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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Rita evacuees heading home as threat ends

Staff Writer

Gulf Coast residents who spent the weekend in Pecos getting away from Hurricane Rita area returning to their homes, and a special project to help evacuees of that storm is scheduled to end on Tuesday.

“We helped over 200 people this weekend, about 60 of them in the Balmorhea and Toyahvale area,” said Nancy Martinez, spokesperson for the county’s emergency management effort originally set up to help refugees of Hurricane Katrina.

“We still have about 50 people left in tow, so we will cut off the remaining operations on Tuesday,” she said.

Rita originally was forecast to hit Texas in the Galveston area, resulting in the evacuation of over 2 million people from there and Houston, along with others along the Gulf Coast as far south as Victoria and Corpus Christi. But Houston was spared the full force of the storm, which turned north and struck the Texas-Louisiana coast near Port Arthur early Saturday morning.

Some heavy damage was reported there, while rains from the hurricane was blamed for new flooding of sections of New Orleans, which was heavily damaged by rain, winds and eventual flooding caused by Hurricane Katrina in late August.

None of the Katrina evacuees were housed in Pecos, after officials from the Federal Emergency Management Agency found enough locations in Texas’ larger cities to house the victims of that storm. But Martinez said the evacuation from Rita did result in several Louisiana residents being forced from the places they originally relocated to and into motels in West Texas.

“We were busy all weekend. We had quite a few families from Louisiana who were originally Katrina evacuees,” she said. “It was devastating for them to be evacuated a second time, but they were all grateful when we were able to lend a helping hand.”

Elouise Mumford and her family were among those originally forced out of their homes in New Orleans who ended up in West Texas. “Houston was evacuated, so we came out here,” she said on Saturday afternoon. “We’ve been here said early Thursday morning.” Mumford said her home was in New Orleans’ Ninth Ward, which not only was one of the most heavily damaged areas of the city from the flooding following Katrina, but which re-flooded last Friday, when rains from Rita were blamed for a new breach in the Industrial Canal that flows alongside the neighborhood.

“I don’t know when we’ll go back to New Orleans,” she said. “My house is probably under water there.”

She said the family planned to remain in West Texas at least for another few days. “I’ll see what my kids want to do. They might want to stay a while longer,” Mumford said. Most of those fleeing Rita stayed in local motels, which reported they had run out of available rooms by Friday. Martinez said those evacuees in the Balmorhea area stayed either at the Country Inn or in the cabins at the Balmorhea State Park in Toyahvale.

Martinez said the local emergency effort began Friday afternoon and was designed to help people who had run out of money after leaving their Gulf Coast-area homes. “We provided meals and gas vouchers for those in need,” she said, adding that the county may qualify for federal reimbursement for their efforts.

“We were informed by FEMA of a presidential disaster declaration on Sept, 24 for nine counties in Texas. So now we’re going to have to go back and look at the documents,” she said. “If we assisted people from there, we can get reimbursement for the assistance provided.”

“There have been all kinds of situations. A bus broke down at Cherry Creek (45 miles west of Pecos) that was carrying inmates from one of the facilities in Houston. A Pecos-Barstow-Toyah school bus was provided for them, and food and water was provided by the Reeves County Detention Center,” said Martinez.

The inmates were being moved away from the expected path of Rita to a correctional facility in Houston.

“Reeves County Hospital had a team here doing triage, and they were assisted by pharmacies in the community who were able to provide medicine for people who were running out,” Martinez said.

Local officials also made contingency plans for use of the Reeves County Civic Center as an emergency shelter, if local motels had not been able to handle all the area evacuees. The Civic Center was used as a shelter in April of 2004 for evacuees of Toyah, after it flooded following the collapse of a levee along San Martine Draw.

City set to seal coat Seventh, Walthall streets

Town of Pecos City crews have completed preliminary work on seal-coating on major city street, and are preparing to begin the first steps on another street before final repaving work gets underway next week.

City utilities director Edgardo Madrid said the city plans to repave Walthall and Seventh streets next week, as part of a project that began with the repaving of streets on the north side of Pecos last month.

“Walthall just has the primer on now, it’s not seal-coated,” Madrid said. “We’re beginning work on Seventh Street, and right now we’re shooting for next week on Walthall and Seventh.

Madrid said if any material is left over, the city plans to do paving work on Ivey and Scott streets on the far west side of town, but that would be the last seal-coating work of the year.

“We may do some minor repairs in specific locations like intersections, but we’re not going to do an entire street, because of the weather,” he said. Hot temperatures are needed to do the seal coating work, and nighttime temperatures should drop below the required level by early October.

Madrid said city crews also have been looking at doing future street repairs on the west side of town, where water leaks have caused some streets to buckle. City crews have been out for the past two weeks working on a major sewer line problem in the 1500 block of Texas Street, near Winding Way, and also have repaved an alley in that area.

Madrid said that paving job was done to make the alley passable for vehicles and trash trucks.

“If there’s a problem with it flooding and having access with Duncan Disposal, we’ll go in and do it,” he said.

He said the street department’s general service foreman asked if they could do the paving work on the problem area of the alley, west of Texas Street. “We had a problem in the past in that area and had some complaints, and instead of doing patchwork in one area we decided to take action on the entire alley,” he said.

The city’s seal coating work is the first conducted since the mid-1990s, due to cuts in the street maintenance budget. Madrid said budget concerns would also determine how many streets would get repaving work in the future.

Commissioners study budget, agree to keep current tax rate

Reeves County Commissioners met Monday morning for a public hearing on the proposed 2006 budget and to adopt the county tax rate for the 2006 budget.

Department heads were also on hand to discuss their particular budget and copies of the budget can be obtained at the county clerk’s office.

The proposed 2005 budget is based on the proposed tax rate of 40.5456 cents per $100 value, which is unchanged from last year.

The Balmorhea Library was just one of the departments that was requesting more funding for the coming year. Librarian Toots Jones told the group that they would appreciate any help that the county could give them.

“What we have done in the past is have an agreement with the library association,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.

Commissioners agreed to increase the library’s budget to $12,000 for the coming year. “I think it’s very important to give to the library, because it’s a vital part of the community,” said Precinct 3 Commissioner Saul Herrera, who represents the Balmorhea area.

The group went through the budget line-item by line-item.

The jury fund for next year was increased due to some new laws passed by the legislature.

“The legislature passed a new law that juries will get paid $40 for the second day that they serve,” said county auditor Lynn Owens.

Owens said that they would disperse those funds back to the county as soon as you apply for them. “That’s one more extra deal we’ll need to report and try to get reimbursed,” said Owens.

The total jury fund for 2006 is set at $82,925, with last year’s $51,544.

Other budget proposals were approved as presented and the court was to adopt the 2006 budget following the public hearing.

Council told code enforcement officer having effect

Town of Pecos City Council members were updated on the efforts of the city’s new code enforcement officer on Thursday, during the council’s regular meeting at City Hall. Municipal Court Judge Amanario Ramon briefed the council on actions taken by code enforcement officer Julio Quinones, who was given the new position as part of an effort to better enforce alley and yard clean-up, building and other maintenance codes within the city.

“It’s doing real good now. We had about 17 (citations) this past month,” Ramon said. “The violators are doing their job to clean out those areas.”

The city transferred Quinones from the Pecos Police Department to the new position of code enforcement officer, who is authorized to issue summonses and make arrests if necessary of people violating the city’s laws on cleaning up and maintaining homes and alleyways. “That will put the public on notice we are serious about code enforcement,” Torres said.

Councilman Danny Rodriguez asked why the city wasn’t cleaning up its own yards first, and working on removing condemned houses after receiving a complaint about the tougher enforcement rules from a resident who had received a citation.

Madrid said the city has just spent $78,000 on a new backhoe with attachments to clean up big items in alleys and work on home demolition.

“It’s not that we’re trying to hurt people. We’re doing our part, but we need cooperation from people,” Madrid said.

Councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela asked if there was a general report from the code enforcement officer that she could see. Torres said he could provide the council with a copy of Quinones’ summary log.

While approving accounts payable totaling $527,724, the council was briefed by city utilities director Edgardo Madrid on payments for several water-related the projects that will be reimbursed by the state, along with some recent work done that required the shut down of the line to the city’s Ward County Water Field.

“A water well field is isolated right now. We pulled a well out and found some sludge in it,” Madrid said. The sludge was sent to an Odessa lab for analysis and was found to be caused by pipe corrosion in the well.

“We do have the South Worsham and North Worsham (water fields) operational,” Madrid said, adding that the corroded pipe in the Ward County well has been replaced. In other action, the council also was briefed on a meeting on Sept. 19 by the Reeves County Sports and Recreation Department Board of Directors.

“We had no quorum, but we conducted a meeting anyway,” said councilman and board member Frank Sanchez, who explained that the board has no official by-laws. “I’d like (city attorney) Scott Johnson to work out at set of by-laws to present before the next meeting.”

The RCCRD is funded by Reeves County, the Town of Pecos City and the Pecos-Barstow Toyah ISD, though county judge Jimmy Galindo, who attended Thursday’s meeting, noted the county provides a larger share of the department’s funding that the other two taxing entities.

“In terms of by-laws, is sounds like a good idea” Galindo said, while Johnson added that any taxing entity that contributes funds would have a vote on the by-laws.

Sanchez also mentioned standardizing terms for board members at one year, to begin after the regular local elections, and that the county judge, mayor and school board president should be members of the RCCRD board.

Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Linda Gholson also briefed the council on the Texas Pecos Trails organizational meeting held in Monahans recently.

“The group has been working over two years to make the designation,” Gholson said. “Tom (Rivera) is on the task force overlooking the nomination for directors.”

The Texas Pecos Trail runs both east and south from Pecos along Interstate 20 and U.S. 285, and follows a path on both sides of the Pecos River stretching south to Del Rio and east to Junction. It covers 22 counties, for which between nine and 11 members are being sought for the board of directors to promote the trail, which was created by the Texas Department of Transportation.

The council also approved the August tax collection report, which showed $21,995 was collected last month; reappointed Bill Hubbs to the Permian Basin Airport Board; and agreed to review revisions to the city’s employee handbook at their next regular meeting, in early October.

Midland doc, EP border agent sentenced on federal charges

A former Border Patrol agent was sentenced in El Paso last week for helping bring both illegal aliens and drugs into the United States, while a Midland cardiologist was sentenced for defrauding Medicare in Midland on Sept. 15.

United States Attorney Johnny Sutton announced that in Midland, Dr. Piyush Y. Patel was sentenced to 21 months in federal prison for executing a scheme to defraud the federal government, namely Medicare, of more than $287,000.

In addition to the prison term, United States District Judge Robert Junell ordered that Patel play a $10,000 fine and approximately $660,000 restitution to Medicare, Medicaid, Blue Cross/Blue Shield and other insurance entities that cover federal employees. He also ordered that Patel be placed under supervised release for a period of three years after completing his prison term and placed him under home confinement until he reports to the Bureau of Prisons in November.

On May 3, 2005, Patel pled guilty to the fraud charge. By pleading guilty, Patel admitted that after being suspended from the Medicare program, he used a provider number assigned to his wife, Dr. Meenakshi Patel, to submit numerous claims to Medicare. The submission of those fraudulent claims occurred between approximately June 2003 and February 2004.

“Sending corrupt doctors like Dr. Patel to prison is a reminder that ripping off the American taxpayer will not be tolerated,” said United States Attorney Johnny Sutton. On June 27, 2002, Patel pled guilty to Misprison of Felony in the Northern District of Texas. As a result of that guilty plea, he was placed on probation for three years and prohibited from making claims to or receiving payments from Medicare for any health care services he might perform. On a judicial transfer from the Northern District of Texas, Judge Junell revoked Patel’s probation and sentenced him to 10 months imprisonment to run concurrent to the 21-month prison term.

The Midland case was investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Personnel Management. Assistant United States Attorney John S. Klassen prosecuted the Midland case on behalf of the government.

In El Paso last Wednesday, Sutton said former Border Patrol agent Aldo Manuel Erives was sentenced to 127 months in federal prison for allowing drug couriers through the Border Patrol’s Interstate 10 checkpoint at Sierra Blanca without inspection.

“Instead of protecting us from the scourge of illegal drugs and drug dealers, Mr. Erives was helping them import their poison,” said Sutton. “It is always shocking when one who swore an oath to protect the innocent joins the criminals,” he said.

In addition to the prison term, U.S., District Judge Frank Montalvo ordered that Erives be placed under supervised release for a period of five years after completing his prison term.

On May 6, 2005, Erives pled guilty to one count of conspiracy to possess with intent to distribute a controlled substance. By pleading guilty, Erives admitted that for two days beginning on Sept. 17, 2004, he conspired with his brother, Jose Lehi Erives, and Robert Espino, a former Marfa Sector Border Patrol Agent, to allow more than five kilograms of cocaine to pass through the checkpoint without inspection in exchange for more than $5,000.

Four of Erives’ co-defendants each face up to five years in federal prison after pleading guilty in May to conspiracy to possess a controlled substance with intent to distribute. Jose Lehi Erives is scheduled to be sentenced on Sept. 29, 2005. Espino is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 4, 2005. David Garcia and Jesus Delgado, both former Marfa Sector Border Patrol agents, are scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 12, 2005. All sentencing hearings are scheduled to begin at 9 a.m.

Also resulting from this investigation, Roberto Beltran faces up to ten years in federal prison after pleading guilty on June 2, 2005, to smuggling approximately 750 illegal aliens. Beltran, together with Lehi Erives, conspired with agents Erives, Espino, Garcia and Delgado to allow hundreds of illegal aliens safe passage through the Sierra Blanca checkpoint over a one-year period beginning January 2004. Beltran is scheduled to be sentenced on Oct. 13, 2005.

These cases were investigated by the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the Department of Homeland Security - Office of Inspector General. Assistant United States Attorneys Mark Greenberg and Greg McDonald are prosecuting these cases on behalf of the government.

Brookshire seeking information on house arson incident

Pecos Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire is looking for information on an arson fire that occurred on Sept. 19 in a house in the 700 block of East Second Street.

Pecos volunteer firemen were called out to battle a fire at 721 E. Second St., which broke out sometime after 4 p.m. Smoke was coming from the attic area of the home when firemen arrived, but Brookshire said the first was deliberately set elsewhere in the building.

“It was an intentional fire that started on the floor right by the front door,” Brookshire said. “There was a man living there, but he left and said he was gone about an hour.”

“This is the second time that house has been burnt, and the one right next door to it also was burnt,” he said.

Anyone with information leading to an arrest in the case can call Brookshire at 445-2421.

Baby contest entries sought

The Women’s Division of the Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce will again be sponsoring the Pretty Baby Contest at the Reeves County Fall Fair, scheduled for Oct. 7-8.

Babies need to be between 0-24 months.

Applications may be picked up at the Chamber of Commerce Office, 111 S. Cedar.

Deadline to enter is Oct. 6.

For more information contact the chamber at 445-2406.

RCDC plans Oct. 4 blood drive

The Reeves County Detention Center will holding a special blood drive for fellow employee, Mick Massudi.

The blood drive is scheduled for 9 a.m. until 3 p.m., Tuesday, Oct. 4, in the Lobby of Unit #3.

For more information contact Sylvia Garcia at 447-2919, ext. 1502.

For qualifications to donate blood, call United Blood Services at 1-800-371-5539.

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