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Digging Through Crushed and Mangled Steel in California Train Disaster; President Bush Travels to Cleveland, Ohio

Aired January 27, 2005 - 07:00   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning. Digging through the crushed and mangled steel for the key pieces of evidence in a California train disaster. Now with the man accused of causing it be charged with murder?
On the deadliest day for U.S. troops in Iraq, four Marines killed in a nighttime firefight. A reporter embedded with the troops takes us inside the chaos.

And stick figures drawn by children with a violent message. Cruel and scary, but are they felonies? A difficult case on this AMERICAN MORNING.

Good morning, everyone. Good to have you with us today. 7:00 here in New York. I'm Bill Hemmer.

Soledad is out sick today. We hope she gets feeling better very soon.

In a moment here, another hard morning for the people in Glendale, California. We'll go back to the scene of that massive train accident that occurred about 24 hours ago, 11 people now reported dead. The L.A. County sheriff is our guest today with new details on the search for victims and the suspect in the disaster, as well.

Also, commentator Maggie Gallagher is with us today, feeling the heat, too, after being accused of taking money to support one of the president's initiatives on stronger families. She says the whole truth has not yet come out and she'll get her chance to tell her side of the story coming up this hour here.

Jack Cafferty is with me. Good morning. How're you doing?


We'll take a look at whether police overreacted in arresting those two kids, ages nine and 10, for drawing violent pictures with stick figures. The parents and school officials think that maybe those kinds of things ought to be disciplined by the family, by the parents. But in light of things like the Columbine shooting, maybe police are erring on the side of caution. We'll look at that in a few minutes.

HEMMER: All right, Jack, thanks for that. Carol Costello also with us this morning. Here's Carol across town in New York. Good morning.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Bill. And good morning to all of you.

Now in the news, a new attack on Iraqi security forces. Just three hours ago, at least one police officer was killed, three others wounded in a suicide car bombing in Baqubah. The bomb was set off just as officials were expected to arrive for a peace day meeting.

And still no definite word on what caused a U.S. helicopter to crash, killing 30 U.S. marines just outside of the Iraq-Jordanian border. The chief of U.S. command, General John Abizaid, saying the incident does appear to be weather related.

Here in the United States, President Bush is spending a second day focusing on health care issues. About 2 1/2 hours from now, the president heads to Cleveland, Ohio to promote a second-term plan for computerizing medical records. He says the use of technology will reduce medical costs and errors. It's his first trip to Ohio since his reelection, but as you know, he's very familiar with the state.

Condoleezza Rice is set to address workers in the next hour as the new secretary of state. Rice took the oath of office yesterday in a private ceremony some seven hours after being confirmed. Thirteen senators had voted against Rice, the largest opposition to any secretary of state nominee since 1825. Rice will take part in a ceremonial swearing in tomorrow, and you will see that live on CNN.

And in sports, it will be an all-American women's final Down Under in the Australian Open. The seventh seeded Serena Williams fighting back against Wimbledon champ Maria Sharapova. Williams surviving three match points to win. She will face top-ranked Lindsay Davenport in the final on Saturday. Davenport advancing over player Natalie Dashy (ph) in three sets.

Back to you, Bill.

HEMMER: All right, Carol, thanks. We'll see you across town in a couple of minutes. We'll see you then.

This morning, 200 investigators from the NTSB expected to go back to the scene of that train wreck in Glendale, California. The man who police say caused it now faces multiple charges. At least 11 are dead, 120 others are injured.

More now from Ted Rowlands in Southern California.


TED ROWLANDS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Filled with people headed to work, two commuter trains collided just after 6:00 a.m.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was terrible. And I can hear screams. I can see people crying, people covered in blood. It was terrible. To get out of the train, we have to break the window and jump off the train.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was all, like, steamy in there, and things you see on TV, you know, like it's really steamy, and you can hear hoses broken and people screaming.

ROWLANDS: It took hours to get the injured free. Search and rescue teams used infrared cameras to locate victims. In some cases, portions of the twisted metal had to be cut away. The first people on scene were a group of employees who heard the crash from a Costco store. They helped pull victims out, including a man who later died.

MARK ZAVALA, COSTCO EMPLOYEE: He was still conscious at that time and told us, Don't let me die, you know, and he said, you know, Pray for me, you know. And we're -- and that's -- it sticks -- it sticks in my head. And then a little bit -- about 10 minutes or five minutes later, when the fire department got there, my last thing seeing was them working on him, giving him CPR and giving him mouth- to-mouth. And then later we find out, he didn't make it.

ROWLANDS: A car left on the tracks is what investigators say caused the accident, derailing one of the commuter trains.

DAVID MORRISON, PASSENGER: It sounded like the train was dragging something across the tracks in front of it. And then all of a sudden, the lights went out, the train jerked to a stop...

ROWLANDS: Investigators say the car that caused the crash belongs to 26-year-old Juan Manuel Alvarez (ph), who, they say, drove onto the tracks to commit suicide, but jumped out of his car before the train hit. Investigators say instead of killing himself, Alvarez stood and watched others die in the collision.

RANDY ADAMS, GLENDALE POLICE CHIEF: Mr. Alvarez has been arrested, and has been charged or will be charged with at least 10 counts of murder.

ROWLANDS: Among the dead, L.A. sheriff's deputy James Tutuno (ph), who leaves behind a wife and four children. Like most of the passengers, he was on his way to work.

Ted Rowlands, CNN, Glendale, California.


HEMMER: The L.A. County sheriff is Lee Baca. He's looking at the latest this morning in the investigation, also the loss of his two colleagues.


SHERIFF LEE BACA, LOS ANGELES COUNTY: I lost a deputy sheriff, James Tutino, and I lost, Manual Ocala (ph), who was a maintenance worker. Obviously, being at the scene and seeing what we saw leads to an awful lot of grief and sorrow and our hearts go out to all the victims who were on those trains. HEMMER: My condolences to you and your department as well. Do you expect the death toll to rise based on the wreckage we've seen from the videotape?

BACA: I sure hope not. You know, the devastation was substantial, as you've seen. The real miracle, I think, is going to be that not more people were killed, and we hope and pray that no more will be succumbing to this particular tragedy.

HEMMER: Also at this point, sheriff, do you know how many people might still be missing, if any?

BACA: I believe everyone's accounted for. I think it's the identification of some of the deceased that's more problematic, and the coroner's office is doing this right now as we talk.

HEMMER: Is there anything in place in your part of the country that would prevent this from happening again?

BACA: I would like to believe there is a way to prevent this from happening. But what this suspect did, is he violated all of the safeguards. He didn't drive his car on the road that was crossing the tracks. He got off the road, invaded the rail right-of-way, and drove the car over the tracks in such a manner where he couldn't even get the car off the tracks once it was stationary.

HEMMER: What do you know about his state of mind, the suspect?

BACA: Well, he was depressed. He apparently had slashed his wrists, but not severely enough to cause himself fatal harm, and he was looking to commit suicide by getting on the tracks and having the train hit his car.

Unfortunately, and tragically, it was his car that got caught up underneath the wheels of the train and caused the derailment that led to these deaths.

HEMMER: I understand he was given a sobriety test at the scene. Do you know if he passed that?

BACA: We don't have the serology back yet, but I suspect there's an influence there. He has been arrested for drug usage in the past. He has a burglary charge that he's also been arrested for. So there isn't a clear answer to that question at this point, but it wouldn't surprise me if that were the case.

HEMMER: In your newspaper today, "The L.A. Times," suggesting that there is now a debate, sheriff, under way with the passenger train as the lead car as opposed to the locomotive. That may bring on more safety issues. Have you thought about that and keeping passengers safer?

BACA: Well, you know, the National Transportation Safety Board is certainly going to look at that. The engineering of how the trains are pulled or pushed is a question. But in this case, this was a perfect storm. You had three trains involved. One was stationary and two were moving, and the jackknifing of the lead train eventually caused the second train that was moving to get hit as well. The coincidence here is just phenomenal, and this is all the more reason why this senseless tragedy really is something that we're all shocked by.


HEMMER: Lee Baca is the sheriff out in L.A. We'll get back to Southern California throughout our program this morning. Also the Glendale police chief stressing the crash was not related to terrorism, saying that they believe it was simply the act of one deranged individual.

Nine minutes past the hour.


HEMMER: Another columnist accused of being paid to push policy for the White House. We'll get her side of the story live this morning.

And gunfire, RPGs lighting up the night sky. A stunning, ground- level look at night operations in Iraq.

And two young boys taken away in handcuffs because of violent drawings. Did police go too far? Some are wondering. We'll talk about it after this, on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: High above central park, 10 degrees outside, wind chills minus 11. It's going to go down to four degrees real temperature later today here in New York City.

President Bush travels to Cleveland, Ohio today, promoting the use of technology in health care. A preview now at the White House. Here's Dana Bash watching that.

Good morning there, Dana.


And the president's aides know for that second-term agenda to succeed, he must boost his political standing, and that means that what happens in Iraq is very much tied to what happens here at home.


DANA BASH, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Appearing with reporters on the deadliest single day for U.S. troops in Iraq, the president urged patience in what he repeatedly called a grand moment in history.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: The story today is going to be very discouraging to the American people. I understand that. But it is the long-term objective that is vital, and that is to spread freedom.

BASH: Mr. Bush said Iraqis should defy terrorists and vote Sunday and, mindful of growing opposition to war among Americans, preemptively tried to declare success.

BUSH: The notion that somehow we're not making progress, I just don't subscribe to. I mean, we're having elections. And I think people need to put this moment in history in proper context.

BASH: The president also clarified what he meant in his inaugural address, insisting his call to end tyranny does not signal a dramatic policy shift towards countries like China and Russia, but a long-term commitment for generations to come.

BUSH: I firmly planted the flag of liberty for all to see that the United States of America hears their concerns and believes in their aspirations.

BASH: Mr. Bush used this first news conference of his second term to regain his footing on the home front as well. Speaking on a day after Republican senators privately warned him his strategy to find support for dramatic changes in Social Security by warning of a crisis is backfiring, here, crisis was glaringly absent, toned down.

BUSH: The math shows we have a problem, and now is the time to act on that problem, fix the problem.

BASH: But Mr. Bush, who will not face voters again, reminded he had been doubted before in major policy fights he eventually won and urged skittish lawmakers to follow his lead.

BUSH: What you're hearing a little bit is whether or not -- you know, whether or not it is worth the political price. I think it is.


BASH: And Republican lawmakers say part of the president's PR problem has been his reluctance to give very many details of his plan, besides wanting to create private accounts, and they also say, Bill, that the president is going to have to take this message on the road. The president did say he will do that, and we are told that he is actually going to go to some home states of Democratic senators, Bill, those who are perhaps up for re-election and a little bit vulnerable.

HEMMER: We'll see him at the Cleveland clinic later today in northern Ohio. Thank you, Dana. Dana Bash at the White House there.

And watch our coverage later tonight. "IRAQ AT THE CROSSROADS, IRAQ VOTES." Christiane, Anderson, Paula, host our primetime special starting tonight at 7:00 eastern, 4:00 out on the West Coast.

In Ocala, Florida, two elementary school students now charged with a felony for threatening a classmate. Their accused of making violent stick figure drawings that show the classmate being stabbed and hung.

Ocala Police Sergeant Russ Kern joins us now to talk about the investigation.

Sergeant, good morning to you.


HEMMER: You've seen these drawings. Give us a better idea what was depicted there.

KERN: Well, actually, the drawings themselves were a factor involving the arrest of the two. It wasn't the only thing. There were several days throughout the year that these two boys had bullied the young man, had also basically were relentless in their bullying and continued to harass him. And the drawings were just the top of that.

HEMMER: When you say harass and bully, give us a better idea. What was going on there?

KERN: Well of course they're in a special-ed location, and they were basically just being very, very crude to him, rude to him, continuing to just bully him anytime they had a chance.

HEMMER: Let me be a little more direct. Was it verbal or physical?

KERN: OK, it was verbal. Everything up to this point was verbal, and we tried to step in prior to it getting physical.

HEMMER: What did the victim do throughout this?

KERN: The victim basically had reported it to school officials during the bullying process throughout the year, and they were intervening as they could.

However, once he saw the drawing that depicted himself, actually labeled his name, being stabbed by the two boys, he ran to a teacher, basically saying that he thought he was going to be killed.

HEMMER: One of the fathers of the boys had this to say yesterday about what happened in the school. Listen here and I'll ask you about it.


JOSEPH TRUDEL, FATHER OF ACCUSED STUDENT: This is not Columbine. That's all I keep hearing from everybody officially, is that, you know, we have to be careful with the Columbine and 9/11. These are 9 and 10-year-old children that were friends.


HEMMER: Sergeant, he's implying that there's an overreaction here. How do you respond to that?

KERN: Well, the thing is, we looked at it, we did consult with the state attorney's office. They conferred with the officer who was on the scene, and of course Columbine does come up. It's unfortunate thing right now that we have to look at that. But if we stand back and wait now and something does happen, we will be answering why we didn't do anything. So this way we know we get the ball rolling in the right direction, and hopefully get this resolved before anything else would happen.

HEMMER: Here is what the school said on the screen for our viewers, and quoting now, "Schools do not have the power to arrest. All we can do is suspend and expel. We notified authorities, and they made the decision to arrest the students." Was it necessary then, as some have suggested, and perhaps it was not, to lead them away in handcuffs?

KERN: Well, actually our policy here at the Ocala Police Department is any felony arrest you get handcuffed. However, in this case, the officer did use discretion. He kept the children inside a disciplinary office until all other children were out of the area, so they would not be embarrassed. He also put the handcuffs in front, not in back, where they would be more comfortable, put them in the car, then took them over to the detention center.

HEMMER: One more thing when we try to figure this -- you said they were special-education students. To what degree were they in the school for special ed.

KERN: I do not know exactly what degree. I just know they were all assigned to that class.

HEMMER: All right, Sergeant. Russ Kern down there in Ocala, Florida. It's a talker back here in New York City. Thanks for your time down there in Florida and in fact, Jack's talking about this today and "The Question of the Day." Good morning.

CAFFERTY: Yes, these kids were charged with felonies, which is severe, obviously, much more than a misdemeanor. Reasonable people can disagree on what the police did. The argument being basically that the parents of these kids say wait a minute, it's up to the families and the schools to address this. There was no physical violence. Kids are kids. Kids can be cruel. Kids can be mean. My kids, your kids, his, well, he doesn't have any kids.

The debate is whether or not, I suppose, the police needed to go as far as they did. I mean, do you need to handcuff a 9-year-old kid and lead him out of the -- I don't know, it seems a bit harsh to me. Policy is policy and those guys are all following orders. But that's the question we're asking. Should police have arrested two students for drawing a picture -- is basically what it was -- of a classmate. The argument in favor of, obviously, the reference to Columbine, violence in the schools. These are possibly red flags, danger signs, you step in, you intercede before something worse happens. Solve this for us.

HEMMER: All right, we will. My nieces and nephews, by the way, so well behaved.

CAFFERTY: Just like their uncle.

HEMMER: Mature young men and women. That's right.

CAFFERTY: Just like their uncle.

HEMMER: Thank you, Jack.

One of the baby Bells may ready to buy up the former Ma Bell. Andy has that story, "Minding Your Business," right after this. 21 minutes past the hour on a Thursday morning here on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Welcome back, everybody. There's a merger between two of the nation's biggest phone companies, might be in the works. Drew has that. "Minding Your Business." Good morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE": Good morning to you, Bill. Is it farewell to Ma Bell? It could be. Various reports saying that SBC Communications out of San Antonio, Texas, in talks to acquire AT&T for between $15 and $16 billion. This could be the final chapter for the 120-year-old telephone icon.

You may remember, 21 years ago, in 1984, a federal judge broke up AT&T into seven operating Bell companies, the baby Bells. Let's take a look at them. Of course, number one would be Nynex, and below that would be Bell Atlantic, Southwestern Bell, Pac Tel, Bell South, U.S. West. What's happened to those in the intervening 21 years? Nynex and Bell Atlantic combined into Verizon. Southwestern Bell becomes SBC, which combines with Pac Tel and Ameritech. U.S. West becomes Quest and the only one remaining with the same name and the same corporate structure is Bell South.

So far, Bill, the companies are not commenting on the proposed deal. We'll have to see. Obviously, a lot of activity in this sector. Cingular and AT&T Wireless combining and Nextel and Sprint combining recently. So there's a lot of activity there.

HEMMER: If memory serves, AT&T is one of the Dow 30, right? Ticker symbol number T?

SERWER: That's right. Yes, it has one of those single letter tickers.

HEMMER: All right. We'll watch it. Thank you, Andy. Talk to you later this hour.


HEMMER: Condoleezza Rice has been confirmed secretary of state. However, yesterday, 13 Democrats opposed that nomination. That was the target last night on "The Daily Show" and Jon Stewart.


JON STEWART, HOST, "THE DAILY SHOW": Republicans like Kentucky's Mitch McConnell were quick to defend Rice with trivia.

SEN. MITCH MCCONNELL (R), KENTUCKY: Her parents aptly named her Condoleezza, after the Italian musical term condaselsa (ph), which is a direction to play with sweetness.

STEWART: Her last name is a starchy side dish, often served with beans. I vote yes.


HEMMER: Jon Stewart from last night. The confirmation is complete now. Condoleezza Rice, in fact, will be at the U.S. State Department right around 8:15 Eastern time, about 45 minutes away. We'll watch it for you down in Washington when that happens.

The elections in Iraq only three days away now. They go down on Sunday. What steps are U.S. forces now taking to help keep voters safe? We'll talk to the general in charge of security live in Baghdad as we continue after this on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: Good morning, again, everybody. 7:30 here in New York. Soledad is out today. Carol Costello helping us out here. Good morning to you.

COSTELLO: Good morning, Bill.

HEMMER: You all right?

COSTELLO: I'm just fine.


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