Laredo Morning Times
Tuesday, August 28, 2001
Hurt Aggie back at A&M for classes
BY JUAN A. LOZANO Associated Press Writer COLLEGE STATION, Texas — Normalcy was all John Comstock wanted on his first day back at Texas A&M University after being the last survivor to leave the hospital following the school’s bonfire stack collapse almost two years ago. “I want to get on with being a regular college student,” said Comstock, 21, whose left leg was amputated above the knee and his right arm was partially paralyzed after the log pile fell, pinning him for nearly seven hours. Comstock was hospitalized for five months after the Nov. 18, 1999, collapse that killed 12 Aggies and injured 27. He had to have several surgeries and months of intensive physical therapy, and now uses a wheelchair and has been outfitted with a metal prosthetic leg. Comstock still goes to physical therapy three to four times a week, which he hopes will allow him to one day walk again. But on Monday, Comstock was just another Aggie: He ate grilled chicken and fried shrimp at the school’s main dining hall, spent time talking and catching up with old friends outside of his residence hall and was five minutes late to his first class. Comstock zoomed across campus on his motorized wheelchair, with a friend hitching a ride on the back, as he went to class.
Psychiatrist says escapee is ‘manipulating mastermind’
By SUSAN PARROTT Associated Press Writer DALLAS — The prisoner who led a gang of escapees is a “manipulating mastermind” who shows no remorse for his actions and can’t be rehabilitated, a psychiatrist testified Monday during the sentencing phase of his capital murder trial. “You don’t get a conscience at this age and after this type of behavior,” said Dr. Richard E. Coons. George Rivas, 31, was convicted last week of killing Irving police Officer Aubrey Hawkins during a Christmas Eve robbery of a sporting goods store. Defense attorneys hoping to spare Rivas from the death penalty had objected to Coons’ testimony, but were overruled. Rivas was serving 17 life sentences for armed robbery and kidnapping when he escaped in December with six fellow inmates. Jurors must decide whether to sentence Rivas to death or life in prison. Coons, a forensic psychiatrist, first examined Rivas’ file in 1994. At the time, he called Rivas a prolific criminal likely to be involved in prison gang activity. Defense attorneys have tried to portray him as polite and compassionate, someone who left ice water for hostages at the prison and told them he would not hurt them if they cooperated. They also have argued that Rivas never intended to murder Hawkins. Prosecutor Toby Shook gave Coons a “hypothetical” situation that matched Rivas’ exact criminal history, which prosecutors said began at age 11 when he molested a 6-year-old relative. Coons said the depiction indicates a controlling conartist who continued “business as usual” after killing a police officer. “The person we are talking about is a manipulating mastermind ... getting other people following, doing his bidding,” he said. Defense attorney Wayne Huff said the escape embarrassed the prison system and made Rivas a candidate for solitary confinement, where he would not be a danger to others. Keith Price, warden of the Clements Unit, said Rivas would be placed in the most restrictive level of administration segregation, where he’d spend 23 hours a day in a single cell, with only one hour a day for recreation. He would have no books, fan or television and could have visitors only once a month. But Rivas could be released from administrative segregation on good behavior, Price said, or could escape if he’s taken to the medical ward. “Despite very tight security in these units, violence still goes on,” Shook said. During the trial, dozens of witnesses testified that Rivas’ criminal career began with the molestation of his relative as well as armed robberies. He was sentenced to 17 life terms for armed robbery and kidnapping stemming from two 1993 holdups. Rivas’ father, George Rivas Sr., testified Monday that he had a close relationship with his son and still communicates by mail. He said the relative that accused Rivas of sexual assault never told family about the attacks and always looked forward to visiting. Rivas had little contact with his mother and was raised by his grandmother, the father said. “He used to call her mom,” he said. “When the other mother would come, he’d say ‘oh, the other mom.”’ Prosecutor Toby Shook said Rivas “was raised in a home where he was taught right from wrong. He was raised in a loving home.” Rivas also worked at a shoe store and several auto parts stores that are the same chain of retailers Rivas was later accused of robbing. He was married briefly and has two children by other women, prosecutors said. Prosecutors say the seven inmates escaped Dec. 13 from a South Texas prison and robbed two Houston-area stores before heading to north Texas and killing Hawkins.
AP photo/Pat Sullivan
BACK TO CLASS: Texas A&M students Marshall Gries, left, and John Comstock make their way across campus on the first day of classes Monday in College Station, Texas. Comstock’s left leg was amputated below the knee and he is partially paralyzed from his injuries in the bonfire collapse in 1999. Monday is his first day back to class since the accident, which trapped him for seven hours. “Coming back with a disability, learning the campus ramp-wise, being independent will be the hardest part of coming back to campus,” said Comstock, who is from the Dallas suburb of Richardson. As he learned the route and the locations of wheelchair ramps from his dorm room to his first class, a business math course, a pair of fuzzy black dice bounced up and down on the back of the wheelchair. “This is the most expensive vehicle I’ve ever had,” Comstock said about his $7,000 wheelchair, which tops out at 7.5 mph. “All of the other vehicles have been beaten up. So I decided to get some fuzzy dice for it.” Comstock’s mother, Dixie Edwards, was on campus Monday to bring him more clothes and personal items. Last Thursday, Comstock moved into his dormitory, which was outfitted with two wheelchair ramps just for him.
Houston eyes proton center
BY MARK BABINECK Associated Press Writer HOUSTON — Eight years after the demise of the Superconducting Super Collider project killed a North Texas proton beam cancer therapy center, another one is in the works — this time in Houston. The University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center is partnering with investment firms Sanders Morris Harris Group Inc. and The Styles Co. to build a $100 million advanced proton therapy center, the parties said Monday. “The M.D. Anderson proton therapy center will be the third and largest facility of its kind in the nation,” said Robert E. Garrison II, president and chief executive officer of Sanders Morris Harris. “The approximately 78,000-square foot, fouracre center will have stateof-the-art equipment, including a particle accelerator-based system to provide proton radiation therapy, as well a a full range of related patient and research support services.”
Mold review awaits all sides
BY CONNIE MABIN AP Business Writer AUSTIN — Texas Insurance Commissioner Jose Montemayor on Monday asked for patience from consumers and the insurance industry as he works to solve problems with water and mold insurance. Montemayor’s comments came three days after the Public Insurance Counsel asked the insurance department to prohibit insurance companies from refusing to insure Texas homes based on prior water damage claims. The counsel represents consumers in insurance matters. The insurance industry said such action would be devastating for business because an increase in mold-related claims is costing millions. Montemayor wants to make sure he has heard all sides at public hearings and had a chance to collect and review data before he decides what to do, he said. Montemayor’s office said it was unclear when a decision would be made.