‘Battle’ leads fight against hunger

‘Battle’ leads fight against hunger

Among the grudge matches that make up the Battle of Big Sandy, perhaps the one that does the most good for the community is the annual food drive competition between Bridgeport and Decatur.

Stocking Up

STOCKING UP – Volunteers Jordan Null and Gary Swindell pack boxes to give to families in need at Wise Area Relief Mission Friday. The annual Big Sandy Food drive will stock some of the near empty shelves. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The beneficiary of those donations is Wise Area Relief Mission (WARM), a food pantry that serves the entire county.

Since 2011, the two school districts have combined to collect more than 34 1/2 tons of food for WARM. Bridgeport defeated their longtime rival last year, out-collecting Decatur 12,896 pounds to 11,969 pounds. The biggest year was 2012 when the schools combined to gather 25,693 pounds of food.

The results of this year’s competition will be announced at halftime of the varsity football game between the two schools this coming Friday.

WARM Executive Director Ren Ashmore admits to being a little nervous about how much food will be collected.

“I haven’t gotten a lot of good feedback yet on the food drive,” she said Thursday. “Typically this far into it, they’d be calling us to come pick it up – and they haven’t.”

It’s not too late to donate. The food drive continues through Tuesday, and then the weighing begins.

People often ask Ashmore about the types of food donations that are needed. That changes week to week, she said, depending on what items are sent from the Tarrant Area Food Bank.

Perhaps the biggest need at the moment is volunteers. Ashmore said WARM recently lost a volunteer who worked a couple of days a week, when she went back to school full time.

“Some days it’s just the two of us,” Ashmore said, including Office Manager Angie Gardiner.

She said many of their long time volunteers can no longer offer their time.

“So many people have either had to go back to work or work two jobs just to survive anymore,” she said. “We used to get stay-at-home moms or somebody that is retired or semi-retired.

” … The regular volunteers who have been coming for years and years are elderly and/or disabled, so they are very limited,” in the physical aspects of the work.

One immediate need is someone who can commit to picking up donations from Wal-Mart each Wednesday and Friday morning. WARM can provide a van, but the volunteer would need to be able to lift boxes that can weigh up to 50 or 60 pounds.

Even if you are not able to lift much weight, Ashmore said they still need help with things such as paperwork or sorting and shelving items that come into the pantry.

The number of people WARM serves seems to steadily increase. Comparing the numbers from Jan. 1 to Aug. 31 from this year to last year, WARM has served 100 more families this year.

The needs are still great, and Ashmore hopes the community can step up any way they can – whether by volunteering their time to serve or donating food.

Not to mention, bragging rights are on the line.

WARM is located at 300 N. Trinity in Decatur, open 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Tuesday through Friday. Call 940-626-4676.

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Farver faces child indecency charge

An Aurora city councilman was arrested earlier this month for indecency with a child.

According to Wise County Jail records, Cyrus Farver, 78, of Aurora was arrested Sept. 4 on the third degree felony charge and released the same day after posting a $30,000 bond.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit, obtained through an open records request by the Messenger, the victim is a female family friend under the age of 17.

The affidavit states that on July 31, the victim’s mother called Farver to ask if he could give her daughter a ride to her home.

“While in route to the victim’s home … the victim reported that the suspect was complimenting her on her figure and her appearance repeatedly,” the affidavit states. “The suspect then brushed her breast with his hand and asked her if that bothered her. The victim replied that it did.”

The affidavit goes on to state that Farver dropped off the victim at her home and left. Once the victim’s parent got home, she made the outcry, and the parent notified police.

Farver met with Wise County investigator Josh Reynolds on Aug. 27 and admitted to touching the victim, the affidavit states.

Farver is a councilman for Ward III in Aurora.

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Attorney General candidate stumps here

Yes, that’s really his name – and no, he’s not a descendant of the Father of Texas.

But Sam Houston does believe he’d make a good attorney general.

LOOKING FOR VOTES – Attorney general candidate Sam Houston stopped by the Messenger office Thursday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

After going unopposed in the Democratic Party primary, Houston is running against Republican State Sen. Ken Paxton of McKinney on the Nov. 4 ballot. He came to Decatur this week to court votes in one of the state’s most solidly Republican areas.

“I’ve always been a Democrat,” he said. “I think it’s important for everybody to see that both parties are represented in the state.”

Houston grew up in the small West Texas town of Colorado City, about halfway between Midland and Abilene. He graduated from UT Austin and earned his law degree at Baylor. He’s board-certified, a partner in the Houston-based firm of Shepherd, Scott, Clawater and Houston, and has practiced law in Texas for 26 years.

In 2008, he ran for a seat on the Texas Supreme Court, garnering 46 percent of the vote.

“I felt like I had the time, and people have an obligation to do what’s right,” he said. “I worked hard in that race and learned a lot.”

Now he’s out campaigning, working hard again and putting that knowledge to use. But there is a different feeling this time, he said.

“When Wendy Davis announced for governor, there was some excitement in the race – a feeling that we could change things,” he said.

Houston brings a moderate approach to the race against a Tea Party challenger.

“I think what’s happening in the attorney general’s office is just a product of one party being in domination too long,” he said. “That office has gotten way too politicized. The priorities seem to be directed more toward things that benefit Republican interests, not necessarily the interests of all Texans.”

Houston said he knows and respects Greg Abbott, the current attorney general who is running for governor. But he believes a partisan mentality has crept into the office.

“I don’t agree with this attitude that everything’s a war with our federal government,” he said. “I don’t think that’s a good policy.

“That doesn’t mean you surrender or give in – but I think there’s a lot of better ways for states and the federal government to work out issues than the rhetoric of lawsuits. A lawsuit ought to be a last resort, not a campaign slogan.”

That hard-line approach has hurt Texas on several issues, Houston said, citing school finance as an example.

“The AG’s office chose to fight the school districts as opposed to trying to work out a solution,” he said. “They chose to delay the lawsuit, which delays money to our children. That lawsuit ought to have been worked out. It’s not necessarily an all-or-nothing deal.”

He also cited the AG’s vigorous defense of Texas’ gerrymandered Congressional districts and the state’s aggressive stance on the voter identification issue.

“To me, the AG’s office ought to be thinking about all voters, not just certain voters,” he said. “If there could be a solution which could have been reached where you alleviate any issues of fraud, but at the same time allow all people to vote, I don’t know why that wasn’t attempted.”

He said he’d like to readjust the office’s priorities back toward consumer and environmental protection, and improve child support enforcement and open records.

Paxton, who led a three-man Republican primary race and won a runoff, continues to face ethical questions which were raised in the primary.

“The biggest issue now, two months out, is that you need to have an AG who is open and you can trust,” Houston said. “Paxton has refused to debate me, refused to go to the editorial boards, refused to comment,” he said.

Paxton did pay a $1,000 fine from the State Securities Board for not registering as he solicited clients for a North Texas investment firm.

“You have an individual who’s running to be the attorney general with a potential felony indictment hanging over him, who won’t talk about it and defend himself,” he said. “He won’t debate, won’t talk to the press.

“Is that the kind of individual who will be open and make improvements to the office?”

Houston said he believes the voters have some legitimate choices in November.

“It’s important that both parties have a good lineup of candidates,” he said. “Things can turn over very quickly in government.”

He feels there is a real chance that could happen in Texas this year.

“You don’t have an incumbent governor,” he added. “You don’t have incumbents on almost any of these positions. I think the Republican party is somewhat split between the far right, the TEA party and the more establishment Republicans – and you had a fairly ugly primary season.”

He cited not only Davis and Van de Putte, but comptroller candidate Mike Collier, railroad commission candidate Steve Brown and land commissioner candidate John Cook.

“From the top down, I’m very proud of our candidates,” he said. “I think we have people who are very qualified for the positions they’re seeking.”

He includes himself in that lineup.

“I think I’d make a better attorney general,” he said. “That’s why I’m running.”

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County acquires building for crime lab

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office will expand its crime lab setup with a building previously used by the U.S. Army.

County commissioners approved at their meeting Monday acquiring the building from Fort Hood. Sheriff David Walker told commissioners the building was available through the Texas 1033 Military Surplus Property Program, which transfers excess Department of Defense property to federal, state and local law enforcement agencies.

The building, valued at about $100,000, is free, but the county will pay to have it moved.

“We got three different quotes, and it will cost roughly $16,575 to move the building,” he said.

The 1,400-square-foot structure is portable and will be moved in one piece. Walker said the air conditioner, underpinning and porch will be removed, with the underpinning and porch to be re-installed by the moving company once it’s on site. The county will be responsible for re-installing the air conditioner.

Walker explained that if inmate labor is used for the entire setup process, it would reduce the moving charges by about $1,750. He is working with officials from the city of Decatur to get the necessary permits and inspections.

“I met with [senior building inspector Jackie Miller] last week, and he looked at where we would potentially put it on the south end of the building inside the fence,” he said.

Walker said Miller had “no issues” with the plan and Planning and Development Director Dedra Ragland had also been briefed.

Walker said he didn’t ask the city what the cost of the permits would be, but he suggested the possibility of processing latent fingerprints for Decatur PD in exchange for the permit fees. He said they would extend that offer to Bridgeport PD as well.

Later in the meeting, he said even if the city charged the county the regular fees, he didn’t think it would be “astronomical.”

The building will house the S.O.’s fingerprint processing equipment and chemicals and will give them space to process other evidence.

“Currently, we have it set up in the back end of the sally port, but with the chemicals we’re using, it gets in the air conditioning system, which can cause a little bit of an issue,” he said. “It will also give us a secure place to process bloody evidence, clothes, where it needs to hang and dry for a while, and it gives us a place to stack marijuana and let it dry. Right now we’re doing it in the back of the secure closet area.

“It gets in the air conditioning system, and the inmates start to slobber at the mouth,” he said.

Although this will not be a certified crime lab, expanding their setup will allow the S.O. to become more self-sufficient and prevent having to send evidence to other labs. Walker said it will also speed up investigations.

“I think it would be well worth the money and would get us by in years to come,” he said. “We looked at building something, a real stick-and-brick building, and that’s a whole lot more money.”

He said the building would be painted and shrubs would be planted to “make it look nicer.”

Commissioners approved spending up to $30,000 to move the building, furnish it and set it up for operation.

“If for some reason it’s not used there, it can be used somewhere else,” said Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White. “If we’re going to get a $100,000 building for $15,000 or $16,000, then it’s worth going and getting.”

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Jury clears man in assault case

It took a Wise County jury less than 30 minutes Wednesday to find a Decatur man not guilty of family assault.

The jury had been asked to decide if Ceasar Gallegos, 35, was guilty of the third degree felony charge of assault family violence by impeding breath/circulation, or a lesser charge of misdemeanor assault of a family or household member. The victim, Ruby Gallegos, was his wife at the time of the assault. They have since divorced.

The jury heard testimony Tuesday afternoon, then listened to closing arguments Wednesday morning. They began deliberating by 10 a.m. and were gone by 10:30.

Prosecutors Lindy Borchardt and Pat Berry, assistant district attorneys for the 271st District Court, called two witnesses, including Ruby Gallegos. They pointed out to the jury that Ruby Gallegos was reluctant to testify and in fact had to be subpoenaed to appear in court.

During direct examination, Ruby Gallegos said she became upset the morning of the alleged assault when her husband talked to another woman while getting a haircut. The two began arguing during the drive home, and she was told by her husband “to fix it.”

Several hours later, Ruby Gallegos said her husband made her change out of a dress before they went to a church function because he did not think it was appropriate. After changing, she said they began arguing again because she did not want to leave the house.

By this point, she testified, she was yelling loudly at him, and Ceasar Gallegos put his hand over her mouth and began shushing her and telling her to be quiet. He removed his hand, but the arguing continued. After telling her to “shut up,” he again put his hand over her mouth.

Ruby Gallegos testified that she couldn’t breathe when his hand was over her mouth because her crying had caused her nose to stop up.

“I tried to bite his hand so I could breathe,” she said, but instead sustained an injury to the inside of her lip. Jurors were shown pictures of the injury.

She testified that her husband put her on the bed, stood behind her head and again put his hand over her mouth, so she attempted to kick at him to get him to stop.

Ruby Gallegos ran next door to the house of a family member who let her in and called 911.

In the 911 tape played for the jury, Ruby Gallegos could be heard saying she was scared and that her nose hurt from the incident. Officers responded and arrested Ceasar Gallegos for felony assault.

Defendant’s attorney Sam Bishop asked her about a previous separation of the couple and how she had changed when they got back together prior to the incident.

“I came back with a different attitude,” she said. “I wanted to take control of the relationship … I came back trying to pick a fight.”

She later testified that she did not feel her husband was intentionally trying to impede her breathing and did not assault her.

During his closing argument, Bishop argued that Ruby Gallegos exaggerated her injuries when making the 911 call because she saw it as a chance to get out of the marriage and put the blame on her husband.

“She suffered injury because she was throwing a fit,” causing her nose to be clogged, Bishop argued.

Borchardt asked jurors during her closing argument not to blame Ruby Gallegos for her husband’s actions.

“She still believes she has a duty to fix this,” Borchardt said. “She is not to blame.”

The only other witness was the officer who responded to the call, made the arrest and took the victim’s statement.

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Wise Democrats to host ‘empty chair’ debate

Wise County Democratic Party chair Tracy Smith announced Thursday that the party will host an “Empty Chair Debate” Tuesday at the Decatur Visitors’ Center, 106 South Trinity.

The event, which begins at 7 p.m., as of Thursday will feature Democratic candidates for Texas Railroad Commissioner, the Texas House of Representatives (District 61), Wise County judge and Precinct 4 county commissioner.

Smith said both Democratic and Republican candidates are invited to participate. Candidates who do not appear will be represented by an empty chair.

Republican County Chair Allen Williamson said to his knowledge, no one on the Republican ballot had been contacted about the event.

“I personally was never asked, but if asked, we would not be interested,” he said. “We feel there are plenty of opportunities for the citizens to interact with the candidates and get their positions on various issues. I think the schedule is full.”

The town hall-style forum at Tuesday’s even will allow the audience to submit questions to candidates, who will have one minute to answer. They may also request a minute to reply to comments made by opponents. The event will be moderated.

Smith characterized the Republicans’ response to her efforts to put a debate together as “silence and rejection.”

“We believe that if Republican candidates wish to represent and serve the people of Wise County, they must show enough interest in doing so by discussing it with those who may have differing ideas,” she said. “No candidate is above debating their opponent in front of their constituents.”

Williamson cited the recent Town Hall forum hosted by State Rep. Phil King at Weatherford College Wise County as another reason to decline the invitation.

“The Democrats chose not to take part in it,” he said. “They just protested it.”

He noted he had been contacted about a softball game for charity – an invitation the party “politely declined.”

“I think the Democratic candidates are fine people, but we’re not interested in a debate in this format,” he said.

The forum is free and open to the public, and is scheduled to be over by 8:30 p.m.

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Vendors, competitors come to Fossil Pointe for shooting championship

Hundreds of people have already descended on Decatur for the Texas State Championship shooting competition.

Hundreds more are expected in town by the end of the weekend.

Dead Pair

DEAD PAIR – Bridgeport resident and avid shooter David Ivey fires at a target at Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds Wednesday. Messenger photo by Jimmy Alford

Between 627 and 700 competitors, and about a dozen vendors from all over the world, along with families and fans are at Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds, northeast of Decatur off of Farm Road 51 right now.

Events include trap shooting, sporting clays and skeet shooting.

As one would expect, the competition has brought in more than a few characters.

Vendor Mike Gwilliam, owner and operator of Fire in the Hole Wood-Fired Pizza in Denton, set up his brick pizza oven next to some of the other food vendors near the clubhouse. Gwilliam said he started the mobile food operation in early 2012 when he retired after 20 years as a prosthetist orthotist.

“I wanted to do something that would allow me to be around my family and hang out and make fun of people, and so far, I’ve been able to do that,” Gwilliam said. “This is the first time we’ve been up here, and it’s been fun so far.”

Gwilliam serves a variety of flavors of pizza, including a raspberry chipotle pizza that is the restaurant’s specialty. “And it all only takes about three minutes to make,” Gwilliam said.

Other vendors in the area included representatives from ShooterFuel, a new energy drink developed by shooter Gebben Miles that promises its drinkers “stamina, focus and hydration.”

“It’s actually an all-natural energy drink,” saleswoman Liz Nance said. “It’s real clean, it’s not all sugary like other energy drinks. You don’t get all shaky.”

The drink uses vitamin A and green tea extracts, among other things, to create a healthier alternative to existing energy drinks.

“We just got started a few months ago, so we’re still trying to get our name out there at competitions like this,” Nance said.

As for the shooters, many competitors will be there this weekend to try to win the $50,000 in prize money – but some are just there to have a good time and hang out with friends.

Shane Warnick of Midland is one of those people.

“We’re just out here having fun,” he said. “We don’t have any intent of going home with a lot of prizes. The two things you need to be really good in this sport are a little bit of talent and a whole lot of Daddy’s money.

“I don’t have a lot of Daddy’s money, but it’s a fun hobby.”

Warnick said he has been shooting competitively for about four years now, and enjoys coming to Fossil Pointe whenever he has a chance.

“[Decatur Fire Chief] Mike Richardson’s a real good friend of mine, and I’ve been coming up here ever since they opened. I enjoy all of the events here, really, but the big guns, the .12 gauges, that’s what we have the most fun doing. And all the trees and greenery on the course is a nice change of pace from where I’m from.”

Many shooters in the tournament are locals, but that doesn’t give them any advantage – every target on the course was changed in preparation for the weekend to give all competitors a fair shot.

“The course is always good, but it’s completely different this week – I’ve never seen any of these targets before,” Bridgeport resident David Ivie said.

The tournament will go until Sunday afternoon at Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds. Admission is free to the public.

The Texas State Championship is in full swing at Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds. The event continues through the weekend. This is the first time for Fossil Pointe to host this championship, one of the largest in the U.S. which draws top shooters not just from Texas, but from across the country. Messenger video by Jimmy Alford

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Elections administrator resigns

Wise County Elections Administrator Lannie Noble is heading east.

Lannie Noble

The county official has resigned to accept the same position in Denton County.

“It’s a good opportunity,” he said. “It’s not that I’m dissatisfied where I am, but sometimes life takes you down different paths, and this is an opportunity I didn’t think I could afford to pass up.”

Noble’s resignation was announced in Monday’s county commissioners meeting, and his last day is Friday, Sept. 26. The Wise County Elections Commission will meet Sept. 23 to discuss appointing an interim EA.

That meeting is open to the public and will be at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

The elections administration office was created in December of 2007, and Noble got the EA job in February 2008. Prior to that he worked in the Wise County tax assessor/collector’s office and in the voter registration office.

Before coming to work for the county, he worked 25 years for Mrs. Baird’s Bakery.

Noble said County Clerk Sherry Lemon was helpful when he first started this job six years ago, and her passion for elections was insightful.

Noble starts in Denton County Oct. 1.

“Wise County has been great; I have no complaints,” he said. “I’m going to miss a lot of good people.”

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First responders honored for their service

First responders honored for their service

Local first responders are to be commended for their selfless and dedicated service, something we should all strive to imitate.

Posting the Colors

POSTING THE COLORS – Decatur Fire Chief Mike Richardson salutes during the posting of the colors at the beginning of Thursday’s ceremony. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

That was the message delivered by guest speaker Andrew Rottner at Thursday’s Patriot Day program at the Wise County Veterans Memorial Park in Decatur – held on the 13th anniversary of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

Rottner, president and CEO of North Texas Bank in Decatur, recalled the horrific and stunning images witnessed that day as terrorists attacked multiple targets in the U.S. But he said the day also taught us all what it means to be a first responder.

“One of the most striking images was of so many fire department personnel with other law enforcement officials storming into those buildings,” he said. “They were fearless in the face of death, selfless in their actions. They were all heroes. Without their swift and heroic actions, how many more lives would have been lost that day? They gave everything for the welfare of others.”

Thanks for Your Service

THANKS FOR YOUR SERVICE – Members of the public shake hands with Decatur Police Chief Rex Hoskins and Bridgeport Police Chief Randy Singleton following Thursday’s Patriot Day program at the Wise County Veterans Memorial Park. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

He added that the service of the first responders on that day, and the service of local police, firefighters and emergency medical personnel on a daily basis, should be an inspiration to everyone working to make the world a better place.

“If we cultivate the habit of doing this service deliberately, our desire for service will steadily grow stronger and will make not only our own happiness, but that of the world at large,” he said. “That is what our local first responders provide: a habit of doing service deliberately.

“In my opinion it can be contagious. This should inspire all of us to provide service to others and not just rely on our first responders in tragic situations.”

Members of local law enforcement agencies, fire departments and Wise County EMS were in attendance and honored for their service, and those who lost their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, were also remembered.

In Rememberance

IN REMEMBRANCE – Tom Thompson of Runaway Bay plays Taps at the end of Thursday’s ceremony. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

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Officer arrested for photos of sex offender

{{platinum}}}This article contains descriptions that may be offensive to some readers.

A longtime officer at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office has been arrested for improper photography related to convicted sex offenders.

Chad Alan Hightower

Chad Alan Hightower, 41, of Boyd was charged Friday morning with improper photography or visual recording. He was released after posting $25,000 bond.

According to the arrest warrant affidavit filed by Texas Ranger Ron Pettigrew, Hightower forced a male sex offender to strip naked and be photographed.

The victim came forward and related what had happened to District Attorney Investigator Jack McGuinn. He told McGuinn that after he was released from prison in June, he was required to register as a sex offender. On June 17, he met with Hightower to complete the paperwork, and was told nude photos would need to be taken.

“Deputy Hightower represented this as a change in the sex offender registration required by the state,” the affidavit states.

The victim was taken to a bathroom in the sheriff’s office lobby where he stripped naked, and Hightower took “several photographs from all sides” before telling the victim he could get dressed and leave, the affidavit states.

A month later, the victim had to meet with Hightower again to update his sex offender information. He was told the photos were defective due to a glare, and more would need to be taken. The two got into Hightower’s county vehicle and drove to the county’s impound yard on Farm Road 51 South in Decatur.

There, the statement alleges, Hightower directed the victim into the impound office where he once again was photographed in the nude. The two were the only ones in the building at that time.

“After a short time, Deputy Hightower reportedly advised (the victim) he believed the next thing the State was going to require was photographs of a sex offender’s erect penis,” the affidavit states. “Deputy Hightower asked (the victim) if he could obtain an erection for him, so that the needed photographs could be taken and (the victim) would not have to return in the future for them.”

The victim said he declined the request and was asked an additional “three or four times” before he was told to get dressed. The two returned to the sheriff’s office, and the victim went home.

McGuinn asked the victim to describe the impound office, and he was able to describe details that would only be known by someone who had been inside.

Surveillance video from the sheriff’s office lobby show Hightower with a camera with the victim with actions that are “consistent with (the victim’s) description of events,” according to the affidavit.

Pettigrew was able to collect the SD cards from Hightower’s county camera. Using the assistance of a forensic investigator, images that had been deleted were recovered. Among the images are several that appear to be the victim standing naked against a wood panel wall located in the impound office.

“Pettigrew noted on the above-mentioned media there are several more nude males that appear to be in the same bathroom (the victim) described, others are in the county impound office and yet more in what appears to be a residence,” the affidavit states.

Responding to Pettigrew’s questions, the victim confirmed that Hightower locked the gate of the impound yard behind them. He also said that he would not have consented to the nude photos if Hightower was not a police officer, and he felt compelled to submit to the photographs due to Hightower’s law enforcement position and being told it was state law.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said he was shocked to learn what took place.

“It’s a shock and a sad day for all of us, especially me, because I have worked with Chad my entire law enforcement career,” Walker said.

Hightower started in 1992 as a dispatcher, became a deputy at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office in 1998 and was promoted to sergeant in 2004, according to a Wise County Messenger feature story on him in July 2011.

Walker said Hightower put in his papers to retire several weeks ago and is on leave until his retirement on Sept. 30.

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Smallest city has biggest gain

When it comes to sales tax income, Wise County has 10 cities up and two down.

But the biggest story this month is Lake Bridgeport.

Not the actual lake – which continues to drop – but the city, which is more than 80 percent ahead of last year after a huge gain in September.

Lake Bridgeport’s check this month is $11,757. That’s a 718 percent increase over last year’s September check of $1,437. In fact, last year through nine months, the 1.5-cent sales tax had brought the city just $12,682.

This year’s September payment puts the nine-month total over $23,000 – 81.5 percent better than 2013.

According to spokesman Kevin Lyons in the Texas Comptroller’s Office, payments from one particular taxpayer had been held up from February through July while the state attempted to verify the validity of the taxpayer.

“We could never get the taxpayer to get back with us, so we let the payments go,” he said.

By law, he can’t reveal who the taxpayer was, but the big one-time payment includes an accumulation of about six months’ payments from that one source.

Elsewhere, two Wise County cities were down for September – Newark and Aurora – but are still up for the year.

The two cities that are down for the year – Bridgeport and New Fairview – were up in September. If both continue to have months like they had in September, they may be back in the black by year’s end.

Bridgeport had a 10 percent gain for the month, and New Fairview’s September was 17.6 percent better than the same month last year.

The 12 Wise County cities that collect a sales tax brought in over $66,000 more than in the previous September – about 9.5 percent. That put the county back in the black for the year by two-thirds of a percent.

Chico showed the biggest gain for the month, 33.3 percent, pulling in $23,241 compared to $17,170 in the same month last year. That put the city 18.3 percent ahead of last year through nine months.

Newark, despite an 11 percent loss for the month, remains nearly 80 percent ahead of last year after experiencing its own windfall earlier this year.

Comptroller Susan Combs said fiscal year 2014 ended with total state collections at $27.27 billion – 5.5 percent over the previous year.

The September sales tax figures represent monthly sales made in July and reported to the state in August.

Sales Tax

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Protests don’t disrupt Town Hall

State Rep. Phil King brought two high-ranking state officials to Wise County Tuesday night to talk about crucial issues facing the state: transportation and water.

But some local folks just wanted to talk about King.

State Officials Come to Wise

STATE OFFICIALS COME TO WISE – State officials (from left) Victor Vandergriff of the Texas Transportation Commission, Brian Barth, TxDOT District Engineer for the Fort Worth District, Kathleen Jackson of the Texas Water Development Board, and Rep. Phil King held a Town Hall forum at Weatherford College Wise County Tuesday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

After being directed to the back entrance of the Weatherford College Wise County campus, Democratic Party Chair Tracy Smith and a small group of supporters passed out flyers, carried signs and verbally challenged some of those entering the event, which was billed as a Town Hall meeting.

TOWN HALL PROTESTERS – Wise County Democratic Party Chair Tracy Smith, Lena Wells and (back) Coley Smith were among those carrying signs and protesting at Rep. Phil King’s Town Hall meeting Tuesday. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Smith had issued a news release the previous day criticizing King, who is chairman-elect of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). The release said the “corporate-funded organization” promotes legislation benefitting big business interests across the country.

The release also protested King’s decision to hold a forum while continuing to dodge a debate invitation from his Democratic opponent, Matthew Britt of Decatur.

“By attempting to pass off a partisan campaign event as proof of his interest in the discussing the issues, Phil King is insulting both his opponent and the intelligence of his constituents,” Smith said.

However, the event in the college’s lecture hall featured heavy doses of state policy and virtually no politics. Although King fielded a few questions in the second hour of the meeting, most of the talking was done by his invitees.

Victor Vandergriff of Arlington is a member of the Texas Transportation Commission which oversees TxDOT. Kathleen Jackson of Beaumont is the newest member of the Texas Water Development Board, which oversees water policy statewide.

Both are appointees of Gov. Rick Perry, and both agencies are challenged with how best to spend newfound pools of state money.

Jackson’s group, the TWDB, is working now to set up the State Water Implementation Fund of Texas (SWIFT) – authorized by voters last year and funded with $2 billion out of the state’s Rainy Day Fund.

“Our job is to come up with a financial model that will enable us to stretch that to about $27 billion, which is what we’ll need over the next 50 years,” she said.

That money will be used to make low-interest loans for local water projects, leveraging it to meet water needs in communities throughout Texas.

“The things we do in setting policy for water will impact our children and our children’s children,” she said. “It’s about making sure we have a viable future.”

Jackson, who with her late husband was involved in rice farming, is a registered professional engineer with a long history of public service.

She said it will take more than just reservoirs to meet the state’s future water needs.

“It’s a bottom-up process,” she said. “It’s not an agency looking at the plan, it’s actually communities.”

Those communities’ needs go to 16 regional water planning groups, whose leaders come together every five years to work on a state water plan.

“It’s a comprehensive, science-based process that engages the community,” Jackson said.

She said the current focus is on streamlining the environmental and rule-making processes, putting together a road map for communities to start applying for funds.

SWIFT will be funded by the end of the year, and once the details are approved by the Legislature, the board can begin allocating funds by the middle of next year. She noted 10 percent of the money has to go to rural communities.

She also touched on desalination projects, on re-use projects such as the one underway in Wichita Falls, and conservation efforts.

“There’s not one source for all our needs,” she said. “It’s going to come about one-third from new water supplies, one-third from re-use and one-third from conservation.”

PROPOSITION 1

“The constitutional amendment providing for the use and dedication of certain money transferred to the state highway fund to assist in the completion of transportation construction, maintenance, and rehabilitation projects, not to include toll roads.

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TxDOT overseer ponders best use of funds

When Victor Vandergriff got a call from Gov. Rick Perry asking if he’d consider serving on the board that governs the Texas Dept. of Transportation (TxDOT), he had to make sure he heard correctly.

Vandergriff, an Arlington car dealer, lawyer and veteran of public service, had been on the North Texas Transit Authority board for six years and had spent the last four years also serving on the board of the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV).

In that capacity, he took on TxDOT and, in his words, “led a revolution” to separate the motor vehicle registration function from TxDOT’s engineering and road-building function.

That has been a resounding financial success, but it also earned Vandergriff a reputation as a bit of a skeptic who didn’t mind asking tough questions and challenging seats of entrenched power.

But Perry had a couple of speficic things in mind when he called Vandergriff in February 2013.

“He said I need you to help the agency become very open and transparent about what it does,” Vandergriff said, speaking at a Town Hall forum at Weatherford College Wise County Tuesday night. “He also said you’ve been good at figuring out how to make the money stretch and how to find funding sources, and we need to do that.”

Vandergriff said he’s been impressed with the nearly 12,000 employees at TxDOT who are “talented, aggressive folks.” In fact, he’d like to get the Commission and the Legislature out of the business of picking projects, and let the professionals prioritize them.

That may be down the road a ways – but TxDOT could be on the verge of getting a new funding source.

That is, if voters approve Proposition 1 on the Nov. 4 ballot.

With several hot state political races this year, the proposition has somewhat flown under the radar – particularly compared to last year’s high-profile measure to take $2 billion from the Rainy Day Fund to finance water projects. That one passed.

Passage of this one would allow the use of a limited amount of excess funds from the state’s emergency pot to build, maintain and rehabilitate state highways. It would yield an estimated $1.7 billion next year.

“Although that’s a lot of money, it’s not going to go very far on congestion issues in metro areas, or on connectivity issues,” Vandergriff said. “I’d maybe rather apply it to maintenance.”

The conventional wisdom is that TxDOT needs $1 billion a year for maintenance, $1 billion for energy issues – repairing roads damaged by oil and gas activity – and $3 billion for new projects.

“That’s just to stay even,” he said. “I wanted to find out more. What I learned is, just for statewide connectivity issues, if it had the money, TxDOT could easily spend $90 billion on road projects in the next 10 years.”

Stretch that out to 20 years, and the department needs another $70 billion – $160 billion over the next 20 years.

“Based on current funding, that would take us about 50 years,” he said.

Using the Rainy Day Fund funding for maintenance would touch every county in Texas, he said.

He also addressed what he feels is the state’s over-reliance on toll roads and managed lanes over the past few years, and deferred some technical questions to Brian Barth, the district engineer for the Fort Worth district, who shared the front table with him.

After he and Texas Water Development Board commissioner Kathleen Jackson both spoke briefly, they took questions from the audience.

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TxDOT approves funding for bridge replacement

The Texas Transportation Commission has approved two bridge replacements in Wise County – on County Road 2675 and Foster Road at Tributary in Alvord.

Ashlar Contracting was awarded the project, for $549,711, to replace the existing bridge at County Road 2675.

31 Construction got the bid for replacing the existing bridge at Foster Road for $820,802.

Construction start dates will be established in upcoming meetings between TxDOT and the contractors.

“Rural roads and bridges are vital to the connectivity and economic prosperity of Texas communities,” said Commissioner Jeff Austin III, of the TTC. “We are committed to doing our part to keep transportation moving in the metropolitan and rural areas of our great state.”

When driving through a work zone, motorists are urged to slow down, pay attention, avoid distractions such as cell phones, be patient and plan ahead.

TxDOT and its contractors appreciate the patience of motorists, and encourage attention to all warning signs within construction work zones while crews work to complete projects as quickly and as safely as possible.

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Maintenance begins on area roadways

Various segments of state roadways in Wise County – including Farm Road 3433, Farm Road 730, the U.S. 81 frontage road and Business 81 – will be getting a new seal-coating from the Texas Dept. of Transportation.

Workers will be on the roads from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. most days, weather permitting. Traffic may be reduced through lane closures, so drivers are urged to be cautious and observe all warning signs.

TxDOT’s seal coat program is the most cost-effective means of maintaining the state’s highway system. A seal coat can extend the life expectancy of a roadway by many years, at a fraction of the cost of resurfacing.

On rural roadways where a shoulder is present, smaller rock will be used to assist cyclists.

When maintenance work requires that two-lane roadways be reduced to one lane, flaggers and a pilot car will lead motorists through the work zone. Drivers can plan their travel by viewing info on closures at www.drivetexas.org.

Alternate routes are encouraged.

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Indictments include 2 for Reunion stabbings

Two men face felony indictments for separate stabbing incidents that took place at this year’s Wise County Reunion.

Derry Shannon Jones Jr., 42, of Rhome, was indicted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for an incident that took place July 25.

Decatur Police Detective Daniel Sandate told the Messenger in an interview last month that Jones was allegedly taking beer from people’s coolers at Reunion without permission. Just before midnight, he was confronted about it by Chris Fletcher of Slidell.

According to Sandate, the two got into a fight and Jones pulled a knife, stabbing Fletcher in the hand and grazing his torso, across his stomach and back.

Fletcher later received 12 stitches in his left thumb and suffered “small abrasions on his upper abdomen and mid, left side on his back,” according to the arrest warrant affidavit.

Jones was arrested Aug. 5 and posted $35,000 bond the same day.

Larry Thomas Whittenburg Jr., 38, of Decatur was also indicted for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon for a stabbing that took place in his cabin during the early morning hours of July 23.

According to public records in a civil case filed by his wife, Whittenburg came back to the cabin after the washer tournament intoxicated. After visiting for awhile outside the cabin, she went inside.

She stated in the affidavit that her husband followed her inside, grabbed her by the neck, pushed her against the bed, took out a pocket knife and put it to her neck. After a struggle, she said he tried to stab her in the neck, but she put her arm up and was stabbed on the inner portion of her forearm.

Whittenburg was arrested the next day for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and interference with an emergency call. He posted $11,500 bond the following day and was released.

Both of the indictments were handed up Aug. 21 by a Wise County grand jury and became public this week. Other felony indictments include:

Jorge Alberto Pacheco, assault family/household member impeding breathing/circulation

Justin Roy Pitts, stalking

Shawn Brady Walker, injury to a child/elderly/disabled with intent to cause bodily injury (four counts)

Daniel Wayne Bryson, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

Jennifer Suzanne Buell, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Gabriell Kachel Holcombe, possession of a controlled substance less than 1 gram

Angela Kaye Long, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Vicente Mares, tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair

Terry Wayne McCarter, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

David Ray McMurry, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon

Nichole Lin Ortberg, possession of a controlled substance – heroin, less than 1 gram

Everando Rosales Jr., possession of a controlled substance – cocaine, less than 1 gram

James Douglas Rudy, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

Rodger Brent Simonson, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Joseph Dwayne Sparks, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Leann Kelli Warnock, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Thomas Zachary Whatley, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Victor Manuel Carrasco, evading arrest/detention with a vehicle (one count); tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair (one count)

John Edward Gibbon Jr., theft of material aluminum/bronze/copper/brass less than $20,000

Jonathan Robert Gideon, burglary of a building

Jimmie Dewayne Hudson, burglary of a building (one count); theft of material aluminum/bronze/copper/brass less than $20,000 (one count)

Charles Ray Kittrell, driving while intoxicated third or more

Justin Edward Martin, credit card or debit card abuse

Victor Vigil Jr., driving while intoxicated third or more

Reed John Allison, assault family/household member impede breath/circulation

Jennifer Melissa Brown, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (one count); injury to a child/elderly/disabled with intent to cause bodily injury (two counts); abandon endanger child criminal negligence (one count)

Jorge Alberto Davila, assault intentional/reckless breath/circulation family member

Marco Polo Delgado, injury to a child/elderly/disabled individual

Jessica Ann Craig, assault public servant

Christopher Ray Dowlearn, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon

Raelene Elizabeth Frank, injury to a child/elderly/disabled (one count); injury to a child/elderly/disabled with intent to cause bodily injury (one count)

William Charles Hughes, assault family/household member impede breath/circulation

Aimee Jarae Parr, abandon endanger child criminal negligence (four counts)

Amanda Kamile Clawson, forgery financial instrument (18 counts)

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Council Previews for Saturday, September 13, 2014

BUDGET, AIRPORT IMPROVEMENTS GET CITY’S FOCUS - The Bridgeport City Council will adopt its 2014-2015 tax rate of $0.5875 per $100 valuation at its meeting Tuesday, 7 p.m. Sept. 16 at 900 Thompson Street. The council will also discuss a uniform rental agreement with G&K Services and consider an agreement with TxDOT’s aviation division for improvements and repairs to the Bridgeport Municipal Airport.

DUGOUTS, AG BARNS ON AGENDA - The Bridgeport ISD will meet 7:30 p.m. Monday night at 2107 15th Street. At the meeting, the board is expected to discuss baseball dugouts, agricultural science barns and electronic message boards for each campus.

CRIME LAB, RESIGNATION ON COMMISSIONERS’ AGENDA – Wise County Commissioners face a lengthy agenda when they meet at 9 a.m. Monday on the third floor of the courthouse in Decatur, among them a request from Sheriff David Walker to acquire a building to be used as a future crime lab, and a “notification letter” received from Election Administrator Lanny Noble “for his resignation.” Other agenda items include bids on property sold in the recent “struck off property” auction, a final plat for Montecito Estates, cleaning out county road right-of-way to improve public safety and a discussion of conditions that might call for renewing the county’s burn ban. The meeting is open to the public.

DECATUR SCHOOL BOARD MEETS MONDAY – Decatur ISD administrators will provide the school board with their district and campus improvement plans at Monday’s meeting. The consent agenda includes the usual monthly items as well as approval of out-of-state travel for the National FFA Convention. The superintendent’s communications include a report on resignations/new hires, principals’ reports, directors’ reports, enrollment report, the high school ag project center and bond election. The meeting will take place at the DISD Administration Building, 307 S. Cates with a closed session at 6 p.m. followed by the open session at 7.

CHICO SCHOOL BOARD MEETS MONDAY – The Chico School Board will consider the Dads for Dragons program at Chico Elementary School at Monday’s meeting. In addition to the routine monthly items, the board will consider the sale of real estate, designation of 4-H activities as extracurricular school events and Extension agents as adjunct staff members, and district goals for the 2014-2015 school year. A work session with WRA Architects will take place following the board meeting in the elementary library. The regular meeting is at 6:30 p.m. in Room 150 of Chico Elementary School, 1120 Park Road.

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County approves $70 million budget

Wise County commissioners Monday approved a $70.6 million budget for fiscal year 2015.

The budget is $4.1 million bigger than last year’s, but the tax rate will remain the same. Commissioners adopted the same rate as last year – 37.89 cents per $100 valuation.

The new budget is slightly larger than FY ’14 due to an increase in county insurance, a 3 percent raise for all county employees and $5 million in capital expenditures. The rest of the budget remained the same as last year with only minor changes in some departments.

Taxpayers may also notice a slight difference in the proposed budget versus what was approved this week. Commissioners proposed a $69.8 million spending plan, but three funds were later adjusted.

Changes included an increase in reserves from $301,500 to $1,121,500 – which county auditor Ann McCuiston said is insurance money moved to reserves until it’s needed for roof repairs.

The fund for the impound yard was also increased from $75,000 to $87,000, and the Community Supervision and Corrections Department was actually reduced by $13,377, from $2,017,986 to $2,004,609.

Other budget details were explained in Messenger stories throughout the month of August. They have been removed from the website’s paywall and can be read at wcmess.com/budget.

Prior to Monday’s approval, the county held three public hearings. No one attended a public hearing Sept. 2, and although a few people attended a second hearing Sept. 5, no one asked a question or addressed commissioners.

A public hearing was also held at 8:45 a.m. before Monday’s meeting, but no one spoke.

—–

On Monday, commissioners also approved the $6.2 million Weatherford College Wise County budget and adopted a branch campus maintenance tax of 4.618 cents per $100 valuation.

Public hearings for this tax rate were held in conjunction with those for the county budget and tax rate. The only person to speak was Democratic county judge candidate Jim Stegall on Sept. 5.

He asked if there was a projected number of credit hours per student that would make the college self-sustaining. County Judge Glenn Hughes suggested it was a question of the number of students.

WCWC Associate Dean Matt Joiner said this year about $649,000 was transferred to balance the budget.

“Obviously, we want to see that number shrink,” he said. “A rough estimate … if we could hit 1,000 students that would be really close.”

He said that would be approximately 400 more students than are currently enrolled.

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Thousands to flow in for championship

Shooters will travel to Wise County from all over the nation next week for a shot at $50,000 in prize money.

Between 627 and 700 competitors will converge on Fossil Pointe Sporting Grounds, located on Farm Road 51 northeast of Decatur, Sept. 17-21 for the Texas State Championship shooting competition.

Range owners David and Maryam Niederer said in addition to the shooters, a few thousand spectators, vendors and others will come to Decatur, filling hotels and RV parks – and spending money.

This will be the first time for Fossil Pointe to host this championship, one of the largest in the U.S. The event will draw top shooters not just from Texas, but from across the country.

The size of the Texas State Championship stems from the fact that Texas has the highest number of registered competitors in the National Sporting Clay Association and the National Skeet Shooting Association.

“We have the largest local tournaments in the country and the largest state shoot,” David said. “It draws in a lot of competitors from elsewhere in the country, looking for payouts and points.”

The shoot will have referees and is set up like a golf tournament. Shooters will go out in squads, shooting at clay targets just as they would in Olympic competition. Scoring is based on shooting at 100 targets each day – and the score is cumulative. The highest overall shooters will get substantial payouts and trophies.

To qualify for the money and trophies, a person must be a registered association member and have 300 registered shot targets. Non-members can still sign up and compete at Fossil Pointe but are not eligible to take home prizes.

The championship is also open to youth shooters. Several young competitors will also act as referees and keep track of scores.

To prepare for the influx of people, Maryam and David have updated their facilities and made the rounds letting local business and civic leaders know how many people to expect in Decatur and the surrounding areas.

“The big thing for us is, we have the city’s support with the event,” Maryam said. “Wise County has been really gracious. We want the city to be aware of what is about to hit.”

“To handle the additional traffic we’ve had to widen our road, straighten it out and cut down the hills,” David said. “We don’t want to restrict the flow of traffic. It needs to be accessible for everybody. We were having trouble with big trucks making it up the hill, and we’ve cut it down about 4 feet.”

They have also added new shooting fields and revamped current tracks.

“In the back part of the property, we’ve opened up a whole new course no one has shot on before,” David said. “There will be a new look for the regulars as well.”

They are also trying to improve access.

“We’re trying to make everything ADA accessible, especially going up to the firing lines, where it’ll be convenient for wheelchairs,” Maryam said. “All of our stands on our sporting clay course have a little ramp. We’re just trying to do that everywhere.”

The event is open to the public, and spectators can watch for free. There will be shuttle drivers taking people to and from the stations.

Fossil Pointe has also arranged for food and other vendors to be on site. Several companies like Bass Pro, Browning, Blaser, Beretta and others will offer product demos at the pistol and rifle ranges that will include opportunities to try out a range of products, silencers and rifles.

During the week, folks can also bring their rifles or pistols out for target practice.

“For the folks who aren’t competing, there is something for them to do,” Maryam said. “They can go out and check out the vendors and pop off a couple rounds at a steel target.”

There will also be live music and a top shootout competition Saturday evening.

Sporting Clays

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Celebrity riders earn $6k for charity

What started out as the promise of a single $1,000 donation to one group by WC Challenger Charities (WCCC) has ended up being a $6,000 windfall shared by five Wise County non-profit organizations.

An invitational celebrity steer riding during intermission was an added attraction for the 11th annual JW Hart PBR Challenge on May 31, which was put on by WCCC.

“We challenged these six guys to raise $500 each for WC Challenger Charities,” explained WCCC co-founder Calvin Jackson, who organized the activity. “WCCC in turn would award $500 to the winning rider’s charity of choice.

“Given the success of this and the overall event, we surprised the riders by donating $1,000 each to all six of their charities.”

The local tenderfoot riders and their charities included:

– James Wood Motors’ Beau Bell (who actually has rodeo experience) for Wise County Meals on Wheels, $1,000 donation;

– County-judge candidate J.D. Clark for Wise County Domestic Violence Task Force, $1,000;

– Decatur High School trainer Fernando Escobar for Wise Regional Health Foundation, $1,000;

– Wise Wireless’ Joe Neil Henderson for Wise County Christian Counseling, $1,000;

– and PrimeWest Mortgage’s Jeff Sicking and Texas Custom Trailers’ Wade Watson for Decatur Cares, $2,000.

Henderson stayed on the longest to win the event. Clark suffered a dislocated shoulder raising money for what he considers an important cause.

Decatur Cares

DECATUR CARES – This year the JW Hart PBR Challenge added a local celebrity steer-riding contest as an intermission attraction, and WC Challenger Charities made donations to six fearless riders’ organizations of choice. Here, Wade Watson presents $2,000 to Ken May of Decatur Cares. With him are WCCC’s Wendell Berry Jr., Andrew Rottner, Calvin Jackson and Alan Sessions. Not pictured is Jeff Sicking, who also rode for Decatur Cares, a community effort to see that children who receive at least one meal a day at school do not go underfed during the summer. May is pastor of First Baptist Church in Decatur. Messenger photo by Ken Roselle

Protecting Families

PROTECTING FAMILIES – The Wise County Domestic Violence Task Force receives $1,000 from WC Challenger Charities. From left are WCCC’s Wendell Berry Jr., the task force’s Beverly Ross and Pat Slayton, celebrity steer rider J.D. Clark and WCCC’s Alan Sessions and Andrew Rottner. Founded in 1999 with a United Way of Wise County donation, the task force operates the Wise Hope Shelter and Crisis Center. Messenger photo by Ken Roselle

Christian Counseling

CHRISTIAN COUNSELING – Joe Neil Henderson presents $1,000 to Beverly Ross, representing Wise County Christian Counseling. With them are WC Challenger Charities’ Calvin Jackson (left) and Alan Sessions. Henderson won the steer riding. Ross’ organization has an office at 2201 S. Farm Road 51 in Decatur. Messenger photo by Ken Roselle

Meals on Wheels

MEALS ON WHEELS – Wendell Berry Jr. presents $1,000 to Beau Bell, who took part in the celebrity steer riding to raise money for Wise County Meals on Wheels. The Wise County Committee on Aging has operated the service since 1978. It provides hot meals to 80 senior citizens. Messenger photo by Ken Roselle

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