Nightly News Netcast | August 12, 2013
>>> on the broadcast tonight, sudden impact. a huge sinkhole swallows parts of a resort near disney. people shocked out of bed in the middle of the night as the earth opened up beneath them.
>>> tonight, more evacuations and some answers about why this keeps happening.
>>> guilty of murder and gameland crimes in a decades-long reigns of terror. a closer look at one of the most feared mob bosses in america and trial that gripped the city of boston .
>>> crime and punishment . big news on two fronts. why the feds want to send fewer people to prison, and can police really stop and search you for no good reason?
>>> and in a flash -- faster than the speed of sound , cheaper than getting on an airplane. tonight a big idea to revolutionize travel as we know it. "nightly news" begins now.
>> announcer: from nbc news world headquarters in new york, this is " nbc nightly news" with brian williams .
>>> good evening, i'm lester holt sitting in tonight for brian.
>>> what an incredibly close call it was for a resort near disney world when the ground literally opened up beneath them as many of them slept. show you what it looks like from above the scene right now in clermont, florida , where a massive sinkhole opened up overchanging much of the resort structure. more than 100 people were forced to evacuate. some under harrowing conditions, remarkably no one was killed. nbc 's kerry sanders is there with late details. kerry, i assume you're on firm ground right now, but how big a danger area at risk is there?
>> reporter: well, good evening, lester . they've moved us back three city blocks fearing the sinkhole would continue to grow. the problem actually begins about 20 to 100 feet down where there's limestone. rainwater goes through the earth and hits that limestone, and it can cause it to dissolve. that is a recipe for disaster.
>> we have a building that can potentially collapse. we don't know if it's a sinkhole or what.
>> we need to know what room everybody was in.
>> reporter: shortly after 3:00 in the morning, maggie started her camera amid the chaos. she says it came without warning while on vacation with family and friends from virginia, she heard a single window pop its frame, then another and another. at first she thought it was someone in a fight.
>> things flying, like glass flying. people jumping out of windows. luggage flying out of windows, people trying to salvage what they could.
>> to me, it sounded like popcorn popping. pop, pop, pop.
>> reporter: a security guard on patrol then began to run from unit to unit, in all evacuating 105 tourists here on vacation.
>> people were sleeping. i literally had to wake them up and tell them get out of the building.
>> reporter: why do sinkholes occur? in florida , the state's sandy soil sits on top of clay, and that is all supported on a layer of limestone. limestone is like a strainer. the water migrates down and hits florida 's underground rivers, but when there is too much rain or drought it can create a void like a balloon with air. as that void gets bigger, the earth on top becomes too heavy, and the balloon pops, causing a catastrophic event . a sinkhole.
>> geologists say they know when conditions are ripe for a sinkhole, but like an earthquake, they cannot predict when or where one will open up.
>> the open sinkholes may open other sinkholes.
>> reporter: trigger them?
>> yes, it's possible. because these are connected underground, again, by the same limestone cavity and cave structures.
>> reporter: 20% of the nation is susceptible. other likely locations for sinkholes, pennsylvania, tennessee and utah. in scepter, florida , in march, a sinkhole. 30 feet wide and 50 feet deep opened up swallowing 36-year-old jeff bush from his bedroom. his body was never recovered. here in clermont, florida , 15 hours later, survivors are still anxious.
>> i'm still in shock and just very, very thankful.
>> reporter: lester , the sinkhole right now is about 100 feet wide, about 15 feet dep deep they guess as they're looking down there. the likelihood of something like this happening is like being struck by lightning, which, as we know, can also happen.
>> we've seen them before, kerry. sounds like a bit of a guessing game. what can homeowners do or know about going into a neighborhood that's at risk?
>> reporter: get a geological survey too look down there. a situation that's constantly changing depending on the rain situation. even the bubbles don't necessarily tell you there is going to be a catastrophic collapse. one thing everybody needs , sinkhole insurance.
>> kerry sanders , yes.
>>> followed by 16 years on the run as one of america's most wanted mob boss james whitey bulge hear been convicted of being involved in a string of murders and other crimes after a trial that riveted the city of boston and much of the nation. nbc 's kristen dahlgren is at the federal courthouse there tonight. kristen , good evening.
>> reporter: good evening, lester . yes, this is a day many here in boston thought would never come. nearly two decades after james whitey bulger went on the lam, today a federal jury here found him guilty of being involved in a string of gang crimes including 11 murders. crowds swarmed boston 's federal courthouse this afternoon, where inside after more than 32 hour s deliberations, jurors returned to a packed courtroom, announcing the fate of whitey bulger , one of boston 's most notorious mobsters. the jury found him guilty of dozens of crimes including conspiracy, racketeering and playing a role in 11 murders.
>> this day of reckoning for bulger has been a long time in coming.
>> reporter: tom donohue whose father michael was killed more than three decades ago was among the family members of the victims present throughout the trial.
>> whitey bulger pretty much almost destroyed my family in every category.
>> reporter: jurors decided the evidence showed bulger was involved in 11 of 19 murders, not involved in 7 and couldn't agree on one. the death of 26-year-old debra davis.
>> my family has to live with this every day and the rest of the families have to lish every day with the fact that they lost a loved one.
>> reporter: as today's verdict was read, the 83-year-old defendant showed no reaction. a stark contrast to the seven-week trial filled with explosive, profanity laced explosives, dramatic testimony from his longtime associate including stephen the rifleman fleming and john the executioner marchiano. eastern an outburst from the defendant himself who calmed the proceedings a sham.
>> mr. bulger knew as soon as he was arrested he was going to die behind the walls of a prison.
>> reporter: bulger went on the lam in 1994 evading law enforcement for 16 years and ought mittly landing on the fbi's most wanted list. authorities finally caught up with him two years ago outside a santa monica apartment, also discovering weapons and more than $800,000 in cash.
>> james bulger was that gangster who finally saw justice. i think some families are waiting for a little bit more, though.
>> reporter: yes, and sentencing is set for mid-november but with bulger turning 84 next month, it's likely any way you cut it he'll spend the rest of his life in prison . meantime, there are many families still seeking restitution and still angry that bulger committed many of these crimes while allegedly working as an fbi informant , lester .
>> kristen , thank you.
>>> the justice department is rethinking how it tries some drug cases. attorney general eric holder saying those mandatory minimum sentences are not reducing crime and are leading to overcrowded prisons. so he's telling his federal prosecutors to start using some discretion in certain cases. our justice correspondent pete williams has our report.
>> reporter: natasha darington had no criminal record when she was arrested for helping her husband sell cocaine. she got a mandatory sentence serving 11 years in prison away from her four children.
>> i wasn't there to help them grow up. i missed their birthdays, high school congratulations. i missed the birth of my first grandchild. i missed the funerals of both of my parents.
>> reporter: the attorney general today said too many americans get long prison sentences that don't fit the crime.
>> -- out-sized unnecessarily large prison population, we need to ensure that incarceration is used to punish, to deter and to rehabilitate, but not merely to warehouse and to forget.
>> reporter: the number of inmates in federal prisons , 219,000, is 8 times what it was 30 years ago and 40% over capacity. nearly half of there for drug crimes , and roughly one-fourth of them were low-level offenders. holder today directed federal prosecutors not to report the amount of drugs involved in an arrest if it would trigger mandatory minimums for non-violent offenders who have no ties to drug cartels organics, and who did not sell to children. welcome news to advocates of doing away with automatic sentences.
>> your punishments are far too harsh for the crime or particular offender, and the judge has no choice but to impose that.
>> reporter: a former head of the u.s. drug enforcement agency says cutting back on mandatory sentences takes away a bargaining chip.
>> there's no mandatory minimum that they have to face, the prosecutors and the agents lose leverage for getting more information and getting to the top of the organization.
>> reporter: the attorney general hopes to get mandatory drug sentences entirely off the books. an idea that's starting to attract bipartisan support in congress. pete williams , nbc news, at the justice department .
>>> tonight a federal judge has come down hard in one of the most controversial police tactics in the country. ordering changes to new york city 's so-called stop and frisk policy. the judge said it unfairly targets large numbers of minorities stopped by police without any good reason to suspect them of a crime, but supporters say it's an important crime-fighting tool that has brought violent crime down to historic lows. nbc 's stephanie gosk is in times square tonight with more. stephanie , good evening.
>> reporter: good evening. crime continues to drop here in new york city , including here in times square . mayor bloomberg is saying the desuccess is its policy of stop and frisk , because what he calls good policing other people are calling racial profiling and those people tonight want a big legal victory. mayor michael bloomberg says the city of new york has become the poster child for fighting crime.
>> today we have fewer guns, fewer shootings and fewer homicides.
>> reporter: but today a federal judge called the nypd's policy of stop, question and frisk unconstitutional. the practice allowed police officers to stop and search anyone acting suspiciously. in a nearly 200-page decision the judge said the city adopted a policy of indirect racial profiling . those who are routinely subjected to stops are overwhelmingly people of color , and they are justifiably troubled to be singled out. statistics presented in court showed that between 2004 and 2012 there were 4.43 million stops. 52% were black suspects. 31% were hispanics. but the city argued during the trial that those numbers are a reflection of crime statistics , not racial profiling .
>> we do not engage in racial profiling , and it is prohibited by law, and it is prohibited by our own regulations.
>> reporter: the ruling does not outlaw stop and frisk altogether but it calls for a number of changes including an independent monitor of the nypd and a requirement that some officers wear video cameras to record stops. critics of stop and frisk still want it. the manager editor of nbc news grio.com.
>> people we've talked with grio agree being stopped and frisked, reportrd a feeling of humiliation, almost an alien in your own community. being an eternal suspect always suspected of being a criminal.
>> reporter: bloomberg is not backing down from the fight.
>> the public are not experts as policing. personally, i would rather have ray kelly decide how to keep my family safe.
>> reporter: mayor bloomberg says he did not get a fair trial with this judge and they're going to appeal. you can bet mayors across the country will watch the case very closely.
>> stephanie gosk in times square , thanks.
>>> in colorado tonight worries about flash floods continue after a weekend filled with dramatic rescues. one woman is still missing after mudslides and raging floods tore through a suburb outside colorado springs killing at least one person. several others were injured.
>>> tonight, nine women and seven men in new jersey have come forward to collect a share of one of the biggest powerball jackpots ever. the ocean 16 as they're being called are a group of 16 public employees who work in a county garage in the jersey shore that by the way, worked around the clock during hurricane sandy. they bought one of three winning fix for the $448 million prize. together they split a lump sum of $86 million. each getting just under $4 million after taxes.
>>> still ahead tonight, inside a dramatic rescue in the mountains, a feeling that something wasn't right. strangers being hailed as heroes for helping to take down a kidnapper.
>>> later, a new way to travel. faster than ever. no planes, no trains, no automobiles involved. a big idea from a billionaire with a track record.
>>> we're learning new information about a dramatic rescue of a 16-year-old girl kidnapped and taken hostage in the mountains of idaho . right now she's back home and safe with her family, after a manhunt that began a week ago today and ended with a chance encounter with strangers who knew something wasn't right. we get our report tonight from nbc 's joe fryer.
>> reporter: just 48 hours after rescuers pulled his daughter from the idaho wilderness.
>> i'm very proud of her.
>> reporter: hannah anderson returns to san diego .
>> the healing process will be slow. she has been through a tremendous, horrific ordeal.
>> reporter: hannah and kidnapping suspect james dimaggio were spotted saturday by surveillance plane at a desolate campsite. the area was so remote it took fbi hostage teams more than two hours to reach them.
>> dimaggio had a rifle, and then he fired at least one round prior to being shot and killed.
>> reporter: hannah was flown from the scene to safety.
>> she was a victim in this case. she was not a willing participant, and she was under extreme duress.
>> reporter: hannah didn't know her mother tina and 8-year-old brother ethan were murdered until after she was rescued. investigators say dimaggio , a close family friend, killed them, set his house on fire and kidnapped hannah . the big break came wednesday in idaho 's back country.
>> for us to be there at the precise time to interact with them, it's, one chance in a trillion.
>> reporter: two couples were riding horses when they stumbled upon dimaggio and hannah , not knowing at the time who they were.
>> well, when i seen her, she had a fearful look in her eyes. and -- that put up a red flag for me.
>> reporter: that friday, investigators found dimaggio 's blue nissan shrouded by brush and debris. by saturday the car was towed for analysis, just as the manhunt came to an end.
>> some of you might find the amber alert annoying, please, pay attention. keep your eyes open . let's bring those children home.
>> reporter: the sheriff here in san diego says he will not discuss any details about what happened during hannah 's abduction as law enforcement continues its investigation into the events of the past week. lester ?
>> joe fryer, thanks.
>> back now with what was one of the biggest talkers of the day. the proposal by inventor and aun pra pral newer elon musk to revolutionize the way we travel faster and cheaper. he was up all night working on the design before he released it today. after anyone else , the world probably wouldn't notice, but this is elon musk . nbc 's tom costello reports.
>> reporter: what if going from point a to point b quickly no longer involved planes, trains, or automobiles?
>> reporter: think "the jetsons." not jets. one of the world's most visionary entrepreneurs says it's no longer science fiction .
>> a concord, and air hockey table.
>> reporter: and l.a. to san francisco in just 30 minutes . may sound crazy but consider elon musk 's track record. the 42-year-old billionaire invented the battery car, the first to dock a rocket way space station . his idea has hyperloop passengers travling on a magnetic levitation system inside airless low pressure tubes similar to those used by drive-through bank tellers. only passengers travel up to 700 miles per hour. meanwhile, a colorado company calmed et-3 has been working on similar technology for years.
>> if there's a concerted effort to do it, that route can be built in a year or two.
>> reporter: but even if it works, critics say lining up the financing and clearing the regulatory hurdle would make the project impossible , at least in the near term. on the other hand, this is elon musk we're talking about. the inspiration for the iron man's tony stark character. the iron man suit sits on the space x factory floor.
>> can you save the world? save the country?
>> i'll do my best. you know. working pretty hard to do some good here.
>> reporter: musk says he doesn't have time to actually build hyperloop and is hoping others will make his dream become reality. tom costello, nbc news, washington.
>>> that's our broadcast for this monday night. thank you for being with us. i'm lester holt in for brian. we hope to see you right back here tomorrow evening. good night.