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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Friday, August 10, 2007

Suspect in fatal crash pleads guilty in case

A Pecos man who was involved in a fatality in May of this year just south of town may face a trial here after entering a plea in a separate case in Odessa.

“He was on probation for another offense in Odessa and I understand he has already pled in that case,” said 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds, referring to Jason Sanchez Chabarria, of Pecos, was involved in a motorcycle/vehicle accident on May 13 that left one man dead.

Chabarria was charged with intoxication manslaughter, a felony, after the May accident that killed Jose Manuel Sarabia Jr., of Fort Stockton.

“We’re preparing the case for grand jury consideration. It’s a felony, intoxication manslaughter,” said Reynolds.

Chabarria has pled guilty to a possession of a controlled substance charge in Ector County and has been sentenced to five years deferred; fine $1,200; $221 court costs and $140 restitution in that case, according to the Ector County District Attorney’s Office.

Sarabia died in a hospital in Lubbock, one week after he was injured in the motorcycle accident on U.S. 285 just south of Pecos.

Texas Department of Public Safety Trooper Cletus Tapp investigated the May 13 accident, in which Sarabia’s motorcycle was struck by a pick-up traveling towards Fort Stockton, while Sarabia headed towards Pecos on his way to Carlsbad, N.M. on U.S. 285.

According to Tapp’s report, Sarabia was on his way to work in Carlsbad shortly before 9 p.m. when the accident occurred, just south of U.S. 285 intersection with County Road 116 (East County Road). Sarabia’s motorcycle was struck by a red Dodge pickup, driven by Chabarria, causing it to leave the road on the west side of U.S. 285 and flip, throwing Sarabia into the barrow ditch.

Doctors were forced to amputate his leg, and he later died from complications from the crash.

Tapp’s report went on to say Chabarria was highly intoxicated when the accident occurred. Reynolds said that the case is being prepared in conjunction with information sent by the troopers.

“We will review it, consider it and present it to the grand jury,” he said.

Trucker dies in weekend U.S. 285 crash

An Odessa man died last Saturday when the truck-trailer he was driving crashed while trying to avoid striking a cow on U.S. 285 north of Pecos.

According to the Texas Department of Public Safety, 55-year-old Silvio Roman Guerrero of Odessa was pronounced dead at the scene of the crash, 9.9 miles north of Pecos, by Reeves County Precinct 4 Justice of the Peace Eddy Rodriguez at 11:44 p.m. on Saturday, just over 90 minutes after the accident occurred. Guerrero was northbound on U.S. 285 in a 1994 Mack truck-trailer, when he attempted to avoid striking a cow that was in the roadway.

The truck hit the cow and then went into a spin to the right before rolling over one-quarter of a time and slid into the barrow ditch on the east side of the highway. According to the report filed by DPS trooper Cletus Tapp, Guerrero was not wearing a seat belt at the time, and his body was transported to Peaceful Gardens Funeral Home.

The accident was the second in four days involving a truck striking a cow on U.S. 285 north of Pecos. Three persons were hurt, none seriously, when an empty water truck hit a cow and overturned while southbound on U.S. 285, 14 miles north of Pecos, on the night of Aug. 1.

Espino happy with P-B-T’s improved campus rankings

Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD officials are happy with the improved overall rankings for district schools by the Texas Education Agency, and say two new lead teachers will help the district provide another tool to help improve future campus ratings.

Austin Elementary School was given the second-highest rating by the TEA for the second year in a row in the accountability ratings, which were released last week. The 2007 rankings also showed an improvement for Bessie Haynes Elementary, which received an unacceptable rating last year.

“We’re happy that all the schools in our district were ranked acceptable,” said Superintendent Manny Espino.

The rankings are based on results from the Texas Assessment of Knowledge Skills (TAKS) tests, which are given to students in Grades 3-12. Austin Elementary, which is home to first through third grade classes for P-B-T ISD received a ‘recognized’ rating.

Bessie Haynes, where fourth through sixth grade classes are held, was rated as ‘acceptable’ along with Crockett Junior High School and Pecos High School. No ratings were given to Pecos Kindergarten or Lamar AEP.

“We still have some work to do, but with the addition of these two lead teachers, we hope that we can help all the students more,” said Espino, referring to Cindy Duke and Debbie Garcia, who were named last month to the new lead teacher program within the district. Duke was principal and Garcia a teacher at Austin Elementary this past year.“The good thing is that we were rated as acceptable and of course, Austin, was rated recognized,” said Espino.

Espino said that a new principal would take over Austin Elementary next year, but that they think she will do a great job and keep them at recognized.

“Mrs. Duke is one of our lead teachers and we know she will work hard with all the schools,” said Espino.

Espino said that the board and administrators have been working to fill two assistant principal positions and that they are continuing to interview individuals.

“We want to find the right people for these positions,” said Espino. “We’ll take a recommendation to the board on Thursday,” he said.

PBT-ISD Board members were scheduled to meet at 6 p.m., Thursday to discuss several items including the open positions. Espino said that they would also discuss the construction at the different campuses as part of the new $30 million bond issue, and see where the board wants to start.

“We were hoping to start at Crockett and Bessie Haynes, we’ll be adding 12 classrooms at Crockett,” he said.

Espino said that the architect would be in town and talk to the board about the construction and see where they wanted to begin.

“We’re also looking at doing other things at the different campuses, while the big construction is going on,” said Espino. “Like working on the air conditioning systems, while they are building the new classrooms at Crockett and the science labs at Bessie Haynes, but we’ll have to see what the board wants to do and what recommendation the architect has for us,” he said.

New hires for the district were approved during a special meeting held last week: Barbara Castillo, will be at DAEP, Lamar and Ruth Merino, is a new kindergarten teacher at Pecos Kindergarten.

Resignations included: Paul Briones, science teacher at Crockett Middle School.

TYC abuse whistleblower gets key Pyote job

After a six-month period of controversy that led to the resignations of top officials at the Texas Youth Commission and an investigation into abuse allegations by the Texas Attorney General’s office and Texas Legislature, the West Texas State School in Pyote is getting new top administrators, including one who now holds the job of the man he tried to report to TYC officials for alleged sexual abuse 2 1/2 years before the charges were made public.

Bill Hollis began his work this week at the state school’s new assistant superintendent, while Mike Davis will be arriving a few weeks from new to be the new superintendent in Pyote, which faces an uncertain future following allegations that came to light in February and led to the indictment of two former school officials by a Ward County grand jury in April.

Both men are coming to WTSS from the John Shero State Juvenile Correction Facility in San Saba, which along with another TYC facility in Marlin, is being converted to an adult correctional facility under the control of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.

“We were out last Thursday,” Hollis said. “We just came out to say ‘hi’ to everybody and let them know us, especially Mike. I’ve been out here before, so Mike wanted to introduce himself and take care of a couple of administrative things.

“As soon as they turn over the keys to TDCJ he should be out here,” said Hollis, who was rebuffed by a top TYC official in 2004 while attempting to report problems with one of the two former administrators who were indicted in April.

Hollis has been with the agency on and off since 1990. That included working at the West Texas State School in the early and mid-1990s, before spending six years working at a privately run correctional facility. “I came back to Pyote as a caseworker. I went to Sheffield boot camp as a training officer, and then I went to San Saba as the assistant superintendent. Now I’m back here in the capacity of assistant superintendent.”

Hollis said he lived in Monahans previously when he worked at WTSS, but as assistant superintendent would be living in an on-campus home in Pyote this time.

Problems at the West Texas State School became news across Texas in February, when the Dallas Morning News and Texas Observer published stories that no charges had been filed against two administrators at Pyote, 2 1/2 years after allegations of sexual abuse by the men of juvenile detainees had first been reported to TYC officials in Austin and two years after an investigation began by Texas Ranger Bryan Burzynski led to resignations at the state school.

Former WTSS assistant superintendent Ray Brookins and former principal John Paul Hernandez, both resigned, but were never charged until April of this year, when indictments were returned by the 143rd grand jury in Monahans. The allegations led to a shake-up of the TYC and resignations of its top officials, along with calls by legislators to shut down the state’s juvenile detention facilities in rural areas, including Pyote.

Hollis was the first person to officially report problems with Brookins, which occurred when both were working at the John Shero unit in San Saba. According to the Dallas Morning News, Hollis told TYC officials in September of 2004 that Brookins, who had been named director of security in Pyote in October of 2003 and assistant superintendent in May of 2004, had been spending time alone with inmates while in San Saba.

However, after an investigation by TYC Director of Corrections Lydia Barnard, Brookins was first cleared of the charges and then promoted to acting superintendent at Pyote by Barnard, who then reprimanded Hollis for filing the allegations.

Barnard was fired from her job with TYC in late April for failing to act on the reports from Hollis and others within the agency.

The Morning News said while Barnard confirmed Brookins met privately with inmates in the administration building late at night, she said no inappropriate behavior had occurred. She went on to reprimand Hollis, saying she was "very concerned" by Mr. Hollis' conduct.

"I believe you are failing to hold youth properly accountable and by doing so are perpetuating their misconduct," she told the caseworker in the September 29 memo. Nine days later she promoted Brookins to acting superintendent at Pyote, a position he held for only four months, until resigning on Feb. 25, 2005, one day after an investigation into the charges were begun by Burzynski.

No action was taken over the next two years that led to indictments of Brookins or Hernandez by either 143rd District Attorney Randy Reynolds or federal prosecutors, who were given information about the allegations by Reynolds by declined to prosecute. Lawyers with Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott’s office took over the case in February and on April 10, Hernandez was indicted on 11 charges related to sexual contact he had with students at the West Texas State School, while Brookins was indicted on one count each of having improper sexual activity with a person in custody and having an improper relationship between a student and educator.

The indictments were a vindication for Hollis, who now holds Brookins’ former job, and said he is not returning to Pyote with the idea that this will be a short-term assignment. He added that the new TYC administration has not said anything about preparing for a shutdown of the West Texas State School.

“As far as expectations from (TYC) Central Office it’s to run this facility in an orderly, safe manner the way that it’s always supposed to have been run.

“My personal outlook is a long-term commitment out here,” Hollis said. “I think the problems in the past have contributed to the difficulties and the reforms the legislature’s put into place. I think an incident like that damages any organization’s reputation, credibility, trust, whatever, and now we’re in the process of trying to build that back.

“One of the things we have to try and do is attract qualified applicants that want to work here, and again, what we’re trying to do is use every means possible to attract potential employees, and I think that’s going to be the key to our successful comeback.”

He said any changes made at the facility by the new administration would take a little time before they’re implemented.

WTSS currently is housing 175 juvenile detainees, and has a staff of about 150, which is slightly below the ideal ratio of detainees to workers. Hollis said he’s currently in the process of getting the reports on staffing numbers at the facility, and that the desired numbers by the TYC would be set after the shutdowns at San Saba and Marlin are completed.“We’re looking at getting back up to be fully staffed,” Hollis said. “I think the exact numbers the last time I was out here was 13 to 15 staff per dorm to meet coverage, and that’s what we’re striving for.

“I think everybody is impacted on by the boom,” he said. “It’s difficult to compete with $15, $20, $30 an hour and I think a lot of folks are looking at the here and now and maybe not as concerned about the long-term - retirement and things of that nature. It makes recruiting all the more difficult.

“There’s a lot of concern on everyone’s part here, about what’s going to happen with the facility, and again, I’m committed to doing everything I can to make this a successful organization again,” he said. “We’re going to try and work hard with the local governments, the county governments in both Monahans, Pecos and the surrounding areas, Kermit, Wink, etc., every place we draw people from and try and strengthen those relationships and try to convince everybody in the local area we’re committed to doing the right thing and to running a clean, safe, orderly correctional facility for juveniles.”

Hollis said that while current plans do call for cutbacks in detentions within the TYC, he was hopeful that those wouldn’t include the closing of Pyote. Some legislators in urban areas have called for the closing of rural juvenile detention facilities, because most of the detainees are from bigger cities, and the rural locations make it harder for them to receive visits from family members.

“Nobody can see into the future, and the way that the legislature changed the agency, the population and what have you, there’s going to be some downsizing. But I’m confident that it will all work out, and that we’ll all still be here in the future.”

“I’m counting on this as a long-term assignment,” he said. “I’m optimistic that this facility is going to remain viable.”

Deals on land, apartments near for PHA, PEDC

The Pecos Housing Authority and the Pecos Economic Development Corp. will both be sealing deals they’ve been pursuing over the past several years within the next few weeks, provided an agreement reached on Monday is given the blessing of federal officials.

The PHA has been given tentative approval by the U.S. Department of Agriculture of their bid to purchase the 56-unit Farm Labor Housing on West County Road. The $230,000 for that purchase will come via the PEDC, which will pay that amount to acquire 34.23 acres of land owned by the Housing Authority along Interstate 20, a deal that will also require federal approval, from the Department of Housing and Urban Development.

“They accepted the compromise offer we had for the Farm Labor Housing, so we’re going to try and come up with a check to them,” said PHA executive director Nellie Gomez. She added that HUD has given the PHA and its board authorization to sell the I-20 acreage, “But told us we had to bid it out.”

However, she said due to the $230,000 offer from PEDC President Mike Burkholder, the PHA would ask government officials if they could waive the bid process. “The PEDC offered us more than fair market value, it will be for the money we need to purchase the Farm Labor Housing.”

“We faxed it into the office, and we should hear from them within two days,” Gomez said. “It’s already been kind of approved, but they need to make it official.”

The PHA has operated the Farm Labor Housing for over 20 years, but the decline of the area’s crops requiring migrant workers has meant the apartments were occupied for only several weeks out of the year. That left the FLH with no source of income for upkeep of the facilities.

In recent years, the USDA has allowed some FLH apartments to be rented out to non-migrant workers for a nine-month period, actions that came during a period of declining jobs and high unemployment in Pecos. But the lack of income, combined with a shortage of housing due to the increase in oil and natural gas drilling activities in the Trans-Pecos region, led the PHA to turn back ownership of the buildings to the government, while at the same time offering to purchase the apartments for use by full-time renters.

At the same time, the PEDC has been seeking to acquire land along Interstate 20 to offer to new businesses looking to start up or relocate to Pecos. Burkholder had asked the Town of Pecos City to turn over land on the west side of town to the PEDC for business recruitment, but city council members opted to sell the land to private owners.The PHA land is located along the north I-20 frontage road (Raul Florez Boulevard) from Country Club Drive to the area near West County Road.

“There are a lot of possibilities for it, but we’re going to have to do a plan on it,” Burkholder said. “We don’t want to do anything haphazard on it.

“I told the city and I told the county judge we’ve got to get together and make a strategic plan. We’re going to be in the same shape as Fort Stockton in 36 months or so, and we’re not ready. We don’t have an industrial park, and we don’t have a plan.”

Burkholder said he’s hoping to get the deal completed by the end of the current fiscal year on Sept. 30. That’s also the final day the PEDC will operate under its current 4-A charter, before changing to a 4-B Economic Development Corporation on Oct. 1. Burkholder said the current PHA board would hold a meeting before then to go over details on the offer to buy the PHA property.

While most of the FLH apartments have been rented to full-time occupants, some were left open for migrant workers during the current cantaloupe harvest season, which is in the process of winding down.

“We had approximately 15 units occupied by migrants for approximately three weeks,” Gomez said. “Some of them are leaving already. They came in the second week of July, and some of them have left and the others are getting ready to leave.”

Some of those apartments hadn’t been rented to full-time residents because of problems that required repairs or replacement. “If we buy it under these terms and get some money for the (PHA) property, we’ll get started on rehabbing and renting them,” Gomez said, adding that unlike the current PHA apartments, the FLH units won’t be mandated by government rules towards low-income renters.

“We intend to operate them as a non-profit organization managed by the Housing Authority,” she said. The change would allow the FLH units to be rented to people above the maximum income allowed by HUD for the other PHA apartments.

Gomez said that along with the deal on the FLH apartments, board members during their Monday afternoon meeting also worked out a rental agreement for the Pecos Head Start program.

“We did lease the day care building and the east side community building to Greater Opportunities of the Permian Basin for Pecos Head Start,” she said. Head Start has been housed in Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD buildings for the past decade, but will be forced out of their current home at Zavala Middle School when that building reopens temporarily as the campus for sixth grade students later this month.

Sixth graders will eventually relocate to new classrooms to be built at Crockett Junior High School, but Gomez said the PHA signed a long-term deal for Head Start.

“We made a lease for five years, with the right for either party to terminate the lease with 108 days notice,” she said. “We’re real excited about having rented the day care center and community center. They’re nice buildings that have been completely rehabbed, but we haven’t gotten much use out of them.”

Crime Stoppers

Crimestoppers seeks Saturday break-in leads

Pecos Valley Crime Stoppers and The Pecos Police Department need the community’s help in solving two break-ins that occurred over the weekend.

In early morning hours last Saturday Aug. 4, Alfredo’s Restaurant at 10th and Cedar streets was broken into. Mainly candy and other small items were taken. Two six packs of beer and a neon beer sign were recovered close to the scene.

Also on that same date illegal entry was gained at the God’s Army building, 1320 Veterans Blvd. The building was vandalized, with graffiti on the walls that included a joker face and the name Little Rascals, according to Pecos Police Officer Mike Balog.

“Please help us make our community safer by putting these criminals behind bars,” said Balog.

If anyone has any information about these crimes, or any other crimes please call Crime Stoppers at 445-9898.

As always, individuals will remain anonymous and the tips could be worth up to a $1,000 cash reward.

“There is no caller I.D. on this line. Thank you for your help!,” said Balog.

Ornelas accepted to academy in California

A Pecos High School student has been selected for admission into the Studio Program at The American Musical and Dramatic Academy in Los Angeles, Calif.

Francisco Ornelas III has received notification that he has been offered a unique opportunity to participate in a vital and comprehensive curriculum in one of the world’s most important and exciting cities.

The admission to Ornelas is based upon the assumption and understanding that he will complete any current academic work at an acceptable level of performance.

Prior to enrollment he must submit an official high school transcript which verifies graduation and an official transcript for any college courses he has already taken.

Ornelas is the son of Francisco and Bernadette Ornelas. He has one brother, Geronimo and three sisters, Natalia, Imari and Cielo Ornelas.

Grandparents are Juan and Sylvia Portillo and Frank and Candy Ornelas.

Ray celebrates 98th birthday with friends

A birthday celebration for Beatrice Ray, who turned 98 years old, was hosted by her health providers.

She received birthday cards and phone calls from her sister, Lillian Sanders, nieces, Wilma, Freda, Kathy, who all reside out of town.

A lovely fresh floral arrangement from Brenda McKinney of Trans Pecos Bank was also received.

A beautiful white cake with whipped cream icing, ice cream, punch and was served.

Colorful decorations, punch was provided by friends, Dorinda Millan and Debbie Thomas.

WWW Pecos Enterprise

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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