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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Top Stories

Wednesday, May 22, 2002

DPS releases initial reports on gun battle

Staff Writer
PECOS, Wed., May 22, 2002 -- One of two bullets that hit a Trans Pecos Task Force Officer came from the gun of one of his colleagues, but a Greyhound bus passenger who opened fire on the officer during a routine check while the bus was stopped in Pecos fired the shot that killed Trans Pecos Task Force Officer Jaime Rodriguez, according to a report released Tuesday.

Rodriguez was fatally wounded last Thursday, during a routine bus interdiction at the Pecos bus station. On Tuesday, the Texas Department of Public Safety released preliminary reports both on the shots that struck Rodriguez on the bus, and on the autopsy done following his death in Lubbock about 6½ hours after the shootout.

"We won't have the ballistics report until another six months, but it could take up to a year," said Lt. Judy Altom with the Department of Public Safety's office in Midland.

Rodriguez was performing a routine drug check on a Greyhound bus and was inside the bus with another Task Force Officer, Mike Henderson. Rodriguez had reached the rear of the bus and was talking with Richard Colunga II, a 19-year-old Austin resident, when he allegedly pulled out a pistol and fired at Rodriguez after being asked for identification.

Rodriguez was shot once in the abdomen, while a second bullet struck the officer in the shoulder. According to the preliminary report, the wound in the shoulder came from Henderson's gun.

Reeves County Sheriff Andy 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, and it caused the wound to Rodriguez' abdomen, which resulted in a severe loss of blood that led to his death at Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock.

"At this time, we do know the fatal shot came from the .380 pistol," said Altom. "We do know that the fatal shot came from Colunga's gun."

Autopsy results on Colunga will not be available until the conclusion of the investigation, according to Altom.

A shot from Colunga's gun also struck another passenger on the bus, identified as 19-year-old Heather Lee of South Carolina. She was shot in the back during the gun battle and was also flown to Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock.

"I called to check on Miss Lee's condition on Friday and was told she was in stable condition," said Altom. "But they have a no info order on her there so we can't get any details."

However, Director of Program Development/Community Services at RCH Nancy Ontiveros, said on Tuesday that Lee had been released from the Lubbock hospital on Monday.

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 alighted 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.

Law enforcement officials from all around Texas were in Pecos Monday to pay tribute and bid farewell to Rodriguez, 38, who was a 1982 Pecos High School graduate and had served with the Reeves County Sheriff's Department before being assigned to the Trans Pecos Drug Task Force out of the Andrews Police Department.

Major storms' anniversaries marked today

Staff Writer
PECOS, Wed., May 22, 2002 -- Dark clouds hovering overhead. Lightning, heavy rains and tornadic winds.

That was the situation not only 15 years ago today over the town of Saragosa, but 10 years ago today over Pecos as well.

The Saragosa storm spawned an F-4 tornado that struck the town of 158 people just as a Head Start graduation ceremony was being held in the Community Center on Friday, May 22, 1987. A total of 31 people were killed either that night or died later as a result of injuries suffered in the tornado, which remains the single greatest loss of life from one storm in the United States in the past 22 years.

A special mass is scheduled for 7 p.m., today in memory of all those who died in the tornado. The mass, which will be conducted by Father Ben Flores, will be held at Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church, which was built following the tornado. Everyone is invited to attend.

The church is on the site of the community center where the Head Start graduation was being held, and where most of the fatalities occurred. The twister touched down just before sunset on the southwestern edge of town, destroying one building, before heading northeast and directly through the central part of town.

Only a small section of the northwest side of the small community was left untouched by the storm, which brought in rescue and relief workers from across West Texas, along with press coverage from across the nation.

The Pecos storm occurred five years to the day after the Saragosa tornado, and caused no loss of life and far less damage, but was the last major storm to hit the city, and as it turned out, marked the beginning of a now decade-long drought for the city and most of the Trans-Pecos region.

No tornadoes touched down on Friday, May 22, 1992, but swirling winds on the southwest side of town resulted in a tornado warning being issued for the Lindsey Addition, and the same winds were spotted in the Mentone area of Loving County, as the storm moved southeast from the Pennzoil Sulphur Mine area.

The storm dropped 5.89 inches of rain on Pecos, and up to seven inches in surrounding areas. Lightning from the storm exploded one tank at the Adobe well off Collie Road on the east side of town, and heat from that blast caused a second tank to explode while Pecos volunteer firemen were a short distance away.

Winds from the storm did destroy a trailer on Western Avenue, and hail from the storm was hard enough to set of several car alarms in the city.

The 5.89-inch rainfall total marked the end of a seven-year period where Pecos had received annual rainfall amounts above the normal 10.99 inches projected by the National Weather Service. Annual rainfall since then has dropped as low as 4.02 inches three years ago, and was only 7.23 inches for all of 2001.

The drought had not been as severe in areas to the north until the past two years, when it spread to the Pecos River basin of New Mexico. That has kept water from being released downstream to Red Bluff Lake, since New Mexico had built up water credits during several years of heavy snow and rain in northern New Mexico in late 1990s.

As a result, there have been no water releases from Red Bluff Dam to farmers along the Pecos River during the 2002 growing season, and only 20 acre/feet of water is being released per day from the lake, Red Bluff board members were told by managing director Randall Hartman last week. That has caused the Pecos River to go dry in several sections, including under the Business I-20 Bridge just east of Pecos.

The ongoing drought has also caused burning bans, major dust storms and devastated livestock herds on many area ranches. Local businesses connected to the ranching and agriculture industries have suffered, and last Friday, the U.S. Small Business Administration authorized Economic Injury Disaster Loans for businesses in Reeves, Pecos, Ward, Loving, Jeff Davis, Culberson, Winkler, Crane, Crockett, Brewster and Terrell counties in Texas and Eddy and Lea counties in New Mexico.

The loans are for businesses involved in supplying farmers or ranchers who have been affected by the drought and dust storms since Jan. 1, 2001. Nurseries are among the businesses eligible to apply for the loans.

"Due to the weather, many producers experiences crop losses and were not able to purchase goods and services at normal levels," the SBA said in its news release. It said for businesses affected by the downturn, "The loan can help a business meet installments on long-term debt, accounts payable and overhead expenses that would have been met had the disaster not occurred.

Refinancing of long-term debt does not qualify for an emergency load, the SBA said.

The deadline for filing an application is Jan. 2, 2003. To obtain an application or receive additional information, call the SBA at (800) 366-6303 or TDD (817) 267-4688 for the hearing impaired.

Jobless rates for city, county showed slight rise

PECOS, Wed., May 22, 2002 -- Unemployment in Reeves County increased by two-tenths of a percent in April, as a surge in the number of people in the local workforce couldn't be offset by a smaller increase in jobs last month.

According to figures released last Thursday by the Texas Workforce Commission, Reeves County added 400 jobs in April, but saw its workforce increase by nearly 450, from 6,415 to 6,862. That caused the number of persons unemployed to increase from 459 in March to 506 last month, which boosted the jobless rate from 7.2 to 7.4 percent.

The unemployment rate is higher, and the labor force numbers lower, than the same period a year ago. The TWC said the county had 7,053 workers in April of 2001 and only 435 persons unemployed, for a jobless rate of 6.2 percent.

With the recovery of the oil industry, unemployment figures for Reeves County in 2001 were at their best in over a decade. The jobless rate both in the county and in other parts of the Permian Basin has risen in the past year with a decline in oilfield drilling activity, and the local jobless rate figures to increase ever more in the next two months, with the final layoffs planned at the Anchor Foods plant in Pecos.

The closing of the plant, which was Reeves County's largest employer, began with the first layoffs earlier this month, and are scheduled to run through the end of May. The plant employed 700 people last year when the closing was announced, and still had 650 on the payroll earlier this year.

The Town of Pecos City's jobless rate remains above that for the county as a whole, and also was up in April, by .3 percent. Unemployment in Pecos went from 8.2 to 8.5 percent, with 453 workers unemployed out of a total of 5,357 workers. In March, the city had 5,006 workers and 411 unemployed, while in April of 2001 there were only 389 people without jobs and 5,495 in the workforce.

Across the Permian Basin, unemployment was also up slightly overall, while statewide unemployment remained unchanged at 5.6 percent. Ector County's unemployment increased last month from 6.1 to 6.2 percent, Midland County saw its rate jump from 4.0 to 4.3 percent, while Pecos, Ward, Winkler and Brewster counties reported drops of between one-tenth and one-half percent in their jobless rates last month.

Cornyn makes campaign stops in West Texas

Staff Writer
PECOS, Wed., May 22, 2002 -- U.S. Senate candidate John Cornyn made a brief stop in Pecos yesterday to speak with community members and officials at the Reeves County Courthouse about his plans for the future if elected as Senator .

Cornyn pulled up to the courthouse in his "Spirit of Texas" tour bus with a John Philip Sousa march playing over the loudspeaker in the style reminiscent of political campaigns portrayed in old movies.

Cornyn, who is in his first term as Texas Attorney General, is running for Senator Phil Gramm's seat, who is retiring after 18 years. He faces Democrat and former Dallas mayor Ron Kirk in the November election.

While in Pecos, Cornyn spoke of his belief in the Texas values of hard work, dedication, perseverance, responsibility and family faith.

"I think a lot of what we need in Washington, D.C. is the values of Texas," he said to the crowd at the courthouse.

Cornyn has been touring for three weeks on his "West Texas Values" tour making stops in small towns all over Texas.

Even though the Election Day is not until November, Cornyn said he has been campaigning since last September because he has so much ground to cover.

"Texas is so big we had to start running early," he said. "I think it's important for me to visit small towns in order to let people know that I'm going to work hard and earn their support."

Yesterday alone was a busy day for Cornyn, his wife Sandy, and his campaign aides. After starting the day in San Angelo then traveling through Big Lake, Rankin, Fort Stockton before coming to Pecos.

Cornyn was quickly whisked away by his aides after talking with local community members in order to get to Monahans on schedule, He and his group finally ending their day at a fund-raiser in Odessa before going back home to Austin.

Cornyn's wife has supported her husband during the three weeks of his tour by traveling with him and meeting many people in each town they stop, which she said is amazing.

"It's fun," she said. "We've met a lot of nice people and have seen different things that you might never see."

On the way to Monahans Cornyn took some time to talk about his thoughts on Senator Gramm and what he hopes to accomplish as a Senator.

Cornyn said that if elected he would have "big shoes to fill" when taking over Gramm's seat, which is also the same seat as Sam Houston filled in 1845.

Cornyn has many ideas he wants to bring to everyone's attention while on his campaign and in Washington if he's elected.

Those ideas range from health care and child support enforcement to protecting and strengthening the national defense to encouraging domestic oil exploration.

As for strengthening of our national defense, Cornyn explained that the borders need protecting more than ever, especially after America realized how vulnerable we are with the attacks on New York and Washington.

"We realize now how vulnerable we are to people coming in doing harm," he said while watching reports of threats on the Brooklyn Bridge and the Statue of Liberty issued by the FBI on Tuesday.

Cornyn explained that until now the protection of our borders have been left up to local law enforcement agencies however he believes that "it's a federal government obligation" to protect those borders.

He also believes that there should be better regulations and more attention paid to those requesting Visas to enter the United States, and even Social Security Cards.

Cornyn explained that in the year 2000 over 100,000 Social Security cards were found to be false.

"We just have to get a handle on it," he said. "We've got to protect ourselves."

After noticing the numerous oil pumps in the fields of West Texas, Cornyn made the statement that "there should be more of them," referring to his belief that America needs to encourage more domestic oil exploration.

He said that America should not rely on importing oil from countries such as Iraq.

"I want us to depend less and less on people like Saddam Hussein," he said.

Cornyn also thinks that more attention should be made to job creations and local economies.

As for his race against Kirk, Cornyn believes that the democrat is looking for support in the wrong places.

"While we've been out working hard visiting small towns, Kirk is on his third trip to Washington," he said. "He seems to be looking there for his support."

Cornyn also pointed out that Kirk has gained the support of the now independent Jim Jeffords, who single handily shifted the control of the Senate a year ago today.

Jeffords move took control of the Senate away from Republicans and gave it to Democrats. The Vermont Senator was in Houston campaigning for Kirk on Monday.

Cornyn believes that that is not the way to win over voters and stated that President George W. Bush and his father have both shown support for him.

He said that the Bush men have even stated that if necessary they would send in the "Silver Fox" Barbara Bush for more support.

While in Monahans, where he drew a slightly bigger crowd, Cornyn explained his theory of what criteria would help him win this election.

Those three items include: which candidate could represent a conservative Texas, which candidate has a proven track record of performance and which candidate is somebody "who would be proud to work with our great President George W. Bush."

High winds delay Tennis Carnival until Thursday

PECOS, Wed., May 22, 2002 -- The Pecos High School tennis carnival scheduled for Tuesday night has been postponed until Thursday due to high winds, Pecos Eagles' coach Mike Ortiz said.

"The wind is blowing so strong we can't set anything up on the courts," Ortiz said, referring to the various games that are set up for elementary-aged students to participate in during the 90-minute event.

Ortiz said the carnival has been rescheduled for 6 to 7:30 p.m. on Thursday at the PHS courts. It will be the second tennis carnival of the semester, with the first taking place back in February, following the completion of the new courts at the high school.

Council to discuss contract for subdivision at meeting

PECOS, Wed., May 22, 2002 -- The Town of Pecos City Council is scheduled to consider awarding engineering services for the Pecos Single Family Subdivision project during the regular meeting at 5:30 p.m., Thursday at City Hall.

The Council will also discuss a request for the closure of two blocks of South Oak Street for Night in Old Pecos, which will be held on June 29.

Also on the agenda is a presentation of the landscaping project at City Hall and the glass recycling art projects during the public comments portion of the meeting.

Regular agenda items include approval of the monthly tax collection report, the accounts payable and the minutes of the previous meeting.


PECOS, Wed., May 22, 2002 -- High Tuesday 94. Low this morning 62. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy and breezy. Lows 60 to 65. South winds 15 to 25 mph. Thursday: Partly cloudy and breezy. Highs 90 to 95. South winds 15 to 25 mph in the morning: Becoming southwest 15 to 25 mph by midday. Thursday night: Partly cloudy and breezy. Lows 60 to 65. Friday: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of afternoon thunderstorms. Highs 90 to 95. The chance of rain is 20 percent. Friday evening: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of thunderstorms. Temperatures falling into the 70s by midnight. Saturday: Partly cloudy with a slight chance of afternoon and evening thunderstorms. Lows 60 to 65. Highs near 90.

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