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Friday, June 30, 2006

Gomez allowed to inspect boxes in election suit

Staff Writer

A hearing on Tuesday into the disputed April primary runoff election for Reeves County Judge produced no final ruling, but visiting Judge Joseph Connally granted candidate Al Gomez his motion to examine and photocopy records and ballots sealed in precinct boxes used in the runoff election he lost by eight votes.

Gomez is suing to overturn the results of the April 11 runoff, due to problems with the vote count following the election. City Finance Director Sam Contreras original was reported to have won the election by 71 votes, but it was discovered the following day that votes in Box 4 had not been counted.

That reduced Contreras’ margin to 65 votes, but it was then discovered that the number of votes counted did not equal the number of votes cast.

An investigation found uncounted ballots in the box for Precinct 7.

When the uncounted votes were added to the mix only 15 votes separated the two candidates with Contreras garnering 1,213 votes to Gomez’ 1,198.

Gomez filed the lawsuit challenging the results of the election and on April 19 143rd District Judge Bob Parks ordered the precinct boxes sealed to preserve evidence.

Gomez, through his attorney Hal Upchurch, argued Tuesday that to prepare for trial he would need to examine the contents of the boxes - specifically the election records and ballots.

Gomez’ request asked the court to grant access to the boxes to himself, his wife MaryAnn Gomez and his attorney.

Contreras did not object to the request so long as he and his attorney were also present. Most of the hearing was spent hammering out the details of who, when and where.

The final order of the court allowed both parties, along with Democratic Precinct Chairman Bobby Dean to examine the sealed boxes, with Reeves County sheriff’s deputy Victor Prieto present as well.

Also at issue at the hearing were witness statements alleged to be in the possession of Gomez and Upchurch.

Contreras, through his attorney, asked that Gomez produce the statements at least 48 hours before an upcoming deposition of one of the witnesses.

Upchurch said that he no longer intended to take the deposition but that he would produce the statements by July 5th the court would order giving him time “to get past the July 4th holiday.”

Both parties agreed and Judge Connally ordered the statements be produced next Tuesday.

All parties concerned declined to comment on the results of the mutual inspection of the boxes.

Carrasco faces new charges in alleged county fund thefts

Staff Writer

A former Reeves County Attorney is facing five new charges of theft and misappropriation of funds, after a grand jury returned the additional indictments on June 19.

An arraignment has been set for Friday morning in 143rd District Court for former Reeves County Attorney Louis Carrasco, who was originally indicted in February, after resigning his position in late October.

Carrasco pled not guilty during his arraignment on charges of misuse of funds during a hearing held in March in 143rd District Court.

Carrasco, 40, is facing additional charges stemming from the time he served in office. Carrasco was indicted by the Reeves County Grand Jury on February 22, following an investigation, which led to his resignation as Reeves County Attorney on Oct. 31 of last year.

At that time, the grand jury returned nine indictments against the former county attorney. According to 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds, the returned indictments involve allegations that Carrasco misused funds he held in both his capacity as a public servant as Reeves County Attorney and in his capacity as a fiduciary regarding cases he handled as a private attorney.

The indictments allege Abuse of Official Capacity. The first charge involved an alleged scheme or continuing course of conduct that began on or about July 28, 2004, and continued until on or about July 13, 2005, with intent to obtain a benefit, intentionally or knowingly misuse government property, to-wit: U.S. Currency, which had come into the defendant’s custody or possession by virtue of the defendant’s office as a public servant, namely, Reeves County Attorney of Reeves County.

Carrasco is charged of misusing U.S. Currency on deposit in the Reeves County Attorney Pre-Trial Diversion Account for defendant’s own personal benefit, and the value of said describe property was $1,500 or more but less than $20,000.

Another charge alleges similar violations by the former county attorney, but the amount allegedly taken was more than $20,000 but less than $100,000.

One additional charge involves allegations of theft of service as a result of Carrasco’s extended stay at a local motel early last year.

Carrasco’s new attorney Richard Abalos was on hand and bonds on the new charges totaling $175,000 were assessed at that time.

At the time of the February indictments, Reynolds said he first learned of the problem in the summer of 2005. He then requested that Reeves County Auditor Lynn Owens review the expenditures and report his findings to Reynolds.

He also assigned his DA investigators, Freddy Contreras and Jeffery Baeza, to start an inquiry, and based on the findings of the auditor and the investigators, Reynolds requested that the Texas Rangers begin a formal investigation involving the Office of the Reeves County Attorney in late October of last year.

Shortly after the Ranger investigation was started, files from Carrasco’s office were seized on Oct. 26, and based on the findings at that time, Reynolds prepared a petition to remove Carrasco from the office of Reeves County Attorney.

Prior to the filing of the petition, Carrasco resigned from office and the Reeves County Commissioners then appointed Richard C. Slack, a long time Pecos attorney, to fill the vacancy.

Carrasco was first elected to the county attorney’s position in 2000, and was in the first year of his new four-year term of office when he resigned. Carrasco ran unopposed for re-election in 2004.

Final riders take leads on opening night of rodeo

The second time was better for a couple of cowboys Wednesday night, at the close of the opening night of the 2006 West of the Pecos Rodeo.

Cody Buller, awarded a re-ride in bull riding, took the first round lead as the very last competitor on Wednesday night, scoring 84 points on “Bullet Proof”. That followed a 74-point re-ride by Marcus Michaelis on “Rocky Road” that put him in fourth place in the standings.

Buller’s ride came following the wild mare ride, the non-PRCA event that would have normally closed out the night’s performance. It moved him ahead of Steve Woolsey, who appeared to have taken the early lead with a 79-point score riding “Rock Star” to close out the regular section of bull riding.

Only six cowboys were able to stay on for eight seconds and score points on the opening night of the show, with just one other rider, Clint Castle, breaking the 70-point barrier, with a 78-point total riding “Super Fly”, which was good for third place going into the second of the rodeo’s four performances on Thursday.

The final three nights of the 2006 West of the Pecos Rodeo were all scheduled to begin at 8 p.m. at the Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena.

All the bull riders who managed to score points collected $256 in prize money for the day, which is well below the payouts so far in some of the other events, which held their opening competitions during slack on Monday and Tuesday.

Trevor Brazile, a former All-Around champ both at the National Finals Rodeo and West of the Pecos Rodeo, appears in line for another All-Around title in Pecos. Brazile picked up $1,558 for placing second in the second go-round of steer roping and already leads in the third go-round with a 12 second time, and in the average for three attempts with a 39.4 combined time. He also holds the lead in the second go-round in tie-down roping, with an 8.4 second effort, and leads the average there, with a 16.9 time.

Brazile earned $1,825 for his third place finish in the first go-round of tie down roping, with an 8.5 time, while Cody Ohl and Josh Peek tied for first at 8.4 seconds and each earned $2,308. In steer roping, Will Yoakum won the first go-round with a 12.3 time, Will Gasperson was second at 12.7 seconds and Shandon Stalls was third at 13.3 seconds, earning them $1,792, $1,558 and $1,324 respectively. Rod Hartness placed ahead of Brazile in the second go with an 11.4 time and earned the $1,792 payout, while J.P. Wickett was third.

Steve Wolf is second so far in the third go-round, at 13.2 seconds and J.R. Magdeburg is third, at 13.6 seconds. Steer roping is the only timed event with three go-rounds, which will run through the final night of the rodeo, while the other events will complete their second go-rounds on Saturday.

The other two riding events, bareback and saddle bronc riding, were also in their first night of competition, and like bull riding, saw the best scores posted on some of the final rides on Wednesday.

Former world’s champion Marvin Garrett scored 84 points on “Black Coffee” to take the lead in bareback riding. Tyson Thompson, with an 81-point ride on “Step Mom” was second, while Ted Osman, riding “Real Deal” and Josh Cole, on “Cool River” tied for third with 80 point scores.

In saddle bronc, Mike Oullier scored 87 points on “Lone Star” to grab first place on Wednesday. Steve Dollarhide was second, with an 82-point ride on “Coffee Bean” and Jeremiah Diffee, with a 79-point score on “Sneak Peak”, was third going into the second night’s performances on Thursday.

In steer wrestling, one local cowboy, John Clark, was able to score in the first go-round; placing fourth with a 4.4 second time and earning $1,033. J.W. Aldrich was first there, with a four-second effort, good enough for $1,697, while Sean Lancaino, who tied for sixth in the first go-round and stands fourth in the second go, leads the average with a combined 9.1 time.

Lancaino tied Matt Reeves, who is second in the average at 9.9 seconds. Mickey Gee was second in the first go round at 4.1 seconds, earning him $1,476, while Joey Bell was third, with a 4.2 second time, good for $1,254. Leaders in the second go are Wade Steffen and Will Scoggins, who scored back-to-back 4.0 and 3.9-second times during Wednesday’s show. Craig Cavaness is third, with a 4.4 second time.

In team roping, second go round leaders are Shain Sproul and Corey Petska, who also lead in the average over first go round winners David Motes and Richard Durham. They had a 6.6 second time to beat out Sproul and Petska by .6 second. The two teams earned $1,985 and $1,708 respectively, while Justin and Cody Lovell were third with a 7.3 time, and earned $1,452.

Nick Sartain and Shannon Frascht are second in the second go at 7.4 seconds, a tenth of a second up on Travis Tryan and Michael Jones. Matt Tyler and Jade Corkill are third on the average, at 15.8 seconds.

In the ladies’ barrel race, Tera Bynum and Teal Rice hold the first two spots, having scored 17.59 and 17.60 times on Tuesday. During Wednesday’s show, only Kelly Maben broke the 18-second mark, moving into third place with a 17.67 time.

Wednesday’s show had some of the most comfortable weather in years for fans, with temperatures only in the upper 70s when the show began. Temperatures should be in the upper 80s at showtime on the final three nights, with only a slight chance of rain.

Council gets good reports from crews

Pecos City Council members were updated on the city’s ambulance service and on the clean-up efforts being conducted by city employees on alleys, lots and buildings around town, as part of their regular meeting on June 22 at City Hall.

Pecos EMS Chief Dennis Thorp said that the financial situation for the city’s ambulance service is looking better, due to an improved collection rate on calls made and additional grant funds the service is now eligible to receive. But he added that the number of volunteers working for the service is down to just nine members.

On the finances, Thorp told the council that the switch in billing services from NRS to Intermedics has increased collection rates in the past two months.

“With NRS, we were averaging $8,500-$9,000 a month. With Intermedics, we collected $1,156 in the first month we were with them when we transitioned over in March, then we had $5,791 collected in April and $12,617 in May,” he said. “In June so far, we’ve collected $14,835 and the month isn’t over.”

“Intermedics believes somewhere between $16,000 and $18,000 a month is where they’ll eventually end up,” Thorp said. “That’s about double what we were getting from NRS, and it really helps our finances.”

Thorp said the state has released 911 funds to the Pecos EMS. “We picked up two checks totaling $10,059.32, and that’s just half the payment. We picked up the other checks in 2005,” he said, adding that the money would go towards a new digital radio communications system for the service.

Other items the EMS plans to update include two new CO2 monitors and two suction units for the ambulances, and emergency dash lights for ambulance crews, who are sometimes stopped by law enforcement officers on the way to the EMS hall while making calls.

Thorp also said additional funds were coming from two neighboring counties in which Pecos EMS handles calls.

“Ward County upped their payment from $3,000 to $5,000. We do make quite a number of runs out there, but this is more than a fair amount of money they gave us,” Thorp said, adding that Loving County currently is in talks about realloting it’s EMS funds, all of which currently go to Winkler County.

“They’re going to give us part of it, because we do a lot of calls out to Mentone and to the rigs in that area,” he told the council.

As far as the service’s staffing goes, Thorp said there are currently eight people taking EMS certification training right now. “We’ve got a pretty good chance of getting 3-4 of them into the service,” he said.

After the EMS update, the council heard from city sanitation director Martin Arreguy and code enforcement officer Julio Quinones about the citywide clean-up efforts since the first of the year.

“Since the first of the year, I’ve handed out 177 notices and issued about 22 citations, so it’s a pretty good percentage of people doing what they’re supposed to do,” Quinones said. The efforts are focused on one section of the city per week, and of the 177 notices, about 25 percent are due to calls into the city about trash, junked vehicles or abandoned buildings.

He said 11 abandoned homes have been demolished this year, with about 10 to 12 more on the list to be torn down. The city also has a trailer that can pick up large trash items for the elderly or disabled for disposal at the landfill, and since January, a total of 3,365 tons of trash from demolition, alley clean-ups and the trailer pick-ups have been dumped at the landfill.

In connection with those efforts, the council approved seeking a solid waste program grant from the Permian Basin Regional Planning Commission. The $5,900 grant would pay part of the $9,725 cost to buy cameras for the code enforcement department and to send out notices to local residents explaining the city’s sanitation code.

High court orders District 23 boundary redrawn

Reeves County voters, who still don’t know who their Democratic candidate for county judge will be in the November general election, now will have to wait for a while to find out who their congressional candidates will be in the November general election - or if there will be a congressional election in November for county voters.

That’s the result of Wednesday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court on a lawsuit seeking to reverse the redistricting plan passed by the Texas Legislature prior to the 2004 election. The high court by a 7-2 vote upheld most of the plan, which resulted in Republicans gaining six additional House seats in Congress. But on a 5-4 vote, the court ordered that the boundaries of District 23, which includes Reeves County, be redrawn, because the district did not fully represent the interests of its majority-Hispanic population.

Former House Speaker Tom DeLay spearheaded the drive to change the state’s Congressional District boundaries drawn up by a court in 2001, claiming the court’s decision did not reflect the voting patterns of the state in recent elections. That resulted in a lawsuit being filed by the League of United Latin American Citizens against the state and Gov. Rick Perry, which led to Wednesday’s court decision.

A federal three-judge panel will determine whether a new map will have to be crafted before voters head to the polls.

"It's more of a nuisance than anything else," said Bonilla, R-San Antonio, who easily won a seventh term in 2004, and is scheduled to face El Paso Democrat Rick Bolanos in the November general election. "Now we got to figure out what the lower federal court is going to do in terms of redrawing lines between now and November and look at the possibility that they might go ahead and have this election continue through this year and then have the Legislature do it for next year."

“There’s no way to analyze what they’re going to do until they make a decision,” said Bonilla, who added, “We expect the court to hear arguments in the next couple of weeks.” Bonilla said work in Washington kept him from riding in Wednesday’s West of the Pecos Rodeo Parade. Bolanos was in the parade, along with several other Democratic candidates on the November ballot, before leaving for a campaign stop in El Paso just after the Supreme Court’s decision was announced.

Bolanos said by phone Wednesday afternoon he was happy with the court’s ruling on District 23. “This was like winning the lottery, when you have disenfranchised voters reinfranchised,” he said. “I’m glad because it shows people that the court system works, with a decision that you can’t gerrymander like that.”

“Mr. DeLay and his friends should be chastised for what they tried to do,” Bolanos added.

District 23 was redrawn by the Texas Legislature to remove about half of the city of Laredo in Webb County, which was replaced by counties to the northwest of San Antonio that are more strongly Republican. The move came after Bonilla narrowly won re-election in 2002 against Laredo Democrat Henry Cuellar.

The plan's "troubling blend of politics and race - and the resulting vote dilution of a group that was beginning to achieve (the federal law's) goal of overcoming prior electoral discrimination - cannot be sustained," Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote.

The section of Laredo taken out of Bonilla’s district was moved into District 28, where in 2004, Cuellar won a Democratic primary election against Ciro Rodriguez. Cuellar, who has since drawn criticism from some Democrats for voting with Republicans too often during his first term in Congress, won renomination to Congress this past March in a rematch against Rodriguez.

The three-judge panel could opt to move the section of Laredo where Cuellar lives back into District 23, or it could make other changes involving District 28 and two other adjacent districts - District 25, represented by Austin Democrat Lloyd Doggett, or District 11, which includes Ward County and is represented by Midland Republican Mike Conaway. There were some other changes made as part of the 2003 plan backed by DeLay, including the shifting Howard County (Big Spring) from District 23 into District 11.

Bolanos said court was unlikely to make changes in the boundary between the 23rd District and the 16th District in El Paso, which is located just to the west of his residence. “We expect to pick up the Big Spring area again,” Bolanos said, though he added he was concerned that, after winning the Democratic nomination in the spring, the court could order an open general election in November, which he said would help the incumbent. “There’s a 1986 precedent. They just had an open election, and everybody who wanted to run could run,” he said. “I hope not, because I’m certain quite a few more people would throw their hats into the ring, which would dilute the vote.”

Bonilla said that while the court is deciding on the new boundary for the District, he plans to continue campaigning for an eighth term in Congress.

“We never take anything for granted. We’ve worked hard every year since I’ve been doing this,” said Bonilla, who added that he plans to make a campaign trip through West Texas once Congress ends its current session in August.

“Summer is an intense time for us to be in session. As a member of the Appropriations Committee, I have a lot of bills to work on,” said Bonilla.

Bolanos said he also plans to continue campaigning under the idea that he and Bonilla will still be the only candidates on the ballot in November.

“Come November I expect to be in a heated race with Congressman Bonilla, and I expect to win,” Bolanos said.

Rodeo Parade judges choose prize winners

Golden Girl runner-up Jesseca Perea took home another honor Wednesday morning after her float placed first in the Golden Girl Division of the Annual West of the Pecos Rodeo Parade.

Perea had placed second on June 23 to Eleanor Mason in the Golden Girl of the Old West Pageant. Second place in the float division on Wednesday went to Tiffanie Rodriguez. In the Antique Cars Division, Ruben Tarango placed first and Doug Cox took second. The Out-Of-Town Belles Float placed first in the Civic Division of the parade and the Citizen’s Police Academy placed second.

In the Riding Groups Division, Texas Tech placed first and the Taylor Group placed second.

Dr. Dele’s Float took home first in the Commercial Division of the parade and the Reeves County Detention Center float placed second.

Classic Cars Division, Jack Brookshire placed first and Pablo Gonzales second.

Balmorhea teacher participates in program

D.Q. Maynard of Balmorhea joined outstanding teachers from across the state last week to learn more about the history and culture of the U.S.-Mexico border.

Organized by Humanities Texas and the University of Houston, Southwest Vistas: The Border in American History drew nearly 40 teachers to the UH campus for four days of seminars, lectures, workshops and visits to local cultural institutions.

“Humanities Texas was pleased to cosponsor Southwest Vistas,” said Dr. Michael L. Gillette, executive director of Humanities Texas. “Talented teachers like D.Q. Maynard will return to their classrooms with new information and instructional approaches that enrich their teaching of history.”

A social studies teacher in the Balmorhea Independent School District, Maynard sponsors Texas History Day and coaches junior and high school students in University Interscholastic League history competitions. “After attending Southwest Vistas I feel I am better prepared to incorporate the many cultural facts of all of the history of the U.S., of which Latin America is very much an integral part,” said Maynard.

Maynard has taught for 23 years in the Texas border region. “Because of the social and economic makeup of this area and because of Balmorhea’s location near the border with Mexico, I felt it would be great for my continuing education to better understand the uniqueness of the relationship the United States has with Mexico. It is just as important for students, no matter what their ethnic make-up, to understand the history of that relationship and how that relationship determines how we deal with Mexico today.”

Dr. Steven Mintz, the John and Rebecca Moores Professor of History at the University of Houston, described Southwest Vistas as multifaceted, interdisciplinary approach to the subject matter. “Our hope is that viewing U.S. and Texas history from the perspective of the Southwest border will enable teachers to broaden their understanding not just of the history curriculum, but of contemporary public dialogues.”

From a tour of Houston’s historic neighborhoods to Norma Cantu’s lecture on Hispanic writers, the institute introduced participants to diverse topics and resources and featured such prominent scholars as historian David J. Weber and Mari Carmen Ramirez, a leading scholar and curator of Latin American art.

Humanities Texas and the University of Houston sponsored Southwest Vistas with major funding from a “We the People” grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities. The state affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, Humanities Texas develops and supports programs across the state, including lectures, oral history projects, teacher institutes, traveling exhibits and documentary films.

For more information about Southwest Vistas: The Border in American History, see . For more information about Humanities Texas, see .

Strain celebrates eighth birthday

Victoria Lynn Strain celebrated her eighth birthday on June 13, with a “puppy theme” party held in her honor.

Helping her celebrate were her family and friends.

She is the daughter of Theresa Strain.

Grandparents are Edward and Rosemary Strain.

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