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Track Superstar's Girlfriend Killed; Close Encounters with Dorner; Carnival Triumph Arrives Today; Lady Gaga Cancels Tour; Fight Continues for Hagel Confirmation; Mega Merger Between American Airlines & U.S. Airways; Illinois to Vote on Same-Sex Marriage Bill

Aired February 14, 2013 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: We have some troubling new details this morning on a breaking story. The girlfriend of international sports star Oscar Pistorius dead after a shooting in his home.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bound and gagged. A couple taken hostage by a fugitive in his final hours on the run, telling their terrifying story this morning.

BERMAN: Counting the minutes on board a crippled cruise ship. Squalid, smelly, steamy conditions on deck, with the end of the ordeal hopefully just hours away. Hopefully.

Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Thursday morning, February 14th. Happy Valentine's Day.

We're going to start with breaking news this morning. A shocking story involving the blade runner, Olympic and Paralympic track superstar Oscar Pistorius -- an athlete who has inspired millions. His girlfriend, 30-year-old Reeva Steenkamp, shot and killed in his home in South Africa.

Police now say a 26-year-old man has been charged with murder and will be appearing in court today, but they are not giving out the name. But we do know Oscar Pistorius is 26 years old and that he is currently at the police station.

Police also saying forced entry is not a factor in the investigation. Pistorius races with carbon blades because of his birth defect. He was the first double amputee to run in the Olympics. He reached the 400 semifinals in the London Games just last year.

This is a shocking story.

BERMAN: And there are more details coming in by the hour. We will keep you up to speed on this really shocking story.

Thirty-two minutes after the hour. Some of the victims who came face- to-face with fugitive ex-cop Christopher Dorner before he died in a burning cabin, they are speaking out now. Dorner may have been hiding for days -- for days in an unoccupied resort condo just steps from a police outpost. The unit belonged to Karen and Jim Reynolds. They walked in on Dorner and they wound up bound and gagged.


JIM REYNOLDS, TAKEN HOSTAGE BY DORNER: When he jumped out and hollered, "Stay calm," Karen screamed and turned and started running and he ran after her. He caught her about the door.


J. REYNOLDS: On the staircase. He brought her back.

REPORTER: It sounds like he tried to calm you down.

J. REYNOLDS: He did.

K. REYNOLDS: Yes, he did. He was talking to us --

J. REYNOLDS: You could see that big gun sticking up there.

K. REYNOLDS: Yes. He had his gun drawn the whole time.


BERMAN: So Rick Heltebrake also had a close encounter with Dorner. He was carjacked. You have to listen to him describe the rogue ex- cop's demeanor during that ordeal.


RICK HELTBRAKE, CARJACKED BY DORNER: Well, I felt in danger, you know, as far as knowing what his history was. And that I had a gun pointed at my head. However, he said he didn't want to hurt me and I believed him. And he wanted me to get out of my truck and walk up the road with my dog and that's what I did.


BERMAN: It's almost certain that Dorner did die in a burning cabin Tuesday during the shootout with police. It could be days, though, before the charred human remains found inside that cabin are positively identified.

So, at 8:15 Eastern on "STARTING POINT", we're going to talk about Dorner and the many, many lingering questions about the manhunt. We'll be joined by former Los Angeles police chief, Bill Bratton -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-three minutes past the hour. Right now, the nightmare Carnival cruise that's been floating lifeless in the Gulf of Mexico with 4,200 people on boulder is slowly chugging its way into an Alabama port, thanks to the help of tugboats, four, we understand. Passengers describe conditions on board as, frankly, disgusting, saying the walls are smeared with sewage, the carpets are soaked with urine -- I apologize for these details. And the stench is so bad, people are sleeping out on the decks now.

Bethany Nutt is one of the passengers aboard the Carnival Triumph. Her husband, Brent, drove to Mobile last night so he could be there when that ship finally arrives today. He joins us now.

Brent, hi, good morning to you. Thank you for being with us.

So, we spoke to you and you had said that you had not spoken to your wife. Have you spoken to her since the last time we talked to you and what is she saying about the ordeal?

BRENT NUTT, WIFE BETHANY IS ABOARD CARNIVAL TRIUMPH: No, actually we have not heard from anything. We haven't heard from her or any of the other family members, I mean or even Carnival. So we're really -- I don't know, we really don't know anything.

SAMBOLIN: You haven't spoken to anyone from carnival cruise lines, even since you arrived there in Mobile?

NUTT: No, ma'am. We spoke to Carnival, they called the other night after the CEO had his press conference and then they have like a little automated message that they called us and basically told us the same thing that the CEO released.

But no, we have not heard from our -- I mean from our family until Monday.

SAMBOLIN: And as you are there this morning, there are no spokes people on the ground therein explaining what's going to happen when that boat does finally arrive?

NUTT: No. The only person that we ran into this morning was a Coast Guard member at our motel, and he was saying that the Coast Guard is going to have to enter the ship and that they're sending out people for Customs to go ahead and get that all started. That way once the boat does finally dock, they'll be able to get off.

SAMBOLIN: Wow. The Carnival president Gerry Cahill held a press conference yesterday and he talked about all of the arrangements that are being made for your wife and all of the other people on board. Let's listen to this.


GERRY CAHILL, PRESIDENT & CEO, CARNIVAL CRUISE LINES: I think it's very important that I apologize to our guests and to their families that have been affected by this very difficult situation. At Carnival, our promise to our guests is to provide a great vacation experience and we try very hard to do that all the time. So, it's obvious in this particular case, we did not deliver on that promise.

(END VIDEO CLIP) SAMBOLIN: So I don't know if you know this or not, but Carnival CEO Micky Arison actually attended an NBA game on Tuesday night to watch the Miami Heat, a team that he owns, play the Portland Trailblazers. There's a "Daily Mail" leaked picture.

How do you feel about that? How does that make you feel, given the circumstances that your wife is facing?

NUTT: Well, I mean these people, they make -- I don't know, they make millions and millions of dollars off of all the cruises and everything. So they're going to pay for this one right here and -- I mean, they all move on and probably be done with it. I mean, I don't think it really, really matters to them.

I mean, they have lied to everybody the whole time throughout this whole process. So, I mean this really, really doesn't really change anything. I mean, we kind of know how they are.

SAMBOLIN: Why was your wife on this cruise? Was it just a vacation for her?

NUTT: It was a -- well, it was a girlfriends cruise. There's a couple hundred women from our area that went onto the cruise and she's actually on there with my other three sister-in-laws. It was just a -- it was supposed to be like a little bachelorette party kind of deal, but I don't think it turned out all that well.

SAMBOLIN: And you were saying that they have lied since the very beginning. What do you mean when you say that?

NUTT: Well, they told us that the conditions and all and everything, that after the fire happened, that everything was fine, everybody was all OK, everybody was being fed. I mean there was water, there was electricity and all. And then later that evening, whenever, that the other ship come in there to bring them food.

Our spouses, they were able to call us, whenever they called us, I mean you found out the truth, that there was no running water. They had not been fed anything at all, I mean, up to that point. And that I mean, the ship was just, I mean, nasty. I mean, they wasn't really, really, I mean, doing anything at all for them other than keeping them on the decks.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Well, Brent Nutt, we really appreciate you spending some time with us this morning.

We do know there are four tugboats headed with that big cruise ship into the port there and we certainly hope that everything is well with your wife once you are reunited with her. Appreciate your time this morning.

NUTT: Thank you, ma'am.

SAMBOLIN: John, back to you.

BERMAN: So taking a look at the top trends on If you have tickets to a Lady Gaga concert, heads up. Lady Gaga has to cancel the rest of her "Born this Way" tour. Her tour operator says the singer has a torn hip caused by strenuous repetitive movements and she will need surgery. She'll need some strict downtime, as well.

Live Nation says fans can get refunds for the canceled shows starting today.

So what is confidence? You have to check this out. A "Jeopardy" teen tournament contestant named Leonard Cooper going viral with what could be the coolest Final Jeopardy question ever. Look at this.


ALEX TREBEK, JEOPARDY HOST: On June 6th, 1944, he said, "The eyes of the world are upon you." Now we go to Leonard Cooper. He's looking pretty happy. Why? Did he come up with Ike, Dwight David Eisenhower?


TREBEK: You didn't. "Some guy in Normandy, but I just won $75,000."

You did, indeed!


BERMAN: It said, "Who is some guy in Normandy but I just won 75 grand."

The gutsy thing about this is that, mathematically, he still had a chance of losing if one of his opponents got it right. The correct answer, of course, Dwight D. Eisenhower.


BERMAN: Gutsy kid, right?

SAMBOLIN: It is a gutsy kid. His hair. That's what I'm staring at.

BERMAN: Fashionable and gutsy.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Battle lines drawn on Capitol Hill this morning with President Obama's nomination for defense secretary hanging in the balance. We go live to Washington where one side is offering the other a hand. That's coming up.


SAMBOLIN: Soledad O'Brien joining us with a look ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": Lots happening this morning at the top of the hour.

We're going to talk about this girlfriend of an international sports icon who's been shot and killed inside Oscar Pistorius' home. We'll have an update on the bizarre story surrounding him.

Also, imagine being tied up by a wanted fugitive. New details this morning about the dramatic ending to the manhunt for Christopher Dorner.

And we'll talk with Ariana Williams. He's an ex-girlfriend of Dorner's. She said his behavior was very strange when they were dating.

We're also going to be talking this morning to the former L.A. police chief Bill Bratton.

And the nightmare cruise that's now stuck in the Gulf of Mexico. Well, it's almost over for them. Will they make it to land today? I think they're about 50 miles offshore. A mother and two young girls on the ship, Kim McKerreghan and Mary Poret, respond to us live about that.

And he's a little itty bitty dog, but he's a pretty big winner. Banana Joe, he's going to join us live.

SAMBOLIN: You are interviewing Banana Joe.


BERMAN: Banana Joe is coming here? I hope you ask hard questions. Don't back off.

O'BRIEN: I'm kind of known for that. It's all good. Looking forward to that.

BERMAN: Don't wimp out against Banana Joe.

All right. Republican opponents of Chuck Hagel, the president's choice for defense secretary, refusing to give up the fight. Their attempts to block a Senate vote on Hagel's confirmation have led Majority Leader Harry Reid to take the steps necessary to force a vote and end what is now in effect a GOP filibuster.

This, we should note, is really fairly unprecedented, especially when you're dealing with national security nominees.

CNN's Athena Jones is following developments. She's live in our Washington bureau. Good morning, Athena.

ATHENA JONES, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You know, the key here is Senator John McCain. We learned Wednesday from aides to McCain that he was reconsidering his pledge not to filibuster Hagel's nomination in order to try to put pressure on the White House to provide more information about the Benghazi attack. This is just the latest sign of trouble for Hagel.


SEN. LINDSEY GRAHAM, (R) SOUTH CAROLINA: The debate on Chuck Hagel is not over. JONES (voice-over): Another roadblock in Chuck Hagel's quest to take over at the Pentagon.

GRAHAM: We don't have the information we need and I am going to fight the idea of jamming somebody through until we get answers.

JONES: Republican Lindsey Graham repeating a threat to block the vote until he gets an answer from the White House on whether the president called Libyan officials the night of the deadly Benghazi attack. This after a sometimes bitter debate in the normally bipartisan Senate Armed Services Committee.

Texas Republican Ted Cruz demanded to know more about Hagel's speeches.

SEN. TED CRUZ, (R) TEXAS: We do not know, for example, if he received compensation for giving paid speeches at extreme or radical groups. It is at a minimum relevant to know if that $200,000 that he deposited in his bank account came directly from Saudi Arabia, came directly from North Korea.

JONES: Angering Democrats.

SEN. CARL LEVIN, (D) MICHIGAN: We are not going to accept your suggestion and innuendo that there's some kind of a conflict of interest here because there is no evidence of a conflict of interest.

JONES: And prompting this response from fellow Republican John McCain.

SEN. JOHN MCCAIN, (R) ARIZONA: No one on this committee at any time should impugn his character or his integrity.

JONES: Hagel, a former Republican Senator from Nebraska, passed the committee, drawing only Democratic votes. A decorated Vietnam war vet, he's faced trouble from the start, coming under fire from Republicans for his past positions seen as too soft on Iran and for comments seen as anti-Israel. Can he overcome these latest hurdles to take the helm at defense?


JONES (on-camera): And that's the big question. You know, Carl Levin, the Senate Armed Services Committee chairman, has said he thinks that question about just what the president did on the night of the Benghazi attack is a fair one. He said he believes the White House will respond to that question before Hagel comes up for a vote.

Of course, that's far from certain. Administration officials say they're still deliberating whether to provide that information -- John.

BERMAN: Twenty-four hours of politicking ahead and vote counting no doubt. Athena Jones in Washington this morning. Thanks very much.

JONES: Thanks. SAMBOLIN: Forty-seven minutes past the hour. They are the nation's armchair warriors. The Defense Department has created a new medal to honor the military's drone operators and cyber specialists. The Distinguished Warfare Medal, as it's called, will be awarded to personnel who directly and precisely impact military operations far from the battlefield.

BERMAN: And just ahead, an update on the breaking news we have been reporting all morning, a deadly shooting at the home of Olympian Oscar Pistorius. What police are saying now about the incident when we come back.


SAMBOLIN: Fifty-one minutes past the hour. New this morning, a mega merger between American Airlines and U.S. Airways will be formally announced just hours from now. The boards of both companies met yesterday and, reportedly, they did finalize this deal. Federal approval is still needed. The new airline would be the largest in the world with a market value of about $10 billion. Many analysts predict the merger will result in higher fares because of reduced competition.

BERMAN: The Illinois State Senate is expected to vote today on a measure to legalize same-sex marriage. The measure is expected to pass, and Illinois governor Pat Quinn, who's a Democrat, has indicated he will sign this. If approved, Illinois will be the tenth state to legalize same-sex marriage along with the District of Columbia.

SAMBOLIN: So, we've been following this breaking story all morning long. A shooting at the home of track superstar Oscar Pistorius, known as the Blade Runner. His model girlfriend was shot and killed at Pistorius' home in South Africa.

Joe Carter is here with the Bleacher Report. He has details on this for us.

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Hi. Good morning, Zoraida. Yes, at this point, police are still not naming the suspect, but they say there is only one suspect who has been charged with murder. Police are also saying that Pistorius and the deceased were the only ones home at the time of this murder. Now, Pistorius' girlfriend, former model Reeva Steenkamp, was found dead, believed to be shot four times.

South African police said there have been previous incidences at the home involving domestic nature. Now, you may recall, Pistorius made history as the first double amputee to race in the Olympics. He was born without a fibula in both legs. He races wearing carbon fiber prosthetics.

Well, the NBA has suspended the Orlando Magic's Hedo Turkoglu 20 games for using steroids. After the news broke, Turkoglu released a statement saying he was given a medication by a trainer while trying to heal from an injury. What's refreshing about this one is that he says he's taking full responsibility for what goes into his body.

Well, Duke's head coach, Mike Krzyzewski, got what I'm sure he was asking for on his 66th birthday, a win over his biggest rival, North Carolina. UNC hung with second ranked Duke for most of the game until Duke's biggest star, Seth Curry and Mason Plumlee, got hot in the final minutes.

Duke won by five, 73-68. The Blue Devils have won six straight games and have beaten North Carolina six out of the last eight times.

This is a good one to end on. A rookie on the Ladies' European tour was bitten by a black widow spider mid round in Australia. So instead of quitting the round, Daniellea Holmquist used her golf tee to dig out the venom out of her ankle. She then used the tee to dig it because it was the only sharp item she had handy. She then squeezed the venom from her ankle and then finished the rounds. And they say hockey players are tough guys.

For all your entertaining sports news, go to When you got a tee, you got to use it, right?

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

BERMAN: Just a recap here, she used her golf tee to dig the black widow venom out of her leg?

SAMBOLIN: Unbelievable! That is a rock star right there.

BERMAN: The toughest athlete in the world.

SAMBOLIN: I would have walked off.

BERMAN: EARLY START continues right after the break.


BERMAN: So, a forgettable moment is being turned into a fundraising opportunity for Senator Marco Rubio, the Florida Republican. You know he sort of awkwardly paused during his State of the Union response Tuesday night to take a quick swig from a water bottle. Everyone has seen it now.

But this is smart. Now his political action committee, Reclaim America, is selling Marco Rubio water bottles. If you want one, it will cost you a $25 donation. I think that is brilliant.

SAMBOLIN: Wow! It is. It's a great way to turn that into a winning moment.


BERMAN: Absolutely. And make some money to boot.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. That's EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. "STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.