Texas Senate approves open carry of handguns

A bill lifting some of the state’s restrictions on handguns cleared the Texas Senate along a party line vote of 20 – 11 Monday.

Senate Bill 17, from state Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls) would allow concealed weapons permit holders to carry holstered handguns openly. It is the first measure to come to the Senate floor not related to Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency items.

“In other states that have taken this step … it’s been deemed pretty much a non-event,” Estes told his colleagues as he introduced the legislation. “We have searched really hard far and wide for problems, and we haven’t found any.”

After the upper chamber takes a final vote on the measure, it will head to the House.

State law currently allows the open carrying of long guns like rifles and shotguns. Handguns may only be carried in a concealed fashion by those who obtain a license.

During a four-hour debate, lawmakers in the upper chamber considered almost two-dozen amendments to the bill. Most were offered by Democrats – who made various attempts to soften the bill including calling for increasing training, background checks and other licensing requirements to obtain a handgun – and almost all failed along straight party lines.

State Sen. John Whitmire (D-Houston) came close to shouting as he argued in favor of an amendment exempting the Capitol complex from open carry if it passes.

Relating his experiences dealing with angry or mentally ill individuals before his committee, Whitmire said it would now be easy for such a person to grab a handgun out of a holster to use it to attack bystanders.

“It’s dead wrong … to say there’s not disturbed people in this building,” said Whitmire, who chairs the Criminal Justice Committee. “It’s not if it’s going to happen; it’s when it’s going to happen, and you know it and I know it.”

Estes called such a circumstance “far-fetched.”

Democrats also argued that the change would increase risk to police officers responding to the scene of the crime, who might now be faced with several people with firearms and have no way to determine the bad actors.

“Have you thought about what dangers you’re fixing to expose on law enforcement?” asked Whitmire during the debate, noting the widespread opposition to such a law from the state’s police associations.

SB 17 is among a slate of high-profile gun bills up for consideration this session. So far it is one of two that have made it out of committee. The other is Senate Bill 11, which would allow handgun license holders to carry their firearms on college campuses. Both bills passed along party lines 7 – 2, only opposed by the panel’s Democrats.

Though all 20 Senate Republicans supported Estes’ proposal, at least one did so with reservations.

State Sen. Don Huffines (R-Dallas) rose before the chamber took a vote to say Estes’ bill did not go far enough in restoring Second Amendment rights.

“I will vote for SB 17, but I do so with a very heavy heart,” said Huffines, who described the merits of so-called “constitutional carry” legislation.

Favored by vocal factions within the gun rights movement, constitutional carry bills would repeal handgun-permitting rules altogether. It has yet to receive committee hearings in either chamber.

On Tuesday, the House Committee on Homeland Security and Public Safety listened to public testimony on House Bill 910 by Committee Chairman Larry Phillips (R-Sherman). It is similar to SB 17.

The House committee also heard testimony related to House Bill 937 by state Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress), which would allow students to carry concealed handguns on a college campus.

The committee did not vote on either bill.

The Texas Tribune is a nonpartisan, nonprofit media organization that informs Texans – and engages with them – about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Blaze scorches home


Fire ravaged a home on the Wise-Parker county line Thursday afternoon.
Boonsville/Balsora, Salt Creek, Poolville and Springtown firefighters responded to the blaze on Texas 199 around noon.
Salt Creek Fire Chief Ken Vise said the small brick home was “pretty much a total loss.”
The owners were not at home when firefighters arrived.
“No telling when it started and how long it was burning,” Vise said.
The first firefighters to arrive on scene found heavy smoke coming from the structure.
“The smoke was so heavy they couldn’t make an interior attack initially until there was additional manpower,” Vise said.
Vise did not know the cause of the fire.
“We’re not sure where it started,” he said. “It was somewhere in the back corner.”

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Jones arrested for drug, weapon charges

A Rhome man remains jailed after leading investigators on a high speed chase March 3 near Aurora.

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said investigators Chad Lanier and Mike Neagle were working a burglary case near Newark when they noticed a motorcycle drive by and then speed away on Farm Road 718. The motorcycle was then seen behind someone’s house, and the homeowner said no one should be there.

Calvin Charles Jones

The officers then attempted to stop the motorcycle operator, later identified as Calvin Charles Jones, 32, of Rhome, but he continued northbound on Farm Road 718. Jones was clocked at over 90 miles per hour.

After passing a pickup, Jones was seen discarding a couple of items.

“The officers observed him reach in his pants and toss a black case,” Walker said. “Sgt. Lanier notified dispatch of the location. They continued to pursue and went around the big curve. The driver reached into the back of his pants, and he tossed a pistol, which slid down the shoulder of the road and went under their vehicle.”

Jones stopped at FM 718 and Green Oaks Road, where Lanier took Jones into custody. Neagle was able to find both the black bag and the pistol that Jones had thrown from the motorcycle. Walker said the officers found what appeared to be methamphetamine and a digital scale.

Jones was arrested on two counts of tampering with evidence, possession of a controlled substance 4-200 grams, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and a warrant for bond insufficient related to a burglary of a habitation charge.

He remained in the Wise County Jail Tuesday with total bond set at $300,000.

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Proposed bill to help students graduate

High school seniors that failed to pass all of their end-of-course exams may still be able to get a diploma, if the Texas Legislature approves a proposed bill.

Senate Bill 149 would allow a committee made up of the campus principal, teacher of the course in which the student failed the test, counselor and parent or guardian to determine if the student may qualify for graduation.

The bill authored by Sen. Kel Seliger (R-Amarillo), which made it out of the Senate committee, is receiving overwhelming support from a majority of Wise County superintendents.

“I personally think it’s time,” said Rod Townsend, Decatur ISD superintendent. “It’s similar to what we have in fifth and eighth grades.

“I’m not an advocate for standardized assessments and don’t feel they should keep a student from graduating.”

Since 2012 when the new State of Texas Assessment of Academic Readiness was put in place, students have needed to pass all five end-of-course exams – English I, English II, algebra, biology and U.S. history – to earn a diploma.

The proposed legislation would allow the committee to bypass that requirement if the prospective graduate showed proficiency in the subject with coursework and maintained good overall attendance.

The graduation committee would take the student’s case under review after they failed an assessment twice.

“I’m for it. Standardized testing should not be the end-all and gatekeeper for graduation,” said Bridgeport ISD Superintendent Eddie Bland. “I know smart, creative people that are not good test-takers. For them not to be able to graduate because of the results on a test is too punitive.”

Mike Jones, Chico ISD superintendent, agreed with Bland that the committee would provide a great option.

“The current system is all or nothing,” he said. “There are some students that can take the tests a second or third time and just can’t get over that hurdle. This is another way to show they understand the material. If they’ve completed all the coursework, attended class and not been in any disciplinary trouble, one test should not determine if they receive a high school diploma.”

According to Seliger’s introduction of the bill, approximately 28,000 students will not graduate in the state because they’ve failed an end-of-course exam.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Boyd ISD Superintendent Ted West about the bill. “Having this as a safety net or alternative plan for a kid that has done everything else we’ve asked, how is that not a good thing?”

Superintendents also liked that the bill would bring back some local control for teachers and administrators to determine if a student is ready for graduation.

“We’re very much in support of it,” said Northwest ISD Superinentdent Karen Rue. “It offers an opportunity for the people that know the student the best to determine if they are ready.”

Some administrators also added their criticism of the standardized tests.

“With all the tremendous energy the state uses on STAAR, it’s not something the universities use for admittance,” Rue said. “It’s without a real-world application.”

Townsend, who’s not opposed to the diagnostic data from the testing, said he does not like its punitive nature toward students, teachers, school districts and communities.

“The perception the state wants is that all state schools are failing,” Townsend said. “They are looking for every angle and don’t want you to do well.”

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New Sheriff’s Office program to recruit, retain officers

The Wise County Sheriff’s Department will soon offer a police academy reimbursement program for eligible employees in an effort to secure qualified officers for the future.

The department will pay for them to attend the academy, and in exchange, the newly trained officers will be required to work four years in enforcement for the S.O.

County commissioners approved the program as proposed by Sheriff David Walker at their regular meeting Monday.

Walker said not only will the program aid in the recruitment of officers, but it will also reward some longtime, dedicated S.O. employees that want to move to the enforcement side.

“In the last several years, we have had an issue getting people to come (to the department), and when we do get someone good, say in dispatch or the jail that want to be on the enforcement side, they either can’t afford to leave their job to go full time to the police academy or they try to continue working and go to the academy at night.”

Walker said they are still finalizing the application process, but it will be open to any current sheriff’s office employee.

“They’ll go through the normal hiring process, if you will,” he said. “We’ll go over current work history, productivity, all that stuff will be part of it. That way we don’t have someone’s ‘buddy’ going to the academy.

“I know we have several employees that have expressed interest,” he said. “We want to do the application process so it’s fair.”

Walker will use money already in the department’s budget to pay for the tuition and the salaries of those accepted while they’re in school. There is enough money to send two to the academy in the first round.

“It’s a five-month program (696 hours), and their job assignment will be to go to school,” he explained.

They will attend classes full time, and if there is ever a day that they don’t have class, Walker said they will be called into the office to perform whatever tasks might be needed.

Their salaries will be paid with jail funds that are never used. Walker described the money as “insurance salaries” that are budgeted every year for emergency situations in the jail. If the inmate population reaches more than 242, he is required to add staff immediately. He said the population usually hovers around 170, meaning the “insurance salaries” sit untouched, so he felt confident applying that money to the new program.

He said if the population were to soar for some reason, they would rotate staff and as a temporary resolution even bring in patrol officers that have jail certifications.

If an officer trained through the new program does not pass the course or doesn’t complete their four years of service, he or she would be required to reimburse the county for the cost of training, as well as their wages and benefits drawn while they attended the academy.

If the department does not have an enforcement opening for 12 months after the officers graduate, they are free to pursue opportunities at other departments.

Walker said, unfortunately, he can’t imagine there not being an opening in patrol, which is one of the reasons for the program.

“We currently have three applicants for two positions, and two of those were removed from the selection process,” he said. “Other agencies in this county have one opening and 15 applicants. I think it’ll help us a great deal.

“I think it’s a huge step forward to where we’ve been in years past.”

Walker said he and his staff looked into the police academies at both Tarrant County College and Weatherford College, but chose Tarrant County because it’s significantly cheaper.

The sheriff said he would start by sending two employees to the academy and then evaluate the program, but he’s convinced it will be a benefit.

“We have several folks that started with us at a young age that are applying to go to places like Fort Worth PD,” he said. “… hometown guys or girls that would make our county a great law enforcement professional, but they can’t go to the academy and work full time for us at the same time, so this will allow us to do that.”

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Grand Jury Indictments for February 26, 2015

A Wise County grand jury met Feb. 26, 2015, and returned the following felony indictments:

Christopher David Meek, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (one count); assault family/household member with previous conviction (one count)

Preston Haywood Randon, assault family/household member with previous conviction (two counts); assault intentionally/recklessly breath/circulation family member with previous conviction

Ricardo Burgos Sarabia, sexual assault of a child

Damon Lee Scheller, indecency with a child sexual contact (two counts)

Sandra Kay Williams, abandon/endanger child criminal negligence (two counts)

Randall Craig Hillin, burglary of a habitation

Channen Michele Wallace, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Ricky Carl Wright, criminal mischief impair/interrupt public service less than $20,000

Raymond Demarcus Williams, possession of marijuana 4 ounces-5 pounds

Emmanuel Larkin Turner, possession of a controlled substance – Alprazolam, 28-200 grams

Don Weldon Taylor, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 4-200 grams

William Kenneth Owings, possession of a controlled substance – Tetrahydrocannabinol, 4-400 grams

David Earl Munro, possession of a controlled substance – Tetrahydrocannabinol, 4-400 grams

Cody Thomas Moore, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Randy Calvin Kolvig, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

Adam Lee Johnson, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 4-200 grams

Tracy Tanner Unger, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Joshua Wade Hankins, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Charles Laron Gary, possession of a controlled substance – Tetrahydrocannabinol, greater than 400 grams

Randall Moore Dizon, possession of marijuana 5-50 pounds

Jason Wayne Carter, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

Kevin Lee Attocknie, possession of a controlled substance – oxycodone, 4-200 grams

Jeremy Keith Aldert, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Michael Allen Aguerro, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon

Claudia Denise Hale, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon

Benjamin Martinez Huerta, sexual abuse of a child continuous, victim under 14 (one count); sexual assault of a child (two counts); indecency with a child sexual contact (one count)

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Wise County Elections moving to new digs

The Wise County elections administration office will soon be moving into the shadow of the courthouse in downtown Decatur.

County Judge J.D. Clark said Wednesday that the county has a contract to purchase the building at 200 S. Trinity St., next to the Decatur Visitors Center.

The plan is to move the elections administration office in early summer from its current space on Deer Park Road, which the county rents, to the new building.

The structure has been empty since August 2013. It most recently housed Guardian Title Co.

The purchase is part of the plan to eliminate renting space for county offices.

Wise County spends almost $6,200 per month in rent for the elections administration office on Deer Park and the office on Farm Road 51 South that houses 911 addressing, development services and the county engineer.

“That’s a lot of money to put out with nothing to show for it,” Clark said at the Feb. 25 commissioners meeting. “We’re still in rented buildings, but our goal is to move away from rentals so we’re not throwing away money.”

The county recently acquired two buildings through a military surplus program, which are now set up next to the Public Works Department on Farm Road 51 South near the Wise County Fairgrounds. After they’re remodeled, the people currently working in the rental space on FM 51 will move there.

“We were fortunate to get those buildings just for the price of moving them,” Clark said.

The county will pay $295,000 for the building on Trinity Street, but it’s almost “move-in ready,” requiring only a few cosmetic updates.

It will house Elections Administrator Sabra Srader and her staff, plus serve as a storage space for the department’s voting equipment. The building also has a training room that will be used for election judge training. It can be utilized by other departments as well.

Srader also plans to hold early voting at the new office, as the front foyer provides adequate space.

Clark said another benefit to this building is its parking lot. He thinks it can be striped to create 30 to 40 spaces, which are a “hot commodity here,” he said.

“Once that’s done, there will be no reason for a county employee to park on the Square,” he said.

The judge said the lot will be available for general public parking on nights and weekends, too.

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TAPS to offer commuter service to Fort Worth

TAPS Public Transit began a new express service between Decatur, Rhome, and Fort Worth this week, aimed at commuters from Wise County.

The TAPS Commuter Connect bus service will run weekdays, Monday through Friday.

The commuter route was made possible after two park-and-ride locations were secured: Cornerstone Baptist Church, 701 W. Hale in Decatur, and the Rhome Dairy Queen at 101 N. U.S. 81/287. Passengers have permission for daytime parking at the two locations.

The morning service departs Decatur at 5:30 a.m.; stopping at Rhome and departing at 6 a.m.; then arriving at “The T” Intermodal Transportation Center in downtown Forth Worth at approximately 7 a.m. The service then returns to Decatur at 7:10 a.m.

In the afternoon, the TAPS Commuter Connect leaves Decatur at 5 p.m., stops in Rhome, and proceeds to Fort Worth, arriving at approximately 6:30 p.m. The final trip of the day departs from Fort Worth to Rhome and Decatur at 6:45 p.m.

The fare is $2 each way, $4 for a round trip. Passengers paying with cash must have the correct amount, as drivers cannot make change. TAPS also offers prepaid fare cards and a $58 monthly pass. All fares and passes can be purchased online at www.TAPSbus.com/shop.

Decatur resident Jay Davidson, chairman of the TAPS board of directors, expects ridership to build slowly on the route, adding more passengers as word spreads that the service is available.

“This is a ‘soft launch’ as we test the park and ride locations and travel times,” he said.

TAPS is using a 35-seat bus in anticipation that the route will become popular with commuters wanting to access connections at The T’s downtown Fort Worth terminal.

Brad Underwood, TAPS chief executive officer and executive director, said that connecting Wise County is only the first part of a plan that will expand access to Fort Worth’s Intermodal Transportation Center.

“Potentially, you could live as far north as Wichita Falls and take public transportation all the way to Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport by connecting to The T, to DART,” he said.

The TAPS Commuter Connect service in Wise County is made possible in part by grants from the Texas Department of Transportation and North Central Texas Council of Governments.

Fort Worth passengers can catch The TAPS Commuter Connect service at “The T” Intermodal Transportation Center, 1001 Jones Street, downtown.

Passengers parking in Decatur and Rhome must adhere to TAPS Public Transit Park and Ride lot rules, as well as those posted by the property owner.

Information about The TAPS Commuter Connect service between Decatur and Fort Worth, including the latest route and schedule information, can be found at www.TAPSbus.com or by calling (800) 256-0911.

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Winter weather leaves potholes

As the temperature hit 70 Thursday afternoon under the bright sunshine, the ice and snow of last week seemed to be a distant memory.

Bumpy Road

BUMPY ROAD – Last week’s ice and snow left potholes in streets, roads and parking lots throughout Wise County. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

But area drivers are finding the nasty remnants of the recent winter storms – potholes.

“We’ve had a couple of bent wheels from potholes,” said Kim Chambers of Decatur Tire.

Wise County officials claim that local roads were not hit as hard as some Metroplex highways.

“We were extremely lucky,” said Precinct 4 County Commissioner Harry Lamance. “There’s a few but not a lot. We stay on top of it. If we see small cracks, we get it taken care of.”

Lamance did caution that a few more issues could pop up in the next few weeks as the area dries out.

Decatur City Manager Brett Shannon said the city is receiving phone calls about potholes and will be addressing the issues as the weather permits.

“It hasn’t been as awful as we thought,” he said. “There’s a few streets we’ll get out with patching materials and take care of. We’ve got to wait until it dries out. Hopefully next week we can get out and take care of them.”

Bridgeport street crews are also working diligently to repair potholes, according to Community Relations Manager Tiffany Evans.

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Fair has heart: Special needs exhibitors shine in show ring

Fair has heart: Special needs exhibitors shine in show ring

Youth Fair exhibitors and parents were trying to thaw out following a winter storm during the 63rd annual event last week, but what happened Friday evening warmed their hearts.

New Experience

NEW EXPERIENCE – Jesse Benavidez smiles broadly as Brandon McComis pushes him into the show ring last Friday at the Heart of a Champion Show. Dustin Meadows leads a goat for Benavidez, and Mason McComis (far left) and Aiden Cantrell lend their support. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The first Heart of a Champion livestock show for special needs children and adults drew a huge crowd and allowed families from all walks of life to share a moment in the spotlight.

Charli Franks, who is active with Wise County Special Needs Baseball and Outward Adventures, said the show was “spectacular.”

Show of Emotion

SHOW OF EMOTION – Courtney Boyd of Bowie screams in excitement after being given her rosette during the Heart of a Champion Show at the Wise County Youth Fair last week. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“Every one of the guys and gals thought it was the biggest Youth Fair there ever was in the whole United States,” Franks said. “It may not mean a lot to some people, but it meant the world to them.”

Franks’ son, Jason Franks, showed a pig with the help of his brother, Michael Franks and niece Edyee.

The show was the result of a brainstorming session between sisters – Lyndi Luttrull, Lauryn Luttrull and Shelby Bradshaw – but more than 200 volunteers participated to give the special exhibitors a taste of the livestock show life.

Lisa Bradshaw, Lauryn and Lyndi’s mom, said 48 exhibitors showed either a pig, goat, rabbit or dog.

Leading the Way

LEADING THE WAY – Nicholas Allison leads a dog into the show ring at the Wise County Heart of a Champion Show Friday evening. Keaton Vawter pushed Allison into the arena, and Brianna McKeever assisted with the dog. Also pictured is Lauren Stowers. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I think in the hustle and bustle of the Youth Fair, the fact that everyone stopped and did something for others was very meaningful to the girls and [my husband] Steve and I,” she said.

Steve is an ag teacher in Paradise ISD and Shelby’s dad.

“That lifestyle of showing and getting kids to this meeting and that meeting … we take that for granted,” Lisa said. “We gave those kids and their families a taste of what that was like. The smiles on their faces and the hugs, it was awesome.”

Exhibitors were helped in the show ring by 4-H and FFA youth volunteers. Every exhibitor was announced as they entered the ring, and everyone received a rosette.

Unbridled Excitement

UNBRIDLED EXCITEMENT – Shaina Beavers of Decatur is excited to enter the arena with a hog at the Heart of a Champion Show last week. Zane Hickey pushed her wheelchair while Shelby Bradshaw (left) and Carson Read walked the pig. Also pictured is Gracie Oates. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I would see the guys and gals walk in with their ribbons. It was just like they had won a gold medal or the Nobel Peace Prize,” said Franks, recalling the excitement she witnessed.

Every exhibitor was greeted with wild applause and had their photo taken in front of the Youth Fair banner.

Gary Cox of Alvord said his daughter, Madison, 9, loved interacting with the animals and was proud to have her cousins – Hayden and Caleb Bennett – help her in the show ring.

“She was real proud of that ribbon,” Cox said with a laugh. “She wouldn’t let anyone hold it.”

All in the Family

ALL IN THE FAMILY – Madison Cox, 9, of Alvord shows a goat with the help of her cousins, Caleb and Hayden Bennett, as well as friend Caraline Cowdrey, all of Decatur. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

NBC news anchor Deborah Ferguson, who was one of the announcers, stopped exhibitor Courtney Bond of Bowie, and Bond barely gave her time to ask a question before taking over the microphone.

“First off, I want to thank God and thank everyone for realizing we’re like everyone else, just extra special,” Bond said.

Lyndi Luttrull said her overriding feeling afterward was “it actually worked.”

Show Time

SHOW TIME – David Ross clutches a rabbit while Sequoia Smith pushes him into the arena at the Wise County Fairgrounds Friday. Also assisting Ross were Leslie Robbins and Seth Byers. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

She had the chance to sit alone in the stands and just watch a few minutes of the show.

“It sounds silly, but I just sat by myself and cried,” she said. “To see it all come together was awesome and to see the community come together in that way was remarkable.”

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Veteran aid bill encourages psychiatric care

The film “American Sniper” brought in more that $337 million at the box office and got nominated for six Oscars for its portrayal of a veteran coming to grips with the complexity of his patriotic duty.

The issues that Chris Kyle experienced upon returning home from war are nothing new; they’ve been around for centuries. However, the film and subsequent trial of the events surrounding Kyle’s untimely death have renewed public discourse on veteran mental health care and PTSD.

Stacy Hunt, formerly of Decatur, said that’s a very good thing.

Hunt grew up in Decatur, where his father owned a dry cleaners in town before moving the family to Houston in 1963.

Clay Hunt

“I don’t go back there much, but I still tell everyone that I was born and raised in Wise County, even though I’ve lived in Houston for 50 years,” he said.

Stacy’s son, Clay, was an Iraq war veteran who served in the Marines, first in infantry and later in a sniper unit.

On March 31, 2011, Clay killed himself.

He was 28 years old.

Now approaching the third anniversary of Clay’s death, Hunt said it’s especially hard to talk about his son.

Clay’s story is one Stacy has had to tell a lot lately. A bill bearing his name was recently signed into action by President Obama.

The Clay Hunt Suicide Prevention for American Veterans Act (or Clay Hunt SAV Act, as it’s better known) establishes VA funds for psychiatrists to help veterans experiencing PTSD and requires the VA to be independently evaluated on its mental care and suicide prevention programs at least once a year. To read the bill in full, visit wcmess.com/Bill5059.

A lack of mental care was one of the factors that led to Clay’s death, Hunt said.

“There aren’t enough psychiatrists in the VA, especially ones that can treat veterans coming back from warfare situations. These people look fine on the outside, but they’re bruised on the inside; they’re really hurting,” Hunt said.

According to recent VA statistics, 22 veterans commit suicide every day in America.

Hunt’s hope is that this bill will shed more light on psychiatric care for veterans and will help veterans get the care they need.

“It’s definitely a bittersweet feeling with the bill passing, but we know it’s the right thing to do,” Hunt said.

He said the main driver of the bill was Clay’s mother, Susan Selke, since she was approached first by the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA) organization about starting something in Clay’s honor.

Clay worked a lot with IAVA and other veterans groups after returning from Afghanistan. At one point, he went to Haiti to help rebuild Port au Prince in 2010 after earthquakes ravaged the country.

“He just had a big ol’ heart, and that was the toughest part about coming to terms with all of it, was knowing how much he just wanted to help people,” Hunt said.

Clay joined the Marines in 2005, prompted by an urge to serve following 9/11. He graduated from infantry school a year later, and by January 2007, he was in Iraq as a part of the USMC’s Second Battalion Seventh Regiment.

A little over a month into his deployment, he was shot in the wrist near Fallujah after a sniper’s bullet missed his head. He also saw several members of his unit die in front of him.

He earned a Purple Heart for his wrist injury. He was diagnosed with PTSD shortly after.

“We didn’t think he’d have to go back to combat duty [after that injury], but he went back, voluntarily,” Hunt said. “And it wasn’t because he wanted to be where the action was, or anything like that – he just wanted to get back there to help his buddies.”

Hunt said Clay’s problems became more prominent once he got out of the Marine Corps. In December 2010, he moved back to Houston, where he experienced problems with acquiring his medical records from California and other places he had been stationed in order to get medicine for his PTSD. That, combined with a perceived lack of a veteran network in Houston, largely contributed to his suicide, Hunt said.

“When he got back, there were people in Houston that he served with, but he didn’t have any way of knowing that those Marines were there because there wasn’t a support system put in place,” Hunt said. “At the end of the day, it was a lot of shortcomings of the VA combined with the trauma of war that cost him his life.”

The recently passed bill should help other veterans struggling with the same traumas.

“It’s incredibly tough to lose a child. [Talking about it] is like an open wound,” Hunt said.

“But if it sheds any light on the problem, or if it makes someone from the VA or another nonprofit group step forward to offer some type of help, then it will be worth it.”

A recent study released in the February issue of the Annals of Epidemiology found that veterans are 50 percent more likely to commit suicide than civilians, with the highest chance of suicide occurring in the first three years out of the military.

“It’s important for the VA to be held accountable for the ways they can treat veterans better,” Hunt said.

With the new bill that bears his son’s name, hopefully that goal will be accomplished.

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Burnham dies from injuries sustained in jail

Leslie Wayne Burnham, who apparently tried to strangle himself with a phone cord in the Wise County Jail Feb. 28, died Saturday.

Leslie Wayne Burnham

Leslie Wayne Burnham

Wise County Sheriff David Walker confirmed that the 48-year-old Burnham, who had been at Wise Regional Health System since the incident in the early morning hours of Saturday, Feb. 28, died from his injuries.

Walker said his office had already brought in an outside investigator prior to Burnham’s death, and information about his death will now be added to the report for the Texas Jail Commission.

“We’ve already notified the jail commission before he passed of what had taken place, and now that he has passed, we’ve done our notification,” he said. “Once (the investigators) have finished their reports, we’ll send the packet to (the commission).”

That information will include hospital records that will include toxicology reports. Burnham appeared “highly intoxicated” according to arresting officers who brought Burnham to jail.

Walker once again said his jail staff followed the proper procedures in dealing with Burnham, who was not yet booked into the jail at the time of the incident.

“It’s sad and traumatic for the family, and it’s the same for our jailers as well,” he said. “They were working with a guy, trying to get him to cooperate and be booked in, and shortly thereafter, they are doing CPR on him.”

Burnham’s brother, Tony Lynn Burnham, 52, of Weatherford, was also arrested Feb. 28 for public intoxication and a parole violation for assault. He remained in the Wise County Jail Tuesday.

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Arrest made in fire hall stolen vehicles case

The Wise County Sheriff’s Office has recovered the two vehicles stolen from the East Wise Fire Department during the early morning hours of Feb. 22 while firefighters battled a series of suspicious fires.

Tonia Lynn Roberts

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said one of the vehicles, a 2014 Chevy pickup, was found abandoned in a Braum’s parking lot in Dallas on Feb. 26. Members of the sheriff’s office crime scene investigation unit went to Dallas to collect evidence.

On March 7, a U.S. Forest Service officer on patrol spotted a second vehicle that he recognized had been stolen from the East Wise fire station. A traffic stop of the vehicle, a 2006 Chevy Silverado pickup, was made on County Road 2391 near the LBJ National Grasslands, and sheriff’s officers and the fire marshal were called to the scene.

Tonia Lynn Roberts, 37, of Paradise was arrested for unauthorized use of a vehicle and unlawful carrying of a weapon for a pistol found in her possession. She remained in the Wise County Jail Tuesday with bond set at $25,000 and $3,000, respectively.

“Crime scene processed her vehicle on (Monday), and we’ll compare any physical forensic evidence and work with the fire marshal’s office comparing what we found with what might help them on the arson end of it,” Walker said.

He added that it is unknown if Roberts was one of the people responsible for the theft or was just driving the stolen vehicle. She is being interviewed by investigators on the case, Walker said.

While the sheriff’s office has been investigating the vehicle thefts, the fire marshal’s office has been investigating the three fires that had firefighters busy around 3 a.m. Feb. 22. The fires, all deemed “suspicious” by Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis, included an unoccupied double-wide mobile home, about 90 round bales of hay stacked in an open-sided barn and a van that had broken down by the side of the road. Investigators are working with the theory that the fires were set intentionally in order to steal the vehicles while the firefighters were occupied.

Both the theft and arson investigations are ongoing.

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Back-to-back titles: Family, community support play role in Rector’s success at Youth Fair

Back-to-back titles: Family, community support play role in Rector’s success at Youth Fair

Last Friday, moments after her steer was named grand champion at the Wise County Youth Fair, Haley Rector looked up into the stands and saw her dad jump up in excitement.

It was an unexpected emotional moment for the Paradise High School senior.

Entering the Ring

ENTERING THE RING – Haley Rector enters the arena Saturday to sell her grand champion steer at the Wise County Youth Fair Auction. Rector also earned grand champion honors for a steer she showed at last year’s fair. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I almost started crying because this will be the last time I’ll ever show here,” Rector said.

Showing livestock has been part of her life since kindergarten, she said, and now she’s both excited and nervous to be reaching the end of her FFA career.

And she’s finishing strong, with her steers named grand champions at back-to-back Wise County Youth Fairs.

It’s a long way from her first show, at the State Fair of Texas, when she was in third grade, she said.

“I had a Hereford, and I showed him backwards,” she said. “You face toward the judge when you hold the stick, and I was facing toward the stands. My dad was trying to wave at me to turn around. I didn’t know what he was doing, and then the judge told me I needed to turn around.”

Earlier in her show career, she showed both steers and pigs, but in recent years she decided to just focus on steers.

“Pigs are really stressful because they always scream at you whenever you feed them,” she explained. “Cows don’t do that.”

Rector said she really wanted to win this year for her dad, Mark Rector. She explained how her dad gets up early each day to feed the animals before heading to school to teach agriculture classes at Paradise ISD. After school, she would feed the animals.

Including Rector’s wins in 2014 and 2015, the Paradise student has shown the grand champion steer in five of the past 10 Wise County Youth Fairs.

She credits a strong FFA program and a neighborly attitude for helping to explain the success.

“I want to say that over half of the students from third grade to high school have some type of FFA project,” she said. “We have really good ag teachers, too, that are really involved, and they are always there supporting us. My dad is the ag teacher, and he’ll get calls at 9 or 10 at night where someone’s calf is bloated and he’ll go out there and try to help it. Mr. (Steve) Bradshaw is over the pigs, and it’s the same thing. If someone calls at night, he’ll go out there and help them.”

This year Rector has shown at Fort Worth and San Antonio, and she will finish her show career with shows in Houston and Austin over the next couple of weeks.

But there is nothing quite like the local show ring where her dad, sister, aunts and cousins all put their hard work on display over the years.

That’s part of what made Friday’s win so special.

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Auction total tops $200,000

Bidders spent $214,000 Saturday on 129 4-H, FFA and FCCLA projects at the Wise County Youth Fair Auction.

The grand champion steer, shown by Haley Rector of Paradise FFA, sold for $11,000 while the reserve champion steer raised by Cassady Craddock of Bridgeport 4-H brought $6,500.

The 16 champion lots brought $51,050 with 15 going to the Champions and Blue Ribbon Club.

Ridge Reynolds with Decatur FFA sold the grand champion hog for $5,500, and Rebecca Lambert with Paradise Jr. FFA sold the grand champion lamb for $5,000.

The champion market wether, exhibited by Dustin Meadows of Paradise FFA, also drew $5,000. Cale Laaser with Decatur 4-H sold his champion poultry for $1,000, while Karah Buckner with Decatur 4-H got $1,300 for the top rabbits.

The overall grand champion food entries for 4-H and FCCLA sold for $750 each. Alvord 4-Her Madelyn Causey sold a scratch cake, and Whitney Stapleton with Chico FCCLA sold a creative cake.

The grand champion ag mechanics project – a barbecue trailer built by Boyd FFA – brought $2,500.

Reserve champion projects included:

  • Shelby Drews, Decatur FFA, hog, $4,500
  • Chelsea Arlington, Boyd FFA, goat, $4,000
  • Brady Quarles, Decatur 4-H, poultry, $750
  • Ryan Hudgins, Slidell, junior 4-H foods, $500
  • Kelsi McKelvain, Alvord, FCCLA foods, $500
  • Decatur FFA, ag mechanics (restored tractor), $1,500

The total number of projects from each community included: Decatur with 39; Paradise, 26; Bridgeport, 16; Boyd, 15; Chico, 12; Alvord, 11; Slidell, 6; and Wise County 4-H, 4.

A complete list of Youth Fair results will be published in a special section March 18.

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Sheriff reports suicide attempt at county jail

A Boyd man remains hospitalized a week after authorities say he tried to kill himself in the Wise County Jail.

Leslie Wayne Burnham

Wise County Sheriff David Walker said Leslie Wayne Burnham, 48, was found in a holding cell with a phone cord wrapped around his neck just before 2 a.m. Feb. 28.

“Our jailers called 911, administered CPR and utilized our AEDs until EMS came and transported him to Wise Regional,” Walker said.

He added that his staff followed proper protocol in the time leading up to the apparent suicide attempt. The sheriff’s office has provided information about the incident to a Texas Ranger and will also give all information to the Texas Jail Commission.

The sheriff’s office received a call at 11:19 p.m. Friday, Feb. 27, from a woman who said she needed help because her uncle and father were in the back seat of her car intoxicated and fighting. Her 2-year-old son was also in the back seat.

Officers from the sheriff’s office, Boyd Police Department and the Texas Department of Public Safety all responded to the call and found them stopped at County Road 4676 and Farm Road 730 south of Boyd.

Leslie Burnham was placed into custody for public intoxication and terroristic threat after he threatened to kill two of the officers. His brother, Tony Lynn Burnham, 52, of Weatherford was also taken to jail for public intoxication and a parole violation for assault.

Tony Lynn Burnham

Walker said both were uncooperative with jailers who were attempting to book them into the jail. Jailers put Leslie Burnham on suicide watch and placed him in a padded cell until he calmed down. Walker said jailers then asked him the normal questions, including if he was suicidal. Leslie Burnham said he was not, Walker said.

After being placed in a holding cell, Leslie Burnham became irate and said he wanted to use the phone.

“He was being checked regularly,” Walker said. “At 1:56 a.m., jailers checked on him and found he had wrapped a phone cord around his neck.”

The phone, which features a short cord, is approved by the jail commission, he said.

The sheriff’s office is in regular contact with the medical staff monitoring his condition.

“It’s a sad deal,” Walker said. “We hope for his sake and his family’s sake he will survive.”

Tony Burnham was successfully booked in and remains in the jail with bond set at $2,000.

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Old Man Winter strikes again; Winter weather puts a freeze on the fair

Slushing through the snow Thursday morning, Tessa Luster knew her final Wise County Youth Fair would be one she wouldn’t forget.

“I’ve been showing since I was in third grade and don’t remember snow,” Luster said. “I remember a tornado.

“My toes are pretty frozen.”

Braving the Cold

BRAVING THE COLD – Tessa Luster (left) and Dustin Davis, both with Paradise FFA, try to stay warm while taking care of animals at the Wise County Youth Fair Thursday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Luster and other exhibitors worked through the snow, ice and cold Thursday morning the best they could to feed and prepare their pigs, lambs, goats and rabbits for the day’s show that was delayed by two hours.

Three-and-a-half inches of snow fell in Decatur Wednesday night, turning the Wise County Fairgrounds into a wintry canvas.

“It’s a surprise,” said Blaine Gibson, who was helping his sister Kaitlyn with her pigs. “The pigs were more agitated, and you can’t wash them.”

With the water turned off Thursday morning, Luster said she and others were adjusting using baby wipes on their animals.

Winter Walk

WINTER WALK – A Wise County youth leads their steer across the fairgrounds at the Youth Fair Thursday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Exhibitors were taking extra steps to keep their animals warm and safe in the freezing temperatures.

“They don’t like the cold,” Landon Sharp of Paradise said about the pigs. “You have to put down more shavings.”

Some of the parents of the exhibitors stayed at the Wise County Fairgrounds overnight Wednesday to tend to the animals and make sure they stayed warm.

J.D. Pierce of Bridgeport said they elected to stay in Decatur to make sure they didn’t have any issues on the roads Thursday morning.

“It wouldn’t be a stock show if we didn’t have weather like this,” Pierce joked.

Boyd senior Chelsea Arlington wasn’t laughing watching over her goats. Arlington, a standout on the Lady Yellowjackets’ softball team, voiced her displeasure with the winter weather that had canceled games and now disrupted the Youth Fair.

“It’s depressing,” Arlington said. “It’s tough, especially for the goats. As you can tell, they are freezing.”

By midmorning Thursday, the bright sun began melting the snow and warming spirits around the fairgrounds as the day’s show began and ribbons were awarded.

Only a few patches of snow and large puddles remained of the wintry mess by late afternoon. But for Luster and others, it’s another memory to take with them.

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Round 2 of winter mix hits county

Round 2 of winter mix hits county

Wednesday night snowfall broke records across North Texas and combined with freezing rain, sleet and high winds to coat roads, bridges and power lines.

Clearing a Path

CLEARING A PATH – Gary McBride clears a path Thursday morning in front of his business in downtown Decatur. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

According to the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, there were 36 emergency calls, starting just after 5 p.m. Wednesday as the sleet and freezing rain began to fall. These calls for service included minor and major accidents, none of which resulted in serious injuries, and stranded motorists.

According to National Weather Service Meteorologist Tom Bradshaw, Decatur received about 3-1/2 inches of snow, and there were unofficial reports of 3 to 4 inches elsewhere in Wise County.

While motorists dealt with ice on the roads, residents in Chico dealt with an extended power outage.

About 500 Oncor customers in Chico were without power from 7:30 to 10:30 p.m., according to Oncor Area Manager Sabrina Easley, after ice and high winds caused a tree to fall across a power line north of town on Texas 101.

She said the outage affected nearly the entire city of Chico, and some residents reported via Facebook that they were without power for four-and-a-half hours.

Easley said another 1,600 Oncor customers in Runaway Bay, Boonsville and south Bridgeport also experienced outages.

“The longest [outage] was 27 minutes, while the majority only saw a 10-minute outage,” Easley said. “Same ice and wind caused that one.”

The wintery weather prompted all Wise County schools, including Weatherford College, to cancel classes Thursday.

Many area public service entities also closed, including Wise Area Relief Mission (WARM), Wise Hope Crisis Center, Chico Public Library and Decatur Public Library. There was no trash pickup in the city of Decatur Thursday.

Decatur City Hall opened after a two-hour delay, but Wise County offices, the city of Bridgeport, the city of Rhome and its municipal courts and the Wise County Appraisal District were all closed Thursday.

Beautiful Scenery

BEAUTIFUL SCENERY – A barn blanketed in snow Thursday morning creates a serene winter landscape. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Frozen Field

FROZEN FIELD – The property surrounding the Decatur High School practice field more closely resembles a frozen tundra than the Wise County countryside. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Keeping Drivers Safe

KEEPING DRIVERS SAFE – A crew clears the streets surrounding Wise Regional Health System in Decatur Thursday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

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Hurdsman pleads guilty to burglary charges

A Paradise man has pleaded guilty to a string of home and vehicle burglaries last November.

Trevor Adam Hurdsman

Trevor Adam Hurdsman, 20, pleaded guilty to three felony charges in 271st District Court in Decatur Tuesday.

His guilty plea on the second degree felony charge of burglary of a habitation brought a sentence of six years in jail. According to court records, Hurdsman entered a home and stole a purse, wallet, laptop and iPad.

He also pleaded guilty to two state jail felony charges of burglary of a building in exchange for 18 months in jail, to run concurrent with his other sentence. Court records indicate he entered two different buildings and stole an archery bow, machete, cast iron cookware and .223 brass shell casings.

In exchange for pleading guilty on those three felony charges, prosecutors dismissed felony charges of theft of a firearm, criminal mischief and two more counts of burglary of a building.

Hurdsman also appeared in county court Tuesday and pleaded guilty to multiple misdemeanor charges of burglary of a vehicle. He was sentenced to one year in county jail with 145 days of credit. He has been in jail since his arrest Nov. 25 last year.

Investigators arrested Hurdsman following an investigation of a string of vehicle burglaries in the 400 block of Paradise Canyon Circle and in a rural area south of Decatur. At one point, Hurdsman was charged with 29 counts of theft related to the string of burglaries.

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More PBR tickets available

Tickets to the 2015 J.W. Hart PBR Challenge May 30 sold out within two days last weekend, but WC Challenger Charities is adding extra seating.

Those tickets will be available online 9 a.m. Monday at wcchallenger.org and at Wise Wireless in Decatur.

In addition to the regular bull riding, there will be two special events, the Ring of Honor Unfinished Business featuring J.W. Hart, Ross Coleman, Justin McBride, Mike White, Chris Shivers, Cody Custer, Michael Gaffney and Tater Porter, and a head-to-head matchup featuring the five active PBR world champions, Silvano Alves, Mike Lee, Renato Nunes, J.B. Mauney, and Guilherme Marchi.

Follow WC Challenger Charities on Facebook for more information.

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