County bumps up cap for consultants

Computer consultants are costing the county a pretty penny.

Wise County commissioners on Monday approved amending a contract with Prince Computing Corp. to cap expenditures with the company at $45,000.

When the firm was hired in August, commissioners approved spending up to $35,000, but as of Jan. 5, the county had already spent $39,500 with the company.

Special Projects Manager Glenn Hughes said Prince has ended up doing more extensive work than originally planned.

“When we hired Prince, it was for an audit to see where we were at and maybe share some quick fixes for our system,” he said. “But as they’ve gone along, they’ve come across some problems that weren’t in the scope of what they were originally going to do.”

He said the consultants also spent a lot of time working at the sheriff’s office when its server was hit with the CryptoWall virus in December.

“They’ve done a lot of things that weren’t in the original scope of things they were going to do, but it was at our request,” he said.

The contract with Prince runs through Jan. 31, and he said they would be used on an “as needed basis” after that.

Hughes also told commissioners that the county had received several good applicants for the systems administrator job, and he hoped to have someone hired by the first week of February.

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Hothouse indicted for fatal wreck

A Chico man involved in a fatal accident last June has been indicted by the Wise County grand jury.

Johnny Lee Hothouse, 49, was indicted Dec. 18 for criminal negligent homicide, a state jail felony.

Hothouse was driving a rock hauler June 4, 2014, when he pulled out in front of a car driven by Maria Ruiz-Quezada, 52, of Chico on Texas 101 just south of Chico. Investigators said Ruiz-Quezada took evasive action to avoid a collision but lost control of the vehicle and spun into the southbound lanes where she was hit by another 18-wheeler. She died at the scene.

The indictment states that Hothouse was negligent when he failed to yield the right of way to Ruiz-Quezada.

The grand jury also indicted 36 other people on the following charges:

Jimmy James Baird, theft of property $1,500-$20,000 (one count); forgery financial instrument (one count)

Brenda Ann Hudgins, theft of property $1,500-$20,000 (one count); forgery financial instrument (one count)

Kenneth Charles Brown, theft of property $20,000-$100,000 (one count); theft of material (aluminum) less than $20,000

Heather Ann Skidmore, theft of property $20,000-$100,000

Michael Paul Burton, credit card or debit card abuse

Steve Melendez Carrizales, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Carter Pierce Haynie, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Christopher John Hernandez, forgery financial instrument

Tim T. Hicks, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Channen Michele Wallace, burglary of a habitation

Randall Craig Hillin, burglary of a habitation

Allison Marie Journey, credit card or debit card abuse

Joshua Rey Lopez, tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair

Miguel Angel Parra, criminal trespass

Rian Rogers, credit card or debit card abuse

Richard Melendez Ramirez, driving while intoxicated third or more

Juan Jose Segovia, theft of property $20,000-$100,000

Mitchell Clay Coleman, possession of marijuana 5-50 pounds

Billy Joe Davis, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 4-200 grams

Bryson Scott Shaw, intoxication assault with vehicle causing serious bodily injury (case has since been dismissed)

Francisco Galaviz, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Christopher Lee Shipley, unauthorized use of a vehicle

Dusty William Jobe, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram (one count); unauthorized use of a vehicle

Sterling Chance Valliant, theft of property $1,500-$20,000

Osvaldo Razcon Verdugo, driving while intoxicated with a child under 15 years old

Triniti Falon Lee, prohibited substance/item in a correctional facility

Mark Allen McGoveran, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

Johnny Leon Moore III, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, and arson intend to damage habitat/place of worship

Jerry Dean Kulow, misappropriated trust fund greater than or equal to $500 defraud (one count); theft of property $20,000-$100,000 (one count)

Vincent Paul Martinez, indecency with a child sexual contact

William Edward Barber, unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon

Jeffrey Ray Evans, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, less than 1 gram

James Nathan Bass-Roberts, possession of a controlled substance – tetrahydrocannabinal, less than 1 gram

Dan Kenneth Brown Jr., possession of marijuana 4 ounces-5 pounds

Steven Wayne Braham, possession of a controlled substance – methamphetamine, 1-4 grams

Brandon Alexander Evans, possession of marijuana 5-50 pounds

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County ditches bad debt

Wise County commissioners decided Monday to write off $1.2 million in bad debt for Emergency Medical Services.

EMS Administrator Charles Dillard said the total reflects unpaid bills from 2009 to 2012.

He said these are accounts on which there has been no activity or payment, despite being sent to collections, and most live outside Wise County.

“We still have some ’13s and ’14s that are still active, and we’re working on those, going to collections and things like that to see what we can get,” he said.

The amount being written off for each year is as follows:

  • 2009 – $47,245.73
  • 2010 – $415,668.21
  • 2011 – $332,269.61
  • 2012 – $415,835.15

County Auditor Ann McCuiston said if any future payments are received on these debts, the county will accept the money. This action simply “cleans up the books.”

She said EMS debt was last written off four or five years ago.

PICKUP BIDS

Commissioners rejected for the second time bids for crew cab and extended cab pickups at the urging of Precinct 2 Commissioner Kevin Burns.

“I’ve been informed we can get a cheaper price and some more local bids if we change the specs to say just a ‘work truck package’ or a white truck with black interior,” he said. “I’d like to reject these bids and go back out for bid on the crew cab.”

County Judge J.D. Clark also suggested not being specific about the interior color. He explained that the previous bid request with specifications about interior color, remote start and carpet included pieces from two different types of packages, making it difficult for dealers to submit a competitive bid.

Commissioners agreed to remove remote start from the bid request but wanted to keep carpet as an option.

In other business, commissioners:

  • ratified advanced funding agreements with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) for bridge repairs on County Roads 1590 and 2327. The agreement outlines the breakdown of federal, state and local funding for the projects.
  • approved the proposed TxDOT federal railroad signal project upgrade at County Road 3250 and Texas 114. County engineer Chad Davis said repair and maintenance work will be done to upgrade the crossing and commissioners’ approval is their guarantee to maintain the county road in that crossing right-of-way.
  • reappointed Dr. Jon Walker to a two-year term as Wise County health authority.
  • accepted six district clerk deputations.
  • accepted 12 county clerk deputations.
  • accepted 16 nominations and appointments to the Wise County Historical Commission.
  • approved seeking depository bids.

—–

County offices will be closed Monday, Jan. 19, for Martin Luther King Day. The next regular commissioners meeting is 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 26, in the third-floor conference room of the Wise County Courthouse.

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Historical Society exceeds donation mark

The Wise County Historical Society is one step closer to properly conditioning air in the Wise County Heritage Museum after raising more than half of their share of the cost of renovations this week.

The Historical Society brought in $28,285 in donations to go towards new heating and air systems in the museum – almost $6,000 more than their original goal of $22,500.

“It’s just great generosity,” Historical Society President Kerry Clower said.

Dallas Baptist University agreed in October to match the Historical Society’s donations up to $22,500. Clower said DBU’s check for their portion came in the mail Tuesday.

“So we’ve already got the money we need,” Clower said. “The excess is going to go to a fire suppression system after we get the electrical system put in.”

In addition to making the museum more comfortable for visitors and volunteers, the new heating and air systems will help preserve older artifacts in the museum that need climate-controlled spaces, like books and clothing.

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North Central Texas College recognizes top students

North Central Texas College in Gainesville recently announced students recognized for outstanding academic achievement during the fall 2014 semester.

Students named to the NCTC president’s honor list are those who achieved a perfect 4.0 grade point average while enrolled in at least 12 semester credit hours.

The dean’s honor list includes those students earning a GPA of 3.5 to 3.99 while taking 12 or more hours.

Five Wise County students were named to the president’s honor list. They include Decie Witt Worthington of Alvord, Yancey Parish Dunning of Boyd, and Jessica Lynn Bowen, Crystal Marie Delgado and Anne M. Wells of Decatur.

Local students making the dean’s honor list include Cassidy Sierra Hardin of Boyd, Trent Dylan Schuett and Joshua Smith of Bridgeport, Stephanie M. Miller of Newark and Renia Ann Mack of Paradise.

Also making the dean’s list were Christopher P. Carter, Ethan Ryan Fennewald, Ashton Scott Hacker, Nicolasa Verdugo and Erica Woods, all of Decatur.

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Weatherford College releases fall 2014 dean’s list

More than 600 Weatherford College students were named to the dean’s list for the fall 2014 semester, including 97 Wise County residents.

The list includes 10 students from Alvord, one from Aurora, 10 from Boyd, 19 from Bridgeport, eight from Chico, 33 from Decatur, one each from Lake Bridgeport and Newark, eight from Paradise and six from Rhome.

To be eligible for the dean’s list, a student must be enrolled in 12 or more semester hours, have no grade lower than a C and meet the minimum grade-point average. The GPA system is based on a one-to-four rating.

Wise County students on the honor roll, by community, are:

Alvord: Tara Geer, Leresa Greenwood, Shelbi Harmon, Kirstie Caruthers, Keri Malone, Jeanette Morales, Christina Overton, Allison Swiney, Megan Wentworth and Kelly Zalopany

Aurora: Victor Ramirez

Boyd: Andrea Fagan, Kaylee Ford, Derek Martin, Abram Moreno, John Mosley, Sequoia Smith, Anthony Spinelli, Christina Civis, Jessica Stone and Valerie Campbell

Bridgeport: Ana Caldera, Lacey Erwin, Wesley Hughes, Tina Jennings, John Monk, Jayme Rivera, Garrett Wagner, Lindsey Walker, Martha Sanders, Dillion Waldrep, Tracy Hale, Grasiela Henrique Ortiz, Fernanda Parra, Joshua Winebrinner, Valeria Reyna, Sharlyn Fagan, Jesus Huerta-Gutierrez, Melissa Monk and Mathew Morales

Chico: Damian Delgado, Dee McHenry, James Redwine, Andrea Younger, Tracie Davis, Tiffany Vislosky, Karla DeAmicis and Alyssa Bowyer

Decatur: Amber Askey, Rodrigo Carillo, Selena Galindo, Sarah Gibbs, Charles Greever, Dona Hardin, Jeffrey Keller, Netosha Laverty, Kristina Marion, Brittan Mitchell, Brooke Pelton, Austin Poole, Kelsey Smith, Shelby Smith, Omar Torres, Jessica Sanchez, Venancio Rodriguez, Ethan Stallard, Brandon Pelton, Nathan Mitchell, Efrain Ruiz, Alyssa Leake, Senecca Smith, Sandra Garn, Isaac Chavez, Austin Stallard, Mercedes Moreno, Amanda Byrum, Cynthia Carillo, Erin Hamm, Robbie Watson, Elisabet Godoy and Maria Martinez

Lake Bridgeport: Coulter Galvan

Newark: Samuel West

Paradise: Brandy Baker, Lorrie Barrow-McLemore, Braden Broussard, Carol McCutchen, Amber Wood, Erika Wreay, Grady Ivie and Derek Marshall

Rhome: Tara Dean, Kristina Lake, Breena Mitchell, Andrea Cheek, Jonathan Davis and Megan Boyd

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Driving Force: Deputy uses racing to bond with speedsters

Driving Force: Deputy uses racing to bond with speedsters

Wise County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Fitzgerald knows how to go fast.

When he’s not chasing down lawbreakers, the veteran officer builds and pilots his own cars as part of Beat The Heat Inc. – a nonprofit organization created to foster relationships between law enforcement officers and the community they serve, through drag racing.

For Fitzgerald, it’s the perfect marriage of a lifelong interest and a cause he strongly believes in.

Hot Rod

HOT ROD – Wise County Sheriff’s Deputy Gary Fitzgerald’s modified police cruiser can cover a quarter mile drag strip in roughly 11 seconds. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I’ve raced cars since I was 16,” he said. “Before I started working with law enforcement, I was a diesel mechanic. I’ve always been interested in youth programs, so I joined Beat The Heat when I had the means to help out.”

Fitzgerald said several local raceways have partnered with the program to offer free admission for high school students on certain nights, hoping to pique the interest of some who might otherwise be racing illegally on the streets.

“In the Dallas/Fort Worth area, street racing is a huge problem,” he said, “so a lot of us focus on that, with the intent that if we can get people interested in the racing program that will, in turn, keep them off drugs and away from criminal activity.”

Racing is open to everyone, Fitzgerald said, and the bracket style of competition ensures a fair fight for all types of cars.

“The great thing about bracket racing is that I can take my fast car and race against something like a completely stock Honda Civic,” he said. “Let’s say that Civic is estimated to be five seconds slower than me – they’re going to start that many seconds ahead of me. It keeps it interesting.”

Go Fast Be Safe

GO FAST, BE SAFE – Fitzgerald has spent countless hours and his own money building a roll cage for the car he uses as a teaching tool in lessons on safety. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

By using his cars to build an audience, Fitzgerald said he has an opportunity to teach important lessons.

While competing at the Beat The Heat World Finals event in 2010, Fitzgerald wrecked.

“This just goes to show that even on a closed course with a lot of safety features, accidents can happen,” he said.

The crippled car, a 1986 Ford Mustang, now serves as a constant reminder of the inherent dangers of racing, and the importance of keeping it off the streets. Fitzgerald’s cars are built with a cage to protect the driver in the event of a crash – a feature absent in most street vehicles.

The Mustang and the remainder of Fitzgerald’s racing fleet, the culmination of his work for the organization, are stored in his personal garage.

“We’re not funded by the sheriff’s department,” he said. “A lot of [other racers] have sponsors. I don’t have those, so I cover the costs and do most of the work myself.”

Fitzgerald’s wife, Alida, said she began racing as part of a recent push to get more women involved in Beat the Heat events – a trend echoed in professional drag racing.

“There are more and more female junior dragsters now,” she said. “We want to follow along with that and show girls who may be hanging out with a boyfriend who street races, or who are involved themselves, that they can do so safely on the track.”

Alida said she and her husband have been able to interact with thousands of kids across North Texas through the program. They hope they’ve been able to convey a simple message.

“You hear about these parents who tell their kids, ‘I’ll take you to the police, and they’ll put you in jail if you don’t behave.’ That’s not what officers want to portray. This program gives officers a way to portray themselves as what they really are – real people.”

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Sex offender sues Hightower, county

A former sergeant at the Wise County Sheriff’s Office, under investigation for taking nude photos of sex offenders, has been named as a defendant in a lawsuit filed by an alleged victim.

Wise County is also a defendant in the lawsuit, filed by an alleged victim who is listed as “John Doe” in court records.

The plaintiff in the lawsuit does not appear to be the same victim who came forward with the original complaint against 41-year-old Chad Hightower. That led to the investigation and Hightower’s arrest Sept. 12, 2014, on a charge of improper photography.

According to the suit, the plaintiff, a convicted sex offender, was asked by Hightower in December of 2013 to come to the sheriff’s office to be photographed. The two went into a bathroom and Hightower told him a new state law required photos of sex offenders’ genitals. The plaintiff allowed the photos to be taken.

The complaint also alleges Hightower touched the plaintiff and violated his civil rights by assault, illegal detention and invasion of privacy.

He states his injuries include emotional distress and mental anguish in the past as well as the distress and anguish that will likely occur in the future. The plaintiff is seeking more than $200,000 in monetary relief.

The lawsuit also alleges that the county did not do enough to prevent this type of violation.

“The Wise County Sheriff’s Department and Wise County failed to properly supervise Defendant Hightower, and failed to employ security and surveillance tools to prevent such improper and illegal actions as those alleged here from happening, and failed to detect such malfeasance when it did happen. These failures permitted Defendant Hightower to commit multiple constitutional violations,” the lawsuit states.

The plaintiff explains that he filed under an assumed name to protect his privacy and avoid potential retaliation by law enforcement. The lawsuit was filed in Wise County Dec. 23.

According to court records related to the criminal charge against Hightower, another sex offender was also forced to disrobe and be photographed by Hightower in a restroom at the sheriff’s office as well as a different location.

That victim brought his complaint to a district attorney investigator last year, prompting the criminal investigation.

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Jury finds Burdine guilty of drug possession

A Wise County jury deliberated about three-and-a-half hours Wednesday before finding a Runaway Bay man guilty of possession of a controlled substance in an amount of 4 to 200 grams.

Scott Wayne Burdine

Scott Wayne Burdine, 38, will have to wait until later this month for a sentencing hearing before 271st District Judge John Fostel. Because Burdine has previously been convicted on drug charges, he faces a punishment range of 5 to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The trial began Tuesday afternoon in district court and ended a little more than 24 hours later.

Burdine was arrested during a traffic stop in October 2013 near the intersection of Farm Roads 2265 and 1655, in the vicinity of Alvord. Wise County sheriff’s officers found drug paraphernalia in the vehicle Burdine was driving and also located drugs on the ground nearby that they believed had been thrown from the vehicle.

Deputies testified that the drugs were found in a small container wrapped in black electrical tape, which they know from previous cases is a common way to try to make its detection more difficult after it is discarded from a vehicle.

Deputy Jay T. Manoushagian said he located the case containing drugs in the grass wet with dew or moisture from a foggy evening, but the case was not wet, which he believed indicated it had been recently tossed on the ground.

Burdine’s attorneys argued that the officer who made the initial stop, Deputy Brett Yaro, never actually saw the package thrown from the vehicle and could not connect it to Burdine, who was driving someone else’s truck.

“Being in the area of drugs is not sufficient to make you guilty of possession of a controlled substance,” defense attorney David Singleton told the jury during closing arguments. “You have to show that Mr. Burdine threw the drugs out of the vehicle.”

He pointed to the video, which was shown numerous times during the trial and also reviewed by the jury during deliberation, as evidence that you could not see anything thrown from the vehicle Burdine was driving.

Assistant District Attorney Jay Lapham said the totality of the evidence proved Mr. Burdine’s guilt, including the fact that he accelerated away from police. Drug paraphernalia was found in the vehicle, and drugs were found in the vicinity of the stop along with small baggies and rolls of money normally seen with someone who sells drugs.

“They want you to suspend your common sense,” Lapham told the jury during closing arguments. “You would have to believe some stranger drove up on an isolated road in the middle of the night and dumped $700 worth of drugs by the side of the road and drove off.”

Burdine previously pleaded guilty in Wise County to possession of a controlled substance 4 to 200 grams with intent to deliver and was sentenced to six years in prison on Jan. 7, 2008. He was also convicted of a drug charge on July 1, 2008, in Johnson County.

On Jan. 25, 2011, Burdine was sentenced to two years in prison after pleading guilty in Wise County to burglary of a building.

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Ponies find a family after the flames

It’s been a long road to recovery for a mare who was burned while trying to protect her young foal from a fire last April.

But that road now leads to a home, right here in Wise County.

Part of the Family

PART OF THE FAMILY – Johanna Wilson holds Butterscotch at her Decatur farm earlier this week. Butterscotch is completely healed from the burns she sustained in a fire last April. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Bella sustained burns over 50 percent of her body during the early morning hours of April 6, 2014, in a barn fire in Alvarado. Bella backed the then-two-week-old Butterscotch into a corner to shield her from the flames.

Both ponies were brought to the Decatur home of Johanna Wilson, a volunteer with the Humane Society of North Texas, to recuperate. Bella spent about two weeks at Wilson’s while money was raised for her medical treatment. She has spent every day since then at Outlaw Equine in Decatur, receiving around-the-clock veterinarian care.

Butterscotch, meanwhile, has fully recovered and has made herself right at home at the Wilson farm.

“She walks through the house,” Wilson said. “She’s part of the family.”

Butterscotch’s “family” also includes several other ponies with which she shares a pen. Many of them, like Butterscotch, were also rescued by the HSNT.

The plan has always been to find adopted homes for both once they recovered. Wilson admitted she couldn’t help becoming attached to Butterscotch, who she’s raised since she was just a few weeks old. She believes Bella would be best served by staying with her as well, which led her to the decision to adopt both ponies.

“When her mom comes back, I was really worried people would get caught up in the story and say, ‘Yes, I want to adopt her,’ but not understand the long-term care her mom is going to need,” Wilson said. “And I wanted her to be close to her doctor who she already trusts.

“I really wouldn’t want anyone else but (Dr.) Josh (Harvey) to take care of her at this point. So that weighed into my decision as well.”

Loving Care

LOVING CARE – Equine massage therapist Lynda Streng takes Bella for a walk at Outlaw Equine in Decatur where the pony continues to recover from last April’s fire. Bella was burned on 50 percent of her body while protecting her foal. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Harvey said Bella’s recovery has been slow, but she has made significant progress since she first arrived.

“It’s every day doctoring that wound – seven days a week,” Harvey explained. “We kept her in the climate control forever because of how much exposed skin she had. We didn’t want flies irritating her. Now that she’s been able to get out in the sunlight, she likes it a lot better.”

PROGRESS – Evidence of the fire can still be seen in scabs along Bella’s back, but Streng’s hand is on hair that has grown back. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Bella still has scabs along her back, but much of her hair has grown back. She’s missing her ears, which were severely burned.

Lynda Streng, an equine massage therapist, has worked with Bella daily since July. She gently washes Bella, applies topical medicine and performs laser light treatment that promotes the healing of the skin. Streng also joins Bella for her favorite activity.

“She loves walks,” Streng said. “She’s really sweet as she can be. She likes the attention.”

It might be another month or two before Bella is reunited with her daughter at Wilson’s farm. Wilson said while she has developed a close relationship with Butterscotch, she will have to reestablish a relationship with Bella.

Wilson said she has been impressed with the people who donated money for Bella’s care, and with the HSNT, which has made sure the money was used for its intended purpose.

“They are ethical,” Wilson said of the HSNT. “That was a big decision for me to work with them.”

That partnership will continue. Wilson said she is working with the organization to create a program at her farm that will allow hands-on educational opportunities for people who are thinking about adopting horses.

Nearly 300 horses that stayed at the Wilson farm were adopted last year. You can add Bella and Butterscotch to that total, but they won’t be heading elsewhere.

They’ve found a home.

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Drought continues into new year

Another year has passed, and the weather story remains much the same. For a fourth straight year, rainfall was below normal for Wise County.

Weather watcher Doyle Green in Decatur measured 31.41 inches, well below the average of 38.13.

Rainfall was below normal for the first five months of 2014 before a stretch of three months during the summer when rainfall was actually above normal. But the year ended with below-normal rainfall in three of the last four months of 2014.

The driest month was January with just 0.44 of an inch of rain.

Then and Now

THEN AND NOW – Lake Bridgeport was on its way to a historic 40-foot-low point when the top photo was taken in October 1980 by Tom Earnest of Boyd. Earnest snapped the photo at the boat ramp off U.S. 380, in pretty much the same spot where the lower photo was shot Friday. The summer of 1980 was the hottest on record, with more than 100 days over 100 degrees recorded. The following October, in 1981, it rained 27 inches, and the lake went to 10 feet over flood stage. As the lower photo shows, although the lake is 24 feet low now and the boat launch is high and dry, there’s still quite a bit of water compared to 1980. Messenger photo by Bob Buckel

The wettest month turned out to be July, when the area received 8.08 inches of rain – setting a record for the month. In fact, the old July record of 6.78 inches was nearly broken in a single day when a storm system dropped 6.65 inches of rain on Decatur July 17.

That was easily the wettest day of the year. Areas in north Wise County received up to 10 inches from that storm.

Overall, the summer of 2014 was the wettest since 2007.

Unfortunately, the rain did little to ease the “severe drought” designation for most of Wise County or raise Lake Bridgeport. As of Jan. 6, 2015, most of Wise County remained in the “severe drought” category with the southern portion of the county in an “extreme drought” category.

Lake Bridgeport remained more than 24 feet below normal as the calendar turned to 2015.

It was a cooler-than-normal summer, at least in terms of 100-degree weather. The highest temperature recorded in 2014 was 100 degrees, which was reached on just two days: July 14 and Sept. 10. The average high temperature for August, typically the hottest month of the year, was only 92.3 degrees.

The coldest temperature was 8 degrees on Jan. 6. For the year, the temperature dropped below freezing on 69 days.

January and February were the coldest months as the temperature dropped below freezing on 20 days each month. The average low temperature for January was 25.9 degrees.

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Interim Elections Administrator resigns

Wise County Interim Elections Administrator Jim Parker has submitted his resignation, effective Jan. 19.

The Elections Commission accepted his letter of resignation in a meeting Thursday afternoon.

Wise County Republican Party Chair Allen Williamson expressed his gratitude for Parker’s efforts and willingness to serve.

“I certainly don’t speak for this commission, but I speak for myself personally. I think this is one of the smoothest elections we’ve ever had,” he said. “I think Mr. Parker did an outstanding job as our interim elections administrator.

“We started with a little bit of difficulty in the beginning of his tenure – nothing on him of course – but I think he came in and he built bridges and was very conciliatory,” Williamson continued. “In my opinion, he did an outstanding job.”

At the same meeting, the Commission formally appointed Sabra Srader of Lubbock to the EA position with a salary of $52,000 and a vehicle allowance of $8,000. She will start work Jan. 20.

Srader has been an elections clerk in the Lubbock County Office of Elections since 2011 and is a certified elections/registration administrator through the National Association of Election Officials.

She has a law degree from Texas Tech University.

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Sales tax: 2015 starts on a good note

Eight up, four down.

That’s how Wise County’s dozen sales-tax-collecting cities greeted the new year – a decent start compared to last year’s January payment.

Combined, the cities collected $672,439. That’s almost $20,000 more in sales tax than they had the previous year, a gain of 3.05 percent.

Bridgeport led the way with a gain of just more than $14,000, while Rhome, Boyd, Chico, Paradise, Newark, Runaway Bay and Aurora also posted gains.

Decatur, with collections for the month of $326,950, was down less than half of 1 percent or $1,639. New Fairview, Alvord and Lake Bridgeport joined them on the down side of the ledger.

The state saw a gain of 7.11 percent, with 1,150 cities collecting just more than $400 million.

Wise County, which tacks on a half-cent to help offset property taxes, took in $331,538 to start the year – 3 percent better than it did last year.

The January sales tax figures represent November sales reported by monthly tax filers.

Taxes

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Meeting Agendas for Saturday, January 10, 2015

COUNTY COMMISSIONERS – Wise County commissioners will meet 9 a.m. Monday, Jan. 12, in the third-floor conference room of the courthouse in Decatur. They will discuss and consider write-offs of bad debt for Emergency Medical Services and consider the proposed Texas Department of Transportation federal railroad signal project upgrade at County Road 3250 and Texas 114. They will also consider reappointing Dr. Jon Walker to a two-year term as the Wise County health authority.

DECATUR CITY COUNCIL – The council will meet 6 p.m. Monday, Jan. 12 at City Hall, 201 E. Walnut, with a short agenda. They will hear a request from County Judge J.D. Clark to plat the 11.395-acre tract where the Wise County Fairgrounds sits on Farm Road 51 South, and consider nominating someone to the board for the Wise County Appraisal District to fill a vacancy created by the resignation of Jimmy Parker. A work session to review the city’s proposed new zoning ordinance will be held after the meeting. Both the meeting and workshop are open to the public.

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Fire destroys home in Park Springs

Fire destroys home in Park Springs

On a brutally cold morning, a man lost his home and three dogs in a fire near the Wise and Montague county line Sunday.

Alvord, Chico and Crafton firefighters battled the blaze off County Road 1792 near Park Springs with temperatures in the mid 20s and the windchill in the low teens.

Smoldering Rubble

SMOLDERING RUBBLE – A firefighter walks away from what remains of a home in Park Springs after a fire Sunday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I’ve lost everything I own in the world,” said homeowner Charles Montgomery. “I didn’t even get my glasses. Within seconds, the whole house was full of smoke.”

Montgomery, who had lived in the 1,200-square-foot residence for more than 20 years, said the fire started in the back room where he had a fire going in a wood-burning stove shortly before 9 a.m.

“I was in the living room. I heard it popping and went to the back of the house,” Montgomery said. “The house filled with black smoke within seconds.”

Montgomery said the old house was built in 1903. “It was an old wood house, and I found out it was a pure tinderbox.”

Seven of his 10 chiweenies made it out of the house.

Home Destroyed

HOME DESTROYED – A firefighter works to put out any remaining flames at a house fire in Park Springs Sunday morning. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“Three are not here,” said Montgomery sitting in his truck. “The smoke must have got them.”

Wise County Fire Marshal Chuck Beard said the Red Cross was called to help Montgomery, who did not have insurance.

Beard confirmed Montgomery’s thoughts on the origin of the fire.

“It definitely was from the wood-burning stove in the back,” Beard said. “It started in the attic space. Once it got up there, especially with the north wind, it took off. The wind just fueled it.”

Winds were gusting out of the northwest up to 22 mph at the Decatur Municipal Airport at the time of the blaze.

“They will do a little more overhaul. It’ll smolder the rest of the day,” Beard said.

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Lubbock official hired for elections post

The Wise County Elections Commission has chosen a new elections administrator – Sabra Srader of Lubbock.

County Judge J.D. Clark told commissioners Monday her tentative start date is Jan. 20.

Srader has been an elections clerk in the Lubbock County Office of Elections since 2011 and is a certified elections/registration administrator through the National Association of Election Officials. She has a law degree from Texas Tech University.

“…(Srader) was a very impressive candidate, and I think you’ll all be glad to have her here with us,” Clark said.

The judge described the finalists as a “really good slate of candidates.”

Jim Parker remains interim elections administrator, but his resignation will be discussed at an Elections Commission meeting 1 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 8. Clark said Parker will remain on the job for a week to cross-train Srader.

MOVING MONEY

In another personnel move, commissioners approved a budget amendment that eliminates a part-time grant coordination position and allows for a full-time position to be added to the county fire marshal’s office.

The county receives federal grant money for the Cities Readiness Initiative (CRI), a program to equip communities to handle mass disasters. Previously, that money was split between three people – a part-time position and a full-time position in the county judge’s office and a person in the county auditor’s office – all of whom performed tasks related to the grant.

The money paid the salary of the part-time position, which was the CRI grant coordinator, and the remainder was allocated to the auditor’s office and the county judge’s office for the work each of the other two employees did on the grant.

“This budget amendment consolidates all that CRI grant funding into one position, one full-time position,” Clark said. “I really think the CRI grant can be doing a lot more for us rather than just meeting the grant requirements on paper. Obviously, we want it right on paper, but I want to see us doing more in action.”

The new position will be responsible for coordinating the CRI grant and will also be the emergency management administrative assistant in the fire marshal’s office. A total of $35,000 was moved from the county judge’s two departments to the CRI fund to facilitate the changes.

“They’ve been asking for some help for a while and been pretty slammed,” Clark said. “I really think we can do better with the CRI grant and fulfilling (the fire marshal’s) office by doing this.”

Caryn Dunn, who was executive assistant in the county judge’s office and emergency management coordinator, is being moved to the new position. She was one of three employees who previously performed tasks related to the grant.

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Firefighters save Wildwood mobile home

Firefighters save Wildwood mobile home

Fire damaged a mobile home at Wildwood Naturist’s Resort Monday afternoon – but quick action by Decatur firefighters prevented the fire from destroying the trailer.

The blaze started near the back porch of the trailer on Private Road 1170.

LIMITED DAMAGE – Decatur firefighters look for remaining hot spots after putting out a mobile home fire at the Wildwood Naturist’s Resort Monday afternoon. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“The Decatur Fire Department did a fantastic job and stopped it quickly,” said Wise County Deputy Fire Marshal J.C. Travis. “They’ll have to replace some sheetrock and wiring, but that’s the extent of the damage.”

The fire was reported shortly after 5 p.m. Travis said it started in a heat lamp in a doghouse that apparently was knocked over.

“It spread up the back porch and into the attic space,” he said.

Decatur Fire Chief Michael Richardson said a witness stated they saw smoke from the back porch and started spraying the fire with a garden hose.

“When [firefighters] got here, there was a lot of fire showing around the back door,” Richardson said. “It started running through the attic, but they were able to get it knocked down.”

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First Law Enforcement Appreciation Day this Friday

A Wise County woman hopes to positively influence the public’s perception of police officers by honoring local law enforcement this week.

Ashlee Hardy, president of the Metroplex chapter of Concerns of Police Survivors (COPS), cited recent events like police shootings in New York and violent protests against police officers elsewhere in the U.S. as reasons why good officers should be thanked and honored.

“These men and women, they put themselves in danger, and yet they are ridiculed, get called racist, all sorts of horrible things,” Hardy said. “There’s bad apples in all walks of life, but that doesn’t speak to the majority.”

Hardy’s late husband, Wes, was a Plano police officer who was killed in 2007 responding to a traffic stop. She has since become an activist for police widows and other law enforcement groups.

This Friday she will be doing her part to participate in National Law Enforcement Appreciation Day (LEAD), a nationwide event sponsored by COPS. Hardy will go to Boyd, Bridgeport and Decatur school districts to collect letters from students thanking local law enforcement for their work.

She said the event is an opportunity to showcase the good that most police officers do and not let recent events spoil people’s perception of law enforcement as a whole.

“This is just our way to take a stand and recognize that this is a very thankless job,” she said. “We just wanted to let them know that they are appreciated and that even though they see all this negative media attention, that we think of them and pray for them and care about them.”

Other ways Hardy suggested showing support Friday include wearing blue, sending a letter or card of encouragement to local police departments or sharing a positive law enforcement story on social media. She also suggested changing your Facebook profile picture to the one provided at www.facebook.com/nationalcops.

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Quotes of 2014

Quotes of 2014

”The first time I saw a picture of her on Facebook, I saw my mother in her. I just saw my momma, and I just broke down.”
- Linda Freeman of Bridgeport after meeting a long-lost sister for the first time

Linda Freeman

Linda Freeman. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“I was so pumped. Happiness overfilled me.”
- Decatur senior Brandon Rivera on winning the gold medal in the 800 at the UIL State Track and Field Championships

Brandon Rivera

Brandon Rivera. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

“If our word isn’t good enough, maybe the paper we write it on isn’t good enough either.”
- Precinct 1 Commissioner Danny White, in reference to a request by the Southwest Swap Meet and Wise County Antique Auto Club regarding the fairgrounds

“That was salsa all over the dash, not blood.”
- Decatur Police officer Royce Gastineau, following a car accident in front of Casa Torres Mexican Restaurant

“You have to have a hat, some makeup, and you have to make sure you can borrow your dad’s drawers.”
- Kreece Dearing, 9, of Paradise, official “woolfighter” of the Fort Worth Stock Show and Rodeo

“It fits the law. When you plead guilty to a criminal offense tied to your elected office, you shouldn’t expect to stay in office.”
- County Attorney James Stainton, in response to Precinct 4 County Commissioner Terry Ross being removed from office

“Bottom line, we don’t want this existing AD to exist. We’ve got issues.”
- Matthew Dunn of Alvord, in reference to former Alvord athletic director Curtis Enis

“On July 25, 2010, they were doing a mini-frack. Lisa got sick, I got sick, and we called the TCEQ and the inspector got sick.”
- Robert Parr of Decatur, from his testimony during Parr v. Aruba

“Whatever the case may be, Terri was always one of the first people to jump in and say, ‘What can we do to help?’ She was just that way.”
- Sheriff David Walker, following the death of Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Terri Johnson

“I’m blind. But don’t tell me I can’t see, because I’ve got a hell of a vision.”
- Telena Graham, who is blind, seeking to build a community among the visually impaired

“I liked to work nights because that’s when the criminal element comes out. They’re like vampires; they like to work in the dark.”
- Doug Whitehead, retiring Wise County chief deputy

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Twice blessed: ‘First babies’ arrive a minute apart

Twice blessed: ‘First babies’ arrive a minute apart

The first baby of 2015 waited until Jan. 2 to get here.

Apparently, she wanted some company.

First By a Minute

FIRST BY A MINUTE – Kevin and Susan Huffman of Runaway Bay show off their new daughter, Maggie, born at 7:36 Tuesday morning, Jan. 2, at Wise Regional. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Maggie Huffman was born at 7:36 a.m. at Wise Regional Health System in Decatur. She weighed a healthy 8 pounds, 12 ounces and was 19 inches long.

Her parents, Susan and Kevin Huffman of Runaway Bay, had scheduled the cesarean section for the day after the New Year’s holiday. Susan is an investigator for CPS, and Kevin is Precinct 4 constable in Wise County.

Maggie has a big sister, Debbie, who is 2 years old, and a room full of relatives and friends to celebrate her arrival.

Right across the hall, Leonna Fay Gober’s entourage celebrated her birth only 60 seconds after Maggie.

Close Behind

CLOSE BEHIND – Joshua and Kimberley Gober’s new daughter, Leonna Fay, was born at 7:37 a.m., also at Wise Regional. They are from Bridgeport. Messenger Photo by Joe Duty

Kimberley and Joshua Gober of Bridgeport welcomed their second daughter at 7:37 a.m.

Leonna Fay arrived weighing 7 pounds, 13 ounces and was 19 inches long. She was born by natural labor on her actual due date.

Sister Ily is 16 months old, and a host of family and friends came and went throughout the day.

Kimberley is a stay-at-home mom, and dad works in the oilfield.

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