7 KXAN investigations that made a difference in 2019


AUSTIN (KXAN) — From missing people in Texas to an Austin police officer who died from a disease caused by medication, here are seven stories from the KXAN investigative team which garnered the most interest throughout the year and made a big impact.

Explore all KXAN’s investigations on the KXAN Investigations page

1) Mayberry Texas

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On April 1, 1999, 35-year-old James “Jamie” Mayberry vanished from home with a stranger. Local law enforcement almost immediately suggested Jamie simply wanted to leave, but his family’s suspicions drew a massive search of the area that only ended with more questions. Two decades later, this KXAN investigation sparked a fresh look at the case, uncovering possible missteps by police in those early days. Our analysis of more than 5,600 missing persons also reveals shortfalls in the way Texas tackles those cases and prompts a state lawmaker’s promise to improve the system, helping families looking for loved ones.

2) A History of Mass Violence

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From 1980 to 2019, Texas experienced at least 32 mass shootings. In those events, 250 people were wounded and at least 208 were killed. This series takes a critical look at that violent history, as state leaders weigh options to prevent future tragedies. Some of their proposals rely heavily on citizens — through advanced training and suspicious activity reporting. But do the survivors of these shootings believe those solutions will work?

3) The Accused

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The Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin released its list of priests “credibly accused of sexually abusing a minor” on Jan. 31. The names span nearly 70 years and join a growing number of allegations against clergy across Texas and the U.S. The list doesn’t indicate those individuals have been charged or convicted of any crimes, but the church hopes it will encourage victims to come forward. Still, some who’ve quietly lived through the scandal believe many priests may escape justice. KXAN spent weeks speaking with accusers, police and state leaders to investigate the system for reporting abuse against children and where Texas falls short in handling those claims.

4) Mothers Erased

Leah Bahrencu hospitalized - mothers erased

Hundreds of women die from pregnancy or delivery complications every year across the United States, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In Texas, the exact number of women dying isn’t clear due to errors with data collection that keep doctors and researchers from fully understanding and preventing those problems. The state developed a new method that shows the number of maternal deaths in Texas for a single year, 2012, wasn’t as high as initially reported. Still, researchers say deaths could be on the rise as the new statistics provide little insight into more recent trends. Since this investigation, a bill to strengthen the data gathered made it through a House committee, but not into the full chamber, and other bills passed will provide some support to moms.

5) APD detective one of at least 8 patients who died from disease caused by Lamotrigine medication

Norman Bujanos
Norman Bujanos with his daughter, Jordan (Courtesy Amy Bujanos)

Lamotrigine is a prescription drug to treat depression and seizures that has been on the market since 1994, but for one Austin Police Department Detective, it proved to be deadly. The Food and Drug Administration issued a warning for Lamotrigine and Lamictal seven months before his death, and now says he is one of eight who died because of its side effects. The detective’s widow now hopes her husband’s story will save other lives. Shortly after this story was published, Austin’s police chief reached out to the widow about issues with her family getting her husband’s sick pay.

6) Lakefront property owners surprised they don’t own shoreline

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Part of a survey of a lakefront lot (Courtesy: Highland Lakes Title)

Numerous landowners along Lake LBJ who have tried to sell or expand have been surprised to discover they don’t own the property right at the shoreline, call the fill area. One business owner KXAN spoke with acquired some of these fill areas and has sold them for a thousand dollars or more. KXAN explored how landowners can better understand what they own and how to protect themselves.

7) Bargaining the Badge

The 2013 arrest of Alexa Alpha by San Marcos Police Officer James Palermo.

Across Texas, hundreds of law enforcement officers have permanently surrendered their peace officer license in the past four years. A KXAN investigation of 297 of those surrenders has discovered nearly all the officers were accused or charged with a crime – most often felonies. And, in almost every case the officers used their license as a bargaining tool by agreeing to surrender it as part of a deal to avoid jail or prison.

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