A Last Bite of '97

Time, as has-been '70s rocker Steve Miller once observed, keeps on slippin', slippin', into the future.

Or maybe it was noted 5th-century B.C. Greek philosopher Heraclitus who said that.

No matter. It's an immutable truth: You can't stop the clock. There's no sense even trying.

Nonetheless, year's end is the time most of us try to slow down a bit, if not stop outright, and take one last look back to see where we've been and what we've done. A time to pause, if you will, to clear our sinuses and check to see that our fly is zipped and our hair is fluffed just right before we take another turn around the sun.

We at the Houston Press are no different. Although many of us have a hard time remembering what we did yesterday, much less six months ago, we figure this is as good a time as any to check up on some of the characters, sympathetic and otherwise, whom we've written about over the past 12 months.

Nineteen ninety-seven, as you may recall, was the year Houston lost a football team and gained a new mayor -- events that probably left you yawning as loudly as we yawned. But the local economy kept humming at an ever-higher frequency, and who needs circuses when you've got the bread?

Of course, you know all about that, and you probably know what has happened to -- or what's been done by -- some of the more high-profile people, places and things we profiled or exposed in the past year. Others you may have wondered about. So did we. In our own way, we're fond of them all.

Well, most of them.

Les Alexander ["Greed Head," by Bob Burtman, February 13] still owns the Rockets and the Comets, and Houston still has no concrete plans to build a new downtown basketball arena for him. But Alexander has a new best friend named Lee P. Brown.

Hans Marticiuc ["Bad Boy in Blue," by Steve McVicker, January 2] is still president of the Houston Police Officers Union, and is still agitating for higher police pay. He, too, has a new best friend named Lee P. Brown.

Kristen Pain, who lost her job as an assistant district attorney after being caught snorting cocaine on-camera by the FBI ["Pain for the Prosecution," by Steve McVicker, June 26], had her law license suspended by the State Bar of Texas last month for the duration of the eight-year probation she's serving. But Pain, who pulled 45 days in the county jail after pleading guilty to possession of a controlled substance, has moved on to other pursuits: She's joined new husband Scott Langham (who was busted with Pain and also served 45 days in jail) in business as a personal trainer. Pain also continues to hone the well-chiseled musculature that drew so many comments after she appeared on the cover of the Press. In September, she was the runner-up in a female body-building competition in Galveston.

Eddie Webster resigned as president of the Houston Convention and Visitors Bureau just as the Press was finishing a story on the high salaries and bonuses and questionable expenses of the bureau's top management ["Fast Eddie's Getaway," by Michael Berryhill, July 3]. After Webster took flight, the high-priced associates he brought with him to the bureau also resigned, leaving interim president Jordy Tollett with a million dollars in unpaid invoices -- some of them two and three years old. Webster, meanwhile, was among the finalists for the job of president of the International Association of Convention and Visitors Bureaus, an organization that steadfastly defended his management practices in Houston to the Press. Although Webster was a member of the association's board and frequently traveled to its Washington meetings, he didn't get the job. Write if you get work, Eddie.

Donna Ballard ["Basic Ballard," by Brian Wallstin, March 13] resigned from the State Board of Education in October, when she moved from The Woodlands to Midland to be with her preacher husband. But Ballard, who was the most outspoken of the six-member bloc of social conservatives on the education board, apparently can't get the taste of politics out of her mouth: She's thinking of challenging a Democratic incumbent for a West Texas board seat in this year's election. Write if you get work, Donna.

Sherwood Cryer picked up the phone on a Friday night, and with the sounds of redneck revelry in the background, said he is as he was, and nothing has changed. After his story appeared in the Press ["Sherwood's Rules," by Randall Patterson, May 15], some people called to tell Sherwood he was their hero. Others told him he really needed to get Jesus. Still others said, "You no-good sumbitch." They always hung up before Sherwood got their names. "Hell," says Sherwood, "you can't please everybody."  

He has heard that the daughter he's suing has had another child. He's a grandpa again, and "it kinda tears me up," he says. Sherwood is still living and working in G's Icehouse, the tin-shack, one-letter remainder of his Gilley's empire, and he is still driving by the fine house of the man he believes stole his empire away. Someone told him a while ago that Mickey Gilley was recently on Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Sherwood still keeps track of such things.

Despite being hit with a contempt citation for ignoring a divorce court's order to turn over assets to his ex-wife, "One-Man Mob" John Shike [by Steve McVicker, May 8] remains free pending resolution of his appeal. Shike's ex-wife, Saba Hameed, has obtained her real estate license and continues to work at a department store. On Sunday afternoons, television viewers with nothing better to watch can catch Shike's so-called "public affairs" program, World Connection, on the Access Houston cable channel. As far as we know, Shike does not have a new best friend named Lee P. Brown.

Nineteen ninety-seven started on a high note for state District Judge William Bell [The Insider, "Courthouse Crack-up," by Tim Fleck, May 29], who attended a raucous dinner party where he engaged in a conversation with lawyer Holly Williamson. Bell's professional life went downhill from there. It was during that conversation, Williamson later testified, that Bell improperly discussed matters in the Kennedy Heights toxic-tort litigation then pending in his court. For that and other indiscretions, Bell was later forced to resign his bench by the Texas Judicial Conduct Commission. He's since returned to private practice as a mediator and defense attorney. His first prominent case: representing that elderly Republican precinct judge caught altering ballots in the December 6 mayoral runoff to help loser Rob Mosbacher.

State District Judge Jim Barr also lost his bench after female prosecutors accused him of making lewd jokes in court [The Insider, "Have You Heard the One About Judge Jim Barr?", March 20]. There was also the little matter of his controversial jailing of a Harris County constable. Unlike Bell, Barr is still fighting to hold on to his job, but a panel of judges ordered him suspended from court duty with pay until a final tribunal approves or rejects the judicial commission's decision to remove him from office.

The Cotswold project, a master plan for 60 blocks on the north end of downtown that was to include a waterway down Congress Avenue and 3,000 new parking spaces, seems to have fallen off the map. As revealed in Bob Burtman's May 1 cover story, "Cotswold Unspun," Cotswold's proposed reconfiguring of city streets was in direct conflict with Metro's long-range plans for downtown. But after intense negotiations, that conflict was said to be resolved, and Cotswold's patrons seemed ready to go before City Council for preliminary approval.

Nothing has happened since, but Cotswold frontman Leo Linbeck III reports that the project is simply lying dormant pending a thumbs-up from everybody's new best friend, Lee P. Brown. Though plans for the waterway have been scaled back, the Cotswold concept, which calls for a private security force to protect shoppers from whatever non-yuppie riffraff may wander into the downtown theme park, remains essentially unchanged.

"We kind of ran out of time with [the Lanier] administration," explains Linbeck. "There were so many things in the queue ahead of us, I think we just got pushed down the agenda and fell off." Though there are still some details to resolve, Linbeck adds, "We're pretty confident that the next administration is going to approve the project."

In February, a few months after three-year-old Ashley Yount received a cochlear implant ["Ashley Yount Can't Hear You," by Lisa Gray, January 16], her mother, Julie, peeled an orange and handed Ashley a segment. Ashley ate it, then gestured toward the orange. "Ore," she said. "Mmmmore," coaxed Julie, excited. "More," responded Ashley. It was Ashley's first word; she had crossed over from the world of the deaf to the world of speech. No one had expected Ashley to speak so soon, barely two months after her implant had been turned on; a year is more typical. Julie credits Ashley's experience with sign language for her quick progression with speech: Because Ashley already understood one kind of language, her mother feels, she was more easily able to pick up another.

This summer, the Younts moved from Houston to rural Weston, Missouri. Ashley now attends a pre-school with hearing children, and Julie reports that she's progressing marvelously.

Joe Lychner, whose wife and daughters were among the 230 people killed in the July 1996 explosion of Pan Am Flight 800 ["After the Crash," by Lisa Gray, October 23], spent eight hours on the night of the crash trying to call the 800 "informational" number he saw flashed on CNN -- only to be greeted by a busy signal or instructions to leave his name and number so that authorities could reach him. Roughly a year later, he served on a national task force to change the way airline disasters are handled; the group released its recommendations in December. If Congress accepts the proposals, airline passengers will soon be asked to leave the name and phone number of someone to contact in case of an emergency. Then, should the worst occur, families of crash victims at least won't have to endure hours of uncertainty.  

City Councilman John Kelley's 35-year-old son, Shaun [The Insider, "Father of the Year," by Tim Fleck, June 26], nearly got his probation revoked on a cocaine-possession sentence, and later was threatened with prison after flunking a drug test while in the Harris County Jail. Shaun Kelley was then sent for a nine-month stay in a drug treatment program operated by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, but as of this writing he's back in the county jail awaiting a contempt hearing early next month in his ex-wife's divorce suit.

Nineteen ninety-seven was not the best of years for plaintiffs' lawyer John O'Quinn ["O'Quinn Unzipped," by Mary Flood, January 23]. Two weeks ago, O'Quinn was fined $2,500 after pleading guilty to one count of improperly practicing law in South Carolina -- a charge that stemmed from allegations of "case-running" following the 1994 crash of a USAir jet bound from Columbia, South Carolina, to Charlotte, North Carolina. The lawyer also agreed to pay $250,000 to fund legal-ethics education and enforcement efforts in the state. Seven other charges of soliciting cases, fee-splitting and conspiracy against O'Quinn were dropped by prosecutors. Still pending is a State Bar of Texas inquiry into the actions of O'Quinn and associates after the USAir crash. Meanwhile, O'Quinn appears to have seriously scaled back his expectations for the Kennedy Heights lawsuit, in which he represents residents of that southeast Houston neighborhood against oil giant Chevron [The Insider, "The All-Too-Human Family," by Tim Fleck, August 28].

As a result of Steve McVicker's July 24 cover story "Death of an Informant," the body of gambler, drug dealer and onetime police informant Donald Wayne Chaline was exhumed in September. The 50-year-old Chaline was found dead in March at the bottom of the staircase outside his southwest Houston townhouse. His skull had been fractured, and the Harris County Medical Examiner's Office, after determining that Chaline had a large amount of alcohol and cocaine in his system, concluded that he died from an accidental fall. But Chaline's daughter, Melinda Rogers, wasn't so sure. Her father had been a key witness in the capital murder trial of the notorious Markham Duff-Smith, who had arranged for the slaying of four members of his wealthy family in order to collect an inheritance. Rogers believed Chaline had also been murdered. After a second autopsy, though, the M.E.'s office stuck by its original opinion that Chaline's death was an accident.

Jaime Olmo, the surgical assistant accused of medical malpractice by pub-hungry state Attorney General Dan Morales ["Trial by Video," by Michael Berryhill, March 6], has been slowly rebuilding his business after signing a settlement with the A.G.'s office last January. The agreement allowed Olmo and his associates, many of them doctors with foreign medical degrees but without state licenses, to continue to assist licensed surgeons in Houston operating rooms, as they have successfully for years. Morales's lawsuit nearly broke Olmo, and the one-sided coverage by CBS television's nightly news and 60 Minutes ignored the fact that a Houston judge threw out the case against four remaining defendants in February. As it turns out, the newly married Morales didn't even need the publicity: He recently decided not to run for re-election.

The ill-fated Houston Daily News ["Off Line," by Bob Burtman, March 20], which was promoted as the city's first on-line daily newspaper, has metamorphosed into a new venture, Houston Today. With a new publisher (Bob Orkand, whose DBA Houston business magazine folded last January) and a new chairman and CEO (investment banker/stockbroker Robert Watson), Houston Today has been adapting over the months to the brave new world of Internet publishing. Despite what could be generously termed an uneven product, the paper claims to have logged 5.7 million hits on its web site in November. According to the paper's "multimedia news director," Scott E Berrett, Houston Today is on the verge of breaking even and is almost ready to expand into a number of other cities. "The page has turned," says Berrett. A decidedly nondigital pronouncement, Mr. "New-Media" Man.  

In the wake of Bob Burtman's series on mismanagement in the city's public works department ["Easy Street," October 30, November 13 and November 27], John Hatch was transferred from his job as head of the department's Street and Bridge Division back to his old haunt, the Greater Houston Wastewater Program. Department sources say that other personnel changes are in the works. According to public works spokeswoman Marti Stein, the department is also examining several of the problems uncovered by the Press, including unnecessary street overlays and inaction after projects failed inspections. The scrutiny has already paid off: In November, five streets in Denver Harbor that had been slated for overlaying -- despite having been recently repaved --were deleted from the project.

Shortly after he was profiled in the Press ["The Legend," by Randall Patterson, August 14], playground basketballer Dwayne Rogers was asked again to play overseas, this time in Spain. Again, Rogers turned down the chance to play basketball for money. It was just too far from home. Instead, he tried out for two teams in the new professional Southwestern Basketball League. At the age of 33, he made the cut for both the Galveston Storm and the Lake Charles Hawks, and chose the Hawks because they asked him more nicely. Since October, Dwayne has been making $750 a week, which has made his wife, Andrea, interested enough in basketball to attend his games. Playing on a team that practiced and had a playbook was entirely new for Dwayne. As the Hawks' starting point guard, he was leading the league in scoring, with 28 points a game. In late December, the team folded for lack of funds. Something will happen, says Dwayne, or he will go back to work at the box factory. "As long as I'm making money," he says, "I'm happy."

Our 1997 "Man of the Year," escape artist and con man extraordinaire Steven Russell ["King Con," by Steve McVicker, February 6], remains in prison -- or at least that's where he was when we went to press this week. Russell earned a measure of local notoriety by managing to escape from the Harris County Jail or the Texas Department of Criminal Justice on three occasions -- the last by posing as a doctor (he transformed his white prison uniform into medical scrubs with the ink from a green felt-tip) and walking out the front gate of a Huntsville prison. Russell was recaptured, but he apparently hasn't lost his taste for the outrageous during his latest round of incarceration.

Russell was originally sent to TDCJ after pleading guilty to embezzling nearly $800,000 from a medical management company that had hired him, on the basis of his completely fabricated resume, as its chief financial officer. In July, Russell's ex-boyfriend, Phillip Morris, was convicted of participating in the theft by allowing Russell to deposit the stolen funds in their joint checking account at Texas Commerce Bank. Morris, who is also now in prison, recently filed suit against Russell and TCB vice president Chris Grice, claiming his signature was forged on the account by Russell "in concert" with Grice. Morris is asking for $4 million in damages. Grice, of course, has denied the allegations. But defendant Russell, in a court document answering Morris's lawsuit, agrees with his former lover.

That leads Grice's attorney to suspect that Russell is masterminding Morris's suit. "I think Russell may see this as an opportunity to give a deposition," says lawyer John White. "And a deposition would give him another chance to sneak out again."

Russell has boasted that all his escapes have taken place on Friday the 13th. The next one is in February.

For the time being, irrepressible rock and roll underachiever Herschel Berry -- who turned the Houston music scene on its ear in the '70s and '80s as the crazed leader of the Natives -- has abandoned his plans for a full-scale comeback. These days, he's focusing on his other passion -- the visual arts -- by framing pictures full-time at McMurtrey Gallery and fashioning old cigar boxes into interactive gadgets of offbeat aesthetic worth. As for his previous job as a Randalls Peapod man, let's just say Berry's enthusiasm for the on-line grocery industry has waned considerably since our June 5 cover story ["Never Too Old to Rock and Roll," by Hobart Rowland].

Performance-wise, the only thing on the singer/guitarist's plate is a possible slot at next year's Mardi Gras celebration in Galveston. We hope that will be occasion for Berry to sing his "Mr. Madness," a song whose opening line neatly captures the quintessence of Houston: "I rolled a seven on the dice on Howard Hughes's grave."

In the coming year, we should all be so lucky.  

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