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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, July 7, 2006

Autopsy blames overdose for east side death

Staff Writer

The cause of death of a Pecos man whose body was found on the east side of town last Friday evening has been tentatively ruled as a drug overdose, while Pecos Police are continuing their investigation into the incident.

Albert Rubio Corrales was found lying in the alley west of the 300 block of Mesquite Street about 7:45 p.m. on June 30. He was pronounced dead by Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Jim Riley at 8:34 p.m., and an autopsy was ordered.

“We got a verbal report, but we haven’t gotten a written one,” said police chief Clay McKinney, who said the coroner has determined drugs were the cause of Corrales’ death.

Police received a report of a male subject lying on the ground in the alley, Capt. Kelly Davis said on Monday. “Officer (Rick) Martinez was the first on the scene, and when he got there he found the subject not breathing, with no heartbeat.”

Davis said while the death has been ruled an overdose, police are still looking to question subjects about the incident and why the body was laying in the alley.

“The pathologist tells you how the guy died, but he doesn’t tell you what happened,” said Davis. He added that while officers have the names of some people they want to question, they have not yet been able to get some to come in and talk with investigating officers. “It’s still open as far as charges,” Davis said.

Gomez cites Baeza’s efforts in petition to void election

Staff Writer

Al Gomez fired a broadside of detailed allegations in his suit contesting the results of April’s Democratic Primary runoff election for county judge with an Amended Petition, submitted to the 143rd District Court on Wednesday.

In this petition Gomez primarily calls into question votes linked to alleged campaign worker Anita Baeza who is currently under indictment for providing illegal assistance with mail-in ballots during the 2004 elections.

A 143rd District Court jury indicted Baeza in February, three weeks before the March 7 Democratic primary. Gomez finished first and Contreras second in a five-person field, leading to the runoff the following month.

Gomez squared off against Sam Mata Contreras in the runoff election on April 11.

The first tally gave the contest to Contreras by 71 votes, but it was discovered the following day that the votes in Box 4 had not been counted, and the addition of those votes reduced Contreras’ margin to 65 votes.

Then it was discovered that the number of votes counted was less than the number of votes cast.

Re-examining the ballot boxes, election officials found more uncounted votes in the box for Precinct 7. When those votes were counted only 15 votes separated the candidates with Contreras claiming 1,213 to Gomez’ 1,198.

Precinct 7 was one of the boxes that ran out of ballots on Election Day, and substitute ballots had to be used that were part of the uncounted ballots.

Gomez has pointed out that while he won Precinct 7 by a 68 percent margin in votes cast in early voting and with regulation ballots, he only took 52 percent of the votes cast on the 51 substitute ballots used.

In his amended petition Gomez makes several arguments seeking either to be named the winner in the election, or to have the election thrown out.

Gomez first names 80 voters who voted with assistance from Anita Baeza and claims that “upon information and belief, the vast majority of these votes were cast for Contreras.”

Gomez requests the court to determine if the votes were illegally cast with Baeza’s assistance, and if they were to throw the votes out - something that Gomez says will turn the election in his favor.

In a second argument, Gomez names 81 voters who voted with Baeza’s assistance, and asks that if the court cannot determine the legality of the votes, that the election be declared void. Gomez also states that three other votes are illegal because of further illegal actions by Baeza.

Baeza and 60-year-old Trini Villalobos were both indicted in January for voter fraud in regard to their actions during the 2004 election - actions centered around mail-in ballots. Villalobos was found guilty two weeks ago on two counts on two counts of fraud last week in the 143rd District Court and received a six month probated sentence.

Baeza’s trial is pending.

Gomez also lists 15 votes he claims are illegal because they were not signed by the voter or no returned in the proper envelope, or, if the voter made mark instead of signing his or her name, the mark was not witnessed.

Gomez also calls into question two votes by people he says are felons, three votes by supposedly unregistered voters, and 22 mail-in votes cast by people Gomez claims were not eligible to vote by mail.

Last, Gomez argues that while he does not think there was any intentional wrongdoing on the part of election officials, numerous mistakes were made that make an accurate vote count impossible, and a new election mandatory.

During a June 27 hearing, visiting Judge Joseph Connally granted Gomez his motion to examine and photocopy records and ballots sealed in precinct boxes used in the runoff election.

Contreras said at the time he and his attorneys expected the judge to hear the case sometime in late July. The eventual Democratic nominee will face Republican Bobby Hanks in the Nov. 7 general election.

Families OK deal in suit over Midland deaths

The families of a Monahans man and a Pecos man killed in a 2004 accident have reached an undisclosed settlement from a restaurant company, in connection with their deaths.

The Midland Reporter-Telegram reported on Monday that the families of Ruben Pando Jr. and Felipe Ornelas Jr. reached agreement through a mediator with Brinker International of Dallas, which had appealed a $7.5 million judgment against the company awarded by a 143rd District Court jury in Pecos in May of 2005.

Pando’s 18-month-old son was awarded $5 million in damages by jurors in connection with his traffic-related death in Midland on Jan. 9, 2004, Ornelas’ widow and son were awarded $2.5 million by jurors. Attorneys for Brinker had admitted partial responsibility for their deaths, which were caused when a Mitsubishi Montero SUV driven by Diane Zamora of Midland ran a red light while westbound near downtown Midland 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. Brinker’s attorneys sought a $600,000 judgment from jurors, while attorneys for the two families asked the jury for a $32 million award. Brinker appealed the $7.5 million judgment to the 8th Circuit Court in El Paso.

The Reporter-Telegram said terms of the settlement were not announced, but that attorneys for members of the two families were happy with the settlement.

"We're pleased to have this case resolved and our clients are pleased to have a favorable resolution,” said Plaintiffs' attorney Amos Barton of Kerrville, who told the paper the families and the restaurant chain entered mediation last November. "All the plaintiffs were as satisfied with the outcome as could be expected, having lost loved ones,” Barton said. “Brinker was entitled to their appeal, but we strongly contested it and did not feel they had any real grounds to sustain it."

Jose Luis Garriga of Odessa, Jon Bailey of San Angelo and Bill Weinacht of Pecos were the other attorneys representing the families of Pando and Ornelas.

Water leaks, higher rates costing city

Staff Writer

The latest customer to voice concerns about the results of sharp increase in water rates implemented by the Town of Pecos City late last year is the Town of Pecos City.

A change in the billing rate combined with the higher water rates caused the city’s annual water bill to jump from under $10,000 a year to over $100,000, based on current usage rates, though city officials have already taken steps to cut back on several of the main water usage sites.

The subject of water came up twice during the council’s Thursday morning meeting at City Hall, once during a public hearing on outdoor recreation funding being sought by the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife, and the second during a discussion on the city’s bills. n Council members were told the new rates would boost the city’s annual water bill to $120,000 if efforts weren’t made to cut costs, which include changes in water usage at the city’s parks and at Fairview Cemetery.

The city raised rates in December of 2005 in order to fund state-mandated improvements to the city’s water and sewer systems. Rates for most customers doubled over the previous levels, and city finance director Sam Contreras said the increases also affect city offices and other city-owned sites around town.

“The costs are going way up on water on all departments,’ said Contreras, who added that aside from the rate increase, the city also changed the way it bills itself for water.

“We used to pay $5 a meter. Now we pay like everybody else,” Contreras told the council. City utilities director Edgardo Madrid said a water line leak at the cemetery was one of the major reasons for the big increase. “It’s old and deteriorated,” he said. “It’s costing us $3,000 a month.”

He said city crews were unable to find the exact source of the leak, but that it was causing the cemetery to use water at the rate of 1 million gallons a month.

“We did some research and found there is a water well in that area,” Madrid said. A contractor was called in and replaced the broken well pump with a new one, and it was able to pump 300 gallons per minute, which would make it suitable for irrigation purposes both at the cemetery and at the adjacent Rodriguez-Mata Skateboard Park on Eighth Street. “A chemical analysis of the water showed it’s good for Bermuda grass,” Madrid said. “We ran it for three hours and it went down 25 feet, but we still had 100 feet there above the pump.”

He also told the council that the landscaped traffic islands on Ross and Jackson boulevards also had leaking lines, which were causing them to use water at the rate of 169,000 gallons a month. Madrid said to save money, the meters were pulled at both sites, and a city water truck will be used for irrigation purposes, which will cut water usage by about 130,000 gallons monthly.

Madrid did say using well water from sites inside the city instead of from the city’s regular water lines could hurt plants, though it wouldn’t both the grass and trees. He told the council that flooding the areas instead of spray irrigation could solve the problem with the plants.

During the discussion on the parks grant, city manager Joseph Torres said that due to the current financial situation, he didn’t think the city should seek the full $400,000 available in matching funds over a three-year period, while council members questioned one part of the city’s park improvements program, a splash pad at Maxey Park.

“If we go down to $200,000 we’ll be able to do the splash pad, but others will be minimal things,” Torres said. He added the city has talked with an Odessa contractor about installation of the facility at the current miniature golf site at a cost of $150,000, and that plans are to recycle the water in the park during each day’s use.

A third option would be to use land owned by the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD near Saragosa Hall for a new splash pad, and that the cost of the land could be included in the matching funds for the TP&W grant. Torres said in-kind costs by using city equipment and labor could only cut the pad’s cost by about $30,000.

“I’m all for improvements, but as far as the splash pad water consumption, right now I’m seeing this bill for $10,000,” said councilman Michael Benavides. “I’d rather see something else where we’re not going to have to use water.”

Madrid said there is the possibility of drilling a well at Maxey Park to provide water for the facility, while Torres said the city has plans for work at all seven local parks. “We’re trying to focus on one at a time, and to do justice for all,” he said.

Madrid told the council that any grant request to TP&W for the current year would have to be submitted by July 31. Council members tabled the resolution on the grant until their July 27 meeting, in order to give city officials more time to look at both the water situation and the project options to be built with the grant funds.

City’s wage plan depends on CJC funding

Staff Writer

Town of Pecos City Council members were given a look at the city’s new job classification and pay scale list, during their regular meeting on Thursday at City Hall. But members tabled any action until city officials return from Washington, where they’ll be seeking an increase in the fees paid by the U.S. Marshal’s Service for housing inmates at the Criminal Justice Center.

A U.S. Department of Labor ruling forced the city last year to meet federal pay scales for guards at the CJC, which in turn led to increases in salaries for members of the Pecos Police Department, in order to match the wage rates given to starting jailers. However, the U.S. Marshal’s Service did not raise the per diem rate paid to the city to house up to 96 inmates a day at the CJC, which was opened four years ago.

City finance director Sam Contreras said the refusal of the Marshal’s Service to increase the per diem to match the Department of Labor’s mandate pay hikes has left the city with a $400,000 annual shortfall at the CJC.

The new job classifications list included stipends to be paid above normal pay rates, based on employee education and training levels. But any increases would depend on approval by federal officials for the higher per diem rates.

“I hate to promise people anything without knowing,” said councilman Danny Rodriguez. “I agree with it 100 percent, it’s just that the last time we went with information that hasn’t come through. I don’t want to say things to employees that hasn’t come through.”

“I don’t want to put any money in until we’re sure we’re OK with the $400,000,” he added.

“We’ll table this until we come back from Washington,” said city manager Joseph Torres. “If the budget isn’t where we need it to be, I’m going to tell you to freeze salaries for a second year.”

Salaries were frozen a year ago due to the city’s financial situation, and workers who have met stipend requirements also have not received their increases.

Torres said that under the new guidelines, which will be presented to all city workers, a high school degree or GED would be required for employment. That rule won’t affect city workers who current do not have high school or GED degrees, and Torres said some of those workers are going back to get their GEDs to qualify for the new stipends.

Lights a hit with baseball players in Balmorhea

Staff Writer

Individuals who are planning on using the C.T. Gray Baseball Field in Balmorhea can do so until late at night, now that new lights have been installed.

Thanks to a cooperative effort between different agencies, the field received a makeover in the form of the installation of lights for the first time.

“I was approached by Manuel Mendoza who asked if we could help with the lighting problem at the field,” said Reeves County Commissioner Precinct 3 Saul Herrera.

Herrera said that the then contacted American Electric Power, out of Marfa, who is the electric provider for that area.

“I also contacted Ricky Herrera, (Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator), to see if he could help us with the project,” said Saul Herrera.

This year was the second year for the Annual Jerry Ray Mendoza baseball tournament held at the park. Mendoza, of Balmorhea, died during annual basic training in the U.S. Army in California two years ago.

Funds from the Jerry Ray Mendoza tournament go towards a scholarship fund. An annual scholarship is awarded to a Balmorhea High School Senior in his name.

“This is the second year that they have this and they were saying that they didn’t have as many teams, because there wasn’t enough light out there,” said Herrera. “They couldn’t see the ball and they requested help with the lighting problem.”

Herrera said that AEP (American Electric Power) had donated a $1,000 to go towards the poles.

“Ricky was a lot of help in this project, since he knows all the baseball fields in both Balmorhea and Pecos,” said Herrera.

He said that the electric company was also providing the maintenance and service.

“Reeves County provided the equipment, such as light fixtures, the lights, wiring and conduit,” said Ricky Herrera, adding that AEP provided most of the labor.

“The Road and Bridges Department did the trenching,” he said, while the county bought the materials and donated the labor.

Herrera said that last year there were 14 teams that participated in the annual Jerry Ray Mendoza tournament and that this year they had 19. He added that another baseball tournament is held there annually and that different individuals, including T-ball, also utilize the field.

“We had the lights installed before the tournament which was held on Memorial Day weekend,” he said.

Herrera said that it was a big success.

“Thanks to AEP for all their help,” he said.

First place at that tournament went to the back-to-back defending champions, “Los Amigos” from El Paso. Second place was RIP from El Paso and third place went to “The Crew” from Kerrville.

Manuel Mendoza is the coordinator for the tournament and he thanked all those that made the lighting at the field possible.

Guzman named Little Miss Sparkler in contest

Viviana Guzman participated in the Fourth of July celebration in Monahans at the Mr. Firecracker and Little Miss Sparkler Contest.

Along with eight other contestants, Guzman was crowned Miss Sparkler 2006. She is five years old and enjoys singing and dancing.

She is the daughter of Genaro Jr. and Lourdes Guzman of Pecos.

Grandparents are Ruben and Julia Cazares and Genaro Sr. and Lorenza Guzman of Pecos.

Riley receives degree from Hardin-Simmons

Kelsey Riley, daughter of Jim and Debbie Riley, graduated Magna Cum Laude from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene on May 13.

Riley received her Bachelor of Behavioral Science degree with a major in Interdisciplinary Generalist and a minor in Education.

While at Hardin=Simmons, Riley was inducted into the Alpha Chi honor society and Kappa Delta Pi, an international honor society for educators.

This fall she will be teaching third grade for the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah Independent School District.

She is a 2002 Pecos High School graduate.

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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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