Skip to main content


Return to Transcripts main page


Sailor Rescued off Coast of Chile; The Plan for Iraq; New Congress

Aired January 5, 2007 - 07:59   ET


SOLEDAD O'BRIEN, CNN ANCHOR: Welcome back, everybody. It's Friday, January 5th.
I'm Soledad O'Brien, in New York this morning.

Good morning, John.

JOHN ROBERTS, CNN ANCHOR: Good morning to you, Soledad.

I'm John Roberts in our Washington bureau, in for Miles O'Brien this week.

Thanks for joining us.

And it's nice, Soledad, to have some good news for a change.

O'BRIEN: We have lots of good news. Lots and lots of good news this morning.

Actually, let's begin with incredible news overnight, that rescue at sea. Search teams reached 47-year-old Ken Barnes. He was stranded on his battered boat, the Privateer.

You'll remember he was attempting to sail around the world. He set off from Long Beach, California, back in October. But then he ran into a big storm as he got close to Cape Horn, which is 500 miles off the coast of Chile.

AMERICAN MORNING'S Chris Lawrence is able to be part of the good news this morning. He's in Newport Beach, California. That's where, of course, the family got the good news.

Hey, Chris. Good morning.


Just think about it. I mean, Ken Barnes had lost his engine, his steering wheel, his mast. His supplies were running low. His satellite phone battery was running low, and he was bleeding from a leg injury.

So this rescue came just in the nick of time, really. But his family isn't quite ready to celebrate just yet.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) CATHY CHAMBERS, BOYFRIEND RESCUED AT SEA: Because I'm tired and I haven't had much, you know, sleep at all. And I'm hungry, and my stomach is still in knots. I won't feel totally good until I can actually see his picture and I can hear his voice.


LAWRENCE: You know, and over the past few days we've been there with the family as Ken Barnes did make very quick calls, maybe 60 seconds at a time, just to get information and to tell his family he was OK and relay information. One of the toughest calls was to his daughter Britney (ph), because she could hear how much in pain he was at that particular time.


UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: It was really scary. It was hard to hear him in pain and wanting to come home, because that's not like him at all. He's a very strong person. And he wouldn't have done this trip if he wasn't certain that he could do it. So with the weather, that's the only thing that stopped him.


LAWRENCE: Yes, Ken Barnes had hoped to go down in the record books as the first sailor from the West Coast to circumnavigate the world alone. He set out at the end of October, had planned to come back some time between April and June if he finished. But his trip obviously got cut short. But I'm sure his family is just so happy to get him back right now.

O'BRIEN: Oh, absolutely. And I didn't know before I talked to them that they hadn't had a chance to talk to him, of course. That boat's got to make -- the fishing boat has got to make its way back to land, which is a two-day trip or so. So they're really waiting to get direct word with him.


O'BRIEN: Chris Lawrence for us this morning. How great to be talking about some great news on that story. It sounded so dire.

Appreciate it, Chris.

Let's get more now on that missing plane in Indonesia. Searchers are expanding their hunt for the airliner that mysteriously disappeared over Indonesia five days ago. Three Americans, a man from Oregon and his two daughters, were among the 102 people on board that 737 when it went off the radar back in -- on New Year's Day in bad weather -- John.

ROBERTS: Now to the fight for Iraq. And a big shakeup by President Bush as he gets ready to unveil his new plan for the war there sometime next week.

We have complete coverage for you this morning. Suzanne Malveaux is live from the White House.

Kathleen Koch is at the Pentagon.

And Andrea Koppel joins us from Capitol Hill.

Let's begin with White House Correspondent Suzanne Malveaux up here at the -- in Washington at the White House.

Suzanne, a fairly large shakeup. A lot of people changing positions here.

SUZANNE MALVEAUX, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Absolutely, John. The president very eager to put this new team in place before unveiling what he is calling a new Iraq strategy.

We're just getting details just a minute ago from the White House. It's going to be 9:50 this morning in the Roosevelt Room. That is when the president officially is going to announce the director of National Intelligence, John Negroponte, his move to the State Department, and as well as the nomination for his replacement, Mike McConnell. So look for that, of course, in the next hour or so.

Now, the president is engaged in a lot here at the White House, continuing what he calls his consultations with members of Congress. He'll be meeting with Democrats today, perhaps Republicans early next week. And then yesterday was also a very key step.

He essentially had a two-hour video teleconference with Iraqi Prime Minister Nuri al-Maliki, both of them talking about the various options for this new Iraq strategy. Sources telling us that a U.S. troop surge is part of that strategy, anywhere from 20,000 to 40,000, calling for U.S. troops.

President Bush, the White House not giving details about that just quite yet.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: One thing I was looking for was will, you know, to determine whether or not he has the will necessary to do the hard work to protect his people. And I told him, I said that, "You show the will, we will help you."


MALVEAUX: So the White House is not giving away just how they're going to help Maliki's government, but certainly sources outside of the White House giving us a pretty clear indication of where the president is leaning. And John, we do expect next week that the president, again, will reach out to members of Congress, courtesy calls happening, perhaps, Monday, Tuesday, or Wednesday. And then Wednesday, the president is expected to address the nation, lay out this plan in a primetime address -- John.

ROBERTS: Suzanne, the extent of the shakeup that the president is engaging in, a sign of how much pressure he is under to turn things around in Iraq?

MALVEAUX: Well, it's a sign of the pressure, but it's also, perhaps, a sign of a real change here, a real turn. You know, the debate has been fierce over whether or not it's a good idea to add troops. There have been a lot of people inside the Pentagon who said they don't think it's a good idea. There are people inside the White House who've said the same thing.

So clearly you're seeing a change, an emphasis in diplomacy on the State Department level, but also in the Pentagon as well. Perhaps a change in strategy.

ROBERTS: Suzanne Malveaux at the White House for us.

Suzanne, thanks.

Let's turn now to the Pentagon and CNN's Kathleen Koch.

Kathleen, the president expected to make some big changes in the command structure for Iraq in the near future.

KATHLEEN KOCH, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, John, the president lining up a new team to carry out his new strategy. And as Suzanne pointed out, many are saying that that's because this is a team that will not object, as some current commanders do, to sending in more U.S. troops.

First of all, let's talk about the top change. General John Abizaid, the top U.S. commander in the Middle East, will be replaced by Admiral William Fallon.

Now, Fallon is a surprise choice. He's currently the top military officer in the Pacific. He'll be the first Navy officer to head up Central Command.

The second switch, media reports say that General George Casey, the top U.S. commander in Iraq, will be replaced by Army Lieutenant General David Petraeus. Now, that likely switched was reported by our own Jamie McIntyre on Wednesday.

Petraeus has served two tours of duty in Iraq, helped head up the training of the Iraqi security forces there, seen as pretty successful at that. He's also helped draft the military's new counterinsurgency manual.

So, John, yes, some major shakeups expected to be officially announced on Monday.

ROBERTS: Any word yet, Kathleen, on how those changes are going down there at the Pentagon?

KOCH: Well, again, the Admiral Fallon choice was quite a surprise. But people say he's very reliable, highly respected, quite a troubleshooter, and has gotten really high marks for his performance in Pacific theater.

ROBERTS: Well, we'll see if they can do a better job than the ones who are there already.

KOCH: You bet.

ROBERTS: Kathleen Koch, at the Pentagon, thanks very much -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: After a historic day of pomp and ceremony, new House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is stressing partnership, not partisanship, for the Democratically-led House.

CNN's Andrea Koppel live for us on Capitol Hill.

Is it going to be partnership or is it going to be partisanship?

Andrea, good morning.


Well, from beginning to end, this transfer of power was -- basically went off without a hitch and was full of the sort of bipartisan niceties that you would expect. But for the first time in more than 200 years in U.S. history, the gavel was handed to a woman.


REP. JOHN BOEHNER (R), MINORITY LEADER: ... to the first woman speaker in our history, the gentle lady from California, Nancy Pelosi.

KOPPEL (voice over): It was a day for the history books.

REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), HOUSE SPEAKER: For our daughters and our granddaughters, today we have broken the marble ceiling.

KOPPEL: And surrounded by her grandchildren, with other political pioneers looking on and a couple of celebrities looking down, Speaker Nancy Pelosi became the highest-ranking elected woman in U.S. history. Now just two heartbeats from the presidency.

And she wasted no time putting Mr. Bush on notice on Iraq.

PELOSI: The election of 2006 was a call to change.

It is the responsibility of the president to articulate a new plan for Iraq that makes it clear to the Iraqis that they must defend their own streets and their own security, a plan that makes -- promotes stability in the region and a plan that allows us to responsibly redeploy our troops.

KOPPEL: On the other side of the Capitol...

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: The majority leader is recognized.

KOPPEL: ... the new Senate majority leader made clear Democrats expected the president's new plan on Iraq to bring U.S. troops home. But he didn't say when. SEN. HARRY REID (D-NV), MAJORITY LEADER: Remove our troops from this civil war.

PELOSI: The House will come to order.

KOPPEL: The images of power gained and power lost were hard to miss. The longest-serving Republican speaker, Dennis Hastert, seemed almost hidden amidst a sea of members.

With her 31-seat majority, speaker Pelosi got down to business right away. Topping her to-do list, passing House rules as soon as this week banning members from receiving gifts and free travel from lobbyists. But first, a conference call with the president.

PELOSI: We're calling to give you the good news that this Congress is now fully sworn in and ready to work with you.

GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Well, I'm ready to work with you all. I know it's a tremendous moment for you personally.


KOPPEL: But the real business of legislating won't get under way until early next week. That's when Democrats plan to launch their ambitious agenda, what's known as the 100-hours agenda.

But you've already heard -- and basically it's supposed to include things like boosting the minimum wage and trying to enact the remaining 9/11 Commission recommendations. Republicans, however, Soledad, have already criticized Speaker Pelosi for trying to fast- track this legislation and, they say, shut them out in the process -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: That sounds more like partisanship, to answer the question we posed at the beginning, than that partnership But I guess we'll have to wait and see.

Andrea Koppel for us this morning.

Thanks, Andrea.

Some startling new "Consumer Reports," crash tests on infant car seats. Only two of the 12 seats that they tested passed. The magazine says that most child seats failed disastrously in crashes going 35 miles an hour to 38 miles an hour.

Earlier this morning I spoke to a "Consumer Reports" spokeswoman about their tests.


KIM KLEMAN, "CONSUMER REPORTS": We found that only the Graco SnugRide and the Baby Trend Flex Lock passed our tests. The other seats failed, as you said, disastrously. The bases became separated from the seat or they twisted violently. So the Baby Trend and the Graco are the only two that we recommend.


O'BRIEN: Because these are infant car seats, the tests were carried out on the rear-facing seats. "Consumer Reports" says that the standards they used are higher, meaning the miles an hour they tested at were higher than those used by the government because they match the car test crashes speeds by the government.

Coming up, much more on President Bush's shakeup of his military leadership. Is it a sign of bigger changes to come in Iraq?

And some people say he is single handedly making New York City a healthier place to live. Other people who aren't quite such fans say he's sticking his nose in to where it doesn't belong.

We're going to introduce you to New York City's health czar. He talks to Alina Cho straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: Breaking news this morning. An American contractor kidnapped in Iraq. Wire reports say that gunmen ambushed the man's car outside of Basra, abducted him and his two translators.

And two people are dead after a tornado slammed into a trailer park in southern Louisiana. Flashfloods could hit parts of that state today.

It's coming up on quarter past the hour. If you're about to head out the door, hang on. Chad's got a check of the travelers' forecast for you.


ROBERTS: Coming up to 15 minutes after the hour.

Just days before President Bush is expected to announce a new strategy on Iraq, there are big changes afoot within the administration. Is this a sign of a major redirection on Iraq?

Our special correspondent, former CNN Washington bureau chief and professor at George Washington University, Frank Sesno, joins us now.

So, Frank, what do you make of all of this? It looks like Casey is out, Abizaid is out, Fallon is in. It looks like Petraeus is in, Negroponte is moving, which we'll get to a little bit later.. Khalilzad, it looks like he's going to the United Nations.


ROBERTS: What's this all about.

SESNO: What the White House wants least of all and what the president needs least of all is for this discussion about the changes in strategy in Iraq to be principally or only about troop strength, the surge. They hate the term "surge" at the White House. They don't want to talk about that.

And they know that for anything to work, to really change the facts on the ground, which are, you know, deep, as you know, having been over there in Iraq, it's got to be more than just how many more troops, but what they're doing and what's the larger context. So, when the president steps forth next week, this is not just going to be just about troop strength. It's going to be about what the Iraqis can deliver, where this is going, and leadership.

And these names you just rattled off, the first changes. So the president is talking about more than just troops.

ROBERTS: Swapping out Casey for Petraeus seems to be a no- brainer. Petraeus had a lot of success when he was up in the northern part of Iraq a few years ago. But this idea of bringing in Fallon, a Navy man, for the first to head up the Central Command, that's unusual.

SESNO: Two thoughts.

On Petraeus, talking to people who have served under him and who -- and who know Casey well, what they say is don't look for big change. It's going to be continuity. So, if there's going to be change at all, it's at the strategic level coming from the top.

On the admiral leading CENTCOM, keep an eye on Iran. That -- you know, the confrontation, if there's a confrontation in Iran, it centers largely around the Strait of Hormuz. All that oil...

ROBERTS: Right. And it looks like they're moving in another carrier group there anyway.

SESNO: That's right.

ROBERTS: You were talking about this surge. President Bush expected to surge troops from anywhere from 10,000 to 40,000 over the next few weeks in Iraq, mainly to get security in Baghdad. He has not confirmed that he's going to do it, but yesterday, in that press conference with Angela Merkel, the chancellor of Germany, he did sort of tilt toward the idea that he's thinking about that, and here's what he had to say.


BUSH: I'm in the process of making up my final decision as to what to recommend -- what recommendations to accept. One thing is for certain. I will want to make sure that the mission is clear and specific and can be accomplished.


ROBERTS: So that was a concern that the general said, they want a specific mission if they... (CROSSTALK)

SESNO: Clear -- clear, specific, and can be accomplished.

ROBERTS: Is this his last chance to fix this?

SESNO: I think so. I mean, I think that the fact of -- listen to what was going on in the Congress. Very interesting, you know.

If you listen to the president, he said, do you know what the message was out of the election? That Americans want bipartisanship. That's what he said in that "Wall Street Journal" piece he wrote earlier this week.

What did Pelosi say?

ROBERTS: Well, let's take a look at what Pelosi said yesterday.


ROBERTS: Watch this tape.


REP. NANCY PELOSI (D-CA), SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE: The election of 2006 was a call to change, not merely to change the control of Congress, but for a new direction for our country. Nowhere were the American people more clear about the need for a new direction than in the war in Iraq.


ROBERTS: Is that a recipe for bipartisanship? Or is that a recipe for confrontation?

SESNO: Not exactly. Well, certainly it's a recipe for disagreement and debate.

The president says, you know, the message from the electorate was bipartisanship. She says the message from the electorate was to change course in Iraq.

That's why it's got to be achievable, as the president said. That's why what he presents has to be put out there in a more strategic context, which is what I think he's trying to do. And watch closely what he's going to say about the Iraqis. And Maliki had a two-hour conference call with him. They want something to present to the American people and beyond that they're going to do something.

ROBERTS: And Frank, what do you make of Negroponte going from director of National Intelligence, now to Rice's number two over at the State Department? Why do you give up a cabinet post to be Rice's deputy, do all the things that she doesn't want to do, unless maybe Condi is thinking about leaving, or President Bush is going to make you his guy in Iraq? SESNO: Well, talk here in Washington is he didn't love the job he was in and, you know, he longed to get back to policy. But there are a lot of people in this town right now who are very concerned about what's happening, the change and the turmoil in the intelligence community. That there was this huge reorganization establishing this director of National Intelligence, and all the bureaucracy that goes along with that, on top of what was already there and considered not to be working very well in intelligence just 19 months ago, and now there's a change. A vacuum, change, call it what you will, but a lot of concern that what should be the first priority, making sure America's intelligence is working well, is hitting some more turbulence along the way.

ROBERTS: Well, I'll tell you, you know, you don't often see that much change in Washington all at once. And certainly with this administration you don't see it.


SESNO: I think the sense of last chance. The president -- you know, the president loves sports. He loves sports metaphors. Think fourth quarter here.

ROBERTS: All right.

Frank Sesno, thanks very much. Good to see you again.

Coming up, rescue on the high seas. That American sailor drifting off the southern tip of South America safe and sound this morning. We're going to hear from his family.

And big brother and your health. Smoking and trans fat bans are trends that could be hitting your hometown soon. We'll hear from the man behind the plans in New York City.

Stay with us on AMERICAN MORNING.


ROBERTS: Twenty-three minutes after the hour now.

What's happening on CNN this weekend? Let's check in with Betty Nguyen at the CNN Center in Atlanta.

Good morning, Betty.

BETTY NGUYEN, CNN ANCHOR: Hey there. Good morning, John.

We have got a busy weekend planned for you right here on CNN.

Get this, parents. What if an employer offered your teenager $10,000, $15,000 what about $20,000 to start a new job? It's an enticing offer, one many families are getting from Uncle Sam. And we're going to take a closer look at signing up for military service. Find out what you need to know before your son or daughter visits the recruiter's office. And speaking of money, financial guru Robert Kiyosaki will reveal why he wants you to be rich. And he should know. He just wrote the book with "The Donald."

Plus, this...


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I can see your belly button. You look like a Protestant.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Don't you mean prostitute?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: No, I meant Protestant.


NGUYEN: That's a scene from "Little Mosque on the Prairie." Yes, it's a controversial new sit-com that finds humor in the Muslim world. And we're going to take you behind the scenes in our "Faces of Faith."

All that, plus your top stories and breaking news, "CNN SATURDAY and SUNDAY MORNING." That begins morning tomorrow at 7:00 Eastern.

Soledad, we expect you to be there.

O'BRIEN: I will be there. And I've got to tell you, "Little Mosque on the Prairie," that sounds -- that looks hysterical.

NGUYEN: It's controversial, though, so we'll delve into it.

O'BRIEN: Well, even better. Controversial is the kind I like to watch.


O'BRIEN: Thanks, Betty.

NGUYEN: Thanks, Soledad.

O'BRIEN: If you are interested in an Internet-enabled refrigerator, well, then you're going to love this, the Consumer Electronics Show.

Twenty-five minutes past the hour. Ali Velshi is "Minding Your Business."

ALI VELSHI, CNN CORRESPONDENT: I've got to tell you, I couldn't be less interested in a...

O'BRIEN: Really?

VELSHI: Yes. But the thing is...

O'BRIEN: I would. I would want one. VELSHI: You would like that? All right. Well, this is...

O'BRIEN: It would tell you when to get milk, it would tell you when your meat is about to spoil.

VELSHI: Yes, I suppose. I can just open it up and sniff.

I'm on my way to the auto show this weekend, and this is a great weekend of shows. I'm going to be in Detroit in the middle of January, but there are two other shows going on that start this weekend.

One is the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, and this is it. It's the Super Bowl of electronics. In fact, it's 50 -- about 30 football fields worth of stuff.

It's the largest consumer electronics and consumer technology show in the world. It's been going on for about 30 years.

And let me just tell you, in case you think it's for geeks and squares, the average American households has 26 electronic products in the house, and the average household spends $1,500 on electronics. So think about that. That's the average one. So, if you don't spend that, imagine how much I'm spending in my house.

This is a gadget haven. And the things that they'll be concentrating on this year are going to be things that have to do with entertainment.

2006, hands down, was the year of the flat panel television. People who had no particular interest in upgraded their TVs went and got these things. The price plummeted.

So, in 2007, you're going to see the move to high definition, high-definition DVD, the fight between the two formats. There's a whole format war going on between Blu-ray and HD DVD.

For those of you who don't know what I'm talking about, don't buy one yet, because wait for it to shake down a little bit.

And we're going to be talking about gadgets that make your life easier. There's also the competing Mac World Exposition in San Francisco. That's where Mac will unveil all its gadgets, and we can expect to see...


O'BRIEN: Also very cool and very much for geeks, actually.

VELSHI: I'll be missing both of those. I'll be in Detroit.

O'BRIEN: Because you want to be in Detroit in January...

VELSHI: I'll be with the cars, yes.

O'BRIEN: ... as opposed to Vegas. VELSHI: That's right.

O'BRIEN: We need to talk about that a little bit later.


O'BRIEN: I can help you work that out.

Ahead this morning, much on the very good breaking news we've had to give you this morning. Off the coast of Chile, the American sailor alone and adrift finally found safe and sound. He is rescued.

Plus, from mysterious gold rocks to supposed UFOs, things are falling out of the sky all over the place. Did Chicken Little have it right?

We'll take a look straight ahead on AMERICAN MORNING.


O'BRIEN: New pictures coming in to us this morning of that sailor rescued off the coast of Chile overnight. We're going to bring them to you straight ahead.

ROBERTS: Your home at risk, foreclosures at an all-time high. How it's affecting the real estate market and turning the tables on some families' American dream.

O'BRIEN: And it's practicability a city full of heroes. Two more New Yorkers save a life. This time, they save the life of a toddler who falls off a fourth-floor fire escape. We'll hear from one of the good Samaritans straight ahead this morning.

Good morning. Welcome back, everybody. It's Friday, January 5th.

I'm Soledad O'Brien in New York.

Good morning, John.

ROBERTS: Good morning to you, Soledad.

I'm John Roberts in our Washington bureau, in for Miles O'Brien this week.

Thanks for joining us on this Friday morning.

O'BRIEN: Let's begin with breaking news, that rescue at sea. Search teams have reached 47-year-old Ken Barnes off the coast of Chile, happened just a couple of hours ago. Barnes, you'll remember was attempting to sail around the world alone when he ran into a big storm. AMERICAN MORNING's Chris Lawrence is in Newport Beach, California for us this morning. Great, great news to start our half hour with.

Good morning, Chris. CHRIS LAWRENCE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, the best news of all, Soledad. You know, and Ken Barnes was nursing a leg injury and running low on supplies, so this rescue came just at the right time. We have some new pictures now to bring you of the actual rescue, still pictures of the Chilean fishing vessel that picked him up just a few hours ago. It's the Polar Peska I (ph), and it is now heading back to shore to Chile, and it was guided into Ken Barnes' location by the Chilean Navy surveillance plane. And again, Ken Barnes is now onboard. He is getting the opportunity to receive some medical attention. And he should be onshore some time this weekend, but his family isn't ready to celebrate just yet.


CATHY CHAMBERS, BOYFRIEND RESCUED AT SEA: Just because I'm tired, and I haven't had much sleep at all, and I'm hungry, and my stomach is still in knots, I won't feel totally good until I can actually see his picture and I can hear his voice.


That was Ken Barnes' girlfriend. And it's been just as tough on his young daughters who have been able to talk to him but ever so briefly, maybe 30 to 60 seconds at a time.


BRITTNEY BARNES, FATHER RESCUED AT SEA: It was really scary. It was hard to hear him in pain and wanting to come home, because that's not like him at all. He's a very strong person, and he wouldn't have done this trip if he wasn't certain that he could do it. So with the weather, that's the only thing that stopped him.


LAWRENCE: Yes, Ken Barnes had planned to circumnavigate the world alone, had planned to come back some time between April and June if he completed his quest. He did not, but he is on his way back to shore, and his family will certainly be happy to see him -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Yes, this is one of those times that happy doesn't even come close to describing how they feel today.

Chris Lawrence for us this morning in Newport Beach, California. Thanks, Chris -- John.

ROBERTS: Thanks, Soledad.

Authorities in Louisiana are investigating the death of a man who was about to become the first black mayor of a small, predominantly white town. It was ruled a suicide, but now his family and others want the justice department to take a closer look.

CNN's Sean Callebs is live in Westlake, Louisiana for us this morning.

They held a small memorial for him last night, Sean?

SEAN CALLEBS, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Yes, exactly, John. We're going to show you some pictures here. A makeshift memorial has actually cropped up near the site where Gerald Washington's body was found, and wreaths and flowers, and then some of the candles from the candlelight vigil that attracted 220-some people last night, in simply pouring conditions. Washington made a big impact on a lot of lives here, and the fashion in which he died is gaining a lot of attention in this small town.


GERALD WASHINGTON, MAYOR OF WESTLAKE, LOUISIANA: Great feeling to be mayor of the town where you live.

CALLEBS (voice-over): Gerald Washington seemed to be top of the world, with everything to live for. He had just been sworn in as the first black mayor of Westlake, Louisiana -- then a shocking call from the sheriff that his family members still don't believe.

The 6'6'', 58-year-old Washington had committed suicide by shooting himself in the chest.

GERMAINE BROUSSARD, DAUGHTER OF MAYOR GERALD WASHINGTON: I was in shock. I was upset. I was angry. I was -- just said, there's no way that this was a self-inflicted wound.

CALLEBS: Their father's body was found in a remote area of Westlake. Germaine Broussard and her brother, Jeraski (ph), don't believe the coroner's report that Washington put a revolver to his chest and pulled the trigger. They say the sheriff's investigation was sloppy, and wonder why it apparently took just over four hours to pore over the crime scene, then clean and return his truck to the family, instead of impounding it as evidence.

Coroner Terry Welke says it is difficult for families to accept suicide, but that is where all the evidence points.

TERRY WELKE, CALCASIEU PARISH, LOUISIANA, CORONER: If it was a homicide, there would be more injuries. In other words, he would have fought off. Someone would have tied his hands behind his back, hit him on the back of the head, something of that sort. And the autopsy showed absolutely none of that.

CALLEBS: The sheriff's office isn't talking about the case. After twice meeting with the family, the sheriff handed over all evidence to the Louisiana State Police, which has taken over the investigation.

BROUSSARD: They have shown the -- the sense of urgency that the Calcasieu Parish Sheriff's Office should have shown.

CALLEBS: The state is now performing a second autopsy, something the coroner says is almost unheard of.

And there is something else that is difficult for the family to address. As the first black mayor in an overwhelmingly white community, Washington's children believe he could have been targeted by someone out to get him.

BROUSSARD: And -- and I'm sure that race did have a -- a good deal to do with it. But...

CALLEBS: The state NAACP has asked the U.S. Justice Department to look into Washington's death, but says it was told that the federal agency will wait until the state police investigation has wrapped up, before deciding whether to weigh in.


ROBERTS: Sean joins us now live again from West Lake. And, Sean, some local officials there are saying it absolutely looks to them like a suicide. But if it were to be, you know, getting into the realm of a homicide here, is there any particular motive that anybody is talking about?

CALLEBS: Yes, that's the thing, a motive is absolutely missing from this case. There are a couple of things. The family says that Washington had actually been looking into the books here in the city, the financial books, and says that he was actually pushing for an outside audit, but no one within the city hall knows anything about that, and Washington's family is pretty much in the dark about that as well.

In terms of suicide, the one thing that has been talked about up here, and the family has been asked about Washington's gambling habits. He was an avid gambler, had done it for 40 years, but the family says he did not have a huge debt, and in no way do they suspect that played a part in his death.

ROBERTS: Wow, a story that I'm sure that you'll keep watching it. Sean Callebs in Westlake, Louisiana, thanks very much -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Well, you may not have guessed it, but big city living apparently is good for you, at least in New York City. Statistics show that New Yorkers have a longer life expectancy than anyone in the nation, and some say the city's health commissioner should get the credit. Other people say, no, they are not fond of the ban on transfat and the zero tolerance on smoking.

AMERICAN MORNING's Alina Cho spent a little time with New York's health czar.

Good morning.

ALINA CHO, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Hey there. This is no shrinking violet, Soledad. He's the man behind New York's sweeping smoking ban, and most recently the city's controversial ban on transfats. He says his goal is to save lives, of course, but critics say he's creating a nanny state, imposing his views on others and taking the fun out of life.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE) UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Every time you smoke, cigarettes are eating you alive.

CHO (voice over): This public service announcement is as powerful as the man behind it. New York City's health czar, Dr. Thomas Frieden, takes public health so seriously, when a New Yorker dies from a preventable disease, he blames himself.

DR. THOMAS FRIEDEN, NYC HEALTH COMMISSIONER: I think that really we failed them in some important way.

CROWD: Freedom of choice! Freedom of choice!

CHO: In 2002, Frieden led a controversial ban on smoking in city restaurants and bars. Nearly four years later, there are 200,000 fewer smokers in New York, and Frieden says the ban has saved 11,000 lives.

FRIEDEN: If you can do it in New York, you can do it anywhere.

CHO: In fact, 20 states are now smoke-free. Frieden's latest battle, trans fats.

Trans fats, first commercialized as Crisco, are used for frying and baking. But studies show trans fats increase bad cholesterol and lower good cholesterol.

Last month, New York City's Board of Health voted to ban trans fats in all restaurants, the first city in the nation to do so. McDonald's and Taco Bell say they're ready. KFC and Starbucks have already complied. In Harlem, the soul food institution Sylvia's made the switch more than a year ago.

FRIEDEN: You want to try some of the fried chicken?

Nobody ever went into a restaurant and ordered a plate of trans fat, but without your knowledge you're being served something that's going to shorten your life. The government's role is to stop that.

CHO: Audrey Silk disagrees. She actively campaigned against the smoking ban. Now she wonders, where will government draw the line?

AUDREY SILK, CITIZENS AGAINST SMOKER HARASSMENT: Life isn't about longevity to a lot of people. It's about quality. And many of these things are taking the enjoyment out of life.

CHO: Frieden says banning trans fats is no different than getting lead out of paint or adding fluoride to water. Now he wants to make HIV testing more accessible by eliminating written consent requirements, another controversial proposal.

Frieden says the choice is simple.

FRIEDEN: The role of government is to do what it should do to make sure that people can live a healthy, long life.


CHO: That is his philosophy. Now, if you live in New York City, you know that banning transfats here made big headlines for a while, but Frieden says if you look back at secondhand smoke, for example, a decade ago there was still great debate over whether it was bad for you. Today there's no debate. We know that secondhand smoke creates cancer, it can kill you. Frieden says the same is true of transfats. Ten years ago we didn't think it was all that bad for you. Now he says we know it's not just bad for you; it's the worst of all fats, Soledad, and he says it should be out of our food supply.

O'BRIEN: So he says it's history that's going to clear him.

CHO: That's right.

O'BRIEN: People will appreciate him, but maybe not right this moment.

CHO: Sooner rather than later, he says.

O'BRIEN: Alina, thanks.

CHO: Sure.

O'BRIEN: A whole lot of heroes to tell you about, from subway superhero to national superstar. The man who pulled off an amazing rescue finds fame and then some.

And heroism is catching, literally. An incredible catch that saves a little boy. We'll tell you about that as well, when AMERICAN MORNING returns.

We're back in just a moment.


ROBERTS: Look up in the sky, it's a bird, it's a plane. What is it? a lot of strange things have been seen flying around the sky, and falling out of it lately.

Jeanne Moos has your heads-up this morning.


JEANNE MOOS, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Weird spacecraft. Mystery chunk falls through the roof of a house. UFO sighting over Chicago's O'Hare. And now this.


MOOS: Maybe a certain chicken was ahead of its time.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE, "CHICKEN LITTLE," FROM WALT DISNEY PICTURES: Chicken Little, what is it? What's going on?


MOOS: Must have seemed that way in Freehold Township, New Jersey. Police say this metallic lump, the weight of a can of soup, fell from the sky above this neighborhood, made a neat hole in someone's roof and ended up embedded in a wall.


MOOS: Was it a meteorite? Experts are still analyzing it, but kids in the neighborhood have their own theories.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Well, I say it's a UFO. It's part of a UFO Park.

MOOS: No, kid. That's over at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, where a dozen witnesses saw a...

JON HILKEVITCH, "CHICAGO TRIBUNE" REPORTER: Metallic gray object low in the sky.

MOOS: Hovering over Concourse C, a silent frisbee.

Forget the flying saucer movie jokes. According to the "Chicago Tribune" reporter who broke the story, these witnesses are anything but witless.

HILKEVITCH: They're all United Airlines employees, ranging from pilots to supervisors who heard chatter about this on the radio and raced out and saw it in the sky.

MOOS: The thing supposedly hovered for several minutes, then shot up through thick clouds, leaving what was described as a hole in the overcast skies.

The FAA figures it was a weather phenomenon. Meanwhile, jokesters on YouTube have their own reasons to doubt aliens would come here.

Maybe this looks like an alien spaceship, but it's an actual test flight of a vertical takeoff and landing vehicle that may someday carry tourists to the edge of space.

The founder of is funding the efforts. And the look of the 35-second test flight, don't pack your bags yet. And who needs to go to space?

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Down, down, right there, Jim. Something's reentering the atmosphere.

MOOS: When space is coming to earth. Predawn traffic helicopter pilots over Denver were stunned to stumble on what turned out to be a Russian booster rocket breaking up upon reentry.

Space junk.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: I've never seen anything like that.

MOOS: Next thing you know, frogs will be falling, like in the movie "Magnolia," "Chicken Little," be a little right.

Jeanne Moos, CNN, New York.



ROBERTS: It looks like the hero act is catching on in New York City. Three-year-old Timothy Adda (ph) was lucky to be alive after falling off a fourth-story fire escape in the Bronx on Thursday. Police say he was hanging from the fire escape when two men spotted him. Julio Gonzalez and Pedro Navarez worked together to make the life-saving catch when the boy let go. I talked with Julio about it on AMERICAN MORNING earlier.


JULIO GONZALEZ, HELPED TO SAVE 3-YEAR-OLD: We both got in position under the fire escape, and as the baby was coming down, he started turning, he went toward my friend, right there, and we both tried to catch, but he bounced off his chest, threw him to the floor, and then he, like, bounced over there and wound up in my hands, and then the baby knocked me down.

We were just thinking the baby was smaller, man. When he was coming down, my friend said, Julio, this baby is not small. This is a big baby. I said you better grab that kid. You help me grab that kid. Don't let that kid hit that floor. He said, OK, we going to grab him, we going to grab him.


ROBERTS: He was a big baby, in fact, in fact, weighed 43 pounds, coming at you 35 miles an hour off the fire escape. Timothy was taken to the hospital, has a few scrapes, but other than that, he's OK.

And the subway superman that we told you about yesterday is catching a lot of limelight. Wesley Autrey given the bronze medallion on Thursday by New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg. That's the highest honor a civilian in the city can receive. Autrey talked to David Letterman last night, where he explained his decision to save a man who had fallen onto the subway tracks.


WESLEY AUTREY, SUBWAY HERO: I took a judgment, and my judgment was right.

DAVID LETTERMAN, LATE NIGHT SHOW HOST: So you get on top of the guy in the trough, and the train comes, and the guy, the conductor, the engineer, who's operating the train, he's braking, he sees that there's trouble, but he can't stop it on time. AUTREY: He can't stop. He's tooting his horn. And you can hear the brakes screeching. But by the time he came to a full stop, five cars grazed went -- and then I got this guy, he's steady trying to -- you know, and I got him locked down. And I'm, like, yo, excuse me, sir, I don't know you, you don't know me.

LETTERMAN: Excuse me, sir.



ROBERTS: Yes, a little intimate connection there. Autrey also getting a free trip to Disney World for himself and his two little girls, who were standing on the subway platform watching all of this transpire. Donald Trump, by the way, has promised him ten grand in cash, and the MTA is giving him free subway and bus fare for a year -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: I hop they expand that to like 10 years.

ROBERTS: He deserves it.

O'BRIEN: I mean, come on, he saved the guy's life, he could get 10 years of free subway rides.

ROBERTS: Absolutely. A lifetime pass, come on.

O'BRIEN: Come on. I'm going to look for that.

All right, John, thanks. "CNN NEWSROOM" just a couple minutes away, and Tony Harris is the CNN Center with a look at what's ahead for them.

Good morning.

What do you think? A year?

TONY HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: Absolutely, but the story gets better and better every time he tells it. Excuse me, will you hold still here, train cars overhead.

O'BRIEN: Hey, like all good stories, come on.

HARRIS: That's right. That is so true. Good morning, Soledad.

We have got these stories for you on the "NEWSROOM" rundown this morning. U.S. troops in Iraq and Afghanistan getting new command. The president will put a Navy admiral at CENTCOM to lead the two ground wars.

Shocker about the late Chief Justice William Rehnquist. FBI files say his addiction to painkillers made him paranoid and delusional.

And this, my friends, is Batman. An elderly store clerk defends himself from a pair of stickup guys. Robin and his wife, Margaret, armed with a walking cane. Heidi Collins is with me in the "NEWSROOM" this Friday, top of the hour right here on CNN -- Soledad.

O'BRIEN: Tell me his wife beat, Margaret, the guys with the walking cane.

HARRIS: It had to happen.

O'BRIEN: All right, we'll look forward to that one.


O'BRIEN: Thank you, Tony.

Coming up this morning, the shocking side effect of the real estate bubble bursting. One couple's story is sad, and it's much more common than you might think. They've lost their home to foreclosure. We'll tell you what happened there.

We're back in just a moment.


O'BRIEN: This is such a sad story, and it's more and more common, a big increase in the rate of home foreclosures. Rose 43 percent in the last year alone.

CNN's personal finance editor Gerri Willis has got more on this story.

Breaks your heart really.


Good to see you, but a very sad story about rising foreclosures. Even the experts in the market are worried about it. They're concerned about the impact on the market. But of course, it's not just the market that's concerning or effected; it's individual people. We found one husband and wife who never thought they'd lose their home.


WILLIS (voice-over): Tara and Jason Parrish thought they had the American Dream, a beautiful new home for themselves and their two- year-old son. That was three years ago. Today they're celebrating Christmas in this small rental house after a terrible ordeal.

TARA PARRISH, LOST HOME: We had a minivan, and he had a Grand Am, and the cars just were constantly breaking down, and we had to keep paying to have those fixed which, in turn, made our credit card bills go up, and we decided to file Chapter 7 bankruptcy to get rid of the debt that was just weighing down on us.

WILLIS: They thought the bankruptcy would let them keep their house, though in most states Chapter 7 offers limited protection to homeowners. They kept making their monthly payments.

PARRISH: About four or five months down the road, we kept getting hounding phone calls, you're not paying your mortgage, you know, we're going to put you in foreclosure.

WILLIS: Those calls were coming from a second mortgage company, which unknown to the Parrishes, had bought their loan. They tried to give that company proof of payments.

PARRISH: They would tell me to fax it, I would fax it. I would call them back, and they said, oh, we didn't get the fax. Oh, we'll transfer you to this service or this department, or, oh, you can talk to the foreclosure department. It was just a nightmare.

WILLIS: For some reason, their payments weren't being credited, though the mortgage company would not comment why. Frustrated, they skipped two payments. That was a big mistake. By now a third mortgage company had bought the loan. It told the parishes they owed $15,000, money they didn't have.

After nearly three years of back and forth with three different companies, the lender turned the parishes out of their home. The bank then sold it in a foreclosure sale, and the family moved into a small rental house. They say they lost more than just their home.

JOHN PARRISH, LOST HOME: Thousands upon thousands of dollars between payments we were making to them that went nowhere, lump sums we gave to them to try to put our loan back on track, thousands of dollars.

T. PARRISH: About between $35,000 and $40,000 worth of equity.


WILLIS: We'll take a closer look at the rise in foreclosures on a special edition of "OPEN HOUSE," "Mortgage Meltdown," Saturday at 2:00 p.m. Eastern and Sunday at 4:00 Eastern, right here on CNN.

O'BRIEN: Oh, what a sad story. All right, Gerri, thanks.

Here's a quick look at what "CNN NEWSROOM" is working on for the top of the hour.

HARRIS: See these stories in the CNN NEWSROOM changes at the top, reports President Bush will turn the Iraq war over to a general with counterinsurgency expertise.

An American yachtsman drifting for days hundreds of miles off South America rescued.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: As he was coming down, I noticed he was pretty big, a pretty big kid.

HARRIS: A passerby scoops up a tumbling toddler, only in New York.

You're in the "NEWSROOM," 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 Pacific.



© 2007 Cable News Network.
A Time Warner Company. All Rights Reserved.
Terms under which this service is provided to you.
Read our privacy guidelines. Contact us. Site Map.
Offsite Icon External sites open in new window; not endorsed by
Pipeline Icon Pay service with live and archived video. Learn more
Radio News Icon Download audio news  |  RSS Feed Add RSS headlines