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Tornadoes Hit Parts of Texas; U.S. Military Embroiled in Sexual Assault Scandals; Kai the Hitchhiker, Arrested; Taco Bell Introduces Breakfast Taco, Mountain Dew AM

Aired May 17, 2013 - 07:00   ET


CHRISTINE ROMANS, CNN ANCHOR: Now the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker is accused of murder. The unexpected twist coming up.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: And a fiery rescue caught on video, how two people were pulled from a burning car just moments before it exploded. It is Friday, May 17, and STARTING POINT begins right now.

So in a couple of hours Steven Miller, the man fired this week as acting IRS commissioner, he will be on the Capitol Hill hot seat, facing tough questions about the agency's targeting of conservative political groups. This is the first of many hearings in the House and Senate. The IRS scandal has also triggered a criminal investigation. And the Obama administration has been in full-on damage control mode now for days.

CNN's Dan Lothian is following developments at the White House for us live this morning. Good morning.

DAN LOTHIAN, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John. As you pointed out this is just the beginning, the first of several hearings on the IRS scandal. Lawmakers will be digging for answers. Many of them are unsatisfied and downright angry over what they have learned so far.


LOTHIAN: Three days after the White House Counsel's office was first told of the IRS targeting conservative groups, Steve Miller, the acting commissioner forced to resign, sat before the house ways & means subcommittee. He wasn't talking then about the scandal.

STEVE MILLER, ACTING IRS COMMISSIONER: Let me report on the filing season.

LOTHIAN: He wasn't talking then about the scandal. It was a friendly encounter.

MILLER: Thank you, chairman.

LOTHIAN: A routine update on the proposed budget. Today he returns before the full committee to a much different atmosphere. Rocked by scandal, Miller will be pressed by lawmakers on the information his agency gathered, not the tax checks. REP. CHARLES ROUSTANY, JR., (R) LOUISIANA: It's important he appear and come forward truthfully, openly and give us real answers to the extent he knows.

LOTHIAN: President Obama tried to put out the fire, expressing outrage, vowing to hold people at the IRS accountable, and quickly appointing a new acting commissioner who starts on the job next week.

BARACK OBAMA, (D) PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: We've got to make sure that it is doing its job scrupulously without even a hint of bias.

LOTHIAN: His top aides are all appearing on news shows, doing damage control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The president took swift, decisive action.

JAY CARNEY, WHITE HOUSE PRESS SECRETARY: The fact of the matter is this administration has a record on transparency.

LOTHIAN: While the president is trying to shift attention to his other priorities. A trip to Baltimore today will focus on middle class jobs. It follows Thursday's meeting on sexual abuse in the military and a visit with the Turkish prime minister where Syria was at the top of the agenda. But a dark cloud hangs over this White House. And critics at a Tea Party rally are keeping up pressure.

MITCH MCCONNELL, (R-KY) SENATE MINORITY LEADER: This is runaway government at its worst. Who knows who they will target next?


LOTHIAN: The IRS scandal has given conservatives fighting the health care law more ammunition. Sarah Ingram who formally led the tax exempt office under fire now runs the division of the IRS responsible for implementing the health care law. Some officials saying that after all we have seen this week and the scandal at the IRS, the IRS should play no role in health care.

BERMAN: Dan Lothian at the White House for us this morning. A big day in Washington ahead. Thanks, Dan.

ROMANS: In Texas this morning the search is on for seven people still missing after devastating tornadoes touched down in Texas. The National Weather Service says there are at least 16 twisters that touched down. People in the neighborhoods hardest hit aren't being allowed back in to survey the damage. Those who have seen the scope of the damage firsthand, they are saying this morning it's surreal and extensive.

CNN's Victor Blackwell live in hard-hit Granbury, Texas. Good morning, victor.

VICTOR BLACKWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Christine, good morning. The sheriff tells us that rescue teams searched overnight and now they are starting their second full day of sifting through piles because of some of the homes that's all that's left.


BLACKWELL: Sheriff Roger Deeds has seen tornado damage in Hood County before. But it is more than damage. This is catastrophic. -

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I have seen bad. This is about as bad as it gets.

BLACKWELL: This is the Rancho Brazos community in Granbury, Texas, once a mix of single story houses and mobile homes. But 200 mile-an- hour winds have transformed them into a scramble of metal, glass and simple reminders of how quickly life can change.


BLACKWELL: The National Weather Service estimates more than a dozen tornadoes touched down Wednesday in north Texas. It appears at least one stayed a while.

STEVE BERRY, HOOD COUNTY, TEXAS, COMMISSIONER: They usually go street to street or jumps neighborhood to neighborhood. In this case, this neighborhood of 110 homes, it seems to sit down on top of it.

I feel really an empty feeling in my stomach, because the fact is this was someone's home.

BLACKWELL: When there are so many homes and cars damaged and just completely destroyed like this one. You can see that the air conditioning unit off the foundation. The windows burst out. This house will have to be demolished.

It is easy to get lost in how large it is. Then you see something like this, just a child's drawing, red, pink and blue hearts. Children lived in this community. They have lost their homes. Some of them maybe have lost family members. These are families that have to start over. This is more than just pictures of devastation on television. People now have to find a way to build a new normal for their lives, for their children.

There is so much work to do and with optimism sheriff deeds believes they will rebuild.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We are taking care of business, taking care of the people and we'll continue to do so.


BERMAN: And 24-year-old Tina Clark lives with her family in one of the 61 Habitat for Humanity homes in the hard-hit neighborhood of Granbury. Clark huddled in a closet with her husband and grandmother as the tornado shook their house. When the storm passed they were still standing but their neighborhood, in ruins.

ROMANS: Tina and her husband Billy join us now from Granbury. We're so glad you're safe, but we are so sad for you and your community that you have had to endure this. Can you tell us, Tina, what you were feeling, what you were hearing when you were huddled in your house and this tornado was passing by?

TINA CLARK, SURVIVED TEXAS TORNADOES: I was scared. It sounded like a train was going to hit our house. It was really loud. Our house was shaking. It was really scary.

BERMAN: Tina, you have never been through this before. So what was it like when you knew that tornado was headed your way?

TINA CLARK: I was really scared. I have never been through a tornado that close before or -- it was so scary. It sounded like a train was about to plow through our house. And we just ran and hid in the closet. We just waited for it to be over. We didn't get thrown in the air.

ROMANS: Billy, so you were in a closet. Billy, you're holding the door shut when you hear the sound of the train. Think about tornadoes, the pressure, the strange pressure, the strange feeling when you are close or in a tornado. Billy, what did you see, feel inside that closet?

BILLY CLARK, SURVIVED TEXAS TORNADOES: Well, we couldn't see anything inside the closet. I was holding the door shut. You could feel the pressure inside the house. It was like pulling on the doors a little bit, like it wanted to pull the doors open. The whole house was shaking really bad. It felt like the house was getting ripped apart. We couldn't see anything from inside the closet. So we didn't know exactly what was going on at the time.

TINA CLARK: You could hear stuff hitting the house.

BERMAN: That must have been terrifying to hear things hit the house. When it was over you went out to look at the devastation and took photos. Describe what you saw.

BILLY CLARK: When we got out of the house, there was sheet metal from other houses, nothing major. We got in the truck to go to a safer location and once we turned the corner and got up the street a little bit, everything was destroyed.

TINA CLARK: It was bad.

BILLY CLARK: People were injured. We saw all the injured people. They asked if we could help them to the hospital. So we started loading people up. But the whole neighborhood was gone.

BERMAN: You said you were loading people up --

TINA CLARK: We got halfway up -- yes, we were asking people if they need help. And this one woman said there were people hurt really bad. My brother and his girlfriend were already at the hospital, so we were trying to go up there to be at a safer spot with them. The woman was like, can you take them? I was like, put them in the truck. We had a bed full of people. There were five people in my truck. Two young girls that were covered in blood, and then we had a mother and a son in the back seat. She was -- the son said -- BILLY CLARK: They both -- they said the wall got ripped off from the tornado. And it sucked them out of the house. It threw the mom into a tree headfirst and busted her head open.

TINA CLARK: I thought that lady was going to die in my truck.

BILLY CLARK: The son went out to go get her during the tornado. It pulled him out of the house. He said it threw him through a field. He cut his head on a piece of sheet metal. The other kids in the car, the one little girl, all her teeth were knocked out. We think it was from a hailstone. And then the other girl, she had bones sticking out of her legs. She had a big gash in her arm. Everyone in the truck was badly injured.

ROMANS: The force --

TINA CLARK: We tried to leave the neighborhood. We were stuck everywhere. There were trees and power lines everywhere. There's two ways out of the neighborhood, and we tried to go through a different way. There was no way out. So we took them to the house, called the ambulance, and they just told us to wait. We took them as far as we could go. We had to just carry them to the paramedics. They couldn't get to us. It was really bad. It was a disaster. Everything is destroyed.

ROMANS: Some of the houses are destroyed. Is your house still standing?

BILLY CLARK: Ours is one of maybe five still standing out there.

TINA CLARK: It's not completely damaged.

BILLY CLARK: We don't know what's wrong with it. The front side was OK, just roof damage. We don't know about the back side. There are a few more standing. But we don't know the damage on those either.

ROMANS: Tina and Bill, I'm sure your neighbors are happy you could help, even though it sounds chaotic and scary putting people in your truck and trying to help them and seeing their injuries. We're glad you are both in one piece and you're able to help your neighbors. We hope all of you can start picking up the pieces starting today. Thanks for telling us your story. We appreciate it.

BERMAN: What a 24 hours they have had.

ROMANS: Unbelievable.

All right, new developments in a growing crisis in the military, a sharp rise in the number of sexual assaults. President Obama called it shameful, disgraceful, and a danger to national security. He met yesterday with Pentagon officials and ordered them to crack down. This comes amid a series of high profile cases of alleged sexual abuse involving service members assigned to prevent those very crimes.

Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr joins us. Barbara, the situation is bad and it seems to be getting worse. BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Christine, it is certainly grabbing the headlines. And there are a rising number of sex crimes in the military. The president is looking for answers on how to make it stop.


STARR: Another embarrassment for the U.S. military, this time at Fort Campbell, home of the 101st airborne division. Lieutenant Colonel Darren Haas, the officer in charge of sexual assault prevention, was removed from his job in sexual prevention after being arrested for violating a protective order to stay away from his estranged wife. He had sent greetings to his wife while serving in Afghanistan in 2010.

The incident came to light just hours after President Obama met with top brass about sexual assaults in the military.

OBAMA: There is no silver bullet to solving this problem. This is going to require a sustained effort over a long period of time.

STARR: The Fort Campbell firing was the third in two weeks of personnel assigned to military sexual assault prevention jobs. At Ft. Hood, Texas, a sergeant first class is under criminal investigation by the army for pandering. A Pentagon official says he may have forced someone into prostitution. Other allegations -- abuse of sexual contact and maltreatment of subordinates.

And last week, Air Force Colonel Jeffrey Krusinsky was arrested on sexual battery charges for allegedly groping a woman near the Pentagon where he worked in sexual assault prevention.

On Capitol Hill, pressure is mounting for historic changes in military law. Senator Kirsten Gillibrand is introducing legislation so in sex assault case where is there may be jail time, the decision to prosecute is taken away from commanders and given to military attorneys. Many feel prosecutors from outside the unit will be more vigorous.

SEN. KIRSTEN GILLIBRAND, (D) ARMED SERVICES COMMITTEE: We believe enough is enough. It's time to change the system that's been held over since George Washington. It's simply not working for the men and women serving.


STARR: Defense Secretary Chuck His warning this could become a national security crisis. As the president said, what happens if this becomes so bad American families do not want their children, especially their daughters, to join the U.S. military? That's the fear they are looking at down the road as they try to deal with the criminal behavior. John, Christine?

ROMANS: They have got to clean it up. Barbara, thanks.

BERMAN: Troubling development overnight. Russia is sending advanced anti-ship cruise missiles to Syria. This is a sign, U.S. officials say, that illustrates Moscow's support for President Bashar al-Assad's regime. "The New York Times" reports the missiles have advanced radar capabilities that can help the Syrian regime stop foreign forces from establishing no-fly zones or carrying out limited airstrikes or from supplying Syria's opposition from the sea.

ROMANS: A raging inferno after a car accident and rescue in Kansas. Look at this incredible video, caught on tape by a reluctant hero. Two men who were unconscious inside a corvette that crashed into a truck, rescued by two good Samaritans. Jim Russell started recording video of the scene just seconds after he and another man pulled the victims out.


JIM RUSSELL, GOOD SAMARITAN: Just helped pull this guy from the car. Major truck. This car is on fire. The semi truck is on fire. It's all burning. I just pulled -- we pulled two guys out of this.


ROMANS: You can hear the adrenaline in his voice. Both vehicles were completely engulfed by flames. The two accident victims are doing okay this morning.

BERMAN: That's lucky. Ahead, on STARTING POINT, he became an internet sensation after he saved a stranger being attacked. He saved him with his hatchet. Now Kai the hitchhiker is behind bars. How did he go from being a hero to accused murder?

ROMANS: Then it was this little girl's dream to throw the first pitch at a baseball game. A better surprise was waiting for her behind home plate. You're going to want to see this heartwarming reunion. You're watching STARTING POINT.


BERMAN: A bizarre new development in the story of the internet celebrity who gained fame as Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker.

ROMANS: The 24-year-old, who's real name is Caleb Lawrence McGillvary, is behind bars in Philadelphia this morning. He's accused of murder. Our Zoraida Sambolin has the story.


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: From heroic hitchhiker to alleged murderer.


SAMBOLIN: Caleb McGillvary, better know as Kai the hatchet-wielding hitchhiker, is behind bars in Philadelphia, accused of beating a New Jersey lawyer to death inside his home. Earlier this year Kai skyrocketed to viral video stardom after this rambling TV interview captured the lively hitchhiker describing how he saved two victims from a deranged attacker. MCGILLVEARY: So I (EXPLETIVE DELETED) ran up behind him with a hatchet, smash, smash, smash.

SAMBOLIN: That interview amassed close to 4 million views on Youtube. Kai even made a hilarious cameo on Jimmy Kimmel.

MCGILLVARY: Hey, you're that dude with the hatchet.

SAMBOLIN: Four months later the homeless hitchhiker became the subject of a massive man hunt for allegedly killing 73-year-old New Jersey attorney Joseph Galfy, Jr.

THEODORE ROMANKOW, UNION COUNTY PROSECUTOR: This man was well known. That doesn't mean that he did not or could not become involved in a crime.

SAMBOLIN: On the run since Monday, Kai took this picture. His long hair cut off, police say to try and conceal his identity. On Thursday night, police tracked him down at a Philadelphia bus station. It's still unclear how Galfy and the hitchhiker know each other. Police say Galfy drove to New York City to pick Kai up last Saturday and then spent the weekend at Galfy's home. Kai's last Facebook post says appears to indicate their encounter was sexual in nature. Police are investigating exactly what happened. Until more is known the internet's infamous hitchhiker is off the streets and behind bars.


BERMAN: Our thanks to Zoraida. The beating victim was a well respected attorney with more than 40 years experience in New Jersey.

ROMANS: Ahead on starting POINT START. Start salivating now. Taco bell.

BERMAN: So good.

ROMANS: John, this is not on your list of approved dietary intake.

BERMAN: It is, it is!

ROMANS: It's testing out tacos for breakfast. That's a waffle taco, boys and girls.

BERMAN: I will test them out. Send them here now! You know what? It's a good way to spend money. What would you do with half a billion dollars? That's like half a billion tacos. Find out your chances of winning Saturday's Powerball drawing. How high are they?

ROMANS: You have a good chance of winning, John?

BERMAN: I do. We'll tell you all about it next. You're watching STARTING POINT.


ROMANS: Welcome back to STARTING POINT, I'm Christine Romans. Minding your business this morning, stock futures point to a good day for stocks. This is after markets hit the pause from a record run yesterday. We had weaker housing and jobless claims data and there is debate among officials at the fed over how long to keep propping up the U.S. economy. Still, stocks up amid an incredible run.

Look at this -- the Dow is up 16 percent so far this year. The NASDAQ is up 14 percent. The S&P 500 is up 15 percent in 2013.

Only half of Americans invest in stocks but almost all of you fill up gas tanks. Gasoline prices are spiking just in time for the summer driving season. The national average price is now $3.62 a gallon, that's according to AAA. Folks in Minnesota are seeing gas prices now averaging $4.15 a gallon, John. 53 cents higher than the rest of the country.

All right. Here's the big question of the morning. Does this take hot sauce or syrup? Look at the new waffle taco. Taco Bell testing it out in three California stores. For 89 cents -- John is rapturous here. You get a sausage patty, scrambled eggs, folded into a waffle, with hot sauce on the side. If you're really feeling bold, you can wash it down with the chain's new Mountain Dew AM. That's Mountain Dew mixed with orange juice.

BERMAN: I don't know so much about the drink.

ROMANS: What's the sugar count of the Mountain Dew mixed with orange juice? Thats -- hm.

BERMAN: Don't you make that taco at home? When you make waffles, don't you put eggs and sausage in anyway? I applaud Taco Bell for making it easier for me.

ROMANS: Isn't it supposed to be strained yogurt and Mueslix for breakfast?

BERMAN: I have never heard of those words. I don't even know what you're talking about. It's a foreign language. Why are you speaking a foreign language?

Ahead on STARTING POINT, hundreds of homes flattened by 16 devastating tornadoes in Texas, including those from a Habitat For Humanity community. Will they now rebuild?

ROMANS: Then, how much do we know about the witness protection program? A startling new revelation that suspected terrorists in that program are missing.

BERMAN: And she was just happy to throw the first pitch at a baseball game, but man, wait until she finds out who the man behind the plate was waiting for her. It was the surprise of her life. An emotional reunion all on video. You're watching STARTING POINT.

ROMANS: News alert -- 46 grams of sugar in Mountain Dew AM.

BERMAN: Pretty good.