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2018 in Review: The Year That Was 2018

By Messenger Staff | Published Saturday, December 29, 2018
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Over the past 12 months, much has happened in Wise County. We’ve made it through crazy weather, celebrated and mourned together. Here’s a sampling of the big headlines from 2018:

Wild Weather

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

WILD WEATHER

Texas weather lived up to its unpredictable reputation in 2018 in Wise County.

The year started with the threat of wildfires as a late 2017 drought continued into January with just 0.09 inches of rain falling. On Jan. 22, firefighters across the county worked eight fires.

The county got a temporary reprieve from the drought in February with 5.51 inches of rain falling, including 5.49 in the final 11 days of the month.

The reprieve didn’t last long as a mostly dry spring gave way to a hot, dry summer with a burn ban and dangerous wildfire conditions. A massive wildfire torched 450 acres of the LBJ National Grasslands Aug. 3. Firefighters from more than 20 fire departments battled the intense blaze that consumed the Barclay Salvage Yard. Robert Charles Russell was arrested Oct. 4 and later indicted for arson in connection with the blaze.

The summer also featured intense heat with highs reaching 111 for four straight days between July 20-23. The average high temperature for July was 101.6 with 20 days above 100.

After the summer of severe drought, the skies opened up in September with 10.15 inches of rain – the third highest total for the month since 1974. On Sept. 22, 5.25 inches of rain fell prompting the county to stage high-water rescue personnel. Decatur High School was closed Sept. 24 until Oct. 1 after torrential rains Sept. 22 flooded portions of the building.

The burn ban was also scaled back to the prohibition of burning on high fire danger days.

Another 7.87 inches of rain fell in October before a frigid November arrived with low temperature hitting 21 degrees Nov. 14.

SHOOTING DEATHS

Two people were arrested for murders in 2018.

Johnny Ray Armstrong, 37, of Bridgeport is accused of shooting 20-year-old Ruben Dunlap of Bridgeport in the 1500 block of Brush Street Feb. 28. Dunlap died March 1 at Medical City Denton after being taken off life support. Armstrong fled and led a manhunt for 24 hours before being captured near Alvord. He was indicted for murder May 17 and pleaded not guilty in his arraignment June 4.

Marie Kendale Kimani, 35, of Rhome was arrested at her home in the 12600 block of Forest Lawn Road in the Shale Creek Neighborhood east of Rhome late Sept. 19 after investigators with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office executed a search warrant at the house. According to the search warrant affidavit on file, Wise County dispatch received an emergency call about a possible suicide at Kimani’s home at 7:16 p.m. Sept. 14. Officers arrived to find a man – identified as 40-year-old Jonathan Tumbo – dead with a single gunshot wound to the chest. Tumbo was found inside the master bedroom closet. Kimani was indicted for murder in November.

A third person died after being shot by a neighbor during a dispute over fireworks July 7 near Church Street in Lake Bridgeport. Edward Cordero, 80, came outside because a large group of people were igniting fireworks. The conversation soon turned argumentative and Cordero told the group he was going to get his gun. A 33-year-old in the group also retrieved a gun. According to a press release from the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, Cordero reportedly fired the first shot. The 33-year-old returned fire and struck Cordero in the head. No charges were filed.

DECATUR TITANS DIE

Decatur said goodbye to three members of the community that left a lasting legacy – W.B. Woodruff, Sam Renshaw and J.E. Carson.

Woodruff, former Decatur mayor and longtime attorney, died April 27. The Decatur native earned the Bronze Star for his service in World War II and after returning home earned a law degree from the University of Texas. He worked as an attorney in Decatur, mentoring several local lawyers and judges. He served on numerous local boards in addition to serving as mayor.

Renshaw, retired Decatur City Manager, died July 3. Renshaw, who carried the title of city secretary for much of his career, retired in 1990 after more than three decades as Decatur’s chief administrator. When he was hired by the late Woodruff, the city was struggling financially to pay off the debt of a lake east of town that had washed away in the 1930s. Long after the lake was only a memory, the city paid off the loan to build it. Thirty years later, the city was on sound financial footing and most gave Renshaw and his hand-picked successor Brett Shannon credit for the recovery.

Carson, a long-time Decatur educator and namesake for one of the district’s elementary schools, died Oct. 1. Carson is perhaps best known for the nearly 20 years he spent as principal at Decatur Middle School from the early 1970s until his retirement in 1990. Carson began his teaching career after serving in the Army during the Korean War. He taught math at Decatur High School and Middle School and coached boys middle school basketball. Carson was also the coach of the district’s first baseball team. He also served on several civic and city groups.

ABEL CONVICTED OF MURDER

For three weeks in January, a jury in the 271st District Court in Decatur heard testimony from a list of witnesses in the murder trial of Jake Abel.

Abel, 30, was accused of killing his girlfriend, 43-year-old Soccorro Taylor, in a camper in Fort Worth and burying her near a relative’s home in Boyd the week of Christmas 2015.

The jury found Abel guilty of murder Jan. 31 after deliberating for 1 1/2 hours. He was sentenced to life in prison after 10 minutes of deliberation.

County Loses Officers

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

COUNTY LOSES OFFICERS

Three Wise County officers died this past year.

Former Decatur police officer Richard Hale was killed May 9 in a wreck on Farm Road 51 north of Decatur. Hale’s Chevrolet Impala collided with a tractor-trailer around 1:30 p.m. The 46-year-old was pronounced dead at the scene.

Hundreds of mourners, including officers from across the state, filled First Baptist Church in Decatur on National Peace Officers Memorial Day, May 15, to pay their last respects to the deputy inspector general and the former Decatur ISD school resource officer.

Two of his sons, Ryan and Thomas, delivered eulogies.

“He wanted to help any way and every way he could,” Ryan Hale said. “If anyone needed anything he would never turn you down.”

Rhome Police Sgt. Robin Adair, 61, drowned Oct. 9 while swimming in Lake Cumberland in Southern Kentucky.

Adair’s remains were recovered in 125 feet of water by rescue squads from Boone County and the Kentucky Department of Fish and Wildlife Resources after six days of searching.

Adair worked in law enforcement for 25 years, spending the past nine years at Rhome.

Long-time Wise County Sheriff’s Office investigator Jim Rodgers, 55, died March 7 following a battle with lymphoma.

Wise County Sheriff Lane Akin said Rodgers had spent 20 years in law enforcement, with the last 14 years at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

He started out as a patrol deputy in 2004 and became an investigator about five years later. Rodgers previously served as a Bowie Police officer before coming to the sheriff’s office.

RUNOFFS, TIER 2

Three Wise County Republican races went to runoffs in May after the March 6 primaries.

Charles Applewhite won the Precinct 3 constable race. Willie Garrett captured Precinct 4 justice of the peace. Kim Redman grabbed Precinct 2 justice of the peace. None of the three had Democratic challengers in November. Applewhite was sworn into office May 31, since the constable post was vacant.

Voters overwhelmingly passed the Tier 2 measure on the Nov. 6 ballot that put a halt to involuntary annexation in Wise County.

The measure passed 15,289 to 4,567 and will require property owners to be given an opportunity to approve any involuntary annexation.

Before the vote only home-rule cities could involuntary annex property.

A large turnout in the mid-term election leaned heavily Republican. On their way to victories, U.S. Senator Ted Cruz, U.S. Representative for District 12 Kay Granger, U.S. Representative for District 13 Mac Thornberry, Gov. Greg Abbott, Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, Attorney General Ken Paxton and State Senator for District 30 Pat Fallon carried the Wise County vote.

Voters in Aurora passed the local alcohol proposition, as well as the city of Rhome’s sewer improvements bond.

The Wise County Water Supply District’s election to expand its taxing authority into newly-annexed service area failed 777 to 735.

WOMAN ARRESTED FOR EMBEZZLING MORE THAN $500,000

Robin Anne Garrett, 46, of Bridgeport was charged with theft greater than $300,000, a first degree felony; theft $150,000 to $300,000, a second degree felony; and theft $2,500 to $30,000 enhanced, a third degree felony.

She was accused of embezzling more than a half-million dollars from James Wood; his son, Raymond Wood; and daughter Janetta Killen.

Garrett served as a certified public accountant employed to handle personal business accounts for the family and not the car dealership accounts. She was also the campaign treasurer for her husband, incoming Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Willie Garrett, who was elected to the position Nov. 6.

DECATUR ISD KEEPS SUPERINTENDENT

After spending 10 hours behind closed doors in two meetings, Decatur ISD trustees voted 4-3 June 18 to keep superintendent Judi Whitis on the job.

The board met for seven hours in closed session June 4-5 to discuss Whitis’ contract, which was extended in February after a review by the board. The board met again for three hours June 18 before Board Secretary Cheri Boyd read a statement, expressing the majority of the board wanted to move forward with Dr. Whitis. School Board President Wade Watson, Vice President Matt Joiner and trustee Marsha Hafer cast dissenting votes.

The discussion of Whitis’ contract followed Watson sending her a two-page letter in the last week of May, which stated that board members had received communications from multiple individuals who feel the district is moving in a negative direction. It alleged personnel felt hesitant to share their concerns with Whitis, fearing retaliation; individuals leaving the district expressed demoralizing and unprofessional treatment; and individuals felt one internal individual was providing counsel not in Whitis’ best interest or the best interest of the district.

The board later changed leadership of the board with Boyd becoming president and Rex Hoskins vice president.

The district came under criticism in November about safety and security by four parents at a school board meeting. Multiple parents cited an email from the spring sent by the district saying the plan was updated and then referenced a conflicting article in its Decatur Impact magazine this fall saying it was being updated for the first time since 2010.

The email was sent May 18, 2018, after the shooting at Santa Fe High School near Houston.

Assistant Superintendent Steve White, who was in charge of facilities, maintenance and security, turned in his resignation for personal reasons two days after the Nov. 26 board meeting. Assistant Superintendent Shane Conklin gave a thorough report on security and safety measures in the district at the Dec. 17 meeting.

Decatur Celebrates 1

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Decatur Celebrates 2

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

DECATUR CELEBRATES STATE TITLES

Decatur athletes celebrated unprecedented success this fall.

The Decatur Eagles held off second-place Andrews by two points, winning the 4A cross country title 90-92 in Round Rock Nov. 3. It was Decatur’s first title since 2012 and fifth cross country crown. The Decatur girls squad finished second.

The Lady Eagles claimed the class 4A state title, dethroning defending champion Needville, 25-12, 21-25, 27-25, 25-18, at the Curtis Culwell Center in Garland.

It was the program’s third state title since 2012.

Sophomore setter Makenna Gantt finished with nine kills, dished out 16 assists and made three blocks to earn the MVP of the title match.

After going 4-6 in the regular season and finishing fourth in District 4-4A Division I, the Decatur football team got hot in the playoffs and rolled four straight victories to reach the state semifinals for a third time. State champion Waco La Vega beat Decatur in the semifinal at AT&T Stadium.

Through Nov. 30, Decatur was in second place in the 4A standings for the UIL’s Lone Star Cup.

Serial Killer Housed

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

SERIAL KILLER HOUSED IN WISE COUNTY JAIL

A convicted serial killer was confined in the Wise County Jail multiple times as he cooperated with law enforcement agencies across the country on a number of unsolved murder cases.

On Dec. 11, 78-year-old Samuel Little, also known as Samuel McDowell, was sentenced to life in prison for the 1994 murder of 38-year-old Denise Christie Brothers. The murder happened in Odessa.

Following his sentencing in Ector County, Little returned to the Wise County Jail where he had spent nearly two months from mid-September to mid-November speaking to investigators from across the country on various unsolved murder cases that might be connected to him. From Dec. 11 until Dec. 21, Little continued to cooperate with investigators on the unsolved cases at the Wise County Jail, according to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

“To date, Little has provided information linking him to 95 murders nationwide,” the Wise County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release. “Little has been positively connected to over 45 murders. During his recent incarceration at the Wise County Jail, Little provided information to investigators from Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, Louisiana, Arkansas, New Mexico, Arizona and the Texas Rangers. Little provided detail on additional cases in Los Angeles, Calif., as well.”

The positive connection to more than 45 murders places Little among the most prolific serial killers in United States history, ahead of such notorious serial killers as John Wayne Gacy, Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer.

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