Under the Knife

After a long history of public drunkenness and allegations of slashing two men's throats, it is time to examine the troubled practice of Dr. John Hargett

A Collin County grand jury later indicted him on a charge of second-degree attempted murder.

Recer, on the other hand, hadn't much of a life to return to. And the events at the bar weren't even surprising, given his history of getting into trouble. The trucker already had been arrested twice for public intoxication and once for criminal trespassing. His unruly reputation was reaffirmed in July, when he was arrested at Chris' Blue Tees for assaulting Collin County detention officer Edward Toles after the officer showed up at the bar with Recer's ex-girlfriend.

Recer was a man who, at age 41, still lived with his parents. He claimed he'd been attacked by Hargett--a doctor with a successful private practice, a man of considerable status in McKinney, a city of 55,000 north of Dallas.

On the surface, that barroom fight appeared to be a fluke--a case of a good man getting on the wrong side of a clearly unsavory character.

But there is a different side of John Hargett that the McKinney public hasn't read about in its local paper. And it's no wonder: Apart from the attempted murder charge, Hargett has no record of criminal convictions.

But police reports, court depositions, and interviews with sources confirm that Hargett has a long history of arrests for public intoxication, drunk driving, and fighting. Moreover, a McKinney police officer has stated in sworn testimony that he is checking into an allegation that Hargett slashed the neck, face, arm, and chest of a former high-school classmate, Johnny Holmes, during a brawl in McKinney in the early 1970s.

Hargett, who wasn't seriously hurt, was not arrested or charged in connection with that fight. Collin County Sheriff's Lieutenant John Norton says he believes the fight occurred, but could not locate a complaint that Hargett supposedly filed against Holmes after the fight. The only record of the brawl is Holmes' memory and the scars he bears on his neck, face, chest, and arm.

Similarly, there are no police or sheriff's records stemming from an alleged 1986 drunk driving accident involving Hargett. During an interview last week, Mary Ann Harris claimed that her husband had gotten in a car chase with Hargett near Anna, a small community just north of McKinney. Hargett allegedly had followed Harris' daughter and the daughter's boyfriend home from church and tried to run the boyfriend off the road. When the couple got home, Harris' husband chased Hargett by car. The chase ended when both men's cars collided.

Collin County Sheriff's deputies came to the scene, but Hargett was not arrested--even though he was so drunk he didn't "know what was up or down," Harris claims.

Asked to explain why there is no sheriff's record detailing the accident, Lieutenant Norton says it is very possible that sheriff's deputies decided not to make an arrest or fill out a report that night. "Back in those days--if he's a prominent citizen, a doctor--they might have just taken him home," Norton says.

Hargett's problems with the law didn't end there. He is currently awaiting the outcome of a 1994 wrongful-death suit in which he was named as a party after his patient, Robbie Moon, died of an aneurism at the McKinney hospital. A trial date has not been set.

The Moon family alleges in its lawsuit that the hospital allowed Hargett to retain full staff privileges despite its knowledge that he was "making treatment decisions and delivering patient care while under the influence of alcohol and/or drugs." Hargett's "impaired condition created the likelihood of serious patient injury," the Moons claim.

Brian Eberstein, the Dallas attorney representing the Moon family, has been granted a second opportunity to take Hargett's deposition in order to inquire about the doctor's "alcohol habits and treatment," according to court records. The deposition, when completed, will remain secret.

In court filings, Hargett's attorneys called the attempt to connect the doctor's drinking to the Moon case a "deep-sea" fishing expedition. Hargett's attorneys did not return phone calls from the Dallas Observer.

Hospital officials wouldn't say whether Hargett still has staff privileges at the McKinney hospital, now called Columbia Medical Center, and declined to verify an attorney's claim that Hargett's privileges were suspended in the early 1990s while he enrolled in an alcohol rehabilitation program.

The hospital did state in court filings, however, that Hargett was not active on its staff from September 1991 through October 1992. It also said that no complaints exist alleging that Hargett ever worked at the hospital while intoxicated.

The Texas State Board of Medical Examiners, which has not taken any disciplinary action against Hargett, would not say whether any complaints have been filed against Hargett, though court documents show a senior investigator has requested copies of Hargett's attempted murder indictment.

Somehow, Hargett's string of professional misfortunes and run-ins with the law haven't slowed his rise to prominence as a McKinney physician, an accomplishment that affords him the privilege of mingling with the county's social and power elite.

An avid bird hunter and dues-paying Mason, Hargett is a member of the exclusive McKinney Country Club. There, he tackles the greens with the likes of Collin County District Attorney Tom O'Connell, Collin County Sheriff Terry Box, and Hargett's good friend Brad Wysong, a fourth-generation Wysong doctor and chairman of the McKinney Planning and Zoning Commission.

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