Uncivil Action

No one's responsible for a body-parts debacle

The goings-on at the University of Texas Medical Branch hospital in Galveston were certainly creepy: Body parts illegally being sold (including hundreds of fingernails and toenails, at $15 a pop), cremated ashes being mixed together, families left wondering just what had happened to their loved ones' remains.

Lawyers got involved, of course, and so it was left to the court system to determine just who was responsible for the debacle. And on March 17 the final determination came down, and the answer was...nobody. No person, no institution, no private company, is going to pay any price for what went on in Galveston up until three years ago.

"It's horrible," says Lawrence Tylka, the Galveston attorney who represents 30 of the 50 families who sued over their relatives' remains. "I'm right now writing a letter to my clients, telling them, 'It's truly unfortunate that everyone involved is able to walk away with no responsibility.' "

Three feet looks a lot different at La Bare.
Daniel Kramer
Three feet looks a lot different at La Bare.
Daniel Kramer

UTMB had been out of the suit since 2003; as a state institution it is largely immune from suits that don't involve negligence, and the hospital was able to convince the courts it wasn't negligent. (That there's some good lawyering.) The alleged mastermind of the body-selling scheme, Allen Tyler, died in January 2004.

That left a New Jersey company and its owner that had purchased body parts from Tyler, longtime director of UTMB's Willed Body Program. On March 17, Houston's 14th Court of Appeals ruled the company and its owner did not do business in Texas and could not be sued here.

And that, Tylka says, is pretty much that. Given today's conservative state Supreme Court, he says, "I doubt seriously we'd get any further redress."

Tylka didn't even get to do much in the way of depositions or examining records, so there are plenty of unanswered questions. Including, he says, just what is inside one coffin buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

It looks, however, like the possibility of getting those answers is dead. As dead as a $15 fingernail.

What's Three Feet Between Friends?

Is it sweeps month? Because it feels like sweeps month here at Hair Balls.

Why? We're about to take you inside a strip club!

We were able to use only one photo for last week's piece on the 25th anniversary of the male strip club La Bare, but a perusal of the rest of the photos taken proves pretty damn interesting. Guys sitting on gals' faces, dancers slurping all over bachelorettes, lots and lots of touchy-feely.

Gee, we said. Since the dancers aren't technically naked, maybe there's no such thing as the three-foot rule, that bane of lonely businessmen.

Guess again.

La Bare should be complying with the three-foot rule, says Captain Steve Jett of the Houston Police Department. "Topless women are not technically nude either, but they have to comply," he says.

But his vice division is way understaffed, he says, and he doesn't have the men (or women) to spare to go do a proactive investigation at La Bare. "If we got a complaint, we'd look at it…but since last June, I can't remember seeing a complaint about La Bare." (La Bare president Chris Domangue didn't return phone calls.)

Jett prefers to make a priority of big-time stings like the recent hooker-and-john busts on the southwest side of town. Doing something like that takes about 50 cops, including almost all of his division's 26 officers.

There was a huge (police) bust at La Bare once, back in 1986. But all the charges were dismissed after sad tales of a bride and her bridesmaids spending the wedding day in jail.

So party on, gals. But don't say we didn't warn you.

A Quiet Neighborhood

Yet another of those odd little stories from The Woodlands surfaced recently: A Hummer was broken into, and among the items stolen were several machine guns and a dozen or so silencers.

The owner, a gun dealer whose name was not released, seemed to be within his rights, although an investigation is ongoing.

But the incident left us wondering -- is there ever a reason for a private citizen to own a silencer for anything but suspicious purposes?

"I don't really know what the legal purpose would be," says Franceska Perot, a spokeswoman for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. She says some people collect silencers for old pistols they own, but that can't be too big a market. (And stats on just how many of the heavily regulated silencers are sold or owned in the United States are unavailable because they're somehow tied into IRS filings, Perot says.)

"Sure, there's a reason to own them -- if you're going to be doing criminal stuff," says Detective Brent Akin of Montgomery County Constable Precinct 3. "I don't know why else."

To be clear, it's not illegal to own a silencer, as long as you have a special federal license to do so. According to news archives, some deer hunters claim to use silencers in order to kill more than one loitering animal at a time, but Akin doesn't buy it.

"Usually when one deer sees another one fall, it's a pretty good clue that they ought to get out of there," he says.

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