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NY Train Derailment; Obamacare Website Tested; Crimes of War?; Revolt in Ukraine

Aired December 3, 2013 - 05:00   ET


ZORAIDA SAMBOLIN, CNN ANCHOR: Speeding out of control. New evidence on what caused a New York train to fly off the tracks.

JOHN BERMAN, CNN ANCHOR: Syria's president accused of war crimes. The new acquisitions and new evidence against the country's government. We're live in Damascus.

SAMBOLIN: Protests in Ukraine is heating up. More than a million taking to the streets. They are threatening a revolution. We are live there as well with the very latest.

BERMAN: Good morning, everyone. Welcome to EARLY START.

SAMBOLIN: On that note, right?

BERMAN: It's a great way to start your day. Thank goodness it's Friday. Oh, wait, it's not.

SAMBOLIN: It is Tuesday morning.

I'm Zoraida Sambolin. It is Tuesday, December 3rd and it is 5:00 in the East.

BERMAN: Up first, a stunning revelation in the derailment of that New York City commuter train that left four passengers dead and dozens more injured. Federal safety investigators say the seven-car Metro North train was going 82 miles an hour!


BERMAN: Eighty-two miles an hour into a sharp curve that had a 30- miles-an-hour speed limit. That, folks, is a bad combination. But it is still too soon, they say, to determine who or what is to blame here. A lot of questions.

CNN's Rene Marsh is following developments for us.


RENE MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, John and Zoraida, this morning, we know how fast that commuter train was going, but we still don't know why. The train's event recorder shows the train was traveling at approximately 82 miles per hour as it went into a 30-mile-an-hour curve. Now, 82 miles per hour is too fast for the approach which had a speed limit of 70 and it's way too fast for the curve's 30 miles per hour limit.

Now, deepening the mystery, the NTSB says in two minutes, the train inexplicably went from 60 to 82 miles per hour before jumping the track. Mechanical problem or human error, it is too early to tell. But for a second day today, investigators are questioning train engineer William Rockefeller, a 20-year railroad veteran.

Their main question is, why was the train going so fast? We know Rockefeller told investigators he tried to brake but the train didn't stop. That's according to a law enforcement official.

Now, the NTSB, they will look at whether fatigue was a factor.

EARL WEENER, NTSB BOARD MEMBER: We don't have the work history at the moment. We will be developing what we call a 72-hour time line so that we have a good understanding of what sort of activities preceded this accident.

MARSH: Rockefeller appeared coherent, another official said. But drug and alcohol tests were conducted. The NTSB says there's no indication at this particular time of sabotage, but they are reviewing surveillance video from a nearby bridge.

Upon word speed played a role in the crash, New York Governor Cuomo said any responsible parties will be held accountable -- John, Zoraida.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Rene.

And now to the latest on the Obamacare Web site. It's had its first major tests since relaunching Sunday. And the site got close to the 800,000 users it's supposed to be able to handle on a daily basis. People in some states were met with a page that put them in line to get help, a problem that cleared up last night.

Overall, the site shows progress but raises doubts it can enroll millions of people as planned by the end of March.

Meantime, President Obama will launch a campaign today to try to refocus the public on the benefits of Obamacare and these concerns among Democrats as well. The White House will emphasize one benefit of the law each day until December 23rd, that is the deadline to sign up for coverage in January.

BERMAN: Vice President Joe Biden is in Japan this morning, the first stop on a week-long Asia trip that includes visits to China and South Korea. The vice president had planned to focus on trade and economic issues, but suddenly, he finds himself trying to calm rising tensions in the region over an island chain in the East China Sea that's controlled by Japan but also claimed by China.

The dispute intensified last week with China's claim of an air defense identification zone over these islands. SAMBOLIN: And stunning accusations this morning against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. The U.N.'s human rights chief says massive evidence collected over the course of the 33-month-old conflict in Syria implicates Assad in war crimes and crimes against humanity.

CNN's Fred Pleitgen is following this for us. He is live in Damascus.

So, does this report name Bashar al-Assad specifically?

FRED PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, it doesn't name him specifically but does implicate him with anything but his name, if you will. This is part of a larger report that accuses both the rebels, as well as the government, of war crimes and crimes against humanity, and then the report then says that these war crimes and crimes against humanity go all the way to the top levels of the Syrian government, including responsibility for the office of the head of state and that, of course, is Bashar al-Assad. And therefore, this is a very, very strong statement that the United Nations is making.

There is already some reaction from the Syrian government as well, Zoraida. The deputy foreign minister came out and said they give no credibility to this report whatsoever. They said that, quote, "Navi Pillay," who is the U.N. human rights chief, has talked to, quote, "nonsense in the past" and therefore, they are sort of trying to brush this off."

But, of course, it is something that will carry a lot of weight internationally. The United Nations head of human rights wants to take Syria to the International Criminal Court and that, of course, would be something that would up the ante considerably, Zoraida.

SAMBOLIN: All right. Thank you very much. Frederik Pleitgen reporting live for us in Damascus. I appreciate that.

BERMAN: A former government contractor says he fears the U.S. has abandoned him. Allen Gross was in prison four years ago in Cuba. Now, in a new letter he appeals for President Obama to personally intervene in his case, saying extraordinary steps have been taken for other Americans. The letter will be delivered today, part of a new strategy by his family to put direct pressure on the White House. A copy was given to "The Washington Post."

Major snowstorm is set to hit part of the country!


BERMAN: It doesn't feel that like here. It's warm here.

SAMBOLIN: It is. It's very nice.

Indra Petersons is tracking this crazy storm for us.

What's going on?

INDRA PETERSONS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: I love that you guys started with the fact that it's warm, because it is, but I want to give you a jump- start, kind of peek into what's going to look like --

SAMBOLIN: This is bad news?

PETERSONS: I've got to start off the top with it.

BERMAN: Look at her smiling.

PETERSONS: It's nice, 51 right now. That's going to be our high today. I want to take you guys to Saturday, notice where it's cold. Now, let's take a look at Saturday. The rest of the country, look at that, completely diving down. Dallas in the 30s and St. Louis the 20s and we're in the 40s.

Compared to everyone else, everything is relative, right? I like you think it looks good.

But there is a reason for this. We know the storm out in the Pacific Northwest is changing a lot. It's going to continue to push off to the East and the South today and let's talk about the snow.

Look how much snow we're going to be talking about there. Several feet of snow, especially in the higher elevations and moving into Colorado today. This is a system that's going to push off to the East and will start to impact our weather.

Look at the end of the week. Talk about some dangerous conditions here. We are talking about snow in the northeast back through Texas and rain in the Southeast. But it's the middle zone, we start talking about freezing rain and the wintry mix. We're talking about that Illinois through Texas toward the end of the week.

Now, of course, all this can change as we kind of go forward in time but the first glance what we are expecting. But, again, I will end you back on the nice note.

SAMBOLIN: You're very funny.

BERMAN: You remember when she used to be nice? Now, she gets this diabolical smile when she tells us we're in for nasty weather.

SAMBOLIN: It's great skiing weather. So, we'll focus on that.


SAMBOLIN: Thank you, Indra.

So, it may have been the best Cyber Monday ever! Online shoppers spent record amounts of money. Many of you did it using your mobile phones and your tablets, like I did. Overall, Cyber Monday sales were up nearly 19 percent.

BERMAN: What did you get me?

SAMBOLIN: Mobile device has accounted for 20 percent of the online shopping traffic. That is a 61 percent increase over last year. That is big time. In the meantime, major retailers like Amazon, Target, Walmart are stretching Cyber Monday deals throughout the entire week. We will have more from Christine Romans in "Money Time" the next half hour.

Do you know why I went shopping?


SAMBOLIN: Because I was upstairs and somebody who will remain nameless, Indra Petersons, she was shopping, doing all of our shopping and saying Cyber Monday is the way to do it. She said I'm stuck at work anyway. So --

BERMAN: Though, she loves her job.

SAMBOLIN: She loves her job, but during the break, she was shopping and she gave me really great tips.

So, you look at people's Pinterest to see what they want for the holidays. Isn't that great advice?

BERMAN: I'm still hang up with the fact you just sold Indra out, like in the big way. But it is great advice. Good kind of job.


BERMAN: All right. Eight minutes after the hour.

Coming up for us next, violent protests in the streets of Ukraine. Hundreds of thousands of people threatening now to overthrow the government there. We are live after the break.

SAMBOLIN: And a man killed in the waters of Hawaii. Witnesses explain what they saw. It was a shark attack.


BERMAN: Welcome back to EARLY START, everyone.

In Ukraine, there is revolution in the air. Hundreds of thousands of protesters have taken to the streets. You can see it in these pictures right here. Stepping up a campaign that was triggered by the government's turn away from integration with the European Union and really turn back toward Russia.

Ukraine's president remains defiant, warned of negative consequences for opposition leaders. Neither side appears to be backing down.

CNN's Phil Black is live in the Ukrainian capital of Kiev.

What is the situation this morning, Phil?


Yes, behind me, the Independence Square, still a pretty big crowd of people here. But, actually the vast majority of protesters who were here walked around 10 minutes from here to the country's parliament building because that's where opposition leaders today are trying to bring a vote of no confidence against the government. If that were to be successful, then hat would force the resignation of the prime minister and his ministers.

Outside the parliamentary building we were just a short time ago, there is a crowd of thousands of people there cheering very, very loudly and very much calling for the government to resign or calling for this vote of no confidence to be successful. And there is also a very strong security presence there as well, lines and lines of police officers in full protective gear.

It is interesting to see just how that will develop over the course of the day because the most intense violence that we have seen has been outside government buildings just like this and confrontations between the police and the protesters -- John.

BERMAN: It does seem both sides are poised for confrontation. It seems like something of a combustible situation there.

Phil Black in Kiev, monitoring the situation there for us -- thank you so much, Phil.

SAMBOLIN: And meantime in Thailand, there is calm, where there once was turmoil. The Thai government negotiating a truce with protesters for the next several days to honor the birthday of the country's king. Three people have died and more injured in street battles last few days with protesters demanding the prime minister resign.

Later this hour, we're going to go back -- we're going to go live to Bangkok for the latest on this developing story for you.

BERMAN: 911 calls from last December school massacre in Newtown, Connecticut, will go public on Wednesday. The seven calls came from inside the Sandy Hook Elementary School where 20 first graders and six staffers were shot to death. Last week, a judge agreed to release the tapes despite the pain it could cause for grieving families. The attorney who fought for months to keep the tapes sealed says he will not appeal.

SAMBOLIN: It's going to be so difficult.

BERMAN: It would be very hard to hear.

SAMBOLIN: Accused Los Angeles airport shooter Paul Ciancia is set to make his first court appearance Wednesday. The 23-year-old is charged in a November attack that left the TSA officer dead and wounded two others. Ciancia is not expected to enter a plea. The hearing will address the charges and possible bail. Prosecutors could seek the death penalty here.

BERMAN: The alleged Facebook killer is now charged with first-degree murder. Police in Miami say 31-year-old Derek Medina shot his wife and posted a picture of her dead body on Facebook. Detectives say he claimed self-defense when he shot 26-year-old Jennifer Alonzo in August, but police evidence indicate that she was on her knees with one arm raised in front of her at the time of the shooting, indicating a defensive posture.


Fifteen minutes past the hour.

Health scare for dozens of passengers aboard a U.S. Airways flight. A man suspected of having tuberculosis was removed from the flight shortly after it landed in Phoenix. This was on Saturday. The man had been cleared to fly by TSA agents in Austin, but midway through the flight the Centers for Disease Control notified the TSA that the passenger had "do not board" status.


DEAN DAVIDSON, PASSENGER: The flight attendant came down from the front of the aircraft. She was carrying a mask. She approached a slender man in a window seat about halfway down. Everybody was aware of this, watching this. She told the man to put the mask on.

REBECCA SUNENSHINE, MEDICAL DIRECTOR, MARICOPA COUNTY DEPT. OF HEALTH: I did interview the individual directly. He is very cooperative and wants to know just as much as anyone else whether he has active tuberculosis.


SAMBOLIN: All right. So, Arizona public health officials say that since the flight was less than eight hours, passengers were not at significant risk of exposure.

BERMAN: Nevertheless --

SAMBOLIN: I don't know if that would make me feel comfortable.

BERMAN: No, I'm not sure that's a flight I would like to have been on.

It's 39 years in prison for a hospital worker who caused a huge hepatitis C outbreak. David Kwiatkowski pleaded guilty to contaminating syringes with his own tainted blood. Forty-five hospital patients were infected, one died. Prosecutors say the 34- year-old working as a traveling medical technician in several states, he would inject himself with syringes filled with a powerful painkiller and then refill them with saline and put them back into circulation.

SAMBOLIN: Oh my goodness.

All right. So, there has been another deadly shark attack in Hawaii. Fifty-seven-year-old Patrick Brinney (ph) of Washington state was fishing off a kayak in Maui, his feet were dangling over the boat when he was bitten. A friend who was fishing with him wrapped a tourniquet around his leg and sought help from a nearby charter boat.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: We noticed in the distance there was a body lying flat out in the kayak. He all helped to get the kayak with the body into the boat. He passed away some time before.


SAMBOLIN: All right. So, there has been an alarming number of shark attacks in Hawaii this year alone, 13 in all, and eight of them on Maui. A German tourist died in August after being bitten as well.

BERMAN: And there was a bear attack in Florida to tell you about. The victim a woman walking her dog near her home in Longwood, just north of Orlando last night.

The woman was able to break free and run to a neighbor's house for help. She is hospitalized with serious facial injuries. Her dog, she was walking, was not hurt. The wild live officers have not yet found the bear but this attack happened near a conservation area known for frequent bear sightings.

SAMBOLIN: A federal judge is expected to rule today on whether to allow the largest municipal bankruptcy filing in U.S. history. The city of Detroit faces an estimated 18 billion in debt. Officials say reducing that is the only way to fight years of blight and violent crime. The decision sets the stage for a battle over controversial cuts, including pension reductions and the possibility of sales of city assets.

BERMAN: So you think that helping police recover more than 200 bottles of stolen whiskey would be reward enough? But now, there was a 10,000 reward in the mix. The highly prized whiskey was swiped in a brazen heist in October.

SAMBOLIN: Oh, I remember this.

BERMAN: This is a big deal, folks.

Thieves netting more than 70 cases of Kentucky's 20-year-old Pappy Van Winkle bourbon and 11-year-old Van Winkle Rye. The stolen liquor is worth about $26,000.

SAMBOLIN: You get a $10,000 reward.

BERMAN: For information leading to an arrest.

SAMBOLIN: There you have it.

BERMAN: Or the bottles.

SAMBOLIN: And coming up, the Seattle Seahawks breaking ground with some amazing plays literally. Andy Scholes explains in "The Bleacher Report."

BERMAN: Plus, I should say, it is time for your morning rhyme. You can tweet us.

SAMBOLIN: Your favorite time of the day!

BERMAN: With your own original verse. This can be about anything, folks. It just has to rhyme. The hashtags are #earlymorning. The hashtags are #morningrhyme.

SAMBOLIN: You want to challenge them.

BERMAN: What about drones? What about Obamacare? What about the Seattle Seahawks? Just some ideas.

We're going to read the best one on the air in the next half hour.


BERMAN: I have a true story for you now.

SAMBOLIN: This is incredible.

BERMAN: Seattle Seahawks fans are often known as the loudest in the NFL. After a touchdown last night, they were so loud that it registered as an earthquake!

SAMBOLIN: That's not true.

BERMAN: It is seriously true.

Andy Scholes is here with that and more in "The Bleacher Report".

ANDY SCHOLES, THE BLEACHER REPORT: Good morning, guys. You know, the University of Washington is just down the road from where the Seahawks play. They have a seismometer there. And after the Seahawks scored their first touchdown, the fans were so loud it registered as an earthquake.

Now, it happened after play in the first quarter. Check it out. Seattle is going to knock the ball out of Drew Brees' hand. It goes into the arms of Michael Bennett. And he takes it 22 yards the other way for a touchdown.

Check it out. The fans go absolutely nuts. This is when the earthquake was registered at the University of Washington. The fans had plenty to cheer about in this game. Russell Wilson threw three touchdowns. Seattle culminated the game, 34-7 was the final. They remained on top of the NFC, with a record of 11-1.

The Miami Dolphins have announced that offensive lineman Richie Incognito will continue to be suspended with pay. Yesterday was the Dolphins deadline to release him or keep him on the roster. The NFL is still investigating allegations that Incognito harassed teammate Jonathan Martin with racist and vulgar language. The team suspended Incognito nearly a month ago after Martin left the team.

On the lineup section on, this morning, UConn was down to Florida in the final seconds. Shabazz Napier misses the shot, but he gets his second chance and he's going to bury it for the game winner. He was so happy. He just keeps on running straight out of the arena. His teammates final catch up with him by the locker room to celebrate the game winning shot.

Golfer Jason Dufner, he's a diehard Auburn fan. He went to school there. So, you know, he really wants to watch Saturday's SEC championship game against Missouri. The only problem is, he is playing in Tiger Woods golf tournament this weekend. So, Dufner took to Twitter to ask Tiger to shorten the event.

He tweeted, "Dear Mr. Tiger Woods, I petition the event this week to play 36 holes on Thursday and Friday so I can watch my beloved Auburn play for the SEC champ. Thanks."

Now, guys, Tiger wasn't very sympathetic. His response: petition denied!


Because Tiger is a big Stanford fan and Stanford is playing well too. Yes, he's not going to get any Auburn love from Tiger Woods.

SCHOLES: I bet Dufner on Saturday afternoon out there on the course, it's going to be like putting --



All right. Andy Scholes, thanks so much.

SAMBOLIN: Thank you.

SCHOLES: All right.

SAMBOLIN: All right. So, the top headlines and everything you need to know for the day, right after the break.


BERMAN: Nearly three times too fast going into a curve. New information on what caused a deadly train derailment in New York, as family members of the victims share their stories.

SAMBOLIN: And breaking overnight: President -- Vice President Biden in Asia trying to stop a potential war.

BERMAN: A Freudian slip you would be proud of.

Protests turning violent in Thailand this morning. The chaos that is pushing the country into crisis. We are live in Bangkok with this developing story.

SAMBOLIN: Welcome back to EARLY START. It is 30 minutes past the hour. I'm Zoraida Sambolin.

BERMAN: And I'm John Berman. About 30 minutes past the hour right now. SAMBOLIN: And still there are many unanswered questions in the deadly commuter train derailment in New York City. But one thing the National Transportation Safety Board now knows for sure -- speed was a factor in that crash. The train was going 82 miles an hour, as it turned into a curve with a speed limit there is 30 miles per hour. But investigators have yet to determine if human error or mechanical failure is to blame for this.

CNN's Jason Carroll spoke with a member of the NTSB team.


JASON CARROLL, CNN NATIONAL CORRESPONDENT: That curve, it was going 60 miles per hour and then accelerated to 82.

WEENER: Accelerated up to 82.

CARROLL: When he should have actually been slowing down, that train was speeding up?

WEENER: That is correct.

CARROLL: So, what does that tell you, anything at all?