Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas
Tuesday, August 5, 2008
Stephens’ federal court hearing on sex offender charge delayed
A scheduled detention hearing last week on a sex offender charge for double-murder suspect Randall Lee Stephens has been moved back to Aug. 11 in U.S. District Court in Pecos.
Stephens, 50, is being held at the Pecos Criminal Justice Center on the federal charge for failing to file as a sex offender with law enforcement authorities. In his initial hearing on July 22, U.S. Magistrate B. Dwight Goains read Stephens the charge of failing to register as a sex offender between April 18 and May 6 of this year, in connection with his February 1990 conviction for burglary of a habitation. He also named Pecos attorney Scott Johnson as his court-appointed lawyer.
The federal charge, which carries a penality of up to 10 years in prison, allows Stephens to be held while Pecos Police continue their investigation into the May 6 murders of local bar owners Rick and A.J. Cherry.
Stephens, 50, was returned to Pecos from Alabama, where he was arrested on June 3 on a local warrant charging him with violation of the sex offender registry law. That charge was later superceded by the federal charge, while also allowed U.S. Marshals to transport Stephens back to Pecos for his initial hearing.
Following his arrest, Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney, along with police investigator Kelly Davis, 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds and his investigator, Gerry Villalobos, traveled to Alabama, where McKinney said Stephens gave both written and video confessions to stabbing the Cherrys to death the night of May 6 at D.J.’s Round-Up on West Third Street.
McKinney said last week that his department is still investigating the case, and that, “It will be a couple of months before we’re ready to bring it to the grand jury.”
McKinney said in talking to 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds, they expect the grand jury will get the murder case sometime early this fall.
New assistant superintendent has goals set
Doing good for others is the motto the new assistant superintendent goes by, and hopes to bring to the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD.
Byron Welch, was born in Austin, grew up in Houston, got married and moved to Brenham, home of Blue Bell Ice Cream.
“I graduated from Houston, attended the University of Houston, transferred to A&M and graduated from there in 1981,” said Welch, who was named last month as the district’s new assistant superintendent.
He received a Bachelor of Science degree, secondary History teacher and later received his Master’s and Doctorate Degrees.
“I got a Master’s degree and a principal’s job in 1981 and finished at A&M, with a Doctor of Education,” said Welch.
Welch’s wife Carolyn is also an educator, a special education teacher, who retired recently from TRS.
Welch said that he was a teacher, principal and a superintendent in “a little dime box town,” of Dime Box, located in southeast Texas.
“They held the first March of Dimes there and did a radio broadcast with President Roosevelt,” said Welch.
Welch said that in that small town they had put a mailbox and 100 percent donation for the March of Dimes from the town.
He became superintendent in Ponder, in 1999, located near Denton.
“After that, I came out here to work at UTPB, in 2005, with a principal’s training program,” said Welch.
Welch said that he was first attracted to the assistant superintendent’s position in Pecos, by Manny Espino, Superintendent for P-B-T ISD.
“I was really impressed with him, I met him at a superintendent’s meeting at the service center,” said Welch. “He kind of catches your eye.”
He said that he had been out to the district a couple of times a year at a conference hosted by UTPB.
“There was one superintendent that was there with his core people, they sat there and worked and worked, while the other superintendents absent, and this superintendent was Manny,” said Welch.
Welch said that there is so much that a superintendent has to do and take care of. “I feel that I can learn a lot from Manny,” said Welch.
“When I saw that the position was open, I took that as an opportunity to come here and learn more from this man and from this district,” he said.
Welch said that at the time, he had spoken to the University of Houston in Victoria, but opted to come and work in a smaller town.
“It’s a unique hat, because you do a little of everything,” he said.
Welch said that there is a good team here in Pecos, with good teachers, administrators and people.
“It’s a really good bunch,” he said.
Welch currently serves on the board for Local Boy Scout Council.
“I love to do things outdoors and became very involved with the Boy Scouts,” said Welch. “My wife and I were in an explorer post in high school and would like to do that here, have an explorer post,” he said.
Welch said that he wanted to take a good look at that and see if it’s possible to bring one in again in Pecos.
Learning for Life, a character education program, is another thing Welch would like to see implemented.
“It has all of the components of making ethical decisions,” said Welch.
“We’re also looking for a church, plan to join some organizations and just enjoy being here,” he added.
The couple have one son, Byron, who is a computer science major at UTPB.
“We enjoy scouting and outdoors, playing the guitar,” said Welch. “I’ve been in a couple of garage bands and play the guitar at church, and got some youth involved.”
Welch said that he got his son involved in playing and that the group became really good at playing together. “One of them even became and a sound engineer and recording as a profession and all play music,” he said.
Welch said that his father is in a non-profit fundraiser. “He always wanted to do something good for somebody else and I guess that kind of rubbed off on me,” he said.
One of his biggest adventures was when he and his son went on a 50-mile canoe trip.
“On day one, the canoe wasn’t balanced and things just went from there,” said Welch. “I had a gallon full of ice and that’s what got me through it.”
His plans for the district include to actively pursue trying to find people for the positions that are still open. ‘
“Our long haul is to make certain we get good, quality teachers, through recruitment, training and cooperation with Odessa College and UTPB,” said Welch. “We can also do this through the service center region and workshops, for team planning,” he said.
Welch said that his three years at UTPB will be utilized by providing principal preparedness.
“That’s one of the toughest jobs to be a principal, because you have to do a little bit of everything and the jobs are getting tougher and preparedness shorter,” said Welch.
He said that it is now requiring less hours to become a principal and that would be one of the things that they work on, getting these leaders prepared for the big job.
“We’ll also be looking at consistencies between the campuses,” he said.
Balmorhea, P-B-T campuses ‘recognized” in TEA ratings
Two Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD campuses and Balmorhea ISD received “recognized” ratings in this year’s Texas Education Agency accountability ratings, which were released in Austin on Friday.
Three other P-B-T campuses were rated as “acceptable” by the TEA, which bases its grades on test results and district population demographics during the 2007-08 school year.
Austin Elementary and Zavala Middle School received the “recognized” ratings. Zavala is the P-B-T ISD campus for sixth grade students, while Austin is home to the district’s first through third graders, though the ratings are only based on test results for third grade students.
Bessie Haynes Elementary, home to the district’s fourth and fifth graders, along with Crockett Junior High School and Pecos High School, were rated as “acceptable” by the TEA.
The ‘recognized” rating for Balmorhea ISD and for Austin Elementary was the third year in a row those schools have received the second-highest ranking from the TEA. No schools in the area received either the “exemplary” or the “unacceptable” rating from the state agency.
More Texas schools received the state's top accountability ratings this year, but six campuses that have repeatedly failed to meet state standards will face state-mandated oversight and reforms.
More than 370 districts were ranked either exemplary or recognized, the highest rankings available under the state's accountability system. Last year, 244 districts earned the top rankings.
``Our ratings system is tougher than ever before because we increased performance expectations by five points in reading, writing, math and science,'' said Education Commissioner Robert Scott. ``Despite the increase in rigor, I'm happy to report that trend lines continue to move in the right direction.''
The number of school districts receiving the lowest ranking, academically unacceptable, decreased to 37 this year, from 56 unacceptable districts in the 2007 school year. Unacceptable rankings were mostly attributed to students’ scores on the math and science portions of the state's standardized test, the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills.
Ratings are typically based on student performance on the TAKS and a standardized test for special education students along with dropout and completion rates.
But, the number of campuses that were ranked unacceptable for four or more consecutive years increased from four to eight.
G.L. Wiley Middle School in Waco was ranked unacceptable for the fifth consecutive year. W.W. Samuell and H. Grady Spruce high schools in Dallas; Powell Point Elementary in the Kendleton school district; Polytechnic High School in Fort Worth; and Pearce Middle School in Austin were ranked unacceptable for four consecutive years.
Sam Houston High School in the Houston and Johnston High School in Austin were closed this year because of multiple years of low ratings.
``The system we have today really has done a great job shining a light on student performance and making sure that all student subgroups achieve their highest potential,'' Scott said.
Scott said he'd go out to the campuses next fall and meet with superintendents and principals and monitor improvement.
``We're going to commit to calculate their performance rating at the end of the school year, beginning of the summer so we'll know the fate of that campus and they can have the summer to make any adjustments or changes they need,'' Scott said.
State law calls for a series of increasingly serious sanctions for schools and districts that receive unacceptable ratings. Staff shake-ups must occur after three years of low scores, and the state may close a school after four years.
But Scott said he would give the campuses more time to pull up their scores rather than abruptly closing them.
``Not all campuses have the same problems and that's why I feel it's important to go visit them, hear what they're doing to show improvement and work with them on some solutions,'' Scott said. ``And in the end if performance is not met, then there are sanctions available under the law _ including alternative management and closure _ and I think we've shown that we're willing to exercise those options because we're not willing to let kids flounder in a poor performing environment for long.''
Because the state is phasing in tougher dropout standards, districts and campuses were not given lower ratings if they were acceptable in every area but that one. Scott said that waiver will end this year.
``We're very pleased but we're not satisfied,'' Scott said.
PEDC supports Paradise project abatement deal
Pecos Economic Development Corp. members voted to recommend a tax abatement be granted by the Town of Pecos City to a new motel, food court and sports bar project scheduled to begin construction this week on the south side of Pecos.
The PEDC board recommended approval of the abatement for Paradise Plaza, being constructed by local businessman Leo Hung. The board also approved a tentative budget for the PEDC for the 2008-09 fiscal year, removing funds targeted toward renovation of a downtown building sought by PEDC president Robert Tobias, until funding to come from the sale of property by the corporation is assured.
Paradise Plaza, a $9 million mixed-use development being built by local businessman Leo Hung, will have its groundbreaking at 10 a.m. on Friday at the site, located just to the east of the Country Club Drive overpass on I-20. State Rep. Pete Gallego is scheduled to be the guest of honor at the event.
Tobias made the recommendation to the board for approval of the project. The hotel is scheduled to open in September of 2009. The complex, to be built in several phases, is planned to create 75 new jobs in the city.
The board voted unanimously to approve the abatement. Hung, who is a member of the PEDC board, was out of town for Monday’s meeting, while board member Jimmy Dutchover had to leave the meeting before the vote on the abatement was taken.
The abetment would be a five-year, 50 percent arrangement that board member and Pecos Mayor Dick Alligood said was the standard agreement offered by the city. Tobias said while hotels normally did not receive such abetments, the other aspects of the project would allow Paradise Plaza to qualify as a “mixed use” project.
“In the sales tax, you’re looking at over $5 million in sales tax, and in the hot tax, you’re looking at over $100,000 to the city,” Tobias said.
Tobias said the city’s abatement plan for mixed use is based on a similar ordinance drawn up by Mansfield, a Dallas-Fort Worth suburb. Alligood said the abatement deal will require operator HKA Corp. to report it’s numbers to the city, to assure that the requirements for the abatement are being met.
Prior to approving the abatement, the board approved a tentative 2008-09 budget for the PEDC, which will be presented to the Pecos City Council at its special meeting on Tuesday at 5:30 p.m. at City Hall.
The initial budget proposed by Tobias called for ----. However, board members voted to eliminate $60,000 from that total, because income from a pending land sale at the former Airbase Apartments site has not been finalized. Of that total, $50,000 will come from funds designed to renovate an Oak Street building Tobias was looking at as an office for the PEDC and for the Small Business Development Center out of Sul Ross State University.
“It can always be readdressed, but I am not comfortable serving on this board and approving a negative budget,” said board member Paul Hinojos.
Tobias said the PEDC expects to close next month on the sale of property on the former Airbase land bought this year from the Pecos Housing Authority on the Airbase Apartment site to Rachel Patel, who plans to build a Comfort Suites on Interstate 20 near the Country Club Drive exit. The land sale, for $150,000, was included in the 2008-09 budget, and allowed the tentative numbers to show a surplus of $97,500.
“I’m just not happy approving a negative budget,” Dutchover said, while Alligood said council members might reject the budget because it could fall into deficit if the Comfort Suites deal falls through.
“I don’t have any problem with the budget as it is. We can always go back and look at it,” board member Bill Oglesby said. He noted that $40,000 of the budget is designated towards paying off the remainder of the $230,000 loan taken out by the PEDC to buy the PHA property.
PEDC attorney Scott Johnson said the board could approve the budget minus the two items now, and then come back and look at them later, after the sale of the PHA land is finalized.
The board also approved amendments to the 2007-08 budget, which also will be presented to the council on Tuesday. Tobias said income to the PEDC exceeded estimates by $50,000, while total expenses came in at $122,000, leaving the corporation with $155,000 in the back going into the new fiscal year on Oct. 1.
Dutchover noted that expenses for the June-September period were equal to those spent during the first three quarters of the current fiscal year. Board member and city manager Joseph Torres said part of the lower expenses in the October-June period was due to the PEDC operating for five months without a president, until Tobias was hired at the end of February.
Tobias opened the meeting touting the need for the Sul Ross SBDC office in Pecos. He said it would have one employee and would give local residents and businesses easier access to the school’s free program than they have now, with the single office in Alpine. He said the office would help make it easier to start small businesses in town, particualry in the downtown area, since larger companies looking at Pecos want to locate along the I-20 corridor.
“What we’re able to attract downtown is going to be different,” he said. “We need to fine a mechanism to let more people know what we’ve got for them.”
The plan calls for offices downstairs and loft apartments upstairs in the building, in the 200 block of South Oak Street. Dutchover questioned whether or not the building could be made ADA compliant, and asked if the money couldn’t be better spent on forgivable loans to small businesses, while he and board president Danny Rodriguez asked if there were buildings in other parts of Pecos the PEDC could rent.
“I think if we say we’re just renting space, that’s one thing. If we buy the building and are developing it, it says we are committed to downtown,” Tobias said.
During discussion of the budget, Tobias said the intermodal rail yard being planned by TexSand west of Pecos is progressing, and that he has received other calls about rail-related projects. The TexSand project off I-20 at Locker Road would mainly serve the oil and natural gas drilling industry around Pecos, which currently has problems shipping materials into the area.
City workers pitch in to aid stranded family
Town of Pecos City employees did their part in welcoming tourists and making sure their trip went smoothly.
“This morning as I was making my park inspections throughout the city, I came across a family from California that was resting at Maxey Park,” parks superintendent Adolfo Ruiz said on Thursday. “The lady approached me and told me she was on her way to Dallas, and had left California with only $400 dollars,” he said.
Ruiz said that the she was traveling with four children and had run out of money, but had a tank full of gas.
“The parks department was very generous and with their help and myself pitched some money for her trip,” said Ruiz.
Ruiz said that it wasn’t a lot, but that she was very appreciative of the gesture.
“I managed to get them free breakfast from an old friend of mine, by the name of Mario Alba, who owns La Fiesta Restaurant,” said Ruiz. “He did not hesitate to provide breakfast for them,” he said.
Ruiz said that he wanted the community to know because it feels good to have people like this in our city.
Williamson receives four year scholarship
Jessica M’Lynn Williamson, daughter of Mark and Sarah Harrell Williamson of Katy, formerly of Pecos, was the recipient of the Wanda E. Hudson Alumni Scholarship from Houston Baptist University in the amount of $18,000.
Jessica graduated from James E. Taylor High School on Friday, May 30, where she had attended health-science technology classes for the past two years. The first year the class may be chosen as an elective and the second year student may apply for acceptance in to H-S-T II, which enables students to go to Christus-Saint Catherine Hospital in Katy where two days a week they visit a variety of different departments of the hospital to learn more about procedures and processes and one day per week the students rotated with different doctors, specialist in numerous fields, so they could observe and better understand a particular area of medicine.
Jessica plans to become an RN and wants to serve in labor and delivery. She was one of three Taylor High students to witness an actual birth during the 2007-2008 classes.
She is the granddaughter of Tommy and Margie Williamson of Pecos, Harry Harrell of Amarillo, and the late Margaret Harrell, who taught business classes at Pecos High School for many years.
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.
Pecos police arrested two male juveniles on July 25 on charges of burglary of a building, located at 102 E. Ninth St. Police said building owner Lessie Woodard reported the incident at 8:20 a.m., and said the southwest window of the building was broken out, and some unknown property may have been removed from the building. The two juveniles were located and arrested later in the day, and were transported to the Reeves County Juvenile Detention Center.
Ruben Torres Lujan, 43, was arrested by police on July 26 on a charge of assault under the Family Violence Act, a Class C misdemeanor. Police said the arrest took place at 3:25 a.m. following an incident at Lujan’s home, and he was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.
Bianca Janel Lujan, 19, was arrested by police on July 26 on a charge of assault under the Family Violence Act, a Class C misdemeanor. Police said the arrest took place at 3:25 a.m. following an incident at Lujan’s home, and she was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.
Albert Pastrana, 20, 1014 E. Eighth St., was arrested by police on July 26 on a charge of public intoxication, a Class C misdemeanor. Police said the arrest took place at 8:02 p.m. in the 100 block of South Oak Street, and Pastrana was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.
A 14-year-old male juvenile was arrested by police on July 26 on charges of possession of a prohibited weapon (brass knuckles), a Class A misdemeanor, and possession of marijuana under two ounces, a Class B misdemeanor. Police said the arrest was made after they were called to Night in Old Pecos, in the 100 block of East Second St., at 9:59 p.m. The juvenile was then taken to the Reeves County Juvenile Detention Center.
Corina Pando, 47, 2245 Lindsay Rd., was arrested by police on July 29 on a charge of driving while intoxicated, a Class B misdemeanor. Police said the arrest was made following a traffic stop at 12th and Willow streets, and Pando was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.
Manuel Rodriguez Armendariz, 24, 416 S. Mulberry St., was arrested by police on July 28 on warrants charging him with failure to pay fines of charges of failure to stop at a designated point and driving with an open container of alcohol, and a warrant out of Bee County for theft by check over $150. Armendariz was arrested at 700 Daggett St., and was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.
Janet Lynn Drane, 29, 2207 S. Alamo St., was arrested by police on July 31 on a warrant for theft, a Class C misdemeanor. Police said the arrest was made in the 2200 block of South Park Street, and Drane was then transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center.
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321
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