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Robot Searching Second Vehicle

Aired September 13, 2002 - 11:40   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: And welcome back to our live, continuing coverage of this breaking story developing in Alligator Alley in South Florida. You can hardly tell through the clouds there that are beginning to form over this part of the peninsula, but two vehicles are stopped there on interstate 75, a stretch of road that has been totally shut down, and will be for some time to come. You are seeing now, I believe this is live, scenes there that, we have been watching for at least the last hour and a half or so. Actually, I'm sorry, this is tape; this is not live.
What we are seeing here is what happened a while ago, maybe an hour or so ago. Bomb technicians were going out and investigating and taking apart things that were inside the two vehicles. These two vehicles were stopped around 1:00 in the morning on Alligator Alley after one of the vehicles, the first one you saw there, the white vehicle, went through a toll booth on that turnpike without paying. That caused the police to ensue a chase. They pulled the vehicle over after about an eight-mile run. The other vehicle pulled up behind it, and at one point, bomb sniffing dogs were brought in. The dogs did alert on something in both vehicles. That's part -- that's the reason we have been watching this scene unfold this morning.

Mark Potter standing by. He has been covering for us. I believe Mark has new information for us -- Mark.

MARK POTTER, CNN ANCHOR: That's right, Leon.

An important development we saw a moment ago one of the cars actually being moved a slight distance across the road. And we asked the bomb squad commander on the scene why that occurred, and he said simply because that car has now been cleared. That's the headline. One of the cars has now been cleared, the officer on the scene have gone through it, they have gone through items in the car, and they say they have found no evidence of any explosives, no devices, nothing that car has been cleared.

So they simply moved it oust way so the roadblock can get to the next car and they will begin the same process there. Preliminarily they have gone to the other car, and they've seen nothing there either that causes them problems. But now they begin the thorough search, and they'll begin the same process there that they did with the first car to see if they can clear that car, too, or if they can find something. Right now, I -- half the search is over. It is going quicker than originally suspected. They -- that car has been cleared. So now they turn their sites on the next one.

HARRIS: Mark, since the vehicle is cleared, have they said anything about what they believe it was that made the dogs go ahead and alert on them?

POTTER: No, and they may never know. They just don't know at this time, and there is a wide range of possibilities, from a firecracker, to a hunting rifle that may have been in there a long time ago, who knows. They haven't found anything yet that suggests an answer.

KAGAN: And what about the three men who were being held? I imagine if they don't find anything in the car, even if they were the men in the Shoney's; it is hard to charge anyone over a conversation in Shoney's in Calhoun, Georgia.

POTTER: That's right. Unless there was something in Miami they were going to get. I don't know if they are cleared, but there is a wide range of possibilities. They may have been talking in a restaurant and bragging and making noise in a trip to Florida. People have certainly done that before. But we don't know. Of course the woman was correct in reporting it.

And the officials have said that they would have treated this no other way, any other time, that This is very serious, a very serious and credible tip. They pulled out all the stops to make sure they know what is going on here. They don't know yet, but at least with the one car. They are saying now. They have cleared it, and as I said. They turned their sights on to the next one to see what's there.

HARRIS: They have the robot right now taking things out of the white car.

POTTER: Right, right, and then what the robot can't get, humans will have go, humans will have to go in wearing those hot, miserable suits again to get out, and then they will get a chance to look at everything and X-ray it, and measure it and see what they've got. You know, this process seems to be moving quicker than we were originally lead to believe it would.

KAGAN: We should also point out that this car they've been looking at now with the robot, this is the car that had the license plate that was the exact match to what was spotted in Calhoun, Georgia.

POTTER: Right, Kyra, one of the things that has interested me as I listened to the officers describe what happened when they pulled over the one car, the second car came up from behind and then pulled over, too, voluntarily. Now you could say there were a couple of scenarios if I was that officer in the middle of the night that would frighten me actually as another car stops, but another person would suggest that that is just the action of an innocent person waiting to see what happens to his buddies who got pulled over by the police.

KAGAN: If you were travelling with some buddies or their family members and somebody got pulled over, especially at that time of night, it seems natural that you would pull over.

POTTER: That suggests innocent motive to the action, and again, as officers said there was no threat posed by the people, they didn't resist, or anything like that, that scenario of the second car pulling in behind after the first was stopped has always been of interest to me, because you would think that if they had illegal business in mind, they would have kept going.

HARRIS: Mark, we are seeing shot of a helicopter landing on the stretch of highway there. Have you been able to see that at all?

POTTER: No, I'm still in the car. We are heading there. We are getting close, and we'll be there soon. But I can't tell what that helicopter is, I'm sorry.

HARRIS: I just want it bring up one point by Kelly McCann, our security analyst who talked with us earlier about these sorts of incidents that happen at that time of night on roads like that in South Florida. Officers down there quite used to dealing with drug trafficking, and Kelly McCann was saying what may have tipped the officers off or heightened their alertness or awareness is sometimes what happens is a vehicle that may be a decoy vehicle will actually go through the toll booth, as this one white vehicle did, without paying, to basically be the decoy do draw the authorities on them. Meanwhile, the vehicle that would actually carry contraband would go through unnoticed. And that is one of the things that perhaps the officers were that keeping in mind when the vehicle stop happened at 1:00 in the morning.

POTTER: Well, again, but with the second car coming in behind to stop and wait it see what happens, that kind of throws that off of the theory of the first car being a decoy for the second. The whole entourage might be a decoy for somebody else going down a different highway. But again, that's pure speculation.

But another point I want to make is that a road stop, in Florida, at night, anywhere in the country actually, is one of the most dangerous things that any officer has to face.

HARRIS: That is true.

POTTER: That is a bad scene, especially when you have been on the lookout alert and there you see the car. That certainly has your blood pumping if you're that officer alone in that car, and that's why a very, very dangerous situation, and that's why he immediately called for backup as he realized the scene he was in.

HARRIS: Exactly. And we should mention that the officers did say that one of the other things that really raised their awareness was the fact that these vehicles matched the descriptions that they had gotten on that BOLO alert, or that be on the lookout alert, that was issued just hours earlier.

POTTER: Absolutely. They just blew by the officer, and he did a good job. He saw it, and he followed quickly, and he was there able to bring the car to a stop. In the process, he was calling in for backup, which arrived shortly afterwards, as other officers converged on the scene. HARRIS: Mark Potter, let you get back to your driving, and drive carefully down there, by the way. We just want to remind folks that we are still waiting. We expect a press conference with Florida's Governor Jeb Bush, which should be getting under way within about an hour or so, almost exactly an hour from now. Of course live coverage of that once it does get underway.




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