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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, March 25, 2005

RCH to shoulder insurance rate hike cost

Staff Writer

Reeves County Hospital District board members approved a new employee health insurance contract on Tuesday, with a 2.6 percent increase in the basic cost. But the board for now opted not to pass the rate increase along to the hospital’s employees.

Board members also voted to extend the contract employment of a training nurse for the hospital’s new kidney dialysis center, approved the sale of several properties in Pecos and the surrounding area, and discussed finding a less-costly way to put an aquarium in the hospital’s lobby, during their regular monthly meeting in the hospital’s classroom.

Interim CEO Bill Conder said the hospital’s policy has a 2.7 percent increase in the employee insurance and a 2.6 percent rise in the stop-loss policy, which goes into effect when payments on a claim surpass $40,000. He said hospital officials looked at whether or not they should pass along the increase to the employees whose families also are covered by the plan.

“There’s a lot of downside to this,” he said. “It makes recruiting harder for us, and it also affects employee morale. It would really hurt our minimum wage people, really devastate them, but it’s going to be costly.”

“I recommend we leave it for 4-6 months, and see what it’s like then,” Conder told the board. “If the claims get real heavy, we can change it.”

Chief financial officer Frank Seals said insurance cost the hospital $500,000 in 2004, after premiums were paid by the employees and their families. But he pointed out that unlike most other businesses, the hospital does recover some of those costs because its employees then use hospital services.

“The $500,000 amount includes payments to the hospital, so basically we’re paying ourselves. So the net cost will be substantially less,” Seals said. He added he did not have an exact number on how much the district did pay out in non-recoverable insurance costs. On the nursing contract, Coder recommended the district end their consulting contract with NSI when it expires on April 28, but retain nurse Cheryl McGowan through at least the beginning of fall, when her contract ends on June 28. He said the new agreement would call for her to work two weeks a month helping train nurses at the new dialysis center, at a cost of $700 per day. She would also have use of an apartment while in Pecos. “Her fee is currently $7,000 a month, plus trip charges, so it’s about the same as it is now,” Conder said, while ending the NSI agreement would save the district $10,000 a month.

“Dr. Moorti was the one pushing for her to be here a whole year, but I said that was too long,” Conder said. “But we do need her here for training.”

The contract will run for six months, ending on Jan. 1, 2006, with a 30-day cancellation notice for either side included, at the suggestion of board member Leo Hung.

All of the property sales presented to the board were approved, with a Utah man buying most of the lots up for vote.

Roy Pogue purchased a lot at 201 E. ‘D’ St. for $250, a lot in the 400 block of North Ash Street for $450, two tracts on U.S. 285 three miles north of Pecos for $500 and $300, a home at 721 W. Ninth St., for $175, a lot a 1244 Martinez St. for $175, a lot at 903 S. Walnut St., for $175, a home at 1014 E. Second St. for $125, and a lot on Diaz Street in Toyah for $30. The other property sales approved were for a 28 acres north of Pecos next to County Roads 403 and 405, which was bought by David Brocha of Louisiana for $1,000; a home at 815 S. Mesquite St., to Maria S. Estorga for $900; a lot behind an alley at 318 S. Sycamore St., to Yvonne A. Williams for $300, and a lot at 806 E. Third St., to Williams for $200; a home at 1317 S. Oak St., to Mary Y. Matta for $200; a lot at Daggett and Olive streets, and under one acre of a 60-acre tract to Mike Balog, for $200; a home at 506 S. Alberta to M. Russ Salcido for $500; and a home at 900 N. Cypress St. to Frank Orona for $300.

The board also had a 15-minute executive session to discuss personnel, but no vote was taken on any item following the closed door meeting.

In the administrator’s report, Conder said they still had to work out some details on payments to the Town of Pecos City for the 2003-04 ambulance contract, after a contract for 2005 was approved last month. “They still have allocations for ambulance CEO’s salary, CFO’s salary and (ambulance hall) rent on there. Frank and I are discussing how we’ll handle it,” he said.

He said the hospital is also seeking bids on landscaping the northeast area of the hospital, next to where the new air ambulance helicopter landing pad will be built. “You need sod where the helicopter lands, or else it will be kicking up dirt and rocks,” Conder said. “For the irrigation part of it, we may just hook it into the well, but we may get some local bids on it.”

The aquarium installation is planned as part of the hospital’s current renovation project. But Conder said the company the hospital talked to quoted a price of $11,170 to redo the tank area in the lobby, then install the tank and stock it with fish, and the cost didn’t include an annual $3,360 maintenance fee,” which I thought was a little high.”

Conder said Hung has a 500-gallon aquarium set-up through Blue Water Aquarium, and that the hospital would talk to that company about handling its installation and maintenance. “I think it will be considerably less than what we’ve gotten from the other people,” he said.

WTSS lawsuit In assault case rejected by jury

Staff Writer

A federal jury in Pecos ruled last week that an employee at the West Texas State School in Pyote did not use excessive force while attempting to restrain a student being held at the juvenile detention facility.

Antoinette Pitts, the mother of Robert W. Pitts, filed a complaint against the West Texas State School Superintendent Lemuel Harrison; Director of Security, Donald Brooks, Jr. and James Ortega and Robert Flores, claiming that Ortega had assaulted her son in a 2002 incident.

However, during the course of the trial other defendants were removed from the complaint by U.S. District Court Judge Robert Junnell, and jurors found that the action by Ortega did not warrant a monetary payment as was being sought by the Pitts family. The lawsuit was originally filed in San Antonio, but was moved to the Pecos federal courthouse.

The complaint alleged that on Aug. 19, 2002, Robert W. Pitts was in the dormitory 10B at the West Texas State School in Pyote. At approximately 6 a.m., Pitts allegedly slammed his locker doors in contravention to dorm policy. The Juvenile Correction Officer (JCO) on the floor, JCOII Billie Staas called for security to have Pitts taken to Security for the violation. JCO III James Ortega and Merced Carrio responded to the call. Pitts denied having slammed the locker doors and refused to be handcuffed. Ortega and Carrio restrained Pitts and put him in handcuffs. Ortega transported Pitts outside of the dorm where he placed the teen into the security vehicle and transported him to the Security building.

According to the complaint, in the process of taking Pitts out of the vehicle and taking him inside Security, Ortega, without provocation, began to punch Pitts in the face and slammed Pitts’ head into the wall of the Security building three times causing severe lacerations to Pitts’ mouth and cheek, the loss of one tooth and breaking other teeth. Ortega said that Pitts was resisting efforts to go inside the building, but the suit claimed Ortega used excessive force in order to subdue Pitts, regardless of whether Pitts was resisting.

Pitts was transported to the Ward County Memorial Hospital emergency room where he was treated for several lacerations on the right side of his face, had his tooth re-implanted and a root canal done for the broken tooth.

The TYC conducted an investigation and concluded that excessive force was used by JCO Ortega, which caused serious bodily injury to Pitts. The report found that the 5’8”, 240 pound, Ortega was significantly larger than the 127 pound, 5’6” Pitts and that Pitts was handcuffed at the time of the incident.

Antoinette Pitts’ complaint also stated that following the incident, her son was threatened with bodily harm by JCO Robert Flores in retaliation for reporting the assault, which resulted in the eventual disciplining of JCO Ortega.

On Sept. 28, 2002, JCO Flores was sent to handcuff another resident and in the process exchanged words with Pitts. Flores told Pitts that his mouth is what got him “put on his ass” the last time. Pitts replied that he was in handcuffs at the time and Flores replied that “He wasn’t in handcuffs now, so what’s up?” this was said in a threatening manner to Pitts and in the vernacular of the youth at the West Texas State School was a challenge to fight. Pitts stayed quiet and reported the incident to JCO Staas.

Following this latest incident of harassment and threats by security personnel to Pitts, at the behest of his mother, Antoinette Pitts, Pitts was finally transferred to the Evins Regional Juvenile Center in Edinburgh, where the complaint said he was later released for good behavior.

The suit sought relief based on both physical and emotional distress caused by the assault, and an unspecified amount of monetary compensation was being sought, along with punitive damages. Attorney R. Chris Pittard of San Antonio represented the family.

Pecos woman freed after drug indictment

A former Pecos woman was among 19 people arrested last week, on charges of participating in a ring involved in the distribution and selling of crack cocaine in the Permian Basin.

U.S. Magistrate Stuart Platt set bond at $10,000 on Philonicus LaBelle Fobbs, 22, who was among those arrested in the March 17 sweep by federal agents, in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies.

Odessa attorney Laura Carpenter was named to represent Fobbs, who was released on bond Tuesday. Platt set hearings on all defendants in the case for April 20 in U.S. District Court in Midland, according to the Midland Reporter-Telegram.

A total of 21 people were indicted by a federal grand jury in the case. According to a press release from the U.S. Attorney’s office, All 21 defendants were charged with Conspiracy to Manufacture, Distribute, and Possess with Intent to Distribute in Excess of 50 Grams of a Mixture or Substance Containing Cocaine Base, to wit, crack cocaine. U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton said the ring originated with three men who were being held in the Big Spring Federal Correctional Institute in 1996.

According to the indictment, beginning in April 1996, Adrian ÒBig BooÓ Crook, 34, arrived at the federal prison in Big Spring, Texas, to serve a sentence for drug trafficking. While there he met other inmates including Elias "Lie" Carrillo, 30, Jose Larez "Juni" Padilla, 34, and Caishan Brooks who were also serving sentences for drug trafficking. The indictment alleges that while in prison Crook became familiar with their drug trafficking capabilities and made plans to utilize them to re-establish himself as major drug dealer when he was released from prison.

The indictment further alleges that beginning in April 1996 and continuing through this year, Crook and his codefendants participated in numerous meetings and transactions concerning the manufacture and distribution of crack cocaine and then beginning in November 2003, the defendants began distributing the crack cocaine.

In federal court on Tuesday, the Reporter-Telegram said Assistant U.S. Attorney Glenn Roque-Jackson told Platt that Ricky Garcia "Trainer" Armendariz, 24, made regular trips from Mexico to bring cocaine into the Permian Basin.

Along with Fobbs, several other defendants were released on bond Tuesday, following their hearings before Platt.

The federal indictment listed the others charged as Joseph L. Green, Tammy Bradley, Fatima Green, Aaron Loika, Gregory Palmer, Angelina Luna, Rene Rubio, Raymond Duarte, Israel T. Hernandez, Latisha Cummings, D’Marria Monday, Clyde Young, and Donald Eugene Jeffery. No hearings were held on Tuesday for Young or Jeffery.

ÒAs the local representative of the Drug Enforcement Administration, I would like to take this opportunity to personally express my gratitude to all the agencies that participated so admirably in his investigation. This investigation was a model of cooperation and demonstrates the extremely high degree of effectiveness that can be achieved when federal, state and local law enforcement agencies combine their talents and resources to combat drug trafficking,Ó said DEA Resident Agent in Charge William Smith.

Crook and Padilla face a minimum 20 years in federal prison with the remaining defendants facing a 10 year mandatory minimum.

This case was investigated by the Drug Enforcement Administration, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Texas Department of Public Safety, Ector County Sheriff’s Office, Midland County Sheriff’s Office, City of Midland Police Department, City of Monahans Police Department, City of Odessa Police Department, San Angelo Task Force and the West Texas Narcotics Enforcement Task Force.

Families mark 2nd anniversary of Iraq deaths

Local family and friends are remembering a hero and loved one who they lost two years ago, in the opening days of the Iraq war.

Ruben Estrella Soto of El Paso was one of two soldiers with family members in Pecos who were killed on March 23, 2003. Wednesday was the second anniversary of that attack.

The soldiers were members of the 507th Maintenance Unit, which was ambushed by Iraqi troops after becoming separated from the rest of their group near Nasiriyah, in southern Iraq.

Johnny Villarreal Mata was the other soldier with Pecos ties to die in the attack. Mata was a 1986 granduate of Pecos High School, and his burial was held in Pecos in April of 2003. A new park will be dedicated in the name of Mata and slain drug task force officer Jaime Rodriguez on Memorial Day at the end of May.

While Soto was never a Pecos resident, both the Maruffo and Muniz family are remembering Soto, who was only 18 and a naturalized U.S. citizen when he gave up his dreams and his life to free people in a country half a world away.

"There were two things he took very seriously," the Rev. Ed Roden-Lucero said before reciting Estrella-Soto's rosary on the Sunday before his funeral, at the Blessed Juan Diego Catholic Church in east El Paso. "One was his faith and the other was his Mexican heritage."

Estrella-Soto was born in Juarez, Mexico, just across the Rio Grande from El Paso. His mother was born in the United States, which allowed his family to move to El Paso, said David Sanchez, Estrella-Soto's cousin.

His father lived in Pecos for 10 years before moving to El Paso.

"This country has given us everything we have and we're real proud of Ruben," Sanchez said. "Some of us come to work real hard for this country and one of us died for this country. That shows you how much we appreciate it."

Sanchez said his mother and Estrella-Soto's mother are sisters and "the whole family feels he did go to fight for a good cause."

"We were like brothers," Sanchez said. "Rubencito was one of the most responsible 18-year-olds I have ever met."

Sanchez said his cousin joined the Army because he wanted to go to college and become an engineer.

"He wanted to be educated and to run his own company," he said. "To us, he's a hero."

Estrella-Soto and Mata were among the first U.S. soliders to die in the Iraq conflict. Over 1,500 U.S. troops have been killed in the two years since the Gulf War began, with most of those deaths coming as the result of attacks by insurgants following the official end of the war in May of 2003.

County library receives $2,500 state grant

Reeves County Library was one of 37 libraries statewide to be honored with a Texas Book Festival grant at the annual convention of the Texas Library Association on Thursday, April 7, in Austin.

The 2005 Texas Book Festival will award a total of $125,000 to 37 libraries throughout the state. Several of this year’s recipients will be recognized for benchmark projects in literacy and technology that can be replicated by other libraries. Since 1995, the Festival has raised over $1.65 million for 550 libraries statewide. The 2004 Book Festival was generously underwritten by SBC.

“The Friends of the Library (Reeves County Library support group) are very grateful to receive the Texas Book Festival Award of $2,500,” said librarian Sally Perry.

Perry said that the award is to be used to update and enlarge the juvenile collections at the Reeves County Library.

“This will include books, magazine and videos,” said Perry.

The 2005 Texas Book will celebrate its 10th anniversary and will take place on Oct. 28-30, at the State Capitol in Austin. Founded by First Lady Laura Bush in 1995, the Festival features reading and discussions with renowned Texas and national authors. The 2004 Festival attracted more than 25,000 attendees with a program that included Joyce Carol Oates, Seymour Hersh, Peter Bogdonavich, Kinky Friedman and Sir Harold Evans. The Texas Book Festival has grown each year to become one of the most prestigious literary festivals in the nation.

“The Texas Book Festival has become an anticipated, established event that thousands of Texans look forward to attending each year,” said Festival Chair Regan Gammon. “We are looking forward to celebrating 10 years of bringing readers and writers together in the State Capitol as we work toward our goal of placing a Texas Book Festival grant in every library in the state,” he said.

PHS students to attend BPA national event

Two Pecos High School students will be traveling to Anaheim, Calif., at the end of April to participate in the Business Professionals of America’s National Leadership Conference.

Rebecca Valles and Nicole Calderon will be among the over 5,000 students from across the United States to attend the event, which includes national-level business skills competitions, workshops, general sessions and campaign and elections for national BPA officer positions.

Pecos High School teacher Judy Holland, the local BPA chapter’s advisor, said Valles will represent the Texas BPA delegation in the Banking and Finance competition. She will also be recognized at the Honors Reception for national competitors in Anaheim. Calderon will be an intern for BPA and will assist with hosting duties for the four-day event, which runs from April 22-26.

“The conference will be the culmination of a school year’s worth of business workforce education and training which the local chapter of Business Professionals of America at Pecos High School have received,” Holland said. “We wish Rebecca the very best in her competition at Anaheim and are extremely proud of her accomplishments.

“We are pleased to have Nicole be a part of the national event and represent not only Pecos High School but also the Texas delegation in Anaheim,” she added.

Valles qualified for the national conference in the Banking and Finance event at the BPA State Leadership Conference in Arlington earlier this month. Other PHS students who participate in that event included Calderon in Advanced Office Systems and Procedures; Jessica Natividad in Medical Applications; Kathryn Ornelas in Fundemental Accounting and Cherie Ortiz in Payroll Accounting. Tean contestants included Ornelas, Brittaney Castaneda, Vanessa Galindo and Tiffany Boicourt in Financial Analysis and Cherie Ortiz, Cheryl Ortiz, Natividad and Jomyra Zuniga as Administrative Support Team.

PEDC expects final deal soon to reopen track

A proposal for high-speed vehicle testing this spring at the currently closed Smithers Transportation Testing Center didn’t work out for the Pecos Economic Development Corp., but plans are still underway to reopen the facility under an agreement with Texas A&M University and a New Mexico company.

The PEDC will meet at 5 p.m. next Tuesday to discuss the Smithers project, along with several other items involving the plan to reopen the facility, which was shut down five years ago. Late last year, the PEDC board was told by interim president Mike Burkholder that DaimlerChrysler was looking at using the track this spring for high speed testing of Mercedes-Benz diesel cars, but those plans have been scrapped.

“They were afraid that the condition of the road surface was such that that kind of high-speed testing would be a problem. So they decided to do their high-speed tests at Laredo,” Burkholder said.

He said the company originally sought the Pecos site because the 24-hour testing would interfere with other vehicle tests at the Laredo track. “Then they thought they would move some of their other business out here, but they finally decided against it in Germany. They own three tracks in the U.S., and they’re going to try and do it there.” However, he added, “They told us not to X them out. They said we still might get some of their business in the future.”

Burkholder said the PEDC is close to signing an interim contract with the Texas Transportation Agency, which is supervised by Texas A&M University, and Applied Research Associates, an Albuquerque, N.M. company that would operate the facility. “We’re on the verge of signing a contract with them. It should be within 90 days or less,” he said, adding that the pact would be an interim agreement that could be replaced within two years by a 50-year agreement to run the facility, with a 50-year renewal option.

“I’ve got three men from ARA coming here on the fourth (of April). One of them is their chief operating officer. I would expect some time after that, the decision will be finalized on what we’re going to do about the track,” Burkholder said. “ARA are the ones putting the money up, so this guy should be the one to make the decision.”

PEDC members were told last year it would take several years to full rehabilitate the facility, which was built in the early 1960s, and that they could see some federal funds to help with the rehabilitation project.

“They’re extremely optimistic about the potential of the situation,” Burkholder said about ARA.

Along with getting an update on the track plans, the board’s agenda next Tuesday calls for voting on a resolution authorizing Burkholder to sign contracts in his position as PDC president, along with making expenditures as required to re-open the test track. Terms of the lease contract with the Texas Research Foundation are due to be discussed in executive session.

The only other items on the agenda involve approval of minutes from the board’s January meeting and financial statements from February and March, along with several budget transfer items.

No early relief from rough road for I-20 drivers

Road conditions have been a lot better for Pecos area drivers along Interstate 20 over the past few months, since the Texas Department of Transportation completed rebuilding 30 miles of highway from Pyote to the FM 869 exit west of Pecos.

But drivers coming and going between Pyote and the Monahans area in Ward County will have to endure long stretches of bad road for at least another 11 months, until TxDOT begins a project to rebuild about 18 miles of that highway early next year. The work that began last spring on I-20 rebuilt both lanes of the interstate in each direction, eliminating some especially rough road conditions on the westbound lanes of the interstate in the Barstow area that had been a problem since the late 1990s. Around the same time, TxDOT resurfaced much of the roadway between Pyote and the Monahans Sandhills, but that surface has deteriorated to the point that both cars and trucks have been avoiding using the right lane of I-20, especially in the area between Wickett and Monahans.

“They did a rebuild in 2000, but since then the driving (right) lanes have deteriorated,” said Glen Larum, public information officer for TxDOT’s Odessa District office. “We’re aware that truck traffic has been using the passing lane as the driving lane, and that’s probably a good thing.”

Since the 2000 rebuild, several sections of road already have been repatched, but those areas again have deteriorated, helped along by the heavy rains over the past year in the Trans-Pecos region. And Larum said a permanent fix for I-20 won’t be started until late next winter.

“We are planning a major rebuild for the driving lanes in both directions,,” he said. “The plans are to start in February of 2006.”

Between now and then, Larum said signs may be put in place urging drivers to use the left lane as the regular driving lane to avoid the worst of the damaged areas, while crews will work to keep both lanes of the interstate usable in both directions.

“We’re going to keep patching it until we can get the rehab project going,” Larum said.

Marchan celebrates third birthday

Christopher Blaze Marchan celebrated his third birthday on Saturday, with a party held in his honor at Maxey Park.

Christopher was born on March 15, 2002.

Theme for the special event was Spider Man.

Guests were served sandwiches, nachos, popcorn balls and Spider Man Cake.

He received many gifts, but his favorite was a Spider Man Mask with gloves.

The children enjoyed the Jumping Balloon and breaking the Spider Man Pinata. Christopher is the son of Tiffany Garcia and Christopher Marchan.

Maternal grandparents are Melinda Gomez and Larry Garcia.

Paternal grandmother is Lupe Mendoza.

Nichols celebrates 10th birthday with sleepover

Gabriana Nichols celebrated her 10th birthday on Saturday, with a sleepover/pajama party held in her honor at her home.

She was born March 22, 1995.

Several of her school friends were on hand to help her celebrate the special occasion, along with her younger sister, Danielle and her brother, C.J.

Gabriana is the daughter of Sonia Nichols and Jose Hernandez.

Maternal grandparents are Alicia and Carlos Nichols Jr. and paternal grandparents are Jose Hernandez and Rosa Castaneda. Both sets of grandparents attended the party.

Special gifts she received included a golf bag engraved with her name, lots of clothes and jewelry.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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