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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, April 13, 2007

Sundae drivers

Ice cream truck wreck draws crowds, causes second accident

It’s not just kids who run to the ice cream truck. Adults Thursday morning were flocking to one on the south side of Pecos, and it resulted in one person being transported to Reeves County Hospital.

The injury, caused by accident on the Interstate 20 (West Palmer Street) access road Thursday morning, occurred after local residents drove to the area following the announcement that free ice cream was being given away, as the result of an early morning truck wreck on I-20, at the Country Club Drive exit on the south side of the highway.

The initial accident, at 7:50 a.m., caused the top of a Therm King refrigerated trailer to break open, spilling part of its contents onto the median between the eastbound lanes of the interstate and the south service road. It resulted when the driver struck a second truck between Exits 39 and 40, damaging both vehicles and causing the ice cream-hauling truck to overturn.

The driver of the truck said he was eastbound on I-20 and had reached down to get his cell phone near the Highway 17 overpass, and when he looked up, saw the extended-length dump truck in the right lane in front of his vehicle.

“He must have just gotten on the highway,” said the driver, who was unable to avoid the rear of the dump truck.

Department of Public Safety Cpl. Emmit Moore said the front driver’s side of the truck hit the rear right side of the dump truck, causing it to overturn and break open. The rear right wheels on the dump truck were damaged, but neither driver was seriously injured in the accident.

The truck-trailer was carrying a variety of ice cream, including Nestle and Carnation ice cream bars and Nestle drumsticks. After seeing if the cargo could be put into another refrigerated trailer before it melted, it was announced about 8:30 a.m. that the contents would be given away.

Drivers lined up to get the free boxes of ice cream, and the traffic jam was blamed for the second accident, which about 10 a.m. in front of the Swiss Clock Inn on the south service road. Full details on that accident weren’t available at press time, but two vehicles were involved, and Pecos EMS was called to the scene and one person was transported to Reeves County Hospital.

Following the second wreck, DPS troopers began preventing drivers from slowing down and stopping in the area, while TxDOT workers blocked off sections of roadway at the site, along with the southbound lanes of Country Club Drive, to allow crews to finish cleaning up the wreckage from the first accident.

Hernandez facing 11 counts, Brookins two of sexual abuse

By The Monahans News and Wire Reports

Two former officials at the West Texas State School in Pyote were indicted by a 143rd District Court grand jury in Monahans on Tuesday, as part of a controversial two-year investigation into the allegations of sexual abuse of students at the state juvenile detention facility.

Police arrested former WTSS principal John Paul Hernandez, 41, at his parent’s home in Fort Stockton and former assistant superintendent Ray Brookins, 42, at his home in Austin following Tuesday’s indictments. Hernandez was transported on Wednesday to the Ward County Jail in Monahans, where he faces 11 counts in connection with the allegations of sex abuse against detainees at the all-male state school.

According to a press release from Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office, there were 13 charges involving six students. Hernandez was indicted for one count of sexual assault, a second- degree felony, nine counts of improper sexual activity with a person in custody and nine counts of improper relationship with a student.

The indictments for Brookins include two counts of improper relationship with a student, a second-degree felony, and two counts of improper sexual activity with a person in custody, a state jail felony.

Brookins was being held pending $100,000 bail, while Hernandez’ bail was set at $600,000.

The allegations noted in the indictments stem from the results of an investigation by Texas Ranger Sgt. Brian Burzynski in February 2005 that resulted in resignation by Brookins that month and suspension of Hernandez. Hernandez resigned at a later date. Reports by the Dallas Morning News and the Texas Observer earlier this year showed that no prosecutions had resulted from the investigation, and led to public criticism of 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds by Burzynski and state officials in Austin for failing to act on the allegations.

Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, whose office took over the case earlier this year, announced the 13 indictments after the grand jury adjourned. Abbott made the trip to Monahans on Tuesday for the grand jury session in which the indictments were returned against Brookins and Hernandez.

In an interview last month in Fort Stockton with the San Antonio Express-News, Hernandez denied the allegations, and said the ordeal has been "torture."

Curtis Simmons has been serving as acting superintendent at the WTSS in recent months. In a Thursday morning telephone conversation with Jim Hurley, spokesperson for TYC, Hurley told the Monahans News that Simmons was suspended with pay this week pending an administrative investigation on a personnel issue. However, Tim Savoy, public information office for TYC, called a couple of hours later and said Simmons was back on the job.

Additional investigations triggered by the appearance of a cover-up in the original Pyote investigation resulted in findings of major problems at other TYC facilities and concerns about central office failure to prevent or appropriately handle such situations. As a result, the executive director of TYC retired unexpectedly, the TYC Board was disbanded, a conservator was named, and an acting executive director was named. Additional TYC administrators have been suspended, and others have retired. A superintendent of one state school was arrested for making a false statement to a Texas Ranger, and the superintendent of a halfway house was arrested for shredding documents after being ordered not to do so.

In the legislature, Senator Juan Hinojosa, the primary advocate for closing WTSS, submitted SB 103 with about 50 points intended to restructure TYC. With the Senate Subcommittee on Corrections giving unanimous approval and with 30 of 31 Senators expressing support for the bill, it is likely to pass the Senate next week. Many of the recommendations are also supported in the House. The only point drawing significant concern is not allowing teenagers with misdemeanors to be sent to TYC. Currently, judges have the discretion to exercise that option. Highlights in the bill include increased staff, increased training, reduced student population and improved review of students staying past their minimum length of stay.

P-B-T officials say bond issue won’t increase current tax rate

A $30 million bond issue proposal on next month’s Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD election ballot won’t cause an increase in the district’s current tax rate, school officials told Pecos Area Chamber of Commerce members during their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday.

The chamber directors met at the Pecos Senior Citizen’s Center and invited school officials to talk about the upcoming bond election and to discuss the issue, which will be part of the May 12 school election.

P-B-T ISD Finance Director Cookie Canon made the presentation for superintendent Manny Espino, who she said had to be in Austin on Tuesday. She told Chamber members how the district reached the decision to hold a bond election and where the funds would be allocated.

Canon said that district called the election on the bond issue, which will go towards the construction, renovation, acquisition, and equipment of school buildings in the district.

If the district receives state funding for the bonds from this election, P-B-T ISD will sell up to $30 million in bonds, which Canon explained would keep the district’s tax rate at its current $1.50 level, due to school property tax law reforms approved last year by the Texas Legislature.

“The tax rate for debt service on the bonds is anticipated to increase by 33 cents. However, this additional tax rate for voted bonds will occur at the same time as a 33 cent reduction in the maintenance and operations tax rate as required by the new legislation adopted by the Texas Legislature in the Spring of 2006,” said Canon. “This bond election would result in no change in the total tax rate.”

Canon used a PowerPoint presentation, and handed out brochures on the bond election to those in attendance. Also on hand to help with the presentation were district personnel director Rey Villareal and school secretary Tracy Shaw.

“The money to build the facilities comes from bonds sold to investors. This is in essence a loan to the district,” she said. “The district will make payments on the bonds for a determined period of time. The taxes associated with the bonds cover the payments the district makes.”

If the district does not receive state funding for the bonds from this election, Canon said the board will sell a dollar amount in bonds to ensure that the tax rate on the bonds will not exceed 33 cents.

The brochures list some of the items that the district plans to work on, if the bond is approved.

“These items just weren’t something that the school board came up with, it took the administrators, school personnel and a community group that assessed all the facilities,” said Canon. “The majority of construction will take place at the Austin Elementary School Campus and Crockett Middle School,” said Villareal.

He said a sixth grade wing would be added to the Crockett campus to accommodate those students. Sixth grade students have been shifted from Lamar, to Zavala, to Bessie Haynes Elementary over the past six years. Their current home has been deemed to crowded to handle fourth, fifth and sixth grade classes.

Canon said that about 1,000 school districts in Texas are currently looking at bond elections for school improvements or have recently approved bond issues.

“This is just an opportunity to do something with their facilities,” said Canon. “There are some variables that will come into play, but we don’t know yet.”

She told the Chamber that early voting would being on April 30 and continue until May 8, from 8-5 p.m., at the Pecos Community Center, 508 S. Oak.

In other business, the chamber heard about the recent health fair held recently at the Reeves County Hospital.

“We lost a few of the vendors, because of the change in the date,” said Nancy Martinez. “Overall, everyone was really pleased with the turnout,” she said.Martinez said that there was a long line of people waiting at 8 a.m., when the health fair was to begin.

“Without the help of volunteers and the businesses, it wouldn’t be the success that it is,” said Martinez. “We had 50 vendors this year and they were all pleased,” she said.

Reynolds, Upchurch attack Acker, petition seeking DA’s ouster

A counter petition was filed on Tuesday by 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds seeking the removal from office of Ward County Attorney Kevin Acker, after his announcement last week he would seek Reynolds’ ouster as DA over his failure to adequately prosecute suspects in the West Texas State School sex abuse investigation.

At the same time, Reynolds has hired the man he defeated for district attorney in 2004, Hal Upchurch, to be his lawyer, and Upchurch said he was not contacted by Acker before being placed on his witness list as part of Acker’s petition to remove Reynolds from office.

Reynolds has said that he does not plan to resign over the problems that have erupted during the investigation at the WTSS, on which indictments against two former Texas Youth Commission administrators were returned on Tuesday.

Acker said last week he is seeking the removal of Reynolds, stating that it took too long to bring in indictments. He said he planned to file his petition following Tuesday’s grand jury session.Acker has denied he is interested at this time in replacing Reynolds as 143rd District Attorney, but in response to written questions presented by the Enterprise, Reynolds said he believed the Ward County attorney was interested in taking over as 143rd District Attorney.

Acker said he decided to file the petition after meeting with state officials in Austin two weeks ago. Reynolds said that he doesn’t know if state officials pushed Acker to file this petition.“There are sources available other than state officials. At this time I do not know where he got his information.”

Reynolds also said he didn’t believe state officials would be more likely to keep the Pyote school open if he resigned his position.

“No, it is my understanding that the status of the DA’s position in this area is not any factor on whether WTSS in Pyote remains open or not,” he said.

Reynolds said he has spoken to other attorneys. “Several have offered encouraging words, support and assistance. I have many friends. Hal Upchurch is representing me in the removal actions.Upchurch, who served as 143rd District Attorney in the early 1990s and was defeated by Reynolds in his bid to regain the office in 2004, issued a statement to local media on Wednesday supporting the current DA and criticizing Acker’s actions.

“Ward County Attorney Kevin Acker recently prepared a ‘Witness List’ containing the names and addresses of people who would testify in support of his planned suit to remove 143rd Judicial District Attorney Randall W. Reynolds from office,” Upchurch said in his statement. “I was surprised to discover that my name was on Acker’s ‘list.’

“My name was included without my knowledge or permission. If I were to be called as a witness in connection with whether Reynolds should be removed from office through litigation, my testimony would be in support of, and not against, Reynolds. I have since learned that many other names on the ‘list’ were likewise included without the knowledge or permission of those so named.

“In 2004, I ran against Reynolds for District Attorney of the 143rd Judicial District. He beat me fair and square. I strongly believe that the question of whether Reynolds should remain in office should be answered by our local voters; and not by the Ward County Attorney or Austin politicians looking for a sacrificial lamb,” said Upchurch.

“Because of the strength of my belief that this is a question for our local voters rather than the politicians, I am proud to represent Reynolds in the pending suit for his removal. As this case should be tried in the courtroom rather than the media, I will make no further public comment regarding the litigation,” said Upchurch.

Reynolds said that he would be effective as district attorney if he remains in office, and said he and Acker have had problems in the past.

“I believe that Mr. Acker has a personal agenda in seeing me resign from office for at least two personal reasons,” Reynolds said. “I was informed some time before the TYC issues became public that he was actively seeking support in running for DA against me.

“This occurred after the following. Not long ago, Mr. Acker was a complainant in a case presented to my office for review against a local Monahans schoolteacher. The grand jury did not return an indictment and, immediately after that, his hostility and resentment of me became apparent,” said Reynolds.

He said that the 143rd District Court is the court where the indictments are filed and that he does have people who will testify on his behalf in response to Acker’s petition.

District Court Judge Bob Parks has recused himself from handling the case. Retired judge Weldon Kirk of Sweetwater has been appointed to hear the removal petitions in Parks' place.Reynolds declined to discuss Tuesday’s indictments of Former Principal John Paul Hernandez and Former Assistant Superintendent Ray E. Brookins, or whether or not those indictments will solve any concerns about personnel at Pyote, citing Texas rules on professional conduct. But he did say he thinks the WTSS School should remain open.

“TYC issues in Pyote appear to be a small part of system-wide problems concerning TYC. The Pyote TYC employees whom I have met appear to be dedicated, conscientious persons who deeply care for their work,” he said.

Red Bluff cool to wetlands funding donation

Red Bluff Water Power Control District members again took no action on a proposal to create wetlands for endangered fish native to West Texas, during their regular monthly meeting on Tuesday in Pecos. But members sounded cool to the idea of providing over $100,000 for the project, located in the area near Imperial ReservoirBart Reid, who has run shrimp farm operations at the reservoir, sent a letter to the board last month seeking matching funds for the project. Reed, representing the Organic Aquaculture Institute, Inc., outlined the proposal he submitted to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. Organic Aquaculture Institute is a non-profit group seeking to create wetland habitats for the Pecos River pupfish and the Pecos River mosquito fish.

“We’re going to put it on the back burner and will look at it at a later date,” said Red Bluff managing director Randal Hartman. “It’s not something we have to do.”

Members said they were concerned that the funding would be outside the district’s regular mandate to provide water to farmers in the seven sub districts along the Pecos River. Ava Gerke, representing Ward County Water Irrigation District No. 3, said Reid’s project would be kept separate from the Pecos River.

“The minnows would be raised in a separate pond,” she said. “He’s not using river water, he’s using well water, and he won’t put them back in the river. He’s going to keep them there like a (fish) preserve.”

“To me, this is money that should go to the districts,” said board member Ysidro Renteria.

Members did say that Reid’s proposal could help the district meet Endangers Species Act guidelines in the future. The Pecos River pupfish has been listed as a threatened species by the federal government due to its elimination by the more dominant sheepshead minnow that was imported from the Texas Gulf Coast. That has led to water use restrictions along the Pecos River, especially in New Mexico.

Listing as an endangered species could lead to federal controls on water capture and release along the Pecos River in Texas, to preserve the remaining minnow habitats.

“On the environmental, we may be forced to come back and do something,” said Hartman, who noted that Reid had a marine biology background, and had helped the district in their original battle over preserving the Pecos River pupfish at Screwbean Draw near Red Bluff Lake.

“For me, cleaning up the river and maintaining a higher water flow for them should be considered,” Gerke said.

“Let’s just look at this really close,” added board member Charlotte Wilcox.

Hartman also told the members that pumping of salt spring water out of the Pecos River at Malaga Bend could resume by this summer.

“They told me on that they would be up and running by June,” Hartman said, while adding the second part of the proposal for the salt alleviation project is running into some problems.In November, Pecos River Compact Commissioner J.W. Thrasher outlined a plan to create bio-diesel out of algae that would use land southeast of Carlsbad, N.M. to grow and harvest the algae, and which at the same time would remove salt from the Pecos River by reviving the Malaga Bend project. The Center for Hazardous Materials Management and Kansas-based Hutchison Salt Co. have set up an arrangement in which water from the underground salt spring feeding into the Pecos River at Malaga Bend will be pumped into ponds, where 80 percent of the salt will be removed for harvesting.

What’s left of the salt water will then be sent to different ponds, where the algae will be grown, though Hartman said on Tuesday that, “They’re having problems right now with the salt amounts in the area.”

In other action, the board approved all monthly reports, along with the water report, which showed a slight increase in Red Bluff Lake water levels in March despite the release of water downstream to member sub districts.

“We got a little, not a lot. But we still may get some more,” Hartman said .

City’s April tax rebate check jumps 43 percent

April’s sales tax rebate check for the Town of Pecos City surpassed the $100,000 mark, according to figures released on Wednesday by Texas Comptroller Susan Combs’ office, and were up by over 40 percent from the same period a year ago.

Combs sent out sales tax rebate checks to cities and counties across Texas, and Pecos’ percentage increase was more than matched by the increases for Balmorhea and Toyah. Both cities saw their April checks, based on sales made during February, more than double from April of 2006.

Pecos check, which is based on the city’s 1 1/2-cent share of Texas’s 8 1/4-cent sales tax, came to $100,525.75, which is up 43.53 percent from last year’s $70,036. Out of that total, one sixth, or $16,754, goes to the Pecos Economic Development Corp. for its operations.

For the first four months of 2007, the city has gotten $371,267 back in sales tax rebates, an increase of 17.97 percent from last year’s $314,713. That follows on the heels of double-digit increases over the past two years in tax rebates, due to the rise in the area’s oil and natural gas drilling and production activities.

Balmorhea’s tax rebates on its 1 1/2-cent tax brought in $1,936 this month, a 151.09 percent rise from last April’s $771 check. For the year, Balmorhea has gotten $10,606 back from Austin, a 114.412 percent rise from the $4,947 it had gotten in the first four months o 2006.

Toyah’s check this month was $580, a 130.54 percent increase from last April’s $251 check. Overall, the city has gotten $2,066 back from Austin a 23-27 percent increase from last year’s $1,676 total.

Also reporting a big increase, after declines in the first quarter of 2007, was the Reeves County Hospital District. It’s 1/2-cent sales tax brought in $47,975 this month, up 47.17 percent from the $32,597 it received in April last year. The increase pushed the hospital’s year-to-date tax rebates into the black, at $176,197, a 1.8 percent increase from the $173,078 it had gotten over the first four months last year.

The local increases were reflected across the region, as almost all cities in the Permian Basin and Trans-Pecos reported rises in their tax rebate checks.

Midland had the region’s single largest check, for $2.27 million on its 1 1/2-cent sales tax, which was up 6.53 percent from a year ago and was the same as their check for March. Odessa’s 1 1/4-cent sales tax brought the city $1.59 million for the month, a 13.55 percent rise from last April’s total.

For other cities collecting the 1 1/2-cent sales tax, Alpine received an $75,039 check this month and was one of the few cities to report a decline from last year, falling 13.04 percent; Crane received a check for $50,068 and was up by 33.78 percent from last year; Lamesa got $74,655 back this month, which was up 20.1 percent; while Seminole received a check for $76,314, which was up 9.45 percent.

Among cities collecting a one-cent sales tax Kermit received $39,148 in their check, up 21.57 percent; Wickett received a $7,754 check, up 52.95 percent, Wink received a check for $5,903, up 25.59 percent, and Pyote, received a $645 check this month, up 52.86 percent from a year ago.

For area cities collecting a 1 3/4-cent sales tax, Andrews received a check for $246,530, a 42.59 percent increase. Marfa got a check for $18,859, which was up by 22.02 percent; while Van Horn got a check for $30,390, which was up 6.8 percent from last year.

For cities collecting the maximum two-cent sales tax, Big Spring received $387,963, an increase of 11.17 percent; Fort Stockton received $141,912, up 24.44 percent; Monahans received a check for $96,452, which was down 1.11 percent from last April; Grandfalls got a $1,617 check, up 23.69 percent; and Presidio received $28,770, up 10.88 percent.

Statewide, Combs’ office sent out rebate checks totaling $272.4 million, up 9.25 percent from $260.2 million last January. Houston’s check for $35.8 million was again the largest one sent out, and was up 13.45 percent from last April. Dallas’ check was next, at $16 million, which was up 6.56 percent from their rebate check a year ago.

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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
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