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Latest on Flight 370 Search; More Details from Fort Hood Shooting; Interview with Killeen, Texas, Mayor

Aired April 4, 2014 - 21:00   ET


MICHAEL SMERCONISH, CNN HOST: Good evening. I'm Michael Smerconish.

It's a milestone of the worst kind. It has now been four full weeks since the 239 souls aboard Flight 370 vanished into mid-air. An entire month and not a single piece of debris has been found.

Tonight though, for the first time, we can show you pictures of the missing plane. Photographs taken by aviation buffs over the past several years, has the story behind them and you can see all of the photographs there. They show the jetliner taking off over Rome, on a runway in Amsterdam, on the tarmac in Johannesburg. In other words, doing exactly what we expect planes to do. The images are ghostly (ph) reminder that everything ordinary can morph in an instant.

Today's search has just gotten underway with 13 planes and 11 ships all looking for the aircraft. And now, the hunt has moved underwater as sophisticated sonar equipment is brought in.

Time could not be more urgent because the pingers on the plane's black boxes likely have only a couple of days of battery life left.

There's also some major news out of Fort Hood tonight. The father of one of the injured soldiers told CNN affiliate WLBT that the shooter, specialist Ivan Lopez, stopped by the base's personnel office to pick up a leave form shortly before his killing spree but was told to pick up the form the next day. He later returned to that office and he open fire. That father's son was hit four times.

Lopez's family released a statement today. His father saying, "My son must not have been in his right mind. He wasn't like that."

Tonight, we'll drill down on the mental health issues in the military with a couple of people who knew a lot about it. One is a forensic military psychiatrist, the other a retired brigadier general and psychiatrist who was part of the crisis team that responded to the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood.

But first, I want to begin with the search for MH370 now more urgent than ever.

Investigators say that they've narrowed the search zone but the area they're targeting is at best an educated guess.

One question I've been wondering after so many weeks, does the law of diminishing returns come into play?

My first guest is Foria Younis, a former FBI agent who has worked on several big airline disaster investigations including TWA800, the 9/11 attacks and the Egypt Air suicide crash.

Foria, there was a report this week that the 227 passengers have all been cleared by the Malaysian investigators. Is it reasonable that they could have been cleared in that amount of time if the process was handled competently?

FORIA YOUNIS, FBI AGENT: Yeah. I think it would normally take just a little bit longer to do a thorough search like any investigation of all of those individuals you can go deeper and deeper and deeper.

So it all depends on what they call a clearance for these individuals that they had been cleared. How deep did they go? Did they just do a basic criminal check? Did they do an intensive check on telephone records? Did they do an intensive check on the travels of these individuals?

So it all depends on what they consider that these passengers have been cleared.

SMERCONISH: What would you consider clear to mean, in FBI speak?

YOUNIS: Yes. So in this type of investigation, initially we will probably just do a basic search and then when this mystery is going on for as long as it has, we will do further checks including e-mails, telephone records, travel records, relationship issues. All of these things would be deeply looked into the more time we have.

I mean 227 passengers, that's a lot of people. They're from various different countries and I'm sure every country has their own way of doing this investigation.

SMERCONISH: Do the odds of solving a situation like this, a mystery like this necessarily diminish with the passage of time?

YOUNIS: Yes. What happens is, with any investigation of this caliber, the longer the time goes on that more difficult it becomes.

So there are cases where you get to a point where there's just no other investigated lead. So what you do at that stage is you go back. You do a more thorough investigation of things that you've already done.

You may, you know, in an international investigation like this, you go back to the various governments and in diplomatic fashion find out what they did, what information have they shared with you and in this particular case, you know, was the information that they shared with you accurate?

I had been in international investigations where we thought that the government was not giving us everything they had. So therefore, you push and you go higher levels if you need to to make sure you're getting the information that you need. SMERCONISH: I want to also bring in Arnold Carr. He's a sonar expert and President of the American Underwater Search and Survey.

Arnold, I have questions well beneath your pay grade. GPS, radar, sonar, pingers please differentiate the meaning of these terms in this context.

ARNOLD CARR, PRESIDENT, AMERICAN UNDERWATER SEARCH AND SURVEY: Well, GPS is primarily used to really locate and know where you are or know where the plane is and that was one critical thing that was missing on the plane, good radar contact in GPS down to the end wherever the end was.

As far as sonar is concerned, sonar - side-scan sonar in particular allows you to really sweep and map the bottom fairly thoroughly and you can do this out to several kilometers each side, a matter of range and where you do it is more of a matter of the size of the target. But you could do a kilometer each side in searching for this aircraft down on the bottom.

SMERCONISH: The sonar ...

CARR: Pinger ...

SMERCONISH: I'm sorry, go ahead.

CARR: Yes. The pinger is a great instrument and has helped us a lot. We've put divers in the water to find the recorders, the black boxes and the divers using tracking in on the pinger haven't been able to essentially step on the recorder before they even saw it. But a pinger is a short range and as you all know limited time.

SMERCONISH: And you just made reference I think to this fact. There's a great deal of discussion tonight about how the battery life of those black boxes emitting the pinger is a very short time period if at all there's some question as to whether the batteries were properly serviced.

You need to be in very close proximity. And so at the depth, where presumably this plane might lie in the Indian Ocean, that wouldn't seem to be the most effective means of finding it.

CARR: I would think not. Usually, the process goes first stage is use the radar and GPS that are off the plane if you have it and also look for debris which they are doing and you hindcast on the debris. Then you go on to phase two which you may really look at a tightened area for a debris fill. Then phase three is when you really going in and looking for the pinger, the tail section and whatever where the pinger and the recorders would be.

SMERCONISH: Arnold, are there unique challenges that are posed by the Indian Ocean?

CARR: Very. It's the remoteness of it. The irregularity of the bottom, if the pinger is hidden behind a hill for example or a mountain or a ledge, it could mask the ping that would emit and even some sections of the plane could do that.

The other problem you have in that area is right now, it's the admin (ph) of winter. So your functional time, efficient time at sea is going to be limited down to maybe several days a week.

SMERCONISH: Foria Younis, Arnold Carr thank you both very much for your expertise.

YOUNIS: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: Searching for the truth of Flight 370, could an unsecured cockpit have left the flight vulnerable?

And trying to understand the shootings at Fort Hood, I'll talk to a member of the crisis team from the 2009 rampage.


SMERCONISH: You're looking at a picture of thin steel bars in front of a cockpit door. That's a security measure that doesn't yet exist in American airliners. But some say that it should, in fact they say it's long overdue, nearly 13 years after 9/11 and that's our unfinished story tonight.

Malaysian investigators said this week that all 227 passengers on Flight 370 have been cleared of any wrong doing. That does not include the 12 crew members. The truth is, we don't know and we may never know if someone who didn't belong in that cockpit broke into it four weeks ago tonight.

Malaysian Airlines say it has increased cockpit security in the wake of Flight 370, but my next guest says they're still far behind U.S. airlines in this respect.

Captain John Barton is a pilot for a major airline, also a legislative representative of the Air Line Pilots Association, ALPA for short.

And Mr. Barton, let me begin as a matter of fact by discussing ALPA because ALPA today released a press statement and they called for several improvements but two things that they did not call for. They did not call for increasing the two-hour recording capabilities nor did ALPA call for cockpit placing of cameras in cockpits. Can you speak to those two issues? Why not increase the length of time that would rerecord it from the two hours?

CAP. JOHN BARTON, AIR LINE PILOTS ASSOCIATION REPRESENTATIVE: Well, Mike, obviously you know that I've been working legislative issues with the coalition of families and Ellen Sarcini on The Hill, but those two issues there - it wouldn't, a video camera in the cockpit or increased video or voice recorder time would not have anymore answers to this situation that happened with Malaysian Air.

So I don't know why we want to increase the recording devices that are coming from the airplane already when we can't find the airplane.

SMERCONISH: But if there were real time transmission of data presumably there'd be no mystery right now. We might know where the plane exists but we certainly know what brought about this circumstance.

BARTON: Yeah. I agree with that. I don't that any of the video recording equipment would be real time in the future if they did go to that type of system. But there's so many reporting parameters that can be sent from airplanes that apparently Malaysian Airlines did not have that ALPA spoke about that in their press release also.

And so, you know, the bottom line is when it comes back to it is the work that we've been doing has been to secure the cockpit and one thing that we definitely know is that someone could have gotten into the cockpit in less than two seconds. And that's the ...

SMERCONISH: And John Barton, you've flown a 777, I want to make sure that audience appreciates that fact because for the rest of us who were on the outside looking in, trying to understand a subject about which you have plenty of expertise.

In what ways, sir, are the Malaysians not up to snuff with regard to U.S. standards?

BARTON: Well, one of the things that was disturbing that we found out that in the past 10 years, pilots had taken people into the cockpit.

At first, to most American pilots they were shocked that someone would be brought up to the cockpit during flight. For over 25 years, U.S. regulations have not allowed us to do that. So that was kind of a shocker. But then it wasn't when we found out that they had no procedures on that.

We don't really know what their procedures are for protecting the cockpit when the pilots have to come out of the cockpit. We know that they allowed one pilot to be in alone in the cockpit which we don't do. Two people are always in the -- on the flight deck when someone leaves. And we don't know what their procedures for and they're not going to tell you because it's sensitive information on what they do when that door opens.

As you know in the United States, we either have a flight attendant that is standing in the aisle, there is the cart with the flight attendant behind it and then there's of course the secondary barriers which Ellen Sarcini and the Air Line Pilots Association have been fighting for on the Hill.

SMERCONISH: Time and again, we've watched the images of the -- I'll phrase it this way, the two left turns. The map that comes up, there's the plane's route here are the two turns that presumably it made. As someone with experience flying a 777, how do you interpret that? What do you make of it?

BARTON: Well, it's obviously strange, something's wrong. Either the pilot initiated it or someone from outside the cockpit got in and initiated it. It's a definite that someone actually made the airplane do this. They could have done it two ways. They got to put information into the computer to make the plane fly in that direction or they could have just simply turn the heading knob in the direction that they wanted to go.

SMERCONISH: John Barton, thank you for your expertise. We appreciate it.

BARTON: Thank you.

SMERCONISH: The Fort Hood shooter had never been in combat. So, why was he undergoing diagnostics for PTSD?

And should a baseball player tell his wife to schedule a C-section around the season opener?


SMERCONISH: Time for Headlines Redefined, the headlines that got the story half right.

First up, from the New York Times today, New Jersey's largest newspaper announces big staff cuts in reorganization.

This is a story about the Star-Ledger. The Star-Ledger unfortunately announced the cutting of a 167 jobs, and 40 of them were in the newsroom. And there'd been a lot of stories like this about newspapers across the country. It pains me to read them and not just because I'm a Sunday columnist for the Philadelphia Inquirer myself.

These reductions I say represent a threat to investigative journalism. I mean the Star-Ledger has done some terrific work on Bridgegate, the controversy that still surrounds the Christie administration. And I say that no amount of blogging is going to make up for the loss of good old-fashion investigative journalism that keeps the politicians honest.

So the way I would've written this headline we need these guys to watch those guys.

Number two comes from the Washington post, "Senate Committee OK's release of CIA torture report."

There was an 11 to three vote yesterday, Senate Intelligence Committee to release information from this report that's been secret thus far about harsh interrogation methods. 500 pages are apparently what we'll see from about 6,000 pages. I'm sure there going to be a lot of reductions. Some people think we're going to get to heart of the mater of whether water boarding really worked.

But don't think so in this partisan environment and I'll tell you why. The report was produce exclusively by Democratic staff members and the Republicans are already beefing about the conclusions. Saxby Chambliss by a way of illustration said the report is a waste of time. And so the headline I'd have written for this story, "Vote is over, debate will never end."

The last headline we got to deal with this from TMZ, Boomer Esiason, pro athletes shouldn't take paternity leave. I'd get a C-section before the season. Well, he wouldn't but presumably his wife would, you know, this by know right net, second baseman Daniel Murphy missed two games out of a 162 games schedule because he wanted to be with his wife during the birth of their son, along comes Boomer Esiason on a talk radio program wondering about, why did he need to be with his wife and miss work. And then he really went off the rails when he said, "Essentially why couldn't she have a C-section?"

I mean maybe there could've been a debate about the missing of work, but when reference having, you know, an elective surgery so he could play baseball, it was over for Boomer. I was there for all of mine and I have to say it's, as many of you know, a once in a lifetime opportunity.

To Boomer's credit, I'll say this, he issued a real apology, not one of these fake apologies would say as well, you know, "To the extent I've offended somebody."

He knows he offended people, he man up, he apologized. Having said all that here's the headline I'd had put on the story, "Father knows best."

How secure is Fort Hood, really? I'll ask the Brigadier general who was on the crisis team after the 2009 shooting and why one veteran believes soldiers today suffer more mental health issues than those who came before them.


SMERCONISH: There still many questions regarding the Fort Hood shooting. And once again, we're evaluating the way in which we care for our returning veterans and the struggle with PTSD.

You know, last night I shared with you the fact that one in five veterans had symptoms of a mental health disorder or cognitive impairment. One in six veterans who serve in Iraq or Afghanistan suffers from substance abuse.

I was talking about this today in my Sirius XM radio program. When I got a call from a veteran, he identified himself as Chris from Fort Bragg and he was responding to my question which asked whether there was something different about soldiers who have served in say, Iraq or Afghanistan as compared to those who serve in Vietnam, Korea or were part of the greatest generation. Or I wondered, do we just know more about mental health and things like PTSD today?

This caller said there's no difference between the soldiers that serve today and those who serve in the past conflicts, but what's changed, he said, "Is the ability of soldiers to interact with civilians far removed from the battle field in real time."

In other words in the past soldiers confronted with the atrocity of war relied on their colleagues who were facing the same obstacles and it helped harden them as they reassured one another that any necessary killing was justified to save one another's lives. Their behavior was viewed through the prism of war. Today he said, "It's different." My caller argued that nowadays the first thing that soldiers do after a mission is e-mail family or even Skype. And the immediacy of their communication with civilians means that they process what they've done in a different context and that impacts the way that they perceived their own behavior. Maybe if the greatest generation had Twitter feeds, they would have been impacted in a very different way.

I thought it was an interesting perspective as we try to make sense out of Fort Hood for the second time in five years.

Let me welcome someone who actually has expertise in that matter. That would be Dr. Thomas Grieger, a retired Navy Psychiatrist. He's done a lot of research on stress in military populations.

Dr. Grieger, let me begin with you by asking your response to the question of, "Is there something different about the soldiers today or if those (inaudible) were put into the context of today's conflicts, would we find the same outcomes?

DR. THOMAS GRIEGER, RETIRED NAVY PSYCHIATRIST: Well, I think, there is something different about the soldiers of today and it is in all volunteer army. Of course, during World War II, the majority of people were volunteers, but others were drafted. The duration of the conflicts is also different. The number of deployments and the duration of time in combat is much greater during the last two conflicts than during World War II. So there's a combination of perhaps greater resilience but also greater stress in over a longer duration.

SMERCONISH: Doctor, I understand from your research that you get quite different findings when soldiers are permitted to report anonymously on symptoms of PTSD as compared to those circumstances where their identity is known. Can you speak to that issue?

GRIEGER: Yes. In the last few years, about half way through the war, maybe a third way through the war, they started doing something called the Post-Deployment Health Assessment, which is brief screening for depression, PTSD, and suicide act that will be around with substance abuse.

We did a study of soldiers returning from one deployment and found that when they completed that form which they knew would be reported to medical authorities, and then we took aside half of those soldiers and have them complete the same questions anonymously, the endorsement rate of PTSD and depressive symptoms was twice as high as when they knew that it actually would be reported and someone would be asking about those issues.

SMERCONISH: Based on what you know of this case as it's still unfolding and I recognized that we're all on the outside looking in. But what apparent stressors do you see in this presumed shooter?

GRIEGER: Well, you're right. We know very little about him. What we do know are a number of significant factors though. One is that he apparently came on to the active force later in the life than most soldiers would have. He was in his early 30s as an E4, probably taking orders and having to serve under soldiers who were senior to him in rank but much junior in age, and being told that he could or couldn't do certain things. So certainly, that would take a toll. We also know that he had recently moved from Fort Lewis to Fort Hood. And that, for the first month or so, he was not with his wife and young child and that they had only recently joined him there.

I understand from today's news coverage that he had been requesting leave permission and had been -- essentially told that he could not get that at the time he wanted it. And also, that there was a similar period of time back in November of last year when we had requested leave relating to the death of a relative and that it took several days to get that leave approval. So, a number of overall stressors as well as current stressors.

SMERCONISH: How did the mental health resources available to members of the military compared to those available on the outside and available to the civilian population?

GRIEGER: Actually, I think access is much better, I mean, everyone is clearly covered under the military's medical system, but the question of stigma is also present. So soldiers, sailors, marines, all know that, you know, it could have the impact on their career if they sought mental health treatment. So, it's a mix. The availability is physically there, but the culture maybe such that people are reluctant to access it.

SMERCONISH: I want to bring in Brandon Webb, a former U.S. navy seal, editor of, a website for news about the special ops and intelligence communities. He joins me now by phone. Brandon, of what significance to you the fact that apparently Mr. Lopez sought out treatment?

BRANDON WEBB, EDITOR, SOFREP.COM: Well, you know, if you look at the law enforcement led by the FBI, has done a great job over the last few years about raising awareness and training in regards to these active shooter incidents. And to me, this just points out that we really need to up the training for the mental health industry and the professionals to help them identify their early warning signs here. I mean, here's a guy that sought out help and was on medication, and within months of doing that, went out and purchased the firearm. So, I'm just a little bit shocked at how none of these warning signs triggered any red flag for anybody.

SMERCONISH: In other words, the fact that he was seeking some level of counseling, some level of psychiatric consult, we still don't know the full extent of it, you're wondering why would that in of itself not have triggered a process where he couldn't access to the firearm?

WEBB: Yeah, exactly. Yeah, and then I do think also that the base security should be commended, that police woman that stood up to the gunman and she -- that takes a lot of guts to draw down on somebody, you know, is taken a lives of several people. So, I think she should be commended as well.

SMERCONISH: Brandon, have you noticed a change in the culture within the service relative to PTSD in the post 9/11 world as compared to the pre 9/11 world?

WEBB: Yeah, absolutely. It's a lot -- culturally, it's a lot more acceptable to seek treatment after a combat deployment to get some counseling and I think it's all important to point out that many active duty military comeback with mild symptoms of PTSD and go on to live very productive careers in the military and outside of the military as well. But it's become much more acceptable and people can still have a career whereas before 9/11 seeking any type of help would be a potential career ender.

SMERCONISH: How much of an impediment is the stigma that is applied to PTSD? I was speaking to Dr. Grieger a moment ago and he was saying that when there's anonymous reporting, you get a far different finding than you do if the identity of the soldier or sailor is known. Is it a concern on the part of those who are serving that if they report, they're going to be a whole host of complications and therefor they keep it to themselves?

WEBB: I actually think -- today, in today's military -- inside the military, people are not as afraid to come forward and seek counseling within regards to PTSD. Most of veterans and active duty folks I speak to, they're -- actually, their biggest fear is that this stigma is created in the media and elsewhere that these veterans as they're transitioning, you know, from act of duty to the civilian life that there's this stigma that they're damaged goods. So when -- personally, I run a media business and I hire veterans because I know they're leaders, they can think on their feet and make incredibly tough decisions under extreme amounts of pressure. So, I think that we have to also look at the positive side of these transitioning veterans as well.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Grieger, Brandon Webb, thank you both for your expertise.

My next guest called Fort Hood a stressful environment when he was part of the team that investigated the 2009 shooting. He'll explain why. And if you think lawyers are villains, the next story is going to change your mind.



ARMETRA OTIS, SISTER OF SGT. JONATHAN WESTBROOK: From this, having heard and looking at (inaudible) and he shot the first guy he saw and killed him and then turned the gun on my brother and he was shot one more time.


SMERCONISH: That was Armetra Otis on "The Lead" earlier. Her brother Sgt. Jonathan Westbrook was discharged from the hospital today. She says that he's doing well. Three soldiers did not survive the attack. Sgt. Carlos Lazaney on the far left, who was 38 and plan to retire soon after to 20 years of service. Sgt. Timothy Owens was 37, a councilor in the army who served in Iraq. Sgt. Danny Ferguson was engaged. And he's fiance said that he was shot while trying to hold a door shut to stop the shooter.

Today, authorities say, they now believed an argument between Ivan Lopez and his fellow soldiers rather than a medical condition may have sparked the shooting. We do know that Lopez was getting treatment for psychiatric problems and was being evaluated for PTSD.

We want to be careful to point out that most soldiers with PTSD obviously do not turn into murderers. But once again, a horrible tragedy on a military base has put the issue of mental health back on the table.

Joining me now is Dan Corbin, the Mayor of Killeen, Texas. Also Dr. Stephen Xenakis, he's a retired Brigadier General and a psychiatrist who went to Fort Hood in 2009 as part of a crisis team. Dr. Xenakis, what did you find in 2009 through your work as part of that crisis team?

BRIG. GEN. STEPHEN XENAKIS, (RET.): Ford Hood was undergoing a lot of stress. They have two divisions. They're one of the largest in the world, 45,000 to 50,000 soldiers. They were deploying repeatedly to the combat theaters in Iraq and Afghanistan. And there's just a really fast phased and a lot of pressure that was put on those soldiers in the leadership. And you could tell how it was permeating through all the elements, all the layers of the installation.

SMERCONISH: I've heard time and again and immediate referred to as a "Small City" but -- a small city with a lot more stressors than you would find in the civilian population.

XENAKIS: Absolutely. And young people, and facing, you know, the duties that they -- that are put on them and they're very dedicated, but they're trying to make a living and their families are tying to make a living there. Take a soldier like Specialist Lopez. He's a E4, makes 28,000 a year. Has to live off post, has a young daughter, I think, a young child, wife may or may not be able to find employment. These are, you know, a lot of pressures on a family.

And as I understand, he had been married before and had two children in Puerto Rico that he was trying to support. So, I mean, it's difficult for them and lot of stress on them to just to make due everyday.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Mayor, what the world now focused on your community, what is it that you'd most want people to know about the area that you think they might not be understanding?

MAYOR DAN CORBIN, KILLEEN, TEXAS: Well, I think a lot of people may not understand that we have over 41,000 soldiers here. And as the doctor said, these young men and women have been deployed numerous times to combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. They are remarkable people. They are part of the 1 percent to volunteer to help defend our country. And as a result of that, they do not like to admit that they have any weaknesses when they return from combat. As one of your other guest said, they may not be totally honest with regard to the emotional stressors that may affect them. And that is natural for people who are soldiers. They don't want to admit any weakness. But they have such strength of character, they're remarkable people who we are so happy to have them being a part of our community.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Xenakis, it's been reported that within the last month, there was some level of a psychiatric evaluation done of the presumed shooter. If you were to speak to the physician who carried out that level of review, what would you most want to ask?

XENAKIS: What I really want to know is how often was he seen after that? How much contact was there? And did he have the opportunity to come back when he needed it and if he was really in a situation feeling like he was in crisis. Because I think that's what we've got to think about.

We've got to understand how we take positive moves to identify who might be in crisis, who might be dangerous, and let them know that if they're feeling like they're going to harm themselves or somebody else, there's a safety net there. And there's a place where they can reach out and get help.

And that's really what's important here when we think about how to make a community like Fort Hood, keep it safe, because it takes several initiatives here and opportunities and leadership to have all that available to the soldiers knowing that they are under all the stress that they've been handling for several years.

SMERCONISH: Dr. Xenakis, what happens as a practical matter, if I'm a soldier and I'm diagnosed with PTSD, for example, what happens to my salary? What happens to my retirement? What happens to my ability to continue to serve in the military and be promoted?

XENAKIS: If you've got the diagnosis and you're in treatment and you can perform your duties, really, it's just -- it's fine. I mean, there are really no problems with it. The problem at this time is that the army is down sizing. And I think they're going to discharge over these next several years a 100,000 soldiers. So now, there's a different spot light on the soldiers about being able to sustain their level of performance and not have any medical problem, not just PTSD, may not have any problem that at all interferes with how they do their job.

And of course, there are fewer resources both in the medical area as well as across the board. So it's really -- it's a perfect storm in some ways for unfortunately these kinds of incidents.

SMERCONISH: Mayor Corbin, I understand that earlier today sir, you visited some of the wounded at a local hospital. Would you tell me about that?

CORBIN: Yes, I attended to the remaining two wounded at Darnall Army Medical Center. They were there with families, they showed remarkable strength and courage and a commitment to get well and rejoin the force. It was really wonderful to see how close the family support was and how good their morale was in the face of this. I don't want to go in any detail about their injuries but they are going to be -- one of them is going to be there for quite a while in recovering. And the -- he's wife is so strong right there with him and they're being well taken care off. They say they're getting world class medical treatment. And they're anxious to get well and rejoin their units.

SMERCONISH: Mr. Mayor again, this is touched off a debate about access to firearms on bases. Do you think there are any changes that are necessary to compensate for what just took place?

CORBIN: I've heard Lieutenant General Milley, the commanding general at Fort Hood, talk about that in some detail. And the thing that concerns me is, since November 5th 2009 and Wednesday, there hadn't been any shootings on Fort Hood where anyone had been killed or hurt. If half of these soldiers had handguns that they carried with them, I just wonder how many shootings there would have been on post between November 5th 2009 and now. So, I don't know if we're going to do grand experiment and try that to see how it works. I'm sure the Department of Defense is going to carefully study the issue and I'm sure Congress will look at the issue as well.

SMERCONISH: Gentlemen, thank you so much to both of you, Mayor Dan Corbin and Dr. Stephen Xenakis. We appreciate you being here.

You know, trial lawyers often get a bad rep, I should know. I am one. But I want to tell you a story about a hero legal team that succeeded in bringing to light a fatal flaw after the government failed to do so.

But first, I want to introduce you to another kind of hero. A young woman taking out on a big problem for her small community, residents, and farm workers in California's green valley, they can't afford food that's all around them.

Sarah Ramirez chooses to live in one of the state's most impoverish communities and is bringing wellness to people who desperately need it.

Take a look at Sarah's story and go to and nominate a hero that you know.


SARAH RAMIREZ, CNN HERO: Pixley is a small community located in the central part of California.

Here we are in this agriculturally rich area and yet people who live here and work here are hungry, are impoverished.

Some are working in the fields that feed the entire country and then they don't have the resources to support them and their health. It's heartbreaking.

We can't just watch that and not wonder is there something more that we could do.

What we do was we glean mostly from backyards. Today, we're looking on a glean of about 6400 pounds and that's incredible.

My husband and I grew up in Pixley. My parents, they worked in the fields. I had family members who died at very young ages due to chronic diseases by diabetes.

And those are either are high school students.

Looking at these issues of poverty and obesity, and we were trying to figure out how do we provide our resources for our community and our home.

We also have a component in our garden that's a "You Pick" (ph), eating your household means, some fruits and vegetables.

We really try to teach how to use what we're growing.

Peach and cucumber.


RAMIREZ: I want to grow old and I want to grow old in a healthy way and I want that for everybody.



SMERCONISH: One Last Thing. This has been an incredible week for me. Just one month after launching my very own program here on CNN, the network gave me the privilege of spending the whole week with you in prime time and it's been a great honor. Special thanks to all the producers and the bookers who made it possible.

But, you know, there is one interview in particular this week that stood out to me and I haven't been able to stop thinking about it. Ken and Beth Melton were my guests here on Tuesday night talking about the loss of their daughter Brooke. It happened four years ago this week. Brooke was a nurse. It was her 29th birthday.

And four days prior, her 2005 Chevy Cobalt shutoff while she was driving. She lost control over the power steering and her breaks then have the car serviced at the local dealership. They returned it to her saying that all was fixed.

Then on her birthday, she was traveling on Highway 92 in Paulding County, Georgia. It was a rainy night. She was driving 58 miles an hour on a two-lane road and there was a collision. The accident report said that she lost control over the car. She wound up in a creek and she died.

Her parents, the Meltons, hired a lawyer. The lawyer hired experts who are able to determine that the key had slipped from the on position to the accessory position three seconds before the accident which would have shut off her power steering and breaks just like it happened four days prior. In their lawsuit, it was revealed that GM was aware of the problem, in fact, even before the car was sold to Brooke in 2005. Why wasn't the problem fixed? Well, a 2005 memo sided by lawmakers this week said it was because redesigning the ignition switch would have cost $0.90 per car. There's still much to determine.

But the reason that Mary Barra, the CEO of GM, just testified this week begins with the Meltons and their search for truth, and the sleuthing of an engineer named Mark Hood who was hired by their lawyer. It was Hood who pierced together that the original part from Brooke Melton's car did not match store bought replacements despite the same identification number. And among the questions that need to be answered is not only why GM failed but the Meltons also want to know why do the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration fail which regulates auto safety.

Both in 2007 and in 2010, NHTSA failed to pursue complaints about non- deployment of air bags in GM cars. This case demands accountability, accountability not only from GM, but also from the government entity responsible for the automaker's over site. We know what we know today only because of the Melton's pursuit of justice, their willingness to file a lawsuit.

Our civil justice system, it's often maligned. But, you know, it remains a great check on our free enterprise system. Often, it serves as a more vigilant force than the government itself whether it's NHTSA being slow to force the recall of defective cars, the SEC not reigning in the forces of Wall Street that brought about the bank collapses. The FDA in delaying taking products off the market like Vioxx or maybe CPSC in their hesitancy to recall defective products like BB guns.

So, here's the thought, the next time a jury duty notice arrives, instead of thinking about how that service can be avoided, instead, consider the power, consider the importance of the civil justice system. Think about Mr. and Mrs. Melton.

Thank you for watching. I'm Michael Smerconish. Hey, I'll see you tomorrow morning at 9:00, regular time. Our whole new show will be ready to go.

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