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Meteor Shower Injures 1000; Interview with Rep. Rush Holt; President Obama to Speak in Chicago; Pistorius Charged with Murder; Who Should Claim LAPD Reward?

Aired February 15, 2013 - 11:00   ET


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: I'm Carol Costello. Thank you so much for joining me today, CNN NEWSROOM continues right now with Ashleigh Banfield.

ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: Thank you so much Carol Costello. Hi everybody and let's start this way.

A fireball streak to the sky slams into Russia. More than 1,000 people now reported hurt by the flying glass. The collapsing buildings. Look at the images. Listen to the sound -- 1,000 people. We're going to take you there for more details.

And also now that those 4,000 people are off that disgusting cruise ship, what happens to the ship now.

And that Olympic athlete, Oscar Pistorius accused of murdering his girlfriend in his own home, collapses and sobs in court.

We have a lot of news happening on the ground, but the big shock and awe falling from the sky is leading it all. And, of course, I'm talking quite literally here.

While you were sleeping this unbelievable scene was unfolding in southern Russia. Close encounters of the third kind, wow.

Raining down near the Ural Mountains, that is a meteor breaking up over the earth's atmosphere. It's like a crazy scene from a movie, but it's real.

And make no mistake, the scenes and the light, all coming from a meteor as it streaks across the side. The blinding flash, the deafening explosion, caught on tape.

Up 1,000 people were hurt because of this meteor. Nearly 300 buildings were reported damaged, including this factory that you're seeing.

Glass windows were shattered and blown out. Entire walls collapsed and roofs caved in throughout this region, all of it from a meteor the size of a big kitchen table, but weighing in at about 10 tons.

But it tore through the earth's atmosphere at an alarming speed, about 33,000-miles-per-hour. Jim Boulden is standing by with the very latest. And also joining us Democratic Congressman Rush Holt who just so happens to be a rocket scientist, literally, a physicist and rocket scientist and also part of your government.

Jim, I want to start with you. We are getting conflicting numbers of the injured and they keep going up. What are you hearing now?

JIM BOULDEN, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, they keep going up. The Russian state news agency now says more than 1,000 people injured in some way by this.

And to set the scene, you think about it. It's just after breakfast time. People might have been taking their kids to school and you get that bright flash in the sky, and then you have the shock wave.

The explosion is what seems to have caused the damage. The shock wave goes off shattering glass, breaking windows, and then you would have some buildings collapsing, as well.

And the government says, schools, hospitals, offices have all been affected.

And, so, it came from nowhere. People might have been looking at the streak in the sky, might have looked what you see trailing from an airplane, airplane vapor. And then the explosion.

One woman said that she thought it was, in fact, a plane crash because of the noise and because of what they saw in the sky.

And, so, you have more and more people injured, slightly injured, probably, for most of the people, and no one has yet died as far as we know.

But you can imagine the shock of seeing this and then hearing this explosion.

And, you know, of course, because most of these asteroids, or, in this case, a meteor or a meteorite, if it lands, is in unpopulated areas or in the ocean and, so, people aren't expecting to see this kind of thing over a well-populated area, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Jim, stand by for a moment because I want to just zip over to Capitol Hill, not somewhere I'd normally go for a science story, but the man on the scene is actually not only a congressman, but literally, a rocket scientist.

Congressman Rush Holt from New Jersey, the Democrat who happens to truly the title of rocket scientist, a PhD in physics, a former assistant director of the Princeton Plasma Physics laboratory, arms control expert, as well. So, you're a great source to try to get information on this.

First of all, to the staff and the facts as we know them, the scientists are saying that they believe that this is one meteor that broke into fragments, but are you surprised at the incredible images and the damage that's it has rained upon that region?

REP. RUSH HOLT (D), NEW JERSEY: No, I'm not surprised, Ashleigh. And there is a public policy side to it, so you're appropriate -- I mean, you're appropriately coming to Capitol Hill. There is something to talk about here besides the curiosity and the human interest story of injuries and upset there.

You know, there are lots of things from space that rain down on earth every day. Most of it is dust. It amounts to tons of material.

But when something the size of a foot or a yard or, you know, a meter across, that can carry a lot of energy, as much as a big explosion. In fact, it could be mistaken, in some cases, for a nuclear explosion. So, that's one of the reasons we need to watch these things.

BANFIELD: Which, in fact, I'm glad you mentioned that, Congressman, because I think there was an explosion in 2002 over the Mediterranean when India and Pakistan were really in heated -- at a heated time in their sort of pre-nuclear battles, so that is a critical issue if those can be mistaken for nuclear attacks.

We do have North Korea in a precarious situation, so, logistically speaking, how are governments handling this? I mean, it's fun for us all to cover this, but then you have all of these people injured and you have governments who need to be not only aware of the political implications, but, also, just the natural disaster implications.

HOLT: Sure. Well, that's why it makes sense to watch these things, and NASA has a near-Earth program. It is, I would argue, underfunded because of what's at stake here both in the sense of preparedness and dealing with injury and upset.

But also to deal with international incidents that might occur. You mentioned the 2002 meteorite over the Mediterranean. At the time, the deputy director of space command said that, if this had happened over the subcontinent, it might have been mistaken for a nuclear explosion in this rather belligerent stand-off between India and Pakistan at the time.

There's certainly occasions back in the Soviet Union days when the United States and Russia mistook natural occurrences for what might have been belligerent events, and so, you have to watch these things. And the NASA near-Earth program is important for all of those reasons.

As you pointed out, as your other guest pointed out, the energy that's contained in just say small rock, you know, a foot across or a couple of feet across, traveling at these velocities, can pack a lot of energy.

And, so, when it explodes, it's as if a nuclear explosion went off, obviously, not the radiation and that sort of thing, but the damage could be great.

BANFIELD: Well, Congressman Holt, I appreciate that you scrambled to the Rotunda to speak with us on this. Again, I don't normally go to Capitol Hill with a science crisis like this, but with your academics and your credentials, you were the perfect guest, and I appreciate you bringing your perspective.

Also to our Jim Boulden for the reporting. Thank you to both of you.

By the way, you two, this is not just luck that we have all those pictures to show while you were talking. They were caught on dash cams.

And, according to al Jazeera, about a million Russia drivers have affixed dashboard cameras to get video from their cars for very good reason. They are very concerned about police corruption, and they want to make sure they record their every move in case they end up embroiled in something they prefer not to be.

So, there you have it. That's why you have so many images captured, not only of the sonic boom, but then the aftermath and the streak across the sky.

So, here, we were talking about the meteor and the meteorites and the fragments, et cetera, there is also another story, space-related, similar, but different, the asteroid. It's the size of the White House, and it is hurdling towards Earth as we speak.

Don't freak out. It's not going to hit us. That's what we're told anyway, but here's some animation that will help you understand the significance.

This thing is going to be -- I guess I should call it a "barely miss," a near miss, and when I say near, I mean 17,000 miles away. Sounds like a lot of miles, but space geeks know that that's very close when we're talking about space distance.

Here's some perspective for you. You all know that TV and weather satellites are rotating out there. They're floating about the earth.

But look at the distance. They are 22,000 miles away, and the asteroid is within that perimeter at 17,200.

Our Jason Carroll is monitoring this story, the approaching asteroid, from the American Museum of Natural History.

Give us an idea, Jason, of how long until the situation we are currently in becomes something we discuss in the past?


Well, we're basically looking at 2:24. That is when this particular asteroid, and it's called 2012 DA14, not an very inspiring name for such an incredible object.

But at 2:24 p.m. Eastern time that is when the asteroid will be at its closest, and that's about 17 200 miles from the Earth. Again, it sounds like it's far away, but very close when you consider how close the satellites, the weather and communication satellites, are to us.

And we should just also point out that scientists tell us that the asteroid will not disrupt and not come in contact with any of those satellites.

But it's so incredible when you think about that. At its closest point, if you're living in Indonesia, you will the best vantage point to actually see the actual asteroid. Even though it'll be nighttime there, if you've got a high-powered telescope or even some fairly good binoculars, you should be able to see it, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: Any potential damage to all the science we have floating that helps us, like all the satellites that bring us our TV, our radar, our -- I mean, just about everything? Is there potential damage coming to those thing?

CARROLL: No. Well, here's the way to think about it. No potential damage, this time around, but think about this. It was amateur astronomers who basically discovered this particular asteroid. They just happened to be looking out in the skies and discovered it about a year ago.

What you really have to think about is this. If this is to impact the Earth and we discovered it a year ago, we do not currently have the capability to stop something like this from happening in that short period of time.

And that's something that has a lot of scientists worried. And, in fact, they've been worried for many years about this particular situation.

BANFIELD: All right, Jason Carroll, as you said, the difficulties pass us by 2:24 Eastern time. That's when our colleague, Brooke Baldwin, will take over, so she's got the breaking news ahead of her. Jason Carroll, live at the Natural History Museum.

The asteroid is going to come closest, as we said, at that particular time. That's less than two-and-a-half hours from now, so we're going to listen in to NASA command and we're also going to speak with Edward Lu, who is a former astronaut, and, also, something called a current astronaut and current asteroid hunter. There is such a thing, and we're covering it.


BANFIELD: In about an hour, President Obama is going to head back to his old stomping grounds to visit Hyde park academy on Chicago's south side. His main focus, the economy, but he's as expected to talk about gun violence.

More than 500 people were murdered in Chicago last year, and tonight, "AC 360" is live from Chicago.

Is it realistic to expect that the president's strategy will make any difference when it comes to gun violence? That's tonight at 8:00 p.m. Eastern on CNN. Well, it may be as pretty as a postcard, the glistening white ship against a crystal blue sky, but this isn't how more than 4,000 passengers and crew members aboard the Carnival Triumph are going to be remembering their week-long nightmare that just ended hours ago.

No, they were staggering off the ship that has had minimal power and abysmal sanitary conditions since an engine fire last Sunday in the middle of the Gulf of Mexico jammed the power, put them in darkness and set off the vacation from hell.

But, whoa, were they happy to be back. If you were with us yesterday, you know that Mobile, Alabama, was in sight for, oh, I don't know, 10 or more hours before these very happy travelers finally had the cheering, you know, something to cheer about when they finally got to land.

And, once they did get to land, they dispersed mostly on buses to New Orleans, and from there, on buses and planes to Houston or Galveston. That is where the Triumph originally set sail from.

And, speaking of sailing, that massive 14-story septic tank is once again on the move, this time to a repair dock. Tugboats started pushing it, pulling it, tugging it away from port just about an hour ago.

And I want to bring some Jim Spellman, who is in Galveston. Jim, just give us the latest with what's happening with all of those passengers, and also those crew members who, we've just got to give a shoutout to them, because everyone, to the last passenger we spoke with, has said that the crew was fantastic.

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, every single person we've spoken to here, Ashleigh, have had nothing but glowing reviews for how the crew member reacted. We spoke to one family; they were craving, for some reason, peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They said their steward for their room, his name was Roberto, he had some in his cabin. He went and made them peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. They said it was things like that throughout this ordeal that really made it possible for people to keep at least some sort of sense of good cheer as they went forward.

The people we've met here so far, the people so eager to get home, they jumped on a bus in Mobile and rode overnight to get here and get into their cars and drive home. They're so eager to get a hot shower, to use their own bathroom, and to maybe get a nap in. Some of the families here we spoke to are the people who've had it the worst. The people with little kids had to keep their kids' safety in mind and keep them entertained for a few days.

We caught up with Roxy Gallegos; she was on with her husband, her brother-in-law, and three kids. Here's what she had to say.


ROXY GALLEGOS, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH PASSENGER: We've been on four other cruises and we've enjoyed them all. We never had any bad experiences like this. So I would say it's definitely not going to keep us from cruising, but it's definitely going to be a while.

OMAR GALLEGOS, CARNIVAL TRIUMPH PASSENGER: They were risking their lives for us, from the engineers to the people who were cleaning our rooms, because they were swimming in poop, just taking care of us. The cooks, the chefs were non-stop. So yes, they're the true heroes.


SPELLMAN: The next wave of people we expect to see, Ashleigh, are the people who overnighted there in New Orleans and caught planes to Houston. They're on their way from the airport in Houston now. They'll come and get their cars and get home as well. That will be the next thing we see here, Ashleigh.

BANFIELD: All right, Jim Spellman, thank you very much for that.

And I also want to let our viewers know that at 9:00 Eastern tonight, you can hear some of the stories and see some of the photographs that a lot of passengers were taking. They're starting to share a lot of their cell phone pictures from onboard, and you won't believe what some of those pictures show. It's a Piers Morgan special; I'm going to be hosting it tonight, called "TRIUMPH AND TRAGEDY: ON BOARD THE CRUISE FROM HELL". Tonight at 9:00, only on CNN,

From Olympic glory to international shame, a once brave and accomplished track star weeping openly in a South African courtroom, shaking uncontrollably. This morning, a judge charged Oscar Pistorius with premeditated murder. He's accused of shooting and killing his girlfriend on Valentine's Day.

And now, a photo surfacing from his Twitter feed: Pistorius sending it out one afternoon. It shows him at a shooting range with a message touting his accuracy.

Our Errol Barnett is following this story from Johannesburg, South Africa. Give us the update on this remarkable story and what happened in court, if you would, Errol.

ERROL BARNETT, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, people here in South Africa, Ashleigh, as they are around the world, are just shocked at this. The key development today was that the prosecution announced they don't just intend to charge the so-called Blade Runner with murder, they intend to charge him with premeditated murder.

And keep in mind, we're only about 36 hours out from when this tragedy took place. So it was a very bold statement made today. They must feel confident in the evidence they have so far that they can secure a conviction. Now Oscar Pistorius, yes, he was visibly disturbed today, but he said through his agent that he rejects the murder charge and will fight it in the strongest terms.

Now the prosecution and defense also agreed to delay the hearing that was meant for today until Tuesday. So, as each side gathers evidence for their case, Oscar Pistorius will continue to spend nights in jail, a much different setting than his mansion in Pretoria where this tragedy happened on Valentine's Day. BANFIELD: So, Errol, one of the more unusual bits of news that came out this morning was that the victim in this case, his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp, who was a model, was actually -- had taped a reality show. And it is set to actually premiere, I believe, this weekend. Are they still going ahead with that show on television?

BARNETT: This is also rubbing a lot of people the wrong way, Ashleigh. Yes, Reeva Steenkamp was a cover model. She was an aspiring TV star, similar to what you have in the U.S. And a program she shot in Jamaica last year where young people who were wearing bikinis and beachwear are frolicking around, and they kind of have that kind storyline. The produces of the show say they will go ahead with plans to air the program; it airs tomorrow, Saturday, here in South Africa. Will be preceded by a tribute for Reeva Steenkamp.

But let me just read to you what the executive producer sent to us, Samantha Moon. She says the reason they're going ahead with this is because Reeva was a, quote, "intelligent, beautiful and amazing woman." They feel it would be an injustice to keep that unknown from people who know her personally.

It is unimaginable what her family is going through. They've lost their 29-year-old daughter in what was a horrific crime and now they have to watch her on this show beginning tomorrow.

BANFIELD: Oh Errol Barnett, that's just very distressing news. Thank you for keeping an eye on the story for us. Errol Barnett, reporting live.

And coming up in about 15 minutes, we're going to talk about what happens when mega-superstar sports athletes end up in a situation like this, when, of course, they are receiving a lot of money from big companies who sponsor them. Trouble on all sides? You'll find out what happens next.


BANFIELD: In the aftermath of the death of the former L.A. cop Christopher Dorner, a lot of questions still need to be answered. And maybe the biggest one, or the most expensive one: who's going to get that million-dollar reward that was initially floated out there by the Los Angeles police and the city of Los Angeles?

These two candidates, Karen Reynolds and her husband Jim, were the ones who called 911 to report that Dorner had tied them up and stolen their car. And then Rick Heltebrake was carjacked by Dorner and sort of left out there standing with his dog.

And wait a minute: here's the problem for all of those who might they stand a chance. Just a teeny, tiny caveat to getting the reward. The reward was for "information leading to Dorner's capture and conviction." Sometimes they say "arrest and conviction". And since nobody (sic) died, does anyone actually end up getting it? Do they have a legal claim to it?

CNN's legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin and "In Session" contributor Joey Jackson, both of them joining me now.

Let me start with you, Jeff. Can they get the reward or is that little caveat really, really big?

JEFFREY TOOBIN, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: Well, I think there's a difference here, as in so many cases, between the letter of the law and how the real world works. As a technical legal matter, I'm not sure there was a valid contract here. I'm not sure if they were to sue, these people, that they would actually get the reward.

But remember, the L.A. Police Department wants to be a good guy here. This money, these people suffered very scary incidents. I think they can split the money these two people, be done with it, and everybody would go home happy.

BANFIELD: Well, that's the Reynolds, but then of course there is this man, the man who was carjacked. Listen to what he told our Randi Kaye about his plans if he doesn't get some of the money.


RICK HELTEBRAKE, CARJACKED BY DORNER: Did anybody ever believe that he was going to be captured and convicted? I don't think so. I think they put that in possibly to have an out for later. I'm going to go talk to a lawyer today, start the process. I know I have to file a claim first.


BANFIELD: Joey Jackson, he says he's talked to a lawyer, he knows he has file a claim. And what Jeff Toobin just said was there's a big difference between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law. What do you think applies here?

JOEY JACKSON, CONTRIBUTOR, "IN SESSION": There is, Ashleigh, but ultimately it's also about common sense and it's also about community participation. What do we want to reward here? If you look at it from a legal perspective, purely, what you look at is contract law. And contract law finds common sense in it. Why? Because it's about equity. If you look at contract law at its essence, it's about rewarding people and not having them unjustly enriched.

Now, stepping away from the law, police want community participation. So the wise thing to do, Ashleigh, is to encourage that by rewarding the money to those who assisted the police with this issue and many others, I'm sure, to follow.

BANFIELD: So Jeff Toobin, just quickly to button it up. If all of this ends up getting messy and no one ends up getting the money, what happens -- it's a big pot from a number of different groups, not just the city or not just taxpayers. What happens to the money?

TOOBIN: It goes back to the donors. I mean, if it's not distributed, it's not a gift to the LAPD; it has to go to the people who gave it. But I really do think that, you know, this situation is right for a compromise. Lots of people who did good things. BANFIELD: Yes.

TOOBIN: And it's a possibility of making everybody happy.

BANFIELD: It's no fun looking down the barrel of a gun. Trust me, I was in Afghanistan, saw it a few times and I feel for those people. They deserve something for their suffering. And, you know what, they called and they set the wheels in motion anyway.

All right. You two, thank you. I'm going to talk to you in a little bit. And also, people, watch tonight, "KILLER COP: INSIDE THE HUNT FOR CHRISTOPHER DORNER". Really remarkable, just all of the things that happened in order to bring an end to that nightmare that Southern California was suffering through.

And here's this: Nike, dropping an ad that featured an Olympic runner. Look closely. Now look on the left. The man in that picture is charged in the shooting death of his girlfriend. This is an ad featuring Oscar Pistorius reading, "I am the bullet in the chamber," and this is a gun killing.

Next, we're going to look at how the companies that protect the brand do so in times of trouble. Our legal dynamic duo weighing in next.