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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Bar slaying victim’s pickup found in N.M.

Pecos police say a pickup belonging to one of the owners of a west side bar who was stabbed to death last week has been found in central New Mexico, and police have obtained a warrant for the arrest of a man called a “person of interest” in the case.

Rick Cherry, 51, and Alicia “A.J.” Cherry, 48, were found dead Wednesday afternoon inside D.J.’s Round-Up, 1826 W. Third Street. The two are believed to have been stabbed to death sometime between 10 p.m. Tuesday and early Wednesday morning. A 1995 Ford F-350 diesel pickup, gray in color, belonging to Rick Cherry was reported missing from the bar following the discovery of the bodies by A.J. Cherry’s brother and sister, Fred and Joann Tucker.

An alert for the missing vehicle was issued shortly after 6 p.m. on Wednesday, and Pecos Police Chief Clay McKinney said the pickup was discovered early Sunday morning in Socorro, N.M., 375 miles northwest of Pecos.

“It was found abandoned on the side of the highway,” McKinney said, adding that the pickup, which reportedly had over 50 gallons of gas when it was stolen, had run out of fuel and was abandoned on the side of the road.

“Yesterday, Capt. Kelly Davis drove to Socorro and processed the vehicle for evidence,” McKinney said. He said officials in the Socorro area told them the vehicle had been abandoned less than 24 hours before it was identified as the pickup stolen from Pecos.

Randall Lee Stephens, who grew up in Pecos but who had spent most of the past 30 years in prison, was identified as a “person of interest” on Thursday by police. On Monday, McKinney said the department has obtained a warrant for Stephens’ arrest, but on an unrelated charge of failure to register as a sex offender in Pecos.

“That goes back to the 1989 case,” McKinney said. Stephens was sentenced to 17 years in prison in 1990 as part of a plea bargain agreement on a charge of burglary of a habitation. The plea was on an original charge of sexual assault for an October 1989 incident, and came after he had been convicted in 23rd District Court in Brazoria County in June of 1986 on a charge of aggravated assault.

McKinney said court records show Stephens was released by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice to a halfway house in El Paso on Sept. 25 of 2006, and was released from the halfway house on April 20 of 2007. He had been living in a local motel, but checked out of his room on May 2, the police chief added.

“As of this time, we don’t think he had a job,” McKinney said. “If anyone has any information that could assist us, we’d like them to give us a call.”

The police chief said on Monday, 143rd District Attorney investigator Gerry Villalobos transported evidence in the case to the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime lab in El Paso for further DNA testing.

“We expect the results back from our DNA testing in approximately four weeks,” he said. “We have not received anything back on our preliminary autopsy report as of this morning.”

McKinney said on Thursday when police arrived at the bar the Cherrys’ bodies were found in the middle of the room, a knife was found at the scene. However, he said police could not say for certain if the knife was used in the couple’s murders.

McKinney said they have tried to get in contact with Stephens family members, including those who still live in the area, but have not yet been successful.

Along with the 1989 arrest in Pecos, Stephens also has had previous arrests locally on vehicle theft charges. Records in 143rd District Court showed Stephens served two years on a April 1978 plea deal for theft over $200 and under $10,000 for stealing a vehicle. At the time of that plea, a 1978 charge of attempted aggravated rape was dismissed in 143rd District Court. In July of 1980, Stephens pled guilty and was sentenced to three years in prison for unauthorized use of a motor vehicle, in connection with another vehicle theft.

While information gathered so far has made Stephens a person sought by police, McKinney said at this time, “We decided to go ahead and leave him in the current status of ‘person of interest’ to us.

“With additional evidence coming in, that’s subject to change,” he added. “I don’t think at this point we want to call him a suspect, but he’s very close.”

A memorial service for A.J. and Rick Cherry will be held at 2 p.m., Wednesday, at the Pecos Funeral Home Chapel, with burial in Mount Evergreen Cemetery.

A.J. Cherry was born in Brownsville, moved to Pecos as a child and had been a lifetime resident. She was a business owner. Rick Cherry was born in Midland, was raised in El Paso and had lived in Pecos most of the last 30 years. He was a driller.

The couple is survived by a daughter, Jeannie Kay Nunez and husband, Hector and their grandchildren: Israel, Christopher and Alyssa Tarin. She was proceeded in death by her father, Fred Tucker Sr. and Dalton Boyles.

A.J. is also survived by her mother, Josie Tucker; siblings, Lupe Simental, Robert Simental, Jo Ann Tucker and Fred Tucker, Jr.

Rick is survived by his parents, Aubrey and Frances Cherry; siblings: Clay and Craig Cherry, Melanie Jones and Maryetta Dix, as well as uncles, aunts, cousins, nieces and nephews.

Pecos Funeral Home is in charge of arrangements.

Man dies when train hits truck at site between Pyote, Wickett

A Wickett man was killed Friday evening in a truck-train collision at a Union Pacific Railroad crossing between Pyote and Wickett in Ward County.

DPS Trooper Daniel Leyva responded to the truck/train collision at 6:50 p.m. on Friday on Spur 65 in Ward County, three and a half miles west of Wickett.

According the DPS report, Donald Rice of Wicket, was driving southbound in a 2006 Chevrolet pick up, when his vehicle was struck on the driver’s side by a westbound train. Rice’s vehicle was overturned on its top, and the train traveled one half mile before coming to a stop.

Justice of the Peace Pasqual Olibal pronounced Rice dead at the scene at 7:58 p.m. Rice was the owner of Shastas Backhoe Service and worked as an oilfield contractor.

The crossing is about midway between Pyote and Wickett. It has a railroad crossing signpost, but no warning signals or crossing guards, which have been placed at other railroad crossings within communities along the line.

Volunteers help revive city’s oldest cemetery

Tom Clayton may not have been Pecos’ most distinguished citizen, but he left his mark in the Pioneer Cemetery on “A” Street, north of the railroad tracks.

Sandstone and wood grave markers in the old graveyard have long since disappeared, but one white headstone still shows the name Clayton. It is the only identifiable original marker left in the long-neglected burying ground.

Bill Cooksey, a great-grandson of Tom Clayton, changed all that when he repaired the fence around the Clayton-Cooksey plot, restored the gravestones and placed a new marker with the names of five relatives he believes are buried there.

He also moved a historical marker from an obscure location behind a mesquite bush to the front entrance and restored the sign that was almost faded to oblivion.

“The ‘OLD PECOS CEMETERY’ sign was painted 40 years ago, and was faded,” Cooksey said. “I could barely make out the letters. Lee Ryan cut out the letters with a plasma cutter and didn’t even knock the rust off.”

The dates 1880 and 1910 at opposite ends of the 1-by-14 foot steel plate mark the years the cemetery was in use. Chinese killed in the hazardous work of building the Texas and Pacific railroad line were among the first occupants of the site, according to the historical marker.

Roger Harrison used his roustabout truck to move the marker with its concrete base, Cooksey said. Larry Windham used a dolly to help lift gravestones that had sunk below the surface.

Cooksey said he filled in the graves with dirt and poured cement bases for the existing stones and a new one that he had made listing all the decedents.

Other volunteers had a hand in the restoration. Joe Johns of El Paso, who attended blacksmith school at age 77, fashioned a gate for the wrought-iron fence, shaping the names Clayton Cooksey into the metalwork.

“He really matched the height and everything perfectly,” said Cooksey.

The fence had fallen down, and Cooksey began the restoration in 1985 by propping it up to keep the caliche soil from eating up the metal. Donald Morton gave him 2-inch solid steel drill pipe for posts.

“I didn’t do anything else for about 20 years,” Cooksey said. “Then I started filling up the graves three or four years ago.”

William “Bill” Oglesby made wooden crosses of cedar fence stakes for some of the outlying graves that sank in after the truck traffic and heavy rains. Cooksey said the depressions run lengthwise from east to west, the traditional position for graves. Each now has its own marker, though without names.

Cooksey said the only record he has found of burials there come from Alton Hughes’ books, “A History of the Pioneer West,” and from “Tracks Along the Pecos” by Bill Leftwich.

He believes the Clayton-Cooksey plot contains the remains of Thomas M. Clayton, 1837-1887, James Enoch Cooksey, 1852-1893; Earl Cooksey, 1891 (jnfant son of James Enoch and Agatha Jane Clayton-Cooksey); Monroe Clayton, 1866-1900; Jeptha Langford Clayton, 1849-1888.

James Enoch Cooksey was Bill Cooksey’s grandfather, Tom Clayton his great-grandfather.

Monroe Clayton died when his horse fell in front of a stampede. Jeptha Clayton was shot to death in Toyah. Both were Cooksey’s great-uncles.

Tom Clayton owned a livery stable on Oak Street, near the Parker Hotel, and also owned racehorses. He was known for disturbing the peace by “yelling and shrieking,” and by cursing men he met on the street as he staggered home from a night of drinking.

Despite his reputation, Clayton is listed as one of the participants in the first Sunday school in Pecos, started in the Parker Hotel in 1891.

Bill Cooksey continues that tradition by faithful attendance at First Christian Church. His jewelry and watch-repair business is located on Oak Street, in the same block where Clayton had a livery stable, but he is not known for carousing late at night.

P-B-T, council to see changes after elections

There will be three new faces at both the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD and the Town of Pecos City Council.

In the city council election Bernadette Ornelas and Cody West won a four-way race for two seats on the council being vacated by Michael Benavides and Angelica Valenzuela, both of whom opted against seeking new two-year terms.

In the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board election, challenger Louis Juarez ended up as the leading vote getter in a three-way race for the two available seats, with incumbent Paul Deishler edging out the other incumbent, David Flores, for a new three-year term on the board.

West, who works both for KIUN-KPTX radio and on Texas Illustrated, a regional sports magazine, won a seat on the council with 644 votes, while Ornelas, who serves as a teacher and coach at Pecos High School, had 395 votes, 34 more than third place finisher, former Pecos Main Street coordinator Tom Rivera, who received 361 votes. The fourth candidate in the race, La Tienda Thritway manager Oscar Ramirez, picked up 288 votes.

The school board election was closer, with Juarez, who is employed at Reeves County Hospital as physician’s assistant, picking up 614 votes. Deishler, who works as an investigator for the Pecos Police Department, was second with 542 votes, 11 more than Flores, who works at the Reeves County Detention Center. Flores received 531 votes. Both he and Deishler were seeking their third three-year terms on the P-B-T ISD board.

The position of Town of Pecos City Mayor also was up for election, but incumbent Richard Alligood was unopposed in his bid for a second two-year term. There also were no challengers for the three positions on the Reeves County Hospital District board, and that election was cancelled, along with other uncontested local city and school races.

Council to let new members hear debate on grievance rule

Town of Pecos City Council decided to let their two new members decide how they want to handle city employee grievances, following a discussion of the current procedure on Thursday, during their regular meeting at City Hall.

Cody West and Bernadette Ornelas will replace outgoing members Michael Benavides and Angelica Valenzuela at the next regular council meeting, following their election on Saturday.

Valenzuela was not in attendance at Thursday’s meeting, but councilman Danny Rodriguez said Valenzuela had requested the item be put on the agenda.

Rodriguez said he and Valenzuela wanted to change the city’s current grievance procedure to one similar to the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, where Rodriguez formerly worked and where Valenzuela is currently employed.

“The only think we’re asking for is now, the city manager’s decision is final. The council lady had a disagreement with that, and so do I,” Rodriguez said. He told the council he wanted the process t be expanded to allow the full city council to hear any employee grievance appeals, following a hearing and decision by the city manager.

City attorney Scott Johnson said the council voted only a few years ago to change Section 4.1 of the grievance rule to eliminate the appeal to council after a city manager decision. “It was changed because the council thought the city manager runs the operation, and has the right to hire and fire employees,” he said.

“I think you need to look at the prospect here. You’re talking about (employee) retention, but you’re not allowing them to speak,” said Rodriguez. Council member Frank Sanchez said workers should be free to talk to any council member, unless they are involved in an ongoing grievance procedure.

“This is a fairly important decision which probably should involve the new council,” Johnson added. “It’s going to take two (public) readings anyway, so if we wait, the new ones will come in on the ground floor.”

Johnson did say one other section of the employee grievance handbook, Section 3.25, would be changed because “The current wording doesn’t make any sense.” He said the new line would say any appeals can’t be discussed with a council member without following the proper grievance procedure.

In other action, the council voted to support a request from local resident R.S. Smith Jr., who was seeking assistance from the city in establishing a Boys and Girls Club in Pecos. Smith said he had talked to officials with the organization, “They told me I have to make sure I’ve got the city’s backing, and I also need to get parents involved.”

He said getting commitments from parents has been difficult in the early going. “We have to get involved in these kids’ lives, especially the way the world is today,” Smith said. “One of the biggest problems for our kids is there isn’t anything to do in Pecos. If we allow our kids to run around vandalizing buildings and cars people do not want to come here.”

Pecos looked at establishing a youth organization in the early 1990s, but the start-up costs were too steep. The city, county and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD later funded the Reeves County Community Sports and Recreation Department, but Smith said a Boys and Girls Club would provide more than what is offered through the recreation department.

“Ever since I’ve been on the council and before I was on the council, there’s been an idea to bring a Boys Club to Pecos,” said councilman Michael Benavides. “But no one has ever taken it on before like you.”

Smith said other communities Pecos’ size also are without any similar organizations. “The closest one we have is in Odessa.”

He added that officials from Odessa would help with the organization efforts after a committee is formed, “But most of it has to come from families and the community.”

Police Chief Clay McKinney told the council that his department was working on pamphlets to hand out to local residents on steps needed to control the spread of rabies in the area. Rabid animals have turned up inside the Pecos city limits and in the surrounding area for the past five months, and residents are being warned to keep their own pets under control and to stay away from any wild animals.

“We’re going to try and put it in the water bill,” McKinney said. “We’re also putting together a pamphlet for smaller kids to distribute in schools.”

He added that the city’s animal control officer has handed out 40 summonses to people for failure to follow the proper guidelines.

The council voted to put up for bids the city’s depository contract, which has been held by TransPecos Bank for the past two years after being split between that bank and West Texas National Bank. City finance director John Phillip said the most recent two-year contract had expired and recommended signing a new deal with TransPecos Bank, which would not require a bidding process.

“I’d like to be fair to both banks,” councilman Frank Sanchez said, and the council then approved seeking bids by the next meeting, if the schedule was legally allowable.

Pecos Municipal Airport manager Isabel Blanchard told the council that bids have been opened on the airport’s $650,000 runway lighting improvement project. “It looks like we’ll be able to do everything within budget,” she told council members.

Another project, to repave the airport’s two main runways, is scheduled to start in 2010 at a cost of $2.2 million. Blanchard said she would be giving the council forms to approve to finalize that project in a couple of weeks.

Also approved was the closing of four city streets in Maxey Park for the Memorial Day Concert, scheduled this year for Sunday, May 25. Council members were told that city building inspector Jack Brookshire has upgraded the electrical outlets at the Maxey Park gazebo, so that power cords won’t have to be strung through the area for this year’s concert.

Villarreal takes top school post in Crystal City

Last week was the final one on the job for Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD Personnel Director Rey Villarreal, who will be assuming the duties of superintendent for a South Texas school district. Villarreal, who had been serving as personnel director/assistant superintendent for the past year, will be moving to Crystal City to serve as the superintendent there.

“I just got lucky, they offered me this position and I just couldn’t pass it up,” said Villarreal.

Villarreal said that it’s been a great year and that he and his family really enjoyed Pecos.

“But it’s just an opportunity that I have to take,” said Villarreal.

“When I got here, one of the first things they told me was, it’s a great day to be an Eagle and today I still feel the same way, it’s a great day to be an Eagle,” said Villarreal.

Villarreal bid farewell to everyone in the district last week, and said that he was sad to be leaving Pecos.

“There’s a lot of great people in Pecos and it’s a great place to work,” he said.

Villarreal said that he will be serving as superintendent in a city the size of Pecos. “It’s about 100 miles west of San Antonio, the population is 8,500 and the school district has about 2,100 kids,” he said.

“I’m looking forward to my new position, it’s going to be a challenge, but it’s something I’ve been wanting for awhile,” he said.

Villarreal said that he had great people to work with here in Pecos, “good students, none better anywhere.” and that he was going to miss everyone.

“I plan to visit sometime, I helped out a little during the stock show and want to come back then,” said Villarreal.

His wife was also employed in the district as a dyslexia teacher, and will be seeking a position in Crystal City as well.

“She said she’ll miss all her students and friends that she made here,” said Villarreal.

As one of his last duties for the PBT-ISD, Villarreal organized a SHAC (School Health Advisory Council).

A SHAC is a group of individuals representative of segments of the community, generally appointed by the school district to serve at the district level. They provide advice on coordinated school health programming and its impact on students’ health and learning.

A SHAC provides recommendations that impact the entire school district.

Every school district must have a SHAC and they should focus on the district not individual campuses.

The group makes recommendations to the school board via the superintendent, but they do not have legal authority.

The majority of the members must be parents not employed by the school district and SHAC’s have certain restrictions by law.

Several individuals attended the first SHAC meeting including Reeves County Judge Sam Contreras, Pecos High School Principal Steve Lucas, athletic director Chris Henson, school nurse, Alice Urias, food administrator Rosa Navarette, Rosie Flores and Louise Moore.

City’s May tax rebate check shows 33 percent jump

The percentage increase in tax rebate checks for the Town of Pecos City in May was down just under 50 percent from the city’s average for the first four months of 2008. But when the rebate totals for January through April were up by over 63 percent, the change still left Pecos with a May check that was up by a third from 2007’s total.

State Comptroller Susan Combs sent out this month’s checks last week, and they continued to show a growing economy in Reeves County, with all four entities collecting sales taxes receiving almost $275,000 in tax rebate checks.

The steep increases in the city’s sales tax rebates, due to the growth in energy exploration in the Trans-Pecos region, really began in the second quarter of 2007, after smaller increases over the previous two years. As a result, Pecos’ May check for $171,431 is only 33.08 percent above last May’s check for $128,813, while the five-month total for the city of $796,186 is 59.21 percent higher than the January-May total of $500,081 for 2007.

One-sixth of the city’s 1 1/2-cent share of the state’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax, totaling $28,572 this month, goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its operations.

The year-to-date increases are lower in Balmorhea and Toyah, with Toyah actually seeing a drop in its May tax rebate check from last year. But both city’s are up nearly 20 percent so far in 2008. Balmorhea’s 1 1/2-cent sales tax total earned it $2,924 this month, a 41.62 percent increase over last year’s $2,065 check from the state comptroller’s office. The city has gotten back $15,182 in 2008, which is a 19.81 percent rise from last year’s $12,671.36 amount. Toyah’s May check for $923 was down 27.93 percent from last year’s $1,281.02, but the city’s overall rebates this year of $3,990 are still up 19.23 percent from the $3,365 total from 2007.

The Reeves County Hospital District collected just under $100,000 this month from its 1/2-cent rebate of the state’s sales tax. The hospital’s $99,273 total was up 78.39 percent from last year’s $55,647, but like Pecos’ total, was actually lower than the year-to-date average. The hospital has gotten 4434,656 back from Austin this year, an 87.47 percent increase from last year’s $231,844 amount.

Sales tax collections overall in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos oil and natural gas producing area continued on the rise, though the numbers were not as strong as those in the Pecos area. And some areas in the Big Bend and Davis Mountain regions, which rely on tourism more for their economies, saw higher fuel prices leave sales tax checks either stagnant or lower than a year ago.

Midland again had the area’s single largest check off its 1 1/2-cent sales tax. The city received $3.58 million back from Austin, a 4.74 percent increase from last year. Overall for 2008, the city has seen an 8.61 percent rise in its sales tax totals. Odessa’s 1 1/4-cent sales tax share netted $2.37 million in rebates this month, an 8.14 percent increase from a year ago, while for the year, Odessa is up 6.92 percent.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received a $103,679 check, which was up 0.17 percent, while the city is down 1.22 percent for the first five months of the year. Crane received a check for $69,150, a 28.09 percent rise, while the city is up 26.14 percent overall this year; Lamesa got a $129,648 check back this month, which was up 1.19 percent, compared to a 13.48 percent rise for the year; and Seminole received a check for $100,214, which was up 4.62 percent from last May as part of an 8.6 percent rise so far this year.

Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $57,019, up 21.84 percent this month and 23.77 percent this year; Wickett received a $16,131 check, up 62.83 percent this month and 76.91 percent for the year; Wink received a check for $16,085, up 128.19 percent as part of an 82.68 percent rise for the year, and Pyote, received a $1,790 check this month, a 110.88 percent increase from last May and the city is up 140.14 percent for the year.

For area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Andrews received a check for $351,103, an 18.97 percent increase for the month as part of an 11.13 percent rise for the year. Marfa got a check for $26,430, which was up 8.64 percent while their five-month total is up 7.39 percent, and Van Horn got a check for $32,263, which was down 8.35 percent from last May, and the city is down 11.37 percent from a year ago.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Fort Stockton received $307,879 this month, up 43.62 percent, while the city is up 40.96 percent overall this year. Big Spring received $614,192, a drop of 5.62 percent for the month, while the city is up 0.8 percent for the year. Monahans received a check for $154,801, which was up 29.68 percent from last May and is part of a 12.14 percent increase for the year; while Grandfalls got a $2,810 check, down 0.72 percent for the month and lowering the year’s rise to 4.58, and Presidio received $41,056, down 25.20 percent from last May. The city overall is down 7.15 percent from a year ago.

Statewide, Combs’ office sent out rebate checks totaling $388.8 million, up 1.38 percent from the $372.6 million rebated last year. Houston’s check of $45.1 million was the largest single check and was up 5.28 percent from last year, while Dallas’ check was next, at $22.1 million, but was down 2.61 percent from their rebate check last May.

Reynolds earns BA from The University of Texas

Amie Reynolds, daughter of Randy and Lisa Reynolds of Pecos, has earned a Bachelor of Arts in English with a minor in Sociology from The University of Texas at Austin, which is Texas’ premier public research university and home to more than 50,000 students.

Reynolds graduated from Pecos High School as Valedictorian in 2005 and was the 2004 West of the Pecos Golden Girl.

She will be entering law school in the Fall.

Natividad promoted to Senior Airman

Anjelica Natividad, a 2004 Pecos High School graduate, was recently promoted to Senior Airman.

She is enlisted in the U.S. Air Force and is currently serving in San Antonio.

Anjelica is the daughter of Alvaro and Geneva Natividad."

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