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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Contreras declared winner of county judge runoff race

The Democratic Party’s nominee for Reeves County Judge was finally decided on Friday, 4 1/2 months after the runoff election for that position was held.

Visiting Judge Joseph Connally declared Sam Contreras the winner of the Democratic primary elections after hearing a day-and-a-half of testimony in a lawsuit filed in 143rd District Court by Al Gomez seeking to overturn the results of the runoff election.

Gomez, who lost the runoff by 15 votes to Contreras, was seeking a new election be held due to voting irregularities in the April 11 runoff election. The suit cited both problems with counting of Election Day ballots and questions about assistance some voters had with their mail-in ballots.

Contreras will now face Republican Bobby Hanks in the general election, which for now is still scheduled for Nov. 7.

Connally ruled that there was not enough evidence in Gomez’s original petition or in his amended petition filed in early July to order a new election.

Gomez said that he didn’t plan to file any thing else and thanked all his supporters for their hard work and dedication.

“I really did give it my best shot and now it’s time to move forward,” said Gomez.

Contreras said he wasn’t expected a ruling from Connally on Friday.

“I expected it to go into this week, but I’m glad it ended when it did,” said Contreras, who currently serves as Town of Pecos City finance director.

The hearing that began on Thursday and continued into Friday morning focused on voters who had assistance in filling out their mail-in ballots for the runoff election. Gomez’s amended petition cited questions about mail ballots to elderly residents who may have received help from Anita Baeza.

A trial began on Monday in 143rd District Court into Class B vote fraud allegations against Baeza stemming from the 2004 Democratic Party primary. Baeza testified before Judge Connally in the Gomez-Contreras case on Thursday.

Gomez, the former Pecos Chamber of Commerce president, finished first and Contreras second, in the original March 7 Democratic primary. But he failed to get 50 percent of the vote in the five-person field, forcing the April 7 runoff. In that race, Contreras originally 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. 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.

Judge Parks recused himself from hearing the case, and in June, Judge Connally granted Gomez his motion to examine and photocopy records and ballots sealed in precinct boxes used in the runoff election he lost by eight votes.

Contreras said he will now prepare for the election in November against Hanks, who was unopposed for the Republican nomination for Reeves County Judge in the March primary. “We’re going to work just as hard as on the last election,” said Contreras, who added he plans to remain in his post with the city at least until after the Nov. 7 election. “We still have the November election to go, so I don’t want to assume anything.”

Trial for Baeza on voter fraud gets underway

Jury selection began on Monday in 143rd District Court in Pecos in a trial of a woman accused of voter fraud.

Anita Baeza, 68, was charged with four counts of voter fraud by a district court grand jury in January, stemming from an investigation of incidents during the 2004 Democratic Party primary election in Reeves County. The indictments against both women were Class B misdemeanors.

The Texas Attorney General’s Criminal Investigations Division handled the case, and prosecutors claim that Baeza was involved in five incidents of fraud between Jan. 28 and Feb. 23 of 2004, involving ballots for early voting by mail that had been sent to Sebastion Martinez, Juana Ibarra, Encarcion Ibarra, and Belia Montanez for the purpose of early voting by mail in the March 2004 Primary Election.

Baeza’s son Jeffrey at the time was seeking the position of Reeves County Sheriff. He was defeated in his bid by incumbent Arnuflo “Andy” Gomez in the March 2004 primary and current works as an investigator for 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds. Due to his employment with the district attorney’s office, Reynolds recused himself from the case and it was handled by the Texas Attorney General’s office.

At the same time Baeza was indicted, the grand jury also indicted Trini Villalobos, 60, on four separate counts of voter fraud. In late June, Villalobos was convicted on two counts by a 143rd District Court jury and was given probated sentences on both charges.

The charges against both women are violations of Chapter 86 of the Texas Election Code, which specifies the officials who may handle and process mail-in ballots. The charges, Class B misdemeanors, carry a possible $2,000 fine and up to 180 days confinement on each count.

Clean up begins following well blowout

Gas has stopped escaping from the site of a drilling rig blowout early Friday morning, but crews remain on site working to both get the well back into operation and clean up the derrick that was sprayed with oil and mud as a result of the accident.

The accident occurred about 4:30 a.m. on the Helmerich & Payne 97 rig, located just west of U.S. 285 in Reeves County, about four miles north of the intersection with State Highway 302. A gas pump was blamed for the failure, which sent mud and oil spraying out of the drilling hole and forced over 30 workers to evacuate the area.

Workers were able to shut down equipment at the site before the left the rig, which is located about three-quarters of a mile west of the highway. According to officials with the Texas Railroad Commission, which is investigating the incident, the formation sealed itself following the gas blow out, which lessened the danger or a potential explosion.

“The well is still bridged off,” said Joe Guerra, with the Texas Railroad Commission’s Midland office. He said the gas pocket that caused the blow out is about 17,000 feet deep, and sent gas from over three miles underground up to the surface, forcing the oil and mud out in front of it.

“Basically when they well blew out, it blew out oil-based mud,” Guerra said. “They used the oil-based drilling mud for protection of the drill bore.”

He said the escaping gas had stopped on its own by late Friday, and that workers from Boots & Coots International Well Control, Inc., out of Houston were on-site consulting with the drilling company on how to handle the clean-up situation.

“They’ve got to get it steamed off, and then see what kind of damage there is,” said Mark Henkhaus, director of the Railroad Commission’s Midland office. All but the top of the rig remained covered with the oil-based mud as of Sunday.

Henkhaus said the rig is owned by Denver based Forrest Oil, with Helmerich & Payne out of Tulsa, Okla., serving as the drilling contractor. “We’ve got some staff who have been talking to them all weekend,” he said.

He added the situation had not changed much since the formation sealed itself off, and that the Atoka Formation in which the drilling unit was working is known for breaking off and resealing.

The blowout came two weeks after the suspected breach of another gas formation eight miles away in Mentone caused two water geysers to erupt out of the ground. Water from one of the geysers, across the street from the Loving County Courthouse, shot up as high as 60 feet. Railroad Commission workers and local crews were able to put in a diversion pipe by the time the 3 1/2-day eruption ended and a small amount of gas came out of the well next to the courthouse.

Henkhaus said the exact cause of that incident is still undetermined. “I’ve got some ideas on what caused that,” he said. “It’s not a natural phenomenon and right now we’re still looking to see if one of the rigs in the area was involved.”

Council to discuss police pay, set tax rate at meeting

Town of Pecos City Council members will discuss/consider additional stipends and/or compensation for the Pecos Police Department, during a special meeting of the council on Tuesday evening, after discussing payments already made to department personnel during their regular meeting this past Thursday at City Hall.

The police pay is one of five items on the 5:30 p.m. agenda on Tuesday, which includes a budget workshop and consideration of the city’s effective and rollback tax rates, and the debt collection rate for 2006 and excess debt tax collections for 2005. Council members also have a budget workshop scheduled for 5:30 p.m. on Wednesday at City Hall.

Council members discussed compensation and duties of police department personnel with advanced degrees in executive session during their Thursday meeting, and city manager Joseph Torres said the council discussed setting pay levels for officers at different rates, along with when the stipends would take effect.

“The total compensation per stipend per office is at very different levels,” he said. “The question is if you get the stipend before the year is out, do you get paid then.”

He said that given the city’s current financial situation, any final action depends on how the rest of the budget comes out.

“We have to look at the budget. Once we finalize the budget at the workshops, we can set that (pay) based on what the council agrees to,” Torres said.

He said council members did agree to set some pay levels at the police department based on their training an education level and job seniority.

Council members also clarified the rules on the police department’s vehicle operations, and approved a volunteer handbook for the department.

“There were some gray areas that needed to be defined, such as use of vehicles for a funeral procession,” Torres said. He added that Police Chief Clay McKinney asked the council for a more specific policy.

The handbook is to provide guidelines on the use of uniforms and other items for groups such as the Citizen’s Police Academy who help the police with routine activities.

Council members approved an interlocal agreement with Reeves County for fire department services, and approved submitting a grant to the Texas Forest Service for purchase of a new vehicle.

Torres said the interlocal agreement would add additional funds to help finance the cost of repairs to the Pecos Fire Hall, and awaits action by Reeves County Commissioners, while the grant would cover 90 percent of the purchase price of the new vehicle.

Council members tabled any action on the appointment of a municipal court judge until the end of September. Torres said Judge Amanairo Ramon was appointed last year to a two-year term, but the council wants to do annual evaluations of the position.

They also put off most of a update on the improvement of safety zone signs at Pecos Kindergarten until a later date. City utilities director Edgardo Madrid updated the council on some of the work, but Martin Arreguy, who is in charge of the project, was not able to attend Thursday’s meeting after undergoing knee surgery, Torres said.

City officials had been asked by Pecos Kindergarten principal Robert Garrett to expand and improve the school zone signs around his school, to slow down vehicles passing by the campus. The city had hoped to have the work done by the start of the school year last week, and plans are for improved safety zones around all six of the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD campuses.

Rains evaporate need for county burn ban

Plenty of rain in the area led Reeves County Commissioners on Monday to lift the burning ban that has been in place for the past few months due to the drought.

Commissioners discussed the item during their regular meeting held in the third floor courtroom, after five inches of rain has fallen in the area since late July.

“We’ve had plenty of rain that has led other counties in the area to also lift their burning ban,” said Reeves County Emergency Management Coordinator Ricky Herrera.

“We’ve received quite a few inches of rain in the past few weeks and the state has asked us to consider lifting the ban,” said Herrera. “Ector and Midland counties have already lifted their burn ban,” he said.

“Now we’re under a food watch until tomorrow and for the rest of the week they have predicted thunderstorms,” said Herrera.

Commissioners also approved an application for the Texas Development Block Grant. “We have sponsored an application for Madera Valley Water before,” said Reeves County Judge Jimmy B. Galindo.

Galindo said that in the past they have secured about $1 million under the community development water grant.

“They can’t apply for them directly it has to be the county or another government entity,” said Galindo.

Commissioners discussed the indefinite closing of one of their products providers, which is based in Pecos.

“RCDC I/II received a notice from Triple I here in Pecos that they will be closing indefinitely,” said Reeves County Auditor Lynn Owens.

Owens said that they provide several cleaning products for the facility and didn’t know how temporary or if they would be shipping their products from the Midland office.

“We have problems with them already and will probably need more lee time if they are going to ship out of Midland,” said Owens.

Owens said that some of the problems the facility has cited are slow delivery and items not being in stock.

“These problems could impact the operations at the facility,” said Galindo.

Galindo suggested that they table the item and have Owens talk to someone at Triple I about the problems.

A survey proposal for property on East Lincoln Street was approved by the group.

“We’re trying to renovate that area, along with the Town of Pecos City,” said commissioner precinct 1 Roy Alvarado, who said they had run into some boundary issues. “We spoke with the property owner, Barbara Prewit and she said she would deed the land to the county, with one stipulation, that the county transfer the land and that the county pay for the surveyor,” said Alvarado. “She also wants to her surveyor to do it and we pay for it,” he said.

Alvarado said that it would cost $1,880 for the surveyor.

“There were no other charges for the property?” said Galindo.

“Just the legal costs and the surveying,” said Alvarado.

“We need to put it in the form of a deed and record that property to the county,” said Galindo.

The commissioners approved paying the surveyor, Michael Newton, $1,880 and the property rights off of Lincoln Street be deeded to the county.

“This will allow the county to make improvements on Lincoln Street,” said Galindo. Commissioners continued a previous discussion on fees and procedures at the Reeves County Golf Course. The item had been discussed at the last regular meeting, but was tabled to give the commissioners a chance to look at the changes.

“There’s not that many changes,” said Owens. “They just wanted us to sit down with them and to make sure the players and the employees all knew the rules out there and followed them,” he said.

“The golf course needs every dollar it can get,” said Galindo. “We need to make adjustments and those adjustments may mean an increase in fees, to keep the golf course in good shape.”

“I’m not a golfer myself, but from what I hear the fees at this golf course are a lot cheaper than at other area golf courses, most are charging more,” said Owens.

“There have been some dramatic improvements at the golf course,” said Galindo. “I am a golf player and I know that it is looking really good, but it takes money.”

He said that they could discuss increasing the fees during the budget meetings and that a decision on that could be made by mid-September.

Lopez’ announce birth of son

Demetrius and Emily Lopez announce the birth of their son, Tyler Lee Lopez.

Little Tyler was born at 2:54 a.m., on Aug. 16, at Medical Center Hospital in Odessa. He weighed eight pounds, 14.5 ounces and was 22 inches long at birth.

Welcoming home were his big brothers, Christian and Christopher Lopez.

Maternal grandparents are Charles and Gloria Waight and paternal grandparents are Victor and Janet Lopez.

Calderon attends scholarship program

Dominic Calderon, a 13-year-old, 8th grader at Crockett Middle School, attended the Student of the Year Scholarship and Recognition Program at the Marriott in Houston on July 14-16.

He was named one of the top six finalist in his age group, received two medals, and met many outstanding students from all over the state.

Calderon had many sponsors from Pecos.

Police Report

EDITOR’S NOTE: Information contained in the Police Report is obtained from reports filed by the Pecos Police Department, Reeves County Sheriff’s Office, or other officers of those agencies. The serving of warrants by an officer for outstanding fines of either traffic citations, animal control violations or other court costs are considered arrests and will be printed as such unless indicated that the fines were paid. In such instances we will indicate payment and release.


Jose Alfredo Lujan, 44, was arrested by police on Aug. 18 on charges of violation of protective order and public intoxication. Police said the arrest was made following and incident at 412 S. Bois D’Arc St., and Lujan was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Ruben Villegas, 27, 2025 s. Park St., was arrested by police on Aug. 18 and charged wit public intoxication. Police said the arrest took place at the intersection of Jackson and Eddy streets and Villegas was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Liandro Gamboa Castaneda, 36, of Coyanosa, was arrested on Aug. 20 on a charge of public intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor. Police said the arrest took place inside the Suavacito Club, 902 S. Cedar St., and Castaneda was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Roxann Licon Armendariz, 30, 1604 Johnson St., was arrested by police on Aug. 19 on a warrant charging her with failure to respond to an earlier charge of having an open container of alcohol, a fine of $174. Police said the arrest was made at the Suavacito Club, 902 S. Cedar St., and Armendariz was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Matthew John Armendariz, 25, 1930 Iowa St., was arrested by police on Aug. 13 on a charge of public intoxication. Police said the arrest took place at 8:32 p.m. in the 1800 block of Jefferson Street. Armendariz was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.

*** Pedro Salgado Lopez, 73, 1302 E. Fifth St., was arrested by police on Aug. 13 on a charge of assault under the Family Violence Act, a Class C misdemeanor. Police said the arrest was made at Lopez’s home, after he reportedly grabbed his wife around the neck, causing a scratch. He was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Fredrico Lara, 49, 817 S. Walnut St., was arrested by police on Aug. 16 on a charge of criminal trespass, a Class B misdemeanor. Police said the arrest took place at 8:55 p.m. at Allsup’s, 708 S. Cedar St., when a clerk said Lara returned to the store after being banned previously. He was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Reymundo Huertas Pene III, 20, 416 N. Elm St., was arrested by police on Aug. 12 on a charge of racing on a highway, a Class B misdemeanor. Police said Pene was the driver of one of two trucks seen racing between the 700 and 1200 blocks of South Cedar Street. He was placed under arrest and transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Mark Baggett, 33, 717 Bois D’Arc St., was arrested by police on Aug. 11 on charges of public intoxication and theft under $50. Police said the arrest was made at Pecos Municipal Court, 510 S. Oak St., and Baggett was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Reyes Vega Navarrete, 56, of Presidio, was arrested by police on Aug. 13 and charged with public intoxication. Police said the arrest took place at the Suavacito Club, 902 S. Cedar St., and Navarrete was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Raul Garcia, 33, 812 S. Cypress St., was arrested by police on Aug. 12 on a warrant charging him with deadly conduct. Police said the arrest took place at 11:12 p.m. at Seventh and Oleander streets, and Garcia was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Rhonda Madrid Renteria, 23, 1212 S. Cherry St., was arrested by police on Aug. 12 on warrants charging her with no valid driver’s license and passenger unrestrained by seat belt. The arrest took place at 10:29 p.m. at Uncle’s, 201 E. Third St., and Renteria was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Eric Florez, 2129 S. Hackberry St., was arrested by police on Aug. 12 on a warrant charging him with failure to pay a fine on a charge of no driver’s license. Police said the arrest took place at 1:38 a.m. in the 200 block of East 10th St., and Florez was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Eloy Jimenez, 21, 310 S. Elm St., was arrested by police on Aug. 13 on a warrant charging him with failure to pay a find on a charge of child unrestrained by seat belt. Police said the arrest took place at 1:55 a.m. outside the Suavacito Club, 902 S. Cedar St., and Jimenez was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Larry R. Dominguez, 39, 720 S. Pecan St., was arrested by police on Aug. 14 on a warrant for failure to pay child support. Police said the arrest was made as the result of a records check following a traffic stop in the 200 block of South Cedar Street, and Dominguez was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Jose Esquivel, 76, 2323 Country Club Dr., was arrested by police on warrants charging him with theft under $50. Police said the arrest took place on Aug. 15 outside Allsup’s, 2232 S. Eddy St., and Esquivel was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.


Mark Madrid Renteria, 28, 1300 E. Third St., was arrested by police on Aug. 5 on five warrants for failure to appear on charges of driver unrestrained by seat belt, violation of driver’s license restrictions, failure to indicate lane change, speeding and no liability insurance. The arrest took place at the Flying J Truck Stop, 100 E. Raul Florez Blvd., and Renteria was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.

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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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