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Archive 2002

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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Top Stories

Thursday, June 6, 2002

TransPecos Foods moving toward finalized deal

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., June 6, 2002 -- Trying to build the Anchor Foods plant back up and  acquire more business and customers is the main goal of the new owners of  the facility.

The Anchor Foods onion processing plant in Pecos, which ended production last Friday after being purchased last year by McCain Foods, has been sold to a new company owned by the Chairman of Security State Bank, according to a joint press release issued by McCain Foods and the new company _ TransPecos Foods of Texas.

According to the press release the two companies have signed an agreement providing for the sale of McCain's onion ring plant and certain equipment to TransPecos Foods.

"We haven't closed the sale yet, but have executed the agreement," said Patrick Kennedy, Jr., Chairman of TransPecos Foods.

The closing of the sale is subject to certain conditions including receipt of local, state and federal governmental approvals, which are anticipated within the next few weeks, he said.

Kennedy said that they don't know how many employees will be working at the facility yet. "That's something we're studying," said Kennedy.

"Our main goal right now is to build this thing back up, maybe to the original way it used to be, with that amount of employees," said Kennedy. "I don't know if it's possible, but we're going to try," he said.

Kennedy said that at this point they are just excited to make the deal and that the company plans to move aggressively.

Production at the plant ended on May 31. "We'll have a period of time where we will be moving equipment and sending out some," said Kennedy. "I think there are still over 100 people out there."

Kennedy said that at this time it was not proper to disclose who would be the plant manager. "We hope to rehire all the management that is still out there," said Kennedy. "Some of these employees have already taken a position elsewhere, but there are still some management individuals there that we hope to retain," he said.

Kennedy did say that former plant manager and longtime Anchor employee Oscar Saenz would be involved in the corporate part of the facility. "He has so much experience and he has been very helpful during this time of acquisition," Kennedy said.

TransPecos Foods is an equity firm, with investors in it that are all from Texas. "They are all Texas people and this is a Texas institution," said Kennedy.

"We have a few ideas of what we're going to do and are working toward our goals at this time," he said.

McCain is the self-proclaimed world's leading manufacturer of potato products and snack foods. It acquired the plant last summer when it bought the facilities owned by Wisconsin-based Anchor Foods. McCain then announced on Nov. 12 of last year it would shut the Pecos plant and consolidate all of its onion processing operations at its Grand Island, Nebraska facility, resulting in the loss of 700 local jobs or about 10 percent of Reeves County's labor force.

Kennedy said that TransPecos Foods will specialize in producing high-quality onion rings and frozen appetizers. The agreement between the two companies will, among other things, facilitate a smooth transition for some of the plant employees and create an opportunity for growth of the employment base in Pecos, he said.

Both Kennedy and Harold Durost, a vice president with McCain, expressed confidence that the transition would go smoothly.

"Harold Durost has been most cordial and supportive in reaching this agreement and we appreciate his and McCain's attitude and willingness to help the new company make the transition at the plant," Kennedy said.

Possible arson claims condemned house

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., June 6, 2002 -- The Pecos Fire Department received a call at about 12:28  this morning of a house on fire.

The fire department responded to a house on the corner of 4th Street and Mulberry that had been set on fire.

According to Pecos Fire Marshal Jack Brookshire, the house was vacant and there was no electricity or gas running through the home.

"By the time we arrived the house was involved in fire. The house was on our list of homes to be demolished so we just let it burn and focused on protecting the surrounding area," Brookshire said.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation but arson is suspected given the circumstances. No suspect has been identified.

Brookshire asks that if anyone has information on the cause of this fire to please call Crime Stoppers, Pecos Police Department or Mr. Brookshire.

Local group working to dress Pecos for success

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., June 6, 2002 -- Short shorts, flip-flops and halter-tops are not acceptable attire for  the workplace and one group from Pecos is making an effort to provide  clothing for the working individual.

"We're working on this project, dressing for the workplace," said Reeves County Hospital employee Nancy Ontiveros.

The group is asking for donations of good clothes to stock up their "closet."

"We want to stock up and gather some good clothes, so that next month we can began distributing them," said Ontiveros.

"We're also asking for shoes, purses and accessories," said Texas Department of Human Services employee Maribel Alvarez. "We don't want people's leftover garage sale items," said Alvarez.

Ontiveros said that the group is seeking clean and suitable clothes for the workplace.

"We had one man that went from welfare to work and all he had was casual wear, but not everyday work clothes," said Alvarez. "He was real excited when he started dressing up to go to work," she said.

"We don't want t-shirts and jeans, but slacks and sports shirts for the men," said Ontiveros.

Ontiveros said that they are working with the Pecos Network Workforce for referrals. "In the initial phase of this project, which is what we're working on now, we want to build up a supply of good work clothes," she said.

Ontiveros said that initially when the group started planning this, they were targeting the Anchor employees who lost their jobs when the plant closed. "They would be making a transition to another job and would be needing different attire," said Ontiveros.

Persons wanting to donate to the clothes closet can take their donations to the Odessa College-Pecos campus, between 7:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m., Monday through Thursday.

"There is a difference between casual wear and work casual," said Paula Howard with Odessa College. "There is no time limit on taking donations," she said.

"This is a project of a community resource group made up of many agencies in Pecos and the surrounding area," said Ontiveros.

The clothes will be kept at the Odessa College campus until the organizers of the project can find a suitable building, Howard said.

The Texas Cooperative Extension office will be in charge of assisting with coordination of outfits. "They'll be in charge of coordinating, such as color coordination, style and design," said Ontiveros.

For more information call Odessa College at 445-5535; TDHS at 445-5487; Reeves County Hospital at 447-3551, ext. 350 or the Texas Cooperative Extension Agency at 447-9041.

Sierra Blanca grandpa found innocent on all counts

Staff Writer

PECOS, Thurs., June 6, 2002 -- A federal jury found Sol Thomas, of Sierra Blanca, innocent on  all counts yesterday at the Lucius D. Bunton Federal Courthouse.

The jury of 12 turned in a verdict of not guilty after approximately three hours of deliberation after the three-day trial wrapped up with the defense and prosecuting attorneys' closing arguments.

The 61-year-old Thomas was indicted for possession of more than 100 but less than 1000 kilograms of marijuana, and one count of carrying a firearm during a drug trafficking crime, specifically a Smith a Wesson revolver chambered for .357 magnum cartridges.

The Pecos Enterprise printed in the Tuesday edition that Thomas' second count involved a machine gun, which was described in the case docket, but the actual indictment was for carrying the pistol, not a machine gun.

Defense Attorney Dan Hurley, of Lubbock, stated that he was pleased to hear the jury's verdict because he believes they did exactly what the law asked them to do, which was review the facts.

"We're very very pleased that the jury did the right thing," he said.

The incident that resulted in Thomas' arrest happened five years ago on April 3, 1997.

Thomas was allegedly involved in a drug trafficking plan along the Chispa Road, near Sierra Blanca, which was disrupted by U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Hillin.

Thomas took the stand in his defense and explained to the jury everything he did that day leading up to his arrest.

Hurley asked Thomas about his family and background as well as his account of what happened that day.

Thomas explained that he is the father of five and the grandfather of eight and has lived in Sierra Blanca for 11 years with his wife Sandra. For many years Thomas has been a rancher, lawyer and postmaster.

According to Thomas' testimony he began the day of April 3rd by picking up mail from El Paso to deliver to seven post offices in the Sierra Blanca area.

After finishing his mail run, Thomas said he went home to get some sleep before starting his day again.

"I went home and went to sleep," Thomas said. "I slept till 8:30 (a.m.) and talked to one of my clients."

Thomas said he planned to meet with the client later that day.

Thomas then went to his brother's house where he had lunch and while his brother took a nap he decided to go to the feed store to buy feed for the cattle on his ranch.

Thomas' sons own a ranch near the Texas/Mexico border called T Diamond Ranch (Thomas Brothers) where he helps take care of the cattle.

At the feed store, Thomas said he bought four bags of feed and some medicine for the cattle.

He also bought $34 worth of gas after filling up his 1984 Ford one-ton flat bed truck along with three-five gallon gas cans.

After visiting with his brother again, Thomas said he bought a round bale of hay and loaded it onto the flatbed truck, after which he started toward the ranch.

During his testimony, Hurley asked Thomas to explain how fast he traveled toward Chispa Road and how long he believed it took him to get there.

Thomas explained that it usually takes him approximately 50 minutes to arrive at the ranch.

However, that day Thomas was not keeping track of time because he did not have a functioning watch.

After arriving at the ranch, Thomas said his main objective was to unload the hay for the several horses on the ranch, which took some time to accomplish.

"I had difficulty unloading the bale of hay," he said. "It took longer than normal."

After unloading the hay he proceeded to check the water troughs and then picked up a tire he was planning to use on a tractor he wanted to get fixed.

Thomas explained that he had his grandson's dog with him that day and when he let out the horses the dog was kicked in the head.

"I then cared for the dog for quite a while," he said.

Once he determined that the dog would be fine he decided to look for some food in the ranch house, which he did not find.

Thomas explained that he did find a bottle of tequila, which he poured over some ice and started to relax for a moment.

After sitting there alone, he began to become paranoid about someone wanting to hurt or kill him.

Thomas explained that his paranoia came from allowing the U.S. Military to come onto his land and do some reconnaissance work on the border.

The purpose for the soldiers being there was to watch traffic across the Porvenir crossing, close to the ranch, according to Thomas.

He said that he was worried that some people, who might have wanted to smuggle drugs into the country, might have found out he was the one who allowed the soldiers in the area.

Thomas said that since there is virtually no law enforcement protection in the area he carried a gun with him, which was a pistol.

"There is no protection down there," he said. "If you don't protect yourself you're not protected."

After resting for some time, Thomas decided to check on a fence he had had constructed at the crossing, taking the tequila with him.

By that time it was dark and he decided to leave his headlights on to check out the fence, which he discovered had not been built and there was no sign of any fencing material to be used in construction of a fence.

However, the road was blocked with a railroad crosstie buried vertically in the ground.

After getting back into his truck, Thomas said he poured the rest of the tequila in his glass and threw out the bottle.

Thomas said it took him six minutes to get back to the ranch house.

"I went in the house and contemplated going to bed," he said.

After thinking of the possibility that someone might kill him, Thomas decided he would be able to drive back home.

During the trial, Thomas said he didn't have the "foggiest" idea of what time it could have been when he left, he said he guessed it was after 9 p.m.

Thomas started traveling down the rough road at approximately 20 miles per hour and the first part of the trip was uneventful, he said.

However, Thomas said that coming up to a hill he saw headlights coming toward him fast after which he slammed on the brakes and braced himself for a collision.

The collision did not occur but the headlights where still in his eyes.

He then heard a gun shot, which he responded to by grabbing his pistol and exiting the truck on the left side of the road.

"I heard a gun shot, bailed out and then heard multiple shots," he said. "I then shot my gun and yelled `Who the hell are you and what do you want?'"

U.S. Border Patrol Agent Lonnie Hillin previously testified that the shots from Thomas' gun had flown past him, stirring the air close to his head.

Hillin was on top of the hill that Thomas was close to and returned fire.

However, Thomas said he was just shooting his gun to inform the unknown persons that he was armed and wanted them to know that he "was armed and wasn't going to be shot without a fight."

After that he was relieved to hear Hillin's voice, which he recognized, and quickly responded by identifying himself.

Thomas said that Hillin responded friendly.

"He answered back by saying, `Well Sol, come on out and put that gun away,'" he said.

Thomas said that he stepped into the light and asked what was going on, which he said Hillin replied with, "You know what's going on, you're under arrest."

Thomas was then handcuffed and was read his rights.

Hillin had testified that he was following two trucks, a flatbed (like Thomas') and a stake bed, which held the marijuana. The only vehicle actually stopped by Hillin was Thomas'.

However, Hurley questioned Hillin on why he never described the vehicles he was chasing on the radio transmissions he was making to other agents.

During closing arguments, Assistant U.S. Attorney James Blankinship questioned Thomas' credibility challenging the jury to believe Thomas over the several government witnesses, including Hillin, several Border Patrol agents and U.S. soldiers.

"Who are you going to believe?" he said. "It's a credibility call."

Hurley, however, asked the jury to look at the evidence, including sensor reports from the Border Patrol, photographs and receipts, just to name a few.

"Take a look at the facts," he said.

"There is a reasonable doubt that Sol Thomas is an innocent man and you should let him go," Hurley said.

During an interview today, Hurley said that Thomas has gone home with his family, all of which were supporting him at the courthouse, and is trying to pick of the pieces.

"I'm sure he's very very relieved to have this five year nightmare over," he said.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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