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PECOS, April 16 - years ago today Jane Roberts was at work in the Moody
office building in Galveston when suddenly the windows blew in. Sixteen
miles across the Galveston Bay the S.S. Grandcamp, a French freighter,
had exploded at her slip in the harbor of Texas City.
Roberts has lived in Pecos since 1953 but in 1947 she lived in a small
apartment in Texas City. Wednesday morning, April 16, she awoke feeling
sick and considered staying home from work.
"Thursday was the hardest day for me at the insurance company where I
worked," Roberts said remembering that day. "I didn't feel like going to
work that morning but I knew I had a lot to do that day so I could get
That morning Roberts climbed aboard the bus that shuttled back and forth
between Texas City and Galveston and went to work at her job on the
ninth floor of the Moody building.
"I went downstairs just before nine to get the night deposit. When it
hit, glass and paper was flying everywhere," she said. "Someone said an
airplane had hit the building."
When Roberts returned to the ninth floor she found it deserted. Looking
out an office window across the bay she could see a cloud of smoke over
About then the telephone rang. One of the company's Texas City agents
was on the line. She asked him if the Monsanto Chemical company, where
her brother and brother-in-law worked, was alright. He told her yes, the
plant was fine.
A few minutes later the agent called back and said he was mistaken, in
fact he said, the Monsanto Chemical company was no more. The chemical
company was located near the dock where the Grandcamp's cargo of 2,300
tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer had exploded.
Almost 600 people had been killed in the blast and about 4,000 were
Of course, Roberts was worried about her family and she left work to
"I went down to the bus station to catch the bus home," she said. "After
the bus pulled in a man coming from Texas City got off. He was bleeding
and his clothes were torn."
The bus driver told Roberts that he did not know if he could get the bus
all the way into Texas City but he would try to get as close as he could.
"Before the bus left the station the man from Texas City with the torn
clothes got back on and sat down without saying a word," Roberts said.
"That was just one of the strange things that happened connected with
When she got off the bus in the outskirts of Texas City Roberts tried to
reach her family by telephone. Nobody answered, so she walked the two or
three miles to her sister's house.
At first no one was at her sister's home, but soon family began to drift
"I asked them if my brother-in-law Forest was working (at Monsanto) and
they said no but my brother Willis (William Albert Screws) was," she
said. It was supposed to be Screw's day off but he went in to work to
replace another worker.
When Roberts finally returned to her garage apartment she found the roof
had been blown completely off.
"The entire bedroom window had been pulled out of its frame and landed
on the bed, right where I would have been if I had stayed home sick that
morning," she said.
Then she and her family started the search for her brother, who was 28
at the time.
"We went to every hospital in Galveston and La Port, where they were
taking the dead and injured," Roberts said. "We found one body that my
sister Ruth said had feet that looked like Willis', but the tag on the
toe had another man's name."
Sometime during this Roberts ran into one of her brother's co-workers
who told them of events at the chemical plant right after the blast.
"I went to help this one man and he said, 'Don't bother with me, I'm
done for. Get someone else,'" he said.
Her brother's co-worker went on to say that if Screws had not been so
prompt about his duties he would have been in the break shed where most
of the Monsanto survivors had been. Instead, Screws was about his duties
on the top of a tower when the blast struck.
The family did not find Robert's brother that first day. Later, their
search brought them back to downtown Texas City.
"People near the dock saw a water spout in the bay and started
panicking," Roberts said. "They thought that on top of everything else
we were about to be hit by a tornado. But it was just a water spout and
it stayed on the water."
Roberts has asthma and it flared up at this time. For the next several
days she was under heavy medication and was in and out of hospitals.
Meanwhile, her brother's body was found in the Texas City morgue and was
buried. Roberts missed the funeral because she was still in the hospital.
After the disaster, local banks were closed, food was scarce and the
Salvation Army was feeding people in the street
Meanwhile, Screws' fiancee, Heather Yeldham, had arrived by ship from
Australia. Not only was she greeted with the death of her fiancee, but
authorities would not allow her off the ship for several days.
"Finally, the Red Cross helped out and got her off the ship," Roberts
Roberts admitted that even after 50 years she sometimes catches herself
thinking of her brother as if he were still alive.
"You just don't get over something like that," she said.
Texas City has not forgotten either. April 16 has been declared a local
holiday with a three-day commemoration including a memorial service, a
program to thank volunteers who helped after the disaster and a
PECOS, April 16 - Pascual Levario-Quiroz will spend the next 5½ years in
federal prison unless the appeal of Monday's sentencing is successful.
Senior Judge Lucius Bunton agreed to appoint a federal public defender
for the 28-year-old Redford resident alien who is accused of killing a
rival in Ojinaga, Mex. and fleeing across the Rio Grande in a hail of
bullets fired by federales.
Levario shot back at the federales as he drove his red
pickup across the river at a wide point, and Border Patrol agents
charged him with illegally bringing in a weapon while crossing at a
place not designated a port of entry.
Illegal entry is not that big a deal for Mexican citizens living along
the border, and the sentence is usually 30 days to six months. Defense
Attorney Tony Chavez argued that Levario should not be punished in the
U.S. for what he allegedly did in Mexico.
"Nobody here knows what really happened," Chavez said. "Let them take
care of that. "Let's punish him for what he did here. That's fair, your
Chavez also argued that Levario should be credited with acceptance of
responsibility because he pleaded guilty. But that plea came after a
jury was selected and three federales entered the courtroom
with a tape of a telephone conversation between Levario and themselves.
Levario allegedly telephoned the federales from Reeves
County Jail, asking them not to testify at his trial - and offering to
make it worth their while to keep mum.
While Levario has been in the Pecos federal court on at least two prior
occasions, his crimes were minor, Chavez said. He was extradited to
Mexico several years ago to face charges of murdering a police officer.
At one point he set fire to a mattress in his cell at Reeves County Jail.
He has been a model prisoner during this stay, officers said. He even
alerted jailers to an escape by three cellmates. And in court Monday,
the buzz haircut and suit helped create the appearance of a clean-cut
young man in traffic court.
Judge Bunton said the issue of jurisdiction over events in Mexico is
something the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals needs to rule on.
"We are plowing new ground," he said of Adrian Chavez's research of the
law. "What can the court consider about matters that occurred outside
the limits of the U.S.?"
"I don't feel like I am exercising jurisdiction over any offense in
Mexico," he said. "I don't have any idea whether the guy he killed was
good or bad, but I will accept his representation that he killed a bad
It was obvious that Levario voluntarily left Mexico and didn't want to
face charges there, he said.
Based on the seriousness of the offense and Levario's criminal history,
the minimum punishment under federal guidelines is 135 months in prison,
and the maximum is 168.
"However, due to the plea bargain entered into, those guidelines are far
in excess of what is authorized and what can be imposed," Judge Bunton
said. "The statutory maximum is 60 months."
For bringing in a weapon from Mexico, Levario will serve 60 months in
prison, and for illegal entry another six months, to run consecutively.
Chavez pleaded for the sentences to run concurrently.
"I feel 60 months is sufficient," he said. "They are still wanting him
in Mexico. I have been in contact with his attorney over there, and
apparently they want him badly. So the longer he stays here, that will
just give him refuge and a place to stay where we as taxpayers are
paying for his keep and thwarting the judicial system in Mexico."
"I am touched by your concern for the taxpayers," said Judge Bunton. "I
am wondering if I would be doing your client any favors if I just took
it off the taxpayers and advised the marshals to take him to Ojinaga in
the night and turn him over to the Mexicans.
"I am not going to do that, even though it costs taxpayers money, I am
probably doing Levario a favor by extending his stay."
PECOS, April 16 - Greed was a word used more than onced by County Judge
Jimmy Galindo during a lengthy discussion, debate and disagreement over
a housing grant application Monday during the regular second Monday of
the month meeting of the Reeves County commissioners.
Exactly who and what he was making reference to was not clear although
money was the topic of conversation.
Housing grants have themselves been a source of problems for the county
with one grant being the source of an investigation that could cost the
county money to reimburse the state for projects not finished.
County and state officials are still trying to get to the bottom of that
what went wrong on that HOME Program grant with the county having hired
a housing inspector from Midland to assess the work done on all 13
houses that were rehabilitated at an average cost of about $27,000 each.
The fingers of blame on that grant have been pointed in all directions
although some people have tried to help the situation by finishing work
on some of the houses and providing heat to homes where heating units
were not installed and two homes having burned down, one due to faulty
wiring and one because a heating system was not installed and a cook
stove was being used for heat in December.
None of the officials involved in that grant are currently involved with
Now another grant under a two-year-old program is facing an April 25
deadline for completion of contracts for professional services and
construction work. There's where the debate enters in and until this
work is finished, a grant for $350,000 by Madera Valley Water Supply
cannot be submitted.
That debate in Monday's meeting lasted almost two hours with a motion on
the floor for almost an hour before it was finally voted on.
Galindo is firmly against hiring Carlos Colina-Vargas, an Austin-based
grant writer, to complete the project. Out of grants, 10 per cent goes
to the grant writer and administrator. That amount can be up to 16 per
In applying for grants, counties and cities are scored on how they use
the money and how efficiently things are done.
The grant now being implemented is for $350,000. Of the 10 per cent for
grant administration, almost $8,000 has been spent to screen qualified
homes for the project. Up to 16 per cent can be used for grant
administration although use of this much is said to hurt an entities'
score on applying for future grants.
If Vargas gets the remainder of grant administration funds - about
$25,000 - as several commissioners including Bernardo Martinez and
Felipe Arredondo believe he should - or at least part of the money based
on negotiations - that would not leave much money for County Grant
Administrator Mari Maldonado. Construction Manager and Inspector
Augustin Hidalgo has said he will charge $1,500 for each of the 20
houses to be inspected. It was noted that inspectors in South Texas get
$50 for an inspection but Arredondo noted things are done different in
Advertisements have been placed for bids on doing the houses and those
bids are to be opened next Tuesday.
Martinez and Commissioner Herman Tarin, Maldonado and Hidalgo travelled
to Austin last week for a session with state officials who oversee the
housing rehabilitation grant program. Tarin noted that the state
officials really believe in and want to work with elected officials. He
also noted that Maldonado's work was praised by the state.
Vargas was to have been at the commissioners' meeting Monday but was
delayed due to other commitments. When contacted, he said he could not
be there until next week.
Galindo didn't want to delay the application until only three days
before the deadline as there is not enough time to make changes if the
state rejects it. Then it was decided to try to get Vargas to Pecos
sometime this week for a special meeting. However, because of a family
emergency, Galindo said he could not be available for a meeting later
Not to be rude, Arredondo said the commissioners could meet without him.
Galindo's concern was that by spending too much on administration, it
takes away from local jobs and the number of houses the money can be
spent on. However, Martinez said this could be negotiated.
The debate continued back and forth and at about 4:30, the commissioners
voted to hold a special meeting whenever Vargas can get here.
PECOS, April 16, 1997 - The Pecos-Barstow-Toyah school board announced
the 1997 Teacher of the Year award recipients at last Thursday's school
board meeting, and although neither recipient of the award was able to
attend the meeting, both are very honored and they did take the time to
comment on their careers earlier in the week.
Simply being nominated for the Teacher of the Year award is a great
honor for those in the teaching profession, and is evidence that those
who are nominated excel in the minds of their peers, students, and the
community as a whole.
This year's nominees were Lori Walker, Austin Elementary; Wade Horne,
Barstow Elementary; Cynthia Armbruster, Bessie Haynes; Socorro Mason,
Lamar Elementary; Julia McPherson, Pecos Elementary; Lucia Dominguez,
Pecos Kindergarten; Elizabeth Armstrong, Pecos High School; Tina
Hendrick, Crockett Middle School; and Brenda Evins, Zavala Middle School.
A selection committee tackled the chore of awarding points in a variety
of areas in an effort to select one candidate apiece at the elementary
and secondary levels. Each nominee submitted essays on their
professional biography, educational history and professional
development, community involvement, and philosophy of teaching. After an
exhaustive selection process, one teacher at each level received the
distinction of being named Teacher of the Year. These teachers are
professionals who go above and beyond the call of duty to educate the
youth of the community, and the Pecos Enterprise is pleased
to congratulate them both.
The elementary level Teacher of the Year for 1997 is Bessie Haynes
Elementry School's librarian, Cynthia Armbruster. The secondary level
Teacher of the Year is Pecos High School English teacher Elizabeth "Sam"
Armbruster has been a teacher in the P-B-T ISD for 22 years and has
taught at all elementary levels, from kindergarten through eighth grade.
She has taught in the gifted and talented program for 18 of her 22
years. This is her first year in the library.
"I've always been very fortunate because I've always had good kids to
work with, supportive parents, and supportive administrations,"
Armbruster said. She feels that she has had a rewarding 22 years and has
no plans to stop now. Armbruster has a deep attachment to the children
whom she teaches, even wishing that she could have been surrounded by
her students while having her picture taken. (She was interviewed
between classes.) "I hate focusing on me, because what I'm all about is
Armstrong has been teaching for 8 years, the first 3 as a sixth grade
teacher at Lamar Elementary. Armstrong has taught English at the high
school for the last 5 years. This year, she teaches freshman, sophomore
and senior English classes, but has taught junior English in the past.
"I love teaching, love it, love my kids...my munchkins, I call them,"
Armstrong says with a smile. "We have great minds here in Pecos, just
waiting to be tapped, waiting to be opened."
She enjoys teaching at the high school level and plans to remain at PHS
as an English teacher. "I like my students; they are neat, neat people,
and they are the reason I won the award, along with my fellow
PECOS, April 16, 1997 - Whipping through a light agenda in less than 30
minutes, the Reeves County Hospital District board on Tuesday amended
personnel policies, bought a back-up monitor for anesthesia and learned
the financial picture dimmed slightly in March.
They also learned that the hospital district, which collects taxes to
keep afloat, has to pay taxes on mineral interests in Winkler County.
Wink-Loving ISD billed the hospital for $20.25 for mineral interest on a
tract in the Sid Kyle lease.
Scott Johnson, the district's attorney, advised that the property is
taxable because it is not held for public use and benefit.
Jerry Giardina requested the back-up monitor for the surgery and
anesthesia departments in case the primary unit fails. It will also be
set up in the second operating room for use in an emergency, he said.
The board had budgeted $13,450 for the purchase, and the cost is $12,318.
Chief Executive Officer Terry Andris reported visits to the rural health
clinic were down by 250 in March, due to the loss of the physician
assistant, Michelle Cser.
Andris said a permanent P.A. has agreed to accept the position as of May
6. Harley Opperman of Hobbs has been working in a Columbia-owned clinic,
which is being sold.
"Our problem is, we are competing against Midland-Odessa, where they are
paying $75,000 to $100,000 for physician assistants," Andris said. "It
is a real competitive market out there."
Norma Tankerly will head the new home health program on an interim basis
until a permanent director is hired. The person who had earlier applied
for the position declined it, Andris said.
Fraud and abuse investigations by the federal government are being
conducted for actions dating back to 1986, Andris said. Since
regulations are being re-interpreted, RCH could be found in violation on
some issues, although the staff believed they were correct at the time.
"We are in the process of getting our procedure in order to make sure we
are complying with everything," he said. "We have taken steps to orient
our staff on what constitutes fraud and abuse."
Flying a restored Lockheed Electra 10E a duplicate of Earhart's
twin-engine propeller plane Finch touched down at Athens International
Airport after a five-hour flight from Tunis.
The 46-year-old Texas businesswoman and her navigator, Peter Cousins,
will set off for Luxor, Egypt, on Friday, and plan to travel on from
there to Dubai, said Finch's spokesperson, Jane Anderson.
Finch left Oakland, Calif., on March 17, the same day Earhart took off
on her round-the-world flight in 1937.
Earhart hoped to be the first woman to circumnavigate the globe but she
and her navigator, Fred Noonan, vanished near Howland Island in the
Pacific Ocean less than 2,000 miles before completing her 24,000-mile
Jesus Madrid, 87, died April 16, 1997 at Reeves County Hospital.
Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Friday, April 18 at Santa Rosa
Catholic Church with Father Antonio Mena officiating. Rosary will be
7:30 p.m. Thursday at the Martinez Funeral Home Chapel.
Madrid, of 2021 Ivy, was a housewife who had lived in Pecos most of her
Survivors include: eight sons, Alfredo Madrid of Ft. Stockton, Leandro
Madrid of Odessa, Carlos Madrid of Phoenix, AR, Merced Madrid of Odessa,
Arturo Madrid of Ojinaga, Mexico, Roque Madrid of Pecos, Andres Madrid
of Pecos and Gonzalo Madrid of Pecos; one daughter, Maria M. Rodriguez
of Pecos; 49 grandchildren; and 51 great-grandchildren.
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Copyright 1997 by Pecos Enterprise
Division of Buckner News Alliance, Inc.
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321
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