Meeting Agendas for Saturday, January 10, 2015

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS – Wise County commissioners will meet 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. They will discuss and consider write-offs of bad debt for Emergency Medical Services and consider the proposed Texas Department of Transportation federal railroad signal project upgrade at County Road 3250 and Texas 114. They will also consider reappointing Dr. Jon Walker to a two-year term as the Wise County health authority.

DECATUR CITY COUNCIL – The council will meet 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12 at City Hall, 201 E. Walnut, with a short agenda. They will hear a request from County Judge J.D. Clark to plat the 11.395-acre tract where the Wise County Fairgrounds sits on Farm Road 51 South, and consider nominating someone to the board for the Wise County Appraisal District to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Jimmy Parker. A work session to review the city’s proposed new zoning ordinance will be held after the meeting. Both the meeting and workshop are open to the public.

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Fire destroys home in Park Springs

Fire destroys home in Park Springs

On a brutally cold morning, a man lost his home and three dogs in a fire near the Wise and Montague county line Sunday.

Alvord, Chico and Crafton firefighters battled the blaze off County Road 1792 near Park Springs with temperatures in the mid 20s and the windchill in the low teens.

Smoldering Rubble

SMOLDERING RUBBLE – A firefighter walks away from what remains of a home in Park Springs after a fire Sunday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I’ve lost everything I own in the world,” said homeowner Charles Montgomery. “I didn’t even get my glasses. Within seconds, the whole house was full of smoke.”

Montgomery, who had lived in the 1,200-square-foot residence for more than 20 years, said the fire started in the back room where he had a fire going in a wood-burning stove shortly before 9 a.m.

“I was in the living room. I heard it popping and went to the back of the house,” Montgomery said. “The house filled with black smoke within seconds.”

Montgomery said the old house was built in 1903. “It was an old wood house, and I found out it was a pure tinderbox.”

Seven of his 10 chiweenies made it out of the house.

Home Destroyed

HOME DESTROYED – A firefighter works to put out any remaining flames at a house fire in Park Springs Sunday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“Three are not here,” said Montgomery sitting in his truck. “The smoke must have got them.”

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said the Red Cross was called to help Montgomery, who did not have insurance.

Beard confirmed Montgomery’s thoughts on the origin of the fire.

“It definitely was from the wood-burning stove in the back,” Beard said. “It started in the attic space. Once it got up there, especially with the north wind, it took off. The wind just fueled it.”

Winds were gusting out of the northwest up to 22 mph at the Decatur Municipal Airport at the time of the blaze.

“They will do a little more overhaul. It’ll smolder the rest of the day,” Beard said.

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Lubbock official hired for elections post

The Wise County Elections Commission has chosen a new elections administrator – Sabra Srader of Lubbock.

County Judge J.D. Clark told commissioners Monday her tentative start date is Jan. 20.

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

“…(Srader) was a very impressive candidate, and I think you’ll all be glad to have her here with us,” Clark said.

The judge described the finalists as a “really good slate of candidates.”

Jim Parker remains interim elections administrator, but his resignation will be discussed at an Elections Commission meeting 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8. Clark said Parker will remain on the job for a week to cross-train Srader.

MOVING MONEY

In another personnel move, commissioners approved a budget amendment that eliminates a part-time grant coordination position and allows for a full-time position to be added to the county fire marshal’s office.

The county receives federal grant money for the Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI), a program to equip communities to handle mass disasters. Previously, that money was split between three people – a part-time position and a full-time position in the county judge’s office and a person in the county auditor’s office – all of whom performed tasks related to the grant.

The money paid the salary of the part-time position, which was the CRI grant coordinator, and the remainder was allocated to the auditor’s office and the county judge’s office for the work each of the other two employees did on the grant.

“This budget amendment consolidates all that CRI grant funding into one position, one full-time position,” Clark said. “I really think the CRI grant can be doing a lot more for us rather than just meeting the grant requirements on paper. Obviously, we want it right on paper, but I want to see us doing more in action.”

The new position will be responsible for coordinating the CRI grant and will also be the emergency management administrative assistant in the fire marshal’s office. A total of $35,000 was moved from the county judge’s two departments to the CRI fund to facilitate the changes.

“They’ve been asking for some help for a while and been pretty slammed,” Clark said. “I really think we can do better with the CRI grant and fulfilling (the fire marshal’s) office by doing this.”

Caryn Dunn, who was executive assistant in the county judge’s office and emergency management coordinator, is being moved to the new position. She was one of three employees who previously performed tasks related to the grant.

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Firefighters save Wildwood mobile home

Firefighters save Wildwood mobile home

Fire damaged a mobile home at Wildwood Naturist’s Resort Monday afternoon – but quick action by Decatur firefighters prevented the fire from destroying the trailer.

The blaze started near the back porch of the trailer on Private Road 1170.

LIMITED DAMAGE – Decatur firefighters look for remaining hot spots after putting out a mobile home fire at the Wildwood Naturist’s Resort Monday afternoon. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“The Decatur Fire Department did a fantastic job and stopped it quickly,” said Wise County Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis. “They’ll have to replace some sheetrock and wiring, but that’s the extent of the damage.”

The fire was reported shortly after 5 p.m. Travis said it started in a heat lamp in a doghouse that apparently was knocked over.

“It spread up the back porch and into the attic space,” he said.

Decatur Fire Chief Michael Richardson said a witness stated they saw smoke from the back porch and started spraying the fire with a garden hose.

“When [firefighters] got here, there was a lot of fire showing around the back door,” Richardson said. “It started running through the attic, but they were able to get it knocked down.”

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First Law Enforcement Appreciation Day this Friday

A Wise County woman hopes to positively influence the public’s perception of police officers by honoring local law enforcement this week.

Ashlee Hardy, president of the Metroplex chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), cited recent events like police shootings in New York and violent protests against police officers elsewhere in the U.S. as reasons why good officers should be thanked and honored.

“These men and women, they put themselves in danger, and yet they are ridiculed, get called racist, all sorts of horrible things,” Hardy said. “There’s bad apples in all walks of life, but that doesn’t speak to the majority.”

Hardy’s late husband, Wes, was a Plano police officer who was killed in 2007 responding to a traffic stop. She has since become an activist for police widows and other law enforcement groups.

This Friday she will be doing her part to participate in National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (LEAD), a nationwide event sponsored by COPS. Hardy will go to Boyd, Bridgeport and Decatur school districts to collect letters from students thanking local law enforcement for their work.

She said the event is an opportunity to showcase the good that most police officers do and not let recent events spoil people’s perception of law enforcement as a whole.

“This is just our way to take a stand and recognize that this is a very thankless job,” she said. “We just wanted to let them know that they are appreciated and that even though they see all this negative media attention, that we think of them and pray for them and care about them.”

Other ways Hardy suggested showing support Friday include wearing blue, sending a letter or card of encouragement to local police departments or sharing a positive law enforcement story on social media. She also suggested changing your Facebook profile picture to the one provided at www.facebook.com/nationalcops.

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Quotes of 2014

Quotes of 2014

”The first time I saw a picture of her on Facebook, I saw my mother in her. I just saw my momma, and I just broke down.”
- Linda Freeman of Bridgeport after meeting a long-lost sister for the first time

Linda Freeman

Linda Freeman. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I was so pumped. Happiness overfilled me.”
- Decatur senior Brandon Rivera on winning the gold medal in the 800 at the UIL State Track and Field Championships

Brandon Rivera

Brandon Rivera. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“If our word isn’t good enough, maybe the paper we write it on isn’t good enough either.”
- Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White, in reference to a request by the Southwest Swap Meet and Wise County Antique Auto Club regarding the fairgrounds

“That was salsa all over the dash, not blood.”
- Decatur Police officer Royce Gastineau, following a car accident in front of Casa Torres Mexican Restaurant

“You have to have a hat, some makeup, and you have to make sure you can borrow your dad’s drawers.”
- Kreece Dearing, 9, of Paradise, official “woolfighter” of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo

“It fits the law. When you plead guilty to a criminal offense tied to your elected office, you shouldn’t expect to stay in office.”
- County Attorney James Stainton, in response to Precinct 4 County Commissioner Terry Ross being removed from office

“Bottom line, we don’t want this existing AD to exist. We’ve got issues.”
- Matthew Dunn of Alvord, in reference to former Alvord athletic director Curtis Enis

“On July 25, 2010, they were doing a mini-frack. Lisa got sick, I got sick, and we called the TCEQ and the inspector got sick.”
- Robert Parr of Decatur, from his testimony during Parr v. Aruba

“Whatever the case may be, Terri was always one of the first people to jump in and say, ‘What can we do to help?’ She was just that way.”
- Sheriff David Walker, following the death of Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson

“I’m blind. But don’t tell me I can’t see, because I’ve got a hell of a vision.”
- Telena Graham, who is blind, seeking to build a community among the visually impaired

“I liked to work nights because that’s when the criminal element comes out. They’re like vampires; they like to work in the dark.”
- Doug Whitehead, retiring Wise County chief deputy

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Twice blessed: ‘First babies’ arrive a minute apart

Twice blessed: ‘First babies’ arrive a minute apart

The first baby of 2015 waited until Jan. 2 to get here.

Apparently, she wanted some company.

First By a Minute

FIRST BY A MINUTE – Kevin and Susan Huffman of Runaway Bay show off their new daughter, Maggie, born at 7:36 Tuesday morning, Jan. 2, at Wise Regional. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Maggie Huffman was born at 7:36 a.m. at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur. She weighed a healthy 8 pounds, 12 ounces and was 19 inches long.

Her parents, Susan and Kevin Huffman of Runaway Bay, had scheduled the cesarean section for the day after the New Year’s holiday. Susan is an investigator for CPS, and Kevin is Precinct 4 constable in Wise County.

Maggie has a big sister, Debbie, who is 2 years old, and a room full of relatives and friends to celebrate her arrival.

Right across the hall, Leonna Fay Gober’s entourage celebrated her birth only 60 seconds after Maggie.

Close Behind

CLOSE BEHIND – Joshua and Kimberley Gober’s new daughter, Leonna Fay, was born at 7:37 a.m., also at Wise Regional. They are from Bridgeport. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Kimberley and Joshua Gober of Bridgeport welcomed their second daughter at 7:37 a.m.

Leonna Fay arrived weighing 7 pounds, 13 ounces and was 19 inches long. She was born by natural labor on her actual due date.

Sister Ily is 16 months old, and a host of family and friends came and went throughout the day.

Kimberley is a stay-at-home mom, and dad works in the oilfield.

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Wise County Indictments for Saturday, January 3, 2015

A Wise County grand jury met Nov. 20 and returned the following felony indictments (more indictments were published in the Dec. 13, 2014, issue of the Messenger):

Eric Jordan Bennett, burglary of a building (two counts)

David Elliott Alcorn, prohibited substance in a correctional facility

Jennifer Lynn Arant, tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair, and manufacture/deliver controlled substance 4-200 grams

Chad Devane Burrow, theft of property $20,000-$100,000; unauthorized use of vehicle

Lauren Rebecca Veber, theft of material alum/bronze/copper/brass less than $20,000

John Wesley Avirett, evading arrest/detention with vehicle

Marshal Ryan Beane, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Samuel Burtis Cox, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Micheal Lee Bone, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Gary Leon Elliott, driving while intoxicated third or more

Douglas Riley Freeman, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Charles Joseph Busby, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Weston McCade Goodger, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Benjamin Wayne Hampton, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Kelly Lynn Hogg, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Michael Nelson Helmer, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Terry Ray Henry, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Brandy Decota Byers, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon; possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams

Michael Robert Carver, possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams

Stacie Michelle Clements, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Lanny Ray Cooper, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon; prohibited weapon, and fraudulent use/possession of identifying information less than five items

Regina Denise Cooper, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon; prohibited weapon

Louis Casillas Davila, manufacture/deliver controlled substance 4-200 grams; possession of a controlled substance 1-4 grams

John Wesley Dorety, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Kristina Marie Dugan, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Michael Patrick Falsey, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Zachary Thomas Flaherty, possession of marijuana 4 ounces to 5 pounds

Brian Dean King, evading arrest/detention with vehicle

Todd Joseph Lofay, possession of a controlled substance 1-4 grams in a drug-free zone, and possession of a controlled substance 1-4 grams

Jeremiah Leonard Martinez, possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams; manufacture/deliver controlled substance 1-4 grams

Nokomi Culpepper Martinez, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Cody Thomas Moore, prohibited substance in a correctional facility; possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Darby Shae Nolan, possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams

Cedric Austin Price, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon

James Alan Reeves, possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams

Tamara Lynn Robinson, possession of a controlled substance 1-4 grams

David Klatt Smith, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Sterling Chance Valliant, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Jay Logan Williams, possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams

Kylee Elizabeth Phillips, fraudulent intent obtain controlled substance schedule III/IV

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Meeting Agendas for Saturday, January 3, 2015

BRIDGEPORT – The Bridgeport City Council will meet for the first time in 2015 at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 6, to discuss the Halsell Street Sidewalk Improvement Project. They will also consider awarding a bid for the same project and approving a sign agreement with the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The meeting is open to the public.

COMMISSIONERS – Wise County commissioners will meet 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 5, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. Commissioners will approve bonds for several county officials and will hear an update from the Wise County Elections Commission on the search for a new elections administrator.

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Top ten stories of 2014

Top ten stories of 2014

Triumph and tragedy provided the big news stories of 2014. Here’s a look at our Top Ten.

Top 10 News

1. JUDGE TERRI JOHNSON, 3 OTHERS KILLED IN WRECK

For the second time in six months, the county unexpectedly lost an elected judge when Precinct 2 Justice of Peace Terri Johnson was killed in a multiple fatality car wreck on April 26.

April Accident Claimed Four

APRIL ACCIDENT CLAIMED FOUR – Wise County Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson and three other people died April 26 in a head-on collision on U.S. 81/287 just south of Decatur after Johnson drove onto the wrong side of the highway. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Crash investigators said Johnson was driving her Volkswagen Passat at a high rate of speed southbound in the northbound lanes of U.S. 81/287 just south of Decatur when she struck a northbound Chevy Trailblazer, killing three adults in that vehicle. The accident happened about a quarter-mile north of the crossover at County Road 4228 near National Ropers Supply (NRS) Trailers at 5:52 that Saturday afternoon.

Those killed in the Trailblazer included the driver, Juan Jose Rios, 31, of Quanah; and two passengers, Amy Dee Culwell, 35, of Chillicothe and Sherry Ann Rios, 50, of Quanah. Juan and Amy’s 4-year-old daughter, Taylee, was seriously injured and flown from the scene to Cook Children’s Medical Center in Fort Worth. She was treated and released from the hospital.

Johnson’s autopsy report showed no drugs or alcohol in her system at the time of the crash. The report noted that Johnson had a “history of diabetes mellitus.” The toxicology report could not definitively point to a diabetes-related medical emergency as a cause of the wreck.

Following her death, Johnson’s husband, Craig, was appointed as interim Precinct 2 justice of the peace, and was later named as the candidate on the November ballot. She had been running unopposed.

Craig was elected in November without opposition.

2. J.D. CLARK ELECTED COUNTY JUDGE

Chico Mayor J.D. Clark took Wise County by storm in 2014.

The 28-year-old former Bowie schoolteacher won the Nov. 4 election for county judge in a landslide, soundly defeating Democrat Jim Stegall, 10,364 to 2,121.

Clark, who is perhaps the youngest county judge currently serving in Texas, never hit a bump on the campaign trail. He seemed to become the face of Wise County even before he was elected, attending countless events, speaking to numerous groups and taking an active interest in commissioners court.

Facing two opponents in the March primary, a runoff seemed inevitable for the young candidate, but Clark decisively won the Republican nomination with 55.33 percent of the vote. He defeated former county commissioner Kyle Stephens and Bridgeport Mayor Keith McComis.

Clark’s campaign continued to build momentum leading up to the general election, and as the numbers rolled in, the outcome quickly became certain. Clark jumped out to a big lead as soon as early voting numbers were released with 4,807 votes to Stegall’s 1,011, an 87.62 percent majority that slipped only slightly to 83 percent when the final votes were tallied.

“I feel completely incredible,” Clark said after the primary election. “I’m proud of the county, and it’s clear that the majority of us are on the same page. They’re ready for fresh ideas and positive leadership.”

Clark took office Nov. 12 when interim County Judge Glenn Hughes resigned. He was appointed to serve the remainder of Hughes’ term, which ends Dec. 31. The term to which Clark was elected starts Jan. 1.

3. BRAZILE CONTINUES RULE IN PRCA

The world’s top cowboy showed no signs of slowing down in 2014.

Trevor Brazile won his 12th Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association all-around gold buckle, finishing the year with $494,369 in winnings. He upped his career total to a record $5.5 million.

Brazile also captured his 20th and 21st world championships with his ninth straight all-around and fifth steer roping title.

He finished second to Decatur’s Tuf Cooper in tie-down and second in team roping with new partner Travis Graves.

4. TWICE AS NICE

After winning the program’s first state championship in 2013, the Decatur Lady Eagles came back for an encore in 2014.

Led by seniors Stormi Leonard, Cooper Martin, Caroline Lowery and Makayla Mayfield, the Lady Eagles rolled to a 40-10 record.

Decatur defeated rival Argyle in the 4A state title match in four games, 25-14, 27-29, 26-24, 25-19. Mayfield buried 21 kills and earned finals MVP.

Leonard earned Texas Girls Coaches Association 1A-4A Athlete of the Year. Decatur coach Claire Benedict-Gay garnered TGCA Coach of the Year.

5. FIRE FATALITIES

February was one of the deadliest months of 2014, with two fires killing three people. That’s the most fire fatalities in one year in Wise County since at least 2004, according to Fire Marshal Chuck Beard.

The first, an early-morning house fire in Chico on Feb. 8, took the life of Chris Conn, a 14-year-old boy. Beard said one of the two space heaters in Chris’s room was the cause of the fire, which also left Chris’s stepfather Johnny Hothouse with second- and third-degree burns as he tried to save him. Chris’s mother and two-year-old brother also suffered minor burns.

Two weeks later, on Feb. 22, two people died on the 400 block of County Road 1695 in Sunset after a fire that began in an 18-foot travel trailer spread to a single-wide mobile home parked less than five feet away.

It took months to identify the bodies of Douglas Vaughn Crewell, 50, and Debora Lynn Miser, 54, who were recovered from the debris by investigators. Beard said Miser was believed to be the caretaker of Jerry Haire, who lived in the mobile home and escaped the fire with no injuries. Beard also said because there wasn’t enough evidence left at the site, the exact cause of the fire could not be determined.

6. ROSS REMOVED FROM OFFICE, RE-ELECTION BID FALLS SHORT

Former County Commissioner Terry Ross was at the center of local news again in 2014 as he attempted to sweep his legal trouble under the rug and win over voters in the March primary.

He was unsuccessful on both counts.

On March 19, Ross was legally removed from office, a job he’d been suspended from performing for more than two years. The removal was the result of a civil suit filed by retired Texas Ranger Lane Akin of Decatur in June of 2012.

Ross’ legal woes began in late 2011 and centered around the construction of a child’s playhouse in the county barn. The structure was removed from Ross’ home in February of 2012, and Akin filed his suit four months later.

In August of 2012, Ross was temporarily removed from office, and in September of 2013, he pleaded guilty to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor. He had to pay $500 restitution and had 180 days in jail probated for one year.

Despite pleading guilty to the crime, Ross was determined to get his job back. In the midst of his legal battles, he filed for re-election to the Precinct 4 post but was trounced in the March 4 primary, finishing third in a three-man race with only 19 percent of the vote.

Just two weeks later, he was permanently removed from office, but he continued to fight, filing an appeal in April of 2014. The Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth heard his case – the first oral arguments in the ongoing saga – in October and issued its opinion just two days before Christmas.

Ross’ plea was overruled, and Judge Towery’s removal was affirmed.

Although Ross pleaded guilty to a crime and was removed from office as a result, it does not prohibit him from running for office in the future.

7. PARR FAMILY VS. BIG OIL

In what was billed as the first fracking lawsuit in the history of the United States, a Wise County family got a $2.9 million jury award from a petroleum company that drilled 21 gas wells within a quarter-mile of their home over a three-year period.

Robert and Lisa Parr, who live off U.S. 380 between Decatur and Denton, sued Aruba Petroleum, alleging the company’s drilling, fracking and completion activites were both a nuisance and a health hazard.

The trial was conducted in a county court-at-law in Dallas in front of a six-person jury.

After two-and-a-half weeks of testimony from an array of experts called by both sides, the jury awarded damages well short of what the couple sought. Still, they and their attorney said it was a milestone victory that should make drillers more aware of the people who live near well sites, and the impact their activities can have.

8. EARTHQUAKES

The tremors themselves were minor, but public criticism was felt all the way to Austin after a rash of about 30 earthquakes shook northeast Parker, northwest Tarrant and southern Wise counties throughout December 2013.

Call to Action

CALL TO ACTION – Wise County resident David Johnson, at a meeting in Azle, called on local energy companies to stop using injection wells after a rash of earthquakes. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

It was in January 2014 that town hall meetings and public forums gave residents of that area a chance to air their grievances over government’s slow response to what most perceived to be man-made earthquakes – caused by disposal wells injecting waste fracking fluid deep into rock formations below the Barnett Shale.

By the end of January, the Texas House Committee on Energy Resources had announced the formation of a subcommittee on seismic acvitity.

In March, the Texas Railroad Commission hired a staff seismologist to study the link between injection wells and seismic activity, and in August they published new rules for injection wells that include monitoring of seismic activity.

9. WINTER WEATHER

Wise County experienced several rounds of winter precipitation last winter. After most schools missed an entire week due to an ice storm last December, February brought another round of snow and ice.

Most schools were closed or had a delayed opening on Monday, Feb. 3. Rain, sleet and snow began falling that Sunday, leading to 45 traffic accidents in a 24-hour period.

Schools were forced to use all their bad-weather makeup days, including those on Good Friday and, in Decatur’s case, Memorial Day. Schools were granted a waiver from the Texas Education Agency for the other days lost due to bad weather.

10. COUNTY RECLAIMS FAIRGROUNDS

The squabble surrounding the Wise County Fairgrounds, formerly the Sheriff’s Posse Grounds, began in the fall of 2013 but carried over into 2014.

The Wise County Sheriff’s Posse had leased the property from the county for $1 a year since 1955, but in the fall of 2013, the late County Judge Bill McElhaney said the lease would not be renewed.

Although the Posse moved out in early December 2013, they continued to negotiate into 2014 seeking reimbursement for the buildings and improvements made to the property during their tenure.

According to the lease, the county owned the land, but “improvements” – buildings, barns and arenas – belonged to the Posse.

In February, Posse President Russell Stephens and attorney Frank Newman attended a commissioners meeting hoping to strike a deal. A new lease was discussed, as was a $1.2 million reimbursement, but both were rejected by commissioners.

In April, the county added the fairgrounds’ facilities to the county’s insurance.

Although there was talk the Posse might sue the county, a lawsuit has not neen filed.

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Highways continue to claim lives in Wise County

From a traffic fatality standpoint, 2014 started off blessedly slow – but caught up with a deadly vengeance.

The previous year saw 12 fatality accidents, beginning just four days into the new year and ending three days before Christmas. In 2014, Wise County made it into April before someone lost his life on the road.

Motorcycle Fatalities

MOTORCYCLE FATALITIES – Two Ardmore, Okla. residents lost their lives May 25 on Farm Road 51 at the Wise-Denton County line when they were hit head-on by a car attempting to pass on the narrow stretch of road. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Roland Hodge, 66, of Decatur, was injured March 28 in a head-on collision southeast of Paradise on S.H. 114. He died April 12 at JPS Hospital in Fort Worth, becoming the county’s first traffic death of the year.

April would prove to be a historically deadly month.

It was Saturday, April 26, when Wise County Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson, 40, inexplicably drove onto the wrong side of U.S. 81/287 just south of Decatur and collided with a van, killing herself and three other people – Juan Jose Rios, 31, of Quanah, his mother, Sherry Ann Rios, 50, also of Quanah, and his girlfriend, Amy Dee Culwell, 35, of Chillicothe.

A month later, on May 25, Thomas Garcia, 53, and Cassie Turner, 32, both of Ardmore, Okla. lost their lives on Farm Road 51 at the Wise-Denton county line when the motorcycle they were on was hit head-on by a car attempting to pass.

After no multiple-fatality accidents in 2013, Wise County’s first seven fatalities of 2014 came in just three crashes.

Nine more traffic deaths followed, all in single-fatality accidents. One was in June, two in July, two in September, one each in October and November and two in December.

On June 4, Maria Ruiz- Quezada of Chico lost control of her car and collided with an 18-wheeler on Texas 101 just south of Chico.

On July 4, 22-year-old Stephen Doyle Ince of Bridgeport ran off Farm Road 1658 near the Lake Bridgeport spillway and was killed after his pickup plunged into a deep ravine.

Margaret “Ann” Aden, 72, of Lake Bridgeport, died July 30 at U.S. 380 and Farm Road 1658 when a suspected drunk driver ran a red light and hit the car her husband was driving. She was a passenger.

Jaime Richardson, 50, of Rhome died Sept. 8 on Texas 114 just east of the Wise-Denton county line when a rock-hauler crossed into oncoming traffic and hit her car head-on.

On Sept. 25, Donald Joe Clark, 52, of Chico crossed into the path of a truck and was killed at Farm Road 1810 and 1655.

On Oct. 22, 64-year-old Anita Eugster of Sanger stopped an the intersection of Farm Road 51 and 455, then pulled out in front of a truck and was killed.

On Nov. 1, Carlos Infante, 23, of Decatur died when his car hit a utility pole on Farm Road 1810 east of Chico.

Dec. 2, Sonia Lynn Bullard, 40, of Big Spring got onto U.S. 81/287 just south of Alvord and died when her car hit another car head-on.

The 16th fatality of the year came Dec. 10, when a car driven by Curtis E. Newberry, 64, of Gainesville went off U.S. 380 east of Decatur, went through a fence and flew into a ravine before catching on fire.

After just 12 fatalities in 2013, this year’s number came closer to the county’s average of 18 over the past decade. In 2012, 18 people died on Wise County roads and in 2011, 16 lost their lives.

Six of this year’s fatal accidents – accounting for 10 of the 16 deaths – were head-on collisions. Three others were side-impact crashes while just three were one-car accidents.

There was a fatal accident on every day of the week in 2014, but Wednesday was a particularly dangerous day as four of the 12 deadly wrecks occurred that day.

There were two on Friday, two on Saturday and one each on all the other days.

THREE WISE RESIDENTS DIED IN COLLISIONS ELSEWHERE

In addition to the death toll on Wise County roadways, three Wise County residents lost their lives in automobile accidents outside the county during 2014.

Two were popular high school basketball players.

Katelyn ShyAnn Hooper, 16, died in a two-vehicle accident on Farm Road 156 in Tarrant County, just south of Justin, Feb. 10 when an oncoming driver lost control and crossed the centerline, striking the car Hooper was driving head-on.

Hooper was a varsity basketball player at Northwest High School, which recently retired her number in an emotional pre-game ceremony.

Bobby Colton Perkins, who graduated from Slidell High School in 2014, was killed Friday, July 18, on Farm Road 455 West in Denton County.

Perkins was eastbound on FM 455 when he lost control of his Chevrolet pickup just east of FM 2450 and slid into a tree.

A Decatur man, Jimmy Warden, 44, died in a wreck in north Austin early Tuesday, Nov. 11.

Warden, a truck driver, was northbound on the U.S. 183 frontage road at the MoPac Expressway flyover when he struck the guardrail, continued northbound, hit a cement wall and went over it. The truck fell several feet onto U.S. 183, coming to rest on the driver’s side before catching fire.

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Appeals court upholds Ross’ removal

The Terry Ross saga appears to be over, at last.

The Second District Court of Appeals in Fort Worth issued a ruling Tuesday, Dec. 23, affirming District Judge Roger Towery’s summary judgment removing the former Precinct 4 Commissioner from office.

Terry Ross

Terry Ross

Wise County Attorney James Stainton, who has handled the case since August 2012, said he is pleased with the ruling.

“Obviously I’m happy,” he said. “The law on this issue is fairly clear. If you get convicted of a criminal offense, even by a plea, that has to do with your office, you’re removed from office.

“Hopefully this will end it, and we can move forward.”

He said Ross could appeal to the Texas Supreme Court, but noted this is “not a novel issue.”

Ross was suspended from office March 15, 2012 after deputies in February confiscated a playhouse from his yard, allegedly built with county funds, using the labor of county employees at his precinct barn in Bridgeport.

He was indicted in May 2012, and in August was suspended without pay. He pled guilty to a misdemeanor criminal charge Sept. 23, but continued to fight the civil suit.

Meanwhile, he sought re-election and finished third in the March 4, 2014 Republican primary. Two weeks later, the summary judgement officially removed him from office.

It was that judgement Ross had appealed to the Second District court in Fort Worth.

The court fiybd that Ross’ guilty plea was an admission of intent to violate the law.

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Weatherford College honors winter graduates

Seventy-nine graduates were recognized Dec. 4 at the Weatherford College Workforce and Continuing Education Winter Graduation Ceremony on the college’s main campus in Weatherford.

Students were recognized from the Dental Assistant, Nurse Aide, Medication Aide, EKG Technician, Pharmacy Technician and Computer Skills for Business programs.

Dental Assistant Graduates

DENTAL ASSISTANT GRADUATES – Ready to enter the workforce as dental assistants are (front, from left) Maria Leyva, Stephanie Crowley, Alejandra Beltran, Kendra Massie, Melinda White and Instructor Julie Merida, (back, from left) Michelle Wagner, Annie Welch, Madeline Kohl and Bridgett O’Shields. Not pictured are Angela Marsh and Alyssa Whitten. Photo courtesy of Zachary Peterson

The WC Wise County campus had students who were recognized along with the main campus, Weatherford High School, the WC Education Center at Granbury and the WC business partnership with Center of Hope.

EKG Tech Graduates

EKG TECHNICIAN GRADUATES – Earning certification as EKG technicians were (from left) Jennifer Elrod, Mary McCune, Becky Mulder, Mary Lou Yerian, Instructor Kathi McKenzie, Cheli Buchanan, Taylor Evans and Julie Vu. Photo courtesy of Zachary Peterson

Also recognized were partnerships with Holland Lake Nursing Center, Keeneland Nursing and Rehab, Harbor Lakes Nursing and Rehab, Senior Care-Bridgeport Nursing and Rehab, and Weatherford Cosmetic and Family Dentistry.

For more information on the WC Workforce and Continuing Education programs, visit www.wc.edu/academics/wfce.

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Blaze devours mobile home

Blaze devours mobile home

A mobile home northeast of Decatur was destroyed Friday in an early morning fire.

The Decatur, Greenwood/Slidell and Krum fire departments were called to the house in the 2000 block of County Road 2320 about 2:30 a.m.

Home Destroyed

HOME DESTROYED – Greenwood/Slidell firefighters douse the blackened debris of a mobile home on County Road 2320 Friday morning. Messenger photo by Jake Harris

The structure was already engulfed in flames, but no one was home. The home was being rented by Brandon Whisenant.

The fire was extinguished about 3:20 a.m.

Wise County Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis said the cause of the fire is under investigation.

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Fireworks play part in New Year’s celebrations

Jerrell Cook runs back and forth from his camper to his fireworks stand, helping customers make the perfect selections for New Year’s fun.

Cook lives by Lake Palo Pinto near Mineral Wells and drives 70 miles to set up just west of Bridgeport on U.S. 380. Cook and his wife sell the full gamut of fireworks with their best seller being “mortar shells.”

Fire Up the Fun

FIRE UP THE FUN – Jerrell Cook has been selling fireworks for about 20 years and is set up just west of Bridgeport on U.S. 380. His best seller is the “mortar shell.” Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

“We love selling fireworks and messing with the kids,” Cook said. “I just enjoy selling fireworks. On New Year’s Eve, there will be so many people out here, you couldn’t stir them with a stick.”

People have been able to buy fireworks in Wise County since Dec. 20 and can still purchase them until Jan 1. Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said there are no burn bans in place, and the weather has been wetter than in the past, but people shouldn’t get overconfident.

“We’ve had a lot of rain, but it’s still dry,” Beard said. “If the wind picks up, everything will dry out, and we’ll be right back where we were.”

Beard said there aren’t as many firework stands currently operating because many had a great July 4th and sold out. Cook said he knows several who completely sold out of everything they had this summer.

“July 4th was good; we had a ball. We almost sold out, too,” Cook said. “We had to buy more so we could sell for New Year’s.”

Cook said July 4th sales are three times that of his New Year’s sales.

FIRE SAFETY TIPS

  • Always purchase fireworks from a reliable source.
  • Use fireworks as directed on the consumer product safety label. Never alter products.
  • Observe local laws and use good common sense.
  • Have a designated shooter to organize and shoot the show.
  • A responsible adult should supervise all firework activities.
  • Parents should not allow young children to handle or use fireworks.
  • Alcohol and fireworks do not mix. Save alcohol for after the show.
  • Use fireworks outdoors in a clear area, away from buildings and vehicles.
  • Never carry fireworks in your pocket.
  • Wear safety glasses whenever using fireworks.
  • Always have water ready if you are shooting fireworks.
  • Do not experiment with homemade fireworks.
  • Never relight a “dud” firework. Wait 20 minutes and then soak it in a bucket of water.
  • Soak spent fireworks with water before placing them in an outdoor trash can.
  • Report illegal explosives, like m-80s and quarter sticks, to the fire or police department.

Source: National Council on Fireworks Safety

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Wise County Sheriff’s Office files lost to virus

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office has not recovered information lost earlier this month to the CryptoWall virus.

Sheriff David Walker said they made a $500 Bitcoin payment as instructed by the cyber criminals, but they never received the instructions on how to decrypt the files as promised.

“What we’re going to do is save everything on a hard drive … we’re not going to pay any more money,” he said.

Walker said the encrypted files will be removed from the server and saved on a hard drive. He still has a digital security expert working on the issue, and if they do receive decryption instructions at a later date, those files will be readily available.

The CryptoWall virus is a form of malware and is also known as “ransomware” because the infection offers users a way to recover their files if they pay a ransom. Once the ransom is paid, the user is provided decryption instructions to restore the lost files.

If the information has been backed up, users can generally restore the information themselves and avoid paying the ransom. Unfortunately, this particular sheriff’s office server, which was new, had not been backed up.

Walker said the problem was discovered the evening of Dec. 11 when some files weren’t accessible and there were a few problems with email. He said they immediately contacted Prince Computing Corp., a consultant hired by the county in August, and Prince began working with the county’s information technology manager, Randy Joy, and Heinrich Downes, the S.O.’s in-house IT specialist.

Walker said any information on that server tied to criminal cases was likely already filed in the prosecutor’s office, and some of the photos had already been downloaded and saved to the department’s master file, in addition to being on that server.

“It’s unusual because it’s been working as advertised across the world – but for us, it isn’t,” Walker said.

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Hospital takes over 2 more nursing facilities

Wise Regional Health System will acquire two more nursing facilities – but a brief discussion revealed some board members are nervous about the system’s entry into that business.

The board finally voted to take over two nursing facilities from Cantex Continuing Care Network. Acquisition of those facilities, located in Southlake and the Heritage Trace area of north Fort Worth, bring to 11 the number acquired by Wise Regional since June.

Under each agreement, the hospital becomes owner of the facility, then turns around and leases it back to the seller. An operating agreement keeps them running basically as they have, with Wise Regional’s Donna Stowers overseeing the facilities from this end.

Back in October, CEO Steve Summers explained that new state laws allow nursing facilities to qualify for a higher reimbursement rate if they are affiliated with a public entity, such as Wise Regional.

In June, Wise Regional acquired two facilities from Skilled Healthcare Inc. – Fort Worth Center for Rehab and Cityview Care Center.

In October, the Decatur-based hospital took on seven more, all in the Fort Worth area. Three of those were owned by Sava Senior Care, three by Kindred Health Care and one, DFW Rehab, by Ken Broussard.

“We were approached by Cantex about two of their nursing home facilities that are in Tarrant County, which is within the 1115 waiver area that the state has approved for us to be involved with,” Summers said. He noted Cantex management had come to Decatur last week to discuss the deal.

“These two facilities have five-star ratings across the board – the highest rating the state gives,” he said. He also noted their Medicaid census is lower than the other facilities Wise Regional has acquired, meaning less cash is required.

After a motion to approve the two purchases Monday, board member Loyd Jackson requested an amendment stating that no more nursing homes be acquired.

“I’m just thinking about the cash outlay that we’re putting out in this, what kind of situation we’re putting ourselves into,” he said.

But before a vote, board member Gary Cocanougher expressed reservations that the amendment might tie the hands of the hospital’s administration.

“If you wanted to revisit this situation, say, six months down the road, does that eliminate that opportunity if something presented itself?” he asked. “I don’t know if I understand the need for the motion. If six months from now, something outstanding comes up, does that mean we don’t look at it?”

Several board members said the board could always come back and reconsider. But Summers said the hospital is basically finished.

“With the timing of all this, there is really no more time to consider anything more,” he said. “The deadline is Feb. 28, so realistically it’s not a viable thing to do anyway.”

Hospital counsel Jason Wren also pointed out that the item on the agenda called for the board to simply vote on the Cantex acquisition, not go back and discuss or restructure the program.

Jackson’s amendment was withdrawn and the purchase was approved.

NO PROFIT IN NOVEMBER

Monday’s financial report showed the hospital system lost money in November – but with corresponding decreases in expenses for payroll and supplies, the loss was held to just $139,000.

Finance Director Todd Scroggins told the board the primary reason for the drop was the Thanksgiving holiday, since outpatient services were essentially closed during that period.

While inpatient admissions were down 7.7 percent and the rehab and behavioral units were down 34 percent, the facility as a whole was still busy compared to previous Novembers. Average daily inpatient census was 79 for the month, compared to 60 in November 2013.

Surgeries were down 8.3 percent from the prior month and non-surgical outpatient services were down 12 percent.

The Parkway campus was $97,000 in the black for November, while the Bridgeport campus lost $208,000.

Plans remain in place to reopen the Bridgeport campus as an Acute Care Facility Jan. 2, operated by Wise Regional. The move, which will close the ER, is designed to stem the losses incurred over the 20 months since Wise Regional bought the Bridgeport hospital in federal bankruptcy court.

Summers said in November that the Bridgeport facility had lost $6.2 million since Wise Regional took it over.

OTHER BUSINESS

The WRHS board also:

  • opted to go with the same workers compensation insurance for 2015, with no deductible and a premium of $609,000, from Texas Hospital Insurance Exchange. Wise Regional had 32 open claims last year, averaging approximately $9,000.
  • noted the Joint Commission has scheduled a survey in January for the hospital’s Primary Stroke Program. The hospital is anticipating its tri-annual Joint Commission survey next summer.
  • heard a building committee report from board member Mark Duncum on the new Fit-N-Wise facility. The committee is reviewing floor plans with architect Mike Hale and hospital staff.
  • approved the re-appointment of board members Carey Williams, Place 1 and Chris Forbis, Place 3, for two-year terms in 2015-2016.
  • approved medical staff recommendations for new active appointments including Monsunmula Babade, MD, Pain Management; Eric Eifler, MD, Orthopedic, and Lesley Richey-Smith, DPM, Podiatry.
  • approved a recommendation to include chemoembolization as a special procedure within the radiology core privileges, and
  • approved a recommendation by the Medical Executive Committee to modify the Bariatric Surgery core privileges language to exempt bariatric surgeons from Center of Excellence criteria if using the Parkway Surgical hospital, which is not currently a Center of Excellence approved facility.

The board’s next regular meeting is Monday, Jan. 26.

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Wreck victim IDed

Authorities have released the name of the man who died in a fiery one-car crash Dec. 10 on U.S. 380 east of Decatur.

The driver was Curtis E. Newberry, 64, of Gainesville, according to Lonnie Haschel, Department of Public Safety spokesperson.

Newberry was driving a Mitsubishi passenger car westbound on 380 about 7:45 p.m., just west of the Highland Hills subdivision, when the car left the roadway to the north and ran through a fence.

DPS Trooper Adam Lawson said on the night of the accident that it appeared the car then veered back through the fence to the south and then weaved through the fence again to the north.

The car hit the edge of a ravine, went airborne, slammed into a tree and burst into flames. Lawson said no one witnessed the accident, and there were no passengers in the car.

The vehicle was destroyed, and the fire was so intense it was impossible at the scene to determine if the driver was male or female. Although DPS later identified the driver, they delayed releasing his name until the medical examiner confirmed his ID.

The crash occurred about a quarter mile away from where the vehicle first left the roadway. Lawson said he believes the car didn’t catch fire until it hit the tree because there were no burn marks in the grass leading to the ravine.

Haschel said Newberry had a history of congestive heart failure, which may have contributed to the accident.

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Commissioners filter through finances

Wise County commissioners ran through a list of financial odds and ends at their final meeting of the year last week.

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance did most of the talking, requesting money for tree removal and building repairs.

His first request was for $5,000 from the right-of-way fund for tree removal.

“I have some trees that are next to power lines that I can’t get to,” he said. “They’re in several different places along the roads.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White asked if there was any way to do it cheaper.

Lamance went into great detail about the danger of the job, and the location of some of the branches.

“Why are we even talking about this?” Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns asked.

County auditor Ann McCuiston reminded him that any money used from the right-of-way fund must be discussed at the commissioners meeting and approved by the court.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy said he understood it was a dangerous job, and it might be best for someone else to do it rather than Lamance’s crew.

White continued to ask if it might be done cheaper.

“I’m just wondering if you ought to shop around,” he said. “Horton’s OK …” He trailed off.

“Horton does a good job, and they don’t tear stuff up,” Lamance said. “Most of my men are as old as I am … climbing around in a tree isn’t our business.”

The expenditure was approved.

Lamance also requested spending almost $7,500 to insulate and repair a shed. He said the three-sided structure is on the north side of one of their buildings, and it will be used to store signs and smaller pieces of equipment.

“The north wind is horrific around there because it’s got holes you can throw a cat through,” he said. “We’re just trying to get it bearable in there.”

The money would come from the buildings and grounds fund.

County Judge J.D. Clark said he supported the repairs.

“Really?” White asked, joking.

“I don’t want him throwing any cats through holes,” Clark replied with a laugh.

McCuiston also noted that $7,433 was spent on plumbing repairs at the adult probation office, and $2,395 was spent on a dedication plaque honoring all those involved in the construction of Weatherford College Wise County.

The commissioners also approved a handgun upgrade for the sheriff’s department. They paid $4,586 to GT Distributors on the trade-in of .357 Sigs for 9 mm Glocks. The county got $24,862 for the trade-in, which was approved by commissioners in August.

McCuiston also said mileage is going up Jan. 1 to 57.5 cents per mile. It’s currently 56 cents per mile.

In other business, commissioners approved a re-plat for Foreman Addition, lots 1R and 2R, block A, in Precinct 2. They also approved the following final plats:

  • Currey Addition, lots 1 and 2, block 1, in Precinct 1;
  • No Regrets, lot 1, in Precinct 2;
  • Snyder Addition, lot 1, in Precinct 4;
  • Watts Country Estates, lots 7R, block 1, in Precinct 1;
  • Dauenhauer Estates, Phase 2, lots 5-8, block 1, in Precinct 3;
  • Hawk Ridge Addition, lot 1R1, block B, in Precinct 1; and
  • Wilson Addition, lots 1 and 2, in Precinct 1.

—–

Commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12, in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse. It is open to the public.

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Santa Claus is comin’ to town

Santa Claus is comin’ to town

There may only be one Santa Claus, but he has a lot of helpers this year in Wise County.

A QUARTER CENTURY OF SANTA- Chan Horne has portrayed Santa in Bridgeport for 25 years now. “It’s always good to see how the kids react positively to Santa and Christmas,” he said. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

All week, there have been numerous Santa-centric events throughout the county, from Breakfast with Santa to the Christmas parade to the Toy Run.

But what’s it like to dress up as the man in the big red suit?

Mario Rondon, who has been portraying Santa Claus at Boyd’s Breakfast with Santa event for three years running, said it’s an unpredictable job.

“Just like any other situation with kids, you don’t know what’s going to happen,” the Boyd High School math teacher said. “But the kids seem to enjoy it, and that’s the best part for me. For some of them, they’re getting over their fear of meeting someone new, and with others they’re just concerned with making sure they can rattle off all the things they want for Christmas.”

Parents can be just as unpredictable.

“When they’re just trying to get that Polaroid moment with their kid for their Christmas card, and the kid isn’t looking, that’s always interesting,” he said.

To Protect and Serve Presents

TO PROTECT AND SERVE…PRESENTS- Decatur Police Sgt. Devlon Campbell stands with some of the multitude of Christmas presents he and other Decatur police officers will deliver to children in need on Christmas eve as a part of the Santa Cops program. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Others who don the beard and coat say that they enjoy making children happy during the holidays – even if that happiness is short-lived.

“The best part of the job is when you make a child’s day and make them forget about the pain and suffering and sadness in the world,” Chan Horne said. He’s been Bridgeport’s resident Santa for 25 years now and has seen a lot of sadness in some of the children he’s met.

“A lot of the kids that visit me aren’t religious, so they ask Santa for some unrealistic stuff. One year, a kid asked for his mom and dad to get back together – that was all he wanted for Christmas.”

MARIO RONDON. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

But Horne said he still enjoys seeing children’s reactions to the spectacle of Christmas and the legend of Santa.

In Decatur, Santa takes the form of a uniform and a badge every Christmas Eve through the Decatur Police Department’s Santa Cops program. Now in its seventh year, the program uses toys that have been donated from local businesses to give to children in need.

The first year, Police Chief Rex Hoskins and his staff hand-delivered presents to 20 children. This year, that has grown to 161.

Currently, the police station’s training room is half-filled with gifts for all ages. A Hot Wheels track sits next to some Legos, which are across the room from stacks of Barbie princess dolls. And that’s not counting the myriad of bicycles that still need to be purchased before Christmas Eve.

“We used to wrap all of them,” Santa cops program coordinator Ashley Dobyns said, “Then more kids qualified for the program, and we had to just start delivering them.”

Police officers deliver the gifts early Christmas morning.

“We’ll be done by noon – we load up pickup trucks, our SWAT truck and other vehicles, and we just drive through town and hand out the presents to the kids,” Sgt. Devlon Campbell said. “It’s a huge undertaking.”

Whether you believe in Santa or not, there’s no doubt the spirit of giving he represents is alive and well in Wise County.

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