LIVINGSTON -- In a 411th District Court ruling, visiting Judge David Wilson removed Goodrich Mayor Jeremy Harper office on Monday.
The case was filed by Earlene Williamson of Goodrich and stems from the 2016 city election.
“I think that the people of Goodrich deserve to have honest leadership,” Williamson said. “Maybe now they can have that. I don’t feel like our leaders should be able to break the law. It is a matter of doing the right thing for the citizens of Goodrich.
I hope that the city council will do what’s right and straighten out the problems that they have helped to create. The citizens deserve decent, law-abiding leadership.”
Harper, who had around six weeks remaining on his second term, will have his seat claimed by Kelly Nelson, the city’s mayor pro-tem.
Under Texas law, candidates cannot seek elected office if they have been convicted of a felony offense.
“The contested election issue that Ms. Williamson was suing on is pretty much done,” the ousted mayor said of the charges against the council. “There was no findings to remove the candidates and they will continue to hold office as they are.
“The felony that I had on my record caused the judge to remove me, because the state says you cannot have a felony on your record and hold office,” Harper said. “We could have put in an order of stay for a higher court and most likely won. What happened to me — if it would have happened in the state of Texas — would not constitute a felony. That was the argument that our attorneys were making. I was only going to be in office another six weeks and I didn’t want to spend the city’s money to take it to an appellate court. That didn’t make sense to me.”
Harper said the charges were from the state of Louisiana in the late 1990s. The charges in question included theft greater than $500 in Natchitoches Parish in June of 1999 and issuing a worthless check in Rapides Parish in December of 1994.
“I’m not going anywhere,” he continued. “I want to let people know that it just been an honor for me to serve the citizens of Goodrich as there only mayor for the past 14 years. Before four years ago, there wasn’t anyone serving as mayor for a while. I do plan on filing an expungement on my record. If I was aware it was on my record, I would have filed years ago.”
Defendants in the case included Harper and aldermen Billy Sikes, Bobby Wright, Nelson, Louis Hill and Mary Orozco.
Charges against the aldermen were all “dismissed because the claims upon which the proceedings in the nature of quo warranto do not challenge the qualifications of them to serve as aldermen for the City of Goodrich,” according to court documents acquired by the Enterprise.
In the 2016 election, the race for Goodrich City Council Position 5 saw Mary Orozco defeat Robert Earl Williamson, brother of Earlene Williamson, by a vote margin of 26 to 18. Incumbents Nelson and Wright, as well as newcomer Hill, ran unchallenged.
Earlene Williamson, who is also a former Goodrich City Council member, filed a suit contesting the city of Goodrich election, originally listing five complaints for her protests.
The complaints included a sitting city council member serving as an election official, only one election officer present for the City of Goodrich, a ballot box turned over on a table, one position on the ballot while other terms had ended, and Orozco announcing on victory on her Facebook page before the vote was canvassed.
LIVINGSTON -- The Houston law firm of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz have announced a new lawsuit stemming from an Aug. 1 incident last year when three women — Hugolina Guerrero de Garzon, Joselin Damian Gonzalez and Erica Acevedo — suffered life-threatening burns as a result of a floor collapse at Church’s Chicken in Livingston.
Texas attorneys Benny Agosto Jr. and Kelly Woods of Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz are representing Garzon and Gonzalez.
The floor beneath the workers collapsed, causing deep fryers to fall on top of them, spilling hot oil over their bodies. Both plaintiffs were rushed by life-flight to the burn intensive care unit, where they remained for months.
In the past six months, Garzon, 34, with three children and a husband, and Gonzalez, 17, have undergone numerous surgeries and continue medical treatment daily, with extensive treatment expected in the future. To date, their current medical bills have exceeded $1 million dollars.
The lawsuit was filed in Harris County against Cajun Global, LLC, Cajun Operating Company, Store Capital Corporation, Store Capital Acquisitions, LLC, Store Master Funding VIII, LLC, Triangle Capital Properties, LLC, Royal Texas, LLC, The Vertex Companies, Inc., Mohammad Hadi Rahman, and Yesenia Zumaya — the owners, operators, managers and controllers of the Church’s Chicken.
The lawsuit alleges these companies failed to maintain a safe work environment for the workers, failed to properly inspect and maintain the premises and failed to remedy a known dangerous condition.
“This is the worst case I have ever seen, with absolutely horrifying life-long injuries,” Agosto said. “We filed suit shortly after this happened. We filed in Polk County, representing Joselin and Hugolina. Erica Acevedo is with another attorney and they are in federal court in Dallas County.”
After the suit was filed in Polk County last year, it was moved to federal court in Lufkin. The reasoning, Agosto said, was that his firm sued “foreign” companies (not in this state) and sued one Texas company. However, the Texas company is wholly owned by “foreign” members (out of state).
“Because it was so recent, I was still investigating who all would be defendants and all of the facts,” Agosto said.
“Sometimes when you file a lawsuit, you do it to gather facts. Because they were forcing my moves, I decided to voluntarily withdraw from that (original) lawsuit, which was approved by the federal judge. That allows me to restart once I’ve done my homework.
“We have reports from inspectors and different companies and figured out that there was a lot more defendants and a lot more facts,” Agosto said of filing a lawsuit for the second time. “There were general managers and store managers that were aware of what was going on prior to this incident occurring. Our new lawsuit has a lot more defendants and a lot more facts.
“There are nine defendants, but they are all interrelated. There is the national Church’s, which is owned by Cajun Global and then there is the Texas group that is owned by Store Capital. We put a lot of detail into the lawsuit. There are individuals in the lawsuit, including a company called Vertex, who did an inspection four months prior to the incident and said everything was great. Two others are a regional manager and owner, and a general manager. We had to restart this because we could not sue an engineering firm without a Certificate of Merit that the law requires us to get. We had to wait until that report was final so that we could comply with the law.”
Filed once more, the new venue will be Harris County. Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Sorrels, Agosto & Aziz is the firm is the oldest operating plaintiff firm in Texas. Augusto describes the firm as old-fashioned trial lawyers and is thankful for the opportunity to represent two of the women.
Each lawsuit is for $75 million dollars, which Agosto admits there is not an exact science for. However, it is based off medical bills, future expenses and lost wages, among many other factors. Acevedo’s attorneys asked for $50 million in their lawsuit.
“Because we have been doing this for so long, we know what these cases are worth,” Agosto said. “The life-care plan is done by a medical doctor, who is preparing a report for what their medical bills are going to be for these women for the rest of their lives. It is in the millions of dollars just for medical.
“To date, each one of the women have exceeded a $1 million and one is over $3 million. Hugolina has had over 14 surgeries and Joselin has had 10 surgeries. Treatment and bills in the future is also going to be in the millions. That doesn’t account for lost wages, earning capacity, impairment, scarring, pain and suffering, mental anguish, and all of the things that they are entitled to. When we come up with these numbers, we come up with what we call hard numbers and then we have to add to that non-economic factors, which are intangibles.”
According to the attorney, 90 percent of Garzon’s body was burned and Gonzalez has had 70-75 percent burned.
“The scarring is permanent and all they are doing is taking the little bit of skin that they have left to do skin grafts,” he said. “The skin was burnt so severely because the hot oil was 300-400 degrees.”
When the collapse occurred, all three women fell into a hole that was about three feet deep, according to Agosto. They fell onto a subfloor when the fryers then tumbled on top of them.
“Erica and Joselyn were able to crawl themselves out, but Hugolina was trapped by the fryer and a cooler that fell on top of her. She stayed in there until one of the customers goes in and pulls things off of her and they were able to pull her out.
“The ambulance arrived relatively quickly, but (the women) were in there for minutes and we have 9-1-1 calls where you hear the women in pain and crying. You can hear the fear in the caller asking for people to come help. This was a horrific, devastating moment for these women. They have a great attitude, because they go to the Catholic church there in town, but their spirits are sometimes up and sometimes down. Physically, they will never be the same.”
Cajun Global is the third largest fast food company in the country behind McDonald’s and Burger King. Church’s was founded in San Antonio in 1952. Members that own Cajun Global mostly reside in the Atlanta, Georgia area.
After remaining in the hospital for six months the women are now being given both physical and emotional therapy, Agosto said. They are also undergoing follow-up surgeries because when the skin heals, it does not do so perfectly. There are portions of the skin that are tight and cannot move. None of the injuries are thought to be life-threatening and have been stabilized. Unless something unforeseen — such as infection — takes place, they will be healthy enough to survive.
However, Agosto said with the third and fourth-degree burns over the body, it could impact internal organs in the future.
“It is still going to be ongoing for several months. They are trying to get back to the best they can, because ‘normal’ is not the word. That’s why these cases are as large in magnitude that we are suing for. It’s not because we think a lot of money needs to be paid for what happened. If we do not come after these defendants hard now, we can’t come back years later and say they need more help. It all has to be done at the lawsuit now. That is why we hire life-care planners and economic experts, because now is the time that we have to prove it.”
PRESS CONFERENCE — Attorney Benny Agosto Jr. (right) answers questions about the federal lawsuit filed in connection with the Aug. 1, 2016 incident at Church’s Chicken in Livingston that left three employees badly burned. Once of the victims, Hugolina Guerroro de Garzon (center) is pictured with her husband.
AUSTIN -- Hundreds of community members from the Polk County area packed five charter buses and traveled to Austin on Wednesday to show their support of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe during their special event on the south lawn of the State Capitol.
The tribe was honored as the state approved a resolution for Alabama-Coushatta Day at the Capitol, presented by State Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and State Representative James White (R-Hillister). The event was a major milestone in the tribe’s public campaign to raise awareness of their community and economy during an ongoing legal battle with the state over Naskila Entertainment.
The large crowd from Polk County arrived as the Alabama-Coushatta Color Guard and Tribal Dancers kicked-off the event on the south lawn with their Grand Entry and dance performances, which also began to draw in the locals from downtown Austin.
Tribal council members and representatives welcomed the crowd, which included state house and senate members, and thanked them for their support. Local officials from Polk and Tyler County were also in attendance to speak and show their ongoing support.
Visitors were all invited to learn about the Alabama-Coushatta’s history, community and how to support its efforts to keep the Naskila gaming facility open. Tribal leaders told legislators that Naskila has served as a much-needed economic boost for the tribal community during its first year of operation.
Informational and cultural displays were set up for visitors to learn more about the tribe, while a free barbecue lunch was served to all in attendance. Free shirts and promotional items were also given away to visitors.
Sen. Nichols later visited for a short time to address the crowd and acknowledged the importance of the event for the tribe’s popularity among state officials in Austin.
“I can guarantee that every house member and senate member and their staff knows about the tribe now,” Nichols told the Enterprise. “It’s a great way for the tribe to introduce themselves to everybody because they have unique issues that are important...Things like today with having such a large presence at the Capitol is very meaningful because a lot of members did not even know we had the tribe in East Texas. This opens it up.”
Rep. White also came to speak and openly expressed his ongoing support for the tribe’s Naskila campaign.
“I’m so proud of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe and I’m honored to represent them,” said White. “What this does today is shows their contribution to the state of Texas and we need to lift them up. I think with all the court scenarios going on right now, they are being treated very badly. This shows that they contribute and they have doing it for a long time.”
Court proceedings on the Naskila gaming facility are expected to start by mid-2017. For more information and updates on the Support Naskila campaign, visit supportnaskila.com.
A large group forms on the south lawn of the State Capitol Building as the Alabama-Coushatta Color Guard and Tribal Dancers lead the Grand Entry to kick-off a special event, raising awareness of the tribal community during an ongoing legal battle with the state over Naskila Entertainment. The event was part of an approved resolution, sponsored by State Senator Robert Nichols and State Representative James White.
An Austin local enjoys a game of catch with a Tiny Tot tribal dancer during the Alabama-Coushatta’s special event by the State Capitol.
Tribal Chief Colabe III Clem Sylestine, State Senator Robert Nichols and State Representive James White stand with the Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Princesses in front of the State Capitol Building.
The Alabama-Coushatta Tribal Dancers and Princesses stand in front of the Capitol after the tribe’s special event in Austin.
A free barbeque lunch, catered by Pok-E-Jo’s Smokehouse, was served to all visitors of the Alabama-Coushatta Day at the Capitol on Wednesday.
(Pictured on left) Rep. James White is thanked for his ongoing support of the tribe and receives an Alabama-Coushatta emblem patch.
Free promotional items were also given away to visitors of the Alabama-Coushatta Day at the Capitol on Wednesday.
LIVINGSTON – One man was arrested on drug possession after reportedly causing a two-vehicle accident Wednesday on U.S. Highway 190 East near Livingston.
Gary Wayne Davis, 59, of Onalaska is facing a drug possession charge after officers found a large bag of marijuana in his car while clearing the scene of a two-vehicle accident that he allegedly caused.
Law enforcement was dispatched around 7:30 p.m. to the accident scene involving Davis, driving a blue Chevy Cruze RS, and the driver of a grey Dodge Ram 2500, Luke Myers, 32, of Livingston, both traveling westbound on U.S. 190.
According to eyewitness accounts from nearby drivers, Davis was driving erratically along the shoulder lane and opposing lanes of traffic. Davis then collided into the back of Myers’ truck traveling in front of him. The hit caused Davis to lose control and come to a stop in the eastbound lanes of U.S. 190.
Officers with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office first arrived on scene, followed by Trooper Ashlee McBride of the Texas Highway Patrol. McBride was the first to question Davis and determined a field sobriety test needed to be done on scene.
Before conducting the sobriety test, officers conducted a search of Davis’ vehicle and found a quart-sized ziplock bag full of marijuana which later field-tested positive on scene.
After struggling with the field sobriety test conducted by Trooper McBride, Davis was placed into custody and transported to the Polk County Jail. Davis is being charged with a misdemeanor for possession of less that two ounces of marijuana.
Both vehicles involved in the accident had to be transported by wrecker. No injuries were reported at the scene.
LIVINGSTON -- The death of an inmate while in custody of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is currently under investigation by the Texas Rangers. Antwuan Tremain Bogany, 32, was pronounced dead at a Kingwood hospital Friday morning after reportedly becoming ill the previous night as an inmate at the Polk County Jail.
According to initial reports from Polk County Sheriff Kenneth Hammack, the incident began Thursday night when Bogany started to complain about an illness shortly after participating in physical activity.
Bogany was first transported to CHI St. Luke’s Memorial in Livingston Friday morning, then later life-flighted to a Kingwood hospital, where he was pronounced dead.
As the inmate’s family mourns their loss, they are demanding answers from county officials on why Bogany did not receive immediate medical attention late Thursday. Bogany’s mother, Judy Bogany, stated that she was first notified that night by relatives inside the jail about her son’s illness.
“I have family members also in the jail that called to tell us they were pushing my son in a wheelchair and he was slumped over,” Judy Bogany said. According to the mother, jail officials did not give sufficient information over the phone on her son’s condition until one employee referred to the illness as possible “dehydration.” Judy asked that her son immediately be sent to an emergency room, but the request was denied and he was kept under observation at the jail.
Bogany was later transported to CHI St. Luke’s Friday morning around the time Judy arrived at the jail to check on his condition. Judy said she was shocked to find her son already in critical condition at the Livingston hospital.
“When I got to the jail, they said that he was already at the emergency room,” she said. “When I finally got to see him, they had him on the defibrillator, but to me…it seemed like my son had already died. The doctor there said his blood pressure was so high, that he busted a blood vessel.” Bogany’s was transported to the Kingwood hospital, where his family waited hours before doctors informed them he no longer had any brain activity and was officially pronounced as deceased.
“When we asked one of the nurses in Livingston if he had any brain activity, she said ‘I don’t know,’” she said. “They did a CAT scan so how could they not know? I think he was already dead before going to Kingwood…The entire county is responsible for this because they are supposed to be there to protect us.”
Bogany had been incarcerated at the jail since his Aug. 29 arrest from drug charges by the sheriff’s office, which included three felonies and two misdemeanors.
The Department of Public Safety released a statement on Tuesday stating that the Texas Rangers will present their findings to the Polk County District Attorney’ Office for review at the conclusion of their investigation and no additional information is officially available at this time.