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Daily reminders of the flamingo

Pat Slayton keeps a flamingo on her desk in her office. The flamingo is there to remind her of where she is now in her life and her vision for the future.

Retirement in Florida is the plan.

TAKING DONATIONS – Slayton talks about donations received at the Hope Chest, the Wise Hope Shelter and Crisis Center’s resale shop that she helped create. All proceeds from the shop go back to the organization to help victims. Submitted photo

Given to her by her sister, the flamingo is a daily reminder for Pat to continue to look forward and be proud of all the things she’s accomplished and the struggles she has overcome throughout her life.

“Every time I see that flamingo, I can’t help but smile,” she said.

Patricia Evans Slayton was born on March 19, 1953, in Fort Worth, to Verl and Alma Evans. She has two sisters, Joann Perry and Claudia Evans.

Slayton recalled her simple childhood and, although she didn’t realize it at the time, said she lived a very fortunate life. Her dad worked for General Dynamics (now Lockheed-Martin) while her mother stayed at home with Slayton and her sisters.

Slayton graduated from Western Hills High School and went on to study accounting at the University of Texas at Arlington before earning her MBA in mortgage and banking at Northwestern University.

She worked for several mortgage and real estate companies before taking on the executive director position at Wise Hope Shelter and Crisis Center.

Slayton currently resides in Lake Bridgeport with her husband Monty, with whom she’ll celebrate her 20th anniversary in January. She has three children, Matt Griffin, Krista Jarrell and Hillary Slayton.

Slayton and her husband also have two “spoiled rotten” Shih Tzu’s, Rusty and Scooter.

Slayton has a special relationship with Rusty, who was rescued from the Montague County puppy mill bust on the same day as her husband’s birthday. They adopted the dog on the day they received news that her husband had prostate cancer. Rusty is their “guardian angel” because he went through the experience and watched over her husband, who is now cancer-free.

But before the stability that is her life now, Slayton was involved in an unhealthy relationship. There was no organization or place for a college student to seek help.

Slayton attempted many times to free herself from her ex-boyfriend-turned-stalker. One night he broke into her apartment and was waiting for her when she arrived home. She saw him and immediately ran into the kitchen, where he grabbed her and began choking her and hitting her head against a brick.

The man knocked her unconscious and left when he thought he had killed her.

Following the attack, Slayton moved and changed jobs, fearful of what he might do next. She pressed charges, seeking justice for what she had endured, but in the end all the man received was a short period of probation. Seven years later, when she married her first husband, the ex sent her roses to her workplace.

Slayton’s interest in preventing domestic violence and the abusive relationship with her ex played a part in her new career, which began in 2006.

Wise Hope is a nonprofit organization located in Decatur that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse. The shelter is located in Bridgeport and houses victims who need a safe place to stay.

Slayton runs the business part of Wise Hope and doesn’t typically deal directly with victims, although she has.

“It’s too small of an organization not to have interaction with the victims at some point,” she said, “but it’s better to let people who know what they’re doing give direct victim service.”

She said at times it’s hard to not let emotions get in the way of what she does. It is important for her to set boundaries with clients and learn how to compartmentalize her feelings.

Slayton’s first major task as executive director for Wise Hope was the idea of a resale shop where all proceeds go back into the organization. That turned into the Hope Chest, located in Bridgeport.

“It’s kind of like my baby,” she said, “I’m really proud of it.”

The organization has faced financial obstacles and funding cuts over the years, but Slayton is pleased with the growth and the direction it has taken recently. The shelter has undergone a total renovation in the last three years, and funding for the organization has tripled.

Brittany Mott, shelter director, said no other boss is comparable to Slayton. She is understanding of personal situations and time needed away from the workplace.

“I wanted to be the boss I enjoyed having,” Slayton said. Her staff agrees that she is the cream of the crop.

Mott said Slayton will do anything for any of her staff and doesn’t ask them to do anything she wouldn’t do herself.

“If we ever need Pat, we just shoot her an email,” Mott said. “That’s her tagline around here.”

Slayton described her life as “organized chaos.” She said she is a visual person and likes to make lists to remind herself of things she needs to do.

A former employee once told Slayton her management style was “management by cattle prod.” If an employee was doing his or her job the right way Slayton would let them handle it – but if they got outside the lines she would not hesitate to prod them back in the right direction.

A self-described “control freak” in her personal and professional life, Slayton has trouble delegating tasks to her staff. But she trusts they will get the job done correctly, or ask questions if help is needed.

In her rare times away from work, Slayton likes to attend soccer games and dance recitals that her grandchildren participate in. They call her “Yaya.”

“We are human beings, not human doings,” she said. “Sometimes it is important for me to have time to do nothing.”

In the past, Slayton was involved in the Off 380 Players, a community theater group. Her dream growing up was to be a speech and drama teacher, so by doing this she was able to fulfill her adolescent aspirations. She loved performing on stage as well as directing and other aspects behind the scenes.

She was instrumental in getting the Main Street designation for the city of Bridgeport. Brenda Morgan, whom she met through the process, said she loved watching Slayton sell the city council on the program.

“She was so professional and persuasive,” said Morgan. “We immediately clicked after that.”

Morgan, who was on the Wise Hope Board, was a key part of getting Slayton the job of executive director.

Slayton is currently a member of the Rotary Club and Area Business Women’s Network.

Many people don’t know that Slayton is a certified life coach and was valedictorian of her high school class. And as her older sister always said about her, “She’s not as tough as she seems.”

Her words to live, for herself and others, are “I’m not telling you it’s going to be easy, but I’m telling you it’s going to be worth it.”

The flamingo sitting on her desk reminds Pat Slayton that her life may not have been easy, but now she is exactly where she wants to be. The future is worth it.

Kelcey Blanks, a senior public relations student at the University of North Texas, wrote this profile for her public relations writing class.

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Unoccupied home, vehicle burn

Unoccupied home, vehicle burn

A single-story house and sports utility vehicle in Lake Bridgeport were destroyed in an early morning fire Wednesday.

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said Wednesday the cause of the fire is still under investigation, but it does not appear to be suspicious.

Total Loss

TOTAL LOSS – A broken down sports utility vehicle also burned when a house on Collum Drive in Lake Bridgeport caught fire early Wednesday morning. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

The home on Collum Drive, a rent house owned by Judy Evans, caught fire about 3 a.m. Wednesday and is a total loss. The house had been unoccupied for four to eight months, but Evans was using the single-story structure for storage.

A broken down 2005 Expedition sitting close to the house also burned. Beard said Evans had stored fireworks inside it, which resulted in a few small explosions.

Volunteer fire departments that responded included Lake Bridgeport, Runaway Bay, Bridgeport and Chico.

“All the departments did a good job,” Beard said. “There were lots of exposures in close proximity so they did a good job of preventing the fire from spreading.”

Beard said there were at least two structures within 50 to 75 feet of the home.

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The ‘reel’ thing: Local fishing guide says it’s prime time at Lake Bridgeport

The ‘reel’ thing: Local fishing guide says it’s prime time at Lake Bridgeport

Keith Bunch pushed the throttle forward and his Evinrude motors launched the 22-foot boat out into the open water at Lake Bridgeport.

Wind gusts of about 15 mph churned up a few “sheep” on the water’s surface Monday morning. “Sheep” is a term for whitecaps that Bunch picked up from a client years ago – but Bunch doesn’t think it’s funny when the wind is too high. Lake Bridgeport gets windy, he said.

Nevertheless, he said it’s one of the best lakes around, and now is the time for some great fishing. Lake Bridgeport is a bit off the beaten path and Bunch said that is a big draw for some people. They come out because it is quiet.

Picking the Spot

PICKING THE SPOT – Keith Bunch said the gadgets on his boat makes his life as a guide so much easier. He uses a remote control trolling motor that is also GPS enabled to hold his boat in position despite water currents. He figures in 12 years, he’s hauled 30,000 fish out of Lake Bridgeport. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

“You don’t have to put up with the noise that you have to with Eagle Mountain Lake and Lake Lewisville,” Bunch said. “You come out on a weekday and we might be the only people out here. It’s nice. The fish are fat and happy.”

BIG CATCH – Adam Alexander of Arlington landed a lake record – breaking hybrid striped bass in April, weighing 11.88 pounds. Courtesy of Keith Bunch

Even when people do get on the lake with leisure craft, looking not for fish but fun in the sun, they keep out of the way of the fishermen. That’s a good thing for Bunch, because fishing isn’t just a sport for him – it’s how he makes his living.

Now a resident of Lake Bridgeport, Bunch has been a fishing guide for 17 years. While there are a few other guides who will come to Lake Bridgeport, Bunch is the only full-time guide on the lake. He specializes in helping his clients land hybrid striped bass, stocked here by the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department.

“The hybrid striper is a genetic cross between a male sand bass and a female striped bass, so you get the best of both parents,” Bunch said. “You get the size of the striper and the attitude of the sand bass.”

Bunch hasn’t always been the only full-time guide on Lake Bridgeport.

When golden algae hit the Brazos lakes in 2000, there were 11 guides on Lake Bridgeport and it got hammered. When catch limits started getting hard to reach, they left.

FAIR FIGHT – Fishing for hybrid striped bass is a great challenge for kids, like this 11-year-old girl who reeled in her own 8-pounder Sunday. Courtesy of Keith Bunch

He says he’s gotten into a good groove in the last decade and can really put folks on the fish. But even with all his experience and know-how, he won’t guarantee anything. Bunch called the hybrid bass “unpredictable.” Even so, under Bunch’s guidance, Adam Alexander of Arlington landed a lake record hybrid bass in April, with a total weight of 11.88 pounds.

“That is an absolute monster,” Bunch said. “Bass tournament guys like Lake Bridgeport because it’s a great bass lake, but it’s not like Lake Fork as far as size goes, usually. A lot of the bass guys love it here because of the number of fish they can catch.”

Bunch knows this too, because he was one of those “Bass tournament guys.” He and his wife Suzanne used to fish all the local tournaments – but those are becoming scarce.

“There used to be a lot of tournaments that came through here, but with the low water the bass guys are concerned and are moving some of their tournaments away,” Bunch said. “The low water has been hurting a little. For me, it’s convincing people who call asking if there is any water in the lake … that there is still plenty of water left.”

According to waterdatafortexas.org, Lake Bridgeport is down nearly 18 feet. That’s quite a lot, compared to the same time a year ago, when the lake was down less than 6 feet. But none of that concerned Bunch as he manuevered north under the U.S. 380 bridge.

“Lake Bridgeport has plenty of water and that is why we send it downstream. We still have 55 feet of water depth. At Eagle Mountain 30 feet is deep,” Bunch said. “The lake is designed to get on it even when it is low. The ramp I left from doesn’t show unless the lake is already 10 feet down.”

Bunch has fished on the lake as low as 25 feet below conservation pool level. It never bothered him, but he knows the lake very well. He said low water freaks people out. New sand bars, rocks and other debris suddenly start to break the surface – some of them remaining unseen until a boat comes over the top of them.

“That’s one reason people hire me,” Bunch said. “We do a lot of orientation trips. Go here and go there, don’t go there.”

On the Hunt

ON THE HUNT – Bunch works five rods at a time and constantly rebaits and recasts. He said he likes to keep the bait “lively.” He noted hybrid striped bass feed on shad and almost any other fish they can chase down. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

The largest part of his business is taking folks out with their kids. It’s a turn-key operation – all the clients have to do is step on the boat with a license.

“I think it’s a time thing,” Bunch said. “Many people realize that for the cost of paying for a boat, and the gas, then coming out here and trying to find fish, and the trouble of putting kids on the fish, economically it’s cheaper to hire me once every couple of months and come out and catch all the fish you want, and the kids will have a good time.”

Bunch takes about 175 trips out onto the lake a year. One of his biggest months was June 2012.

“I did 35 trips,” Bunch said. “At the end of that run I didn’t even know where I was, because I was so tired.”

Bunch estimated that in a 12-year period he has caught about 30,000 fish.

“I can take six people out, but I prefer three to four at a time. That’s perfect,” Bunch said. “I had three kids and two adults the other day and how I left without a hook in me I’ll never know.”

He said some fisherman want to throw them back and some, especially people from west Texas, keep the fish. Some people just want to come out and see their kids catch a big fish.

“The way we fish is good for kids because it keeps them interested and they can catch something big,” Bunch said. “An 8-pound hybrid striper versus an 11-year-old girl is a fair fight. Put your money on whomever.”

Of course, not every fishing trip goes according to plan. On those days when the fish refuse to be caught, Bunch and the client can usually work out a deal for a makeup day. Most will catch fish, but for some there is no hope on a particular day.

“I had a guy who hit a grand slam,” Bunch said with a grin. “He caught a Led Zepplin concert T-shirt, a freshwater clam, a rock and a beer can. I was like ‘You couldn’t do that again if you had to.’”

This year the late cold fronts have kept water temperatures down and put fish habits off by about a month.

But if you know where to go, they are biting.

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Gracie Elizabeth Monrreal

Maranda and Irineo Monrreal of Lake Bridgeport announce the birth of a daughter, Gracie Elizabeth, on March 6, 2013, at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur. She weighed 6 pounds, 1 ounce and was 17 inches long.

She has two sisters: Syverah, 9, and Kylie, 7.

Grandparents are Lesa and James Joshlin of McCamey and Catalina and Irineo Monrreal Sr. of McCamey.

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Hudson graduates from TCU

Jared Hudson of Lake Bridgeport graduated magna cum laude Dec. 15 from Texas Christian University with a bachelor of science in political science. He completed his degree in just three years and represented TCU on the university’s Moot Court team, qualifying for the national tournament in Los Angeles.

Hudson, a 2009 Bridgeport High School graduate, plans to attend law school. He is the son of Dayna Hudson and the grandson of Bobby and Nancy Henson of Saginaw.

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Officers search for missing Sunset woman

Local law enforcement officers were searching the Sid Richardson Boy Scout Ranch near Lake Bridgeport Friday, looking for a Sunset woman who’s been missing for two weeks.

Samantha McNorton

Samantha McNorton, 28, was allegedly last seen Nov. 2 with David Malone, 29, of Bowie at the One Stop in Runaway Bay. Family members reported her missing to Richland Hills Police Department, where she had recently spent time, Nov. 13.

Capt. Kevin Benton with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office said they had also received information that she may have been seen in the Springtown area sometime after Nov. 2.

“There are many, many leads to follow,” he said.

Malone was arrested Thursday night and booked into the Parker County Jail. He is charged with sexual assault and assault of a family or household member. His previous convictions enhance the charges. He was arrested in Callisburg.

Parker County Sheriff’s Office spokesperson Danie Huffman could not confirm whether McNorton is the assault victim in the charge against Malone.

Wise County’s Capt. Benton said they were searching the Boy Scout Ranch because it is near where McNorton was allegedly last seen, and they have been told Malone and his family have spent a lot of time in this area.

“We were told this guy and some of his family used to come out here and fish,” Benton said. “We’re just trying to cover all our bases, and it’s an area he might be familiar with.”

David Malone

As of Friday afternoon, Jack County, Parker County and Montague County deputies were assisting Wise County with the search that began Thursday afternoon. They were searching by foot and using a helicopter for an aerial search. The ranch covers several thousand acres.

Malone remained in the Parker County Jail and his bond had not been set as of press time Friday. Wise County Sheriff David Walker said Malone “wasn’t talking.”

McNorton is 5’6″ with short, light brown hair and blue eyes. She has “Blessed” tattooed on the back of her neck. She could be in the Springtown, Sunset or Bowie area.

If you have seen McNorton or have any information about her, call the Wise County Sheriff’s Office at (940) 627-5971.

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Billy J. Webb

A private service for Billy J. Webb, 67, of Lake Bridgeport is Saturday, Aug. 25.

Webb died Thursday, Aug. 16, 2012, in Lake Bridgeport.

Born Nov. 24, 1944, in Sherman to Winnie (Duger) and Charles Oscar Webb, he was a truck driver. He served in the U.S. Army and spent time with friends and family.

Webb was preceded in death by brother Henry Webb, Albert Webb and Charles Webb; and sister Irene Webb.

He is survived by sons Billy J. Webb Jr. and wife, Amanda, and Brandon Charles Webb, all of Bridgeport; daughter Rhonda Sparks of Lake Bridgeport; stepson Tony Lynn Webb of Bridgeport; stepdaughter Crystal Lynn Webb of Arlington; 12 grandchildren; 10 great-grandchildren; nieces and nephews.

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Billy J. Webb

MEMORIAL service for Billy J. Webb, 67, of Lake Bridgeport will be held at a future date. Jones Family Funeral Home in Bridgeport is handling arrangements.

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Billy J. Webb

SERVICE for Billy J. Webb, 67, of Lake Bridgeport will be held at a later date. Jones Family Funeral Home in Bridgeport is handling arrangements.

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Billy J. Webb

SERVICE for Billy J. Webb, 67, of Lake Bridgeport is pending at Jones Family Funeral Home in Bridgeport.

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Charles H. Murphy

Charles H. Murphy

A private memorial will be held for Charles H. Murphy Jr., 47, of Lake Bridgeport.

Murphy died Tuesday, May 8, 2012, in Lake Bridgeport.

Born Dec. 7, 1964, in Dallas to Charles Murphy Sr. and Mary Ann (Crabtree) Murphy, he enlisted in the U.S. Army from 1983 to 1987 and retired from the city of Bridgeport as a water operator.

Murphy was preceded in death by his father.

He is survived by his mother.

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Motorcyle wreck injures 1

A Chico man was critically injured in a motorcycle wreck in Lake Bridgeport early Wednesday morning.

Matthew Reaves, 31, was flown to Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital in Fort Worth after the accident on Farm Road 1658, near Aston Drive, around 12:30 a.m.

Investigators said it appears Reaves was traveling northbound on FM 1658 at a high rate of speed when he missed a curve and ran off the roadway into a barbed wire fence.

He was not wearing a helmet.

As of Friday, Reaves remained in serious condition at Harris Methodist.

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Zebra mussels pose no imminent danger to lake

Traces of zebra mussel have been found in several reservoirs across North Texas, including Lake Bridgeport.

But officials, including Lake Bridgeport Superintendent Richard Ellis, say the DNA found doesn’t pose an imminent danger.

“We don’t have zebra mussels,” Ellis said. “There is no concrete evidence of their existence. But we have been briefed on the issue and are taking necessary precautions. Because should it come to pass, it could become a problem.”

The invasive species can reproduce quickly, forming colonies that cause millions in damage by clogging both boating and reservoir equipment, and they can impact sport fish by depleting certain species. In addition, the sharp edges of a mussel shell can endanger swimmers.

As prevention, the Tarrant Regional Water District last month approved spending almost $700,000 to study the mussels and implement precautionary measures.

“It’s all preliminary,” Ellis said. “But what we’re going to have to do is do as much research to know what changes need to be made. Our maintenance procedures on valves and spillway gates and structures, should there be an eventual infestation, will change. There will be different inspections that will increase in frequency.”

Biologists first discovered the invasive species on Lake Texoma in 2009. Since then, zebra mussel DNA has been found on six area lakes including Bridgeport, Eagle Mountain, Lewisville, Ray Roberts, Arrowhead and Caddo.

The traces, however, aren’t enough to establish colonies capable of damaging lake equipment and harming swimmers.

But because of the proximity to infested waters and the mussels spreading presumably via watercraft, Texas Parks and Wildlife is proposing additional measures to prevent the spread of the species.

The department encourages boaters to clean their boats and trailers of all vegetation, mud and algae, drain water from motors, livewells, bilge and other sources of water retention and dry equipment for a week between uses in different water bodies (seven to 10 days in the summer or 15 to 20 days in the cooler months).

“It’s nothing I foresee being a problem in the near future for sure,” Ellis said. “In reality, it’s just a precautionary deal. There’s really no real threat. They’ve put us in the mindset that we need to do the research and be prepared.”

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Scouts find camp welcoming at Sid Richardson

BLASTING AWAY - Boy Scouts in the Cavalry program defend the high ground against fellow re-enactors during the recent week-long winter camp held at Lake Bridgeport's Sid Richardson Scout Ranch. The troops aim their black powder rifles high for safety reasons. Messenger photo by Dave Rogers

Shots rang out from the hilltop overlooking Lake Bridgeport as the brave young men of Crew 1872 employed military precision and black powder to fight off invaders.

A mile or so to the east, a group of youngsters relied on strength, agility, some sturdy ropes and all sorts of safety procedures to climb to and rappel from the top of a 36-foot tower.

And many miles toward town, at the Bridgeport airport, a third group of teens visited with pilots as part of a field trip.

Thirty minutes later, most of them reunited to chow down on a lunch of meatball sandwiches at Sid Richardson Scout Ranch’s Lakeview Lodge.

It was all part of the Longhorn Council’s weeklong winter camp that takes place each year between Christmas and New Year’s Day. This year’s winter camp began Dec. 26 and ended Saturday at the 2,500-acre Boy Scout camp on the northwest side of the lake.

“The one thing I like about this,” Dietz Froehlich of the Fort Worth-based Longhorn Council said, “is that while you have so many kids out of school and so many parents working, here’s an opportunity to get kids out of the house and away from electronics.”

The Lakeview Lodge dining hall was wall-to-wall with kids.

“We have 101 Scouts and 36 adults, the largest we’ve ever had in the years I’ve been here,” said Camp Program Director Matt Creason, a third-year staffer who, like the other adults, volunteers his time.

As is the case with their summer camp, which attracts from 300 to 700 campers each week, winter camp draws Scouts from near and far.

Longview, Houston and Temple Scouters were some of the farthest-traveling youngsters. Boy Scouts range in age from 10 to 18, while Venture Scouts (formerly called Explorers) are for boys and girls age 14 to 21.

“It’s our third year to come here for winter camp,” says Roxie Allen, an adult leader from Troop 179 in Cypress, a suburb of Houston. “Our council camp in Houston has 1,000 kids at winter camp, and that’s too big.

“Plus, here they have special classes you can’t do anywhere else.”

The ranch offers the Aviation merit badge with a special aid – F-16 simulator cockpits that allow Scouts to fly missions individually or as opposing teams.

“I’ve enjoyed the aviation flight simulator the most so far,” scout Cameron Crawford of Fort Worth’s Troop 330 said.

“The government designed the software for Air Force and Navy pilots to learn on instead of going out and crashing planes,” explained Froehlich. “We have 16 consoles.”

Other programs singled out by Allen as hot-ticket items for her troop were Cavalry and blacksmithing.

The Cavalry program is run by Brian Glass, the adult leader of Crew 1872, which is the council’s Venture Crew devoted to re-enacting life for the U.S. Army soldiers based at Fort Richardson, near current-day Jacksboro. In 1872, with a population of 666 officers and men, Fort Richardson was listed as the largest U.S. Army installation in the United States.

Campers in the Cavalry program live and eat apart from the other scouts in frontier conditions simulating the 19th century period. After learning safety requirements of their black powder rifles and the basics of the 1872 army, they battle it out in the rocky underbrush with adult re-enactors.

Their final night was spent on a field trip to Jacksboro to sleep in the soldier barracks at Fort Richardson State Park.

Winter campers at the ranch sleep in dormitories, which is another recruiting plus.

“We don’t want our kids to have to suffer in cold tents like they do at most winter camps,” Froehlich said.

“And to me this is better for them: When you’re in a tent, you’re in there with your buddy. But when you’re in a dorm, you’re in a dorm with eight or nine other kids, and you have to learn to deal with people you don’t know.”

That’s one difference from summer camp at ranch, where campers sleep in two-man tents in their troop campsites. Another is the merit badge selection and a third is the instruction.

While 74 different merit badges are offered in the summer, this camp only offered 30.

“We try to tailor it to the kids’ needs,” Creason said. “Plus, this is a difference at winter camp: most of our instructors are adults with backgrounds in the areas they teach. The kids enjoy it and get a lot out of it.”

Corey Sanders, a 12-year-old from Saginaw’s Troop 134, signed up for five merit badge classes – riflery, communication, citizenship in the nation, emergency preparedness and first aid.

“I thought winter camp would be fun,” he said when asked why he came, “and I need to knock out some Eagle-required merit badges.”

Michael Jones is scoutmaster of Troop 216 in Fort Worth.

“This is our third year to come here for summer and winter camp, and we really love it,” he said.

“Right now the kids don’t understand the value of what they’re doing. But by the time they’re adults, they’ll look back and say ‘Wow.’”

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Scout Ranch fire burns 80 acres

Firefighters from Runaway Bay, Lake Bridgeport and Bridgeport worked around the clock Thursday and Friday to extinguish a grass fire that burned 80 acres at the Sid Richardson Scout Ranch on Lake Bridgeport.

The Boy Scout camp had already closed for the fall, and firefighters were able to protect all the camp’s structures, said Marc Dodd, Wise County fire marshal.

It was a tough slog for the responders, who had to battle the blazes through heavy brush and across rocky inclines. And, after the fire was believed contained, it reignited, jumped a fire break and caused the firefighters to be recalled to the scene.

Dodd said the blaze started from a downed electrical wire. Firefighters, with Wise County Emergency Medical Service units standing by, were called initially at 1:40 p.m. Thursday. A track loader from Wise County Precinct 4 cut a fire break to contain what was left of the fire late in the day and most responding firefighters left the scene by 9 p.m.

Within an hour, Dodd said, they were recalled after the fire jumped the fire break. They battled the rekindled blaze until 4 a.m. Dodd said he called in two task forces from the U.S. Forest Service to relieve the local firefighters and conduct mopup operations.

The Task Force members remained at the scene early Friday afternoon.

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Child killed in accident with gun

An entire community and county is in mourning after a 12-year-old accidentally shot and killed himself with a handgun late Tuesday night at his parents’ house on County Road 3504 near Lake Bridgeport.

Grayson Garrett

Grayson Garrett

According to investigators, Grayson C. Garrett gained access into his parents’ gun safe around 11 p.m. His parents and older brother were already in bed.

A gunshot awoke the family. His father rushed into the living room to discover Garrett suffering from a gunshot wound to the head. His father, Lake Bridgeport Fire Chief Willie Garrett, attempted CPR but was unsuccessful.

“It’s a horrible, horrible accident,” said Sheriff David Walker. “We don’t have any evidence to cause us to believe this was anything other than an accident.”

“He’d taken out the gun and was messing with it,” said Chief Deputy Doug Whitehead. “The clip had been taken out, and he didn’t realize there was a round in the chamber.”

It’s the type of accident that could happen to almost any family.

“Like a lot of people around here, they had guns in the house,” Whitehead said. “They kept them in a safer place than a lot of people. A lot of people stick guns between mattresses or just wrapped up in something in the back of a closet.”

“It could happen to anybody,” Walker echoed.

As a fire chief, Garrett is used to showing up at the scenes of accidents, fires and medical emergencies to help others. This time he was the one in need.

“In Wise County, this is a personal thing,” Walker said. “(Garrett) knew the emergency responders that showed up as his house. That helps. The family will have a much needed support system to help them.”

Grayson would have been a seventh grader at Bridgeport Middle School.

“I got the privilege to get to know Grayson last spring when I took over as principal here,” said middle school principal Travis Whisenant. “His family is very involved in the community. He was a terrific young man, and this is a devastating loss to all of us.”

Whisenant said there will be additional counselors on hand when students start the school year Thursday.

“This is going to be a tough time for the family and for all the school kids that were friends with Grayson,” Walker said.

A scholarship fund has been established in memory of Grayson. Donations can be made at The Community Bank in Bridgeport.

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Karen Capehart and Andrew Davis

Karen Capehart and Andrew Davis

Karen Capehart and Andrew Davis

Karen Capehart of Poolville, daughter of Ken and Debra Lackey of Lake Bridgeport, will marry Andrew Davis of Poolville, son of Neal and Dina Lackey of Poolville, Aug. 5, 2011, in Weatherford.

The bride-elect is the granddaughter of Luara Heimlich of Lake Bridgeport. She is a 2006 graduate of Bridgeport High School and is employed by Senior Care Center in Bridgeport.

The prospective groom is the grandson of Tommy and Kay Lackey and Flossy Hunter of Poolville and Jimmy and Danny Davis of Azle. He is a 2005 graduate of Poolville High School and works for Renegade Well Services.

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Dive team recovers guns

Emerging Evidence

EMERGING EVIDENCE - Members of the Wise County Sheriff Department's Dive Team located a stolen gun safe in Lake Bridgeport and removed eight guns Tuesday (left). The heavy safe was lifted from the lake Wednesday with help from a wrecker. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

In a countywide investigation, lawmen went to Lake Bridgeport early last week to recover key evidence from a Chico theft of guns and ammunition.

They were hoping that by week’s end, they’d have the thieves in the Wise County Jail in Decatur.

Emerging Evidence 2

Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Members of the Wise County Sheriff’s Department Dive Team were in the water Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday just north of the U.S. 380 bridge that crosses Lake Bridgeport, ultimately finding and retrieving a heavy gun safe and nine of the guns that were inside it when it was stolen May 16 from a residence north of Chico.

Ammunition was also recovered from the safe.

At least three other guns, two of which were said to be Thompson submachine guns, were in the safe belonging to heirs of a gun collector when it was stolen. They were recovered elsewhere.

One of two men involved in the theft turned himself in Wednesday, said a source familiar with the investigation. Sheriff David Walker said he expected to have the second man in custody by Monday.

“Our investigators did a great job of working this case and developing the information that led us here,” Walker said Wednesday while keeping watch of diving operations from a rocky ledge under the bridge.

“And our dive team did a great job of conducting the search and locating the gun safe,” he added.

Divers found the safe beneath 22 feet of water some 50 yards north of the bridge.

Walker said the thieves dumped the safe from the bridge. He theorized that the safe floated a while before sinking.

The search at Lake Bridgeport began Monday afternoon.

Divers located the safe Tuesday and that afternoon removed the antique guns, some of which were home-built working replicas – including a flintlock rifle and a flintlock pistol.

Wednesday, divers were back at the scene to recover the heavy safe. One lane of U.S. 380 was shut down for a time to allow a crane to lift the safe from the water.

“We had a pretty good idea where it (the safe) was at, and our divers did a grid search,” Walker said. “Visibility is zero down there, so they were searching the bottom of the lake by feel only.”

The sheriff said a diving barge used in the search was acquired by his department about two years ago, when the dive team was established.

Diver training had been ongoing since, Walker said, and this was the team’s first major operation.

Drying Out

DRYING OUT - Guns from a stolen safe await a trip to an evidence locker after being located by Wise County Sheriff Department divers at Lake Bridgeport Tuesday. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Billy ‘Bedbug’ Watkins

Watkins BillyGraveside service for Billy “Bedbug” Watkins, 79, of Lake Bridgeport was April 8 at East Bridgeport Cemetery with the Rev. Joey Vick officiating.

Watkins died Monday, April 4, 2011, in Bridgeport.

Born April 23, 1931, in Walters, Okla., to Claude and Zora (Bowen) Watkins, he served in the U.S. Air Force and was a retired truck driver. He married Eva B. Bogart Oct. 13, 1961, in Gainesville and attended Lake Bridgeport Baptist Church.

Watkins was preceded in death by grandson Adam Watkins; and brothers Doyle Watkins and Willard Watkins.

He is survived by his wife; sons Billy Watkins of Paradise, Rocky Watkins and wife, Karin, of Sherman and Joshua Watkins of Denton; daughter Tonie Watkins of Irving; grandchildren Amanda Madera, Matthew Watkins, Ashley Watkins and Kari Kate Watkins; sister Nadine Rayborn of Weatherford; great-grandchildren Xander and Dorian Madera; and other relatives.

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Billy “Bedbug” Watkins

GRAVESIDE service for Billy “Bedbug” Watkins, 79, of Lake Bridgeport is 1 p.m. today at East Bridgeport Cemetery. Hawkins Funeral Home in Bridgeport is handling arrangements.

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