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Israel Neither Confirms Nor Denies Attacking Syria; Limo Driver Talks About "Horrific Experience"; Hardaway's Stories Of Basketball And More

Aired May 6, 2013 - 15:30   ET


BROOKE BALDWIN, CNN ANCHOR: Bottom of the hour. I'm Brooke Baldwin.

I want to begin here talking Syria and this U.S. official saying that Israel has now attacked Syria. There is concern that Syria's internal war may be on the verge of bleeding across the Middle East. Syria warned Israel of all possibilities after overnight air strikes on Syrian military targets. Israel has not confirmed or denied its involvement in those attacks.

Syria's good, good friend, Iran, is ramping up its rhetoric, Iran now warning of a quote/unquote, "crushing response."

Meanwhile, a U.S. State Department official says there is no information suggesting rebel use of sarin gas.

Let's talk about all of this with our chief international correspondent, Christiane Amanpour who is joining me in New York. So, Christiane, welcome.

And I just want to begin with some sound. I know you just got this exclusive interview with the leader of Syria's opposition government. I just want to play a portion of that.


GHASSAN HITTO, LEADER OF SYRIAN OPPOSITION GOVERNMENT: Over 30,000 Hezbollah soldiers are inside Syria, fighting along the side of the Assad regime. Do we wait for more Iranian soldiers and Iranian influence in the region?

We tell our friends, Arab friends and non-Arab friends and our Western friends, to look at these things very closely.

The interim government is the alternative, is the solution to bring order into Syria.


BALDWIN: Christiane, what was the crux of what he was saying and, part of that, should U.S. be concerned about this, you know, war here?

CHRISTIANE AMANPOUR, CNN CHIEF INTERNATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: Well, a lot of new developments, Brooke. First and foremost, that was the new prime minister of the opposition, the first, actually. And he says he's going into Syria to do a number of things, to bring basic services, but also to ramp up the opposition demand for, as you know, military help from outside, from the West, in terms of anti-tank weapons, antiaircraft weapons, and also a no-fly zone.

Whether or not that happens remains to be seen. But what he's also saying is, look, bet on us. We're the moderates. You know us, and if you bet on us and help us, that will marginalize the radicals, the jihadis, the extremists who've joined the fight on the side of the opposition in Syria. So that's one thing that is going on.

The other thing that is going on is Israel setting out its own red line and taking action on that. Whether or not it publicly admits it, all sorts of Israeli officials have basically confirmed that that has happened, hat they have struck not for first time, a military installation near Damascus, and they said that they are trying to stop any kind of advance weaponry coming from Iran through Damascus to Hezbollah in Lebanon. This kind of weaponry, they said, that could then target Israel.

So Israel has all day been bending over backwards to convince the Assad regime that, no, we are not going into this fight on the side of the rebels or against you, but, yes, we will not allow these weapons to come and try to threaten us.

So that's what's going on there.

BALDWIN: But with this possibility, that it is out there, a fear of retribution, you have the Israeli prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, he went on to take his trip to China and I'm wondering what you make of that.

Do you think that maybe he's thinking, well, Bashar al Assad and his regime is weakened, therefore he can continue on because of this ongoing crisis in the country?

I mean, how does that read for you?

AMANPOUR: Well, here's the thing. Obviously, from the start everybody in the United States and certainly the United States' allies in the region that neighbor Syria have been very concerned about a wider war.

However, most people don't really think that Syria is going to retaliate despite what it said today, it's a declaration of war, we won't be humiliated.

Most people, certainly Israelis who I've spoken to, and I've just spoken to a former senior Israeli security officer who doesn't believe that they're going to retaliate.

On the one hand, they've got their hands full with the rebellion. On the other hand, anytime Israel has gotten into a fight with Syria, Syria has lost. So there is no money in Syria trying to do that. And they don't believe that Hezbollah is going to start firing off rockets into Israel either at the moment. And, if they do, maybe, you know, not in a wide scale.

So they are taking, the Israelis, according to officials who I've spoken to, a calculated risk not to get in on the side of the rebels in Syria, but to definitely prevent advanced weaponry getting to Hezbollah that could threaten them.

BALDWIN: Christiane Amanpour, always nice to have you on to help us understand and process what's happening in regions like what's happening in Syria. Christiane, thank you very much.

And coming up, we're going to talk to Ricky Brown. He drove that limo full of happy young ladies on their way to a hotel, including a bride, and after -- minutes before they were to get to their final destination, this limo burst into flames.

We'll have him walk us through exactly what happened, what he saw, and if anything could have been different. That's next.


BALDWIN: From witness accounts, it took a matter of seconds for a limousine to turn into a death trap, killing half the members of the bachelorette party including the bride.

Five women died inside this 1999 Lincoln Town Car just this past Saturday night. Reports indicate the flames began in the rear as the limo was crossing the San Mateo-Hayward Bridge in California.

And I want you to look at this picture. This was why they were in a limo. This was the bride, Neriza Fojas, a family photo they shared. She and her friends were out Saturday.

They were celebrating because this young woman was about to go through a -- sort of a ceremony number two in marriage with her new husband at a wedding that was set to be happening in the Philippines.

The medical examiner says Fojas and the other women killed were found all huddled by that glass partition that separates the limo driver from the passengers.


ROBERT FOUCRAULT, SAN MATEO COUNTY CORONER: One could say they were getting away from the fire and that's why they were in the front towards the partition. And you can also probably say that they were trying to get out as well.


BALDWIN: Joining me now is the driver of that limousine, and one of the five people who made it out of that limousine, Orville Brown.

Mr. Brown, do you mind if I call you Ricky? ORVILLE BROWN, DRIVER OF LIMOUSINE THAT CAUGHT FIRE: No, that's fine.

BALDWIN: How are you?

BROWN: I'm OK. Just really trying to get through a very horrific experience.

BALDWIN: I can't imagine. Help me understand. I want to begin at the beginning.

How many women did you pick up Saturday night and where did this whole limo ride begin?

BROWN: Picked up nine women. Began in Alameda. We were driving. Everybody was joyous, beautiful ladies, beautiful occasion. I was happy for them.

We turn on -- we get on the bridge and everything is fine. We're going over the span where it is elevated and one of the ladies knocked on the partition and said smoke. And I figured that she was asking if she could smoke a cigarette.

BALDWIN: How loud was she? Let me stop you. This tapping, and then hearing smoke.

Was there music in the back of the limo? How well could you hear her?

BROWN: There was music on, but I heard her. She was right up by the partition. I figured that she was asking if she could smoke a cigarette.

I said, we only have four more minutes. And, you know, the boss doesn't allow us to smoke in the limo.

About 30 seconds passed, and she knocks again, and I look back, you know, this time I'm kind of concerned. I smell smoke, I look back, and I saw the grief, the anguish -- the grief on her face, and then I started smelling smoke and started seeing smoke. So we pulled over.

It was kind of -- kind of frustrating, kind of scary, driving, and we pull over and there is nowhere really to pull over, so we're in the lane, I'm looking back and making sure that everything is safe.

And as soon as I pulled over, one of the ladies hopped through the partition, I unlock the doors ...

BALDWIN: Let me stop you. At what point did she roll the window down -- did you roll the window down quickly? Realizing it was smoke and she was trying to get out?

BROWN: No. The partition was already down by that point. We opened the door -- I opened the door, the lady hops through the partition, and at that time, there is two cars, one in front of us, I believe, one in back of us, and these guys are trying to help.

So I see the ladies coming through the partition. I'm trying to use the phone. I can't use the phone. I'm shaking, I'm nervous.

By this time, someone had opened up the rear door. And the limo was engulfed in flames in the rear.

There was a lady coming through that got stuck, I pulled her out, and then one more got out, and it is just -- it was horrific.

Just something that I never imagined, you know, never would have imagined it would happen.

BALDWIN: So you're out of the limo. You're helping one woman come through. How many women were you able to help?

BROWN: One or two. One or two. Everything happened so fast.

By the time the back door was open, the half of the car -- when that back door ...

BALDWIN: Who opened -- let me hear this again. Who opened the back door, and did you see any of the women trying to get through that back door instead of the glass partition in the front?

BROWN: I believe the lady that -- the first lady that came out opened the back door, but could have been one of the guys because I remember two people going to the back door on different occasions.

But there was so many flames and everything happened so fast, and that's basically what I remember. Everything happened so fast. It was just very scary situation.

BALDWIN: What were you hearing? Were you hearing screams?

BROWN: What I heard was us outside. We were crying and screaming and nervous and that's all I can remember, ma'am.

BALDWIN: How fast was it between the time you got out and several of the women were able to climb over that partition, before this entire car burst into flames?

BROWN: I say maybe 15 to 30 seconds at the most. Maybe -- no, 30 to 60 seconds.

BALDWIN: That quickly. And we know that four women were able to get out. The others did not.

And so as they were being rushed to the hospital, Ricky, did you go to the hospital? What did you do Saturday night?

BROWN: No. I sat in the police car and talked to the CHP officers after the incident. I was first one out of the car. Sat, cried, prayed, just wishing that something different could have been done.

BALDWIN: How long have you been driving limos?

BROWN: For this company, two months. I've never driven a limo before this, but I have -- I've been in the transportation business before. I've driven airport shuttles for two different companies.

BALDWIN: In your time driving, Ricky, had you ever had an experience involving an accident, certainly not of this magnitude, but involving a fire? Had you ever known anyone to have this happen to?

BROWN: No, never. This is the first experience like this.

BALDWIN: Now, with the flames, we know that, as you point out, that they were coming from the rear of this particular vehicle, and some reports indicate maybe the flames came from the trunk.

Did you check out the trunk before you drove this car? What do you make of those claims?

BROWN: No, I didn't check out the trunk. I did stop and get some ice and put it in the ice trays on the inside, but there were, you know, no indications of anything, you know, of that nature.

BALDWIN: This is a 1999 Lincoln Town Car. Do you know if it was regularly checked, maintenance, et cetera?

BROWN: I do know -- I drive the limo usually on the weekends, OK. I usually drive a Town Car during the week or Suburban.

As far as the Town Car and the Suburban, we take in regularly because I'm behind the wheel of those, you know, every day.

Every 3,000 miles, we have to maintain the -- we do an oil change and we also do a -- we change the transmission fluid.

As far as the limousine, I believe the owner does that.

BALDWIN: So was there anything to your knowledge that was awry with this car before you hopped in the seat on Saturday?

BROWN: No, not at all.

BALDWIN: And let me also just ask, when you were driving this limo and you're crossing this bridge and you're minutes away from the final destination and hear the tapping on the partition, were you listening to music?


BALDWIN: Were you on your cell phone?


BALDWIN: I have read that your brother has been quoted that you keep saying that you could have done more, you could have done more.

Do you still feel that way?

BROWN: I mean, you always -- I think in this situation, you always -- you always would feel you could do more. You could have done more. I don't know. You know, it is just -- everything happened so fast, I just wish that, you know, there could have been something done more. I don't --

BALDWIN: What could that -- what could that something have been? I'm sure you played this back in your head, Ricky, so many times since Saturday. What could have been done differently? What could you have done differently, possibly?

BROWN: You know, I really don't know. If I would have known that -- everything happened so fast.

But if I would have known she was saying, you know, smoke instead of OK, I want to smoke a cigarette, maybe 30 seconds would have been spared. Everything happened so fast.

I really don't know, you know. Everything happened so fast.

BALDWIN: When you were outside of the limo and you're watching it burst into flames, and you're with some of the other young women and said you're all crying, what were they saying?

BROWN: Just -- we were horrified. I called 911. Took me about five minutes to actually get them on the phone. We were shaking. Other people were trying to call. Just, you know, horrified. Nervous. Scared. It is windy. It is cold. To watch this long limousine just engulf in flames, it was just a nightmare.

BALDWIN: Can you describe some of their injuries for me? Were they burned at all?

BROWN: The four, I didn't see them burned at all.

BALDWIN: Ricky, I understand you've been in touch since Saturday with some of the victims' families. Is that correct?

BROWN: No. No, I haven't talked to anybody's family.

BALDWIN: Do you plan on reaching out?

BROWN: Yes, I would like to reach out to them personally. We're sorry that this happened, and I can't even imagine what you're going through.

But what I would like to extend to you is that I'm taking a couple of weeks pay and putting it towards my foundation. We're going to do a fundraiser for you guys because something has to be done, but also what I would like to say is that there's two things that I think the legislature needs to do, or we as a people need to get the legislature to do.

One is that, after we called 911 -- and no disrespect to the fire department, that's their protocol. But it took them about 30 minutes to get over that long bridge.

I know the San Mateo bridge is the longest span. We have three long bridges in the Bay area, the San Mateo, the Dumbarton as well as the Bay Bridge. There should be a substation on those bridges, at least at the bottom of those bridges.

Because they had to come all the way from Foster City, they passed us up, had to go into the Hayward and come back. So we watched two fire trucks pass us up.

The other thing is the safety on limousines. There has to be some better regulation.

BALDWIN: You said two things I want to follow up on, one was you mentioned your foundation then you mentioned raising money for some of the families.

So if I have this correctly, as you mentioned, you've been driving this limousine for two months. The reason why you were driving this limousine was because you're starting a foundation for at-risk youth in -- is it the San Jose area?


BALDWIN: So you wanted money to be able to help kids. And now you're saying you want to help the victims' families with several of your upcoming paychecks?

BROWN: We have to. And not just that, I'd like -- we'll have the website up pretty soon. And I just want people to -- something has to be done.

I know it's not going to bring back the ladies, but we have to do something for the families.

BALDWIN: Ricky, I know you've been just dealing with these limousines for just two months, but what do you think caused this fire?

BROWN: I'm really not sure. I know it wasn't gas-related, and the car didn't blow up. It just engulfed in flames.

The smells that I -- I smelled carpet, I smelled wiring, I smelled plastic. To me, in my opinion, it probably was electrical.

BALDWIN: I just want to read a statement from your limo company. This is Limo Stop, Inc., and they say also they will do everything possible to investigate and assist authorities in determining the cause of this fire in order to help bring forth answers and provide closure to the victims and their families.

Ricky, before I let you go, you say you will continue driving because you want to raise that money for these families and you do plan on reaching out to some of the victims' families.

BROWN: Yes, to all of the victims, not some of them.

BALDWIN: All of them. And again, what do you want people to know? What is your number one message?

BROWN: I'm sorry, personally, and my heart goes out to you. I feel for you. I wish there was something that I could tell you because I know you guys are grieving as well as I am, but we're going to do something.

We're going to -- the little bit that we can do, to reach out to you with it.

BALDWIN: What is the one image, Ricky, that when you close your eyes you can't stop seeing?

BROWN: Just everything, not just -- there's not just one image. There's a lot of different images, a lot of different images, the fire, us on the bridge screaming, them getting into the cars, not one image. It's a lot of things.

BALDWIN: OK. Ricky Brown, thank you for spending all this time with me today. I appreciate it.

Like I said, I can't imagine what you're going through, of course, also, these families of the young women who will never be coming home to them, horrendous.

And I know you'll also be on "Piers Morgan Live" tonight, 9:00 p.m. Eastern. We will watch for you there.

Meantime, we will be right back.


BALDWIN: NBA superstar Penny Hardaway left professional basketball years ago, but he never left the game. And this next chapter of his life is the subject of this new book, comes out tomorrow. Check it out. It's called "On These Courts."

The author and award-winning staff writer and senior producer at, my friend, Wayne Drash, in this book, tells the story of how Hardaway went back to his hometown of Memphis, ended up coaching this inner-city middle school team.

They go on -- sorry to spill the beans -- but they go on to win the state championship. The story is so much more than just basketball.

So joining me now, Mr. Penny Hardaway from Memphis. And I should also congratulate you because I hear on Saturday you were inducted into the Tennessee Sports Hall of Fame. So congratulations, sir.


BALDWIN: And here in Atlanta, CNN's own, author Wayne Drash. So congratulations on the book.


BALDWIN: I e-mailed you yesterday after reading the whole thing and cried because I wasn't expecting tears at the very end.

But let me begin, Wayne, with you. Your brush with this man in Memphis that we have actually happened 25 years ago.

DRASH: Yes. The two of us -- when we were 15 years old, just a weird coincidence, we played on the same team at the University of Kentucky basketball camp, Eddie Sutton basketball camp, many years ago.

All my life, I've told friends about that, but I had figured it was one of a million basketball camps that Penny went to.

However, going back, I learned that that was actually his coming-out party outside the city of Memphis that that camp put him on a national stage.

BALDWIN: Penny Hardaway, just who knew many years ago, the guy you shared a little Dominos pizza with, right, back in Kentucky, would be writing this book on you?

But so it's an incredible read. Flash-forward to this phone call you get from your friend, Desmond Merriweather who is suffering from stage four colon cancer, coaches this group of kids from where you're from in Memphis.

At first, were you thinking, I don't know?

HARDAWAY: Yeah, I was a little apprehensive because I'd never coached middle school, but I knew working with the kids would be fun.

And I went over. Desmond wanted me to show them the zone offense, which he didn't have. He had just lost the first game.

And when over to the practice and saw the talent, saw the kids, they kind of took to me. I kind of fell in love with them the very first practice and ended up hanging around and made it a season instead of just one day.

BALDWIN: You were a coach. You were a father figure to so many of these young people. I mean, just hearing about Reggie and how he was beat up by his father, ends up in jail.

And, Penny, toward the end of the book after you guys win state -- congratulations -- I know a lot of people are wondering, that Penny Hardaway, he's in and then he's going to leave.

But you are committed to these young people of Memphis.

HARDAWAY: Yes, I am. And I came back again this season after Wayne and I met last year and that last year's team was so special, came back again this year with a different team, with the same scenario. And we won the city and the state championship again. So back-to-back city and state champions.

It's about more than basketball. It's like their GPAs are up. In the community, they're being better kids and being better people.

And that's what we're trying to push them towards, that you're more than an athlete. You have to be a good person. You have to be a great student. And you have to be those things. BALDWIN: It's a fantastic story, Penny Hardaway, Wayne Drash.

Get a close shot of this book. Take a look, Jeff. And I'm going to leave you with "On These Courts."

Wayne Drash, congratulations. Penny Hardaway, thank you very much.

Now "The Lead" with Jake Tapper begins.