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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Spiking Gas Prices; Country Star Mindy McCready Dead; Chavez Returns to Venezuela; The Politics Of Immigration Reform; Danica Patrick Races Into History; What Happened at Oscar Pistorius' House?; Mortgage Rates Still Low

Aired February 18, 2013 - 06:00   ET

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


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

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Country music tragedy. What drove troubled singer Mindy McCready to apparently take her own life?

BERMAN: And making history. Danica Patrick does what no woman in NASCAR has ever, ever done before. Ever, ever done before. A big deal.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: We are very excited for Danica Patrick. Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. Nice to have you with us this morning. It is Monday, February 18th. It is 6:00 a.m. here in the East, so let's get started for you, shall we?

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 for 32 days in a row now. So, while you were sleeping, gas rose 1.6 cents overnight to a new national average of $3.73 a gallon. Increase is coming at an awful time for millions of Americans. Zain Asher is at a New York City gas station. What are drivers saying?

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi, Zoraida. Yes, drivers here are definitely dismayed. This particular gas station, gas prices are pretty exorbitant, $4.15. That's for regular. Premium you can get as high as $4.45.

And the bad news is we do expect gas prices to continue to rise now. Let me show you the numbers so you can see what it looks like across the country. Average price of gas in the U.S., $3.73 a gallon, in Hawaii, that's the highest -- where the highest gas prices are, $4.28.

The cheapest right now is actually in Wyoming, $3.17. And as you did mention, Zoraida, you know, it is really a bad time for Americans right now in terms of price increases, in terms of gasoline.

You have a lot of more Americans spending more money on heating bills. You also have tax increases as well and that is having a huge effect on wages. I did speak to drivers here and they were really dismayed as they literally watched gas prices increase and their paychecks essentially decrease.

Take a listen to what some people had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JUSTIN GUALLIR, TAXI DRIVER: I don't have no choice. What it is. What can I do? I still buying it. I can't do nothing about that.

ABDUL AZIZ, TAXI DRIVER: I have to support the family, and it's -- now days pretty expensive. I pay $40 for the gas, and $200 for the taxi. So I take hardly, you know, sometimes $60, $70. I work 12 hours, so it's not enough.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ASHER: Also I want to mention one interesting statistic. The EIA saying that in 2012, the average American spent $3,000 on gasoline, representing roughly 4 percent of the wages of the typical American worker. That's the highest percentage income spent on gasoline in the last 30 years -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: It is so frustrating and especially because there is not much we can do about it, Zain. Thank you very much.

And the other threat to the family budget, a freeze warning that you might soon feel at the grocery store. Jennifer Delgado is at the Weather Center right now following those developments for us. What do you have?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: Hi, Zoraida. Well, right now, temperatures continue to fall. We're at 25 degrees for many locations, Ocala, Jacksonville, Gainesville and the temperatures are going to be dangerously cold as we go throughout the morning.

That's why we have a hard freeze warning in place cross parts of Northern and Central Florida. Anywhere you see blue this means we are expecting temperatures to stay in the mid 20s and that will last until 9:00 a.m., but look at the cold air extending all the way down toward areas including South Florida.

Now of course, we talked about gas prices, but how does this affect Florida and the citrus crop? Well, I want to point out to you for Florida, it is really essential to the economy. Keep in mind, Florida grows 75 percent of the orange crop in the U.S. and then 40 percent of the world's orange juice supply.

So certainly this is an area that we need to follow. As we go through the rest of the morning, I want to point to you, temperatures are still going to be in the 20s, but we will see those numbers climbing above freezing by about 10:00 a.m.

Of course, we'll continue to follow that. And Zoraida, it looks like everybody is wearing purple but John. I guess, he didn't get the memo.

SAMBOLIN: Typically he wears purple, which is why I wore it today in honor of John and there you have it.

BERMAN: I'm sorry that I messed up everyone's plans this morning. That was, you know, inconsiderate of me.

SAMBOLIN: It was nice of you to notice, Jennifer. We'll talk to you soon.

BERMAN: Thanks, Jennifer. We had a big story developing overnight, a really sad one. The country music world in mourning with the news that troubled singer Mindy McCready apparently committed suicide.

Authorities say the 37-year-old was found dead in her Arkansas home yesterday with what appears to be a self-inflicted gunshot wound. Last month, McCready's boyfriend, the father of her 10-month-old son, also died of an apparent suicide.

She talked about that painful, awful experience, just weeks ago in her very last interview with NBC.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MINTY MCCREADY, COUNTRY SINGER: I have never gone through anything this painful nor will I ever again go through anything this painful.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Clearly in a lot of pain. CNN's Nischelle Turner is following developments for us this morning from Los Angeles. Good morning, Nischelle.

NISCHELLE TURNER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. This is just a really tragic end to a troubled life. Mindy McCready recently was seeking help. She reportedly checked in to rehab earlier this month.

Now she appeared with HLN's Dr. Drew on his show, "Celebrity Rehab." He says as far as he knew she was trying to get better. He spoke to CNN's Don Lemon last night. Listen.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. DREW PINSKY, HOST, HLN'S "DR. DREW": She had 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 is a cautionary tale here 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 responding to her being hospitalized that she actually checked herself out prematurely and now we have what we have.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

TURNER: You know, at the heart of McCready's struggle she ultimately leaves two kids without their mother, two sons, 10 years old and 9 months old, and those boys are on the minds and in the prayers of other country music stars as they mourn her death.

Stars like Carrie Underwood, Leann Rimes, Wynonna Judd, all to tweet to Twitter to remember Mindy and offered their prayers. Carrie tweeted, "I grew up listening to Mindy McCready, so sad for her family tonight. Many prayers are going out to them."

This was also shared by Leann Rimes, this sentiment. She says my heart goes out to Mindy McCready's family. I knew her well. It's a horrible tragedy. May peace be with her sons.

And Wynonna Judd, she unleashed a string of tweets remembering her own battles with addiction and suicide attempt. She prayed 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 John, just a bizarre side note here, McCready is the third person from her season on "Celebrity Rehab" to die. Mike Starr of "Alice In Chains" died in 2011 of a reported overdose and former "Real World" cast member Joey Cobar died last August of opiate intoxication, just a really sad story.

BERMAN: And it's sad. All right, Nischelle Turner, thanks very much.

SAMBOLIN: It is 6 minutes -- 7 minutes past the hour. 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 that he is battling has not been revealed.

And a new development in the battle over immigration reform, Republicans are angry about details of President Obama's plan that have been leaked. They warned they will fight any attempt by the administration to impose reform without input from them.

A key element of the president's draft proposal would put illegal immigrants on a path to citizenship after waiting eight years. The White House insists it is working with Republicans to come up with a bipartisan plan.

BERMAN: So Danica Patrick racing into history, living in the really, really fast lane this morning. She is the first woman to earn the pole position for the NASCAR's premier event, the Daytona 500.

In fact, this is the first time a woman has been sitting in the pole position for any NASCAR Sprint Cup series. Patrick topped 196-miles- per-hour on her qualifying lap giving her the inside track for Daytona next Sunday.

CNN's Joe Carter is live in Atlanta to tell us more about this really historic moment. JOE CARTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hi. Good morning, guys. You know, it is a milestone moment for sports obviously and for women as well. I mean, Danica Patrick has to be happy. She is going to be proud and also relieved because yesterday, she had to wait over two hours to secure the pole win.

I mean, she went out and raced eight out of 43 cars, 35 cars had to go after her. So it was an anxious moment, but certainly, Danica in her both Indy Car and Stock Car career, she has made history in racing before, but not like this.

I mean, winning the pole means Danica's car is going to start front row on Sunday, but starting from the front doesn't necessarily mean that she has a greater chance of winning on the Daytona 500.

The last driver to win both the pole and the race at the Daytona 500 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 by far her biggest achievement in her Stock Car career and she spoke with CNN's Don Lemon about that last night.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DANICA PATRICK, DAYTONA 500 POLE WINNER: I think that understanding the scope what that means and what that will end up meaning, 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.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

CARTER: Now, NASCAR's history or statistics do not suggest Danica Patrick has a good chance of winning on Sunday. Vegas believed that she has a better chance. Her odds of winning the Daytona 500 were 125-1 before she won the pole yesterday, now it's 22-1, guys. So Vegas likes her odds a lot better --

SAMBOLIN: We're going to go with Vegas, at least I am. So what's reaction from the NASCAR world?

CARTER: Well, obviously, this creates a lot of buzz around the sport, around the premiere race coming on Sunday. I mean, every driver in NASCAR benefits from this because more eyeballs are going to tune in to Thursday's duel race, Saturday's nationwide race, Sunday's big race.

I mean, more people are obviously going to become fans of NASCAR than before. This really helps the sport of NASCAR that's suffered from declining TV ratings in the last few years.

But as they said before this is certainly a mile stone for sports and for women and this is a big week for the Daytona 500 because 12 years ago today, Dale Earnhardt died on that very famous track.

SAMBOLIN: All right, thank you very much. BERMAN: So next hour on "STARTING POINT," Soledad is going to talk to Lyn St. James, a former Indy Car driver who was "Rookie of the Year" back in 1992. She was the first woman to win that award.

Also this morning, more details emerging about the night Olympic icon Oscar Pistorius allegedly murdered his model girlfriend, including more details about the room where the killing seemed to take place. We're going to live to South Africa, that's coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone. We have some major developments this morning in the case of Oscar Pistorius, the South African Olympic runner charged with murdering his model girlfriend.

A South African official close to the case telling CNN that Reeva Steenkamp shot four times through a bathroom door at the Pistorius home and that he carried her downstairs while she was still alive.

We've also learned that Pistorius has been forced to bow out of five races that he was scheduled to participate in this year that's understandable. Robyn Curnow is live from Johannesburg in South Africa with the latest. Good morning, Robyn.

ROBYN CURNOW, CNN INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Hi, there. These details just gets more and more gripping, don't they? We also know according to this official that Reeva Steenkamp was planning to spend the night at her boyfriend's house.

They found an overnight bag and her iPad as well. So, you know, what perhaps started off as a pre-Valentine's evening, of course, turned out so badly, so bloody, so tragically the next morning.

We're also starting to hear from Reeva's family. Her mother is speaking to this newspaper for the first time. The headline saying, "My baby loved like no one else." She, like everyone else in the country is asking why, why, why.

Still real no sense of what created this tragedy and what fuelled Oscar to shoot her. Those sorts of questions that I think might be answered in a bail application hearing on Tuesday.

But also, another development in all of this is that rather strangely, rather eerily, Reeva made her television debut on South African screens. Take a look at this.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

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: You 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 athlete, 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.

ANTHONY PISTORIUS, OSCAR PISTORIUS' UNCLE: 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 downstairs 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 released 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. I love you very, very much.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

CURNOW: Imagine how hard it is for her family to watch that.

BERMAN: Awful to see that. All right. Robyn Curnow in South Africa -- thanks very much.

CURNOW: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: It is 17 minutes past the hour. Let's get you up-to-date. Here's Christine Romans with the top stories.

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

Gas prices going up 32 days in a row. A 1.6 cent increase overnight, sending the national average for a gallon of unleaded to $3.73 a gallon. These hikes creating a lot of misery, of course, with Americans also dealing with home heating bills that are rising and shrinking paychecks, thanks to the payroll tax cuts expiring. In New York City or Chicago, you can expect to see $4 a gallon earlier this year than ever before.

The man behind the bombing of the World Trade Center in 1993 is asking for a break. Ramzi Yousef is serving a life sentence at a federal lockup in Colorado. His ability to communicate with the outside world is restricted. But now, his lawyer claims Yousef should no longer be considered a threat to national security, that it's time for those restrictions to be lifted.

See how that goes.

And auctioneers were hoping for $40,000 but a leather Air Force One bomber jacket owned by President John F. Kennedy has sold for $570,000. This jacket is part of a huge lot of Kennedy memorabilia that belongs to the late David Powers, of course, a close personal friend and former special assistant to JFK. The identity of the winning bidder has not been revealed.

And John Berman has not said whether he's in or not.

(LAUGHTER)

BERMAN: I have a jacket already. It's not $500,000. Let me tell you that right now.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you, Christine.

ROMANS: You're welcome.

SAMBOLIN: Nineteen minutes past the hour.

How many of do you this? Check out an item in the store and look for a cheaper price online? Absolutely. Coming up, Best Buy's plan to end that strategy forever.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CHIEF MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta. And this week on "THE NEX LIST" --

DIANA ENG, FASHION DESIGNER: like to work with electronics in fashion and that's kind of what people stereotypically think of as adding technology to a garment. This is a thermochromatic scarf I created.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Thermo --

ENG: Thermochromatic. One of my favorite materials to work with is thermochromatic, which means that it changes temperatures with color. When you wear it in cold temperatures, snowflakes appear and the snowflakes --

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: What? ENG: -- grow larger as the temperature gets colder. So I put an ice pack underneath.

When the temperature drops below 65 degrees, a small snowflake appears, but at 32 degrees, it's colder and the snowflake on the scarf will grow larger.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Oh, my gosh. How do you do that?

ENG: With the thermochromatic.

GUPTA: It's Sunday on "THE NEXT LIST."

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START. We are minding your business this morning.

The stock market is closed today in observance of Presidents Day. Thank you, Calvin Coolidge.

Stocks are within shouting distance of all-time high. A little respect for Calvin.

Christine Romans is here to talk about the stock market and some other business story this week.

ROMANS: You're just going to slide as many presidents in as you can today.

BERMAN: Franklin Pierce, what?

SAMBOLIN: All morning, all morning.

ROMANS: The markets are closed for Presidents Day, so you can think about dead presidents all the day long if you want.

Stocks, though, are still within reach of record highs here. S&P 500, on a seven-week winning streak. It's up nearly 10 percent so far this year. Will it hit highs this year? We don't know yet. We have to say what happens this week. But it is within shouting distance.

OK. Another big story I'm following this morning for you. Best Buy is ending its showrooming. You know this idea, it's the idea that you go there and you buy the product there you can't just go there to price shop.

Stores are going to -- now, Best Buy will match prices of all local retailers and nearly 20 online competitors. For the first time, they did this on the trial basis in the holidays. And apparently, it worked. Best Buy has struggled recently because discounters and online retailers like Amazon lure away their customers.

Basically, people go to Best Buy to check out the product, to get their hands on them, to see how they're going to like what they want to buy, and then they go online to buy it from someone else. So this is a very big change for Best Buy. Very big change.

BERMAN: What's the one thing we need to know about our money?

ROMANS: You got to know about mortgage rates, watch mortgage rates. They're going to very, very low here again this week. We've got I think 3.5 percent is where they sit right now, 30-year fixed rate, 30.5 percent.

We've got a bunch of housing data. I expect to see these rates are like rocket fuel for the housing market, 15-year fixed, 2.77 percent. I mean, 15-year fixed, 2.77 percent.

So, those rates have been very, very low. We'll get a lot of housing data this week. And I think that you'll continue to see this very good sort of mix for first time home buyers.

SAMBOLIN: Almost free.

ROMANS: Yes.

SAMBOLIN: Appreciate it.

Twenty-five minutes past the hour.

Doctors are concerned about a brand new deadly sickness that spreads person to person like SARS. More on symptoms and how it's being treated, coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)