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AMERICAN MORNING

Missing Climbers; Laura Bush: Skin Cancer; Dwindling Support; Serial Killing Suspects; School Bus Pile-up; Search Odds Narrow; Iraq Violence Up

Aired December 19, 2006 - 06:00   ET

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


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Breaking news. Police in England arrest a second suspect early this morning in that serial killer case.
JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Rescuers bring the body of a climber and reveal new information about what may have stranded him on top of Mount Hood.

O'BRIEN: Skin cancer scare. The White House now says the first lady had a malignant tumor removed. It happened just after Election Day.

ROBERTS: And new this morning, small cars, big risks. The first- ever crash test results on those popular micro rides on AMERICAN MORNING.

O'BRIEN: Good morning. Welcome, everybody. It is Tuesday, December 19th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

ROBERTS: And I'm John Roberts in for Miles O'Brien this morning.

I don't know if you ever think about it, but when I see those little mini coopers riding on the street beside an Escalade, and I think what would happen if the two of them tried to mate. It would be ugly.

O'BRIEN: Yes, they're tiny and I have way to many children to get into one of those.

ROBERTS: Yes. Well, we got those crash test results coming up. Very interesting stuff this morning.

O'BRIEN: It is scary stuff.

Let's begin this morning, though, on Mount Hood where rescue crews have finally recovered the body of the Dallas architect Kelly James. The race now is on though to beat more stormy weather that's on the way. They're trying to still find James' climbing companions. We'll take you live to Oregon now. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence.

Good morning, Chris.

CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, Soledad.

This is probably going to be the last full, clear day for a while now. So the search crews are really trying to beat the clock, so to speak. And even though they're still trying and hoping to find these two missing climbers alive, the rescue effort is definitely scaling back from what it was.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE, (voice over): The small window of calm, clear weather around Mount Hood is closing and with it high hopes for finding two climbers alive.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: The prayers that are with us, they need to be even stronger now.

LAWRENCE: Family members say Kelly James, Brian Hall and Nikko Cooke were united by their love of climbing.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: And the bond forged between them will last throughout eternity. We hold out hope today for Brian and Nikko's safe return.

LAWRENCE: It's too dangerous for ground crews to get near the top of Elliot glacier, where avalanches have dumped 10 feet of new snow.

SHERIFF JOE WAMPLER, HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OREGON: If that's where they're at, I think we've got some real problems.

LAWRENCE: Rescue teams ow believe the climbers summited the mountain Friday but think James had a severe arm injury. All three dug out a snow cave and huddled together. The next morning Hall and Cooke went for help, but blinding wind and snow stopped them and they anchored down north of James' cave. What happened next, authorities might never know.

WAMPLER: It is going to rain and snow some more. I think that's going to drive us out of the woods.

LAWRENCE: It's been nearly two weeks since the men started their climb. At this point, the sheriff says exposure and altitude would be debilitating.

WAMPLER: If they didn't get into a hole somewhere, no, I -- we may be actually beyond.

LAWRENCE: His voice trails off, like the footprints leading it the remaining two climbers.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

LAWRENCE: And no matter which way this turns out, it has sparked some talk, at least, of possible legislative action. Some wondering if perhaps in the future restrictions might be placed on the mountain, in much the same way that the beach is closed to swimmers and surfers when it just gets too dangerous.

Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence for us this morning.

Thank you, Chris, for the update.

In just a few minutes we're going to talk to a couple of rescuers, including one who found Kelly James' body and helped bring it down the mountain. We're going to talk about the rescue attempts that are going to continue today as well.

John.

ROBERTS: The White House revealed late last night that First Lady Laura Bush is recovering from skin cancer surgery. She had a malignant skin cancer tumor, a squamous cell carcinoma, removed from her shin last month. CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is at the White House with more.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Well, officials I spoke to at the White House in the first lady's office say that it was just before Election Day a reporter noticed a band aid on the right shin on the first lady on her leg and asked about it. At the time, the press secretary, Susan Whitson, saying it was a sore. But then Whitson also said that it was a sore that was not going away.

Because that was the situation, the first lady had a biopsy. It was then discovered that, in fact, it was a cancerous, a malignant tumor, the second most common form of skin cancer. And then that is why shortly after Election Day there was a procedure that was done, that tumor removed. She was under a local anesthetic. The White House, as well as the press secretary and the first lady calling this a little procedure, surgical procedure, no big deal. That the first lady detected it early and treated it early.

Now this procedure was not disclosed until Monday evening. That is because another reporter, again, saw a band aid on the right shin of the first lady at a Hanukkah party and asked about it and that is when the first lady's office decided they would go ahead, disclose this information. They say it is something that was a private matter and they also make the point of saying that it has not disrupted the first lady's schedule and, in fact, she is feeling fine.

Suzanne Malveaux, CNN, Washington.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

O'BRIEN: In the fight for Iraq, a reported split over the idea of sending in a surge of 30,000 troops more or less. This morning's "Washington Post" is reporting that the Joint Chief's of Staff is against the move because it could create more targets for insurgent attacks. Another possible drawback, that Shiite militias could keep a low profile while the extra troops are there, only to reemerge after those troops leave.

Meanwhile, a new Pentagon report shows that violence in Iraq, that it's most intense in years. The average number of attacks per week is up 22 percent from 800 to nearly 1,000 every week over the last three month. That's the highest it's been since June of 2004. The Pentagon report also calls Baghdad and the Anbar province the most volatile areas.

The war in Iraq is on the top of the agenda for Robert Gates who begins his first full day today as secretary of defense. At a swearing in ceremony at the Pentagon, he warned of the dangers of failure.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

ROBERT GATES, DEFENSE SECRETARY: All of us want to find a way to bring America's sons and daughters home again. But as the president has made clear, we simply cannot afford to fail in the Middle East. Failure in Iraq at this juncture would be a calamity that would haunt our nation, impair our credibility and endanger Americans for decades to come.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

O'BRIEN: New poll numbers show support for the war is eroding. Only 31 percent of Americans support it. A new low in a CNN poll that was conducted by the Opinion Research Corporation. Senior political analyst Bill Schneider has our report this morning.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Last month, the voters' message on Iraq was loud and clear. Now it's louder and clearer. Only 28 percent of Americans approve of the way President Bush is handling Iraq. This approval has reached 70 percent. What are the options in Iraq? There are four. One is withdrawal immediately. Just 21 percent of Americans support that. The Iraq Study Group recommended withdrawing by the end of next year. Thirty-three percent favor that. Together, a majority of Americans favor withdrawing within a year.

President Bush says the U.S. should take as long as necessary to turn control over to the Iraqis. Thirty-two percent of Americans agree. That number has been dropping. And Senator McCain's option, send more troops? That has the least support of all -- 11 percent.

All the alternatives to President Bush's policy have been gaining support. The message is, do something different.

Bill Schneider, CNN, Los Angeles.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Breaking news out of England this morning. A second suspect is under arrest in the murders of five women in Ipswich. Police are still holding another man, a former police officer, arrested on Monday. CNN's Alphonso van Marsh is live in Ipswich. He joins us now with the latest.

Good morning to you, Alphonso. ALPHONSO VAN MARSH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

As you mentioned, a second startling revelation in as little as 24 hours. We're hearing this morning that a lead investigator in Suffolk County, Suffolk County Police, gathering journalists. Here's what he had to say about developments in this investigation.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

STEWART GULL, DETECTIVE CHIEF SUPERINTENDENT: A second man has now been arrested by detectives investigating the murder of five women in Suffolk. The 48-year-old man was arrested at his home address in Ipswich at approximately 5:00 a.m. this morning, Tuesday, the 19th of December, 2006. He has been arrested on suspicion of murdering all five women, Gemma Adams, Tania Nicol, Anneli Alderton, Paula Clennell and Annette Nicholls.

(END VIDEO CLIP)

VAN MARSH: Now he's referring to those five Ipswich area women, five known prostitutes, who actually were working the street not too far from where I'm standing in the red light district here in Ipswich. Now where we are is the location that we believe that that second suspect that police have not mentioned by name, but we do understand that police did impound a vehicle, took a vehicle from a property down the street where we believe that second suspect lived.

Now this development comes a little over 24 hours after police announced the arrest of a first suspect in this case. Now they also have not named that person. But we do understand that he's a 37-year- old Tom Stephens, a supermarket worker, who admitted it to the local press, talking to some of the local newspapers, that he did have a relationship with these prostitutes and he was taken into custody yesterday. It will be very interesting to see what possible connection there could be between these two suspects and where police are heading from here in solving this serial killer.

ROBERTS: Alphonso, as you suggested, this first man claimed to have some sort of a relationship it one or two of the women. Are police indicating that this second suspect had any similar connections?

VAN MARSH: No, they're not. But what is interesting about this first suspect was his willingness to actually talk to the police, to talk to the press about himself. In fact, he even has a profile at myspace.com where he's talking about his living here, he's talking about that he's not much of a television watcher, talking about how he worked at a local grocery store. With local press he was talking about he felt like he was a garden for these missing women who later turned up dead. Even admitting that he didn't necessarily have an alibi for when some of these prostitutes went missing. And now, as we understand, he's in police custody.

ROBERTS: All right. Alphonso van Marsh with the latest from Ipswich.

Thanks very much, Alphonso. Appreciate it.

Soledad.

S. O'BRIEN: Back to school this morning after a scary school bus ride accident outside of Memphis. More than 50 students were hurt when four buses collided in Germantown, Tennessee. Police say a student driver stopped short while he was making a turn in front of the buses. Tealy Devereaux of our Memphis affiliate, which is WHBQ, has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

TEALY DEVEREAUX, CNN CORRESPONDENT: More than 50 student went to Memphis-area hospitals instead of home after school Monday afternoon. They were involved in a four-bus pile-up around the corner from their school, Germantown High. The accident shut down a busy intersection for hours as emergency crews from surrounding areas rushed in and out to get kids to the hospital.

Injuries, say police and firefighters on the scene, range from chipped teeth, busted lips, to sore necks and hips. No life- threatening injuries were reported, though. A big relief to parents who rushed to the accident area as soon as they heard about it from school administrators.

Police say a preliminary investigation shows a chain reaction. Two of the buses and the car involved stopped short when the car in front of everyone went to turn.

Now, right now Germantown police, who are heading the investigation, say they plan to hand out three citations, two to school bus drivers and one to that student driver.

Tealy Devereaux reporting from Memphis.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Snow today in the forecast for a White Christmas in some parts of the country straight ahead. Chad is going to tell us more.

Plus, a closer look at just where rescuers will be today when they resume their desperate search for two missing climbers on Mount Hood. We'll talk to the rescue team live.

And they're easy to park, easy on the gas, but how do small cars stand up in crash tests? New results are out this morning on the safest subcompacts and the ones that didn't do so well, ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: New information this morning on the safety of those popular subcompact and mini cars. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety just released its review of the smallest cars sold in the United States. The 2007 Nissan Versa did the best in both side and rear crash tests. The Mini Cooper, the popular Mini Cooper, was rated most acceptable. Four cars got the lowest rating, poor or marginal. They were the 2007 Toyota Yaris, without side airbags, the 2006 Scion xB and 2007 Hyundai Accent and the 2007 Kia Rio. So there you go. That's what you wanted to be in if you tangle with an SUV one of these days.

Fifteen minutes after the hour. Chad Myers at the CNN Weather Center now with the traveler's forecast.

How we looking, Chad?

(WEATHER REPORT)

O'BRIEN: Searchers on Mount Hood today are trying to beat the stormy weather that's moving in. They continue to search for two missing climbers, Jerry Cooke and Brian Hall. The body of Kelly James was brought down from the mountain late on Monday. Staff Sergeant Joshua Johnston of the U.S. Air Force Reserve was among those who found James' body on Sunday. He joins us this morning from Hood River in Oregon with the very latest on the search.

Sergeant Johnston, thanks for talking with us. We certainly appreciate it.

Why don't you begin by telling me a little bit about the discovery of Kelly James' body? What did you notice? What kind of clues were you looking for that might actually end up helping give information about the other climbers as well?

STAFF SGT. JOSHUA JOHNSTON, U.S. AIR FORCE RESERVE: Well, we actually discovered Kelly's cave by some footprint that were leading down in one direction off of the summit of Mount Hood. And then there was a snow cave. The original snow cave that we found the day prior. And what we were doing was just connecting the footprints that we found earlier to the snow cave where the gear was. And we kind of just connected those two and that's where Kelly's cave was. And so for now, for the next two climbers, we're just assessing the situation in where people would most likely go down from the first snow cave that was discovered.

O'BRIEN: The description that I've read was that James was found in the fetal position, that his phone was water logged and that he had an obvious arm injury and maybe that's the reason that he was left by the other experienced climbers who normally wouldn't leave somebody behind. Can you tell me about that arm injury? Do you have any idea what kind of injury he had? How would you describe it?

JOHNSTON: From my findings, he was not in the fetal position. He was in a position of comfort, resting and there was no obvious injury that I could tell. He was very cold.

O'BRIEN: Really. I know now you try to figure out where the other two climbers may have gone from that position? What do the signs tell you? I was reading about these slings and aluminum anchors and all very close to a very steep slope indicating that maybe they tried to tie themselves down to the mountain in the heavy wind that we were reporting. What do the signs point to in your mind?

JOHNSTON: Just pretty much what you said. They probably would try to go down and get out of the weather as best they can.

S. O'BRIEN: So where does the search take you today? I assume you're going to go back up on the mountain as soon as the sun rises to try to help out again, is that right?

JOHNSTON: There's a team of PMR, Port Mountain Rescue crew that will be out today and Craig Grats (ph), which is the volunteer search and rescue crew from Hood River here. They're going to be out on the ground today. The 304th pararescuemen, my team, we're going to try to recoup and recover and be on standby today if any airlift is need. But, yes, they're going to searching in the lower levels, possibly where the footprints led to.

O'BRIEN: It's such tough news for the families. I guess I'm curious how you're holding up. I mean to search for so long and have the discovery be such a terrible -- you know, the worst news possible. How are you doing? How are the other rescuers doing?

JOHNSTON: Everyone's in high spirits for the other two. We're just on standby and you just have to teach it as a professional. That we're all trained to do this sort of search and rescue operation and so you treat it as such as a professional.

O'BRIEN: Staff Sergeant Joshua Johnston is with the U.S. Air Force Reserve rescue team.

Thank you for talking with us this morning and good luck to all those teams who are out there again today. Hopefully they'll be able to find something before that bad weather moves in. We appreciate your time.

JOHNSTON: Thanks.

O'BRIEN: John.

ROBERTS: Coming up, U.S. Airways may be raising the ante in its bid to buy Delta. We're "Minding Your Business" this morning.

And caught on tape. A bitter divorce battle turns into an all- out brawl -- oh, take a look at that -- in court. More on that ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. There's a war of the roses.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: Top stories.

A new report from the Pentagon, sectarian violence up 22 percent over the past three months.

And so much for the cease-fire set over the weekend. Today security forces for Hamas and Fatah exchange gunfire killing one person and wounding 11. The fight is over a new call for elections in the Palestinian territories. O'BRIEN: A pretty wild scene to show you in a Las Vegas courtroom. Take a look at these pictures. It's a fight in family court between officers and a guy named Jeffrey Wells (ph). He's smack in the middle of a custody battle that is, obviously, very bitter, for his two sons. One of his sons, his third son, who was 12 years old, committed suicide with an unsecured shotgun. Wells is now in jail. He's accused of assaulting court officers, which I think by showing this videotape you could make a case for that.

ROBERTS: Yes, I'd say there could be a case for that.

O'BRIEN: Well, business news now. U.S. Airways might be ready to sweeten its offer for Delta. Twenty-five minutes past the hour. Let's get right to Stephanie Elam. She's "Minding Your Business."

Good morning.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Good morning to you, Soledad.

That's exactly it. And, in fact, as far as they're concerned over at U.S. Airways, they were willing to pay more than their bid, their unsolicited bid, that they gave up in November as long as Delta can actually prove that they're worth it. This is according to the Associated Press.

Now if you'll remember, it was an $8.4 billion bid that U.S. Airways made for Delta at the time. And, of course, Delta is in bankruptcy. So they're thinking here that a bigger pot could actually enhance the mood over for the Delta creditors. And if that happens, then the Delta offer might go through, because delta has been against this unsolicited offer.

Moving on now. Let's move on to Fannie Mae and what's going on there. The government has filed civil charges against the former chief, Franklin Raines, as well as two of his former executives, Financial Chief Officer Timothy Howard and Controller Leanne Spencer. Both were cleaned out of office two years ago. But the government said that the three cost shareholders billions of dollars as they also blew up to boost their bonuses through an enhanced, improper accounting scheme. So this is part of the issue there as well. They want the return of the millions in bonuses there and they're also seeking fines.

One note, housing starts will be out today and they're looking to have recovered.

One other note, Wall Street was down for the first time in four sessions, but just down 4 points.

Coming up, when I come back, we're going to take a look at Honda. It looks like they'll be looking for an all-time sales record.

Back it you, Soledad and John.

ROBERTS: All right. Thanks very much.

Top stories just ahead.

A second arrest in the serial killer investigation.

Plus, Iran's president, Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, not up for re- election but suffering a big blow in Iran's latest elections. We'll explain.

Security is stepped up at a German opera house. We'll tell you about the controversial (ph) scene that has some officials worried about a terror attack.

And will bad behavior end up costing the reigning Miss USA her crown? That story and more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

S. O'BRIEN: Breaking news. Police in England say they've nabbed a second suspect this morning in the search for a serial killer.

And skin cancer scare. The White House is revealing that the first lady, Laura Bush, had a malignant tumor removed from her shin.

ROBERTS: And race against time. The body of a climber is brought down off of the summit of Mount Hood. The search now focused deep beneath the snow below.

S. O'BRIEN: And good-bye to a legend. Remember the man who helped bring us the "Flintstones," and "Scooby-Doo" and the "Jetsons." Those stories and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

Welcome back, everybody. It's Tuesday, December 19th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

ROBERTS: And I'm John Roberts, in for Miles O'Brien. Good morning to you.

O'BRIEN: Nice to have you helping us out. We appreciate it.

ROBERTS: Good to be back again.

O'BRIEN: Thank you.

The fight for Iraq is where we'll start this morning. A reported split over the idea of sending in that surge of approximately 30,000 troops. This morning's "Washington Post" is reporting that the Joint Chiefs of Staff is against it because it could create more targets for insurgent attacks and also it could be that Shiite militias could keep a low profile while the extra troops are there only to reemerge after they left.

Also, a new Pentagon report says violence in Iraq is intensifying. CNN's Barbara Starr is at the Pentagon with those new numbers for us.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) BARBARA STARR, CNN PENTAGON CORRESPONDENT: Defense Secretary Robert Gates' first day on the job came with more bad news about Iraq. A new report from the Pentagon details a rise in violence that officials say they just don't see an end to at this point.

According to this report, from mid-August to mid-November, weekly attacks rose in Iraq some 22 percent, attacks by November averaging close to 1,000 a week. Four of Iraq's provinces seeing more than half of all attacks.

For coalition forces, they suffered 68 percent of the attacks, some 32 percent of the casualties - an indication of a rise in attacks, but some of those attacks, of course, not fatal.

But it is Iraqi civilians that are suffering the brunt of the violence, of course.

By the end of this year, compared to the beginning of the year, there was a 60 percent increase in the fatalities and attacks being suffered by Iraqi civilians, all of it an indication of the murders, the executions and the sectarian violence that seems to be out of control at this point, according to some U.S. officials.

And that is the essential problem. If the U.S. decides to send more troops to Iraq and the violence doesn't ease up, what options are left? That's a question no one's really ready to answer.

Barbara Starr, CNN, the Pentagon.

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ROBERTS: Happening this morning, a second arrest announced in the Ipswich, England serial killings. A 48-year-old man arrested this morning in the killings of five women whose bodies were dumped outside of town. Police are still holding 37-year-old Tom Stephens in connection with the killings, as well.

Mt. Hood rescue workers heading back up the peak to keep searching for two climbers before stormy weather moves in, expected tomorrow. They'll be looking for signs of snow caves where the men might be holed up. The body of 48-year-old Kelly James of Dallas was brought down from Mt. Hood late on Monday.

Laura Bush had a cancerous skin tumor removed last month. The White House acknowledges the First Lady had a squamous cell carcinoma, the second-most common form of skin cancer, removed from her right shin, shortly after election day. The situation came to light on Monday when a reporter asked about a bandage on Mrs. Bush's leg.

Following up on a story AMERICAN MORNING told you about a few months ago, the Coast Guard now says it won't use the Great Lakes for live fire machine gun exercises. The plan was scrapped after environmentalists and shore communities complained. The biggest concern? The large amounts of lead that would go into the water. The guns fire 600 rounds a minute. And space shuttle Discovery astronauts are wrapping up their 13- day mission. They finally managed to retract a stuck solar panel on the International Space Station that kept them in space an extra day. Barring bad weather, Discovery is set to touch down Friday, in Florida - Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Here's a look now at stories that CNN correspondents around the world are covering today.

BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, GAZA CITY: I'm Ben Wedeman in Gaza.

Fresh clashes have broken out here in the morning. There was a gun battle between gunmen from Fatah and Hamas in the Shifa Hospital in the center of town. In that clash, one Hamas fighter was killed. At least seven others were wounded.

In this area just a little while ago, a car full of gunmen from the Fatah movement drove through, started shooting, exchanging fire with Hamas gunmen who were stationed on the corner. It does seem that the cease fire here is beginning to fray.

ANEESH RAMAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, TEHRAN, IRAN: I'm Aneesh Raman in Tehran.

With election results all but official, it is undeniable - Iran's president has suffered a significant political setback. The elections on Friday in Iran were for city councils nationwide.

The most closely watched was the city council in Tehran. It is seen as a barometer for national political trends. There, of the 15 seats, Ahmadinejad's hard-line conservatives only got about two or three.

The majority of seats went to moderate conservatives, who had during the campaign distanced themselves from some, but not all, of Ahmadinejad's controversial policies and statements.

Also, making a comeback are the reformists, who had a majority of seats in the Tehran city council back in 2003, but since then have been largely marginalized.

FREDERIK PLEITGEN, CNN CORRESPONDENT, BERLIN, GERMANY: I'm Frederik Pleitgen in Berlin.

Security was tight here at Berlin's opera house, Deutsche Oper, as Mozart's "Idomeneo" was staged here for the first time since the piece was cancelled three months ago, out of fears of Muslim violence. The piece shows a man chopping off the heads of several religious figures, including the head of the Prophet Mohammed.

Cancellation of the piece had triggered a debate here in Germany about whether the country was compromising democratic values like freedom of expression in the face of violent extremism. The opening night here in Berlin went ahead without any major security problems, but some Muslim leaders in Germany refused to attend. O'BRIEN: For more on these or any of our top stories, log on to our Web site at CNN.com.

ROBERTS: Miss USA might lose her tiara today. Miss Universe organization owner Donald Trump may tell Tara Conner, "You're fired," at a news conference this morning. The organization has been looking into Conner's "behavioral and personal issues."

There have been reports of alleged drug and alcohol use at New York City clubs. If Conner is out, the new Miss USA would be the runner-up, Miss California, Tamiko Nash.

O'BRIEN: And Miss Tamiko Nash is polishing her crown right now. She's got a big meeting, right? He could say ...

ROBERTS: Absolutely. Apparently, Tara was showing her crown to people in some of these New York clubs, according to reports, which I think is a little bit taboo.

O'BRIEN: And the drinking, and then the drug tests and the ...

ROBERTS: The alleged, the alleged, the alleged, the alleged.

O'BRIEN: As her attorney would say.

ROBERTS: As her attorney would say.

O'BRIEN: Get ready for some snow in certain parts of the country. Chad Myers is going to look at the forecast for us, coming up next. Plus, the search for those two climbers missing in Oregon, and how the families of all of the men are sticking together now.

Those stories and much more ahead on AMERICAN MORNING. We're back in a moment.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

O'BRIEN: Welcome back, everybody. Stories we're following for you this morning - the results of crash tests on those mini-cars are out. The Nissan Versa was judged the safest. The Hyundai Accent, the Toyota Yaris, the Scion xB all are at the bottom of the list.

And Rudy Giuliani holds his first major fund raiser tonight. It's going to happen at a Times Square hotel. He's one of the early front runners for the Republican nomination for president in 2008 - John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Soledad.

Families are hanging on to hope and to each other in the search for two climbers still missing on Mt. Hood. They'll search an avalanche area of the mountain today. The body of the third climber, Kelly James, was brought down late on Monday.

All three families are expressing grief - and hope.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

BROTHER OF KELLY JAMES: They identified a ring with my brother's initials on it, which has led me and our family to conclude that the climber found in the cave yesterday was my brother - my brother, Kelly.

ANGELA HALL, SISTER OF BRIAN HALL: We have lost a very dear part of our family in Kelly James. Our deepest sympathies go out to his family. And as I said, they are now a part of our family, each and every one of them.

SHERIFF JOE WAMPLER, HOOD RIVER COUNTY, OREGON: We failed them. We literally failed them. But, you know, we tried our best, I know that. We had the best people in the best places.

But there's still a chance, because of that issue right there. And we're going to keep going because of it, for the other two.

FRANK JAMES, BROTHER OF KELLY JAMES: I feel that I have two other brothers still on the mountain. And the James family is deeply, deeply grateful for the rescue efforts to-date. And we wish - we wish the rescue workers Godspeed in their ongoing efforts to bring Brian and Jerry down that mountain safely.

MICHAELA COOKE, WIFE OF JERRY 'NIKKO' COOKE: Kelly, Brian and Nikko shared a passion and reverence for climbing, and the bond forged between them will last throughout eternity.

We hold out hope today for Brian and Nikko's safe return.

(END VIDEO)

O'BRIEN: How's the weather going to be for the folks who are trying to rescue those men? It's 44 minutes past the hour. Let's get right to Chad Myers at the CNN weather center.

Chad, how is it looking for them today?

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST, CNN CENTER, ATLANTA: It's still good today. It's still good all the way probably until mid-day tomorrow.

But after that, everybody's going to get chased off the mountain. We're going to get a lot of moisture in. You don't see it yet coming in on the satellite, but it'll quickly fill in tomorrow, and there'll be freezing rain all the way down to about 5,000 feet and snow above that.

O'BRIEN: Thank you, Chad.

Coming up this morning, the man who helped create the Flintstones and Yogi Bear, the Jetsons and Scooby-Doo. We're remembering cartoonist Joe Barbera, straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK) O'BRIEN: One of the most famous names in animation is dead. Joe Barbera of the famed Hanna-Barbera animation team died on Monday at the age of 95.

Now, you may not know his face, but you would absolutely, positively recognize his many famous creations.

CNN's Sibila Vargas has our report.

(BEGIN VIDEO)

SIBILA VARGAS, CNN CORRESPONDENT, HOLLYWOOD: The theme songs were catchy. So were the characters.

YOGI BEAR, HANNA-BARBERA CHARACTER: Don't worry, Boo. For the sake of warm footsies, some things just have to be done.

VARGAS: The sarcastic Yogi Bear.

FRED FLINTSTONE, HANNA-BARBERA CHARACTER: Ooh, is he going to get a fist-full of fingers ...

VARGAS: The bombastic Fred Flintstone. Scooby-Doo, the cowardly dog who behaved more like a fraidy cat.

Generations of American kids grew up on those cartoons. Well into adulthood, many of us can still sing the songs and mimic Scooby's "ro-roo." And while we might know Papa Smurf, most of us never knew what the cartoon's papas looked like - Hanna and Barbera.

What Joe Barbera, who died Monday at age 95, brought to the partnership was writing and drawing skills. Bill Hanna did the directing. Barbera and Hanna, who died in 2001, scored their first big success with Tom and Jerry more than 60 years ago.

Short films starring the cat-and-mouse combo earned Hanna-Barbera seven Academy Awards.

JERRY, THE MOUSE: Look at me! I'm dancing!

VARGAS: Jerry was even inserted into the 1945 Gene Kelly film, "Anchors Away."

FLINTSTONE: Wilma!

VARGAS: They created the first primetime animated show, "The Flintstones," in the early '60s, a sly, prehistoric parody of "The Honeymooners." The shows borrowed from popular culture, and they became part of popular culture.

Huckleberry Hound, the Jetsons, Jonny Quest, Space Ghosts, Josie and the Pussycat, the Smurfs.

Few people may be able to put a face to the name Joe Barbera ...

FLINTSTONE: Yabba dabba doo! VARGAS: ... but they can put a name and a catchphrase to all of the characters he helped create.

Sibila Vargas, CNN, Hollywood.

(END VIDEO)

O'BRIEN: It's hard to believe. Their list just went on and on.

ROBERTS: Oh, I know. Some great cartoons and a huge part of my youth, as well. The Flintstones and Tom and Jerry - very cool. Scooby-Doo and the Smurfs, not so much.

O'BRIEN: And really the most famous - you remember Hanna, William Hanna died when he was 90 years old, just before his 91st birthday in 2001.

ROBERTS: Yes. Lived long and rich lives, both of those guys.

O'BRIEN: Didn't they, really. Both of them did.

ROBERTS: Obviously, not too much stress in their lives.

Some of the stories that we're working on this morning, 2006 a very good year for at least one carmaker - record-setting, in fact. We'll tell you who's celebrating. We're minding your business, just ahead.

And we'll have the latest on a skin cancer scare for First Lady Laura Bush. Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ROBERTS: It has been a rough year for U.S. automakers, but Honda says it's doing just fine.

6:55, Stephanie Elam is "Minding Your Business" this morning. Good morning, Stephanie.

STEPHANIE ELAM, CNN BUSINESS CORRESPONDENT: Good morning, John.

I think this one probably actually makes it more obvious how difficult it has been for the U.S. automakers, because Honda has really just had a really all-star kind of year.

Taking a look at it, they're saying worldwide sales will be up about five percent. And if you look at the number of vehicles they're talking about, that's 3.55 million vehicles for the year that they're looking at here. That would be an all-time high, and they're saying a lot of that has to do with lively overseas demand.

So now, take a look at U.S. sales. Those sales are expected to rise three percent. And that would mark the sales record for the tenth year in a row. So, they've just really been on a boom here.

Now, light trucks and SUV sales really led this off, despite those high gas prices. And the main star would be the Honda CRV. And in fact, to meet demand, next year - in late 2007, I should say - they're actually going to start making CRVs at their Honda plant in Mexico.

Now, they're also boosting production in Europe, as well, to meet demand there. And sales in Europe are also expected to be up about eight percent.

But one interesting note here is that this is the third-largest automaker in Japan, but there, sales are slow. They're actually expected to drop by about four percent there. So, it's a little bit of a different story there. But overall, I think they're rather happy at Honda.

Now, I'll let you know, coming up I'm going to take a look at AT&T's $86 billion bid for BellSouth, and we'll talk about that in just a little bit. Soledad, back to you.

O'BRIEN: All right. Thank you very much, Stephanie. Appreciate it.

Some of the top stories we're following for you this morning. The most popular right now on CNN.com, the story of five Bulgarian nurses and a Palestinian doctor who are convicted of deliberately infecting 400 children with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

It happened in Libya. The doctors say that, in fact, the conditions were so unhygienic, that the children contracted AIDS in the hospital; it had nothing to do with them. And, of course, this met international outrage over this conviction. They face the death penalty now.

ROBERTS: As they should.

From the "Houston Chronicle" this morning, the city's rise in violent crime outpaces the U.S. in general. Violent crimes, including killings and rapes, up 5.9 percent in Houston. And that compares with 3.7 percent nationwide.

Homicides were up 28 percent, from 158 last year to 202 this year. So, things are getting worse there in Houston.

O'BRIEN: A story in the "Denver Post" this morning. "NBA Hits Back at 7 Players," is the title. The Denver Nuggets star, Carmela Anthony - we showed you that brawl. It looked like a hockey game on the basketball court.

ROBERTS: Yes.

O'BRIEN: He's been suspended now for 15 games. Of course, it hurts his image. Also hurts the Nuggets' hopes of a playoff - in the playoff.

And there's a list, a whole list of six others, who were also suspended, including the Knicks' guard, Nate Robinson, and the Nuggets' forward, J.R. Smith. ROBERTS: I will tell you, that's going to hurt the Nuggets. He's the top scorer in the league.

O'BRIEN: Yes. And probably his marketing guy is not so excited.

ROBERTS: I wouldn't think so.

O'BRIEN: Going to look at what's coming up at the top of the hour.

Skin cancer scare. The White House reveals that the First Lady had a malignant tumor removed from her shin.

ROBERTS: Breaking news overseas. Police in England make a second arrest this morning in the search for a serial killer.

O'BRIEN: On Mt. Hood, it's a race to beat the weather, as the search for two missing climbers continues. And there's some new information about just what stranded the third climber.

ROBERTS: And new this morning, small cars, big risks. The first ever crash test results on those super-popular subcompacts - on this AMERICAN MORNING.

SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. It is Tuesday, December 19th. I'm Soledad O'Brien.

JOHN ROBERTS, ANCHOR, AMERICAN MORNING: And I'm John Roberts, in for Miles O'Brien.

Those crash tests are very important to a lot of people. As gas prices go up, the cars start to get smaller again, and a lot of people on the road may be at risk.

O'BRIEN: But as you say, you have an Escalade driving next to one of those little tiny Mini Coopers, it's going to be scary stuff on the highway.

ROBERTS: It could be. Though some of them do better than you might think.

O'BRIEN: Well, it'll be interesting to see those numbers.

First, though, let's begin in Washington, D.C., the White House revealing that the First Lady, Laura Bush, had a malignant skin cancer tumor removed right after the election.

CNN's Suzanne Malveaux is in Washington with the details this morning at the White House. Hey, Suzanne, good morning.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT, WASHINGTON: Good morning, Soledad.

I spoke with White House officials and those from the First Lady's office who explained it this way. They said it was shortly before election day. There was a reporter that discovered a band-aid that was on the right shin of the First Lady, on her leg, and had asked about it.

At that time, the press secretary to the First Lady, Susan Whitson, said it was a sore.

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