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Zimmerman Asks for Money; GSA Scandal Grows; East Coast Wildfires Rage; Zimmerman Speaks On New Website; Deadline Passes For Syrian Troops

Aired April 10, 2012 - 05:00   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: It is so nice to have you with us this morning. I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from A to Z.

It's 5:00 a.m. in the East. So, let's get started.

George Zimmerman speaking out from his hiding spot. The man who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has just launched a Web site to plead his innocence and ask for donations for his defense.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I walk around to make sure everybody else is working so I don't have to do anything.


BANFIELD: Well, that's another embarrassing moment for the agency in charge of saving the government money. The White House is in full damage control after this one and Republicans are in full investigation mode.

SAMBOLIN: Wildfires raging from Maine to Miami, flames threatening homes, thick smoke stopping traffic after one of the warmest and driest March ever.

BANFIELD: You don't just come to Miami and say the things this guy said. Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlin, boy, is he getting of on the wrong foot with the fans. It turns out he said something about Fidel Castro that not too many people like.

SAMBOLIN: But up first, George Zimmerman speaks. Well, sort of. The man who fatally shot Trayvon Martin has launched a Web site now, solicits donations from supporters. And it contains a personal message, the first time we're hearing from him since the shooting.

It says, quote, "On Sunday, February 26th, I was involved in a life altering event, which led me to become the subject of intense media coverage. As a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family and ultimately my entire life. This Web site's sole purpose is to ensure my supporters they are receiving my full attention without any intermediaries."

Meantime, the Florida special prosecutor has decided against sending the Trayvon Martin shooting to a grand jury. She will decide whether to charge Zimmerman on her own.

CNN's Martin Savidge is live in Sanford, Florida.

Martin, I want to start with family reaction. How are they reacting this morning to the special prosecutor's decision?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Right. You know, there's a lot of reaction down here. The family of Trayvon Martin has basically taken the attitude of wait-and-see. They are somewhat encouraged by the fact that Angela Corey now says she will make the decision on her own. That way, they don't believe anyone sort of could blame a grand jury if the decision does not go their way.

Ben Crump, who is the attorney who represents Trayvon Martin's family was actually speaking to CNN last night. Here's how he reacted.


BENJAMMIN CRUMP, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: We've always believed that convening a grand jury was really passing the buck. We thought from day one, as we've always believed, there was enough evidence there to simply arrest George Zimmerman. We were not asking that he'd be convicted, but a simple arrest. And over the last 42 days, as evidence has unfolded, we think there is a plethora of evidence to simply effect probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman.


SAVIDGE: I had a conversation also with Hal Uhrig. He is one of the attorneys that represent George Zimmerman. He's sort of defined the ruling by the state attorney as courageous.

What we don't know, though, is really does this give us any indication as to how Angela Corey could rule and when will Angela Corey rule. And that's, of course, what everybody is waiting on here.

We do know a couple of things as a result. Number one, she isn't going to charge George Zimmerman with first degree murder because you need a grand jury to do that down here in the state of Florida. So, what could she charge him with? Probably manslaughter. Because the fact that Trayvon Martin was a juvenile, George Zimmerman could -- the max would be up to 30 years but we're putting the cart before the horse here because we still have not heard if there will be charges at all -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: I want to get back to Zimmerman's Web site. How much money has he raised there? Do we know?

SAVIDGE: We don't know exactly. We do know there was at least one group out of Texas that donated early on $10,000 towards his defense and supposedly those who are operating that Web site have told us that he is getting interest, at least, and donations from all around the world but we don't have an exact figure for you. We'll try to get it.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Martin Savidge live in Sanford, Florida, for us -- thank you very much.

And coming up at 5:30 Eastern, we'll talk with Florida defense attorney Brad Conway about the Trayvon Martin case.

BANFIELD: It is four minutes now past 5:00 and the brother of one of the Tulsa shooting suspects is speaking out saying that his brother is not racist. Thirty-two-year-old Alvin Watts is accused of killing three black people and wounding two others. He's charged with multiple counts of murder and now prosecutors are deciding whether or not to charge hate crimes charges. Nineteen-year-old Jake England is also accused in these crimes.

And Watts' brother is blaming England for being a bad influence on his brother. He said Alvin Watts is not a racist. But when he moved in with England, he says things changed.


MICHAEL WATTS, ALVIN WATTS' BROTHER: My brother was raised in the middle of what you would call the hood. He was raised in the middle of black schools. He went to black schools. I did too. It was a machismo thing. It was trying to keep up, I don't want to be weak, I'm not a punk.

You know, he's 5'2". He weighs 110 pounds and he's got a really bad little guy's complex.


BANFIELD: England posted a Facebook message a day before the shooting that used a racial slur to describe a black man who killed his father. Authorities ruled that death a justifiable homicide.

SAMBOLIN: It is five minutes past the hour.

The scandal involving wasteful spending at the government's General Services Administration is growing. More embarrassing videos have come to light now and another top level government employee has been disciplined.

BANFIELD: Alina Cho has been following all of the latest developments on this. And, obviously, this would be something where the Republicans would want to dig pretty deep and find out what's going on.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. The Democrats are quick to point out this has been going on since the Bush administration. But nonetheless, none of it is good.

Good morning. And good morning, everybody.

You're right. Not just one investigation, we're talking about three. Republicans have scheduled three hearings to look at spending at the General Services Administration. Remember, that's the government agency in charge of buying big ticket items. And isn't that ironic given all of the news that's coming out.

All of this, of course, is coming after an inspector general's report blew the lid on the scandal involving extravagant spending at the GSA's western conference. Now, that was a four-day gathering in Las Vegas back in 2010. The GSA spent nearly a million dollars for things like $4 shrimp, a clown and mind reader.

The most damaging -- this video made by government employees bragging about spending taxpayer money. Now, it was all meant to be a joke. It was part of a contest among different GSA offices at the conference.

But now that it's out, it all looks really, really bad. And what's worse? There's more videos that have come to light. Watch.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I walk around and make sure everybody else is working so I don't have to do anything.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: You know, whatever it takes, Dan.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Push it to the limit, no one left to stand in your way and you'll never be safe --


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Karen, that was amazing. Was there anybody in region 7 that wasn't in that thing?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: If they worked -- if they didn't work on Friday, chances are they weren't in the video.


CHO: House investigators have also uncovered an employee awards program that violated GSA rules. Now, under that program, government workers were given gifts like iPods and portable DVD players and, of course, that is well over the $99 limit that the agency allows.

BANFIELD: Oh, that pesky limits.

CHO: That's right.

BANFIELD: So a lot of people's heads have started to roll.

CHO: Not one, not two, not three, we're talking about eight, Ashleigh. Eight members of the GSA either have been either fired or suspended. And so far, the latest is David Foley. He is the man you're about to see there. He is the deputy commissioner of the agency's public building services. And on Monday, he was placed on administrative leave.

Last week, the head of the agency, remember this woman, Martha Johnson, she was appointed by President Obama. She was also forced to resign, and that came only after she fired two top deputies and put four regional commissioners on administrative leave.

But, of course, those videos, remember, they were meant to be a joke, all part of a contest internally, never meant to be released like that. But now that it's out and now that we know that they spent $823,000 on that four-day conference, it's all --

BANFIELD: Pesky video. It tends to live in infamy, right? That little crazy thing called YouTube.

CHO: Pictures live forever, I like to say.

SAMBOLIN: They do indeed.

Thank you, Alina, for that.

And at 6:30, we'll learn more about the fallout from the GSA scandal. We are talking to Republican Congressman Jeff Denham. He is the chair of the House subcommittee leading hearings on GSA overspending.

BANFIELD: It is nine minutes past 5:00.

Dry and windy weather really fueling wildfires up and down the East Coast. In fact, those flames are popping up as far north as New England and as far south as Florida. The worst of the flames down in Florida. Thousands of acres are burning. It's one of the warmest and driest springs on record continue in the Southeast.

Look at the pictures. Oh, how awful.

And in New Jersey, the pine lands are glowing. Flames have burned about a thousand acre, threatened two dozen homes. So far, though, only good news to come out of that -- no evacuations have been ordered, at least yet.

SAMBOLIN: Rob Marciano is in Atlanta following the weather conditions that are fueling all of these fires I suspect.

Good morning to you.


It's not only been dry in the Southeast, but it's also been dry in the Northeast and across the Great Lakes. This fire video out of Milford, Connecticut, we also have fires in Long Island, but Milford seeing flames whip up because of the westerly winds there. Service was suspended across Metro North there for a time as they had to put out these flames and businesses evacuated.

At one point, people asked to leave their homes and smoke could be seen as far away as Bridgeport, Connecticut, as those whipped up.

All right. The threat today will be farther south. Still dry, the radar is showing most of the moisture up across parts of northern New England and Upstate New York. By the way, northern New England, including Killington, is seeing a foot of spring snow, all the wet snow.

New York back through Raleigh, this is where the red flag warnings are going to be up. Again, dry conditions and gusty, gusty wind, unseasonably strong trough across the Northeast will continue to whip those up and create a threat for fire.

Also will be pouring in is some cooler weather across the western Great Lakes. Temperatures tonight will be in the 20s and 30s in some spots. We've got freeze and warnings and advisories for a good chunk of the Ohio River Valley and parts of the western Great Lakes.

We also had severe weather yesterday across western Oklahoma, a couple of tornadoes touching down and big, big hail. Today, we'll see a similar threat across parts of Red River Valley in Texas and across parts of northern Louisiana. The winds continue in a little storm coming into the West Coast if you're heading out to California.

BANFIELD: I almost missed it, but I think you said something about snow. Where was that?

MARCIANO: Killington, Vermont. So, you know, there was a little bit of moisture up across parts of Vermont.


MARCIANO: So with the wind came some snow.

BANFIELD: So, fires all the way around the East Coast and then snow in Vermont?

SAMBOLIN: And then snow.

MARCIANO: That's right.

BANFIELD: All right. Thank you for that, Rob.

MARCIANO: All right, guys.

BANFIELD: This just in, we like to do this at about this time every day. Sometimes it's not good news. Today is not so bad. Gas prices dropping now for the fourth day in a row, national price -- the average at least for a gallon of unleaded is $3.92 per gallon. Fourth time in a row.

SAMBOLIN: A little bit of good news there, right?

Good morning to you.


SAMBOLIN: It's 12 minute past the hour.

Still ahead, a savage St. Patrick's Day beating and robbery, it was caught on tape. Have you seen it? A man stripped of his clothes, his belongings and his dignity as several people record this. Now the search for who did it.

BANFIELD: And you might say Ozzie being Ozzie. Ozzie Guillen, the new manager of the Miami Marlins really ticking off his new fan base with a compliment for one Fidel Castro -- and I'm not kidding.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 15 minutes past the hour.

Time to check the stories making news this morning. Here is Christine Romans.

Good morning.


George Zimmerman will not face a first degree murder charge in the shooting death of Trayvon Martin. That possibility was eliminated when the special prosecutor decided against taking the case to a grand jury.

Meantime, Zimmerman's making his first public comments on a newly created Web site telling supporters he's experienced a life altering event and promising the facts will come to light.

A shocking viral video shows a tourist being beaten, stripped and robbed on St. Patrick's Day in Baltimore. Police have identified one suspect although he's not in custody yet. They're asking for the public's help to ID the other attackers.

Facebook has a new friend, the photo sharing app maker Instagram. Facebook snapped it up for $1 billion. Not bad for a company that's been around less than two years, with 13 employees, still hasn't made any money. Instagram does have more than 30 million users, though. And that's what counts when you talk about social media.

BANFIELD: Kodak goes under. Instagram were fast (ph). It's a new world.


BANFIELD: Amazing. Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BANFIELD: So, it's 17 minutes now past 5:00 and we like to get an early read of things. We get them delivered early, folk, just so we can talk about them with you.

And there's a big controversy in Miami surrounding the new Miami Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen. Have you heard of him? Talk about hot water. Ooh, he made some comments to "TIME" magazine about Cuban communist leader Fidel Castro.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Here's what he said, quote, "I love Fidel Castro. I respect Fidel Castro. You know why? A lot of people have wanted to kill Fidel Castro for the last 60 years but that expletive is still here."

Guillen has since apologized and will apologize again in a conference, a press conference that he scheduled for today. But many fans are still angry. Some elected officials say they want him fired.

BANFIELD: You think?

Phil Rogers in the "Chicago Tribune" is pointing out that this isn't the first time that Guillen has made offensive remarks. When he was the Chicago White Sox manager, he used a gay slur to describe a reporter and Rogers is now saying that the time has finally come to hold Guillen accountable by saying this, "A 'TIME' magazine reporter simply didn't do Guillen the favor that so many of us have done on an almost daily basis around the ballpark, letting his stream of consciousness rambling go in one year and other."

So, now, the Marlins have a serious choice to make.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ray McNulty in "St. Lucie News-Tribune" says Guillen should be good enough. He says, quote, "Doesn't it matter that Guillen doesn't endorse Castro or his politics or his practices. Or that Guillen deeply regrets that his remarks upset the community. It should. The man made a mistake."

So, I know Ozzie. He's been our manager in Chicago for a long time. I've done some events with him. And the guy is famous for opening his mouth and inserting his foot. That is what he does.

And at the end of the day, you know, I think Miami kind of knew what they were getting out there.

BANFIELD: I don't know if they did.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes, they did. There is a lot out there that he has said throughout the years.

Here's what surprises me. He knows Miami really well. He knows the Cuban community really well. And even if he does feel that way, respect the community that you serve now.

BANFIELD: Well, yes, because it might come back to bite you. It turns out that the chairman of the city of Miami commission is now saying that, "We've been overly generous to the Marlins and we cannot allow them as an organization to continue to treat us, the residents of Miami, with disdain or be dismissive of our concerns. And I'm calling for real action to be taken and the removal of Mr. Guillen."

They have received a lot of --

SAMBOLIN: Or at very least some disciplinary action.

BANFIELD: Well, he called for the removal.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, but a lot of people are saying at least disciplinary action we want to see against Ozzie.

BANFIELD: There is a Cuban-American organization boycotting --

SAMBOLIN: Boycotting, yes.

BANFIELD: -- unless he is removed from the organization.

SAMBOLIN: Consequences.

BANFIELD: There it is.

SAMBOLIN: Ozzie, consequences.

Nineteen minutes past the hour. Up next, President Obama pushing the Buffett Rule, saying millionaires and billionaires need to pay their fair share. They're betting it will help the economy. Is it just a political play, though?

We are minding your business, coming up next.


BANFIELD: All right. It's 23 minutes now past 5:00 in the morning on the East Coast.

Markets and futures are pointing slightly upwards this morning after last week's lackluster jobs report sent the markets downward yesterday, so maybe just a one-day wonder. Dow, NASDAQ and S&P were all down 1 percent yesterday.

SAMBOLIN: President Obama is in Florida today, pushing the so- called Buffett Rule, his proposed tax on millionaires and billionaires. Will it pass or is it just campaigning on an election year?

Christine Romans is minding your business. She's breaking it down for us this morning.

ROMANS: No and yes.

SAMBOLIN: What say you?


ROMANS: No, it won't pass, and, yes, it's campaigning.

But a lot of people say it's politics wrapped up in good policy. Others say it's just a president trying to, you know, appeal to Democrats and progressives on the campaign trail who think that rich people aren't paying their share. That it works in this election year when you're talking about income disparity and income inequality like we haven't seen in the generation.

So, what do people think point about the Buffett Rule? Or what is the Buffett Rule? The Buffett Rule is a 33 percent minimum income tax for people making $1 million or more a year, making sure that they pay 30 percent, that that's their tax rate.

And this is something that might be good for the president when you look at our most recent polling because 64 percent of people polled in a CNN/ORC poll pole favor the Buffett Rule, making sure that people who make $1 million or more a year, that their tax rate is 30 percent, their minimum tax rate. Thirty percent oppose it.

And it's interesting, I should point out that the support for this Buffett Rule was strongest in our polling among Democrats, 76 percent of Democrats say they support it. And 49 percent of Republicans, almost half, support it.

Now, here's where it gets tricky, because the people who study tax policy say, well, a lot of millionaires are paying a 30 percent tax, in fact, and when you look at a tax rate from millionaires and billionaires compared with average Joe middle class Americans, their tax rate in many cases is already higher than middle class Americans because of all the income tax deductions and write-offs that we get in the middle class.

So, how much would that the Buffett Rule raise? Well, a couple of different researchers an CNN Money has some great research and a fact about this -- facts about this -- says that it would raise $5 billion in new taxes a year. Not enough to really close too much.

So ,that's where it's definitely politics. If it appeals to people who think that the rich are skating by and not paying their fair share. It works on the campaign trail.

BANFIELD: Is it just on their salary, on the millionaire salary, or the effect of tax rate with all of the investments?

ROMANS: So, here's the thing -- most people who are really rich, they're paying capital gains taxes and investments. And that's a 15 percent tax rate. If you're making money in -- with money, if you're making money with money you don't pay the tax rate of making money with work. That's part of what all of this is.

BANFIELD: But would the Buffett Rule incorporate --


BANFIELD: -- more than 30 percent.

ROMANS: Yes. So, you have to take a look. Look --

BANFIELD: I don't want to get (ph) people mad.

ROMANS: Sixty-four percent of people approve of it. Want to do it. Sixty-four percent according to our polling say make sure they'll 30 percent.

SAMBOLIN: Well, it's interesting when you share all the information, right, that sometimes we just don't know. We appreciate it.

Thank you.

BANFIELD: Twenty-six minutes now past 5:00.

And still ahead: George Zimmerman is speaking out finally yet still remaining in hiding. There's a new Web site asking for money to pay for living and legal fees and it is real.

SAMBOLIN: An incredible video. A kid grabs the wheel after a school bus driver passes out. We're going to tell you the full story here. Truly is amazing.

You are watching EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back. It is 30 minutes past the hour. Time to check the stories that are making news this morning.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): George Zimmerman, the man who shot an unarmed teenager, Trayvon Martin, has just launched a website to plead his innocence and ask for donations for his defense.

And wildfires burning thousands of acres across at least nine states this morning from Maine all the way to Miami. The smoke is threatening homes in some of the areas and creating hazardous driving conditions in parts of the southeast.

A kid steering his school bus and fellow students to safety after the bus driver collapses behind the wheel. We have the video. You are not going to want to miss it. Quick thinking, kid.


EARVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON, THREE-TIME NBA MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: No rival can bring out the best in you and also can make you a better player. Larry Bird did that for me.


SAMBOLIN: Magic versus Bird. The legendary rivalry now on Broadway. I sat down with one of the basketballs best ever to talk about the show. What Larry bird still means to him and how it feels to be a baseball owner now -- Ashleigh.

(END VIDEOTAPE) BANFIELD: Thirty-one minutes now past 5:00 on the east coast, and after months of hiding from the media spotlight, George Zimmerman is finally resurfaced online. Anyway, the suspect in the Trayvon Martin case has launched a website, and on the website, he's asking for visitors to help pay for his legal defense.

The site includes a statement that reads in part, "as a result of the incident and subsequent media coverage, I have been forced to leave my home, my school, my employer, my family, and ultimately, my entire life." At the same time, all eyes now are on the special prosecutor in this case, Angela Corey. Miss Corey announced yesterday that she would not be convening a grand jury in order to look at the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

Corey said that for weeks, the grand jury wasn't needed in this case against George Zimmerman, and in a statement, Miss Corey said, quote, "The decision should not be considered a factor in the final determination of the case."

Brad Conway is a defense attorney in Florida, and he joins us live this morning. Brad, thanks for being with us. We should state right off the bat that George Zimmerman is not off the hook by any stretch. This just means that the special prosecutor in the case plans to handle this on her own.

So, give me a bit of a feel for what Mr. Zimmerman actually could be facing if he's charged. What kinds of charges could he face in this incident?

BRAD CONWAY, DEFENSE ATTORNEY: Sure, Ashleigh. Historically, Jacksonville has made this decision in-house, in other words, they haven't gone to grand juries, so this should be no surprise. What I would expect to see charged if the special prosecutor charges anything, what I would expect to see would be manslaughter charges.

BANFIELD: Are there any other kind of charges, though, an aggravated kind of charge for the use of a weapon?

CONWAY: No, you know, manslaughter would cover it, because he did cause the death with a firearm so that would be covered under the manslaughter statute.

BANFIELD: So, talk to me a little bit about -- and again, this is -- we're really sort of playing parlor games when we talk about charges at all because the devil is in the detail, and there are so many facts -- I like to repeat often, there are so many facts in this case that we don't know, critical facts at the moment that the actual shooting happened.

But if, in fact, there are charges in the case, if George Zimmerman chooses to use a stand your ground defense, what happens then in terms of a special hearing?

CONWAY: He's entitled to a preliminary hearing, Ashleigh, where the judge looks at the facts of the case and determines by a preponderance of evidence whether Zimmerman was justified in using that force.

If the judge determines, and this is the court, not a jury, but if the judge determines that by a preponderance of evidence, that force was justified, the case goes away. So, it's very low standard, very easy case to defend on Zimmerman's side.

BANFIELD: That preponderance of evidence, most people remember that because it was talked about so often after the O.J. Simpson case.

CONWAY: Right.

BANFIELD: But those two standards are very, very different beyond reasonable doubt is extraordinarily high in terms of its bar, but the preponderance of evidence is just a little tilted scale. So, it's not that tough a bar to pass, is it?

CONWAY: No. Actually, it's very low. It's the lowest standard of proof in our court system. There's beyond reasonable doubt, clear and convincing evidence and preponderance of the evidence. So, as you said, the scales tip slightly in Zimmerman's favor, he wins.

BANFIELD: So, I guess, I need you to sort of round this out for me and that is to say this, if we don't have charges yet and we are beyond six weeks in this case, there's clearly not enough evidence right now just to charge him.

Does that indicate to you as a defense attorney that there may not be enough evidence to push beyond that standard of a preponderance of evidence in that initial preliminary hearing that might happen.

CONWAY: No, Ashleigh, I don't think I would draw that conclusion right now, because the special prosecutor got into the case, I think, three or four weeks after the shooting occurred. So, they've had to start their investigation over from the beginning. And remember, they want to make sure that they do this by the numbers.

That everything that they do can be supported by the evidence and the facts that they ferret out in their investigation. So, I think Miss Corey is being very cautious, very careful, and cognizant of the fact that it's a very tense situation that she needs to handle well.

BANFIELD: And so, here's the other big question, if there is going to be a case, if this is going to actually be litigated, people who've been watching this process, and again, no one has all the facts, but what we know now looks to be possibly quite a significant circumstantial case. Does that mean easy case, tough case, or none of the above?

CONWAY: It means tough case, Ashleigh, because what this will come down to is a judge initially making a factual determination. And what the judge is going to be looking at is both of these individuals under Florida's justifiable use of force statute have the right to stand their ground.

The judge will be looking at that, and if it goes beyond that, it's going to depend on what side of the facts you believe, whether Zimmerman was justified because he was attacked or whether Trayvon Martin was innocently attacked, innocent, and attacked by Zimmerman.

BANFIELD: Right. The operative word there being facts, Brad.

CONWAY: Right.


CONWAY: Absolutely.

BANFIELD: -- which is why all of us need to be so careful in analyzing the case and then speaking out about what should happen, ultimately, in this case, because there are only a few people who know a lot more than we all do, and they're guarded. Brad Conway, it's good to see you again as always. Thanks for doing this.

CONWAY: Thank you, Ashleigh. You're welcome.

BANFIELD: Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. It is 37 minutes past the hour.

Dramatic video from inside a school bus in Washington State. A student taking the wheel after the bus driver passes out. Take a look at this.


SAMBOLIN (voice-over): The footage from the bus's surveillance camera shows the driver starts shaking, gasping for air, and throwing his hands up in the air. The bus was swerving out of control, and apparently, it was heading towards a church. That's when 13-year-old Jeremy Wichick (ph) ran down the aisle and grabbed the wheel.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I'm just thinking, I just want to stop the truck, because I don't want to crash and I don't want to know what it feels like so, yes. I just don't want to die.

UNIDENTIFIED KID: It was scary and exhilarating.


UNIDENTIFIED KID: Because, I mean, you want to know if he's OK, but then, again, it's just happening so fast your heart is pumping. It's breathtaking and breath giving.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. Listen to that little boy. So, he steered the bus to the side of the road and took the keys out of the ignition. The school's former principal drove by and saw all of this. He jumped on the bus to give the driver CPR. The bus driver who suffered an apparent heart attack was hospitalized, but he was not identified.

You know what I'll say, Ashleigh, that one of the little boys on the bus actually started CPR on the bus driver.


SAMBOLIN (on-camera): I mean, just an amazing -- they kept their calm. They were cool, collected, and, look, everybody is safe.

BANFIELD: How about a child that age knowing CPR?


BANFIELD: And then being able to jump to action. That's just -- that's a good story. I hope the best for that bus driver. There were preliminary reports that he's in grave condition.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.

BANFIELD: I hope he can pull through.

It's 38 minutes now past 5:00, and still ahead, another story involving a bus, but this time, it is the bus driver that saves the day. We're going to show you what happened here and why you're looking at that car right there.


BANFIELD: It's now 42 minutes past the hour on the east coast. That would be the 5:00 a.m. hour. It's time to check the news making top stories this morning with Christine Romans.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, ladies. He is still in hiding this morning, but George Zimmerman is breaking his silence.


ROMANS (voice-over): The man who shot Trayvon Martin had launched a website talking about the, quote, "life altering event" and soliciting donations for his legal defense fund. Meantime, a Florida prosecutor says she won't bring this case to a grand jury.

Syrian troops are apparently ignoring today's deadline to withdraw from cities. The U.N. says Syria's government agreed to a peace plan that called for the pullout, but Syria's foreign minister denies it. Opposition activists say troops have launched new shelling attacks this morning.

Wildfires burning thousands of acres across at least nine states. As many as 75 separate fires are burning across Florida alone. Parts of the east coast facing extreme fire danger. The U.S., by the way, seeing the warmest March in recorded history.

A bus driver in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, witnesses a scary hit and run accident and puts the brakes on the getaway. Take a look. This is moments after a car that was aggressively swerving around traffic hit a man on a bicycle. The teen driver takes off until the bus in front of him blocked the road.

Another car then boxed him in until police came and the biker, I'm happy to tell you, will be OK, and the teen driver apprehended.


ROMANS (on-camera): Yes. Quick thinking by the driver of the bus and that car.

BANFIELD: You would think -- I think the bus driver would have had to be looking in his rearview to make sure that he knew what was happening.

ROMANS: Right. And he must have seen it and known what was going on. Yes. Really quick thinking.


BANFIELD: Nice move. Very nice move.

SAMBOLIN: Thanks, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Forty-three minutes past the hour.

Up next, I go one-on-one with Magic Johnson. Not like that.


SAMBOLIN: He could definitely take me. A new Broadway play capturing the drama on the court between him and Larry Bird.


SAMBOLIN: It was one of the biggest rivalries in sports history that started in college and went on to the pro court. Magic Johnson versus Larry "Legend" Larry Bird. Between the two of them, they won eight NBA titles and six MVPs. The rivalry produced a videogame, commercials, a tear-jerking documentary, and now, a new play, "Magic Bird," which opens tomorrow.

It's about how they went from being each other's biggest competitors to best friends. I sat down with Magic Johnson to talk about the play, his legendary career, and his off-court battle with HIV.


SAMBOLIN: So, the play, "Magic Bird," have you seen it?

JOHNSON: Yes. I've been at rehearsals and really working with Kevin and the other actors, you know, and it's been great. You know, just working with him to make sure he gets my personality and my smile, make sure that, you know, he comes out. Larry's the drier guy.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes.


JOHNSON: And I'm the personality guy. So -- but I would have to say this, I am very, very impressed and very happy.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: When I saw magic come out of the locker room, head hanging low, I knew he would die inside because he had lost. That made me so happy.


SAMBOLIN: You hear that intense rivalry a lot from him, I thought. That he really needed to compete with you.


SAMBOLIN: I didn't feel that that came across as much from your perspective. Is that true, do you think or --

JOHNSON: No, I hated him, too.


JOHNSON: And I still hate him today really, you know, if we ever played against each other. You have to -- when a guy, look, this is what happens in sports. Your rival can bring out the best in you and also can make you a better player. Larry Bird did that for me. I would hope and I would think that I did that for him.

SAMBOLIN: You talk about the intense rivalry that you had, but there was a moment of truth, right, when the two of you, at least, tried to be a little friendly and that was the ad, the infamous ad. Tell me about that.



JOHNSON: Our Converse made a pair of Bird shoes for last year's MVP.


JOHNSON: But they made a pair of magic shoes for this year's MVP.

BIRD: OK, Magic, show me what you got.


JOHNSON: Converse said, get on a plane and you're going to shoot a commercial and Larry Bird's hometown. I said, what? Wait a minute. I won the MVP. Why am I going to French lick. He should be coming to Michigan or L.A. And so, I'm like so upset. So, I said, OK, fine, I will go, and I get there.

And we only said, hey, hey, you know, and the director and everybody is -- could feel the tension on this commercial shoot, because we had just played each other in the championship. So, you know, I'm not really -- he's not feeling me, I'm not feeling him, right? And so, long story short, we get to -- we shot about three hours.

Now, it's lunch time. So, I'm going to my trailer to the green room. I'm going to have lunch there, I thought. He said, no, no. Magic, you coming up to my house. I hope they're not trying to get me by coming up to Larry's house.


JOHNSON: So, we ride up to his house, and his mom is waiting for us, and she had cooked this incredible meal, and she hugged me as soon as I got in the door, welcome, thank you for coming, and she gave me such a big hug, she reminded me of my own mother, and then she told me, you know, you're my favorite player and I said, oh.


JOHNSON: Now, I'm sitting back now. Now, I'm real comfortable.


JOHNSON: But it was his mom who actually helped bring us together and become friends and that's what happened.


JOHNSON: Because of the HIV virus that I have attained, I will have to retire from the Lakers.


SAMBOLIN: You've been living for a very long time now looking healthy, feeling healthy.

JOHNSON: Feeling healthy. You know, work out five days a week, and I give a lot to the drug. When I first announced, there was only one drug, AZT. And now, you got over 30 drugs now.

SAMBOLIN: A real problem in the adolescent community, the numbers were actually growing of kids being infected.


SAMBOLIN: What kind of message would you give to those adolescents?

JOHNSON: OK. For 20 years, I've been living with this. A lot (ph) have died in those 20 years, you know? Millions of people have died from finding out they had HIV. I've just been blessed. I was blessed to find out early. I've doing everything I was supposed to do. Just because I'm living well don't mean the next person is going to live well, because the virus acts different in all of us.

So, it's still a death sentence, no question about it. And so, I hope that we don't become relaxed like that thinking that, oh, if I get it, I'm going to be like Magic or it's going to be OK, because it's not OK.


SAMBOLIN: Much more with my talk with Magic Johnson next hour, including his take on the Trayvon Martin case and a message to kids like Trayvon across the country as well. Really powerful stuff that man said, you know?

BANFIELD: Such a great smile.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my gosh. That's what he's known for, right?

BANFIELD: No kidding. The magic smile.

It's 52 minutes now past the hour. This is a chance for us to take a look at what's trending on the good all interwebs this morning. Fun fact about the Masters winner, Bubba Watson. Ready for this? Take a peek.



BANFIELD (voice-over): Oh, yes. Do you know what that is? That is a General Lee, baby. Turns out Bubba Watson owns the General Lee. Look at him. This video is going viral after he won his first green jacket on Sunday. I'm not kidding here.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): I'm looking. Really? Is that him in there?

BANFIELD: Yes. It turns out he is a huge "Dukes of Hazzard" fan. And really, come on, who isn't? Apparently, he was at that Barrett Jackson automobile auction earlier this year, spotted the General Lee, reportedly laid down $110,000 to pick him up one of those General Lees. It turns out, you know, there are a couple of General Lee, plenty of them, in fact, that were used on the show but this one, this one is for the good old boys.

SAMBOLIN: And he actually drives it around.

BANFIELD: Yes. Honks the horn and everything. His General Lee is the really important General Lee. It's the one that jumped the police car in this opening sequence of the program, and it's called "Me Won."


BANFIELD (on-camera): I love it. That takes you back, doesn't it --

SAMBOLIN (on-camera): It does.

BANFIELD: Just the opening show. SAMBOLIN: That is so cool.

BANFIELD: I think they call that the title sequence. I watch "Phineas and Ferb."


SAMBOLIN: One of the factoids we never knew.

BANFIELD: I know, right?

SAMBOLIN: All right. A Florida family swoops in to save a beached dolphin. Great story. They were sailing off Jacksonville when they spotted the dolphin on a sandbar. Look at this. A calf was waiting in deeper water nearby waiting for mom. Seventy-two-year-old man and his daughter pulled the struggling 300-pound animal to safety as the woman's 11-year-old son recorded the entire thing.


SAMBOLIN: They said it was really, really difficult because there wasn't enough water initially, and then, some more water came in, they were able to do that.

BANFIELD: Difficult because it's 300 pounds.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, yes. It's huge. And the dolphin was fighting for awhile. And they said, eventually the dolphin seemed to give up and understand that or perhaps you're trying to save my life, right?

BANFIELD: Yes. You only think the latter. Probably exhausted. All right. So, this morning's episode of late night laughs, which we love, is all about Easter. And it's Jon Stewart's faith-off. Have a look.


DAVID LETTERMAN, HOST, "THE LATE SHOW WITH DAVID LETTERMAN": Bad news for the governor of New Jersey, Chris Christie, celebrating Easter. Did you hear about this? They rushed him to the hospital early Sunday morning with an impacted peep.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW WITH JON STEWART": Big weekend for what we call Judeo-Christians. Two major religious festivals at the same time and President Obama celebrated both of them in what I believe is an attempt to convince people he isn't Muslim. Nice try. Nice try.


JAY LENO, HOST, "THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO": And today was the annual White House Easter egg roll or as Republicans call it President Obama's socialist egg redistribution program.


LENO: It is a --

STEWART: Did you see what the Christians booked this year as their special guest star?


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: On this Easter Sunday, a familiar face helping to deliver the Sunday sermon. Quarterback Tim Tebow.


STEWART: They got Tebow!


STEWART: Tim Tebow, superstar NFL quarterback, helping them celebrate Easter. He's drawn the 20,000 people to Texas. Who do we have? Same guest every year, Elijah. He can't even (INAUDIBLE).



BANFIELD: I love Jon Stewart, the faith-off. It's great.

SAMBOLIN: It is pretty funny.

BANFIELD: Tim Tebow. We had that story before Jon Stewart, by the way.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we did.

BANFIELD: I'm just saying, Stewart, game on.

Up ahead, they're popping up everywhere. In fact, this is the scene that is becoming all too familiar right now and close to a dozen states from one end of the country to the other. We'll give you a read on which states are affected. You're watching EARLY START.