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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, October 27, 2006

Opening days of early voting start off slowly

Early voting for the Nov. 7 general election is going slowly, with just 330 ballots cast in the first three days of voting by mail and at the Reeves County Courthouse.

County Clerk Dianne O. Florez said that 225 people voted in person on the first three days of the 10-day early voting period, while another 105 had returned their mail-in ballots to her office as of Wednesday. The total is about 1,100 fewer than the final early voting numbers in March’s Democratic primary, and about 1,000 less than the number who voted early during the April runoff election.

Along with the statewide races, there are only two contested races of local interest on the ballot. Those are the race for Reeves County Judge, where Democrat Sam Contreras and Republican Robert Hanks are seeking to fill the seat currently held by Jimmy Galindo, and the special election race for the 23rd Congressional District, where incumbent Republican Henry Bonilla is being challenged by five Democrats and one independent in the open election.

Hanks ran unopposed in the March 7 Republican primary, while Contreras won the Democratic nomination by 15 votes over Al Gomez, in an election that wasn’t decided until late August.

Visiting Judge Joseph Connally declared Contreras the winner of the Democratic primary elections after hearing testimony in a lawsuit filed in 143rd District Court by Gomez seeking to overturn the results of the April 11 runoff election, due to problems with counting of Election Day ballots and questions about assistance some voters had with their mail-in ballots.

A total of 1,349 people cast ballots early in the April 11 runoff election, down from 1,435 who voted early in the March 7 primary. The runoff election also decided the races for Reeves County Commissioner in Precincts 2 and 4. challengers Gabriel Martinez and Ramiro “Ram” Guerra scored runoff wins over Precinct 2 incumbent Norman Hill and Precinct 4 incumbent Gilberto “Hivi” Rayos, and both are unopposed in the Nov. 7 election, along with several other down ballot races.

In the congressional election, Bonilla, who is seeking an eighth term in Washington, was to have faced El Paso Democrat Rick Bolanos on Nov. 7. But a U.S. Supreme Court ruling on the state’s 2003 redistricting plan ordered Texas to redraw the boundaries of the 23rd District to increase the percentage of Hispanic voters in the district. As a result, a special election was ordered in that district and three others in the San Antonio area, with a runoff set for December if no candidate receives 50 percent of the vote.

Along with Bolanos, other Democrats who filed to run in the 23rd District are former congressman Ciro Rodriguez, August G. "Augie" Beltran, Adrian DeLeon and Albert Uresti. One independent, Craig T. Stephens, also filed to run in the district.

In the statewide races, the main focus has been on the governor’s race, where Republican Rick Perry is seeking a second full four-year term, and where two independents, comptroller Carole Keeton Strayhorn and author/singer Kinky Friedman are challengers, along with Democrat Chris Bell.

Republicans are the incumbents in the other statewide down ballot races, along with the race for U.S. Senate, where incumbent Kay Bailey Hutchison is being challenged by Barbara Ann Radnofsky. The only exception is Strayhorn’s comptroller’s seat, where agriculture commissioner Susan Combs is facing Democrat Fred Head, and in the race for Combs’ current seat, where Democrat Hank Gilbert and Republican Todd Staples are facing off.

Golfers’ seed money helps roll out final green

The roll-out for the final part of the final hole currently under construction at the Reeves County Golf Course was just that on Wednesday, as workers rolled over 6,000 square feet of green into place on the north side of the course.

The No. 3 green is the last of three holes that have been built over the last few years at the golf course, which has expanded from 11 to 14 holes and which groundskeeper Peter Mora hopes will eventually grow to a full 18-hole layout.

The current expansion was made possible by the donation of land to Reeves County from the Pecos Housing Authority, which was the former site of the southern half of the old Pecos Airbase Apartments, while the 6,200 square foot green was acquired thanks to private donations.

“We did a Thursday scramble last week as a fundraiser, and overall raised $9,000 for the project,” Mora said. That total included funds from last week’s event, plus donations of either cash or other items by local businesses, including the Pecos Men’s and Pecos Women’s Golf Associations, Colt Chevrolet, TransPecos Banks, La Tienda Thirftway and Standard Sales.

“The scramble group meets every Thursday for a nine-hole scramble, and last week we raised funds to finish off the green sooner,” Mora said. “Being the last hole, we decided to raise it among the golfers.”

The green and the supporting sod were trucked into Pecos on Wednesday, taken off the truck and then rolled into place by county and golf course workers, along with volunteers. However, while the new grass is in place, it will still be a while before golfers can play on the new No. 3 hole.

“Depending on the weather conditions, any time you sod a green, to be on it takes a short period of time,” he said. “It should be ready as early as six months, or it could take as long as six months.”

He said most of the No. 3 hole is the course’s former No. 12 hole, and a temporary green has been in place in recent months. The new green will be slightly elevated from the course, with a small stone wall facing the fairway.

“It will play 331 yards from the blue (tee box), 316 yards from the white and 292 yards on the red. It will be a short par-4 with an obstacle of the little rock wall,” Mora said. They also plan to photograph the new hole for the cover photo on the course’s scorecards.

Now that the new holes on the north side of the course are in place, Mora said he hopes to start working on the final four holes, which have been plotted for the southwest side of the current course layout. But the Town of Pecos City currently owns the land, and the city and county have not worked out a deal on the site.

“I’m hoping the city will donate that land at the landfill,” he said of the seven-acre site, which was the former city landfill and home to the Pecos Rifle and Pistol Club. “If we get it, we’ll do more fundraisers to get those holes finished, but the first obstacle is getting the land.”

Bonilla promises help for hospital during visit

U.S. Congressman Henry Bonilla took a tour of Reeves County Hospital along with some of his staff on Monday, visiting with hospital personnel and looking at the facility’s two-year-old kidney dialysis unit.

Bonilla, who is currently running for re-election, toured the hospital with Administrator Frank Seals and met with employees of the hospital.

“I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to observe the kindness and compassion that the employees of Reeves County Hospital express toward their patients and to learn about the exciting initiatives planned for the organization,” said Bonilla. “The employees are truly providing countless individuals opportunities to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. I am honored to be able to represent this fine group of people and this tremendous organization,” he said.

“You all may be certain that I will continue fighting to protect the interests of Reeves County Hospital in Washington, D.C.,” said Bonilla.

Reeves County Hospital Interim CEO and Administrator Frank Seals said, “We appreciate Congressman Bonilla taking the time to stop by and visit our hospital and talk to our employees.”

“He has always been very supportive of Reeves County Hospital and has also always been an advocate for rural health care issues,” said Seals. “Reeves County Hospital District continues to face many challenges concerning reimbursement from Medicare and we know Congressman Bonilla will continue to support and hopefully even sign on as a co-sponsor for the Health Care Access and Rural Equity Act (H-CARE) of 2006,” he said.

The H-CARE of 2006 includes several provisions that would assist not only our hospital, but all rural hospitals whether they are designated as Critical Access Hospitals or not. Upon his arrival at the hospital, the employees gathered in the lobby to listen to the Congressman deliver brief remarks and thank the employees for their hard work.

Bonilla told the group that on any given day, he has to wear a variety of hats.

“Meeting with you like this, gives me a chance to get to know you and hearing from you helps me do a better job,” said Bonilla.

Bonilla said that he had a wonderful staff, that if anyone had any concerns and couldn’t reach him, his staff would handle whatever problems, questions or concerns anybody had. “I will continue to do my best to serve my district and hearing from you just helps me even more,” said Bonilla.

The 49-bed hospital is accredited by Medicare and provides inpatient, outpatient and ICU services. It also serves pediatric, adult and geriatric clients, along wit outpatient and inpatient surgery, an emergency room with a Level IV trauma designation, a pharmacy, physical therapy services, and a rural health clinic with-in the hospital.

The newest addition to the hospital has been the Dialysis Center, which makes it easier for patients in this rural area to receive dialysis, without making a long drive.

“For many years, Reeves County Hospital has served as a vital member of the West Texas health care community,” said Bonilla. “From its first-class staff to its personal serviced and its technologically advanced facilities, the administrators and staff at Reeves County Hospital should be commended for their commitment to excellence,” said Bonilla, after his tour of the hospital.

Bonilla has represented Reeves County since first being elected to Congress in 1992. He serves as Chairman of the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, which funds all grants for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition to chairing the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee, Bonilla is a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee.

Feds draw flack for border agents’ prison terms

U.S. Attorney Johnny Sutton has received dozens of angry letters and phone calls decrying the prosecution of a pair of former U.S. Border Patrol agents who were sentenced last week to more than 10 years in federal prison.

The agents, Ignacio Ramos and Jose Alonso Compean, were convicted earlier this year of shooting Osvaldo Aldrete Davila, a drug smuggling suspect, as the man fled across the Rio Grande into Mexico after a confrontation with the agents.

Ramos was sentenced on Oct. 19 to 11 years and one day, while Compean was ordered to serve 12 years in prison. The men were ordered to report to prison by Jan. 17.

Public support for the agents, both married fathers, has swelled since their convictions earlier this year.

Judge Kathleen Cardone reduced the suggested sentences for several charges but was required by law to send the men to prison for 10 years on the charge that they used a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Sutton said the charges associated with a February 2005 shooting incident at the Fabens Port of Entry, which resulted in their convictions on March 8 by an El Paso jury on charges of assault with serious bodily injury, assault with a deadly weapon, discharge of a firearm in relation to a crime of violence and a civil rights charge. They were also convicted of four counts and two counts, respectively, of obstruction of justice. The jury acquitted both defendants of assault with intent to commit murder.

Public support for the agents, both married fathers, has swelled since their convictions earlier this year. Several prominent lawmakers, including Wisconsin Republican James Sensenbrenner, have pledged to hold congressional hearings on the case.

Cardone, who rejected a defense request for a new trial last week, reduced the suggested sentences for several charges but was required by law to send the men to prison for 10 years on the charge that they used a firearm in the commission of a felony.

Sutton, who oversaw prosecutors in El Paso who handled the case, said much of the public support for the former agents is a direct result of talk radio and cable television support for the men.

``Frankly, if I only got my information from talk radio and cable news I would hate Johnny Sutton too,'' Sutton said.

He said he would have preferred to prosecute Aldrete. But there was no evidence linking him to a van load of marijuana found after a car and foot chase with the agents that ended with Ramos and Compean shooting at and wounding Aldrete in the buttocks. And the agents, he said, clearly violated the law.

``I feel no sympathy for the alien,'' Sutton said after the sentencing. ``I feel he should be in prison. If we find him smuggling drugs again'' we will put him in prison.

But Sutton said he was forced to charge Ramos and Compean because they broke the law when they shot Aldrete, didn't report it and then tampered with evidence by picking up several spent bullet casings.

“Federal agents who protect our border deserve our respect, gratitude and trust - it is a difficult and dangerous job. But when law enforcement officers use their badge as a shield for carrying out crimes and then engage in a cover up, we cannot look the other way. Agents Compean and Ramos shot an unarmed, fleeing suspect in the back and lied about it,” said U.S. Attorney Sutton.

In early 2005, the defendants shot at an unarmed Mexican National, who was transporting a load of marijuana, while he was running away from them and attempting to flee back into Mexico. During the incident, Compean fired approximately 14 rounds from his service pistol; Ramos fired one round from his service pistol striking the unarmed suspect.

Ballistics testing confirmed that the bullet which struck the suspect was from Ramos’ service weapon. In addition, jurors found that the defendants intentionally failed to report the shooting incident to supervisors, concealed evidence and obstructed the investigation. Finally, jurors convicted Compean of collecting and disposing the spent shell casings expelled from the defendants’ firearms in an effort to prevent them from being used in official proceedings.

Richard L. Skinner, Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, said, “The men and women of the Border Patrol have one of the most difficult and dangerous jobs in federal law enforcement. They serve as the first line of defense for our nation’s borders and work to protect our national security.”

“Each day, Border Patrol agents are called upon to apprehend undocumented aliens, interdict dangerous drug traffickers and human smugglers, and provide aid and assistance to those in grave physical danger. Border Patrol agents are trained to respect and protect the civil rights and liberties of those they encounter,” said Skinner. “Many agents have lost their lives trying to protect the lives of others. In being given the lawful authority to use deadly force when warranted, these agents were bestowed with the highest level of trust,” he said.

Before the sentence was announced, Walter Boyaki, a U.S. civil lawyer for Aldrete, asked Cardone to do her job ``and not have the possibility that we put a bull's-eye on every illegal alien and say 'Go get 'em.''' Boyaki said Aldrete was physically incapacitated and couldn't be in court Thursday.

In asking that the sentences be short, Mary Stillinger, Ramos' lawyer, argued Aldrete exhibited ``very threatening behavior'' the day he was shot and that should have some influence on the sentence.

Aldrete was shot, she said, ``not because he's a drug dealer, not because he's an illegal alien, but because of his actions.''

Compean's lawyer, Chris Antcliff, asked Cardone to consider Compean's history and his family - his wife gave birth to their third child about a month ago.

``It's a hard case to come to grips with ... this is a good man in an unfortunate situation,'' Antcliff said.

County seeks plan to cope with bird flu outbreak

A meeting has been scheduled for Monday at the Reeves County Civic Center to discuss how to handle any future flu pandemic, according to Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricky Herrera.

Burton Berry, with the Texas Department of State Health Services, will be in Pecos for the meeting, which is set for 1 to 2 p.m. on Monday. Berry will discuss the Avian Flu situation, and answer questions area residents may have on the development of a flu plan for Reeves County.

Avian Flu has killed a number of people in East Asia in recent years, and birds carrying the flu virus have turned up in other continents, including North America. Health officials fear an outbreak of the flu, for which humans have no natural defense, could results in the deaths of millions of people worldwide.

Texas DSHS has asked all counties within Regions 9/10 to develop a pandemic flu plan, which will involve discussion and coordination with multiple community leaders. Herrera said a Pandemic Flu Planning Committee will also be formed to help develop a plan for Reeves County. The plan will focus on preparedness and surveillance and will be attached to the county’s existing emergency management plan.

Mother Goose Parade set Saturday

The Annual Mother Goose and Friends Parade has been set for Saturday afternoon in Downtown Pecos.

Line-up is scheduled for 4:30 p.m., at the West Texas National Bank Drive-Thru.

The parade will start at 5 p.m. and continue through Downtown Pecos, where it will end at the West of the Pecos Museum.

Schools inviting vets for lunches

In November, Pecos High School is inviting all American Veterans to eat lunch with the students.

Lunch times set for the guests are from 11-11:30 a.m. and from 12-12:30 p.m.

Bessie Haynes Elementary School will host a Veteran’s Day Program and a reception beginning at 1:30 p.m. If any veteran would like to help with the posting of the colors or would like more information contact Gloria Espino at Bessie Haynes Elementary, 447-7243.

Museum bake sale set next week

The Friends of the Museum will host a bake sale on Friday, Nov. 3, at the museum.

The sale will begin at 9:30 a.m. and feature a variety of delicious, baked goods.

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