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Weekly Newspaper and Tourism Guide for Ward County Trans Pecos, Big Bend of West Texas

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March 26, 1998

Meteor splinters over Monahans

Meteorite fragments found in Monahans

HOT ROCKS - These two fragments of a meteorite that exploded through the atmosphere Sunday night fell near a group of boys playing basketball. The city of Monahans will put them on display after NASA completes testing.
No one inside a house or building said they heard it.

Outside witnesses in and around Monahans did. They reported
hearing what they described as a sonic boom. Some said they
heard more.

Paula Tucker heard one. Others reported as many as four
sonic booms.It was about 6:30 p.m. Sunday, March 22,
when the booms rippled across the Ward County Seat.

One of those who heard four was Orlando Lyles. He was less
than 50 feet from ground zero cooking fajitas. His children
were among the ones who first found the meteorite since
dubbed Monahans '98 I.

"It was about 6:30 p.m. that the thing came down," recalls
Lyles. "Kids were out playing basketball. I was outside
barbecuing. We heard the boom, four booms, and we heard the
whistle. It landed in the lot between my house and Manuel
Juarez's house. It just dropped."

Monahans '98 II was found by a sheriff's deputy on Monday
morning on his way to work. It was embedded in the asphalt
of Allen Street.

The hoopla began almost immediately. It has not subsided.
Just fallen meteorites, says Everett K. Gibson are nearly
unique things to study.

Gibson is a space scientist and geochemist with the Lyndon
B. Johnson Space Center near Houston. He was in Monahans on
Tuesday, March 24, to take the space rocks back to Houston
with him.

Monahans Police Capt. David Watts reports that by Wednesday
afternoon, March 25, the NASA scientists already were
finding things they had not known before about the rates of
radiation loss and material loss.

Gibson says the fragments of the meteor discovered in a
Monahans vacant lot and in a Monahans street were stony
meteorites - not the more common nickel-iron meteorites but
still common.

"The unusual thing about this find was that we don't often
recover them as quickly as this," says Gibson. "There are
plenty of meteorites found but most of them are not found
for a long time and are not as suited for study as these."

Curiosity and wonder were the order of the day on Sunday
when the rock fell in the vacant lot at Monahans.

Before the night was over, Monahans would become a
mini-celebrity. The vacant lot where the meteorite fell was
clogged with sightseers by the time police arrived.

Recalls Lyles of the seconds after the first meteorite fell
(No one apparently noticed the second that Sunday):

"The kids ran over there and picked it up. There are seven
kids, I think. I was barbecuing fajitas and I had 500 people
in my yard.

". . .I called Alan Martin first thing (Martin is a newsman
with Radio Station KLBO. His family and Lyles's family are

Says Martin: "When I got there I took it back from the kids.
It was still warm. I put it back in its little crater in the
ground. I called police. They seemed to be not taking it
seriously at first."

It wasn't long until Mayor David Cutbirth was on the scene
to examine the heavenly rock.

He said the kids would be honored for recovering it.

Lyles again: "If it had hit 50 feet either side it would
have hit something. We were lucky in a way."

By this time Martin was making a few extra dollars with
feeds to the networks.

Lyles said he and his family like to gaze at the starts
through a telescope. He says they'll be looking even more
intently now.

Two meteorites found here not first,
M.P. White found one 60 years ago

The two meteorites that fell on Monahans on Sunday, March
22, definitely were not the first, according to the
scientific literature and NASA's Everett K. Gibson.

Gibson was in Monahans on Tuesday, March 24, to gather the
two rocks (Monahans '98 I and II) in and take them back to
the Lyndon B., Johnson Space Center near Houston for

Gibson and the literature note the first meteor reported to
have been found in the region was discovered near Monahans
by an M.P. White in the Summer of 1938. It was called the
Monahans Meteor. It weighed 65 pounds when it was found. But
by the time, the specimen was taken to a laboratory for
study, the weight was down to 1.5 pounds, caused one article
said by the loss of the oxide crust formed when on its
journey through the atmosphere to Earth. Monahans Meteor
1938 was discovered in the sandhills 14 miles South,
Southeast of Monahans. White said he was digging and found
the meteor under about a foot of sand.

Falling rocks, high prices vie for attention

Falling rocks and rising prices hammered the Monahans City
Council for attention druing their regular meeting Tuesday,
March 24.

The falling rocks involved the meteorites that fell on
Monahans Sunday night and a scientist from the National
Aeronautical & Space Administration (NASA) who wants to
borrow the meteorites for scientific study.

The rising prices involved bids for expansion of city hall
and municipal court space which came in higher than
anticipated and were tabled for further study.

Dr. Everett K. Gibson, who was born in Seagraves and grew up
in Plains and Denver City and received the first phase of
his education at Texas Tech, asked the city to borrow the
two meteorites for study by NASA for about 60 days. This is
a rare opportunity to study meteorites that have only been
on earth for 49 to 50 hours.

Gibson said he has been studying meteorites for 37 years.
Most meteorites he has found have been in Antartica. Of
the some 22,000 meteorites in NASA's possession, about
20,000 have come from that continent.

He noted that the type that fell on Monahans are quite
common and not of any real monetary value. However, it is
hoped that by studying them, it can be determined just how
big of a meteorite they came from before entering the
earth's atmosphere. Apparently both pieces that fell here
came from the same original meteorite and there could be
more in the area.

He noted that meteorites fall every day and night, about 100
tons per year.

The meteorites that fell here are about 4 1/2 billion years
old, about as old as our solar system. It is not from Mars
which would make it extremely rare and valuable. Gibson was
one of the scientists who found a meteorite in the antartic
and advanced the theory as a result of that rock that there
was at one time life on Mars.

Gibson said after the examination of the Monahans meteorites
is concluded, he will assist the city in any way in putting
up some kind of display, incuding possibly recovering the
66-pound meteorite that fell on Monahans 60 years ago. That
meteorite was found by M.P. White.

City manager David Mills said this was an administative
decision to loan the rocks to NASA and gave his permission
along with the council's blessing.
On the bids for the city hall expansion, Mills opened the
bids. Midtex of Midland bid $208,000 for the city hall
portion and $95,000 for the court addition. Hawkins
Construction had a lower bid of $206,552 with $81,352 for
the option.

The city had planned on spending about $150,000 for the
expansion and possibly $50,000 for the court. An obviously
disappointed Mills recommended the council table the bids
for evaluation and discussion with the architect, Larry
Johnson of Odessa.

Johnson, who was on hand for the bid opening, said the
bidding climate is not healthy right now due to all the
construction going on in the area. Several companies he
sought to submit bids said they had more business than they
could handle.

The council agreed to table the bids.

The city leaders also approved on first reading an ordinance
to close the 1700 block of South Carol, a street that is not
being used. Only one property owner in the area who lives in
California, opposed the closing.Also approved was a grant
application for a 50-50 match with the Texas Department of
Transportation for improvements at Roy Hurd Memorial
Airport. Mills reported that this would be used to extend
the 9-gauge chain link fence around the airport.

The council also approved spending about $21,000 to buy a
new water truck for the fire department. This will match
$21,000 approved Monday by the county commissioners. The
existing tanker truck is 22-years old and has not operated
right since a 2,000 gallon tank was put on it several years
ago, according to fire chief Bill Riley.

Riley has found a full equipped 1989 International in
Arizona that could be purchased for $42,000 with a 4,000
gallon tank.

The old truck that lost the transmission and clutch while
fighting a grass fire in Grandfalls will be repaired and
used for some low mileage situation, Mills said.

Under staff reports, Mills reported receiving franchise fee
checks from Classic Cable of almost $16,000 and $169,870
from Texas Utilities. He also noted that 15 live oak trees
have been planted at Hill Park along with some pine trees.
No write-in candidates filed for election so there will be
no city election this year as only the four incumbents filed
for election.

Scientists still look for meteorites in Ward County

Scientists are looking for still more meteorites that may
have fallen in Monahans last Sunday night.

Steve Schmidt, director of the Blakemore Planetarium at the
Museum of the Southwest in Midland, would like to talk to
any eyewitnesses of the arrival of the meteorites and would
also like to encourage everyone to check their property,
including roofs, for others that may have falled unnoticed
during the meteor shower.

All information is confidential and he asks that any rocks
found not be handled by hand, rather by picking up with
gloves and placed in a sealed plastic bag so as not to
disturb the radio isotopes of the meteorite.
They are no danger to humans but it is important for
research purposes to preserve their integrity, says the

He also asks that anyone who finds anything suspicious -
probably black on the inside with cement looking interior -
to take pictures from different angles or video using a
ruling pointing north to give a perspective so as to
determine the trajectory of the incoming projectile.

He can be reached at 915-683-2882.

Federal investigators lead inquiry into blast

Special to the News

KERMIT - Federal and state investigators continue their
inquiry into the unexpected, unexplained explosion and fire
that fatally burned Tommy Ray Willis, a Monahans resident,
reports Winkler County Sheriff Robert Roberts.

The energy complex where the fatal accident occurred is
closed and will remain closed until further notice.

Roberts and Mike Bassett, a Dallas lawyer who represents the
victim's employer, 4C Construction of Monahans, say agents
of the Occupational Health and Safety Administration (OSHA)
have taken the lead in the probe of the fatal explosion at
the KN Energy Plant complex in Kermit. Representatives of
the Texas Railroad Commission also were reported to have
been assisting in the investigation.

Willis, 40, was wearing a suit and helmet designed to
counter the effects of flame when he was injured when the
condensate tanks exploded at 10:45 a.m. Sunday, February 22.
Willis was a 4C driver. He had gone to the area near the
condensate tanks at the KN complex to empty a water vessel,
Basset reports. The lawyer says he does not know why Willis
was wearing the flame-retardant clothing or if he was
wearing the clothing when he left Monahans for work that

Willis died in the Lubbock Burn Center at about 10:30 a.m.
on Wednesday, March 18. Doctors say more than 75 percent of
his body was seared by the erupting flames.

The tanks where Willis was burned are about 100 feet North
of the KN plant property on Winkler County Route 107 seven
miles Northwest of Kermit.

Says KN's Mark Stutz: "The plant is shutdown and will be
shutdown. He was doing some type of work at the plant. I
don't know exactly what. Willis was in protective gear. He
had the burn suit on in proximity to the tanks when they

Stutz says workers inside the plant gates heard the
explosion and saw. They responded immediately, says the KN

He says the plant had been shut down since about the first
week of March. Now, he says, it is not known when it may

Both he and Basset say they send condolences to the family.

Funeral services for Willis were held on Monday, March 23,
at Shiloh Baptist Church. Burial was in Monahans Memorial

Surviving are wife Teresa; three sons, Dephil, Cedrick and
Jocolby; a daughter, Kourtney; three brothers, Milton of
Victorsville, Calif, Willie and Louis, both of Monahans; and
two sisters, Fedora Young and Patricia Baerton, both of

Law seizes 387 pounds of marijuana

Javier Rodriguez, 20, of Hagerman, N.M., was arraigned late
Wednesay, March 25, and bond was set at $75,000 after being
arrested on Interstate 20 Tuesday allegedly in possession of
387 pounds of marijuana.

He was arrested by Permian Basin Task Force officer Robert
Martin near Monahans. Martin spotted a car that veered off
the road. Task Force Commander Tom Finley noted that the man
was either nervous after seeing the police car or perhaps
the open bags of marijuana had an effect on him.

The marijuana has a street value of $462,000.

After Martin pulled the man over, he looked inside the
suspect's suburban and found the marijuana laid down in the
back, some was cut up and some was wrapped in cellophane.

Plans for courthouse elevator outlined

Plans for a new elevator at the Ward County courthouse to
meet Americans' With Disabilities reqirements got in high
gear Monday, March 23, as the architect outlined plans for
the elevator to Ward County Commissioners during their
regular end-of-the-month meeting.

The elevator was one of only a few items on the agenda for
the meeting which included a long discussion on the golf

Terry Whitherspoon said invitations to bid will be published
soon and it is hoped that work on the elevator can start by
June 1. Cost for the project has been estimated between
$750,000 to $900,000.

In addition, asbestos removal in the area of the elevator
will cost about $4,500, more than the $3,000 originally

Monahans Fire Chief Bill Riley asked for and received
$21,000 in an emergency allocation to pay half of the
$42,000 to purchase a 1989 International water truck to be
used to fight grass fires. The truck is fully equipped. The
truck Riley found in Arizona has a 4,000 gallon tank.

The existing tank truck which had a 2,000 gallon tank, blew
a transmission and the clutch while being used to fight a
grass fire March 17. Riley said it would be better to buy a
different piece of equipment rather than spend money on the
old tanker.

The city of Monahans will be asked to put up the other half
of the $42,000.

Although the tanker was not budgeted, Commissioner Larry
Hunt noted it was an emergency and suggested it be taken out
of the end of year balance in the budget.

Commisioners also approved increasing animal impoundment
fees to include tick and flea dipping as charged by the
veterinary clinic. That's in addition to the fee schedule
approved at the commissioners' meeting earlier this month.

Longhorn pipeline was given a permit to place a pipeline
under county roads.

Nearly 100 attend hearing on future of hospital

A required public hearing on the possibility of leasing Ward
Memorial Hospital to a firm in Tennessee was attended by
almost 100 concerned citizens Wednesday morning, March 24,
in the county courtroom.

County Judge Sam Massey read from the health code on the law
the allows such action by the county commissioners.

Most questions dealt with rumors with Massey and
commissioners providing answers to clear up any
misunderstandings. Also answering questions was Charles
Scott, who represented Community Health Care, the firm
proposing to lease the hospital. In response to a question,
he said that no one seeking medical care will be turned away.

Commissioner Bill Welch said leasing the hosital to CHC is
the only way to go to save the hospital. We don't have the
money to finance our hospital, he said, so we will have to
raise taxes, go into debt and/or reduce services.

One person in the audience asked why such a long lease is
being considered (about 30 years but as yet unspecified).
Massey responded that a private firm would need that long to
recoup their cost as they are going to give Ward County
about $8.5 million (which would include accounts receivable)
for leasing the facility and then will spend $3 million or
more to upgrade the facilities.

In addition it was noted that the firm will pay taxes, about
$250,000 a year, to local taxing entities. In addition, any
thing they purchase would be taxable and would provide sales
tax monies to the community.

There was considerable interest in the difference between
for-profit as opposed to not-for profit. A representative of
Midland Memorial Hospital lobbied for his proposal to lease
the hospital.

However, Massey noted that in a letter from Midland, it was
pointed out that services and personnel would have to be cut
in order to pay the money the county wants for the hospital.

Midland has proposed providing $5 million with the
operating company receiving $750,000 for each of the first
five years and thrn $500,000 per year for the next five

At the end of that time, the county has nothing, Massey
pointed out. With the CHC proposal, the county keeps its
$8.5 million.

Massey noted that CHC would have a stake in the community
and would want to provide services to make it a going
concern. He noted that since August, he has visited with
people in the 30 plus communities where CHC operates
hospitals and has been favorably impressed with what he has
learned. He has been told that CHC will abide by everything
in their contract and he wants to make sure that everything
is included in the contract. He said he hopes to have a
complete copy of the contract within the near future so as
to let people take a look at it before the next hearing
prior to the election on the referendum.

Midland's representative volunteered to help write the
contract to make sure everything is included.

It was asked if the issue was already decided and the
questioner was told it has not been depending on the
referendum but the hearing was necessary due to the lease
being proposed.

Scott pointed out that CHC will help recruit doctors and
other personnel as it has done in other communities.

When Scott was asked about possibly buying the Kermit
hospital and closing it, he noted that the Winkler County
Judge has expressed an interest in talking with the firm
should the Monahans lease become final.

Kathy Fausett expressed a concern she had heard that if
Midland leased the hospital, it would just use Monahans to
provide patients for Midland. The Midland representative
said that would not be the case.

The importance of local health care was addressed a number
of times with Welch pointing out that Monahans is an
attractive place for retirement, particularly since the cost
of living is low here. But health care is a vital
part of that situation, he said.

Massey said after the meeting that he would be in favor of
reducing taxes by some 10 to 12 cents which is the cost of
operating the hospital if the economy permits.

The county would continue to be liable to pay for indigent
care for up to $120,000.

Solar powered Monahans car qualifies for state competition

MIDLAND - A solar powered car from Monahans has qualified
for state competition in Irving.

They did it with a vehicle, held together with duct tape,
that finished third in TU Electric's Western Region Solar
Powered Car Race at the Midland High Tennis Center on
Saturday, March 21.

Monahans High School Students Brian Hardaway and Aaron
Sanders built the gasless vehicle. TU Electric's Kevin Slay
of Monahans helped put it back together with duct tape
after a crash in a preliminary speed run.

Then, Slay reports, the young solar engineers whipped that
car into a third place finish. At the state competition,
Slay promises that Hardaway and Sanders will be allowed to
rebuild the car.

"They will not be forced," he says, "to use duct tape."

Twenty-one cars from West Texas raced on the 75-foot runway
at the tennis center.

Crane's car finished first.

Andrews finished second, less than an inch ahead of the
duct-taped Monahans solar car. St. Ann's-Midland finished

Students competing were from high schools in Midland,
Odessa, Big Spring,Crane, Andrews, Stanton, Lamesa, Garden
City and Monahans.

Hardaway and Sanders were given about a month to build the
car.TU Electric provided solar panels, motors, axles and
other moving parts. Students developed and designed the
vehicle's body.

Says Slay:

"Monahans and the other finalists advance to the
Championship Model Car Race at TU Electric's EarthFair in
Irving on Saturday, April 18. The Championship Solar Car
race will be the highlight of EarthFair."

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Copyright 1998 by Ward Newspapers, Inc.
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