Craig Eiland, a Galveston attorney and former state representative, watched news coverage of the Oct. 1 mass shooting that left at least 59 victims dead and 527 injured on the Las Vegas Strip with a particularly personal interest.
Eiland's co-counsel's family friend, Rachel Sheppard, was among victims of the mass shooting, one of the deadliest in modern U.S. history. The shooter, Stephen Paddock, hit Sheppard with three rounds, one in the torso, another in the upper chest and one in the abdomen.
“They called me right after the shooting, not as a lawyer, but as a family friend, saying Rachel had been shot and was in critical condition and to keep her in our prayers,” Eiland said.
Sheppard survived the shooting but is still in critical condition.
Paddock, 64, rained bullets from the 32nd floor of the Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino on concertgoers attending a country music festival below. Eiland went to the site this week.
“So many people were shot and so many were killed,” Eiland said. “Seeing it on Tuesday was a sobering and somber experience when you realize this is where a client was shot.”
While Sheppard was rushed to the hospital in critical condition, Eiland went to work as an attorney for her, and later for about 60 victims, he said.
Eiland, along with several Nevada-based attorneys, filed the second Las Vegas shooting-related lawsuit Oct. 13 on behalf of Sheppard.
The lawsuit, which was filed in Clark County District Court in Nevada, lists MGM Resorts International, Mandalay Corp., Live Nation Entertainment, Live Nation Group doing business as One Nation Group, Paddock and Slide Fire Solutions, among others, as defendants.
“We filed against MGM Grand and the Mandalay Bay Hotel because of negligent behavior,” Eiland said. “And we filed against Live Nation, the concert venue, because after Paddock started shooting, the concertgoers couldn’t get out. There was one exit total. The rest were blocked. They were actually trapped while he was up there shooting.”
Paddock arrived five days before the event with nine bags containing at least 27 rifles, but somehow no one took notice of it, Eiland said.
Using power tools to set up a tripod and cameras to view people in the hallways, Paddock had the perfect vantage point to begin his shooting spree, Eiland asserts.
“Allegedly, there was a Do Not Disturb sign on the door, so no one went in,” Eiland said. “If that’s true, that’s negligence. If they did go in and saw all the weapons, who did they tell and what did they do? How does one use power tools in the hallway and in the room to set up a shooting gallery and no one says anything?”
Slide Manufacturers makes bump stocks, which increase weapons’ rate of fire.
“Our litigation is just beginning and we won’t be getting our discovery back until closer to the end of the year,” Eiland said.
Eiland also filed a successful temporary restraining order in that case, preventing the defendants from destroying information, evidence and data related to the shooting.
“The FBI and law enforcement are looking for evidence of criminal actions by the shooter,” Eiland said. “We are looking at how he went five days without anyone investigating.”
Following the successful temporary restraining order, Eiland was one of the first people to visit the scene of the shooting, which he described as a sobering experience.
“In talking to clients, we knew exactly where they were standing,” Eiland said. “You could go and see where the FBI and forensic experts had taken bullet holes out of the ground and covered up the blood. It was a somber experience realizing this is exactly where the client was shot.”
The state’s land office on Friday announced a new housing repair program focused on longer-term recovery, providing assistance for permanent repairs in badly damaged homes.
Texas General Land Office Commissioner George P. Bush was in town for an event at the home of the first benefactor of the Direct Assistance for Limited Home Repair program: Sharlene Hearne of Dickinson, whose home on Dickinson Bayou was flooded by more than 4 feet of water during Hurricane Harvey.
The program, funded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency and administered by the land office, grants residents who lack flood insurance and qualify for the assistance between $17,000 and $60,000 for home repairs.
An assemblage of local elected officials attended, including Dickinson Mayor Julie Masters, County Judge Mark Henry, state Sen. Larry Taylor and County Commissioner Ken Clark.
“If it wasn’t for this program I don’t know what would happen, we’ve been brainstorming how to make it all happen” on a budget, Hearne said. “It means a lot to me. It’s so surreal. I’m grateful for my government.”
Hearne moved back to her childhood home on Pine Oak Street in Dickinson in January and had been renovating it with her fiancé, Tim Shefcik, before Harvey made landfall on the Texas Coast on Aug. 25 and dropped more than 40 inches of rain in Dickinson.
Hearne, a flight attendant, didn’t have flood insurance on the home after being denied because the windows weren’t to code, she said.
She fled her home in the early morning hours of Aug. 27 as rising waters from the bayou flooded her house, she said. Her son registered her for FEMA assistance the same day, she said. Hearne was selected as the first applicant because her disaster relief application met the requirements, land office spokeswoman Brittany Eck said.
Residents apply for the aid by registering for FEMA disaster assistance, agency spokeswoman Erin Gaddis said. To be eligible for the program, the person must lack flood insurance and have damage estimated at less than 50 percent of the market value of the house, she said.
A person may be eligible for the program if they have received other forms of FEMA aid, Gaddis said.
The emergency management agency didn’t know how much money was available total for homeowners because the total depends on how much disaster relief is approved by Congress, she said.
Harvey victims who have already registered for disaster assistance should not reapply for disaster aid, Gaddis said. The agency is continually reviewing applications for aid, she said.
The program pays for between $17,000 and $60,000 in home repairs, depending on need, Gaddis said. FEMA inspected the home before the aid was granted, Eck said.
“This is for limited, but potentially permanent fixes,” Eck said.
The land office has so far announced five different housing programs for rapid disaster recovery, but residents and local elected officials have criticized how slowly the programs are rolling out, with many residents still waiting for housing aid.
On Friday, Bush said the land office was taking “due diligence” to ensure the contracting companies awarded work with the grant money are reputable and will not misuse tax dollars, which takes time, he said.
Bush pointed to the much-criticized $300 million Whitefish Energy Holdings contract awarded for hurricane relief in Puerto Rico as an example of what the land office was trying to avoid. The government has since ended its contract with Whitefish Energy.
“It’s an example of why we have to be careful to cross the Ts and dot the Is,” Bush said.
The land office has been following federal procurement requirements for its contracts with disaster relief money, including limits on contractors’ profits, said Pete Phillips, senior deputy director of Community Development and Revitalization at the land office.
The land office anticipates it will receive about $1 billion in federal assistance for housing disaster relief for Harvey, which will be allocated over the next few years, Bush said.
The office was hiring 40 to 60 disaster relief professionals to administer and provide oversight for the housing programs, he said.
Thousands of motorcycles lined both sides of The Strand on Friday as Galveston’s largest annual tourism event kicked into high gear.
The Strand is usually known as Galveston’s main tourist shopping street but, on Friday, it was instead crammed with motorcycles and leather as far as the eye could see.
Lone Star Rally, which organizers say is the largest four-day motorcycle rally in the country, began Thursday and will end Sunday.
“It’s kind of like a Mardi Gras on two wheels,” League City resident and event attendee Leon Petty said. “Instead of all the floats, you’ve got motorcycles.”
Special events will occur all weekend, including car shows, bike shows and concerts. Vendors and concessions also lined some of the north to south streets.
While those are a draw, Cypress resident Edwin Brawley said he enjoys spending time with his friends the most. Brawley has attended the rally at least five times, he said.
“All of our friends are down here that ride bikes,” Brawley said. “It’s a relaxing weekend for us to be around this atmosphere. We love this.”
Allen Tovrea, who came from Friendswood for the rally, said he loves the beer and the bikes. The only minor annoyance has been the construction downtown, he said.
“It didn’t stop us from coming though,” Tovrea said.
The rally is considered one of the island’s biggest economic drivers. More than 500,000 visitors came to the island for Lone Star Rally last year, and event officials said they expect a similar number this year.
An economic impact study said that the event contributed $115.6 million to Galveston’s economy in 2016. About $113 million of that came indirectly through retail, food and lodging spending.
The study said the event contributed $691,300 in local taxes.
Tammie Cooper, a Montgomery resident, contributes to the retail spending, she said.
“For me, it’s good shopping,” Cooper said.
The noise of motorcycles revving up is not her favorite, however, Cooper said.
Mostly minor accidents had occurred since Thursday when the rally began, Galveston Police Department Capt. Joshua Schirard said. None of them had involved more than minor injuries, he said.
One motorcyclist did fall off the 51st Street viaduct on Friday and was taken to the emergency room, and his condition was unknown Friday night, Schirard said.
The motorcyclist had been heading west on Harborside Drive and struck the rear end of a Texas City Independent School District bus before losing control, Schirard said.
The viaduct is a tall overpass that carries traffic on Harborside Drive and 51st Street over a collection of railroad tracks.
Four students were on the bus at the time it was hit, but medical authorities determined they were unharmed, Texas City ISD spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said.
The students live in Galveston but attend school in Texas City through the McKinney-Vento Homeless Assistance Act, Tortorici said.
The motorcyclist was transported to the emergency room after being rescued from the water under the bridge.
Petty said he has attended the rally almost every year since it began 16 years ago. Sometimes he goes to the rally with friends but, if he doesn’t, it’s not hard to make new friends, he said.
“You meet a lot of new people every day,” Petty said. “I’ve met people from Austin, from Waco, from Dallas.”
The friendly atmosphere is always welcoming, Cooper said.
“I like the camaraderie,” Cooper said. “You get this many people in one place and they all seem to get along.”
A historic downtown island building gets a new owner and a mystery sale is solved. Read about those items and more in Laura Elder’s Biz Buzz.
A German oil and chemical storage group recently purchased 220 acres in Texas City with plans to build a new deepwater terminal, company officials announced.
Oiltanking North America, which already operates in Texas City, recently purchased the land near its existing property at 2800 Loop 197 S., Mayor Matt Doyle said.
“They’re already going to work on that,” Doyle said.
The subsidiary of Hamburg-based Marquard & Bahls will construct a new terminal, called the Texas Independent Deepwater Expansion terminal, which will eventually allow for the storage of 10 million barrels of crude oil, petroleum and gas products, officials said.
“Upon completion of the initial development phase, the terminal will form a viable export/import/blending hub alternative in the Houston market by creating a premier logistics platform with significant flexibility and optionality,” officials said.
The company’s existing Texas City operations contain enough storage room for 3.5 million barrels of petroleum products, officials said.
Oiltanking has invested heavily in the Texas City area, earlier acquiring a terminal from Oiltanking Galveston County on about 200 acres of land for expansion opportunities, officials said.
That terminal is to the northwest side of Oiltanking’s existing marine terminal, officials said.
“The port of Texas City is home to a vast refinery market and several chemical companies,” officials said. “It’s short sailing time to open water and uncongested marine traffic position makes the port a highly valuable player in the Houston market.”
Insiders have speculated that developing the new deepwater terminal will cost about $900 million, but no one directly connected to the project would speak on the record by deadline Friday.
The Texas City development is the second major news to hit the port city recently.
Late last year, a liquefied natural gas export plant developer, which earlier nixed plans to build a multibillion-dollar facility on Pelican Island, signed an agreement to lease 1,000 acres on Shoal Point in Texas City.
The lease agreement between The Woodlands-based NextDecade, the city of Texas City and the Texas General Land Office is a significant coup for Texas City, where leaders have long sought to make the 1,000 or so acres of Shoal Point more productive.
The land is just east of Texas City’s major petrochemical complex and only about six miles from where the Houston Ship Channel opens to the Gulf of Mexico.
The company will not make lease payments on the 1,000 acres of waterfront property in Texas City if a facility it plans to build reaches $2 billion in taxable value, Doyle said of the terms of the agreement.
The incentive is in exchange for the prospect of attracting a development that would create thousands of construction jobs, more than 100 full-time positions and bring more property tax revenue into city coffers.
If completed as proposed, it would be the most expensive property in Texas City. Marathon’s Galveston Bay Refinery is valued at about $1 billion.