San Marcos Mercury | Local News from San Marcos and Hays County, Texas

September 10th, 2008
Sheriff’s office: Backhoe operator fled, but not for life

(Editor’s note: This story is revised and slightly written through on 09/11/08, 12:25 p.m., clarifying the difference between the sheriff’s report and Nick Ramus’ account.)

By BILL PETERSON
Editor at Large

The Hays County Sheriff’s Office (HCSO) said Monday that the backhoe operator on Carolyn Logan’s San Marcos property fled last Friday, when Logan’s neighbor, Hays County Commissioner candidate Nick Ramus, allegedly approached him with a loaded gun.

The sheriff’s office arrested Ramus later Friday on charges of deadly conduct.

The sheriff’s office said the backhoe operator did not indicate that he felt threatened. However, neither does the sheriff’s report support Ramus’ contention that he and the backhoe operator had an uneventful conversation.

Ramus said he was cleaning a 12-guage shotgun Friday morning when he noticed a backhoe operator on Logan’s property working near his property line. Ramus said he took the gun with him when he confronted the backhoe operator to make sure he wasn’t pushing dirt off Logan’s property and onto his.

“The backhoe operator told  us (Ramus) came over with a rifle,” HCSO spokesman LeRoy Opiela said. “(Ramus) never threatened him. (The backhoe operator) got off his backhoe and walked off the property because he did not want to have a confrontation with anybody.”

The sheriff’s office responded to a complaint about Ramus later that morning and arrested him on the deadly conduct charge, which carries a sentence of one year, a fine of $4,000, or both. Ramus is released on a $5,000 bond.

Ramus goes on trial on Nov. 21. The commissioners court election, in which Ramus is running for Precinct 1 commissioner as a Republican against incumbent Debbie Ingalsbe (D-San Marcos), is scheduled for Nov. 4.

Opiela said the sheriff’s department reported no testimony that the backhoe operator fled for fear of his life.

“What’s in the report is that the backhoe operator fled,” Opiela said. “There’s nothing in there that he fled for his life.”

Ramus and Logan, who both live on Old Bastrop Highway, have been at odds since Hays County granted Ramus a septic permit in 2005 for a restaurant he plans to open on his two-acres. Logan lives next door to and downhill from Ramus’ land. The issue has become a focal point in Hays County politics during the last three years.

With help from Dripping Springs political activist Charles O’Dell, Logan has argued that the septic permit was granted to Ramus improperly and that the system is insufficient under the county’s On-Site Septic Facility (OSSF) requirements passed in 1997. Ramus has argued that his septic permit should have been grandfathered under regulations in force when he purchased the property years earlier.

In 2007, the Hays County Commissioners Court revoked Ramus’ permit and he, in turn, sued the county. In March, District Judge Robert Pfeuffer issued a summary judgement in Ramus’ favor.

While waiting for a ruling, Ramus filed to run in the November election against Ingalsbe, who was one of the commissioners voting for his permit revocation in a 3-2 commissioners split. Ramus ran unopposed in the Republican primary, ensuring his place on the November ballot.

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19 thoughts on “Sheriff’s office: Backhoe operator fled, but not for life

  1. “What’s in the report is that the backhoe operator fled,” Opiela said. “There’s nothing in there that he fled for his life.”

    So, he fled for what reason, then? In the other story, Ramus said that he and the backhoe operator had a brief, uneventful conversation.

    I don’t get the point of this new story. If the point is to discredit people who are saying the backhoe operator “fled for his life,” by saying that he merely fled, I’m sorry, but that is beyond a stretch.

    Why doesn’t the story read “No report that Ramus and backhoe operator had a cordial conversation?” I’m so sick of this stupid septic tank feud and I’m beginning to think that you folks have too much history with O’Dell to cover this issue fairly.

    All the more reason I don’t want either of those people representing me (or associated with someone representing me) in public office.

    Unless I’m missing something, this story really makes you guys look bad.

  2. Ted,

    On the last story we had about this matter, a reader posted this comment: “The report that I have heard that was submitted from the back hoe operator was that he fled the property, fearing for his life … Let’s get the sheriff’s report folks, then get some REAL reporting, not just more political mud slinging.”

    I took the reader’s point. If the backhoe operator fled fearing for his life, and that’s in the sheriff’s report, that’s a detail worth reporting. In fact, it would be a very important detail. That’s why I checked on it. And if it isn’t in the report, then it’s worth clearing up by saying it’s not in the report, especially when someone said otherwise on this site. It’s not a matter of discrediting anyone who said it. It’s a matter of finding out if it’s true.

    Surely, Ted, you’ve got a broad enough moral imagination to consider why he might have fled, if not for his life. At least one person in a more authoritative position than me speculates that the backhoe operater just wanted to get himself out from the middle of this contentious situation. That’s not very unusual, is it?

    As to whether we have so much history with O’Dell that we can’t cover this fairly, I’m sure you understand that journalists have history with everyone they cover. O’Dell and I have taken our whacks at each other, and that’s part of the sport. But there’s no hostility on my end, and I don’t think there’s hostility on his end, either. In either case, this story has absolutely nothing to do with him, except to the extent that he has helped Logan in her fight against Ramus’ septic system. I think you would have to agree that our account of that chronology in the last couple stories is straightforward, merely a recitation of the main events.

    Nor do we have a dog in the fight between Ramus and Logan concerning the septic issue. Again, Ramus has the case to win in court, and Logan has a very understandable right to be concerned about what his septic system means for her property, which is downhill from him, especially when she can make a case that the permit was improperly granted.

    If I may take a moment to allow my honesty to bleed into brutality, I find this notion that we somehow favor Ramus in this matter, especially as a way to hammer O’Dell, to be a performance of utterly poor inference.

  3. No, I see little difference between a report that says he fled and a report that says he fled for his life. The heading makes it sound like you confirmed that he hung around and chatted, as Ramus reported.

    You can find it to be whatever you want, but as someone who doesn’t know anything about either individual, other than what has been reported on this site and the other and as someone who is not even in precinct 1, I find the bias fairly clear. If the notion bothers you, write more even-handed articles. Ramus’s story sounds fishy and it sure looks like you are trying to support it.

    Even if his story checks out, it shows poor judgment that does not make Ramus someone who ought to be in office. Why wander over to the property line in the middle of a feud, with a gun, loaded or not? Why not put the gun inside? It’s just plain stupid.

  4. Seriously, re-read your rebuttal.

    You wrote a story, giving Ramus’s side – that he calmly spoke to the worker.

    Someone commented that he heard that the worker fled “fearing for his life.”

    You wrote a second article, you say, to find out the truth, which is, he didn’t flee, fearing for his life, he just fled.

    You’re right, it probably had nothing to do with Ramus and the gun and I am sure they had a very pleasant conversation, before he remembered he had some other reason to flee.

  5. Since when is it illegal to carry a gun on your OWN PRIVATE property? Since when is it illegal to show said gun to prevent someone from trespassing on your OWN PRIVATE property? Man, when I was a kid growing up in the country around here, there would have been a BUCH or ranchers on trial for doing just such a thing to run us off for trespassing on their OWN PRIVATE property!

  6. Ted,

    You’re missing a really important distinction. This story says there is nothing in the sherrif’s report saying the man fled for his life. That’s the claim we’re trying to address. That’s a very different claim from saying the man didn’t flee for his life. We don’t know if he did or didn’t. We only know there’s nothing in the sheriff’s report saying he did.

    The question was raised on this site as to whether the sheriff’s report said the man fled, fearing for his life. The sheriff’s office said that claim is not on its report. That’s the sheriff’s office talking, not me.

    Do we know what really happened, and why the man fled? We know what Ramus said. We know what the sheriff’s report said. Unfortunatey, we only know what Logan said from looking elsewhere — and I’m not recalling if she said in that account if the man fled fearing for his life.

    We were not eyewitnesses to this episode. All we know is what Ramus said and what the sheriff’s report said, and that’s all we can or should report. A number of possibilities are left open between those lines, and you are free to speculate on them their until your heart is content. Reasonable people can suspect that he fled fearing for his life. But reasonable people can not claim that is in the sheriff’s report, based on what the sheriff’s office told us.

    Like I said, it was suggested on this sight by a reader that the sheriff’s report said the man fled fearing for his life. That’s a detail that badly needs to be established or clarified, and I have no idea after reading all your messages why you think a newspaper shouldn’t bother to find out if that’s true. The distinction between fleeing and fleeing for fear of one’s life is not a subtle distinction, especially when we’re talking about a deadly conduct charge.

    We’re not saying what’s between the lines, only what’s in the lines. That’s all we can do. Look at it from the other direction. If the report says, as it does, that the man fled, we could not infer that the man fled for fear of his life, because he might have left to escape the hornet’s nest. We just don’t know from that small bit of information. You might guess why he fled, and I might even agree with you, but it’s not my job in the reporting form to guess.

    Be careful. If you pride yourself too much on your ability to read between the lines, you will miss what’s in the lines.

  7. Ted,

    I’ll make one more point. You didn’t interview this guy, and I didn’t interview this guy. But the sheriff’s office, with all its powers, interviewed this guy, and that process issued a report with no claim that he fled fearing for his life.

    Now, reading between the lines, what does that tell you? I’m guessing that the sheriff’s office asked him if he fled fearing for his life, and, if he said yes, that detail certainly would have supported a deadly conduct charge. That detail is not in the report, based on what the sheriff’s office told us.

    Does that establish conclusively and without doubt whether the man did or didn’t flee fearing for his life? No. But it does tell us that the sheriff’s department did not ascribe that motive to him.

  8. I, for one, appreciate any detail relative to this story that I can get. This is part of a much larger story that has to do with establishing the credibility of county commissioners and those having business with the county commission. Please don’t hesitate to report new details as they emerge.

  9. I agree. You should post the entire report.

    You are the one missing the point, Bill. I saw the headline and thought “Hmmm, I guess Ramus’s story checked out.” That is not the case. IMO, that was either intentional or VERY poorly thought out on your part. Why doesn’t the headline say “According to report, backhoe operator fled?” Why aren’t you concerned with addressing Ramus’s claim that he had a civil conversation and nothing more? Why did a reader have to point out that the backhoe operator fled and why was your response “Yeah, but not *for his life*?”

    Honestly, the fact that you won’t even acknowledge this error leads me to believe that it was purely intentional.

    Post the report.

  10. Omitting half the lines leaves your readers no option but to try to read between the ones you print.

  11. You said “All we know is what Ramus said and what the sheriff’s report said, and that’s all we can or should report.”

    Yet, you did not report on the sheriff’s report in the first story and only commented on the distinction between fleeing and fleeing for one’s life in the second story. When will you cover the sheriff’s report?

    Also, since you had someone from the sheriff’s office talking to you about the incident, did you think to ask for any other information they might offer up?

    Then, you went on to say “The distinction between fleeing and fleeing for fear of one’s life is not a subtle distinction, especially when we’re talking about a deadly conduct charge.”

    I would argue that the distinction between fleeing and standing at the fence having a civil conversation is even less of a subtle distinction. Your intent was to “investigate” a comment made by a reader, rather than the potentially false testimony given by someone running for public office.

  12. Ted,

    Now you’re asking questions that I’ve already addressed. It’s not a matter of “omitting,” which is leaving out information that we have. I haven’t done that. Thus, the “can” and “should” remark. Not to confuse you further, I’ll put it to you like this: We can only report the information we have. For the rest, I refer you to my remarks on the bottom of this story:
    http://www.sanmarcosmercury.com/2008/09/06/commissioner-candidate-charged-with-deadly-conduct

    Remember, this story isn’t done.

  13. Well, then I will put it to you this way, why do others have information that you don’t? The Statesman and the Daily Record (from whom you are supposed to free us) both managed to get more information, inclucing from Logan and Opiela.

    From the Daily Record:

    “She looked up and saw Mr. Ramus come to the property line with a gun,” Opiela said. “He approached the tractor driver and the driver got off the tractor and left.”

    He said the victim said at that point, Ramus “allegedly pointed the weapon in her direction at which time she quit mowing.”

    and from the Statesman:

    When the backhoe stopped, “I looked, and I said, ‘Oh my gosh, there’s Ramus with a gun,’ ” Logan said.

    Logan said Ramus leaned across the fence, swung his gun around and yelled at the worker. According to Opiela, the worker left the property.

    Logan said Ramus next made a circle with his hand over his head, like with a rope, and pointed to the ground as if to say, “You get over here.” That was when he pointed the gun at her, she said.

    She said she jumped off her mower, ran to the house and called the sheriff’s department. Deputies arrived about 11 a.m.

    “He scared me to death,” said Logan, a retired interior designer who has lived on the 30-acre property for 31 years. “It was so fast. So surreal.”

    Are you saying that Opiela would not provide you with these details, or that you did not bother to ask? Are you going to post the report?

  14. Also, it turns out that “fleeing for one’s life” is not material to a deadly conduct charge. The report that he fled contradicts Ramus’s statements and speaks to credibility, or at least presents two sides of the story. As far as deadly conduct is concerned, I would point you to section c of the statute:

    § 22.05. Deadly Conduct.

    Statute text

    (a) A person commits an offense if he recklessly engages in conduct
    that places another in imminent danger of serious bodily injury.

    (b) A person commits an offense if he knowingly discharges a firearm
    at or in the direction of:
    (1) one or more individuals; or

    (2) a habitation, building, or vehicle and is reckless as to whether
    the habitation, building, or vehicle is occupied.

    (c) Recklessness and danger are presumed if the actor knowingly
    pointed a firearm at or in the direction of another whether or not the actor believed the firearm to be loaded.

    (d) For purposes of this section, “building,” “habitation,” and
    “vehicle” have the meanings assigned those terms by Section 30.01.

    (e) An offense under Subsection (a) is a Class A misdemeanor. An
    offense under Subsection (b) is a felony of the third degree.

  15. (c) Recklessness and danger are presumed if the actor knowingly
    pointed a firearm at or in the direction of another whether or not the actor believed the firearm to be loaded.

  16. Ted,

    I see what you’re driving at three messages up, and I take your point. I should have been more clear about the difference between what Ramus said and what the sheriff’s office said. I have written through the story and made that clarification. The original version of this story said the backhoe operator fled, but it didn’t repeat from the first story that Ramus claimed they had an uneventful conversation, which is an important difference. My bad.

    The distinction between fleeing and fleeing for one’s life remains. However, when you indicated that this story didn’t make clear the difference between Ramus’ claim of an uneventful conversation and the sheriff’s office claim that the backhoe operator fled, I recognized your problem with the story. And you are right. It is a problem, so I’ve written through the story to make it more clear.

    I called LeRoy Opiela about hurricane stuff just now and put in another quote from him.

    As to posting the sheriff’s report, Opiela told me that only portions of it are available to the public, and only that much after a freedom of information request. I’ll put in the request when this hurricane blows over, but it sounds like we won’t get the full report.

    Anyway, thanks for caring enough to ride this out, because you pointed out an aspect of this story that really needed to be more clear. We don’t claim to be perfect. There will be times when we make mistakes or put things badly, and, when we do, we will step up to the plate and say we made a mistake or put something badly. I’d be happier if you understood the difference between a bias and a reporting oversight, but we can’t have everything.

  17. Thanks for seeing my point. I have filed a request for the officer complaint and will forward it when I get it, if you haven’t gotten one already.

  18. Carolynn Logan lost her case attempting to remove my legally achieved septic permit. The county illegally removed my septic permit and returned my septic permit to me back in June of last year. The county’s stipulation was that I would be unable to use the system until it was decided in court.

    Once granted, counties have no statute or authority to revoke septic permits however they can prohibit the use for specific reasons of non-compliance. The county never argued that my system did not meet code nor that it posed any danger to public health. Their entire argument rested on an attempt to grab power not granted by the legislature, this court wanted the ability to politically revoke septic permits. The new court under Sumter wanted to use me as a test case of their desire for this power. Their actions were solely based on a re-interpretation of the rules and regulation after the facts. Charles O’Dell attempted to say that the Environmental Health Department was corrupt and illegally granted my permit. TCEQ sent three letters, one from their legal department telling the commisisoners that my septic permit, the EHD actions were all legal, proper and above board. This however did not go along with Sumter and O’Dell’s desire to have political control over the issuing, granting and revoking of septic permits.

    Carolynn Logal was in the process of building a 3 ft berm on two sides of my property preventing the water runnoff from my property from reaching her property. This would in effect ruin my septic system by repeatedly over topping the evaporation field. I complained to the County Authorities several weeks before the incident.

    I went to speak to the machine operator and told him not to trespass and not to put that dirt onto my property as Ms. Logan had already damaged my property by pushing bare dirt onto my property insuring a silting problem already and if allowed, an overtopping propblem making my recent win in court meaningless. I have every right to protect my property by asking the operator not to trespass and not to deposit that dirt in a way that damages my property. I was plain speaking and unconfrontational. I didn’t need to be because the operator immediately told me that he wasn’t the one that damaged my property before he left. Ms. Logan was over 250 yards away as she sped from the front of her property outside her front fence and got no closer than 100 yards away before I had already turned to go back to the front porch.

    I have hunted and owned guns my entire life since puberty. I have never been irresponsible nor cavalier and I certainly wouidn’t point a gun at Ms. Logan. I held the gun in one hand in a specifically non-threatening manner for the very reason of responsibility. I do have the right to responsibly carry a firearm anywhere on my property. Ms. Logan is not in her right mind. By carrying the firearm in my left arm it had inflamed an injury and I raised my arm around several times while holding the firearm in my right hand attempting to set it right. Ms. Logan’s irresponsible immagination did the rest.

    After all the many wild and false allegations Ms. Logan has made over the last few years, three pages in writing to the District Attorney. It is a shame she is allowed to make a monkey out of the justice system.

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