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Gas Prices Soar; Mindy McCready Dead; Obama's Immigration Plan Leaked; Rubio Takes Advantage of Water Bottle Snafu; Danica Patrick Takes Pole; New Details in Pistorius Case; Chicago Teen Shot; Many Still Struggling After Sandy

Aired February 18, 2013 - 11:00   ET

THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Thanks, Carol. Hello, everyone. I'm John Berman in for Ashleigh Banfield today.

And talk about pain at the pump. Gasoline is higher today than it was yesterday. We've been saying that a lot lately. It's an unbroken trend we've been watching for the past month.

This is how gas prices have looked over the past year. Now, the lowest point was just before Christmas and, since then, it's risen steadily to today's average which is $3.73 a gallon.

Zain Asher is at a gas station right here in Manhattan. Zain, How does it look where you are? Things are even worse here in Manhattan, right?

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yeah, absolutely. And I can tell you taxi drivers in particular are frustrated because of the pain at the pump.

Gas prices right here on 10th Avenue, $4.15 for regular, $4.45 a gallon for premium.

Now, just to give you some context. The average price of gas for the entire country is $3.73. We're seeing higher gas prices in places like Hawaii, places like California.

Hawaii right now has the highest gas prices in the whole country, $4.29 a gallon. The cheapest right now, in case you were wondering, is in Wyoming. That's $3.17 a gallon.

I spoke to taxi drivers here, telling me that they're spending upwards of $40, $50, $60 a day on gas. Other drivers basically saying that they're considering using electric cars or hybrid cars.

But basically, people are just really feeling helpless. Take a listen to what some people said to me earlier.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JONATHAN MEIZLER, DRIVER: Being in New York you have access to public transportation, so it's much easier than, let's say, in Los Angeles, but the necessity of having a car at some points is what it is. And so you are going to have to cope. DAVID JACOBS, DRIVER: I'll say just find that the prices at gas stations are getting out of control. And the government is not doing anything about it.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHER: Right. And that last guy I spoke to, his name is David Jacobs. I asked him what about taking public transportation. What about taking the subway?

And get this. He told me that he's actually not allowed to take the subway. He is banned from taking the subway because he was a 9/11 first-responder. And, so, because of respiratory illnesses and the poor air quality in the subway, doctors have actually banned him from taking the subway.

So, you know, he really is at the mercy of gas prices. And it just goes to show that gas prices, when they rise, affect people in ways than you can possibly imagine.

John?

BERMAN: Yeah, they sure do.

So, what's behind this increase? Is there one thing, or are we talking about a cocktail of factors here?

ASHER: Well, several things, actually. I mean, crude oil prices, number one. You know, as the economy shows signs of recovery, as the housing market also shows signs of recovery, you're going to see demand for crude oil go up, that, of course, is going to push oil prices up, as well.

Also, refineries, typically around this time of year, will close for maintenance temporarily. But we're also seeing refineries shutting down because some of them are losing money. That, of course, puts pressure on supply and that, of course, will send gas prices rising higher.

John?

BERMAN: All right, Zain Asher, outside a gas station right here in Manhattan where the prices are high and getting higher. Thanks a lot, Zain.

So, for country music star Mindy McCready, this is the end that most everyone had feared, death by her own hand. After a decade of drug abuse, petty crime, and despair, police say McCready shot herself on the front porch of her Arkansas home, exactly where boyfriend and father of her 10-month-old son had shot himself to death last month.

Here's what McCready said about that incident a few days later.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MINDY MCCREADY, COUNTRY SINGER: I've never gone through anything this painful, nor will I ever again go through anything this painful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: So, Nischelle Turner joins me now from Los Angeles.

And, Nischelle, between Wilson's suicide and her own, McCready was actually in rehab. So, how did that come about and how and why did it end?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, this all just happened in the last few weeks, John.

She had been seeking some help. She went into rehab earlier this month, but reportedly checked herself out early on the condition of continuing outpatient care.

Now, at this point, we don't really know why the decision to leave early from rehab was made.

BERMAN: So in 1996, her first solo album sold more than 2 million copies. Things seemed to be going so well and then there was a downward spiral. We're talking multiple arrests, at least three overdoses, one or more suicide attempts. I think even a sex tape, a custody fight with her own mother.

And then, in 2009, she tried to get clean with the help of HLN's Dr. Drew Pinsky. So, tell us about that.

TURNER: Yeah, she did have a long history of battling her demons of addiction and drug abuse and all those things.

But when she met HLN's Dr. Drew, who she did meet while appearing on "Celebrity Rehab," she says that she really was trying to get help. And he said, as far as he knew, she went to a psychiatric facility to try and get better.

He talked to Don Lemon from CNN last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, "CELEBRITY REHAB," there's a cautionary tale here about the stigma of mental illness and the way in which the public attack celebrities who take care of themselves.

She became so fearful of the stigma and the way people were responding to her being hospitalized that she actually checked herself out prematurely, and now we have what we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TURNER: And during her time on "Celebrity Rehab," we saw her have an on-camera seizure as she detoxed from the drugs and alcohol.

Now, McCready is actually the third person from her season alone on "Celebrity Rehab" to die. Mike Starr from Alice In Chains died in 2011 of a reported overdose and former "Real World" cast member, Joey Kovar, died last August of opiate intoxication.

But, John, at the heart of McCready's struggles is her kids. She ultimately leaves two boys, 6 years and 10 months old, without their mother.

BERMAN: And that is such a tragedy. As you've said, Nischelle, she's been a presence in the country music scene for more than 15 years right now, so how are people in that scene reacting to her death?

TURNER: Well, shocked. I think they're really shocked, and everyone simply is feeling for the little boys.

Last night, of course, celebrities took to Twitter, responding to this. Carrie Underwood said that "I grew up listening to Mindy MacReady. So sad for her family. Many prayers are going to them."

And Wynonna Judd actually released a series of tweets last night, kind of talking about her own battles with addiction. And she was also praying for Mindy McCready.

She said, "Unbelievable and so sad. God be with the family and those babies, surround them with your grace and mercy."

And that is pretty much what everyone is feeling this morning, just so sorry for the little boys.

BERMAN: Thanks, Nischelle Turner.

And, again, that's a struggle that has gone on for so many years.

Nischelle Turner, thanks very much.

A little more than a year ago Mindy McCready launched a comeback attempt and posted this on a fan site. She said, quote, "I haven't had a hit in almost a decade. I've been beaten, sued, robbed, arrested, jailed and evicted. But I'm still here."

So sad.

Now to some other news. President Obama's plan for immigration reform was leaked over the weekend. It includes a clearer path to citizenship for illegal immigrants, undocumented workers.

Republican Senators John McCain and Marco Rubio who are working on a Senate immigration plan that quickly criticized the president's version.

The White House stresses that it's only a backup in case Congress fails to act.

More from Marco Rubio. You remember him reaching for that bottle of water during his response to the State of Union address? Quite famous by this point.

Well, now, a PAC, his PAC, has turned this into a $100,000 moment. ABC News reports that Rubio's PAC has raised that much money by giving away water bottles for any donation over 25 bucks. That's some smart politics.

So, Danica Patrick has made NASCAR history. She is the first woman to win the pole for the storied Daytona 500. She barely beat Jeff Gordon to capture the top spot.

We're going to hear from Danica Patrick talking about her historic run in just a couple of minutes.

Now, some details on the pope's declining health. The "Los Angeles Times" reports that Pope Benedict XVI may be blind in his left eye. That's according to a German journalist who has interviewed the pope several times, most recently in December.

He tells the newspaper that the pope's hearing has also faded. And he says the pope is so thin that tailors struggle to keep him in his clothes.

The pope, of course, cited his poor health for his decision to leave the papacy. He will leave on February 28th.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Some really unique pieces of John Lennon memorabilia go on sale today. There are four letters written by Lennon's killer, Mark David Chapman, to the arresting officer in the murder case.

Retired officer, Steven Spiro, says Chapman had hoped they'd actually become friends. And in all these letters, Chapman implores the officer to read the book, "The Catcher in the Rye." These letters are valued at $75,000.

Police in Spring Hill, Florida, are investigating a bizarre incident. Residents noticed a 10-year-old boy walking down the street completely naked, and when they approached him, they noticed he actually appeared to be drunk.

At his home, they found two adults passed out near a half empty bottle of brandy. Police are treating this case as possible child abuse.

A much happier story to report on right now. Back to Daytona, Florida, and the historic run by Danica Patrick.

On Sunday, the Sprint Cup rookie became the first woman to ever capture the pole at NASCAR's marquee event. And, shortly after celebrating this milestone, she sat down with our very own Don Lemon who asked if she understood just how historic and important this moment really is.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANICA PATRICK, NASCAR RACER: In a simple word, yes, I understand that.

I think that understanding the scope of what that means and what that will end up meaning is -- or if any, is something that happens down the road. In the moment, it's about thinking about what I need to do for next Sunday and trying to make some more history.

DON LEMON, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tell us about the reaction from fellow drivers including your team owner, Tony Stewart.

PATRICK: Tony came over when we had gotten the pole, so qualifying was over with, and he came over to say good job and, you know, for me, I just wanted to tell him thank you for giving me the chance and for giving me the crew and the car and the job at his team to be able to go out there and do something like that.

So, it means a lot and it goes a long way when someone like Tony Stewart believes in you.

LEMON: Yeah, I met Tony Stewart a couple of years ago when I was doing an interview for Daytona 500, and he couldn't have been more gracious, a very gracious man.

But let's talk a little bit more about you, though. Winning the pole is one thing. Now, you have to go out and race in a 125-mile qualifying race and then a 500-mile main event on Sunday.

How are you going to prepare for this, this week?

PATRICK: I'm going to hope that I can have a little bit of time off between now and when we hit the track on Wednesday.

But I'm racing in the nationwide race, which is, I think, going to be really good help for the race on Sunday, for the Daytona 500, so I'll be racing on Saturday and Sunday.

But just getting out there in traffic and feeling what it's like around other cars and we're going to be smart about what we do out there on the track.

I believe if we crash in practice or the duals, which is the race that we do on Thursday, we don't get to start in the front row.

So, we're going to have to be a little bit smart, but it doesn't mean we can't get the chance to go out there and feel what it's like around other cars.

LEMON: All right, so, listen, don't be modest. You've won this time. You've won the pole position.

What are you doing this time that's different or better than you were doing before or better than the other drivers?

PATRICK: I don't know how to answer that. I mean, I -- all I can do as a driver when I go out there and qualify at a place like Daytona is to be smooth, to not let the car bind up too much. Let it take its head. Let it be -- let it go where it wants to go a little bit, yet, keeping a minimum distance, as little as possible.

So -- but other than that, I mean, it's very much about the crew. So, I know you told me not to be modest, but it is very much about the crew and the engine and the car. Those elements have to be in place for you to go out there and be able to have a chance at the pole.

LEMON: Yeah, you were also modest when you answered the history question, but you said you do understand that you made history today. It is groundbreaking.

But do you understand there are young women and little girls at home watching you and who, all of a sudden today, will say, you know what? I can do that. I can become a race car driver. I can be a Danica Patrick.

And little boys -- my producer is saying little boys. But little boys have had role models in racing from the beginning. But you're a role model for little girls. You get that?

PATRICK: I love to go beyond racing in general, I mean, just to break gender barriers. I feel that one of the coolest thing is to think that parents and their kids are having that conversation at home about it. I've heard stories about a kid, a little boy or girl, saying, "But Mommy, Daddy, that's a girl out there racing," and then they can have that conversation to say, "You can do anything you want to do and gender doesn't matter. Your passion is what matters."

And that's cool.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Such a wonderful moment. It will make for an incredibly exciting week at Daytona. And of course Danica Patrick took care of the first part, which was qualifying, but I bet you she knows this fun fact. In the last 20 years, a person on the pole for the Daytona 500 has only won three times. The last person to do it was Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2004.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: We have some new details this morning in the Valentine's Day murder case involving South African Olympic star Oscar Pistorius. An official familiar with the case says his girlfriend Reeva Steenkamp was still alive after being shot four times through a bathroom door at the athlete's home. Also police say they are examining a bloodstained bat found at the scene. All this as Pistorius prepares to return to court tomorrow.

CNN's Robyn Curnow is in Johannesburg. And Robyn, what is the latest on all this new information?

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, let's just paint a picture for you, if you don't mind, John, just to give you some sense of the timeline that we're talking to, because we are getting a better sense of what happened early on Valentine's Day. That's according to an official close to the investigation, as well as to some local media reports.

So what we do know is Reeva Steenkamp brought along her overnight bag and her iPad, indicating, of course, that she was planning to spend the night at her boyfriend's house. We know she was shot four times through a closed bathroom door. And then this mysterious cricket bat covered in blood that local media are referring to -- many people firmly believe this was either used to attack her further or that she used it to defend herself, but I think the clearest line of thought is that Oscar bashed down the door to try and access her where she was critically injured inside. We then know that he picked her up and carried her down the stairs while she was still alive. And that's of course (AUDIO GAP) understand (AUDIO GAP) forensic and blood spatter.

Beyond that, all we know is he is being charged with her murder, and she is dead. More information perhaps will be coming out of a bail hearing, a bond hearing, on Tuesday, but still South Africans here, very confused. Still very bewildered as to what triggered this, what the motive is.

BERMAN: And all of this new evidence, of course, gets to one of the key questions in the case which was it self defense or was it some kind of unmotivated attack? Self defense being against some unknown intruder that he might have thought was in the house.

I'm saying this because, Robyn, you've spoken to Pistorius several times over the years about his time at boarding school and his alleged troubles sleeping at night. Explain this.

CURNOW: Absolutely. Now obviously the closest we're going to get to a trial is by the end of the year, and this is the kind of thing I think the defense might come up with. Because Oscar Pistorius, of course, is a very complicated human being. He doesn't have any legs, but he has played and tried to play equally with able-bodied people.

He went to a private school where he was a boarder. And he told me a few years ago that at least one incidence of when he was bullied, when hew was hazed, was when the kids, the boys, would ignite the fire alarm with perhaps a lighter. So it set off the fire alarm in the school, which meant the kids in the dormitory would have to evacuate. What the boys would have done before that is they would hide Oscar Pistorius' prosthetic legs, which he always took off to go to sleep and put them next to his bed. So when everybody else was running to evacuate, he'd be scrambling around to find his legs.

And it's that vulnerability in the middle of the night which many people point to why he carried a gun and why he slept with a gun. And also explains, perhaps, a lot of his paranoia.

BERMAN: All right, Robyn Curnow. There are certain to be a lot of twists and turns in this case. Thank you for covering it for us today, again, from South Africa.

And while Pistorius returns to court tomorrow, the funeral services will be held for his girlfriend, Reeva Steenkamp, in her hometown of Port Elizabeth.

Want to get now to some of the other top stories around the world today. Venezuelan president Hugo Chavez back in his home country. Chavez has been undergoing cancer treatment in Cuba since December. This tweet from his official Twitter account signaled his return. He wrote, "We come back to the country of Venezuela. Thank God! Thank you dear people! Here we continue to treatment."

Wikileaks founder Julian Assange is considering a run for Senate in his native Australia. In an interview on a Australian Web site, Assange says that being elected would force the United States government to drop espionage charges against him. Assange remains holed up at the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he was granted asylum last June. It might be hard to run for Senate from there.

Now to the Urals region of Russia where the hunt is on to find valuable pieces of a meteor that exploded overhead. Scientists have already found dozens of rocks around a frozen lake that they say are parts of this meteor. The big prize is the largest chunk that is supposedly at the bottom of the lake right now. Officials say they may have to wait until spring, until the thaw happens, until they can find that.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: In Chicago, police are questioning two men in connection with the Friday shooting death of an 18-year-old woman. Janay McFarlane was killed while walking with friends in North Chicago. This happened the same day that McFarlane's sister was in the audience for President Obama's speech in Chicago on gun violence.

So a chance for a student to receive free tuition for a semester rested in a coach's ability to nail a shot at half court. The student chose the head basketball coach at Canada's Brandon University to take the shot for him. A great choice it was, too, because nothing but net. The coach sank the shot and won tuition for the lucky student. There was a huge celebration at court, too. That was a very, very good shot. Cool.

So drowning in red tape. Four months after Superstorm Sandy, many homeowners still cannot get insurance money to repair their homes. Some of them are even going broke while they wait.

Our very own Deb Feyerick joins us from New York. And Deb, what's the hold up here?

DEBORAH FEYERICK, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: It's really crazy. You've got more than 6,000 people who are in a very bad way. They're either living in hotels or partially rebuilt homes. The money they need is so close and yet nay can't get their hands on it.

One of the reasons is that the money, it's not the insurance company -- the insurance companies have actually distributed the money, but they give it to the lenders. And so the name on the check is both the homeowner and the lender. The lender has the money. But the lender wants proof that, in fact, either there's either damage or the repairs have been made. OK. Sounds reasonable.

Except a lot of people just don't have the extra cash, the thousands that they need to rebuild those homes. And so there's just an enormous amount of frustration that's going on. People are begging to have their money released. And the New York governor is saying, look, Fanny, Freddie, all you banks, do the right thing and give these people your money. But clearly, the lenders also don't want to be stuck with houses they can't sell.

BERMAN: It's a big issue going on right now in New York and in New Jersey, which is why we're going to Bill Akers. He's the mayor of Seaside Heights, New Jersey. He joins us now on the phone.

And Mr. Mayor, if the people who can't get their money from the insurance companies or their lenders, which Deb is saying here, what kind of relief can the state offer?

MAYOR BILL AKERS, SEASIDE HEIGHTS, NEW JERSEY (via telephone): I think the next best hope is what the governor was outlining the last time he was in Seaside Heights. There seems to be a community block grant, money that's going to come out of the Sandy Relief Bill, where states will have the ability to cut some red tape, get the money to the people a lot quicker. They were talking within 30 to 45 days. I think that is the next best hope in order to get money.

BERMAN: So Mr. Mayor, how much money are we talking about here in these block grants? And if you're one of if these people suffering in one of these homes that's been badly damaged, how do you get your hands on the money?

AKERS: That's two great questions. Because that's been -- that's been in (ph) all along. Everyone knows there's a pot of money out there. Everybody knows about the big number, the $51 billion. The problem is nobody knows what's going to be set aside for either mitigation money or block grant money.

So that's the first question mark. You know there's money, you just don't know how much. Then, now you've got to find out what the rules are. Well, they say it's coming, how you're going to get this money, but no one's outlined it yet. And that's been a frustrating point too.