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"I Am The Real George Zimmerman"; Trayvon Martin Shooting; Shooting Suspect's Brother Speaks; GSA Scandal Grows; Wildfires Burn In Several States; Facebook Buys Instagram; Interview with Congressman Jeff Denham; Wildfires Rage Across East Coast

Aired April 10, 2012 - 06:59   ET


ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN HOST: Good morning to you and welcome to EARLY START. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. Wow! It's already 6:00 here on the East Coast.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN HOST: I'm Zoraida Sambolin. We are bringing you the news from "A" to "Z." As I said, it is 6:00 a.m. Thanks for being with us.


BANFIELD (voice-over): Yes. OK. So, topping our news today, George Zimmerman speaking out from his hiding spot. The man who shot 17-year-old Trayvon Martin has been at the center of a news storm has just launched a website to plead his innocence and also asked for donations to his defense fund.


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

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Whatever it takes.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Clowning around on taxpayers' dime. Another embarrassment for the agency in charge of saving the government money. A video with federal employees bragging about boozing and goofing off on the job.

BANFIELD: Wildfires are raging from Maine to Miami. Flames are threatening homes. Thick smoke is stopping traffic after one of the warmest and driest months of March ever on record.

SAMBOLIN: A kids steering his school bus and fellow students to safety after the bus driver collapses right behind the wheel. A video you will not want to miss.

BANFIELD: And also up first this morning at the top of the hour, George Zimmerman in his own words, the first public comments from him since his deadly confrontation with Trayvon Martin about six weeks ago.

This comes just after a newly created web site, went up online. Zimmerman is soliciting donations for his living expenses and his legal expenses and is telling his supporters this, 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."

In the meantime, a prosecutor has decided against taking the Trayvon Martin shooting incident to a grand jury, that's the special prosecutor in the case, the state attorney in the case also at the center of this case.

And CNN's Martin Savidge is live in Sanford, Florida with the latest. So a lot of developments and a lot to talk about, but we are no closer that we know of to any resolution here. Are we, Martin?

MARTIN SAVIDGE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: No, and that's the big question that many people asked after it was announced by the Special Prosecutor Angela Corey, you know, she wasn't going to use the grand jury.

So what does that mean? Does that tell us anything about what the potential is for any kind of charge against George Zimmerman and most especially does it give us any insight as to when there will be a charge?

The short answer to both is no. However, there is no shortage of reaction. We begin with Ben Crump. He's the attorney for the family of Trayvon Martin. Here is what he had to say about this decision.


BENJAMIN CRUMP, MARTIN FAMILY ATTORNEY: We've always believed that convening a grand jury was really passing the buck. We felt from day one as we've always believed there was enough evidence there to simply arrest George Zimmerman.

We were not asking that he 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 affect probable cause to arrest George Zimmerman.


SAVIDGE: And I had a conversation with Hal Uhrig. He is one of the attorneys that represent George Zimmerman, and he described the decision by the special prosecutor as courageous.

In fact, a number of people have used that because she really is putting her political neck out there. She is basically saying look, I'm the one that is going to make the decision in this highly contentious, racially charged case.

The question is what could she charge? Some have suggested maybe manslaughter, which could get Zimmerman up to potentially 30 years. The other one is aggravated battery with a gun under Florida's 10/20 life law.

If you use a gun, it's 10 years. If you fired it, it's 20 and if you shoot somebody, it could be up to life. So those are the possible charges they're talking about -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: So let's talk about the money. I know a lot of people have been critical of this. But both sides in this incident have web sites soliciting money for either a defense fund or just help in trying to get by. So what do we know about George Zimmerman's web site and the kind of money it's been able to raise?

SAVIDGE: Well, it was started with the cooperation of a friend of his, who is web-savvy, and we do know that you can make a donation via Paypal.

As to how much money has been raised so far, there was a single donation that reportedly that came out of Texas for up to $10,000. And the operator of the web site said they have receiving donations from around the world, but we don't have a specific figure as of yet -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: And the plot thickens. All right, Martin Savidge live for us in Sandord. Thanks for that.

SAMBOLIN: It's 4 minutes past the hour here. The brother of one of the Tulsa shooting suspects is speaking out saying his brother is not racist.

The 33-year-old Allan 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 to file hate crime charges.

The 19-year-old Jake England is also accused and Watts' brother is blaming England for being a bad influence. He says Alvin Watts is not a racist, but when he moved in with England, he 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, went to black schools, I did, too. It was a machismo thing, 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 bad little guy's complex.


SAMBOLIN: England posted a Facebook message the 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. BANFIELD: It's 5 minutes now past 6:00 on the east coast. And the scandal involving wasteful spending at the government General Services Administration is not going away. More embarrassing videos have now come to light and another top level government employee has been disciplined.

SAMBOLIN: Alina Cho has been following all of the latest developments on this. Alina, Republican members of Congress say they are going to investigate. As I understand it, they're kind part of the problem, right?

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: This is an election year. There's a lot of back and forth and you're right, you know, Democrats are quick to point out this is not just this administration.

It's been going on since the Bush administration back in 2007. Nonetheless, whenever videos like this come out it's never good, right? And you're --

SAMBOLIN: Great for TV.

CHO: It's great for us, but you talk about those investigations. It's not just one investigation, Zoraida. It's more than one investigation. Republicans, in fact, has scheduled three hearings to look at spending at the General Services Administration, the GSA.

Remember, that's the government agency in charge of buying big ticket items and isn't that ironic given all the news now. All of this after inspector-general's report blew the lid off a scandal involving extravagant spending at the GSA's Western Conference.

It's been widely reported by now. It's a four-day gathering in Vegas back in 2010. The GSA spent nearly $1 million for things like $4 shrimp, a clown, commemorative coins and a mind reader, most damaging? The video.

It was made by government employees, bragging about spending taxpayer money. That's exactly what they were doing. It was all meant to be a joke, though, part of a contest among different GSA offices at the conference.

But now that it's out, of course, all of it looks really, really bad and what's worse, now even more videos 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: Whatever is takes --

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: That was amazing. Was there anybody in region seven that wasn't in that thing?

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


CHO: Yes, it was funny back then. Not so much now, and if that's not bad enough, House investigators have also uncovered an employee awards program that apparently violated GSA rules.

Under that program, government workers were given gifts like iPods and portable DVD players and of course, that was well over the $99 limit that was given to each employee. In some cases, they spent $3,000 per employee.


BANFIELD: Holy moly.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of heads are rolling because of this, Alina.

CHO: That's right, and we're talking today because there's one more. Not talking one, two, three, four, you're talking a total eight members of the GSA either have been fired or suspended.

The very latest is David Foley. He's the deputy commissioner of the agency's Public Building Services and on Monday he was placed on administrative leave.

Now last week, remember, this got a lot of attention. The head of the agency, a woman named Martha Johnson, who by the way, was appointed by President Obama, she was also forced to resign.

And remember, that came only after she fired two top deputies and put four regional commissioners on administrative leave. And remember, lots of heads rolling, lots of investigations, three of them in total and the first hearings start next week.

SAMBOLIN: We're going to hear a lot more on this.

CHO: Yes, we will.

BANFIELD: Alina, thank you for that. It's now 9 minutes past 6:00. At 6:30, more on the fallout from the GSA scandal. We'll be talking to Republican Congressman Jeff Denham who just, you know, happens to be the chair of the House subcommittee leading the hearings on the GSA overspending.

SAMBOLIN: Dry and windy weather fueling wildfires across the entire east coast right now. The flames are popping up as far north as New England. Listen to this, as far south as Florida.

The worst of the flames are in Florida. Thousands of acres are burning as one of the warmest and driest springs on record continues in the southeast.

In New Jersey, the pinelands are glowing. Look at this, flames have burned about 1,000 acres and threatened two dozen homes. No evacuations have been ordered so far. BANFIELD: Man, it's hard to believe there are no evacuations with pictures like that.


BANFIELD: Rob Marciano joining us now. I don't know that we often are able to say these kinds of fires stretch all the way from Florida up to New England, but they really are plaguing the east coast.

ROB MARCIANO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: They are and the threat continues today. This video out of Milford, Connecticut, from yesterday, this was a really scary fire that occurred yesterday afternoon.

And at one point, there you see some of the railroad tracks, Metro North Service was suspended, some businesses did have to evacuate and some folks asked to leave their home until they got a handle on these things.

Smoke seen as far away as Bridgeport, Connecticut at one point and there are also fires on Long Island and folks in Connecticut could see that smoke across the south so a scary day across the northeast yesterday.

It will be another scary day today. As you mentioned, we'll start with this little tidbit. March, the warmest record across the U.S., we have over 15,000 warm temperature records during the month of March.

January and February, as you know, was pretty warm as well, one of the warmest starts of the year in U.S. history. That couple with winds, 60-mile-an-hour winds yesterday at high point in New Jersey, Sandy Hooks, 54-mile-an-hour winds, and the dry weather that we have seen during the month of March.

So that's the combination that we had yesterday for fire danger. Red flag warning up from New York City today all the way down through the Carolinas. The windy conditions and spots that have seen some dry weather 20 to 30, in some cases 40-mile-an-hour gusts.

It shouldn't be quite as windy as yesterday, but windy enough for sure. Here comes the cold finally across the western great lakes and into the Ohio River Valley, 20s and 30s expected tonight.

A frost and freeze warning is out and a couple of areas disturb, could see severe weather again across the Texas panhandle and across northern parts of Louisiana and Southern Arkansas later on today. Guys, back up to you.

BANFIELD: All right, Rob Marciano, thank you for that. It's 12 minutes now past 6:00 on the east coast.

Coming up, a seventh grader steers a school bus to safety after the driver passes out at the wheel, and it's all caught on video. Take a look at the action and watch what this little hero did in just a moment. You're watching EARLY START.


BANFIELD: Welcome back to EARLY START.

It's 15 minutes now past 6:00 on the East Coast. That's means it's time to check our stories making news headlines with Christine Romans.

Hi, Christine.


We're hearing from the gunman in the Trayvon Martin shooting for the first time since that deadly confrontation in February. George Zimmerman has launched a Web site, assuring supporters of his innocence, and soliciting donations. Meantime, a special prosecutor will make the call on whether to charge George Zimmerman after deciding not to send that case to a grand jury.

Two firefighters killed, three others injured after a building collapse in Philadelphia. The crew was working to put out a five alarm fire when a wall fell down. City officials say they've been after the building's owner for numerous safety violations.

President Obama travels to Florida today to campaign for the Buffett Rule, his tax proposal targeting millionaires and billionaires. It would require the wealthiest earners to pay at least 30 percent of their income in taxes. The president will make his case at a speech at Florida Atlantic University, ladies.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you very much.

Sixteen minutes past the hour.

Dramatic video from a school bus in Washington state, a student taking the wheel after the bus driver passes out.

BANFIELD: Unbelievable.

SAMBOLIN: Footage from the bus' surveillance shows the driver start shaking, he is gasping for air and throwing his hands up in the air. The bus was swerving out of control and apparently headed towards a church.

That little boy there, 13-year-old Jeremy Wuitschick ran down the aisle, grabbed the wheel.


UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I'm just thinking I want to stop the truck, and 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.

REPORTER: Because?

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


SAMBOLIN: Breath-taking and breath-giving -- did you hear him?

So, this Jeremy guy, this little boy, 13-year-old, he steered the bus to the side of the road and took the keys out of the ignition. Another child performed CPR on the driver. Then the school's principal, former principal, drove by, saw all of this, jumped on the bus and took over the CPR.

The bus driver who suffered an apparent heart attack was hospitalized. He's not been identified. We do understand he's in grave condition. We wish him well.

But these little kids on the bus smart, quick thinkers.

BANFIELD: Absolute heroes this morning. Imagine knowing CPR at that age, putting the rest of us to shame.

It's 18 minutes past 6:00 on the East Coast.

Coming up the mobile app sharing or the mobile sharing app that is so hot Facebook just plunked down $1 billion for it, that's billion with a B. Christine Romans has been watching this like a hawk. She's going to have all of the details for us in a moment.


TOMMY DAVIDSON, COMEDIAN, ACTOR: I'm Tommy Davidson. I'm a road comedian.

You see cliff hanger? I was in the room, not you.

I think I'm on the road probably about three-quarters of the year. Most people recognize me from "In Living Color."

I finally made to the call to (INAUDIBLE) activation center.

I've been doing standup comedy for 28 years. I've performed as far as Afghanistan during the war, to doing a performance on a diving board in an empty swimming pool. I'm a trans comic. I know to where to get anything that I want in the country. Best Chinese food is in San Francisco, the most restaurants around in Houston, best place to do shopping is Dallas and Miami and New York City.

In general, I think that Americans have the same sense of humor. They just have different perceptions in different markets.

You can't go to Baltimore and talk about the whole Latino experience. But if you go to Miami, you can fully get into that.

This is how I roll and I'll be rolling towards.



BANFIELD: We'll soon find out.

Twenty-three minutes past 6:00. It's like a coffee klatch here in the morning, folks.

We're minding your business this morning. The market futures pointing slightly upward this morning, which is nice, because after last week's lackluster jobs report, the markets were down slightly yesterday. Dow and NASDAQ and the S&P all down 1 percent.

SAMBOLIN: And have you heard of an Instagram? If you don't know it now, you will soon. Facebook is buying the free smartphone mobile sharing app for $1 billion.

Christine Romans is here to explain.

And I got to tell you. In the make-up room this morning --

ROMANS: What is that?



ROMANS: It has 30 million users. It's like a social media platform for photos. And we take some photos of you ladies and we'll show you what it is.

You can put borders around photos, you know, like you take it with your phone, right? You can make like sepia tones, you can change the shading. It's retro.

SAMBOLIN: Can you make me look younger?

ROMANS: It's going to make you look younger, richer, thinner, taller, anything you want. No, I'm just kidding.

BANFIELD: Can you work with my caparison?

ROMANS: Oh, that's word of the day.

BANFIELD: I got the word of the day.

ROMANS: This is so interesting. This great app, it has no revenue. And Facebook has bought it for $1 billion. Isn't this your app maker dream?

There are all of the apps that are worthless, right, and then there's the one that is the billion-dollar app and that's this one, Instagram. Facebook wants it. And Facebook wants it because this makes it easy, very easy, eliminates the steps to upload pictures that you take with your phone. Until now, it was just available on the iPhone but they've just released an Android app as well.

It is the hottest app right now. Apple last year named it their app of the year for 2011. Facebook, as I was mentioning, has a mobile problem. It's not easy to upload a photo to Facebook. It's very easy on Instagram.

So, this allows Facebook to have something it needs. Now, immediately Instagram connoisseurs were like it's ruined. Now my grandma is going to be able to do this so it's not cool anymore.

But this is $1 billion for an app.

BANFIELD: You know, the last time I heard a major purchase like that was Groupon.

ROMANS: Oh, yes.

BANFIELD: Yes, not so much.

ROMANS: Well, this is what -- "The Wall Street Journal" says it's the billion-dollar snapshot, laughing all the way to the bank. It is what app developers' dream of, finding that thing that resonates with people that makes somebody like --

SAMBOLIN: I want to see if it really does it make it easy, because it can be complicated.

ROMANS: It's got 30 million viewers -- users. There you go.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Still ahead on EARLY START: new fallout from the overspending at the General Services Administration. We'll talk with the California congressman chairing one of the two House committees that will investigate.

BANFIELD: And a cruise ship setting sail in the Atlantic to retrace the tragic route of the Titanic. It's really fascinating what's on board.

You'll find out on EARLY START.


SAMBOLIN: Twenty-nine minutes past the hour. Welcome back to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BANFIELD: Hi there. I'm Ashleigh Banfield. It's nice to have you here with us.

And it's time to check the stories making top billing in the news this morning. Take a look.


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


BANFIELD: Uh-oh, that's what you call another embarrassing moment for the agency that's in charge of saving the government money. Better known as the GSA, and another official is out because of this embarrassment, we're talking to one lawmaker who's investigating all of this goofing off.

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

Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen leaving his team in Philadelphia this morning and heading back to Miami to try to explain some comments he made about Fidel Castro that have a lot of the team's fan base steamed.


MAGIC JOHNSON, NBA SUPERSTAR: A lot of us have sons, sons who wear hoodies, you know, caps turned backwards and they're not doing anything.


BANFIELD: And Zoraida goes one on one with Magic, the Lakers legend, talking about the Trayvon Martin case and why it really hits home with the NBA players -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Ashleigh.

More video from the U.S. General Services Administration's 2010 Las Vegas conference that cost taxpayers over $800,000. In this clip, employees mock the GSA's environmental sustainability initiative. A conference room full of GSA employees hold up a portrait of President Obama while making fun of the president.

Take a look at this.


SAMBOLIN: And that video we just saw was submitted by one regional office of the GSA and played during the Las Vegas conference at an awards ceremony that came complete with a red carpet. It is clear the video was shot during the taxpayer-funded work day.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: 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.


SAMBOLIN: So the GSA has announced an eighth official, David Foley, who appeared at both the ceremony in Las Vegas and an employee- produced video mocking government spending has been placed on administrative leave.

And joining me now is the chair of the Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee that will be one of three congressional committees opening hearings on the GSA's spending next week, Republican Congressman Jeff Denham of California.

Thank you so much for waking up so early for us. We appreciate it.

So, for viewers who don't know, could you explain the purpose of GSA?

REP. JEFF DENHAM (R), CALIFORNIA: Well, one of its main jobs is to create efficiencies for government, which obviously this is a blatant abuse in this circumstance. But GSA also manages all of our properties across the nation. So, part of the problem here is that all of the billions of dollars in rent that they receive on all the federally-owned properties across the nation go into this slush fund that government.

Congress doesn't have a chance to see how much they're spending, what they're spending it on which provides them a tremendous opportunity to have a slush fund for Vegas vacations or the $500,000 that they spent on all these various iPods and different things they gave away to employees.

SAMBOLIN: We'll talk about those details in a moment. We've been watching the videos for the last couple of weeks now.

What was your initial reaction to the video?

DENHAM: I was outraged. You know, I'm back in my district. We've got double-digit unemployment. We're twice the national average. People are hitting potholes because our roads are falling apart, and people are just frustrated.

And to see this type of outrageous spending, and then bragging about it, I think has people outraged across the country.

SAMBOLIN: Besides the 2010 conference in Las Vegas, and we understand that cost taxpayers over $800,000, your subcommittee is talking about another employee rewards program that you mentioned a little bi earlier. It's called Hats Off. What have you found out about that program?

DENHAM: Well, they spent nearly $500,000 already on different things from iPods to a number of different things like mouse pads -- I mean, the list goes on and on of what they're spending the money on. But they have no accountability for it, who these prizes go to and how they're given away.

It's a rewards system where employees are basically giving them to one another. And we found out about it because a lot of these items were just stolen and misplaced.

But it's been an abuse that has gone on in one agency. We want to find out how many other agencies are not only having this Hats Off program but how many others are doing these same types of trips we found out with Vegas.

SAMBOLIN: So, your investigation is going to include a lot of different agencies, not just this one?

DENHAM: Absolutely. I mean, it starts with this one, and certainly this was one region out of 11 that did this party. We want to know if all 11 are to be doing that, we want to know what happened to the public building money, whether or not we're able to use that for redeveloping properties and selling off the properties we don't need.

But it goes beyond GSA -- how many other agencies have the slush funds and what are they doing with them.

SAMBOLIN: All right. We have some history here. It is not the first time there's a problem with the GSA.

In 2006, former GSA chief of staff found guilty of four felonies related to Abramoff. In 2006, former GSA head Lurita Doan tried to give pricey contract to a friend's P.R. firm. In 2007, the same head asking government how to help Republican candidates. She had to resign back then.

This was all during the Bush administration. So, was this something started during that administration, the problems?

DENHAM: Look, there's been a number of different departments under both administrations have had problems. GSA is one of the most blatant. But regardless of who the president is, we need to fix the problem. We need to have greater oversight and transparency over GSA because these abuses continue on.

SAMBOLIN: And do you think that this agency -- you mentioned earlier the investigation will include other agencies as well. What is the need for the specific agency? Do you think that it's something that should stand, the organization itself?

DENHAM: Well, I actually have a bill that's over in the Senate now that will take all of our properties out of the hands of GSA and put them over to a commission like we have with the BRC Commission, with the Base Realignment Closure. If that passes the Senate and it's signed into law, yes, we could absolutely do away with GSA and take this out of the hands of Congress all together.

SAMBOLIN: Congressman Jeff Denham, thank you so much for joining us this morning. We appreciate your time.

I'm sure we'll talk about this much more and invite you back on your show.

DENHAM: Thank you.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Ashleigh, back to you.

BANFIELD: All right. Thanks, Zoraida. It's 36 minutes now past the 6:00 on the East Coast.

And coming up, cruising the north Atlantic, on this ship, heading to a site where 100 years ago, one of the worst sea disasters happened. It's the site of the Titanic. Why are folks going? We'll let you know.


BANFIELD: Oh, good morning, New York City. The sun coming up.

SAMBOLIN: Ooh, that looks beautiful.

BANFIELD: Isn't that pretty? This is a great place to live, work, breathe, believe it or not, 49. I love this city.

SAMBOLIN: Everywhere is a good place to breathe, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Forty-nine degrees currently in New York. We're heading up to 61 degrees. I miss that.

Looks like rain showers unfortunately, but it's a loving morning over Central Park. And, by the way, if you're doing the math, we're just a couple of days away from the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic.

And today, there's a special cruise heading out on the water. Cruise Liner Azamara Journey is going to begin an eight-night voyage, living from New York, heading to Halifax and then to then to the site where the Titanic hit an iceberg, about 400 miles or so off the coast of Newfoundland, Canada.

Chris Welch is live from Pier 88 in New York City where Azamara Journey is getting ready to set sail this afternoon.

This is really, Chris. Give me a feel for everything they're planning to do.

CHRIS WELCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: It really is, Ashleigh. Good morning.

You know, hundreds of people are getting set for what will be a big day for them. This is April 10th, this is the actually the day Titanic left the port in Southampton on its maiden voyage.

Now, this ship that I'm currently standing on is called the Azamara Journey. Several hundred people will be getting on this ship this afternoon and it will leave from here in New York, as you mentioned, it will head up to Halifax, Nova Scotia, where there's actually a cemetery where several hundred victims of Titanic are buried. It will then make its way to the site where Titanic.

And when it gets out there, it's going to meet up with another ship that's tracing the steps from Southampton.

Now, both of these ships will include a lot of descendants of Titanic victims and Titanic survivors. There'd be a lot of stories shared. I imagine a lot of tears shared as well.

I've spoken to some folks who are going to be going on this trip and they say, you know, this is -- what's going on this trip to memorialize our relatives, our ancestors.

I'm going to take you inside right now. I want to introduce to you one man who is very, very special as far as this ship goes. He'll be the man behind the wheel of the Azamara Journey.

This is Captain Jason Ikiadis.

Thank you so much for being with us this morning.


WELCH: One question for you -- you know, tell us what this trip, this journey means to you, as someone who's grown up near Southampton?

IKIADIS: It means a huge -- a huge deal. Growing up in Southampton, it's very closely connected to the ship. There are still buildings there which are around during that time, memorials for the engineers who served on the ship.

So, also growing up and doing my maritime education in the U.K. So, it's a subject we grew up with. So, it means a great deal to us.

WELCH: And Titanic is obviously a story that people are very familiar with. And, you know, it was captain who was behind the wheel that night when it hit an iceberg. Do you feel a certain sense of responsibility? I mean, you know, a lot of people say, this is kind of an eerie trip to be retracing the steps.

What does that responsibility mean to you today?

IKIADIS: Well, in a sense, responsibility is not going to change too much for me, because I'm always looking after guests no matter where we go. But there is that sense of eeriness. It's going to be lots of lectures about the ship and ships in general. So, we're looking forward to it.

I'm sure once we get over the top of the Titanic site, there's going to be a few moments of reflection.

WELCH: I'm sure there will be. Well, thank you very much, Captain, for joining us this morning.

We will be on the ship for the next eight days. So, we'll be bringing you video, live pictures if we can from this once-in-a- lifetime opportunity -- Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: That's amazing.

Just quickly before you let the captain go, how long are you going to stay -- how long will the ship stay over the site where the Titanic went down?

WELCH: That's a good question. Ashleigh is wondering how long the ship will actually be over the site where the Titanic sank, do you know?

IKIADIS: We're looking to spend about six to eight hours over the site.

SAMBOLIN: Wow, that's a long time.

BANFIELD: I can't wait to see this. I'm absolutely fascinated by it. I know there's no icebergs probably out there now, but I'm sure everybody will be very solemn, as they make that journey.

Chris, thank you. And thank the captain for us. I'm sure he can't hear, but say thanks for us.

SAMBOLIN: Well, it's nice we can be taken along on the ride, right?


SAMBOLIN: All right.

BANFIELD: The period costumes are odd when you see people on the side of the ship who are wearing, you know, 1912 vestiture, it's a little odd.

SAMBOLIN: Taking you back to the moment.

Forty-four minutes past the hour.

Here's Soledad O'Brien joins us now with a look at what is ahead on STARTING POINT.

Good morning to you.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN HOST, "STARTING POINT": Hey, ladies. Good morning to you.

Coming up this morning on STARTING POINT, a savage beating and robbery caught on tape back on St. Patrick's Day. A man is stripped of his clothes and his belongings, people stand around laughing and do nothing to help. We'll tell you where the story stands today.

Also, a marine faces a less than honorable discharge for criticizing President Obama in his Facebook posting. We're going to talk exclusive with Marine Sergeant Gary Stein.

And ride out the apocalypse in style -- $2 million nuclear condos are for sale. That's our "Get Real" this morning. That and much more ahead on "STARTING POINT."

We'll see you right at the top of the hour.


BANFIELD: It is now 48 minutes past 6:00 on the east coast, and it's time to check some stories making top billing on the news this morning.

SAMBOLIN: He is still in hiding, but George Zimmerman is breaking his silence. The man who shot Trayvon Martin has launched a website talking about the life altering event and soliciting donations for his legal defense fund. Meantime, a Florida prosecutors says she will not bring the case to a grand jury.

BANFIELD (voice-over): 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 with the U.S. seeing the warmest March in recorded history.

SAMBOLIN: Miami Marlins manager, Ozzie Guillen, is in trouble for telling "Time" magazine or having a little compliment of Castro in there. Guillen told "Time", quote, "I respect Fidel Castro. You know why. A lot of people have wanted to kill him for the last 60 years, but that (expletive) is still there."

So, angry fans are calling for Guillen to be punished. Guillen has apologized and will apologize again today at a press conference.

BANFIELD: A bus driver in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania witnesses a scary hit and run accident and then puts on the brakes to stop the guy who did it from getting away. Take a look at this. In your -- oh, there you go. It's moments after that car aggressively swerving around traffic, hits a man on a bicycle, tried to take off.

Look at him. Bus driver says no way, blocks the whole road and then another car comes along and boxes until the police came. Happy to report to you this morning that the cyclist that you see on the bottom right of your screen is going to be OK.

SAMBOLIN: Glad to hear that.


SAMBOLIN: Forty-nine minutes past the hour. Up next, I go one- on-one with Magic Johnson, not like that. He's in a new Broadway play capturing the drama on the court between him and Larry Bird.

BANFIELD: I'm not sure you're going to say you're going to shoot hoops with him.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. I was hoping. And there were, actually, some basketballs there, but yes, I wouldn't have done so well. So, he weighs in on Trayvon Martin as well and why so many basketball stars have spoken out.


SAMBOLIN: Well, he's a Lakers legend, kind of a legend everywhere now who is part owner of the Los Angeles Dodgers as well. I sat down with Magic Johnson on the set of a new play about his rivalry with Larry Bird, and we talked about his new purchase and also the delicate state of race in this country right now.


SAMBOLIN: I got to ask about the Dodgers. Is it a done deal or still a long way to go?

EARVIN "MAGIC" JOHNSON, THREE-TIME NBA MOST VALUABLE PLAYER: Not a long way. We just don't take over until about May 1st, and so, I'm excited.

SAMBOLIN: Why baseball?

JOHNSON: Well, I love baseball. I grew up a Tigers fan. I love going to Dodgers Stadium. I love the Dodgers, you know, and Dusty Baker, Steve Garvey, all those guys, Tommy Lasorda. And who would ever thought that Dodgers would be up for sale and who would thought that Magic Johnson would be on the group to own the Dodgers?

It blows my mind, but Stan Castor (ph) and Mark Walter (ph) at Guggenheim Group, we made a good bid, and they accepted it.

SAMBOLIN: A lot of money.

JOHNSON: A lot of money.


JOHNSON: But, you know, the value is there. And so, I'm excited about it.

SAMBOLIN: And I want to bring you current day with race and the Trayvon Martin case, right?

JOHNSON: Um-hum.

SAMBOLIN: Because there's a lot of tension. Here we are, 30 years later, Magic, and it seems like we haven't progressed very much.


SAMBOLIN: A lot of NBA players are rallying around Trayvon Martin. How do you feel about that? JOHNSON: The NBA players, if they felt good about speaking about it, and they wanted to say something, I'm glad they did it, because we're still -- all of us are still wondering OK, what's going to happen? And so -- and here in America, we're still dealing with situations like this, and it's very unfortunate, because also, a lot of us have sons, sons who wear hoodies, you know, caps turned backwards, and they're not doing anything.

That's the fashion of today. And so, it could really happen to our sons. That's what the NBA players, I'm sure, are thinking. That's what I'm thinking. And so, I hope that justice is served. I hope that they get down to making sure they have a thorough investigation, and then, take it from there.

SAMBOLIN: Today, the special prosecutor said that she's not going to give this to the grand jury. And so, what do you think, first of all, how do you feel about that? And secondly is, is there a teachable moment, a learning opportunity here for our Black and Latino young boys?

JOHNSON: Well, first of all, we have to understand that you know, Black and Brown community got to work for the better together, anyway, you know? And it's going to be tough no matter which way it goes, right? But the Black community has seen days like this so many times, unfortunately.

And we thought that this case would be different in terms of they're going to really investigate, get behind, really find out what happened, get to the bottom line, and it's unfortunate that we may not see the real justice to this.

And so, you got a family who is grieving, who lost their son, and while you think about we don't know all the circumstances, but you know, and he can't come back. So, they want justice, and whichever way that is, they want to see this young man -- make sure that we find out the truth on what happened.


SAMBOLIN: I really enjoy talking to him. You know, he's an incredible businessman, and he's so committed to the community, still.

BANFIELD: How does the show look? Did you get a chance to see a sneak preview of anything?

SAMBOLIN: No. Actually, I didn't. I'm going to see it, but, I will say the HBO documentary had come out recently and I did watch that. I was riveted. I could not turn it off.

BANFIELD: Oh, wow!

SAMBOLIN: It was really incredible. The story of Magic and Larry Bird is just an incredible story. And Larry Bird who never talks very much, talked quite a bit.

BANFIELD: Oh, really? SAMBOLIN: Yes. So, his story is really something. I said to Magic earlier, we actually aired this earlier, I said, you know what, it seemed like Larry needed you more than you needed him in order to push himself. He just fed off of Magic Johnson. It was an incredible story. So, I'm glad that everybody gets to enjoy it and another generation gets to see it as well.

BANFIELD: I'm not a baseball fan, but I know that story. That tells you how it's transcending, you know?

SAMBOLIN: You mean basketball.

BANFIELD: Basketball, pardon me.


BANFIELD: You know, hockey, they make goals and baskets.

SAMBOLIN: Same thing. Same thing.


BANFIELD: That's sports.

Time to take a look at what's trending on the interweb now this morning, folks. Fun fact about the Masters winner, Bubba Watson, that's golf. Take a look.




BANFIELD (voice-over): You know that sound. You know that sound. It's the General Lee, but look who's driving. Yes. That was Bubba Watson. The video is going viral since he won the Masters and got that green jacket on Sunday. He is a huge "Dukes of Hazard" fan. He bought the General Lee when he spotted it at the Ferret Jackson Automobile Auction earlier this year.

It costs him 110 big one. That would be thousand dollars. And, in case you're wondering, you've probably heard before, other people have bought the General Lee, but this General Lee seen in that opening sequence, that is the actual car that Bubba bought. He bought the jumping car.

It turns out there's a couple hundred General Lees that have been used over the process of production and destroyed many of them, but several of them for sale out there. And Bubba Watson has that one.

SAMBOLIN (voice-over): Very cool.

BANFIELD: The one. Very cool. Hello, Barbara Bach (ph).

(END VIDEOTAPE) BANFIELD: That's the news. That's the EARLY START news from "A" to "Z". I'm Ashleigh Banfield.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. "STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN" starts right now.