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

The doctor was in. He was seated at a table beside the bar, and he'd been there for five hours, drinking with several of his McKinney buddies.

It looked like any other Saturday night inside Chris' Blue Tees sports bar in downtown McKinney. On April 27, 1996, the Indiana Pacers were battling the Atlanta Hawks on the large-screen TV in the dining area, a room festooned with neon Bud signs and Dallas Cowboys posters. Regulars lined the U-shaped bar, sipping cocktails and gnawing on chicken wings beneath a row of golf course pennons that hang from the ceiling.

Truck driver Kerry Recer reckons it was about 10 p.m. when he walked through the front door and took a seat at the bar next to an elderly couple he knew.

Recer, a lean man with a ruddy complexion, drew on his beer and chatted casually for nearly an hour before the doctor, John Hargett, approached the bar and invited Recer to his house, according to court documents.

Recer planned to drive to neighboring Plano that night and declined the curious invitation. Both men were regulars at Chris' Blue Tees, so Recer knew Hargett. But he'd never been asked to Hargett's house before.

Some 15 minutes later, one of Hargett's friends--Mary Wysong, a member of the McKinney family that founded the city's only hospital--sidled up to Recer and re-extended Hargett's invitation. Recer declined again, but decided to join the party at their table, according to McKinney police accounts.

He took a seat between Whitney Wysong and her friend Stacey Jones, who works as a clerk at the Collin County Courthouse.

The conversation flowed past midnight, along with the booze. Then at some point someone ordered a round of Goldschlager--a cinnamon-flavored liqueur sprinkled with 24-carat gold flakes. When the shots arrived at Hargett's table, the doctor's sociable personality suddenly turned violent, according to sworn depositions given by Recer and McKinney police officer Terry Morrison, who was assigned to investigate the events of that evening.

Hargett accused Recer of ordering the shots for the women at his table, and--growing increasingly upset--warned him not to do it again.

Recer, who claims he didn't order the drinks, thought Hargett was kidding. He thought again when Hargett pushed back his chair and slowly rose to his feet.

"He said, 'I'll fucking take you out,'" Recer stated in a sworn deposition.
Recer, who noticed that Hargett's hands were in his pockets, flipped the table out of the way so he could see if the doctor was armed. Hargett made the next move.

"A fight started where Dr. Hargett came at him [Recer], and he either sidestepped or Dr. Hargett fell to the ground," Officer Morrison stated in his account. "They had fought for a little bit back and forth, pushing and shoving. They ended up over by the bar with Dr. Hargett on the ground and Mr. Recer above him."

At that point, Recer says, somebody hit him from behind, and he went down on one knee. With Hargett lying on the floor in front of him, Recer says, someone grabbed hold of him from behind, covering his eyes.

"The next thing I know is they pulled me back around to the other side of the bar, and that's when...I was told that I had been cut," Recer stated in his deposition.

An ambulance rushed Recer to the Columbia Medical Center of McKinney--the former Wysong Memorial Hospital--where doctors stitched up the life-threatening gash, which was 5 inches long and one-fourth to three-eighths of an inch deep. It was a "close call," the doctors said, but Recer would come through OK.

Hargett, meanwhile, had run out of the bar and attempted to drive away, but Stacey Jones stopped him from getting in his truck, according to her written statement to police.

"Dr. Hargett told me standing outside [that] he cut him bad, and he was going to the hospital," wrote Jones, who was outside the bar at the time of the fight. "At that point I didn't know who he was talking about. He [Hargett] started to get into my car and I said you cannot go with me."

Hargett gave Jones the keys to his 1994 Dodge Ram pickup--as well as the bloody pocket knife--then fled the scene with the Wysongs, Jones stated.

Some time later, Hargett and the Wysongs arrived at Mary Wysong's McKinney home and left a message for the doctor's lawyer, John Hardin.

While they nervously waited for Hardin to return the telephone call, Hargett, who'd emerged unscathed from the barroom brawl, told the Wysongs he was "defending their honor and that he feared for his life," according to police accounts.

Neither Hargett nor his attorneys would discuss the case.

McKinney residents were stunned by the news that one of their long-time physicians had been involved in a knife fight. A family practitioner who has delivered babies and patched wounds for 13 years, Hargett is known for his generosity in treating cash-poor patients and for his good bedside manner.

McKinney police issued a warrant for Hargett's arrest the day of the brawl, and like a good citizen, the 48-year-old doctor immediately turned himself in. He posted $50,000 bail, and eventually returned to work at his McKinney Family Clinic.

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.

The fact that Hargett has been indicted for second-degree attempted murder apparently hasn't fazed his powerful pals or interrupted his affluent lifestyle.

Just hours after Hargett was arrested on the attempted murder charge on Sunday, April 28, he showed up at a McKinney golf tournament, where one of his competitors was Rodney Neal, an investigator in the Collin County District Attorney's Office.

During an interview last week, District Attorney O'Connell confirmed that he skirted office procedures on Monday, April 29, when he ordered Neal to conduct his own informal investigation of the recent throat-slashing before the McKinney police had concluded theirs.

"I knew that they had known each other. I asked Rodney to find out what happened, and that was it. I was just curious about what happened," says O'Connell, who confirms that he, too, has played golf with Hargett in the past.

Despite the appearance of a conflict of interest, O'Connell says, he intends to prosecute Hargett to the full extent of the law.

"If anyone thinks this case is going to get preferential treatment, that's just wrong," O'Connell says. "We're going to handle the matter just like any other case."

In 1966, John Hargett was a junior at McKinney High School, and his classmates elected him "most handsome" for the second year in a row. The would-be doctor was a member of the Latin club and the Future Teachers of America.

That summer, at age 17, Hargett would also become a first-time offender. On June 27, McKinney police arrested Hargett for disorderly conduct after he got into an "affray" with another boy at the neighborhood Jiffey Dog drive-in, according to McKinney police records. No other details about what happened during the fight--or whether Hargett was charged with a crime--are available.

Hargett's police encounter, however, did not scare him straight, according to McKinney police records.

On January 1, 1967, McKinney police officer Milton Bardwell stopped Hargett when he observed that the lad's '58 Chevy nearly hit a parked car. Milton recovered a six-pack of beer and a half pint of vodka from the Chevy before he hauled Hargett downtown just after 1 a.m. Hargett, who thought it was midnight, told Milton he had been at a pool hall, where he went to "pick up people and shoot pool."

Again, there are no court records indicating that Hargett was prosecuted for the offense.

Teenage fights often are shrugged off with "boys will be boys" arguments, and back in the 1960s, a drunk driving arrest was akin to getting busted for making an illegal U-turn. But in 1973, if Allen resident Johnny Holmes is telling the truth, Hargett's tendency for getting into trouble took a much more serious turn.

Holmes claims that he and his former classmate got into a fight that year in the parking lot of the American Legion Hall in downtown McKinney. Holmes is a house painter by trade, and his face is bright red from the sun except for a dull white scar that runs down the left side of his cheek. Another scar, several inches in length, is visible on his neck.

"He [Hargett] put 128 stitches into me," says Holmes, as he unbuttons his paint-smeared oxford and points out a 4-inch scar on his left breast. A fourth scar trails across the underside of his left upper arm.

Before the fight, Holmes says, he and Hargett were drinking like fiends inside the Legion, not long after both men had returned home from Vietnam. At some point, Army veteran Holmes and Marine Corps veteran Hargett began arguing about which branch of the U.S. Armed Forces is more honorable.

"We were just drunk," Holmes says. "I told him you couldn't throw your own family a lump of sugar. He said, 'I'll whup you.' He couldn't whup me."

Naturally, they took it outside to duke it out like men.
"I bopped him all over the place, and the next thing I know he's chopping me up," says Holmes, who doesn't remember what Hargett cut him with, though he thinks it may have been a box cutter. "It was so sharp I didn't even know he was cutting me until he caught my [jugular] vein, and blood started spurting up into my eyes."

The day after the fight, Holmes says, a Collin County sheriff's deputy arrived at his home to arrest him, because Hargett had filed an attempted murder complaint against Holmes. When the deputy saw the stitches, he apparently changed his mind about who the offender was--and decided not to make an arrest.

Holmes says it never occurred to him that he could file charges against Hargett. "Back then, a fight was a fight. We shouldn't have been drinking," he says.

Sometime during the next few days, Holmes says, he and Hargett filed "peace bonds," or restraining orders, against each other. The Collin County sheriff's office, however, could not locate a copy of Hargett's complaint or the restraining orders.

"For some reason, the county got involved," says sheriff's spokesman Lieutenant John Norton. "It happened at the American Legion in McKinney, so it should have been a McKinney [police] case."

Norton says it isn't surprising that the records are gone, because, back in the 1970s, the department didn't have a records department to keep track of arrest reports and complaints. Instead, individual sheriffs kept the records, and took their files with them when they lost their elected offices.

Norton's office did, however, locate 16 arrest reports for Holmes, including arrests for three DWIs, two public intoxication incidents, and numerous traffic warrants. The reports span 16 years and end in 1979, when Holmes gave up drinking. He was convicted on several of the charges.

Holmes, who readily acknowledges that his history includes a trail of criminal charges, says he ditched the bottle when he realized it was ruining his life.

"I used to drink a lot," he says. "When we got out of the service, we all had bad attitudes. Something happened to us over there, but some of us quit and others didn't."

Holmes says he long since has forgiven Hargett for the scars he claims Hargett left, but finds some vindication in the doctor's more recent misfortunes and the interest in the otherwise forgotten scrape.

"I feel sorry for him. He could have made something out of himself instead of being idiots like us," Holmes says, letting loose a cackle and reclining into his imitation leather easy chair. "I don't care what that chump does, because that old drinking's almost got him. I'll bet his liver is about as hard as this floor."

In August, McKinney police detective Terry Morrison stated that his department has no record of the fight between Holmes and Hargett, but added that he has interviewed Holmes about the incident and photographed his scars. Morrison is handling the criminal investigation of the April 1996 slashing at Chris' Blue Tees.

"It showed scarring on his throat in a downward motion, on the cheek, across his chest, and his left arm; a large scar under the arm," Morrison stated in a deposition taken in connection with a civil suit Kerry Recer filed against Hargett in June, seeking damages for the neck injury he suffered in the barroom fight.

With police and reporters showing new interest in the 1973 fight, Holmes says, he attempted to get copies of emergency room records to help confirm his story. But Holmes says officials at the McKinney hospital told him his entire medical file is missing.

"My files at the hospital aren't there no more," Holmes says. "We moved here in '58. I've been here ever since. I've gone to Wysong's my whole life. My family has gone to Wysong's. I don't know how my record could suddenly be gone."

By 1977, Hargett had moved to neighboring Denton and enrolled as an undergraduate at North Texas State University. He was just months away from earning a bachelor's degree in biology, but still managed to cross paths with the police back in McKinney.

Shortly after 11 p.m. on March 31, McKinney police responded to a call at the Parkwest Villa Apartments. Hargett, who allegedly was drunk, attempted to enter the apartment of a female friend, who refused to let him in. Hargett went to another apartment and walked inside, startling its sleeping occupants, according to police reports.

Hargett was arrested and charged with public intoxication and criminal trespassing. At the time, Hargett's personal possessions included a knife, two rings, a pack of cigarettes, and $3.74. Once again, there is no record that Hargett was prosecuted for the arrest.

With his criminal record still spotless, Hargett earned his B.A. that year, followed by a master's degree in microbiology in 1978 from the same university. In 1982, he received his doctorate in medicine from the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. After he finished his internship and residency at the Texas Tech Regional Academic Health Science Center in Amarillo in 1983, Hargett obtained his state license to practice medicine.

Hargett returned to McKinney as a family practitioner. He soon obtained staff privileges at Wysong Memorial Hospital, a 65-bed facility owned and operated by Walter Scott Wysong, his three sons, and their sons.

Dr. Brad Wysong, a staff radiologist at Columbia Medical Center and Walter Scott Wysong's grandson, praised Hargett for his skill as a doctor and his concern for patients: "I would guarantee you that if you're sick or you're on the side of the road and you've been hit by a car, [Hargett is] not the type of doctor who's going to drive by."

Although Columbia Medical Center public-relations officials and the hospital's attorney, J. Truscott Jones, refused to confirm Hargett's status with the hospital, Brad Wysong says Hargett had staff privileges at least until the April slashing at Chris' Blue Tees.

"With this [attempted murder charge], he may have gone on temporary leave," says Wysong, who adds that he's trying to "stay out of it."

But Wysong quickly adds that Hargett has enjoyed a long-lasting and successful relationship with the hospital. Wysong says that Hargett's practice, the McKinney Family Clinic, is vital to McKinney's sizable elderly population because it is one of the few practices that still accepts new Medicare patients.

The April slashing is a "fluke," Wysong says, and Hargett's reputation for hanging out at bars, particularly Chris' Blue Tees, is "overexaggerated."

"He goes a lot. I don't know that he drinks a lot," Wysong says, adding that Chris' Blue Tees is more like a family restaurant than a bar. "After city council planning and zoning [meetings], everyone goes there. They really have probably the best hamburger in Collin County."

Wysong says Hargett is best known in town as a devoted father and a generous citizen who gives free physicals to indigent patients and participates in community raffles.

"I'm happy to know him as a friend. I've never seen him lose his temper. I've never seen him raise his voice," Wysong says. "He's one of those guys, if you took him home to meet your parents, they'd be happy. They'd say you did pretty well."

Mary Ann Harris agrees that Hargett is a good family doctor. In November 1986, Hargett delivered her son, Cord.

"I must have been in [labor] for 12 hours, and he [Hargett] never left the hospital. He took good care of me," Harris says. "He treated my husband for high blood pressure, and he took care of him. He was a good doctor; he sure was."

Harris, however, disagrees with Brad Wysong's belief that Hargett would make a good impression on a girl's parents. Two months before Cord was born, Harris says, she and her husband, Dean, were inside their Collin County home at about 11:30 p.m. when their daughter came running into the house, screaming that someone tried to run her boyfriend off the road. The couple were returning home from church in separate cars.

"At the time, we didn't even know it was Dr. Hargett, so he [Dean Harris] just got in his truck and followed him. When he left, I called the sheriff," Harris says.

Harris says she's not sure what Hargett was doing, but guesses he may have mistaken her daughter and future son-in-law for other people.

Harris' husband struck Hargett's car during the chase when Hargett slammed on the brakes and tried to do a 180 in his car. Hargett then left the scene of the accident, but was later stopped in front of the city hall in neighboring Melissa. Instead of arresting Hargett for drunk driving, Harris says, the sheriff's deputies simply took him home.

"I know he was drinking, and I don't know why the highway patrol didn't put him down," Harris says. "I'm not trying to say they did something wrong, but if it had been my husband, they would have written him up for it. Hargett would have run over my son if he could have gotten by with it."

During the same year that the Harrises claim to have chased Hargett off their property, Hargett was hit with his first medical malpractice suit. It turned out to be costly.

Before the case went to trial, Hargett's insurance company would pay $1 million to settle out of court. Soon, his personal finances slid into a downward spiral that would force the doctor into bankruptcy proceedings that continue today.

Dr. Hargett was assigned to cover the emergency room at Wysong Memorial Hospital on the morning of March 18, 1986, when 50-year-old Wiley Capps got thrown from the cab of a pickup truck during a car accident on Highway 380 east of Princeton, Texas. Paramedics found Capps lying on his back, complaining of chest pains and numbness in his toes and fingers. As is standard procedure in cases of a possible spinal cord injury, the paramedics placed Capps on a backboard, fitted him with a cervical neck collar, and rushed him to Wysong hospital and Dr. Hargett.

In the emergency room, Capps complained of shoulder pain and a weak grip in his right hand. He was unable to lift his right leg. After an initial examination, a nurse determined that Capps had a hematoma--a blood-filled swelling often associated with spinal injuries--on his right temple.

Hargett, who noted the same symptoms and suspected potential head and neck injuries, ordered skull and cervical spine X-rays. But the doctor failed to take the precaution of immobilizing Capps' head and neck while the tests were taken, according to court records. (Dr. Brad Wysong, who also was named in the suit, took the X-rays, though a jury later determined he was not liable in the case.)

After viewing the X-rays and deeming them normal, Hargett told Capps he could go home, according to court records. But Capps' wife, Charlotte, pleaded with Hargett to admit her husband for overnight observation.

"My husband told me he couldn't grip with his hands, and he [Hargett] told me I could take him home," Charlotte Capps says. "I said I wasn't going to take him anywhere. [Wiley] couldn't even hold a glass of water."

During the next 24 hours, Capps' condition progressively worsened in the hospital. Hargett did not fit Capps with a neck brace, and he did not give the nursing staff any written or verbal instructions on how to handle his patient, according to court records. As a result, Wiley was handled like a sack of potatoes, the Cappses argued in court.

"Every time I'd go throw a fit, they'd get [Hargett] to come in, and he'd check him. He'd say, 'Well, we may have to take an X-ray,'" Charlotte recalls. "I mean, by 12 o'clock that night he was paralyzed and dying. He started throwing up; all kinds of things was happening. I can't remember them all because I was so scared."

At 1 a.m., Hargett applied a painful stimulus in an attempt to test Capps' legs for a response, but the patient's legs were still. At 2:45 a.m., Capps began vomiting. He was transferred to the intensive care unit, and Hargett informed Charlotte that the hospital did not have the proper equipment to perform a scan of Capps' neck. That night, Capps was transferred to Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas, but by then his previously intact spinal cord had been severed.

Charlotte says she remembers Hargett's words as he ordered the transfer. "He said, 'I guess I could put a soft cervical collar on your husband, but I think the damage has already been done. I am so sorry.'"

Although Hargett settled his portion of the lawsuit before it went to trial, the jury found in 1988 that he was 45-percent liable and the hospital 55-percent liable. The jury awarded the Cappses $3.4 million.

When reached by telephone at her home in rural Commerce, Charlotte says the past 10 years have been "pretty rough." Wiley Capps suffers from constant headaches and neck pain. He has lost muscle tone in his upper shoulders and has no sensation from the midchest down. Wiley also is unable to clear his throat, and must be manually coughed.

Charlotte has employed nurses and countless friends to help care for her
quadriplegic husband, but the task has grown too great. Next month, she is moving Wiley into a nursing home.

"I took care of him for two years. I got arthritis real bad, and I just couldn't do it anymore," she says.

Columbia Medical Center spokeswoman Ellen Lytle refused to discuss Hargett's history with the hospital, and wouldn't say whether he has staff privileges today. "We can't release anything," Lytle says. "It's all privileged information."

Court records show, however, that Hargett was not an "active" member of the staff from September 24, 1991, through October 1992. The hospital divulged that information in court documents filed in response to a pending wrongful death suit that names Hargett as a defendant.

That case, filed in 1994, states that Robbie Moon arrived at the McKinney hospital on March 11 of that year complaining of severe headaches. She was given shots for pain and sent home with orders to contact her doctor in the morning. When Moon arrived at Hargett's clinic the next day, Hargett's assistant, Kenneth Bailey, gave her a shot for pain and scheduled her for a CT scan on March 14.

On March 12, Robbie Moon returned to the emergency room. She was "vomiting, photophobic, and in excruciating pain," according to the lawsuit. Unable to reach Hargett, Dr. Mitchell Bowman gave Moon another shot of painkiller and sent her home. Again, no tests were performed, Moon's family claims in the lawsuit. In the early hours of March 14, Moon returned to the hospital a third time. After a telephone conference with Hargett, Dr. William Frazier finally admitted Moon to the hospital but, again, no tests were performed.

Hargett showed up that morning at 10, 15 minutes before Moon's brain began to hemorrhage and her heart failed. Moon was flown to Presbyterian Hospital of Dallas for surgery, but never regained consciousness. She died the next day.

Brian Eberstein, the Moons' attorney, declined to comment on the case. He has filed numerous motions seeking confirmation that Hargett took a one-year leave from the hospital staff to undergo chemical dependency treatment.

In a harshly worded response, Hargett's civil attorneys, Michael Schonberg and Maureen Murry, stated that the information is irrelevant to the case and would violate Hargett's right to privacy if made available. Eberstein's request is "nothing more than a harassing witch hunt for potentially inflammatory information having no bearing on Mrs. Moon's treatment or lawsuit," they wrote.

Murry and Schonberg took special exception to Eberstein's request for copies of Hargett's tee times and bar tabs at the McKinney Country Club since 1992.

"In addition to being totally irrelevant, the request for Dr. Hargett's country club tee times and liquor purchase records is an overly broad, unreasonable, annoying, and harassing invasion of Dr. Hargett's personal and constitutional rights to privacy and liberty," they wrote.

One doctor at Columbia Medical Center said privately, however, that Hargett's alcohol consumption is an ongoing issue among the staff.

The doctor, who did not wish to be identified, confirmed that Hargett's staff privileges have been suspended and that he underwent chemical dependency counseling. His staff privileges were later reinstated, and Hargett was supposed to remain sober, but didn't, the doctor says. Still, Hargett continued to work in the hospital.

"They couldn't yank his privileges, because the state took no action," the doctor says. "If the Texas Medical Examiners board doesn't do anything, and you try to do something, you might as well shoot yourself in the foot."

Through all of his troubles, Hargett has clung stubbornly to his struggling medical practice.

In March, the doctor filed a plan in U.S. Bankruptcy Court to reorganize his McKinney Family Clinic under Chapter 13 and Chapter 11 provisions. He made the move after the Internal Revenue Service stepped up its efforts to collect $127,549 in unpaid personal income taxes spanning several years.

In bankruptcy filings, Hargett listed more than $222,000 in debts, including unpaid student loans and back rent due to the Living Centers of America, which owns the building that houses Hargett's McKinney Family Clinic practice. The court approved Hargett's reorganization plan in May, allowing him to keep his practice.

Hargett's financial troubles apparently haven't cut into his entertainment budget. In fact, Hargett kicked off the new year at Chris Blue Tee's, where he wrote a check for $100.

Hargett also has maintained his membership at the McKinney Country Club, the McKinney Chamber of Commerce, and St. John's Lodge No. 51--a Masonic organization with historical ties to Collin County's founding fathers. Charles Hopkins Wysong, one of Collin County's earliest pioneers, is credited by historians with organizing more Masonic lodges than any other Texan. In addition to building Wysong Memorial Hospital, his son Walter went on to become a 32nd-degree Scottish Rite Mason.

Hargett, who was drinking with members of the Wysong family the night he allegedly attacked Kerry Recer, is clearly part of the city's elite. When he's not performing hand-shake rituals with the Masons, Hargett is socializing with police and prosecutors at the McKinney Country Club.

Besides fellow golfers Tom O'Connell, Collin County's district attorney, and O'Connell's investigator Rodney Neal, Sheriff Terry Box says he also periodically runs into Hargett on the green.

Box, who was a year behind Hargett at McKinney High School, says he was surprised by the April throat-slashing because Hargett had never before been in his jail.

Box also says he doesn't socialize with Hargett, but couldn't explain why the doctor wrote him a personal check for $320 on September 22, 1995. The check was listed in Hargett's bankruptcy filings, which stated that the money came out of Hargett's personal account for "living" expenses.

"That just blows my mind," Box says.

The atrium on the fourth floor of the Collin County Courthouse is filled with the high-pitched whirr of a distant buzz saw cutting wood just after 9 a.m. on Friday, August 23.

A tall, handsome teenager, who is dressed in a blue suit and a Looney Toons tie, is sweating bullets outside Courtroom 199. He sheepishly admits he's in trouble for some "teenage stuff." He evidently decided to drive a golf cart off a cliff after doing some drinking. "It was stupid. We were drunk and shit," he says.

Next to the boy, 48-year-old John Hargett leans with his back against the courtroom's outer wall. With his legs crossed casually, Hargett picks intently at his cuticles while he waits for his lawyer to return from the judge's chambers.

Hargett, who is at the court for an appearance on the attempted murder charge, hasn't been formally arraigned and hasn't made a plea, though records filed in connection with Kerry Recer's civil suit indicate that he likely will plead not guilty and argue that he slashed the trucker's throat in self-defense.

Dressed in a sharp blue suit, Hargett is slim for his 6-foot frame. His brown hair is freshly cut and neatly parted on the side. The dark circles under his eyes, which looked so menacing in the police mug shot that ran in the local paper, are still visible.

"I've been advised by my attorney not to have any contact with the press," Hargett says.

At this hearing, Judge John Roach decides to transfer the attempted murder case to another Collin County court, which will begin hearing cases for the first time in September. Hargett's next appearance is set for October 10, 1996.

When asked why the case is being transferred, Hargett shrugs and quickly offers his theory. "They don't want to have anything to do with this case," he says.

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