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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, August 15, 2003

RCJ escapee turns self in near Abilene

Staff Writer

PECOS, Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 -- The hunt for an escaped alleged murderer came to an end yesterday afternoon after he turned himself in to authorities in Callahan County, near Abilene.

"He (John Michael Baker) turned himself in," Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez said. "They called me yesterday at about 4 or 4:30 p.m."

Callahan County Sheriff's office stated that Baker turned himself into his attorney, Emiliano Duarte, at the local Dairy Queen, on Interstate 20 in Baird. Baker, 23, is currently in the Taylor County Jail in Abilene, 30 miles west of Baird.

He was being held in Reeves County Jail under federal charges in connection with the murder of a San Antonio man three years ago in Big Bend National Park. Baker escaped Wednesday afternoon from the Reeves County Jail, which is located in the 400 block of Cedar Street, by climbing through a vent, which was located in a storage room, in which recreation equipment is kept.

Gomez said that they had been negotiation with his family, girlfriend and friends in regards to if they had any contact with Baker to have him turn himself in.

"His (Baker's) attorney drove him to the Callahan County Jail, where he was then issued a federal warrant for escaping," Gomez said.

The sheriff's department did not say how Baker managed to make the 270-mile trip from Pecos to Baird, before turning himself in, but did say that it was under investigation. Deputies on Wednesday believed at first he had stolen a van belonging to the Pecos Christian Home, but that vehicle was accounted for later in the evening.

Gomez said that that Baker's attorney had been in contact with him during the negotiations.

Baker had been in the Reeves County Jail since May 26, under a contract with the U.S. Marshal's Office. He was wanted for the alleged murder of a 43-year-old Shannon Stewart Roberts, a fourth-year medical student at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio. Baker had told Big Bend National Park rangers that he had killed Roberts and had buried his body in the park where it was found on March 31, 2000.

He added that Pecos Fire Department volunteer Brian Fuentes had seen Baker crossing the street in civilian clothing with what appeared to be legal papers in hand. Fuentes was working outside the city's fire station, which is located just south of Reeves County Jail.

"He (Baker) told Brian that his lawyer had bonded him out," Gomez said. "Baker acted very calm."

Gomez said his office did not know whether or not the Marshal's Service would send Baker back to Reeves County. His trial in connection with Roberts' death is currently scheduled to begin on Sept. 15 in U.S. District Court in Pecos, which is located directly across the street from the Reeves County Jail

Gomez added that the FBI is going to interview Baker and find out how he was able to escape.

"The FBI is going to find out for us," he said, while adding that there would be some changes with in the jail even before the federal agents interview Baker.

"We plan to install mesh wire in the vents," Gomez said.

Baker was the first escapee from the jail in 17 months. Steven Perez walked away from the facility while on work detail on the jail grounds on March 8, 2002. He fled to Juarez, Mex., but was caught six months later in an Odessa residence after returning to the United States.

School board approves campus ID badges

Staff Writer

PECOS, Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 -- Identification badges will be worn by all staff, personnel, visitors and students at Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD beginning Monday, following the approval by the board at last evening's regular meeting.

Jodi Exum, PBT-ISD Career and Technology, talked to the board last evening about the long-range plans for automating Pecos-Barstow-Toyah administrative/student services. That included implementation of the ID badge system.

"We always have these plans," said Exum.

"Our new project that we're working on and are really excited about is these new ID badges," said Exum.

The future project is to provide barcoded ID cards to students, staff, substitutes, volunteers and visitors.

Exum said that there were other projects that the technology department wanted to work on, but that required the ID cards.

"There are other things that we want to do, but everything requires an ID card," said Exum.

Exum said that they had formed a committee and a demonstration of the system was presented.

"We thought this would be a great idea and make it easier for us to pursue other technology projects," said Exum.

Exum said that all adults would be required to wear them in a visible place. "Visitors will have a visitors ID cards with a number and before they leave the building they will turn those in," said Exum.

Exum said that this would also make it easier to automate the cafeteria system and receive more funding. "We're losing a lot of funding that we could receive through the students who get free and reduced lunch, because a lot of the older kids don't want anybody to know that their younger siblings receive free or reduced lunch," she said.

Through the bar code on the ID card, they could identify everyone in the family and who is receiving free or reduced lunch.

The tentative proposed guidelines would include: that all PBT staff, adult visitors, substitutes, and volunteers will clearly display the cards at all times on their person. Campus visitor cards will be numbered and checked out when they sign-in at the office, then turned in as they leave the building.

The students in K-6 will have the cards in their classroom (on a break-away lanyard) to take to and from the cafeteria and library.

Students in grades 7-12 will have the cards on their person at all times (on a break-away lanyard, on a clip, or in their pocket/wallet) to use in the library, cafeteria, and when asked for ID by staff.

Punishment for ID card infractions will be determined by campus administration. "We'll have to have something implemented for the student code of conduct handbook," said PBT-ISD Superintendent Don Love.

Students will be photographed at Kinder, Austin, Bessie Haynes, Crockett and PHS when they enroll on that campus. The district provides their first card at each campus. If a card is lost or if the student wants an updated picture, subsequent cards at that campus will be purchased by the student.

Staff will be photographed in the 2003-2004 year and the district will provide that card. If a card is lost or the individual wants an updated picture, subsequent cards will be purchased. A new card will be provided if staff change campuses, departments, or the administration deems it necessary.

"And each campus will have a different background, so that we'll know immediately if he belongs in that school or not," said Exum.

The supplies and the annual service agreement needed for the ID system can be funded by charges for duplicating cards. Also, many schools have used picture ID cards as an excellent fundraiser - sports cards, club cards, etc., according to Exum.

"What if a student that is on free or reduced lunch, loses his card and the family can't afford to have it replaced?" said board member Crissy Martinez.

Exum said that the circumstances would be taken into consideration, but that the fee to replace the cards wouldn't be too much.

"After the first one or two times that they lose it, I don't think they'll do that anymore," said Love.

Exum said that she had spoken to elementary school principals and teachers. "They want the younger kids to leave the ID's in their room on a peg and retrieve them when they need them," said Exum.

"Of course, we don't have all the answers yet," said Exum. "We need to work out the punishment for losing the cards and what to do with the ones that can't afford to replace one," she said.

"I don't think we can keep giving out free cards," she said.

Future projects that would benefit from the ID card system include the cafeteria system (lunch applications, lunch status, account balances, point of sale and inventory).

"We also want to implement an automated time card system for employees/substitutes to interface with our payroll accounting systems," said Exum.

Exum said that another future plan was to begin an automated textbook check out system using current textbook/library software. She said they were able to network the entire district and get the Internet. "We automated all district libraries, are updating district student accounting processes and automating district fixed assets (inventory) system," said Exum.

Exum said that new technology to be completed this fall also includes updating the district financial hardware/software to interface with student accounting system.

Exum said that the total cost to buy the package was $9,132 and the money was in last year's budget.

"There is money in the old budget," said finance director Cookie Canon. "Any of these other projects won't be in the old budget, it will have to come out of the fund balance," she said.

"How soon can you have those ID cards out?" asked Martinez.

Exum said that the cards could be done immediately and that they wanted to do the adult cards first. "It will be the first week of school, maybe not the first day, but during the start of school," she said.

"The equipment looks very user-friendly and we have a para-professional that is going to help with this project," she said.

In other action on Thursday, the board received an update on the Austin Elementary AC replacement project; the Pecos High School mold remediation and construction of the softball stadium.

Monte Hunter, with Hunter Corral Architects was on hand to talk to the board about the different projects.

"The project at Austin Elementary is complete except for punch list items," said Hunter. "Pecos Air Conditioning did an excellent job out there."

Work at the Pecos High School is also complete and they did not have to replace as much sheetrock as they thought. "So we had some funds left over from that," said Hunter.

Hunter said that the big mistake at the softball field was being re-done. Support posts for the fencing in front of the stands were only half the height they needed to be when they were put it, and work there had to be completely replaced.

"We made them take out all the concrete and start over," said Hunter. "They just botched it and I apologize."

The project's fieldwork had be scheduled to be completed on Aug. 4, in time to allow high school football players to begin workouts on the field, but the delays have forced the teams to practice at the Crockett Middle School field.

Hunter said that he would be in town to see that the project was done correctly.

"They are going to meet the overall deadline of Oct. 15," said Hunter. "This will not cost the school district anything."

Council OKs tax roll action, audit, zoning board choices

Staff Writer

PECOS, Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 -- The Town of Pecos City Council approved tax roll submissions and an auditor for the 2003 fiscal year during a short meeting in the Council Chambers Thursday evening.

The council changed the meeting from the morning to evening because a quorum would not be present today for the regular 7 a.m. starting time.

The council approved the Texas Property Tax Code for Submission of roll to governing body was approved with Councilman Frank Sanchez making the motion and Councilman Danny Rodriguez seconding it.

The council asked City Manager Carlos Yerena if all department heads could come before the council so they could hear any feedback.

"We want them to have an opportunity to let us know what their needs are," Rodriguez said.

The council also reviewed the auditor's proposal for engagement, presented by CPA Dan Painter.

"The staff has no problems with Dan Painter," Yerena told the council.

Sanchez suggested that the council retain Painter, though Councilman Michael Benavides asked if there was anyone who could do it locally.

Benavides was told that not all accountants work with government cash, and after that, Mayor ProTem Gerald Tellez made the motion to accept the proposal for engagement with Sanchez seconding it.

The council also made an appointment to the Planning and Zoning Commission after member Jon Cook resigned due to his moving out of town to the Abilene area.

"I have already spoken to him and I would like to recommend Bill Hubbs," Mayor Dot Stafford said.

With that Hubbs, a former mayor of Pecos, was appointed to the Planning and Zoning Commission with Councilwoman Angelica Valenzuela making the motion and Rodriguez seconding it.

The council also discussed the closure of the alleyway at Fourth between Bois D'arc and Hackberry streets, requested by the Fourth & Bois D'arc Church of Christ. Rodriguez asked if the church does not buy the property adjacent to it but someone else does how would the closure affect the new owner.

Rodriguez was told that a new ordinance could be ordered for the reopening of the alleyway and the motion was then approved for the first of two readings of the closing ordinance, which was done by Stafford..

The approval of the 2003 planning calendar was tabled because Lydia Prieto was unable to attend the meeting due to a funeral.

The council approved its minutes two both its regular council meeting held on July 24 and its special meeting held on July 31, the accounts payable report and the juvenile report for July.

July unemployment rates down for both city, county

From Staff and Wire Reports
Unemployment across Texas took a dive in July, and Reeves County joined in seeing its rate decline, according to figures released on Thursday by the Texas Workforce Commission.

However, the drop from a year ago is mainly connected with a major drop in the number of jobs within the county, according to the TWC's figures.

Unemployment last month fell to 10.2 percent, down from 11.8 percent in June. Summer employment in the onion and cantaloupe harvest helped offset June's increase in the local labor force, following the end of the school year. The local labor force was up from 5,519 in June to 5,612 in July, while the number of jobs grew from 4,857 to 5,038.

However, compared to a year ago, the number of jobs in the county is down 10 percent, while the county's workforce has fallen by over 20 percent following the closing of the Anchor Foods plant in May of 2002. The closing of Anchor, and the loss of its 700 jobs, sent the county's unemployment rate soaring to 23 percent in July of last year, as 1,650 people were jobless in the county, out of a workforce of 7,160.

Based on the TWC's adjusted numbers for 2002, over a quarter of the Town of Pecos City's workforce was without jobs last July. The 25.8 percent rate was down to 13.5 percent in June and fell to 11.7 percent last month, again due to a drop in the city's labor force.

The city had 4,401 workers last month and 3,887 employed. In June, there were 4,339 workers in the city and 3,755 employed, while a year ago the city had 5,728 workers and 4,251 with jobs.

Across the state, the jobless rate fell from 7.5 to 7.1 percent in July, though that total was up from 6.9 percent in July of 2002. The TWC said in the Midland-Odessa area, the jobless rate last month was at 6 percent, down from 6.7 percent the previous month and 6.5 percent a year ago.

In the Permian Basin, Andrews County saw its monthly rate drop from 6.5 to 6.1 percent, Howard County fell from 5.9 to 5.2 percent, Pecos County went from 5.7 to 5.6 percent and Winkler County fell from 8.0 to 7.4 percent. Ward County was the only one to show an increase, going from 8.4 percent in June to 9 percent last month. However, that's still down from the county's 10.1 percent rate in July of 2002.

In the Big Bend area, Presidio County continued to have the state's highest unemployment rate, at 24.1 percent, and like Ward County, showed an increase over June, when unemployment there stood at 23.1 percent. Meanwhile, neighboring Brewster County continued to have one of the state's lowest jobless rates, at 2.2 percent, unchanged in June, and Jeff Davis County's rate was 2.4 percent, up from 1.9 percent in June.

The following are the preliminary July unemployment rates for the Texas metropolitan areas, with revised rates for June in parentheses. The local figures are not adjusted for seasonal patterns in hiring and firing.

Bryan-College Station 2.7 (2.9); San Angelo 4.2 (4.5); Amarillo 4.3 (4.6); Abilene 4.4 (4.9); Lubbock 4.4 (4.7); Victoria 5.3 (5.7); Wichita Falls 5.6 (5.8); Tyler 5.7 (5.4); Waco 5.7 (5.8); Austin-San Marcos 5.9 (6.3); Killeen-Temple 5.9 (6.2);

San Antonio 5.9 (6.2); Odessa-Midland 6.0 (6.7); Fort Worth-Arlington 6.7 (7.1); Longview-Marshall 7.0 (7.5); Corpus Christi 7.1 (7.7); Houston 7.2 (7.7); Dallas 7.4 (8.0); Laredo 7.7 (8.6); Sherman-Denison 7.8 (7.9);

Galveston-Texas City 9.0 (9.3); Brazoria 9.7 (10.4); El Paso 9.9 (10.6); Beaumont-Port Arthur 10.2 (10.8); Brownsville-Harlingen 11.1 (11.9); McAllen-Edinburg-Mission 14.0 (14.3); Texarkana (not available).

Novena, receptions set at Santa Rosa today, next Friday

PECOS, Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 -- A Novena in honor of Santa Rosa Catholic Church will be held at 5:30 p.m. today at Santa Rosa Church.

Everyone is invited to attend.

A reception will be held next Friday, Aug. 22, immediately following the evening Mass.

Two arrested, heroin found after search of home

PECOS, Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 -- A man and woman were arrested Tuesday, after a narcotics search warrant was executed at their home and an illegal substance was found.

On Tuesday, officers from the Pecos Police Department executed a narcotics search warrant at 212 W. 14th St. "Once the officers secured the occupants of the residence they proceeded to search the premises," said Pecos Police Investigator Paul Deishler.

During the search of the residence officers located a small amount of a substance believed to be heroin, according to Deishler.

Officers completed their search of the premises and arrested were Francisco Menchaca and Rhonda Renteria, who were both charged with possession of a controlled substance. Both Menchaca and Renteria were transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


PECOS, Friday, Aug. 15, 2003 -- High Thursday 92. Low this morning 68. Rainfall last 24 hours .05 inch. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy with a 30 percent chance of rain or thunderstorms. Lows in the mid 60s. South winds 10 to 20 mph. Saturday: Partly cloudy with isolated thunderstorms. Highs in the lower 90s. South winds 5 to 15 mph. Saturday night: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 60s. Sunday: Partly cloudy with isolated thunderstorms. Highs in the mid 90s. Monday: Partly cloudy with isolated thunderstorms. Lows in the upper 60s. Highs in the mid 90s.

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