Nature of the Beast

Plastic surgeon Billy Ringer has been sued ten times for malpractice. He's on probation for sexual misconduct. He sewed a needle into Colleen Guidy. But he's still in business -- cutting, vacuuming, rearranging and, it seems, injuring patients.

When he finally returned, Barr had some new duties. Two employees, Lynnea Capunay and Kelly Cannon, had taken extended leaves, and Barr assumed responsibility for maintaining anesthesia logs and monitoring the supply of narcotics used during surgery. She found a drawer full of patient logs that listed amounts of administered drugs, especially Demerol, that were different from the official logs on file. Some of the logs clearly had been doctored, entries whited out and rewritten.

Capunay and Cannon returned to the office a month later, Barr says, and revealed the secret of the logs and other discrepancies: Ringer had been taking the drugs himself. Barr didn't believe them, however, and when she asked Ringer about the matter, he blamed his two employees. On September 13, he called an acquaintance at the Harris County Sheriff's Department, Sergeant John Trump, and reported the missing drugs. Trump arrived at the clinic with Deputy Mike Lecompte, who took a statement from Ringer.

A couple of days later, on a Saturday, Lecompte met with Barr at the office of her husband, Jimmy, a Klein Independent School District police officer. They went through the logs patient by patient. The amount of Demerol alone they chronicled as missing totaled 1,750 doses. On September 20, Lecompte arrested Capunay in the clinic parking lot and found single vials of two drugs (though no Demerol) in her possession. That day, Ringer fired both her and Cannon. Capunay later pleaded guilty to one count of possession and received deferred adjudication. There was no evidence of wrongdoing by Cannon. (Neither Capunay nor Cannon would return phone calls for comment.)

X-rays revealed that the needle in Guidy's chest is more than a tip.
Deron Neblett
X-rays revealed that the needle in Guidy's chest is more than a tip.
Former office worker Michelle Barr confronted Ringer about the missing Demerol.
Deron Neblett
Former office worker Michelle Barr confronted Ringer about the missing Demerol.

That, Barr figured, closed the case. But in October she began to notice an occasional prefilled Demerol needle missing from the inventory. Ringer had an explanation, says Barr: " 'Oh, I gave it to so-and-so in recovery,' he'd say. 'I forgot to write it down.' "

Records also show that Ringer picked up ten boxes of Demerol containing 100 needles from a local pharmacy on October 23 -- just four days after Traci Williamson had ordered four boxes from a different supplier. Williamson was off that day and unaware of the transaction. "Four boxes should have lasted the whole month," Williamson says.

On November 17, the last day before the office closed for Thanksgiving, a supplier delivered 15 boxes of Demerol containing 150 needles. When the staff returned after the holiday, Barr checked the supply. "When I went back to make sure my inventory was correct," she recalls, "every single one was gone."

The likelihood that the Demerol had been injected into patients was nil; the clinic's calls were forwarded to Barr over the holidays, and she says Ringer saw only a single patient during the break. She confronted him. This time, Ringer fessed up. "The tears started flowing," Barr says.

For the next week and a half, Jimmy Barr went to Ringer's house after work and spent the night there to make sure he was all right. According to the Barrs, Ringer eventually seemed better, and they felt that he'd gotten over an emotional hump. With Christmas vacation approaching, the prognosis appeared to be positive.

The forms to order narcotics are government-issued, and it can take weeks to get replacements. The clinic had only a single form left, so to ensure a sufficient supply until the new forms arrived, Barr and Williamson say, Ringer told them to order 20 boxes of Demerol. The drugs arrived December 21; the clinic closed the next day.

Surgeries were scheduled for several days beginning January 3, so Barr and Williamson came into the office to get everything ready. When they did the inventory, they found the Demerol boxes rewrapped in Saran instead of factory-sealed. Inside, they found all the needles -- empty. Barr called her husband, who rushed to the clinic and verified that the boxes had been opened and their contents drained. From there, Jimmy Barr says, they drove to Ringer's house. Again, the doctor confessed. "He started this little sob story, started crying that yes, there was a problem and he needed to turn his life around," Barr says.

They knew of a place outside San Antonio, the Starlite Recovery Center, where people could go for substance-abuse treatment. That night, Williamson, Barr and Ringer's niece drove him to the center, where he was admitted.

Though documents and multiple sources tell otherwise, Ringer denies he was ever a resident at Starlite. Told of evidence to the contrary, he does admit visiting the place about that time. The occasion, he says, was purely social. Ringer had produced a self-titled country-rock CD, and he was seeking feedback from a center employee who used to play with the psychedelic pop band Bubble Puppy.

Michelle Barr's stories of missing Demerol mystify him. "I have no idea what she's talking about," Ringer says. "Our records were as balanced as I'd expect them to be."

But a handwritten letter Ringer himself evidently prepared on September 7 -- the day after Barr first asked him about the missing Demerol -- indicates otherwise. Following his brain surgery, he wrote, he returned to the office to find "a large amount" of Demerol missing. "I discovered the empty used vials at my home and came to recall that I took the drugs myself." (Though the script is consistent with other documents penned by Ringer, he says he doubts the letter is in his handwriting.)

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