Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Friday, May 27, 2005
Council Oks pact to reopen Smithers track
Town of Pecos City Council members on Wednesday approved a contract to reopen the former Smithers Tire Transportation Center under the operation of a group working with Texas A&M University and a New Mexico-based technology company.
Council members approved the agreement with the Texas Transportation Institute that would reopen the nine-mile test track that has been closed for the past five years. “They’re prepared to execute this lease and Scott (Johnson, city attorney) has approved it,” said Pecos Economic Development President Mike Burkholder.
He said the contract called for a 50-year lease with TTI and a 50-year renewal option. “There will be no base lease payment for the first two years. After that it will be $40,000 and an incremental percentage, based on the amount of business they do out there, up to a cap of $150,000.”
TTI will be working with Applied Research Associates, an Albuquerque, N.M. company that will handle much of the work at the site. “As soon as the deal is signed they will spend $2 million and will seek a $2.5 million grant from the Texas Governor’s Fund,” Burkholder said.
He was optimistic about receiving that grant, while not as sure the current Congress would approve a $12 million grant for a full renovation of the 42-year-old track’s facilities. “If we don’t get that grant, it will still go forward,” Burkholder said.
Aside from the testing at the track, Burkholder said both A&M and ARA talked to him about using the area for other operations.
He said the university’s geological department is seeking to test out footprintless drilling rigs on the site, similar to those used on the Alaskan tundra. The A&M tests would be to see if rigs like those could be used on the Otero Plateau of South Central New Mexico, where proposed drilling activity is being delayed by environmental concerns.
Burkholder said ARA also does development work with the U.S. Department of Defense and the Department of Homeland Security, and talked about moving some of that manufacturing to the Smithers site.
“It won’t happen all at once. They’ll start by bringing a man who used to run the Smithers track to go to work out there,” he added.
PEDC board members were also to discuss the contract on Thursday, in a 5 p.m. meeting at the TransPecos Banks building. The board was also to discuss a $30,000 emergency spending authorization for the site, approve sponsorship of an ORCA grant and go over proposals for the corporation’s strategic plan during the meeting, which was moved back a day to avoid a conflict with the council meeting.
County seeking funding for new voting machines
Several grant applications for funding for different projects, including the purchase of new voting machines, were approved on Monday by Reeves County Commissioners, during their regularly scheduled meeting.
The group approved a HAVA Funding Grant Agreement.
“This is the Help America Vote Act and is funding for replacement of the punch card voting system,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.
Galindo said that funding to acquire the new equipment needed has been raised. He added that while the original amount being awarded was $40,000, “That since has changed and the amount of funding available will be $202,000.”
Reeves County is under a federal mandate to replace their punch card voting machines by the end of this year, and county auditor Lynn Owens said, “We need to find out which systems are going to be approved.”
Galindo said that the system that the court had seen was in the process of being approved by the state.
“It’s very important that whatever system we decide on, has a paper trail to go with it and not be far from what we’re using now,” said Galindo. “It would be very hard to go from one extreme to another.”
Commissioners then approved the amended agreement to purchase the new equipment.
Also approved Monday was a resolution authorizing the submission of a 2005-2006 Texas Community Development Program Grant for the Office of Rural Community Affairs-Colonia Planning Fund.
Jerry Carbajal, with the Office of Rural Community Affairs, who works out of Alpine was on hand to talk to the group about the resolution, which would help fund projects in Saragosa and the Lindsay addition on the southwest side of Pecos.
“The detailed study and the application are due by June 27,” said Carbajal. “This resolution is to authorize us to submit the application and to name the county judge as the executor.”
Carbajal said “We feel we have a very good chance of being funded,” said Carbajal.
Don Bonifay, a grant writer out of Odessa, updated the group on another grant application and a public hearing, which was held to discuss the needs of Reeves County.
Bonifay told the group that they had held a public hearing on May 17 to receive inputs from the community on the needs of Reeves County.
“We want to prioritize these before we submit the application,” said Bonifay.
He said that the information he received from the public showed that the three main needs included good, clean water; sewer system and housing.
“You need to pass on that in general and at the next meeting have it worded appropriately,” said Bonifay. “We took all that information and summarized it.”
Galindo made the motion to approve the grant application and to list five specific projects including one: potable water for north-western part of Reeves County, specifically the area behind B&B Wreckers; adequate sewage system for Saragosa; adequate sewer system for Brogado; adequate sewage system for Saragosa and target the Verhalen and Valley Farms area, for adequate and potable water and sewage system.
“We won’t get to all of them, but this is just for the proposal,” said Bonifay.
The group tabled a resolution authorizing the submission of a 2005-2006 Texas Community Development Program Colonia Construction Fund Grant for sewer tap/service connections from the Office of Rural Community Affairs-Town of Pecos City.
“This application is being submitted by the city,” said Galindo. “They have five different clusters that they are targeting,” he said.
Bonifay said that this was not a very big project and that it was to tie the homes to the city sewer system.
Commissioners adopted a resolution in recognition of the City of Toyah, as a colonia for USDA Rural Development Administration Funding.
City of Toyah Mayor Sandra Terry had gone before the court at the last meeting and had made the request.
“This application is for communities of 10,000 population and is for a water system,” said Terry. “The funds would be used for potable water and decent roads,” she said.
The group approved the 2005 bond lease payment in the amount of $495,000; the 2005 maintenance reserve payment in the amount of $29,166; the 2001 bond lease payment, $345,067; the 2001 maintenance reserve payment, $29,166.
Park dedication opens Memorial Day events
Town of Pecos City crews are hurrying to get the final key pieces in place for Saturday’s dedication ceremony for the Mata/Rodriguez Skateboard Park, the first of two events planned by the city for Memorial Day weekend.
The Saturday morning dedication ceremony for the new park, located at Seventh and Alamo streets, will be followed on Sunday by a 10-hour concert and events scheduled at Maxey Park.
City council members were updates on both events Wednesday, during their regular meeting, and were told that while work will still need to be done on the skateboard park, it will be usable in time for Saturday’s ceremony.
The park is being dedicated in memory of Chief Warrant Officer Johnny Mata who was killed in action in Iraq in March of 2003 and Jaime Rodriguez, a police officer who was killed in the line of duty in Pecos in May of 2002. City manager Joseph Torres said members of both families would be at the ceremony.
“Mike Balog will be master of ceremonies,” Torres said. “This has been Mike Balog’s labor of love, and we didn’t really start building on it until Edgardo Madrid came on staff.”
Earlier in the meeting, Madrid told the council, “We are working on final details for landscaping and paving,” which includes pouring concrete over the berms on the outside of the skateboard bowl to prevent erosion.
Madrid added that the city will still have to get together with local utility officials about connecting up electricity at the park. “After this grand opening, we’ll work with them to place some power poles and lights there, so the kids can do night skating.”
He said the work with increase the cost of the park, but said it’s still cheaper than parks built by larger cities. “You’re talking $300,000-$400,000. Our city costs won’t exceed $80,000.”
The free Memorial Day Concert will feature local talent and bands that will be performing include: the Roman Brothers, Tejano Express, Grupo Familia Ornelas and TOKANTE of Eagle Pass.
Local non-profit organizations will be setting up booths at the concert and will offer a variety of food items and drinks for those attending the concert, and the Pecos Police Department is sponsoring a paintball tournament near the park Sunday afternoon.
A local DJ will entertain the concert attendees during the times the bands are not performing. Festivities kick off at 1 p.m. and will continue until approximately 10 p.m.
The entire weekend is being dedicated to all of our men and women in uniform and to honor all of our fallen heroes. All veterans and their families are encouraged to attend.
The paintball tournamnet will be signing up players until 1 p.m. on Sunday, and players will have to attend an orientation session that will cover the rules and requirements of the tournament. Those not attending the orientation session will not be allowed to play.
Players over 18 will be required to sign a waiver, while for those under 18 a parent or guardian must also sign the waiver. Police organizers also are requiring a photo ID for both the player and for the parent or guardian.
The tournament has no entry fee, but for those who do not have their own equipment, some masks, paintball guns, and tanks will be available for use that day, at a cost of $5. However, players must provide their own paintballs and CO2 cartridges. CO2 to fill tanks will also be available at the paintball game site, at a cost of $2.
All players are encouraged to wear long sleeved, multi layered clothing which will help minimize the impact of the paint balls.
An attempt will be made to create Teams of similar age groups so that teams will be closely matched in age. Age groups and size of teams will be determined on the tournament day but usually teams are around five person, but can be three or four.
In connection with Saturday’s events, council members approved closing of Cothrun Street through Maxey Park on Saturday. The street will be closed from Pinhurst to Kerr streets, with the back section to be used for police vehicles, after Sanchez said officers had problems getting their vehicles in and out of the area back in March, during a Spring Break concert at the park.
Jury awards $7.5 million in DWI death suits
The 18-month-old son of a Monahans man killed in a January 2004 accident in Midland was awarded $5 million in damages on Tuesday, while the widow and son of a Pecos man killed in the same accident were awarded $2.5 million by a 143rd District Court jury in Pecos, after a national restaurant company admitted culpability in their deaths in a DWI accident.
The verdict came after closing arguments on Tuesday morning in the trial against Dallas-based Brinker International Corp., owners of the On the Border Mexican Grill and Cantina in Midland that was at the center of the lawsuit. Brinker agreed last week to admit culpability in having served too much alcohol to a Midland woman who was then involved in an accident that killed Ruben Pando Jr. or Monahans and Felipe Ornelas Jr. of Pecos.
Jurors awarded the money to Alejandro Ruben Pando Jr., which to be placed in trust overseen by the 143rd District Court and his mother, Tanya Valdez, until he turns 18. The award of $2.5 million was to Marlene Muniz and Isaac Ornelas, the wife and son of Felipe Ornelas, who was driving the car Pando was a passenger in when the fatal crash occurred.
“Are we going now?” asked 5-year-old Isaac Ornelas, as his mother hugged family members and supporters in the courtroom after the jury’s verdicts were read by District Court Judge Bob Parks.
Jurors awarded the 18-month-old Pando $500,000 in damages for past loss of companionship, and $2.25 million apiece for future loss of companionship and mental anguish. Muniz and Isaac Ornelas received $250,000 apiece for loss of companionship and mental anguish for the 17 months since Felipe Ornelas’ death, and $1 million apiece for future loss of companionship and mental anguish.
A separate lawsuit filed by Midland attorney Jose Luis Garriga of Odessa on behalf of Pando’s common law wife, Tanya Valdez of Kermit, against the estate of Ornelas was dropped after Brinker admitted culpability. Settlements already had been reached with Ruben G. Pando Sr. of Ojinaga, Chihuahua, Mexico, the younger Pando’s mother, Lelia Alvarez of Monahans, and Sylvia Aguilar of Pecos, the mother of Ornelas, but Garriga said terms of those settlements were confidential.
A Mitsubishi Montero SUV driven by Diane Zamora of Midland ran a red light while westbound near downtown Midland on the night of January 9, 2004, and hit a southbound Ford Thunderbird broadside at Front Street and Lamesa Road on the southeast side of Midland, killing the 20-year-old Ornelas, the driver of the Thunderbird, and Pando, 28.
Zamora, who had been at the On the Border Restaurant on the northwest side of Midland, was sentenced to 27 months in state prison in a criminal trial held in Midland in June of 2004. The suit against Ornelas’ estate was filed by the Pando family, based on an autopsy reports that showed Ornelas’ blood alcohol content was .10, which is over the state legal limit of .08.
“We’re very happy with the verdict,” said Garriga, who represented the Pando family. “I think they just listened to the testimony and realized the two young men meant a lot to the families, and we’re just really happy they saw that.”
Closing arguments were made to the jury by Garriga and Pecos attorney Bill Weinacht, who along with, Amos Barton of Kerrville and Jon Bailey of San Angelo represented the Ornelas estate. They asked jurors to award the families a combined $32 million in damages, with $14.6 million going to the family or Ornelas and $17.4 million to the Pandos, while attorney Rick Davis Jr. of Midland, representing Brinker, asked jurors to award Marlene Muniz a combined $300,000 and $560,000 to Alejandro Pando.
“This is a case about a little boy who lost his father forever. It’s a case about a little boy who lost his father because of a wrongful death,” Garriga told jurors. “It’s about a widow who lost her husband because of a wrongful death.”
Jurors did agree with Davis’ argument that the 18-month-old should be awarded no money for past mental anguish, since Alejandro Pando was born only six weeks before his father was killed, while the Brinker attorney argued for the lower judgments based on the estrangement between Ruben Pando and Tanya Valdez in the months leading up to the boy’s birth and the month following his birth in November of 2003, and problems with the Ornelas’ marriage in the 3 1/2 years between the time they were married and Felipe Ornelas’ death.
Testimony to the jury on Monday focused on the family problems, and Davis said during closing arguments that at one point Muniz had told others she was single due to problems with her relationship with Ornelas.
“With this history the reasonable probability is this marriage was not going to last,” Davis said, while in the Pando’s case, he noted the father failed to visit with his son for a month after his birth in Kermit, while living in Midland and working for an oilfield crew in Rankin.
“It’s not so far working in Midland or Rankin to go to Kermit and visit your son. It’s only an hour-and-a-half away,” Davis said. “The evidence is he had time to go to Pecos to Sylvia Aguilar’s house with Felipe and visit him.”
On Monday, the Brinker attorney introduced evidence Pando checked himself into Midland Memorial Hospital Dec. 15, 2003, after a three-day drinking binge. That was again brought up during closing arguments, after which both Garriga and Weinacht delivered rebuttals to the jury.
Garriga spoke about attending events involving his own child and how happy he was. He said Alejandro Pando would be denied that same thing because of his father’s death.
“It’s not fair to do what he’s saying for the rest of the boy’s life,’ the attorney said. “That’s not fair to this woman. That’s not fair to that little boy.”
Weinacht told jurors they were the shopkeepers in the house of justice, and Brinker was someone who had caused damage inside. “The person who broke it doesn’t get to tell you how much it cost,” he said. “This corporation is not the boss. You are the boss.
“Because they’re responsible for the deaths they’ve turned her (Muniz) life upside down,” Weinacht said. “If someone came here and put that kind of value on your father it would infuriate you, and it infuriates me.”
Jurors sent out one note to Parks during their deliberations, asking how long the court would hold Alejandro Pando’s money in trust and whether or not Valdez would have access to the funds. Parks replied that he was not allowed to give jurors that information.
As part of the confidential agreement, Parks ordered attorneys not to reveal the name of the insurance company handling the settlement for Brinker, which operates 132 On the Border restaurants, along with Chili's Grills & Bars, Romano's Macaroni Grills, Corner Bakery Cafes, Maggiano's Little Italy restaurants and Rockfish Seafood Grills in 49 states.
Brinker spokesman Louis Adams of Dallas told the Midland Reporter-Telegram on Tuesday that his company respects the verdict but hadn't decided about possibly appealing to a higher court.
"We want to express our sympathies once again to all the families who were affected by this tragedy," said Adams. "We respect the jury's decision, and we intend to review our options based on this proceeding."
Soldier killed in WWII to receive burial
A Pecos man who fought and died for his country during World War II will be laid to rest in his hometown on Memorial Day.
The remains PFC Francisco A. Olguin, Jr.’s body was found last year on an island in New Guinea, north of Australia. Forensic experts were able to identify the remains as those of Olguin, who was born on May 19, 1920 in Pecos to Francisco Sr. and Andrea A. Olguin.
His remains were to be returned to Pecos from El Paso on Friday, with memorial and burial services, with full military honors, scheduled on Monday.
Visitation with the family is scheduled for Sunday at Peaceful Garden Funeral Home. Mass will be held at 2 p.m., at Santa Rosa Catholic Church with burial at Mt. Evergreen Cemetery.
Olguin enlisted in the U.S. Army on Jan. 8, 1942, and served his country in the Buna Campaign within the Pacific Area, during the opening year for the U.S. in World War II.
He died on Dec. 2, 1942, while engaged in combat operations against Japanese forces in New Guinea, but his was not recovered for another 62 years.
He proudly earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart medals for his heroism. The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration.
The Bronze Star Medal is awarded to any person who, while serving in any capacity in or with the Army of the Untied States after Dec. 6, 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic or meritorious achievement or service.
The men of the 32nd Infantry Division had 654 days in combat, more than any U.S. Division in any war. General Yamashita, commander of the Japanese forces in the Philippines, told American officers that he considered the 32nd Division the best his troops encountered in New Guinea, Biak, Buna-Sanananda, Leyte, Luzon, and Villa-Verde Trail.
Survivors include his sisters, Eva Ornelas, Ignacia Garcia, Paulina Barrera, Petra Vasquez, Linda Garza, and numerous nieces and nephews.
Deceased brothers and sisters are: Narcisco, Juan, Angel, Ramon, George, Ignacia (Grande) and Juana Olguin.
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
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