Texas DA slain in his home; had armed himself
KAUFMAN, Texas (AP) — Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland took no chances after one of his assistant prosecutors was gunned down two months ago. McLelland said he carried a gun everywhere he went and was extra careful when answering the door at his home.
“I’m ahead of everybody else because, basically, I’m a soldier,” the 23-year Army veteran said in an interview less than two weeks ago.
On Saturday, he and his wife were found shot to death in their rural home just outside the town of Forney, about 20 miles from Dallas.
While investigators gave no motive for the killings, Forney Mayor Darren Rozell said: “It appears this was not a random act.”
“Everybody’s a little on edge and a little shocked,” he said.
The slayings came less than two weeks after Colorado’s prison chief was shot to death at his front door, apparently by an ex-convict, and a couple of months after Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was killed in a parking lot a block from his courthouse office. No arrests have been made in Hasse’s slaying Jan. 31.
McLelland, 63, is the 13th prosecutor killed in the U.S. since the National Association of District Attorneys began keeping count in the 1960s.
Sheriff David Byrnes would not give details Sunday of how the killings unfolded and said there was nothing to indicate for certain whether the DA’s slaying was connected to Hasse’s.
El Paso County, Colo., sheriff’s spokesman Sgt. Joe Roybal said investigators had found no evidence so far connecting the Texas killings to the Colorado case, but added: “We’re examining all possibilities.”
Colorado’s corrections director, Tom Clements, was killed March 19 when he answered the doorbell at his home outside Colorado Springs. Evan Spencer Ebel, a white supremacist and former Colorado inmate suspected of shooting Clements, died in a shootout with Texas deputies two days later about 100 miles from Kaufman.
McLelland himself, in an Associated Press interview shortly after the Colorado slaying, raised the possibility that Hasse was gunned down by a white supremacist gang.
The weekend slayings raised concerns for prosecutors across Texas, and some were taking extra security precautions. Byrnes said security would be increased at the courthouse in Kaufman but declined to say if or how other prosecutors in McLelland’s office would be protected.
Harris County District Attorney Mike Anderson said he accepted the sheriff’s offer of 24-hour security for him and his family after learning about the slayings, mostly over concerns for his family’s safety. Anderson said also would take precautions at his Houston office, the largest one in Texas, which has more than 270 prosecutors.
“I think district attorneys across Texas are still in a state of shock,” Anderson said Sunday.
McLelland, elected DA in 2010, said his office had prosecuted several cases against racist gangs, who have a strong presence around Kaufman County, a mostly rural area dotted with subdivisions, with a population of about 104,000.
“We put some real dents in the Aryan Brotherhood around here in the past year,” he said.
In recent years, the DA’s office also prosecuted a case in which a justice of the peace was found guilty of theft and burglary and another case in which a man was convicted of killing his former girlfriend and her 10-year-old daughter.
McLelland said he carried a gun everywhere, even to walk his dog around town, a bedroom community for the Dallas area. He figured assassins were more likely to try to attack him outside. He said he had warned all his employees to be constantly on the alert.
“The people in my line of work are going to have to get better at it,” he said of dealing with the danger, “because they’re going to need it more in the future.”
The number of attacks on prosecutors, judges and senior law enforcement officers in the U.S. has spiked in the past three years, according to Glenn McGovern, an investigator with the Santa Clara County, Calif., district attorney’s office who tracks such cases.
For about a month after Hasse’s slaying, sheriff’s deputies were parked in the district attorney’s driveway, said Sam Rosander, a McLelland neighbor.
The FBI and the Texas Rangers joined the investigation into the McLellands’ deaths.
McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, 65, were the parents of two daughters and three sons. One son is a police officer in Dallas. The couple had moved into the home a few years ago, Rozell said.
“Real friendly, became part of our community quickly,” Rozell said. “They were a really pleasant, happy couple.”
Nev. crash kills 5 in Calif. family; teen arrested
Five members of a Southern California family were killed in southern Nevada when their van was rear-ended by an 18-year-old driver who was later arrested on suspicion of driving under the influence, authorities said.
The dead were among seven family members who were in the van, authorities said. The other two — the 40-year-old female driver and a 15-year-old boy — were hospitalized in critical condition.
Jean Soriano of California was booked into the Clark County Detention Center after he was treated and released at University Medical Center in Las Vegas, Nevada Highway Patrol Trooper Loy Hixson said.
The crash happened at about 3 a.m. Saturday on Interstate 15 near the Utah line. Soriano’s sport utility vehicle struck the van from behind, causing both vehicles to spin out of control and roll near Mesquite, some 80 miles northeast of Las Vegas, investigators said.
A 23-year-old passenger in Soriano’s SUV was treated at the hospital and released.
Authorities believe Soriano was returning from a visit with family in Utah to his home in California at the time of the wreck, Hixson said. They didn’t immediately release his hometown or the names or hometowns of the victims.
Beer bottles were found in the SUV, Hixson said, and troopers performed a blood-alcohol test on Soriano at the hospital. The results won’t be known for a couple of weeks, he said.
Hixson said only two of the seven people in the van were wearing seatbelts. The five who were not buckled in were ejected, but one survived.
“Unfortunately, so many in the van weren’t wearing seatbelts, and some might have survived had they been wearing them,” Hixson said. “We see it so many times where people can survive simply by having a seatbelt on.”
The van was carrying a couple, their children and some aunts and uncles, he said. Killed were three men in their 40s, a teenage female and an adult female.
Patients of Oklahoma doctor line up for tests
TULSA, Okla. (AP) — Hundreds of patients of an Oklahoma oral surgeon accused of unsanitary practices showed up at a health clinic Saturday, looking to find out whether they were exposed to hepatitis or the virus that causes AIDS.
Letters began going out Friday to 7,000 patients who had seen Dr. W. Scott Harrington during the past six years, warning them that poor hygiene at his clinics created a public health hazard. The one-page letter said how and where to seek treatment but couldn’t explain why Harrington’s allegedly unsafe practices went on for so long.
Testing for hepatitis B, hepatitis C and the virus that causes AIDS began at 10 a.m. Saturday, but many arrived early and stood through torrential downpours. The Tulsa Health Department said 420 people were tested Saturday at its North Regional Health and Wellness Center. Screenings resume Monday morning.
Kari Childress, 38, showed up at 8:30 a.m., mainly because she was nervous.
“I just hope I don’t have anything,” said Childress, who had a tooth extracted at one of Harrington’s two clinics five months ago. “You trust and believe in doctors to follow the rules, and that’s the scariest part.”
Inspectors found a number of problems at the doctor’s clinics in Tulsa and suburban Owasso, according to the state Dentistry Board, which filed a 17-count complaint against Harrington pending an April 19 license revocation hearing. According to the complaint, needles were reinserted into drug vials after being used on patients, expired drugs were found in a medicine cabinet and dental assistants, not the doctor, administered sedatives to patients.
One patient, Orville Marshall, said he didn’t meet Harrington until after he had two wisdom teeth pulled about five years ago at the Owasso clinic. A nurse inserted the IV for his anesthesia; Harrington was there when Marshall came to.
“It’s just really scary. It makes you doubt the whole system, especially with how good his place looked,” said Marshall, 37.
An instrument set reserved for use on patients with infectious diseases was rusty, preventing its effective sterilization, and the office autoclave — a pressurized cleaner — was used improperly and hadn’t been certified as effective in at least six years, according to the complaint.
Dr. Matt Messina, a Cleveland dentist and a consumer adviser for the American Dental Association, said creating a safe and hygienic environment is “one of the fundamental requirements” before any dental procedure can be performed.
“It’s not hard. It just takes effort,” he said.
Weekly autoclave testing can be performed for less than $400 annually, according to the website of the Autoclave Testing Services of Pearl River, New York.
Autoclaves typically can be purchased for $1,000 to $8,000, depending on their size and features. And an average dental practice can expect to pay more than $40,000 a year in equipment, tools and supplies alone, according to several dental organizations.
Attempts to reach Harrington have been unsuccessful. No one answered the door Thursday at his Oklahoma home, which property records show is worth more than $1 million. His practice a few miles away, in a tony section of Tulsa where plastic surgeons operate and locals congregate at bistros and stores such as Saks Fifth Avenue, has a fair-market value of around $851,000.
Property and tax records show Harrington owns another residence in Carefree, Ariz., in an area of upscale homes tucked into in the boulder-strewn mountains north of Phoenix.
Nobody was at home Saturday at the low-slung, 1950s-style vacation home, across from the Boulders Resort. Neighbors said they had seen a lot of activity at the home in recent weeks.
Harrington’s malpractice lawyer, Jim Secrest II, did not respond to phone messages left Thursday or Friday. A message at Harrington’s Tulsa office said it was closed and an answering service referred callers to the Tulsa Health Department.
Suzy Horton, an old friend of Harrington’s, said she can’t believe the allegations about the man who removed two of her teeth in the early ’90s. Horton’s ex-husband sold Harrington his home in Carefree — a home where she once lived.
“I’ve been to dentists my whole life, so I know what a professional office looks like,” Horton, who now lives in Phoenix, said in a telephone interview. “His was just as professional as anybody.”
Arizona gun proponents launch free gun program
TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) — A campaign promising free shotguns for people in Tucson’s most troubled neighborhoods has divided some residents in a community still reeling from a shooting rampage in 2011 that killed six people, left a congresswoman and several others wounded, and made the city a symbol of gun violence in America.
The nonprofit Armed Citizen Project is part of a national campaign to give shotguns to single women and homeowners in neighborhoods with high-crime rates. The effort comes amid a national debate on gun control after mass shootings in Arizona, Colorado and Connecticut.
While towns in Idaho, Utah, Virginia and Pennsylvania have debated ordinances recommending gun ownership, the gun giveaway effort appears to be the first of its kind.
“If you are not willing to protect the citizens of Tucson, someone is going to do it, why not me? Why not have armed citizens protecting themselves,” said Shaun McClusky, a real estate agent who plans to start handing out shotguns by May.
Arizona gun proponents have donated about $12,500 to fund the gun giveaway and McClusky, a former mayoral and city council candidate, hopes to collect enough to eventually arm entire neighborhoods.
Participants will receive training on how to properly use, handle and store their weapon, as well as trigger locks. It costs about $400 per participant for the weapon and training.
Tucson police officials declined to discuss the gun program or public safety concerns, but statistics published by the department show violent crime was at a 13-year low in 2010, with 3,332 incidents. That compares with 5,116 violent crimes — including homicides, sexual assaults, and robberies — in 1997. Tucson averages about 50 homicides a year.
“Just like any other city in Arizona and in the nation we have our issues, but it is not crime-ridden,” said Vice Mayor Regina Romero. “I would never say you have to carry a gun or you have to be afraid for your life.”
Research has produced inconclusive results on whether defensive gun use lowers crime. Some research suggests guns result in more suicides and accidental deaths, while other studies have shown criminals are wary of gun owners.
“People don’t want to confront an armed person at home,” said Garen J. Wintemute, director of the Violence Prevention Research Program at the University of California, Davis. “But, separately, there is solid evidence that in communities with higher rates of gun ownership, burglary rates are up, not down, and that’s because guns are hot loot.”
Wintemute said it’s likely the risk of violence in the homes participating in the gun giveaway will go up.
But those behind the program argue shotguns are affordable, easy to use and don’t require precise aim when shooting, making them the perfect home protection weapon. The goal is to arm hundreds of people in Tucson, Houston, New York, Chicago, Detroit and at least 10 other cities by the end of the year.
“It is our hypothesis that criminals have no desire to die in your hallway. We want to use that fear,” said Kyle Coplen, 29, the project’s founder and a University of Houston graduate student.
Tucson became a symbol of American’s gun violence in 2011 when a mentally ill man opened fire at a political meet-and-greet hosted by then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords outside a Tucson-area supermarket. Giffords, who is still recovering from her critical wounds, has in recent months become a champion of universal background gun checks and other gun restrictions denounced by Second Amendment proponents.
Moved by Giffords’ advocacy, the Tucson City Council recently approved a measure requiring background checks at gun shows held on city property. City officials said the gun giveaway program appears to be legal, so they have no recourse to shut it down.
One of the neighborhoods targeted by the program is Pueblo Gardens, an ethnically diverse, blue-collar neighborhood in southern Tucson where residents say occasional shootings, drug busts and car thefts are not uncommon.
The no-frills landscape is dotted with pickup trucks, palm trees, window bars, cacti, chain fences and toy-littered lawns. Many residents own guns, if only because of the handful of sex offenders who call the area home. More than 90 percent of the humble, single-story homes are occupied by renters.
Pueblo Gardens could benefit from a public safety campaign, but some residents say they are appalled anyone would think the answer is more guns.
“We could take that $400 per shotgun and give it to these people so they could go buy groceries, pay rent, pay their utility bills, something useful,” said neighborhood association president Cindy Ayala. “Vigilantism is not the answer.”
McClusky argued that like signs posted in yards advertising alarm systems, signs that warn the homeowners have guns would get the message across, he said.
“I’d like to prevent them from becoming a victim,” he said.
At least 13 single women in Houston have already benefited from the program.