NEWS HEADLINES

Top stories of 2012

By Messenger Staff | Published Saturday, December 29, 2012

{{{*}}}From this vantage point, 2012 was a bit heavy on tragedy – but it also saw some long-awaited projects come to fruition. It had perhaps more than its share of frustration – but there were some noteworthy triumphs, too.

A few years will bring 2012 into sharper focus. But right now, it looks like these were the year’s big stories.

WOMAN SENTENCED AFTER MURDERING BOYFRIEND WITH CAR

Tammie Jo Chaffee

Tammie Jo Chaffee

Tammie Jo Chaffee, 28, of Bridgeport received a 25-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to murder Jan. 25 in 271st District Court in Decatur.

Chaffee was arrested the previous May after she used her car to run over Jimmy Joe “J.J.” Robertson, 36, of Bridgeport. Chaffee, her 8-year-old daughter and Robertson were northbound on Texas 101 north of Bridgeport the afternoon of May 9, 2011, when Chaffee and Robertson began arguing. Chaffee pulled the car to the shoulder, and Robertson got out, crossed the median, and started walking south on the outer shoulder of the southbound lanes. He placed an emergency call to 911 operators asking for an officer to come to his location, but the line went dead before he could finish. He was pronounced dead at the scene.

COUNTY COMMISSIONER INDICTED FOR THEFT, AWAITING TRIAL

Terry Ross

Precinct 4 County Commissioner Terry Ross was indicted three times in 2012 – for abuse of official capacity, $20 to $500, a Class B misdemeanor; tampering with governmental records, a second-degree felony; and theft of $500-$1,500 by a public servant, a state jail felony.

The first two indictments came in May and were tied to a children’s playhouse Ross is accused of building for his grandchildren – on public property, using county employees, on county time, using materials purchased with county money. The playhouse was seized from the Ross home in February and remains on the county impound lot.

He was indicted again last week on an Oct. 18 charge that he allegedly built three grubbing plows, two for personal use, with material belonging to the county and on county time, using county employees.

Ross denied all charges and continued to hold office until Aug. 14, when he was temporarily suspended by Judge Roger Towery of the 97th District Court in Henrietta, in response to a citizen’s petition filed in June.

Ross’ criminal trial is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 19, at the courthouse in Decatur.

His former foreman, Roy Teague, was also arrested in October for the grub plow incident.

ALVORD TRAGEDY – Flowers and a cross mark the spot where a North Richland Hills woman stepped in front of a train in Alvord in July 2011. Almost exactly one year later, Marcus Silletti, 14, of Alvord, was struck and killed by a train at the same spot while walking on the tracks wearing headphones. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

TRAGIC TEEN DEATHS ROCK ALVORD

The Alvord High School class of incoming freshmen lost two members this summer after they were hit and killed by trains.

Marcus Silletti, 14, died July 7 in an accident on the train tracks near the intersection of Elm and O’Neil streets. He was wearing headphones when he was struck from behind while walking on the track. It appeared to witnesses he never heard the train coming. The teenager died instantly.

Then in the early morning hours of July 29, 14-year-old Cheyanne Dollins was struck by a train about two miles north of Alvord while walking on the tracks. The death occurred near her house at the train crossing at County Road 2898.

The deaths of Dollins and Silletti shook a community already reeling with grief from the deaths of three other Alvord High School students killed in less than two years.

Senior Aisha Bryant was killed in a car accident on U.S. 287 in May, less than two years after then-senior Sam Rogers and Delaney Mancil, a Class of 2013 member, died in an accident on U.S. 380 near Krum in November 2010.

OFFICIALLY OPEN – County Commissioner Kevin Burns (from left), Weatherford College Board Chair Frank Martin, County Judge Bill McElhaney and Weatherford College President Kevin Eaton cut the ribbon at the college’s grand opening celebration in September. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

WEATHERFORD COLLEGE WISE COUNTY OPENS NEW CAMPUS

Weatherford College Wise County opened its new campus just in time for the start of the fall 2012 semester. Dean Duane Durrett and Associate Dean Matt Joiner welcomed 559 on-campus students, a 22 percent increase over the previous fall semester.

A grand opening and ribbon cutting was held in September, followed by a red-carpet gala that raised more than $86,000 for the Weatherford College Foundation, which will be distributed to Wise County students through scholarships.

The building, which was built by the county, was finished in June, one year after construction started, and it sits atop a hill between Bridgeport and Decatur with entrances from U.S. 380 and Farm Road 1655.

This is the first college with a permanent home here since Decatur Baptist College moved to Dallas in 1965.

AT LONG LAST, EXPANSION OF 380 IN COUNTY COMPLETE

After eight years, work crews this year completed the expansion of U.S. 380 in Wise County. The highway was divided and widened from two to four lanes from Texas 101 in west Bridgeport to the Denton County line east of Decatur.

The east half of the project – from Decatur to the county line – wrapped up in October. The project broke ground in June of 2009 with an expected completion date of April 2011. However, extreme weather – both freezing cold and snow and record-setting heat and drought – and the death of a worker on-site that occurred in October of 2011 delayed the process. Expansion of the highway in the “west” phase – from Bridgeport to Decatur – was completed in April 2008, about three-and-a-half years after its start in September 2004.

The 380 expansion will continue past the Wise/Denton county line to Interstate 35 in Denton. That two-phase project began this year, marked by a groundbreaking ceremony in August where Texas Department of Transportation representatives and Denton County elected officials praised the diligent work of Eva Czerniak of Alvord.

After her daughter, Samantha Rogers, and her daughter’s friend, Delaney Mancil, were killed in a four-vehicle accident on a stretch of the two-lane road in November 2010, Czerniak channeled her grief into productivity, relentlessly lobbying until full funding to expand that portion of the highway was secured in June 2011. Since then, she has closely monitored the project’s process. The Decatur-based TxDOT office is managing the 13-mile project, slated for completion by 2014.

HOSPITAL SHAKEUP UNDER WAY IN WISE COUNTY

On Nov. 5, the Wise Regional Health System board in a special meeting voted to put up $20 million to buy the assets of North Texas Community Hospital in Bridgeport – contingent on the Bridgeport hospital filing for Chapter 11 protection in U.S. Bankruptcy Court in Fort Worth, which it did later that week.

NTCH, which opened in August 2008, has been in default on its bonded debt of $59,130,000 since May 2009. If Wise Regional is the successful bidder, bondholders would get about 32 cents on the dollar. Unsecured creditors, including the City of Bridgeport, which is owed nearly $3.4 million, will likely get nothing. Wise Regional’s plan is to keep the facility open and merge it into the system.

Other health-care companies have until Jan. 28 to submit bids, and if any of them bids more than Wise Regional, there will be an auction in the courtroom on that day.

MAN MURDERS WOMAN, HANGS HIMSELF IN JAIL

David Malone

What started as a missing person search ended in tragedy with a mother of three murdered and her confessed killer found hanging dead in jail.

Samantha Jo McNorton, 29, of Sunset, was last seen alive in Wise County on Nov. 5. Her family reported her missing on Nov. 13. Two days later, officers arrested David W. Malone, 29, of Springtown and formerly of Decatur, in Cooke County. Malone, a former boyfriend of McNorton, confessed to murdering her and burying her body in a shallow grave in a rural, wooded site south of Greenwood.

On the evening of Nov. 21, jailers found Malone hanging from a bedsheet in his isolation cell at the Wise County Jail. Malone left behind two children.

CONVICTED – Mark Schomburg is led from the courtroom in November after being sentenced to 40 years for killing Susan Whisenant at his Paradise home in 2011. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

PARADISE MAN PLEADS QUIETLY TO VIOLENT MURDER

Mark Schomburg, 52, pleaded guilty to murder Nov. 14 and received a 40-year prison sentence. Schomburg killed Susan Whisenant August 2011 at his home on County Road 3332 in Paradise.

Whisenant was from Missouri and had recently moved in with Schomburg as his girlfriend. Schomburg slit Whisenant’s throat with a knife and proceeded to mutilate her body days after the death. Wise County Sheriff David Walker said it was the worst case of “overkill” he’d ever seen in his years in law enforcement.

After an overpowering scent of death and decay overwhelmed the area, the sheriff’s department was notified, and they found Whisenant’s decomposing body wrapped in a tarp in a barn near the home.

COWBOY CAPITOL OF THE WORLD?

The rodeo world continues to look up to Decatur as the city on a hill, overlooking the rolling prairies, is giving Stephenville a run for its money as the unofficial Cowboy Capitol of the World.

In December, at the Wrangler National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, two Decatur ropers returned as world champions. Trevor Brazile won his 10th PRCA all-around cowboy world title. It was his 17th world championship overall and his seventh consecutive all-around gold buckle.

Joining him in the championship arena was 22-year-old calf roper Tuf Cooper, who returned home with his second consecutive world title in tie-down roping. His older brother Clif also earned a trip to the WNFR this year and finished 15th in the world. The pair followed in the footsteps of dad Roy Cooper, also of Decatur, who won eight world championships and was inducted into the ProRodeo Hall of Fame in 1979.

Decatur steer wrestler K.C. Jones finished 12th in the world at the end of the 10-day event.

EPA AIR-QUALITY PETITIONS TURNED DOWN

Twenty-nine petitions submitted by Wise County cities, school districts and other entities were turned down by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Dec. 18 as a decision to include Wise County in the “nonattainment” area for air pollution standards was upheld. EPA director Lisa Jackson, who has since resigned, said after a careful review, she considered the original decision to be based on sound technical information.

The decision adds Wise County to the Metroplex non-attainment area that already includes Collin, Dallas, Denton, Ellis, Johnson, Kaufman, Parker, Rockwall, and Tarrant counties. It means an array of regulations already in place in those counties – including locally enforced vehicle idling restrictions, stricter vehicle inspection and maintenance standards, requiring low emission diesel fuel and reformulated gasoline as well as possibie speed limit reductions – will likely be implemented in Wise County, although the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality will say when that may happen.

A lawsuit filed by Wise County over the designation is still pending.

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