Filing begins for May Election

The filing period for the May 9 city council and school board elections opens Wednesday, Jan. 28, and runs through Friday, Feb. 27.

The following places are on this year’s ballot. Also listed are the people currently in those positions.

ALVORD CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – Roy King
Place 1 – Gaylynn Wheelis
Place 2 – Clint Mercer

ALVORD SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – Kevin Wood
Place 2 – John Schedcik

BOYD CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – Rodney Scroggins
Place 2 – Tim Hammonds
Place 3 – Vince Estel
Place 4 – Mark Culpepper

BOYD SCHOOL BOARD

Place 4 – Bill Childress
Place 5 – Trae Luttrell

BRIDGEPORT CITY COUNCIL

Place 3 – Jimmy Myers
Place 4 – Bobby Brazier
Place 5 – Billy Fred Walker

BRIDGEPORT SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – Tom Talley
Place 2 – Charles Mauldin
Place 3 – Lee Snodgrass

CHICO CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – The mayor seat is open after J.D. Clark was elected county judge last November.
Two at-large seats – Fletta Barrett and Gary Fatheree

CHICO SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – James “Pancho” Redwine
Place 2 – Mark Tate
Place 4 – The election is to fill the one-year unexpired term previously held by Donald Joe Clark. Clark’s wife, Lori Clark, was appointed to the seat last year following his death.

DECATUR CITY COUNCIL

Place 2 – Susan Cocanougher
Place 4 – Jason Wren
Place 6 (at-large) – Randy Bowker

DECATUR SCHOOL BOARD

Place 5 – Diana Mosley
Place 6 – Kevin Haney
Place 7 – Marsha Hafer

NEWARK CITY COUNCIL

Not available by deadline

NORTHWEST SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – Josh Wright
Place 2 – Mark Schluter

RHOME CITY COUNCIL

Not available by deadline

RUNAWAY BAY CITY COUNCIL

Three at-large seats – Barry White, Dan Ticer and Jerry St. John

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Meeting Agendas for Saturday, January 24, 2015

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS – Wise County commissioners next week will discuss a resolution in support of voter choice for Wise County Water Control and Improvement Districts. They will also consider a resolution in opposition to removing the county fireworks regulation authority and another in opposition to unfunded mandates. The agenda also includes the recognition of a Wise County dispatcher and a closed session for property deliberations. The meeting is at 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 26, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. It is open to the public.

HOSPITAL BOARD – The Decatur Hospital Authority Board of Directors will consider and take action Monday, Jan. 26, to appoint Todd Scroggins chief financial officer as treasurer of Wise Regional Health System. The board will also consider appointing Chris Forbis to place 3 on the board and Carey Williams to place 1 for two year terms beginning January 2015. The board will also consider purchasing an upgrade to the existing patient coding system. The meeting is 6 p.m. in the Wise Regional Health System board room. It is open to the public.

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Retired PBR champs to ride in local event

J.W. Hart and PBR have announced that the 2015 J.W. Hart PBR Challenge on May 30 in Decatur will feature PBR world champions from the past three decades competing in a special pay-per-view event. So far four riders – Hart, two-time world champion Justin McBride, 1997 world champion Michael Gaffney and Ross Coleman – have been announced as participants in the Ring of Honor: Unfinished Business showdown that will award $160,000 to the victor of the winner-take-all challenge. According to Hart, the idea first came about from Calvin Jackson with WC Challenger Charities that organizes the event.

“I know for a fact that none of us guys would hold together for a full season on the BFTS, but I do truly believe we all have one great one left,” said Hart, in a PBR press release. “I can’t speak for them, but I will be prepared and am coming to win.”

PBR will add up to four additional Ring of Honor members if they accept the challenge. Fans can vote for which legends they would like to see at wcmess.com/retiredchamps.

The pay-per-view event will include three different competitions – the regular and championship rounds of the Hart Challenge, the Unfinished Business showdown and a $20,000 winner-take-all challenge between currently competing PBR world champions.

The PBR World Champion Challenge has been offered to current competing PBR world champions, five of which have already accepted – three-time reigning PBR World Champion Silvano Alves (2011, 2012, 2014), J.B. Mauney (2013), Renato Nunes (2010), Guilherme Marchi (2008) and Mike Lee (2004).

In this segment of the competition, each champion will ride one bull with the highest-scoring rider claiming a $20,000 prize. He will then face a PBR bounty bull. If the world champion who advances successfully rides the bounty bull, he will receive an additional $20,000 bonus.

The PBR will announce the bounty bull in the coming weeks.

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2 die in wrecks over weekend

2 die in wrecks over weekend

Wise County went two weeks into 2015 without a traffic fatality, then saw two within just over four hours Friday night and Saturday morning.

The first occurred just before 9 p.m. on Farm Road 718 in Newark when a speeding driver lost control of his car and rolled multiple times, through a gate and out into a field.

Sad Scene

SAD SCENE – Newark firefighters, Wise County medics and sheriff’s deputies responded to a fatal accident Friday night after a Springtown man’s car crashed through a gate along Farm Road 718 in Newark. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The second was about 1 a.m. on U.S. 81/287 north of Alvord, when a southbound driver ran off the road, hit a culvert and collided with a tree.

In both cases, the drivers were alone in the vehicles and died at the scene.

Jerry Easterwood, 35, of Springtown, was pronounced dead after the accident on FM 718 at Circle del Rio, in Newark at 8:49 p.m. Friday.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Jackson Bridgeman said he was southbound on 718 when he observed a northbound car speeding, turned on his flashers and circled around to pursue.

Bridgeman clocked the car, a 1994 Pontiac Firebird, at close to 140 miles per hour before he lost sight of him and broke off the pursuit. Bridgeman said he went all the way north to Texas 114 looking for the car.

“I checked his speed all the way up to right at 140 on my radar unit,” he said. “He was so far ahead of me I never saw him come off the road.”

In the meantime, an area resident called 9-1-1 to report hearing a loud bang – consistent with an automobile crash. Bridgeman and responders from the Newark Fire Department, Boyd Police Department and Wise County EMS and sheriff’s department found Easterwood had apparently lost control at a curve in the road, skidded, then left the pavement to the west.

The car crashed through a gate – uprooting a heavy fence post – and rolled several times before coming to rest on its top in a field. Easterwood was pronounced dead at the scene.

DPS spokesman Lonny Haschel said the driver was not wearing a seatbelt. The investigation remains open awaiting autopsy results.

In the second accident, 76-year-old Dennis Ward of Wichita, Kan., was southbound on U.S. 81/287 just north of Alvord when he apparently lost control of his 1997 Dodge minivan and left the roadway to the right, striking a culvert at the Hot Skillet restaurant before continuing straight ahead.

The van came to a stop when it struck a tree. Ward was also pronounced dead at the scene.

That accident is also under investigation, pending autopsy results.

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Fires flare up on windy weekend

Wise County firefighters had a frantic weekend, responding to more than a dozen grass fires Saturday and Sunday all over the county.

“I went to 12 grass fires over the weekend, and 10 of the 12 were controlled burns that got out of hand,” said Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard.

Beard said the biggest one, Saturday afternoon near Boyd, started in a burn barrel. Once it got out, it ended up scorching about 35 acres.

In all the fires, no homes were damaged, he said. The only building Beard knew of that burned was a small outbuilding on one property.

“Everything else stayed just in the grass,” he said. “But the fires crossed several property lines. It could have been much, much worse.”

He said the fires were scattered all across the county, although the Boyd area had four or five.

The flurry of calls put a strain on the resources of most of the county’s fire departments as they sent equipment and manpower to help each other and covered for neighboring districts that were overwhelmed.

Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis said the wind and low humidity made the conditions just right for fires to spread.

“The only thing you can burn now, legally, in the state of Texas is leaves, limbs and brush that are produced on your own property, between sunup and sundown,” he said. “People think, alright, I’ve got it in a barrel, got a screen over the top. But it can get away.

“I don’t think people realize the potential in that.”

Travis worked for the Weatherford Fire Department back in 1994 when the massive Poolville fire burned tens of thousands of acres in Wise, Jack and Parker counties. Dozens of homes were among the 126 structures destroyed, along with 60-something cars and other livestock and possessions.

The fire took several days to control.

“I got up in a helicopter at one point and saw it from the air,” he said. “What was amazing was that with all that blackened area, it made a V, and it came back to this one smoking barrel.”

He encouraged property owners in rural areas to set up a defensible zone around their homes – an area that is mowed, free of trash and junk, and has good access to a garden hose.

“If we can get people to realize that the potential is always there – that’s half the battle,” he said. “And of course, keeping the fires from starting up in the first place.

Travis recognized that people are going to do controlled burns. But he urged them to check the conditions first, and postpone their plan if, as they were last weekend, low humidity and high winds make burning unwise.

“At this time of the year, we might be sitting at 68 percent relative humidity right now, and at 1 this afternoon, a low pressure front comes through and the humidity goes from that to 18 percent,” he said. “Once it’s under 20 percent, it takes nothing to ignite grass.”

And he reminded homeowners that if your fire gets away and damages your neighbor’s property, you are not only 100 percent responsible for the damage that may result – you might also be subject to criminal charges.

“We’re never going to try and prohibit controlled burns,” he said. “You just have to make sure conditions are right, that things go where you want them to.”

OUTDOOR BURNING

Following these simple safety rules will greatly reduce your chances of starting a wildfire when you do a controlled burn on your property.

  • Let the sheriff’s department know you are having a controlled burn by calling 940-627-5971.
  • Don’t burn if winds are greater than 20 miles per hour.
  • Use a screened burn barrel.
  • Don’t leave the fire unattended.
  • Have water handy.

For outdoor welding, follow these safety rules:

  • Have a fire watcher present during all welding phases including cutting and grinding.
  • Treat a 10-foot radius around the weld with fire-retardant or cover it with non-combustible material.
  • Have fire-fighting capability.
  • Weld only when winds are less than 20 mph.
  • Weld only when the humidity is over 25 percent.

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Leroy Neal

Leroy “Tooter” Neal

Leroy “Tooter” Neal, 54, a former resident of Wise County, died Friday, Jan. 16, 2015.

Graveside service is 10 a.m. Friday, Jan. 23, at Burleson Memorial Cemetery. Visitation is 6 to 8 p.m. Thursday at Mount Olivet Funeral Home in Fort Worth.

Leroy was born April 25, 1960, in Fort Worth to Leo and Joanna Neal. He was preceded in death by his sister, Alita Neal, in 2002.

Survivors include his wife, Cyndee Neal; daughter Laci Gartman and husband, Ross; sons Anthony Neal and wife, Brenda, Kory Mitchell and wife, Vicky, Kyle Mitchell and Josh Davis and wife, Lisa; sisters Ann Neal and Frances Dalbey and husband, Rich; grandchildren Deme, Anthony, Wyatt, Brendan, Jackson, Aya and Noah; and numerous nieces and nephews.

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‘The kids are all right;’ Siblings who survived 1992 wreck reunite with rescuer

‘The kids are all right;’ Siblings who survived 1992 wreck reunite with rescuer

Four-year-old Danny Hernandez huddled on the bank of Elizabeth Creek, his body battered and bloodied.

Fire ants threatened to overtake him. His parents lay nearby, dead in the water.

“I feel like I have an image of what was down there,” said Danny, now 27. “I feel like I always knew, even when I was told my parents passed away.

“I always knew, but it was something that I never really came to terms with the way we do as adults,” he said. “So now it’s kind of like mourning this, in a way, for the first time.”

Sabino and Francisca Hernandez, both 26, were killed June 14, 1992, in a violent crash on Farm Road 718 in Newark. Everyone was thrown from the vehicle into a creek bed 100 feet below the roadway.

Somehow Danny and his two siblings survived.

Siblings Thank Community

SIBLINGS THANK COMMUNITY – Stacy Hernandez (from left), Tony Hernandez and Danny Hernandez survived a horrific car crash in 1992 that killed their parents. They recently met one of their rescuers, Cary Moncrief of Newark. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Two-year-old Stacy was found on her father’s chest. Tony, only 8 months old, was near his father, teetering on his back in the water. Their mother lay nearby, her face barely visible above the surface of the water.

HEALING – Danny Hernandez (from left), Tony Hernandez and Stacy Hernandez were raised by their aunt, uncle and grandmother following the accident that killed their parents. They’re pictured here some time after being released from the hospital, still wearing casts. Submitted photo

The orphaned children spent a night stranded in the creek bed before being rescued early the next morning. They were flown to a Metroplex hospital with various injuries, including several broken bones and vicious bug bites – not to mention emotional scars.

They went on to be raised by their aunt and uncle. Although the story of that tragic night was never kept from them, Danny said it was broad – one that never felt like his own.

“It wasn’t beyond a very brief thought,” he said. “It was something we grew up with, but the reality is that there were other people involved.”

The true scope of it was indeed overwhelming for children. But Danny and his siblings recently decided they needed more details from that night, and that they wanted to thank those who were involved in their rescue.

PULLED FROM THE CREEK

Cary Moncrief of Newark said the last time he saw the Hernandez children was when he handed them over to emergency responders.

Emotional Memories

EMOTIONAL MEMORIES – Cary Moncrief of Newark was one of the men who rescued the Hernandez children in 1992. He said it’s a day he’ll never forget. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The siblings, along with Virginia Carrillo, the aunt who raised them, recently met Moncrief for the first time.

“It’s closure that I never thought I needed,” Danny said. “We’ve been very fortunate. My aunt adopted us and raised us to be respectful and honest and ambitious, and we’ve turned out to be good adults.

“But it goes back to that night, and we’re very grateful to you for stopping and for lifting us up out of that creek,” he told Moncrief. “You saved our lives, and we’re very grateful for that.”

Moncrief is reluctant to be called a hero.

“Y’all were a lot smaller the last time I saw you …,” he said, smiling.

Moncrief and Tracy Darter, also of Newark, were on their way to work about 7 a.m. that Sunday morning when they noticed a car along the roadside.

That stretch of roadway was the site of numerous accidents, Moncrief said, most of which weren’t too serious. He pulled over that morning, assuming someone had simply slid off the road and might need help to get going again.

Instead, he discovered a watery grave.

“It looked like the car slid off the road, and they hit a willow tree sideways,” he said. “It split the car in two. Everybody just popped out.

“I saw all those bodies down there, and I just ran back to the truck, threw it into reverse and went back up to Eagle Grocery and told them to call 911.”

He ran into another friend – Larry O’Quinn – and brought him back to the crash site. When they reached the water’s edge, they realized the children were alive.

“I grabbed the baby, Tracy grabbed the little girl and Larry picked you up,” he told Danny. “You were just sitting over in the bushes, and the fire ants were just having a heyday with you.”

Only the baby was crying.

“They were all in shock,” Moncrief said. “You could tell by Danny’s eyes. He wasn’t there … he was somewhere else.”

According to the 1992 Messenger story and family accounts, it’s believed the accident occurred about midnight. The couple was returning to their home in Newark after leaving a family party in Boyd. They were just blocks from their house when the accident occurred.

“I remember that night we left the party and all headed to the house,” said Virginia, who is Sabino’s sister. “We kept calling to see if everyone made it home safe, and they wouldn’t pick up their phone. We knew something was wrong; we just didn’t know what.”

Francisca was likely killed instantly, but Moncrief said it appeared Sabino initially survived the crash but succumbed to his injuries sometime in the night.

No one knows how long he lived, but there’s speculation that he pulled his young daughter on top of him to save her from drowning.

“We were just glad to see that someone had made it because the car was in really bad shape,” Moncrief said.

The front end of the car and the engine were next to the tree, but the body of the car was in the creek bed, about 100 feet below the roadway. Moncrief said as they carried the children to safety, the fire department and ambulances began to arrive.

“The ambulance showed up, and we started handing the kids off to the rescue people,” he said. “But after that we all just got in our trucks … and went to work.”

Moncrief took a ragged breath before continuing.

“I’ll never forget that day,” he continued, choking up. “Y’all were very fortunate.

“It’s just a visual picture that I will carry around with me the rest of my life,” he said. “If you’ve served in the military, you’re always running across things that are not pleasant, so you get kind of numb to stuff like that, but the things you remember are the scenes.

“But it’s nice to see them,” he said. “To see that they’re doing good and surviving, and they’re an asset to their family.”

Lifetime Connection

LIFETIME CONNECTION – Virginia Carrillo (from left), Danny Hernandez, Cary Moncrief, Tony Hernandez and Stacy Hernandez will always share a special bond. Moncrief had not seen the Hernandez siblings since he handed them off to emergency responders at an accident scene 22 years ago. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

THRIVING AGAINST ALL ODDS

Danny is a 2005 graduate of Paradise High School and a 2009 graduate of Texas A&M University. He’s a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps, and he lives in Phoenix, Ariz., where he works for a non-profit organization.

Stacy, 25, is a 2007 graduate of PHS and lives in Runaway Bay. She works at a doctor’s office in Bridgeport.

Tony, 23, graduated from Paradise High in 2009. He’s also a veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps. He currently lives in Paradise and works in Bridgeport.

“They say it takes a village to raise a child; this county built three,” Danny says in an essay he posted online. The essay is a tribute to not only his aunt, but also all the other people who helped him and his siblings through the years.

A FATHER’S LOVE – Sabino Hernandez holds Tony just a short time before the accident. Sabino’s sister, Virginia Carrillo, said this was the last time Sabino held his youngest son. Submitted photo

“Our story is a testament to this community and how it came together to help neighbors in need,” he says. “The fact is, we wouldn’t be here without the men who stopped their car to rescue us, without the people who held us in their arms, without the first responders who arrived on the scene and without the community and educators who fed us, looked after us and cared for us throughout our years.

“I wouldn’t blame you for wondering then: will those kids ever recover from this tragedy?

“Good news,” he says. “The kids are all right.”

Danny, Stacy and Tony credit their Aunt Virginia with their recovery, both physically and emotionally, and for enabling and encouraging them to move forward and beyond their tragic circumstances.

Danny says in his essay that she “deserves every mother-of-the-year award that exists,” and although it wasn’t always an easy road, Virginia said she has never second-guessed her decision to raise her nieces and nephews.

In fact, as she faced the loss of her brother and sister-in-law, it was the children that kept her going.

“It was my duty, and it was my family calling,” she said. “Like I told them, I’d do it again. There’s nothing that I regret. I never looked back and said, ‘Oh, my gosh. Why did this happen?’

“I’d do it again in a heartbeat.”

Virginia was only 21 at the time of the accident with no children of her own. Her instinct said to keep the kids together.

“My first thought was holding onto those kids because they’re a part of my brother, and I lost him,” she said. “I was making sure the kids stay together because that’s all they had – each other.”

In survival mode and trying to piece back together what was left of her family, she doesn’t even remember how long the kids were in the hospital.

“I don’t remember a lot of that,” she said. “I didn’t have time to grieve for my brother. I don’t remember funeral details or anything like that. I was focused on the kids.”

All three were injured. Danny had a broken arm and leg, Tony had a fractured hip and broken leg, and Stacy had a broken leg. They all came home in casts. Virginia moved back home with her parents, so they could help, and she also received support from other family members.

She had a boyfriend at the time, but she figured that relationship wouldn’t last long under the circumstances.

“Honestly, I figured he’d get scared and leave, but he didn’t,” she said.

She and Roberto Carrillo married in the late ’90s and eventually had six children of their own.

“There’s nine of them, and they’ve all been raised like brothers and sisters,” she said. “They don’t see each other like cousins.”

Virginia said she chose not to legally adopt her nieces and nephews because she wanted them to keep the Hernandez name.

“They know their mom and dad,” she said. “We have pictures of them everywhere. We never tried to hide them from them. It’s a reality.

“I didn’t give birth to them, and they know that,” she said. “They had a birth mom and birth dad. We’re just finishing off what they started.”

Virginia said they attempted to keep things as normal as possible for the kids and remain flexible, especially in the months immediately following the wreck, allowing them to do what was necessary to heal.

“Nothing was hidden from them,” she said. “They were free to talk about it, and no one would hush them up because it was their life.”

She said Danny regularly acted out the events of that night while playing.

“He would be role-playing, and he would reenact that scene … the accident,” she said. “We’d be in the living room – my mom, dad and me – and we’d be watching him. It was hard to see him and watch him reenact it, but he was there and had the missing piece that we didn’t know. He had the visual.

“He would do the burial, everything,” she said. “And we would just let him, and all of a sudden, he just stopped.”

MISSING PIECES

Danny said he doesn’t remember much about his life before the accident. He recalls getting a puppy one Easter and not much else.

But he does remember that long night in the bottom of the creek bed.

“I remember seeing my brother … seeing my sister with my dad … they’re all snapshots, nothing’s extended,” he said. “The only thing extended is me laying there and hearing cartoons in the background. I found out a week ago that there’s a house really close by so that might have explained that.”

Danny said he had a dream that night in which he was in the creek and surrounded by mannequins. Although he knows that isn’t real, it may be the way his young brain processed the tragic scene before him.

Once he was carried away, his memories become fuzzy.

“I remember nothing from being rescued on,” he said. “The next thing I know I’m in a hospital bed, I’m watching ‘All Dogs go to Heaven,’ my pre-k teacher is there. That’s it.”

Stacy, who was only 2, said she did have a memory of that time with her father, but until now, she didn’t know if it was real or a figment of her imagination. Between Mr. Moncrief’s account and reading the Messenger’s story on the accident, her memory was confirmed.

“Where it said I was with my dad … that was something I had never seen anything about,” she said between sobs. “I didn’t know if it had really happened or if it was something that I just thought up.”

Tony said they’ve always heard the story of the accident, but to have details confirmed has been emotional.

“When I read the newspaper article … it was very emotional for me because I didn’t know my parents,” he said. “But to know what actually happened and what went on … like Danny has always said, ‘We’re really grateful to still be here to this day and be the people we are.'”

Moncrief told them it’s often the terrible things that stick with people.

“So we treasure the good times and family is probably the most important thing I can think of,” he said. “It was nice that y’all could stay together.”

Danny said only recently has he begun to realize the number of sacrifices that were made on their behalf.

“I’ve always been grateful, and I try not to take these little things for granted,” he said. “But to think of where we could have been – just a few more hours in the middle of a Texas summer in a creek.

“It’s a new perspective and a mix of emotions, and today I’m excited to say thank you.

“Thank you for stopping,” he wrote in his essay. “Thank you for calling for help. Thank you for saving our lives; my parents would be grateful.

“No words or actions will ever be enough, but I hope you know that the life your actions provided me with has been a life full of love. I am forever grateful.”

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County bumps up cap for consultants

Computer consultants are costing the county a pretty penny.

Wise County commissioners on Monday approved amending a contract with Prince Computing Corp. to cap expenditures with the company at $45,000.

When the firm was hired in August, commissioners approved spending up to $35,000, but as of Jan. 5, the county had already spent $39,500 with the company.

Special Projects Manager Glenn Hughes said Prince has ended up doing more extensive work than originally planned.

“When we hired Prince, it was for an audit to see where we were at and maybe share some quick fixes for our system,” he said. “But as they’ve gone along, they’ve come across some problems that weren’t in the scope of what they were originally going to do.”

He said the consultants also spent a lot of time working at the sheriff’s office when its server was hit with the CryptoWall virus in December.

“They’ve done a lot of things that weren’t in the original scope of things they were going to do, but it was at our request,” he said.

The contract with Prince runs through Jan. 31, and he said they would be used on an “as needed basis” after that.

Hughes also told commissioners that the county had received several good applicants for the systems administrator job, and he hoped to have someone hired by the first week of February.

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Hothouse indicted for fatal wreck

A Chico man involved in a fatal accident last June has been indicted by the Wise County grand jury.

Johnny Lee Hothouse, 49, was indicted Dec. 18 for criminal negligent homicide, a state jail felony.

Hothouse was driving a rock hauler June 4, 2014, when he pulled out in front of a car driven by Maria Ruiz-Quezada, 52, of Chico on Texas 101 just south of Chico. Investigators said Ruiz-Quezada took evasive action to avoid a collision but lost control of the vehicle and spun into the southbound lanes where she was hit by another 18-wheeler. She died at the scene.

The indictment states that Hothouse was negligent when he failed to yield the right of way to Ruiz-Quezada.

The grand jury also indicted 36 other people on the following charges:

Jimmy James Baird, theft of property $1,500-$20,000 (one count); forgery financial instrument (one count)

Brenda Ann Hudgins, theft of property $1,500-$20,000 (one count); forgery financial instrument (one count)

Kenneth Charles Brown, theft of property $20,000-$100,000 (one count); theft of material (aluminum) less than $20,000

Heather Ann Skidmore, theft of property $20,000-$100,000

Michael Paul Burton, credit card or debit card abuse

Steve Melendez Carrizales, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Carter Pierce Haynie, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Christopher John Hernandez, forgery financial instrument

Tim T. Hicks, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Channen Michele Wallace, burglary of a habitation

Randall Craig Hillin, burglary of a habitation

Allison Marie Journey, credit card or debit card abuse

Joshua Rey Lopez, tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair

Miguel Angel Parra, criminal trespass

Rian Rogers, credit card or debit card abuse

Richard Melendez Ramirez, driving while intoxicated third or more

Juan Jose Segovia, theft of property $20,000-$100,000

Mitchell Clay Coleman, possession of marijuana 5-50 pounds

Billy Joe Davis, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 4-200 grams

Bryson Scott Shaw, intoxication assault with vehicle causing serious bodily injury (case has since been dismissed)

Francisco Galaviz, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Christopher Lee Shipley, unauthorized use of a vehicle

Dusty William Jobe, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram (one count); unauthorized use of a vehicle

Sterling Chance Valliant, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Osvaldo Razcon Verdugo, driving while intoxicated with a child under 15 years old

Triniti Falon Lee, prohibited substance/item in a correctional facility

Mark Allen McGoveran, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Johnny Leon Moore III, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and arson intend to damage habitat/place of worship

Jerry Dean Kulow, misappropriated trust fund greater than or equal to $500 defraud (one count); theft of property $20,000-$100,000 (one count)

Vincent Paul Martinez, indecency with a child sexual contact

William Edward Barber, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon

Jeffrey Ray Evans, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

James Nathan Bass-Roberts, possession of a controlled substance – tetrahydrocannabinal, less than 1 gram

Dan Kenneth Brown Jr., possession of marijuana 4 ounces-5 pounds

Steven Wayne Braham, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

Brandon Alexander Evans, possession of marijuana 5-50 pounds

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County ditches bad debt

Wise County commissioners decided Monday to write off $1.2 million in bad debt for Emergency Medical Services.

EMS Administrator Charles Dillard said the total reflects unpaid bills from 2009 to 2012.

He said these are accounts on which there has been no activity or payment, despite being sent to collections, and most live outside Wise County.

“We still have some ’13s and ’14s that are still active, and we’re working on those, going to collections and things like that to see what we can get,” he said.

The amount being written off for each year is as follows:

  • 2009 – $47,245.73
  • 2010 – $415,668.21
  • 2011 – $332,269.61
  • 2012 – $415,835.15

County Auditor Ann McCuiston said if any future payments are received on these debts, the county will accept the money. This action simply “cleans up the books.”

She said EMS debt was last written off four or five years ago.

PICKUP BIDS

Commissioners rejected for the second time bids for crew cab and extended cab pickups at the urging of Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns.

“I’ve been informed we can get a cheaper price and some more local bids if we change the specs to say just a ‘work truck package’ or a white truck with black interior,” he said. “I’d like to reject these bids and go back out for bid on the crew cab.”

County Judge J.D. Clark also suggested not being specific about the interior color. He explained that the previous bid request with specifications about interior color, remote start and carpet included pieces from two different types of packages, making it difficult for dealers to submit a competitive bid.

Commissioners agreed to remove remote start from the bid request but wanted to keep carpet as an option.

In other business, commissioners:

  • ratified advanced funding agreements with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for bridge repairs on County Roads 1590 and 2327. The agreement outlines the breakdown of federal, state and local funding for the projects.
  • approved the proposed TxDOT federal railroad signal project upgrade at County Road 3250 and Texas 114. County engineer Chad Davis said repair and maintenance work will be done to upgrade the crossing and commissioners’ approval is their guarantee to maintain the county road in that crossing right-of-way.
  • reappointed Dr. Jon Walker to a two-year term as Wise County health authority.
  • accepted six district clerk deputations.
  • accepted 12 county clerk deputations.
  • accepted 16 nominations and appointments to the Wise County Historical Commission.
  • approved seeking depository bids.

—–

County offices will be closed Monday, Jan. 19, for Martin Luther King Day. The next regular commissioners meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 26, in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse.

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Historical Society exceeds donation mark

The Wise County Historical Society is one step closer to properly conditioning air in the Wise County Heritage Museum after raising more than half of their share of the cost of renovations this week.

The Historical Society brought in $28,285 in donations to go towards new heating and air systems in the museum – almost $6,000 more than their original goal of $22,500.

“It’s just great generosity,” Historical Society President Kerry Clower said.

Dallas Baptist University agreed in October to match the Historical Society’s donations up to $22,500. Clower said DBU’s check for their portion came in the mail Tuesday.

“So we’ve already got the money we need,” Clower said. “The excess is going to go to a fire suppression system after we get the electrical system put in.”

In addition to making the museum more comfortable for visitors and volunteers, the new heating and air systems will help preserve older artifacts in the museum that need climate-controlled spaces, like books and clothing.

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North Central Texas College recognizes top students

North Central Texas College in Gainesville recently announced students recognized for outstanding academic achievement during the fall 2014 semester.

Students named to the NCTC president’s honor list are those who achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average while enrolled in at least 12 semester credit hours.

The dean’s honor list includes those students earning a GPA of 3.5 to 3.99 while taking 12 or more hours.

Five Wise County students were named to the president’s honor list. They include Decie Witt Worthington of Alvord, Yancey Parish Dunning of Boyd, and Jessica Lynn Bowen, Crystal Marie Delgado and Anne M. Wells of Decatur.

Local students making the dean’s honor list include Cassidy Sierra Hardin of Boyd, Trent Dylan Schuett and Joshua Smith of Bridgeport, Stephanie M. Miller of Newark and Renia Ann Mack of Paradise.

Also making the dean’s list were Christopher P. Carter, Ethan Ryan Fennewald, Ashton Scott Hacker, Nicolasa Verdugo and Erica Woods, all of Decatur.

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Weatherford College releases fall 2014 dean’s list

More than 600 Weatherford College students were named to the dean’s list for the fall 2014 semester, including 97 Wise County residents.

The list includes 10 students from Alvord, one from Aurora, 10 from Boyd, 19 from Bridgeport, eight from Chico, 33 from Decatur, one each from Lake Bridgeport and Newark, eight from Paradise and six from Rhome.

To be eligible for the dean’s list, a student must be enrolled in 12 or more semester hours, have no grade lower than a C and meet the minimum grade-point average. The GPA system is based on a one-to-four rating.

Wise County students on the honor roll, by community, are:

Alvord: Tara Geer, Leresa Greenwood, Shelbi Harmon, Kirstie Caruthers, Keri Malone, Jeanette Morales, Christina Overton, Allison Swiney, Megan Wentworth and Kelly Zalopany

Aurora: Victor Ramirez

Boyd: Andrea Fagan, Kaylee Ford, Derek Martin, Abram Moreno, John Mosley, Sequoia Smith, Anthony Spinelli, Christina Civis, Jessica Stone and Valerie Campbell

Bridgeport: Ana Caldera, Lacey Erwin, Wesley Hughes, Tina Jennings, John Monk, Jayme Rivera, Garrett Wagner, Lindsey Walker, Martha Sanders, Dillion Waldrep, Tracy Hale, Grasiela Henrique Ortiz, Fernanda Parra, Joshua Winebrinner, Valeria Reyna, Sharlyn Fagan, Jesus Huerta-Gutierrez, Melissa Monk and Mathew Morales

Chico: Damian Delgado, Dee McHenry, James Redwine, Andrea Younger, Tracie Davis, Tiffany Vislosky, Karla DeAmicis and Alyssa Bowyer

Decatur: Amber Askey, Rodrigo Carillo, Selena Galindo, Sarah Gibbs, Charles Greever, Dona Hardin, Jeffrey Keller, Netosha Laverty, Kristina Marion, Brittan Mitchell, Brooke Pelton, Austin Poole, Kelsey Smith, Shelby Smith, Omar Torres, Jessica Sanchez, Venancio Rodriguez, Ethan Stallard, Brandon Pelton, Nathan Mitchell, Efrain Ruiz, Alyssa Leake, Senecca Smith, Sandra Garn, Isaac Chavez, Austin Stallard, Mercedes Moreno, Amanda Byrum, Cynthia Carillo, Erin Hamm, Robbie Watson, Elisabet Godoy and Maria Martinez

Lake Bridgeport: Coulter Galvan

Newark: Samuel West

Paradise: Brandy Baker, Lorrie Barrow-McLemore, Braden Broussard, Carol McCutchen, Amber Wood, Erika Wreay, Grady Ivie and Derek Marshall

Rhome: Tara Dean, Kristina Lake, Breena Mitchell, Andrea Cheek, Jonathan Davis and Megan Boyd

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Driving Force: Deputy uses racing to bond with speedsters

Driving Force: Deputy uses racing to bond with speedsters

Wise County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Fitzgerald knows how to go fast.

When he’s not chasing down lawbreakers, the veteran officer builds and pilots his own cars as part of Beat The Heat Inc. – a nonprofit organization created to foster relationships between law enforcement officers and the community they serve, through drag racing.

For Fitzgerald, it’s the perfect marriage of a lifelong interest and a cause he strongly believes in.

Hot Rod

HOT ROD – Wise County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Fitzgerald’s modified police cruiser can cover a quarter mile drag strip in roughly 11 seconds. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I’ve raced cars since I was 16,” he said. “Before I started working with law enforcement, I was a diesel mechanic. I’ve always been interested in youth programs, so I joined Beat The Heat when I had the means to help out.”

Fitzgerald said several local raceways have partnered with the program to offer free admission for high school students on certain nights, hoping to pique the interest of some who might otherwise be racing illegally on the streets.

“In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, street racing is a huge problem,” he said, “so a lot of us focus on that, with the intent that if we can get people interested in the racing program that will, in turn, keep them off drugs and away from criminal activity.”

Racing is open to everyone, Fitzgerald said, and the bracket style of competition ensures a fair fight for all types of cars.

“The great thing about bracket racing is that I can take my fast car and race against something like a completely stock Honda Civic,” he said. “Let’s say that Civic is estimated to be five seconds slower than me – they’re going to start that many seconds ahead of me. It keeps it interesting.”

Go Fast Be Safe

GO FAST, BE SAFE – Fitzgerald has spent countless hours and his own money building a roll cage for the car he uses as a teaching tool in lessons on safety. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

By using his cars to build an audience, Fitzgerald said he has an opportunity to teach important lessons.

While competing at the Beat The Heat World Finals event in 2010, Fitzgerald wrecked.

“This just goes to show that even on a closed course with a lot of safety features, accidents can happen,” he said.

The crippled car, a 1986 Ford Mustang, now serves as a constant reminder of the inherent dangers of racing, and the importance of keeping it off the streets. Fitzgerald’s cars are built with a cage to protect the driver in the event of a crash – a feature absent in most street vehicles.

The Mustang and the remainder of Fitzgerald’s racing fleet, the culmination of his work for the organization, are stored in his personal garage.

“We’re not funded by the sheriff’s department,” he said. “A lot of [other racers] have sponsors. I don’t have those, so I cover the costs and do most of the work myself.”

Fitzgerald’s wife, Alida, said she began racing as part of a recent push to get more women involved in Beat the Heat events – a trend echoed in professional drag racing.

“There are more and more female junior dragsters now,” she said. “We want to follow along with that and show girls who may be hanging out with a boyfriend who street races, or who are involved themselves, that they can do so safely on the track.”

Alida said she and her husband have been able to interact with thousands of kids across North Texas through the program. They hope they’ve been able to convey a simple message.

“You hear about these parents who tell their kids, ‘I’ll take you to the police, and they’ll put you in jail if you don’t behave.’ That’s not what officers want to portray. This program gives officers a way to portray themselves as what they really are – real people.”

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Sex offender sues Hightower, county

A former sergeant at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, under investigation for taking nude photos of sex offenders, has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by an alleged victim.

Wise County is also a defendant in the lawsuit, filed by an alleged victim who is listed as “John Doe” in court records.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit does not appear to be the same victim who came forward with the original complaint against 41-year-old Chad Hightower. That led to the investigation and Hightower’s arrest Sept. 12, 2014, on a charge of improper photography.

According to the suit, the plaintiff, a convicted sex offender, was asked by Hightower in December of 2013 to come to the sheriff’s office to be photographed. The two went into a bathroom and Hightower told him a new state law required photos of sex offenders’ genitals. The plaintiff allowed the photos to be taken.

The complaint also alleges Hightower touched the plaintiff and violated his civil rights by assault, illegal detention and invasion of privacy.

He states his injuries include emotional distress and mental anguish in the past as well as the distress and anguish that will likely occur in the future. The plaintiff is seeking more than $200,000 in monetary relief.

The lawsuit also alleges that the county did not do enough to prevent this type of violation.

“The Wise County Sheriff’s Department and Wise County failed to properly supervise Defendant Hightower, and failed to employ security and surveillance tools to prevent such improper and illegal actions as those alleged here from happening, and failed to detect such malfeasance when it did happen. These failures permitted Defendant Hightower to commit multiple constitutional violations,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiff explains that he filed under an assumed name to protect his privacy and avoid potential retaliation by law enforcement. The lawsuit was filed in Wise County Dec. 23.

According to court records related to the criminal charge against Hightower, another sex offender was also forced to disrobe and be photographed by Hightower in a restroom at the sheriff’s office as well as a different location.

That victim brought his complaint to a district attorney investigator last year, prompting the criminal investigation.

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Jury finds Burdine guilty of drug possession

A Wise County jury deliberated about three-and-a-half hours Wednesday before finding a Runaway Bay man guilty of possession of a controlled substance in an amount of 4 to 200 grams.

Scott Wayne Burdine

Scott Wayne Burdine, 38, will have to wait until later this month for a sentencing hearing before 271st District Judge John Fostel. Because Burdine has previously been convicted on drug charges, he faces a punishment range of 5 to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The trial began Tuesday afternoon in district court and ended a little more than 24 hours later.

Burdine was arrested during a traffic stop in October 2013 near the intersection of Farm Roads 2265 and 1655, in the vicinity of Alvord. Wise County sheriff’s officers found drug paraphernalia in the vehicle Burdine was driving and also located drugs on the ground nearby that they believed had been thrown from the vehicle.

Deputies testified that the drugs were found in a small container wrapped in black electrical tape, which they know from previous cases is a common way to try to make its detection more difficult after it is discarded from a vehicle.

Deputy Jay T. Manoushagian said he located the case containing drugs in the grass wet with dew or moisture from a foggy evening, but the case was not wet, which he believed indicated it had been recently tossed on the ground.

Burdine’s attorneys argued that the officer who made the initial stop, Deputy Brett Yaro, never actually saw the package thrown from the vehicle and could not connect it to Burdine, who was driving someone else’s truck.

“Being in the area of drugs is not sufficient to make you guilty of possession of a controlled substance,” defense attorney David Singleton told the jury during closing arguments. “You have to show that Mr. Burdine threw the drugs out of the vehicle.”

He pointed to the video, which was shown numerous times during the trial and also reviewed by the jury during deliberation, as evidence that you could not see anything thrown from the vehicle Burdine was driving.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham said the totality of the evidence proved Mr. Burdine’s guilt, including the fact that he accelerated away from police. Drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle, and drugs were found in the vicinity of the stop along with small baggies and rolls of money normally seen with someone who sells drugs.

“They want you to suspend your common sense,” Lapham told the jury during closing arguments. “You would have to believe some stranger drove up on an isolated road in the middle of the night and dumped $700 worth of drugs by the side of the road and drove off.”

Burdine previously pleaded guilty in Wise County to possession of a controlled substance 4 to 200 grams with intent to deliver and was sentenced to six years in prison on Jan. 7, 2008. He was also convicted of a drug charge on July 1, 2008, in Johnson County.

On Jan. 25, 2011, Burdine was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty in Wise County to burglary of a building.

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Ponies find a family after the flames

It’s been a long road to recovery for a mare who was burned while trying to protect her young foal from a fire last April.

But that road now leads to a home, right here in Wise County.

Part of the Family

PART OF THE FAMILY – Johanna Wilson holds Butterscotch at her Decatur farm earlier this week. Butterscotch is completely healed from the burns she sustained in a fire last April. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Bella sustained burns over 50 percent of her body during the early morning hours of April 6, 2014, in a barn fire in Alvarado. Bella backed the then-two-week-old Butterscotch into a corner to shield her from the flames.

Both ponies were brought to the Decatur home of Johanna Wilson, a volunteer with the Humane Society of North Texas, to recuperate. Bella spent about two weeks at Wilson’s while money was raised for her medical treatment. She has spent every day since then at Outlaw Equine in Decatur, receiving around-the-clock veterinarian care.

Butterscotch, meanwhile, has fully recovered and has made herself right at home at the Wilson farm.

“She walks through the house,” Wilson said. “She’s part of the family.”

Butterscotch’s “family” also includes several other ponies with which she shares a pen. Many of them, like Butterscotch, were also rescued by the HSNT.

The plan has always been to find adopted homes for both once they recovered. Wilson admitted she couldn’t help becoming attached to Butterscotch, who she’s raised since she was just a few weeks old. She believes Bella would be best served by staying with her as well, which led her to the decision to adopt both ponies.

“When her mom comes back, I was really worried people would get caught up in the story and say, ‘Yes, I want to adopt her,’ but not understand the long-term care her mom is going to need,” Wilson said. “And I wanted her to be close to her doctor who she already trusts.

“I really wouldn’t want anyone else but (Dr.) Josh (Harvey) to take care of her at this point. So that weighed into my decision as well.”

Loving Care

LOVING CARE – Equine massage therapist Lynda Streng takes Bella for a walk at Outlaw Equine in Decatur where the pony continues to recover from last April’s fire. Bella was burned on 50 percent of her body while protecting her foal. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Harvey said Bella’s recovery has been slow, but she has made significant progress since she first arrived.

“It’s every day doctoring that wound – seven days a week,” Harvey explained. “We kept her in the climate control forever because of how much exposed skin she had. We didn’t want flies irritating her. Now that she’s been able to get out in the sunlight, she likes it a lot better.”

PROGRESS – Evidence of the fire can still be seen in scabs along Bella’s back, but Streng’s hand is on hair that has grown back. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Bella still has scabs along her back, but much of her hair has grown back. She’s missing her ears, which were severely burned.

Lynda Streng, an equine massage therapist, has worked with Bella daily since July. She gently washes Bella, applies topical medicine and performs laser light treatment that promotes the healing of the skin. Streng also joins Bella for her favorite activity.

“She loves walks,” Streng said. “She’s really sweet as she can be. She likes the attention.”

It might be another month or two before Bella is reunited with her daughter at Wilson’s farm. Wilson said while she has developed a close relationship with Butterscotch, she will have to reestablish a relationship with Bella.

Wilson said she has been impressed with the people who donated money for Bella’s care, and with the HSNT, which has made sure the money was used for its intended purpose.

“They are ethical,” Wilson said of the HSNT. “That was a big decision for me to work with them.”

That partnership will continue. Wilson said she is working with the organization to create a program at her farm that will allow hands-on educational opportunities for people who are thinking about adopting horses.

Nearly 300 horses that stayed at the Wilson farm were adopted last year. You can add Bella and Butterscotch to that total, but they won’t be heading elsewhere.

They’ve found a home.

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Drought continues into new year

Another year has passed, and the weather story remains much the same. For a fourth straight year, rainfall was below normal for Wise County.

Weather watcher Doyle Green in Decatur measured 31.41 inches, well below the average of 38.13.

Rainfall was below normal for the first five months of 2014 before a stretch of three months during the summer when rainfall was actually above normal. But the year ended with below-normal rainfall in three of the last four months of 2014.

The driest month was January with just 0.44 of an inch of rain.

Then and Now

THEN AND NOW – Lake Bridgeport was on its way to a historic 40-foot-low point when the top photo was taken in October 1980 by Tom Earnest of Boyd. Earnest snapped the photo at the boat ramp off U.S. 380, in pretty much the same spot where the lower photo was shot Friday. The summer of 1980 was the hottest on record, with more than 100 days over 100 degrees recorded. The following October, in 1981, it rained 27 inches, and the lake went to 10 feet over flood stage. As the lower photo shows, although the lake is 24 feet low now and the boat launch is high and dry, there’s still quite a bit of water compared to 1980. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

The wettest month turned out to be July, when the area received 8.08 inches of rain – setting a record for the month. In fact, the old July record of 6.78 inches was nearly broken in a single day when a storm system dropped 6.65 inches of rain on Decatur July 17.

That was easily the wettest day of the year. Areas in north Wise County received up to 10 inches from that storm.

Overall, the summer of 2014 was the wettest since 2007.

Unfortunately, the rain did little to ease the “severe drought” designation for most of Wise County or raise Lake Bridgeport. As of Jan. 6, 2015, most of Wise County remained in the “severe drought” category with the southern portion of the county in an “extreme drought” category.

Lake Bridgeport remained more than 24 feet below normal as the calendar turned to 2015.

It was a cooler-than-normal summer, at least in terms of 100-degree weather. The highest temperature recorded in 2014 was 100 degrees, which was reached on just two days: July 14 and Sept. 10. The average high temperature for August, typically the hottest month of the year, was only 92.3 degrees.

The coldest temperature was 8 degrees on Jan. 6. For the year, the temperature dropped below freezing on 69 days.

January and February were the coldest months as the temperature dropped below freezing on 20 days each month. The average low temperature for January was 25.9 degrees.

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Interim Elections Administrator resigns

Wise County Interim Elections Administrator Jim Parker has submitted his resignation, effective Jan. 19.

The Elections Commission accepted his letter of resignation in a meeting Thursday afternoon.

Wise County Republican Party Chair Allen Williamson expressed his gratitude for Parker’s efforts and willingness to serve.

“I certainly don’t speak for this commission, but I speak for myself personally. I think this is one of the smoothest elections we’ve ever had,” he said. “I think Mr. Parker did an outstanding job as our interim elections administrator.

“We started with a little bit of difficulty in the beginning of his tenure – nothing on him of course – but I think he came in and he built bridges and was very conciliatory,” Williamson continued. “In my opinion, he did an outstanding job.”

At the same meeting, the Commission formally appointed Sabra Srader of Lubbock to the EA position with a salary of $52,000 and a vehicle allowance of $8,000. She will start work Jan. 20.

Srader has been an elections clerk in the Lubbock County Office of Elections since 2011 and is a certified elections/registration administrator through the National Association of Election Officials.

She has a law degree from Texas Tech University.

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Sales tax: 2015 starts on a good note

Eight up, four down.

That’s how Wise County’s dozen sales-tax-collecting cities greeted the new year – a decent start compared to last year’s January payment.

Combined, the cities collected $672,439. That’s almost $20,000 more in sales tax than they had the previous year, a gain of 3.05 percent.

Bridgeport led the way with a gain of just more than $14,000, while Rhome, Boyd, Chico, Paradise, Newark, Runaway Bay and Aurora also posted gains.

Decatur, with collections for the month of $326,950, was down less than half of 1 percent or $1,639. New Fairview, Alvord and Lake Bridgeport joined them on the down side of the ledger.

The state saw a gain of 7.11 percent, with 1,150 cities collecting just more than $400 million.

Wise County, which tacks on a half-cent to help offset property taxes, took in $331,538 to start the year – 3 percent better than it did last year.

The January sales tax figures represent November sales reported by monthly tax filers.

Taxes

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