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Spiking Gas Prices; Freeze Warning; Country Star Mindy McCready Dead; Danica Patrick Takes Pole at Daytona; What Happened at Oscar Pistorius' House?

Aired February 18, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Crude awakening. Oil prices have Americans paying more for gas than ever before this time of year.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Country music tragedy. Troubled singer Mindy McCready dead of an apparent suicide.

SAMBOLIN: And making history. Danica Patrick does what no woman in NASCAR has ever done before.

BERMAN: I think that's so cool.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, so cool?

BERMAN: It was very cool.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Like super duper, unbelievably cool.

BERMAN: It's not cool enough.

SAMBOLIN: Exactly. Give her more props. First woman ever.

BERMAN: I was all into it.

SAMBOLIN: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. It is clearly Monday. It is February 18th, Presidents Day. Happy Presidents Day, 5:00 a.m. in the East.

Let's get started this morning. We're going to begin. We have two big stories we're following this morning that could both affect your pocketbook. A cold freeze that could ruin crops in the South and gas prices skyrocketing.

We're going to start with gas prices, but only because they really started with us. You have seen it. They're going up and up and up. No sign of stopping. Every day for more than a month now, gas prices have jumped.

That is not the kind of streak you want to be on. And it is all happening in the dead of winter while Americans try to cope with home heating bills and shrinking paychecks. Thanks to those payroll tax cuts that expire last month. Zain Asher is right in the middle of it all. She is live at the gas station here in New York City. Zain, what to do the prices look like there?

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, John. Gas prices are certainly skyrocketing. Over here in 10th Avenue, you're seeing regular gas $4.15. I'm looking at the board now. Premium is still $4.45. And we're expected to se the numbers increase even further.

Let me just show these numbers and what it looks like in terms of the rest of the country. Average price of gas right now across the country, $3.71. That's the average. But, you know, in some states, you know, it can get a lot higher than that. Anyone in Hawaii knows exactly what I'm talking about. Over there, gas prices, on average, $4.29.

But the cheapest gas right now can be found be in Wyoming. Over there, $3.17 a gallon.

Now, as you mentioned, John, this is really coming at a bad time for a lot of Americans in this part of the country at least. People are spending more money on heating. They don't have the spare change to spare on gas prices getting higher. Taxes also increasing for a lot of Americans.

At this particular gas station, I did speak to some taxi drivers who pulled in earlier this morning. And I asked them, you know, guys, what are you going to do? How are you coping with rising gas prices? They told me that they're spending upwards of $60 a guy on gasoline.

I actually stood by one guy as he filled up the tank. I saw the numbers rise much these guys really are at the mercy of the pumps because, obviously, they don't pick up more passengers that now are really going to feel it in terms of wages -- John.

BERMAN: Zain, the woman behind you is jumping up and down, clearly outraged at the prices she's seeing. Either that or very, very cold right now.

Zain, this just in to CNN, gas prices now break for a 32nd day in a row. AAA just out with a brand new national average. See, just in like I told you, $3.73 now for a gallon of regular.

SAMBOLIN: And also today what could be another threat to your pocketbook, this one at the grocery store. Jennifer Delgado in the weather center right now, with a freeze warning that could spell trouble for some of Florida's citrus crops. People don't like it to get cold there.

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: No, they don't want to threaten the orange juice. The reality is, Zoraida, temperatures are bitterly cold this morning. We're talking temps right now in the 20s.

We do have a hard freeze warning, anywhere you're seeing in blue. That includes parts of Georgia as well as into Florida and then a freeze warning in blue. Now, what we're talking about, temperatures basically staying in the mid-20s for two hours or more. And right now, you can see the numbers are already very close to that range, 27 for Ocala, as well as 26 for Gainesville, Jacksonville, 26.

Now how long will this last? Well, it looks like for tomorrow, we don't have a freeze warning in place. But keep in mind, temperatures are still running 15 to 20 degrees below average this morning.

I was talking to Joe Carter. You're going to see him very shortly. But he said all his friends in Miami, they're complaining, it's cold out there. It's still 49 degrees in Miami.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness. Forty-nine degrees in Miami, you want sunshine, bathing suit weather. Thank you.

DELGADO: Eighties.

SAMBOLIN: Right. Thank you very much, Jennifer.

All right. And developing overnight, tragedy in the world of country music. Singer Mindy McCready is dead. Authorities say it appears that 37-year-old singer died from a self inflicted gunshot wound. She was found at her Arkansas home. This was yesterday.

McCready had a string of hits and the turbulent personal life. Her battles with alcohol, drugs, and the law were well-publicized. Her death comes a month after her boyfriend David Wilson, the father of her infant son, died of an apparent suicide.

McCready talked about that painful experience in her very last interview with NBC.


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


SAMBOLIN: Oh, gosh. That just breaks your heart.

CNN's Nischelle Turner is following all of these developments for us. She is live in our L.A. bureau.

Nichelle, McCready had obviously been troubled for a very long time. But had there been any recent signs that things were actually getting worse for her?

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Well, you know, Zoraida, there were signs that she was struggling. She recently had a stint in rehab but reportedly checked herself out early. Mindy McCready had a long history of battling her demons.

But Dr. Drew, who she first met while appearing in his show "Celebrity Rehab" said, as far as he knew, she was getting better. He spoke to CNN's Don Lemon last night. Listen.


DR. DREW PINSKY, HLN HOST: She actually been doing very well. Things were looking up for her. She had children with a boyfriend who ended up killing himself a few weeks ago. She was struggling after that, actually was admitted herself to a psychiatric facility. And there's a cautionary tale about the stigma of mental illness and the way in which the public attacks 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.


TURNER: You know, though, McCready was not afraid to talk about her troubles publicly. Last January, she posted a defiant message to her fans on the Web site saying, "I haven't had a hit in a decade. I spent my fortune, tarnished my public view and made myself the brunt of punch line after punch line. I've been beaten, sued, robbed, arrested, jailed, and evicted. But I'm still here."

And, you know, at the heart of all these struggles, she ultimately leaves two children without their mothers, Zoraida. Two boys, 10 years old and 9 months old.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, my goodness. How terrible.

Nischelle Turner, thank you so much for following those latest developments for us. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: That is a sad, sad ending to an already tragic story.

New developments in the battle over immigration reform. Republicans angry over details of the president's plan that had been leaked. They say they will fight any attempt by the administration to oppose reform without input from both parties. A key element to the president's draft proposal would put illegal immigrants or undocumented immigrants on a path to citizenship after waiting eight years.

The White House insists it is, in fact, working with Republicans to come up with a bipartisan plan.

SAMBOLIN: Seven minutes past the hour.

Danica Patrick making NASCAR history. She's the first woman to earn a pole position in NASCAR's Sprint Cup Series. She did it at their signature event, the Daytona 500. Patrick turned in a qualifying lap of more than 196 miles an hour to take the top spot at Daytona next Sunday.

CNN's --

BERMAN: That's my line.

SAMBOLIN: Go, go, go.

BERMAN: I want it because I'm so excited about this. This was developing all weekends. It was really exciting to watch.

CNN's Joe Carter is live in Atlanta. And, you know, Joe, Danica Patrick, no stranger to making history. She was also the first woman to win an IndyCar series. How is she reacting to this really giant achievement?

JOE CARTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I'm sure, John, that she's happy. That she's proud. I'm sure she's a little relieved as well. I mean, yesterday, she had to wait over two hours to secure that pole win. She went out eighth out of 43 cars. So, 35 different drivers went after her.

But Danica, you know, over the years has made racing history before, both in IndyCar and stock car. But nothing like this -- I mean, winning the pole at the Daytona 500 means that she's going to start in the front row. But starting from the front, guys, does not mean she has a greater chance to win this race. The last person to win the pole at Daytona and win the race was Dale Jarrett back in 2000. So, 13 years ago.

But to become the first woman to secure the top spot in NASCAR's premier race is it by far the biggest achievement in Danica's stock car career. She spoke with CNN's Don Lemon about that last night.


DANICA PATRICK, DAYTONA 500 POLE WINNER: 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.


CARTER: You know, the odds for her winning Sunday's race have dramatically increased, actually. She started out at 125-1, now she's 22-1. So, smart money might be on Danica, but the statistics do not indicate that she has a greater chance of winning this huge race.

BERMAN: Joe, we are all very excited about this, though, according to Zoraida, not quite excited.


BERMAN: What is the reaction so far in the NASCAR world?

CARTER: Well, I can tell you this, John, that it's creating a buzz around the sport's premier race. I mean, in the next five, six days, there's going to be more people talking about this race than there were last year.

And, you know, every driver from this news benefits, because more eyeballs are going to be tuning into Sunday's race, tuning into Thursday's duel race, tuning into Saturday's nationwide race. More people are going to become fans of NASCAR. I mean, this helps the sport that over the last few years suffered from the declining TV ratings.

It's a milestone, obviously, for sports and, of course, for women as well.

SAMBOLIN: And that's a moment that I don't want to lose sight of, right? That for women, this is a very, very big moment. She's going to be right next to Jeff Gordon. It's very exciting.

Thank you. Appreciate it.

CARTER: You got it --

BERMAN: Our best of luck to her, obviously. Thanks, Joe.

Ten minutes after the hour right now. More details emerging this morning about the night Olympic icon Oscar Pistorius allegedly murdered his model girlfriend. Including more details about this room where the killing seemed to take place. We're going to go live to South Africa, next.

Plus, a ritzy robbery has some brazen jewelry thieves manage to hit a high end New York hotel.


SAMBOLIN: And new this morning, developments on the case of Oscar Pistorius, the South Africa Olympic runner charged with murdering his model girlfriend. A South African official close to the case says Reeve Steenkamp was shot four times through a bathroom door at Pistorius' home, and that he carried her down stairs while she was also alive.

We have also learned Pistorius has bowed out of five races that he was scheduled to participate in this year to focus on this case against him.

Robyn Curnow is live from Johannesburg South Africa with the very latest for us. Good morning to you.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning. Thanks so much for having me.

Well, we also know according to this official close to the investigation that Reeva Steenkamp was there to spend the night as at her boyfriend's house. So, over overnight bag, as well as her iPad were found in her bedroom.

Now, these are the facts that we know. You mentioned them just a bit earlier there. That we know for sure, there is a lot of speculation, a lot of rumor going on at the moment. But I think in terms of the way South Africa and the world is dealing with this, there is still this confusion as to why, what happened in the early hours of Valentine's Day? Well, crucially, over the weekend, we got a chance to hear and see Reeva. Take a look at this.


CURNOW (voice-over): Just days after being shot and killed at the home of her boyfriend Olympian Oscar Pistorius, Reeva Steenkamp appeared on South African television.

REEVA STEENKAMP, MODEL: We fall in love with being in love with love.

CURNOW: This is as her how beach adventure reality show began on Saturday. As Reeva's television debut aired, her boyfriend, the double amputee and Olympic Oscar Pistorius spent the weekend in this jail.

Prosecutors plan to charge Pistorius with her murder, a charge strongly rejected by Pistorius and his family. This is his uncle flanked by his sister who struggles to keep herself together as they make a brief statement to the media.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As can you imagine, our entire family is devastated. We are in a state of total shock. Their plans together and Oscar was happy in his private life than he'd been seemingly in a long time.

CURNOW: Investigators who have been combing through his house and this high security complex are starting to piece together what they think happened early on Valentine's Day. CNN has been told and local media is reporting that police believe Pistorius shot Steenkamp four times through a closed bathroom door and then carried her down stairs where she died.

Neighbors have told police that they heard shouting before the shooting. But there is still no solid explanation as to why he might have shot her.

Pistorius appears in court again on Tuesday for his bail hearing. He hasn't entered a plea yet.

While Pistorius in court, Reeva's family said there'll be a memorial for her on Tuesday.

But, still, South Africans will be able to watch her beach adventures on the reality show which airs for another nine weeks. Producers release this final message from her meant to be to the cast but which now becomes her last words, her last good-bye.

STEENKAMP: I'll take home with me so many amazing memories and things that are in here and that are in here, that I'll treasure forever. I'm going to miss you all so much. And I love you very, very much.


CURNOW: Just so sad, isn't it? You know, two families so absolutely destroyed by this. We are hearing from Reeva's mom, first time she's speaking to this newspaper. This headline saying, "My baby loved like no one else."

And she, like everybody else in this country, is asking why? Why did he do it? What propelled him to do it?

And there must be some sort of explanation, which people are hoping they get more information at this bail application on Tuesday. But beyond that, still a lot of sad, hurt people in this country.

SAMBOLIN: Absolutely. And a lot of questions still.

Robyn Curnow, thank you very much.

BERMAN: The reason that it's so interesting that there was an iPad and it look like she was spending the night there is one of the possible legal avenues of defense he may gave is that he thought she was an intruder and shot there when she allegedly broke in. That could make things more difficult for his defense.

Seventeen minutes after the hour now. I want to bring you up to speed on all the headlines right now. Christine Romans here with that.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: And good Monday morning to both of you.

Thirty-two days now and counting, that's how many days in a row that the gas prices have gone up. And this fight isn't letting up. The national average for a gallon of regular is $3.73 a gallon. That's another $1.6 cents overnight.

The increase is coming at a terrible time for millions of Americans, of course. They're struggling with staggering home heating bills and shrinking pay checks. Payroll tax cuts expired last month.

New this morning, President Hugo Chavez has returned to Venezuela from Cuba, where he underwent cancer surgery in December. In a message on his official Twitter account, Chavez said that he will continue his treatment in Venezuela. The type of cancer he has or has, has not been revealed.

A leather Air Force One bomber jacket owned by President John F. Kennedy has sold at auction for $570,000. This jacket is part of a huge lot of Kennedy memorabilia that belonged to the late David Powers. He was a close personal friend, former special assistant to JFK. The pre-auction expectation for this jacket was $20,000 to $40,000.


ROMANS: The identity of the winning bidder has not been revealed. I am not surprised it went for so much. I mean, you think of the image of JFK in a bomber jacket, it's iconic.

SAMBOLIN: And it's a cool jacket.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you so much, Christine.

Nineteen minutes past the hour. These are anxious days in Washington, as millions of federal workers are facing furloughs. How Congress could save the day. That's coming up.


BERMAN: We're reminding your business this morning, or trying at least.

SAMBOLIN: Yes, we are.

BERMAN: The stock market is closed in observance of Presidents Day. Let's hear from Millard Fillmore.

BERMAN: Stocks are still close to record highs and there is plenty to move the market this week.

Christine Romans, how will the market close today?

ROMANS: I know exactly how it will close. This is one of the days when I know how markets will end up exactly as they closed on Friday because the markets are closed.

But, look, Dow and S&P, they could hit new record highs this is week. So, we're all on record watch.

A check out the S&P 500. It's riding a seven-week winning streak. Still about 4 percent from its all time high. The market pulled back slightly from a very solid start to 2013.

We're looking for what kind of data is going to propel it to the new highs. And we have a lot of data. Two big readings on the housing market. Housing starts along with building permits. That's new home construction, a good gauge of that.

Then, existing home sales comes Thursday. As you know, existing home sales are 90 percent of the U.S. housing market. So that will be a critical read on recovery in the housing market and also a fresh look the consumer price index, basically how much you're paying for groceries, gas, household products, right?

We know that gas prices are squeezing. Consumers, gas prices are 20 cents higher this week than they were the same time last year, 20 cents higher. And you're taking less out of your paycheck because of payroll tax holiday expired.

For those of you really worried about gas prices, by the way, in New York and Chicago, according to Gas Buddy, you're going to hit $4 a gallon earlier than we ever have in the year. So brace yourself there.

Also, brace yourself if you're a federal worker. You're facing a furlough, unpaid days off. You can blame the sequester.

A controller for the Office of Management and Budget told a Senate panel, you guys, this won't happen until after March 1st. That's when the massive spending cuts begin if Congress doesn't act the sequester.

Federal employees must give a 30-day notice before furlough. Unions that represent those workers right now having a big part in how that's going to happen and when. But there are 2.1 million federal employees that fall under this cost cutting measure, 2.1 million. So tough some choices for the government right now.

By the way, they're off. They're off.

BERMAN: Exactly. While they're facing these tough, tough challenges.

ROMANS: Sequester negotiations, whoever there in Washington is doing the sequester negotiations, 2.1 million federal workers very closely watching to see if they will have to take unpaid days off to meet those mandated budget cuts.

SAMBOLIN: That's terrible. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

BERMAN: All right. Twenty-five minutes after the hour right now. How is this for creepy? Getting letters from a high profile convicted killer saying he wants to be your friend. We'll have more on this killer pen pal coming up.

And if you're leaving the house right now, you can watch us any time on your desktop or mobile phone. Just go to