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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

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Tuesday, May 21, 2002

Investigation continues into Rodriguez's fatal shooting

Staff Writers

PECOS, Tuesday, May 21, 2002 -- Hundreds of people spent an emotional day mourning the loss  of one of Pecos' own yesterday at the funeral for fallen officer  Jaime Rodriguez.

During the funeral, held Monday at Santa Rosa Catholic Church, many people gathered to hear the service performed by three priests including Father Ben Florez, Monsignor David Fierro and Father Paul Matta, who was Rodriguez' classmate.

Another classmate Nancy Ontiveros explained how emotional the funeral was for everyone in attendance.

"It was a very moving service because Jaime was well loved and cared for by everyone in the community and West Texas," she said.

Rodriguez' daughter, Jessica, wrote a poem about her father, which Rodriguez' niece Nettie Rodriguez read during the funeral.

Randy Martinez, Rodriguez' nephew, also read a poem, whose author is unknown, which he adapted slightly in honor of his uncle.

Law enforcement officials from all around Texas were in Pecos Monday to pay tribute and bid farewell to Rodriguez, 38, who was killed last Thursday during a routine check on a Greyhound bus here in Pecos.

Rodriguez died in Lubbock about 6½ hours after being shot twice in the abdomen while performing a routine drug check on a Greyhound bus making a stop in Pecos. Richard Colunga II, a 19-year-old Austin resident, allegedly pulled out a pistol and fired at Rodriguez as the Trans Pecos Task Force officer asked the man for identification.

Colunga was killed when officers returned fire, while a passenger on the bus, identified as 19-year-old Heather Lee of South Carolina, was also shot in the back during the gun battle.

Before Colunga opened fire, Rodriguez reportedly told him that the ticket he presented to the officer was for a different bus than the Los Angeles-bound bus he was on. No luggage belonging to Colunga was found on board the bus, but Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez said, "They located his bag in Tucson, Ariz. and was sent down here."

However, even though a drug-sniffing dog in Tucson alerted to the bag, no drugs were found inside. "It only contained his personal belongings and clothes," said Gomez.

Colunga was wanted on a Travis County warrant for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, according to Gomez.

"That's probably the reason that he pulled out the gun, he panicked because there was a warrant out for his arrest," said Gomez.

Tests are not completed on what type of bullets struck Lee and Rodriguez, but Gomez said Colunga was shot once in the side with a 45 caliber pistol, while the gun he used was a 380 pistol. "That's a small automatic pistol," the sheriff added.

The Department of Public Safety has released no formal report on the shootout. "It usually takes several days before any ballistics report is completed," said a spokesperson with the DPS' Public Information Office in Austin on Monday. Texas Ranger Gerry Villalobos, who is conducting the investigation, did not return a phone call as of press time.

Gomez also said that because of a hostage standoff at Motel 6 earlier Thursday morning involving two persons wanted for murder out of Georgia, the schedule for the task force officers had been altered at the time the Greyhound bus arrived in Pecos, and that as a result, Rodriguez was not wearing his bullet-proof vest.

All officers normally wear those vests, especially during routine checks. However, Gomez said, "Jaime wasn't on duty, we were headed for a meeting, following another altercation at the Motel 6. That's why he wasn't wearing his vest, it was a spur of the moment thing to go check that bus," he said.

Gomez said that the group was to meet at the Trans Pecos Drug Task Force office, which is located behind the bus station, when the lieutenant for the task force suggested doing a quick check of the bus at the Pecos bus station.

"It must have been fate, it was his time," said Gomez, "Because he always wore that vest and he usually didn't do the bus interdictions, it was other officers who took care of that part of the job.

Monday's funeral was attended by several hundred law enforcement officers from across Texas and southeastern New Mexico. Pallbearers for Rodriguez were local law enforcement officers from different agencies, including Mundy Granado, Paul Deishler, Jeffrey Baeza, Danny Leos, Israel Campos and Arnulfo Rivas.

"Law enforcement officials came all the way from Dallas, Abilene, Odessa, Houston, all over the state of Texas," said Gomez.

Ontiveros, who was a Pecos High School classmate of Rodriguez in the early 1980s, said that many other classmates also attended the funeral.

"Several of Jaime's former teachers and classmates traveled afar to come bid him farewell," she said.

A sermon was given in efforts to help the mourners say goodbye to their friend asking them not to ask why but to deal with the fact that Rodriguez was a hero whom served his community and acted in the line of duty with no concern for himself.

After the funeral, Elodia Hartnett, Rodriguez' mother-in-law, said that the family was moved by the outpouring of affection that the law enforcement community and the community of Pecos showed in the past several days.

"Love of this kind is very special," she said. "And they showed it."

Hartnett said that she and her husband, Bill, have known Rodriguez for many years and considered him a son.

She said she'd never forget how much Rodriguez wanted to help people and was always the first to offer help.

"Jaime was excellent in every position he did," she said. "He was the first one to offer help and never complained."

Now the community as well as Rodriguez' family and friends must deal with the loss of a good officer and a hero but will never forget.

Gomez said he was grateful for the support shown at one of our own. "This shows that law enforcement is a family and that we are all in this together," said Gomez. "It was beautiful the way all the other officers came together to pay their respect."

"The church was full of people and there wasn't even anywhere to stand," said Gomez.

Gomez said that it was touching to see how the people in the community reacted as well. "They know he did a good job and died doing his job," said Gomez. "He protected the other passengers and they were thankful for that as well."

Lee, 17, a passenger from Columbia, S.C., had a bullet lodged near her spine and was in stable condition awaiting surgery late Friday, she said. According to Nancy Ontiveros of Reeves County Hospital, Lee was discharged from the Lubbock Hospital on Monday.

To My Father --  A Fallen Soldier

By Jessica Rodriguez
From the day he came from his mother's womb,
He knew what he was destined to do,
To become a man of the law,
Which was what he wanted to be, most of all,
To be a man of justice, To be a man of peace, To be a man of honor,
To become an officer of the law,
A soldier as they are sometimes called,
These were the dreams of a young boy, who was to become a man,
This was what his profession was, that God had planned,
The day he gained his badge was the day he became a soldier,
Through each day of his job he began to grow bolder,
He was a soldier,
That's what everyone knew,
Especially to his wife, his son, and his daughter too,
Each and everyday he left to work,
His family always worrying every time he stepped out the door,
Leaving his family left in the unknown once he shut that door,
The house was silent every time he left,
Scared of that one call that would be of the soldier's death,
But yet he would return with a smirk of triumph,
Happy of his deeds he had accomplished by the end of the day,
Till that one fateful day the call was made,
The soldier had fallen that very day,
They were doing a bus check as a usual day but then,
Shots that had taken place within the rush,
The soldier had been shot for upholding the law,
The reports said there had been a struggle,
And two shots were fired piercing his body,
Through it all he never gave up,
For he put up a great fight,
Knowing that there were others on the bus that were depending on his might,
His partner went into action doing the best he could do,
With that, another shot was fired in an action of rescue,
Trying to help by backing up his partner,
Killing the man that was to blame for that horrible day,
Sirens were heard that tragic day, as the officer lay very grave,
He had a smile because he had done his job,
For he had taken an oath to protect and serve,
And he made sure he did what was to be done,
He gave up his life in line of duty,
Saving the people from what could have been worse,
He died as a hero to all he knew,
A fallen soldier as one would say,
Leaving in a respectful way,
For this was what he was destined to do,
From the day he came from his mother's womb.
In memory of all those Officers who also have given their life in the line  of duty.

Relay for Life participants collect over $19,000

Staff Writer

PECOS, Tuesday, May 21, 2002 -- Despite cool, windy conditions, hundreds of people participated  in this year's Relay for Life and raised more money than ever before  Friday night and Saturday morning at Eagle Stadium.

Relay for Life Chairwoman Terri Spence said the walk was great and with the help of the 11 teams participating they were able to break their goal of $19,000.

"It went wonderful," she said. "It was just awesome."

Spence said that not all the money has come in yet therefore the Relay committee does not have a final total.

She said the total, as of the closing ceremony on Saturday, is $20,500, most of which the teams raised themselves.

"It just amazes me at how well everyone's done," she said. "The team did fantastic."

Awards were handed out to those who raised the most money during the closing ceremony Saturday.

Security State Bank won the most money raised by a team award while Olga Mendoza and Dena Dutchover won the most money raised by an adult and a youth respectively.

Spence said that close to 300 people participated in the Relay, which she was very pleased to see.

"There was a big group out there," she said.

Spence said that most of the games planned for Friday evening had to be canceled due to the wind, including the lighting of the luminaries.

However, she explained that the luminary ceremony did proceed as planned with Sylvia Sadler giving her survival testimony and the reading of the names that the luminaries honored or remembered.

Between 550 and 600 names were called out during the luminary ceremony, according to Spence.

People had the chance to continue purchasing luminaries for loved ones they wanted to honor or remember up until about 8:30 p.m., that night, which many did.

"Even despite the wind people were still buying them," Spence said.

Spence said that the wind did not bother those who had come out to help raise money for cancer research.

"The wind put a damper on some things but it didn't put a damper on the spirit," she said.

Approximately 20 cancer survivors showed up to participate in the Survivor Lap at the beginning on the night.

Little Miss Cantaloupe candidates led the survivors around the track during the survivors lap.

Members of local Brownie troops walked on behalf of survivors who could not make it to the Relay while carrying posters with their names on them, according to Spence.

Spence said that the committee had come up with the idea of the Brownies walking for survivors this year.

"We thought this would be a neat way to represent them," she said.

Other awards were given out to the teams that were the most spirited and the best campsite.

The Austin Elementary team won the best campsite award while American Home Health and Hospice won the most spirited award.

Spence listed the other teams that participated included Pecos Nursing Home, Pecos High School Student Council, Golden Girls, Catholic Daughters, Winkles Trucking, the First United Methodist Church Youth Group and West Texas National Bank.

Spence said having so many people participating in the walk and donating money is great and she appreciates the community, participants, underwriters and sponsors.

"I'm so pleased and thankful to the community," she said. "It just shows that Pecos has a desire to find a cure."

Spence said that the Relay would not have been as successful as it was without the help of committee members.

"I had an excellent committee behind me," she said.

She is thankful to those members and hopes they are ready for the next year, which they'll begin planning soon.

All in all, Spence believes that everyone had fun during the Relay and they all were equally excited about raising so much money for the American Cancer Society.

"Everybody was just real excited that we passed our goal," she said.

Contreras earns $1,950 in funds  with 60-mile cancer walk

Special Correspondent

PECOS, Tuesday, May 21, 2002 -- Pecos resident Julie Contreras recently participated and  completed the three-day, walk-a-thon for the Avon Breast Cancer Crusade in  the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

She became interested in the event after watching her aunt, Lily Contreras of Hobbs, N. M., battle the disease two years ago.

"She is now in remission" said Contreras of her 47-year-old aunt. "This walk is in her honor,"

Contreras' journey began last November when a friend first told her about the trek and "`I started training in January."

"I was averaging about 3 to 4 miles per hour," said the Wal-Mart employee, who was part of the march through suburbs of Dallas and Fort Worth. Walkers covered 60 miles in an effort to promote cancer awareness.

"There were over 3,000 walkers," Contreras revealed. "I was the only one from West Texas."

She stated she walked among, "breast cancer survivors and husbands, daughters and sons of women who had died of breast cancer."

Participants also raised funds for the cause.

"My goal was to raise $1,900," Contreras said, and with donations from friends, family and co-workers, funds raised from a hot dog stand where she worked and a matching grant from Wal-Mart for $600, she was able to contribute $1,950 to the effort.

Overall, she said $2 ½ million was raised from that event.

The 31-year-old mother of three said she in fact thought of the health benefits for herself when she became involved with the crusade, but all that changed in three days. She realized the impact the disease has on so many lives and "I became more aware of the importance of self exams." She added she would like to dedicate her experience to remind women to do so.

Contreras said her accomplishment would not have been possible without the help of her family, friends and co-workers and extra warm, "thank you," to all.

High school holds ceremony tonight for scholarships

PECOS, Tuesday, May 21, 2002 -- Pecos High School will be holding its annual Scholarship Award ceremony this evening, beginning at 6:30 p.m.

Scholarships from various local groups and businesses, along with scholarships from schools both in Texas and from other states will be awarded to Pecos High School students during this evening's ceremony. The event is held annually prior to graduation ceremonies, which are scheduled this year for May 31 at Eagle Stadium.


PECOS, Tuesday, May 21, 2002 -- High Monday 88. Low this morning 55. Forecast for tonight: Mostly  clear and breezy. Lows in the lower 60s. Southeast winds 15 to 25  mph. Wednesday: Partly cloudy and breezy. Highs in the mid 90s.  Southwest winds 15 to 25 mph. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy. Lows in  the lower 60s. Thursday: Partly cloudy. Highs in the mid 90s Friday:  Partly cloudy with a slight chance of thunderstorms. Lows 60 to 65.  Highs near 90.


Fred Beckham and Thelma Dickson

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