Dumped On

Houston was supposed to be cracking down on polluters. So why has it spent five years cleaning up on little guys like Walter Bazarsky?

B&B had tired of trying to deal with the mounds of trash, yard trimmings, industrial discards and assorted other debris dumped on a weekly basis along narrow McCall and Conti streets adjacent to its business.

Hypolite, as part of the neighborhood protection unit, saw the mess and began making a report. Bazarsky met the stranger -- confronted is a more apt description -- and got notices of violations to be cleared away. There were high weeds, stagnant water and Dumpsters in the right-of-way and barrels that had toppled over the side of the fence.

After Walter's stroke, wife Pam had to take over managing the yard.
Deron Neblett
After Walter's stroke, wife Pam had to take over managing the yard.
Blumrosen says it is obvious by now that prosecutors and police have a vendetta against B&B.
Deron Neblett
Blumrosen says it is obvious by now that prosecutors and police have a vendetta against B&B.

Nearly a month later, on November 6, two inspectors returned. Bazarsky, who says he was in the midst of a cleanup in that period, was more irate than before. "I didn't do anything wrong," he explains. "I don't like being accused of what I haven't done." Bazarsky's anger also was fueled by their apparent disinterest in all the illegally dumped trash that he had to endure for years.

Hypolite testified that the city crew retreated to a vacant lot and "waited on reinforcements" -- the special HPD environmental police squad. They ultimately focused on fluid dripping from the end of one Dumpster and oily residue near one of the barrels. Sergeant B.R. Roberts estimated that a few gallons were involved, although he said he could not see inside the entire Dumpster.

Cooler minds seemed to prevail during Bazarsky's interview at the police station the next day. He says he told officers that he was in the process of clearing away any B&B items from around the yard's perimeter. Bazarsky says he advised them about the long-standing dumping grounds there, and that litter had often included oil-related wastes.

The police report stated that prosecutor Haseman declined "at this time to accept any charges on B&B or Walter Bazarsky." "Mr. Haseman," it explained, "stated that being that it could not be determined exactly how the debris came to be on the property, it would not be appropriate to hold Mr. Bazarsky responsible."

Bazarsky soon had all of his materials stored inside the lime-green fence of his business, and began keeping records when special disposal firms removed used oil barrels from the property. It wasn't the end, however -- only the beginning for the pollution police.

Apolonio Aguilar, a three-year B&B worker, chained a metal box about five feet square to the company's forklift, backed it out the gate and came to an abrupt halt. As he wrestled at the controls, the box fell a couple of feet to the ground. He used the forklift to drag the chained box out of the roadway.

That would seem like a typical minor mishap during an industrial workday. But on April 15, 1998, it provided the city's environmental investigative team with its big breakthrough against B&B. The box was leaking oily liquid.

Staked out not far away were Inspector Don Montgomery and an office assistant, Erica Buenrostro. They testified later that they witnessed the fall of the box as they just happened to be driving by, although the yard is not on the way to anywhere. There was no indication in court records as to how much time investigators had spent in either surveillance or drive-by inspections of the yard's exterior.

The falling box and liquid blotched on the ground brought bedlam. Montgomery rushed up. Bazarsky ran out yelling. And Aguilar and a few other workers did their best to put surrounding dirt over the small spill -- he said he even used absorbent granules. That apparent cleanup would later be alluded to as an attempted cover-up. Once again, the two city inspection workers said they had to retreat to their car from the agitated salvage operator and call in the troops.

The "crime" scene grew to more than a half-dozen police and investigators, whom Aguilar told that it was simply an accident, that the forklift had gotten stuck in rocks or a pothole. The cops called it a felony.

By the end of the day, Walter Bazarsky was in jail, accused of violating the state's used oil act. Bazarsky got out the next morning -- it would be 161 days before Aguilar regained his freedom. The Bazarskys tried to bond out their trusted employee quickly, but the police and prosecutors blocked that with an immigration hold.

"He's an illegal alien. He doesn't have a green card," a prosecutor said later in court. "He shouldn't have been hired at all, and he wasn't supposed to be in this country."

As the October trial date neared, Aguilar accepted an offer to plead guilty to a lesser violation and testify. But the state didn't get much of a star witness.

Oil or related residue that came in with the scrap would be put in drums, sealed and sent out with a firm that disposes of such waste, Aguilar told the jury. Bazarsky had told employees to be especially careful not to spill liquids "because it's against the law…It's a delicate matter of the law."

The two city staffers who witnessed the incident said it looked like Aguilar was trying to shake the box as if to drain it. Asked to estimate the amount of liquid involved, Buenrostro initially testified that it was about a gallon. After conferring with the prosecutor during the lunch break, she revised her estimate upward. The prosecution later tried to explain it to the jury: The woman doesn't do much cooking, so measurements don't come easy for her.

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