Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Tuesday, April 16, 2002
Feds issue safety warnings on 15-passenger vans
From Staff and Wire Reports
PECOS, Tuesday, April 16, 2002 -- Five days after the crash of a van carrying
13 U.S. Marshal's Service inmates and two guards in Jeff Davis County,
the federal government issued a renewed safety warning for 15-passenger
vans, saying that the fully loaded vehicles are more susceptible to
The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration repeated Monday the
unusual consumer advisory it issued a year ago, warning the vans have a dramatically
higher risk of rollovers when fully loaded and only should be operated by
NHTSA Administrator Jeffrey Runge said the problems are not related to
the van's design.
"This is not a defect issue," he said. "This is a behavioral issue with
Before getting behind the wheel, a driver should be familiar with the
handling aspects of such a large vehicle, he said.
A Ford van owned by CiviGenics of Texas was fully loaded last Wednesday
on a trip from El Paso to Odessa when the driver of the vehicle lost control,
causing the van to strike a bridge guardrail and roll over and down an embankment
on Interstate 10, at the 183 mile marker in northern Jeff Davis County. Two
inmates, Francisco Letkeman-Wiebe, 48, and Jose Rubio, 25, died at the scene
of the accident, while three others were injured seriously enough to remain
at hospitals in El Paso, Midland and Lubbock after the other eight inmates
along with the driver and second guard were treated and released from Reeves
County Hospital in Pecos and Thomason General Hospital in El Paso.
The 13 inmates were being transported from El Paso to the Ector County
Detention Center in Odessa, said Jim Shaw, regional director for CiviGenics,
the company that also operates the detention center. The inmates were part
of a two-van convoy that had left Odessa about 4:30 a.m. to pick up the prisoners
in El Paso, and had begun their return trip to Odessa around 12 noon CDT.
The guards in the van had covered about 445 miles of their 560-mile round
trip over a 10-hour period when the accident occurred.
A report issued by the Texas Department of Public Safety cited fatigue
on the part of the driver, Duane Taylor, as the main factor in the accident.
That report from the DPS was initially disputed by Shaw, who said the van
rolled after the front right tire blew out.
Corrections officer Mike Contreras, who was riding with Taylor when the
van wrecked, also said a guard in the second CiviGenics van told him a blowout
The inmates were in four rows of seats behind a grill that separated them
from the front seat of the van where Taylor and Contreras were seated. The
13 inmates had their legs chained, but according to DPS Sgt. Luis Najera
of Van Horn, they were not wearing seat belts when the accident occurred.
Anyone carrying 16 or more people for commercial purposes is required
to have a commercial driver's license, but no special license or experience
is required for the 15-passenger vans. Federal law bans the purchase of 15-passenger
vans for schools, but there is no such ban for colleges or others, such as
church groups or detention facilities that use the small vans instead of
buses to carry inmates from one site to another.
NHTSA is studying whether to require all new 15-passenger vans to carry
a label encouraging seat belt use and warning about rollover risks, and Runge
said he is sending a letter reminding dealerships that it is illegal for
them to sell the vans to schools.
When fully loaded, a large van's center of gravity shifts higher and to
the back, increasing the risk of rollovers. Last year NHTSA examined accident
data in seven states from 1994 through 1997 and found the vans are three
times more likely to roll over when carrying 10 or more passengers.
NHTSA had no figures on the number of van accidents in the last year,
but at least three have resulted in multiple injuries or deaths.
Six members of the Utah State University men's volleyball club were injured
when their van flipped last April. A month later, separate accidents killed
four women on a trip with the First Assembly of God church in Burkburnett,
Texas, and two members of the Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity at the University
of Central Arkansas.
Joan Claybrook, president of consumer advocacy group Public Citizen, called
NHTSA's actions "woefully inadequate."
"A verbal admonishment to wear your seat belt will do nothing to protect
these passengers," she said. "A warning label would only shield auto manufacturers
from liability, allowing them to argue that they aren't responsible for deaths
and injuries sustained in rollover crashes because the drivers and passengers
were duly warned."
NHTSA officials said there are about 1.4 million 15-passenger vans registered
in the United States. Popular models include the Ford Econoline E350, Chevrolet
Express 3500, GMC Savana G3500, GMC Rally/Vandura G3500 and Dodge Ram Van/Wagon
Groups seeking help for families after Friday fire
By ROSIE FLORES
PECOS, Tuesday, April 16, 2002 -- Funds and other donations are being solicited
for two families and an investigation is continuing into a fire that
destroyed their homes Friday afternoon.
All seven units of the Pecos Volunteer Fire Department were called to
the scene, in the 600 block of Ross Boulevard, shortly after 1:30 p.m.
"The fire started in the second house from the corner, inside a van,"
said Town of Pecos City Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire. The van was parked
in the carport area of a home occupied by Israel Gonzales, his wife and three
teenage daughters, at 605 Ross Boulevard. The fire spread from the van to
their house and then two a second home on the south side of the carport where
the family of Elda Fuentes lived.
Families occupied both homes and a resident of the first house was asleep
inside when the incident occurred.
A story in yesterday's Pecos Enterprise incorrectly stated that the Gonzales'
house was empty.
Gonzales was asleep inside the house when the fire started. "He heard
something pop, like the window or something and that is what woke him up,"
The fire marshal said that the fire started inside the van, then spread
to the carport and then the attic of that house. "After that house was on
fire, it spread to the other house, the one located right on the corner,"
The van was in working condition and had been used by Mr. Gonzales recently.
"He had driven it home from work that morning," said Brookshire.
Both Gonzales' are employed at Anchor West, according to a member of the
Church of Christ, the church the family attends.
Church of Christ is helping out the Gonzales' family and anyone wishing
to donate anything to the family who lost everything Friday can do so by
contacting the church located at Fourth and Bois D'Arc streets, or by calling
Elda Fuentes worked at La Tienda Thriftway and store employees there are
taking donations to help her family out.
"We've been collecting dishes, clothes and anything that people would
like to donate to her and her family," said La Tienda store manager Noe De
Los Santos on Monday. "Everything was destroyed, so the family is really
Heavy smoke poured out of the garage area of the Gonzales' home for about
30 minutes. The garage, which continued back from the house to the rear alley
of the home, was located only a few feet from the Fuentes' home.
"The distance between the homes probably wouldn't meet the new codes today,
but when they were first built it did meet the codes," said Brookshire.
The burning van was parked at the front of garage, and firemen used a
pick-up truck to pull the vehicle out of the garage and towards the street
after the van had been destroyed.
A windowsill that caught on fire on the north side of the Fuentes' home
was also extinguished, but the fire in the rear section of the garage continued
to burn, while the fire from the burning van had spread onto the roof of
the garage and then into the attic above the main section of the house.
That caused the fire to increase again and by 2:45 p.m., the first home
was fully engulfed in flames. The fire then spread to the second home, setting
the roof on fire and eventually causing it to collapse. Both homes were totally
destroyed, according to Brookshire.
All units were on the scene and the firefighters were there until 6:30
p.m., according to Brookshire.
The cause of the fire is still under investigation. "All we know at this
time is that it did start inside the van and spread from there," said Brookshire.
Local sales tax rebates increase for April
PECOS, Tuesday, April 16, 2002 -- Sales tax rebates for April were up
for most of the smaller cities in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos region
and down for the area's largest cities, according to figures released Friday
by State Comptroller Carole Keeton Rylander's office.
Pecos' tax rebates for April, based on sales made in the city during February,
were up 5.59 percent over the same period a year ago, and the first four
months of 2002 are up 6.28 percent from 2001's totals. The city got back
$54,148 this month from Rylander's office, as their 1½-cent share
of the state's 8¼-cent sales tax. That total is up from the $51,277
the city received a year ago.
Of this month's total, one sixth, or $9,025, goes towards funding for
the Pecos Economic Development Corp.
Balmorhea and Toyah also reported increases in their April tax rebate
checks. Balmorhea's check for $1,117 was up 346.2 percent from last year's
$255 check and Toyah's check for $564 was up 102.55 percent from last year's
$278 the city received in April.
Balmorhea's tax rebates for the first four months of the year stand at
$4,264, which is 110.63 percent up from 2001, while Toyah received several
large rebate checks in the early part of last year, so their $1,803 total
is a drop of 45.87 percent from a year ago.
For 2002 so far, Pecos has gotten $252,973 back from Austin, which is
up from the $238,017 last year.
Andrews had the biggest single jump of any area city. It's April rebate
check of $154,630 was more than $105,000 higher than April 2001's check,
and represented a 215.4 percent increase. Other cities were more in line
with the normal monthly fluxuations, with Presidio, Marfa, Crane and Kermit
reporting double-digit increases in their tax rebate checks, while Monahans,
Alpine and Fort Stockton saw their sales tax numbers drop slightly from last
year, according to the comptroller's office.
Also dropping were the rebate checks for both Midland and Odessa. Midland
continued to receive the Permian Basin's largest check, but the $1.140,262
was down .84 percent from last year, while Odessa's check for $916.720 was
a drop of 8.16 percent from April of 2001.
April tax rebates for the Reeves County Hospital District, based on their
½-cent sales tax, were $30,184, which was up 34.52 percent from the
$22,438 last year. For 2002, the hospital has gotten $120,787 in sales tax
rebates over the past four months, which is up 25.81 percent from last year.
Statewide sales tax figures for April were down for cities and counties
in Texas .83 percent, to $182.5 million. Houston's check for just under $23.4
million was up just under one percent from last year, but Dallas' check for
$13.6 million was a decline of about 1½ percent from last year.
T-NP honors two for helping locally on deregulation job
PECOS, Tuesday, April 16, 2002 -- Two employees for Texas-New Mexico Power
Co. in Pecos were among those honored recently by the company as part of
its Texas Electric Choice competition, related to T-NP's entry into the electric
deregulation market over the past year.
Ricky Barreno and Ernest Matta were among those honored as part of the
Ercot Generation Meter Technical Team, and among 60 employees honored in
seven categories by the company.
"We celebrate employee achievements every year and it was apparent this
year that those needed to be recognized and congratulated predominantly were
involved in getting our company ready for the new competitive marketplace
in Texas," said Jack Chambers, president and CEO of Texas-New Mexico Power
Co. "This ceremony was a salute to them and to three employees with outstanding
Two other employees from the company's Fort Stockton office were also
honored. Tod Bryant was recognized as a member of the Ercot Generation Meter
Technical Team, and Sharon Buck was recognized for her work with the Training
PECOS, Tuesday, April 16, 2002 -- High Mon. 94. Low this morning 63. Forecast
for tonight: Mostly clear. Lows in the mid 50s. South winds 5 to 10
mph.Wed.: Mostly sunny and breezy. Highs around 90. SW winds 15 to
25 mph. Wed.night: Partly cloudy. Lows 55 to 60. Thurs.: Partly cloudy
and breezy. Highsaround 90. Fri.: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 50s.
Highs in the mid 80s.
Sylvia Contreras, Dulces Aguilar, Kennith Heath, Stanley Lindsey, Jesus Pacheco,
Clara Sample and Josefa Sanchez
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
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Copyright 2002 by Pecos Enterprise