Thursday, August 31, 2006

Body of surprise


How Webb County handles the dead has been a live issue for some time and remains one with related duties under scrutiny and discussion.
Raul Casso, chief of staff for county judge Louis Bruni, believes publicly aired disagreements with the Sheriff’s Office stem from a lack of the meeting of the minds, despite what might have previously appeared to be an understanding. Bruni and commissioners had been led to believe that the Sheriff’s Office would be picking up bodies left to them after two trucks were delivered to the county and later outfitted with refrigeration earlier this year.
“Picking up bodies has been a sore spot with the county at $50,000 a year,” Casso said.
Unidentified bodies and those requiring extensive forensic examination in criminal cases are frequently sent to the Bexar County Medical Examiner’s office in San Antonio.
Casso, and Texas A&M International criminal justice professor Clifford Black both say the sheriff’s office entered into talks about picking up bodies found around the county, or in the river, with intentions of saving money. Definitive, concrete action was lacking to make it all happen, however.
Casso says Webb County sought to have its own morgue unit a few years ago and floated bonds to try and bring it about, but nothing happened. The county also lacked control over which funeral homes showed up to pick up the dead.
Casso says Sheriff Rick Flores stepped into a verbal crossfire when county leaders discovered to their surprise that his deputies were not picking up bodies. Webb County wants to take care of transporting the dead themselves to combat inconsistent and high charges from funeral homes.
Casso lacked detailed funeral home transportation charges, but noted that costs ranged from $800 to $1,500 for indigenous burials and said transport charges were similar in their inconsistent costs.
“It’s about the same kind of spread to take them to San Antonio, or pick them up,” he said.
Casso said commissioners had set a limit on paying the funeral homes and bought the trucks to move duties into county hands, but notes that the trucks were never specifically assigned.
Casso doesn’t blame Flores for any misunderstandings and does not believe the sheriff had intentionally lied to him.
“He was never specifically given the job, but he never spoke up,” Casso said. “I don’t feel I was misled. They didn’t ask me for anything. I can’t take the position that I was purposely mislead.
“He was never told to go and do it. There was no mandate to go pick up bodies. It looks like maybe they are going to do it, but it remains to be seen.”
Black has worked with county sheriffs in Ohio, Denton and Laredo isn’t so sure that that will happen. He doesn’t see it as a normal duty for law officers.
“I think the sheriff’s departments across the United States do not transport bodies to the morgue if there are any undertakers or funeral parlors in the vicinity,” he said. “The morgue’s not our responsibility.”
Key words in related conversations between Casso and the Sheriff’s Office are blamed for leaving wrong impressions because law officers frequently see dead bodies in their investigations.
But that doesn’t mean they get used to it.
“Why don’t you come with us the next time?” Casso heard once, understanding how horrible those assignments can be. “It can be really terrible out there, finding bodies that have been in the river for a couple of weeks or out in the monte under the hot sun for some time.”
Casso will be glad to finally see Webb County get its own morgue unit underway, costs of dealing with the dead reduced and clear communication with the Sheriff’s Office.
“He the Sheriff, is not the problem. It is just a big gangly problem that’s got to be taken care of,” he said. “It’s just got to be worked out. That’s all there is to it. I thought they were picking them up, but they’re not.”
Black says Webb County usually has some seven or eight deputies on patrol in a day shift, covering some 3,400 square miles.
Webb also plans on hiring a two-person morgue staff starting with a medical examiner, but Casso notes that they are very hard to find.
“San Antonio is there, but nine times out of 10 the local guy (medical examiner) can tell you how they died,” he said.
Laredo is some six times smaller than San Antonio, where numerous Laredo-area dead are examined. The Bexar County Medical Examiner’s Office employs 42 people, with one doctor and three or four autopsy technicians working each shift. One or two clerks handle receiving paperwork duties.

Note: A more extensive version of this story is available in the August issue of LareDOS, here in Laredo, Texas.

Friday, August 11, 2006

Eye-catching graphic work

Texans for Public Justice graphic artist James Stout obviuously knows what he's doing in his craft.

His handiwork here leads into a very interesting report filed by this Austin-based watchdog organization about Texas top-rated, or low-rated -- depending on point of view -- lobbyists and their many, many millions.

Many of these millions go toward sponsorship of many Texas politicians -- obviously with strings attached when they obtain, or reclaim, office. Unfortunately, that's the system we have here in the U.S.

Politicians should wear sponsor company logo clothing and signs like race car drivers and athletes do in various other parts of the world. That would be much more honest than the current system, which almost still asks them to lie (or dodge the topic), telling us that they have no one telling them what to do.

Hey, you want to hold office here in the U.S., well unless you can pay for it yourself, you'll need some help and here's how you get it. Through lobbyists and other kingmakers.

Read more from TPJ at

Thursday, August 03, 2006

About Mexican Americana

For those without a connection to the Mexican-American way of life and its many wonders and cultural marks, this movie "Quinceañera" might help.

It's an independent film, winning two awards at the famous Sundance Film Festival, so it has to have several qualities worth seeing. I haven't seen it yet, so I can't say yeah, or nay, o si o no, but if standing there in front of a theater without a clue which movie to see -- this might be the one.

A quinceañera is generally held when a girl is 15, signifying her ascent into near adulthood in the Mexican-American community. This is based around that usually very colorful and festive event.

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

Words worth remembering

Larry King, on his Tuesday night edition of "Larry King Live," on CNN, got some interesting, and potentially smart words from Jordan's Queen Noor and retired U.S. statesman George Mitchell on the ongoing mess in the Middle East.

That segment is worth having around to read again. And maybe again...

Thank you Larry --

Your Majesty, are you more confident today than yesterday?

QUEEN NOOR: Oh, I'm an optimist by nature, like my husband. It's been tested sorely over these last years. I do believe that all hope is never lost. And as I have emphasized before, I think that it's vital that we recommit to resolving a just and comprehensive peace that will resolve and end occupation, that will deal with the refugees, that will resolve and end occupation, that will deal with the refugees, that will bring the parties together to listen to one another, to engage in a mutually respectful dialogue no matter what the histories, because there is an ugly history on all sides in this conflict. And to remember that 50 percent of the population in our region is under the age of 18, 70 percent under the age of 30. We must look to these generations, these coming generations. Israelis and Arabs and Americans must consider what Yitzhak Rabin and King Hussein did. What are they leaving to the next generation? Are they going to leave this bankrupted approach and vicious cycle of violence, or are they going to try something new? And that means working together.

KING: Thank you so much. Your Majesty, Queen Noor, the widow of King Hussein of Jordan.

And George Mitchell, I want to ask you one question about Castro. Can peace break out here, George?

MITCHELL: You mean in Castro or...

KING: No, no, no, I'll get to Castro in a second. The Middle East. Can peace break out?

MITCHELL: Yes, it can. Yes, it can, Larry. I was just thinking as I heard some of the other comments. This is an ancient conflict. It's gone on for a long time. The British domination of Ireland lasted 800 years. Today, there is a free and vibrant Republic of Ireland. It has excellent relations with the United Kingdom. There remains the problem of Northern Ireland, still a serious issue, but one that hopefully -- where the war is over and progress will continue to be made.

So no matter how ancient the conflict, no matter how much hurt has been done, it can be ended and peace can break out.