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PECOS, JAN. 27, 1988 - Sixty-five-year-old Derwood Lane believes that
writing is good therapy and that history should be preserved.
That's why he has written a book he calls "Saragosa: The Town Killed by
Like so many other Balmorhea residents who saw first hand how the
tornado unraveled their sister city, Lane is still dealing with
tragedies suffered by surviving friends and family members.
But unlike the others, he has put his experiences and those of some 30 or
more area residents into a book.
"I had a poster in my classroom that says, 'No experience we have is
ever complete until we write about it,"' said Lane, who recently
resigned midway through his ninth year as art and English teacher at
The trim, gray-haired, blue-eyed Lane during his lifetime has stacked up
quite a large collection of his own paintings, poetry and stories,
unpublished and composed primarily as a hobby.
Originally from a small town in central Texas, Lane moved to this area
after obtaining his master's degree in vocational education from North
Texas State University in 1977.
Lane's first venture here, he said, was the purchase of the Museum of
Natural History in Fort Davis, an institution that no longer exists. He
said he sold the museum in 1984.
Lane started teaching at Balmorhea in 1979, where his 62-year-old wife,
Raquel, teaches an elementary level bilingual English class.
"I believe in writing as a mode of therapy, and it also is the best way
to teach English," Lane said. "My students keep journals, and they love
The therapy is good for them, he added.
"One time, a student came to me very depressed. He had lost the dog he'd
had since he was a little boy. I told him to go home that night and
write everything down don't spare a thing...
"The next morning, he came in with a smile," Lane said. "The
psychological thing is that you write it down, then you can walk away
and leave it there on paper."
Lane couldn't walk away on the evening of May 22, when news of the
tornado hit Balmorhea.
He was one of the hundreds that literally pushed their way into Saragosa
after 8:30 p.m. through the very aftermath of the twister.
Volunteers and law enforcement agencies, ambulances and firefighters
came first from Balmorhea, Pecos and other area communities to help in
the search for bodies and in the rescue of survivors.
Lane recalled working behind Reeves County deputy Floyd Estrada.
"We found one of my students. A 10th grader. Kathy Escovedo. Her body
Lane paused. The experience was still hard to talk about, even after
putting it in writing.
"Floyd thought she was his niece, but I knew I recognized her," he said.
Rescue efforts continued through the night amid crumbled buildings and
crushed cars. Lane tripped over a downed cable and injured a leg muscle.
When he returned to Balmorhea at 2 a.m;, Lane recalled, he "hobbled"
up and into the lights of the high school gymnasium, which was serving
as immediate disaster relief headquarters.
In the weeks that ensued, Lane and his wife were among the Balmorhea
residents who banded together in relief efforts.
Classes at Balmorhea were ended early for the summer, and graduation was
All buildings and offices in the school district were offered to
disaster relief agencies, homes and churches were opened up for
displaced Saragosans, and the barns of local farmers and ranchers became
warehouses for the many donated goods that were sent in the wake of the
Some Balmorheans worked at a "grocery store" set up to distribute food
and needed items that had been donated, while others volunteered time
with Red Cross or any number of organizations that had come to assist.
The Lanes helped with Salvation Army efforts in Balmorhea for about a
"I started writing everything down in my journal," Lane said. "I needed
the therapy, too.
"When I got to around 50 pages, I thought, 'Hey, this could be a book.
Why not interview some other people and see what stories they have to
Lane spoke with Balmorhea and Saragosa residents, from those who
actually survived the tornado to friends and family of victims to law
enforcement officers, ham radio operators, and relief workers who
responded to the disaster.
Interviews by Lane with these people are contained within the book's
five sections: The Storm, The Victims, The Caregivers, the Role of
Communication, and The Future.
In his final chapter, Lane maintains that Saragosa may be a "sitting
duck" for future tornadoes because of its geographic location.
Some Saragosans who are featured in his book recall a tornado in 1977
that left only the remains of a gymnasium. Others tell about a tornado
in 1935 that destroyed the old Saragosa just north of the present
While conceding that the book's title, which could be changed before
publication, may be somewhat abrupt, Lane feels that it's an appropriate
"The town was killed for all intensive purposes," he says. "It is being
resurrected, but it was killed on May 22."
Indeed, the theme of the tornado itself engulfs the entire thrust of the
book, from the very first pages in which Lane tells readers why he wrote
about the disaster.
"I ask in my introduction how many people remember the Texas City
disaster of 1947 or the New London School explosion in 1937. I've talked
to some historic libraries about this, and they said there was great
difficulty in getting material together about these disasters.
"Saragosa is history and shouldn't be lost, " Lane said. "As time goes
by, the memory of the details will fade. People will die, people will
move away, and the story will be lost.
"I don't want Saragosa to be forgotten. "
Lane is now busy typing up the manuscript, and he said his New York
agent, Scott Merideth, is "eager to get it."
Plans are to publish the book in conjunction with the anniversary of the
Saragosa tornado this spring.
Lane is confident that a publisher will be interested in the book, but
he said he'll pay for it himself if necessary.
While he waits, Lane will be going through his own bookshelves and
packing up his journals and paintings for Colorado. When his wife
resigns at the end of this school year, they plan to move to their
retirement home near the Arkansas River.
Though his own career with Balmorhea schools ended with some unhappiness
toward the administration, Lane said, he is glad for the freedom to
concentrate on his book.
"While I was proofreading all I had written, I wept," he said.
I wept with the people giving me this story. I think it was good for
them to tell it."
PECOS, JAN. 28, 1988 - A recent news article in the Austin American
Statesman has caused a public outcry in raising and re-raising questions
about donated funds and items to Saragosa.
Regarding one of those issues, district clerk Juana Jaquez said today
that she is in the process of resolving her conflict with Texas Rural
Legal Aid by reimbursing the $4,000 that reportedly was stolen from her
She plans to give to Saragosa that money along with the $2,076 that
still remains in a bank account she set up eight months ago for
Texas Rural Legal Aid attorneys in court here beginning Feb. 10 will be
asking county officials and others to clear up questions regarding
donated funds and items.
Legal Aid's is the only official investigation so far into such
questions, many of which involve the Reeves County sheriff's department.
Sheriff Raul Florez has consistently denied any wrongdoing by himself or
Furthermore, he doesn't plan to give to Saragosa the two trailers that
were donated for disaster relief and are now under his supervision, he
What he does plan to do in response to the Austin newspaper article is
question people whose reports implicate his office.
"We're fixing to take depositions from those people making these
accusations and get them all cleared up, " Florez said. "He (the
reporter) was wrong, and we'll file a lawsuit against those Austin
people if we have to."
Florez won't be taking a deposition from Linda Nunez, because he said
she was misquoted in reporting that a barbecue trailer donated after
the tornado has been used in two of his political fundraisers.
Mrs. Nunez declined to comment to this newspaper on the matter.
Florez confirmed that the trailer has been used for fundraisers, though
he would not say whether any funds were collected for his own campaign.
The two particular fundraisers in question reportedly took place at
Santa Rosa Catholic Church, the first of which in October was Florez'
own event, said Father Bob Kobe. While at least one person at the church
that day remembers the barbecue trailer, Kobe could not confirm for
certain that it was used.
The barbecue trailer was used in another of Florez' fundraisers about a
month later, according to Rosemary Ramirez, who had reserved the church
hall that day.
She was raising money for the church's Guadalupanas, and she invited
others, including political candidates, to set up their own booths on
the parking lot, she said.
"Raul's trailer was right next to me," Mrs. Ramirez said. "We had all
kinds of people selling things that day, and mariachis, too."
Florez said he can use the trailer for anything he wants. "It's my
trailer, it was given to me, and I can use it for the campaign if I
want," he said.
Florez added that the trailer has caused so much trouble, he may just
"send it back to Fort Worth."
Ed James of Fort Worth donated the 23-by-8 foot portable catering
trailer, which he reportedly values at $27,500.
The trailer was used to feed emergency workers and volunteers in
Saragosa and since late July has been stored at Florez' backyard.
James reportedly said that he donated the trailer to "help out" the
people of Saragosa. But Florez insists it is his.
Florez also maintains that a mobile home donated after the tornado was
given to the sheriff's office for as long as they need it, "and I'm not
through with it," he said.
Reeves County commissioner Ismael Dutchover said Florez told him to put
the mobile home in a locked area near the Saragosa ballpark when Legal
Aid officials began putting in phone lines three weeks ago.
The mobile home was donated by Garland Shell of Louisiana under the
organization of Operation Our Turn-Aid to Saragosa.
It was used by the sheriff's department as a relief coordination office,
as was permitted by the donor.
But a letter from Legal Aid dated Sept. 15 advises county attorney Scott
Johnson that "for title transfer purposes, the mobile home has been
donated to the Saragosa Foundation."
"Consistent with the donor's wishes," the letter says, "the mobile home
will be used as a town hall or similar community building. "
After the sheriff's office pulled out of Saragosa in late July, the
mobile home was used by assistant disaster relief coordinator Manuel
Galindo and Texas Department of Community Affairs fund coordinator Jim
Ingham, as was agreed by the foundation and by Legal Aid, according to
About a month ago, Reeves County Judge Bill Pigman reported that
Galindo's services had been terminated because they were no longer
needed and that Ingham had moved his operations into the federal relief
At the same time, Saragosa Foundation president Tony Gallego said the
vacant mobile home would continue to be used by Legal Aid officials, who
had been coming every other Saturday to offer legal services to
Dutchover said Ingham moved opt while Legal Aid officials were putting
in three telephone lines to rooms in the mobile home.
"I called the sheriff, and he told me where to put it," Dutchover said.
"Legal Aid said it belonged to them, but they are not the owner. "
Florez said the mobile home was "not supposed to go to the Saragosa
"I don't want anymore fighting over the thing," Florez said. "It's going
to stay where it is until it gets straightened out. Or he (the donor)
can just come and get it.
Gallego confirmed today that he was notified in August or September of
the title transfer to the foundation, although he has not yet received
the title. In a letter from Garland Shell to the foundation, the donor
specified that the trailer is "not donated to any governmental entity or
any public official," Gallego confirmed.
No law enforcement agencies have yet launched investigations into issues
of ownership or into allegations of donated goods being stolen.
Alleged thefts range from a looted warehouse in Pecos reported here on
July 31 to statements in the recent Austin newspaper article by Saragosa
residents about truckloads of goods that never reached the townspeople.
Not only have questions been raised about the Reeves County sheriff's
department work in Saragosa, but some of Sheriff Raul Florez' statements
about his tenure in office have also been challenged.
Florez has said to this newspaper and to others that in 1986, he was
selected top law enforcement officer in Texas by the attorney general's
According to records in that office; Florez was one of the nominees for
the Law Officer of the Year award that year. But Florez did not make it
to the top 10 finalists' Ron Dusek, press secretary for the
attorney general, reported today.
An article that appeared in this newspaper on Oct. 31, 1986, said that
Florez was one of 19 law officers who received honorable mention in the
competition, according to the attorney general's ''Crime Prevention
Robert B. Baird, a 15-year veteran of the Dallas police department, won
the top honor that year. Florez was one of only two administrative
officers included in the 25 who were nominated for consideration,
assistant attorney general Gary Bledsoe reported at the time. The
sheriff still insists that he won the top honor.
Florez also today maintained his statement that in 1987, two members of
the Reeves County sheriff's department were selected among the top five
law enforcement officers.
According to previous reports in this newspaper and as confirmed by the
attorney general's office, Florez was appointed in June of 1987 to the
committee to select that year's Law Officer of the Year.
Florez nominated deputies Floyd Estrada and David Kelly Davis for the
honor, but they did not make the final competition, according to Dusek.
Florez has also said that the local department was selected "No 1
Sheriff's Department in the State of Texas" in 1985 .
The attorney general's office gives no such award, Dusek said.
Florez said today he could not recall what organization or agency gave
the 1985 honor to the sheriff's department.
PECOS, FEB. 4, 1988 - A former Saragosan has moved to Pecos with all his
possessions, including one of the 23 homes built with Red Cross disaster
Eighty-eight-year-old Jose "Pepe" Guebara lost his home and nearly
everything he had in the May 22 tornado. Although he also lost some
friends, Guebara was safe in Pecos when the twister struck his hometown.
"He was in the hospital at the time, recovering from open heart
surgery," recalled Pecos resident Alice Guebara, his
granddaughter-in-law. "When he was well enough, he moved into an
apartment until his house in Saragosa was finished."
Guebara, who has diabetes and vision problems as well, has several
relatives in Pecos who share in caring for him, said Alice, herself a
licensed vocational nurse.
When the home in Saragosa was finished, the family decided - it would be
best to move it here, to family property at 1202 Cypress St.
Red Cross was aware that Guebara planned to move the home when it was
finished, said Susan Clowe, spokeswoman for the organization who worked
in immediate disaster relief efforts at Saragosa.
"Once the keys are turned over, the owner can do whatever he wants with
it," she said.
Unlike most Saragosans, Guebara didn't have to go back to start over.
He's been in Pecos since April and now lives alone in a one bedroom
frame house just a block away from his son's family. He's visited daily
by the lady who cooks for him and at least one family member, Alice
"He did lose a very nice little home in Saragosa - a nicer home than the
one he has now," she said. "But he is happy in and very happy here in
PECOS, FEB. 10, 1988 - Reeves County commissioners were the first, to
testify today about moneys received and expended following the Saragosa
Attorneys for Texas Rural Legal Aid and the county are taking
depositions from 13 persons who were subpoenaed to clarify a cardboard
box full of records entered in evidence.
The Citizens of Saragosa filed a suit in 143rd District Court against
William Pigman as county judge, and the County of Reeves to obtain the
Attorneys said they are primarily concerned with records kept by the
sheriff's department, and Sheriff Raul Florez will be called to testify
after other depositions are taken.
Notified to appear today arc Commissioners Felipe Arredondo, Howard
Davis, Ismael Dutchover and Bernardo Martinez'.
Also, sheriff's deputies Jack Brewer, Jim Collins, Andy Gomez, James
Tarin, Felipe Villalobos, Mitch McLain, Kelly Davis, Floyd Estrada,
Ruben Gonzales and Maria Salmon.
Judge Pigman was allowed to remain in the courtroom during the testimony
because he is a named defendant. Others were asked to remain outside
The proceedings are closed to the public.
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