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NTSB Investigates New York Plane Crash; Debating the Minimum Wage; Profiling Kim Jong Il

Aired October 12, 2006 - 20:00   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Good evening, everybody. Glad to have you with us tonight.
Tonight's "Top Story" is the painstaking search, after a fiery crash -- tonight, what we know about the final minutes of a baseball star's fatal flight.

Madman with a bomb, or crazy like a fox? Will it take another nuclear test before the world's diplomats stop talking and take action against Kim Jong Il?

And the "Top Story" in crime tonight: Was it murder? A controversial case could start a national trend in going after drunken drivers who kill.

Our "Top Story" coverage begins right here in New York on a sidewalk still littered with pieces of the private plane that carried New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor -- led to their deaths. Far above, a blackened smear left by smoke and fire stands out.

And, tonight, we have new clues about the plane's flight up New York's East River yesterday afternoon. It was going about 120 miles an hour, before taking a sharp U-turn and smashing into the high-rise.

Our in-depth coverage starts with Allan Chernoff, who spoke to witnesses to Lidle's last moments.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was, like, coming like this, and, then, all of the sudden, do, like, two turns...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Upside down. And, then, it hit the wall -- hit the building. It was unbelievable.

CHERNOFF (voice-over): Eyewitnesses who saw Cory Lidle's small plane just before impact say it was clearly out of control.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The belly -- the belly of the plane like hits the building.

CHERNOFF (on camera): It was the belly of the plane that...


CHERNOFF: ... actually smashed...


CHERNOFF: ... into the -- the building?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Yes. It's not like a head-on collision, like that, straight ahead, you know?

CHERNOFF (voice-over): They also say it looked like the pilot was trying to avoid this taller apartment building across the street from the crash site.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: It was flipping over, like it was trying to dodge the buildings, going between that -- the tall one and the small one.

CHERNOFF: What caused the sudden loss of control? Investigators from the National Transportation Safety Board and other agencies have been combing through the wreckage, both outside the Belaire condominium and inside the apartments that burst into flames, where the engine and propeller landed.

Their initial impression: The engine was delivering power to the propeller at the time of impact, indicating it's unlikely engine failure was the cause.

DEBBIE HERSMAN, NATIONAL TRANSPORTATION SAFETY BOARD MEMBER: Early examination indicates that the propellers were turning.

CHERNOFF: Investigators face a challenge, because, after Cory Lidle's plane took off from New Jersey's Teterboro Airport, there was no contact with air traffic control. Small planes, like the Cirrus SR-20, have no black box or flight data recorder.

(on camera): Given the rules of flying above Manhattan, it's not that difficult to make an educated guess as to exactly what went wrong.

(voice-over): Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Tyler Stanger, were flying north, above the East River. They did not have permission to enter La Guardia Airport's airspace further north, so the plane had to turn around.

Small planes are allowed to fly only above rivers, not above the island of Manhattan. But the plane broke that rule, turning left, bringing it directly above high-rise apartments on the Upper East Side.

HERSMAN: The final radar return shows the airplane in a left turn a quarter-mile north of the building at an altitude of approximately 500 feet.

CHERNOFF: Pilots say it's a tight spot for a U-turn, and banking the plane too sharply could have caused a loss of control and elevation for the aircraft. Indeed, the radar shows the plane dropped 200 feet in a matter of seconds as it made that final turn.


CHERNOFF: Lidle's inexperience could have been a factor here. He had received his pilot's license only this past February, although the NTSB says it does not know -- and it may never know -- whether Lidle or his instructor actually had been at the controls at the time of the crash -- Paula.

ZAHN: Allan Chernoff, thanks so much.

Cory Lidle's death, of course, is tragic, but it's not the first time a pro athlete has indulged in risky business off the field. In fact, it's so common, that sports team protect themselves against it in their contracts with players.

David Mattingly has more on the tendency of major league athletes to push the boundaries of danger.



DAVID MATTINGLY, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): When Cory Lidle got his pilot's license eight months ago, he knew he was flying at his own risk, and, if he got hurt, at risk of losing his multimillion- dollar contract with the Yankees.

More and more, professional sports teams are protecting themselves from risky activities athletes might want to take part in when the game is over.

TODD FRANCE, SPORTS AGENT: You're seeing situations where skydiving, you know, hang gliding, race car driving, all those kinds of things, are in the contracts, to, where if a player does that, and suffers a non-football injury, for example, in football, they have -- the team has a right to come back and get money or hold money back for future moneys that haven't been paid.

MATTINGLY: And, yet, players continue to take risks that could cost them lucrative deals. Major League Baseball prohibits all players from all kinds of activities, ranging from hot air ballooning and jai alai, to bobsledding and spelunking.

The NBA includes fighting, bungee-jumping, and specifically prohibits piloting aircraft. The NFL prohibits any activity that has a significant risk of injury.

(on camera): How much money is really at stake here?

FRANCE: Oh, I mean, the sports business and -- and these players make a ton of money, I mean, depending on who they are. And there's -- there's millions and millions of dollars at stake.

MATTINGLY (voice-over): But that wasn't enough to stop Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who was seriously injured in a motorcycle accident.

While he's still on the payroll, other athletes haven't been so lucky. In 1994, Ron Gant lost his $5.5 million contract with the Atlanta Braves, after breaking a leg in a motorbike accident.

In 2003, Aaron Boone lost most of his $5.7 million contract with the Yankees, after he injured his knee in an off-season basketball game.

But the real question for any highly paid athlete is, why take the risk in the first place? Those who work closely with athletes say they may not be able to stop.

JACK LLEWELLYN, SPORTS PSYCHOLOGIST: I know what the contracts say, but, if I'm an athlete, and -- and I perform at that level, and I'm in off -- off-season in the winter, I -- I may venture out a bit.

MATTINGLY: Sport psychologist Jack Llewellyn says, in spite of warnings and high stakes, normal rules, particularly for top athletes, do not apply.

LLEWELLYN: Number one, to be an athlete at that level, you -- to separate yourself from other people, you -- you -- you basically feel like you're invincible. And -- and they do.

MATTINGLY: And that helps make them winners, willing to take on the odds, even when a fall could be professionally and personally catastrophic.

David Mattingly, CNN, Atlanta.


ZAHN: And joining me now, a "Top Story" panel of people who get to know pro athletes and their risky behavior up close, a couple of top sports agents, Scott Boras, who represents some of baseball's highest-paid players, Leigh Steinberg, who represents football Ben Roethlisberger, and was the inspiration for the movie "Jerry Maguire." Also with tonight, our own CNN Headline News sport anchor Larry Smith.

Welcome to you, all.

So, Leigh, we know that Cory Lidle risked his life every time he piloted that plane of his. Your client obviously took a tremendous risk when he got on a motorcycle without a helmet.

How common is it for pro athletes to take these kind of obvious risks?

LEIGH STEINBERG, SPORTS AGENT: I think it's very common. And I think they're in an age group where the concept of death is a real abstraction, or getting hurt is an abstraction. They know they have fast reflexes.

They are really addicted to the concept of excitement. Now, we counsel them that they have a real obligation, as a team player, to the management, to their coaches, to the fans, to try and protect themselves. But they're in that age group where, often, caution is more of an abstraction, and they feel like they're omnipotent, they will live forever, and -- and danger and risk is the farthest thing from their minds.

ZAHN: So, Scott, what do you say to a multimillion-dollar baseball player, many of whom you represent, who might come to you and say, hey, look, I want to go hang gliding; I -- I want to do extreme skiing?


I -- I think 95 percent, and, certainly, the clientele and the players I played with, the idea of taking risk and doing something to injure their career is not something at all that they would partake in. There are a few athletes who enjoy driving motorcycles or doing something that they view as as -- safe. And that may be -- flying an aircraft is much different than hang gliding or parachuting -- that may be -- as a mode of transportation where you're trained, you're licensed.

I -- I just really don't think that most athletes partake in this, because of the fact that they deal with an equation every day where their career could be lost due to a lack of performance. And I think they appreciate that.

ZAHN: But, Larry, you have seen this kind of behavior, haven't you? And -- and what's the craziest thing one of these high-paid athletes has come to you and said they want to do, that you have said, no -- no way?

LARRY SMITH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, I think that, you know, certainly, I would not want to pilot my own plane on just a few hundred hours of experience.

But skydiving is one thing, too. I think that, also, with these -- some of these athletes who do choose to partake in this, they have enjoyed a -- if you're a pro athlete, you have enjoyed a high level of success probably your entire life. And, so, just as sports has come easy for you, at the same time, taking on some kind of high-risk activity, also, as everyone has mentioned, you feel a bit of invincibility, and that that, too, will come easy to you.

ZAHN: So, Leigh, I -- I saw you wanted to jump in there, because I know you don't entirely agree with what Scott was taking about the managed risks players take.

What is the nuttiest proposal one of your athletes has come to you and pitched, that you said, no way?

STEINBERG: Well, I remember Drew Bledsoe used to do something called helicopter skiing, where they would drop him from a helicopter onto the top of mountains.

And it's -- it's not that athletes don't prize their career. It's just that they, at times, believe that their reflexes are very fast, that the activity they're engaged in, nothing really bad, in driving a motorcycle, is going to happen, because they have got it under control.

And, if you ask them, do they think the activity is risky, what you might think is risky, they might not.

ZAHN: Scott, is there anything that you would think is completely non-negotiable when it came to a hobby one of your players was going to try to take on?

BORAS: Well, I think, you know, in your forward, you brought about the fact that, in baseball, flying an airplane or riding a motorcycle, for most standard uniform player contracts, is not prohibited.

Only in multi-year, salary-guarantee-provision contracts, the club and the player have a right to negotiate really anything that the club may choose to prohibit or the player wants to reserve as a right for his activities.

But, for the most part, I think we're dealing with men here who have really done a lot to get where they are in their careers. And to say that -- that they're going to take and to associate I think matters such as flying an airplane or driving a motorcycle, which are licensed modes of transportation, to associate that with jumping out of an airplane, or -- or some high-risk event, I think those are two different areas that we have to look at.

ZAHN: All right, trio, we have got to leave it there.

Scott Boras, Leigh Steinberg, Larry Smith, thank you, all.


STEINBERG: You're welcome.

ZAHN: Tonight's top international story: North Korea's drive for nuclear weapons. Coming up: how heroin and illegal weapons sales finance North Korea's atomic program.

A little bit later on: the "Top Story" in politics tonight. How many times have members of Congress raised their own salaries since they last raised the minimum wage?


ZAHN: Our "Top Story" coverage moves on to the nuclear crisis with North Korea now.

Tonight, America's U.N. ambassador is still hoping to get the Security Council to pass some tough sanctions against North Korea tomorrow. Meanwhile, opposition comes from China and Russia, concerned about closing the door on diplomacy. It's been four days since North Korea's nuclear test, but, even if the U.N. does approve sanctions, it might not make much of a difference.

For years, North Korea has been finding ways to get around steps the rest of the world has taken to punish it.

And, as Brian Todd reports, it's helped the north pay for its nuclear program.


BRIAN TODD, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): December 2002, U.S. and Spanish forces seize a North Korean freighter in the Indian Ocean -- hidden beneath sacks of cement, Scud missiles, bound for Yemen -- four months later the North Korean vessel Pong Su, intercepted off Australia carrying 150 kilograms of heroin -- windows into a smuggling network that experts say raises hundreds of millions of dollars a year, helping underwrite North Korea's nuclear program.

ASHTON CARTER, FORMER ASSISTANT DEFENSE SECRETARY: They have sold ballistic missiles, we know, to Iran, Pakistan, and marketed them to others. So, they're always trying to find some way to raise hard currency.

TODD: Analysts say, North Korea's primary missile shipping route rammed through the South China Sea, through the ports of Singapore and Dubai, then up to Iran and Pakistan, until Dubai, Singapore and Western navies cracked down.

Now analysts point to smuggling routes across the border into China, then by land or air to the Middle East. But the contraband can also travel under water.

MICHAEL GREEN, FORMER NATIONAL SECURITY COUNCIL MEMBER: The semi-submersibles they use were designed for inserting special operations forces into South Korea and Japan, but they now use them primarily to drop off methamphetamines in the ocean near Japan with homing beacons on them. Then, their counterparts in Japan, often the Yakuza, the gangsters, will come out in shipping boats, pick them up, and then sell them to Japanese kids.

TODD: An official at the Japanese Embassy in Washington says Japanese police have investigated significant shipments of methamphetamine believed to have come from North Korea, and have arrested members of Japanese crime gangs.

Experts say, Kim Jong Il also uses his bureaucratic and military machinery to sell cigarettes, counterfeit American dollars, even fake Viagra, and a ripped-off version of an Asian sexual enhancement concoction called reindeer antler.


TODD: But, so far, no tangible evidence that North Korea has exported any nuclear technology. For the record, Pakistani officials deny ever buying missiles from North Korea.

We pressed an Iranian official at the United Nations on that count. He did not comment. We also called North Korea's mission to the U.N. for response to the charges of smuggling. They did not return our calls -- Paula. ZAHN: Not surprised.

Brian Todd, thanks so much.

And, in just a minute, the bizarre, but fascinating man whose finger is on North Korea's nuclear button. Yes, you know his wardrobe. He wears platform shoes, owns 20,000 movies, and supposedly writes opera, is a scratch golfer. The list goes on and on. Meet some of the Westerners who know him best.

And, then, a little bit later on: the "Top Story" in politics. Why does Congress deserve a bunch of raises, while minimum wage workers don't even get one for nine years?


ZAHN: Continuing our "Top Story" coverage now of the nuclear standoff with North Korea -- the man at the center of it all is the one North Koreans call their Dear Leader.

Kim Jong Il cuts a rather strange figure, to our eyes. He happens to be about 5 feet, 2 inches tall, wears 4-inch lifts tucked into his platform shoes, weighs 175 pounds, and wears some pretty odd suits. He's fond of "James Bond" movies, horror films, and Daffy Duck cartoons.

But he also happens to be a ruthless tyrant who has created a worldwide crisis over his nuclear weapons program. So, is Kim just eccentric, or really a shrewd player who knows how to manipulate the rest of the world?

Let's take that to a "Top Story" panel right now: Dr. Jerrold Post, a psychiatrist who worked for the CIA for 21 years, profiling foreign leaders for top officials, including the president; Representative Curt Weldon, a Pennsylvania Republican who is vice- chairman of the Armed Services Committee, and has made several trips to North Korea; and Balbina Hwang, a native of Korea who's a senior analyst with the Heritage Foundation.

Glad to have all of you with us.

Representative Weldon, do you think people underestimate what Kim Jong Il is all about, and are too quick to write him off as insane?

REP. CURT WELDON (R), PENNSYLVANIA: Well, I think we don't really understand him fully.

I think Dr. Post has done one of the best analyses of him, which I have read. But he's a man who has created a country that's like a cocoon, where everyone inside that nation is totally loyal to him and is extremely fearful of saying anything publicly against him or his father, who -- who was known as the Great Leader.

In my trips to North Korea -- and I have spent seven days there -- it's amazing to see this country and the way people are held in place in basically total isolation from the rest of the world. And his devotion to the arts is amazing. I visited the movie studio complex that he personally directs. And their back lot is as good as the Universal Studios back lot.

And that's where they produce all the films and videos, the propaganda that helps to keep the people in line.

ZAHN: So, Dr. Post, once you take into account everything Representative Weldon has just said, and you try to look beyond the rather peculiar shoes and the -- the gravity-defying hair, what is it that you think that we should really be fearful of here?

JERROLD POST, AUTHOR, "LEADERS AND THEIR FOLLOWERS IN A DANGEROUS WORLD": Well, this is a man who takes a great deal of pride in standing up to the entire world.

And we must remember that, whenever he is insecure -- and he's insecure, really, all the time -- his way of compensating for that is to get grander, more threatening, more belligerent.

I'm very struck -- and several of the comments that Congressman Weldon has made, I -- I very much agree with. I almost see him as being influenced, in fact, by some of these movies. Twenty thousand videos in his collection, and it's as if he's almost playing a role for the world, and playing to his people: I have the courage to stand up to the entire world.

ZAHN: Dr. Post, what is it about his eccentricities that intrigues you the most, and -- and what they reveal to us about his style of leadership and the power he's trying to maintain hold of?

POST: Well, let me mention a couple of items.

He has every grain of rice he eats personally inspected. Any slight flaw, and it's discarded. As he's asking his countrymen -- and this is a cocoon-like environment -- for sacrifice, he has this very hedonistic lifestyle. According to Hennessy fine spirits company, he spent between $650,000 and $800,000 a year for the decade 1989 to 1999, while the average North Korean in this starving country is earning between $900 and $1,000 a year.

There's no empathy for his followers. He's totally consumed with his own survival and that of his cronies.

ZAHN: And, Balbina, I know you have some very strong feelings that -- that this image that we make so much of, when -- when we see this guy in pictures, is very -- a very highly calculated image.

In what way, and what is he trying to distract us from?


There is no way that he would have been able to maintain this cocoon, this -- this, actually, rather successful regime -- despite the fact, of course, that it is completely a failed economy, that most countries in the world would not consider this a successful regime -- but the fact that he's still able to maintain power.

His immorality, depravity, all of these things does not make him a lunatic or crazy. He is, in fact, quite a rational actor.

ZAHN: And that, I guess, is what has everybody so terrified.

Jerrold Post, Representative Curt Weldon, Balbina Hwang, thank you for all of your viewpoints tonight.

And we're going to return to our "Top Story" coverage in just a minute.

First, we go to Melissa Long in our Pipeline studio for our nightly countdown.

Hi, Melissa.


More than 22 million people went to the Web site today.

And a story about the race for the White House is number 10. Former Virginia Governor Mark Warner says he's bowing out of the 2008 race. He says he wants a -- quote -- "real life," and would like to spend more time with family.

Story number nine takes you to London tonight: A British man has pleaded guilty to plotting to bomb high-profile targets in the U.S., including the International Monetary Fund in Washington and the New York Stock Exchange.

And story eight is about an instructor at the University of Wisconsin. He's coming under fire for writing an essay that likens President Bush and his administration to Hitler and the Nazis -- Paula.

ZAHN: Melissa, we're going to be back to you in just a little bit.

We move on now to one of the hottest issues in the campaign. It's tonight's "Top Story" in politics: Could you get by on the minimum wage? We're going to see what that looks like in just a moment.

And, then, I will be highly be asking Lou Dobbs why Congress deserve raises, but minimum-wage workers apparently don't.


ZAHN: Our "Top Story" in politics now: what critics are calling the do-nothing Congress. Less than two weeks ago, Congress adjourned once again, without raising the minimum wage.

Now, they meanwhile have raised their own pay by more than $30,000 in the last decade, and they may do it again right after the elections. But the minimum wage remains at $5.15 per hour. How is that affecting low-wage workers? Well, we sent Ed Lavandera to find out.


PAM HARRIS, WAITRESS: It's just nonstop. Sometimes you'll be covering two stations.

You all set for right now? Okey-dokey.

ED LAVANDERA, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): The job requirements include a good memory.

HARRIS: Potatoes, corn and soup. I need a salad.

LAVANDERA: Basic computer skills and a strong ability to multitask.

HARRIS: Not too sweet. Who has pork chops?

LAVANDERA: Long hours on your feet too, but mostly...


HARRIS: You all set for now? Okey-dokey.

LAVANDERA: ... public relations.

HARRIS: You all doing OK today? You all are just becoming regulars on Sunday, huh?

What do you want to drink, baby girl?

LAVANDERA: Pam Harris used to work in home health care, but said it was too emotionally taxing. Now she's a waitress, working for minimum wage. Under federal guidelines for a waitress in Dallas, that means you start at $2.13 an hour plus tips.

This is what she got for two day's work one week that included a couple of sick days.

HARRIS: $39.83.

LAVANDERA: Pam Harris is helping to support her children and grandchildren. On a busy day like today, she can add up to $80 in tips.

HARRIS: Yesterday, I only made $35. Some days it's chicken, some days it's feathers. You just never know. You never know.

LAVANDERA: All told, Pam Harris made about $17,000 last year. She was hoping Congress would get her a raise, but the lawmakers didn't come through.

Those who oppose raising the minimum wage say it would have a ripple effect on all wages, discouraging employers from hiring, hurting rather than helping low-income workers.

Martin Regalia is an economist with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce representing large and small businesses across the country.

MARTIN REGALIA, ECONOMIST: It tends to cause a job loss, especially among people that are less likely to find alternative work. So what happens is if you get the raise, it's great, but many people end up without a job because the minimum wage priced them out of the market.

LAVANDERA: But try explaining that to Pam Harris and the nearly 2 million workers like her in America who are paying more for fuel, heating, and health care. With only one car in the family, she relies on walking and the bus to get home from work. And even that costs money.

Pam has no health insurance. Her power has been cut off at least once over the last six months because she was late paying her bill. She pools her resources with that of her three grown children for rides, emotional support, and even food.

HARRIS: My bus broke down. That was my youngest son. He's going to bring me dinner.

LAVANDERA: Pam watches two of her young grandchildren most nights, so her daughter can work her own minimum wage retail job.

HARRIS: Tell you what, this is very true right here.

LAVANDERA: Pam and her family are moving out of this apartment they can no longer afford, so they're moving to a cheaper rental property owned by a friend.

HARRIS: I'm getting up and going to work. Hey, darling.

LAVANDERA: Pam says as long as she has a job to go to, she'll find a way to smile.

HARRIS: You all have a good day, OK? I'll see you all next Sunday.

LAVANDERA: After all, that's a job requirement, too.

Ed Lavandera, CNN, Dallas.


ZAHN: And recently I spoke with my colleague Lou Dobbs, who is absolutely outraged about the stagnant minimum wage. His latest book is called "The War on the Middle Class and How to Fight Back." So I asked Lou how the waitress we just met can fight back when some warned that paying her more might ultimately cost her her job.


LOU DOBBS, HOST, "LOU DOBBS TONIGHT": We're a society right now, Paula, that's gripped by fear and fear mongers. The fact that a woman working as hard as she is, her family working that hard, and the millions of Americans all across the country in the same situation has to fear the lying economists who will say something like if we raise your wages, this economy is going to move backwards.

You know, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce economist saying that is not looking at the 10 states that have raised the minimum wage above the federal level. In each instance, that economy is doing better. And the idea that the U.S. Chamber of Commerce is supporting illegal immigration and trying to drive down wages at the lowest end of the wage scale in this country and succeeding, that's something that the Chamber of Commerce ought to apologize to every American for.

ZAHN: Let's come back to the challenges of the small business owner, and I've talked to these folks...

DOBBS: Sure.

ZAHN: ... as have you. And they say if you add an additional $2 an hour onto the minimum wage, I'm going to have to cut jobs. I can't make money.

DOBBS: Let me talk straight to you about this. Very simple economic issue. Why is it that business owners, large and small, will say to you don't raise our taxes because you're really not taxing us, we'll just pass that onto to consumer? But if you talk about raising the wages of employees, working men and women in this country, and you don't think they would pass that onto the consumer? And you don't believe that if everyone had a higher wage, they would have the capacity to buy more products and services and make this economy stronger?

ZAHN: But they are telling us they're at the breaking point. There's a point at which the consumer won't pay.

DOBBS: They can tell you whatever they want. These idiots at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are the same fools who are trying to sell America on the idea that 7 million illegal aliens, or 12 or 20, will pay for Social Security for baby boomers. It is an outright lie. It is upside down reasoning. It's propaganda. And it's time to cut to the truth.

The idea that you can't raise a family in this country because someone in Congress won't raise the minimum wage is an outrage. Eight times Congress has raised its wages, its own wages, in the past decade and has refused to raise the minimum wage.

ZAHN: But who do you think is the middle class's biggest enemy?

DOBBS: The biggest enemy?

ZAHN: You think both parties are guilty of selling out the middle class.

DOBBS: No, I don't think so. I know so. And the fact that we are not being honest about the fact that the Republican and Democratic parties are bought and paid for by corporate America, spending over $2 billion a year on lobbying -- corporate America owns the legislative process, they own the electoral process in this country. I mean, that is disgusting, it's un-American, and we've got to turn it around. ZAHN: Does the middle class bear any responsibility for where it sits today? They're the ones, after all, all of America, that have elected these folks. Eighty-three percent of all Americans think the minimum wage should be raised. It hasn't. So where's the disconnect here?

DOBBS: And three-quarters of the population believe that we secure our borders and our ports, and we spend 30 billion in taxes for a Homeland Security Department that can't even do that.

I mean, the disconnects go on and on. We've never been in a greater disconnect.

The middle class in this country has no representation in Washington. They have only the sham that's being perpetuated. It's one of the reasons I want people to register as independents. Whether they're going to vote Republican or Democrat, but register as an independent and make your statement, that you're not going to be taken for granted. And get involved in your local community, your neighborhood, and bring participatory democracy back.

ZAHN: We're going to leave it there tonight. Thanks for dropping by.

DOBBS: Good to be with you, Paula.

ZAHN: Good luck with the book. Take care. Lou Dobbs.


ZAHN: And if you want to hear more from Lou, next week he will be in Kansas City for a one-hour special event, "War on the Middle Class." That's Lou Dobbs again, at 7:00 p.m. Eastern.

Our top story coverage continues in just a moment. Right now, Melissa Long has more of our countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: Paula, former President Gerald Ford is being cared for tonight at the Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage, California. His spokeswoman says he's there for some testing and is doing well. Mr. Ford is 93.

Story six in the countdown, about a new study showing changes in the Earth's orbit. They say they could be the reason that certain animals became extinct. Dutch scientists say the changes may have brought on cooling periods that led to extinction.

Story five, Republican Representative Chris Shays of Connecticut is defending House Speaker Dennis Hastert's handling of the Mark Foley scandal. Shays says at least no one died, like in the 1969 Chappaquiddick incident involving Senator Ted Kennedy. Shays made those remarks during an interview with a Hartford newspaper, Paula.

ZAHN: All right, Melissa. See you in a little bit. Thank you.

Tonight's top crime story has some unbelievable and heartbreaking pictures. A head-on car crash caused by a drunken driver. Coming up, are prosecutors going too far by charging him with murder?

And a little bit later on top story in entertainment, one of Hollywood's most notorious drunk drivers is trying to talk his way back into everyone's good graces. Should we forgive Mel Gibson?


ZAHN: Now, on to our top story.

Outside the law. A controversial new trend, charging drunk drivers in fatal accidents with murder, not manslaughter, nor vehicular homicide, but actual murder. Well today, A New York jury continued to deliberate. One heartbreaking example, the trial of a drunk driver for the death of a little girl, whose life ended in a blinding moment, all captured on video. As you watch Carol Costello's report, keep in mind it's one example of the grief and loss caused by drunk drivers every single day in this country.


CAROL COSTELLO, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): As the flower girl at her aunt's wedding, Katie Flynn was having a blast. She was the adorable center of attention in her daddy's arms for what would be their last dance.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: She said to me, her exact words, this is the best day of my life, daddy.

COSTELLO: Her life ended violently at 2:45 a.m. in a limousine her dad had hired to get them home safely. A dashboard camera catches what prosecutors call "a two-ton missile" hurdling down a Long Island highway, going the wrong way.

Five family members suffered terrible injuries. Katie died instantly.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: As I crawled out of the car, the only thing that was left of Kate was her head, and I took her -- just that and sat on the side of the Meadowbrook and watched the horrendousness going on around me.

COSTELLO: Also killed, the limo driver, Stanley Rabinowitz (ph). Prosecutors says the man who plowed into that limo was flat out drunk. He'd had 20 drinks, his blood alcohol level was a .28, three times the legal limit.

(on camera): Normally they would have charged him with vehicular manslaughter, but the specter of that dead child haunted the D.A. This time, this drunk driver would be charged with murder.

(voice-over): Prosecutor Kathleen Rice:

KATHLEEN RICE, PROSECUTOR: We're not talking about a fender bender, we're not talking about someone who failed to use their signal before they made a turn, we're talking about someone who propelled a two-ton missile the wrong way down the Meadowbrook Parkway. It's inevitable that he was going to kill someone.

COSTELLO: Proving a drunk driver is a deliberate killer is not easy. In this case, prosecutors tried to convince the jury that the driver, 25 year-old Martin Heidgen knew he was on the wrong side of the road that night, and didn't care who he hit with his truck.

COSTELLO: If I'm drunk out of my mind, I mean can I really realize what I'm doing?

RICE: You make the choice when you say I am going to drink and I'm going to keep drinking and I'm going to keep drinking, and I'm going to get behind the wheel of a car. At that point, when you're behind the wheel of the car, your actions say, I don't care about any other life on the road.

COSTELLO: But Heidgen's attorney, Stephen LaMagna, told the jury his client did care, and wants to take responsibility for what was a horrible, tragic accident.

STEPHEN LAMAGNA, ATTORNEY: It was because of the district attorney's position in charging murder in a case like this that prevented any ability for us to take responsibility.

COSTELLO: But that is not enough for the man who watched his wife cradle their dead daughter.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I smelled smoke and I tasted blood and I heard my wife screaming Neil, Katie's dead. Even if he gets the maximum, it's not enough. I want him dead. There's no doubt about it. If I could get my hands on him, I'd kill him.

COSTELLO: If the jury finds the man who killed Katie Flynn guilty, the maximum sentence would be 25 years to life.

Carol Costello, CNN, Mineola, New York.


ZAHN: And that is just one terrible tragedy.

Take a look at these shocking statistics. The National Transportation Safety Board says three in every ten of us will be involved in an alcohol-related crash at sometime in our life. Alcohol is a factor in 39 percent of all motor vehicle fatalities. And the number of alcohol-related deaths has increased to nearly 17,000 a year.

So do drunk drivers deserve to be charged with murder? Let's ask our top story panel, senior legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin, former prosecutor and "Court TV" correspondent Beth Karas, and Glynn Birch, National President of Mother Against Drunk Driving, who lost his 21 month-old son to a drunk driver.

Welcome all. Is this an extreme case, or is this really a sign of things to come? JEFFREY TOOBIN, SENIOR LEGAL ANALYST: Well, this is happening more and more. Drunk driving is one of those crimes that society didn't used to take seriously, but thanks to the effort, I think largely of Mothers Against Drunk Driving, society is more and more outraged, and you get a case as appalling as this one, and given the definition of murder, I can see why prosecutors did this. And I can see why they might get a conviction.

ZAHN: Might get a conviction. And that's the salient fact here. Beth, is there a strategy here, though, that instead of going for manslaughter and backing into drunk driving you start there, and work the deal the other way around?

BETH KARAS, "COURT TV" CORRESPONDENT: I think it's likely what the prosecution did was look at all these facts. And one thing stacked on top of another justified bringing second degree murder charges. This depraved indifference against human life theory is like recklessness to the tenth degree. Going the wrong way on a highway, drinking as excessively as he did, speeding, and then there's a security camera on the dash of the limousine that showed his pickup truck heading straight for the limousine, and a witness testified before him that he was basically playing chicken with the drunk driver as well. So it seemed -- all those factors together...

TOOBIN: Another witness said that he -- other drivers flashed their lights at this guy to try to get him to slow down. So, you know, he was warned. This seems like almost the perfect case for taking what is normally a manslaughter case, you know, unintentional murder, and turning it into second degree murder, which is intentional murder.

ZAHN: And Glynn, we mentioned that you lost your own 21 month- old son to drunk drivers. Do you think that when potentially drunk drivers out there hear this story tonight, this will be a deterrent to them, to stop drinking and driving, if they know they could potentially face a murder charge?

GLYNN BIRCH, MADD PRESIDENT: Well, first of all, my heart goes out to the family. I don't know if I would have been able to watch the videotape as that crash happened, having lost a son 18 years ago. You know, first of all, drunk driving is not an accident. It's a crash. The drunk driver had a choice. The victim doesn't. So we have to send a message out for deterrence that this is not going to be tolerated anymore. A strong message has to be sent out.

ZAHN: Do you think it's really going to make a big difference to people out there, who routinely drink and drive?

BIRCH: Well, first of all, you have to take each case on an individual basis. We feel that the prosecutor has the expertise to try this case. So on behalf of the family and the prosecutor, in respect for them, we're going to go with what their expertise says on how they feel the sentence should be made.

And let me tell you this. There's no amount of time that will be enough. After 18 years of being without my son, having lost him because of a crash by a drunk driver, there's no time that's going to be enough.

TOOBIN: This isn't a legal change in the society, this is a social change. The whole attitude about drinking and driving has changed. The notion of designated drivers, again Mothers Against Drunk Driving is instrumental in that. I mean, those kind of things never used to happen ten, 20 years ago. And the increased punishment for drunk driving, as this case illustrates, is just another. The society is changing, not fast enough, obviously, but...

ZAHN: And, of course, we have to see how many of these cases actually led to a conviction.


ZAHN: Unfortunately I've got to leave it there, trio. We got to move on.

Glenn Birch, thank you for your time. Beth Karas, Jeffrey Toobin, appreciate it.

More of our "Top Story" coverage. First, though, let's back to Melissa quickly for the rest of our countdown -- Melissa.

LONG: Paula, a father is behind bars in Florida tonight, accused of keeping his son locked up for some three years. This story, number four on the list.

Randall Pearcey (ph) is being held on one million dollars' bond tonight. Jacksonville authorities say Pearcey watched his 9-year-old son on a surveillance camera.

Story three, there are some reports of a scuffle on the set of television's number one show, "Gray's Anatomy," an argument between the actors Isaiah Washington and Patrick Dempsey got physical. Representatives for the actors say the two have made amends. They have made up, Paula.

ZAHN: Well, I hope so, but I guess we won't see any of that fighting on camera, will we?

LONG: No, no, no.

ZAHN: Melissa, thanks.

Tonight's top story in entertainment also involves drinking and driving. Mel Gibson's really very anxious for us to know that he's sorry. But coming up, what may be the ulterior motive behind his sudden and very public remorse.


ZAHN: Tonight's top story in entertainment also focuses on the effects of drunk driving, and it's generating an awful lot of buzz tonight. More than two months ago, Mel Gibson was arrested for driving under the influence in Malibu, California, after a binge that ended with an anti-Semitic and potentially career-ending tirade with police.

Well, today Gibson finally broke his silence as part of a P.R. campaign to promote his brand new film and try to rehabilitate his image. Here's Brook Anderson with our top story in entertainment.


MEL GIBSON, ACTOR: And I try not to have it manifest itself, you know? You try and keep a lock on it.

BROOK ANDERSON, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): That was Mel Gibson coming clean to Diane Sawyer on ABC for the very first time since his drunk driving arrest and anti-Semitic tirade in late July.

And though Gibson may have self-admitted issues with anger, it was his nervous, fidgety energy and visible embarrassment that stood out. No wonder with admissions like these.

GIBSON: Alcohol is used to kill pain, and there is no excuse, by the way. It's not a good enough excuse.

ANDERSON: The timing for his exclusive sit-down with Sawyer is no mistake. The 50-year-old actor/director's televised apology comes just two months before "Apocalypto," his new film about the decline of the Mayan kingdom, is scheduled to hit theaters.

Hollywood publicist Harold Bragman believes it's a well orchestrated effort by Gibson to repair his public image, a campaign some Web sites have labelled Gibson's redemption tour.

HOWARD BRAGMAN, FIFTEENMINUTES.COM: It's what we call catharsis in your business. You have your big screwup, you give it a little time, and then you say, well, am I going to go to Diane or am I going to go to Oprah or who's going to get the first one?

ANDERSON: Visibly uncomfortable in the interview, Gibson directly addressed his anti-Semitic remarks, which included "f***ing Jews, the Jews are responsible for all the wars in the world."

GIBSON: It sounds horrible, and I'm ashamed of that. That came out of my mouth. And I'm not that. That's not who I am, you know. Alcohol loosens your tongue, and makes you act, say, and behave in a way that is not you.

ANDERSON: While this act of contrition goes to the core of Gibson's Christian beliefs and is part of alcohol recovery programs, is it enough?

The true test of the public's reaction will come when "Apocalypto" is released December 8th.

Brook Anderson, CNN, Hollywood.


ZAHN: And he had something else to add. He says he thinks the entire episode was in fact a blessing, a public humiliation he needed to break his alcohol habit.

Let's get straight back to Melissa as she wraps up our countdown tonight -- Melissa?

LONG: Paula, before dawn this morning, 10 days after the Amish school shootings, the building where the five girls were killed was demolished. Members of the Amish community say the site will be turned into pasture.

And story one, the top story this hour, readers want to know the very latest on the investigation into the plane crash that killed New York Yankees pitcher Cory Lidle and his flight instructor, Paula.

ZAHN: Melissa, thanks so much.

We're minutes away from the top of the hour, and "LARRY KING LIVE" tonight, how the Foley scandal is hurting the GOP and whether there's any room at all for gays in the Republican Party. We'll be right back.


ZAHN: We've got some brand new pictures we wanted to share with you. Yeah, you're looking at what you think you are. Cameras caught President Bush and U2 lead singer Bono walking together on Air Force One in Chicago. Bono apparently arrived there this afternoon, noticed Air Force One and arranged the meeting. Hey, pres, give me a ride. I don't think it works that way very often.

That wraps it up for all of us here tonight. Thanks so much for joining us. We'll be back same time, same place tomorrow night as we wrap up the week. Until then, have a great night. "LARRY KING LIVE" starts right now.


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