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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, February 13, 2004

Storm shuts interstates following series of crashes

Staff Writer

Trans-Pecos highways were shut down today and motorists traveling through the area stranded, as the result of freezing rain that began Thursday evening caused havoc on the roadways and stranded many motorists traveling through the region. The storm that began by dropping 0.15 inches of rain over the area yesterday, took a turn for the worse as temperatures dropped into the freezing range around sunset. The colder temperatures caused roads to freeze over and resulted in a series of accidents along Interstates 10 and 20 in Reeves, Ward, Pecos, Jeff Davis and Culberson counties.

The Texas Department of Transportation's area crews spent most of Thursday night and early Friday morning putting sand on icy overpasses on area interstates, with little long-lasting effect. TxDOT finally decided shortly before 11 a.m.

today to close Interstate 20 westbound from Monahans to the junction with Interstate 10 in western Reeves County, while I-10 was closed west of Fort Stockton in Pecos, Reeves and Jeff Davis counties. Eastbound lanes of I-20 from Pecos to Odessa were open as of 12:30 p.m.

Residents who were lucky enough to be off of the roads before the slippery conditions set in, woke up this morning to similar conditions.

Roads were bad enough for Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD to delay school in Pecos until 10 a.m. and to avoid sending school buses to outlying areas. Schools in Monahans and Balmorhea canceled classes completely today, along with extracurricular events scheduled for today.

On Interstate 20 in Reeves County, accidents were reported Thursday night at mile markers 48, 40, 30, 25 and 11, while accidents this morning occurred at the 35 and 5 mile markers west of Pecos.

On Interstate 10, accidents were reported at mile marker 176 in Culberson County and at the 182 mile marker in Jeff Davis County. The worst area for accidents was between the Interstate 10 junction with I-20 and Balmorhea in southwestern Reeves County. One accident reportedly involved six truck trailers and four vehicles on a long bridge at the 200 mile marker on I-10 and occurred during the overnight hours.

No serious injuries were reported from those accidents, but the number of incidents overwhelmed EMT and law enforcement agencies, who transported some accident victims to hospitals in Pecos and Van Horn, while some of those not injured were taken to the Cherry Creek Chevron station in Jeff Davis County to await the arrival of DPS officers occupied with other accidents at the time.

According to the latest TxDOT report, black ice has seen on both I-20 and I-10, causing 18-wheelers to lose control and block large portions of the roadway. The interstates are closed west of Fort Stockton and west of Monahans. As of 11 a.m., I-10 west of Fort Stockton and I-20 west of Monahans have been closed temporarily due to black ice.

Westbound I-10 was shut down at mile marker 224, until the iced area can be sanded, and westbound lanes of I-20, west of Toyah have been shut down, according to TxDOT Public Information Officer Glen Larum.

He said that people are urged to get off in Pecos, but if they are already in Toyah to stay there.

"The weather is not going to change any time soon and we are urging them to stay put," said Larum.

Larum said that they are treating the roadways as best as they can.

Truckers forced to stop in Pecos were parking in front of the Flying J Truck Stop on the I-20 service road, while other trucks were being laid up at the West of the Pecos Rodeo Grounds on U.S. 285.

As roads began to close, hotels in the area began to fill up. According to the front desks at Motel 6, Oak Tree Inn and Quality Inn, few rooms remain available after the rush of motorists came off the highway last night. Clerks at all three hotels indicated that though some rooms remain available, they were filling up quick and had little time to clean a room before it was needed by another customer.

Along with the interstates, accidents also were reported Thursday night on U.S. 285 between Fort Stockton and Pecos, and that highway was the first to be shut down by TxDOT crews.

In the Pecos area, two rollovers at the intersection of I-20 and Business I-20 (old U.S. 80) in Ward County were blamed on "black ice" including one rollover in which three people were slightly injured. Vehicles trying to cross the long bridge on Business I-20 ran into trouble as well, including one incident that led to the most serious injury of the night.

.According to witnesses at the scene, a vehicle had lost control and slid into the guard rail. As that driver was getting out of her car, another vehicle lost control on the bridge and started skidding toward the other driver. The driver, now on foot, jumped over the rail falling 15 feet and breaking her legs and injuring her pelvis. Pecos EMS crews had to walk about a quarter mile beneath the bridge to get to the women and transfer her to Reeves County Hospital, while Pecos Police and Ward County Sheriff's deputies shut the bridge in both directions due to ice build-up.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials could not be reached for comment about the overall number of accidents or the names of the victims, due to the large number of accidents the area has seen over the past 24 hours.

"Black ice is where moisture has crystallized and you can't see it until you apply your brakes," said Larum. "It's not completely everywhere, but there are large patches of it."

TxDOT is strongly discouraging travel on I-10 West of Fort Stockton and I-20 west of Odessa, and all other roadways in this area until temperatures moderate, according to Larum.

Board tables action on PHS schedule change

Staff Writer

After a lengthy discussion and after hearing from different individuals on the topic, Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD opted to table action on any changed to high school scheduling, during their regular monthly meeting on Thursday.

Pecos High School Principal Danny Rodriguez made a presentation to the board. He included surveys done on both the students and teachers, five different schedule proposals and date collected from the different area schools.

Rodriguez is recommending that high school students go back to the traditional seven period class schedules. He noted several reasons for doing so including: teachers have contact with students everyday; better chance at passing the new and harder TAKS (Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills) tests; and as a cost saving measure. Rodriguez said block schedule has not been as effective on the TAKS this year and aa seven period schedule will include the two following programs, 9th Grade Success Initiative and Lamar AEP and 10th Grade Success Initiative at Lamar AEP.

His recommendations included going to seven periods, either with two lunches or open campus.

"TAKS scores have been really low and think this way the students can raise their scores," said Rodriguez.

However, several teachers and students were on hand to protest going back to the seven-period day. Instead, they preferred the block scheduling, which the school has been on for the past several years.

Teacher Jamie Crisp told the group that in 1994 the board had voted to go to block scheduling and that it had been working really well. "We think that this is what's best for Pecos High School," said Crisp.

Crisp told the group that teacher Carolyn McNeil would give them information on credits and how those would be affected by the seven-period day and teacher Walter Holland would talk about attendance.

Crisp said that even the teachers who had voted against block scheduling later agreed that it worked a lot better.

Teacher Jeanine Ivy told the group that students did not really take the TAKS test seriously and didn't think it would affect their graduation, which is one of the reasons that the scores were so low. "But we want to ask you to give us a chance to raise those scores," said Ivy.

"We want to ask you for an opportunity to raise the scores by staying on modified block scheduling," said Ivy.

She said that block scheduling is less stressful and less passing time is spent in the halls.

Students in UIL will miss less school through block scheduling. "With the 7-period day, if they participate in this event they will miss two days, with block scheduling, it will be only one day," said Ivy.

The same applies to those students who participate in other extracurricular activities, according to Ivy. Teachers in block scheduling have more time to supervise.

McNeil talked to the group about how students would lose credits through the 7-period day and Holland spoke about the problems with attendance.

Holland said that those students in extra-curricular activities lose more time out of class. "Not all students learn at the same rate," said Holland. "Time out of class through block scheduling is reduced," he said.

Student David Davis spoke in favor of block scheduling. "If you do the 7-period day, students like myself, will not be able to take athletics, band and Latin," said Davis. "Which means I wouldn't be able to graduate on the distinguished plan, which looks better on a college application," he said.

"Last year's test scores were low, because most of the students didn't take it very seriously," said Davis. "We get tested four or five times throughout the year and everyone thought this was just another test and not important," he said.

Student Adam Ybarra also talked in favor of block scheduling. "We have more individual time with the teachers," he said.

Crisp also read a letter written by PHS teacher Jolene Davis who was unable to be at the meeting.

"When the idea of changing the current block scheduling became an issue at PHS earlier this year, one of the stated reasons for this change was that it would improve TAKS test scores because students would be in class every day," said Davis. "Teachers were told how the schools with traditional seven-period schedules had achieved higher test scores than Pecos on the Spring 2003 Benchmark TAKS Test even though students who took this test felt the test scores would not affect them."

Davis said she had done some research on different websites and made several phone calls.

"I discovered that Pecos High School was the only school in this district following the block schedule," said Davis.

She compared the scores with those of area schools. "What I discovered was that the only school in our district that had excellent scores on the Spring 2003 TAKS Test was Monahans High School," said Davis. "This school beat the state average on every area in every grade except 10th grade science."

"This means that the seven-period schedule had virtually no affect on Spring 2003 Practice Test," said Davis. "This prompted me to question how and what caused the excellent scores that Monahans had received.

"I decided to further analyze what data I had and what else I could find," she said.

Davis she found that split by schools in our district, into subject areas, Monahans High School had more teachers per subject than any other district. In math, Monahans has eight teachers, to Pecos' five. There are six science teachers in Monahans, while Pecos has five. In English, the number is eight to five, and seven to four in history. "My numbers are taken off of websites for both schools. Any discrepancy in the numbers lies there," Davis said.

"The final results are obvious. The seven-period schedule is irrelevant to TAKS test results. It would be more accurate to say that the ratio of students to teachers per class, affects the TAKS Test results, as shown in Monahans. Fewer students per class, per teacher, results in higher test scores and higher GPAs," said Davis.

PHS Swimming coach told the group that Terri Morse told the group that the seven-period day would affect the swim team. "I had many from the team drop out in their junior and senior years, because they had to work to get all their credits," said Morse. "They have to take government and economics, and they had to drop out."

Morse said that since the team meets during the last period of the day, some of the students would miss part of the workout.

"Since we've gone back to block scheduling we have not had any students drop out of swimming and a lot of them are also in band and athletics," she said. "And we have not had any drop out."

The board listened intently to all the presentations, but opted to table the item and bring it back to the table at another date.

"I personally would like to take all this information home and study it more closely in private before making a decision," said board member Steve Valenzuela. "It's a lot of information and everybody made very good presentations," he said.

Valenzuela made the motion to table the item, board member Chip Flores seconded and all board members agreed.

Panel supports further study of Big Spring VA shutdown

From Staff and Wire Reports West Texas' only Veterans Administration Hospital was not on the list of hospitals to be closed in the initial report released today by the commission appointed to review Veterans Affairs.

However, future cutbacks to the Big Spring VA hospital were part of a secondary list of recommendations for health care facilities in Texas: The commission recommended shutting down most operations at the VA Hospital in Waco, and suggested further study into ending health care services at the Big Spring VA hospital, but to consider input from veterans and others regarding proximity to health care.

The Big Spring hospital serves veterans in an area stretching between Abilene and Van Horn and from north of Lubbock into the Big Bend area of West Texas. If closed, the nearest VA medical centers to the area would be in San Antonio and Albuquerque, N.M., both over 300 miles away.

The panel rejected the VA's proposal to close hospitals in Canandaigua, N.Y., Lexington, Ky. and Livermore, Calif., according to a copy of the commission's report obtained by The Associated Press.

The 16-member panel agreed that a new hospital should be opened in Orlando, Fla., but disagreed with opening a new hospital in Las Vegas. Instead, the commission recommended the VA continue partnering with Nellis Air Force Base for care.

The commission accepted or rejected a number of other proposals affecting dozens of VA facilities across the country. In some cases, the VA had not provided enough data to support changes in the mission of the facilities, the commission said.

The VA also proposed converting some facilities to Critical Access Hospitals, but the commission said the agency did not clearly define what that is and so rejected those proposals.

It recommended closing hospitals in Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Gulfport, Miss., and transferring large portions of care away from the Waco hospital. The 71-year-old Waco hospital employs 800 people, served 17,000 patients last year and has 250 beds, mainly for psychiatric services. It has the region's only rehabilitation program for blind veterans and is one of three veterans hospitals in Texas with acute psychiatric care.

"I think it's terrible for them to make vets go so far from home," said Roger Sturdevant, 53, who goes to the Waco VA hospital several times a week for the therapeutic swimming pool and post-traumatic stress disorder group therapy sessions. "They're slitting our throats. They don't care about us, period."

Bill Mahon, chairman of McLennan County Veterans Association, said the commission's recommendation was "madness" because the Temple hospital, about 35 miles south of Waco on congested Interstate 35, already is overcrowded.

"I'm going to put these disabled and blind veterans and those on medication for mental problems on this interstate for an eye appointment or dental appointment? It's just insane," Mahon said.

Other recommendations for Texas VA facilities included:

Kerrville: Do not convert to a critical access hospital. Transfer acute inpatient services to San Antonio, but contract with community until space is available there.

Marlin: Transfer outpatient services to location in the Waco-Marlin area. Hospital is largely closed already.

The commission found that money the VA was spending to maintain unused or underused buildings and excess land could be used to provide direct medical care to veterans.

"The commission believes that change is necessary to prepare the system for a new veteran demographic reality and a rapidly evolving approach to health care delivery," the panel members said in their report.

Veterans have shifted from northern cities such as Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York to Sun Belt states like Florida, Texas and Arizona.

The recommendations are not final. VA Secretary Anthony Principi, who received the report Thursday afternoon, now gets to review the report and decide whether to approve, reject or change some of the recommendations.

The VA said Principi would not comment on the report until it is final. The VA launched the massive restructuring after government auditors in 1999 predicted that the VA would spend billions of dollars to operate unneeded buildings and that as much as one in every four VA health care dollars would be devoted to maintenance and operation of facilities.

Election filings starting Monday for May 15 vote

Packets to file for a place on the ballot for a seat on the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD will be available beginning on Monday.

Deadline to file application for a place on the ballot is 5 p.m., March 15 and March 16 is the first day to accept applications to vote by mail. Drawing for a place on the ballot will be held at 10 a.m., in the superintendent's office on this date as well.

Filing also begins on Monday in the Balmorhea ISD election, along with city elections in Pecos, Barstow, Balmorhea and Toyah and for the Precinct 1 and 3 and at-large positions on the Reeves County Hospital District board of directors. This year's elections will be held on May 15.


High Thursday 41. Low this morning 29. Rainfall last 24 hours at KIUN downtown .10 inch. Forecast for tonight: Mostly cloudy with a chance of light freezing drizzle or snow. Lows near 20. Light and variable winds. Chance of precipitation 50 percent. Saturday: Partly cloudy. Warmer. Highs near 55. West winds 10 to 15 mph. Saturday night: Partly cloudy. Lows near 30. West winds near 10 mph. Sunday: Partly cloudy. Highs near 60. South winds near 10 mph. Sunday night: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 30s. Presidents Day: Partly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain. Highs in the mid 50s. Monday night: Mostly cloudy with a 20 percent chance of rain. Lows in the lower to mid 30s.

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