updated 9/21/2005 10:21:25 AM ET 2005-09-21T14:21:25

Guest: Craig Marks, Duane Gapinski, Dickie Scruggs, Chris Collins, John

Wells, Bob Rudge, Ed Rappaport

DAN ABRAMS, HOST:  Coming up, Hurricane Rita gaining strength.  At this hour still hitting the Florida Keys with winds over 100 miles an hour.

(BEGIN VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS (voice-over):  As Rita crosses the Gulf forecasters say it could hit the Texas coast as a category four hurricane.  And it could gear off towards New Orleans as well.  Are federal and state officials ready? 

Plus a lawyer who took on big tobacco now taking on big insurance companies in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, tens of thousands of lawsuits in the works?

And police question one of the last men to see a missing college freshman in Virginia.  Is he a suspect?  His lawyer says so. 

The program about justice starts now. 

(END VIDEOTAPE)

ABRAMS:  Hi everyone.  Breaking news, Hurricane Rita headed towards the Gulf of Mexico.  Key West may have escaped the worst of the storm as Rita's eye passed just south of there, but with rain and wind, it still left a mark.  Rita now a category two hurricane, expected to gain strength.  Right now winds exceeding 100 miles per hour.  Storm surges are about 6 feet, a hurricane warning in effect for all of the Florida Keys, much of the Florida coast and it's headed towards the Gulf region, possibly even towards Louisiana. 

Let's begin with MSNBC's Donna Gregory in Key West, Florida.  Donna, what have you seen? 

DONNA GREGORY, NBC NEWS CORRESPONDENT:  Hey Dan.  We are seeing some major squalls come through here.  We just heard from a police spokesperson, there are sustained winds here now of 50 miles an hour, (INAUDIBLE).  The highest gusts that they've reported here so far is 72 miles an hour.  Don't tell that to the crazy people that you will be able to see behind me here, people in bathing suits here.

One lady actually duct taped herself to look like a bathing suit, but there was nothing on underneath it.  The police say despite all that, there have been no arrests (INAUDIBLE) conduct.  There have been no injuries and no deaths related to this storm, related to Hurricane Rita here in Key West.  We do know that 4,000 customers are without power on this island alone and then there are power outages throughout the Keys. 

We do know too that about half of the people evacuated this island when they were told to do so in the last couple of days.  Those were about 26,000 people live here on a permanent basis, about 13,000 people, still left here.  They still are left here on this island and it is very much a party atmosphere for those who are staying and that is of concern to police because as you can see, these winds are still whipping and from the Hurricane Center we're hearing that there's going to be several more hours of this. 

The tropical storm force winds are expected to be gone and out of here by 11:00 Eastern Time, so we still have several more hours left of these biting winds.  We've seen some minor damage here on Key West.  We've had some buildings that have lost awnings and there's a building across the street from us that the flashing is whipping back and forth so you will see us look over several times in each five-minute period because we're worried that that stuff is going to come flipping on and be a projectile. 

We've noticed even a plate glass windows next to us are bowing in and out whenever these high gusts come.  Most of the buildings are on Duval Street, the very historic famous Duval Street, have been boarded up and a lot of the business owners just simply took off.  But there are a few establishments, a few bars that are open and they are attracting some of these people who are coming down here and just (INAUDIBLE) a college fraternity type of party atmosphere... 

ABRAMS:  That's what I want to ask you about, Donna.  I think for the people in the rest of the country, they're going to be saying, what, they're in Key West partying as this dangerous hurricane is going on?  Is this a regular thing that occurs in Key West when hurricanes come? 

GREGORY:  There have been five evacuations ordered in this area in the last two years.  So these people that are staying say you know we've heard them cry wolf before in the past.  We're not going to do it this time.  We're going to stay here.  And it's a whole cross-section of people that are staying. 

There's homeless people who have no way to get out, people who have no means to get out.  A lot of folks have no cars, the same as we saw in New Orleans.  So they are simply stuck with no transportation out of here.  Then you have business owners who wanted to stay and board up and they just got caught with these heavy winds...

ABRAMS:  Right.

GREGORY:  ... and then were told not to evacuate, so a big cross section of people.  A lot of the bars are open and it's attracting people. 

ABRAMS:  Right and then there are the idiots.  You left them out. 

Right...

GREGORY:  There are.

ABRAMS:  OK. 

GREGORY:  And I did say a lot of bars, there are a few bars...

ABRAMS:  Right.

GREGORY:  ... that are open.  Most of the businesses are closed.  Our hotel has no power but it does have a bar in the lower level.  It's a shelter of last resort.  They can't turn people away so you're getting some of the odd people with very flamboyant personalities...

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well... 

GREGORY:  We saw people, Dan, surfing behind a pickup truck, so they're not taking this very seriously. 

ABRAMS:  No.  Yes...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  Apparently not.  I mean look this is only a category two.  I say only.  You know we sort of start to forget how serious a category 2 hurricane is.  But, all right, well—Donna, thanks a lot. 

So the question now...

(CROSSTALK)

ABRAMS:  ... where is it going?  How bad will it become?  Bill Karins with NBC Weather Plus joins us.  Bill, where is it going? 

BILL KARINS, NBC WEATHER PLUS:  Well Dan, unfortunately it looks like this storm is heading for the Gulf.  It's going to go west for the next two or three days and then take a northwest turn definitely somewhere in the U.S.  We'll get to that in a second.

First off I want to tell you we just had a report of a 102-mile per hour wind gust there in Key West.  It was little windy in that shot you just saw there with Donna, but she is protected by a building, so I think we're going to see a little more destruction there in Key West than we earlier thought because the worst part of the storm had been to the south side of the eye, now that is wrapping around. 

So let's talk about where this storm is going.  It could be a category three storm as early as this evening.  We're still seeing the storm intensifying.  After that, we move out a little bit.  The path forecast has not changed a lot.  We're still looking at New Orleans being on the northern side of the system, possibly getting a minor storm surge, maybe a little bit of rain. 

But this would be a glancing blow for New Orleans and kind of a best case scenario, whereas it could almost be a worse case scenario, a category four storm headed somewhere between Corpus Christi and Houston, Galveston, which is very familiar with devastating hurricanes, could be in the path of this storm.  And this category four thing, Dan, these storms don't stay very intense for a long period of time.  They fluctuate, so we're likely to see this go into a category four, maybe almost a category five, then it will weaken and then it will intensify. 

Let's just hope we time out the cycle of intensification and weakening and a weakening cycle as it approaches the coastline.  That's going to be probably the key thing in the forecast.  Almost all of our high tech computer models take this thing to the Texas coast now.  That doesn't look to be too much of a question.

ABRAMS:  Bill, I heard another meteorologist say on the air today that this could become one of the worst hurricanes in recent history.  Do you agree with that assessment? 

KARINS:  Well if you just look at the odds, I mean Camille was kind of the benchmark storm for the whole U.S. for about 100 years and then we had Katrina.  So you're thinking Katrina has got to be what, a once in every 100 year storm.  So just the odds alone would say that this will not be as bad as Katrina, but a category four storm at landfall still be one of the worst storms in U.S. history, probably not as bad as Katrina because we won't have that double punch.  We won't have the storm surge and the flooding. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

KARINS:  Most of these locations, Dan, are above sea level at least. 

ABRAMS:  Right. Right.  And that's—yes, that was—the big damage in New Orleans of course came from the levees.  All right, Bill, thanks a lot. 

All right.  So either it could wreak havoc on Texas or towards Louisiana, FEMA preparing for another disaster. 

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

DAVID PAULISON, ACTING HEAD OF FEMA:  We are going to be hooked at the hip with the emergency managers to make sure that we're all prepared, we all know what is going to happen, and we all know what is—what they're prepared for and what they're not prepared for. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  OK, but are they really?  I mean are they and other emergency agencies really ready now? 

Joining me now, emergency management expert Craig Marks.  Craig is president of Blue Horizons Consulting, an emergency management training and exercise consulting company.  Thanks for coming on.  Are they ready? 

CRAIG MARKS, PRES., BLUE HORIZONS CONSULTING:  My pleasure.  You know, I'm not running for election but I'm going to tell you yes and no.  Let's set the stage.  You've got five disaster declarations that are going to happen here.  You've got Katrina that hit Florida and Louisiana.  You've got Rita that's going to hit the Keys, there's damage there.  They're going to hit somewhere else. 

That's four.  Don't forget Ophelia that just hit my home state of North Carolina.  That's five storms in a month.  So the good side is FEMA has stood up—there's only 3,500 people in FEMA, so you've got guard and other people, but they have got logistics flowing.  They've got things moving that can be readjusted as the disaster unfolds in other places.  That's the good side of the ledger. 

The bad side or the—what I would say unprepared side is, is the brain drain.  There are only so many really smart people out there that really get it that can be the principle federal official or the federal coordinating official that can make things happen with a phone call.  We saw you know changes after Katrina.  They have got to ramp up to get these smart people in place. 

I think that's where the downfall is going to be.  And another thing to consider is, we saw a very big disparity in how Mississippi was prepared versus Louisiana.  So depending on where it hits, it's always a local disaster.  And the local agencies have to be able to hold out for 72 to 96 hours.  New Orleans collapsed right away and that's where we see the mess happening...

ABRAMS:  It's interesting that you make the point that with all of the resources that have now been directed to the region, you know, we have the sense that oh, they're stretched so thin.  But what you're saying is actually this could end up helping because everything is in gear, everyone knows how serious this could be, and as a result, things are going to move pretty quickly.

MARKS:  For instance, HeaterMeals.  It's a company that makes pre-prepared meals to give out in disasters.  FEMA has laid on 40,000 -- what they can produce 40,000 a day.  They've laid on every one of them, so what they're not using right now in the Gulf Coast they can move to the next disaster.  You've got field medical centers that were sent down there, one from the University of North Carolina, others from the military, that aren't being utilized.

They can be packaged up and removed.  So in that regard, yes, it's good.  But now we look at, say, if we have to evacuate Houston...

ABRAMS:  Right.

MARKS:  You've not only got to evacuate Houston people, but we've got to take Katrina victims and remove those people.  So we just keep moving the pawns around on the chess table. 

ABRAMS:  Bottom line, it's fair enough to say this is unprecedented? 

MARKS:  Oh, absolutely. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Yes.

MARKS:  But we are in a cycle of increasing hurricane activity. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  Yes.

MARKS:  It's going to go on for 20 years and so we need to get ready for it. 

ABRAMS:  All right, Craig, thanks a lot.  Appreciate it. 

MARKS:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, what kind of damage can New Orleans' already damaged levee system withstand? 

And new developments in that case—remember involving a pizza delivery man who died after a bomb strapped around his neck detonated, they've released a new never before seen picture. 

Your e-mails send them to abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you're writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

MAYOR RAY NAGIN (D), NEW ORLEANS:  The biggest concern I have right now is storm surge as it relates to the levee system.  The levee systems are very wet, they're somewhat weakened, and any type of storm surge would cause flooding, both in our parish and in other parishes. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Yes, well New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin is warning that wind and rain not the only threat to his city if it gets caught in the path of this new Hurricane Rita.  The question, of course, will the levees be able to hold the water? 

Remember, 80 percent of New Orleans covered in water after levee breaches around the city sent floodwaters rushing in.  The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers warns New Orleans could flood again if Rita dumps enough rain over the city in a six-hour period. 

Joining me now is Colonel Duane Gapinski with the U.S. Corps of Engineers for the New Orleans district.  Colonel, thanks very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.  Are you there, Colonel? 

COL. DUANE GAPINSKI, U.S. CORPS OF ENGINEERS, NEW ORLEANS (via phone): 

I am. 

ABRAMS:  OK, thank you for joining us.  First question, how much can

New Orleans withstand in terms of rain, in terms of what category hurricane

·         just give us a broad sense.

GAPINSKI:  Sure.  Of course, it depends where you are.  In terms of storm surge, we're fairly well protected to the north from Lake Pontchartrain and you know we're closing the ends of the drainage canal so that we could probably stand a 10 to 12-foot storm surge.  Of course in the east they're a little more vulnerable and probably could withstand five to six-foot storm surge. 

And then of course rain is a completely different story.  That is you know determined by how much pumping capacity we have for all of the drainage pumps that normally drain New Orleans.  And you know we could have some flooding.  If we got three inches of rain in six hours, we could have up to two feet of flooding in some places. 

ABRAMS:  When you say a five to six-foot storm surge, explain to us what that would mean.  I mean as a practical matter, how big winds are you talking about that would lead to that?  How significant a hurricane would cause that? 

GAPINSKI:  Actually, I'm not sure I could answer that question.  You know you would just monitor, you know, the state of the lakes and how high the water was rising.  I'm not sure I can correlate that to you know category of hurricane. 

ABRAMS:  Right.  I'm just trying to figure out how—essentially how bad would it have to be to cause what you were saying would be the problems.

GAPINSKI:  Well, I guess to put it in perspective, Katrina, which was people estimate a category four storm, caused about a 20 to 28-foot storm surge on Lake Pontchartrain. 

ABRAMS:  (INAUDIBLE) OK.  So even, you know, even a somewhat direct hit would be a serious problem for New Orleans. 

GAPINSKI:  I would imagine so. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  But again, we should point out that as of right now they—you just heard Weather Plus predicting that New Orleans will not be hit directly by the hurricane, but these things do change as the days go on.  So you were talking about the water pumping.  What is the progress?  I mean you know we've heard that initially 80 percent of the city was under water and then we heard that 50 percent—where are we at right now? 

GAPINSKI:  Well, the city proper is essentially un-watered and there are you know small ponding areas, but otherwise basically what you think of the city of New Orleans, there is no more water.  You know there are other areas that still have water, you know, some places six-foot of water, although those are relatively isolated areas.  So—and we have restored quite a bit of pumping capacity.  In the city proper, we're about a third of the capacity of the original design capacity, so you know we're—and we get better every day. 

ABRAMS:  All right, well Colonel keep up the good work.  Appreciate it. 

GAPINSKI:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  There is another significant storm brewing.  This one is legal, pitting insurance companies against the insured on the Gulf Coast.  Some local officials and trial attorneys saying Katrina's victims with hurricane insurance are entitled to collect.  Remember the insurance companies are saying a lot of the damage to homes in the Gulf Coast caused by flooding or water, which most policies don't cover. 

Now Mississippi's attorney general has filed suit against five insurance companies and now one prominent trial attorney who took on tobacco and asbestos industries is setting his sites on those same companies.  That attorney is Dickie Scruggs who joins me now.  Thanks a lot for coming on the program.  Appreciate it. 

DICKIE SCRUGGS, TRIAL ATTORNEY:  Dan, good to see you again so soon under such circumstances. 

ABRAMS:  So give me a quick sense of what the grounds are for the lawsuits. 

SCRUGGS:  Well, if Hurricane Rita doesn't clobber New Orleans and the coast yet again, the next hurricane is going to be economic, as more and more of the tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of homeowners are realizing now that the international insurance companies who purchased this risks years ago are going to shift the entire risk to either to them resulting in a wave of bankruptcies, of people who never contemplated it, or to the American taxpayer.  And that really shouldn't happen. 

ABRAMS:  But why is that the insurance company's fault, that there is specific language in these policies that says it doesn't cover flooding, it doesn't cover water damage? 

SCRUGGS:  Well, there's one provision in the standard homeowners policy that doesn't.  But everyone on the coast, in order to have insurance for the last six or seven years has had to purchase at an additional premium what is known as a hurricane endorsement.  And hurricane—everyone knows on the coast, the insurance industry knows, major hurricanes like Katrina, the greatest peril to life and property is storm surge.  And you used the term just a minute ago.  It's a well-known phenomenon.  Storm surge is different from flood.  Noah had a flood.  Katrina had a storm surge. 

ABRAMS:  All right, let me read you an e-mail.  This is from Catherine Barrett who writes to us from Florida.

Anyone who has a home in a hurricane area should know that the water is the worst part and that flood insurance is available.  If these people get the benefit of flood insurance through FEMA, even though they didn't pay the premiums, then why am I paying?  What do you say to her? 

SCRUGGS:  Well, if you get flood insurance through FEMA, you have to be in what is a common flood zone.  In FEMA, only—and you have to pay a premium for that.  It's a separate policy from your homeowner policy. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

SCRUGGS:  And you have to—the homeowner has to pay a separate policy—I mean a premium for it.  The fact is, even if you have it, it's only a small fraction of what your homeowner's policy provides. 

ABRAMS:  Right, but the bottom line is—and she wasn't alone in writing that.  I mean we had you know another viewer, Lois Casson from Florida, is it my fault that people ignore their risks or remain uninformed about their coverage?  Why should my rates increase because of other people's failure to accept responsibility for their own property?  We got a lot of e-mails like this. 

SCRUGGS:  Well Dan, I have watched homeowner after homeowner—my own home was destroyed by the storm—my family, my classmates, people I grew up with.  My hometown was destroyed by this.  I have been down there almost every day.  I just got back here five minutes ago in order to do this interview with you.  Your own coverage is doing interview after interview of homeowner who assumed, given the fact that they paid additional premiums for a hurricane endorsement, that they were being covered...

(CROSSTALK)

SCRUGGS:  ... by the expected and normal peril from a hurricane. 

ABRAMS:  And the argument goes, right, that you're paying for hurricane insurance and what does that mean if it doesn't cover water?  I mean except that there is something—I guess the argument will go misleading about saying you're covered for a hurricane and then telling people, well, but I also want to let you know you're not covered for water. 

SCRUGGS:  Well, misleading is a strong term and it's more or less correct.  I prefer to use a more diplomatic term like inconsistent with the standard homeowners policy that does exclude flood damage.  Flood is a whole different notion from storm surge, as people have known for decades. 

ABRAMS:  What do you say to those who say, look, if the insurance companies end up having to cover all of the damage here, or a good part of the damage, insurers are not going to insure people in Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Florida, anywhere near the coast ever again. 

SCRUGGS:  Dan, which would you rather do, pay a premium—a higher premium for coverage or a higher premium for no coverage?  Right now they're not insuring people anyway.  What they sold them is a bunch of worthless paper with the representation they have hurricane coverage. 

ABRAMS:  Why file suit against the same companies that the attorney general is already suing? 

SCRUGGS:  We are seeking to collect on the full amount of hurricane damage, regardless of the mechanism of damage, whether it be wind or storm surge, the full amount of a homeowner's policy.  The attorney general is attacking the very—the deceptiveness of the policies but not seeking monetary recovery. 

ABRAMS:  Dickie Scruggs, thanks a lot for taking the time.  As you point out, you just raced back from your own home, an area, to do that for us.  We really appreciate that.  Good luck to you Dickie.

SCRUGGS:  Thanks Dan. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, new developments in the case of a missing college freshman in Virginia.  Authorities question one of the last men to see her, a 38-year-old photographer.  Police won't say he's a suspect, but his lawyer says he is.  He'll join us. 

But next, new pictures released in the case of a pizza delivery man—remember this—who died after a bomb strapped to his neck exploded?  We'll talk to federal authorities.  Will it finally help solve this bizarre case? 

And in our effort to reunite families split up in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, we're highlighting missing children posted on the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children Web site in hopes of reconnecting them with their loved ones. 

Latara Thornton, age 16, from Gretna, Louisiana, been missing since August 28 and her brother, Kenneth Williams, age 12, last known to be with their mother and sister in Gretna, but have yet to be seen since the hurricane hit.  If you have any information on where either of them is, please call the Katrina Missing Kids hotline at 1-888-544-5475. 

We're back in a moment. 

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, new developments in that case involving a pizza delivery man who died after a bomb strapped around his neck detonated.  The FBI has released a new picture, but first the headlines. 

(NEWS BREAK)

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP)

JANET PELASARA, TAYLOR BEHL'S MOTHER:  We miss her terribly and we're very worried, very worried, and we love her, and she needs to come home. 

(END VIDEO CLIP)

ABRAMS:  Janet Pelasara's 17-year-old daughter, Taylor, disappeared from her Virginia college campus two weeks ago.  Authorities now suspect she could be a victim of foul play.  Over the weekend, police found Taylor Behl's car about a mile and a half from where she was last seen with stolen plates on the car. 

And on Friday they searched the home of 38-year-old photographer Ben Fawley.  He's been interviewed by police.  He saw Taylor apparently twice the day she disappeared, is believed to be one of the last people to have seen her. 

Joining me now is Ben Fawley's attorney, Chris Collins.  Thanks very much for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.

CHRIS COLLINS, BEN FAWLEY'S ATTORNEY:  My pleasure.  Good evening.

ABRAMS:  So, why is it you think your client is a suspect?  

COLLINS:  Well, the police are calling him a person of interest, which of course is the popular terminology with the media now.  I guess I don't acknowledge the distinction.  If they suspect that someone might have been involved in a crime, he is a suspect.  And frankly, they've confided to me that he is one of several suspects. 

ABRAMS:  All right, so let's understand this.  Did he—is it true that he saw her twice on the day that she disappeared?  

COLLINS:  Yes, it is. 

ABRAMS:  How did they know each other?   What was the extent of their relationship?  

COLLINS:  She came down here in February to visit VCU and to stay with some friends.  He was a roommate of some of those friends so he met her then.  He saw her again in April, which is when he took the pictures everybody is talking about.  And then of course saw her again when school started. 

ABRAMS:  Did they have a romantic sexual relationship?  

COLLINS:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  And he was 38 and she was 17?  

COLLINS:  Yes. 

ABRAMS:  He is married, correct?  

COLLINS:  No, he's not married.  He has an ex-girlfriend who is the mother of his two children. 

ABRAMS:  And what does he say about the last time that he saw her?  

COLLINS:  Well you know, I'm not going to share with you anything that he has told me other than what he has told the police.  And he told the police that he saw her that afternoon.  He walked her to one of the classrooms where she met up with a boyfriend and then he saw her again in the evening.  She borrowed a skateboard and he walked her back to her dorm. 

ABRAMS:  When you say met up with a boyfriend, you mean a—and I think it's probably an important distinction.  Is it a friend who happens to be a man or was it her—quote—“boyfriend”?

COLLINS:  It's my impression that it was a boyfriend because when she and Ben had met earlier in the afternoon, she was upset that he had—quote—“broken up with her over the Internet or by a phone message.”  So I think boyfriend is the correct term. 

ABRAMS:  And he, of course, says that he is—let's clarify and I understand why you're clarifying this.  Because you don't want to violate the attorney-client privilege.  He told police that the last time that he saw her she was simply walking away?  

COLLINS:  Yes.  She was—told him and I think she told the roommate as well that she was going skateboarding with some friends. 

ABRAMS:  Where does he live, vis-a-vis where the car was found?

COLLINS:  Roughly a mile and a half. 

(CROSSTALK)

COLLINS:  It's difficult to describe people not being familiar with the area.  VCU is an inner city campus and radiating west of there is an area called the Fan.  It was found in the upper Fan, about a mile, mile and a half from where he lives. 

ABRAMS:  Will he take a polygraph? 

COLLINS:  He wanted to take a polygraph.  I wouldn't let him take a polygraph. 

ABRAMS:  Why not?  

COLLINS:  Well, you know as everybody knows, they're unreliable to begin with.  They're open to wide interpretation as to what the results are.  And a polygraph offered in the middle of an interrogation is often simply a tool of interrogation and I'm not going to subject any client to that. 

ABRAMS:  Does he have any crimes in his past?   Has he been accused, convicted of any other crimes?  

COLLINS:  Yes, he has and I'm not aware of the specifics of those. 

ABRAMS:  Do you know what he was charged with?  

COLLINS:  No, I don't. 

ABRAMS:  Did he serve time?  

COLLINS:  I believe he did on one, yes. 

ABRAMS:  Does he have an alibi, per se, as to the basic time as to when she disappeared?  

COLLINS:  Well, we're hoping that the cameras from the dorm will show him

walking her to the dorm and leaving.  Can he substantiate where he was

after that?   No, I don't think anybody saw him. 

     

                ABRAMS:  Do you have any sense of what they took out of his house?  

     

                COLLINS:  They took some computers, some cameras, some disks.  In fact

today he gave me a disk that they were specifically looking for and missed.  And I immediately called the police and we're going to turn that over to them. 

ABRAMS:  Are you expecting he's going to be arrested? 

COLLINS:  No, I'm not. 

ABRAMS:  Chris Collins, thank you very much...

COLLINS:  Thank you Dan.  Appreciate it. 

ABRAMS:  ... for coming on the program.

COLLINS:  My pleasure. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, the FBI releases a new picture of the pizza bomber.  Remember this—the man who was a pizza delivery man, robbed a bank, then died after a bomb strapped to his neck blew up?   There is a new picture, could be new evidence.  We're going to talk to his brother. 

Plus we're tracking Hurricane Rita, expected to become a hurricane category 4 by tomorrow, pounding the Florida Keys now, heading towards Texas, could veer off towards New Orleans. 

Your e-mails abramsreport@msnbc.com.  Please include your name and where you're writing from.  I respond at the end of the show.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  Coming up, Hurricane Rita pounding the Florida Keys.  The question, where does she go next?   Coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  There are new developments in the case of a pizza delivery man killed in a complex and bizarre bomb plot.  Remember police were called after Brian Wells robbed a bank?   Within minutes, they found him—this was back in 2003.  Wells pleaded for help, saying that a bomb would detonate on his neck.  Minutes later, it happened. 

The question remains, was he just a victim or was he somehow involved?   The FBI just released these never before seen pictures of Wells waiting to deliver a robbery note at a bank in Erie, Pennsylvania, despite the bomb locked around his neck.  You can see that bulge under his shirt.  The FBI says his demeanor depicts a man who did not know he would die soon as a result of the bomb. 

Now, Wells described the plot before he died telling police that he had gone to deliver pizzas, was grabbed by a man who forced him to wear the bomb, gave him a gun, concealed it in a cane and ordered to rob the bank.  And with those orders complex instructions he had to follow to find keys and combination codes to disable the bomb.  Just before the bomb squad arrived and some 40 minutes after he walked into the bank, the bomb exploded killing Brian Wells. 

John Wells is Brian Wells' brother and he supports a Web page, brianwells.net that gives details of the instructions that Brian had to follow and criticizes how the police handled the case.  Thanks very much for taking the time.  We appreciate it. 

JOHN WELLS, BRIAN WELLS' BROTHER:  Thanks for having me. 

ABRAMS:  So what do you make of this new picture?   What does it tell you?  

WELLS:  The new picture didn't tell me anything.  I wish those pictures would have been released two years ago, along with every single—the entire notes that the police had got—had that day, all nine pages in their entirety.  And I think that people seeing those notes and seeing those pictures two years ago, this case could have been solved.  They would have had the tips they needed to solve who killed my brother. 

ABRAMS:  And you are—just so we're clear—you are convinced that your brother was simply abducted, that he was forced, that he was given instructions, that he was trying to follow, and that he simply wasn't able to follow them all because he was ultimately arrested?  

WELLS:  Brian was simply a bomb hostage that day and the police had my brother in custody for 46 minutes.  The bomb squad was not called for 32 minutes.  And my brother told the police exactly—the description of the people, the gang of people who did this to them.  If they would have been following those clues, this case would be solved by now. 

ABRAMS:  He was what—at that time he had gone to literally deliver pizzas and the next thing that you know of—what, I mean give us the timeframe as to what you know for certain and when you believe that he was abducted. 

WELLS:  He was abducted around 2:00 in the afternoon when he went to deliver the pizzas at the transmission tower site.  He went into the bank sometime between 2:20 and 2:30.  The first 911 call came in at 2:32.  He was already in the McDonald's parking lot reading the next instructions. 

I believe that police apprehended him at about 2:33.  They did not call the bomb squad until 3:04.  The bomb did not go off until 3:18...

ABRAMS:  Right.

WELLS:  The cameras do not get there until after 3:00, half an hour into the explanation my brother was giving the police.  None of that was caught on film because my brother had told them that before the cameras got there.

ABRAMS:  Let me ask you one other question.  This is from an FBI unnamed source in The AP.  Brian was a human being who died because he may have trusted people he should not have trusted and he possibly misjudged the purpose for his being at the bank that day. 

WELLS:  The only people he trusted that he shouldn't have trusted were the Pennsylvania State Police who did not offer any help to him that day.  Those are the only people he mistrusted.  My brother was not involved in this in any way, shape or form. 

ABRAMS:  All right, John Wells...

WELLS:  I'd like the Pennsylvania State Police and the FBI to explain their actions that day. 

ABRAMS:  Well that's who we're going to talk to now.  John Wells, thank you...

WELLS:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  ... for coming on the program.  We appreciate it.

WELLS:  Thanks. 

ABRAMS:  Bob Rudge is an FBI special agent who is working the case and he joins us by phone.  Thanks a lot for taking the time. 

BOB RUDGE, FBI SPECIAL AGENT (via phone):  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  All right, why is it that you still aren't able to say that he was simply a victim?  

RUDGE:  Well, there are two scenarios that remain on the table.  The first, of course, is that Brian was actually a victim, was accosted by an individual or a group of individuals, and then murdered.  That is still being vigorously pursued by law enforcement.  That is a very viable situation. 

However, we are also looking at the possibility that Brian may have been duped or tricked or convinced in some way to participate in this crime, certainly not knowing the final outcome.  The obvious outcome murder -- that Brian was a murder victim, we certainly agree with that...

ABRAMS:  When you say he was duped or tricked, I mean what is it—why does it really matter if he was under some false pretense, taken and somehow put in this position versus literally abducted?   I mean are you saying that he may have actually agreed to rob the bank?  

RUDGE:  Well first of all, it doesn't matter in the conduct of our investigation whether he was duped or he was a total victim.  We're conducting our investigation in a thorough manner in that regard.  But we just can't answer the question right now whether or not Brian was somewhat of a willing participant, told that he had some plausible deniability if caught and then could certainly give a very viable story as to what happened to him.  So we just don't know if that's the case or very possibly he was actually a total victim and confronted and accosted by an individual or group of people. 

ABRAMS:  But as a willing participant, the scenario goes that he would have agreed to allow to have a bomb placed around—locked around his neck?  

RUDGE:  Correct, not knowing of course that it was a real active device. 

ABRAMS:  But he told the police that it was. 

RUDGE:  Yes, he did tell police it was.  And I believe as the events played out that day, I believe that Brian may have come to realize that he was possibly tricked or duped into this particular type of situation. 

ABRAMS:  But you would agree, it seems clear when the police arrive, he knows he is in grave danger. 

RUDGE:  He was actually saying that the device was going to go off. 

ABRAMS:  Right.

RUDGE:  He was saving that he was forced to wear the device.  So yes, I mean that is totally legitimate and completely true.  However, we just don't know if prior to that, if he was convinced in some way that the device was not real, was not a working device. 

ABRAMS:  But I don't understand—I mean just lay out for us the scenario.  I mean he suddenly learned somehow when he gets stopped that the device is real and yet he didn't know it before. 

RUDGE:  Well you know in actuality, his demeanor at the time of the stop did not produce a lot of information relative to who was responsible for putting the device on him.  He did not offer a complete description, as John puts forward, as to who was the person or persons that...

ABRAMS:  And what do you say to those who say that the authorities in general are simply trying to cover up for the fact that they took so long to respond?  

RUDGE:  Well, I just disagree with the premise.  First of all, you're dealing with a bomb squad that is made up of part time members from a smaller local police department.  They responded as quickly as they could.  They weren't sitting at the police station awaiting a bomb call.  You have various officers doing various duties, many of whom were home at the time of the call that responded as fast as they could. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Well, Agent Rudge, if you do get new information, please let us know either way.  Because we really do...

RUDGE:  Certainly.  I mean it's a case that we need to solve.

ABRAMS:  Yes.

RUDGE:  It's a case the family needs closure on and we're going to do that. 

ABRAMS:  And you know I can understand why John Wells knowing what he knows is upset.  I'm not saying that makes him right, but I can understand why he's very upset.

RUDGE:  Absolutely.  I empathize with the family. 

ABRAMS:  Yes.  All right, Special Agent Rudge, thanks a lot.

RUDGE:  Thank you.

ABRAMS:  Coming up, where is Hurricane Rita heading as it gathers strength?   We'll check in with the National Hurricane Center, just out with new information...

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  That is the scene down in the Florida Keys where Hurricane Rita is causing heavy rains and winds.  We're checking in again on the path of Hurricane Rita, now a category two passing through the Florida Keys, picking up steam as it heads west towards Louisiana and Texas, expected to become a category four. 

Ed Rappaport, deputy director of the National Hurricane Center, who is tracking the storm, joins us now.  Thanks a lot, Ed.  So, what do we know about where the storm is heading now?  

ED RAPPAPORT, NATIONAL HURRICANE CENTER:  Right now the center is in the Straits of Florida.  Just south of the Florida Keys and fortunately, the worst of the weather stayed just south of Key West, perhaps only 10 or 15 miles south of Key West.  The storm is moving towards the west at 15 miles hour, pretty good clip.  And we think that's going to continue for the next day or two. 

Here is our projection for the forecast track, starting from here, Straits of Florida, into the central Gulf of Mexico within the next 24 to 36 hours, then ultimately it will bend more towards the northwest, which looks like landfall at this stage for the middle and upper Texas coast late in the week, early in the weekend.  There is some error involved obviously in long-range forecast.  So the risk really runs from southwestern Louisiana through the Texas coast to extreme northeast of Mexico. 

ABRAMS:  New Orleans not covered in that range that you have there. 

Would you expect that New Orleans would still get some rain?  

RAPPAPORT:  We would think that there will be some rain extending as far east as southeastern Louisiana, even if this track is right.  Fortunately the chances of hurricane conditions are under about five percent.  But we do think that there is a possibility, at least at this early stage, of another one to three inches of rain in southeastern Louisiana.  We'll wait and see about the details of the track and also whether the storm expands as it moves past that area.

ABRAMS:  Ed, real quick, best-case scenario, what would it be?  

RAPPAPORT:  Best-case scenario would be for this to dissipate over the Gulf.  Unfortunately once a hurricane makes it into the Gulf particularly this time of year, they don't dissipate and they only really have land to hit.  There's no place for them to go without hitting land.  And it looks like upper Texas to mid Texas coast, maybe Louisiana, maybe a little farther south is the area at greatest risk from Hurricane Rita. 

ABRAMS:  All right.  Ed Rappaport, thanks very much.  Appreciate it. 

RAPPAPORT:  Thank you. 

ABRAMS:  Coming up, with another storm spinning towards Louisiana, last night I said it's time to start playing the blame game so we can make sure we have the right people in place running the show—your responses coming up.

(COMMERCIAL BREAK)

ABRAMS:  We're back.  I've had my say, now it's time for “Your Rebuttal”.  Last night in my “Closing Argument” I said the time has come to assess blame for the mistakes made in the aftermath of Katrina so we know exactly who is supposed to be making the important decisions supervised by people we can count on and who can best allocate money and resources. 

Ron Brock, “I've worked in private industry all my life and we play the blame game on a daily basis.  We call it accountability.  Not because we're delighted to fire or reprehend or demote each other, but because it follows when costly mistakes are made that cannot be repeated.”

Different takes on who is to blame.  From Linwood, New Jersey, Jacob Reses.  “You're absolutely right, Dan.  Then Jacob goes on to say, the first person we should turn to in order to assign blame is Michael Chertoff.”

But Peggy in Cincinnati, “Where do we start?  Mayor Nagin, inept.  We should have gotten those people out on buses.  Governor Blanco should have called for the military.” 

Also last night I spoke to the 73-year-old grandma arrested for allegedly looting $63 worth of sausage and beer from a deli near New Orleans right after Katrina hit.  She spent 16 days in prison, held on $50,000 bond. 

Becky in Michigan City, Indiana says sarcastically, “I say throw her the book at her for trying to provide needed food for her family and give the rapists a broom and a pat on the back.”

I also said the police will probably dismiss the charges and maybe even give her an apology.

Pamela in Warren County, Ohio, “She deserves more than an apology.  I frankly am thinking along the lines of punitive damages.”

From Tucson, Arizona, Kurt Bottger though, “Why are you giving so much air time to a sausage thief?  Let me get this straight.  She walked into the deli with her own sausages?”

And a Washington State man was sexually assaulted as a child admitted to killing two released sex offenders, has asked for the death penalty so he can meet sex offender Joseph Duncan in the afterlife.  But now is pleading guilty, so we ask, would jurors have sympathy for him?   Apparently the answer is yes. 

Marylou Higgens in Vegas, “Michael Mullen is an absolute hero for ridding the country of two slime ball child molesters.  Drop all charges against this wonderful man.”

Ashley in Colorado Springs, “I was molested as a child and for two men to be removed from the world for doing such a crime makes me feel as if I've gained a little something back.  Thank you to that courageous gentleman.”

Boy, you guys, I think you should—all right.  Abramsreport—one word-- @msnbc.com.  We go through them at the end of the show. 

You got to love those—I said it last night.  I'm going to say it again.  I really like our new graphic look, very spicy and immediate.  (INAUDIBLE)

That does it for us tonight.  Coming up next, “HARDBALL” with (INAUDIBLE) Chris Matthews.  Bye-bye.

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

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