Up To Date on '98

In real life, stories don't end with "happily ever after." They roll forward with no regard for narrative neatness: The prince becomes king; he files for divorce; Cinderella writes a tell-all book; the kids date topless dancers and form a post-punk band. And so on.

With such developments in mind, we thought we'd revisit a few of the Press's stories from the past year, and even a couple from previous years. As you'll see, sometimes our heroes have triumphed; sometimes they've suffered. Sometimes crimes have led to punishment; other times they've gone unsolved. Lawsuits drag on. Careers end. Fresh starts are attempted.

In real life, the stories are never finished.

About a month after the Press detailed Major Lynna Kay Shuffield's woes as a member of the all-volunteer Texas State Guard ("The Old Guard," January 29), she was summarily dismissed by her commanding officer, Colonel Kenneth Kubasik. The Guard never paid her back wages, and Shuffield says the Guard's third "investigation" of her complaints of assault, retaliation and harassment was finally issued the day after her discharge, half a year after it was begun. Another officer who complained to the Press of misappropriation of funds, unwarranted promotions and record tampering was discharged from the Guard as well, in what Shuffield's fellow malcontents call a purging of the ranks.

The Guard shows no signs of cleaning up its act. Since March, Major David E. Wright has been charged in Harris County with two counts of indecency with a child, reportedly the teenage daughter of a subordinate Guard member. And according to former National Guard warrant officer Harvey Gough, the National Guard Bureau is investigating the Adjutant General and his staff, which oversees the National Guard and the State Guard, for anti-Semitism; the AG's assistant chief of staff, Colonel Dennis Morreale, says the charges are unsubstantiated.

Those who might whip the Guard into shape have done little. Shuffield and company testified at the April meeting of the Texas House Committee on State, Federal and International Relations, and the Subcommittee on Military and Veteran Affairs was asked to look into their allegations. But Shuffield says the subcommittee, chaired by Representative Miguel Wise, has yet to give her a call. (Shaila Dewan)

Last spring two unlikely combatants squared off in Harris County family court for the custody of a three-year-old African-American child, Franklin Chatman ("The Fight for Franklin," February 26). Lawyer James Moore, an Anglo with no biological relationship to the boy, had previously won temporary custody, claiming the boy's mother had abused and abandoned him. The mother, Susanne Collins, denied those charges and claimed that Moore was using his legal expertise to steal her child.

Franklin's grandmother, schoolteacher Virginia Howard, sued for his return, backed by Child Protective Services of Harris County. The case became a cause celebre in Houston's black community, with state Representative Ron Wilson joining the Chatman legal team as co-counsel. A jury sided with the plaintiffs and returned full custody of the boy to his grandmother.

Supporters of the family celebrated the victory and Franklin's fourth birthday with a party at the Shape Community Center. CPS spokeswoman Judy Hay says that since then, by all indications, the boy has made a satisfactory adjustment to his new home. Howard reports that Franklin attends preschool at the elementary where she teaches, and that he's happy, well adjusted and well ahead of his age group. (Tim Fleck)

In April 1997, 12-year-old Laura Smither left her home for a morning jog and never came back ("Looking for Laura," March 12). After a massive search led by the citizens of Friendswood, her decapitated body was found in retention pond. Five months later, Friendswood police chief Jared Stout raised the eyebrows of his law enforcement peers by naming William Reece as the prime suspect in the Smither murder. To date, Reece has been found guilty of kidnapping a woman in nearby Webster -- but no one has been charged in connection with Smither's murder. (Steve McVicker)

Last spring, the Press wrote about the community of Beach City's fight to stop a proposed industrial landfill in Chambers County, within a mile of Trinity Bay ("Waste Not, Want Not," March 12). Though the battle still rages, the citizens fighting the landfill have won several significant skirmishes and now appear to have the upper hand.

As expected, Chambers County passed an ordinance prohibiting a landfill at that location. Soon thereafter, the Texas Natural Resources Conservation Commission, which controls the cumbersome permitting process, stopped the developer's application in midstream. The actions, significant setbacks for the developer, TSP Corp., prompted a pair of lawsuits that may take years to resolve.

In a related matter, landfill opponents also sued the property owner, USX Corp., for illegally destroying more than nine acres of wetlands. That suit is slated for trial in February. (Bob Burtman)

The year ended on a disastrous note for two defendants in the federal Hotel Six sting of City Hall insiders ("Take the Cash and Talk That Cash," March 19). In the second trial of former city councilman Ben Reyes and former port commissioner Betti Maldonado, a jury took only six hours to convict both of conspiring to bribe members of City Council.

The convictions will probably end the political lives of Reyes, the longtime king of Houston Hispanic politics, and Maldonado, an up-and-comer in the administration of mayor Bob Lanier. In fact, if Reyes's and Maldonado's appeals are unsuccessful, each could face a substantial prison term: Prosecutors indicated Reyes could get five years and Maldonado two in minimum-security Club Fed.

Of course, those times could be halved if Reyes and Maldonado assist in Sting 3, the trial of the three remaining defendants: incumbent Councilmembers John Castillo and Michael Yarbrough and former councilman and judge John Peavy.

At least one member of the original Hotel Six is smiling as 1998 draws to a close. Lobbyist Ross Allyn was acquitted on all charges during the first trial, and he's now back plying his trade at City Hall, representing one of the factions in the dispute over access to alleyways in the Heights.

For federal prosecutors Mike Attanasio and John Scott, Houston is becoming a second home. The third sting trial will likely run from midspring to early summer, making this their fourth year in the Bayou City. Of course, not all of their time has been spent poring over transcripts and videotapes. Bachelor Attanasio has developed a very close friendship with KPRC-Channel 2 anchor Susan Lennon, who as a result has removed herself from the Sting story.(Tim Fleck)

Last spring, prison-escape artist Steven Russell outdid his previous exploits, this time by convincing state parole officials that he was dead ("The Further Adventures of King Con," May 14). In February, Russell received "special needs" parole -- most often granted to inmates too ill to be properly cared for in prison -- after convincing prison medical personnel that he was dying of AIDS. A few weeks later, parole officials were informed that Russell had passed away. In point of fact, he was off and running.

In April, after a member of the Gulf Coast Violent Offenders Task Force caught on to the scheme, Russell was captured in Florida. He's currently incarcerated at the Texas Department of Criminal Justice's Michael Unit in east Texas. Prison officials refuse to allow Russell to talk with the media, saying that ten months after his escape, their investigation remains "ongoing."

As 1998 drew to a close, Russell was still behind bars. Or at least he was the last time we checked. (Steve McVicker)

This week marks five years since the body of 29-year-old Paul Beauchamp was pulled from a pond in Montgomery County ("An Open and Shut Case," July 30). Thomas Minnich, who lived near the pond, claimed that he thought he was shooting at a turtle -- not the back of Beauchamp's head.

The Harris County Medical Examiner's Office initially ruled Beauchamp's death an accidental drowning. But three years later, Beauchamp's body was exhumed, and Chief Medical Examiner Joye Carter performed a second autopsy. She declared that Beauchamp had died from the gunshot wounds to his head and ruled the death a homicide. But the Montgomery County Sheriff's Office has refused to reopen the case.

Beauchamp's father, Alfred Beauchamp, remains convinced that his son was murdered and is still trying to interest authorities. Earlier this month, the elder Beauchamp was interviewed at length by investigators from the state Attorney General's Office. He says they vowed to take a close look at the death. (Steve McVicker)

Sunset Heights neighborhood watchdog Jackie Harris exited her Press profile ("It's Jackie's Neighborhood," September 17) with words of warning for bad neighbors at both ends of the socioeconomic spectrum: "They," an increasingly acquisitive Jackie promised, "will go too." Since then, the gentrification of Sunset Heights has proceeded apace, and Jackie's made good on her promise, or at least increased her own personal buffer zone. After purchasing the house and double lot next door to her existing warehouse on its double lot, Jackie exploited a back-tax dispute to wrangle title to the cantina on the other side of her abode, increasing her holdings to a contiguous half a block. When last heard from, she was looking for foreclosable lots around the inner Loop as investment properties. Citizens are hereby alerted to watch their backs. (Brad Tyer)

Disgruntled Clear Lake homeowner and would-be Ryland Homes-slayer John Cobarruvius ("Closing Costs," October 29) reports that he took his Ryland-critical web site down for a week (but only for a week) in observance of Christmas. "I never had any ill will towards these people," he says. "I just wanted my damn house fixed."

In the meantime, Cobarruvius has received a $4,000 settlement in the Masonite class-action suit (which he says is $1,300 less than the cost of his necessary repairs), and the state Attorney General's Office has begun a preliminary investigation of Ryland based on the report co-authored by Cobarruvius and Dallas-area cohort John Winkler. Consumer advocate David Horowitz of FightBack.com has also joined the burgeoning crusade, writing to Ryland's CEO on behalf of Cobarruvius, who has become an in-demand speaker on the neighborhood association meeting circuit. (Brad Tyer)

In mid-November, Mayor Lee Brown and Harris County Judge Bob Eckels announced the formation of a "joint task force" to study taxi dancing by minors ("Partners for Pay," October 22). The chair of the task force will be Mary Jo May, director of El Centro Corazón, who organized opposition to the clubs after hearing tales of taxi dancing from teenage girls in a Center support group. Also in November, City Council tightened the penalties for taxi dancing: An adult who pays to dance with a minor can receive a $500 fine; the club owner can be fined $500 as well, and so can the dancer. May is now campaigning to stiffen the state laws against taxi dancing, elevating it from a Class C misdemeanor to a felony. (Russell Contreras)

Council meetings for the tiny city of South Houston ("Under Siege," November 12) have grown considerably shorter since Mayor Cipriano Romero was impeached on November 14. Romero had been accused of failing to sign invoices approved by city council, of misrepresenting the city's views before a local water board, and of choosing not to enforce a decorum ordinance during meetings. But other, darker reasons for the ouster seem just as likely: Romero had fought what he saw as impropriety and corruption on the part of the council.

As for the former mayor, 27-year-old Romero says he can't afford the $6,000 necessary to appeal the decision and doesn't want to see the city spend thousands on legal fees to fight him in court (he estimates that South Houston has already spent $15,000 to impeach him). But he hasn't washed his hands of the city. He says many citizens have asked him to run for city council, and he's considering doing just that.

Like many other meetings in the South Houston saga, the impeachment proceedings were long-winded -- they lasted until 3 a.m. -- and convoluted. Angela Applebe, the wife of Morgan's Point mayor Russell Applebe, attempted to testify that South Houston City Secretary Susan Engel had told her that the council was trying to remove the mayor from office so that he could not run for re-election in May. But Applebe says objections from the opposing counsel prevented her from telling the court what Engel had said. (Shaila Dewan)

The battle between Houston's polo king and the king of Polo clothing ("The Patrón," November 19) has still not been resolved. John Goodman, owner of (and player on) the world's top-ranked polo team, was sued by Ralph Lauren for copyright infringement after Goodman began publishing POLO Magazine. The case went to trial before Magistrate Judge Mary Milloy in November. Milloy is scheduled to issue a ruling on January 28. (Randall Patterson)

When told that Bob and Clint Norris had accused him of harassing their street-corner windshield repair enterprise ("Risky Business," November 26), Dream & Bros. Hand Car Wash owner Afis Olajuwon claimed that the Norrises were simply trying to enrich themselves by associating with Olajuwon's famous name. What actually happened in the story's aftermath was somewhat less profitable.

"It hurt us pretty bad," says Bob Norris, "but we knew that was gonna happen."

City officials have moved the Norrises off their accustomed corner at San Felipe and Bancroft, and while the Norrises were operating near a sports bar at Westheimer and Beltway 8 at press time, they didn't anticipate staying long before having to find another spot.

But finding a good one may be more difficult now that so much attention has been paid to the case. The Houston Police Department's automotive repair licensing division says that the Norrises will need a permanent place of business and a permanent structure in order to renew their present license, which expires at the end of December.

"I don't know what's going on," says a frustrated Bob Norris. "All I know is, they've changed all the rules and regulations. It's all really screwed up."

Since the Norrises can't afford a permanent structure, they're looking to possibly affiliate themselves with an area car wash and to operate under its automotive repair facility license. Chances remain good, however, that such a deal will not be struck with Olajuwon's business. (Brad Tyer)

Shortly after the Press outlined how the trucking industry and various state officials had conspired to kill a proposed weigh station in Pasadena ("Semi Safe," December 3), the Texas Department of Public Safety audited a local trucking company for compliance with safety rules and regulations. Ordinarily, the state conducts such audits only under certain conditions: when a company truck is involved in a fatality or accidents resulting in injuries, or when a company's rigs are taken off the road for serious violations after an inspection. Or, less frequently, when someone files a complaint.

But the company in question, Dorsett Brothers Concrete, had an almost spotless track record. "They're one of the safest trucking companies in the state," confirms Pasadena Sergeant Loni Robinson, who heads the city's truck safety enforcement team and was the point man in the thwarted weigh station effort. Robinson suggests that Dorsett Brothers, which supports Pasadena's program and has been critical of industry attempts to weaken safety regulations, has been targeted for its views.

Dorsett Brothers safety director Mike Nall doesn't accuse DPS of retaliation, but he can't understand why the company was audited -- for the third time in three years. "It's strange that there's concrete companies all over Houston that have never had a compliance review, and this is my third one," Nall says.

DPS Captain Robert Burroughs, who heads the compliance review section, did not return phone calls from the Press.(Bob Burtman)

To read the original Press stories, go to www.houstonpress.com.

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