CSI: New Caney
They do things differently up in New Caney, which is a small town in the woods of east Montgomery County. Take, for instance, their methods for identifying dead bodies.
Most coroners -- if confronted with a corpse who obviously has a wallet in his pants pocket -- would check that wallet for what investigators call "clues" as to the victim's identity.
They don't mess with such high-falutin' detective work in New Caney, where the slogan seems to be "We'll get the right ID -- eventually."
A middle-aged male bicycle rider was killed by a car on June 5 in the portion of the county covered by Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace James Metts. The county has no coroner, so Metts was dispatched to the scene.
Already there were Clyde Knox, owner of Slinky's tow-truck company, who heard about the accident on his police scanner, and his son David, known as Slinky.
Knox, says Metts, recognized the victim's sneakers and said it was his son Billy. Which was the official ruling until the next day, when Billy showed up at his father's house, indisputably alive.
Q. How did this happen?
Metts: You know, they were right there with the body and all, and I asked, "What's going on?" and another gentleman said, "Hey, this is Slinky's brother that was hit on this bicycle." I said, "Well, good gracious."...Of course, my heart went out to them. I still had a job to do. After some initial investigation I talked to DPS, and everybody's comfortable that this is their brother, Billy, lying there. And I looked at the guy, and he resembled Slinky, he resembled David Knox...We noticed that the gentlemen did have a wallet and all, but there was no cause for alarm or reasons to be going through his things. In my opinion it would have been disrespectful...[Billy] rides a bicycle everywhere he goes. And this guy here was on a bicycle. And this guy had on the same type tenny-shoes. And that's why.
Q. [What happened next?]
A. Well, anyway, I send him for an autopsy and I'm coming to work the next morning. A friend calls, he says, "Have you heard?" And I said, "No, what?" And he says, "Billy Knox just walked in his daddy's house down there just a while ago." And I say, "Man, get out of here." And he said, "No." And I said, "Well, I gotta go." So I call the forensic center immediately...Listen to this, I was thinking probably what the majority of the public was thinking: How can you mistake your son, being that close? Even though he was banged up a little bit in an accident...I've never seen two people look more alike in my life and not be related.
Q. But how could the investigator, which is you, not open the person's wallet to double-check?
A. Hindsight's 20/20. You and everybody else could look back now [and say] "Well, shoot, I would have done that." No, you wouldn't have if you were on the scene. You know, like they say, if a frog had wings he wouldn't bust his butt every time he hopped. That's hindsight.
Q. Are you a fan of CSI? Would this make a good episode?
A. Oh, I don't know. I watch it every now and then, but I don't have much time to watch TV.
Anyone entering Whole Foods these days sees the signs: "Go Local." Which has some Houston organic farmers grumbling. The chain's definition of "local," it seems, is pretty broad.
"It's a big PR campaign is all it is for them," says Joan Gundermann, owner of the largest certified organic farm in the Houston area. "If they are buying from local farmers, who are these farmers and what are their addresses?"
"What they are doing now is basically a joke," says Jackie Bass, who owns a large organic farm in Montgomery County.
Whole Foods actually stopped buying from local growers several years ago when it went to a warehousing and tracking system that required purchases of larger quantities of food than the locals could sell, Gundermann says.
Other chains, including H-E-B, Kroger and Wal-Mart, do buy from Houston farms. For Whole Foods, apparently "local" means anywhere in Texas.
The company, not for the first time, refused to answer questions about its policies.
License to Ill
A Houston Press employee found out the hard way recently that Houston police are still giving out tickets for having a frame around your license plate.
Three years ago, a new, broadly written state law prohibited frames that obscured the readability of license plates. Car dealers then came up with new, smaller frames, but even if the only thing that's obscured is the bottom half of "The Lone Star State," you're getting ticketed for it if HPD pulls you over for a more major violation.
"We tried to get them to be a little more bending on it and understanding," says Walter Wainwright, president of the Houston Automobile Dealers Association.
Adding to the pointlessness is the fact that if you remove the frame after getting ticketed, the city will waive the $120 fine. And they pretty much assume you'll do it; most prosecutors often don't require a photo of the newly nude plate.
Which is fine for traffic-ticket lawyers. "I'd rather have a speeding case with an obstructed plate than just a plain speeding case," says Robert Eutsler. "Because if you came to me with a plain speeding case and we got it dismissed, but you still had to pay money [for court costs], you may not be all that happy with my services...You can get the non-moving violation dismissed for free if you do probation for the speeding, so [a client] thinks, 'Oh, I don't have to pay that $120 fine on the obscured plate.'"
A ticket that almost never results in a fine -- there's got to be some point to it beyond making lawyers seem efficient, but damned if we know what it is.
Change Is Gonna Come
Houston police Sgt. Julia Oliver, who used to be Houston police Sgt. Jack Oliver, drew quite the media crowd June 15 for a press conference on her sex change. (Click here to enlarge photo.) Those expecting a circus atmosphere, though, were doomed to disappointment. For an hour or so, Oliver gave soft-spoken answers to respectful questions about her decision. She says she'd prefer her fellow officers to call her Julia from now on, even though no operation has taken place. "If they're not comfortable with Julia, Sergeant's fine," she says. "Most of them call me 'Sarge' in the first place. I doubt seriously some of them even knew what my first name was." We're sure they do now.
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