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Trayvon Martin Killing: New Witness Speaks About Shooting And Aftermath; Zimmerman's Brother Speaks Out For First Time; Tornado Terror; $540,000,000 And Counting, Record Mega Millions Drawing Tonight; Autism Epidemic; Romney And Gingrich Meet Privately

Aired March 30, 2012 - 06:00   ET


ALINA CHO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Alina Cho. Zoraida is off this morning. We're bringing you the news from A to Cho. How does that sound? Guess, what it just hit, has a certain ring to it.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: It's 6:00 a.m. in the East and we begin with your top stories.

A CNN exclusive, George Zimmerman's brother calls the Trayvon Martin case a tragedy, but says his brother is nothing like he's being portrayed.


ROBERT ZIMMERMAN JR., BROTHER OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: He's a neighbor that everybody would want to have.


BANFIELD: Robert Zimmerman Jr. revealing more details about his brother's version of events on the night Trayvon Martin was killed.

Nearly a month after a deadly tornado flattened Henryville, Indiana, these pictures, incredible video of a twister that tossed a 36,000-pound school bus right through a diner. That bus was carrying 11 children just 3 minutes before these pictures show what happened.

CHO: Big story we're watching today, 42 states, D.C. and the Virgin Islands watching the Mega Millions jackpot this morning, a staggering $540 million. As of this morning a world record and expected to shoot up again this afternoon before the big drawing tonight at 11:00.

BANFIELD: Osama Bin Laden fathered four children and had five safehouses during his nine years on the run in Pakistan that's according to the "New York Times."

At least two of those children were born in a Pakistani government hospital. The information coming from one of Bin Laden's widows and testimony to Pakistani investigators.

CHO: This will make your heart skip a beat. A group of firefighters on a roof when it caves in, in Dearborn, Michigan. The men were trying to poke a hole to ventilate when it gave way. Two firefighters grabbed their partner and pulled them to safety and they were all OK.

BANFIELD: Thank God for that. That is remarkable, just remarkable video.

It's 1 minute now past 6:00 on the east coast and we want to begin with a CNN exclusive. We are hearing for the first time from a witness to the shooting that killed 17-year-old Trayvon Martin last month.

It comes after the release of police surveillance tapes that appear to show George Zimmerman, the neighborhood watch volunteer who fatally shot Trayvon with no obvious injuries.

Zimmerman claims that Martin brutally attacked him before the shooting and here is what the witness told CNN's Anderson Cooper.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was dark, but after the shots, obviously someone, a man, got up, and it was kind of like that period of him, I can't say I actually watched him get up, but maybe only within like a couple seconds or so then he was walking towards where I was watching. And I could see him a little bit clearer, I could see that it was a Hispanic man and he was, you know, he didn't appear hurt or anything else.


BANFIELD: And CNN has altered the voice of that witness as well to protect his or her, in fact, anonymity at this point. In the meantime, another CNN exclusive, George Zimmerman's brother, Robert Zimmerman, Jr., is breaking his silence about his brother and what his brother did.

CNN's Marvin Savidge is live in Sanford, Florida, with more on this story. I'm not sure how much we learned in terms of the fact pattern, what happened, which is so key in this story. But we certainly heard for the first time a lot more from this family, Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly right. A lot of people talking about both the interview of that unidentified witness you're talking about there and also about Robert Zimmerman's interview.

It's clear the family of George Zimmerman continues to rally around their son, trying to make sure his side of the story is being told. Robert Zimmerman Jr. is the older brother of George and he spoke exclusively to "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT" last night.

And he gave us more insight as to the fight between Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) ZIMMERMAN JR.: The gun I believe was tucked inside his pant waist.

PIERS MORGAN, HOST, CNN'S "PIERS MORGAN TONIGHT": So he has pulled it out and he has fired it.

ZIMMERMAN JR.: He has taken control of his firearm. He prevented his firearm from being taken from him and used against him and that's called saving your life.

Trayvon said either to the effect of, I believe, "This is going to be easy you die tonight" or "you have a piece you die tonight" and attempted to disarm him.

So when you say have a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. So nobody just stood there with a bag of Skittles and an ice tea. You return force with force when somebody assaults you.


SAVIDGE: Keep in mind, of course, Robert Zimmerman is simply recounting the story that George Zimmerman told him. So he was not a witness to the actual events, but what Robert Zimmerman is a witness to is the change in his brother, George. And he says George is not the same person he knew prior to the shooting of Trayvon Martin.


ZIMMERMAN JR.: He has very severe emotional injuries. He's been diagnosed with post traumatic stress disorder. He was not right from the moment it happened. He didn't call his family and express anything but, you know, sadness. It was just a darkness.

He had changed. He wasn't the same. He would never be the same. He was very disappointed that none of the neighbors had come out and helped, that the whole situation potentially could have been avoided by just someone coming out and saying, what's going on out there?


SAVIDGE: Whether that's the case, nobody really knows at this particular point, but it is quite clear that George Zimmerman, the family of Trayvon Martin, of course, all deeply impacted as a result of what happened that terrible night.

BANFIELD: So now we've heard from his father and from his brother and obviously everybody wants to hear from George Zimmerman himself. Martin Savidge, thanks so much.


CHO: One of the more incredible stories of the morning, you know, that this chilling new video of one of the deadly tornados that ripped apart the Midwest earlier this morning. The storms killing 14 people in the state of Indiana and that number could have been much higher if not for a hero bus driver in the city of Henryville.

It was a massive F4. It flattened Henryville back on March 2nd, struck just after 3:00 p.m. Now Angel Perry was driving 11 of her students home from school when she radioed dispatch right in the middle of it.


ANGEL PERRY, SCHOOL BUS DRIVER (via telephone): This is 211, I'm about a minute and a half from the school.

RADIO: This is 210, I'm seeing a tornado touched down about one mile from me.

PERRY: My gosh.


CHO: My gosh is right. Angel had to make a quick decision. She decided to turn around and head back to the school, when she got there, she had to get the kids off the bus and fast. And just listen to how she did it.


PERRY: Everybody stay together. Our group together right now. Go, go, go, go, go, go, go! One, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine -- come on! 10, 11, go, go!


CHO: See that there? That's the video from the school bus security camera, just three minutes after the kids got off the bus, hail, 175-mile-per-hour winds ripping right through the bus.

I mean, imagine if those kids had still been on board. Instead they were safely inside the school. The 18-ton bus, by the way, wound up launched across the street, flew right through the local diner.

BANFIELD: Thank God for Angel Perry. Thank God for that quick thinking. I mean, that could have been a horrifying story. As it was, it was a terrible story, but at least not the tragedy it could have been.

CHO: That's right.

BANFIELD: All right, it 7 minutes now past 6 on the east coast and a world record jackpot, 42 states in Mega Millions madness this morning. People like everyone in this studio already dreaming what have we're going to do when we win because we also stood in line to try to get a shot at this mega jackpot.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We made it finally. UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: We were in line from the desert. I'm going to take care of my family and my friends and we're doing a dog sanctuary, animal sanctuary and taking care of soldiers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I would make a lot of my grandkids happy and a lot of family happy.


CHO: I love when people say that, it's about my grandkids and my family. Alison Kosik is with us live in Times Square. Alison, you probably can't see this, but I'm holding up the "New York Post" and it says "Fortune Hunters, New York's Rich and Poor in $540 million Mega Frenzy."

And it's really about that. It's about the rich, the poor. It's everybody who seems to have a ticket to this thing.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It really is and you're right about that. You know, as people have been streaming in buying their morning coffee and their doughnut, they're talking about, you know, what would I do with the money?

We're hearing a lot of Tahiti here I come, but you know, a lot of people are also saying, listen, I'll share the money, too. We are here in New York actually right outside of Times Square at this convenience store watching people trickle in and dream before they head off to work.

It is not just New York where you can buy these tickets obviously. Forty two other states across the country, but here is where you can't buy them, Alaska, Hawaii, Florida, Mississippi, Alabama, et cetera.

So you know, if you're in one of the states, if you can't buy these tickets, my suggestion is maybe call somebody you know in the states where the Mega Millions jackpot is playing and go ahead and give it a try. Slap down that dollar.

You know, this is the biggest jackpot in lotto history. That's what the lottery folks are telling us and why is this is happening because there hasn't been a winner since January 24th. That's the last time someone hit the jackpot.

A woman in Georgia won the $72 million sweet pot then. But obviously the jackpot's gotten sweeter and sweeter and you look back in time, there have been some sweet pots over time.

The jackpots in 2007, 2009, even last year, but this $540 million, got to take a breath with that one. After taxes, Ashleigh, it's $389 million, not too shabby.

BANFIELD: Forget about it then, that's a rip-off. Are you in our office pool, Alison, did you get in on it?

KOSIK: You know what? Nobody asked. How could you? BANFIELD: Honey, you must have been absent that day.

KOSIK: I'll come back and have to try to get into it.

BANFIELD: You know we love you, right? Get a ticket while you're there. All right, Alison Kosik for us live in New York Times Square.

CHO: You know, the key is you have to put in five bucks to be in the pool. I said I want to be in it, I got to pony up.

BANFIELD: You can't just show up and get your money.

CHO: I'll do that before the end of today for sure.

Still ahead on EARLY START, the fate of President Obama's health care law will be voted on today. We're going to tell you what that vote means and when we're likely find out. You'd be surprised. We have to wait a little while to find out about this.

BANFIELD: And this is something you don't often see, a mug shot of an NFL cheerleader, smile. A former teacher accused of having sex with a student.

Well, you won't believe how close it came. Take a look at this. Watch the motorcycle driver very closely there. Car spins out of control. What happens next? We will show you. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: It is 14 minutes now past 6:00 on the east coast. Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

CHO: And I'm Alina Cho. Thanks so much for joining us on this Friday. This Friday is Mega Millions Friday.

We all have to wait until June to learn the outcome, you know, but the nine Supreme Court justices they will likely know the outcome of the historic health care case by the end of the day.

That's because they're voting today. The justices will meet in private to vote on the fate of the president's health care overhaul. Critics call it Obamacare.

Important to note that their votes could change though between now and June as they read each other's briefs and opinions and of course, that could change the ultimate outcome in their decision so wait until June to find out.

BANFIELD: Yes, bated breath on that one.

And a raid by French police has picked up 20 suspected Islamic militants and most of the arrests are coming from Toulouse. Sound familiar? That's because that's exactly where a gunman, Mohammed Merah, killed seven people in three separate attacks earlier this month. That ended in this mess, this police standoff last week.

Now, police are saying there isn't a connection at this point between that case and these arrests but you can draw your own conclusions.

CHO: An NFL cheerleader indicted yesterday for allegedly having a sexual relationship with a student when she was a high school teacher in Kentucky. Her name is Sarah Jones. She's the captain of the Cincinnati Bengals squad and she's charged with first-degree sexual abuse. Her lawyer says she will plead not guilty.

BANFIELD: Some video for you to see this morning. Take a look at this camera. You can see a motorcycle and a car spinning out of control.

Look at this. Don't worry -- look how close it came to being hit. It almost looks as if he goes through the car. On closer inspection he misses just by inches. It's clear why a camera was rolling on this but it's safe to say -- may be nervous but he is safe today or she. Not sure if it's a boy or girl on that motorcycle.

CHO: Buy a lotto ticket.

BANFIELD: Buy a lotto ticket, exactly. And you give up the bike, too.

But you know what, in a match between a bike and a car, guess who loses?

CHO: Battle in the Big Easy. Final four square off tomorrow night in New Orleans.

Have you been watching?

BANFIELD: Not much, because my bracket got all busted up.

CHO: OK. Well, if you I haven't been paying attention.

It's going to be Louisville versus the top seed Kentucky, and Ohio State versus Kansas. The winners play Monday night for the national championship.

BANFIELD: And a reminder to you that, you know, for an expanded look at all of the stories that we just brought to you, our top stories. You can head to our blog

CHO: Well, firefighters say they are making some progress with the deadly wildfire out west in the foothills west of Denver, Colorado. The blaze has already killed an elderly couple. More than 4,000 acres burned, at least 27 homes destroyed.

Rescuers this morning are searching for a missing woman. She is said to be inside the fire zone, but still no word on her whereabouts.

BANFIELD: That blaze was supposed to be 45 percent contained as of late yesterday, but weather is always the factor that matters as you move into the next day -- and that's where Rob Marciano comes in.

Rob, the Colorado fire officials say they are very worried about high winds. Is there a problem this weekend?

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: This weekend, yes. Today, no. And yesterday, they had good weather as well, and that's one of the reasons they got a handle on it. It's going from 15 percent to 45 percent and they might get further containment for today.

Here's the fire forecast for today, looking at the winds across the West Coast to stay there until tomorrow. So, today looks good -- mostly sunny, 60s, low levels of relative humidity, of course. Winds, five to 12, gusting at 20 in the afternoon.

And that really is about as best as you could hope for for this situation. But here comes the storm across the West Coast. From the Pacific Northwest down to North Cal, 45 to 60-mile-an-hour winds today across sierra (ph) into Nevada ands those winds will get across the Rockies and into the fire zone tomorrow.

Couple areas of potentially severe weather across the Ohio River Valley and then one across parts of Texas and then through Louisiana as well, and the flooding potential across the Pacific Northwest.

Check out this video coming into us from Monterrey, Mexico. Monterrey, Mexico, all right? That's well south of the border. This tornado touching down and these two women driving real close to it. At one point, earlier in the video, guys, you can se the tornado cross the road, and that's finally when they stopped.

If you can speak Spanish well, you can hear them say things like, well, we got our seat belts on, so we should be OK, and obviously they were, but that is a scary situation. Did topple over one tractor trailer which they passed and that continued to move off towards the east, part of a complex that's now just offshore of Brownsville, Texas.

BANFIELD: Every time I see those pictures, I just feel queasy.

MARCIANO: It's frightening stuff, frightening stuff.

BANFIELD: This is the first time, Rob, I have to say that somebody's taken their camera and then panned up on the funnel cloud that goes up into the sky.

MARCIANO: It was nice photo-journalistic work by those two ladies for sure.

BANFIELD: I don't know if they knew how much danger they were in. That thing looks like it's getting very close to them, far too close for comfort anyway.

MARCIANO: It's well done and I'm glad that everybody was OK.

CHO: Yes. That's the important thing.

All right. Rob Marciano, thank you.

Still ahead, we're talking about a jackpot on the highway. Listen to this story, a truck carrying millions of coins busts open during a dangerous crash. We're going to tell you what happened.

BANFIELD: And also, your morning just got a little more expensive, because if you're heading to the pump, the gas prices are -- get this -- oh, up a little. It's been an unbelievable rise in gas prices since the start of the year. We'll break it down for you when we come back.

You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Remarkable. Twenty-three minutes now past 6:00 a.m.

Price of gas rising 0.4 this morning. I say remarkable because I'm feeling like a broken record.

Twenty-one days in a row now. And it was going up a whole bunch more before that. Gas prices now averaging $3.93 per gallon of regular self-serve.

CHO: That's right. We're 7 cents shy of that $4 mark. And that's up, by the way, 65 cents from the beginning of the year.

Christine Romans here with a closer look at that.

I mean, that's painful.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: It is. And I think the moral of the story is: fill up today, don't get a quarter of a tank of gas. I mean, just fill up because they're probably going to keep going up. Gas prices are up some 20 percent from the start of the year.

Now, look how prices have seesawed just during the Obama presidency, for example. When President Obama took office in late January 2009, gas prices then were about $1.80 a gallon. Remember, it was a very weak time of financial crisis, a recession. Since then, prices have gone up and down and then up go again to around where they are now, almost $4 a gallon. The highest since 2008, that's when George W. Bush was still president.

Higher gas prices hit families particularly hard because they're dependent on their cars to get around and it's one of the bills that is a must pay bill.

Take a look at some of the numbers here. I want to show that -- let's assume for argument's sake that gas prices stay static over a year's time. Look at how much more families can expect to pay at current prices just to the pump. I mean, the average family consumes 1,100 gallons of gas a year.


ROMANS: So, it makes a big difference. You're talking about 2 grand more.

Gas prices, though, don't stay static. In fact, they are expected to go higher as the peak season kicks in. But then they could go down a little bit in the fall. You get a sense though that more Americans have to shell out more money from disposable income on gas. And it's about $2,300 a year, a lot of money and a financial hardship for many people.

Now, a new CNN/ORC poll shows almost a quarter of Americans say that rising gas prices are causing them severe hardship.

Now, a couple things that oil analysts tell me. They say a couple of things, payroll tax holiday takes a little bit of sting out of it, because in your paycheck, you're getting a little bit of more money every week -- every week.

BANFIELD: We had that though.

ROMANS: We had that. That's right.

BANFIELD: We had that with lower gas prices.

ROMANS: And other things going up we're paying as well. Certainly doesn't negate it altogether. Also a mild winter, in some parts of the country, some parts of the Midwest, people are paying less for their heating bills for the winter so it gives them a little bit more breathing space.

CHO: Offsets it.

ROMANS: But it's difficult which is why it becomes a political question, why people want to blame, they want answers -- this is gas prices are probably going to keep going up the next few weeks.

CHO: Yes, a surprise here. The Gallup poll is saying that the tipping point, as far as Americans are concerned, around $5.30, $5.35.


BANFIELD: My tipping point was about a month and a half ago. Sorry. I don't care what anyone says.

Christine, thank you so much.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

CHO: Thanks, Christine.

BANFIELD: Twenty-five minutes now past 6:00 a.m. on the East Coast.

And this number will shock you: one in 88 American children have autism. That's according to a brand new study by the CDC. These numbers are even worse for boys.

Our CNN medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is going to join us and let you know what's behind these numbers.

CHO: And talk about heart-stopping video. Just get a load of this -- firefighters on a roof when it caves in. We're going to show you what happens next.

You're watching EARLY START.


CHO: Twenty-nine minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Alina Cho, in for Zoraida Sambolin this morning. Happy to have you here.

BANFIELD: I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

And because it's this time of the morning, time to check the headlines that are making news this morning.

Is it your lucky day? I hope so. But I hope it's my lucky day. Millions of people, ourselves included here, are lining up for a world record lotto jackpot.

Five hundred and forty million is the total at this point. But that's expected to shoot up again later this afternoon. And the big drawing is set for tonight, just $1 to play, folks.

CHO: You're 100 times more likely to die of flesh-eating bacteria than you are to win on a single ticket. But, hey, keep trying.

BANFIELD: Why not? Give it a go.

Japan ordering its military to intercept a rocket expected to be launched by North Korea next month if it flies over Japanese air space. Pyongyang said it plans to send a satellite into orbit sometime next month, mid-April.

But, Japan, along with the U.S. and other countries believe it's seeking to test a long range missile capability. And that's in violation of international rules.

BANFIELD: Filmmaker Spike Lee is doing the right thing. That's to make up for a mistake that he made after retweeting an address claiming to be the home of Trayvon Martin's shooter, George Zimmerman.

Spike Lee has agreed to pay for the couple's expenses after that couple on your screen had to move out. Elaine and David McClain's attorney says they received hate mail and feared for their lives. Lee is paying them an undisclosed amount of money.

CHO: What you're about to see, tornado, packing 175-mile-an- hour winds, tearing through that school, you can barely see it, tearing through a school bus in Henryville, Indiana. That school bus was carrying 11 children -- the children were inside the bus three minutes before. And we're going to show just you how the intense situation turned out, straight ahead.

BANFIELD: And this is like a giant version of one of the machines at Dave & Busters. A big giant magnet picking up little itty bitty coins.

Here's the story. It was picking up millions of dollars in coins off of a highway in Canada. This happened after a truck hauling Canadian currency got into a wreck -- $3 million to $5 million in what they call loonies and toonies. Those are $1 and $2 coins spilled out of the truck.

The driver was injured but police think that maybe this happened because the driver has fallen sleep at the wheel.

CHO: Oh, man.

Well, enough talk about chump change. We're done with that.

BANFIELD: Why not?

CHO: We're just hours away from the big mega millions drawing. You hear about this?

BANFIELD: Fortune hunters.

CHO: In case you didn't hear about it -- record, record $540 million, setting off a ticket buying frenzy. A million tickets an hour in New York alone.

BANFIELD: Serious?

CHO: That's right. Just yesterday afternoon. I'm sure it's still the same. Lottery has not been won since January 24th. That's -- so the jackpot has been rolled over 18 times over the past nine weeks, that's how you get to the magic $540 million.

Our Alison Kosik is live in Times Square, talking to all of the people who are dreaming about winning the jackpot.

Hey, Alison. Good morning.


You know, it is funny how when you talk about winning $540 million brings out the dreamer in all of us. And, you know, I've been watching commuters walking to this convenient store here right outside of Times Square when they slap down their dollar bills, they're talking about what they'd do with the money.

And I'm hearing everything from I'd a buy (INAUDIBLE), I'm going to pay off my kid's college education, to Tahiti, here I come. I also talked to a few people yesterday and they were a little more charitable.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: First, I have to go to church, my 10 percent tax and I told my son I would open up a block in Brooklyn to open up a school and community center.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I don't know. I'd try to help people, but I bet I'd be getting a lot of phone calls.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Dream to help a lot of people who could use it, because if you win that much money, it's plenty for everybody.


KOSIK: So we wanted to crunch the numbers a little more and find out if you did win that $540 million jackpot, if you took the lump sum of $389 million what could you get? Well, you and 29 million of your closest friends and family can go to see "The Hunger Games."

What else can you get? You can get 778 of Kate Middleton's blue sapphire engagement rings. How about that? Because you need 778 of those.

And then, of course, you need that 469,240 4G iPads 2. Don't you, Alina?

CHO: How about just one. I don't have an iPad.

BANFIELD: Come on. Would that be your first purchase?

CHO: Well, I don't know about that, but it would be one of them.

BANFIELD: Alison, what's your first purchase if you win, hon?

KOSIK: You know, my first purchase, I was just talking about this, I would hire a chef. Just a full time chef. That's what I want.

BANFIELD: That is so smart. Good one. I'd pay off the mortgage.

KOSIK: Because I still would work. It's a good job.

BANFIELD: I'd go right to the bank that very day and say, this is what I'm doing.

CHO: It's a good idea, I didn't think about that.

BANFIELD: It's a Christine Romans tip. I live and die by what Christine Romans says and what Alison Kosik says, too.

Thanks, Alison.

CHO: Thank you.

BANFIELD: So, we have this video that we want to play for you -- it's 34 minutes now past 6:00 on the East Coast -- and it is riveting. It's a deadly tornado that flattened the city of Henryville, Indiana, earlier this month.

You might have seen this picture of the F4 tornado. This was on March 2nd, just after 3:00 p.m. But may not have seen the pictures where Angel Perry was spending her time.

She was driving 11 kids on her school bus, and she was taking them home from school. She got nervous about what she was seeing and what she thought was a dangerous situation, so she thought ahead to radio dispatch. Have a listen.


ANGEL PERRY: This is 211, I'm about a minute and a half from the school.

RADIO: This is 210, I'm on (INAUDIBLE) road and I see the tornado touch down about one mile from me.

PERRY: Oh, my gosh.


BANFIELD: Well, after an "Oh my gosh," Angel got smart real fast. She decided to turn around her school bus with those 11 kids on board and get back to the school. She got there safely, with three minutes to spare, got the kids off the bus fast, and then look what happened with her school bus security camera recording three minutes after that, the condition inside her school bus. Those are 175-mile- an-hour winds, and hail ripping through that bus.

That's an 18-ton school bus. Launched like a catapult, stabbing into the side of a diner across the street. It flew right through the window. Unbelievable pictures, and unbelievable smart thinking by that driver.

CHO: Incredible that we're finding out about the back story of that, what happened inside that bus now.

BANFIELD: Thank God for Angel Perry.

CHO: That's right. Hero bus driver.

Meanwhile, medical news now and this is something you really need to listen to if you're a parent. The latest study by the CDC, the Centers for Disease Control, suggests that autism is an epidemic.

BANFIELD: It's now one in 88 American children. Apparently, that number is one in 54 when you talk about boys. Clearly, that is a crisis. It seems to be up from the one in 150 that was recorded back in 2002.

Our senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen is joining us now from Atlanta.

So, I always wonder what is behind the numbers, whether it's actually a situation whereby more kids are getting sick or we're just getting smarter about this.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, that is the million-dollar question. The answer is we really don't know. We try to figure out what's going on, a 78 percent increase between 2002 and 2008, what accounts for that? Experts tell us that they think that it's certainly a significant part of it is that as you said we're getting smarter. Parents are noticing these behaviors, they're aggressive and rightfully so taking their kids to the pediatrician and saying what's going on here.

Pediatricians got smarter in the eight years. They learned more about what exactly what the signs are that they should be looking for when making an autism diagnosis. So, that is definitely a part of it.

But here's the other thing, Ashleigh. Experts think maybe there really is something out in the world that is causing this increase in autism, but they don't know what it is. Maybe there's something in the air that we breathe. Maybe there's something in the water we drink. Maybe there's something in the food we eat.

Kids maybe are exposed to more chemicals than they used to be, and so, the kids are exposed or maybe the moms are exposed while those babies are developing in the womb.

So, the question is, what happened in those six years and they're trying to do studies right now to figure that out.

And to read more about this, because it is a fascinating and also a very disturbing phenomenon, go to Read an article by my friend and colleague, Marianne Falco (ph). It explains it all.

BANFIELD: It's disturbing. But it's also just downright frightening for a parent, especially a parent of a young child wondering, look, I don't even know what this baby is supposed to be doing, let alone if the baby is doing a right thing.

What should a parent know about what to look out for?

BANFIELD: Right. There are certain signs the parents need to look out for. Sometimes, they're big and obvious. And sometimes, they really aren't.

For example, if your child is making poor eye contact, if you look around and their friends are all making eye contact, but around 6 to 12 months, they're not keeping eye contact with people, that's a problem.

If the child doesn't gesture when they communicate, I mean, you have kids that you know that a child that age will sort of reach out or reach to you. If the child doesn't make gestures or reach out to you when you approach them, that is also a big red flag.

If you go to, you could read more of the signs of autism that you need to look for. And if the doctor says, oh, no, don't worry, your child is fine and you're still worried, you need to keep persisting because if the mommy gut says something's wrong, good chance something really is wrong.

BANFIELD: Ah, the empowered patient. Right?

COHEN: Right. You got to be for your child. You got to advocate for your child.

BANFIELD: Elizabeth, thank you for that. Appreciate it.

COHEN: Thanks.

CHO: Still ahead, betting on a long shot.

BANFIELD: Very, very, very long shot.

CHO: Listen to these odds, 176 million to one. It doesn't matter, though. People are still buying up those lottery tickets.

And, of course, you got to be in it to have any shot at all. So, next, we're going to talk to one of the people the mega millions fever. That's just ahead.

BANFIELD: And also, they were trying to poke a hole when they got in a big one of their own. Look at your screen, frightening situation for firefighters. And when we come back, you're going to find out how that colleague fared and if his friends were able to save him.


CHO: You're looking live there at Times Square, where people are just snapping up those lotto tickets like nobody's business.

You know your odds of winning are 176 million to one. But you have to play to win, right? And trust me, you want to play. The jackpot -- a record $540 million.

That means lottery fever has descended upon much of the country. The drawing is tonight and when I say much of the country, I mean, much of the country. We're talking about 42 states, the District of Columbia, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Let's not forget them. They're all in the game, including Connecticut.

So, we decided we wanted to bring in Anne Noble. She is president and CEO of the Connecticut Lottery.

Great to see you. Thanks for coming in.

ANNE NOBLE, CONNECTICUT LOTTERY: Good morning. It's good to be here.

CHO: You know, this jackpot has been rolled over 18 times in the past nine weeks. No winners since January 24th. That's how we get to the magic $540 million.

I mean, did you ever think?

NOBLE: Five hundred and forty million is just an amazing record-setting amount.

CHO: Staggering.

NOBLE: And we know our players are excited, they keep buying and this jackpot keep growing.

CHO: There's a lot of first time buyers out there, right? People don't normally play the lottery, like myself. I mean, I'm going to go out and get a ticket later on today.

NOBLE: Every single person that I've seen today has talked about buying a ticket, and how much fun it is and what would they do with $540 million.

CHO: Everybody wants to dream about winning that money. But, I mean, do you have any hard numbers? I mean, I know in New York yesterday, it got to a point where they were selling $1 million worth of tickets every hour.

NOBLE: Well, we know that we're selling thousands of wagers every minute. So the numbers just keep going up. And you know, we've lots of money going toward Connecticut general fund since this started.

CHO: It is all anyone is talking about, because just the dream alone, right, just to think about what you'd do with that money. And in fact, you brought in -- we love guests who bring in props. You brought in a great prop, which is this check, which Pete is going to bring in here.

Pete, let's have a look at it, because, obviously, your hope is that the winner is from Connecticut. Knowing, of course, but then you get to hand this check and their name to the winner along with the real one, right?

NOBLE: I do, and it's the best part of my job that I have is to meet all our winners, because they're such good people, and they're generous people. They talk about what they're going to do with the money and how they're going to help their families, and then, of course, so much money would come back to the state of Connecticut in taxes alone.

CHO: Yes, talk about that. I mean, what does it do to have a winner from Connecticut, and what does that do?

NOBLE: I mean, we could have $26 million in taxes alone that we didn't expect, and you know, we need to fund education, the profits from this game, fund education, they fund roadwork. All the good things that the state does for its citizens are helped out when people play the lottery. So, it's a win/win for everyone.

CHO: It certainly is, and let's not forget the person who sells the ticket at the store gets $100,000. That's not a bad deal.

NOBLE: All of -- our retailers across Connecticut are 2,700 retailers have earned almost half a million dollars since January on this game.

CHO: OK. So, you know, you hear all these unbelievable stats about, you know, people buying on a single ticket, what are the odds and so forth. I mean, this might be a stupid question, is there any -- are you any better off spending 100 bucks than you are $1, you know, buying a single ticket?

I mean, in terms of your odds when you're talking about 176 million to one, you're not really increasing your odds that much. Of course, you want people to buy tickets, though.

NOBLE: Well, but the odds are the same for every ticket that you buy. Of course, if you have more tickets, the probability that you could be a winner goes up, but it's just a dollar, and it just takes one ticket to be the winner, and so, everyone should get in the game and have a good time and know their limits but have fun.

CHO: I'm in the office pool, and I think I'm going to go get a single ticket, too. All right.

NOBLE: Absolutely.

CHO: Anne Noble, CEO of the Connecticut State Lottery, thanks so much.

NOBLE: Good to be here, thank you.

CHO: Soledad O'Brien off this morning. Christine Romans joins us now with a look at what's ahead on "Starting Point." Hey, Christine.

BANFIELD: And you know what, we're talking about you.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: We are. I was just saying, you know, you can look at functional MRIs of people who play the lottery. You can really look at this, in neuroeconomic science. And you can see the brain react to the aspiration of trying to win money. It's fascinating.

BANFIELD: Neuroeconomic science. There is such a thing.

ROMANS: Yes. Neuroeconomics. All right. Coming up on "Starting Point," I'm in for Soledad today. We got a better picture of the moments leading up to the shooting of Trayvon Martin, what we're breaking down the latest information and speaking with the man who literally wrote the book on firearms law, like Florida's stand your ground.

And gas prices up again today, are you surprised, averaging about $4 a gallon nationwide. a lot of you in California and the Midwest are saying four bucks? Hey, that was weeks ago. So, what's being done to lower costs? Senator Robert Menendez of New Jersey stops by to talk about oil and gas prices, and tax breaks for oil companies. He's the author of the bill shot down in the Senate yesterday that would have ended subsidies to big oil.

And Arlen Spector, the former senator, joins us. He's a long time Republican who made a controversial switch to be a Democrat. He's going to weigh in on everything from healthcare to senatorial conduct in the gym. That's right. In the gym.


ROMANS: Yes. You don't want to miss it. EARLY START, we'll be right back.


BANFIELD: Hi, everybody. It's 51 minutes now past 6:00 on the east coast. We're looking at checking all your top stories this morning.


BANFIELD (on-camera): And a French raid by police picked up 20 suspected Islamic militants, most of the arrests coming from Toulouse. And Toulouse is the place where that gunman, Mohamed Merah (ph), killed seven people in three separate attacks earlier this month.

Merah ultimately was killed in this standoff last week, police saying, but there is no connection at this point to be made between this case and these arrests.

CHO: Here's what you need to know in the political world today, Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich had a private meeting last weekend in Louisiana. That was right before that state's primary, which by the way, was won by Rick Santorum. Sources telling our John King that the meeting was productive and pleasant, but no details about exactly what they might have discussed.

BANFIELD: Dramatic video of three firefighters in Dearborn, Michigan, on the roof battling a fire at a dry cleaning business. They're trying to poke a hole in the roof, eventually, at the building, but look what happens. It gives way, and one of those firefighters has to grab on for his life.

His colleagues barely pulled their partner to safety, but we are glad to report today that they are OK. Heroes, absolute heroes. Bravery.

CHO: And saving each other.

BANFIELD: Incredible, look at that.


CHO (on-camera): Just ahead on EARLY START, new voices being heard in the Trayvon Martin case. It's a CNN exclusive. You're going to hear from the shooter, George Zimmerman's, brother revealing new details of the moments before the shooting.

BANFIELD (on-camera): And also, it is a world record. This lottery everyone is talking about, the mega millions just hours to go before the numbers are drawn for the largest lottery jackpot in the history of mankind. Better get in line now, though, because the lines are getting longer as the day gets shorter. This is EARLY START. We're back after the break.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to EARLY START. It's time now for a quick look at the day's big stories, and as they progress ahead, let's take it to CNNs Martin Savidge. He's live in Sanford, Florida, with the story of Robert Zimmerman Jr. and the new details that he's revealing about the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, you're right. Yes. They are speaking out, the family, as they have done now for a couple of days, the latest, the older brother, Robert Zimmerman spoken to "Piers Morgan Tonight." Here's what he described in the life and death struggle that took place.


ROBERT ZIMMERN, JR., BROTHER OF GEORGE ZIMMERMAN: What Trayvon said was either to the effect of, I believe, "this is going to be easy, you die tonight" or "you have a piece, you die tonight," and then, attempted to disarm him. So, when you say have a bag of Skittles and an iced tea, nobody just stood there with a bag of Skittles and an iced tea. You return force with force when somebody assaults you.


SAVIDGE: And Ashleigh, one of the headlines to come out of that interview, Robert Zimmerman says that medical records will verify what George Zimmerman has said all along that it was a life and death struggle. We'll wait and find out.

BANFIELD: All right. Martin Savidge, thank you.

CHO: And Alison Kosik live in Times Square with the world record mega millions lottery. Hey, Alison, good morning.

ALISON KOSIK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: $540 million, Alina. I've been watching people streaming at. They're commuting to work, slapping down their dollars, and telling me about their office pools. And speaking of office pools, there's one going at CNN between all of the cameramen, and I was talking with my cameraman, Frank, and he said, if they win, this is what you're going to see on CNN on Monday.





CHO: That's right.

KOSIK: Do you think they're going to come back to work? I don't think they're going to come back to work. These are hard workers.


KOSIK: It's like the last thing they're going to want to do.

CHO: And if we win, will there going to be an empty set? Maybe.

BANFIELD: No. I think --

KOSIK: Put mannequins. Put mannequins in the seat.

BANFIELD: You got to be honest, Alison, if you were to win, would you continue to work?

KOSIK: Yes, I would, because it would be much easier. I told you earlier, I would hire a chef. I would hire a maid. Make life a little easier, but I love my job. I'd continue doing it. Why not?

BANFIELD: Same here. So, question for Alina then, would you continue working these hours?

CHO: Yes, of course.

BANFIELD: She's nutty. She's just nutty.


BANFIELD: This one, woo!

CHO: I've lost it. I've been up since 2:00.

BANFIELD: That's why I said it.

All right. Alison, thanks for that. Pick up a few tickets for us while you're there.

CHO: That's right.

BANFIELD: That is the news from -- we usually say, the news from A to Z, but today, it's the news from A to Cho. I'm the Ashleigh "A" part of it, Ashleigh Banfield.

CHO: And I'm the Cho part of it, Alina Cho. Thanks for joining us. Have a great weekend, but don't go away, because "Starting Point" with Christine Romans filling in for Soledad O'Brien starts right now.