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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, March 23, 2007

P-B-T receives emergency response grant

First responders will have more information at their fingertips during a crisis at any of the campuses in the Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD, thanks to a grant provided to the district. Federal dollars will establish emergency preparedness systems for six West Texas school districts, including P-B-T ISD, after the Region 18 Education Service Center received a grant for $650,000 that will go to the Midland, Coahoma, Big Spring, Stanton, Monahans and Pecos districts.

Jim Collett and Andy Sustaita, both with the Region 18 ESC out of Midland were on hand for the regular Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD board meeting held on March 5, in the Technology Center, to explain the program to the board.

“This is the largest grant offered in Texas and the fourth in the U.S.,” said Collett. He said that one company has developed technology to help law enforcement, fire department and emergency response teams react more quickly and safely to such incidents in a coordinated, pre-planned manner.

Collett said that they had partnered with a company to build a web-based plan to respond to a crisis, whatever it might be.

“This will help in case of a fire, or intruders in the school or whatever the crisis might be,” he said.

Collett added that the website would be a quick reference guide for first responders. “This will allow first responders, such as fire or medical personnel, to assist the district within two clicks,” he said.

The program’s main feature is a database of information that emergency responders normally gather from different sources. That includes locations for roadblocks, triage stations and helicopter landings as well as blueprints, potential sniper points and places for parents and media to gather.

Access to the database will be limited to school administrators and relevant agencies, such as the Pecos Police Department, the Reeves County Sheriff’s Office and Reeves County Hospital.

“Within in two clicks, they will be able to see the blueprint of the building and specific classroom and first responders will see a quick route,” said Collett. “This will allow everyone to be on the same page.”

Collett said that the website will also list where all the water mains, the fuses, and other information pertinent to any crisis situation.

“This is very, very secure and will not be able to be accessed by the public, it’s encrypted,” he said.

Collett said the system will be implemented at each of the five schools.

PBT-ISD Manny Espino said that this forces them to put everything in writing, to where everybody can access it.

“This is something very useful and will provide security for the district,” he said.

“When you start the (2007-08) school year, this system should be in place,” said Collett. The plans are already underway, with the company taking pictures of the different campuses and gathering data for the website.

PBT-ISD Special Services Director Juanita Davila said that students would benefit from this grant.

“We’ll also do some training in managing crisis and training even the students, so that they will know what’s happening,” said Davila.

“They are the main people who will be involved,” she said.

Reynolds, investigators defend prosecution rates

District Attorney Randy Reynolds and his two investigators disputed claims made in an Associated Press story published Wednesday on the conviction rate of Reynolds’ office, in the wake of the scandal involving the West Texas State School in Pyote.

Reynolds and investigators Freddy Contreras and Jeffrey Baeza also questioned statements made by local law enforcement officials, including by Reeves County Sheriff Andy Gomez, that the 143rd District Attorney’s office had been uncooperative with them on criminal cases.

Reynolds was accused by Texas Ranger Bryan Burzynski, who first investigated the allegations of sexual abuse of inmates at the WTSS in 2005, of declining to act on his information. According to the Associated Press, e-mails from TYC officials in 2005 show that Reynolds had the case as early as March 4, 2005, and asked TYC officials to direct all media questions to his office.

In an update about the case to Texas Senate staffers that month, TYC chief of staff Joy Anderson suggested that an arrest warrant for former Assistant Superintendent Ray Brookins was imminent. To date, neither Brookins nor former Principal John Paul Hernandez, the targets of the Ranger probe, has been charged with a crime.

Burzynski made his charges before a Texas Senate committee hearing in Austin earlier this month, while the AP said that statewide court filings from 2005 and 2006 showed that Reynolds declined to prosecute more than 90 percent of the 128 felony cases filed in Ward County and 83 percent of the 210 cases in Reeves County between 2005 and 2006. Only one case was filed in Loving County, the state's least populous with only 67 residents.

Reynolds, who declined to return phone calls to the AP prior to the publication of Wednesday’s story, issued a short statement on Thursday, along with figures he said showed about 50 percent of the cases handled by his office resulted in plea bargains or jury trials.

But he said he did not want to specifically discuss the WTSS case, on which grand jurors in Monahans met to hear evidence presented by lawyers from the Texas Attorney General’s office on Wednesday. Reynolds cited the Rule 3.07 on Trial Publicity from the Texas Rules of Professional Conduct as his reason for declining to comment on the current investigation into the Pyote school and problems within the entire Texas Youth Commission’s juvenile detention system.

“The rules of professional conduct as I understand them dictate that it would be improper for me to discuss specific facts of a pending case with the press. Any press calls to me lately are about TYC, a pending case, or conversation that would lead to that topic in short order,” Reynolds said in his statement. “Since I cannot discuss specific facts of a pending case, only a part of the picture is displayed.”

Reynolds has come under criticism from some lawmakers, who have questioned Reynolds' dedication to his job. They include newly-elected State Sen. Carlos Uresti, whose 19th District includes Reeves and Ward counties.

"The real question is, what case did he have that was more important than this one," Uresti said, referring to the TYC investigation.

"If there is any credibility to his lack of interest, at some point I'm concerned that he not be the lead prosecutor," said State Rep. Delwin Jones, a Lubbock Republican. "I have seen credible allegations that he's just not interested enough."

“I had hoped that my critics would refrain from reaching a conclusion until all the facts can be disclosed. Because conclusions already have been made, I believe that supports my observations that I am caught in a political war,” Reynolds said in his statement. “When fingers are pointed at others, it is relatively easy to point a finger at someone else.”

The AP story said Reynolds rates for non-prosecution rank among the highest in the state among counties that reported at least one felony from 2005 to 2006. Statewide, only about 18 percent of cases were not prosecuted in that time.

During the same time, Reynolds won guilty pleas or convictions in about 21 percent of cases in Reeves, Ward and Loving counties. Statewide, prosecutors won convictions in more than 55 percent of felony cases.

Reynolds had Contreras respond to the charges that his office had failed to act on most cases within the 143rd District. The investigator said court records for the 143rd District for 2005 and 2006 showed that 337 cases were either indicted or filed as a result of the office’s prosecution, and 186 of those cases resulted in plea bargains or jury trials.

Contreras said 25 other cases have persons who have been indicted, but not apprehended, 42 involved a defendant who was convicted in another case, and 15 cases were refilled. “Sixty-nine cases remaining were disposed of for different reasons, including insufficient evidence, victim or agency requested it, or defendant entered into a pre-trial diversion program,” Contreras said. “Additionally, 104 cases in 2006 alone were prosecutions of probation violations and additionally several civil forfeiture cases were prosecuted as well.”

Contreras also said “Our office was unaware of any problems with Burzynski,” during the time the Texas Ranger was investigating the allegations of abuse at the WTSS.

On the criticisms from Gomez, Ward County Sheriff Mikel Strickland and Ward County Attorney Kevin Acker, Contreras said, “They’re entitled to their opinions,” but he and Reynolds questioned Gomez’s claim that the 143rd District Attorney’s office had shown no interest in handling a voter fraud case involving Gomez’s 2004 Democratic Party primary run against Baeza, who formerly worked for the sheriff’s department under Gomez and went to work for Reynolds both prior to, and after losing the election.

Gomez said he forwarded the voter fraud case involving Baeza’s mother, Anita Baeza, and another woman, Trini Villalobos , to Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott in 2005 after Reynolds declined to take the case.

"I asked him to investigate...but there was no interest," Gomez said. Abbott announced two indictments in the case in early 2006. Villalobos was convicted on two counts of vote fraud by a 143rd District Court jury last July and was given probated sentences on both charges, while Anita Baeza was placed on probation following a plea agreement in late August.

“Sheriff Gomez states that our office declined to take an election fraud case previously,” Contreras said. “The case was prosecuted as a misdemeanor and our office generally does not have the jurisdiction to prosecute misdemeanor cases.

“The case was prosecuted by the AG’s office and, in light of the fact that the son of the accused had been an investigator assigned to our office prior to the election , many people would agree that it was best that our office not be involved in the investigation or prosecution of that case,” Contreras said.

Gomez told the AP his deputies sometimes file cases as misdemeanors in Reeves County to improve the chances that a defendant will go to court. Acker also said he has seen numerous felony cases end up in his office, refiled as misdemeanors after Reynolds didn't take on the cases.

Gomez said he has also started requiring someone in Reynolds' office to sign a receipt each time a case is dropped off to ensure that deputies cannot be accused of failing to turn in cases. He added that felony cases his 10 deputies pass off to Reynolds often seem to vanish.

"We take cases and then we never hear anything again," he said.

Strickland said his deputies in Ward County sometimes go a month or longer without hearing a response from Reynolds or his investigators.

“Relationships with officers is a two-way street,” said Contreras. “You will find individual officers that we talk to on a weekly basis, and some several times a week, and there are officers we almost never see.

“Our office is easily accessible and all agencies have access to our home and cell numbers. Some officers follow up with their cases and check on them, and some do not,” he added. Acker, who handles misdemeanor and juvenile prosecutions, said he offered to help Reynolds and his two investigators with the TYC investigation but Reynolds didn't respond.

And after certifying two juveniles as adults in a TYC-related assault case, he offered Reynolds a list of witnesses to help prove that the two defendants used a broom handle to sexually assault another inmate.

A grand jury didn't issue an indictment, Acker said.

"I had 10 witnesses and I've never been able to figure out if any of them were called," Acker said. He's still trying to get the case to trial.

Reynolds declined comment on Acker’s claims about the TYC probe, while Contreras said he had not heard any complaints from Acker about the pace of the DA office’s investigation.

Band Boosters hope to surpass $9,000 mark at annual auction

New and fun things, along with the usual array of items, will be auctioned off this weekend during the Annual Pecos Eagle Band Boosters’ Auction on Saturday.

The auction is scheduled for 9 a.m. until 9 p.m., at the Pecos Eagle Band Hall, located inside the Pecos High School. The auction will be broadcast on Suddenlink Cable Ch. 11 and to bid individuals can call 447-7438 or 447-7439.

“I hope it’s just until 9 p.m., last year it went past midnight,” said head band director Bill Goff, who said he had traveled to Odessa to pick up some items that were going to be donated.

“Even in Odessa, you run in to people that are from Pecos and some of these individuals wanted to donate items to the Pecos Eagle Band,” he said.

Local businesses have donated a variety of items and band boosters and volunteers are currently sorting them out and getting them ready for Saturday’s auction.

“We have quite a few items that have been donated and are really happy about that,” said Goff.

Last year the group raised $9,000, which was their biggest year ever, according to Goff. “That was our best year and we’re hoping for the best this year,” said Goff.

The funds raised go towards the annual senior scholarships that are handed out at the end of the school year.

“We’ve got some new things this year that were donated including some swords and other items for young people, that I think they would enjoy getting,” said Goff. “In Odessa I picked up several items, some of these are really different, like a $50 gift certificate for Outback Steakhouse.”

Auctioneers will be Goff, school board members, Paul Deishler, David Flores, Crissy Martinez, Vanessa Simmons and Bubba Williams. Others will be John Grant, Robin Land, Juan Vasquez, Rey Villareal, Cody West and Jim Workman.

In conjunction with the auction there will be a brisket plate sale beginning at 10 a.m. Plates will consist of brisket with all the trimmings and will be $5 a plate. The group will also deliver.

A bake sale will also be held and a variety of “goodies” will be available.

No indictments yet in Pyote probe; TYC studies Pyote shut down plan

A 143rd District Court grand jury returned no indictments on Wednesday, after hearing from lawyers from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office on allegations of sexual assault that occurred at the West Texas State School in Pyote.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the Texas Youth Commission said the agency has not made any decisions on a recommendation last week from Texas Auditor John Keel that the agency shut down the Pyote facility because it is too isolated to attract adequate workers or provide prompt medical treatment for its juvenile detainees.

Grand jurors met Wednesday afternoon to hear evidence in the case, but no indictments were handed up after their session ended at 5 p.m.

“The grand jury will have their next meeting on April 10,” said 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds, who declined to comment on any actions that occurred during Wednesday’s grand jury session.

Texas Ranger Capt. Barry Caver, whose West Texas office spearheaded the two-year-old investigation that has grown into a statewide scandal, said grand jurors in Ward County were being asked to issue a series of subpoenas.

He said Rangers Sgt. Brian Burzynski, who drafted a lengthy and graphic report of allegations of sexual abuse at the hands of two former top administrators at the juvenile jail, was not in court and has not yet been scheduled to testify.

The investigation had focused on allegations of sexual abuse against Ray Brookins, former assistant superintendent at Pyote, and John Paul Hernandez, former principal. Both resigned their jobs in 2005 in lieu of termination.

The revelations last month prompted a full investigation of TYC juvenile facilities across the state, along with an audit of the system by Keel. On March 16, he said investigations by Burzynski and others have shown the school "did not provide a safe environment for the youths in its care," and should be considered for closure.

His report went onto say the Pyote site, located 52 miles from Odessa, is too remote to attract staff needed. The school currently houses 253 male juveniles, and employs 273 workers.

"The facility's location is in an isolated geographic area, and it has limited access to a job applicant pool and social and medical services," his report stated. It went on to say the 250 male inmates in Pyote "could be transferred to other facilities over the next 12 to 24 months, in the event that a decision is made to close the school."

Pyote is one of several juvenile detention facilities in isolated locations in Texas. The TYC’s boot camp in Sheffield, in eastern Pecos County, is located 120 miles south of Midland.

“There has been no determination yet, on whether or not the Pyote facility will be closed,” said Bill Hurley, with TYC.

“Typically, we are in step with the auditor’s report, but no decision has been made about that facility or the one located in Sheffield,” said Hurley.

Hurley said that he realized how many employees there currently were at the Pyote facility, but said that they hadn’t decided yet whether or not to close it.

“We can’t tell them anything, because no decision has been made,” he said.

Meanwhile, an effort to get a special prosecutor to handle abuse cases within the Texas Youth Commission was delayed Wednesday when House lawmakers couldn't agree on which office should do it.

More than two hours of debate on whether to expand the special prosecutor's office in the state's adult prison system to include juvenile cases or to create a new position produced no agreement, and the bill was sent back to committee on a technicality.

Rep. Jerry Madden, R-Plano, chairman of the House Corrections Committee, sponsored a bill to allow district attorneys to ask for help from the adult prison systems' special prosecutor. That office now handles cases of crimes committed by inmates and TDCJ employees.

But Rep. Jim Dunnam, D-Waco, amended the bill to set up a separate special prosecutor to help pursue cases. That office would be appointed by a panel of retired Court of Criminal Appeals judges.

Madden opposed the amendment, which was approved before the bill was pulled from debate.

Villescas honored with retirement ceremony

Chief Warrant Officer-3 Mario G. Villescas, who served in the United States Marine Corps for over 22 years, was honored with a retirement ceremony on March 9.

CWO3 Villescas was born and raised in Pecos and graduated from Pecos High School in 1984. At the age of 17, he enlisted in the Marine Corps through the delayed entry program in August 1983 and attended recruit training in July 1984 at MCRD San Diego. After boot camp, he attended the Personnel Administration School at Camp Del Mar, Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Upon completion of MOS school, he was assigned to 1st Battalion, 4th Marine at Twentynine Palms, Calif. During this tour, he was meritoriously promoted to Lance Corporal and Corporal and reenlisted for another tour of duty. He received Orders to Recruiting Station Phoenix, Ariz. and served in the recruiting Operations section for three years. He was promoted to Sergeant during this

tour. He was then assigned to the Landing Force Taining Command, Naval Amphibious Base Coronado, Calif. After his tour at Coronado, Staff Sergeant Villescas was assigned to Marine Corps Base, Camp Butler, Okinawa, Japan where he served as Personnel Chief. Upon completion of his overseas tour, Villescas received Orders to Drill Instructor School, MCRD San Diego. While training to be a Drill instructor and after serving 12 years as a Personnel Administrator and Administration Chief, he was selected for the Warrant Officer program and attended the Warrant officer Basic Course in Quantico, Va. In 1997.

He was assigned to Aviation Ground Support Element, Twentynine Palms where he served as Squadron Personnel Officer, Adjutant, and Legal officer. Towards the latter part of this tour, Chief Warrant Officer-2 Villescas was part of a small team that established the first Installation Personnel Administration Center in the Marine Corps aboard Marine Corps Air Ground Combat Center, Twentynine Palms. In June 2000, he was assigned as the Personnel Officer for the 1st Marine Division Detachment at Twentynine Palms.

In 2002, he was promoted to Chief Warrant Officer-3. In January 2003, he deployed in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom serving as the 1st Marine Division Personnel Officer (Forward). In January 2004, he was reassigned to the Installation Personnel Administration Center, Twentynine Palms serving as the Deputy Director. During this tour, he earned a Bachelor Arts Degree in Organizational Leadership from Chapman University. In August 2005, he was reassigned to the Marine Corps Communication-Electronics School and is currently serving as the Battalion Personnel Officer.

Chief Warrant officers Villescas’ awards include the Meritorious Service Medal (second award), Navy and Marine Corps Commendation medal (second warrant), Navy and Marine Corps Achievement Medal (fourth award), Presidential Unit Citation, Meritorious Unit Citation (second award), Good Conduct Medal (fourth award), National Defense Service Medal (second award), Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal, Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, Overseas Ribbon and the Sea Service Deployment Ribbon.

He is the son of Atilano “Tilo” and Julian G. Villescas of Pecos.

Villescas is married to the former Cynthia Flores and the couple have one son, Gabriel.

State officials begin vaccine drop after new rabies cases discovered

Responding to ongoing reports of rabies in wildlife in West Texas, the Texas Department of State Health Services began a supplement to the annual Oral Rabies Vaccination Program on Wednesday in nine Permian Basin counties.

The DSHS said about 114,000 dog-food baits and 190,000 fish mean bates were scheduled to be dropped over a four day period from two King Aircraft flying out of Pecos County Airport in Fort Stockton. The drops from an altitude of about 500 feet will cover parts of Pecos, Crane, Ector, Loving, Reagan, Reeves, Upton, Ward and Winkler counties.

“In the past two months, cases of the gray fox variant of rabies have been diagnosed in wildlife in several West Texas counties,” said DSHS veterinarian Ernest Oertli, who directs the agency’s vaccination program. “This variant has not been detected in these areas in the last several years.”

The special brown baits contain 2 ml of oral rabies vaccine, which is designed to immunizer gray foxes and reduce the threat of domestic animals and humans contracting the deadly disease. The baits also are marked with a DSHS toll-free number (877) 722-6725, people may call for more information.

“The vaccine inside the bait cannon cause rabies in people or animals, but we do ask that people not handle the baits. They are less likely to be eaten by wildlife if people touch them,” Oertli said.

“People also need to get their pets vaccinated against rabies by a veterinarian, as required by law,” he added. Vaccinations can be safely given to animals that have recently eaten an oral rabies vaccination bait.

This is the 13th year of the Oral Rabies Vaccination Program bait drop, which is also done in South and West-Central Texas in January each year.

Police locate stolen items, arrest seven

Pecos Police arrested seven persons, including three juveniles, and stolen property was recovered following an arrest on North Hickory Street last Saturday.

Police said the four adults included two men from Pecos and two women from Odessa, while one male and two female juveniles were also apprehended in an unoccupied residence at 431 N. Hickory Street. According to police investigator Olga Lopez, the arrests took place after police were called in connection with five vehicle burglaries on the north side of town.

Vehicles located at 322 W. ‘D’ St., 406 N. Hickory St., 501 N. Willow St., 817 N. Elm St., and 821 N. Elm St., were burglarized, with a variety of items reported missing. Officers said they received consent from the owner of 431 N. Hickory to enter the home, and found the seven suspects and the stolen items inside.

Arrested were Hayden Ray Dominguez, 20, 216 W. Sixth St.; Abran Sandoval, 17, of Pecos, Virginia D. Millan, 19, of Odessa, and Bianca A. Valencia, 19, also of Odessa. The four were charged with burglary of a motor vehicle, theft, engaging in organized criminal activity and minor in possession. They were transported to the Pecos Criminal Justice Center, while the three juveniles were taken to the Reeves County Juvenile Detention Center on the same charges.

The stolen items included four car stereos, a set of car speakers and amplifier, along with cash, sunglasses, CDs, a camera and several other items. No total value was listed on the recovered items.

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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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