Insurance bite could’ve been worse; County’s loss ratio means higher premiums

Wise County is facing an 11.3 percent hike in employee health insurance rates, effective Oct. 1, but the double-digit increase is not as high as originally anticipated.

In a special meeting last week, Brian Stephens with Stephens, Bastian and Cartwright told county commissioners that the initial renewal rate called for a 38.9 percent increase.

“It’s ugly,” he said. “But honestly, I’m surprised it wasn’t higher than that.”

He explained that the key factor in determining insurance rates is medical loss ratio – the dollar amount of claims spent versus the amount of premiums paid into the plan.

“They want you at 80 to 85 percent, and you’ve been at 120 percent,” he said. “That means 20 percent more premiums were paid out than in.”

In a comparison of Wise County’s statistics to other entities on an Aetna plan, every average was higher with the exception of length of hospital stay. Stephens said the categories that probably most greatly affected the rate increase were the higher than average number of surgeries and emergency room visits.

He recommended educating employees on which physicians’ offices are open at night or on weekends, to help cut down on trips to the ER.

“Your loss ratio has been bad for two years in a row,” he said. “You have a large number of large claims and so what we did was in anticipation of this, we asked Aetna, ‘If we don’t take it to market, what’s the best you can do?’

“As it turns out, we got an offer from them that blows me away,” he said. “I’ve never been more certain in my career that this is a deal that we shouldn’t pass up.”

Aetna put a package together that would allow the county to keep its current plan with only a 19.4 percent increase. This would mean an annual total cost increase of $816,612.

Stephens also presented commissioners with two other plans that cost even less but that are slightly different from the county’s current insurance plan.

Option 1 called for a 14 percent increase – an additional $590,448 annually – and option 2 reflected an 11.3 percent increase or $474,852 annually.

The increases affect those across the entire plan (employees and dependents), so a portion will be absorbed by employees. The county pays 100 percent of employees’ insurance costs and 65 percent of dependent coverage.

In their regular meeting Monday, commissioners decided to go with option 2. It also includes a 6.8 percent increase in dental insurance, but no increase for life insurance.

“It’s not fun, but it’s the nature of the beast in this day and time,” said County Judge Glenn Hughes.

The new health insurance plan includes a $1,000 deductible, where previously there was none, and a $2,500 out-of-pocket maximum. Specialist co-pay is $60.

The increased cost to employees per paycheck for health insurance is $13.12 for an “employee + 1″ plan, and $18.92 for an “employee and family” plan.

At the meeting, Hughes asked Stephens how long it would take to “get back in the good graces” of the insurance company.

It’s a function of time and number of members, Stephens said.

“The more people in your group, the less time it takes,” he said. “Most carriers will put the most emphasis on the last 12 months.”

He said other considerations are the number and acuity of conditions in the group.

“Health conditions of the group is a major consideration of what next year’s claims are going to be,” he said. “You have a couple of large claims and some of them are ongoing. Large claims data is more than twice of what we’d like to see.”

Stephens did not recommend shopping around for insurance because the county’s medical loss ratio is so poor.

Posted in News0 Comments

Constable vehicles will all be marked

There will no longer be any unmarked constable vehicles on Wise County roads.

County commissioners decided Monday that all constable vehicles should be marked in accordance with the Texas Transportation Code.

The issue was brought up when Precinct 3 Constable Doug Parr, who currently drives an unmarked vehicle, asked that regular license plate tags be put on his car.

He currently has exempt tags, which according to the state Transportation Code, are to be used only on marked vehicles.

“I was asking (Judge Glenn Hughes) about getting that fixed so that I’m running legally just like the sheriff’s civil deputies and the county attorney investigators and D.A. investigators and everybody else,” he said. “That was my request, just to put tags on it, so it’s legal.”

But the discussion quickly shifted from the topic of tags to the issue of marked versus unmarked cars.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg said section 721.004 of the Texas Transportation Code requires that county-owned vehicles be marked, but section 721.005 allows commissioners to exempt certain vehicles from inscription, including those belonging to constables.

“The question for the court is whether you want constables to have unmarked vehicles,” he said. “That would allow them to go down and have regular plates.”

Currently, vehicles used by Constables Dennis Hudson and Larry Short, in Precincts 1 and 2 respectively, are marked, and Parr’s is unmarked. Precinct 4 Constable Kevin Huffman’s vehicle is marked, but it’s white-on-white, which is potentially difficult to see.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White was the first to speak up.

“I personally would like to see our constable cars marked,” he said. “Tags on it impress me none.

“If they go out to serve papers or something, they need to be identified when they’re driving up,” he said. “They should have some type of marking visible. I don’t like the black lettering on black cars.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance said as a retired police officer, he understands why Parr might want an unmarked car, but in his current position he agrees with White.

“The citizens are going to call us and are going to say there’s some jasper out there with a gun on, and we don’t know what he’s doing and all that,” he said.

“My question would be why is my department different from others in the county doing the exact same job?” Parr asked.

White said he wasn’t opposed to marking all of them because he sees it as a safety issue.

“Why are we going around with marked cars and unmarked cars for law enforcement?” he asked.

The Sheriff’s Office uses two unmarked cars to serve civil papers and has other unmarked vehicles used by investigators and administrators.

“We have two that both have regular tags, and (the deputies serving papers) wear a gun and a badge and a Sheriff’s Office shirt, not a uniform,” said Sheriff David Walker.

He said at training, unmarked cars are recommended because the papers being served aren’t criminal in nature, and an unmarked vehicle is less conspicous and therefore, less embarrassing for citizens.

“A lot of times you’re serving people civil papers, divorce papers, evicting someone out of a house, and this, that and the other,” he said. “That’s why we do it. Could it be a safety issue? Yes, obviously it can. (The deputies) are both in unmarked vehicles but wear identifiable clothes. They’re forbidden from making traffic stops unless it’s an emergency situation. That’s how we have ours set up.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said he’d heard from local constables and those in other counties that marked constable vehicles deter crime while patrolling, even though they’re not stopping people.

White said he wasn’t trying to run down anyone’s department, but he wasn’t sure a badge and uniform were enough to properly identify an officer.

“You hear in the Metroplex all the time about a man dressed up like a police offer,” he said. “He gets out of a car, rapes a woman or whatever he does, robs them … just because he’s got a badge on doesn’t tell me he’s a peace officer, but if he drives up in a marked car, not everyone is going to drive around in a car that says ‘constable.’ Then if you see them get out with a gun and a badge, you pretty well know they’re employees of the county.

“I’d hate to get out of an unmarked car and serve papers,” he said. “It’s a good way to get shot in my opinion.”

Parr said he’s been shot at before, so that was “of paramount concern.”

“And that was in a marked car,” he said, “so if they’re going to shoot at you, it really doesn’t matter which kind of car.”

Parr said he simply has better luck serving papers in an unmarked car.

“I’ve had a marked car, and as soon as you round the corner in a marked car, half the people you deal with hit the door and won’t answer and that causes me two or three more trips, and I have to get an order from the judge to post it because they won’t answer the door.”

He said some of the people he deals with may also have criminal history and assume a marked car is tied to a more serious infraction, causing them to run or just not answer the door. If he pulls up in an unmarked car, he said people are more likely to at least answer the door, and he can simply hand them the papers.

He also echoed Walker’s statement, saying since his work is not criminal in nature, it’s less embarrassing for citizens when he’s serving papers to have an unmarked car parked in front of their home or business.

“Whatever you guys decide, I’ll be fine,” he said. “Safety is obviously my main concern going out anyway, and I’ll do what I have to do to protect myself.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts made a motion to have proper signage on all constable vehicles, and Lamance gave it a second. The motion passed unanimously.

According to the state Transportation Code, marked vehicles should have the name of the county and the office to which the vehicle belongs on each side of the vehicle. The decals must be in a “color sufficiently different from the body of the vehicle so that the lettering is plainly legible.”

It also says the inscription must be legible 100 feet away.

Posted in News0 Comments

Former jail employees indicted on drug charges

Two former Wise County Jail employees are facing felony charges, accused of stealing drugs meant for inmates.

Jina Stone Jernigan, 45, of Boyd and Rachel Nicole Flake, 33, of Bridgeport were both arrested July 8 for fraudulent possession of a controlled substance. Jernigan posted $5,000 bond and Flake posted $10,000 bond and were released. The two were indicted June 26 by a Wise County grand jury.

According to the indictment, the two were in possession of hydrocodone they obtained through their duties at the jail.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said the two were in charge of handing out medication to inmates during the time of the alleged offense around Dec. 12 of last year. Walker said both have resigned from the Sheriff’s Office.

The charge is a third-degree felony.

Other felony indictments returned last month by the grand jury include:

Justin Michael Graham, theft of property less than $1,500 with two or more previous convictions

Johnathan Parker Johnson, four counts of forgery financial instrument

Tara Renee Hopson, abandon/endanger child criminal negligence (two counts)

Jerry Wayne Park, assault family/household member impede breath/circulation

John Ted Williams Lampkins, money laundering $1,500-$20,000

Hunter Glyn Shave, forgery financial instrument

Rick Daniel McClure, money laundering $1,500-$20,000

Bobby Joe Sparks, assault family/household member impede breath/circulation (one count); injury to a disabled with intent to cause bodily injury (one count)

Reece Alois Peden, fraudulent use/possession of identifying information less than 5 items

Randall Wayne Price, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Kris Edward Rau, murder, and tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair human corpse (related story was featured in the July 2 Wise County Messenger)

Bobby Charles Splawn Jr., unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon (one count); possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

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

Brian Keith Crowley, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

James Tyler Capers, theft of property $20,000-$100,000

Rodney Adam Hurdsman, theft of property $20,000-$100,000

Bobby Wayne Malone, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram, and three counts of theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Ignacio Alonso Jimenez, prohibited substance in a correctional facility – cocaine

Patrick Ray Patterson, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Jill Helen Dorsett, fraudulent use/possession of identifying information less than 5 items, and forgery government/national institution/money/security

Carlson Dwayne Archer, 16 counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child, and indecency with a child sexual contact (related story was featured in the July 2 Messenger)

David Klatt Smith, two counts of theft of material aluminum/bronze/copper/brass less than $20,000

Michael Shane McGuffin, injury to a child with intent to cause bodily injury

Khristina Renate Jones, injury to a child with intent to cause bodily injury

Rusty Allen Hamby, injury to a child with intent to cause bodily injury

Thomas Charlie Garrett III, assault family/household member impede breath/circulation

Craig Coulter Stevens, possession of a controlled – methamphetamine, substance 1-4 grams

Luis Antonio Lara Ornelas, possession of a controlled substance – cocaine, 1-4 grams

Keelan Marshall Teel, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Christy Mullen Livingston, manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance – alprazolam, less than 28 grams

Jose Trejo, manufacture/delivery of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 4-200 grams

Jessica Dianne Puckett, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Leslie Ray Gilmore Jr., possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Rachel Marie Reeder, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Bryan Taylor Davis, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Chbira George Chavira, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 4-200 grams (one count); evading arrest/detention with a vehicle (one count)

Jesus Roa III, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Gregory Don Barnes, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

John Thomas Schaffer, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams (one count); possession of a controlled substance – heroin, less than 1 gram

Gregory Don Barnes, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

Ryan Layne Short, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Sharla Hay Baldovino, possession of a controlled substance – dihydrocodeineone, greater than or equal to 400 grams (one count); possession of a controlled substance – morphine, 4-200 grams (one count); possession of a controlled substance – cocaine, 1-4 grams

Blake Elliot King, assault family/household member impede breath/circulation

Clayton Wayne Harwell, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Bobbi Jo Hill, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Posted in News0 Comments

4-H’ers place at district competition

Wise County 4-H’ers recently submitted record books to the Rolling Plains District 3 competition, which was judged at the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service office in Archer City.

There are 24 counties in Rolling Plains District 3, and 213 books were entered in 39 different project areas. These included 64 junior records, 82 intermediate records and 67 senior records.

Junior and intermediate records were placed first through fifth.

First place senior records will be submitted to state competition where they will compete for scholarships and awards.

Below is a list of Wise County participants, the category entered and how they placed.

JUNIORS

Ross Edwards, beef, first place
Angelina Newbold, clothing and textiles, first place
Kailee Beth Buyers, clothing and textiles, fourth place
Allie Tribe, clothing and textiles, fifth place
Abigail Newbold, companion animal, first place
Brianna McKeever, companion animal, second place
Easton Vanover, consumer education, first place
Jessi Torres, food and nutrition, fourth place
Maranda Haschke, gardening, first place
Dustin Meadows, goat, fifth place
Rylee Maggret, horse, first place
Luke Tribe, photography, first place
Clayton Meyers, photography, second place
Cale Laaser, poultry, second place
Jacob Lowrie, poultry, fourth place

INTERMEDIATE

Johanna Buyers, beef, participant
Kaylyn Shallene, beef, participant
Saydee Herndon, companion animal, first place
Michaela Martin, dairy, first place
Clint Demmitt, goat, second place
Cassady Craddock, horse, third place
Autumn Martinets, horse, participant
Ray Edwards, personal development, second place
Brady Vanover, photography, first place
Hannah Buckner, photography, second place
Lauryn Luttrull, rabbit, first place
Carson Read, swine, third place
Danae Meadows, swine, participant

SENIOR

Seth Byers, beef, third place
Fallon Sachse, clothing and textiles, first place
Keaton Vawter, companion animal, first place
Lyndi Luttrull, consumer education, first place
Logan Moore, foods and nutrition, first place
Olivia Bettesworth, goat, fourth place
Morgan Barnes, health, first place
Sarah Jennings, horse, fifth place
Christian Cross, leadership, first place
Caitlin Pruett, personal development, first place
Shelby Vanover, photography, second place
Haylee Barksdale, safety, first place
Clayton Egle, wildlife and fisheries, second place

Record books involve keeping track of all of the activities, community service, awards, and any other things related to a 4-H’er’s major project.

Record books allow students to learn responsibility, creative writing and effective record keeping that will benefit them later in life, and parents appreciate the collection of records when it’s time for their seniors to apply for scholarships.

Wise County seniors brought home $72,000 in scholarships this year, and that wouldn’t have been possible without all they learned through keeping record books.

Posted in News0 Comments

Solar rollers: Sun-powered cars to pass through Decatur Tuesday

The 2014 American Solar Challenge – a cross-country race from Austin to Minneapolis – will roll through Decatur Tuesday morning.

They won’t be stopping for gas.

Solar Speeders

SOLAR SPEEDERS – The University of Texas Solar Vehicle Team is one of 23 expected to roll through Wise County Tuesday morning in the 2014 American Solar Challenge race. After starting Monday morning in Austin, the race will end July 28 in Minneapolis. Submitted photo

As many as 23 teams, made up of engineering students from universities in the U.S., Canada, Taiwan, Germany, Puerto Rico and Iran, have built vehicles powered by solar energy for the race, which is held every two years.

After three days of qualifying and “scrutineering” on the Grand Prix track at Austin’s Circuit of The Americas, the vehicles and teams will charge up and leave Austin Monday morning, heading up U.S. 281 through Lampasas, Stephenville and Granbury before stopping for the night in Weatherford.

They’ll leave Tuesday morning around 9 a.m. from the Weatherford College campus and come up Farm Road 51 through Springtown.

After jogging west on Texas 114, they’ll continue north on 51 into Decatur. The entourage will get on the U.S. 81/287 access road and then take Business U.S. 81/287 northwest until it merges with the main highway north of town.

Then it’s on through Alvord, Bowie, up to Duncan, Okla., and another overnight stop, this time in Norman, Okla.

The 1,700-mile journey ends July 28 on the campus of the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis.

At stops along the way, the public is invited to come out, see the cars and talk with team members. Barring unforeseen problems, no one will be stopping in Decatur – but the public is invited to turn out and watch them go by, and local drivers are urged to give them a little space as they move through town.

The winner of the American Solar Challenge is determined by the total elapsed time to complete the race route.

For information on the event, visit americansolarchallenge.org.

Posted in News0 Comments

UIL changes play clock

The length of high school football games may shorten this fall with the newest rule change.

The University Interscholastic League will change from the 25-second game clock to a 40-second clock that will start as soon as the previous play ended. Before, the play clock started after officials set the ball.

“It should speed up the game a bit. You’ll be able to play faster,” said Boyd coach Brandon Hopkins. “You won’t have to wait. It’ll allow you to snap the ball faster.”

While there is support for the change, coaches admit there will be some adjustment this first season.

“Not everyone will be used to it,” said Chico coach Stephen Carter. “I don’t think it’ll be consistent this year.”

But Bridgeport coach Danny Henson said it will eventually be a benefit and bring more consistency with clock keepers knowing to reset the clock as soon as a whistle is blown.

The 25-second clock is not totally going away, however. The play clock will still be set at 25 seconds after penalties and to start quarters.

With the tempo of the game expected to increase as teams snap the ball quicker, coaches were focused even more on conditioning this summer.

“With the new rules, you have to get in better shape on both sides of the ball,” Hopkins said.

Several area teams are planning to take advantage of the new rule and play at a faster pace.

“We want to snap the ball as soon as the whistle is blown,” Carter said.

Coaches will also need to consider their approach in the final minute of halves. Without a timeout or dead ball, teams could run the final 40 seconds of a half out without needing to run a play.

The change won’t affect just players and the timers. The UIL released an advisory to schools about ball boys and chain crews.

The UIL recommends that game balls be kept on both sidelines with a pair of ball boys. The league also suggests a ball retriever on the sidelines to assist the ball boys. The UIL also suggested the ball boys be at least in the seventh grade and, optimally, in high school.

The league also stressed the importance of the chain crew being able to work quickly, adding that “the down box/marker must hustle” to the succeeding spot.

The UIL recommended schools have an alternate down box on the opposite side of the field that would mark the previous spot until the ball was marked ready for play.

Posted in Sports0 Comments

Zebra mussels found in Lake

It’s been about a year since zebra mussel DNA was confirmed in Lake Bridgeport.

The old saying, “Where there’s smoke, there’s fire” has proved true again, as adult zebra mussels have now been found in the lake.

Recently, a diver scouring the bottom of the lake for freshwater mussels native to Texas waters hauled in more than he bargained for. According to Texas Parks and Wildlife Department fisheries expert Bruce Hysmith, attached to his catch were thumbnail-sized zebra mussels.

Zebra mussels cause environmental and economic damage. Some of the most pressing concerns are over community water supplies. The mussels can clog water intake pipes and other machinery necessary to keep the taps flowing.

Lake Bridgeport, owned and operated by the Tarrant Regional Water District, supplies much of Wise county’s drinking water. The reservoir is also used to store water for other lakes downstream, although it has been about a year since TRWD has allowed water from Lake Bridgeport to flow downstream.

TRWD’s Engineering Services Director, David Marshall, said the discovery of adult zebra mussels is unnerving – but it is still early and Lake Bridgeport might not suffer as much as other area reservoirs.

“Lake Ray Roberts has the highest population in Texas, higher even than Lake Texoma,” Marshall said. “We are not sure why there is such a difference between Texoma and Ray Roberts, but we could see conditions like Texoma in Lake Bridgeport.”

Since Lake Bridgeport’s flow goes down the Trinity into Eagle Mountain Lake, it’s likely that reservoir, too, will be impacted. Zebra mussel DNA has already been detected in Eagle Mountain.

Marshall said TRWD has been working with water experts from the northeast, as they have more experience dealing with this species. The consensus is that, because Lake Bridgeport gets warmer than many other reservoirs, zebra mussel growth could be curbed naturally.

“We try to monitor what kind of population there is and right now we have very low population,” Marshall said. “We still have to be vigilant in our maintenance.”

Marhsall said zebra mussels typically affect things like low-flow control valves and intake screens. He said TRWD brings divers in twice a year to inspect, clean and maintain their equipment to avoid costly problems.

This is also a concern for local entities that draw from the reservoir. Decatur Public Works Director Earl Smith said his department might even use closed-circuit cameras to monitor the city’s intake system.

“We can drop them in to see the structures which should be clean,” Smith said. “If the zebra mussels start multiplying, they’ll plug those pipes up.”

WHAT’S THE BIG DEAL?

Zebra mussels, which first came into the United States via shipping in the Great Lakes, are a destructive, invasive species that spreads via fishing boats and trailers. They are only about 1- inches long and are clearly distinguished by their zebra-striped shells.

The shells are sharp and pose a danger to swimmers. An abundance of the mussels can also affect water taste and quality.

According to www.texasinvasives.org, zebra mussels are present in Lake Texoma, Ray Roberts, Lewisville, Bridgeport, Lavon and Belton. Evidence of the mussels has also been found in Lake Ray Hubbard, Grapevine, Lake Fork, Takwoni, the Red River below Lake Texoma, the Elm Fork of the Trinity River, and Sister Grove Creek.

In an effort to prevent the spread of the mussels, the state requires anglers and boaters to drain all water from their vessels – including live wells, bilges, motors and other receptacles – on approaching or leaving a body of water.

That law went into effect July 1, and Texas has made possession or transportation of zebra mussels a Class C misdemeanor for the first offense, punishable by a fine of up to $500. Repeat offenses can be a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of up to $2,000, and jail time up to 180 days.

One zebra mussel can produce up to 1 million larvae, invisible to the naked eye.

Posted in News0 Comments

Meals on Wheels groups seeking volunteers

Two Meals on Wheels organizations in Wise County are looking for volunteers and donations.

Decatur Meals on Wheels, located in the Decatur Committee on Aging building, just started using volunteer drivers on two of its four routes to deliver meals to senior centers and homebound older adults in Wise County.

Beth Jones of the Heritage Place in Decatur said the organization plans to put volunteer drivers on all four of its routes in the future.

Decatur Meals on Wheels serves Decatur, Bridgeport, Boyd and Cottondale, providing 100 meals a day along the four routes. Jones said Decatur Meals on Wheels is looking for as many volunteers as it can get.

Metroport Meals on Wheels is also looking for volunteers. This branch of Meals on Wheels is based in Roanoke but serves Aurora, Rhome, Boyd and Newark.

Volunteer Services Director Nansii Downer said Metroport’s independent funding allows the nonprofit to deliver meals to people outside Denton County.

“We never wanted to say no [to people who needed food],” Downer said. “We don’t just go to home-bound people. Isolation is the number-one silent killer of seniors these days, so we also go to senior centers and serve food there in order to get people out of the house.”

Downer said the demand for volunteers to help older generations will grow over the next few decades. The U.S. Census Bureau recently reported that America’s 65-and-older population is expected to nearly double to 87.5 million people by 2050.

“We will fail as a society for our older people if we don’t recognize that this is a needed service,” Downer said.

To volunteer or donate, contact the Wise County Committee on Aging at 940-627-5329 or the Metroport Meals on Wheels at 817-491-1141.

Posted in News0 Comments

Auction puts 42 properties back on tax rolls

A quiet buzz filled the Grand Hall at the Decatur Civic Center Thursday morning, rising from about 50 people scattered through two sections of chairs.

After signing in at a table down front, they got a little paddle with a number on it, took seats and pored over a list of properties that were about to go on sale.

It was auction time.

The Wise County Appraisal District and the Wise County Tax Office put 94 tracts of property on sale at 8:30 a.m. The parcels, ranging from mobile home lots to 2-plus acres, were forfeited to taxing entities because of unpaid taxes.

The properties in Thursday’s auction have been in sheriff’s sales before and did not sell. The county, school districts and cities agreed to a lower price to get them back in private hands and on the tax roll.

Thursday, 42 of them sold to 26 different buyers, at prices ranging from $50 to $15,000.

The auction brought in a total of $93,700, which goes into the law firm’s trust account, to be split among the taxing entities, lawyers and other agencies. Every bidder had to pay $5 to register, and those who bought properties paid another $38 on each parcel for the deed to be recorded.

Glen Smith, tax collection attorney with Linebarger Goggan Blair & Sampson, LLP, conducted the auction along with Mickey Hand, chief appraiser at the Wise County Appraisal District.

Hand said he thought the auction – the first in Wise County in several years – went well.

“I thought we had a good turnout,” he said. “We are happy to get these properties back on the tax rolls and producing revenue for our taxing entities.

“Of course we would like to have sold them all,” he added. “We will make a few changes the next time we do this, to improve the process.”

Smith explained that buyers would get a deed without warranty. By law, if the property is a homestead or agricultural, the previous owner has two years after the original sale to “redeem” it by paying the bid price.

Most, but not all, of the properties in Thursday’s sale were past that point. Smith still urged caution.

“Don’t go out and build a house on this property next week,” he said. “Be sure the redemption time has expired, and that you get your own title policy.”

He also noted that the Northwest and Paradise school districts had not yet passed the resolution to sell property, and that he had forgotten to send one to the City of Alvord.

“In those entities, you’re going to be bidding subject to us going back to them and getting approval on the bid,” he said. Only 11 properties were affected, he said.

Once the bidding started, Smith and Hand took turns spotting bidders.

The second parcel that sold was the highest-priced, 2.3 acres in Boyd ISD that went for $15,000. The least expensive, a lot in Satellite City in Decatur ISD, sold for the minimum bid of $50.

A 1.5-acre tract in Poolville ISD sold for $7,800 after two bidders bumped each other up in $100 and $200 increments from the $2,000 minimum bid.

“That’s the way it’s supposed to work!” Hand said.

Some obviously came with a specific property in mind, settling up and leaving as soon as they made their purchase. Others bid on several properties.

“We’ll hold it a couple of years and try to sell it,” one bidder said. “Some of these bidders are neighbors, some are trying to fix access problems – and this family behind me, they bought it to fix it up and live in it.

“They’ll start today, I bet.”

Two bidders bought four properties, two bought three, six bought two and 16 others just bought one.

The 52 properties that did not sell will be go back to the entities.

Posted in News0 Comments

Man gets 20 years for cocaine possession

Alberto Jose Meza, wearing a white, long-sleeved dress shirt and tie, looked extremely small as he sat at the front of the courtroom.

When Judge John Fostel read his sentence, he slumped even deeper into the wooden chair at the table where he sat with his lawyers.

Twenty years in prison.

His wife sat in the third row, crying quietly into a tissue as the sentence was announced Wednesday afternoon, ending a trial that was almost two years coming, but took less than two days to finish.

Meza, 28, was found guilty Tuesday of possession of a controlled substance. The Fort Worth resident was arrested July 17, 2012, in Rhome after he was pulled over for speeding at 2:30 a.m.

More than 10 grams of cocaine were found hidden behind the dashboard of the pickup he was driving, which was registered in his wife’s name. Officers also found a digital scale and baggies – one of which contained methamphetamine – an open container of beer and a floorboard strewn with marijuana.

The 20-year sentence is the maximum for the second-degree felony. The sentence was not a surprise after Meza’s three previous felony convictions were brought to light during the punishment phase.

His attorneys did not call any witnesses until the punishment phase – his wife.

They have three daughters, she said – twins who will be 8 next week, and a 6-year-old. She said her husband, who worked in construction, was a good provider. He spent his last night of freedom trying to complete a remodeling project at their home.

“Please take into consideration my daughters,” she asked the jury. “I don’t know how I go home now and tell my girls that he’s not coming home.”

Meza was convicted in 2004 of cocaine possession, evading arrest with a motor vehicle, and vehicle theft, all in Tarrant County. He was given deferred adjudication and the opportunity to keep those offenses off his record, but violated his probation and served nine months in state jail.

Assistant District Attorney Pat Berry, who prosecuted the case, pointed out Meza was arrested in Wise County four days prior to the July 17, 2012, arrest, for possession of marijuana.

He pled guity to that charge and served 71 days in the Wise County Jail while the cocaine case was pending.

Questioning Meza’s wife, Berry asked if she knew about the marijuana, the cocaine, the methamphetamine and the digital scales in the truck they had purchased 15 days earlier in her name.

She said she did not.

“Do you know why he was going to Wal-Mart in Wise County when he lives in Tarrant County?” Berry asked. She said she did not.

“Do you still believe, knowing what you know now, that the reason he was going to Wise County that night was to go to Wal-Mart?” Berry asked. “What did he buy?”

She said she did not know.

“Does it concern you that with these three daughters, he’s out running around at 2 in the morning with another woman?” Berry asked.

Again, the answer was no.

After about a 15-minute recess, Judge Fostel issued his charge to the jury and the attorneys got to make final statements.

Assistant District Attorney Lindy Borchardt spoke first.

“A good father? That was her testimony? That should offend you,” Borchardt said. “Was he being a good father when he was pulled over at 2 a.m. with marijuana, cocaine and meth? Did he think about his daughters, his wife who stood by him? Absolutely not.”

She credited the “hard work” of the arresting officers with discovering the cocaine behind the dashboard.

“A lot of people talk about our drug problem in Wise County,” she noted. “Our drug problem is this defendant, right here.”

Defense attorney Eric Labovitz said when someone works nights, as Meza did, going to Wal-Mart at 2 a.m. is not that unusual. He pointed out that Meza was charged with drug possession, not with being a dealer – a first-degree felony.

He asked for a sentence in the “lower part of the range.”

“I ask that you sentence him to two years, then let him get back to taking care of his wife and his family,” he said.

Berry had the last word.

“Based on this case, the criminal and the community, I’m asking for a 20-year sentence,” he said. “That’s a substantial amount of cocaine being brought into our community from the outside.”

Over the objections of lead defense attorney Abe Factor, Berry pointed out again that the scale and baggies were indicative of a drug dealer, not just a user.

And he noted that no other acquaintances of Meza’s were asked to testify to his character or ask for clemency.

“The only person he put up there to testify about why he shouldn’t get the maximum sentence is someone who’s trying to gain your sympathy with her tears,” he said. “She’s really a victim herself.”

Posted in News0 Comments

July a good month for Wise cities

It’s been a while since all 12 cities in Wise County collected more sales tax in a month than they did in that month the previous year.

That didn’t happen in July, either – but 11 of them did.

With increases ranging from 2 percent in Decatur and Paradise to 35 and 36 percent in Alvord and Chico, everyone except Newark saw sales tax income rise in July.

And Newark’s year-to-date total still more than doubles last year.

Indeed, only three cities remain in negative territory compared to 2013 – but those three are all in the top five in volume and conspire to keep the county just below last year overall.

Decatur, the county’s top sales tax generator, is almost a percent above last year through seven months, with collections of $2,379,189 from its 1.5-cent sales tax.

Bridgeport is 7.6 percent behind last year, while Rhome is down 2.4 percent and New Fairview is off by 5.7 percent. All three, however, narrowed that gap in July:

  • Bridgeport’s July payment was up nearly 28 percent;
  • New Fairview’s July payment was up 22 percent; and
  • Rhome’s July payment was up 4.5 percent over last year.

“Sales tax revenues continue to grow at a moderate pace,” Comptroller Susan Combs said. “The increase was led by remittances from the wholesale trade, services, and restaurant sectors. Fiscal year-to-date collections have now grown by 5.2 percent.”

Cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts saw their July local sales tax allocations top $600 million, up 4.2 percent compared to July 2013.

Those sales tax figures represent monthly sales made in May and reported to the state in June.

Sales Tax

Posted in News0 Comments

Commissioners to review fire conditions

When they meet Monday morning at the Wise County Courthouse, the county commissioners will take a look at weather and vegetation conditions and review whether to renew, amend, revise or rescind the county’s burn ban.

Fire Marshal Charlie Beard is due to report at the meeting on recent fires and conditions in neighboring counties and throughout the state, and make recommendations for Wise County.

At the Monday meeting, commissioners will also review the county’s Indigent Health Care program and policy procedures for 2014-2015, as well as take action on a called meeting held Thursday to discuss health insurance for employees with the county’s health insurance broker, Brian Stephens of Stephens, Bastian and Cartwright.

Commissioners will also discuss revisions to the county’s fund balance policy and adding non-exempt vehicle tags and signage on vehicles for constables.

In routine business, commissioners will consider:

  • department head and committee reports;
  • budget amendments, claims and payroll; utility permits/right of way, interlocal agreements, contracts and correspondence;
  • a three-year capital expenditure plan;
  • plats of lots in Wildwood in Precinct 2, Walnut Creek Ranchetts in precinct 1 and Grasslands Estates in precinct 2.
  • accepting donations of personal property/various revenues;
  • the June 30 meeting minutes.

The meeting, which starts at 9 a.m., will be in the jury room on the third floor of the Wise County Courthouse. It is open to the public.

Posted in News0 Comments

Landscaper building memorial for Judge Terri Johnson

A Wise County resident is trying to ensure that one community member’s legacy lives on.

Rick DeVito, a landscaper at TXScape, said he wants to create a memorial in the shape of a judge’s gavel in front of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office for the late Judge Terri Johnson.

Memorial Planned

MEMORIAL PLANNED – Landscaper Rick DeVito holds a gavel in front of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, where he hopes to build a memorial for Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson, who died in a car wreck April 26. The memorial would be in the shape of a judge’s gavel, with a tree at the top. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

Johnson was killed April 26 in a head-on collision with an SUV on U.S. 81/287. The collision claimed three other lives as well.

DeVito said that he originally wanted to design a tree, but it quickly turned into something more after he attended Johnson’s funeral.

“I was inspired by [First Decatur Baptist Church pastor] Ken May’s sermon at Terri’s funeral, where he spoke about something good coming from something bad, and it just went from there,” DeVito said.

While DeVito didn’t know Johnson personally, he said he felt moved by the impact that Johnson had on the community. He began sketching plans of the memorial the day after the funeral, with help from his wife, Lesia.

Rough sketches of the memorial show an 11-foot-long bench that would connect to a wide, wildflower and bluegrass-filled garden flanked by two 4-foot-long benches, to create the shape of a judge’s gavel.

The center of the garden would have a Texas Desert Willow tree surrounded by stones dedicated to members of Johnson’s family. Other stones dedicated to the Wise County and Denton Sheriff’s offices and other community organizations that Johnson was a part of would be dispersed throughout the garden.

A memorial plaque with a message written by Johnson’s family would be installed behind the tree.

“I just wanted to do something unique for her because she was such a unique lady,” DeVito said.

DeVito said he is looking for community donations and help from local churches, community members, craftsmen, carpenters, electricians, cement masons and stone engravers to help build the memorial so that the work will be 100 percent volunteer.

The price for all materials needed to build the memorial is estimated to be between $2,500 to $3,000. Any extra money would be donated to the American Diabetes Association or the Decatur Fellowship of Christian Athletes, two organizations that Johnson supported. Johnson was diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes in 2006 while she was running for her first term as justice of the peace.

“She was a big volunteer, so I felt like her memorial should be built the same way,” DeVito said. “She really walked the talk when it came to volunteering.”

DeVito plans to start the memorial once all the funds are raised and the weather gets cooler. He hopes to finish it sometime in September or October.

Donations can be made to the Terri Johnson Memorial Plaza fund at Decatur First Baptist Church.

Judge Johnson’s husband Craig, who has been named interim Precinct 2 justice of the peace, said he thought the gavel memorial would be a great way to honor his wife.

“I think it’s a very appropriate way to honor someone who was, at her very core, a servant in every capacity,” Johnson said. “It didn’t matter if it was in her judge’s seat or cooking for the FCA or just mowing the grass. I think this would be a fitting way to honor someone like her, especially with it being all volunteer-based.”

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said his department wholeheartedy supports the memorial.

“We want to do whatever it takes to make this happen,” Walker said.

Three Quanah area residents were killed in the accident that took Johnson’s life. Two $500 scholarships were given in Quanah ISD to honor Juan Rios, one of the victims.

Posted in News1 Comment

Drug possession case goes to jury

A drug possession trial went to the jury quickly Tuesday, as both sides concluded their cases in Wise County’s 271st District Court.

Alberto Jose Meza is charged with possession of a controlled substance in an amount between 4 and 200 grams – a second-degree felony that could land him up to 20 years in prison.

Meza was arrested almost two years ago, on July 17, 2012, after he was pulled over for speeding on U.S. 81/287 in Rhome.

Officer Brody Brown, who now works for the Boyd Police Department, clocked Meza’s Chevy pickup at 77 mph and stopped him near the County Road 4838 intersection. As he approached the vehicle, he said the smell of marijuana was strong enough that he had probable cause for a search.

That search yielded baggies with a white, powdery substance, digital scales and other bags.

Brown was on the stand much of the afternoon, detailing the arrest and collection of evidence for Assistant District Attorney Pat Berry, then defending his procedures under questioning by Meza’s attorney, Abe Factor of Fort Worth.

Brown said after he stopped the vehicle, he advised Meza he was going to conduct a search and asked him if there was anything illegal inside.

“He said there was nothing,” Brown testified.

Brown said he could see an open container of beer in the pickup, and when the door was opened he saw what he believed to be marijuana scattered in the floorboard – as if someone had attempted to roll a cigarette and spilled some.

When he opened the console between the front seats, he found the small, digital scale with a residue of white powder on it, as well as clear plastic bags. Boxes of clear plastic sandwich bags were found in the back seat of the vehicle.

Brown handcuffed Meza and asked his female passenger to step outside the vehicle. He was in the back seat, continuing the search, when the deputy arrived and pointed out that the pickup’s dashboard seemed loose. When it was pulled out, a clear baggie with several other baggies inside it was found next to the steering column, containing about 10.5 grams of white powder.

Brown said he did a brief field test on the substance and it proved to be cocaine.

Factor focused in on the handling of evidence and the fact that a videotape of the arrest was ruined.

He brought out the fact that Brown did not photograph the evidence in place before moving it, did not ask for fingerprints and did not search the pickup further after it was impounded.

“That’s because if you found somebody else’s fingerprints, somebody else’s DNA, you might not have a good arrest at that point, right?” he asked.

“No,” Brown said, noting that Rhome PD did not have a crime scene unit and none was called in.

Officer Chance Garrett of the Rhome PD was also called to the stand to testify about the department’s procedures and the chain of custody on the evidence.

DPS chemist Raymond Waller Jr. of Abilene also testified on the procedures used to test the nearly 12 grams of drugs found in the pickup.

Factor hammered Waller with questions about gas chromatograph mass spectrometry and other testing methods.

The state, which had listed seven witnesses it might call, rested after those three.

With the jury out, a brief conference before Judge John Fostel resulted in Meza declining to testify in his own behalf. When the jury returned, the defense quickly rested and the state closed at 4:40 p.m.

The trial was to continue Wednesday morning with the judge’s charge to the jury and closing statements by both sides.

Posted in News0 Comments

County Clerk Records Recorded marriage licenses

Filed June 2014

Eleazar Perez and Irma Trejo Morales, both of Decatur

Tommy Matthew Patterson and Heather Dair Moore, both of Boyd

Kolby Lynn Kerr and Samantha Jolynn Johnson, both of Justin

Travis Floyd Stanley of Weatherford and Lori Raylene Wiggins of Alvord

Aaron Bradly Capehart and Sandy Leann Gibson, both of Bridgeport

Ronald Dean Russell Jr. and Diana Carrol Vandiver, both of Paradise

Monty Lee Montya and Zhenying Guo, both of Decatur

Mark Perry Walters Jr. of Decatur and Shanna Marie Martin of Chico

Rodney William Lambert and Rachel Lanell McGregor of Decatur

Corey Alan Byers and Jaymi Lachelle Sooter, both of Boyd

Don Wayne Long and Rizafel Redija Tercero, both of Aurora

Justin James Skelton of Bridgeport and Jessica Noemy Moreno of Giddings

Grant Austin VanHoose of Decatur and Elizabeth Dawn Farris of Paradise

Dustin Doyal Brantley Byers of Rhome and Anchalee Laor Voogd of Oak Leaf

Joseph Mitchell Witherspoon of Boyd and Tiffany Michelle Defore of Fort Worth

Aaron Michael Warbritton and Tanya Nicole Christensen, both of Saginaw

Wesley Robert Young of Rhome and Olivia Nicole Espinoza of Argyle

David Lee Ramsey and Donna Marie Hollaway, both of Rhome

Richard Alvin Connett Jr. and Denise Dee Schumacher, both of Gainesville

Larry Wayne McCormick and Misty Dawn Monfort, both of Decatur

Jason Leslie Cox and Kimberly Denise Adams, both of Boyd

Donald Ross Meekins Jr. of Bridgeport and Annette Bell McWhorter of Olden

Jose Alejandro De La Cerda and Nestora Rios Juarez, both of Bridgeport

Jeremiah Christopher Brown and Jamie Arlene Brown, both of Springtown

Hayden Lee Scarborough and Courtney Breann Taylor, both of Decatur

Jarrod Ryan Smith and Annette Cheri Horning, both of Azle

James Daniel Herron and Jennifer Jean Foster, both of Springtown

Jeremy John McLendon of Alvord and Deena Christine Cagle of Chico

James Patrick Apfel and Ashley Michelle Kramer, both of North Richland Hills

Johnny Darrell Pierce and Christy Diann Crowley, both of Bridgeport

Colby Thomas Williams and Amanda Ann Mathers, both of Decatur

Jeremiah David Stracener and Whitney Ann Clark, both of Boyd

Carl J. Miller of Obetz, Ohio, and Marie R. Herring of Columbus, Ohio

Ricky Dwight Carter and Lacey Jo Miller, both of Bridgeport

Kevin Lane Thomas and Megan Elizabeth Dubose, both of Decatur

Marcus Allen Grgurich and Hassie Danielle Sutton, both of Decatur

Billy Jo Lee and Rebecca Leann Hoyt, both of Rhome

Scott Wesley Read and Amy Elizabeth Barber, both of Runaway Bay

Andrew Leo Franzel and Shannara Ann Ames, both of Chico

Jose Joel Llanas-Rositas of Chico and Gladys Velasquez-Narron of Fort Worth

Manuel Talamantes Rodriguez of Tioga and Belinda Marisol Ruiz Garza of Denton

Danny Lee Tolliver Jr. and Melanie Jaye Gates, both of Bridgeport

Kenneth Ballard Maggard and Stephanie M. McCullough, both of Decatur

Damon Wayne Gross and Virginia Thuresia Greer, both of Ponder

Alfred Ibrahim Abi-Hanna and Rojina Emile Zgheib, both of Fort Worth

Michael Steven Denman and Robbi Deene Snider, both of Chico

Michael Davis Pate of Decatur and Kasey Lynn Ooten of Corinth

Dalton Chance Fregia of Paradise and Destiny Sha Snow of Benbrook

Mario Dedumo Glenn Cabanero of San Diego, Calif., and Brandi Jane Edgar of Decatur

Caleb John Joiner of Bridgeport and Brooke Ann Fincher of Decatur

Thomas Charles Denham of Decatur and Ivy Lee Hester of Carrollton

Ryan Clifton Robinson of Bridgeport and Kimberly Ann Bible of Chico

Wilbur Elmer Weir and Hope Elizabeth Freed, both of Rhome

Quinton Tyler Hudson and Mackensie Ann Smith, both of Bridgeport

Posted in News0 Comments

FSA accepting emergency loan applications

Wise County is among a group of primary natural disaster counties that were declared eligible for Farm Service Agency (FSA) disaster emergency loans in April 2014.

Generally, that means that farmers who have lost at least 30 percent of their production caused by drought April 1, 2013, through Oct. 31, 2013, are eligible for FSA loans. Proceeds from crop insurance are taken into consideration when determining eligibility.

FSA Farm Loan Manager Kelley R. Boone is urging farmers who are interested in receiving an emergency loan to submit their applications to FSA as soon as possible.

“We hope farmers will get their applications in early rather than waiting until near the deadline, which is Dec. 23, 2014,” Boone said. “The longer they wait, the more chance there is for long delays. If the applications come in early, we can avoid backlogs and speed up the process.”

Other eligible counties include Archer, Baylor, Clay, Jack, Knox, Montague, Wichita and Wilbarger.

The FSA office is at 5015 College Dr., Room 1, in Vernon, TX 76384. The phone number is 940-553-3327, ext 2.

Posted in News0 Comments

Shurbet agrees to 45-year sentence

A former Wise County jailer will be behind bars for years to come.

Jeff Shurbet

Former Sheriff’s Office inmate work crew supervisor Jeff Shurbet, 48, of Paradise pleaded guilty Tuesday to aggravated sexual assault of a child, a first degree felony, and was sentenced to 45 years in prison. The plea was entered in 271st District Court in Decatur.

Shurbet’s case had been scheduled for trial next week.

He was arrested Feb. 1, 2013, while employed by the Sheriff’s Office. Texas Ranger Jim Holland was brought in to investigate since it involved someone employed by a law enforcement agency.

According to the probable cause affidavit, the sexual abuse took place possibly hundreds of times over a course of several years, from 2007 to 2011, according to the victim in the case. That victim was as young as 11 when the assaults began, according to court records.

Shurbet told Holland that “he prayed to God and wanted to confess his sins” according to the affidavit. During the interview, Shurbet admitted to engaging in sex acts with the juvenile female on seven different occasions.

“Shurbet ended the interview by saying he was sorry for what he did and that he knew what he did was wrong,” according to the affidavit.

The next day, Holland interviewed the juvenile female who said she was forced to submit to sexual encounters “once or twice a week for at least approximately the preceding four years.” At times, the encounters happened almost daily, the victim said in the affidavit.

Shurbet was indicted in April of 2013 on one count of continuous sexual abuse of a child under 14, a first degree felony, and three counts of sexual assault of a child, a second degree felony.

The punishment range for a first degree felony offense is 5 to 99 years or life in prison.

Posted in News0 Comments

Shooting victim remains stable

A 13-year-old Springtown boy accidentally shot Tuesday in Wise County is “doing OK.”

A family member told the Messenger Wednesday that Carl Davis is recovering in a regular patient room at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth.

According to the relative, who asked not to be named, Davis underwent a two-and-a-half hour surgery Tuesday and is being closely monitored for infections.

He is expected to remain at Cook’s for a minimum of five to seven days.

The teenager was flown there after sustaining a wound in the lower abdomen.

Investigators said four youngsters were playing in the front yard of a home in the 100 block of County Road 4764, in Briar, when they saw a snake.

A 12-year-old and a 13-year-old ran inside the home to retrieve a gun to shoot the reptile.

“In the process of rushing outside, the 12-year-old bumped the wall with the rifle – a .22 long rifle – setting it off,” Wise County Sheriff David Walker said.

An adult at the home loaded the boy in the car to drive him to the hospital. But when they called the mother of the victim, she advised them to pull over and call 911.

The driver pulled into the parking lot of Azco Short Stop on Farm Road 730, just inside the Tarrant County line, to call in the emergency about 1:30 p.m.

A helicopter was dispatched to the scene to fly the victim to Cook’s.

“Doctors say that if the bullet moved less than a millimeter to the right, it would’ve hit a main artery,” the relative said. “We are very lucky.”

Posted in News0 Comments

Washer Wonderland: Reunion tournament goes big-time to break record

Washer Wonderland: Reunion tournament goes big-time to break record

A washer is a flat steel circle with a hole in the middle. It’s used to distribute the load of a nut threaded onto a bolt, to add stability or serve as a spacer.

Or, you can toss it at a hole.

Do that on July 22 at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion, and you could win a little money, some bragging rights – and a spot in the Guinness World Records.

Building Boards

BUILDING BOARDS – Amanda, Carey and Colby Williams are in the midst of a project, building washer-boards for the July 22 “Put Yo Money Where Yo Mouth Is” washer tournament at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion. This tournament is making an attempt to be the world’s largest and get listed in the Guinness World Records. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

What started five years ago as a fun way to kill a little time and raise some money at Reunion has transformed into what promises to be the biggest event of its kind in the world – or at least the biggest one on record.

The “Put Yo Money Where Yo Mouth Is” washer tournament started five years ago when Carey Williams, executive manager at James Wood Motors in Decatur, then president of the Decatur Chamber of Commerce, was brainstorming for a way to raise money for the Chamber’s scholarship fund.

“I had the thought, ‘You know, washer pitching has always been a tradition of the Wise County Reunion,’” Williams said. “I thought this might be a terrific fundraiser – put together a little tournament, there might be some interest.”

So Williams built 10 sets of washer boards – 2-foot by 2-foot plywood boxes with one hole in the center and carpet on top. Competing in two-person teams, contestants toss four washers at a time at the hole from 21 feet away.

A washer in the hole gets you five points, and the washer closest to the hole gets another point. The first team to 21 wins the match.

That year, the turnout was bigger than Williams expected, with 63 teams.

Luckily, Williams had a bracket guy – Kennan Keffer of Denton – who he’d gotten to know through pool tournaments. He came over and made sure everything proceeded smoothly.

The next year, the tournament was even more popular, with 81 teams signing up. Williams made another 10 sets of boards for the third year, and the tournament attracted 85 teams. Last year there were 88.

Then he got another idea.

“I was up here closing one night, and we have a Guinness book of world records sitting there,” he said. “So I picked it up and started reading, and I thought, ‘Man, we might be having the largest washer-pitching contest in the world, and I don’t even know it.’”

As it turned out, he was close.

Williams searched the Internet and found a guy in Minnesota who claimed to have the largest tournament in the world – with 110 teams.

“It said right there on his website that he didn’t have anything to back that up,” Williams said. “He’d never been to Guinness or anything.”

So Williams got in touch with the folks at Guinness – not an easy task – and eventually got back an email with six attachments specifying what needs to be done to achieve a listing.

“Honestly, I just thought they’d send back a deal and say you’ve been approved and have a little list of stuff we have to do,” he said. “But they take it pretty serious when you start talking about a world record.”

So this year, as washers sail through the air, Williams, his wife Amanda and a team of volunteers will be jumping through hoops to make sure the tournament qualifies for the book. They’re looking for at least 125 teams.

“I don’t have any worry about us getting there,” Carey said. “We’ll do that. My biggest worry is how much over that we’ll go.”

There are a lot of details to attend to. Williams has already built more sets of washer-boards so that 50 games can be going on at once. The tournament will take up the entire area around the pavilion with everything videoed from towers and witnessed by “stewards,” who verify the event for Guinness.

Participants are strongly encouraged to register online at wisecountywashers.com where they can pay the $50-per-team entry fee in advance. Registration and check-in will open at 4 p.m. and close at 6:30 the day of the tournament.

“Every person has to check in during that period,” Amanda said. “They get a wristband, then we shoot an individual photo. There’s a group photo at 7 of all the people who have entered. All this has to be submitted back to Guinness to officially set the record.”

They’ve even set aside a parking area just for the media.

“It’s a way bigger deal than I thought,” Carey said.

But he believes the goal – getting Wise County’s Old Settlers Reunion into the book as a world record – is worth the hassle.

“I don’t know of Wise County ever doing anything to set a world record,” he said. “I just think it’ll be cool to do. Everybody can be a part of it.”

That’s true – there’s no age limit, no distinction between men or women’s teams, and the only qualification is you have to be able to toss a washer 21 feet.

And, of course, have $50.

Proceeds go to the Chamber’s scholarship fund, and winners get cash prizes – $100 each for first, $50 for second and $25 for third.

“It’s all about bragging rights, and boy, is it competitive,” Williams said. “I’ve had people call and get the dimensions – ‘Where’d you buy your wood?’ ‘What kind of paint did you put on the washers?’ ‘Where’d you get the carpet?’ ‘What grade carpet?’ They ask all kinds of questions. They really take it serious.”

So on July 22 – Tuesday of Reunion week – thousands of washers will fly through the air, thumping onto the tops of boxes, fluttering off into the surrounding dirt or blissfully sailing through that hole.

And the braggin’ rights will go worldwide.

Posted in Features, News0 Comments

FAA to honor veteran pilot for safety record

”They have this saying: There are old pilots and there are bold pilots. There are no old, bold pilots because if they’re too cocky, they wind up dead.” – Herschel Crump

Not long after they married, Herschel and Linda Crump visited the scenic Rio Grande Gorge near Taos, N.M. The newlyweds started to walk out on the 1,280 foot steel bridge that runs across the gulch, but Herschel stopped.

Welcome to School

WELCOME TO SCHOOL – Herschel Crump stands by his Cessna 150. Crump, a flight instructor for more than 50 years, now teaches out of his private airport just north of Springtown. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“My knees were just shaking,” he said. “I held onto the rail, and every time a truck went by I just knew we were going to fall into the chasm.”

Crump, who turns 73 today, has played on his fear of heights for more than 50 years to help him hone a profession few who are afflicted with this fear would seem to choose.

“I’ve never had any problem flying airplanes – but I’ve had a real problem with heights,” he said. “Maybe that’s why I’ve been careful.”

Next Saturday, officials from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) will present Crump with the Wright Brothers Master Pilot Award to honor 50 years of flying without any safety violations.

Applicants for the award are subject to a thorough audit by the FAA and must have written recommendations from three fellow pilots.

“This award is something that not everyone who lives long enough qualifies for,” he said.

The secret to flying so well for so long is knowing one’s limitations, Herschel said, and always having a backup plan.

“You don’t get old by taking chances,” he said. “You have to have a plan B, and a plan C and a plan D. I think that’s the whole thing to staying safe all these years. It’s a healthy respect for the risk involved.”

Crump entered into the United States Air Force in 1960 and began training as a navigator. He started taking flying lessons soon afterward.

In 1962, still early in his career, he found himself deep in the clouds in the middle of the Smoky Mountains one night without crucial navigation instruments – a difficult situation, even for the most experienced pilots.

“I panicked. But then I realized that if I stayed panicked, I would die. But if you just calm down and fly the airplane maybe you won’t die.”

A steady head led to steady hands. Crump and his aircraft emerged unscathed.

“I calmed down and flew the airplane and it was fine,” he said.

Herschel’s wife, Linda, has accompanied him on many trips, including flights to California for a wedding, Galveston for a cruise, Port O’Connor for a fishing trip, as well as picking up grandkids for weeklong visits and even aerial tours of South Africa.

During one visit, Linda’s mother brought up a question.

“My mother said, ‘Do y’all think it’s safe flying here in that little old airplane? Y’all could get killed,’” she said. “I said ‘Well, you know what, mother? If we crash and we don’t survive, at least we’re doing something that we like to do together.’”

In 1997, Crump opened his own airport at his home, just off of Farm Road 51 north of Springtown. A hangar and airfield with two runways sit practically in his backyard.

The airport, named Eugene’s Dream, pays homage to Crump’s father.

Rationing of materials and fuel during World War II interrupted Eugene Crump’s early efforts to become a pilot. After the war, he prioritized caring for his four young children over pursuing his passion.

Though he wasn’t flying, Eugene took his two sons to every nearby airshow, inspiring brothers Herschel and Jimmy to pursue aviation.

“Dad didn’t get to fly,” Crump said, “but his passion for aviation was always there.”

After retiring, Eugene bought 40 acres outside of Birmingham, Ala.

“He had always had this dream of building an airport behind his house,” Crump said.

After building a house and a hangar, Eugene was told by the state of Alabama that his land was needed to build a highway corridor.

“He never got his airport built,” Crump said. “So when we built this one, we named it Eugene’s Dream because his dream was always to have an airport behind the house.”

Jimmy flew his father and a few other family members in to dedicate the new airfield in September of 1997.

“It went on the FAA database that year,” Crump said. “It’s been an official airport ever since.”

The runways of Eugene’s Dream are used to teach the next generation of pilots, Crump said.

“Instructing has never been a full-time job for me,” he said. “It’s something that I’ve just done on the side because I enjoyed it. If you took all the money I ever made instructing, it wouldn’t even pay for one airplane.”

Linda Crump said the students are in good hands.

“I’m always happy,” she said. “I always feel safe with him flying the airplane.”

For the award-winning pilot, safety isn’t just a concern. It’s a way of life for the rest of his life.

“I’m going to keep going as long as I keep passing my physicals,” he said. “I’ll keep doing it as long as I feel like I’m safe to fly.”

Posted in News0 Comments

Login

Username:

Password:


Recover password | Create an Account