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STARTING POINT WITH SOLEDAD O'BRIEN

Powerful Storms Kill At Least Six People; Boston Terror Manhunt; Prince Harry Plays Polo In Connecticut; Ariel Castro Intends To Plead Not Guilty; Seeing Red Over Yellow Lights; Targeted For Tickets

Aired May 16, 2013 - 07:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. I'm John Berman.

CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: And I'm Christine Romans.

BERMAN: We are following breaking news this morning, as many as 10 tornadoes touching down in Texas. You're looking right now at live pictures of the aftermath in Granbury, Texas. Rescue teams right now assessing the damage on the ground there.

ROMANS: Wow, look at that.

BERMAN: Looking for 14 people missing. The Hood County sheriff says six people were killed in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. Most of the homes in that neighborhood were destroyed. People in the area, as you can imagine, absolutely terrified.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The only place in our house that was probably safe enough was our hallway. I got a mattress and, you know, I -- there's just nothing left. I'm sorry. There's just nothing left.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BERMAN: An emergency medical provider says at least 100 people were injured.

ROMANS: Wow. We'll continue to follow that for you.

Also following a large wildfire in Northern Wisconsin, it's 95 percent contained thankfully this morning. It broke out Tuesday, spread quickly, engulfing 9,000 acres. At least 47 buildings were destroyed.

Next door in Minnesota, a wildfire in the northern part of the state is only 25 percent contained this morning. That fire has already consumed more than 7,000 acres in Minnesota.

BERMAN: Now the investigation into the violent night in Watertown, Massachusetts, when the manhunt for the Boston terror suspects hit a fever pitch, the Tsarnaev brothers allegedly using explosives and exchanging gunfire with police. The Watertown neighborhood riddled with hundreds of bullet holes.

Drew Griffin of CNN's Special Investigations Unit piece together what happened that night and Drew joins us now from Boston. Good morning, Drew.

DREW GRIFFIN, CNN INVESTIGATIVE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. You know, 300 shots were fired just within 5 or 10 minutes. Now we're learning almost all of them came from the police. And as these details emerge, we're learning just how close this came to another tragedy, this one in Watertown.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN (voice-over): This is all police knew at the time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Officer down.

GRIFFIN: An MIT officer had been shot and killed. Hours earlier, the FBI had released these pictures of suspected bombers. Tensions were high all across this city when this alert went out. Get to Watertown. Police raced to the intersection of Laurel and Dexter Streets to face what amounted to chaos.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: They have explosives, some type of grenades. They're in between houses down here, loud explosions, loud explosions.

GRIFFIN: The Tsarnaev brothers were in the middle of the street firing bullets, throwing their homemade bombs and in return, facing a massive barrage of police bullets. Two local law enforcement sources tell CNN the Tsarnaevs had just one gun between them. And when the older brother, Tamerlan, was tackled by police, that one gun was empty. It was the moment his younger brother tried to make a run for it in a stolen SUV.

ANDREW KITZENBERG, WATERTOWN RESIDENT: There was a lot of gunfire at that point. That was probably the highest point in gunfire. Really as soon as the SUV turned around in the street, it was just accelerated gunfire, all coming from the officers.

GRIFFIN (on camera): You grabbed your iPhone?

KITZENBERG: I grabbed my phone and immediately jumped on to the bed and started taking pictures.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Andrew Kitzenberg crouched in his second floor window taking these dramatic pictures, saw that escape. So did an eyewitness named Jane Dyson looking down on officers from a third floor window. At that moment, she told the "Boston Globe," it appeared to me that an individual at the corner fell to the ground and had probably been hit by gunfire.

(on camera): That would have been Transit Officer Richard Donahue who was standing right here. At the time he was shot, Tamerlan Tsarnaev was laying on the street. His brother Dzhokhar was driving away.

(voice-over): Only the police were firing. Officially, state police tell us the matter remains under investigation. Law enforcement sources tell CNN, Officer Richard Donahue was struck by a bullet fired by police. Only the heroic actions of his fellow officers to stop the bleeding in his thigh saved his life. It was a close call. There would be many.

That's because when all the shooting finally finished, neighbors surveying the damage in and out of their homes found bullet holes everywhere, in this apartment above the street at the firefight, and at this home across the street.

(on camera): This is a half block behind where the Tsarnaevs made their last stand. The home has three bullets. Unless the brothers turned around and fired away from police, these bullets, too, came from law enforcement.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is the bullet here that penetrated into our dining room.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Harry Ohannessian wasn't home the night of the shooting but his niece was. And says she heard and felt the bullets whizzing by inside his house.

(on camera): These are two bullets found in your home.

HARRY OHANNESSIAN, WATERTOWN RESIDENT: Yes, this one here came through. That landed right near our staircase near the pedestal and the other one up in the closet, went through one, exited that one, went to the other closet on the other side of the entrance to the house and landed in front of the staircase as well.

GRIFFIN (voice-over): Those bullets were later recovered by the FBI. On that night officers from several police forces converged on this chaotic scene. Nearly 300 rounds of ammunition were fired in minutes, almost all of them by police. A shooting barrage described by experts in just one word, contagious.

JOHN DECARLO, CRIMINAL JUSTICE PROFESSOR, UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAVEN: In contagion shooting, if you look back in cases of the past, we find that if one person starts shooting, it immediately causes a contagion or other people to start shooting.

GRIFFIN: John Decarlo is a criminal justice professor at the University of New Haven. He spent 32 years as a cop, seven of those years as a police chief in Branford, Connecticut. He says he was reluctant to be interviewed because he, like other critics of what happened on this street, still believe police responded heroically.

DECARLO: In a situation like this, it almost becomes a war zone. And things that occur in the very dynamic moments of a situation like the one that was unfolding in Boston and Watertown, are not necessarily, no matter how hard our police work, what they are trained to do.

GRIFFIN: Decarlo tells us what several experts who wouldn't go on camera also told us. They believe police did not receive enough firearms training and that local and state forces do not train together enough. The shooting has not dimmed the praise for police who put themselves in harm's way.

OHANNESSIAN: It's right underneath my son's bedroom.

GRIFFIN: But at Laurel and Dexter Streets, each bullet hole is a reminder of just how close those heroes came to causing a tragedy.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

GRIFFIN: John, though it's understandable, the shooting of Transit Officer Richard Donahue is being investigated by the Middlesex County district attorney. What's also being investigated is another shooting that is not quite as understandable.

We have learned that a Boston police vehicle, unmarked, was shot at and hit that night as it raced to Watertown. Shot at by state troopers who mistakenly thought that it was the get-away car of the Tsarnaev brothers. Police who shot at it had no idea who was inside - John.

BERMAN: All right, Drew Griffin for us today in Boston piecing this together a month later. We are still learning so much new of what happened that night. Drew Griffin, thanks so much.

ROMANS: Prince Harry returning to England after wrapping a weeklong tour of the U.S. He spent his final day in Connecticut mingling with a well-healed crowd at the Greenwich Polo Club. Harry is a noted polo sportsman. That's him in the light blue shirt. He and his teammates were victorious. They raised a million dollars for African children's charity he sponsors.

BERMAN: A sport for the common man.

All right, if you want to play polo, this is the way to do it. No one won it last night, so the jackpot for the next Powerball drawing Saturday night, an estimated $475 million. Buy your own polo field. This is the second biggest prize in Powerball history, the third biggest overall. Meantime, the rival Mega Millions lottery if you want to double up tomorrow night is $190 million.

ROMANS: You have your chances of winning are just about the same as entering the NBA at the age of 50, the average Joe.

A bus driver in Johnston, Pennsylvania, got the surprise of a lifetime when a deer came crashing through the windshield. The deer scrambled around for about 20 seconds until the driver, John Porter, managed to get the door open and the panicked deer dashed off. There was only one passenger on board at the time. She was understandably shaken up, but otherwise, unhurt. The driver suffered cuts on his hands from broken glass. The bus is now in for repairs.

BERMAN: And the deer just walked off. Can you believe that?

ROMANS: I know I can't believe it. Wow.

BERMAN: All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, more troubling details about the abuse that Michele Knight allegedly endured at the hands of Ariel Castro. We're going to live to Cleveland.

ROMANS: And we're tracking the breaking news out of Texas. We're going to show you some live pictures this morning of the path of destruction. Tornadoes, maybe up to 10 of them, wow, overnight. The sun is rising. Now we're getting a first good look at the destruction. Bring it to you live.

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BERMAN: Welcome back, everyone, updating you now on the break news about those tornado touchdowns in Texas. This is a live look at the ground there, people picking through the debris right now. Rescue crews getting a chance to see the devastation in the light of day for the first time as they look for 14 people still unaccounted for.

The hardest hit area is Granbury, Texas. The Hood County sheriff says the storms killed six people in a Habitat for Humanity neighborhood. We're told there are about 120 homes in the neighborhood. Most of them were destroyed. An emergency medical provider says at least 100 people were injured.

ROMANS: All right, new developments this morning about what rescuers in Cleveland saw when they arrived last week at Ariel Castro's house. He allegedly kidnapped three women and held them captive for a decade.

CNN's Pamela Brown is in Cleveland with the latest for us this morning. Good morning, Pamela.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, good morning to you. We've been speaking to family friends of the victims and other sources and we're learning that the girls are bouncing back and enjoying their new found freedom.

According to a source, Gina DeJesus and Michele Knight have actually talked on the phone since the ordeal. One of the girls apparently asked to speak to the other after they were rescued. And also we're learning that they're thinking at their appearance.

In fact, Gina DeJesus' sister posted on her Facebook page that she said, everyone knows I can do hair so I gave my sister a makeover, talking about her sister, Gina DeJesus. And also according to sources the girls are learning how to use new technology and not so new technology.

They're just now discovering how to use an iPhone, really just puts it into perspective. But a bit of a bright spot here in all of this that these girls are trying to move forward and being proactive about that.

ROMANS: So, Pam, first responders were honored last night. They spoke about their experience. What can you tell us about that?

BROWN: That's right. They were able to hail these first responders as heroes last night during a ceremony. And it was a pretty emotional time for these first responders re-living the experience of coming here, rescuing the girls. Some of them talked about how they had spent so many years searching for them, responding to tips, finding the girls, looking at their missing persons posters and then that excitement of arriving on scene and seeing them in person.

One officer, Barbara Johnson, talked about that unforgettable moment of seeing Michele Knight for the first time. Let's take a listen to what she had to say.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

OFFICER MICHAEL TRACY, CLEVELAND FIRST RESPONDER: You've seen her poster on the poles here and there and I think all of us in the second district on the west side have seen those fliers. We've all gone to houses, whether it's a tip, a dead angle. Still follow-them up and take all of them serious. It was amazing, seeing her there peering through the window.

OFFICER BARBARA JOHNSON, CLEVELAND FIRST RESPONDER: Michele hug me first and, boy, you can't describe the feelings when someone is clutching you and saying, please don't let me go. It just rips your heart out of your chest.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

BROWN: And the first responders say they don't consider themselves the heroes. They say they consider the girls the heroes in all of this.

ROMANS: All right, Pam Brown, thanks so much for all of your work up there. She's been really working hard in Cleveland. Thanks, Pam.

All right, ahead on STARTING POINT, caught on camera, may not be your fault. Find out why residents of one Florida county are outraged about red light traffic cameras. You're watching STARTING POINT.

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BERMAN: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, everyone. So whether it's on the road or parked on a local street, it really does seem that now more than ever, drivers are being targeted for ticket. Financially strapped governments, big and small, are looking for new revenue streams, and let me tell you, not paranoia if they really are out to get you.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN (voice-over): To the naked eye, you may not be able to see the difference between this and this. But in Florida, a subtle maneuver has drivers seeing red, a lot faster. The Florida Department of Transportation quietly shortened yellow light intervals by milliseconds. At intersections with red light cameras like this one that means more hefty $158 fines. Motorists are fired up.

JOSH BLOOM, FLORIDA DRIVER: My issue is not with the ticket. My issue is with you trying to squeeze the law to make it unsafe for drivers.

BERMAN: Fractions of a second can make a huge difference according to research cited by the Federal Highway Administration. Increasing yellow time can dramatically reduce red light running. Running red lights is big money in states like Florida. Research shows red light cameras generated more than $100 million last year in Florida alone. Even state legislators say the Department of Transportation needs to pump the brakes on the newly reduced yellow lights.

JACK LATVALA (R), FLORIDA STATE SENATE: If they changed it without legislation, they ought to be able to fix it without legislation, and I'd be willing to bet they are getting phone calls about that.

BERMAN: In New Hampshire, a different type of traffic jam, the city of Keene is suing six members of a group called "Robinhood and his Merry Men" who save people from parking infractions by putting coins in parking meters that are about to expire. The town says the Robinhoods are taunting meter people. One taunting be what Paul Newman did in "Cool Hand Luke?" So what do we have here?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: What we've got here is failure to communicate.

BERMAN: One thing is for certain. No one likes getting a ticket and parkers in Keene, New Hampshire, are no doubt seeing red. Just not as fast as people in Florida.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

BERMAN: Now we should point out that parking officers in Keene, New Hampshire, say that members of the Robinhood group are doing more than just putting money in the meters. The officers claim they are being followed. They are being harassing officers. They are being harassed. They are being verbally abused while they try to do their jobs. The Robinhood group says it is just talking to the officers.

ROMANS: All right, still ahead, tornadoes ripping through North Texas destroying homes. We have pictures for you this morning as the sun comes up. At least six people are dead. There are at least a dozen missing. We're live in the lone-star state with breaking news.

BERMAN: The White House under fire for the politically charged IRS scandal. President Obama now forcing the agency's acting commissioner out so are more heads about to roll? You're watching STARTING POINT.

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ROMANS: Our STARTING POINT this morning, breaking news, tornadoes tear through Texas, killing at least six people, injuring 100 others, homes flattened, neighborhoods gone.

BERMAN: First on CNN, their integrity has been questioned, accused of lying, now the two men responsible for the independent State Department review on the Benghazi attack demanding a public hearing to clear their names. Will Congress listen?

ROMANS: He is rebranding Abercrombie and Fitch. We'll talk with the man behind a new viral video campaign, blasting the company for targeting only skinny and attractive people by giving their clothes to the homeless. Good morning. I'm Christine Romans.