stephen: new johnsonville's mayor, who once worked at the plant, worries that the secret formula stolen by china could make this plant obsolete and threaten his town's very existence. male: today, it's the largest employer we have, and they pay good, and people have been working there forever, and it's real essential. stephen: the du pont stolen secret case is still ongoing. the us government last fall charged four chinese national companies with economic espionage. and during a hearing in federal court in oakland in october, their attorneys told us their clients did not want to talk about the case. as for walter liew, he was convicted and is now serving time in a federal prison. an appeals court upheld his conviction. neither he nor his lawyers returned multiple requests for comment. now, if you have a story for us, just send us a tip to,
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theunit@nbcbayarea.com. or you can call the tip line, 888-996-tips. that's our show for tonight, thank you for joining us. you can watch us every night right here on nbc bay area, where we investigate.
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the crimes he )s accused of, and how the church is responding. right now at five a bay area priest arrested. plus, the mueller report still a big issue in washington, d.c. the demands by lawmakers. and how americans feel about the findings. say good-bye to the gorgeous weather. believe it or not, i guess you can believe it, rain is on the way. good evening, everyone. i'm terry mcsweeney. and i'm vicky nguyen. more rain is moving in. rob is here with what we can expect. and we are a little disappointed, rob. >> yeah. at least

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