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Spiking Gas Prices; Deadly Coronavirus Threat; Freeze Warning; Letters from John Lennon's Killer; Russian Meteor Aftermath; Danica Patrick Races into History; Weekend's NBA All-Stars

Aired February 18, 2013 - 06:30   ET



JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: No relief. Gas prices up again, climbing every day now for more than a month straight.

ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Is it the next SARS? Doctors on forward after discovering a new case of a deadly virus.

BERMAN: And new this morning, the man accused of slapping someone else's cranky toddler on an airplane hears from his bosses.

SAMBOLIN: I bet it wasn't good news.

BERMAN: No, that's not the kind of news he wants to get, I am sure.

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

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is 30 minutes past the hour.

We're going to talk about gas prices. They are skyrocketing while millions of paychecks you know are shrinking. Every day for a month now, including earlier this morning, gas prices have jumped. The national average for the price of regular unleaded is now $3.73. That is up 1.6 cents. That happened overnight.

Zain Asher is live at the gas station right here in New York City. Zain, I imagine drivers are angry this morning. But what can you do?

ZAIN ASHER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, there is -- there is simply not much that we can do. At this particular gas station on Tenth Avenue, gas prices are certainly a lot higher than the national average. The regular gas here, $4.15. Premium, $4.45.

And the bottom line is, we are probably going to see gas prices rise even higher. In terms of the national average, $3.73 a gallon. That's the national average.

But there are some states where gas prices are even higher than that. I'm talking about Hawaii, California. Hawaii, right now, is the most expensive place to buy gas, $4.28. California, not much far behind, $4.10. And in Wyoming, that's the cheapest place to buy gas, $3.17.

And you did mention, Zoraida, that Americans right now are spending more money on heating bills. Also, you've got paychecks shrinking, because taxes are going up. I did speak to some taxi drivers here, saying that they are spending as much as $40 a day, $60 a day. Here's how they had to say.


ABDUL AZIZ, TAXI DRIVER: I have to support the family. And nowadays, it's pretty expensive. I pay $40 for the gas to take myself and $200 for the taxi, with the gas. So I take home like, you know, sometimes $60, $70. I work 12 hours. It's not enough.


ASHER: And some drivers are literally saying they are watching gas prices rise so much, so their take home pay is shrinking to as low as $40 a day, in some cases, $30 a day -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Everybody is so maxed out. So, what is pushing this price so high?

ASHER: Well, essentially, crude oil is mostly to blame. As economy slowly start to recover, as the housing market starts to recover, you're going to see demands for crude oil increase. That's also going to push the price up.

Also, refineries. You've got refineries closing down. Some of them are closing down for maintenance. That usually happens this time of year. But some refineries are closing down for good and that's, of course, causing supply to shrink and then, of course, pushing prices up -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Zain Asher live in Manhattan, thank you.

BERMAN: There's a medical news now that might put you on edge. The World Health Organizations says a new coronavirus infection in the U.K. brings the number of global cases up to 12. So, this potentially fatal SARS-like virus identified in September of last year. And experts now say they would not be surprised if it came to the U.S.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now. So, Elizabeth, explain this to us. How dangerous is this?

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, this virus is particularly vicious, John. You talked about 12 cases. Well, five out of those 12 have died. That's a relatively high mortality rate. People are getting things like pneumonia and kidney disease. But -- and here is an image right from the authorities in the United Kingdom. So, that's the bad news about the virus.

The good news about the virus is, it's actually hard to get. It's thought that people are getting from animals, but once it gets to people, it's spreading from what we can tell person to person to person to person. You're not seeing long chains of transmission like we do, for example, every year with the flu.

It is possible that there has been some person-to-person transmission, but it's been very limited and so far, they think they have only seen it among people who are living in the same households. So, you're not seeing people getting it by, say, sitting next to a sick person on the airplane.

So, that's good news. Bad virus, but also really hard to get.

BERMAN: Elizabeth, we did call it a SARS-like virus. That doesn't sound good. So, talk us down here. How scared should people be about this?

COHEN: You know, the experts I talked to said people should not freak out. Those were their exact words. They said, again, we're not seeing, say, someone get on a bus and the rest of the bus get sick. That's not what's happening. What we have seen so far is that this appears to have started in the Middle East and now we're seeing these few cases in the United Kingdom.

But, again, not seeing long chains of person-to-person transmission. The same expert said you know what? Wouldn't be surprised if it came to the United States given the high volume of high travel, but it is possible that it could just be one person and it might just stop there.

BERMAN: All right. Something to watch nevertheless. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks very much.

COHEN: Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: Thirty-four minutes past the hour. We're taking a look at the top CNN trends on the web.

The man accused of slapping a toddler on a Minneapolis to Atlanta flight has lost his job. Sixty-year-old Joe Hundley was suspended by the aerospace defense company that he worked for. Now, that man has been fired. Hundley is charged with assault for allegedly slapping the 2-year-old after using a racial slur, leaving the boy as mother in shock.


JESSICA BENNETT, BOY'S MOTHER: I could not believe that he would say something like that. And to a baby or about a baby and then to hit him was just -- I felt like I was in another world. I was shaking.


SAMBOLIN: They would have been arresting me for slapping the guy.

Hundley's attorney says he will be plead not guilty to the assault charge.

BERMAN: All right. A victory, really a victory for mankind here. Do not mess with Maker's Mark. That was the message from the lovers of the high-end bourbon. The distiller heard the message loud and clear. So, the company has abandoned plans to water down its product.

SAMBOLIN: It's crazy. BERMAN: The idea was to stretch the supply to meet rising demand. But thousands of Maker's Mark customers, they protested. It won't.

SAMBOLIN: You won!

President Obama finally getting tee it up with Tiger Woods. It took four years for this to happen. They met at the 2009 inauguration and they vowed to play a round someday. So, when the first lady decided to take the first daughters skiing in Colorado over the weekend, the president hit the links in Palm City, Florida. Houston Astros owner Jim Crane and outgoing U.S. trade representative Ron Kirk also played.

BERMAN: A lot of people looking at this saying, you know, I'm sure the president enjoyed playing with Tiger Woods. But this mark sort of the end of the rehabilitation for Tiger Woods. If he's playing golf --

SAMBOLIN: Oh, really. This is legitimate now?

BERMAN: If you are playing golf with the president, then, you know, your image is probably fully intact once again.


BERMAN: Thirty-six minutes after the hour right now. And take a look at this how is this for creepy? Getting letters from a high profile convicted murder, saying he wants to be your friend. We're going to have more on this killer pen pal, coming up.


BERMAN: We're joined by a very dangerous Soledad O'Brien, looking at what's ahead on "STARTING POINT."

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR, "STARTING POINT": You want my jacket, don't you?


O'BRIEN: Ahead on "STARTING POINT" this morning, she's making history once again. Danica Patrick snags the Daytona 500 pole position. It's something a woman has never done before. Can she bring home the big victory next weekend?

We're going to talk about that with Lynn St. James this morning. She's the 1992 Indianapolis 500 rookie of the year. She was the first woman to win that award.

Also, a man loses his job after accused of out of control behavior on a plane. A couple said not only that he screamed at them to keep their toddler quiet, that little boy right there, he then used the N- word and smacked the kid. We're going to hear this morning, from the lawyer for the parents.

She's the youngest person to ever to be nominated for best actress Oscar. I sit down with Quvenzhane Wallis, the star of "Beast of the Southern Wild" and she is too much. She is lots of fun. We have our interview with her this morning.

BERMAN: That is fantastic.

SAMBOLIN: Looking forward to it. Thank you, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: You bet.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Forty-one minutes past the hour. Citrus farmers on edge today with plunging temperatures in the Southeast.

Jennifer Delgado is in the weather center in Atlanta right now. What can you tell us?

JENNIFER DELGADO, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I can tell you, it is certainly cold across parts of northern Florida, and even into central Florida. Temperatures have been falling over the last hour. We now have 25 degrees out there. Popular temperatures from Gainesville, Jacksonville, and these temperatures are going to stay below freezing as we go through the next couple of hours. In fact, we have a hard freeze warning in place until 9:00 a.m., and that means some of the vegetations, like oranges, of course, the vegetation that certainly doesn't need cold temperatures.

We're going to be looking at this potentially affecting the region through 9:00 a.m., especially in blue. This is where it's certainly going to be the coldest.

Now, keep in mind, it typically takes about four hours with temperatures below 28 degrees to start to see some damage out there. But, of course, temperatures this cool out there, it's certainly not a good situation.

As we show you right now, high temperatures for this afternoon, will warm up nicely, will be in the mid to upper 60s, with temperatures still running 15 to 20 below average across parts of Florida.

Keep in mind, up in the Northern Plains, they are still dealing with snow. In fact, a blizzard warning in place. That means we're going to see snow blowing around with winds at about 40 miles per hour. This is going to be in effect until 6:00 this evening.

As we show you, you can see the snow right now, some of these locations, five to 10 inches of snowfall. We're also talking about that working into western parts of Michigan tomorrow. Really, the weather goes down very late tonight, but on a wider view, expect windy conditions across parts of the Midwest, as well as storms screaming from Texas, all the way to Missouri into Iowa.

Out in the West, warm and sunny. But, of course, down in the South, very chilly.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. All right. Thank you very much.

DELGADO: You're welcome.

BERMAN: So, gas prices going up for a 32nd consecutive day. A 1.7 cent increase overnight sending the national average for a gallon of unleaded regular to $3.73. These hikes are creating a lot of misery with Americans dealing with home heating bills and shrinking paychecks, thanks to the payroll tax cuts that just expired.

SAMBOLIN: Two men are being questioned in the death of a woman who was killed just hours after her teenage sister attended a speech on gun violence by President Obama. There is her picture right there. Janay McFarland was gunned down Friday night in the suburban town of north Chicago, Illinois. The 18-year-old victim's mother says Janay was out walking with friends and one of them may have been the intended target of the gunman.

Hours before she died, McFarland's 14-year-old sister attended President Obama's gun violence address in Chicago.

BERMAN: Four letters written by John Lennon's killer to the cop who arrested him are up for sale today. In the letters, Mark David Chapman tells Steven Spiro he hopes they can be friends and that he feels close to the officer ever since the arrest.

Listen to Spiro tell CNN why Chapman said he killed the former Beetle back in 1980.


STEPHEN SPIRO, GOT LETTERS FROM MARK DAVID CHAPMAN: I spent five hours with him after I arrested and he was telling me about all of the phoniness in the world, that all of these rich people don't give to the certain charities, that, you know, he would like. Three years after this guy killed John Lennon, that he admits that he had a hit list.


BERMAN: Spiro claims Chapman's hit list included Jackie Kennedy Onassis, Walter Cronkite and actor George C. Scott. Those names, they are not in Chapman's letters which are being sold for an asking price of $75,000.

All right. So, they are among the few humans who have experienced a falling meteor up close. This morning, they are telling the really terrifying story. We're live in Russia, coming up next.

SAMBOLIN: Plus, when push comes to shove. A college coach looks to motivate one of his players, more ahead.


SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. People in Russia cleaning up the mess this morning after that massive meteor shot right through the sky.




SAMBOLIN: Imagine waking up to that? That meteor triggered a blast that damaged buildings, blew out windows, and injured more than a thousand people, many of them were children. Phil Black live this morning near Chelyabinsk, Russia at the lake where that meteor actually hit. So, how are people doing there today?

PHIL BLACK, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, today Zoraida, they are a little bit curious and inquisitive. They're trekking across this vast frozen lake to get a look at this confirmed point of impact where witnesses say they saw a fragment of that meteor that was still in the sky, bright color, plummet towards the Earth that actually smashed into the ice here.

There were reports saying snow with ice thrown up into the area and a big cloud of steam as well just over my shoulder behind me was like too close to it is where there was, a very large hole in the ice. Part of it is too frozen over. Now that the ice is not particularly strong, and it must have been hit by something of great force.

Here on the surface, scientist Russians say they have now found 53 individual pieces of the meteorite, so they now know what it was. But at the time, when that thing was hurdling through the sky, all the people across this region had no idea what it was. They were terrified. Many of them are still rattled by it, especially the children.


BLACK (voice-over): This small Siberian village is usually a quiet place, one thousand people living just south of the city of Chelyabinsk. But on Friday morning, they, like everyone in the region, were shocked by what they saw, an intense light followed by a trail of smoke across the sky.

Kindergarten worker, (INAUDIBLE) says the 20 children who were in this room ran to the windows when they saw the light, but she felt something was wrong and moved them away. She says she was still facing the windows when the meteor's shockwave hit. As the windows blew in, flying glass cut Olga's face and hands. She said she didn't notice because she was worried about the children.

Most were safe but terrified, but one was bleeding heavily. Three- year-old Sasha suffered deep cuts to her head and face. Her mother, Lorina Ivanova (ph), ran to the kindergarten after she heard the blast. "I was shaking," she says. "I grabbed her and started to calm her down. "A lot of kids were crying, too."

Casina Zalcanet (ph) was also in the room that morning. She wasn't hurt physically by the blast, but her mother says she's traumatized. She's been too afraid to stand next to windows, and she keeps asking if the glass is going to break again. Katarina Galuza (ph) says she understands what the children of this village are feeling. She says the blast was so terrifying it rekindled her own childhood memories from the Second World War. Most of the visible damage, the buildings and people of this region, can be easily repaired. But the meteor's impact on some will take longer to heal.


BLACK (on-camera): Russian scientists believe there might be some bigger fragments of the meteor at the bottom of this lake. Some dyers have been in to take a look. The visibility was poor. They couldn't see anything. They're going to take another look when all these ice and snow melts in the spring -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: It's going to be fascinating to see. Phil Black live for us. Thank you very much.

BERMAN: That is one of the coolest live shots I've --

SAMBOLIN: It is, right? We could watch that for a while.

BERMAN: Right. Fifty-two minutes after the hour right now. And Danica Patrick has made racing history before but never like this. Patrick won the Daytona 500 pole to become the first woman to secure the top spot in NASCAR's premier race, but the question is, does this actually increase her odds of actually winning the race?

SAMBOLIN: Can we celebrate this victory for a minute?

BERMAN: I'm celebrating it. I'm celebrating it.


BERMAN: But Joe Carter is here with this morning's Bleacher Report. How good her chances are, Joe?

JOE CARTER, BLEACHER REPORT: Short answer would be not so great. I mean, winning the pole to Daytona 500 means that she's going to start in the front of the pack for this big race, but it does not necessarily mean that she's going to win this big race. The last driver to win both the pole and the Daytona 500 was Dale Jared back in 2000, so 13 years ago.

But this does certainly increase the sport's popularity. Jeff Gordon saw it his firsthand. That's his daughter. He wanted her to take a picture yesterday next to Danica Patrick. He saw firsthand the kind of star power she brings to the sport. I mean, she's probably like, dad, I don't want to take a picture with you. I want to take a picture with Danica Patrick.

So, she addressed that question yesterday. What does this mean, what does this mean to the history of NASCAR and for all her young fans out there?


DANICA PATRICK, NASCAR DRIVER: One of the coolest things is to be able to think that parents and their kids are having that conversation at home about it. And to -- you know, I've heard stories about a kid, boy or girl, saying, but mommy, daddy, that's a girl that's 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.


CARTER: It is cool. All right. NBA's biggest event, of course, brings out the biggest stars. Last night was the all-star game. We have seen faces like P. Diddy, the king and queen, Spike Lee -- watch the game with a whole of offense and very little defense. Of course, we see a lot of dunks. This one team mates, D. Wade and Lebron James, the off the backboard alley-oop.

You know, his head, look how close his head gets to the rim. That guy has got major elevation. More of the same, this time, Carmelo Anthony to Lebron James, the Clippers, Chris Paul actually named game's MVP, scored 20 points, dished out 15 assists. The West beat East in this game. A very close one, as a matter of fact, 143-138. Lots of offense.

You know, you can call this an old-school way of motivating a player. Cal head coach, Mike Montgomery (ph), gives Alan Kraven an earful then he pushes his player square in the chest in a time-out. You know, it's an emotional moment, but I think it's sort of -- you know, startled some, but really motivated Kraven, because after the exchange, he returned to the game and scored 14 of his 23 points.

He helped his team going to beat USC, 76-68. Of course, for more entertaining sports news, you can go to Watching that video guys is reminiscent of the old Bobby Knight Indiana days. But I got to tell you, just seeing that it proves sports is a very emotional game at times.


SAMBOLIN: Do not approve.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

They're cute, they are cuddly, and causing some costly damage at a major airport. Look at that. How could that cost major damage?

BERMAN: They're dangerous.

SAMBOLIN: Those are the bunnies. The bunnies attack, that's coming up next.


SAMBOLIN: Call it attack of the bunny rabbits. Hundreds of these critters are doing thousands of dollars worth of damage to parked cars at Denver International Airport. They really like to hide under warm engines, apparently, and love to chew on the ignition cables, too. Airport officials hope granulated coyote urine will get the rabbits out of their hair.

BERMAN: It's a cure for so many things.

SAMBOLIN: Yes. Granulated coyote urine.

BERMAN: That is all for EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. " STARTING POINT" with Soledad O'Brien starts right now.