High schoolers learn about volunteering at DATCU event

DATCU Credit Union’s junior board of directors learned about the merits of volunteering in the community Thursday night.

The group heard from Mike McQuiston, president of the United Way of Wise County, as he talked about the ways the high school students could contribute to their community now and in the future.

Giving Back to the Community

GIVING BACK TO THE COMMUNITY – Decatur United Way President Mike McQuiston (back center) and DATCU employee Terry Everett (back center) visited the members of the DATCU Credit Union Junior Advisory Board Thursday night, where they learned about the importance of contributing to their community. Messenger photo by Jake Harris

The credit union created the junior board of directors in 2012 to help local students develop leadership, gain insight about the credit union and financial industry and promote community service.

McQuiston used President John F. Kennedy’s “Ask Not” inaugural address to illustrate his point about contributing to the greater good of society.

“When you become involved in sports or band or other activities like that at school, your high school experience is richer than it would have been if you just went to school, got on the bus and went home,” he told the group of six students. “It’s the same thing with adults. It’s about volunteering and being a part of the community, because if you don’t get involved, you miss out on so much of what’s going on.”

Members of the junior board, who are selected from a pool of high school seniors, will receive a $250 scholarship for higher education. The program won the prestigious Dora Maxwell Award for Social Responsibility in 2013.

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County dispatchers recognized at commissioners court

Wise County dispatchers received three of six communications awards presented in November by the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and they were recognized at Monday’s commissioners meeting.

NCTCOG’s Jason Smith attended the meeting and told about each of the awards, which were presented at the entity’s quarterly supervisors meeting and luncheon.

“Out of the six awards that we present, three of them are in the room today,” he said.

Those who received awards included Caitlin Knobel, Telecommunicator of the Year; Zachary Bryden, 911 Professional of the Year; and Jeff Doughty, Supervisor of the Year. (They were featured in a Messenger story Nov. 22, 2014.)

Sheriff David Walker said the citizens of Wise County are in good hands when they call 911.

“We have an exceptional team down there, and these folks rise way above what we require and do a fabulous job,” he said. “Like (Jason) said, there’s 550 telecommunicators in our region – so for us to get three out of the six awards is pretty huge.

“They do a good job, and I appreciate it.”

DONATIONS AND BIDS

Commissioners accepted the following donations: $100 from Robin Lewis to the Sheriff’s Office K-9 unit; $400 from Pella Cemetery to the Public Works Department; and cat cages and a cat tree from Direct Animal Products to the Wise County Animal Shelter.

Several pieces of furniture were also donated to the county.

Commissioners awarded two pickup bids to Prestige Ford – one for a crew cab and one for an extended cab. The crew cab prices were $35,600 without carpet and $37,800 with carpet. The extended cab prices were $34,000 without carpet and $36,300 with carpet. Both are four-wheel drive with short beds.

They plan to purchase a crew cab with carpet for Precinct 2. Asset Manager Diana Alexander said they don’t currently plan to purchase a pickup on the extended cab bid, but it’s good for two months. That bid was originally sought at the request of Public Works Director Tom Goode, but in the meantime, he decided not to make the purchase.

Commissioners approved seeking bids for a 3/4-ton, two-wheel drive, extended cab pickup at the request of Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance. He wants it to have a long bed.

In other business, commissioners:

  • went into executive session to discuss property, but took no action when they emerged;
  • approved purchasing for $9 per ton a stockpile of rock from Martin Marietta that is currently located on Farm Road 2123;
  • appointed Jerry McEntire and Scott Farver, both of Boyd, to the Wise County Emergency Services District No. 1 Board;
  • approved the final plat for La Foresta, lots 1-3, in Precinct 1; and
  • approved the bond for Elections Administrator Sabra Srader.

—–

Most county offices are closed Monday, Feb. 16, for President’s Day. The next commissioners meeting is Monday, Feb. 23, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

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Weatherford College tuition won’t go up for 2015-16

Tuition rates for Weatherford College students will remain unchanged for the 2015-16 academic year following approval from the WC board of trustees during their meeting Thursday afternoon.

WC’s in-district tuition of $80 per credit hour sits right at the state average for the state’s community college districts.

“We have to remain affordable for students in our service area,” said Andra Cantrell, vice president of financial and administrative affairs. “Keeping tuition rates flat for another year keeps us at the state average, and that’s been our goal.”

Differential tuition for selected allied health programs will increase from $20 to $40 per credit hour. This additional cost was added to several programs this past academic year due to higher program costs.

A $50 increase in room and board charges was also approved to cover the rising cost of food and supplies.

WC President Dr. Kevin Eaton told the board House Bill 1, the first version of the state’s budget for the next two years, includes a cut of more than $80,000 in funding to WC. Eaton said WC fared better than the other schools in its peer group, and that the numbers could change somewhat before the final version is approved by the governor.

Eaton also reported:

  • enrollment for the spring 2015 semester is flat compared with this time last year. As of count day there were 5,229 students enrolled collegewide compared with 5,237 this time last year;
  • notices of employee resignations from ADN Nursing Instructor Lisa Webster and economics professor Carol Eppright who will retire after 40 years with WC.

In other business the board approved:

  • lab fees for new developmental math courses and a new phlebotomy course;
  • the 2015-16 academic calendar;
  • an order of election for Place 3, Place 4 and Place 5 on the board of trustees. Early voting is April 27 through May 5, and election day is May 9.

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Roundabout discussions lead to start of remodel

The remodel of two county-owned buildings acquired from the U.S. Army isn’t as simple as first thought.

The scope of the job is so large that an architect or engineer will be required, according to state law.

The buildings, which sit next to the Public Works Department, on Farm Road 51 South near the Wise County Fairgrounds, were acquired from Fort Hood through a military surplus program. The buildings were free to the county, although they paid to have them moved to Decatur.

They will be used for additional office space and will require some remodel work, a job that is being overseen by Special Projects Manager Glenn Hughes.

County Judge J.D. Clark asked commissioners Monday how Hughes should move forward. They eventually approved seeking requests for qualifications (RFQs) for an architect or engineer, with a special acknowledgement that their decision would not be based on price.

But this was after a lengthy discussion.

“Glenn is wanting to know how we want him to go about it,” Clark said. “We could bid out the work on that or he’s interested in using IDIQ. It’s basically like a buy board.”

Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said IDIQ is a type of construction management service that bids out the work, using local contractors, but he wasn’t sure what they charged.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg said that although they had no plans in front of them, his understanding was that the total estimated cost would be about $70,000 and it included moving a wall and the addition of at least one door, two factors that together would require the work of an architect or engineer.

“If you move a wall and add a door, and it says it in the law exactly that way, you have to have an architect …,” he said. “My recommendation would be to either find out if (the $70,000) is accurate or we have to hire an architect or engineer.”

The Sheriff’s Office also acquired a building through this program and is remodeling it for a crime lab. That job did not require an architect or engineer because although a wall is being moved, the total cost of the job is $8,000, significantly less than $50,000 limit as established in state law. Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance asked if the work and expenses could be split between this year and next year.

He was met with a resounding “No!” from the group.

“If you know you’re going to do that, that’s illegal,” Aaberg said.

Lamance wanted to know what they were going to do that would cost $70,000.

Burns said add they plan to add wainscot, add rock skirting and a porch, as well as an ADA-compliant ramp.

“We’ll put rocking around the outside to make it presentable,” he said, “which we were aware of when we got the buildings.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy asked about the interiors.

“Is it just one big space? I haven’t even looked in them,” he said.

Clark said each building has a kitchenette and six offices. Public Works Director Tom Goode said part of the plan included creating a lobby area and creating doors to go between the two buildings.

“Can we just hang on to this until Glenn can give us a ‘here’s exactly what we’re going to do?'” Clark asked.

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White asked if the county could use its own manpower and avoid hiring an architect to which Aaberg said “no.”

“If we bid out the rocking …” White said.

“If you know you’re going to do that, you’re breaking it up, and that’s very much against the competitive bidding law,” Aaberg said.

Clark mentioned again that he would like to have more specific plans in front of him for this discussion.

“I’d rather have in front of us exactly what needs to be done instead of this nebulous idea,” he said.

Aaberg agreed, saying he didn’t know if the figures would change.

“I’ve heard $70,000, but now I’m hearing it could be below that, too,” he said. “So I guess the judge’s idea of seeing what’s laid out in front of us might be a good idea.”

They finally agreed that the cost would likely be more than $50,000, and it was in their best interest to go ahead and request RFQs. Burns made the motion, and Kennedy gave it a second.

The discussion jumped to the Ritchie Bros. Auction before circling back again to the building remodel and the specifics of acquiring the services of an architect or engineer.

Eventually, Burns amended his motion to include a caveat that says hiring the architect or engineer will not be based on competitive bidding. It will be based on the qualifications submitted.

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Sales tax: County divided as 2015 starts

Comptroller Glenn Hegar says Texas’ continued growth in sales tax revenue is driven by business spending in the manufacturing and wholesale trade sectors as well as the oil and natural gas mining sector.

Wise County reflects that.

Bridgeport’s sales tax receipts – fueled largely by oil, gas and manufacturing – are up more than 11 percent for the first two months of 2015.

Over in Decatur, where the economy is more retail-based, sales tax receipts are down 9.14 percent through February,

In February, Bridgeport collected $260,887 from its 1.5-cent sales tax. That’s up 14.25 percent from last year’s February number, and puts the city at $469,561 for the year so far.

Decatur’s base is bigger, but collections were down 15.5 percent in February, from last year’s $446,647 to $377,412. That brings the city’s two-month total to $704,362, compared to $775,237 at this point last year.

The February sales tax number reflects collections in December as well as October, November and December sales by businesses that report quarterly.

Hegar said he will continue to watch oil prices carefully, but for now the state’s 58-month winning streak for sales tax growth remains intact.

“This allocation … is indicative of a dynamic and diverse economy that continues to generate business investment and spending in Texas,” Hegar said. “My office will continue to carefully monitor the impact that lower oil prices will have on our state’s economy, but these sales tax allocation numbers are an encouraging sign of continued strength.”

In Wise County, as usual, the story varies from city to city.

In addition to Decatur, Rhome, New Fairview, Chico, Alvord and Aurora are all trailing last year’s sales tax through two months of 2015.

Bridgeport is joined in the plus column by Boyd, Paradise, Newark, Runaway Bay and Lake Brideport.

Countywide, those 12 cities’ sales tax collections were off 8.1 percent in February and trail 2014 so far by 3.3 percent.

Wise County, which collects a half-cent sales tax countywide, took a nearly 17-percent hit in February as it collected $396,967 after taking in $477,666 for the same period last year.

So far this year, Wise County’s collections trail last year’s by 8.8 percent.

Sales tax

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Horse hair thieves strike again

Horse hair thieves strike again

It appears some thieves are taking advantage of a friendly horse near Paradise.

TAKEN TAIL – This Tobiano paint stallion, owned by Jennifer Moon of Paradise, has had its tail cut three times within the past 1 1/2 years. Submitted photo

Jennifer Moon said people have cut the hair off her horse’s tail at least three times over the past year-and-a-half, and they don’t even have to cut a fence or break a locked gate to do their deed.

“He’s really sweet,” Moon said of her horse. “He likes to get his butt scratched. He probably comes over to the fence and he will be face to face and then he will turn around.”

At that point, she said, the thieves are likely cutting off her brown and white stallion’s tail.

The same person or people apparently wait about six months between the thefts to allow the hair to grow back in. The first time her horse was targeted, the thieves didn’t make it too obvious, she said. The second time, the thieves seemed to be more bold and took even more. After this third time, which she believes happened in the latter part of last week, possibly overnight Wednesday into Thursday, very little tail is left.

“I probably wouldn’t have minded them taking some of the hair if they had just asked the first time. Now, it’s down to almost cartilage,” she said.

It’s unknown what the thieves are doing with the stolen hair. Moon, who lives on County Road 3470, said her horse was probably targeted because the tail was light colored, making it easier to dye. She said she’s heard of people stealing hair in order to make horse hair extensions.

It’s not the first time horse owners in Wise County have been hit by horse hair thieves. Several reports were received in 2011 in the Decatur and Paradise area.

Anyone with information on the case should call the Wise County Sheriff’s Office at 940-627-5971.

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County hires tech pro

A technology guru will be settling in among Wise County officials this week.

Tuesday morning county commissioners approved hiring Steven Melton of Boyd as the systems administrator to oversee, maintain and manage the county’s technological systems.

County Judge J.D. Clark told commissioners that Melton is a network engineer and network administrator. He’s been working for Interop in Irving and in that position provides technical support for project development implementation and does network configurations. He also worked as a network administrator for five years at Turbomeca USA in Grand Prairie.

“Not only is he a really sharp IT professional, but he’s also creative and good at trying to find efficient and more innovative ways to work within a budget,” Clark said. “He understands those limitations.”

Clark also said Melton believes in cross-training and allowing people to grow professionally.

“We had a lot of extremely qualified people apply,” Clark said, “but he just seems like a good fit. I think he’ll be a good asset.”

Clark said he will start Thursday, Feb. 19.

The systems administrator position is a new county job that was created last November at the recommendation of then-County Judge Glenn Hughes and Prince Computing Corp., consultants hired last summer to evaluate the county’s computer systems.

At the time, Hughes told commissioners that “the county has grown so much technology-wise, this is what will bring us up to speed.” He said the current IT department was overwhelmed, and there were many systems within the county that weren’t compatible.

After the county began its search for a systems administrator, a Sheriff’s Office server was struck by the CryptoWall virus, and files that hadn’t been backed up were lost. The incident seemed to be further proof that a systems administrator was needed to better manage the technological systems.

Read more from Tuesday’s commissioners meeting in an upcoming edition of the Messenger.

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State changes vehicle registration, inspection stickers

This year Texas vehicles will go from two windshield stickers to one.

Beginning March 1, the state will no longer issue vehicle inspection stickers as it moves to the Two Steps, One Sticker program, which requires vehicles to pass inspection prior to renewing the registration.

Wise County Tax Assessor-Collector Monte Shaw said his office is prepared to make this a smooth transition for county residents.

The familiar blue-bordered Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (TxDMV) registration sticker will serve as proof of both inspection and registration.

“During the first year of the program, all you need to do is make sure you already have a valid passing vehicle inspection before renewing your registration in our office, online or by mail,” Shaw said.

Here’s how it will work:

March 1, 2015, to Feb. 29, 2016, is being called the “sync up” year to align the expiration dates for inspection and registration.

If your registration sticker has an expiration date of April 2015, and your inspection sticker has an expiration date of September 2015, you can renew your registration in April because your inspection is valid.

Your inspection sticker will then align with the registration, meaning your vehicle will not have to be inspected again until April 2016 before the registration expires.

During the second year of the program, beginning March 1, 2016, drivers will have a 90-day window to first pass inspection and then renew registration before the end of the month listed on the registration sticker.

Although drivers will no longer receive an inspection sticker, they will be given a Vehicle Inspection Report upon passing, and that document should be taken to the tax assessor-collector’s office to receive a registration sticker. Inspections will also be electronically verified.

Without a passing inspection, vehicles will not be eligible for registration.

TxDMV Executive Director Whitney Brewster said the inspection requirement to renew registration will mean “more vehicle owners will comply with inspection requirements leading to safer and more environmentally sound cars on Texas roads.”

The Two Steps, One Sticker program is a result of House Bill 2305, which passed during the 83rd legislative session in 2013. It is a joint effort by the TxDMV, Texas Department of Public Safety and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, in collaboration with the tax assessor-collector offices across the state.

For information, visit www.TwoStepsOneSticker.com or call the Wise County tax assessor-collector office at 940-627-3523.

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Local FFA members catch calves in Fort Worth scramble

Five Wise County FFA members were among the calf scramble winners at the 2015 Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo.

The calf scramble, which allows 16 students to compete at 28 of the 29 rodeo performances, has eight winners each performance. The young people are high school students out to catch and halter a calf with hopes of winning a $500 purchase certificate that will help buy a registered beef or dairy heifer for a yearlong 4-H or FFA project. Winners must return for the 2016 Stock Show to exhibit it in the Junior Heifer Show.

Local winners included Hunter Tallon and Huston Myers, Alvord FFA; Kyle Barnett, Decatur FFA; and Blaine Gibson and Kaitlyn Gibson, Paradise FFA.

In all, 224 youngsters caught calves during the 2015 Stock Show.

All entries receive a special T-shirt with their contestant number. Participants who fail to catch a calf receive a certificate for a pair of Justin boots.

Hunter Tallon

HUNTER TALLON

Kyle Barnett

KYLE BARNETT

Blaine Gibson

BLAINE GIBSON

Huston Myers

HUSTON MYERS

Kaitlyn Gibson

KAITLYN GIBSON

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Woman convicted of attempted drug buy

A former sixth-grade teacher was convicted on a drug charge Tuesday in 271st District Court in Decatur.

Shirley Jean Johnson

A Wise County jury deliberated for about 10 minutes before finding Shirley Jean Johnson, 56, of Chico guilty of conspiracy to commit possession of a controlled substance 1-4 grams. Her sentencing hearing in front of District Judge John Fostel will take place on Feb. 23.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham presented evidence that Johnson agreed to meet someone to purchase drugs near the area of Farm Roads 51 and 2123 around 2:45 p.m. on Oct. 5, 2012. The meeting was set up using the phone of Josh Weber, who Lapham said was a local drug dealer who had been arrested a few days earlier.

Sgt. Chad Lanier with the Wise County Sheriff’s Office testified that Johnson texted Weber’s phone using language that drug purchasers commonly use without actually mentioning drugs. Through a series of text messages, Johnson agreed to meet and pay $100 for 1.5 grams of methamphetamine.

Lanier and other officers arrived at the agreed meeting place a couple of hours later to meet Johnson.

Jurors watched the video tape of officers meeting with Johnson, who is asked to get out of her car by Lanier. The officer then looks at Johnson’s phone to confirm she had been the one sending the text messages.

“I haven’t done anything illegal yet,” Johnson can be heard saying as she knocks the phone out of Lanier’s hand. At that point she is handcuffed while Lanier searches her vehicle.

At one point, Johnson mentions that she was a sixth grade teacher with the Springtown school district. She also says the $100 that was found in her bra was for her son, who she was actually supposed to be meeting.

After repeatedly saying she hadn’t bought anything, Lanier asks her if she was going to buy drugs.

“No, well maybe,” she said on the video. “… I didn’t do anything wrong. I would have, I guess, if I had bought it, but I didn’t.”

No illegal drugs were found in Johnson’s vehicle, and officers let her return to her class since it was nearing the end of the school day.

“I won’t ever think about doing this ever again,” she tells officers near the end of the video.

During cross examination, Johnson’s attorney Paul Belew asked Lanier if he used deception to catch Johnson.

“That’s how we catch drug dealers,” he answered.

In his closing argument, Belew once again mentioned the deception and pointed out that Johnson had never been in trouble before. He asked the jury to use common sense when reaching their verdict.

Lapham told the jury during his closing argument that although in Johnson’s mind she might be innocent because she never actually bought drugs, state law says that conspiracy to buy drugs is still illegal.

“If you break the law, you should be held accountable,” he said. “If you break the law, there are consequences.”

The case went to the jury just before 4 p.m., and the court was notified around 4:10 that the jury had reached its decision. Johnson quietly sobbed as Fostel read the guilty verdict.

The charge carries a punishment range of 180 days to 2 years in state jail. Johnson is eligible for probation.

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Farewell to a loyal friend; Pepper’s actions, officers’ courage, celebrated

Farewell to a loyal friend; Pepper’s actions, officers’ courage, celebrated

When it came time for the fight with an armed suspect hiding in the woods, Pepper did exactly what his partner/handler had trained him to do.

Because of that, Sgt. JT Manoushagian said, he and four of his law enforcement brothers are still alive.

Saying Goodbye

SAYING GOODBYE – Wise County Sgt. JT Manoushagian and his wife, Sandy, comfort each other during the memorial service for his K-9 partner, Pepper. He is one of five officers possibly saved by Pepper’s actions. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“He ran in front of us as we held our position and looked danger, and ultimately death, directly in the eyes,” Manoushagian told the hundreds of law enforcement officers, including dozens of K-9s and their handlers, gathered at Wednesday’s memorial for Wise County Sheriff’s K-9 Deputy Pepper.

“Just as he was engaging, he shielded each of us with his body, making it impossible for the suspect’s rounds to reach any of us. He did exactly what I asked him to do, exactly what he was trained to do, and he did exactly what we needed him to do. It is because of him and only him that I stand before you today.”

PARTNERS – Flip, a K-9 officer at the sheriff’s office, gives his partner/handler Deputy Brett Yaro a lick prior to Wednesday’s memorial. Flip and Pepper both began work last month. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The events he described happened a week earlier, almost to the minute, at the end of a search for Alan “Lance” Alverson, 45, of Granbury in a wooded area near Sunset, just north of the Wise/Montague county line. Pepper had used his tracking skills to locate Alverson, who had concealed himself under leaves.

When Alverson was discovered, he began shooting and officers returned fire, killing him. His funeral was held earlier in the day Wednesday in Fort Worth.

Wednesday’s service at Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise was as much a celebration of the five human officers as it was about their K-9 brother’s sacrifice.

If there was any doubt about how much Pepper’s act meant on that unseasonably warm late January day, it became perfectly clear during a video featuring photos of the five officers – three Texas Department of Public Safety Troopers and two Wise County Sheriff’s Office K-9 officers – who were at the scene.

It gave those in attendance a chance to see more than just the officers in their uniforms. The video showed wedding photos, pictures of young kids with their dads at ballgames, and other images of families sharing happy moments. Several of those gathered dabbed tears from their eyes as the video came to a close.

“Pepper’s sacrifice ensured that there’s not a newlywed widow sitting on the front row of this church,” Manoushagian said. “His sacrifice ensured none of these officers’ children were left without fathers, no mothers without sons, and no colleagues left without a brother. His sacrifice ensured that none of us would have to mourn the loss of another Wise County police officer.”

Manoushagian also made an emotional request on behalf of his family.

“I would ask that for those who know my children, that you not mention this to them,” he said. “Their minds are far too young to comprehend the gravity of this situation, and it is my God-given duty to protect their precious hearts and minds.”

He added that someday, when the time was right, he would explain what happened that day – a day that began just like any other.

Full House

FULL HOUSE – Law enforcement agencies throughout the state sent officers to Pepper’s memorial service, including several K-9 officers and their partners, who are seated on the far left side of the photo. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

‘HE WAS LOOKING FOR SOMEONE’

Manoushagian said he could tell early in the day on Jan. 28 that Pepper was trying to tell him something, “something I didn’t particularly like, but I listened nonetheless.”

He and Pepper spent hours that morning in training, but Pepper seemed to be interested in just one part of the training.

“The moment I took him out of my car, I knew he was looking for someone,” Manoushagian said. “He didn’t care about sniffing cars, he didn’t care about sniffing buildings. He was looking for someone.”

As Manoushagian put it, Pepper was “looking for the bite.” So it was not surprising, he said, that during the apprehension part of training, Pepper was in his element that day.

As the two were leaving the training area south of Decatur, Manoushagian heard about a suspect pursuit in Montague County that could be headed toward Wise County. When the pursuing officers requested K-9 assistance, he headed north along with his fellow K-9 handler, Deputy Brett Yaro.

As they pulled up near the spot where Alverson had run into the woods, leaving his abandoned car on the side of the dusty road near the intersection of Pickett Run Road and Aujla Road, the two began preparations for the search. They were soon joined by the three state troopers – Aaron Wallace, Greg Reyero and Adam Lawson.

Manoushagian said he knew all three well, perhaps none better than Lawson, his former partner at the Bridgeport Police Department.

“We were also former dispatchers, former rock musicians, and we even swore in together when we hired on at Bridgeport,” he said.

The group included a man with SWAT training (Yaro), one with Army service (Wallace) and one who reassured them he would watch their backs (Reyero).

The four men who accompanied Manoushagian and Pepper into the thick brush “courageously accepted the challenge of pursuing a dangerous suspect and ultimately did what they had to do to ensure that all of you could rest peacefully,” Manoushagian said as he introduced the four other officers sitting on the front row facing the wooden urn that held Pepper’s cremated remains. His words drew a standing ovation from the crowd of around 700.

Final Tribute

FINAL TRIBUTE – A box containing Pepper’s ashes was placed at the end of two rows of K-9 officers and their partners at the conclusion of the service. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

‘PEPPER WAS MY DOG’

Last year, Manoushagian traveled to Vohn Liche Kennels in Indiana, a training school for K-9 officers and their handlers, where he evaluated several dogs in his search for a new partner.

“Pepper was relentless and easily rose above the rest,” he said.

In a video of Pepper’s training shown at the service, the dog can be seen trying to squeeze under a car with flat tires in order to retrieve an object tossed under the vehicle. Pepper stretches his front paws as far as he can reach and even turns onto his side a couple of times as he attempts to squeeze himself deeper under the car.

“After seeing this, there was no doubt in my mind that Pepper was my dog,” Manoushagian said.

The two spent two-and-a-half months training together. On Jan. 7, three weeks to the day before his death, Pepper was deputized and began his job as a member of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office.

That sheriff’s office family filled the middle portion of the sanctuary Wednesday, black bands covering their badges as a tribute to one of their fellow officers killed in the line of duty.

Bridgeport Police Chief Randy Singleton read the poem, “The Life of a Police Dog,” interrupted a couple of times by barks from some of the K-9 officers seated together on the left side of the sanctuary.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker read a letter he had received from Gov. Greg Abbott, which read in part, “Please accept our condolences on the passing of Pepper. As a K-9 officer, Pepper faithfully served the people of Wise County and gave his life to protect others. Texas would not be the land of the free that it is without the service of K-9s and their handlers who work tirelessly fulfilling their tireless duty protecting the safety of others before their own.”

K-9s wagged their tails and played with chew toys as Pastor Rick Cooper provided a message of comfort and encouragement to the officers involved in the incident. Some handlers stroked their partner’s fur as they listened to Lt. Chuck Gomez, who oversees the K-9 unit at the sheriff’s office, describe what it was like to learn about the death of one of his four-legged officers.

As is customary with any fallen officer, a final radio call was given to the officer. In this case, the dispatcher who provided the 10-42 call, indicating the end of duty, was Kelsey Lawson, a county dispatcher who was on duty the afternoon of Jan. 28. She’s the wife of Trooper Adam Lawson.

“Wise County to all units, K-9 Pepper has answered the highest call,” she said. “Wise County to all units, K-9 Pepper has answered his final call. End of watch Jan. 28, 2015. You did your job well, Pepper. We’ll take it from here. Godspeed.”

Retired Forth Worth Fire Department Lt. Steve Creed performed “Amazing Grace” on the bagpipes, leading the K-9 officers and their handlers into the foyer of the church where the dogs formed two lines.

As people filed between them on their way out the door, the K-9 officers obediently followed the commands of their handlers, sitting at attention alongside their partners.

It seemed a fitting tribute to a fellow K-9 officer whose final act of obedience will not be quickly forgotten.

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Wild science: Biologists collect data to preserve turkey populations

Wild science: Biologists collect data to preserve turkey populations

With a snap, another band is secured around the wild turkey’s bare leg. A small black box containing a GPS tracker and VHF transmitter is tied on its back. A steady ping resonates from a handheld receiver, verifying the device is operational.

Looking for Results

LOOKING FOR RESULTS – Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologists are collecting Rio Grande wild turkeys in Wise County. The aim is to gain management information for landowners who want to foster the birds’ population. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

The hands of all four team members cramp and sting in the bitter cold Thursday morning, as howling wind and freezing temperatures slow their work.

The bird is held tightly, its eyes and head darting back and forth. It’s anxious and frightened, but not for much longer. With everything secured and data recorded, the turkey is set loose.

Frantic flapping leads to a hurried flight and clean getaway.

Letting Loose

LETTING LOOSE – Texas Parks and Wildlife Department wildlife biologist Jennifer Barrow opens a turkey trap to release several young wild turkeys called jakes. Her study focuses on hens and their brooding habits. It doesn’t require much data on male birds. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Wildlife biologist Jennifer Barrow stares for a second before turning around and starting the process all over again.

With the help of U.S. Forest Service tech Scott Siebert, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department biologist James Edwards and TPWD technical guidance biologist Jesse Oetgen, she preps another bird.

It’s been nearly five hours since they trekked through the darkness into Wise County’s LBJ Grasslands. Barrow and her team have been capturing female wild turkeys for four years as part of a seven-year study of the birds’ brooding habits and how the population is affected by drought and wildfires. The birds she captures will provide data for another year, until she can collect again.

Banded

BANDED – TPWD wildlife biologist James Edwards holds a recently collected Rio Grande hen. The bird’s legs have been banded with identifying numbers for the study. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

“The population is low region-wide,” Barrow said. “We still have a stable population, but the drought has had a huge impact. It’s still down from 10 years ago.”

August 2010 to July 2011 was the worst one-year drought in recorded Texas history according to State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon. As the drought has persisted, the Texas A&M Forest Service says about 301 million trees have died across the state. North Texas alone is thought to have lost more than 8 percent of its trees, drastically altering wild turkey habitat.

In 2013, Jason Hardin, turkey program coordinator for TPWD, said wild turkeys in Texas had been devastated by the drought and brooding was severely affected.

For the Record

FOR THE RECORD – Jennifer Barrow (left) records the approximate age and sex and collects feathers for DNA testing, while James Edwards (center) holds the next turkey to be tagged. TPWD technical guidance biologist Jesse Oetgen prepares bands for the bird. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Barrow said concerned landowners came to the TPWD with questions about declining turkey populations and until recently, biologists had few answers. Adding to the concerns were lingering questions about how wild populations were affected by large wildfires, such as the one that burned 34,356 acres around Possum Kingdom, nearly 7,000 acres in Palo Pinto County and about 1 million acres statewide in 2011.

“We’re looking for basic habitat data,” Barrow said. “That includes the movement of hens, nesting, what kind of habitat are they nesting in and where are they raising their young. It’ll help us give better management information after a catastrophic wildfire, and that will help landowners better manage their property for turkeys.”

With better management information, proper strategies can be put in place to help turkey populations recover. TPWD is collecting data in Palo Pinto County as well as in the grasslands and at a control site in Stephens County. Texas A&M has been in cooperation with TPWD and have collection sites as well.

Listening In

LISTENING IN – Jennifer Barrow uses a handheld VHF receiver to hear where tagged turkeys are located. The system works within about 300 to 400 yards. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Initial data collections are showing they are actually responding favorably after the wildfires, according to Barrow.

Barrow said at the time of the large wildfires in 2011, TPWD biologists didn’t have much information on how wild turkeys would respond to that kind of event.

THE DATA

While the study is far from complete, Barrow said some interesting patterns are emerging that show the turkeys move more than previously thought. At the Grasslands, the hens move anywhere from a few kilometers from their original roosting site to four or five miles.

Migrating 10 to 12 miles isn’t unusual at other sites.

Data Collection

DATA COLLECTION – Each hen caught gets a GPS and VHF transmitter attached to its back. The transmitter collects movement data for the biologists, giving insight into the birds’ migratory and nesting habits. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Each bird is tracked using a GPS and VHF (Very High Frequency) transmitter tied to its back. The VHF sends out a pinging signal that allows the wildlife biologists to find the birds, and the GPS tracker plots the turkeys’ movement. Each bird also gets a metal leg band that catalogs and marks it as part of this study.

“These GPS transmitters collect a point every hour of the day and three points at night,” Barrow said. “The leg bands will last forever. The GPS transmitters last about nine months and stop collecting after about October or November. The VHF transmitter will last about a year.”

About once a month, the biologist has to get within 300 to 400 yards of the transmitters to download the GPS data using a handheld command unit. This method doesn’t bother the bird and gives TPWD data until the unit falls off, runs out of power or the bird dies. Older mechanisms had to be retrieved for researchers to get any data.

Barrow doesn’t think the transmitters cause the birds too much grief.

“I think they may spend some time preening and trying to remove the transmitters, but afterward they seem to be fine,” Barrow said.

Data collected is giving the biologists a glimpse of the turkeys’ annual spring dispersal. Prior to mating season, turkeys congregate in one big flock before breaking into smaller groups sometime in March.

“We’ll see how they do that,” Barrow said. “We’ll also see how far they go for their nesting site and where they will spend their summer.”

The minimum number of female turkeys needed each year is 15. Those 15 are fitted with the transmitters and others birds, such as jakes, can be banded and have some data collected for studying the flock’s DNA.

PAYING FOR THE STUDY

Funding for the study comes from the Upland Game Bird Stamp fund. Each turkey hunter pays into the fund when purchasing a hunting license and buying an upland bird stamp, which is required to hunt turkeys.

Barrow said losing turkeys to hunters could always happen, but that is just part of the process.

“Hunters don’t have to let us know if they kill a banded bird,” Barrow said. “We hope they will, but they don’t have to. We have only had two shot on this study.”

She said one was a jake, and the hunter who shot that bird called TPWD.

“That jake only lasted a week after we banded him,” Barrow said. “He was shot opening day on the Grasslands.”

The second was not reported. She said they found the band removed from the bird and discarded. That hen was shot in the fall, so they were still able to collect spring and summer data.

TPWD has another project started to increase wild turkey habitat by clearing nearly 1,000 acres of brush from the Grasslands. This project is largely paid for through the stamp fund and the National Wild Turkey Foundation.

The foundation will have a fundraising banquet Feb. 27 at the Decatur Civic Center.

Turkey Faqs

ABOUT WILD TURKEYS

Texas turkey populations were nearly wiped out in the 19th century, according to the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department. It wasn’t until strict game laws and capture-and-release programs started in the early 20th century that the species began to recover.

The most common wild turkey in North Texas is the Rio Grande wild turkey, commonly called “Rios.” Rios are native to the central plains and similar to both the Eastern and Florida species, but they’re often recognized by their tan-tipped tail feathers. Male Rios, or toms, have brightly colored plumage, showing iridescent copper, bronze, red, green and gold. Females, or hens, have similar colors, but are less vibrant.

Toms also have long bundles of brittle fibers called beards protruding from just above the breast and will grow long shard foot spurs. About 15 percent of hens can also have beards, but they are typically shorter. Young males, called jakes, will have much smaller beards and small or non-existent spurs.

Wild turkeys typically live about two to three years and are primarily vegetarian, eating green grasses and weeds, buds, flowers and seeds. They will also eat some insects and snails.

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City, school races begin to draw interest

The filing period for the May 9 city council and school board elections opened Jan. 28 and runs through Friday, Feb. 27. The places on this year’s ballot and the people who have filed to run as of Friday are listed below. A letter “I” behind a candidate’s name indicates he or she is an incumbent.

ALVORD

School Board

Place 1 – No one has filed.
Place 2 – John Schedcik (I)

BOYD

School Board

Place 4 – No one has filed.
Place 5 – No one has filed.

City Council

Mayor – No one has filed.
Place 2 – Tim Hammonds (I)
Place 3 – No one has filed.
Place 4 – Mark Culpepper (I)

BRIDGEPORT

School Board

Place 1 – Tom Talley (I)
Place 2 – Charles Mauldin (I)
Place 3 – Alan Powers

City Council

Place 3 – Jimmy Meyers (I)
Place 4 – Bobby Brazier (I)
Place 5 – No one has filed.

CHICO

City Council

Mayor – Euell Rackely and Karen Garrison
No one has filed for the two at-large seats as of Friday.

School Board

Place 1 – No one has filed.
Place 2 – No one has filed.
Place 4 – Lori Clark (I)

DECATUR

City Council

Place 2 – Susan Cocanougher (I)
Place 4 – No one has filed.
Place 6 (at-large) – No one has filed.

School Board

Place 5 – No one has filed.
Place 6 – No one has filed.
Place 7 – No one has filed.

NEWARK

City Council

Mayor Pro-Tem – No one has filed.
Place 2 – No one has filed.
Place 4 – No one has filed.
Place 5 – No one has filed.

NORTHWEST

School Board

Place 1 – No one has filed.
Place 2 – No one has filed.

RHOME

City Council

Mayor – (partial term ending May 2016) – Charles Pennington, Michelle Pittman
At-large – No one has filed.
At-large – No one has filed.
At-large – No one has filed.

RUNAWAY BAY

City Council

Only Dan Ticer (I) has filed for one of the three-at-large seats.

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King to chair new select committee; Panel to study state, federal roles

Wise County’s representative in the Texas House, Phil King (R-Weatherford), has been named chairman of a new committee to explore the roles of state and federal government in Texas.

King, who is serving his ninth term in the legislature, was tapped Wednesday by House Speaker Joe Strauss to head the newly-created panel, while also serving on the Energy Resources and Environmental Regulation committees.

“I’m exceptionally pleased with these opportunities,” King said Thursday.

The new committee is tasked with monitoring the actions of the federal government – including legislation and regulations that require state action – as well as Washington’s role in providing or failing to provide services to the state, King said.

“This committee is about federalism and the proper balance between the state and federal government,” he noted. “We will be considering various issues relating to the Tenth Amendment, Article V constitutional amendment initiatives, unfunded federal mandates, and issues relating to the federal budget and its impact on Texas.”

Vice-chair is Rep. Paul Workman of Austin. Committee members are Charles “Doc” Anderson of Waco, Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches, Borris Miles of Houston, Tan Parker of Flower Mound and Armando Walle of Houston.

King was reappointed to the Energy Resources Committee, chaired by Drew Darby of San Angelo, and joins the Environmental Regulation Committee, chaired by Geanie Morrison of Victoria.

“I am also pleased to be serving on these committees,” King said. “Energy production accounts for over one-fourth of the Texas economy and is an economic driver in the Barnett Shale area. Also, issues relating to air, water and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality affect Texas’ families and businesses every day.

“These committees deal with important topics facing Texas and I’m honored to have the opportunity to work on these critical matters.”

In the last legislature, King also served on the Pensions Committee.

Between sessions, King served on an Energy Resources subcommittee that looked into the rash of earthquakes that occurred in the Azle area in December 2013, and one that studied desalination as a means of supplementing the state’s water resources.

The “earthquake” subcommittee’s report and recommendations were published a few weeks ago inside the Energy Resources Interim Report. The desalination panel did not issue a report, but the matter will continue to be studied through the Natural Resources and Environmental Regulation committees.

SUBCOMMITTEE TO LEGISLATURE:
‘GIVE NEW RULES TIME’

The subcommittee charged with studying increased seismic activity in the Barnett Shale and other areas found “no evidence to support a causal link between the process of oil and gas extraction known as ‘hydraulic fracturing’ and increased seismic activity.”

That conclusion is buried on pages 35-38 of a 40-page interim report by the Energy Resources Committee, filed a few weeks ago prior to the start of the current legislative session.

The earthquakes, which occurred mostly in December 2013 and were concentrated around Azle in northwest Tarrant, northeast Parker and south Wise counties, were one of eight issues studied.

The Texas Railroad Commission did, however, make some rule changes for disposal wells, and the agency hired a state seismologist to continue studying earthquakes and their relationship to oil and gas activity.

The new rules require disposal well applicants to check the U.S. Geologic Survey database to make sure there has not been any seismic activity in the area of a proposed disposal well site.

They also stipulate that if scientific data indicates a disposal well is causing seismic activity, the Commission has the authority to require an operator to take action – including reducing injection volume and pressure, or shutting the well down.

The Commission can also require operators to perform more frequent monitoring and submit timely reports of the injection pressure and injection rate.

The subcommittee recommended the 84th Legislature “give the rules time to take effect before taking further legislative action regarding disposal wells or injection well permitting.”

They also recommended the legislature look for ways to increase funding for seismic monitoring in Texas.

As of May 1, 2014, there were 7,725 wells disposing of fluids into formations beneath Texas.

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Wreck on FM 51 sends 5 to hospital

Wreck on FM 51 sends 5 to hospital

Five men were taken by ambulance to area hospitals following a violent head-on collision on Farm Road 51 near County Road 2320 between Decatur and Slidell Saturday night.

Wreck Injures Five

WRECK INJURES FIVE – Five people, including two men in this Kia passenger car, suffered injuries in a head-on collision on Farm Road 51, north of Decatur, Saturday night. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Dylan Lamoreaux, 21, of Weatherford and an unknown male passenger were taken to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth with what Department of Public Safety Trooper Beau Bridgeman said were serious injuries.

Guy Matlock, 69, of Weatherford; his son, Randall Matlock, 33, of Weatherford; and Jacob Byrd, 25, of Azle were taken to Wise Regional Health System in Decatur. Bridgeman said they were believed to be in stable condition.

Guy Matlock was driving a white Saturn SUV northbound on FM 51 shortly before 9:30 p.m. when it was struck by the southbound Kia passenger car driven by Lamoreaux, who was driving in the northbound lane.

“The Kia was on the wrong side of the road,” Bridgeman said.

The SUV carrying the Matlocks and Byrd came to rest in the northbound ditch. The Lamoreaux’ car stayed in the roadway after the collision.

Firefighters from Decatur and Slidell/Greenwood extricated the men from the vehicles in a steady rain. Multiple ambulances transported the patients from the scene.

The wreck closed FM 51 until midnight as crews cleaned up the site and troopers conducted their investigation.

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K-9 officer’s service today

A Wise County Sheriff’s K-9 deputy will be given final honors at a memorial service today.

Pepper, who was killed in the line of duty a week ago, will be remembered at 2 p.m. at Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise.

The K-9 deputy has been credited with saving the lives of up to five officers involved in the search of a wooded area for a suspect who tried to hide from officers under a pile of leaves. Pepper tracked down the suspect, Alan “Lance” Alverson, 45, who refused the officers’ commands to put his hands up, according to Wise County Sheriff David Walker.

Alverson fired at officers, killing Pepper. Officers returned fire, killing Alverson.

The shooting took place in a rural area near Sunset, just north of the Wise/Montague county line Jan. 28.

Funeral for Alverson, of Granbury, is also 11 a.m. today at Lucas Funeral Home in Fort Worth with burial at Mount Olivet Cemetery.

Coverage of Pepper’s memorial service will be featured in the weekend Wise County Messenger.

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Justice of the Peace receives award for truancy work

Justice of the Peace Craig Johnson sits in an office that remains just as his wife, Terri, left it. There are dried bouquets of roses, inspirational sayings and a barbed wire “JP 2″ on the wall.

PERSON OF THE YEAR – Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson was posthumously awarded 2014 Person of the Year by the International Association for Truancy and Dropout Prevention. Her husband, Craig, who is currently serving as justice of the peace in Precinct 2, is pictured behind the statuette. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Although the decor has been virtually untouched, a new item graces the desk – a statuette from the International Association for Truancy and Dropout Prevention, recognizing Terri Johnson as its 2014 Person of the Year.

Terri was Precinct 2 justice of the peace from 2007 until she was killed in a car accident last April on U.S. 81/287, just outside Decatur. Among her many duties as JP, she actively worked to deter truancy and was passionate about helping students.

Craig, who served as interim JP 2 and was elected to the post for a full term in November, said he didn’t know Terri had received the award until it arrived in the mail just before Christmas.

It was presented at the association’s 104th annual conference last summer in San Antonio. Terri was a keynote speaker at this conference in 2012, and her husband said she would be honored by this recognition.

“I think she would be very honored, and I think she would be humbled,” he said. “She would probably just feel she wasn’t deserving of it. But those of us who knew her… she was deserving.”

Craig also said she would be quick to brag on her staff. This year the JP 2 office is on track to have 160 to 170 truancy cases.

He said Terri established a good foundation in this area. She felt it was a “worthwhile calling.”

“The students are very important, and she felt strongly about that – as do I – about education being so very important in building the foundation for life,” he said. “She and I both were of the belief that a lot of these kids don’t have a choice in their circumstances. They don’t have a choice, and it’s neat to see the impact that we can have as judges on giving some assistance and direction where needed and get them back in school.”

Craig said most of the school districts in Wise County work with families and extend help when possible before filing a criminal case. But if students miss a certain number of days within a window of time, under the law, the school has to file a truancy case. He said this is an issue not only for the students, but also the district because state funding of public schools is tied to attendance.

“Even though it’s a criminal case, you really try to get down to the heart of the matter and see what we can do to help,” Craig said. He said it can be a myriad of issues and sometimes it’s as simple, in the case of young students, as suggesting the parents get an alarm clock.

When you begin dealing with middle school and high school students, he said, it’s about finding the proper motivation for each student. That might be helping them obtain medical treatment or counseling or just taking some sort of action to get their attention.

“Terri was extremely successful with that and from being the one that was fortunate enough to take her place, those are big shoes to fill, but I love it,” he said. “I absolutely love it that the bar was set that high …

“We’ve got to carry on and continue building on that good foundation because if we don’t, we’ll get behind and all these 160, 170 kids will fall through the cracks.”

Craig, who retired in 2013 from Grapevine Police Department and was working as a private investigator at the time of his wife’s death, said as the office continues to move forward, he’ll work to maintain her efforts to combat truancy.

“I hate that I have the opportunity to be here,” he said. “Obviously, I’d rather have my wife here, but I’m honored beyond belief and humbled to be here.

“I’m thankful that I get to do this and do the things we get to do as a justice of the peace.”

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K-9 officer, suspect killed in shooting

K-9 officer, suspect killed in shooting

Pepper may have only served the Wise County Sheriff’s Office for a few weeks, but his actions Wednesday are being credited for saving the lives of up to five officers.

Unfortunately, it cost him his life.

Wise County Deputy K-9 Pepper

Pepper, a K-9 officer with the department, was shot and killed by the very suspect he had tracked deep into a heavily-wooded area near the intersection of Pickett Run Road and Aujla Road near Sunset in Montague County. Officers returned fire, killing the suspect, Alan Lance Alverson, 45, of Granbury.

Among the officers Pepper possibly saved were two dog handler officers at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, including Sgt. JT Manoushagian, and three local Texas Department of Public Safety troopers.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said Montague County officers attempted to stop Alverson, a former Alvord resident who had outstanding warrants from both Wise and Tarrant counties, in Bowie Wednesday afternoon. Alverson fled south, eventually turning onto Pickett Run Road just north of the Wise/Montague county line. He jumped out of his car and ran into the woods to hide from officers. They had been warned that Alverson was seen with a gun.

Sheriff’s deputies who were already headed to the area to assist with the pursuit quickly went to the location where Alverson had entered the woods. Pepper, a tracking and apprehension K-9 officer, used Alverson’s scent to track him.

Alan Lance Alverson

Walker said Pepper did exactly as he was trained to do and quickly brought officers to Alverson, who was attempting to hide under a pile of leaves.

“The suspect was flushed out of the leaves, raised up, refused the commands of the officers to raise his hands and give up, pulled his hands up out of the leaves and started firing on the officers and our K-9,” Walker said.

Pepper, who was likely the closest to Alverson while still on his leash, was fatally struck with a bullet. No other officers were hit.

Walker said his department is always looking at ways to make the community safer, and Pepper’s actions were a good example.

“Many people have said within the department, along with myself, that Pepper actually could be credited with saving five officers’ lives, DPS included. He did exactly as he was supposed to do,” Walker said.

Texas Rangers responded to the scene to investigate. Alverson, who was pronounced dead at the scene, was sent to the Dallas County Medical Examiners Office for an autopsy. Pepper was taken to Texas A&M for a necropsy.

A local citizen agreed to fly Pepper to Texas A&M along with his handlers. The sheriff’s office contacted the Brazos County Sheriff’s Office, and they met the Wise County officers at the airport with a full honor guard to escort Pepper to the veterinarian clinic. The honor guard stayed by his side from the time of the necropsy to the time Pepper was cremated Friday.

The two Wise County officers involved in the shooting were placed on paid administrative leave, per department protocol, Walker explained.

“Emotionally, it’s two different things. Anyone who takes someone else’s life or is involved in that, you’ve got that end of it. And then you’ve got your partner who has been killed in the line of duty,” Walker said.

Counselors will be available for the officers and their families.

Heroes Honor

HERO’S HONOR – Yvonne Jasper of Decatur visits a memorial set up in front of the Wise County Sheriff’s Office Friday honoring Pepper. Flowers and notes were left on the hood of the K-9 vehicle. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

It takes an emotional toll on the sheriff’s office family as well. Walker said Pepper would wander through the building to visit employees. On Friday, several wiped away tears after visiting a memorial that had been set up in Pepper’s honor in front of the sheriff’s office. As of Friday afternoon, dozens of bouquets of flowers, notes, toy dogs and even a rawhide bone had been left on the hood of the K-9 officer vehicle. It also features a photo of Pepper in the window, along with a note for his end of watch on Jan. 28, 2015.

Wise County Sheriff’s employees will have more than just each other to lean on for support. Walker said he has been amazed not only by the response of the local community, but also by the outpouring of support from across the country.

“I’ve been printing every email I get for our handlers. I’ve got emails from all over the country, one from Australia, the Maryland State Fire Marshal’s office sent us an email. People have called. People have been supportive, not just of Pepper, but the entire department,” he said.

Walker added that the support his department has received is the same as if a human officer had been killed in the line of duty.

And next week, Pepper will be given the final honors that any officer killed in the line of duty would receive. A memorial service is planned for 2 p.m. Wednesday at Grace Fellowship Church in Paradise. Pepper’s remains will be brought from Texas A&M by the honor guard.

Walker said the confrontation that led to the death of the K-9 officer and a suspect was completely avoidable.

“It didn’t have to happen, if Alverson had just pulled over when he was supposed to. It’s senseless,” he said.

Losing the K-9 officer is a loss for the department, but Walker knows it could have been a lot worse.

“We’re all sad that we lost Pepper, but in the same breath, we are counting our blessings that we have not only my employees that are still here to see their families, but we are thankful that the troopers are still here,” he said.

Alverson had warrants for violation of probation for assault out of Wise County and possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams out of Tarrant County. According to a sheriff’s office press release, Alverson has been arrested 23 times dating back to 1990 with charges that include escape from custody, carrying a prohibited weapon and drug possession.

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Back in the saddle: Recovered from a brutal accident, rider sets sights on Oklahoma competition

Back in the saddle: Recovered from a brutal accident, rider sets sights on Oklahoma competition

Ask any parent who lets their child participate in sports, and they’ll tell you their biggest fear is seeing their child get hurt.

DAILY REMINDER – Dane Lancaster wears a “Rising Stars” rodeo bracelet on his left wrist every day as a reminder of his goal: to be ready for roping competition by Thanksgiving. He’s practicing for that goal by slowly re-learning his riding techniques with his horse, Biscuit. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

For Diran and Kellie Lancaster of Bowie, that fear became a reality last year when their 12-year-old son, Dane, was critically injured at the Future Stars Roping competition in Shawnee, Okla.

“We were calf roping, and when Dane came out of the box, his horse tripped over the rope and swung out to the right and flipped over,” Kellie said, the memory filling her eyes with tears. “And then Dane got trampled underneath.”

What followed was a blur of ambulance rides, hospitals and cautious prognoses for the family. Dane was flown to the Intensive Care Unit at the University of Oklahoma’s trauma care center with skull and traumatic brain injuries.

“For about a week, there was a lot of uncertainty, but Diran and I just refused to believe that he was going to be taken away,” Kellie said. “And Dane doesn’t remember most of it, which I’m glad for.”

Dane spent six days on a ventilator at OU and another eight days at the hospital after that. At one point his entire left side was paralyzed and he couldn’t speak.

“The doctors called it a ‘neurological storm,’ basically where his nervous system gets so agitated and traumatized that it just doesn’t function properly,” Kellie said, struggling to finish the sentence.

After about two weeks in the hospital, Dane was transferred to Baylor Childrens’ House for rehabilitation. The entire process was marked by doctors who tried to ease Diran and Kellie into what might happen to their son.

“We were told everything from, ‘His left side will be paralyzed forever’ to ‘His speech will always be difficult, if he ever speaks again,'” Diran said. “One doctor told us we needed to start considering what nursing facility we would want to put Dane in.”

“I fired her,” said Kellie, who runs a chiropractic clinic with her husband. “We dealt with that from the get-go.

“When we first arrived at the ICU the day it happened, the doctors would try to temper our expectations. That’s when Diran stopped him and said, ‘I just want to tell you – I have no faith in man or medicine. God’s going to heal my child.'”

Get on the Horse

GET ON THE HORSE, TAKE OFF THE HAT – Since his accident last year, Dane Lancaster wears a helmet every time he rides a horse. His father, Diran, helps adjust the straps. Dane even recorded a video PSA about the necessity of wearing helmets in equestrian sports. View it at www.facebook.com/prayersfordane. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

DRIVEN TO SUCCEED

Whether the credit goes to God, doctors or a combination of the two, the bottom line is that Dane is healed today and back in the stock show arena.

Stories of his determination abound. There’s the time when, before his accident, he let two calves get away in a roping competition. That night, Diran said, Dane stayed up on their back porch in his pajamas, roping a dummy.

“He said, ‘I’m not missing two calves again,'” Diran recalled.

Or there’s the story of how Dane refused to use the wheelchair or the handicapped sticker he was sent home from the hospital with, because he didn’t want to be coddled as a handicapped person.

“This is nothing but a setback to him – he just sees it all as motivation,” Diran said.

CALM, COOL AND COLLECTED – Dane takes his horse, Biscuit, for a light trot Thursday morning. He is eager to get back in the rodeo arena. “I know when he goes back out there for real, he’s just going to be as calm as ever and not think twice about it, but I’m probably going to be a nervous wreck,” his father Diran said. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Dane was released from the hospital in August, and his recovery process has been one day at a time.

On the day I visit him and his family, he’s at the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo preparing to show his Hereford heifer, Happy. He’s wearing the standard cowboy uniform – black cowboy hat, black shirt tucked into his blue jeans, with boots.

He also wears an orange wristband from the Rising Star roping competition – the next step after the Future Star competition. It’s his reminder of why he competes in the first place.

“That’s always been the goal,” he said.

His speech is deliberate and assured. Talking to him, you wouldn’t know that just six months ago, he had trouble forming words.

“The day they told us he wouldn’t be able to talk again, I just sat up all night praying, hoping that it wouldn’t be true,” Diran said.

The very next day, at physical therapy, Dane spoke his first word since his accident – “brown,” the color of his horse, Rudy – and from then on, his recovery snowballed. He stopped eating through a feeding tube and started walking, jumping and exercising.

Vision is the only thing he struggles with now, and he’s working on that.

He’s shown Happy in another competition before the Fort Worth show. But his goal has always been to get back to roping.

The wristband reminds him of that.

“We made probably about 140 trips back and forth from Bowie to Dallas for physical therapy, but it was worth it to see him improve so much,” Diran said.

Last Thanksgiving, Dane was invited to the Rising Star competition in Duncan, Okla., to be recognized. He told his dad he wanted to go back as a competitor this Thanksgiving. When he was recognized, the event organizers tried to get him to rope a cow dummy, but Dane told them no.

“He said if he was coming back, he was going to rope for good,” Diran said. “He’s very driven.”

The Lancasters are no stranger to athletics. Diran was a football player at Texas Tech and an Olympic weight lifter; Kellie did ballet. Dane won a powerlifting championship under his father’s tutelage at the age of 7. His older brother, Pierce, also powerlifted with their dad and plays high school sports.

Competition is in this family’s blood. That tenacity, as well as their faith, sustained them throughout this ordeal.

“He just loves life, and it’s a humbling place to be his mom, because I really know that God has a plan for him, and I’ve just got this backseat view of the show. He’s the most confident, at ease, I’m-gonna-do-it kind of kid I’ve ever met in my life.”

Dane has been working on roping with his left hand, another skill he can add to his repertoire. His drive to succeed is apparent, especially by the way his eyes light up when he talks about roping.

“That’s what I want to do when I grow up, is to rope professionally,” he said. “Bull riding just seems kind of crazy to me.”

Dane also wants to impact future safety measures in the arena. Since the accident, he hasn’t roped without a helmet on his head, something that sets him apart from other ropers.

“Our saying now is ‘Get on the horse, take off the hat,'” Dane said. “The hat is mostly what people think of when they think of a cowboy, but I always wear my helmet.”

Kellie said she didn’t think twice when Dane said he wanted to ride again.

“Other moms will ask me if I would let him back on a horse after all this, and my answer to that is, ‘How do you deny someone what they were born to do?’ He wears a helmet, sure, but he’s back out there,” Kellie said.

SUNDAY’S COMING

Both Diran and Kellie said their faith was the biggest thing that got them through the ordeal.

“The big phrase we kept repeating throughout all of this was ‘Sunday’s Coming,'” Diran said. The phrase comes from something his father used to say when Diran was younger. “If something bad was going on, he’d say,’ Oh, it’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming,’ in reference to Jesus being crucified on Friday and it was a bad, dark day, but He knew He was coming back on Sunday.”

They weren’t alone in their praying, either – a “Prayers for Dane Lancaster” Facebook page that Kellie updates daily with Dane’s progress currently has more than 100,000 followers.

People from all over have now been exposed to Dane’s story.

“At one point, there were more than 70 men in the ICU kneeling and praying for my son, and they didn’t have to, but they did,” Kellie said. “It was amazing. And you know, you aways see on the news, all of the bad stuff in the world, shock and awe and all that.

“But if you want to believe there’s good people in the world, take a look at the rodeo family,” she said. “It’s been an amazing, humbling journey. We’re very blessed and very humbled.”

As for Dane, he is just happy to be alive and able to continue participating in the sport he loves.

“It makes me feel a little different,” was all he said about the media attention.

He doesn’t let the attention get to him – or if it does, it doesn’t show. He stays focused on his roping competition in November.

“It takes a lot of practice, and I still make sure I practice every day,” he said.

Watching his son practice his riding technique later in the week, Diran tells me one more story about Dane.

“He’s created this scenario in his head for when he’s older,” he says. “It’s the final round of the NFR Championships, and for some reason his right hand has been injured and he’s forced to rope with his left. And then he comes back and wins the championship because he learned to rope with his left hand as a result of his injury.

“So that’s his vision.”

The day when Dane wins a championship might come sooner than he thinks.

It might even be on a Sunday.

Posted in Features, News0 Comments

Drug charge nets 20 years

Scott Burdine of Runaway Bay was sentenced to 20 years in prison at a hearing Thursday in 271st District Court in Decatur.

The 38-year-old was found guilty of possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams by a Wise County jury Jan. 7. Burdine elected to have the court determine his punishment.

Thursday afternoon, Burdine sat in his black-and-white striped jail clothes, his hands and feet in chains, during the brief sentencing portion of the trial in front of District Judge John Fostel.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham presented evidence of Burdine’s previous felony convictions, which include possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams with intent to deliver on Jan. 7, 2008, in Wise County and another drug conviction July 1, 2008, in Johnson County. Burdine was also convicted of burglary of a building Jan. 25, 2011, in Wise County.

Because of the previous felony convictions, Burdine’s second degree charge was upgraded to a first degree felony, with a punishment range of up to 99 years in prison.

His attorney, Paul Belew, argued that Burdine has been using methamphetamine since he was 16 years old and needs help rather than a lengthy jail sentence.

“All of Mr. Burdine’s crimes stemmed from drug abuse,” Belew said. “This may be a wakeup call, and he’s asking the court for help.”

Lapham argued that Burdine has received drug treatment while in prison for the previous drug conviction and went back to using drugs after he got out of prison. He also pointed to the amount of drugs and other drug-related evidence collected at Burdine’s arrest in October of 2013.

“He’s guilty of possession of over 7 grams of methamphetamine,” Lapham said. “That’s more than recreational use. … He’s a dealer.”

Lapham asked for a minimum of 20 years – the maximum for a second degree felony.

Burdine was arrested during a traffic stop near the intersection of Farm Roads 2265 and 1655 near Alvord. During the guilt/innocence phase of the trial, prosecutors presented evidence that Wise County sheriff’s officers found drug paraphernalia in the vehicle Burdine was driving and also located drugs on the ground nearby that officers believe had been thrown from the vehicle.

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