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Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Ex-Pecos resident charged with girl’s death in Houston

A former Pecos resident has been arrested by Houston police and charged with capital murder, following what police said was the beating death of his girlfriend’s 3-year-old daughter Friday night.

Jonathan Barraza, 19, was arrested Friday and charged with capital murder in the 183rd State District Court on Sunday. The arrest came after Houston Fire Department paramedics were dispatched to 7360 Southway, on the southeast side of Houston at about 7:55 p.m., on Friday after Barraza placed a 911 call reporting that 3-year-old Delyza Alyze Ortiz Hernandez, was vomiting and unconscious.

Houston Police said Hernandez sustained bruises on her face, legs, arms, hands, buttocks and abdomen, also had internal injuries and head injuries. Paramedics transported her to Memorial Hermann Hospital where she was pronounced dead.

The exact cause of death is pending an autopsy by the Harris County Medical Examiner’s office.

The Houston Chronicle said Estella Olguin, with Harris County Child Protective Services, said Delyza also appeared to be the victim of sexual abuse.

"The child had been beaten basically head to toe and had injuries in different stages of healing," Olguin told the newspaper. "The bridge of her nose was swollen, she had hemorrhaging inside of her eyelids and had been extensively abused."

Houston Police Department Division Sergeant N.T. Ruland and Officer E.H. Schmidt, reported, that the child was home alone with her mother’s boyfriend, (Barraza), when she stopped breathing.

"Apparently there have been prior instances of domestic abuse," said Olguin, who noted that police also found drugs and drug paraphernalia in the apartment. She added that the girl’s mother, who is also from Pecos, had no past history with CPS of child abuse problems.

Barraza was arrested by police at Hermann Hospital, and is currently being held without bond in the Harris County Jail. Police said the investigation is continuing.

Funeral services for Delyza Hernandez, who would have turned 4 in September, will be held Friday, Aug. 24, at Santa Rosa Catholic Church with burial in Greenwood Cemetery in Pecos.

Forest Service set to begin Pecos River salt cedar burn

Salt cedar trees, killed off along the Pecos River beginning eight years ago, will be burned off starting within the next several weeks, after final funding for the project was approved by Red Bluff Water and Power Control District board, during their meeting last week in Pecos.

Red Bluff board members approved $75,000 in funds for the project, after members of the seven sub-districts served by Red Bluff approved contributing an equal amount of funds for the work, which is being carried out by the Upper Pecos Soil and Water Conservation Service and the Texas Forest Service.

The local funds match a $150,000 state contribution to the project, according to Jose Martinez, the SCS District Conservationist for the area. “I think the start date to burn is the middle of September,” he said.

The plans are being drawn up by the Forest Service, and will eventually involve burning off dead salt cedar trees from Red Bluff Dam down to Girvin in eastern Pecos County.

The salt cedars were introduced in the Western United States a century ago by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers as a method to control soil erosion. But the trees have exploded in population along rivers in the western United States since then, and were believed to be using up to 50 percent of the river flow along the Pecos.

A project begun in 1999 to kill off the trees using the herbicide Arsenal was mostly successful. However, the dead trees now line the river, and officials fear a major flood would uproot them and carry the trees down the river, where they would endanger diversion dams and bridges.

Martinez said just as the killing off of the trees was done from north to south, the burn-off would also begin at the northern end of the target area.

“They’ll start at the dam, and the first phase will be down to the Mentone (Highway 302) bridge,” he said. “The total project will be down to Girvin, but I don’t know if they’ll be able to complete it this year.

“I think what the Forest Service told us was they could do three miles per day,” Martinez said, while the project itself covers about 112 miles from the dam to Girvin. “They’re not going to be able to work solid days. They’re going to have to rest and recuperate. I believe it will be two weeks on, and two weeks off.”

The trees originally were killed off using helicopter spraying, and helicopters equipped with flamethrowers were considered for the new phase of the project, but won’t be used when the Forest Service begins their work next month.

“They had flamethrowers when they did a test burn, but they have problems with it,” Martinez said. “The way they did it the last time was to have a ground crew on top of the river (bank) and down at the water level.”

“The first stage is to clear the right-of-way. They’ll first clear a 20-foot width to keep the fire from getting out of control and spreading to the ranches.”

The $300,000 project for the upper Pecos River in Texas could be extended south along the river at a later date to Amsted Reservoir, while other rivers, including the Rio Grande northwest of Presidio, are also under consideration for salt cedar removal to increase the availability of water to farmers and ranchers downstream.

TxDOT, DPS plan to increase enforcement of state DWI laws

With throngs of Texas motorists expected on Texas highways this Labor Day to enjoy the last holiday weekend of the summer season, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) said that state troopers and local law enforcement will be stepping up enforcement of he state’s DWI laws between Aug. 17 and Sept. 3.

“Our Drink. Drive. Go to Jail. campaign is about saving lives and preventing injuries,” said Carlos Lopez, TxDOT’s director of traffic operations. “This year, we’ve more than doubled the number of troopers and officers who’s be out in full force looking for impaired drivers. The best way to avoid an arrest is not to get behind the wheel if you’ve been drinking,” he said.

Texas continues to lead the nation in alcohol-related traffic fatalities. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration reports that impaired driving is a contributing factor in almost half of all Texas fatal traffic crashes. Thousands of law enforcement officers in Texas are expected to participate in the national mobilization effort.

Convicted first-time DWI offenders can pay a fine of up to $2,000, lose their driver’s license for as long as a year, and serve 180 days in jail. Safety officials say other costs associated with a drunk driving arrest and conviction can add up to more than $10,000 for bail, legal fees, court appearances, court-ordered classes and vehicle insurance increases and other expenses.

TxDOT’s advice for drivers for the upcoming holiday weekend? If you’ve been drinking, don’t drive. Make plans in advance about how to get home safely. Designate a sober driver, call a cab or someone you trust to pick you up, or stay where you are until you are able to drive.

State says county’s unemployment up, jobs down

Unemployment in Reeves County was up by one-tenth of a percent in July, according to figures released on Friday by the Texas Workforce Commission. The jobless rate for July was 6.6 percent, the TWC said. That’s down a half a percent from the same period a year ago, but the total number of workers and the total number of jobs in the county continue to decline, and continue to be at odds with the surge in the area’s sales tax collections over the past year.

Reeves County had 4,081 workers last month, and 3,811 with jobs, compared with 4,167 workers in June and 3,896 with jobs. That’s a loss of 86 workers and 85 jobs and the TWC says Reeves County has seen a 4 1/2 percent drop in its workforce and 4 percent decline in the county’s total number of jobs in the past year.

The county had 4,268 workers and 3,967 with jobs last July, according to the latest report.

The smaller workforce is in contrast to the increase in sales in the county. Figures released last week by the Texas Comptroller’s Office show all three cities in Reeves County and the Reeves County Hospital District have seen their sales tax receipts show double-digit increases this year, with Pecos’ sales tax collections up by 41 percent from the same period a year ago, thanks mainly to the increase in drilling activity in the Trans-Pecos region.

Since July of 2003 – the year after the closing of the Anchor West food plant, Reeves County’s largest single employer with 700 workers in the summer of 2001 – the TWC reports the number of workers within the county has dropped by 13 1/2 percent, while the county’s job total is down by 9 1/2 percent compared with July four years ago. At the same time, the sales tax receipts returned to the three cities with the county and the Reeves County Hospital District have increase 113 1/2 percent, based on July’s sales tax rebate numbers.

TWC officials said last year the difference was likely due to jobs within Reeves County being credited to other counties, where many of the area’s drilling-related companies and drilling service firms are located. The agency’s numbers for Ector County (Odessa) show an increase of almost 7,000 workers and over 8,600 jobs from July 2003 to July of this year, while Midland County, the most populated county in the Permian Basin, has seen an increase of 9,200 workers and over 10,100 jobs during that same four year period.

The failure to credit the higher-paying energy-related jobs to Reeves County causes problems economically by lowering the county’s average income levels as reported to state and federal officials. That can both make the area less attractive to retail businesses and lower the maximum income level county residents can earn to qualify for state or federal housing and home subsidies.

Across the region, unemployment was virtually unchanged from a month ago, with most counties reporting between a two-tenths of a percent increase or decrease in their jobless rates.

Midland County’s unemployment rate held at 3.2 percent last month. The county added 742 workers from June while its job total was up by 725. Ector County’s unemployment rate also was unchanged from June, at 3.8 percent. The county’s labor force was up by 702, while the number of jobs dropped by 682.

Andrews County’s rate held at 3.4 percent in July. The number of workers fell by 79 after going up by 78 in June, which was also the number of job losses last month. Brewster County’s rate went from 3.4 to 3.5 percent, as the county added 37 workers and 31 jobs.

Crane County’s rate dropped from 4.6 to 4.4 percent last month. The county added seven workers and 10 jobs from June. Culberson County saw its rate fall from 3.1 to 2.9 percent in July, with a loss of 19 workers and 15 jobs. Dawson County’s July totals were the closest in similarity to Reeves County. Its jobless rate increased from 6.4 to 6.5 percent, as the county lost 163 workers and 158 jobs.

Howard County’s unemployment rate rose from 4.8 percent in June to 5 percent last month. The county lost 114 workers and 126 jobs. Pecos County’s rate went from 4.9 to 5 percent, as the county’s workforce was down by 210 workers while the job total fell by 205. Much of that was due to the end of the cantaloupe harvest season, with most of the farm workers staying in Fort Stockton this year, due to the housing shortage in the Pecos area.

In Ward County, unemployment increased from 4.5 to 4.5 percent, with the number of jobs down by 31 while the workforce dropped by 35. Winkler County’s unemployment rate was up from 3.7 to 3.8 percent. The county’s workforce increased by 14 workers from June while the number of jobs was up by 10.

Presidio County saw its jobless rate climb back into double-digits last month, going from 9.3 to 10.7 percent. That’s still below the 12.5 percent rate of last July. The county’s workforce increased by 61 in July, while the number of jobs was up by nine, after falling by that total in June. Loving County’s jobless rate fell from 11.4 percent to 11.1 percent last month. The county has 36 workers, 32 who are employed, the TWC said, both numbers up by one from the totals in June.

Area bridges on TxDOT problem list

Four bridges and two box culverts in the Trans-Pecos area, including one which has been closed for over two years and a second that already has been replaced, are on the list of structurally deficient bridges in Texas, according to a report released on Friday by the Texas Department of Transportation.

TxDOT’s list included 2,024 bridges in Texas, but only six – four standard bridges and two box culverts in the 12-county Odessa District. The list was released following the collapse of the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis on Aug. 1 of this year, killing at least nine people.

Two of the four bridges on the list are in the Toyahvale area. One, over Toyah Creek on FM 3078 west of Toyahvale, has already been replaced, while the second, the Madera Diversion Channel bridge on County Road 326 south of Balmorhea State Park, was closed in 2005.

The two other bridges are near the Ward-Pecos County line in the Grandfalls area. Those are the Canal No. 2 bridge on the Old Grandfalls Highway south of Grandfalls, which also has been closed, and Pecos River bridge on FM 1776, to the west of Grandfalls.

That road is the main route for travelers from the Alpine area going to and from Midland-Odessa, and TxDOT officials said the FM 1776 bridge is scheduled for replacement in 2008. Arthur Waguespack, the local TxDOT bridge inspection engineer, stresses that despite plans for replacement, the existing Pecos River bridge is safe and remains open to traffic between Monahans and Coyanosa on FM 1776.

The two box culverts are on U.S. 285 north of Pecos. Both are scheduled for replacement when funding is available, but are safe and open to traffic, according to Waguespack.

Reeves County has had one major bridge collapse in recent years, involving a bridge that was not considered structurally deficient. Flooding in the Toyah area caused the eastbound span of the Interstate 20 bridge over Salt Draw to collapse on April 4, 2004.

Mike Cox, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, said after that collapse that the bridge had not been considered in need of replacement at the time the floodwaters caused the bridge’s roadway to buckle and an 80-foot section to collapse into Salt Draw. Reeves County sheriff’s deputies were able to shut down the roadway before the collapse, and no one was injured.

“This bridge in particular scored a 5-6 on a 9 point scale, with nine being top of the scale and three or lower indicating structural deficiency. The most recent inspection certainly shows that the bridge was safe,” Cox said.

TxDOT’s records indicate that 4 percent of the state’s bridges are listed as structurally deficient. The Bureau of Transportation Statistics reports that in 2006, 12 percent of the nation’s bridges were identified as structurally deficient.

The term “structurally deficient” has recently been used in news accounts and public discussions following the Aug. 1 bridge collapse in Minnesota to describe a bridge that is unsafe or presents an imminent danger to the driving public. It used by the Federal Highway Administration to classify and prioritize bridges for federal funding.

Structurally deficient bridges receive priority for limited rehabilitation on replacement funds from the federal government. Bridges that are unsafe or present an imminent public danger are closed to traffic.

TxDOT said the number of bridges on that list in the state has been cut by almost a third in the past five years due to an aggressive program to inspect all 50,000 of the state’s bridges and rehabilitate and replace bridges that require improvement is producing results.

In 2002, Texas was home to 2,928 structurally deficient bridges. The current figure is a 31 percent reduction in structurally deficient bridges.

Of the state’s bridges classified as “structurally deficient,” 445 are on the state highway system and 1,579 are off-system structures. 282 bridges classified as structurally deficient are currently under contract to be rehabilitated or replaced. Another 1,303 bridges classified as structurally deficient are under development as part of the state’s Unified Transportation Plan. The state’s remaining 439 bridges classified as structurally deficient are not currently scheduled for rehabilitation or replacement, and no funding has been identified for them.

Scott completes Basic Training

Spc. Rosario Scott completed Basic Training on Aug. 2, in Ft. Jackson, S.C.

She is now in Ft. Lee, Virginia for advance training for the next two months.

Scott is married to Edward Scott and the couple have three children.

She graduated from Pecos High School in 1985, graduated from the University of DeVry with a Master’s degree in Business, has a Bachelor’s degree in computer technology and is a licensed cosmetologist.

She is one of five siblings who have served or are serving in the fight for freedom in the U.S. Army.

Scott is the daughter of proud parents, Ruben and Margarita Natividad.

Chowning named to Dean’s List

Bryan Chowning, son of Michael and Karen Chowning of Monahans, was named to The University of Texas of the Permian Basin Dean’s Honor Roll for the 2007 spring semester.

This recognition is accorded to those students who have attained a grade point average of at least 3.5 during the Spring 2007 semester.

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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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