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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, January 19, 2007

West Texas braces for two more rounds of ice, snow

Winter weather was expected back in the Permian Basin, Trans-Pecos and Big Bend regions Thursday night, with National Weather Service and Texas Department of Transportation warning area residents against any travel plans for the upcoming weekend. The winter weather, which arrived in the region last Friday, was expected to last until Monday, when skies are forecast to clear and temperatures are expected to approach 50 degrees for the first time in 10 days. But a new round of winter weather is in the forecast for Tuesday and Wednesday of next week, with temperatures not forecast to get back to the 60 degree mark until next Saturday.

The NWS is predicting between 3 and 6 inches of snow overnight Thursday and on Friday in the Pecos area, and up to a foot of snow in areas to the north and east from the latest storm, the third storm in the past six days.

All roads in the Trans-Pecos area, along with frozen underpasses in the Midland-Odessa area, had reopened by Thursday morning, those TxDOT officials were still urging travelers to be cautious.

“In areas where temperatures are at or close to freezing, there may be icing in the early morning hours on bridges and overpasses or where the roadway was wet overnight,” said Glen Larum, TxDOT Public Information Officer for the Odessa District. “Some icy patches are likely on portions of Interstate 10 in the Davis Mountains between Pecos and Van Horn.”

Pecos suffered less from the two rounds of winter weather than surrounding areas last weekend and on Tuesday and Wednesday of this week.

None of the highways into the city were closed either by last weekend’s ice storm or by the second round of ice and snow that swept across the area, though several weather-related accidents were reported on area roads. They included a five-vehicle collision with no injuries on Interstate 20 just west of Pecos on Wednesday morning, an accident on Business I-20 at the long bridge between Pecos and Barstow involving a Ward County Sheriff’s Deputy vehicle and a second vehicle on Tuesday night, and two accidents on I-20 between Barstow and Pyote in Ward County.

The Texas Department of Public Safety office in Pecos reported 16 accidents on area highways due to ice from the first line of storms, between 3 a.m. and noon on Monday. The second line moved up from the Big Bend area during the day on Tuesday, arriving in Pecos around 6 p.m. The DPS said there were 13 accidents reported to their office in Pecos on Tuesday, 11 more on Wednesday and only one as of noon on Thursday.

The mid-week storm dropped about 3/4 of an inch of snow in Pecos, causing a couple of minor in-town accidents but no serious injuries from the snow that packed local streets Wednesday morning. Government offices and Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD remained open, but heavier snowfall to the south in Reeves County caused Balmorhea ISD to cancel its classes on Wednesday.

The storm also caused TxDOT to shut Interstate 10 from Fort Stockton to San Antonio, due to ice on the 300-mile stretch of highway, while to the south U.S. 67 was closed between Marfa and Presidio and sections of U.S. 90 were shut down due to ice between Sanderson and Del Rio. The two U.S. highways reopened to traffic by Wednesday afternoon, while I-10 reopened on Thursday morning, allowing travelers to head east and west before the next line of winter weather hits the area.

West Texas wasn’t alone in suffering through the current round of snow and ice. San Antonio, Austin and Houston drivers also had to deal with snow or ice on their roads on Tuesday and Wednesday. To the west, the storm arriving in Texas on Friday caused the first recorded snowfall at Los Angeles International Airport on Wednesday since 1962, while the cold weather caused severe damage to California’s orange crop, along with other winter produce from areas in the central part of the state.

Ten deaths in Texas were blamed on the winter weather, which also led to flight cancellations, ice-related power outages, and cancellation of classes for schools and universities in the Dallas-Fort Worth, Houston, San Antonio, Austin and Waco areas.

Cocaine, cash confiscated, two jailed in Alamo St. raid

Two people were arrested and charged with drug offenses, following a narcotics search warrant that was initiated on Monday by Pecos police.

Meanwhile, Reeves County Sheriff’s deputies were busy unloading marijuana from a truck-tractor that was seized by deputies following a traffic stop, as the vehicle traveled through the area on Thursday morning.

Deputies were still busy unloading the truck and inventorying its contents at press time on Thursday, and a full report on the seizure was unavailable.

Police said the Monday arrests occurred about 5:17 p.m., when the department’s Swat Team executed a narcotics search warrant at 611 S. Alamo Street.

“This will be the home of Maria Romo and Manuel Samaniego,” said Pecos Police Investigator Paul Deishler. “Once the occupants of the residence had been secured by the swat team, the officers proceeded to search the premises.”

During the search of the residence, officers located paraphernalia, which is commonly used with the weighing and packaging of narcotics.

“During the search of the kitchen, Capt. David Davis located a large amount of substance believed to be cocaine,” said Deishler. “The suspected cocaine was already in small packages and ready for sale,” he said.

Officers also located a large amount of currency throughout the residence ,which is believed to be derived from the sale of narcotics, according to the police report.

The officers completed their search of the premises and Romo, 30, and Samaniego, 31, were placed under arrest and charged with possession of a controlled substance within 1,000 feet of school property/possession of drug paraphernalia.

Both defendants were transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center and released to jail staff for booking.

The currency, narcotics and the paraphernalia were seized by the police department and taken in as evidence.

Wednesday, Judge Walter Holcombe issued a seizure warrant for the defendant’s vehicle, which is believed to be used in the transporting of narcotics.

The vehicle was seized by the police department the day the warrant was issue, and taken in as evidence.

New CEO says finding new RCH docs top priority

After being recruited as the new Chief Executive Officer for Reeves County Hospital, Al LaRochelle said recruiting new doctors will be his first priority in the upcoming months, as he settles into the top job at the county’s medical center.

LaRochelle began work in Pecos this month, after being hired by the Reeves County Hospital District board following meetings in mid-November. LaRochelle, who moved to Pecos after a brief stint running a hospital in Montana, replaces Bill Conder, who retired at the end of May.

Hospital board members also hired Dr. Loris DrePaul as a doctor of internal medicine during their November meetings to replace Dr. Haitham Jifi, who closed his practice in Pecos in June. However, that still leaves the hospital one doctor short of where it began the year in 2006, and LaRochelle said filling out the hos

pital’s medical staff would be one of his first items of business. “That’s my first priority,” said LaRochelle, who will have his first regular meeting with the hospital board this coming Tuesday, at 6 p.m. in the classroom at Reeves County Hospital. “The board will be meeting on the 23rd, and we’ll be talking about mainly what we need.” LaRochelle said having two children in the Dallas area was another reason for wanting to move back to Texas, even if the recent conditions haven’t been very Texas-like. But the current winter weather isn’t anything new for LaRochelle - before going to Montana, he spent 13 years as CEO at Grace Cottage Hospital in Townshend, Vt., and is originally from New England. But prior to going to Vermont, he spend over a decade in West Texas.

“I went to Odessa College for two years,” he said. “I originally went to train as an X-ray technician, and I’m still certified there.

After OC, LaRochelle attended Wayland Baptist in Plainview, where he earned a Batchelor of Science in occupation education and an MBA in business, which in turn led him to becoming CEO of a hospital in Spearman in 1981. He remained there until taking the Grace Cottage position in 1993.

“I left Spearman in better shape than I found it, and I left Grace Cottage in better shape than I found it,” he said. “I guess that’s why I’ve been hired so many places, but the best thing here is I had a choice, and I chose to come here.”

LaRochelle said problems in Montana stemming from previous financial troubles made him change his mind about his move after only a few months. “They got into problems with a previous administration that had failed to pay back taxes of about $350,000,” he said. “The board grabbed it from a control standpoint, and just never learned to relax.

“Everybody is entitled to a learning experience, and that was mine,” he added.

LaRochelle takes over a facility that was able to cut its deficit by more than 50 percent during the last fiscal year, but still saw revenues fall short of income by about $500,000. The hospital is also working to try and increase the number of patients in its three-year-old kidney dialysis center, which saw its deficit rise last year.

He said more medical care is changing from in-patient to outpatient services, while many hospital like RCH are changing over to critical access care facilities, something the hospital board has been looking at for the past year.

“I think we’re one of the few in the area that has not become a critical access facility. It’s something we need to look at,” he said, adding that the change would help improve the hospital’s ability to receive Medicare payments for its patient treatment. “It’s something that was put in to help rural hospitals.”

“Grace Cottage was the first critical access hospital in the state of Vermont. Now there are eight of them up there,” he said, while there are over 1,000 critical access facilities across the country.

He said in terms of total number of beds, Reeves County Hospital is larger than the one he ran in Vermont, but Grace Cottage had about twice as many physicians on-staff, and moved into a new facility while he was CEO in 1998.

“Grace Cottage has 19 beds, but it stays full. Here, you’ve got 49 beds, but an average of eight patients a day. That’s what we’ve got to change,” he said.

While Grace Cottage offered a number of health care options not available at RCH, the hospital’s dialysis unit will be something new for LaRochelle.

“I’m a little bit of a neophyte in this area,” he said, but added that he thought the current financial situation could be reversed in a couple of years.

LaRochelle said dialysis patients in general like to remain with treatment facilities they’ve used in the past, which could hurt RCH in attracting people from nearby areas used to going to Midland-Odessa or El Paso for treatment. “I think as time goes on and new patients come into the area or are diagnosed, we will capture more of them as time goes by,” he said. One other problem that’s out of his hands is housing. “I still own homes in all the places I’ve been” he said, but the tight housing market in Pecos means he’s yet to find a full-time place to live.

“Right now I’m living in one of the hospital’s homes,” he said. “It’s something we need to fix, because it’s going to cause me problems in the future trying to get people to relocate here.”

Colonel Felts honored with retirement ceremony

A retirement ceremony was held on Dec. 30, 2006, honoring Colonel Ernest E. Felts.

Colonel Ernest E. Felts is the commander, AFROTC Northwest Region, United States Air Force Academy, Colorado. He is responsible for the recruiting, training, motivating, and education of Air Force officer candidates. He is the intermediate command authority and provides oversight and staff polity to ensure effective leadership of an officer commissioning program for over 4,500 cadets at 34 universities in a 19 state region.

Colonel Felts was commissioned through the Reserve Officer Training Corps program at Angelo State University, San Angelo, in 1976. His first assignment was to Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, Ariz., where he served as a Titan II missile launch officer. In 1980, Colonel Felts was selected to attend undergraduate pilot training at Laughlin Air Force Base, Texas, where he earned his wings in May, 1981.

Colonel Felts served in several command positions, including commander of the 351st Air Refueling Squadron, RAF Mildenhjall, United Kingdom. This squadron also won the 1994 Air Force Maintenance Effectiveness Award.

After serving at RAF Mildenhall, the Air Force Personnel Center, Randolph Air Force Base, Texas and attending Senior Service School in New Delhi, India, Colonel Felts was assigned as 14th Support Group commander, 14th Flying Training Wing, Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. In 2002, he was reassigned to be the Vice Commander, 22nd Air Refueling Wing, McDonnell Air Force Base, Kansas where he supported Operations Southern Watch, Northern Watch, Joint Forge, Nobel Eagle and Enduring Freedom. Colonel Felts also served as commander of Angelo State’s AFROTC Detachment.

Colonel Felts and his wife, Sharon have two sons, William and Travis.

Colonel Felts holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree, Sociology, from Angelo State University graduating in 1976; in 1983, Squadron Officer School, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; in 1986, Air Command and Staff College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama; in 1991 Master of Science, Aeronautical Science, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach, Florida; in 1995, Air War College, Maxwell Air Force Base, Alabama and in 1998 National Defense College, New Delhi, India.

Colonel Felts has received numerous major awards and decorations including: Legion of Merit; Meritorious Service Medal with four oak leaf clusters; Aerial Achievement Medal; Air Force Commendation medal with two oak leaf clusters; Air Force Achievement Medal; Combat Readiness Medal with five oak leaf clusters; National Defense Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster; Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal; Southwest Asia Service Medal with one oak leaf cluster; Armed Forces Service Medal and NATO Medal.

The men and women of the United States Air Force paid special tribute to Colonel Ernest E. Felts upon his retirement from the United States Air Force after 30 years of exemplary service.

The presiding official at the retirement ceremony was Colonel David E. Pope, Untied States Air Force (retired).

Garage sale planned by Prayer Group

A Garage Sale will be held from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m., Saturday, Jan. 27, at the Santa Rosa Hall.

The event is sponsored by the Prayer Group.

Homemake breakfast burritos and enchilada plates will also be available.

To place an order on that day call 445-2302.

Counselors schedule Financial Aid Night

Financial Aid Night is planned for 6 p.m., Wednesday, Jan. 24, at the Pecos High School Cafteria.

The program will be presented by Jim Glossbrenner, with the Panhandle-Plains Higher Education Authority.

There will be a drawing for a $100 Scholarship.

Everyone is encouraged to attend the workshop to gain important information on student financial aid.

The event is sponsored by PHS Counselors Eva Arriola and Pat Cobos.

For more information call 447-7406.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 432-445-5475, FAX 432-445-4321

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