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LEGAL VIEW WITH ASHLEIGH BANFIELD

Witness Talks Paul Walker Crash; Fullerton Trial Starts in Kelly Thomas Beating Death.

Aired December 2, 2013 - 11:30   ET

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


(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

MICHAELA PEREIRA, CNN ANCHOR: Hollywood and fans of Paul Walker reeling from the sudden death of the star of the franchise "fast & furious" films. Fans recovering from the shock when they hear the news that another car may have been involved and drag racing may have played a role in Paul Walker's death, along with his friend and business partner, Roger Rodas.

We have on the phone now a man who was an eyewitness to the deadly crash in California. Jim Torp joins us via phone.

Thank you for staying with us.

I wanted to talk to you a little bit about Paul Walker's demeanor that day. He was at a fundraiser. They were making an effort to raise money for victims of Hurricane Haiyan. They were there in good spirits, I would imagine. Tell us what his demeanor was like that day.

JIM TORP, WITNESS (voice-over): Well, when I first saw him, when he showed up, he was standoffish. And once he saw that everything was fine, that he could come out and walk around the crowd, his demeanor was fine. He was excited. It was the first fund drive. Not only for the victims in the Philippines, but for the victims of the tornado in Indiana that happened a couple of weeks ago. And it was his annual Toys for Tots drive that he was doing. So the outcome of cars that were there was fantastic. There were so many beautiful cars there. He was walking around and looking at the cars and joking around and taking pictures with people. He finally relaxed and he was able to be himself, laughing and joking around. I mean, he was laughing when he got into the Porsche. But as far as drag racing, no. When they drove by us, there were no other cars around them at all.

PEREIRA: Talk to me about the conditions of the road at that point. We know this time of year there's a little bit of rain occasionally happening in southern California. We know that rain can certainly bring up the oil residue on the roads. Did you notice the driving conditions being at all unusual?

TORP: Well, no. The driving conditions were actually perfect. It was in the high 70s that day. The weather was perfect. There was no moisture on the roads or anything else. I went back to the crash scene after to look at everything, to see how it possibly could have happened. You had two professional drivers in that car and just wondering, how could this have happened. I had a Porsche myself. And I wanted to know, you know, how. When I was at the crash scene yesterday there were a lot of people speculating that he was doing doughnuts and everything in the road. I said, why, why would you say that? They said look at all the skid marks. They were from a smaller car. The Porsche tires were about 18 inches wide and these skid marks was about 6 inches wide. There was no drag racing involved. The cal highway patrol was at the lower end of the loop. I don't know how people can make that accusation. When they drove by us, the RPMs were up on the car, and that's what I was complementing to my friend that had a Ferrari next to them. And there were no other cars when they drove passed us.

PEREIRA: What's particularly chilling aside from looking at the images of what's left of the vehicle is the accounts of people rushing to the scene to try and help. And I understand that there were friends of both men rushing to the scene to help.

TORP: My son was one of the first ones on the scene. When I heard the crash, I told him, I said, hey, get up there. I think Paul and Roger were in a car accident. And he says, why, how do you know? And I said, Brandon, didn't you hear the big bang? And he said, yeah. And I said, I think they hit something. Get a fire extinguisher. He had one in his car. He took off. I was trying to get Paul Walker's stuntman and Paul Walker's friend, Newt, they're his best friends. They came out and had no clue what was going on. I was saying, look, I think he was in a fire, a car accident because there's a fire.

And he said, well, there's a special effects building behind us that they blow things up all the time. Nobody was taking me serious. Finally, Eric, Paul Walker's stuntman, Waumgdu (ph), walked up and I said, Eric, I know they were in an accident. I haven't heard from my son yet. And my friend Mitch said, I'm going up there. When he start the up there, they took off behind him. And they went up in the hill around the corner where the loop was. That's when I got my call from the sun that it was definitely a car accident and the car was on fire. And everybody grabbed fire extinguishers and went up there. Unfortunately, it was too late. The fire department arrived within 30 seconds that they arrived up there. And there was nothing anybody could do. Paul Walker's best friend did everything he could with the flames. He was trying to get his best friend out of the car and he just couldn't do it. The sheriff's up there were fighting with Newt and detained him because they didn't want anything to happen to him.

PEREIRA: What a heartbreaking scene. What a heartbreaking scene.

TORP: It was tragic. I was looking for Roger's son. That's why I didn't get up there right away. I knew his son was heading towards the accident. And he got past me because he knew there was a fire and he wanted to see it. But he didn't know it was his dad until he saw the car.

PEREIRA: How long did it take first responders to get there? I'm curious. It sounds like they might have been in the area?

TORP: They have a fire department probably within two minutes drive from there. PEREIRA: OK.

TORP: And by the time -- by the time the car accident happened and the fire hit, the response I think the response time was about four minutes.

PEREIRA: But at that point there was nothing more they could do.

TORP: Nothing more they could do. I heard an explosion before the car hit the light pole. And when the car hit the light pole, I heard that. And then when I saw the smoke, you start putting it together. But the first explosion was I don't know. I don't know if they're tire blew up. Sounded like a tire blew on the car.

PEREIRA: I can imagine you're still shaken up by this. You can't get the images out of your head, I'm sure.

TORP: It was horrible. When I got everything under control down at, you know, at the event, I got in the car and I went up there to see if there was anything I could do. And I was just watching the cars in flames. Knowing that our two friends were in that car and there's nothing anybody can do for them, watching his friend cry, watching my son sit there and stuff, and knowing that there's nothing you can do, I mean the smell of the exhaust, the smell of everything burning was heart breaking. I came back down and I talked to Richard, who was one of the owners, and I said, Richard, you need to get up there. He went up there and came back down. Everybody was waiting for me to get another phone call. I was standing by Paul Walker's safety assistant, who I thought was his assistant at the time, and they were waiting for me to get the phone call to confirm that it was Paul and Roger in the car. When I got the phone call and they said that they were both killed in the car accident, I told one of my friends that was standing there, Paul Walker's girlfriend was standing there next to me and she got the news that way. But they -- I think it was Paul Walker's girlfriend and Richard, the owner, one of the owners had explained all of this to Paul Walker's daughter who also was there. They were at the charitable event. So --

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: That makes it even more and more heartbreaking.

Jim, I want to ask you about that car. It's going to be the focus of the investigation as investigators try to get to the bottom of what caused this terrible and fiery crash that claimed the lives of two young men in their prime.

We're going to take a short break here on "Legal View." And we'll come with Jim Torp, an eyewitness to that tragic accident when we come back.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: Welcome back to "Legal View." I'm Michaela Pereira, in for Ashleigh Banfield. What started out as a regular Sunday afternoon, a charity fundraiser benefiting Typhoon Haiyan victims, turned into absolute chaos and tragedy. A fiery car accident claiming the life of two young men. Roger Rodas behind the wheel and actor Paul Walker his passenger.

Joining me on the phone is Jim Torp. He was eyewitness to Saturday's deadly crash.

And I understand that you're also a car enthusiast yourself. You own a Porsche. Talk to me about the vehicle that they were in. It was a 2005 Porsche Carrera G.T. Correct?

TORP: That's correct.

PEREIRA: Are you still there?

TORP: Yeah. I'm still here. I'm --

(AUDIO PROBLEM)

PEREIRA: OK. We're having a little bit of difficulty getting a hold of him. Those cell phones transmissions are only as good as they can be. Let's try it again.

If you can hear us, go ahead, Jim?

OK. Well, we lost him. Again, so what we know is that Jim was there and unfortunately witnessed that horrific crash that claimed the life of two young men and was eyewitness to that. A terrible tragedy. The investigation will continue and weep continue to follow it.

Let's check other news at this hour. Montana's attorney general is appealing the 30 day jail term given a former high school teacher convicted of raping a student, the student later committed suicide. The trial judge said she was older than her chronological age. Prosecutors wanted him locked up for ten years minimum.

CNN affiliate reports two subway owners in Lexington, Kentucky, are under arrest for human trafficking. Three immigrants were also arrested. Four undocumented workers are being held in a hidden room located in the home of the owners of that subway. Those are a couple of your headlines.

Let's turn back to the top story, the death of actor Paul Walker in a car crash in California. We know that Jim Torp was there on the moments after the crash. He was an eyewitness to it. And he joins us on the phone.

I think you got through your spotty reception. Are you there?

TORP: I'm there.

PEREIRA: OK. And he's got a head set on. So we know that he's being safe. I know you're headed back to the crash scene. What are you looking to find out? I know you want to go there and do a little investigating on your own. TORP: I know there's cameras on the scene. There's -- all around the crash site that have 24 hours cameras. I want to see if they have any information or if the sheriff's department even thought about any cameras around there.

PEREIRA: Have you been interviewed by the sheriff's department?

TORP: No, not yet. Not at this time.

PEREIRA: Have they reached out to you?

TORP: No, they haven't. The day of the event and when they got the phone call that there was a horrific car accident, there was a sheriff that came into the parking lot where we were hosting the event and he asked if anybody was drag racing there. And we said no. And he said, is there any alcohol or anything around here, and we go, no. I said the only thing anybody has been drinking is water and Starbucks coffee because we had Starbucks there. And he said he wanted to know kind of what happened. And I told him briefly. And he wanted to know who the driver was. And I told him. And he goes, who was the passenger? And I said, you don't know? And he said no. And I said the passenger was Paul Walker and he almost passed out himself because he was a car enthusiast.

PEREIRA: We know that car owners and collectors are a close-knit community. We can imagine that the people that were at the fundraiser there were sent reeling by this as was the community, the folks in Santa Clarita.

TORP: Now --

(CROSSTALK)

PEREIRA: I want to thank you for your time today. I'm sure we'll be in touch with you at another time. We hope the investigation will start to point -- some eyes at what caused this unnecessary death.

Thanks for your time, Jim.

We're going to take another break here just ahead. You might recall the horrific beating of a homeless man caught on camera. Now the accused police officers are going on trial. We're going to get the "Legal View", next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: It was a beating death that shocked the nation. Kelly Thomas, a mentally ill homeless man who roamed the streets of Fullerton, California, routine encounter with police nearly two years ago suddenly erupted into a beating one witness described as "freaking ruthless." You're seeing part of it on your screen. It left him in a coma. Five days later he died. Trial begins today for the two former Fullerton officers charged in his death.

Joining me now with their insight on the case, CNN legal analyst, Danny Cevallos; and HLN legal analyst, Joey Jackson. Gentlemen, good to have you here.

This is a story that gripped southern California. People around the nation watched it.

One of the things that I think is really critical to this case, certainly, -- Joey, let's start with you -- is the videotape.

JOEY JACKSON, HLN LEGAL ANALYST: It sure is. Videos are important. What we do as trial attorneys is we want to bring the jury there. Generally we do that through the power of the spoken word. We do it with exhibits and pictures. But here, you can do it with a videotape. It's significant because that videotape will show precisely the events as they occurred. And the prosecution, of course, will argue ha those events were excessive and unreasonable. What the defense will do is say, ladies and gentlemen, I want to talk to you about what's not on the videotape. So the defense will attempt to deflect from the videotape to get into other areas that are not shown that are equally as significant. As to whether that, would, it's up to a jury to determine.

PEREIRA: So you have the video and both sides painting a picture of what happened that day. You see on the tape. You hear the screams. You hear the cries for help. There's this other aspect that I know both sides are going to have to delve into is Kelly Thomas, where his head was at, the mental illness he may not have had and his history of violence. Was there one or not?

DANNY CEVALLOS, CNN LEGAL ANALYST: If there was, a jury can conclude that that affected the case only if the police had some knowledge based on that history. So to the extent the police were aware of any mental history that might factor in. But the court will look at what was available to the police at that moment when this he began using force. Was it excessive and it will be analyzed constitutionally under the fourth amendment. Was it unreasonable under the circumstances and while that history may be interesting, nothing, nothing beats the videotape. People can lie. Things like videotapes do not lie in cases like this.

PEREIRA: This is a story that we're going to be watching here on CNN and specifically on "Legal View." It is a heart-rendering one. A young man lost his life. We'll talk with both of you in the coming days.

JACKSON: Second degree murder.

(CROSSTALK)

JACKSON: It's crazy.

PEREIRA: It really is.

Thanks so much, gentlemen. Good to have you here.

Still ahead, all hands on deck at one national call center today. Cyber Monday sales are expected to soar. Are you shopping? We're going to take you there next.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

PEREIRA: If you didn't drop shopping on Black Friday and are still looking to buy more stuff, boy you're in luck today. It is Cyber Monday, the online shopping bonanza, and billions are expected to stuff their virtual shopping carts today. Analysts are predicting consumers will spend nearly $2 billion scooping up deals on everything from electronics, books, clothing and furniture and so much more.

I sent Casey Wian to shop for me. I'm kidding.

(LAUGHTER)

He's at the Zappos' new call center, putting your finger on the pulse of what is happening there.

How is it going so far?

CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it's going very well from Zappos.com's perspective. They're going to set all-time records for company sales and call volume here at their call center today. Absolutely. Last year on Cyber Monday, they did $22.6 million. They expect they'll break electronic device.

You can see what customers are buying. There's shoes there.

(LAUGHTER)

They say they have 600 people here at their Las Vegas call center working today. That includes some temporary employees.

You asked about the tin foil hates.

PEREIRA: Yeah.

WIAN: Cyber Monday, so the team today is cyborgs, robots. We saw one guy who wore a cardboard box covered in tin foil to work earlier.

(LAUGHTER)

They're really getting into the spirit here.

Everyone is involved in the company. From the CEO on down, they will all spend time manning the phones during this holiday season. They say, for them, it is a really, really busy year and, so far, very productive and very profitable.

PEREIRA: I hear that a lot of the items on Cyber Monday are generally things that need to charge and are some sort of a digital device and electrical device. What are the hot items they see hot off the presses?

WIAN: Here at Zappos, they say the biggest sellers right now are a different couple of brands of boots. In the clothing category, Patagonia and North Face. Those are all big sellers so far this year. They will say they're not concentrating a lot on discounting. What they're concentrating is on customer service so you'll get free shipping if you go to Zappos.

PEREIRA: Since you asked, a delicate size 8.5, Casey Wian, if you see something with a nice reasonable heel.

(LAUGHTER)

WIAN: Got it.

PEREIRA: All right. Have fun and get yourself a tin foil hat.

A shopping tidbit for you. This one had me scratching my head. What if your next Amazon package was delivered by drone? It is something Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos, thinks it is possible. He announce the in the next four to five years, they plan to offer a service called prime air. You already have Amazon Prime. They're going to use drones to make deliveries in 30 minutes. That he would have to weigh up to five pounds though. Don't try and order a big tire or something heavy.

That's it for "Legal View." Thank you so much for watching. I'm Michaela Pereira. AROUND THE WORLD starts now.

FREDRICKA WHITFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: A commuter train jumps the tracks. Was it going too fast or was there something wrong with the brakes? The investigation.

MICHAEL HOLMES, CNN ANCHOR: Jurors in a murder trial see this chilling cell phone confession.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We have killed this man today because Muslims are dying daily by British soldiers. This British soldier is one in an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

HOLMES: Two men accused of brutally murdering this British soldier. Police say they hit him with a car and attacked him with a meat cleaver and knifes.

Plus, it's better but is it fixed? The Obamacare website gets an upgrade.

You're watching AROUND THE WORLD. I'm Fredricka Whitfield, in for Suzanne Malveaux.

HOLMES: And I'm --