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Extreme Weather; Feds Drop Morning-After Pill Appeal; Hotel Mystery Deaths; Hard Knocks; Chewbacca versus the TSA; Good Taste in Gadgets

Aired June 11, 2013 - 08:30   ET


JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: The dog teams are about to commence. They are getting assistance from all kinds of agencies right now.


BERMAN: They're clearing the parking decks and they're told the passengers may access their vehicles and get out of the airport.

ROMANS: And we know there are people sort of standing around outside trying to figure out what to do next, but they are calling it a serious event and they have evacuated the airport. And they're now trying to -- and the parking doesn't clear, they're trying to go through and just make sure that there is no real threat there with the canine units.

All right. The extreme weather continuing across this country this morning. Everything from heat waves out west, to tornadoes, rip currents in the east.

Indra Petersons is tracking all this wild weather. What is happening out there?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I know, right? I mean, I should say I wish I had a better answer. But we know this wacky weather continues. Yesterday we have reports of tornadoes in Maryland and Kentucky. On the West Coast it's a complete opposite problem. We just have too much heat.

Let's take a look at some of this wacky weather.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: This is what just went over top of us.

PETERSONS (voice-over): Check out this frightening amateur video posted on YouTube of a tornado wiping out much in its path.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Wow, that is hit hard there.

PETERSONS: In Franklin, Kentucky, north of Nashville, roofs were lifted, houses are ripped from their foundations, and sections of a fence were even found floating in this swimming pool.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: A bunch of debris in the air and wind started blowing hard.

PETERSONS: Residents like Steve Davenport were found picking up pieces of their countryside homes. Two elderly women were found hunkering down together in their bathtub to ride out the storm.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It's awesome damage. And people in the house are very lucky, two elderly women with minor -- with a head minor injuries. And the wall that you see right there, that's the only wall that's still standing of the house and that's where they were at.

PETERSONS: Much of the nation was gripped by extreme weather. In Maryland, a water spout and funnel cloud touching down.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Looks like it's coming this way.

PETERSONS: The storms damaging buildings at the Baltimore port and causing flash flooding in the city, leaving many in Maryland at a standstill. At the U.S. Open in Pennsylvania, the downpour even dampened hopes on the green. On the first day of practice officials were forced to close the course for hours.

And in Gulf Shores, Alabama, rough seas and dangerous rip currents were to blame for four drownings.

And in the West, a different picture. Triple-digit temperatures are posing a challenge for firefighters trying to combat the Silver fire near Kingston, New Mexico, that has pushed many residents to evacuate their homes.


PETERSONS: The wet weather continues today on the East Coast. In fact we're going to see that storm now lifting out to the northeast, so heavier mountains that low continues to kind of spin around and bring all that moisture up towards Maine. That's where you're going to see the bull's eye, about two to four inches today. The lower amounts are going to be maybe around New York about one to two inches there.

As far as the severe weather threat today, kind of the middle section of the country, it's shifting today from Montana all the way down through Indiana. That's, of course, where we're seeing the difference between that warm moist air and that cold, dry air.

Of course after that, we're going to be talking about the heat and we've been talking about this for so long. Look at all this warm weather now spreading all the way to the southeast. So here it's been hot and dry and now we're going to be dealing with hot and humid.

Definitely a tough day for everybody out there. And it looks like the heat is on and it's just always tough when it's hot.

BERMAN: Yes. So from hot to worse than hot, it was there. All right, Indra. Thank you so much.

The Obama administration is doing a 180, dropping its opposition to a judge's decision that allowed girls of all ages to access the Plan-B Morning-after pill. What this move means now is that the emergency contraceptive will soon be available over-the-counter with no restrictions.

Senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins us now from Atlanta with the details.

Elizabeth, explain what exactly happened here because it's complicated.


So, John, back in 2011, the Obama administration said, we do not want girls under the age of 17 to be able to get Plan-B over the counter. Plan-B is what you take the morning after or a couple mornings after unprotected intercourse. So we don't want girls under 17 to get this, and they went to court to keep this from girls 17 and under, and so what's happened today is that, you know what, we're done, we're not going to appeal this anymore.

So that means, as you said, at some point, girls under the age of 17 will be able to get the morning-after pill, you know, just off the shelf.

BERMAN: Any sense of why the Obama administration changed course on this? Because they were fairly far out on a limb.

COHEN: Right. They were. So my colleagues at the White House asked folks at the -- asked the folks at the White House, you know, what happened here, and they were told by an official, look, this isn't a reversal, it's not a 180. What happened here is the Department of Justice just decided to drop the appeal. And they said, there's a distinction between the two.

Now critics of the White House have said, look, this is all about politics, you know, before the election, Obama wanted to seem like he was against girls being able to get such easy access to this pill, now that he doesn't need to be elected anymore, he can drop the whole thing. So it depends who you believe.

BERMAN: There's also a sense amongst some analyst that they would not have won in court anyway. So dropping the appeal is to a certain extent irrelevant.

COHEN: Right.

BERMAN: How soon might these drugs be available over the counter?

COHEN: You know what, it's not going to be immediate. And the reason why is that the company that makes Plan-B has to go through this process all over again and they have to apply for permission to market this over the counter to girls this young, et cetera. So it's not going to be tomorrow. It probably won't take years. But it's going to take a little bit. BERMAN: All right. Elizabeth Cohen shedding some light on this, as we say, a complicated situation, but a 180, it seems, or almost a 180 from the White House.

Thanks, Elizabeth.

ROMANS: Police in North Carolina believe they have figured out what's behind several mysterious deaths at a North Carolina hotel. It started back in April with the -- death of an elderly couple, and then last weekend, a boy staying in the very same room was found dead with his unconscious mother nearby.

CNN's Alina Machado is live in Boone, North Carolina, for this very sad story for us this morning, but a mystery it looks like they have solved.

Good morning, Alina.

ALINA MACHADO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Christine. It certainly looks that way. This is the hotel where three people have died in the last two months after staying in the same room on the second floor. Police have closed this hotel for now while they investigate, but they are now saying carbon monoxide may be to blame.


MACHADO (voice-over): A frantic call for help.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Ma'am, this is awful. Please.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: OK. So there's two people in the room at this time, is that right?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: At least two that we know of, it's a woman and a young child. The child's in the bed.

MACHADO: After 11-year-old Jeffrey Lee Williams and his 49-year-old mother Jeanne are found unresponsive inside a room here at this Best Western Hotel in Boone, North Carolina.



UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not hanging up, ma'am. This just happened to us last month so please, come and help us.

MACHADO: When paramedics responded to the hotel Saturday afternoon, Jeffrey was dead, his mother, barely alive. Both were staying inside room 225, that's the same room where Darryl and Shirley Jenkins, an elderly couple from Washington state, were staying when they died on April 16th.

MARK BRUMBAUGH, JENKINS' FAMILY ATTORNEY: It was really a shock to hear that that room had been occupied again after what had happened to Darryl and Shirley Jenkins. MACHADO: Boone Police say preliminary autopsy information from the Jenkins couple was inconclusive. Their deaths remained a mystery until now.

ANDY LEBEAU, BOONE POLICE CAPTAIN: It was just within the past 24 hours the toxicology reports have become available indicating that there was a lethal level of carbon monoxide, as a matter of fact, 60 percent, in their blood level.

MACHADO: Authorities say elevated levels of carbon monoxide were found inside room 225 on Saturday. Investigators are still working to find out how the odorless gas got into the room.

LEBEAU: The room 225 is located above a maintenance room in the pool, which contains a heater, and so, of course, we suspect that that could be the source of the carbon monoxide, but the officials coming in, I'm certain that they're going to do a comprehensive investigation and look at all possible aspects.

MACHADO: An attorney for the hotel released a statement saying, in part, "The health and safety of guests who stay at our hotel is our number one priority. We are cooperating fully with authorities."

The attorney for the Jenkins family is expressing dismay that this happened again.

BRUMBAUGH: My clients are extremely upset that this had to happen again or was allowed to happen again.


MACHADO: The police chief here in Boone says in North Carolina, carbon monoxide detectors are not required at commercial buildings like this hotel, but he says he's hoping this tragedy will help change that -- John.

BERMAN: All right, Alina Machado for us in North Carolina. Thank you so much. Appreciate it.

ROMANS: Less than an hour from now, jury selection will resume in the murder trial of George Zimmerman. So far, about 100 people have been called to the courthouse in Sanford, Florida, have filled out questionnaires. Neighborhood watch volunteers facing murder charges in the death of Trayvon Martin. The unarmed 17-year-old was shot to death during a confrontation in February of last year. The incident sparking protests nationwide.

BERMAN: Later this morning, a jury in Kansas will begin deliberating the fate of a former law enforcement officer charged with killing his wife. During closing arguments on Monday, prosecutors said that Brett Seacat killed their wife Vashti set their home on fire because he was angry that she was planning to leave him.

Defense attorneys claim that she set the fire and killed herself due to depression caused by a weight loss drug that she had been taking. ROMANS: Three years after the worst oil spill in U.S. history the Coast Guard and BP now declaring the cleanup is complete in three Gulf Coast states. Coast Guard officials say the shorelines of Mississippi, Alabama, and Florida have been restored as close as possible to conditions that existed before the deep water horizon disaster. There's still plenty of clean-up work to do along Louisiana's 84-mile coast where tar balls are still washing up.

BERMAN: A California nursing student is being called a hero and you know that is an understatement. Laurie Carpenter saved two people, two people from drowning on the beach on the same day within hours of each other. First she performed CPR on a 3-year-old girl, then on a 13-year-old. The humble hero called the experience amazing.


BERMAN: Ahead on STARTING POINT, so is this excessive celebration? NFL star Chad "former Ochocinco" Johnson slapped with a 30-day jail sentence for a butt slap in court.

ROMANS: And did you ever think what would happen when you try to jump in a swimming pool with a jeep? I just -- I don't understand the point of it.

BERMAN: It's genius.

ROMANS: But the video is awesome.

BERMAN: They're all members of MENSA.



BERMAN: In the world of self-promotion, Chad Johnson "Ochocinco," or whatever he's calling himself these days, he's always been a pro, but now the former NFL star has been flagged for excessive celebration in of all places a Florida courtroom. He's really in big trouble.

CNN's Pamela Brown here with the story.

PAMELA BROWN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: And here's the thing. He was about to avoid jail time. A deal had been worked seemingly with the judge, but then antics that may work in the locker room led to Chad Johnson Ochocinco being handcuffed and hauled away.



BROWN (voice-over): Did you hear that?


BROWN: That little smack you just heard is going to cost this guy 30 days in the slammer. Former NFL star Chad Johnson, also known as Chad Ochocinco, was in court for violating probation in a domestic violence case involving his ex-wife. A plea deal was about to be reached, but Johnson gave his attorney a playful congratulatory smack on the butt. That behavior might be OK in the locker room, but not in this courtroom.

KATHLEEN MCHUGH, BROWARD COUNTY JUDGE: Mr. Johnson, I don't know that you're taking this whole thing seriously. I just saw you slap your attorney on the -- on the backside.

BROWN: Broward County Judge Kathleen McHugh was not amused.

MCHUGH: Is there something funny about what's on here tonight?

CHAD JOHNSON, FORMER NFL STAR: I didn't laugh. No Ma'am.

MCHUGH: The whole courtroom laughed, because you just slapped your attorney.

BROWN: Johnson's attorney Adam Swickle apologized for his client's behavior, but it was too late.

MCHUGH: I don't think anything is funny is about this, Mr. Johnson. This isn't a joke.

JOHNSON: I didn't do it as a joke, ma'am.

MCHUGH: Everybody in the courtroom was laughing. I'm not accepting these plea negotiations.

BROWN: The Judge McHugh sentenced Johnson to 30 days in jail and tacked on an additional three months of probation. Johnson seemed to take the sentence in stride, tweeting, "Love me through the good and the bad, because I'm going to love you regardless, see you in 30."


BROWN: Well, Johnson was arrested last August for allegedly head butting his newlywed wife. She filed for divorce after only 41 days of marriage. The Miami Dolphins immediately terminated him and he didn't play at all last season.

BERMAN: Yes his career ended and now he's in the prison.

BROWN: Yes not looking good for Chad Ochocinco.

BERMAN: It's funny some places not funny others.

BROWN: Exactly.

ROMANS: Thanks, Pamela.

Ahead on STARTING POINT, invasion of the crazy ants. How these persistent pets, there they are, are causing thousands of people in four states millions of dollars. You're watching STARTING POINT.


Let's give you an update on the health of Nelson Mandela, the former South African president. He has been in the hospital dealing with a lung infection. We are told his condition is still serious, but stable; that is, no change over the last few days. He was admitted to the hospital Saturday. That is his fourth time in the hospital in recent months.

You know, he had tuberculosis when he was in prison for some 27 years and he's been battling lung issues ever since, 94 years old, very frail. All of South Africa is praying for his health. No change in the condition which remains at serious, but stable.

ROMANS: And you're seeing file video from April. He had been hospitalized four times I think this year with this recurring lung infection, South Africa President I believe went to visit him yesterday. But you're right serious but stable condition.

BERMAN: Now, let's look at the other top stories we're looking at this morning.

Planned talks between North and South Korea are on hold again. The South announcing the two sides will not be meeting tomorrow because they could not reach an agreement on who would lead the delegates. Representatives from North and South were set to talk in Seoul about reopening its shuttered industrial complex and other issues stemming from the recent ramp up in tensions, but now no meeting.

ROMANS: Rescuers in Mumbai, India are looking for survivors this morning in a collapse apartment building. At least seven people were killed, six injured. Authorities think at least a dozen more people are trapped inside there. It's believed the building gave way after heavy monsoon rains pounded the area.

BERMAN: All right, people, don't try this ever. That was a group of screaming Canadians. You knew they had to be Canadians, trying to jump a Jeep over a swimming pool.

ROMANS: The ramp did not really look sufficient for the job at hand.

BERMAN: No they apparently did not think it through, their application to Mensa still pending. No one was hurt. The pool had to be cut open to get the Jeep out but the man who posted the video insists the Jeep still runs fine.

ROMANS: There wasn't a big of concern. It was loud laughter and it doesn't even look like the ramp held it. It just kind of plowed through it.


ROMANS: All right then there's this, think of a man with a turkey baster and the word "lifesaver". That usually doesn't to mind but that's just what happened in Colorado when a 5-month-old baby suddenly stopped breathing. Bill Hoganson (ph) is working nearby ran to get a turkey baster and used it to clear the young girl's nasal passage and airway. He said being a parent himself, his instincts just kicked in.

BERMAN: All right this could be my favorite story, some words to live by this morning from your friend and mine, Han Solo.


HARRISON FORD, ACTOR: It's not wise to upset a Wookie.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: But sir nobody worries about upsetting a droid.

FORD: Because a droid don't pull people's arms out of their sockets when they lose. Wookies are known to do that.


BERMAN: It is not wise to upset a Wookie, but not something the TSA remembered when they confiscated the cane of 7'2" Chewbacca better known as actor Peter Mayhew. Why was the cane of interest to them? Because he uses a giant light saber as a walking stick, of course, he does. The incident made waves when Mayhew an avid Twitter user tweeted a picture of the TSA agents in possession of his cane. He tweeted it out to his 26,000 followers. It's important to point out that Mayhew relies on the cane for mobility and it's especially designed to support his extra large frame. Chewbacca is 7'2" after all a walking carpet.

We talked to the iconic actor and his wife about what happened when the agents approached them. Listen to what they said.


ANGIE MAYHEW, PETER MAYHEW'S WIFE: I told them the cane was the same cane that we'd taken all over the world and that the cane had come up from Dallas with us a few days before and he said, well, you're not taking it home. It's not going back to Dallas.

At that point, both Zach and myself, we got our cameras and we said to the officers, I'm -- we're tweeting this. We have to have the cane. It has to go back with us. Apparently, Zach went to the supervisor and said, you do know you just told Chewbacca he can't have his light saber cane.

I'm going to assume that they didn't know who we were and there wasn't any reason for them to know who we were. We don't ever do that. We expect to be treated like everyone else.

But I will say at that point their attitude changed and within a couple of minutes, not only did they give Peter his cane back and clear it, but they asked us very specifically to be sure and tweet that the cane had been returned.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: You know, our job is to see to it that people have a good time.

PETER MAYHEW: That's what we're here for.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Yes if the Wookie arrives in a foul mood, nobody is going to have a good time, I promise.


BERMAN: No you never want the Wookie to arrive in a foul mood. Imagine taking Chewbacca's light saber cane away. I do not think that's in the TSA training manual. Despite the ordeal, the Mayhew's gave a positive message for everyone involved.


A. MAYHEW: Travel in peace, and may we all travel in peace.

P. MAYHEW: That was travel in peace.

A. MAYHEW: In Wookese.

P. MAYHEW: In Wookese.


BERMAN: Well said. I couldn't have said it any better myself.

ROMANS: If I said that to the TSA, I'd get arrested.

BERMAN: That's right, you'd be in prison right now.

ROMANS: Oh, I love that story.

BERMAN: Next on STARTING POINT, a breed of ants making lunch of your electronics and it could cost millions. We will explain.


BERMAN: You're going to want to pay attention to this. a growing breed of ants is spreading through Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Florida and moving fast. You better hold on to your phones.


BERMAN: They are tiny, red, and hairy, and coming for your iPhone -- a pack of ants, ugly and ambitious, eating their way across the U.S., invading homes and demolishing electronics. Sound crazy? They are, literally, crazy. They are known as tawny crazy ants. They are crazy invasive, crazy smart, and near crazy impossible to get rid of.

CALEB FARRY: These crazy ants are intelligent and their only mission is to find food and harborage and to save each other. They are out to protect each other. They'll do whatever it takes to thrive.

BERMAN: They come from South America, launching their secret assault from Brazil and Argentina.

FARRY: They're coming from boats, coming from planes, coming from packages. And then once they get a small little colony here, it takes nothing for them to just explode. They are so powerful, they have no natural predator. They are going into red ant colonies and displacing them and wiping them out.

BERMAN: They aren't just satisfied with your home and food, they want your flat screen and computer.

FARRY: They'll be ripping their teeth through wires and next thing you know one of gets fried and it sets off a pheromone and they all come in and swarm causing a shortage in your electronics.

BERMAN: The criminally crazy ants are not the only new members of the insect legion of doom, meet the mutant mosquito. They're the size of a penny. 20 times larger than the basic biters -- so big, so bad, they can sting through your clothes.

FARRY: The one thing that you got going for them is the fact that you can see them coming, you can feel them land, and you can smash them before it ever becomes a problem.


ROMANS: That's the good side of those?

BERMAN: Have a great day.


CNN NEWSROOM with Carol Costello -- sorry Carol -- begins right now.