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Questions Surrounding Man Believed to Have Caused Train Crash; Trying to Sort Through Mixed Signals Coming From Syria

Aired January 27, 2005 - 09:30   ET


BILL HEMMER, CNN ANCHOR: 9:30 here in New York. Good morning, everybody. Soledad a bit under the weather today. Hope she's feeling better. Carol Costello helping us out here.
Good morning to you.

Back to California in a moment, this train crash there, and big questions still surrounding the man believed to have caused it. No one can ask the question better than the L.A. county D.A. We'll talk to Steve Cooley in a few moments about a motive and about the possibility of murder charges as well.

CAROL COSTELLO, CNN ANCHOR: Also coming up, Barbara Starr trying to sort through the mixed signals coming from Syria, questions of deadly consequence as the war against insurgents rages next door in Iraq. Barbara will look into that.

HEMMER: All right, first top stories, though.

COSTELLO: Top stories now in the news, at least one Iraqi police lieutenant has been killed in a suicide car bombing in Baqubah. New pictures in to CNN show the impact of the bomb cracked car windows, debris on the road. You see it there. At least three people were injured in this attack. The blast coming just three days before the scheduled elections in Iraq.

A U.S. representative holding talks with Palestinian leaders in Ramallah this morning. U.S. envoy William Burns and a group including the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas are working to revive the Mideast peace process. Also on the agenda, possible international financial aid. Burns is set to meet with the Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon later today.

President Bush is heading to Ohio at this hour. The president is to visit the Cleveland clinic to discuss the benefits of health care information technology. It is his first trip to Ohio since his inauguration.

And will it be Giuliani versus Clinton in 2006? The New York State Republican Party chair telling the New York times he plans to ask the former Mayor Rudy Giuliani to challenge Senator Hillary Clinton for her seat in the next election. Giuliani's spokeswoman reportedly says the former mayor is not thinking about politics right now. Right.

(WEATHER REPORT) COSTELLO: This morning, there's still one person missing following yesterday's deadly train derailment north of Los Angeles. Eleven people died, 180 others were injured after the train slammed into an SUV, an SUV parked on the tracks by a man who officials say planned to commit suicide, but then he changed his mind as the train approached. He actually jumped out at the last minute. Los Angeles County district attorney Steve Cooley is live at the crash site.

Good morning, sir.

STEVE COOLEY, L.A. COUNTY D.A.: Good morning, Carol.

COSTELLO: What can you tell us about this suspect, Juan Manuel Alvarez?

COOLEY: He's an individual with a relatively minor criminal history. We've been evaluating his state of mind and his intent in terms of what he did yesterday. Our prosecutors have been on the scene since yesterday morning, working with the Glendale Police Department, and I can tell you that we anticipate filing charges very, very soon.

COSTELLO: Filing what kind of charges, though?

COOLEY: Certainly this offense contemplates the charge of murder, given the number of deaths, multiple counts of murder. And because of the manner of death, by train wreck, there are specific statutes that could allow for the filing of special circumstances under California law, which could provide the opportunity for the death penalty.

We're taking a look at the scene right now, at least we were, courtesy of KABC out in Los Angeles.

A number of factors enter into this, though, don't they? Mr. Alvarez was depressed. Apparently he had slashed his wrists, but not deep enough to kill him. He had just left his wife and young son. He was barred from seeing them. Will you take those factors into consideration before you file these charges?

COOLEY: The charges will be filed based upon the facts that we have available to us. The decision as to whether or not we seek the death penalty is based upon very, very careful evaluation of the facts that support aggravation of the circumstances of the offense or mitigation. That process usually takes about two to three months.

However, due to the fact that he's in custody, we have 48 hours to evaluate whether or not charges should be filed. We are going to complete that evaluation, I believe, today.

COSTELLO: Steve Cooley, the L.A. county district attorney joining AMERICAN MORNING this morning.

Thank you, sir.

HEMMER: From California now to the Pentagon. President Bush warned Syria yesterday to stop providing a route for insurgents into Iraq. Syria is also under sanctions as a sponsor of terrorism, but that does not mean that Washington's doors are closed to Damascus.

Barbara Starr explains this at the Pentagon.

Good morning.

BARBARA STARR, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Bill.

Well, military officials say there are some signs of cooperation from Damascus, but that the Syrian government still has a long way to go on this question of the Iraq insurgency.


STARR (voice-over): ... and Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting in Moscow this week to discuss their economic and military ties, Syria possibly looking to buy more arms.

The meeting comes as the U.S. military continues to watch Syria, trying to determine to what extent Assad may be granting official sanctuary to Baathist leaders of the Iraq insurgency. Syria says it is not helping the insurgents.

FAROUK AL-SHARA, SYRIAN FOREIGN MINISTER: If they are crossing the Syrian border, they are crossing the Syrian border against the will of the Syrian government. No doubt about this.

STARR: The region's top U.S. military commander recently offered his views.

GEN. JOHN ABIZAID, CMDR., U.S. CENTRAL COMMAND: I won't go so far as to say they have the blessing of the Syrian government, but the Syrian government can certainly do more to control their activities on their soil. We know this for a fact.

We also know, without any doubt, that Syrian borders are being used by foreign fighters as the crossing point into the insurgency.

STARR: Senior military officers see some progress.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The Syrians have really stepped up on their side of the border, to go ahead and insure that any cuts through the barriers were filled back in, and to make sure they have more proactive patrols working the Syrian border from the Syrian side.

STARR: A senior defense official says the next step may be sharing intelligence and providing Syria with communications gear for its border guards. The U.S. still warns there is a long way to go, recently moving to shutdown alleged financing networks inside Syria.

RICHARD BOUCHER, STATE DEPT. SPOKESMAN: Syria has taken what we think are positive steps, whether it is cooperation with us on al Qaeda or some of the steps they've taken with Iraq to improve the situation along the border, or returning some assets. We pointed to those. STARR: And, Bill, military officials also say the real problem at the moment is they are just not sure how much Syrian President Assad is really controlling what goes on inside his country. And until they know more about that level of control, they fear that the shelter for the insurgents will continue inside Syria -- Bill.

HEMMER: Good update. Barbara, thanks. Barbara Starr at the Pentagon there.

Tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING, a closer look at the vote on Sunday. Our coverage is entitled "IRAQ: WHAT'S AT STAKE?" Among our many guest, Iraq's ambassador to the U.N. The president of the Council on Foreign Relations Richard Haas is here as well, and the former Iraqi Government Council member Adnan Pachachi, again, tomorrow on AMERICAN MORNING. Our coverage starts, as always, 7:00 a.m. Eastern Time here.

COSTELLO: A bit of health news for you now. Obesity prevention begins at home. That's according to a new study. And it's never too early for kids to get the skinny from their parents.

Sanjay Gupta joins us from the CNN Center with more on this. Good morning.


Really interesting study here, looking at \children of obese parents and children of lean parents. The study coming out of the Children's Hospital of Pennsylvania, trying to figure out is there a link depending on how obese or lean your mother was. What they found specifically, kids with obese mothers by age six 15 times more likely to be overweight and also have double the body fat.

Really interesting, Carol, for lots of different reasons. First of all, a little bit about the study. They followed 70 children along from about age three months to about age six years. What they found was that two years old, the kids were all about the same weight. At four years, the kids whose moms were overweight generally weighed more than the other group. Then at six years, the kids with obese mothers had doubled the amount of body fat.

So what this is telling us is that some of the changes, in terms of obese children, actually start as early as the age of four. So some interventions may be possible then, in terms of trying to keep these kids from becoming overweight adults -- Carol.

COSTELLO: So it sort of sounds like there are such things as fat genes, but couldn't it be that the mom's just passing bad eating habits along to child?

GUPTA: You know, this is an age-old question, sort of the nature versus nurture question. And I'll you this. Based on our research, it really, truly is a combination of both here. There have been some studies actually looking specifically at the genetics versus the nurture as well. What they found is that adopted kids, for example, resemble their genetic parents' weight more than they do their adoptive parents. So there is some genetic component here, as well. But Carol, your point as well. Parents who tend to eat larger portions, have larger amounts of inactivity, also tend to have kids with those same traits.

COSTELLO: So is dad off the hook? It doesn't matter if dad's overweight?

GUPTA: You know, dads don't get off that easy, either, here. You look at obese parents in general, you can sort of predict, again, based on percentages, how likely the child is to become obese. If you have one obese parent, about a 30 percent increased risk in general. That's either mother or father. Both parents would be about a 70 percent risk, Carol.

COSTELLO: So what's a parent to do if they are overweight and they don't want their children to be overweight, what do they do?

GUPTA: Well, you know, there's always new guidelines and new recommendations from the American Academy of Pediatrics. A lot have to do with television and eating, as you might imagine. Limit television watching to one, two hours daily. This makes a difference. No television in the child's room. When you start to coordinate eating and television watching, that becomes a real problem life-long.

Also, no more than one fast food meal a week. Some people think that's too much. And then Carol, you and I talked about some of the more recent guidelines from the Department of Health and Human Services. One hour of exercise a day. That just doesn't happen anymore among a lot children. That needs to happen. Also, limit juice intake. They can be full of sugars, as well as sodas -- Carol.

COSTELLO: Good advice. Thank you, Sanjay.

GUPTA: Thank you, Carol.

HEMMER: Here's some motivation to lose weight. Get fit or lose your job. Andy's back "Minding Your Business" on that story in a moment here.

COSTELLO: Plus a brand new home improvement show with a twist. We'll meet Doug Wilson, host of "Moving Up." Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.


HEMMER: People move on, but can they let go? That's at the heart of a new TV series where people go home again to see what the new owners have done with their place. The series is called "Moving Up." Have look here.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: So we've got three families, three homes, three moves and three very different styles. (END VIDEO CLIP)

HEMMER: There's a preview now. The series premieres Saturday on TLC and the host/designer is Doug Wilson. He's here in New York to talk more about this. Good morning to you.


HEMMER: Concept's what, you buy a home, someone else moves in and then changes it?

WILSON: Yes, we follow people as they move into a new house, redecorate it, and then we bring the old homeowners back in to see the house after it's changed.

HEMMER: So the whole idea is to get the reaction from the homeowners once they come back into the place. Right?

WILSON: Absolutely.

HEMMER: We've got one reaction. A new homeowner comes in and checks out I guess the kitchen, right?


HEMMER: All right, let's look at this, OK?

All right. That's not going to work for television. Because we need picture and sound. Do we have it or not? Let's move on. Give us an idea from what kind of a reaction you're getting from people, once they come back in.

WILSON: Well, the reactions really run the gamut. You know, we have people who come in near tears and crying. And then people come in and just are elated that their house has changed and it's different and somebody else has done something that they wanted to do, but couldn't. So it's fascinating. This show is about choices, design. People have different ways of decorating. And you know, no one is right. It's just different.

HEMMER: The thing I always notice, the reaction. You always find these people in a good mood. It puts a smile on their face, I think, by and large, don't you think?

WILSON: Yes, I guess so. But they're not always in such a good mood. Sometimes when they come in, they're a little upset about what's happened.

HEMMER: What do you -- I guess in a broad -- what explains why these shows have been so darn popular?

WILSON: Well, I think, you know, there's a nesting phase that has happened in the past three or four years that -- you know, things have really taken off. People are spending more times in their homes. They were watching more TV and these shows were on. And people just started to concentrate more on decorating and more on making themselves feel comfortable in their own homes.

HEMMER: The other thing, I think -- there's a Home Depot and a Lowe's on just about every street corner of this country now. It's almost like, if you want to do it, if you have the ambition to go ahead and try it, we're there for you.

WILSON: You know, stores like Home Depot just make it very easy to come in and get help and be able to facilitate the needs of homeowners to do it themselves.

HEMMER: 15-part series. Anything surprise you?

WILSON: Oh, there's lots of surprises. You know, each and every episode. I'm having a ball taking these people through this, you know, journey. So it's a lot of fun. You never know what you're going to get.

HEMMER: Oh, I'm sure about that. I think it's interesting what you said a few moments ago. They're not always happy.

WILSON: No, they're not.

HEMMER: When they come back home.

WILSON: They're not always happy at all.

HEMMER: We'll look for it this weekend. Good to see you, Doug.

WILSON: Good to see you.

HEMMER: Thanks for coming in. Doug Wilson. All right.

HEMMER: Let's get a break here. In a moment, lose weight or lose your job. Andy's got the lowdown on an extreme diet plan. Andy's "Minding Your Business" in a moment here. Back after this.


COSTELLO: Wall street's now open. A check on the early action. Plus, remember the company that was cracking down on employees who smoke? Well, they're at it again. Andy Serwer is "Minding Your Business" this morning.

ANDY SERWER, "FORTUNE" MAGAZINE: Good morning. A new target they have in mind.

Let's talk about Wall Street, first of all, back to its evil ways. Stocks trading lower this morning. See here, down 51 points. Big merger perhaps in the works between two telco giants. SBC reportedly in discussions to buy AT&T. That's right, Ma Bell. SBC is down 1.7 percent. AT&T is up 7 percent. That's the first time that stock's gotten a bump in years. Long time.

Starbucks off a little bit. They announced earnings last night after the bell that were very good, but always slightly below expectations, so there's a little bit of selling there. I think Jack Cafferty talked about this company a couple of days ago, right, Jack?


SERWER: It's Weyco. It's a health insurance company in Michigan, run by gentleman named Harold Wires. He told his employees, quit smoking or quit, leave -- you either stop smoking or you leave the dang company, and he was going to do urine tests, the whole nine yards. Some people declined to take the test.

Now he's got a new group he's looking at, fat folk, obese people. He's saying if you're overweight, I don't really want you working here either. Now, he does acknowledge that fatties, or obese people, or people who are weight-challenged, or whatever you say these days.

COSTELLO: Did he just say fatties?

HEMMER: He said, dang, too.

SERWER: Yes, I did. These people are protected by law. So he acknowledges that there's really nothing he can do. However, he has incentivized his workforce. He's hired a therapist. He's hired weight coaches. And he has a points system where you get $100 bonuses if you lose weight.

CAFFERTY: There you go.

SERWER: And I'm thinking this is great. You know, it's Wednesday, I've to lose three pounds, I'm going to start jogging, going to the steam room. You know, I think it's just going to -- no one is going to work anymore. People are going to drop dead of heart attacks. He doesn't know what he's gotten himself into, I think.

CAFFERTY: It's got to be fun to watch in the months ahead.

HEMMER: I'm thinking we've got the perfect segment for "IN THE MONEY."


HEMMER: Have him on your show.

SERWER: Yes, have him on.

HEMMER: That would be perfect.

CAFFERTY: Thank you. That's a marvelous idea.

HEMMER: You can produce it now, I guess, right?

CAFFERTY: Actually, it's not bad. We got to get him on.

I wonder how he's going to hold up in court on these things, though. My hunch is all this stuff will be challenged and he may lose, I don't know. We'll see.

SERWER: We'll see. CAFFERTY: The Question of Day is about these two kids in Florida, 9 and 10 years old, cops cuffed them, took them to jail and charged them with felonies for drawing violent stick figures of a classmate. Now, apparently they'd been verbally haranguing this kid for a period of time before. But when they saw these drawings, authorities said that's it. The question is, should they have done this, or is it over the top?

Dean in New Jersey writes "No, it was the wrong decision to arrest the two children for their drawings. Art is one of the best tools for peering into the psyche of children. Thus, it's a window best left open."

Joseph in Owa (ph), Connecticut, "Let's not get sidetracked by the stick figures. These little brats were terrorizing that kid, and no kid should have to go through that in order to get an education. It's emotional violence. The scars from that can last a lifetime. I know. I'm a 57-year-old survivor."

And Stan in Champaign, Illinois, "Hell, when I was a little kid, I drew pictures like that of my teachers, the neighbor's dog and the kids that harassed me on the bus." Guess what, I'm 46, nonviolent, never been to jail. Give the little kids a rest. Try to cover some real news for once."

Hey, Stan, take it easy. We work hard here.

HEMMER: Those are really interesting answers today.

CAFFERTY: Yes, it's an interesting topic.

HEMMER: Yes, I guess apparently this verbal abuse had gone on for some time. It wasn't just this particular incident with the drawings.

SERWER: It's the arresting that's such a strong step, though.

HEMMER: What, the handcuffs?

CAFFERTY: How do you charge a 9-year-old with a felony? I mean, isn't there -- aren't there, like, juvenile laws? I don't know, but I mean, it seems like...

COSTELLO: I think in some states they lessen the age where you can charge them with felonies.

HEMMER: Maybe in the state of Florida that's possible.

CAFFERTY: It seems a bit extreme, doesn't it? Nine years old, you stand accused of a level-two felony.

HEMMER: Good answers, though. Thank you, Jack.

Coming up next hour on CNN, looks like any small town, but it may know the losses of war more than any other in this country. How even the daily routine is a harsh reminder of reality. Next hour, Daryn and Rick have that on "CNN LIVE TODAY."

We're back in a moment here, after this.


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