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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, December 19, 2008

RCDC III riot damage costs still unknown

Reeves County officials said they still have no damage estimate at the Reeves County Detention Center III, following last Friday’s riot by prisoners following the death of an RCDC III inmate.

“We don’t know yet. The insurance adjustors haven’t come down and given us a number yet,” Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras said on Wednesday.

Inmates burned a recreation building and damaged one block inside the prison’s main building in the riot, which broke out about 1 p.m. on Dec. 12 and lasted about 15 hours. The incident began about an hour after the body of an inmate was removed from the facility following his death overnight. Two recreation workers employed by the county were taken hostage, but were released before the inmates agreed to return to their cells between 3 and 4 a.m.

The inmate who died Friday was one of two deaths involving inmates at the RCDC over the weekend. A second inmate died on Sunday in a Lubbock hospital.

“He was airlifted to Lubbock, but he had been sick for a while,” Contreras said. He added that the inmate had previously been hospitalized for medical treatment.

RCDC III warden Dwight Sims said last Saturday the body of the first inmate was sent off for autopsy to determine the cause of death. Contreras said on Wednesday he had not yet seen the results of the autopsy

The second inmate who died was being held at RCDC I, which is managed along with RCDC II separately from the RCDC III unit. Officials at RCDC I & II reportedly talked with inmates there following the second death, and no disturbance was reported.

Officials with the prison’s manager, the GEO Group, have released no further information about the Dec. 12 incident, the first major disturbance at the RCDC since 1995 and the first to cause serious damage to the facility since 1993, when inmates also burned a recreation yard building in a disturbance at the RCDC I unit.

Exercise equipment and a big screen television destroyed in the 1993 had to be replaced by Reeves County under orders from the U.S. Bureau of Prisons, with whom the county contracts to house inmates at all three units.

Officials with the BOP in Washington on Thursday said they could not comment on what actions the agency has taken since the Dec. 12 incident, and could not release the names of the two inmates who died over the weekend.

“It’s not our facility, so it wouldn’t be appropriate for us to comment,” a spokeswoman said. Last week’s riot attracted national media attention, along with the attention of a South Texas District Attorney who filed a lawsuit against GEO, state and federal officials earlier this fall over problems he said the prison management company was responsible for at a facility in Raymondville.

Willacy County District Attorney Juan Angel Guerra, who tried to prosecute Vice President Dick Cheney, said on Wednesday he suspects a cover-up at the RCDC, some 600 miles northwest of his Raymondville office.

Reeves County Sheriff Arnulfo Gomez, whose deputies and other officers responded to the riot, said he hasn't met with Guerra -- but has no idea what he was talking about. Gomez also says he thinks Guerra has "some sort of personal vendetta."

The indictments against Cheney and several other officials were later thrown out. District Attorney Randy Reynolds said he was in Monahans on Tuesday when Guerra arrived in Pecos and was unable to meet with the Willacy County District Attorney, and Guerra did not come back when Reynolds returned to Pecos.

Guerra, who failed in his re-election bid earlier this year, acknowledged he has no evidence to show any wrongdoing. But Guerra said inmate deaths are common at prisons run by the company.

“They’re killing people, and something needs to be done,” Guerra said on Tuesday. He pointed to problems at several other prisons run by the Boca Raton, Fla.-based company, including one in Littlefield, north of Lubbock.

The Lubbock Avalanche-Journal reported on Dec. 12 that GEO canceled its contract with the city of Littlefield and plans to terminate 74 employees at the Bill Clayton Detention Center as of Jan. 5, after the facility lost a contract to house inmates for the state of Idaho.

The paper said Littlefield officials were notified on Nov. 7 that GEO was canceling its contract, a move that came shortly after the company was told its own contract had been canceled with the Idaho Department of Corrections.

The Times-News of Twin Falls, Idaho, cited prisoner safety concerns as the reason for Iowa canceling their contract with GEO.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

OC seeks help boosting local campus usage

Pecos Economic Development Corp. board members were asked to help increase the usage by local residents of Odessa College’s Pecos campus, and were given information on college courses being offered or considered both through OC and Pecos High School, during the PEDC’s meeting Monday at City Hall.

Odessa College President Dr. Greg Williams and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Superintendent Manny Espino spoke to PEDC board members for about an hour on Monday about both college courses offered through OC’s Pecos Technical Training Center and at Pecos High School. Williams also asked members to help OC in encouraging local residents to take advantage of the Pecos campus, which he said has seen a decline in enrollments in recent years. “The Pecos Center at one time had a maximum enrollment of 375,” he told the board, “Now we barely have 100 taking advantage of the center. We’re about 75 percent down, and we need your help.”

“We have to do more to educate our populace,” Williams said, noting that the State of Texas’ percentage of students going to college is below the national average, and the numbers for West Texas are below the statewide average.

“We try to reach students before they have ‘true’ options,” he said, adding that they focus on students whose parents did not attend college. “We try to do this as early as possible and Pecos ISD has helped us with that.”

“You’ve provided a great tool for your citizens, but you’re not taking advantage of it. We need business and industry to be supportive of people going to school,” Williams said. “The more educated your citizens are, the more attractive you are to outside business, because they know the workers are more flexible in their skills.”

He said OC, which is a two-year junior college, is also looking at an association with Sul Ross State University in Alpine on using the OC-Pecos Center for upper class courses currently unavailable through the Odessa junior college. “We want to make it more attractive to get a four-year degree while still in Pecos,” Williams said.

Other expanded educational offerings the college has under consideration included pairing up with the Texas State Technical College system for more local vocational programs, along with other courses for senior citizens that would involve out-of-area travel.

“Those individuals tend to be more free with their time and have the income to support travel,” Williams said. He said the vocational courses could be handled mostly via video remote classes through the TSTC system, whose nearest campus to Pecos is in Sweetwater.

“We’re trying to get education on demand. When the student is ready the teacher appears,” he said.

Town of Pecos City Manager Joseph Torres said the city would be willing to work with OC on technical training courses for department supervisors, while TransPecos Banks president Joe Keese said the bank would also be willing to work with the school on employee training classes.

PEDC board member Leo Hung brought up the need for courses in nursing, but noted that he had funded college classes for four LVN trainees with the OC class held in Monahans, but that two had failed and will have to take the class over again.

He brought up the same concern later, when Espino was discussing the college-level courses being offered through Pecos High School, and said that students who failed to earn good grades in the college level classes they take in high school could have problems later getting into certain schools or programs.

“If you look at most (students) through the first 60 hours you’ll see a 2.0-2.5 grade point average, but after that it tends to go up when they start focusing on the courses they are interested in,” Espino said.

He told the PEDC board that the district previously had been trying to get students between 15 and 18 hours of college credits before they graduated high school, but lawmakers in the Texas Legislature had pushed to up that total to 60 hours, which the school has tried to fulfill by offering college-credit courses beginning in 10th grade.

“One thing they did find out is whether they have the skills or desire,” Espino said, which also included students taking college level classes during the summer. “If we’re going to get kids in there to do 4-5 weeks of summer classes, they’re going to have to be dedicated, especially if they’re going to be taking two classes.”

He said the school is looking at several careers, such as LVNs, cosmetology and sports medicine, to offer through Pecos High School. Other business and vocational classes also are being looked at, while Espino said that SAT and college prep classes are also needed locally. In other action, PEDC executive director Robert Tobias said the board agreed to pay half of the cost for repairing a sewer line and the asphalt above it in the area around the Best Western Swiss Clock Inn on Interstate 20 to stop line back-up problems in the area. The motel, whose owners are building a new motel next door to the current one, will split the estimated $14,000 total cost with the PEDC.

The board also voted to support a plan presented by Keese to combine the city’s hotel/motel tax and the new venue tax by creating a Pecos Convention and Visitor’s Bureau, which would handle maintenance and operations at the Reeves County Civic Center through hotel/motel bed tax funds. The building would be rebranded as a convention center, and expanded and improved, along with the adjacent Buck Jackson Rodeo Arena through funds from the venue tax.

“I answered a lot of the questions Joseph Torres and Scott (Johnson) had,” Keese said on Tuesday. He said Torres also told Keese he was on the agenda for Thursday’s regular Town of Pecos City Council meeting.

Hospital studying clinic funding options

Reeves County Hospital is weighing its options on how to fund the construction of a clinic for the hospital’s new physicians that was put on hold when a construction plan fell through two months ago.

“We’re trying to make a decision to go with general obligation bonds in May, or should we try to work with some of the banks to do a bank qualified debt,” hospital CEO Al LaRochelle said on Wednesday. “Non-profits can go ahead and do this up to $10 million a year.”

The self-funding option was discussed during the hospital’s board’s monthly meeting on Monday evening. Reeves County Hospital officials have been seeking to build a 20,000 square foot clinic to house the new physicians recruited to the hospital over the past two years. LaRochelle also said the clinch would help the hospital with its Medicare reimbursements from the federal government.

The hospital sought bids from private contractors earlier this year to construct the building near the hospital site, and in early July awarded the bid to S&J Properties, owned by two former Pecos residents, civil engineer Frank Spencer and businessman Greg Johns. The two had the lowest bid by $3 million for the clinic, coming in at just over $7 million for the facility, which was to be leased back to the hospital over a 30-year term.

However, after three months of negotiations on the plans, the hospital district and S&J could not come to an agreement on construction plans, and in late October the board agreed to seek new options to build the clinic.

“From our perspective, it’s not if we’re going to do the clinic, it’s when we’re going to do it and how,” LaRochelle said. “We’re just trying to figure out the best way to get it done.”

“It’s very germane to the health care needs of Reeves County,” he said. “And it’s almost mandatory for us to go ahead and do it and make our operations financially feasible.

LaRochelle said the hospital already is working with an architect on designs for the new facility, and has talked with Pecos Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Robert Tobias about available land near the hospital.

In connection with the lack of a clinic, the hospital board voted on Monday to secure a three-year lease on office space for Dr. Sam E. Kim, who began working at the hospital this summer. LaRochelle said the deal is for office space owned by Dr. W.J. Bang across Texas Street from the hospital, and will have a monthly rental fee of $1,650.

Board members also approved the emergency purchase of a cauterizing machine, after one of the hospital’s two existing units shorted out recently.

“It’s an old piece of equipment, and we can’t find parts for it,” LaRochelle said. “We didn’t have any choice. We had to get a new one, which cost $27,000 with the trade-in.”

Board members also approved hospital staff privileges for another new physician Dr. Patricia Chisum, pending her Texas Medical Board certification.

Classroom construction on schedule

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD officials are hoping to get some new classrooms ready soon, with construction on schedule at Crockett Junior High and Bessie Haynes Elementary.

Superintendent Manny Espino updated the board on Monday, during their regular meeting, on the construction projects that were approved last year by voters, in a $30 million bond issue. He told school board members that they’re main concern is to get the classrooms ready.

“The Crockett classroom wing is ahead of schedule at that building, but the gym is behind schedule,” said Espino. “We shouldn’t have any problems getting in to that building by summer.”

The Bessie Haynes track is almost done, but they are trying to get it lit so that people can walk around it late at night or early in the morning, according to Espino.

“They are still doing some roofing at Bessie Haynes,” said Espino.

The ducting is progressing very nicely along with the flex labs at Bessie Haynes.

“The sixth grade wing is also ahead of schedule and we will solicit proposals for Austin/Kindergarten and the CATE building,” said Espino.

Sixth grade classes that have been at the reopened Zavala Middle School for the past two years will be moved next year to the Crockett campus.

Espino told the group that they are also looking at moving the students from the Lamar AEP Campus on North ‘F’ Street to Pecos High School.

“One of the things that we are looking at is getting more vocational classes at the high school for them and moving DAEP from that side and AEP to the high school,” said Espino.

He said that there are several options that they are looking at to move those students to the high school.

“The question is, how do we set it up, we could convert some of the classes into labs,” said Espino. “One of the options is to have a modular (building) and have the teachers rotate.”

He said that their object is to how to best serve the needs of those students.

Espino said that they are looking at different options and plan to go to Ft. Stockton and Monahans and see what they are doing about this situation.

“We want to see what they have done and if it’s working,” said Espino.

“We don’t want DAEP at the campus, but we are going to visit both sites after the holidays and bring back a recommendation to the board,” said Espino.

Espino said that they don’t want them around regular students, but want to provide the best services that they can to all the students including those in DAEP and AEP.

Espino said that even if they are not on the same campus they realize that these students can interact with the regular students at any given time, either earlier in the day or later in the day, after school.

In other action, the board approved incentives for Pecos High School students, based on attendance.

“We will be offering them open campus lunch, but they have to meet the requirements,” said Espino. “We hope this will be a good incentive for attendance.” Students will be required to have by the end of the third week of the month: perfect attendance in all classes, (minus medical and school related excuses); passing all classes; no tardies (minus excused) and no discipline referrals.

In October 40 students qualified and in November 28 students qualified for the special incentive.

According to the plan: once identified, on the last day of the month, students that qualified will report to Room 2 prior to A lunch. These students will be labeled and allowed to leave campus. Upon return, students will report to Room 2 one hour later.

All students will continue to be monitored during lunch.

Parent permission slips will be required before any students will be allowed to leave campus, according to Espino.

He said that this was one of the things the students had asked for when they were polled.

“We want to bolster attendance,” said Espino. “They said that they wanted to have open campus lunch and we hope this will also cut down on behavioral problems.”

Education department program held by Study Club

Members of The Modern Study Club of Pecos met on Oct. 22, at The First Christian Church Fellowship Hall.

President Margie Williamson presided over the meeting, the Collect was led by Nan Cate and the Pledges of Allegiance to the United States of America Flag and the Texas Flag were led by Paula Fuller.

The thought-quote for the meeting was – “Education then, beyond all other services of human origin, is the great equalizer of the conditions of men – the balance-wheel of the social machiner.” – Horace Mann.

Louise Moore, who taught with the Continuing Education Program at the Odessa College Pecos Center and is now teaching sixth grade at Zavala, presented a program on Education in Our Community.

Mrs. Moore said the Pecos Tech branch of Odessa College will probably be offering more courses via large screen from Midland College and UTPB. You need to have 10 students in order to make a class. They will create a class if they have enough students interested in that subject. Students can at the present time get dual credit for high school courses and college credit. Hopefully, more classes will be offered in math, science and law enforcement. They also hope to offer CAN and LVN classes, automotive repair and cosmetology.

The Minutes of Oct. 8, were not read due to the absence of Secretary Catherine Travland. Treasurer Betty Lee provided a statement of club finances, which was read in her absence.

President Williamson read a note sent to her from TFWC President Marjorie Williamson thanking her for assistance during the recent WD Fall Board Meeting.

She also read a letter from Iris Reddick who is planning to sell her home in Pecos and will be dividing her time between her five daughters. Enclosed with the letter was a $50 check for the bake sale.

WD President Catherine Travland’s Report on the recent WD Fall Board Meeting held in Odessa at Regional Hospital was read.

Paula Fuller, Federation Chairman, reported that October is:

Health History Month and to use the Heart Truth Kits to explain GFWC’s emphasis on women’s health in the Home Life Department.

National Book Month – Attendees are asked to bring a book to donate to a school library and discuss GFWC’s support for libraries.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month – Invite a spokesperson from a local women’s shelter to address this issue.

Positive Attitude Month – Smile and enthusiastically promote the benefits of belonging.

Chairman Fuller also told of the following:

Safety: Eat Better, Eat Together Month – Serve heart healthy refreshments. The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children has made new recommendations to keep children safe and is offering tools that can be downloaded directly from their website.

Conservation: Even little changes can make a huge environmental difference.

Education: For the first time ever, an animated digital version of Horton Hears a Who! By Dr. Seuss is being released. This Seuss classic will be available for free exclusively on Kidthing, a subset of the NEA website.

Health: The latest health studies are revealing some surprising benefits to nut consumption. A study conducted by the Harvard School of Public Health found that people who ate more than five ounces of nuts per week suffered 1/3 fewer heart attacks.

A statement from the Elegante’ Hotel was presented and paid for lodging prior to the TFWC WD Fall Board Meeting for WD President Catherine Travland and WD Photographer Margie Williamson and plans were made to give the club’s annual donation to Reeves County Library for the purchase of new books.

President Williamson announced it was getting close to time for collecting for Christmas for Kids. The Club has donated to this project for several years even thought the amount has not been budgeted. The club again voted to make a donation of $50 to be presented to the Christmas for Kids Project.

Roll call was answered by responding to the question, “In what ways has education influenced your life?”

The bi-monthly projects for this meeting was to donate to the Reeves County Library and donate Book for Newborns at the Reeves County Hospital.

Casillas Wins Title at the 2008 West Texas Baby Pageant

  Jennesis M. Casillas of Odessa recently competed in the 2008 West Texas Baby Pageant held in Odessa, Texas.  Casillas was named overall runner up of the entire pageant winning the Title of Miss Supreme Lady.  

Contestants were judged on photogenic, beauty and royalty divisions. 

Casillas placed 2nd in her division on beauty and photogenic.  The Ceremony was held on November 9th at the Odessa College Deaderick Auditorium. 

Casillas is the daughter of Joseph and Laura Casillas of Odessa and the granddaughter of Mickey and Jane Marquez of Pecos and the great-granddaughter of Kika Marquez of Pecos. 

Jasso Wins Title at the 2008 West Texas Baby Pageant

  Nevaeh A. Jasso of Odessa recently competed in the 2008 West Texas Baby Pageant held in Odessa, Texas.  

Jasso was named 2nd Place Princess in her 4 year old age group. 

 Contestants were judged on photogenic, beauty and royalty divisions. 

 Jasso placed 1st in beauty and 2nd in photogenic in her age group.  The Ceremony was held on November 9th at the Odessa College Deaderick Auditorium.  

Jasso is the daughter of Jennifer Marquez and Mario Jasso and the granddaughter of Mickey and Jane Marquez and Luz Jasso of Pecos and the great-granddaughter of Kika Marquez of Pecos.

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