Pat Duggins

News Director

Pat Duggins is news director for Alabama Public Radio.  If his name or voice is familiar, it could be his twenty five years covering the U.S. space program, including fourteen years on NPR.  Pat’s NASA experience began with the explosion of Space Shuttle Challenger in 1986, and includes 103 missions.  Many NPR listeners recall Pat’s commentary during Weekend Edition Saturday on February 1, 2003 when Shuttle Columbia broke apart and burned up during re-entry.  His expertise was utilized during three hours of live and unscripted coverage with NPR’s Scott Simon.  Pat later wrote two books about NASA, Final Countdown: NASA and the End of the Space Shuttle Program and Trailblazing Mars, both of which have been released as audio books.  Pat has also lectured about the future of the space program at Harvard, and writes about international space efforts for "Modern Weekly" magazine in Shanghai, China.

Duggins experience goes beyond NASA.  Most recently, he led the APR news team on a year long investigation of rural health in Alabama, which was recognized with the 50th annual "Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award for Radio." The team was honored alongside The New York Times, the Washington Post, ABC-TV, and PBS FRONTLINE. In addition, APR was selected over that year's RFK award laureates to receive the RFK Human Rights Foundation's "John Siegenthaler Prize for Courage in Journalism," the first radio news operation to be  so honored. Duggins and the team also investigated conditions at Alabama prisons which won APR's third national Sigma Delta Chi award from the Society of Professional Journalists. Following the airing of this series and documentary, the U.S. DOJ began an investigation into Alabama prisons, and Governor Kay Ivey enacted a law that stops judges from overruling jury recommendations of life in prison in murder cases, and imposing the death penalty.

APR also covered the 2011 Alabama Tornado outbreak with dawn to dusk rescue and recovery updates. The news crew also provided national and international coverage for the BBC in London, MSNBC, CBC in Canada, and Australia Broadcasting in Sydney and Melbourne.  His efforts, and those of the APR news team, were recognized with back-to-back National Sigma Delta Chi awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Radio Television Digital News Association also honored Pat and the team with three national Edward R. Murrow Awards, including the prestigious prize for overall excellence. The Alabama Associated Press also recognized APR as the "Most Outstanding News Organization" in 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, and 2017. And, Duggins' news series on the long-term impact of the Gulf oil spill won APR's first national PRNDI award from the Public Radio News Directors' Association in a decade, as well as a regional Murrow. His documentary "Civil Rights Radio," on the 1963 "children's march" in Birmingham was honored with the international "Silver Radio Award" from the New York Festivals radio competition, and with a "Gabriel Award" from the Catholic Church. 

Pat’s work isn’t limited to radio, with regular appearances on TV.  He also conducts interview/profile segments for "Alabama, Inc." a University of Alabama TV series on business on airs statewide on Alabama Public Television. Pat also co-hosted “Your Vote Counts,” a program featuring college-age voters who critiqued the final debate between Robert Bentley and Ron Sparks in the 2011 race for Alabama Governor. 

Since his arrival at APR, Pat and the team have won more than one hundred awards for excellence in journalism. Duggins is also the recipient of a Suncoast Regional Emmy.

Ways to Connect

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Alabama is asking Washington if it can spend COVID-19 relief dollars on the State's ailing prison system. . The Montgomery Advertiser reports that Corrections Commissioner Jeff Dunn sent a letter to the U.S. Treasury Department asking the question. Dunn framed the request as enhancing health care and programming for inmates. Lawmakers have previously said they want to know if pandemic recovery funds can be used for prison construction and renovations. The question arose after Governor Kay Ivey's plan to lease prisons fell apart because of financing concerns.

The Mobile area is a step closer to creating a state park in Africatown. That’s the community established by Africans brought to Alabama aboard the last slave ship to land in the United States. Mobile County commissioners are authorizing a contract for a study on Africatown USA State Park. The report would determine the feasibility of the project. The idea was reportedly discussed in the 1980s but nothing ever happened. Interest in the area has been high since remains of the Clotilda were discovered in 2018.

Community activists are pleading not guilty to misdemeanor charges over spray-painted messages near the Alabama Capitol. The graffiti urged the state to expand Medicaid. The four activists are with the Save OurSelves Movement for Justice and Democracy. They were arrested last year after writing "Expand Medicaid" and "Black Lives Matter" on a street by the Capitol. Alabama is one of 12 states that have not expanded Medicaid to cover low-income working people. Medicaid is health insurance funded by federal and state governments.

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A longtime Alabama law officer is set to stand trial on theft and ethics charges. Limestone County Sheriff Mike Blakley was indicted two years ago. Jury selection is scheduled to begin today. Blakely is still working as sheriff despite facing a dozen felony counts. He’s accused of stealing campaign donations, taking interest-free loans, and soliciting money from employees. Blakely is pleading not guilty and announced plans to seek an 11th term in office if acquitted.

The Alabama Hospital Association says 94% of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 did not get vaccinated against the virus. The organization released the figure as it announced a new initiative to encourage more people to get the shots. The program called "We Can Do This Alabama" asks Alabamians to sign up to be a local champion and encourage three new people each week to get vaccinated and to recruit others to do the same. The Pathcheck Foundation vaccination dashboard reports Alabama remains at the bottom of U.S. States with barely 30% of its population vaccination against COVID-19.

An Alabama prison inmate has died after an apparent assault last month at Bullock Correctional Facility. The Alabama Department of Corrections says Edwin Brazil died late last month at a hospital from injuries sustained in an apparent assault by a fellow inmate the previous week. The victim was serving a thirty five year sentence for first-degree robbery. The Department of Corrections says the death is under investigation. The report of the death comes as the Justice Department argued a lawsuit should not be dismissed against the state prison system.

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Forecasters warn life-threatening flash flooding could occur central Alabama, as well as parts of the Deep South, as Tropical Depression Claudette travels over the southeast. Heavy rain led to high water late Saturday into early today in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. The rapidly changing conditions came as Claudette was beginning to batter parts of Georgia and the Carolinas early today. The system's rainfall was accompanied with maximum sustained winds of 30 mph.

thisisalabama.org

Authorities in Alabama are investigating a suspected tornado spurred by Tropical Storm Claudette. The system demolished or badly damaged at least fifty homes in a small town just north of the Florida border. The Escambia County Sheriff Department says the possible tornado levelled much of a mobile home park. It also reportedly toppled trees onto houses and ripped the roof off of a high school gym. There were immediate no reports of deaths. Most of the damage was done in or near the towns of Brewton and East Brewton, about fifty miles north of Pensacola.

NHC-NOAA

Residents of Mobile, the Eastern Shore, and much of the rest of the Gulf coast woke up to Tropical Storm Claudette. The system formed today, bringing heavy rains and flooding to coastal states including Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. The National Hurricane Center in Miami said in a 4 a.m. advisory that the storm was located 45 miles southwest of New Orleans with maximum sustained winds of 45 mph. Flooding had already begun overnight, with local reports of high water over roads and stranded vehicles.

Alabamians plan statewide observances of first Juneteenth federal holiday

Jun 18, 2021
Library of Congress

Alabama plans to join in on the first ever Juneteenth federal holiday.

Observance honors the day in 1865 when word spread about President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation to end slavery. Birmingham will celebrate Juneteenth with a festival at Kelly Ingram Park. The City of Mobile will host its own event called Rhythm of Freedom.

Dr. Joshua Rothman teaches history at the University of Alabama. He hopes the holiday leads to discussions on issues like racism.

NASA

Veteran Space Shuttle crewmember James Halsell is spending his first full week behind bars after pleading guilty last week to two counts of manslaughter in a 2016 traffic crash that killed two sisters. The astronaut also admitted to two more felony counts of DUI assault. Before sentencing, Halsell’s defense team argued against putting the astronaut in prison. Tuscaloosa County District Hays Webb says he opposed the idea of no jail time or even probation.

APR's Pat Duggins

A five time Space Shuttle astronaut is now a convicted felon. James Halsell stood before a Tuscaloosa judge and pleaded guilty to two counts of manslaughter in the 2016 traffic crash that killed two young girls. APR has been following the case from the beginning. It was a shock to observers of the space program and a long wait for justice for the victim’s family.

“For me and my family, we just tired," said Latrice Parler. She's the mother of Jayla Parler and Niomi James. “It’s been a long five years, and we need to rest."

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Memorial Day 2021 is also the first big holiday in Alabama since Governor Kay Ivey rescinded the State’s COVID-19 mask mandate. Ivey’s “safer at home” mandate, which suggested mask wearing and social distancing, ended in early April. Close to three thousand new cases of the coronavirus have been confirmed in Alabama in the last two weeks. UAB epidemiologist Dr. Suzanne Judd says she doesn’t expect a big bump in infections over the weekend.

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Tuscaloosa Mayor Walt Maddox wants to create a mental health court similar to diversion programs that work with first time offenders. The mayor says he wants the committee to present recommendations on the court before the end of the year. He hopes to have it operating by early 2022. The mental health court would operate inside the city's municipal court. Maddox says such a court would help people with mental health needs get the treatment and help they need instead of jail time.

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The 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals turned away the legal challenges of a one-time Drummond Coal Company vice president and an attorney. A federal appeals court ruling upholds the convictions of Drummond executive David Lynn Roberson and Joel Iverson Gilbert, a former partner at Balch & Bingham law firm. Prosecutors say the two bribed a former Alabama legislator to sidetrack an environmental cleanup. Federal prosecutors say the court rejected claims by Roberson and Gilbert that their actions didn't constitute bribery under the law.

NASA

The end may be coming for a Tuscaloosa murder case involving a five-time Space Shuttle Astronaut. Veteran Space Shuttle Commander James Halsell is expected to enter a plea tomorrow. He’s charged with murder in the traffic deaths of sisters eleven year old Niomi James and thirteen year old Jayla Parler in 2016. Halsell’s defense team blamed the accident on sleeping medication. Last summer, APR spoke with Judge John Carroll of the Samford University Law School. Back then, he said Halsell’s history as an astronaut probably wouldn’t make a difference at trial.

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Alabama lawmakers may meet in special session on prison construction this summer. This comes as Governor Kay Ivey's plan to rent prisons from private companies has been hit by setbacks. House Speaker Mac McCutcheon says lawmakers are working on a Plan B in which lawmakers would consider a bond issue to build new state-owned prisons. The lease plan faces a June deadline for the companies to secure financing. Failing that, the state or the companies can back out of the deal. Ivey’s office says the idea of a special session is only a hypothetical.

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This is the first full week that adolescents in Alabama have been cleared to get COVID-19 shots. It also appears youngsters don’t need their parents’ permission to be vaccinated. Alabama State Law says anyone fourteen years old or older can consent to medical treatment. Alabama Code 22-8-4 states…

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Fuel industry analysts say unwarranted panic-buying among drivers is following the shutdown of a cyberattack shutdown of a major pipeline, which is going into fifth day. The Colonial pipeline runs from the Texas Gulf Coast to the New York metropolitan area. The states most dependent on the pipeline include Alabama, Georgia, Tennessee and the Carolinas.

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Alabama travel industry observers are waiting to see how long the current shutdown of an East Coast pipeline will be. The length of time the Colonial pipeline is out of commission could determine whether there are gas shortages and price hikes. The Alabama Triple-A is watching another possible issue. That’s a potential shortage of gas trucks drivers. Triple-A spokesman Clay Ingram says COVID-19 cost some drivers their jobs and rehiring these workers may be difficult.

Encyclopedia of Alabama

Baldwin County, on the eastern shore of Mobile Bay, added forty seven thousand people to grow to more than two hundred thousand residents. Baldwin grew faster than all of the state's other 66 counties over the decade, boosting its population by nearly 26%.

Alabama Public Radio began covering Baldwin County's population boom back in 2015. Back then, the county’s probate Judge, Tim Russell had a theory when it comes to the migration of families to Baldwin. They come to visit for vacation and like it so much, they want to stay.

Judson College

Judson College just held what may be its last graduation ceremony. The school's trustees voted to close the small Baptist-affiliated school for women which predates the Civil War. Campus leaders cite a lack of money and declining enrollment in the decision to close Judson, which was founded in 1838 and is the nation’s fifth-oldest college for women.

Amazon union Bessemer
Associated Press

 

A vote not to unionize at Amazon’s Bessemer plant may not be the end of the matter.

 

The National Relations Board will meet tomorrow to discuss close to two dozen legal challenges to the recent vote to unionize at Amazon’s plant near Birmingham. The objections include allegations that Amazon used illegal tactics to intimidate employee voters.

 

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Alabama still ranks near the bottom for COVID-19 vaccinations in the U.S. States and territories.

Data from the Pathcheck Foundation puts Alabama last among U.S. States and just ahead of Puerto Rico and the Marshall Islands. Health care providers in the state are working to reassure residents about getting a COVID-19 shot. That includes pregnant women.

Dr. Jodie Dionne-Odom is an infectious specialist at UAB. She said recent COVID-19 vaccine testing on pregnant women shows its safe and effective.

pbs.org

Governor Kay Ivey’s “safer apart” plan, currently suggests wearing masks and social distancing, is now set to expire at the end of the month. The asssociated "State of Emergency" will end in July.

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Mississippi has the lowest COVID-19 vaccination rate in the U.S., with about 30% of its population receiving at least shot. An Associated Press analysis of Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows Alabama, Louisiana, Idaho and Wyoming are the next four. Those states vote reliably Republican in presidential races. So Republican leaders are stepping up efforts to persuade their supporters to get the shot, at times combating misinformation. The five states with the highest vaccination rates backed Democrat Joe Biden in November.

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Officials are hopeful Carnival Cruise Lines can resume its trips from Mobile. The area tourism agency says cruises account for $150 million annually, and a more than yearlong shutdown has hurt the local economy. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued guidelines recently that would allow companies that meet certain benchmarks to resume operating around mid-July. APR spoke with Gulf coast tourism officials about post-COVID tourism. The coverage was part of our series on the tenth anniversary of the Gulf oil spill.

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COVID-19 vaccination clinics will be operating this coming week across Alabama. This effort goes on following reports that demand for coronavirus shots in the State is dropping. The Mobile County Health Department will be giving first doses of the Moderna vaccine Monday at the Little Rock A.M.E. Zion Church. Doctor Sarah Nafziger is with UAB’s Department of Emergency Medicine. She says UAB is operating three vaccine clinics in Jefferson County.

Next  Tuesday marks ten years since Alabama's super tornado outbreak of 2011. The National Weather Service recalls 154 tornado warnings across the state that day. The Alabama Public Radio news team will be checking back with many of the people our listeners heard from in the hours following the killer storms. The APR news team's coverage of the storms was recognized with the national Edward R. Murrow Award for Overall Excellence from RTDNA, and back-to-back national Sigma Delta Chi awards from the Society of Professional Journalists.

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