Bad Trip to Kerrville

It's almost impossible to find a lunatic-free zone in these perilous times, as Katy trophy store owner Chris Williamson learned Memorial Day weekend at the Kerrville Folk Festival. Williamson, fiancee Heather Hill and a half-dozen other Baylor alums from Houston made the four-hour trek to Kerrville in search of a laid-back time with a few thousand other laid-back folks. Unfortunately for Williamson, when a complete stranger bit off his ear and spit it on the ground, most everybody connected with the festival kept on laying back.

Williamson and his companions were on their first pilgrimage to the annual gathering at Quiet Valley Ranch, drawn by the festival's reputation as a refuge for folk music enthusiasts seeking a weekend escape from Houston or Austin. They had enjoyed themselves on the Sunday before Memorial Day and, around 10:30 that evening, were looking forward to Austin folkie Jimmy LaFave's imminent appearance on-stage.

It was about then that Williamson, his fiancee and his future brother-in-law Rob Hill were at the head of a line near a concession stand, adding condiments to the fajitas they had just purchased. Apparently, they weren't garnishing their fajitas fast enough for the woman in line behind them, who yelled "Hurry the fuck up" in Williamson's ear as she pressed against him. "God, what a bitch," Rob Hill muttered to Williamson.

The woman overheard Hill's observation and stomped off a short distance away, where she engaged in an animated discussion with a broad-shouldered, middle-aged man and pointed at Williamson and the Hill siblings. The man suddenly wheeled toward the trio, but instead of approaching Rob Hill, who had made the remark, he walked up to Williamson and angrily inquired, "Did you call my girlfriend a cunt?" before shoving him in the chest with both hands in the classic schoolyard fashion. Williamson, in accordance with the code of the schoolyard, tried to shove the man back. But the stranger apparently had gone to a different school.

When Williamson's hands came up, the stranger seized him by both elbows and squeezed the pressure points in those joints. What happened next, police officers and martial arts experts agree, required training, lightning reflexes and a very sick mind. The stranger pulled Williamson toward him, bit off most of his right ear with one bite, and spit it on the ground before slamming Williamson's head against a nearby railing.

As six or seven pink-shirted hospitality volunteers -- the only security present at an event that had drawn more than 6,000 people that evening -- ran toward the combatants, Williamson staggered to his feet and punched his assailant in the face before the volunteers pulled the two apart. Rob Hill, attempting to come to his friend's aid, was also restrained by members of the hospitality staff as he screamed, "Don't let him get away."

But the stranger, with his female companion urging him to "run, Bill, run," departed at high speed amid the confusion. "They let him go because he was being calm and quiet," says Heather Hill. "We were all upset and freaked, and they were treating us like it was all our fault. I went over to Chris and he told me not to look at his ear. The security guys were sitting on Rob because he was trying to go after the guy." After trailing the assailant to the festival's entrance and pointing him out to a radio-equipped staffer there, Heather Hill returned to the festival's first aid tent to find Williamson being treated by Brian Runyon, a registered nurse who has worked at the festival for the last three years.

In recounting his version of the episode to the Press, Runyon described Williamson's injury, which he cleaned and bandaged, as "very severe," but he initially refused -- on grounds of what he termed "client confidentiality" -- to say if the ear was detached. Although the incident had taken place only a few feet from the first aid tent, Heather Hill says Runyon made no effort to find Williamson's ear. Runyon, however, says he "immediately" dispatched security volunteers to look for the ear, "but they came back shaking their heads."

Hill was angered by the turn of events, as you might expect, and she was letting it show. She says her questions to "the guy in charge" about the assailant's whereabouts and whether a Kerrville hospital had been contacted were met with the observation, "Wow, your aura looks really bad. Do you want me to massage your pressure points?"

Runyon denies it was he who offered Hill the tension-reducing body rub, but he says that bad vibes did indeed abound at that point.

"I've never seen energy like that here before," he said, "and I hope I never do again."

Hill says she was told repeatedly that the police had been called, the suspect was in custody and that Peterson Memorial Hospital had been notified that an injured festivalgoer would be arriving soon. (Runyon says he offered to call an ambulance but Williamson refused.)

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Jim Sherman