Woman convicted of attempted drug buy

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

Shirley Jean Johnson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saying Goodbye

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Full House

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

‘HE WAS LOOKING FOR SOMEONE’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Final Tribute

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

‘PEPPER WAS MY DOG’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wild science: Biologists collect data to preserve turkey populations

Wild science: Biologists collect data to preserve turkey populations

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

Looking for Results

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

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

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

Frantic flapping leads to a hurried flight and clean getaway.

Letting Loose

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

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

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

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

Banded

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

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

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

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

For the Record

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

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

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

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

Listening In

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

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

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

THE DATA

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

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

Data Collection

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PAYING FOR THE STUDY

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Turkey Faqs

ABOUT WILD TURKEYS

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

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

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

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

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City, school races begin to draw interest

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

ALVORD

School Board

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

BOYD

School Board

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

City Council

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

BRIDGEPORT

School Board

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

City Council

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

CHICO

City Council

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

School Board

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

DECATUR

City Council

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

School Board

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

NEWARK

City Council

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

NORTHWEST

School Board

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

RHOME

City Council

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

RUNAWAY BAY

City Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUBCOMMITTEE TO LEGISLATURE:
‘GIVE NEW RULES TIME’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Wreck on FM 51 sends 5 to hospital

Wreck on FM 51 sends 5 to hospital

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

Wreck Injures Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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K-9 officer’s service today

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Justice of the Peace receives award for truancy work

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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K-9 officer, suspect killed in shooting

K-9 officer, suspect killed in shooting

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

Unfortunately, it cost him his life.

Wise County Deputy K-9 Pepper

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

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

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

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

Alan Lance Alverson

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Counselors will be available for the officers and their families.

Heroes Honor

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Get on the Horse

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

DRIVEN TO SUCCEED

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The wristband reminds him of that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SUNDAY’S COMING

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“So that’s his vision.”

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

It might even be on a Sunday.

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Drug charge nets 20 years

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Moncrief brings new program to Wise

Moncrief Cancer Center in Fort Worth will roll into town with its cancer survivorship program in the coming months.

Dr. Keith Argenbright, director of the Moncrief center, told county commissioners Monday that the program will help patients not only heal, but also get back to work and “do what it is that they’re doing and be part of the vibrant community here.

“We’ve gotten good at detecting cancer and treating cancer, but one of the things we’re not good about is getting people back to where they were … and that is really what cancer survivorship is all about,” he said.

Some of the services offered through the program include exercise therapy, nutritional counseling, psychotherapy and genetic study.

“We’re excited to announce that we’ll be able to bring these services to Wise County through a mobile program,” he said, noting that it’s much like the mobile breast cancer screening program that Moncrief already operates locally.

Argenbright said the mobile cancer survivorship program will come to Wise County for the first time in March.

PROPERTY CONFUSION

On Monday, commissioners approved a quit-claim deed of a portion of lot 7 in Delta Ranch Estates at the request of Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns.

Burns said the property is on County Road 1271. This type of deed is a legal document giving property to the county. The property was purchased by Richard Pietila, and as part of the deal, the seller insisted part of the county road be included in the sale.

Burns told the Messenger that Pietila paid for that section of road because the deal was contingent on it being included, even though it never really belonged to the seller.

But since Pietila was being charged taxes on that portion of the property, he wanted to “give it back” to the county.

Commissioners attorney Thomas Aaberg had not seen the deed before the meeting and asked to quickly review it before it was approved. He asked why the land needed to be given back to the county when it never really belonged to the landowner anyway.

Burns said it was a paperwork issue.

“The deed was transferred to him, but it really wasn’t hers to sell,” he told the Messenger later in the week. “The legal description was there, but it had already been dedicated to the county years ago.

“It’s a screw-up in the title office,” he said.

Burns said he didn’t know if the seller had been paying property taxes on it or not.

According to the commissioner, Pietila bought the property two years ago.

“This is just paperwork to clarify that the county owns it,” he said. “It just says he no longer claims it. It’s a unique situation where we already own the road.”

He said he thinks the county has been maintaining the road since 1971.

OTHER BUSINESS

Special Projects Manager Glenn Hughes said the search for a systems administrator is going well, and three finalists were to each be interviewed a second time this week.

County Judge J.D. Clark introduced new Wise County Elections Administrator Sabra Srader. Her first day on the job was Jan. 20.

He also presented interim Elections Administrator Jim Parker with a plaque for his service to the county.

Commissioners also:

  • approved seeking bids for inmate pharmacy services;
  • approved seeking bids on pre-coat rock;
  • approved the final plat of Burks One Addition, lots 1-6, in Precinct 4;
  • accepted a $1,000 donation from Sweetwater Cemetery to the Public Works Department;
  • accepted multiple pieces of furniture donated by Devon Energy to Wise County Sheriff’s Office; and
  • approved selling a GMC four-door pickup, a pneumatic roller and a pup trailer from Precinct 2, a pneumatic roller and welder from Precinct 3 and a belly dump trailer from Precinct 4.

—–

Commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 10, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur.

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Heart of a Champion: Wise County Youth Fair adds special show

Heart of a Champion: Wise County Youth Fair adds special show

A new event has been added to the lineup at the Wise County Youth Fair this year.

A special event will be held Friday, March 6, to share the show ring experience with special needs children and adults.

From the Diamond to the Show Ring

FROM THE DIAMOND TO THE SHOW RING – The folks with Wise County Special Needs Baseball are working with 4-H and FFA representatives to plan a livestock show for special needs children and adults at this year’s Wise County Youth Fair. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Dubbed Heart of a Champion, the livestock show was the result of a brainstorming session between sisters – Shelby Bradshaw, Lyndi Luttrull and Lauryn Luttrull.

“We were on vacation on the way to Tampa, Fla.,” said Lauryn, “and we were talking about what we wanted to do in the future, our goals. Then we saw a special needs family … we talked in the past about doing something like this, so Mom made a Facebook post, and it kind of took off from there.

“We made a committee, and it blossomed like a flower.”

Shelby said last year they saw students with special needs showing at the San Antonio Livestock Show, but they were at a disadvantage because they couldn’t handle the animals alone.

“They have to have someone else with them, so we thought it would be cool to do something so they could have their own show,” she said.

The committee has been working closely with the families involved in Wise County Special Needs Baseball and anticipates reaching many people through that organization.

Although 4-H and FFA are open only to youth, the special needs baseball group encouraged the committee to open the show to all ages, just like its program.

On the day of the show, volunteers will arrive at 4 p.m. for training. Participants (youth and adult) will arrive at 4:30 and will be matched with two volunteers and their animal, either a pig, lamb, goat, rabbit or dog.

Lyndi said the participant will have time to get to know the animal and do things like brush it and prepare it for the show ring.

The participants will go into the show ring with their helpers, and the emcee, NBC news anchor Deborah Ferguson, will interact with the participants and facilitate activity in the ring.

Lyndi said as participants exit the ring, they will each receive a rosette and will have their photo taken in front of the Youth Fair backdrop. Photos will be printed on site and given to the participants as a keepsake.

After the show, a hot dog and hamburger supper will be served in the Women’s Building.

Most of the expenses associated with the show have already been covered, but volunteers are still needed. The girls said anyone can help, and it’s not necessary to have an animal project or even be in 4-H or FFA to lend a hand.

The sisters made presentations to the Decatur Lions Club and Decatur Womens’ Club looking for help.

“Even if they don’t want to be hands-on,” Lyndi said, “just sitting in the stands and clapping is more than enough.”

The girls have no idea what to expect, but Lyndi said she hopes to see some smiling faces.

“I hope they feel included in something, and they get to have experiences in something that they might not have otherwise had the opportunity to,” she said.

Shelby added that she wants the participants to have fun and relish the opportunity to connect with an animal.

The girls hope the event becomes an annual tradition and is possibly eventually tied to the sale.

“The flower has blossomed, and now we have to, like a dandelion, let the seeds spread,” Lauryn said.

The deadline for participants to register is Monday, Feb. 2. Volunteers must sign up by Monday, Feb. 23. To sign up, call the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Office at 940-627-3341 or email wise-tx@tamu.edu.

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Wise Regional switches partners; Demand for access to bank account not acceptable

Last October, Wise Regional Health System made a deal to buy three nursing facilities owned by Sava Health Systems.

The “win-win” arrangement, sought by Sava, allowed the Decatur-based hospital system to be the owner and reap the profits while Sava continued to lease and operate the facilities – which would qualify for a higher reimbursement rate from the state once they were owned by a public hospital.

In fact, over the last few months Wise Regional has acquired nine nursing facilities under similar arrangements, purchasing them, then leasing them back to the operators.

But Tuesday, the deal with Sava got scratched.

“Sava Health Care came in at the last minute and said they needed to have a security interest in the operating account of those three facilities,” Wise Regional Chief Executive Officer Steve Summers told his board Monday night. “Our bond counsel advised against giving them the right to do that. We would basically have to get approval from every one of our bondholders.”

At Monday’s meeting, Summers proposed an alternative to his board to allow Wise Regional to acquire five other nursing facilities from Cantex Health Care if the Sava deal got scrapped.

It did, and they did.

“We gave them [Sava] until about noon,” Summers said Tuesday afternoon. “The paperwork had to be filed this afternoon – and it was a lot of paperwork.”

Summers said he was surprised Sava stuck with the demand.

“It’s a significant amount of money they walked away from because of their bank,” he said.

The five Cantex nursing facilities Wise Regional will acquire instead are located in Gainesville, Denison, Allen, Richardson and Flower Mound. Summers said they will bring in about half as much revenue as the three Sava facilities would have.

With a little advance notice, he added, Wise Regional could have easily done better.

“If we’d known even a month earlier, we could have replaced these dollar-for-dollar,” he said. “Cantex had some other facilities we could have picked up.”

The board on Monday authorized Summers and Chief Financial Officer Todd Scroggins to take whatever action was necessary to complete the transaction with Cantex if Sava withdrew. By late afternoon, that had been done and the documents filed with the state.

In his monthly financial report, Scroggins said he had already “booked” more than $900,000 from the nursing facilities, although the cash had not yet been received.

Administrator Donna Stowers, who is overseeing the nine facilities, reported to the board that all of the management companies have been “very cooperative” as she works to integrate them into the Wise Regional system.

“We’re working on a plan for reporting nursing home information,” she said. “You’re bombarded with a lot of data, automatically.”

Stowers is looking at data from a variety of sources, while also making personal visits to each facility at least once a month – standing appointments as well as drop-in visits.

“It’s kind of been a challenge to get it all set up, but it’s exciting,” she said.

2014 ENDS ON STRONG NOTE

Scroggins told the board December was the biggest month in Wise Regional’s history, by several measures.

  • Gross patient charges were $54 million
  • The average inpatient census was 74 – compared to 62 at this time last year
  • There were 838 surgeries performed in December, “definitely a record.”

He said the Parkway surgery center continues to do well, netting about $275,000 for the month of December. The Bridgeport campus, in its last month as a full-service ER, lost about $279,000. It reopened as an urgent care center Jan. 2.

The hospital’s net position increased by $8.2 million during the month in spite of the higher expenses that come with the higher patient volume. Overall, the hospital has $49.9 million in cash reserves.

“On a consolidated basis, we ended the year with 104 days of cash [in reserve],” he said. “That’s reasonably respectable, although not where we budgeted. But the debt service days of coverage more than covers our bond covenants.”

NURSES DEALING WITH HIGH VOLUME

LeeAnn Cummings, Wise Regional’s Director of Nursing, told the board in spite of the 20 percent increase in volume in the hospital’s medical/surgical unit, the facility is still below the national average for turnover in nurses.

Wise Regional employs 321 RNs, 62 LVNS and 173 ancillary staff – a total of 556 nursing personnel including 46 at the Parkway campus.

Cummings said staff training and education remains a major focus, including training hospital-wide on dealing with Ebola. Orientation for new nurses has been bumped up from 1 to 2 days, and staff are also getting trained for the addition to the dialysis center, which will have the ability to do peritoneal dialysis sometime in 2015.

She noted that Wise Regional had 597 babies delivered during the year, along with 25,571 visits to the Decatur Emergency Room and 5,197 visits to the ER in Bridgeport. There were 3,444 hospital admissions that came from ER visits.

The hospital performed 8,244 surgeries in 2014 compared to 7,694 in 2013.

They treated 1,364 cardiac patients, losing 67 of those. That volume was up 17 to 18 percent.

OTHER BUSINESS

The board also:

  • voted to purchase a 3M Patient Coding System at a cost of $514,891 for software, hardware, installation and training;
  • accepted medical executive committee recommendations on new appointments;
  • heard about two upcoming events – an open house for the new Wise Regional Sleep Wellness Center on the West Campus Wednesday, Feb. 4 from 11:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. and the Wise Regional Health Foundation’s “Hearts for Hope” Gala Saturday, Feb. 14 at the Decatur Civic Center, benefiting the hospital’s Critical Care Unit;
  • noted that Wise Regional is currently undergoing four government audits, two of which have netted returns to the hospital and two that are ongoing with results anticipated in February;
  • approved the appointment of Marti Hines to the Wise Regional Health Foundation board of directors;
  • authorized Summers and Scroggins as signers on behalf of the Decatur Hospital Authority for both the FICA and ICSA accounts and
  • approved Scroggins as treasurer of Wise Regional Health System.

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Senate committee chairs bypass Estes

Last Wednesday, Jan. 21, was a notable day for Texas Sen. Craig Estes (R-Wichita Falls).

Estes, whose district includes Wise County, was the only Republican senator who did not vote for the “three-fifths” rule – a measure to reduce the number of senators needed to bring bills to a vote on the Senate floor.

The rule change is designed to prevent the Democratic minority from blocking consideration of bills, something they could do when a two-thirds majority was required.

Estes told the Wichita Falls Times Record News that he did not support the rule because he “was apprehensive about its potential effect on the representation of rural districts.” He did not vote against it, but abstained.

That same day, committee assignments were announced, and for the first time in several sessions, there were no chairmanships for Estes.

The Senate did cut the number of standing committees from 18 to 14, so there were fewer chairs to go around. But new Lt. Governor Dan Patrick opted to shake things up, moving several long-serving members off of committees they had chaired and giving them new assignments.

Estes, who had chaired the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security since 2009, no longer has a seat on that panel. It is now chaired by freshman Senator Charles Perry of Lubbock.

Estes also lost his seats on the Business and Commerce Committee and the Senate Finance Committee.

He did retain the vice-chairmanship of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and was named to committees on State Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Nominations.

“I’m excited about my new committee assignments for the 84th Legislative Session,” he said in a statement released last week. “It will be an honor to serve as the vice chair of the Natural Resources Committee and as a member of the Senate Committees on State Affairs, Health and Human Services, and Nominations.”

“I am confident that these committees will present me with a great opportunity to serve my constituents in rural Texas, and I am looking forward to another successful session.”

The Agriculture, Rural Affairs and Homeland Security committee focuses on illegal immigration and border security – two of the key issues Patrick campaigned on during his run for lieutenant governor.

Estes chaired a Joint Interim Committee to Study Water Desalination – an appointment made by House Speaker Joe Strauss. That panel conducted hearings throughout the state and will help the House address water matters in the current legislative session, which opened Jan. 20.

Estes, who was first elected to the Senate in 2001, represents District 30 which includes Archer, Clay, Cooke, Erath, Grayson, Jack, Montague, Palo Pinto, Parker, Wichita, Wise, Young and parts of Collin and Denton counties.

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Weatherford College Wise County library dedication to honor Eatons

The public is invited to a dedication reception for the Roy and Jeannine Eaton Library and Research Center at the Weatherford College Wise County campus Thursday, Jan. 29.

The come-and-go reception runs from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

College officials said the Eaton family has dedicated a great deal of time and resources to ensure the success of WC in Wise County.

“I have come to know the Eatons as true friends of K-12 and higher education in Wise County and beyond,” said Dr. Matt Joiner, associate dean for instructional services at WCWC. “Simply stated, Weatherford College’s presence in Wise County would not have been possible without the visionary leadership of folks like Roy in the late 1990s.”

Roy was a member of the steering committee that investigated the need for a branch campus in Wise County and supported construction of the WCWC facility. The Eatons have also donated more than $50,000 for scholarships.

Roy is a longtime member of the WC Foundation board of directors.

“Roy and Jeannine Eaton have been pillars of Wise County for decades,” said Dr. Kevin Eaton, WC president. “They worked tirelessly to get the branch campus initiative on the ballot and then supported the initiative financially with a large contribution.

“I am honored to know the Eatons and extremely proud to share our last name [although they are not related]. They truly embody the philosophy of leading by example.”

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Texas Historical Commission to meet on Meridian Highway Project

The Meridian Highway was conceived in the early to mid-1920s as an important north-south corridor through the middle of Texas – a primary route for commerce as well as military traffic.

And it went through Decatur.

The Texas Historical Commission (THC) is undertaking a two-year study to document the history of the early highway which later became State Highway 2 and ultimately included parts of present-day U.S. 81 and 82, U.S. 287, 387 and 377, and Interstate 35.

THC staff, along with representatives of the preservation planning firm Hardy-Heck-Moore, Inc. will be in Decatur noon to 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 3, for a public outreach meeting at the Decatur Visitors Center, 106 South Trinity St.

The purpose of the meeting is to get input from interested individuals and organizations – in particular those with visual items related to the Meridian Highway, for use in a public project.

Officials will introduce the project and involve community members through discussion, a question-and-answer session and displays of maps and historical Meridian images. Those with historic photos, postcards, maps and other Meridian-related items are encouraged to bring them to the meeting, to be scanned or photographed for inclusion in the project.

Hardy-Heck-Moore Inc., an Austin-based historic preservation planning and management firm, will produce a written history of the Texas section of the Meridian Highway, along with a survey of the Texas Meridian route that will include associated historic resources like auto repair garages, gas stations, diners, tourist camps, auto courts, motels, road markers, paving and traffic signs.

The effort is funded by the Texas Legislature and the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) through the Transportation Enhancement Program. For information, call the THC’s History Programs Division at 512-463-5853 or visit www.thc.state.tx.us.

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Filing begins for May election

The filing period for the May 9 city council and school board elections opens today and runs through Friday, Feb. 27. The places on this year’s ballot and the people currently in those positions are below.

ALVORD CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – Roy King
Place 1 – Gaylynn Wheelis
Place 2 – Clint Mercer

ALVORD SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – Kevin Wood
Place 2 – John Schedcik

BOYD CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – Rodney Scroggins
Place 2 – Tim Hammonds
Place 3 – Vince Estel
Place 4 – Mark Culpepper

BOYD SCHOOL BOARD

Place 4 – Bill Childress
Place 5 – Trae Luttrell

BRIDGEPORT CITY COUNCIL

Place 3 – Jimmy Myers
Place 4 – Bobby Brazier
Place 5 – Billy Fred Walker

BRIDGEPORT SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – Tom Talley
Place 2 – Charles Mauldin
Place 3 – Lee Snodgrass

CHICO CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – The mayor seat is open after J.D. Clark was elected county judge last November.
Two at-large seats – Fletta Barrett and Gary Fatheree

CHICO SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – James “Pancho” Redwine
Place 2 – Mark Tate
Place 4 – The election is to fill the one-year unexpired term previously held by Donald Joe Clark. Clark’s wife, Lori Clark, was appointed to the seat last year following his death.

DECATUR CITY COUNCIL

Place 2 – Susan Cocanougher
Place 4 – Jason Wren
Place 6 (at-large) – Randy Bowker

DECATUR SCHOOL BOARD

Place 5 – Diana Mosley
Place 6 – Kevin Haney
Place 7 – Marsha Hafer

NEWARK CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – Gary Van Wagoner
Place 4 – Mark Wondolowski
Place 5 – Dan Sessler
Place 2 – Vacant

NORTHWEST SCHOOL BOARD

Place 1 – Josh Wright
Place 2 – Mark Schluter

RHOME CITY COUNCIL

Mayor – Vacant, for partial term ending May 2016
Three at-large seats – Ronnie Moore, David Wilson and Charles Pennington

RUNAWAY BAY CITY COUNCIL

Three at-large seats – Barry White, Dan Ticer and Jerry St. John

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Tax deadline looming

Mickey Hand, chief appraiser of the Wise County Appraisal District, is issuing a reminder to all property owners.

“Anyone who has not, as yet, paid their 2014 property taxes must do so by Monday, Feb. 2, to avoid having late penalties and interest charges added to their tax bills,” he said.

The deadline this year is postponed to Feb. 2 due to the fact that Feb. 1 falls on a weekend. If not paid by Feb. 2, an additional 7 percent penalty and interest charge will be added to the tax bill for the month of February.

Penalty charges continue to increase monthly to a maximum of 12 percent. Interest charges continue increasing 1 percent every month, until the delinquent tax bill is paid in full. All outstanding delinquent accounts will ultimately be turned over to a law firm for legal action, which will add another 20 percent (minimum) to the tax bill for attorney’s fees and court costs.

As a last resort, the delinquent property could be sold at public auction.

The appraisal district office, 400 East Business 380 in Decatur, is open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Taxpayers are urged to come by before Feb. 2. Lines are expected to be long on deadline day with waits up to 30 or 45 minutes.

Payments may also be made with a credit card on the appraisal district’s website at www.isouthwestdata.com. Checks or money orders should be mailed to 400 East Business 380 Decatur, TX 76234. Mail-in payments must be postmarked, by the United States Postal Service, no later than Tuesday, Feb. 2, to avoid late charges.

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County approves resolution to protect water

Wise County commissioners approved a resolution Monday supporting legislation they believe would better protect local water.

The legislation, if passed, would allow the Wise County Water Control Improvement District No. 1 to call an election in the portions of the county not already in the district, to determine if voters wish to be annexed into it.

WCID currently serves the west side of Wise County.

“Everything west of 287 or the Burlington Northern Railroad track drains into Tarrant County water district, and the eastern side drains into Grapevine Lake and that area,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns said. “That side of the county is not under the control of and has no representation for landowners out there – other than commissioners court.

“It asks that an election be called to allow those citizens to be in the district that’s already on the west side and have officers on that board and have a voice in their watershed, if they choose to,” he said.

County Judge J.D. Clark said under the Texas Water Code, 50 landowners could petition for the annexation, but he doesn’t think that’s fair.

“We think that’s just fundamentally wrong,” he said. “The major landowners shouldn’t just get to decide.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White said it would actually be a protective act for the people on the east side.

“I feel like the amount of tax is well worth the protection,” he said. “All this resolution is saying is that we want it on the ballot.”

Burns said they attempted to pass this legislation last year, but it failed due to an oversight on his part.

“We got it through the House, and to the committee in the Senate and it was about to go on the floor for a vote,” he said. “But I had failed to carve out the city of Decatur, which is already in a district … those folks would have been double-taxed.

“It was just a failure on my personal part,” he said. “I didn’t research it well enough.”

Precinct 4 Commissioner Gaylord Kennedy spoke up and said the point was that it’s been in the works for several years, and this was an opportunity to push it forward again.

The resolution was unanimously approved.

OTHER RESOLUTIONS

Commissioners also approved a resolution opposing the removal of the county’s authority to regulate fireworks.

It states in part that “due to continued drought and the concern for public safety, such regulations are necessary to protect life and property.”

Other resolutions approved include one against the creation of a regional indigent health care system because it’s an unfunded mandate, requiring property tax increases in those counties, and it would not be efficient or responsive to local taxpayers.

They also approved a resolution in opposition to unfunded mandates.

Clark said the idea behind the resolution is that it’s easy for a state legislator to develop an idea but have no way to pay for it, expecting counties to foot the bill.

“Basically, if it’s a great idea, then you need to come up with a mechanism to have it funded as well, rather than putting it in the county’s lap,” he said.

Wise County Democratic Party Chair Tracy Smith spoke during the community forum at the beginning of the meeting in support of the resolution.

“Unfunded mandates are not a good thing for Wise County or any county at all,” she said. “I agree with this … unfunded mandates such as the elimination of property tax and replacing it with consumption tax is an unfunded mandate, and when we do this, we eliminate the ability to keep issues local.”

Lena Wells also spoke up and said she agreed with Smith.

Read more from Monday’s commissioners meeting in the weekend Messenger.

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