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Clearing Cars in Atlanta; Early Leaders in 2016 Presidential Polls; Man Dies In Front of Fire Department; Possible Death Penalty for Boston Marathon Bomber.

Aired January 30, 2014 - 11:30   ET



ASHLEIGH BANFIELD, CNN ANCHOR: The iconic pictures this past week of thousands of cars stranded on interstates all around the Atlanta area, what a mess. At this hour, drivers who had to abandoned their cars on Tuesday are coming back to find them and clear them from the roadways, if they can even get them. Look how jammed everything is. Man, what a mess.

Our George Howell joins us from Atlanta where the presence of the National Guard, thank god, is there.

Update me on the story, George.

GEORGE HOWELL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Ashleigh, you mentioned it a minute ago, still thousands of cars on the highways now here in Atlanta. The good news is the temperature is up. The good news is people are getting back to cars.

Right now, where we are, this is one of the staging areas where you see people meeting up with the National Guard. This is where people will basically be able to go back to their cars. They'll be given tours back to those areas where they left their cars to find their cars and hopefully get them off the roads.

I want to bring in Sergeant Dan Stephens with the Georgia State Patrol.

We've been talking about what a monumental task this must be. First of all, how many cars are out there, do you know?

SGT. DAN STEPHENS, GEORGIA STATE PATROL: It's hard to give a ball park figure how many are out there. We know that since the storm began, we've assisted over 2,000 stranded motorists with vehicles and transportation, thus far.

HOWELL: I spoke with the gentleman who's going to be helped by this service. He said the best you can do is go in areas where people left their cars and you really have to find out within a mile range where the car could be. Is that the case?

STEPHENS: In many cases people abandoned cars and weren't familiar with the area. They don't exactly know where the car was abandoned. We are taking them to the area and trying to assist them in finding their cars.

HOWELL: Sergeant Stephens, one more question. As far as the public safety danger, we were driving around and saw several cars on the side of the highway. What are the dangers as long as cars are out?

STEPHENS: You have the danger of another car sliding into those cars. We have areas of the interstate set up for leaving cars. We don't normally have this many cars out there. We have a situation where sometimes people traveling down the roadway don't have a place to go if they do have an emergency. That's the reason we're trying to clear cars out as quickly as we can.

HOWELL: Thank you very much.

Again, today really is the day to get your car.

Real quick, what happens if you don't get the car today?

STEPHENS: We're not towing cars today until 9:00 tonight. We'll start assisting motorists by removing vehicles for them. We'll maintain logs where drivers can contact us and retrieve those at a later date.

HOWELL: Sgt. Stephens, thank you.

Very important. Again, 9:00 eastern is the time to make sure you found your car in the metro Atlanta area and you left it in this ice situation.

BANFIELD: Provided the person you depend on for a ride didn't have to abandon his car too.

George, by the way I remember looking at wreckers. Tow trucks trying to tow some of the cars away. Even the tow trucks were skidding and spinning out on the ice. So hopefully, it gets cleared up.

George Howell live for us. Thanks for that.

Look at those pictures. What a mess. Just awful. We'll keep you updated on that story.

There's this. A man collapsing from a heart attack. His daughter pleads for help at a nearby fire station. But they allegedly said, no, you've got to call 911. That didn't work out well. We've got did details later.

Also, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton leading the pack. Did I say leading? I mean, so far and away, for the Democratic nomination for president in 2016. We'll tell you how far and what it means.


BANFIELD: Hillary Clinton is dominating the 2016 field according to a new "Washington Post"/"ABC News" poll. In fact, she's leading any and every other Democratic candidate by six to one. That's six to one, massive. One of the biggest margins known no for a lot of polling. 73 percent of Democrats and leaning Independents say they would vote for Clinton. You go skidding down to Joe Biden, number two position, 12 percent. Elizabeth Warren in third at 8 percent. That's a pretty solid lead.

The host of "The Situation Room," Wolf Blitzer joins us live from Washington.

Conventional wisdom or knee-jerk reaction will tell you, oh, she's got it in the bag, it's all sewn up. But the 2006 wisdom would disabuse you of that quickly. Back in 2006, she had a double-digit lead over Barack Obama. Guess who's president?

WOLF BLITZER, HOST, THE SITUATION ROOM: The President is President Barack Obama. I'm taking a wild guess. You're absolutely right.


BANFIELD: You are so good at this, Wolf.

BLITZER: I went back and did research. February 2006, at this point in the race for the 2008 presidential nominee, we got the CNN polls, Hillary Clinton was 39 percent, February 2006; John Edwards at 12 percent; John Kerry, 15; Joe Biden, 5; Mark Warner, 5. President Barack Obama in early 2006, at this point in the race for the presidential race, he wasn't on the radar at that point.


BANFIELD: He wasn't even there. Later in the year, when he made it clear he was thinking about it, his numbers moved up by November. You have this poll. By November, Obama was at 15 percent, Clinton was at 13 percent. She was still way above by November 2006. He then went on to capture the presidential nomination and become the president of the United States.

So it's still early. Lots can change.

BANFIELD: Which is why when you confront a politician with a poll that he or she doesn't like, you can always say, oh don't trust the polls. That's true.

I want to switch over to the Republican side, Wolf, if I can. The "Washington Post"/"ABC News" poll on 2016 candidates, Paul Ryan is leading 20 percent. Jeb Bush falls just below at 18 percent. Chris Christie polling in third at 13 percent. That's among Republicans in total. If you narrow that down to Tea Party Republicans, that dynamic shifts. Ted Cruz is in the top. He didn't place in the top three Republicans across the board. Is this a big problem for Republicans or something entirely different that could be mitigated?

BLITZER: There's no doubt, among Tea Party supporters, Ted Cruz is very popular, very formable. Rand Paul is also in that category. He's thinking of running for Republican presidential nomination. There's no doubt Ted Cruz is thinking about it. Maybe Paul Ryan, who was the vice president nominee in this poll, who's doing well. I suspect Jeb Bush, the former governor of Florida, pretty popular there, is thinking about it. He'll make up his mind, he said last night, by the end of the year. All of those candidates are going better by the way because Chris Christie is doing a little worse as a result of the bridge problems that he's had over the past several weeks in New Jersey. Let's see if Chris Christie can come back. The other candidates are doing a little better.

One quick footnote for you, Ashleigh. I went back February 2006, we did a poll, who are the likely Republican presidential candidates? At that point, guess who was number one in February 2006, exactly at this point in the race for the 2008 Republican presidential nominee?

BANFIELD: Michelle Bachmann? I'm guessing.

BLITZER: No. No. It was Rudy Giuliani. He was at 33 percent. John McCain, who eventually got the nomination in 2006, he was at 28 percent. If you look at the rest of the list, George Allen, 7 percent; Mitt Romney 3 percent. This is in 2006, at this point in the race for the White House. Giuliani was way ahead.


BLITZER: -- was way ahead.

BANFIELD: I was thinking about February, just a couple of years ago. I wanted to say Michelle Bachmann was in first place. I think I was apples and oranges.

BLITZER: She was doing well in the Iowa caucuses and she obviously didn't get the Republican nomination when --


BANFIELD: I don't think she was on anyone's radar.

BLITZER: Giuliani was the front runner at this point in 2006, and it didn't work out for him. By the way --


BANFIELD: That's why it's such a great story.

BLITZER: In 2010, we did checking. At this point in 2010, Mitt Romney was doing well. He was the front runner. As we know, he did eventually go on to capture the Republican nomination. Lost to President Barack Obama. But he did capture the nomination. So these polls can be indicative of something going on. On the other hand, they might not be.

BANFIELD: Such a seesaw after that, too, after Mitt Romney.

Wolf, I'm going to give you a full plug for your 1:00 show this afternoon and 5:00 eastern on CNN. Tune in to Wolf Blitzer. Great watching, especially when we get into the heavy politics season.

Then, special treat later today. Jake Tapper sits down with President Barack Obama. It's the president's first interview since the State of the Union address. This is going to air on "New Day" and then later on "The Lead" with Jake Tapper at 4:00 p.m. Again, that's tomorrow.

A man has a heart attack across the street from a fire house staffed with firefighters but the firefighters don't respond, and that man is dead today. How does this happen?


BANFIELD: So imagine being in a life or death situation and the help you desperately need is a fire station away, steps in fact across the street. The firefighters refused to come to your aid. A Washington, D.C., woman says her 77-year-old father collapsed in her arms across the street in that place. The fire station in D.C. It happened Saturday. She says she was told by firefighters, through other people who had gone to help, that they couldn't respond unless they were dispatched. Adding insult to jury, Maria Mills, the daughter, said someone helping her did call 911. But the ambulance was dispatched to the wrong location. Eventually, a D.C. police officer flagged down the ambulance that happened to be driving by the spot where her dad, Cedric Mills, was trying to cling to life. This man is a city employee there for more than four years. Cedric Mills died. He died of an apparent heart attack after finally getting some treatment at a nearby hospital, but it wasn't until later that afternoon that he finally passed. His daughter describes the frantic moments that she went through.


MARIA MILLS, DAUGHTER OF CEDRIC MILLS: I could tell he was having trouble breathing. I started screaming, ran back in the store and asked them to call 911 because I did not have my cell phone. We looked across the street at the fire station. There was a firefighter actually standing against the fire apparatus that was in the fire station just observing. Everybody started trying to wave him over. Even ran to the curb and said, are you going to help me, or are you going to let my dad die?


BANFIELD: Washington's mayor, Vincent Gray, has called for a full investigation and said this situation was a failure of common sense.

Here's what Gray told one of our reporters earlier today about this investigation.


VINCENT GRAY, DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA MAYOR: I've taken a lot of time. I've talked to his daughter. But I think, given the fact that there's an investigation going on, let's give that an opportunity to play out. And it's being done as rapidly as we possibly can because we want to get to --


UNIDENTIFIED CNN CORRESPONDENT: A big concern to you or --

GRAY: It's a huge concern.


BANFIELD: It's a huge concern. CNN has reached out to the city's firefighters union for comment. We have not heard back yet. "The Washington Post" however is reporting that the president of that union has apologized to Mills' daughter.

I want to bring back in Joey Jackson and Mark O'Mara on this story.

Look, I always want to give the benefit of the doubt in any story where we don't have the complete set of facts. This is very, very troublesome. Very troublesome. What possibly could be a defense here of these firefighters?

MARK O'MARA, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & CNN LEGAL ANALYST: I really hope that there's less to it than there seems. I can't imagine firefighters, my dad, my brother, my cousin being one, would ever do something as negligent as this. I'm only hoping that we're going to find out that something that the probie officer did was out of procedure. Something has to make sense.

BANFIELD: When you said the probie officer, let's give another detail here. Apparently, there was a young, not-yet past probation officer who refused to open the door of the fire hall, and later seen leaning against a truck in the open bay watching what's going on. If it comes to pass that that probie didn't notify other areas and they didn't know anything about this, what's the situation then for the probie and the rest of the fire department?

JOEY JACKSON, CRIMINAL DEFENSE ATTORNEY & HLN LEGAL ANALYST: Ashleigh, it's still problematic. Firefighters, they do a great service for all of us. We don't want to jump to conclusions, but if the facts are as they reported, it's troublesome as you mentioned. And it goes beyond that to the point of negligent. We know they're not allowed to respond unilaterally. And there could be a 911 call --


BANFIELD: That's the procedure.

JACKSON: That's the procedure, but that does not prevent them from acting to save a life.


JACKSON: So it causes a problem.


JACKSON: Exactly. But to the original question, I think it becomes a problem for the probationary officer in terms of his future there. And it becomes a problem for the fire department in terms of any civil liability that might attach to their actions.

BANFIELD: They are investigating and ask all of the 15 firefighters to come in to answer questions about this. And clearly there's more information that needs to come out. So we'll revisit this when we find out the rest of the facts in the case. And we will cross our fingers that there's nothing more than that afoot.

Mark O'Mara, Joey Jackson, stay with me, if you will, please.

The man accused in the Boston Marathon bombing, if he's convicted, could Dzhokhar Tsarnaev face the death penalty? The decision whether the feds are even going to seek it could come down tomorrow. We're going to weigh-in.


BANFIELD: "Crime and Punishment" time. Huge crime and possibly the ultimate punishment. We should be finding out by tomorrow whether the feds are going to seek the death penalty against the Boston Marathon bombing suspect Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. He and his older brother, Tamerlan, allegedly set off two pressure cooker bombs near the finish line of the storied race last April. Three people were killed, and three days later the brothers allegedly killed an MIT police officer in his own patrol car. Tamerlan Tsarnaev was killed in a shootout with the police, but left behind was Dzhokhar. And what do we do with him?

Back to my lawyers, Mark O'Mara, Joey Jackson. Both join me again live.

The decision belongs to the U.S. Attorney Eric Holder. The deadline is for tomorrow for Mr. Holder to decide whether or not the feds will go after a death penalty. There is so much emotion in this case.

JACKSON: Oh, yes.

BANFIELD: This Tsarnaev fellow is not some guy from a state you've never been to who committed a crime you never heard of. This is an alleged terrorist. And this is the Boston Marathon. Does all of that emotion factor into this?

O'MARA: Definitely. Partly, a political decision as well as a rational one. DOJ has a procedure in place where they have to look at certain criteria to determine whether or not death should be sought. Prior criminal record, the age, whether or not he was under the influence of somebody else, whether or not it was premeditated. Obviously, this was. So Holder's going to look at this and try and decide whether or not it fits the criteria. I think overall it does. And I think there's no reason not to seek death on a terrorist who tried to destroy the Boston Marathon.

BANFIELD: Joey, ironically, some people support the death penalty even when they don't support the death penalty because it's awesome leverage. It's awesome leverage to hold it over some guy's head to say you wanted to strike a plea with me and spare us the trial costs and all the rest, go away for the rest of your life in return for your life.

JACKSON: That's right. BANFIELD: Ultimately, you never have to actually prosecute and use the death penalty. Do you think that's a possibility?

JACKSON: It certainly is. Everything's on the table. This affected so many people, it affected our country and certainly to mark's point, after weighing those factors as the Department of Justice will do, what's the downside? We should also discuss the fact that there's only been three executions when the federal government has pursued the death penalty since 1976, when the death penalty was reinstated. Therefore, it's a very weighty decision. At the end of the day, all the factors are here. To the extent this caused what it did cause, I think even though Holder does not personally agree with the death penalty, he has shown in instances where it's appropriate he will apply it.

BANFIELD: By the way, just quickly, we have a drug problem in this country, execution drug problem.


BANFIELD: Do you think that might at all factor into this decision real quick?

O'MARA: You know, it could have some concern. We have to figure out a way to kill people right. I don't think that's a good idea.

BANFIELD: That's harsh, right?

O'MARA: I don't like the death penalty. It doesn't work.


O'MARA: But other than that --


JACKSON: It's just interesting, Ashleigh, that we're debating a humane way to apply the death penalty.


JACKSON: And I think though because of the Eighth Amendment and the fact the way it's applied could be considered cruel and unusual, it's an issue that's not going away.

BANFIELD: Mark O'Mara, Joey Jackson, always good to hear from you. Brilliant minds and brilliant thoughts. Thank you for that.

Thanks for all for watching. CNN NEWSROOM continues now.