Drought persists despite record rainfall

Drought persists despite record rainfall

Wise County received a record amount of rain in July, but it wasn’t enough to end the drought.

Weather watcher Doyle Green of Decatur recorded 8.08 inches of rain for the month. That easily broke the old record of 6.78 inches set in 1996 (based on records that date back to 1974).

The average amount of rainfall for July is 2.51 inches.

Welcome Rain

WELCOME RAIN – Yards and pastures are usually yellowed by heat and high temperatures this time of year, but the local countryside is remarkably green following record rainfall in July. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Most of July’s rainfall came in one day – July 17 – when a storm system dumped 6.65 inches of rain in Decatur, according to Green. Northern parts of the county recorded close to 10 inches of rain from that storm.

Even record rainfall was not enough to bring the year-to-date total up to the average amount for the first seven months of the year. For the year, Wise County has now received 20.95 inches of rain, still more than 2 inches below the average of 23.17 over the past 40 years.

The rainfall also did little to put a dent in the ongoing drought conditions for our area. The northern part of Wise County that received the heaviest amount of rain in July is in a “severe drought” designation while the rest of Wise County remains in an “extreme drought” designation, according to a U.S. Department of Agriculture report released Thursday.

Lake levels at Lake Bridgeport, which saw a slight rise after the July 17 rainfall, are now back close to pre-storm levels.

Temperatures stayed unseasonably cool for much of the month. We hit 100 degrees for a high on one date, July 14. The high temperature stayed below 90 degrees eight days during the month with highs under 80 for three of those dates.

The average high temperature in the month was 91.3. Oddly enough, that’s the exact same average high temperature as in July of 2013.

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Commissioners eye proposed budget, tax rates

Numbers are flying among county officials as they close in on a budget for fiscal year 2015.

County Judge Glenn Hughes and Auditor Ann McCuiston have been meeting with department heads for weeks, fine-tuning individual budgets, but Thursday was the first of several special meetings and workshops that are open to the public.

Hughes said the meeting this week was for informational purposes. He presented a proposed budget based on the current property tax rate of 37.89 cents per $100 valuation, and Tax Assessor-Collector Monte Shaw presented the 2014 property tax rates.

“Today I’d like to just lay this out as an informative meeting,” Hughes said.

He said he’d like commissioners to study the budget and be prepared to discuss it in more depth at workshops currently scheduled for Aug. 19-20.

He did hit the highlights of what he’s proposing for FY 2015.

They include:

  • a 3 percent cost-of-living raise for all employees, including elected officials;
  • no new positions;
  • moving tobacco settlement money received annually from the state to indigent care instead of putting it in the right-of-way fund;
  • slight increase in travel expenses for justices of the peace;
  • adjustment to the county judge’s salary;
  • $300,000 in cash reserves to balance the budget.

This draft of the budget is based on the current property tax rate, which means, if approved, homeowners would not pay more in taxes unless the value of their property increased.

Shaw said the effective tax rate is 36.13 cents per $100 valuation – a difference of almost 2 cents. If the effective tax rate were adopted, it would, with this year’s property values, raise the same amount of tax dollars as last year and would be a slight tax decrease for homeowners whose values remained the same.

But Hughes fears it wouldn’t raise enough money to balance the budget. Although overall property values are up 5.3 percent, a $400,000 increase in county insurance almost cancels out the additional tax revenue.

“We’ve stayed at the effective rate so long that it’s got us behind the eight ball,” Hughes said. “I don’t know how else to word that, but somewhere we have to get caught up. We have to get our reserves back up.”

Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White questioned the suggested employee raise and asked if it should be cut from the budget.

“If we’re crunching numbers, maybe our employees need to realize that they don’t get a raise this year and feel fortunate that they’re getting what they’re getting from us,” he said.

Hughes emphasized that the raise was nothing more than a cost-of-living increase, and it would help employees cover the additional insurance costs coming out of their paychecks. He said he understood White’s point-of-view, though.

The commissioner said he wasn’t against employees getting raises, but “if we’re crunching numbers, maybe that’s one we should crunch.”

Commissioners’ next regular meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, Aug. 11, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. Budget workshops are planned for 8:30 a.m. Tuesday, Aug. 19, and Wednesday, Aug. 20, at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office training room, 200 Rook Ramsey Dr., in Decatur.

——

Tax Assessor-Collector Monte Shaw also presented the property tax rates for Wise County’s college branch maintenance tax, which funds Weatherford College Wise County.

The current rate is 4.6 cents per $100 property valuation, and the effective rate is 4.4 cents. The college’s budget was also given to commissioners, but there was no discussion of either issue.

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TAPS plans rides for Medicaid patients

TAPS plans rides for Medicaid patients

Local Medicaid patients who need a ride to the doctor can now begin scheduling those rides through TAPS Access.

Reservations may be made for health care trips on Sept. 1 or later.

Roll Out

ROLL OUT – A new fleet of Ford Transit Connect passenger vans like the one pictured will provide transportation to local Medicaid recipients through TAPS Access. Submitted Photo

TAPS (Texoma Area Paratransit System) was awarded a Medicaid contract by the Texas Health and Human Services Commission earlier this year. TAPS created a whole new operating unit called TAPS Access to provide non-emergency medical transport services to an estimated 55,000 Medicaid recipients in a 16-county “super region” that includes Wise County along with Archer, Baylor, Clay, Collin, Cooke, Cottle, Fannin, Foard, Grayson, Hardeman, Jack, Montague, Wilbarger, Wichita and Young counties.

TAPS Access began scheduling appointments Friday, and transportation services will begin in one month.

TAPS has provided Medicaid transport in the past, but this is the first time the Sherman-based public transportation service has been directly awarded a Medicaid contract. In previous years, Medicaid contracts have been awarded to private transportation companies, which has led to complaints about poor service and possible Medicaid fraud.

Due to those complaints, Senate Bill 8 was passed in the last session of the Texas Legislature aimed at reducing Medicaid fraud. TAPS CEO Brad Underwood said he worked closely with legislators who were crafting the bill. The final bill included language that would make TAPS eligible to apply for the Medicaid contract.

Local Medicaid recipients, Children with Special Health Care Needs (CSHCN) program members or Transportation for Indigent Cancer Patients Program (TICP) members in need of a ride can now call the expanded TAPS call center at 1-877-633-8747 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday to schedule a ride. To check on your ride, make a change or to return home from your appointment, call the Ride Assist Line at 1-866-339-5290 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday or 7 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Saturdays.

For information on TAPS Access, visit tapsaccess.com.

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Judge suggests declining state stipend

County Judge Glenn Hughes thinks Wise County should no longer accept a state stipend for the county judge’s salary.

He told commissioners in a special meeting Thursday that it would be best for the entire salary to come from county coffers.

The state of Texas pays county judges $15,000 per year if they spend 40 percent of their time on judicial duties. Wise County has accepted this stipend for several years, but Hughes thinks it’s in the best interest of the office to no longer go that route.

“I’ve done some research on this since being in this position, and on other counties and what they’re doing, because I was wondering how you could spend 40 percent of your time taking care of judicial duties and take care of your county financial duties,” he said. “It puts the judge in a bad place to require him to do 40 percent of his time on judicial duties when we have two court-at-laws now taking care of a lot of that.”

Ellis County Judge Carol Bush is currently under investigation for filing the affidavit with the state to receive the money but not hearing any cases. According to the state comptroller’s office, Bush and Ellis County have repaid the money but a special prosecutor had been assigned to the case earlier this month to determine if a crime had been committed.

Hughes did not reference this case Thursday, but he indicated he wasn’t comfortable committing 40 percent of his time to those endeavors. He suggested on his behalf and that of future county judges that “rather than having a judge jeopardize his position, I would suggest putting that money on his salary and would have the judge and all four commissioners at the same salary level.”

The county will only have to pitch in $9,750 – not the full $15,000 – and the judge’s and commissioners’ proposed salaries will be the same at $77,250. This would be a slight pay cut for the county judge post. In fiscal year 2014, the county judge salary was $82,500, which included the county’s portion ($67,500), plus the $15,000 stipend.

The late County Judge Bill McElhaney received the stipend, but he often filled in for County Court-at-Law Judge Melton Cude, especially before the second county court was created. He also handled a significant number of mental commitments for the county court.

This issue, along with other budget concerns, will be discussed further at workshops Aug. 19-20. They are scheduled for 8:30 a.m. at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office training room, 200 Rook Ramsey Dr., in Decatur. The meetings are open to the public.

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Wise Regional hires architect for Fit-N-Wise facility

Wise Regional Health System has hired an architect to begin design and engineering work on the new free-standing Fit-N-Wise building to be constructed on the hospital campus off Farm Road 51 South – just north of the current facility.

The hospital’s recent refinancing of $87.6 million in bonds from its 2004 construction project allowed the borrowing of an additional $10 million for the project, while receiving a better interest rate and lowering its payments by about $100,000 a month.

That money, as well as savings, is available for the construction of the new facility which will house therapy, wellness, aquatics and sports medicine.

Marketing director Shannon Puphal said moving Fit-N-Wise is the first step toward being able to add on the hospital’s patient towers.

At Monday’s board meeting, directors approved a service contract with architect Mike Hale to provide architectural, civil engineering and structural engineering services for the project.

Hale recently met with the hospital’s building committee and provided a timeline overview on the project. He said the next few months will include additional site visits, interviews with pool consultants, development of site schematics and interviews with general contractors.

Construction should begin in January 2015.

OTHER BUSINESS

The board also:

  • heard from CEO Steve Summers that the sale of the property near the Dialysis Center in Decatur is expected to close in August after required re-plats are approved. Summers also said Wise Regional’s Dialysis Center in Saginaw had its initial survey by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), passed its inspection and has begun accepting Medicare patients.
  • heard from Summers about a collaborative effort with local pediatricians to dedicate an area on the second floor of the Decatur East campus specifically for pediatric patients. The new pediatric area will have a dedicated nursing station and pediatrics-trained nursing staff.
  • heard a financial report from CFO Jim Eaton, who noted the hospital system saw an overall increase in net position of $316,000 for June. That was after recording $2.8 million in bond issuance costs related to refinancing the 2004 bonds. The hospital system’s net revenues were $16.2 million in June, with volumes down in all major services except surgery, compared to the prior month. Outpatient surgery volume was up 13.2 percent.
  • heard from Chief Nursing Officer Sue Sewell that the retention rate for nurses is improving. Tracie Inglis, RN was appointed the Cardiovascular and Stroke Coordinator and Daniel Aranda, RCIS, was selected as the new Director of the Cardiac Cath Lab in Decatur.
  • heard a report from Sewell that Pre-Op Assessment has moved to a new suite on the second floor of the East campus Fit-N-Wise building and will include radiology and laboratory. The change is designed to allow patients to address all their pre-op needs at one location within the hospital.
  • approved proposed amendments to the bylaws, as well as a resolution designating and assigning places to board members.
  • after a closed session, approved several new appointments to the medical staff based on the recommendations of the Medical Executive Committee. They also accepted reappointments and first-year reviews.

The next regular meeting is Monday, Aug. 25, at 6 p.m. in the Administration board room at the hospital.

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County to upgrade IT system

Wise County’s information technology (IT) system needs a bigger pipe, according to Prince Computing Corp.

Commissioners Monday approved a contract with the company to update the county’s IT system and help them devise a five-year plan. The contract is capped at $35,000, which is less expensive than County Judge Glenn Hughes anticipated.

“According to what they’ve already determined, we have a little bitty pipe to send all of our technology through, and we need a bigger pipe,” he said with a laugh. “And that pretty well sums it up. People who know more about IT than I do were really impressed [with their July 16 presentation to department heads] and said it was something we should do.

“After the meeting, everybody felt great and seemed excited about some of the things we could do right away that weren’t earth-shattering,” Hughes said.

He indicated Wise County’s system doesn’t match up with those in other counties of similar size, but he hopes this action will get the county up to speed.

Another piece of equipment that needs updating is the elevator in the courthouse. Hughes told commissioners it doesn’t meet modern-day standards.

“We have to put in a double cylinder,” he said. “And it’s very expensive.”

He said Otis Elevator, the company that currently maintains the elevator, estimated the cost at $60,000.

“But that seems astronomical to me,” he said. He asked commissioners to approve seeking bids for the work.

In other business, commissioners:

  • presented a plaque to Craig Johnson honoring his wife, the late Terri Johnson, and her service to the county as justice of the peace in Precinct 2; and
  • accepted donations including $500 from the Alvord Cemetery to Public Works and $550.56 from Cans for Canines to the animal shelter.

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Faces of Reunion

Round and Round

ROUND AND ROUND – Children enjoy playing in the fun house at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion last week. The carnival attraction is the same one featured in the 1978 film “Grease.” Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Fun Ride

FUN RIDE – Darian Duty, 3, and Bryson Duty, 10, smile as they enjoy rides on the midway at Reunion. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Happy Camper

HAPPY CAMPER – Audri Miraglhea, 6, of Alvord smiles for the camera. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Reunion Royalty

REUNION ROYALTY – The 1971 Wise County Old Settlers Reunion Queen, Shrea Williams Chapman, shows off her tiara. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Lounging Around

LOUNGING AROUND – Children rest up, preparing for a night of fun at Reunion. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

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Swinging a big loop; Changes coming for Decatur’s cowboy kingdom

What do you get when you combine a unique and growing market – people who ride and rope – with a business owner who lies awake at night thinking up ways to meet their needs?

A little western store becomes a chain, then a mail-order catalog business. People have questions, so you build a training center. People have horses, so you sell trailers. Horses eat, so you add a feed store.

Eventually, you’ve got a world – NRS World.

New Era Rising

NEW ERA RISING – David Isham stands atop a pile of dirt as construction rises on the new NRS Ranch off U.S. 81/287 south of Decatur. FX5 of Decatur is doing the site work, and PVP Building Systems, another Decatur company, is putting up the steel for the huge facility, which should open next spring. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

David Isham’s business has grown from that little shop in Decatur into one of the nation’s largest retailers of all things western. The next phase is rising now, on a hilltop off U.S. 81/287 southeast of town.

Think Cowboy Cabela’s.

“I’ve always wanted to build a destination store,” Isham said. “It’s really a 25-year dream coming into being.”

NRS celebrated its 25th anniversary Feb. 1. By the time the next birthday rolls around, its 150 or so employees should be getting ready to move onto the new campus that will house a huge store, offices, a warehouse and fulfillment center along with a feed store and a hay barn.

It comes with a new entrance off 287 and plenty of parking for horse trailers.

The NRS empire is moving, not uptown, but out of town – onto the acreage where the NRS Training Center and NRS Trailers are already located.

“We’re going to bring people to an authentic, real-deal Texas ranch, where people come to rope or come to learn how to be a better horseman,” Isham said. “It’ll be a nice retail store for our customer, a more efficient mail-order warehouse for us and a new building for our staff.”

After breaking ground June 2, steel is now rising on the office and store. From that location, just 10 feet shy of being the highest point in Wise County, shoppers will be able to look out the back window down to the ranch.

Finally, Isham said, the home store will meet or exceed people’s expectations.

“When you looked at my catalog, visions of what the NRS Store might be didn’t match up with the reality,” he said. “It was still just the David’s Western Store in Decatur.”

That gap between expectation and reality widened when NRS began going to Las Vegas, renting a ballroom at the MGM Grand and setting up a 90,000-square-foot store for the two-week run of the National Finals Rodeo.

“Our customers who see us for the first time at Vegas, they come to Decatur and say, ‘Is this it? I thought it’d be a lot bigger …’”

By next spring, it will be.

Isham pointed out that the big outdoor retailers like Cabela’s and Bass Pro Shops create an illusion in their stores – indoor mountains, streams, stuffed game animals – to make shoppers forget they’re on the side of the interstate.

“We don’t have to create an illusion,” he said. “There’s going to be big glass windows at the back, looking down on that arena where some of the best ropers and roping horses in the world are working – it’s all real, and it’s right there.”

Architects Drawing

ARCHITECTS’ DRAWING – When the NRS Ranch is completed, it will look something like this, with a big western store, warehouse, office building, feed store and hay barn – and lots of parking for trucks and trailers. Drawing courtesy of Oxley Williams Tharp, Architects

START SMALL, DREAM BIG

Isham’s family moved to Decatur from an Arlington suburb when he was 10. He got into roping late in high school and continued to compete on the weekends while earning his accounting degree at Abilene Christian University. When he graduated, he went to work for a big accounting firm, but roping and the western lifestyle had become his passion.

So when Bryan’s Western Wear in Decatur went up for sale, he bought it. Before long, he was able to move it into the old Western Auto building at 1410 FM 51 South, which at 17,000 square feet was a big store.

“It’s been an awesome base of operations for the last 25 years,” he said.

Isham added stores in Weatherford and Granbury and began advertising in roping magazines, touting the toll-free number which is still 1-800-GO-ROPIN (467-6746).

He answered most of the calls himself – and quickly sensed that “David’s Western Store” wasn’t really getting the message across.

“I knew somebody in Colorado or California would see that ad, and they would just envision a store – no different from the mom-and-pop store in their town,” he said. “It didn’t conjure up a vision that said, ‘Man, that guy must have it.’”

So he came up with National Ropers Supply.

“It was one of those middle-of-the-night things,” he said.

To the 800 number, he added the catch phrase, “If it’s right for ropin’, it’s right here.” The phones blew up.

ANSWERING QUESTIONS

When folks called with an order, often they had a question, too.

“Do you have a catalog?”

Isham packed orders in boot boxes and sent them out the back door – but he also saved the names and addresses of his customers, building a database in a boot box. In the fall of 1994, NRS mailed its first catalog – a black-and-white affair with 40-something pages.

When the 20th NRS catalog comes out this fall, they will mail about 1.5 million.

Over the years, they expanded, creating a warehouse in the old Decatur Bowling Center located just behind the store. Isham said mail-order accounts for about 70 percent of the company’s business now.

Phone questions also led NRS into the training business, as callers were constantly picking Isham’s brain about roping.

He had no desire to add “coach” to his job description – but he did sense another opportunity.

“I knew if people enjoy roping more, they’re more successful at it, they’ll do it for a lifetime,” he noted. “If I can help them enjoy that, become better at it, eliminate the negative things that can happen – maybe that guy would be my customer for life.”

About 11 years ago, 260 acres off U.S. 81/287 southeast of town became available and Isham bought it. The first thing he did was build the NRS Training Center. Since then, they’ve hosted more than 4,500 students from all over the world.

The pavilion, which offers world-class training in barrel racing, horsemanship, roping and more, features a covered 150-by-300-foot arena, stalls, trailer hookups, a pro shop, a kitchen, custom bunkhouses – even a saddle shop and a restaurant.

ALL ABOUT RELATIONSHIPS

Despite impressive growth, big buildings and big numbers, Isham’s focus remains exactly where it’s been since day one – personal relationships, with customers as well as his employees.

Mildred White, who was managing Bryan’s when Isham bought it, is a good example. At 88, she still works at the store.

“Mildred has been selling western wear in Decatur for 38 years now,” Isham said. “She loves coming to work, and everybody in town knows her. She’s a sweetheart.”

Isham is excited about providing loyal employees with a better working environment.

“Right now we have them stuck in closets all over the place,” he said. “We’re building a really nice set of offices that ought to be just a great collaborative work environment.”

If employees are family, you’d have to say Isham’s customers are cousins.

NRS is the official catalog of the United States Team Roping Association, the National High School Rodeo Association, the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association and other groups that focus on rodeo or the western lifestyle.

They log a lot of miles maintaining those ties.

“Once you align yourselves with an association, you need to go meet that customer, get in front of them and create a relationship with them,” he said. “That kind of launched us into the road show piece of our business.”

Last week NRS had a rig in Rock Springs, Wyo., for the National High School Rodeo Finals, and they also set up stores for the National Junior High finals, the U.S. Team Roping Association finals and of course, the NFR.

“Roping has grown so much as a sport, and we’ve been right along with that,” Isham said. “It’s all about personal relationships and the kind of people you deal with.”

SHIFTING THE COWBOY CAPITAL TO WISE

Somewhere along that 25-year journey, Wise County became the mecca of roping and rodeo. It’s home to several world champions, Roy Cooper to Trevor Brazile to Brazilian bull riders like Silvano Alves and others.

Is it a coincidence that Decatur is also home to one of the nation’s top western retailers?

Probably not, Isham said.

“I know it’s luck, and timing, but I feel like we’ve played a role in that, too,” he said. “For 20 years we’ve been putting all this out – and Decatur, Texas, is on everything we ship.”

It’s an American success story.

And from the looks of what is rising out there on the hill, Decatur won’t be giving up the title of “Cowboy Capital” anytime soon.

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Local educators attend convention

Educators from across Wise County recently attended the 85th Annual Convention of the Texas State Organization of The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International in Lubbock.

Promoting Excellence in Education

PROMOTING EXCELLENCE IN EDUCATION – A local contingency recently attended the 85th Annual Convention of the Texas State Organization of The Delta Kappa Gamma Society International in Lubbock. Those making the trek to West Texas included (from left) Dianne Radcliffe of Runaway Bay; Lou Hitt, Cathy Chapman and Linda Carter, all of Decatur; Jane Burgess of Chico; Rachel Gasperson of Bridgeport; Carol Donovan of Decatur; Jacquetta Graves of Henrietta; Judy Smith of Alvord; and Virginia Dick of Bridgeport. Not pictured is Dee Ann Archer of Decatur. Submitted Photo

Those attending included Dianne Radcliffe of Runaway Bay; Lou Hitt, Cathy Chapman, Linda Carter, Carol Donovan and Dee Ann Archer, all of Decatur; Jane Burgess of Chico; Rachel Gasperson and Virginia Dick, both of Bridgeport; and Judy Smith of Alvord. Also attending with the Wise County group was Jacquetta Graves of Henrietta.

The local chapter, Gamma Epsilon, which included members from Clay, Montague and Wise counties will be led by President Linda Carter for the 2014-16 biennium. The chapter received the Five Star Newsletter Award and the Annie, given for an outstanding program, during the convention.

With 9,000 members in Texas, the honor society for women educators promotes excellence in education and personal and professional growth of women educators. The international organization, with more than 90,000 members in 18 countries, gives scholarships to members, both on the state and international levels, and provides other opportunities for leadership development to members.

The honor organization of key women educators was formed in Austin on May 11, 1929, at a time when it was illegal for women to belong to a women’s organization.

The group was formed by Dr. Annie Webb Blanton from a nucleus of 12 founders representing all levels of education, kindergarten through university, from various parts of Texas.

Amongst these 12 was Dr. Cora M. Martin of Chico.

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Roping wins: Wise trio bring home crowns at Cheyenne

At one of the world’s most prestigious rodeos, Wise County cowboys brought home three of the seven titles.

Trevor Brazile, Jarrett Blessing and K.C. Jones all won titles at the 118th Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo in Wyoming.

Tying Up a Win

TYING UP A WIN – Jarrett Blessing ropes a steer at the 118th Cheyenne Frontier Days Rodeo. Blessing won the steer roping at the prestigious rodeo. It was one of three titles won by Wise County cowboys. CFD photo by Dan Hubbell

“It was the perfect storm with three of the seven champions being from here,” Brazile said. “It’s amazing for such a small area. It was cool to watch. After Jarrett and I won, my wife, Shada, pointed out that we had a chance for the three titles. K.C. then came through and won steer wrestling.”

Brazile captured the tie-down roping title. The world’s most decorated cowboy put together an aggregate time of 37.1 to take first place and pocket $22,699.49 in winnings.

Brazile made runs of 12.6, 12.1 and 12.4.

“There’s so much tradition there. I remember watching my dad and all my heroes roping there,” Brazile said. “Anyone who grew up in rodeo, it’s one you want to win.”

It was Brazile’s first tie-down title in Cheyenne. The 11-time all-around world champion had previously claimed team roping, steer roping and all-round titles at the rodeo.

“It’s nice to have that come together when I needed an extra boost in tie-down,” he said.

The victory moved Brazile to fifth in the PRCA tie-down standings with $65,939.40 in winnings. Fellow Decatur cowboy Tuf Cooper leads the class with $106,396.07.

Brazile owns a commanding lead over Cooper in the all-around class with $178,941.96 in winnings in 2014.

“It’s been a good year. When you do three events, it’s tough juggling all of them,” Brazile said. “Now, I’ve got them all balanced.”

Blessing brought home Wise County’s first title of the weekend in Cheyenne. He tallied an aggregate of 58.9 to win the steer roping and rake in $14,933.

“It was my fourth time to make the short round but I’ve never came in that high with a chance to win it,” Blessing said. “I knew I had a decent shot if I drew a decent steer that let me rope him.

“It’s a rodeo you always dream of winning. I remember going there with my dad and roping under the bleachers. It’s like a dream to win. It’s a great opportunity.”

Blessing wrapped up the title with a run of 19.6 in the short-go. He opened the rodeo with a run of 16.3 and had a 23 in the second outing.

“I made a really good run in the first round and got by in the second,” Blessing said.

Jones closed the stellar weekend for the county, winning the steer wrestling with an aggregate of 30.2 and earning $13,204.75. He made runs of 8.6, 8.7 and 12.9 to win.

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One for the record books: Throwers from near, far pitch in to set world washers mark

One for the record books: Throwers from near, far pitch in to set world washers mark

Alastair Spriggs didn’t make it out of the first round of the “Put Yo Money Where Yo Mouth Is” washer tournament Tuesday at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion. But it didn’t spoil the night for the Canadian who made the longest trip among the more than 500 participants in the tournament.

Awash in Pitchers

AWASH IN PITCHERS – Two hundred forty-three teams turned out for the “Put Yo Money Where Yo Mouth Is” washer tournament Tuesday at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion to set the Guinness world record for largest event of its type. Messenger photo by Joe Duty

“I remember someone saying there was someone from Florida. That’s not even that far,” said Spriggs, who was in town from Ottawa visiting his aunt in Weatherford.

“The people were nice. They were all rooting for me.”

Spriggs joined his cousin, Ashley Musick, to form one of the 243 teams that battled for bragging rights and apparently helped set the world record for the largest washer tournament. Organizers were given a goal of 125 teams by Guinness to set the record.

“It’s unbelievable. We didn’t just beat the record; we drove a stake in it,” said organizer Carey Williams. “It was a community effort. Everyone pitched in.”

It may take as long as 15 weeks before the record is certified by Guinness, Williams advised.

“It could be 30 days or 90,” he said. “We’ll submit everything – all the video, names, addresses, pictures and the group photo of every player. All the stewards also had to sign reports.”

The players ranged in age from 84 to 6-year-old Austin Zuniga, who won his first-round match with his partner and mother, Gina.

“It was good. We won,” Austin said.

“He did great,” Mrs. Zuniga said. “He’s been practicing with the neighbors. We want to play his dad and brother.”

Winning just added to the fun for the Zunigas, who were glad to take part in the event.

“We’re in the Guinness Book of World Records without having to jump out of an airplane 5,800 times,” Mrs. Zuniga said.

Worth the Trip

WORTH THE TRIP – After a hurried trip from Florida, Adam Mutchler and Lee Molloy took part in the record-setting washer tournament Tuesday at the Wise County Old Settlers Reunion. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The push for the record brought out crafty washer veterans as well as rookies – like Lee Molloy and Adam Mutchler of Miami.

“It was our first time ever throwing washers,” Molloy said.

“It’s much harder than it looks,” Mutchler added.

“We heard about it and wanted to be part of a world record. I think we were part of two – this, and the longest game record.”

But theirs wasn’t the longest match of the first round. C.L. Gage and his partner outlasted their opponent in a game that went on for nearly an hour.

“That’s tough on an old guy,” Gage joked.

Chad Ward and his partner started the tournament 2-0 and thought they would be in the running for the title. Ward explained the proper technique for throwing washers.

“You’ve got to maintain a slight angle or it’ll bounce off the board,” he said.

As the night wore on, teams like Belly Up to the Board and Daddy Was Desperate fell by the wayside. In the wee hours of Wednesday morning, the Pumpkin Chunkers team of Matt Runkel and Caleb Woodlee was the last team standing.

They prevented Dylan Rottner and Kyle Parker from living up to their team name – 2014 Washer Tourney Champs. The young duo of Lawson and Layton Harris, or 99 Problems but the Pitch Ain’t One, took third.

But even those like Spriggs, who exited in the first round many hours earlier, felt the night wasn’t a washout.

They could take solace in being part of a world record.

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2 teens injured in wreck

2 teens injured in wreck

Two teenagers were injured when their vehicle flipped on Farm Road 2264, south of Decatur, Wednesday afternoon.

Administering Aid

ADMINISTERING AID – First responders prepare to move Justice Sampson, 18, from the overturned car in which she was riding to the ambulance. Sampson was trapped in the vehicle and suffered back and spinal injuries in the accident Wednesday afternoon. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Timothy Paul Dennis, 19, and his passenger, Justice Marie Sampson, 18, were traveling east on FM 2264, near Long Branch Road, at about 1:30 p.m. when he swerved to the right to avoid a rock in the road.

He then overcorrected and pulled the car to the left, causing it to flip and roll off the side of the road into a ditch.

Dennis suffered neck injuries, and Sampson suffered back and spinal injuries. Both were taken to Wise Regional Health System in Decatur.

Department of Public Safety Trooper Patrick Alonzo said that speed may have been a factor, but the driver’s overcorrection was the main cause of the wreck.

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Bike rally rides again

Cyclists from across North Texas will sweep through the roads of Wise County’s Lyndon B. Johnson National Grasslands Saturday, Aug. 2, as part of the Eighter From Decatur Bike Rally.

Biking for a Cause

BIKING FOR A CAUSE – Kelly Myers (left), assistant general manager of Wise Electric Cooperative, and Fabio LaBrada, founder of Raquel’s Wings for Life, gear up for next weekend’s Eighter From Decatur Bike Rally. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

The second annual event, sponsored by Wise Electric Cooperative and First Financial Bank, offers a course that winds through up to 55 miles of rolling hills between Decatur, Alvord, Forestburg and Greenwood.

Entry fees for the rally will benefit Raquel’s Wings for Life, a locally-based charity that flies cancer patients to a medical center of their choosing free of charge.

Fabio LaBrada, the charity’s founder and pilot, said last year’s ride helped several patients get the treatment they needed. This year’s event is poised to be even larger.

“Last year, it was way better than we thought,” LaBrada said. “This year, even more people are getting involved.”

LaBrada has been training to participate in the ride.

“I’m just warning you, the 25 miles is very deceiving,” he said. “I did it last Sunday. On the way there it was a piece of cake – on the way back, not so much.”

Kelly Myers, assistant general manager of Wise Electric, is a cyclist as well. Myers said he and other staff members, along with some at First National Bank, came together to plan the event after enjoying similar events elsewhere.

“We thought with us riding bikes that we ought to have something in the Decatur area,” he said.

Other events like the Springtown Bike Rally, the Weatherford Peach Pedal and the Graham Possum Pedal have inspired Decatur’s rally. Myers said planners incorporated the most positive aspects from each into the Eighter from Decatur event. That includes five rest stops, medals for finishers and a free meal for riders after they complete the route.

And the Decatur rally offers a more personal touch as well.

“We had homemade cookies last year at one stop so this year we’re doing homemade cookies at all the stops,” Myers said.

This year’s ride will also feature increased signage – including large signs warning motorists to pass cyclists with care as well as repetitive route marking for the riders. LaBrada said he hopes more awareness will benefit both the riders and passing motorists.

Planning the event is no small task, he noted.

“It’s big,” he said. “It even goes down to talking to the local farmers and saying ‘Keep your dogs away from the road.’”

It’s worth it, though, Myers said, for a good cause.

“Last year we were right around 200 people. If we get 400 this year, I’ll be really happy,” he said. “Actually, anything we get, I’ll be really excited because we’re already making money for this charity.

“I know it’s a lot of work, but it really does make you feel good when you can do something like that.”

To register early for the Eighter From Decatur Bike Rally, go to active.com or call 940-626-3006. On-site registration is 7 a.m., the day of the ride, which starts at 8.

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Man knocked unconscious in accident

A Chico man was injured in a two-vehicle accident at Texas 114 and Farm Road 51 shortly before 8:30 a.m. Thursday.

Jimmy Shelton, 54, suffered non-life threatening injuries and was transported by ambulance to John Peter Smith Hospital in Fort Worth.

Traffic Stopper

TRAFFIC STOPPER – Paradise firefighters and Wise County medics load Jimmy Shelton onto a stretcher after an accident on Texas 114 Thursday morning. Shelton was taken to John Peter Smith Hospital by ambulance. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“He was complaining of neck pain and had an extended period of unconsciousness,” said Department of Public Safety Trooper Zeb Siebeneck. “He became conscious and alert on the scene.”

According to Siebeneck, Shelton turned left from southbound FM 51 onto 114 in a 2000 Jeep Cherokee in front of a Direct TV Ford van driven by Kristopher Earley, 27, of Springtown. The van, which was westbound on 114, struck the SUV near the front wheel well on the left side.

Earley was uninjured in the wreck.

Siebeneck said a witness behind Earley said he was driving under the posted speed limit of 65 mph.

The trooper added that Shelton would be cited for failing to yield the right-of-way.

The crash shut down 114 in both directions for nearly an hour.

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From Facebook to jail book-in; Gibbon arrested for copper thefts

An Alvord man was arrested for copper theft this week after seeing his photo posted on social media.

John Edward Gibbon Jr.,

John Edward Gibbon Jr., 32, turned himself in to Decatur police Wednesday, according to Decatur Police Sgt. Gerald Wright.

“He’d heard about the video still posted on the Messenger’s website,” Wright said. “He looked at it and decided to turn himself in. He said, ‘Yes, that’s me.’”

One of the photos, which was posted on the Wise County Messenger’s Facebook page and published in the Saturday, July 19, issue of the paper, showed Gibbon walking through a parking lot at Wise Electric Co-op on Farm Road 730 in north Decatur. The business was burglarized twice, on July 11 and 14.

Wright said Gibbon confessed to both of those burglaries and a copper theft at nearby Perkins Construction, located on Old Decatur Road.

Overall, Gibbon is accused of stealing six complete rolls and four partial rolls of copper wire for a total value of $1,037.50.

“He said he took the copper to Fort Worth and had someone else sell it for him,” Wright said. He added that the reason Gibbon gave for stealing and selling the copper was that “he needed money.”

Wright said Gibbon told him he was not involved in other copper thefts around the county.

Wright worked with investigators at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office and said it’s possible other arrests could be made in connection with the case.

Gibbon has been charged with theft of material (copper) valued at less than $20,000 – a state jail felony. He posted $10,000 bond and has been released from jail.

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Overall values up 5.3 percent

The certified tax roll came out Friday, and overall values in Wise County are up 5.3 percent.

Wise Appraisal District releases values each year, giving cities, school districts and other tax-supported public entities a tax roll they can bill off as they finalize their budgets.

There were few big winners in Friday’s numbers, but no one saw any huge losses, either.

“It was pretty healthy overall,” Chief Appraiser Mickey Hand said. “With so much of the oilfield activity moving south, 5.3 percent for the county is a pretty good increase.”

Boyd ISD, with an overall increase of nearly 13 percent, was the healthiest school district. Boyd’s big gains came in minerals (up 24.4 percent) and industrial, utility and personal (IUP) property (up 13.5 percent).

The city of Boyd topped all Wise County cities, too, with a 5.18 percent overall increase in tax values. The big gains, again, were minerals and IUP.

“Those IUP increases came primarily in oilfield compression and pipelines coming in,” Hand said.

He noted Decatur and Bridgeport both had new processing plants that came online during the year, as Devon expanded a plant and Targa built one.

The losses, he noted, came mostly in the city of Chico as oilfield equipment was moved out of the county, and in the city of Rhome where some of the older mineral values had simply depleted.

“On the minerals, you’re not sure how much longer it’s going to continue, but there’s always going to be wells here,” Hand said.

New construction continued to gain, with $76,203,902 countywide compared to just over $71 million last year. Hand said housing, too, was “pretty decent for the most part.”

Some of the highlights from the chart:

  • Bridgeport ISD, up 8 percent overall;
  • Alvord ISD, up 6.3 percent overall;
  • City of Chico, down 6.7 percent overall despite a 191 percent gain in minerals;
  • Wise County overall up 5.3 percent;
  • new construction countywide at $76,203,902;
  • new construction $21,314,224 in Decatur ISD, $4,239,140 in the city of Decatur;
  • new construction $10,202,231 in Bridgeport ISD, $3,732,490 in the city of Bridgeport;
  • new construction in the city of New Fairview $5,923,980;
  • new construction in the city of Aurora $4,400,060;
  • new construction in the city of Boyd $3,891,190
  • new construction in Rhome and Runaway Bay just over $1 million;
  • Northwest ISD up 3.07 overall, with new construction at $18,538,398.
Salesd Tax Chart

REAL – Real Estate consisting of all land and improvements
BPP – Business Personal Property consists of all business inventory, furniture, fixtures, and equipment
MIN – Minerals consisting of all oil, gas, rock and sand values in operating wells and quarries
IUP – Industrial, utility and personal property consists of utilities, pipelines, industrial machinery and equipment
% Change – The percentage change from the certified values from 2013.

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Highway intersection temporarily closed for construction

The intersection of U.S. 81/287 and Business U.S. 287 on the south side of Decatur will be closed for approximately eight weeks, starting Tuesday.

The Texas Department of Transportation issued a press release that stated the intersection would be closed starting July 29 for reconstruction of the north tie-in of Business U.S. 287 to U.S. 81/287.

Northbound motorists on U.S. 81/287, traveling to Business U.S. 287, will detour to exit Farm Road 730 South to College Street. Motorists will turn right, traveling north on College and will turn right on Hale Street, traveling east to U.S. Business 287.

Motorists on Business U.S. 287 traveling to U.S. 81/287 will travel the same route but in the opposite direction to arrive at the highway.

Ultimately, this $12.1 million project will construct a diamond interchange that will provide a four-lane grade separation of U.S. 81/287 over U.S. Business 287 South. Two-lane service roads for local access will also extend from just north of U.S. Business 81 South to Farm Road 2264. Entrance/exit ramps on both the east and west sides of U.S. 81/287 will be constructed.

The service road will provide an extension of Farm Road 2264 northward to U.S. Business 287 South, which will operate as a two-way roadway. All other service roads will continue to operate as one-way.

The project is slated for completion in the fall of 2015.

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County looks at information system

Elected officials are taking a hard look at the county’s computer system.

County Judge Glenn Hughes told commissioners at their July 14 meeting that he’d been in talks with Prince Computing Corp. about reviewing the county’s information technology (IT) system.

“They’ll tell us what we need to get to the 21st century,” he said.

A Prince representative on July 16 gave a presentation to county department heads with the exception of commissioners. Since it wasn’t a public meeting, all commissioners couldn’t attend, but Precinct 4 Commissioner Gary Potts and Hughes were present.

They will likely give a report in Monday’s regular commissioners meeting.

Hughes told commissioners in the July 14 meeting that the cost would be “about $125 per hour,” but the company was not charging for the initial consultation and meetings.

“All I’m really doing today is letting you know that we’re considering this … it’s not a contract,” Hughes said.

The judge said Prince would audit the county’s entire system and help them devise a five-year plan for IT. He explained that he thought it would save money in the long run because equipment purchases would be made according to a plan and everything would be compatible.

“If we buy three computers and they’re not compatible with monitors or servers or anything else, it causes us to go buy five more,” he said. “I’m not saying anyone has done anything wrong.

“I’m just saying we need some help in telling us where we need to be.”

Precinct 3 Commissioner Harry Lamance said he thinks everyone agrees improvement is needed.

“Most department heads I’ve talked to feel this is mandatory,” Hughes said.

In Monday’s meeting, commissioners will hear a presentation by Extension agents Todd Vineyard and Chrissy Karrer on summer 4-H activities. Wise County 4-Hers who were awarded scholarships at Texas 4-H Roundup will also be recognized.

In other business, each commissioner will present their annual road reports.

The meeting is at 9 a.m. in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse in Decatur.

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Near-drowning makes parents water-safety advocates

When school let out for the summer two years ago, Melanie and Michael Tittor of Paradise and their family prepared themselves for a full slate of pool time and sunshine.

Melanie had enrolled her daughters – Emma and Lana, then ages 5 and 3 – in swim lessons, which were to begin a few weeks later.

The older daughter was not thrilled.

Water Safety

WATER SAFETY – After Lana Tittor (left) nearly drowned two years ago, her mother, Melanie (center) became an advocate for water safety, enrolling Lana and her sister, Emma (right), in swimming lessons and encouraging those she knows to become CPR certified. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“But you hear about people drowning,” Emma argued.

Her mother replied, “Sister, kids only drown when the parents aren’t paying attention.”

That very afternoon, the family learned that isn’t always the case.

SILENT SLIP

Melanie, a kindergarten teacher at Paradise Elementary School, and a group of teacher friends and their spouses gathered for a Memorial Day barbecue complete with swimming.

While in the pool, Lana always wore a flotation device that extends across her chest and around the arms. When it came time to eat, she had removed the cumbersome device and left it floating in the shallow end of the pool.

When it was time to swim again, Melanie sent her to retrieve the floatie.

Lana was walking across the shallow end of the pool when she stepped too far. She fell into water over her head and didn’t come back up.

“It wasn’t one of those wild scenes of seeing her struggle,” Melanie said. “She didn’t make a sound.”

Melanie recalled coming back to the porch and moments later realizing Lana hadn’t come back.

A group of junior high boys in the pool saw Lana wading in the shallow end and didn’t think much of it at first.

Then, one of those boys, Martin Crawford, spotted the youngster lying at the bottom of the pool. Melanie estimates Lana was underwater no more than five minutes. By the time Martin reached her, she was already unconscious.

He swam down and picked her up. By then, Michael and other adults realized what happened, and they ran to the edge of the pool.

Michael plucked his daughter out and immediately, a Paradise ISD school nurse (Tammy Pewitt) and Ben, Martin’s father, began performing CPR.

By the time medics arrived, Lana was conscious and talking. She was flown by helicopter ambulance to Cook Children’s Hospital in Fort Worth anyway.

“They didn’t know if she might’ve accidentally hit her head when she stepped off the step or how much water she had ingested,” Melanie said. “Because they did full-on chest compressions, she could’ve very well had a broken rib or punctured lung.”

Fortunately, she was fine. There was a little bit of water in her right lung so doctors kept Lana overnight so she could be monitored. But she was discharged less than 24 hours after she was brought in.

A follow-up visit to the pediatrician later in the week cleared her.

“Everything turned out OK,” Melanie said. “But it’s made me very conscious and diligent.”

These are traits she advocates and strives to spread.

ADVOCATING

Among her efforts is the desire to dispell the myth of drowning, a perception she once mistakenly held herself.

“It wasn’t one of those situations where we weren’t paying attention – we were all right there,” Melanie said. “I knew what she went to do. It wasn’t that I lost track of her or that she got back in without permission. She knows she has to have her floaties on.

“You think you’re paying attention, but it just happens so fast,” she continued. “It was minutes, literally minutes, that we were apart.”

Although she commends Martin and the other junior high boys for their quick reaction, she encourages others who find themselves in a similar situation to yell for help.

“None of the kids in the pool said anything. They just all started moving toward her,” Melanie recalled. “We’ve really tried to teach the kids if they even think someone’s struggling to yell to an adult. It’s better to be safe than sorry.”

In addition, she pushes the importance of conquering the fear.

Although the girls weren’t to begin their lessons until the end of June, they were bumped up and back in the pool with instructors within a week of the accident.

Emma, who originally was hesitant, did very well on her own. Lana and Melanie enrolled in the Mom and Me class.

“We were the oldest ones in that class, but that was OK,” Melanie recalled. “We just wanted to get her in and let her splash around to help her get over her fear of getting back in. It wasn’t until the end of that summer before she would let go or trust a floatie to keep her from going under. She wouldn’t get her head wet at all, and she definitely struggled with going under. Unfortunately, she remembered all of what happened.”

Now, Lana doesn’t need the flotation device unless she’s swimming with a large group of people or in a pool she’s not comfortable with.

“She is fearful in that she knows she can’t just bail off into the deep end without somebody right there, and she won’t go in by herself,” Melanie said. “But she’s not scared to get in the water … I’m very thankful she’s not traumatized.”

LIFESAVERS

Beyond defining circumstances that lead to drowning, calling for help and swim lessons, Melanie mostly pushes for CPR certifications.

Twelve adults were at the Memorial Day gathering. Six of them were CPR certified, including Melanie.

“Had I been put in a situation where I would’ve had to do CPR on my own kid, of course I could,” she said. “But I was very thankful that it wasn’t me because it was the most surreal moment. I’m so thankful they were there. I’m so glad they knew what to do. That helped saved her life.”

The fall after Lana’s accident, Melanie and the school nurses coordinated a training for Paradise ISD employees and the community, where more than 30 people became certified, including Lana’s dad.

Melanie anticipates the district will continue with the class this year, which previously cost around $20.

“It’s not much to pay to know what to do in a life-or-death situation,” she said. “Just take that precaution, and be proactive instead of reactive.”

Decatur Fire Marshal Deroy Bennett agrees. In 2007, his department established the Community Heart Savers, monthly CPR training programs.

His department offers the classes three times a month.

On the first Tuesday, and fourth Thursday, they offer a four-hour Heartsavers/AED certification class. Cost is $5 for those who live and work in Decatur or $25 for anyone else.

A class for healthcare providers and a Heartsaver/AED/First Aid class are typically offered on the third Saturday.

The healthcare providers class is for anyone with any type of medical certification (nurse’s aides, dental hygienists, etc.), while the latter training adds basic first aid techniques (dealing with lacerations, bug bites, bandaging, etc.)

Cost for the class, which is eight hours, is $25, which covers materials.

Bennett hopes the low prices will entice residents to enroll.

“Typically, the normal, average citizen will say, ‘Yes, I’d like to have that,’ but they’re not going to go out and pay $45 or $65 or $85 for that,” Bennett said. “However, they’ll do it for $5.”

Decatur firefighters who are certified by the American Heart Association teach the classes. Bennett said that when the program began, the department had four instructors. That number has grown to about a dozen.

Other courses, class dates and times are available. Certifications are valid for two years.

Classes range in size from seven or eight to large groups of more than 20, especially if a large group from a specific church or business registers together.

To register, call the fire department at 940-627-3199 or email heartsavers@decaturfd.com.

“The ultimate goal is to get more trained people in the public to help save people in these instances,” Bennett said. “It could be me. It makes me feel safer knowing there might be somebody out there that would be trained to save me or my family.

“I find great satisfaction in my job – and always have – knowing that if I could make someone in my community safer in any way, whether that’s teaching them CPR or saving their property or them in the event of a fire.”

“You just can’t be too careful,” Tittor said.

COMMUNITY HEART SAVERS

The Decatur Fire Department offers CPR trainings three times a month – the first Tuesday, third Saturday and fourth Thursday.

Classes include Friends and Family CPR, Heartsaver CPR, Heartsaver CPR/AED, Heartsaver/AED/First Aid and BLS for Healthcare Providers.

To register or for information, call Decatur FD at 940-627-3199 or email heartsavers@decaturfd.com.

TODDLER TRAGEDY

At the request of Kimberly Aaron, medical director of the emergency department at Cook Children’s Health Care system, the hospital system newsroom released a story Thursday following three drownings in one week.

The report contained several alarming statistics including:

  • Texas has the highest incidence of swimming pool- and spa-related childhood drownings in the United States. All three children previously mentioned died following pool-related incidents.
  • Drowning is the leading cause of unintentional deaths for children 1 to 4 years of age.
  • In many drowning situations, an adult was just a few feet away from the pool and didn’t realize anything was wrong because he or she didn’t hear any sounds of distress, such as splashing or yelling.

“It’s unusual for us to have three cases in one week … and we still have many weeks of summer left,” Dr. Aaron said in the article. ” … We realize that it could happen to anyone. It happens very, very quickly. We’re not being judgmental. We feel so strongly about this and knowing how it impacts us we wanted to reach out and raise awareness to the community.”

source: www.checkupnewsroom.com/3-toddlers-die

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Ross continues argument in appeals court

David Fielding, attorney for former Precinct 4 County Commissioner Terry Ross, filed a brief July 14 in a continued effort to appeal his removal from office.

Terry Ross

Terry Ross

The appellant brief, filed in the Second Court of Appeals in Fort Worth, summarizes Ross’ version of the facts and contends the summary judgment in his removal case was unwarranted.

District Judge Roger Towery issued the judgment, removing Ross from office March 19 to settle a civil suit filed by retired Texas Ranger Lane Akin of Decatur in June of 2012.

That suit was filed in the midst of an investigation that Ross had built a playhouse for his grandchildren in the county barn, using county money and employees on county time.

Ross was eventually charged with tampering with governmental records, theft of $500 to $1,500 by a public servant, and abuse of official capacity greater than $20 and less than $500. After multiple delays, he was scheduled Sept. 23, 2013, to go before a judge and jury, but instead accepted a plea deal.

Ross pled guilty to abuse of official capacity, a misdemeanor, and got $500 restitution and 180 days in jail, probated for one year. As part of the agreement, the two felony charges were dismissed.

Ross claims in the appellant brief that “at the time of the plea, (he) understood that he could be reinstated to his position with the county with full back pay.”

Fielding outlines in the brief that Ross’ removal should be reversed based on the following three arguments:

  • Ross’ conviction of a Class B misdemeanor does not permit his removal from office under the “immediate removal” statute.
  • The misdemeanor conviction did not involve official misconduct, and therefore Ross’ case was not subject to a summary judgment and removal.
  • Ross did not waive his right to a jury trial in the removal case just because he waived his right to a jury trial by pleading guilty to the criminal charge.

County Attorney James Stainton must file a response by Wednesday, Aug. 13. A three-judge panel will eventually rule on the appeal.

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