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County sees first traffic fatality of 2014

A Decatur man injured in a head-on collision southeast of Paradise last month has become Wise County’s first traffic fatality of 2014.

Roland Hodge

Roland Hodge, 66, was pronounced dead Saturday at John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth. The Tarrant County Medical Examiner,s website listed cause of death as multiple blunt force injuries due to motor vehicle collision.

The accident occurred around 6 on the foggy morning of March 28 on Texas 114 near County Road 3381.

According to investigators, Hodge was westbound on a two-lane portion of 114 when he attempted to pass a vehicle and wasn’t able to move completely back into his lane.

He clipped an eastbound Ford pickup driven by Cory Kelsey of Paradise, who was not injured.

Hodge was transported by ground ambulance to JPS. Reports across the police scanner indicated he was complaining of hip pain at the scene.

A celebration of life for Hodge was held Sunday.

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Area hoppin’ with Easter celebrations

Area hoppin’ with Easter celebrations

Easter is this Sunday, and many communities, churches and local organizations are planning to host egg hunts to celebrate the holiday.

Events promise loads of brightly-colored eggs, candy and games for all ages. The Easter Bunny will even be making appearances at some events.

Seeking Candy

SEEKING CANDY – Andy Riggs investigates the contents of an Easter egg and is rewarded with a sweet treat. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

To find an egg hunt near you, see below:

DECATUR – Decatur Public Library’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt is 10:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, April 16. Children are invited to join at either time for an egg hunt in the Priddy Reading Garden, story, crafts and games. To register a child for the Easter Egg Hunt, stop by the library at 1700 Farm Road 51 South, leave a message on Facebook (decaturtxlibrary) or call 940-393-0290.

BRIDGEPORT – The Bridgeport Library will present Story Time Easter Egg Hunt 10:30 a.m. Wednesday, April 16. If you would like to contribute, bring one dozen candy-filled plastic eggs per child for a combined preschool and toddler story time. For more information, call the library at 940-683-3450.

CHICO – The Chico Chamber of Commerce Easter egg hunt is 11 a.m. Saturday, April 19, at the park off McCracken Street, behind City Hall.

RHOME – Movement Church in Rhome is having Operation Easter Egg Drop at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 19, at Chisholm Trail Middle School on Farm Road 3433. There will be a helicopter dropping a total of 9,000 eggs in three rounds, each for a different age group. They will also be passing out tickets to be put into a drawing for one of two kids’ bikes being given away Easter morning at Movement Church. For information, visit www.movementchurch.net.

RHOME – There will be an Easter egg hunt 11 a.m. Saturday, April 19, at Rhome Family Park, 400 S. Virginia. There will also be games, a bounce house and refreshments. The Easter Bunny will be hopping around giving out candy and posing for pictures with the kids, and at 12:30 p.m. the Air Evac helicopter will be on display and available for tours and photos.

BALSORA – Balsora Baptist Church, 108 CR 3623, is hosting an Easter egg hunt 4 to 6 p.m. Saturday, April 19. For information, call 940-748-2527.

Easy to Find

EASY TO FIND – Little egg hunters wade through a sea of Easter eggs at the Decatur Civic Center Monday. The Wise County Sheriff’s Office hosts an annual egg hunt for kids age 5 years old and younger. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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County reinforces building possession

All the buildings at the Wise County Fairgrounds are now on the county’s insurance policy.

At their regular meeting Monday, commissioners approved adding all structures at the fairgrounds to the county’s property insurance policy purchased through the Texas Association of Counties.

County Judge Glenn Hughes also noted that there had been “some inquiry on these buildings,” and he issued the following statement: “Our position is that they’re Wise County buildings and belong to Wise County taxpayers.”

As of February, the Wise County Sheriff’s Posse maintained that the buildings belonged to them and was seeking reimbursement for the structures since the county did not renew the organization’s lease. County officials have staunchly opposed any sort of reimbursement and have begun maintaining and improving the property.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White said there’s also “been some inquiry as to how much improvement we want to continue to do to these buildings.”

Public Works Director Tom Goode oversees maintenance of the fairgrounds, and he and his crew have been steadily making improvements including painting, mowing, redoing plumbing at the wash racks, building new gates, building a load-out chute for the rodeo arena and adding dirt to the arena. Goode said they’ve also made electrical repairs to the arena press box and repaired the plumbing in one of the bathrooms.

“It would be my opinion that he can do whatever minor repairs need to be done to these buildings,” White said. “Anything major or costly, we probably need to do through court.”

Goode said some projects he’d like to see done in the future include replacement of the bleachers at the show arena and replacement of the sheep and goat pens with portable pens, which will allow more animals to be kept in the barns during the Youth Fair.

Goode said the cost for the portable pens would be $80,000, according to one proposal he received, and the cost to replace the bleachers would be $30,000. These expenditures would have to first be approved by commissioners.

County Auditor Ann McCuiston told the Messenger Tuesday $55,000 has been spent on the fairgrounds since the county took it over. This includes utility payments, $10,538 for the purchase of a John Deere tractor, $11,500 for electrical work and $7,300 on parts for general repairs, plus other minor expenses.

The fairgrounds have generated $13,000 to date in revenue. McCuiston said money has been set aside in the capital expenditure plan for the purchase of equipment at the fairgrounds, which could include the pens and bleachers.

The county has had the property appraised for insurance purposes, but those numbers were not available at the meeting.

“I think we only have a draft at this time,” said commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg when citizen Kristina Kemp inquired about the value. Kemp is the Democratic candidate running for Precinct 4 commissioner in the November general election.

“(The buildings) were valued [for insurance purposes] at the cost to replace them, which would be more than what they’re worth,” he said.

In other business, commissioners approved adding a position to the Animal Control Department. Read more about that decision in the weekend Messenger.

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Messenger wins big in regional contest

Every year, the North and East Texas Press Association holds the first Better Newspaper contest of the year, with entries due in early February.

If the results are any indication, the Messenger is in for a big year.

Hands Tell the Story

HANDS TELL THE STORY – Roadside cross-maker Mark Irland’s hands were the subject of an award-winning photograph by Messenger photographer Joe Duty. This photo ran March 30, 2013. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

At last weekend’s 88th annual convention at the Courtyard by Marriott in Tyler, Messenger production manager Todd Griffith accepted first-place awards in 10 categories for work that was published in 2013. The newspaper also had two seconds and and three thirds en route to claiming the overall Sweepstakes award in its division.

Griffith was also honored with the Tom Mooney Memorial Friend of Newspaper Award.

The Messenger’s first-place awards came in the following categories:

  • General Excellence: This award is based on two entire issues, March 23 (“Chase ends here”) and May 18 (“Storms rip northern Wise”). Judges commented “Quality newspaper. Excellent use of art and graphics on inside. Great sports photos.” “Great art and good writing.”
  • Sports Coverage: The May 15 and Nov. 2 issues were entered. On May 15, which focused on the UIL state track meet, judges commented: “Very good layout and coverage of a sport (track) that sometimes is overlooked.” On Nov. 2 they said: “Really like the layout. It jumps off the page and is pleasing to the eyes. Great coverage with solid photos and writing.” Both issues: “Like your photos. Some could be cropped closer.”
  • Sports Photo: Entries included an Aug. 24 photo by Joe Duty in which Decatur football player Matt Cedrone got his helmet knocked off during a scrimmage with Graham. Judges wrote: “Good crisp photo. Great crop with the ball and background – it captured emotion of the game. Also, great right hook.” Then a Nov. 27 photo, also by Duty, of the Decatur Lady Eagles hoisting the state championship trophy in volleyball “captured the emotion” according to the judge.
  • Page Design: This contest called for a front page, a sports page, an opinion page and a lifestyle page, all from the same month. The entires, all from May and all designed by Jimmy Alford and Todd Griffith, drew the comment: “Good clean pages, nice use of photos and variety.”
  • Feature Photo: On a March 30 shot of the hands of roadside cross-maker Mark Irland, by Duty, the judge commented, “No words needed – the hands tell all. Great crop, great use of light. Angle of the shot leads you to the story. Has good emotion!” A Nov. 2 shot of Senior Care resident Pat Smith kissing her grandson, Landyn Naugle, who was dressed as Superman for Halloween, drew the comment, “Great composition, Good story line.”
  • Feature Story: The first entry was an April 3 story by Erika Pedroza titled “Ashlie lives on” about a young kidney transplant recipient meeting the family of his donor. The judge commented: “You had me at the lede, ‘Ashlie’s right here.’” The second, by Bob Buckel, was a May 25 story about storage unit auctions titled, “What might be in there…” “Well written and enjoyed the sidebar of a find!” the judge said.
  • Editorial: A piece May 22 by Brian Knox, titled, “CSCOPE fix is anything but” and a Sept. 7 editorial by Buckel titled, “No enemies behind these lines” earned the honor. The judge commented on the Sept. 7 piece that, “This editorial gave a peek behind the curtain of what newspapers have done for years during election season and made no apologies for it.”
  • News Photo: Alford’s photo of a Wise County sheriff’s deputy extinguishing the flames on Evan Ebel’s car after he was shot to end a high-speed chase here ran in the March 23 issue. The judge said, “Good photo for a big news story. Good angle and up close.” The other entry was Duty’s photo after a one-vehicle rollover that ran in the Nov. 20 issue. “Great composition and balance of scene,” the judge wrote. “A good example of why there will always be pro photographers in newspapers.”
  • News Writing: Brandon Evans’ “really good, gripping” story on the Danny Nalley trial ran in the Feb. 9 issue, while Knox’s story on Kirk Heithecker’s murder of his mother over Mother’s Day ran May 15. A judge termed that story “fantastic, great reporting. Impressive that you were able to get investigative documents so early.”
  • Photographer of the Year: A variety of Duty’s photos from news, feature and sports were entered. The judge commented, “Great shooting. Lots of faces. You get right in there. Love the shot of the book with the hands, came with the valve cover. Great use of selective focus on prisoner shot. Same with football shot. All solid images.”

Second-place awards were in headline writing – which often involves the entire staff – as well as Brandon Evans in the Journalist of the Year contest.

The Messenger took third in advertising, special section for the 2013 “Welcome to Wise” issue, and column writing by Buckel.

Tough Shot

TOUGH SHOT – Decatur’s Matt Cedrone took a lick during the Eagles’ final scrimmage in this award-winning photo that ran Aug. 24, 2013. Cedrone and the Eagles recovered to go three rounds deep in the playoffs. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Dazzled crowd: Event raises more than $42,000

Dazzled crowd: Event raises more than $42,000

The Dazzle Me Pink luncheon and fashion show fundraiser, organized by the Wise Regional Health Foundation, never fails to astonish.

Members of the community show up in throngs to the annual event, held at the Decatur Civic Center. Their donations to Mary’s Gift and Women’s Health Services at Wise Regional, through the live auction, raffle or pledges, help provide free mammograms to underserved women throughout Wise County.

Dazle Me Sylvia

DAZZLE ME SYLVIA – Sylvia Elenburg wowed the crowd at the 5th Annual Dazzle Me Pink luncheon and fashion show Wednesday when she removed her wig, exposing her bald head. She has been cancer-free since the end of March. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

At this year’s event Wednesday, monetary donations may have taken a backseat to a bold move on the runway by Sylvia Elenburg of Bridgeport.

Representing Wise Regional Health System’s Bridgeport Auxiliary and modeling clothing from Bealls, Elenburg whipped off her wig as she made her way down the runway, exposing a bald head speckled with tufts of hair – a sign of regrowth.

“I wanted it to be encouraging to ladies who have gone through this or are going through this,” the breast cancer survivor said. “Life is beautiful, and hair is just a minor thing.”

YOUNG MODELS – Bo Monroe Taylor, 21 months, and Hallie Washburn, 7, were among the many models in the Dazzle Me Pink fashion show. Bo is the daughter of Josh and Penny Taylor. Hallie is the daughter of Laurie and Steve Washburn. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Elenburg was diagnosed with breast cancer in October of 2013.

“It was very sudden and out of the blue,” she said.

After detecting an abnormality in her right breast, she scheduled an appointment with her doctor in Bridgeport, who sent her to a specialist in Denton.

After a series of tests, doctors found traces of the disease in both breasts.

“They told me to find a good oncologist so I started seeing a doctor at UT Southwestern in Dallas,” she said.

In late October, Elenburg began an aggressive chemotherapy regimen. She underwent treatment every three weeks and would have a PET scan after three cycles.

“The first scan was extremely encouraging, showing the treatment was effective,” Elenburg said.

But the second PET scan at the end of March delivered even greater news – after just six months of treatment, Elenburg is cancer-free.

“It was a whirlwind,” she said. “It just happens out of the blue, and you go through all the different emotions – shock, fear of what’s going to happen.

“But if you have faith in God and you surround yourself with loved ones, it’s pretty easy to stay encouraged.”

For now, she continues every three weeks to undergo maintenance therapy, an intravenous procedure she lightheartedly refers to as her “booster shot.”

It’s that sense of humor that helped her along the journey – and inspired the wig-removing move at the fundraiser Wednesday.

“I did it to celebrate the good news and hopefully encourage ladies who are facing or have faced this battle,” she said. “For some crazy reason, we get all caught up in losing our hair. But it’s such a minor issue.

“Being courageous and having faith is the main thing,” she continued. “Hair is a small byproduct that’s really not that big of a deal.”

Courage, on the other hand, is huge.

“We were all so thrilled that she had the courage to do that,” said Michelle Stone, WRHS foundation director. “That lends a touch of what we’re there for … for the survivors.”

At the event, which was in its fifth installment, organizers revealed a check in the amount of $41,011. However, Stone said additional donations came in after the event, bringing the total to $42,000.

The amount is less than last year’s record-setting total of $62,013.

“But we had a $25,000 donation that put us way higher,” Stone said. “Year after year, this community takes care of its fellow members. I’m so thankful for that.”

Generous Donation

GENEROUS DONATION – Wednesday’s Dazzle Me Pink event raised more than $42,000 for for Mary’s Gift and Women’s Health Services to help provide free mammograms to underserved women in Wise County. Although the check is written for $41,011, Wise Regional Health System Foundation Director Michelle Stone said additional donations trickled in after the event. Pictured are some of the foundation directors (from left) Andrew Rottner, Donna Stowers, Stone, Colleen Walker, Marianne Henderson, Kevin Haney, Jeff Sicking, WFAA meteorologist Colleen Coyle and Jeremy House, a former board member. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Trial gets underway: Parr v. Aruba takes center stage in Dallas courtroom

Trial gets underway: Parr v. Aruba takes center stage in Dallas courtroom

A Wise County family, and the oil and gas production company they say made them sick and drove them from their home, are finally getting their day in court – in downtown Dallas.

The lawsuit, Parr v. Aruba Petroleum, started with jury selection Monday. A jury of four men and three women was seated Tuesday and opening statements were presented in Dallas County Court-at-Law No. 5, presided over by Judge Mark Greenberg, on the fifth floor of the George L. Allen Sr. Courts Building just across from JFK Memorial Plaza.

Hall Conference

HALL CONFERENCE – Bob and Lisa Parr of Decatur confer with attorneys (from left) Brad Gilde and Richard Capshaw during a break in the lawsuit trial Thursday. The Parrs are suing Aruba Petroleum over alleged toxic emissions from gas wells surrounding their home in rural Wise County. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

It’s being billed as the “first fracking lawsuit in the history of the United States” – but there’s much more than the process of fracturing natural gas wells at issue in what promises to be a lengthy and technical trial.

Robert Parr, wife Lisa and their daughter, Emma, say they started experiencing a variety of health problems in 2009, after Aruba began drilling the first of 20 wells the company operates within a mile-and-a-half of the Parrs’ home on Star Shell Road, off U.S. 380 northeast of Decatur.

The symptoms – nosebleeds, headaches, respiratory and neurological problems – sent Lisa Parr, and eventually her daughter and husband, to a succession of doctors. An environmental medicine specialist recommended they keep a journal to try and tie the onset of symptoms to specific events in their environment.

The journal started in January 2010. On their doctor’s recommendation, they moved out of their house into Parr’s office in Denton that August and lived there most of the time until the following March.

That’s when they filed suit against Aruba and eight other oil companies.

The lawsuit alleges the family’s health problems were caused by toxic gases venting from the site during and after completion of the wells, as well as the exhaust produced by heavy equipment during site preparation, drilling and hydraulic fracturing – fracking.

It also says spills, loud noises and the bright lights used during around-the-clock drilling – operations that went on almost continuously for about two-and-a-half years -caused their mental anguish and reduced the market value of their home.

The case took significantly longer than most other lawsuits to make it to trial, and ultimately, the other defendants were dismissed or settled out of court, leaving only Aruba to defend the suit.

The Parrs’ lead attorney, Brad Gilde of Houston, opened with a videotaped deposition of John Goforth, vice president and manager of Aruba’s Wise County operations.

Goforth, who said he reviewed close to 8,000 pages of documents on the wells prior to testifying, answered questions for about 40 minutes, mostly on the company’s practices and safety policies. After that 40-minute video, a 12-minute cut of the video edited by Aruba’s attorneys was played in lieu of cross-examination before Robert Parr took the stand.

Parr testified the rest of Wednesday. Late that afternoon, Aruba attorney Ben Barron began cross-examination, which continued through Thursday morning before Los Angeles environmental scientist Dr. Paul Rosenfeld was called.

Rosenfeld was questioned by Gilde, then cross-examined by Aruba attorney Michael Mazzone. He was still on the stand at the end of the day and will return Monday when the trial resumes.

No testimony was hard on Friday.

Surrounded

SURROUNDED – Robert and Lisa Parr’s home on Star Shell Road, east of Decatur, sits in a low area, surrounded by gas wells.

BACK AND FORTH

Goforth, a veteran of the oil and gas business, told Gilde his company’s policy on leaks was, “If you see a leak, fix it.”

He said the company does not own an infrared camera – used to detect leaks not visible to the eye – but they do hire a contractor at times to inspect their sites for leaks.

Gilde pointed out on a video of Aruba’s pad sites that several valve assemblies had been wrapped in trash bags and duct tape. Goforth’s response was, “Whatever works in the real world, you do what you have to do and keep going.” He said the wrapping was probably to prevent the valves from freezing.

During cross-examination, he said the drilling, dozing and venting activities seen at the Aruba wells were similar to those seen at all gas wells in the Barnett Shale.

Parr’s testimony began with his youth and background as someone with a deep love for the outdoors – hunting, fishing, working outside and calf-roping. Parr owns a landscape company and a self-storage facility, and he also raises cattle.

He bought the 40-acre place in Wise County, near Denton Creek, in 2000 and built the house there in 2002. He and Lisa were married on the back steps in May 2008.

“That’s sacred ground,” he said. “We have a lot of memories there.”

But the property, he said, is “bottom land.” Heavier-than-air vapors from the surrounding gas wells naturally settle in the low-lying area.

Under Gilde’s questioning, he testified about his symptoms and those of his wife and daughter, the treatment they sought and the air-quality testing they had done on the property – both by a private contractor and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).

A series of videos made by a neighbor, Tim Ruggerio, showed drilling and fracking operations going on day and night. The Ruggerios have since sold their property and moved to Pilot Point.

The videos also showed flares, visible emissions and apparent leaks from tanks – all within a few hundred yards of the Parr house.

Parr referred to the family’s journal to refresh his memory on dates.

“On July 25, 2010, they were doing a mini-frack [on a nearby well],” he said. “Lisa got sick, I got sick, and we called the TCEQ and the inspector got sick.”

“On Feb. 16, 2010, a neighbor called about a drilling mud spill and wanted me to come on her property,” he said. Part of that spill, from Aruba wells 7H and 8H, was captured on video.

“On Feb. 19, Lisa was coughing and threw up. It persisted for several days.”

The journal details nosebleeds experienced by all three family members, including times when their daughter would wake up in the middle of the night, covered in blood.

“We smelled the odors from natural gas activities all the time,” he said. “It’s disheartening, scary. It makes you feel your mortality.”

He also viewed and commented on 14 videos, most made by Ruggerio.

During cross-examination, Barron’s questioning focused on the value of the house and property, which has been on the market for almost two years at $695,000. He touched on the fact that Parr continued to bale hay and raise cattle on the property and sold those cattle for meat.

He also hammered home the point that numerous wells near the property were drilled and are operated by other companies, including Encana and Burlington Resources.

“Is there any force field around those 70 other non-Aruba wells that prevents these emissions from coming on your land?” he asked. He asserted that “it’s not just Aruba, but other operations around your property that are causing your medical problems.”

But Parr stuck to his guns, insisting the problems did not start until Aruba started drilling. Most of the attention focused on three Aruba wells: Wright 6H, which is 791 feet from the Parr property, and 7H and 8H, which are both on the same pad 1,964 feet from the Parrs’ property.

Thursday morning, Barron focused on Parr’s health over the past 20 years. He also pointed out that Parr had sold a pipeline easement to Aruba for $7,500 in 2009, then sought to impeach the reliability of the non-traditional medical treatment the Parrs received at Environmental Health Center of Dallas.

Gilde questioned Parr briefly after Barron finished, re-establishing the claim that Aruba wells were responsible for the Parrs’ health problems and expanding on the medical care they received.

ENVIRONMENTAL EXPERT

After lunch Thursday, Rosenfeld took the stand, likely the first of several environmental experts who will deliver evidence for both sides.

Under Gilde’s questioning, he established his credentials and testified about extensive air quality testing done on the property. He went into the science of the various gases collected on the Parrs’ property, their odors, vapor densities and other characteristics.

He said his testing revealed the highest concentration of chemicals in 2009, with the air quality improving slightly each of the next two years.

“When you first drill a well, a lot of condensate comes out,” he said. “That diminishes over time. These wells typically are really productive at first, and they do all they can to stimulate production. Then it tapers off.”

His report showed air quality models made around the Parrs’ house for all three years, based on 44 tests conducted by the TCEQ within a quarter-mile of the Parrs’ house.

“The hazard index was above 1 for both respiratory and neurological risks,” he said. “According to the EPA, you’re not supposed to live there.”

When Mazzone took over late in the day, he called into question Rosenfeld’s use of terms like “do the right thing” and “be cool” with regard to how gas producers should operate.

He also questioned Rosenfeld’s use of the word “conservative” in his modeling of emissions, noting he had changed the acceptable standard from 33.3 pounds of VOCs per barrel of liquid to between 9 and 16 pounds in a later report.

“In fact, the emission factor you used in the 2011 affidavit was off by almost three times,” Mazzone said. “You called 33 ‘conservative’ even though later you dropped it down to 9 to 16.”

Rosenfeld pointed out that more research had been done, referring to Wise County as “the most heavily fracked and studied area in Texas.”

“The EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) did a very thorough estimate of VOCs in Wise County,” he said. “They came up with newly-generated VOC data that was published in 2012. I used the best available number I had at that time.

“They refined the numbers by doing more investigation.”

Finally, Mazzone pointed out that Rosenfeld had never worked a day in the oil and gas industry, yet felt qualified to comment and draw the conclusion that valves and fittings on the Aruba sites he visited appeared to be new – as if they had been replaced just prior to the site visit.

He reiterated that many of the well sites around the Parr property were not Aruba sites.

“Of the 35 sites, 24 were not Aruba sites,” he said. “Encana operated more natural gas wells within two miles of the Parr property than any other operator.”

Mazzone likely will still question Rosenfeld for a few more hours on Monday morning, when the trial is scheduled to resume.

NOTE: This story recounts just a few highlights from roughly 13 to 14 hours of testimony during the first two days of what may be a 15- or 20-day trial. Many more witnesses remain to be called, and many facts have not yet been brought to light. The Messenger will continue to monitor this ongoing trial.

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Shoplifter not crafty, facing prison time

A Sunset woman could be looking at up to 10 years in prison for allegedly stealing items including Krazy Glue and popcorn from a local retailer.

Tena Marie Cage

Tena Marie Cage, 55, was indicted by a Wise County grand jury March 27 for theft less than $1,500 with two or more previous convictions.

According to Decatur Police Sgt. Mike Picha, Cage was arrested for shoplifting last July 12 at Wal-Mart in Decatur. A loss prevention officer found her past the point of sale with items concealed in her purse.

According to the indictment on file at the Wise County District Clerk’s office, those items included “Krazy Glue, Super Glue, Activity Kit and two bags of Chester’s popcorn.”

“It looks like she was working on some kind of craft project,” Picha said.

The total amount of items found in Cage’s purse totaled $189.16, he noted. That would normally constitute theft $50-$500 – a Class B misdemeanor punishable by up to 180 days in county jail and up to a $2,000 fine.

However, Cage has twice been convicted of theft $50-$500 – once in July 2003 in Tarrant County and again in August 2003 in Denton County. Because of those two prior convictions, a third conviction would become a state jail felony, punishable by up to two years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

But the indictment also carries an enhancement paragraph, pointing out that Cage was convicted of two charges of possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram in November 2003 in Montague County. Those state jail felony convictions bump the punishment range for the shoplifting charge to that of a third-degree felony – a minimum of two years to a maximum of 10 years in prison and a fine up to $10,000.

While this type of case is rare, Picha said the law states that after two theft convictions, any type of theft, even something as small as a pack of gum, could lead to a felony charge.

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Egg hunts, Easter celebrations planned across county

Easter is just around the corner and many communities, churches and local organizations are planning to host egg hunts to celebrate the holiday.

Easter Tradfitions 1

EASTER TRADITIONS – A baby stops to play with his first find at an Easter egg hunt. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Events promise loads of brightly-colored eggs, candy and games for all ages. The Easter Bunny will even be making appearances across the county.

To find an egg hunt near you, see below:

BOYD – Trinity Baptist Church of Boyd is having an Easter egg hunt 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, April 12, at 455 W. Rock Island Ave.

NEWARK – The 4th Annual Community Egg Hunt sponsored by the city of Newark is 10:30 a.m., Saturday, April 12, at Newark City Hall, 209 Hudson St. There will be more than 2,000 candy-filled eggs. Games and prizes will follow the hunt, and grand prizes will be awarded to those that find prize eggs during the hunt.

DECATUR - Senior Care Health and Rehabilitation in Decatur will host an egg hunt 2 to 4 p.m. Saturday, April 12. The Easter Bunny will be present for photos, and there will be a bounce house, popcorn and refreshments. All ages are welcome, but participants must bring their own baskets. For information, call 940-626-2800.

BRIDGEPORT – Bridgeport Parks and Recreation’s Eggstravaganza carnival and egg hunt is 2 to 4:30 p.m. Sunday, April 13, at Bridgeport Community Center and the Lawdwin Ballfields. There will be games, candy, face painting and inflatables. The egg hunt starts promptly at 2 p.m. For information, call 940-683-3480.

CHICO – Morris Memorial United Methodist Church of Chico will present “Jesus, Messiah” 7 p.m. Sunday, April 13. Food will be served following the performance. The church is located at 302 Weatherford St.

DECATUR - The Wise County Sheriff’s Office annual Easter egg hunt is 11 a.m. Monday, April 14, at the Decatur Civic Center. The event is for ages 5 and younger. Bring an Easter basket and a camera for photos with the Easter Bunny. Hot dogs, chips, snacks and drinks will be provided.

DECATUR – Decatur Public Library’s Annual Easter Egg Hunt is 10:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m. Wednesday, April 16. Children are invited to join at either time for an egg hunt in the Priddy Reading Garden, story, crafts and games. To register a child for the Easter Egg Hunt, stop by the library at 1700 Farm Road 51 South, leave a message on Facebook (decaturtxlibrary) or call 940-393-0290.

RHOME – There will be an Easter egg hunt 11 a.m. Saturday, April 19, at Rhome Family Park, 400 S. Virginia. There will also be games, a bounce house and refreshments. The Easter Bunny will be hopping around giving out candy and posing for pictures with the kids, and at 12:30 p.m. the Air Evac helicopter will be on display and available for tours and photos.

Easter Tradfitions 2

EASTER TRADITIONS – Wise County churches have planned special services and events to celebrate Easter. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

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Commissioners to meet at full strength

Every seat in commissioners court Monday will be filled for the first time since mid-October.

Following the death of County Judge Bill McElhaney Oct. 14, commissioners operated with Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns filling the judge’s post as well as the one to which he was elected.

Meanwhile, Glenn Hughes had been serving as interim Precinct 4 commissioner since August 2012 pending the conclusion of a civil suit calling for the removal of Commissioner Terry Ross. Ross was removed from office March 19, and Hughes resigned from the post the next day.

He was appointed interim county judge March 24, and on April 3 he appointed Gary Potts to fill the open Precinct 4 seat.

The string of vacancies, removals and appointments has created the following lineup for Monday: Glenn Hughes, county judge; Danny White, Precinct 1 commissioner; Kevin Burns, Precinct 2 commissioner; Harry Lamance, Precinct 3 commissioner; and Gary Potts, Precinct 4 commissioner.

Hughes and Potts will hold their respective offices until a new judge and Precinct 4 commissioner are elected in the Nov. 4 general election. The winners of those races will take office as soon as the votes are canvassed.

On Monday, commissioners will have a regular meeting at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. They will discuss and consider a small watershed rehabilitation resolution for Big Sandy Watershed project and Salt Creek and Laterals Watershed project.

They will also discuss adding all the structures at the Wise County Fairgrounds to the county’s property insurance and adding a part-time or full-time position to the Animal Control Department.

Commissioners will also consider bids, approve plats, accept donations and consider joint project agreements between the county and other local governmental entities.

Monday’s meeting is open to the public.

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Messenger’s Griffith honored

Todd Griffith, Wise County Messenger production manager and webmaster, was presented the Tom Mooney Memorial Friend of the Newspaper Award Friday at the North and East Texas Press Association convention in Tyler.

Griffith is NETPA website chairman and has served on the board for two years. He has worked for the Messenger for 18 years, playing an integral role in the daily operation and production of the newspaper.

Griffith maintains the computer systems and servers at the Messenger office and oversees all aspects of production – news and advertising. He also strives to implement the latest technology, giving readers not only a quality print product, but also a cutting-edge digital news experience.

The Friend of the Newspaper Award was created in 1995 following the death of Tom Mooney, longtime publisher of the McGregor Mirror and a past NETPA president. The award signifies support of the association at the highest level and is chosen by NETPA leadership.

Griffith was presented the award at a luncheon Friday.

Messenger Publisher Roy Eaton and wife, Jeannine, received the Mooney Award in 2011.

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TEA approves most districts’ weather waivers

The Texas Education Agency has approved most Wise County school districts’ waivers, allowing them to forego making up instructional days lost because of this past winter’s inclement weather.

Boyd ISD is the lone district whose application is still out to the TEA, according to Superintendent Ted West.

Several districts, like Decatur ISD, had to ask the state to waive up to five missed instructional days. Northwest ISD proved to be the exception, having avoided some severe storms this past winter.

“We only had two days waived, and we absorbed two others into the school calendar,” said Emily Conklin, NISD director of communications.

She said NISD was still affected by the major December ice storm, like most schools in the area.

The process for requesting the agency to waive missed instructional days is online at www.tea.state.tx.us. The site explains that missed instructional days can be waived if caused by bad weather, safety or health issues. Schools may also request waivers for other reasons.

Bridgeport ISD Superintendent Eddie Bland said his district not only needed five days waived for severe weather, but also another two days for low attendance.

Bland said schools that experience days with a 10 percent drop in attendance compared to previous years can have those day waived.

“One of those days followed the four days of ice in December. We were back in school, but we only had 82 percent of students attend,” Bland said. “The day following the city’s water outage we were like at 85 percent.”

The city of Bridgeport experienced major water main breaks in January that forced them to issue a boil-water notice to customers.

TEA also approved waivers for Paradise, Alvord, and Slidell ISD. Paradise Assistant Superintendent Patti Seckman said an additional day left out of the district’s original application will be on the board of trustees’ April 21 agenda for approval and submission to the state.

The additional day, if granted, would bring PISD’s total days waived to five.

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Bigs down, smalls up in county sales tax income

After a weak April, three of Wise County’s top four cities are running below last year in sales tax income.

But with the exception of Newark, 2014 is off to a rosy start for the rest of the county.

Decatur slipped below the water for the year with an 11.3 percent drop in April – taking in $290,207 compared to $327,149 in the same period last year.

Bridgeport trumped that with a 15 percent deficit. The city took in $208,150 after collecting $245,000 last year.

For the year, Decatur is eight-tenths of a percent behind last year while Bridgeport is almost 20 percent behind.

Rhome had a 7.8 percent loss for the month, but still checks in with a 7.5-percent gain for the year overall.

That’s about how far behind New Fairview is after a nearly 12-percent decline for April. But Boyd, Chico, Alvord, Paradise, Runaway Bay, Aurora and Lake Bridgeport are all up for the year – from Boyd’s 24.6 percent to 7.8 percent in Alvord.

The sales tax figures represent the cities’ share of February sales reported in March by monthly tax filers.

Wise County, which gets a half-cent, is up 14.2 percent for the year after a slight loss in April.

Statewide, cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts’ allocations were up 6.2 percent compared to April 2013.

April Sales Tax

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WC board approves in-district tuition for all dual credit courses

Area high school students will now have access to dual credit courses at Weatherford College at in-district rates regardless of their address following a vote by the Weatherford College board of trustees Thursday afternoon.

A review of dual credit tuition was conducted in response to school districts’ concerns about students not being able to participate in the program due to the cost of out-of-district tuition. Now, students will pay a flat rate of $80 per credit hour regardless of where they reside.

Students who are on the free/reduced lunch program will continue to pay $25 per credit hour, and technical dual credit courses remain free.

A reduction in revenue of $96,525 is expected at first, but administrators believe the new rates will ultimately draw additional students into the program who have declined to register for dual credit courses in the past because of the cost.

“It will be good business, in the long run, to adopt in-district tuition for all dual credit in the high schools,” Andra Cantrell, vice president of financial and administrative affairs, explained to the board.

In other business, the board:

  • listened to a construction report on the Don Allen Health Science Building. The facility will be completed by the end of the month and handed over to the college May 9.
  • approved a change order to the Don Allen Health Science Building Construction Contract for $1.38 million, which includes the renovation of the existing Allied Health Building. Renovation work on the building will take place over the summer and be open for classes in the fall.
  • recognized basketball player Itiana Taylor for being a finalist for the 2014 WBCA Community College Player of the Year.
  • learned that math professor Rickey Harman is retiring after 11 years at WC, and nursing instructor Carin Adams has submitted her resignation to accept an administrative position at JPS.
  • approved the purchase of $52,627 worth of science equipment and supplies from six vendors.

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Former youth league director indicted for theft

The former director of a Wise County youth football league has been indicted by the grand jury for theft of property $1,500-$20,000 and credit card or debit card abuse.

Both are state jail felonies, punishable by 180 days to two years in jail.

Robert L. Vidal

Robert L. Vidal, 44, of Chico is accused of using a debit/credit card belonging to Wise County Midget and Pee Wee Football League as payment for a cruise in February 2012, according to the indictment. The thefts from the league account were ongoing from around September of 2011 to June 1, 2013, the indictment states.

An arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the Wise County Messenger last October stated that Vidal took approximately $8,500 from the organization during that time period.

The Wise County Pee Wee Football Association was created in 2011 and included teams from Bridgeport, Paradise, Chico, Alvord and Jacksboro. Vidal was named director of the organization and put in charge of scheduling and finances for the league.

Each city’s youth football league initially contributed $600 to the account. Participants continued to add to the account from money raised through fees and fundraisers until the balance grew to between $8,000 and $10,000.

Last summer, the association decided it wanted to split back into city youth football leagues. But when the commissioners went to divide the funds, they discovered nothing was left in the account.

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County Clerk Records filed March 2014

Recorded marriage licenses Filed March 2014

Ronny Charles Thomas Jr. and Sheila Marie Nielsen, both of Chico

Robert Allison Strickland and Jennifer Lynette Dykes, both of Bridgeport

Danny Ray Peek Jr. of Alvord and April Marie Platzer of Sunset

James Gary McCaleb Jr. of Boyd and Angela Darlene Tackett of Paradise

Joe Roy Smith and Keri Ann Ivy, both of Rhome

James Michael Coulter and Kathy Lynn Deyo, both of Bridgeport

Benito L. Cervantes and Araceli Aguilera Lopez, both of Bridgeport

Richard David Parrish of Decatur and Katherine Jaunell Cook of Alvord

Michael Christopher O’Neil of Decatur and Kayla Renee White of Rhome

Donaciano Ramos Castruita and Sara Damas Flores, both of Bridgeport

Joaquin Miguel Mendoza Moreno and Agustina Perez Mata, both of Rhome

Joshua Leon Gober and Kimberly Diane Huff, both of Bridgeport

Joseph Wayne Stockton of Decatur and Dana Kaye Stout of Denton

Edward Wayne Elam Jr. and Jennifer Sue Harris, both of Paradise

William Jeffrey McCain Jr. and Maria Hilda Mendoza, both of Rhome

Elias Torres-Moreno and Jasani Uribe Garcia, both of Boyd

Sergio Alberto Rodriguez Perez and Christi Nicole Rhine, both of Bridgeport

Donald Ray Roberts Jr. of Decatur and Dylan Jon McCracken of Fort Worth

Shane Wesley Lindsey and Kimberly Leeann Hancock, both of Alvord

Dale Lee Houston and Racheal Lynn Cooper, both of Sunset

Jeffrey Elliott Hall and Georgia Cerise Baker, both of Poolville

Melvin Wayne Bostick and Barbara Kathleen McDonald, both of Lake Bridgeport

Jeremy Dewayne Allen Nelson and Christi Reyna Gordon, both of Boyd

Wensel John Niesner Jr. and Rebecca Ann Brown, both of Decatur

Andrew Fletcher Hill and Betty Frances Colston, both of Haslet

Cameron Dustin Brazeau and Hannah V. McWilliams, both of Decatur

Austin Clifton Fairman and Kimberly Lynn James-Kelly, both of Decatur

Wiley Loyd Preskitt III and Dovie Ellen Via, both of Bridgeport

Roger Allen Witham Jr. and Debbie Ann Witham, both of Alvord

David Glenn Harrell and Brandie Nicole Wilcox, both of Newark

James Rance Schertz and Kendra Denise Ford, both of Decatur

Chase Franklin Bowman of Bridgeport and Haley Michelle Guinn of Paradise

Eric Lee Mann of Bowie and Heather Jaclene Miskiewicz of Alvord

Patrik Hyle Valenzuela and Helena Marie Bagrosky, both of Aurora

Jordan Lee Sinclair of Newark and Kimberly Dawn Dobson of Fort Worth

John Robert Young and Janis Carrie Madlem, both of Watson

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District Clerk Records Filed March 2014

ACCOUNTS, CONTRACTS, NOTES

Vanderbilt Mortgage and Finance Inc. vs. Shawn Simmons and Melissa Simmons

American Express Bank, FSB vs. Roger Leaton, individually, and DBA Dr. Roger Leaton

T&W Tire LLC vs. Chico Coffman Tank Trucks Inc.

FORECLOSURES

168 County Road 2195 in Decatur, Larry Pryor and Ida Kathy Pryor

207 Knox in Boyd

1038 County Road 2585 in Alvord

INJURY OR DAMAGE

Keith Stone vs. Devon Energy Corp.

DIVORCES FILED

Christine B. Fawley and Ronald E. Fowley

Martha Ann Paul and Curtis Alan Paul

Marie France Kawanzaruwa and John Allen Kawanzaruwa

Mark Allan McClary and Haiying Warner

Michelle Dawn Walter and Terry Lee Walter

Deidra Schmalz and Calvin Christian Schmalz

Reynaldo Castaneda and Denise Castaneda

Claudia Campos Hernandez and Manuel Campos Dominguez

Nickey Ray McCasland and Brooklyn Sierra McCasland

April Michelle Robinson and Michael Owen Robinson

Cathy Darlene Meador Brown and Jonathan Lynn Brown

Christina Leigh White and Joe Don Smith

Jackie McClure-Shelby and William Willey Shelby

Alisha Reed and Robert Dustin Reed

Adrienne Marie Reed and Robert Dean Reed

Brandy Nicole Cravens and Michael Wayne Cravens

Mary Louise King and Michael John King

George Anna Bray and Jerry Don Bray

Lorna Beth Owens Pegg and Jeffry Allen Pegg

Kassandra Gayle Spencer and Johnathon Ray Spencer

Eric Voin Evans and Mandy Deanna Evans

Frank Lauro and Deanna Slaughter Lauro

Eli Gallegos and Vanessa Gallegos

Bettye L. Prohs and Leonard W. Prohs

Jason Lee Hunter and Lorie Marie Campbell Hunter

Lynda Michelle Stone Reed and Jerry Steven Reed

Kenneth Michael Newville and Kristi Nichele Newville

Wanda Lance Hudson and J.L. Hudson

Amy Rene Burns Scott and Donny Ray Scott

Juno A. Zhang and Bin Zhang

James E. Williams and Rhonda Carter Ripple

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Favorable verdict; Local judge earns Tarrant County honor

Wise County lawyers feel the man behind the bench of the 271st Judicial District Court is top-notch – fair, thoughtful and impartial.

But they’re not the only ones.

Lawyers outside the county agree with that verdict.

Judge Fostel

Earlier this year, the Tarrant County Trial Lawyers Association (TCTLA) named Fostel the recipient of the Charles J. Murray Outstanding Jurist Award.

Although Fostel is the fifth recipient of the honor, he is the first judge outside Tarrant County to receive it.

“They could’ve picked a judge from Denton, Parker or any of the other surrounding counties, but they picked our very own judge in Wise County,” said Mike Simpson, who has practiced law locally since 1977. “Not only do we think he’s a great judge, I hear all the time from lawyers outside of the county who say Judge Fostel is the best trial judge there is. This award is evidence of that. He earned this honor by impressing lawyers outside Wise County.”

The association planned to recognize Fostel Saturday at its Annual Judicial Dinner Celebration, which honors civil courts judiciary in Tarrant, Dallas, Johnson, Parker and Wise counties.

“It means a lot,” said Fostel, who has served as district judge since 1995. “It means that attorneys from Tarrant County who have appeared before me feel like they get a fair trial in my court and that I run it soundly – which is what I strive for every day … I am humbled by it and probably not deserving of it.”

But those who work with Fostel disagree.

“As out-of-town lawyers [his court] is always a pleasant place to practice because Judge Fostel is always prepared,” said John Jose, president-elect of the TCTLA. “He’s read his motions, and he understands the law and the issue probably better than the litigants.

“No. 2, he runs a very efficent docket, and you can always expect to get a trial in a relatively short period of time, which is appreciated by all parties,” he continued. “And No. 3, you always know you’re going to get a fair trial. You’re going to get balls and strikes called fairly.”

Named in memory of a distinguished Texas trial judge in the ’70s and ’80s, the Charles J. Murray Outstanding Jurist Award is presented annually to a deserving federal or state judge who has served on the bench for a significant period of time and has exhibited an exceptionally outstanding reputation for competency, efficiency and integrity.

“When you look at the definitions and the principles of the award, you see why Judge Fostel is our selection,” said Coby Wooten, president of the TCTLA. ” … He’s one of the longest-serving judges we have. He’s never had an opponent from either party. In addition to being a good judge, he’s a really great guy.”

To select a recipient, the TCTLA board of directors opens the floor for nominations and discusses the qualifications and background of each candidate.

“Then the recipient of the award is ultimately determined by a majority vote of the board members of this organization,” Wooten said. ” … This award is a democratic award – not meaning politics, but the process itself.”

Fostel’s was among four nominations brought to the board this year.

“Once we got into discussion it was pretty obvious he was the top choice,” Wooten said. “It’s a testament to how well-respected he is.”

Although Fostel grew up in Irving, he has spent his entire career in Wise County.

“My mom grew up here,” Fostel said. “I always felt close ties. I never had the desire to practice in the city.”

Fostel earned an undergraduate degree from Texas Christian University and attended Texas Tech University School of Law.

After earning his license in 1973, he joined the the law firm of W.B. Woodruff, which later became the office of Woodruff, Fostel, Wren and Simpson.

In 1994, he was elected to the bench.

“From a courtroom perspective, he believes in the right to a jury trial and the sworn oath that attorneys take,” Wooten said. “That we as attorneys have to advocate for our clients – all of them, the good and the bad – and [we have] to protect the very rights most take for granted or don’t even know about until they need that very protection.

“[He believes] the process allows for protections or safeguards to guard against waste or bad practice, but that everybody should have a fair shot and access to the court system, a jury trial and verdict, either good or bad,” Wooten said. “That a right to have a jury of their peers determine their case is paramount to our United States system.”

“He exhibits all the things you’d certainly want to honor in a trial judge,” Jose said.

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Precinct 4 post filled

Precinct 4 post filled

County Judge Glenn Hughes named an interim Precinct 4 commissioner this week.

Gary Potts of Paradise was sworn in by Hughes in the third floor conference room Thursday afternoon, taking office immediately.

Oath of Office

OATH OF OFFICE – County Judge Glenn Hughes (right) issues the oath of office Thursday to Gary Potts, newly appointed Precinct 4 commissioner. Potts, who lives in Paradise, took office immediately. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Hughes said Potts is a lifetime resident of Precinct 4 and “exactly what the county needs.”

“I would just like to say how fortunate I am, and Wise County is, to have someone the caliber of Gary to serve Wise County,” Hughes said, just before issuing him the oath of office.

Potts is filling a post left vacant when District Judge Roger Towery removed Commissioner Terry Ross from office March 19. He will serve until a new commissioner – either Republican Gaylord Kennedy or Democrat Kristina Kemp – is elected in the general election Nov. 4. The winner of that election will take office as soon as the votes are canvassed.

“The job is definitely not about an individual, but about the precinct and the people in it,” said Potts.

He said the Precinct 4 citizens need a voice in commissioners court, and it’s important to have a representative actively serving during the preparation of the 2015 fiscal year budget.

Potts maintained and defined a budget for his department at what was then Mitchell Energy (now Devon) and as a Paradise school board member. He said he never went over budget while working for Mitchell and was recognized and commended for his efforts.

“Budget issues have to be addressed with common sense … and when we know the whole picture, we can take a common-sense approach,” he said.

Potts retired from Mitchell in 1999. In addition to serving on the school board, he volunteered with the Paradise Parks and Rec Board and is a past-president of the Bridgeport Historical Society.

He and his family also raise and race horses and enjoy spending time at their place in New Mexico.

Potts said although he has had a hiatus from community involvement, he’s always had a special place in his heart for this county he calls home as well as a respect for the position of county commissioner and its obligations.

“We all need to give back …,” he said, “and if I can do this, then I’m pleased.”

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King, Estes on desalination study committee

Both of Wise County’s representatives in Austin will serve on a Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination.

House Speaker Joe Strauss announced last Friday state Rep. Phil King (R-Weatherford) will serve on the panel, which is chaired by state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls).

The committee, which will likely begin meeting in May, is charged with examining the status of seawater and groundwater desalination in Texas, as well as ways that expanded use of desalinated water could help meet Texas’ water needs.

The Texas Desalination Association says the state has almost 100 desalination plants, producing 138 million gallons of water per day. All of them use brackish groundwater, not seawater, which has a much higher concentration of salt.

Other House appointees to the interim committee are Rep. Todd Hunter of Corpus Christi, Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City, Rep. Lyle Larson of San Antonio, Rep. Marisa M rquez of El Paso, Rep. Tim Kleinschmidt of Lexington and Rep. Terry Canales of Edinburg.

Other Senate appointees, announced in January, include Sen. Troy Fraser of Marble Falls, Sen. Glenn Hegar of Katy, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa of McAllen and Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. of Brownsville.

“Water remains a top priority for the Texas House because it remains critical to the Texas economy and our quality of life,” said Straus (R-San Antonio). “These members will play an important role in building consensus around smart, responsible water solutions.”

King said looking at alternative ways to address future water needs “is critical for ensuring a strong Texas economy.”

During the 83rd Legislative Session, House Bill 4 was approved and signed into law establishing the SWIFT account to pay for needed water supply and conservation projects across Texas. Last November, Texans voted by a three-to-one margin to amend the constitution to dedicate funding out of the state’s Rainy Day account for those projects.

The interim committee will work to ensure that efforts to improve the state’s water supply are properly and effectively implemented. They will also help the full House prepare to address water matters in the next legislative session, which begins in January 2015.

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Family forced to flee gets day in court

A family forced to flee their home because of air pollution almost four years ago will finally have their day in court.

Bob and Lisa Parr of the Allison community in east Wise County filed a lawsuit against several oil and gas companies in Dallas County in March 2011, after a doctor warned them chemicals from a ring of gas wells were poisoning and could potentially kill them.

Seeing Red

SEEING RED – Lisa Parr pulls up an image of her daughter Emma, who was 7 at the time, suffering from a nose bleed possibly related to air pollution from gas wells near the family’s home in Allison. A jury trial involving this and many other ailments suffered by the family begins Monday in Dallas County Court between the Parrs and several companies associated with oil and gas production. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

A jury trial in the case is set to begin Monday morning at Dallas County Court at Law No. 5. Judge Mike Greenberg will be presiding.

The Parrs are suing the companies for environmental contamination and pollution of their property and persons from natural gas operations. The list of defendants includes Aruba Petroleum, Ash Grove Resources, Encana, Halliburton, Republic Energy, Ryder Scott Oil Co. and Tejas Production Services, Inc.

Lisa Parr, her husband Bob and her young daughter Emma, who was 7 at the time, all suffered symptoms such as nosebleeds, rashes, headaches, memory loss and trembling, among a litany of other ailments. Lisa has been left with scar-pocked arms from the rashes.

The symptoms were so bad the Parrs had to leave their home in east Wise County and live out of Bob Parr’s business office in Denton for more than six months at one point. Their doctors tracked the symptoms directly to chemicals and emissions related to different phases of natural gas extraction and production.

Their home, which is located on 40 acres in a valley by Denton Creek, is surrounded by more than 50 gas wells within a two-mile radius. So many companies have been named in the suit because all levels of production, from drilling and fracking to daily operations of the wells, are culpable, said their attorney Brad Gilde.

“There are spills and high levels of emissions documented on the same days that (Lisa Parr) got sick,” Gilde said in a previous interview with the Messenger. “That makes this case clear and strong and unique.”

One example occurred the evening of July 25, 2010. The Parrs smelled a strong odor emanating from a frack tank at a site operated by Aruba Petroleum of Plano. They reported it to Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. Investigators arrived within hours to capture air samples.

Odors were detected up to a quarter-mile from the well site. The investigator, Damon Armstrong, reported a “plume” wafting from the tank was “visible with the naked eye.” The petroleum-like odor was so intense the investigator himself felt sick in the short time he was there, noting dizziness and sore throat in his report.

The analysis found five compounds that exceeded safe values for short-term health effects, and another 20 exceeded safe levels for long-term effects.

The investigation found elevated levels of ethane, pentane, hexane, octane, xylene and nonane, all potentially toxic chemicals.

Four days later, a medical test discovered the same chemicals inside Lisa.

Aruba Petroleum was also the target of another lawsuit from an Allison family, the Ruggieros. That suit was settled out of court.

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