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EARLY START WITH JOHN BERMAN AND ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN

Plane Slams into Homes; Massive Fires in Tennessee & South Carolina; Escaped Inmates Captured; Bus Crash Victims Mourned in Pennsylvania; President Obama Heading to Israel; RNC "Autopsy" Report; Pontiff Among the People; Ohio Teens Convicted of Rape; New Health Care Approach

Aired March 18, 2013 - 06:00   ET

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


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: A deadly nose dive. Two people killed, three injured, and several homes damaged as a private jet crashes into a neighborhood, this in South Bend, Indiana.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Calling in the National Guard. Ferocious fires destroying more than two dozen cabins in Tennessee, and they're not out of the woods yet.

A GOP autopsy report describes what went wrong for the Republicans in 2012 and what they can do to right the ship in time for 2013.

And let the madness begin. Sixty-eight teams set to compete for the NCAA championship. How does your bracket stack up?

BERMAN: I'm spending the next 12 hours exclusively with my bracket.

(LAUGHTER)

I'm not actually kidding in any way.

SAMBOLIN: I know.

BERMAN: Good morning. Welcome to EARLY START, everyone. I'm John Berman.

SAMBOLIN: And I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Monday, March 18th. It is 6:00 a.m. in the East.

BERMAN: New this morning, an investigation beginning into what caused a private plane to take a deadly dive right into an Indiana neighborhood. You have to take a look at these images, plane slamming into two homes, damaging a third, ending up inside one of the houses.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: My roof has caved in. There was glass everywhere. The front of the house, windows busted out. I just grabbed my son and got him some clothes and we ran out.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I have a big picture window and the plane was coming right toward me, and I was afraid it was coming in the house, and it swerved and went across the street.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I thought that was it. I mean, when I looked up the plane was right over the top of me. My wife was standing in the door and I just hit the ground. I thought it was going to explode when it hit but it didn't.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: Jim Spellman is live on the scene in South Bend, Indiana, this morning. Jim, what's the latest on this? That's terrifying what those people are saying?

JIM SPELLMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, it's a surreal scene here, John. We're behind these homes. Take a look at that. This white piece of metal, we believe that's the tail section of the plane sitting right up against the roof here.

It's just a really bizarre sight right in the middle of this neighborhood packed with homes. The latest that we know is that two people are confirmed dead. We know there's another serious injury.

We believe all those people aboard the plane, not on the ground in these homes, at this point. They've still got a lot of work here to do to determine exactly what happened, and to make this area safe before people can come back to the homes -- John.

BERMAN: Any of the victims been identified yet, Jim?

SPELLMAN: They haven't yet. I spoke to the coroner of St. Joseph County here a short time ago. He tells me it will at least be after the 7:00 hour when they potentially could release some of that information. We know this plane began its journey in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and was bound for here in South Bend -- John.

BERMAN: And the damage looks pretty severe to some of those houses. Any sense of when the residents will be able to return to their homes?

SPELLMAN: They hope to have the neighbors and the rest of the block in sometime later today. But they still do have a lot of work to do. The NTSB is on site and for their investigation they actually do that with the plane -- the initial part of the investigation, while it's still in the house.

They're not going to remove the plane from the homes until they finish their on-site investigation. So it will definitely be awhile for the people in those homes before they can get back in there. The rest of the neighbors they hope later this morning -- John.

BERMAN: Just remarkable images to look at. All right, Jim Spellman, our thanks to you in South Bend, Indiana this morning. Thanks.

SAMBOLIN: It is 2 minutes past the hour. Happening right now, devastating fires in the southeast. The National Guard in Tennessee is preparing to deploy two helicopters today to help fight a massive blaze in a mountain resort town of Pigeon Forge. Look at that blaze. It broke out late yesterday afternoon, and has already damaged or destroyed more than 30 cabins. So far, no one has been hurt and officials believe flames ignited inside one cabin, and then that's what spread quickly.

Meanwhile, a giant fire near Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, this weekend, destroyed dozens of homes there. At least four people were injured.

BERMAN: While you were sleeping, Canadian police arresting two inmates who used a hijacked helicopter to pull off a daring prison escape. Police say the inmates, 36-year-old Benjamin Barbow and 33- year-old Danny Provinceal climbed the ladder dangling from the chopper.

They were whisked away from the maximum security facility outside Montreal. The first inmate and two unidentified suspects were apprehended really quickly. The second inmate surrendered overnight.

SAMBOLIN: A developing story this morning in Western Pennsylvania. Investigators searching for the cause of a bus crash that killed a pregnant coach of the women's lacrosse team at Seton Hill University.

A vigil was held last night on the campus of the school. That's near Pittsburgh. One student saying the student body is just devastated. The bus carrying the woman's lacrosse team skidded off the Pennsylvania turnpike and smashed into a tree Saturday.

Coach Christina Quigley, there she is there, was 30 years old. She was six months pregnant and her unborn child did not survive that crash. The driver on the bus was also killed. And Quigley leaves behind a little boy at home and her husband.

BERMAN: So sad.

President Obama expected to announce his pick today for labor secretary. It's Thomas Perez, the assistant attorney general who heads up the Justice Department Civil Rights Division.

The president is also preparing a visit to Israel tomorrow. This will be the first international trip of his second term, the first of his presidency to Israel. After visiting Jerusalem, he'll head to Ramallah, and to Amman, Jordan.

SAMBOLIN: Republicans were dead on arrival for the 2012 presidential elections. New this morning, the RNC is out with its internal review of the election results. And so-called autopsy they're calling it, an autopsy report. It is designed to breathe new life into the party going forward to 2016. RNC Chairman Reince Priebus offered a preview on Sunday.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

REINCE PRIEBUS, RNC CHAIRMAN: We have to relate to people's lives. We have to win the math war, which we do a good job of. But we're going to have to learn how to win the heart war and that's in presidential elections what is plaguing our party.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

SAMBOLIN: This comes just after the first votes for 2016 were cast this weekend with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul winning the CPAC straw poll.

Mark Preston, our CNN political director, joins us now from Washington. Mark, why is the RNC going public with this kind of soul searching?

MARK PRESTON, CNN POLITICAL DIRECTOR: Well, you know, Zoraida, I think it's an acknowledgment, basically, that the Republicans really need to start to recalibrate their message if they're going to be successful, not only in the 2014 midterm elections but certainly when they try to make a run at the White House in 2016.

Now one part of the report that we'll see in a couple of hours, they point-blank say that Americans don't think that the Republican Party cares enough about them, but it's going to cost them money, as Reince Priebus says, to go out into some of these communities, such as Hispanic communities and African-American communities. This is what he had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIEBUS: We're going to be announcing a $10 million initiative just this year, which will include hundreds of people, paid across the country from coast to coast, in Hispanic, African-American, Asian communities, talking about our party, talking about our brand. Talking about what we believe in.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: There you have Reince Priebus just yesterday previewing a little bit of the report. Now, Zoraida, what's very disturbing for Republicans from the past election is that they lost the youth vote by 23 points. They lost the African-American vote by 87 points. They lost the Hispanic votes by more than 40 points so, Zoraida, quite a lot of work for the Republican Party to do.

SAMBOLIN: Indeed. They're also looking for a heart, that's what he said. They are doing a little soul searching there. So they're not just addressing messaging in this report. The RNC is also talking about changing how they choose their presidential nominee. What can you tell us about that?

PRESTON: Yes, it really comes down to mechanics for Republicans who are very frustrated at this past election cycle when they really saw this infighting really blow out on the stage, particularly the debate stage where we saw more than 20 debates. Let's listen to what Reince Priebus had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

PRIEBUS: I think our debate calendar needs to be shrunk. I think we had way too many debates with our candidates slicing and dicing each other. And I think they had to wait too long to get to the convention. I'm calling for a convention in June or July.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

PRESTON: There you have Reince Priebus again talking a little bit about the mechanics behind how Republicans, what he thinks, and how Republicans should name their nominee -- Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: Too many debates? I think we would probably all agree. Mark Preston reporting live for us, thank you.

BERMAN: It's 7 minutes after the hour right now. Pope Francis will meet with the president of his home country, Argentina, today. He's already faced some controversy. The Vatican disputing claims that the pope allowed the kidnapping of two Jesuit priests in the 1970s during Argentina's so-called dirty war.

These days, though, you know, Francis really seems to be a breath of fresh air for Catholics, the pontiff not afraid to be among the people. He seems to be a smash hit in Italy.

That is where we find senior international correspondent Ben Wedeman in Rome this morning. Good morning, Ben.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN SENIOR INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. It is a cold, rainy and windy morning in Rome, but it seems like the sun is shining on Pope Francis. He is on this cover of almost every magazine, every newspaper in the country.

The souvenirs are going selling like crazy. You can buy a small postcard or you can supersize your pope with this almost life-size poster. Definitely he is going down among Italians as the people's pope.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN (voice-over): It could be any church. The priest greeting worshippers one by one after Sunday mass, but it wasn't any church, and it wasn't any priest. It was Pope Francis at the Santa Ana Parish Church in the Vatican. His charm offensive moving full steam ahead, he stepped outside the Vatican and into Italian territory to greet well-wishers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I was watching some of the video when he came out of the church, and obviously he seemed very personable, really connecting with the people.

WEDEMAN: In his first Sunday as Pope Francis appeared at the window of his papal apartment, overlooking a packed St. Peter's Square. Speaking of forgiveness and compassion, and eliciting a laugh when he insisted he wasn't providing free advertising for a cardinal whose writing he praised.

He ended his message with a simple wish, have a good Sunday, and have a good lunch. Maria Laura Depresent, an Argentinean, like the pope, already feels closer to the church.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: One of the Catholic has had is they were so high, and you know, too low. So now he's coming low and we are very happy for that.

WEDEMAN: His personal style is going down well.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is a very nice, very humble, very nice.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

WEDEMAN: Now this morning as I was coming in a taxi driver told me he's hoping that Pope Francis sets an example for Italian politicians, and maybe they'll get their act together.

BERMAN: That would be a miracle. That would be no doubt his first miracle. Ben Wedeman, thank you. There does seem to be a love affair with Pope Francis in Rome. Great to see you this morning.

SAMBOLIN: I'm a little worried about him, you know, because he's so accessible, and you know, people who have to protect him. That's going to be an awesome job for them.

BERMAN: It will be tough, but it's nice to see him out.

SAMBOLIN: It's great. It's great. I'm sure that they love it, but there are crazies out there so you worry about that.

All right, 10 minutes past the hour. Break out those brackets, Berman, the field for the NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament is now set. Louisville is the top seed in the Midwest region and number one overall in the tournament.

The other number one seed is Gonzaga in the west, Indiana in the east and Kansas in the south. Last year's champion, Kentucky, did not even make the tournament. We're filling out our brackets and you can compete against us. Go to cnn.com/brackets and join the CNN group. Good luck.

BERMAN: A lot to talk about Louisville. Having a hard time not picking Louisville to win, I don't want to but I might have to.

SAMBOLIN: Don't tell me what you're doing.

BERMAN: I'm just telling you. I'm being honest with you. It's 11 minutes after the hour right now. Coming up next, there's a guilty verdict for two teenagers in that Steubenville rape trial. They may not be the only ones punished in this case. There could be more coming stay with us.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone. In a case that has really captured the nation's attention, two teens accused of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl during a booze-filled night of partying in August learned their fate Sunday morning. The high school football players for Steubenville's Big Red never took the stand, but maintained their innocence throughout. The judge found them guilty on all counts.

Poppy Harlow was in the court during the entire trial. She is live for us in Steubenville, Ohio, this morning. Good morning, Poppy.

POPPY HARLOW, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. Well, as you know, this case has put this small town of Steubenville, Ohio, in the national spotlight for months. It has put the victim at the center of it all, in the spotlight, but now the judge has made his decision heard for all to hear.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW (voice-over): The mother of the 16-year-old victim spoke out for the first time since Trent Mays and Malik Richmond raped her daughter, saying this after court ended.

STEUBENVILLE RAPE VICTIM'S MOTHER: It did not matter what school you went to, what city you lived in or what sports you played, human compassion is not taught by a teacher, a coach or a parent. It is a God-given gift instilled in all of us. You displayed not only a lack of this compassion but a lack of any moral code.

Your decisions that night affected countless lives including those most dear to you. You were your own accuser through the social media that you chose to publish your criminal conduct on. This does not define who my daughter is. She will persevere, grow, and move on.

I have pity for you both. I hope you fear the Lord, repent for your actions and pray hard for his forgiveness.

HARLOW: The convicted rapists, both teenage boys, showing remorse after being found guilty.

TRENT MAYS, CONVICTED OF RAPING DRUNK CLASSMATE: I would truly like to apologize to (NAME BLANKED OUT) her family, my family and the community.

MALIK RICHMOND, CONVICTED OF RAPING DRUNK CLASSMATE: I would like to apologize. I had no intention to do anything wrong. I'm sorry to put you guys through this. I would just like -- I just want you to understand that I'm sorry. I ruined her life.

HARLOW: The 16-year-old girl was raped during a series of late night parties in August when she was drunk.

JUDGET THOMAS LIPPS: The court is able to view the demeanor of the witnesses, judge their credibility, and weigh the evidence presented to the court. The court has done so in this case and it is the court's decision that both of the defendants are hereby adjudicated delinquent beyond a reasonable doubt on all three counts as charged.

HARLOW: Malik Richmond sentenced to a minimum of one year in a juvenile correction facility for rape. Trend Mays to a minimum of two years, guilty of rape and of taking and distributing and illegal nude photograph of the victim. Both Mays and Richmond will also have to register as juvenile sex offenders.

Prosecutors said the girl was so intoxicated she wasn't capable of consenting to anything.

MARIANNA HEMMETER, PROSECUTOR, OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL'S OFFICE: This case is about a 16-year-old girl who was taken advantage of, toyed with and humiliated. And it's time that the people who did that to her are held responsible.

HARLOW: Eyewitness testimony from three teenage boys, all friends of Mays and Richmond and all granted immunity from criminal prosecution, was damaging. One witness saying he videotaped Mays performing a sexual act on the girl during a car ride between parties. Two others testified they saw Richmond do the same later that night while she was lying naked on the floor.

In the state of Ohio, this act performed without consent constitutes rape.

MIKE DEWINE, OHIO ATTORNEY GENERAL: There seems to be an unbelievable casualness about rape and about sex. It's a cavalier attitude, a belief that somehow there isn't even wrong with any of this.

HARLOW: Text messages, tweets and photos were at the center of the trial. Fellow teens vulgarly joked about the rape. Song of the night is definitely "Rape Me" by Nirvana.

TEEN 1: What if that was your daughter?

TEEN 2: But it isn't.

TEEN 1: What if it was?

TEEN 2: If it was my daughter, I wouldn't care. I'd just let her be dead.

HARLOW: Witnesses read text messes, including this one about the victim from Trent Mays to a friend.

"Yeah, dude, she was like a dead body. I just needed some sexual attention."

There was no jury. This was a bench trial with visiting Judge Thomas Lipps rendering the verdict, because this was a juvenile case.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

HARLOW: And, John, while Richmond and Mays are serving time, they're also going to have to undergo treatment to ensure that they do not commit another sex crime. And the charges in this instance may not be over.

Yesterday, after court ended, Ohio's attorney General Mike DeWine held a press conference, where he said he will be gathering a grand jury here in mid-April to determine whether or not others may have committed other crimes around this incident.

I did speak at length yesterday with the civil attorney for the victim and her family. He said at this point, they have not decided whether they will go ahead and also press civil charges -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Poppy Harlow in Steubenville -- our thanks to you.

SAMBOLIN: Twenty minutes past the hour. Two big employers try a radical new approach to health care benefits. The results are in this morning. And that's why workers may be willing to spend more of their own money for health care.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

SAMBOLIN: Twenty-three minutes past the hour. Minding your business this morning. Dow futures are down, about 75 points today. Markets here are following a big sell-off in Asia. Investors all around the world are concerned that yet another European country needs a bailout. This time, Cyprus.

BERMAN: It could be a big deal.

Also today, a new approach for health care. Some employers are offering workers a set amount of cash to buy their health insurance.

CNN's Alison Kosik is here. She's in for Christine Romans today. And, Alison, what happens when people get this money?

ALISON KOSIK, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: You know what they're doing? They're comparison shopping. They're -- it's just like you go to the grocery store. They're comparison shopping, trying to find the cheaper plan, but at the same time, what they're doing is taking on more risk.

Here's how we know this. "The Wall Street Journal" is reporting today that there are some companies out there already, like Sears and Darden Restaurants which owns and operates Red Lobster and Olive Garden, they're offering their employees a set amount of money for health care and letting workers essentially shop their own health care plan.

So, it shows that when they're given that set amount of money, guess what? They're going with a cheaper plan, look how much because there was a huge drop in the number of people choosing PPOs. Seventy percent of them took PPOs last year. Only 47 percent took them this year.

So, PPOs are more expensive at the outset. You tend to get better health care coverage if something does happen to you. But instead what's happening is a growing number of people are going for the cheaper plan, 39 percent this year, as opposed to 12 percent last year. But by doing that, an employee may wind up paying more out of pocket if suddenly they get sick unexpectedly and need to happen into their health care coverage more.

One reason we are talking about this is because it's one of the main tenets of Obamacare that goes into full effect at the beginning of next year. So we're getting a taste of what it may look like. It's interesting to see how people choose their health care plan.

BERMAN: And if that trend continues. So, what's the one thing we need to know about our money?

KOSIK: Yes, the one thing, even though stocks are set to fall today on that news from Cyprus. It's still been a really, really good year for the market and your 401(k). Have you looked lately? The S&P 500 which many of our mutual funds track, that's up 9 percent just this year.

Remember it's normal, very healthy to see ups and downs in the market. You really don't want to see the market keep on going up and up and up because the market could be setting itself up for a big pullback. So, these little pullbacks that we may see are healthy. The Dow is expected to drop about 90 points at the open. It may be a rocky day because of the news overseas.

BERMAN: But don't panic.

KOSIK: No.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Alison.

KOSIK: Sure.

BERMAN: Twenty-six minutes after the hour right now. In a daring prison break in broad daylight, with a hijacked helicopter. We have new details this morning in this really startling story, coming up next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)