Saturday, March 3, 2012

Information dispensed from behind bullet-proof glass -

“Someone once asked my mother, 'Do you like Kipling?', and she said 'I don't know; I've never tried it.'” - reminiscence of a tenured Baylor professor

Waco – The lobby of the old Lone Star Gas Company building houses the Records Division of the McLennan County Sheriff's Office at 901 Washington Ave.

Mosaic designs of blue flames decorate the terrazzo floor; there is a little glass cage resembling an aquarium in the corner where administrative officers sit behind plexiglass panels, and a steel security door separates visitors from the offices.

Behind a thick bullet-proof transaction window, records clerks field requests for public information.

State law handed down by a Houston appellate court and the Open Records Act, Section 552 of the Texas Local Government Code, stipulate that any member of the public may get crime and public safety information regarding cases under investigation “promptly.”

However, the local rule is that all such requests must wait for 10 days. Certain media outlets, however, are notified of news events through other means.

Today, a Friday, March 2, the request for information is for the details regarding the unfortunate events of the early morning hours of February 13, when a woman on her way to work found a Freshman Baylor student who had recently pledged Phi Gamma Delta in the back seat of his brand new Cadillac STS, burned beyond recognition in the vehicle, which witnesses say was fully involved in gasoline flames at 6 a.m.

Out of town press reports state that Mr. Patterson was last seen in his dormitory room at 2 a.m.

Being an unaccredited media outlet, “The Legendary” has been required to wait 10 days.

According to what records could be obtained from the Sheriff's Department, the matter is a nearly total mystery.

The “face sheet,” or “first page” information, when it comes, has no name for the deceased, only the date. There is no location, time, or any other notation of the circumstances of the death of William Patterson, 19, of San Antonio.

The Records Division chief, a black woman named Tamra, says “That's the first page we had at the time.” Her affect is one of defiant triumph.

Published reports in San Antonio papers have been sketchy, noting that Chief Deputy Randy Plemons reported that young Mr. Patterson obtained two containers and bought 10 gallons of gasoline at a nearby filling station, paid with cash, and left only a short time before the woman notified authorities his car was burning on the shoulder of the rural road.

Deputy Plemons has refused all further requests for information. An expert in arson investigation from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives dispatched on request from the agency's Austin office reported to Franceska Perot, a public information officer stationed at Houston, that the bureau has “no further interest in the case.”

Deputy Plemons and department investigators told the parents of young Mr. Patterson that his death has been ruled “accidental.”

Information as to the point of origin of the fire and its cause may be obtained from the Public Disclosure Division of the BATFE offices at Washington, D.C., through a Freedom of Information Act request, according to Ms. Perot. McLennan County Sheriff's Office officials refused to disclose any details to “The Legendary.”

Most of the incidents that find their way into the press are benign in their nature. A 2006 article in the Baylor “Lariat” reported incidents of hazing that included keeping pledges out after 10 p.m. in sleep deprivation in what was described as sleep deprivation exercises and a “glorified food fight” in which some of the brethren were upset because their clothing was soiled.

Under a policy that was new at the time, the officers of the fraternities reported themselves.

"This is a Christian campus and a lot of times schools that are denominational schools will not have greeks on campus," said Dr. Liz Palacios, dean for student development. "I believe that the greeks add to Baylor. But I also believe that our greeks have to be different from other greeks. And this mentality of Animal House doesn't have a place at Baylor."

On the other hand, what is known to Baylor alumni, students and faculty is that the Hell Week hazing pledges go through is often painful, dangerous, and utterly degrading.

As one education specialist with a graduate degree in research told “The Legendary,” the experience is designed to encourage loyalty “through humiliation and shame.”

There are tales of elaborate parties in nearby Cameron Park in which fraternal members and their dates build impromptu forts in the brushy areas along the Brazos River, dress in commando garb, and engage in elaborate rituals of unconventional warfare.

Pledges are reportedly forced to hold flammable liquids such as gasoline and lighter fluid in their mouths for extended periods. Chugging strong drink, vomiting, and then ingesting more to the point of complete incapacitation is a routine, as is extensive paddling, the assumption of stress positions and crawling through obnoxious substances.

Certain practices with homosexual overtones such as “tea bagging,” a ritual wherein pledges who have lost consciousness due to chugging liquor and are prone and breathing through their mouths, are the unwitting recipients of the attentions of their more senior brethren, who then straddle their faces and dip their testicles into their yawning, snoring mouths.

Others are rumored to have been persuaded to perform fellatio and submit to buggery, and then to have committed suicide after receiving threats of exposure and the resulting ruination to professional reputation that would almost certainly occur.

None of these practices are unusual when viewed in the context of British public school traditions, but couched in the bastion of an atmosphere of evangelical Christianity, neoconservatism, and the political ascendancy of a revival of “family values,” the sudden revelation that the body of a bright and gifted “A” student, the younger brother of a Phi Gamma Delta brother “Figi,” has been found, burned beyond recognition, in a brand-new, blazing Cadillac is cause for some form of brick-through-a-window alarm.

They are the sons of University of Texas Health Science Center professors who specialize in the research of infectious diseases. In an elegy delivered at the memorial service for his younger brother, Evan Patterson said losing him in such mysterious and horrifying circumstances has made his memory “a bit shoddy.”

What happens when things go wrong? How do members of the administration of this opulent university respond? They close ranks, get the perpetrators transferred to another school quickly and quietly, then go on about their business.

Consider the case of fraternal affiliate, a jock on a baseball scholarship, who was charged with cruelty to animals after having been found to have tortured a stray cat to death.


  1. I don't think this was a frat game gone bad. My instincts tell me this was a "jacking", a drug deal gone bad. Those East Waco drug lords love being right next to the Baylor campus and most of the robberies that take place near the campus are never reported to the police for obvious reasons.

    I have no idea if it is true or not, but someone told me he also had a gunshot wound. That would make sense as to why the car was set on fire. It is possible the perpetrators would ask him to bring the gasoline. However, I don't know why 10 gallons would be necessary.

    All we can do is speculate at this point. I know you are a journalist and think we have the right to know everything immediately, but you must understand it is best for an investigation if many of the details are not public.

    I don't think that boy set himself on fire, either intentionally or accidentally. Whether it was his frat brothers or those other brothers...only time will tell.

  2. Thank you, Anonymous. I am not asking for everything, only the "first page" of the report, which lists the victim's name, time of the incident, exact address where it occurred, weather at the time, the names of the witnesses and other mundane information. I know I don't have a right to work product of officers, reports on ballistics, autopsy, laboratory reports or polygraph exams, witness statements, diagrams and the like. I know that since 1970-something, forty years. These folks know that, too. Don't play dumb, Anonymous. You know what I am asking for. You give it to others, but not to me. Someone here has a problem, and I don't think it's me. I think it's people who are vested in the locations, the institutions, the values. Certainly, a Grub Street journalist such as I has no problem with these things. Maybe the big shots like to see certain people peddling drugs. How would I know?

    - The Legendary