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  • Fisher declared re-elected as mayor

    2 Mayor Fisher 031621ALTON PORTER | HCC Crockett’s re-elected mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher presides over Monday’s council meeting.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Dr. Ianthia Fisher has been declared re-elected as Crockett’s mayor in a city council resolution. She was unopposed in her bid to continue serving as the city’s elected leader, a position to which she was initially elected in 2019.

    Fisher is one of two candidates who originally filed to run for mayor in the city’s Saturday, May 1, election. However, the other candidate, James Jellum, withdrew from the race before ballots were printed, according to City Secretary Mitzi Thompson. Therefore, members of the city council voted to approve a document of certification of Fisher as an unopposed candidate for mayor, an at-large position, at a meeting on Monday, March 15.

    After approving the city certification of unopposed candidate for mayor, the councilmembers, in a related action, voted to approve a resolution authorizing cancelling the election of mayor in the scheduled May 1 election.

    The resolution also states that only one eligible candidate, Fisher, had filed to run for mayor and had not withdrawn by the Feb. 12 deadline “and hereby declares the unopposed candidate (Fisher) elected to office and shall be issued Certificate of Election following the time the election will be canvassed.”

    In another election-related matter, the councilmembers voted to approve a resolution, appointing election officials for the regular general election, setting the rate of pay for the election officials and the maximum number of election clerks for the polling places, and designating the early voting ballot board.

    Also, in preparation for the municipal election, the councilmembers approved designation of two deputy early voting clerks, who are “authorized to perform any duties which are assigned by me in the performance of conducting early voting,” wrote Thompson, who also is the early voting clerk, in the designation document.

    Council seats up for election in the May 1 election are those for City Precincts 1 and 2. Candidates for the Precinct 1 position are incumbent Butch Calvert, Gene Caldwell and Samantha Wiley. Precinct 2 seat candidates are incumbent Darrell Jones, Charles Clawson and Vicki Cox.

    On election day, polls for the councilmember elections will be open 7 a.m.-7 p.m. Election day polling places are: Precinct 1, All Saints Episcopal Church Annex, 1301 E. Houston Ave.; and Precinct 2, Crockett Fire Station, 201 N. 6th St.

    Early voting by in-person appearance will be conducted at Crockett City Hall, 200 N. 5th St., April 19-23, 8:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m., and April 26-27, 7 a.m.-7 p.m.

    Applications for ballots by mail should be mailed to Mitzi Thompson, City Secretary, 200 N. 5th St., Crockett, Texas, 75835, and must be received in the secretary’s office no later than by the close of business Tuesday, April 20.

    In other business, the councilmembers voted to approve an ordinance, temporarily reducing the speed limit from 55 mph to 45 mph for motor vehicles being driven in either direction on State Loop 304 between State Highway 19 and SH 7, while much of that section of the loop is under construction.

    The councilmembers also discussed city facility operations and current COVID-19 measures. “Basically, what the city is doing is there are certain facilities that we do have control over,” said Fisher.

    “And as far as the city facilities, they’re going to remain pretty much stable, recognizing the CDC guidelines that they already have,” she added.

    There’s no limit on the size of gatherings “unless we run into a problem and they (users of city facilities) can’t ensure their safety,” Fisher said. “If it presents a problem where people were saying it was so congested, then we will have to readdress it and set a cap on it.

    “But right now, everyone that has basically used the facility—even for concerts—have been so mindful of being able to respect the safety of others. So, we haven’t had that problem; we don’t anticipate having that problem. But in case we do, we will be able to readdress it and be willing to put a cap (on gatherings at the facilities) if it has to be.”

    The mayor added, “But we are asking that you (users of the facilities) maintain the safety guidelines. Whatever your percentage should be, it should be in accordance with what you can do—staying within the guidelines.

    “And then the other part of it (the mayor and councilmembers approach) is that we did ask the city (staffers) to take into consideration the CDC guidelines. And even though the (former) mask mandate isn’t in effect anymore it is important that we still continue to protect ourselves to the best of our ability. And that’s a simple way with the basic guidelines: washing our hands, wearing masks, social distancing and those kinds of things.”

    Summer Fun Day planned

    During Police Chief Clayton Smith’s regular report, he said the police department is planning a Summer Fun Day event to be held Saturday, June 5, if allowed by COVID protocols and depending on what is going on at that time. “We haven’t been able to have a community event in a while because of Covid and everything going on,” said Smith.

    He noted, June 5 is during “the first weekend that the kids are out of school,” and added, plans are to have the event in Davy Crockett Memorial Park with waterslides, possibly around the splash pad, and event planners are “just trying to get all the kids out to have fun.”

  • Former NFL player, Crockett native drowns at Rayburn

    Pete Lammons trading card as a New York JetCOURTESY PHOTO Pete Lammons trading card as a New York Jet

    By Chris Edwards

    A man who drowned in Lake Sam Rayburn on Thursday was identified on Friday by authorities as that of Peter Spencer “Pete” Lammons, Jr., a 77-year-old Houston man who was once an NFL athlete.

    Lammons, who was reportedly an avid outdoorsman, was fishing in the Major League Fishing’s Toyota Tournament when the incident occurred on Thursday. According to Texas Parks & Wildlife, the drowning occurred near San Augustine Park, which is located on the east side of the lake, seven miles southwest of Pineland. The drowning in the second that has occurred in the region during this week. On Sunday, 18-year-old Richard Tyler Johnston, of Hemphill, drowned in Dam B.

    Texas Parks & Wildlife game wardens recovered his body by using sonar, but efforts to revive him were unsuccessful, according to a press release from Major League Fishing. The accident occurred when Lammons fell overboard at the dock while preparing to fish in the tournament, according to MLF.

    Lammons was a native of Crockett and played football for Jacksonville High School in the late 1950s and early ‘60s before he matriculated to the University of Texas in Austin and played as a Longhorn. He was drafted as an eighth-round pick by the New York Jets in the 1966 AFL draft, according to ESPN, where he played as a tight-end through 1971. He finished his career as one of the Green Bay Packers in 1972.

    Pete Lammons as UT Longhorn courtesy of UTPete Lammons as UT Longhorn courtesy of UT

    Lammons was a starting defensive player on the Jets’ Super Bowl III championship team, and he was also a part of the UT 1963 national championship team under legendary coach Darrell Royal.

    Lammons also played for another legendary coach, Bum Phillips, as a high school freshman. Phillips was then head coach at Jacksonville High School. Years later, the two men met again on the sidelines of the 1967 AFL All-Star Game.

    According to Lammons’s nephew Lance, his uncle had been fatigued from two recent stent surgeries and tripped as he was about to board the boat, fell into the lake and could not be saved.

    After his football career, Lammons was involved in real estate and horse racing. He was also a professional angler, and had competed in more than 50 of the MLF tournaments.

    On a story about Lammons’s death on the New York Jets’ official website, his nephew is quoted as saying that “Pete wanted Jacksonville to have his Super Bowl ring and his National Championship ring from the University of Texas.”

    Lammons also has a scholarship named in his honor for Jacksonville HS graduates.

  • Ham radio: hobbyists offer valuable service

    German amateur radio contest station 2017German amateur radio contest station 2017 Ptolusque, Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA 4.0, CC BY-SA 4.0 https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

    By Chris Edwards

    HOUSTON COUNTY – Sometimes a hobby is more than just a way to pass the time (and spend money.) In the case of amateur radio operators (ham radio) the hobby is one that is more of a valuable service that can be a lifeline in times of need.

    Houston County has its own group of “ham” operators, the Houston County Amateur Radio Club. The club is affiliated with the Amateur Radio Relay League, which was founded in 1914. Through that affiliation, the club can help anyone who is interested in becoming a member get licensed to operate ham radios, and even work on them. There are currently three levels of certification for ham operators: technician, general and extra.

    The first level is the entry point into ham radio, and as to how long it takes a person to acquire the certifications, well, it just depends, according to Van L. Sims. Sims, who has been involved with ham radio since the 1970s, and serves as the club’s treasurer, said the main purpose of the certification tests is to learn the ins and outs of the different bands, or the frequency allocations.

    A ham radio station can be set up anywhere, such as in field or in one’s home. Club vice president Larry Small said “When all else goes down, if we’ve got a 12-vote battery, and some wire, we can talk anywhere.”

    Amateur radio operators have a basic, working knowledge of radio technology and pass examinations to operate on radio frequencies known as the “amateur bands,” which are allocated by the Federal Communications Commission for use by ham operators.

    Ham operators have been essential in times of disaster and are often unsung heroes. Sims noted that 5,000 hams provided all of the communication in the aftermath of the events of Sept. 11, 2001 in New York City. Hams also provided essential services after Hurricane Katrina ravaged Louisiana in 2005.

    The Houston County club derives its operating expenses from fundraisers, and they have five each year, although their 2020 fundraising activities were curtailed by COVID. The club’s current big project is to convert one of its four repeaters to solar power. Sims said of the project that in a time of emergency, if there is a massive power outage, the ham operators will still be able to get essential communications across with solar power.

    Sims is quick to point out how grateful the club is to the late David Lamb. Lamb, who served as the county’s emergency management coordinator, was able to obtain a great deal of equipment for the club, including its bus.

    The club is also planning on installing a ham station in the Houston County Sheriff’s Office. Sheriff Randy Hargrove is a ham operator and serves as the club’s president.

    The club, whose call sign is WA5EC, meets at 7 p.m. on every second Tuesday of each month at the old National Guard Armory (EOC Building) which is located at the corner of Edministon Drive and Christy Lane near the Davy Crockett Park in Crockett. Anyone who has an interest can join the club, and dues are $15 per member, annually. It has a field day planned for Saturday, June 26, beginning around noon, at the Davy Crockett Park.

  • HCHD directors settle debt with county

    IMG 0169ALTON PORTER | HCC Operations Supervisor Cassandra “Cassie” Gallaway, above, of Houston County Emergency Medical Services, presented a report on the ambulance services providers services to patients in the county last month to Houston County Hospital District board members at a meeting Tuesday, May 18.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Members of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors approved a board’s Negotiations Committee proposal to make a partial reimbursement payment of $150,000 to county government to settle a debt the hospital district owed the county. The HCHD directors took the action at a meeting Tuesday, May 18.

    In approving an agreement to make the partial reimbursement, negotiated with county officials to settle the debt, the directors passed a motion, made by Place 6 Director Rhonda Brown and seconded by Board Vice President and Place 4 Director Dr. John Stovall.

    The motion was offered to approve the “negotiated settlement with Houston County for ten months ambulance cost (a few years ago) upon preparation (of) appropriate legal documents by the board attorney, Board President and Place 1 Director Barbara Crowson said.

    The negotiated reimbursement/settlement agreement between county government and hospital district officials was approved by members of the Houston County Commissioners Court at a meeting Tuesday, May 11, after members of the HCHD board’s Negotiation Committee had met with County Judge Jim Lovell and County Auditor Melissa Jeter and arrived at the proposed partial reimbursement agreement.

    The HCHD directors were to make the payment to county government officials immediately after the directors approved the agreement at their meeting.

    The directors passed the motion following a board Negotiations Committee report, made by Crowson and discussion by board members.

    Place 8 Director Dina, a Negotiations Committee member, noted, “They (county officials) said we owed them one hundred and seventy-four thousand and something (dollars). And our attorney said it was an error that someone did not file an interlocal agreement in the correct timing. And so, he though we only owed them $128,000.

    “But we managed to work in between, and we settled for $150,000. And so, we’ve (HCHD board members) agreed … and they (county officials) approved it last Tuesday (May 11) in their meeting to accept $150,000 as final payment over and done with the ambulance. And we’re even with them and they’re even with us, and we’re all happy about it right now.”

    Crowson added “And our attorney has provided the settlement documentation so that we will be delivering … a $150,000 check to them (county officials) ASAP. And based upon their signing, (they will) release us from any obligation for that. If you look at it from a monetary standpoint, we saved something over $24,000 for the hospital district.

    “And they (county officials) were gracious to do that for us. The county judge was amenable, and he was able to get the county commissioners to vote for that. So, that was very grateful, and it’s another thing that’s kind of off our plate, which we feel real good about, which allows us to look at what we owe in other places. So, that worked out well.

    “The interlocal agreement was signed in the summer of 2017 and it’s been dragging on all this time, and we finally have been able to get that done.”

    In other business, the board’s oath of office was administered by Stovall to five board members who were unopposed in their efforts to be reseated and seated in positions on the board.

    Those board members are Crowson, Place 7 Director Harvey Bruner and Place 9 Director Carol Dawson, who are continuing after serving previous terms on the board, and newly seated Place 3 Director Debbie Kelly and Place 5 Director Roy Langford.

    Since all five of the directors were unopposed in seeking positions on the board, the hospital district’s previously scheduled May 1 trustees election was cancelled at a March 23 meeting.

    In a reorganization of the board, two existing officeholders—President Crowson and Vice President Stovall—were reelected, and Pipes was elected for the first time to serve as secretary. The officers, who were nominated by the board’s Nomination Committee, will lead the board the next 12 months as officers elections are held annually.

    IMG 0166ALTON PORTER | HCC Five continuing and new members of the Houston County Hospital District Board of Directors were administered the oath of office by board member Dr. John Stovall, right. Receiving the oath, from left to right, were Harvey Bruner, Roy Langford, Barbara Crowson, Carol Dawson and Debbie Kelly.

    The board members heard a report, presented by Cassandra “Cassie” Gallaway, operations supervisor for Houston County Emergency Medical Services, on ambulance services provided to county patients by the ambulance services provider in April.

    Gallaway reported that Houston County EMS received 294 requests for ambulance services last month and transported 185 patients. “Of those, we life flighted four patients” by helicopter, Gallaway said. “Eighty-four percent of the patients that we transported (to 911 transport destinations), we brought here to Crockett Medical Center.”

    Most persons responded to by the provider were neurological patients, but cardiac, respiratory and other categories of patients were served, Gallaway said, adding, “We’ve seen a major decline in the amount of Covid-19 patients. So, that’s always really good news.

    A report on operations and activities at Crockett Medical Center (CMC) was presented by CMC Chief Executive Officer Tommy Johnson.

    “Mainly, the big thing I want to address tonight is to give you guys kind of an update on our numbers,” said Johnson. “We are almost back to pre-Covid now. We were still probably almost a hundred shy during ER (emergency room) month, which was April. “However, we invested in some new telemetry equipment on the floor. So, our admission rate has gone up.

    “We’re keeping more patients because we can now monitor them better. We’re probably … averaging around three and a half patient stay days a month now for each day. So, that means we’re at about three and a half average patients a day. That’s up from about 1.2 or less some months.”

    Johnson said a lot of painting, sprucing up and updating have been done to the medical-surgical floor so that it’s compliant with a survey coming up in August.

    In another action taken by the directors, they passed a motion authorizing chiller and tower replacements and repairs to be made at the hospital building.

    In his report, concerning the chiller repairs that need to be made to the hospital’s air conditioning system, Johnson said, “I guess, during the ice storm, we lost both chillers on top of the school over here.”

    He said new chillers have been ordered and are coming and he believes the Federal Emergency Management Agency is going to cover the cost of them because the lost occurred during the storm when Governor Greg Abbott declared this a disaster area.

    Johnson asked the HCHD board members to consider this matter and to work with CMC executives and managers on developing a solution on how to address it. The CMC executive said he has received a $186,000 bid to make the chillers and air conditioning towers replacements and repairs to the hospital building.

    Concerning the planned chiller repairs, Crowson said members of the board’s Facilities Committee met earlier that morning (Tuesday, May 18) and Johnson attended the meeting.

    “What Tommy told us was that their licensure is in the office,” Crowson said. “And so, whatever it’s going to be done about the chillers needs to be done, or at least a plan (needs to be) in place to get it done, as he said. And, of course, the hot season is upon us.

    “And so, he says it has to be done; there’s no question about it. He said, as you noted, those things were here when the whole thing was built (around 1969) and the towers. And we did go out and look at them.”

    Bruner added to Crowson’s comments about the Facilities Committee meeting, adding, some of the towers are “rusted away” and in “horrible condition” and CMC executives want the hospital district to cover part of the costs to make the replacements and repairs.

  • Henderson edges Crockett in bi-district soccer

    IMG 1859LARRY LAMB | HCC Crockett goalie Antonio Cruz makes a diving save against Henderson in a bi-district game on Thursday.

    By Larry Lamb

    The Crockett Bulldogs capped the regular season with five straight wins but couldn’t keep their streak going against the Henderson Lions in the first round of the class 4A state soccer playoffs.

    Henderson scored two second-half goals to beat the Bulldogs 2-0 in a bi-district matchup Thursday night at Hudson High School’s Hornet Field.

    The Bulldogs and Lions battled back and forth down the field for the first 40 minutes. At halftime, the game was locked in a 0-0 stalemate.

    Crockett continued to struggle with finding an offensive spark early in the second half while Henderson finally found the back of the net at the 32:04 mark. The Lions tacked on an insurance goal with 16:36 left.

    Bulldogs coach Gary Gutierrez praised junior goalie Antonio Cruz’s performance.

    “In my opinion he won man of the match. He kept us in the game for as long as he could and he made absolute incredible saves. He’s going to be an elite goal keeper if he really wants to. Luckily I’ll have him back next year,” said Gutierrez.

    Henderson, which finished second in its district, sits at 14-8-4 overall going into the second round against Paris.

    While seeing the season end is always heartbreaking – especially for the senior trio of Alex Orozco, Pablo Ayala and Salvador Lopez – Gutierrez says the Bulldogs can be proud of their accomplishments.

    “This is the best season the boys have ever played. This is the best they’ve ever done in the playoffs. The boys have made a huge improvement from last year and prior years, and even from the beginning of this season. This is the strongest team Crockett has ever had and it’s only going to get stronger,” said Gutierrez.

    Crockett finished third out of eight teams in District 16-4A with a 10-4 record and ended the season with a 14-9 mark.

    Palestine won the district championship, Livingston came in second and Diboll finished fourth behind Crockett.

    As expected, Palestine prevailed over Carthage 2-0 in the first round Thursday. Livingston takes on Center in bi-district Friday at Hudson. Diboll, the fourth place seed, faces Kilgore.

    Crockett, a relatively young program, is marking its fourth year of UIL sanctioned competition. The Bulldogs made the playoffs as the fourth place seed their first two seasons and were poised to earn a playoff berth last season when the UIL suspended competition due to the pandemic.

    Gutierrez noted that the Bulldogs’ district losses were to Palestine and Livingston, both 4A schools.

    “We only lost to two teams in district (Palestine and Livingston). We’re blowing teams out that in previous years had blown us out such as Hudson and Madisonville. In our last five games we have scored 18 goals and have only allowed three goals,” pointed out Gutierrez.

    “This is my first year here but I’d safely assume that we have scored more goals than this team has ever scored in a single season and allowed the least amount of goals. This team has won the most amount of games and has lost the least amount of games,” said Gutierrez.

  • More concerns arise over daycare center

    NEWS Graphic for Treehouse Daycare storyFILE PHOTO

    By Chris Edwards

    CROCKETT – A series of videos shared to social media alleging incidents of abuse at a Crockett daycare facility have parents and residents voicing opinions and concerns.

    Paola Mendez, a former employee of Treehouse Academy, who also had children under the facility’s care,

    has shared video that she obtained, which was taken by surveillance cameras at the facility. Mendez said that her two-year-old son had been crying and behaving strangely at home, which began an investigation into the facility last year, and resulted in criminal charges against three past employees, which ultimately was no-billed by a Houston County grand jury in early December.

    The former employees – Shaquill Johnson, Sekelthia Jackson and Sabrina Griffin – were charged in April and May last year with abandoning or endangering children.

    Mendez said that the videos she posted to Facebook were not among the evidence presented to the grand jury last year. The surveillance footage Mendez recovered originally, and which was used in the investigation last year, was different than the videos she obtained from an attorney and shared to social media.

    Until recently, Mendez, along with seven other parents, were hoping to have the cases reopened under a different charge, but the attorney they were talking to did not take the case. According to Mendez, the attorney said the prospective plaintiffs had no case, but the parents are talking to other attorneys at present.

    Initially, Mendez said she did not wish to be part of a lawsuit, but decided to join in and pursue it after she was fired from the facility.

    Mendez said she began noticing scratches on her son’s chin when he was a baby, but did not think anything of it. She said she also ignored bruises and bumps, assuming it was from rough play. On the videos, in which all of the individuals’ faces have been obscured by emoticons to protect privacy, alleged incidents of dragging children and hitting subjects are depicted.

    Another parent, Jennifer Carroll Kulms, posted two videos to Facebook and various Houston County-related pages within the site, which show alleged abuse at Treehouse. Kulms stated in her post that her son “regressed on potty training” and began having nightmares “and acting out,” which she alleges is a result of experiences he encountered at the daycare. In one video, Kulms states that an individual hit her child and commands him to roll over and go to sleep. In the other, an individual is heard saying “Stop all that whining.”

    In the videos viewed by the Courier from Kulms, the footage appears to be a cellphone capture of a surveillance feed, with music playing, however, a slapping sound can be heard in the first video.

    According to the facility’s handbook given to parents for the year 2020-21, on page 17, Treehouse’s overriding philosophy as to behavior guidance is that “children are important,” and as such the facility’s staff is to protect the safety of the children.

    Among the actions forbidden by Treehouse staff members, according to the document are physical or mechanical restraint, subjection of a child to emotional or physical abuse and under the header “Discipline,” it states that corporal punishment will not be used as a form of punishment at the center.

    Mendez worked at the facility for six years and had two children there. She said she began working there after enrolling her daughter. Mendez was fired from Treehouse by Lyndsey Rice, the facility’s administrator.

    Following the grand jury’s no bills, Rice said she had no comment on the matter. “I’m not going to comment on anything, because I have not been told anything yet. I don’t want to make any comments right now, because that has not even been told to me yet. I just would like to not make any comments at this time,” she said.

    Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar said at the time that the reason for the no bills was that the jury did not feel there was enough probably cause for arrests or charges to move forward, and will not proceed to trial unless another grand jury finds probably cause with additional evidence.

    “I don’t find it right that they dropped the charges,” Mendez said. Mendez added that the DA had said that any injuries and evidence such as bruises were not documented, a factor that complicated any legal action moving forward in the case last year.

    With the video postings and a series of replies on social media regarding them, the hashtag “#shutdowntreehouseacademy” has emerged. Mendez said for the parents who are expressing their concerns and experiences with the facility, “we either want it shut down, or want some type of justice.”

    Mendez said that her son was scared of two of the workers who were charged last year, and said she feels guilt for not recognizing what was happening to her son. “A daycare is supposed to be a safe place for your kids, not their worst nightmare,” she said.

  • Parents allege child abuse, seek answers

    IMG 7787ALTON PORTER | HCC Exterior of the Treehouse Academy, a daycare in Crockett, Texas.

    By Alton Porter

    A group of parents who had children at a Crockett day care are still searching for answers after a grand jury voted to no-bill a case in December.

    Criminal charges will not move forward against past employees — Shaquill Johnson, Sekelthia Nicole Jackson and Sabrina Griffin — of Treehouse Academy at 301 Renaissance Way for alleged child abuse. They were charged in April and May 2020 with abandoning or endangering children at the day care.

    All cases were closed after a Dec. 2, 2020 Houston County grand jury hearing returned a no-bill. That decision means the jury did not feel there was enough probable cause for arrests or charges to move forward, Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar said in an interview with Polk County Publishing Company.

    Therefore, the case will not proceed to trial unless another grand jury finds probable cause with additional evidence.

    As prosecutors are not present in the jury room during a vote, no explanation was given as to the grand jury’s decision, Kaspar said, adding she was unaware of any further investigation into the alleged incidents.

    The investigation began after Treehouse Academy teacher Paola Mendez, whose two-year-old son attended the day care at the time, came forward with video evidence that her child had been mistreated or abused by some of the staff. Mendez said her son got to the point where “everyday he was crying all day” at school and at home in the middle of the night, behaving strangely at home and mimicking what he experienced at the day care.

    In an interview with Polk County Publishing Company, Mendez said her son was “scared of Shaquill (Johnson) and (Sheklethia Nicole Jackson) due to alleged mistreatment,” adding, when she arrived at work each morning, “once he would see them, he would start screaming and crying, and he would continue to hide.”

    Mendez said this was very confusing and concerning and wanted to know what was going on, so she obtained access to videos taken by surveillance cameras at the facility. In viewing the videos, she saw employees spanking and hitting her son and other children; dragging children by their arms, legs and ears; grabbing them by their hair; slapping one in the mouth; cursing to some of them; and other unacceptable things.

    Mendez said she was later fired by Treehouse Academy owner Lyndsey Rice. She obtained copies of videos showing children at the day care allegedly being abused from her attorney. She said many of the videos were not included in the montage that was presented to the grand jury.

    “They do not show the dragging” of a child, she said. “They do not show the slamming him in the mat. They do not show them picking him up waist-high and then slamming him down and dragging him off.”

    She also said grand jurors were not shown a child being grabbed by the hair to make her sit, another child who was grabbed by the ear to make him sit, or one who was “popped in the mouth.”

    In addition to reporting the alleged abuses to police detectives and her lawyer, Mendez said she and three other parents upset by the alleged mistreatment of their children reported the information they had to the district attorney’s office.

    Physical discipline of children in a day care setting is prohibited, Mendez noted.

    “You cannot discipline a child (with) anything physical. You cannot do anything of that matter. You cannot spank them. You can’t pinch them. You can’t pull their hair. You can’t even thump them.”

    Mendez said she and seven other parents whose children allegedly were abused at the day care were hoping their attorney and the district attorney would reopen the cases under a different charge.

    “We were all kind of hoping to do that,” she said. “And what we understood was they were supposed to take it back to the grand jury. And now, they’re saying that they’re not because there’s no new evidence, which that still does not make sense to me. I think that they have enough.”

    Asked for her reaction to the charges against her former employees and the grand jury’s no bills, the academy’s owner declined comment on the matters.

    “I’m not going to comment on this,” Rice said. “I’m not going to comment on anything, because I have not been told anything yet. I don’t want to make any comments right now, because that has not even been told to me yet. I just would like to not make any comments at this time.”

    Allegations of abuse toward the children at Treehouse Academy in 2020 resulted in Johnson, Jackson and Griffin being charged for the alleged offenses and arrest warrants issued by officers of the Crockett Police Department (CPD).

    After the first warrant was issued for Johnson, she turned herself in to authorities April 26, 2020, on the charge of abandoning or endangering a child — a state jail felony offense — at Treehouse Academy after the initial stages of an investigation. She was released on a $50,000 bond later that day.

    Jackson turned herself in to law enforcement personnel on the same charge the next day. She was released the day after on a bond in the same amount as Johnson’s.

    Wednesday, May 6, 2020, Crockett police detectives issued an arrest warrant for Griffin, also on abandoning or endangering a child, and she turned herself in to the authorities the next day. She also was released from jail on bond, but one of a smaller amount.

    The allegations of abuse toward children at Treehouse Academy were in regard to the 2- to 3-year-old (children) class.

    In an April 16, 2020 statement, Crockett Police Chief Clayton Smith said detectives met with the day care’s administrative personnel and obtained surveillance camera recordings during initial stages of the investigation. A follow-up statement on Monday, May 4, 2020 said the initial investigation began with abuse allegations in the two- to three-year-old classroom, but expanded to include all age groups and classrooms.

    Smith stated then that Treehouse Academy executives and staff members cooperated with police department detectives throughout the thorough investigation.

  • Pet Show kicks off 2021 Houston County Fair (GALLERY)

    2021 Houston Co Fair 3ALTON PORTER | HCCQueen Ayvery Sallee, left, and Princess Kallie Jo Stephens are this year’s royalty for the Houston County Fair & Youth Livestock Show and Home & Garden Fair. They were introduced to attendees at the annual event’s Pet Show Tuesday evening.

    By Alton Porter

    The 2021 Houston County Fair & Youth Livestock Show and Home & Garden Fair is being held this week at the usual places, the Porth Ag Arena in Crockett and Crockett Civic Center.

    Participants assembled at the arena and set up the fairgrounds for the event Monday evening and it was kicked off with the check-in of many of the animals and home and garden items entered in the various shows and the holding of the Pet Show late Tuesday afternoon and evening.

    The Pet Show, which features youngsters and their pets, is one of the most popular fair activities.

    Pet Show class award winners were Lacey Currie and her dog Dixie, in the Mixed Breed Under 25 Pounds class; Kayleigh Hicks and her dog Lucy, in the Mixed Breed Over 25 Pounds class; Charlee Culpepper and her pet dog, in the Pure Breed Under 25 Pounds class; Isaac Mathison and his dog Piper, in the Pure Breed Over 25 Pounds class; and Kade Stephens and his lizard Mushi, in the Miscellaneous Animals class.

    The Best of Show trophy was won by Kennedy Craycraft and pet, the Best Team trophy by Nolan Jansky and pet, the Best Groomed trophy by Corey Hicks and his pet, the Showmanship trophy by Carley Tucker and pet and the Best Mannered trophy by Jase Turner and his pet.

    Tobi Curless, left, leading a llama, and Chuck Curless, leading an alpaca, along with Kathy Curless, not pictured, presented a demonstration with the two animals to attendees at the Pet Show of the 2021 Houston County Fair & Youth Livestock Show and Home & Garden Fair Tuesday evening. ALTON PORTER | HCC

    Tobi Curless, left, leading a llama, and Chuck Curless, leading an alpaca, along with Kathy Curless, not pictured, presented a demonstration with the two animals to attendees at the Pet Show of the…

    2020 Houston County Fair Queen Jamie Welch, right, and Princess Laney Smith were introduced to fair attendees Tuesday. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    2020 Houston County Fair Queen Jamie Welch, right, and Princess Laney Smith were introduced to fair attendees Tuesday. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    Queen Ayvery Sallee, left, and Princess Kallie Jo Stephens are this year’s royalty for the Houston County Fair & Youth Livestock Show and Home & Garden Fair. They were introduced to attendees at the annual event’s Pet Show Tuesday evening. ALTON PORTER | HCC

    Queen Ayvery Sallee, left, and Princess Kallie Jo Stephens are this year’s royalty for the Houston County Fair & Youth Livestock Show and Home & Garden Fair. They were introduced to attendees at…

    acey Currie and her dog Dixie won the trophy in the Mixed Breed Under 25 Pounds class competition at the Houston County Fair Pet Show Tuesday. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    acey Currie and her dog Dixie won the trophy in the Mixed Breed Under 25 Pounds class competition at the Houston County Fair Pet Show Tuesday. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    Kayleigh Hicks and her dog Lucy were presented the trophy for winning the Mixed Breed Over 25 Pounds class competition by 2020 Fair Princess Laney Smith at the Houston County Fair Pet Show Tuesday. ALTON PORTER | HCC

    Kayleigh Hicks and her dog Lucy were presented the trophy for winning the Mixed Breed Over 25 Pounds class competition by 2020 Fair Princess Laney Smith at the Houston County Fair Pet Show Tuesday.

    Charlee Culpepper and her dog are the winners of the trophy in the Pure Breed Under 25 Pounds class competition of this year’s Houston County Fair Pet show. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    Charlee Culpepper and her dog are the winners of the trophy in the Pure Breed Under 25 Pounds class competition of this year’s Houston County Fair Pet show. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    Isaac Mathison and his dog Piper are winners of the trophy in the Pure Breed Over 25 Pounds class competition of the 2021 Houston County Fair Pet Show. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    Isaac Mathison and his dog Piper are winners of the trophy in the Pure Breed Over 25 Pounds class competition of the 2021 Houston County Fair Pet Show. ALTON PORTER | HCC
    Kade Stephens and his lizard Mushi won the trophy in the Miscellaneous Animals class competition at the Houston County Pet Show Tuesday. A ALTON PORTER | HCC
    Kade Stephens and his lizard Mushi won the trophy in the Miscellaneous Animals class competition at the Houston County Pet Show Tuesday. A ALTON PORTER | HCC
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    Before the Pet Show competitions were held, three Latexo-area residents—Kathy Curless, Chuck Curless and Tobi Curless—put on a demonstration with one of their llamas and one of their alpacas for the show attendees.

    In addition, both last year’s fair and livestock show queen and princess and this year’s royalty were introduced to the event attendees.

    The 2020 queen was Jamie Welch, a Latexo High School graduate who now attends Texas A&M University. Laney Smith, a fifth grader at Kennard Elementary School, was the 2020 princess.

    This year’s queen is Ayvery Sallee, a Lovelady High School Senior, and the 2021 princess is Kallie Jo Stephens, of Latexo, a Grapeland Middle School student.

    The fair and youth livestock show activities will continue through Saturday, when the participants will clean up the fairgrounds, and the climaxes of the event will be held Friday: the Buyers Appreciation Dinner, beginning at 4 p.m., and the Sale of Champions, beginning at 6 p.m.

  • Prayer warriors met for Crockett prayer day event

    NEWS Prayer Day photoALTON PORTER | HCC Crockett Mayor Dr. Ianthia Fisher led in prayer at the observance of the National Day of Prayer.

    By Alton Porter

    CROCKETT – Local Christian leaders and church members, supported by governmental officials and business representatives, hosted a prayer gathering on the Houston County Courthouse lawn Thursday, May 6.

    It was “the seventieth observance of National Day of Prayer,” said Minister Charlana Kelly, who served as emcee and welcomed attendees to the event. “Can you believe that? Seventy years. That’s awesome.

    “I won’t be around actually if it goes this far, but wouldn’t it be great, 170 years? And the only way that can happen is passing this gift that we’ve been given to pray onto our children and our grandchildren and our great grandchildren.

    “And that’s the thing … the Lord said: ‘If you will teach these things to your children and your children’s children, then you’re going to be blessed. And so, let’s continue our commitment to pray every day for our leaders and our nation, our neighbors, our community, our churches and all of the things that concern us because when we call upon the name of the Lord, he answers. He hears and he answers.

    “And the Word says he’ll show us great and mighty things that we do not know. So, we need to know what God knows. Right? Because he has the answers to everything that we need.”

    Kelly is a part of the Houston County Ministerial Association and a minister at Crockett’s Good Shepherd Fellowship Church.

    The theme of the prayer day gathering locally, as well as nationally, was based on 2 Corinthians 3:17: “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty.”

    “And our freedoms and liberty can only come from God,” said Kelly. “And I thank God for that because we don’t need to look to anyone else for freedom. We look to God. And when we have Christ as Savior, we have liberty. Amen.

    “And so, the theme’s called ‘LORD pour out Your LOVE, LIFE, and LIBERTY.’

    “And so, all across the nation today, beginning early in the morning, there’ve been gatherings already.” The national gathering was held that night (Thursday, May 6), and was accessible online and on smart phones via Facebook, Kelly said.

    She read an excerpt from President Joe Biden’s National Day of Prayer proclamation: “On this National Day of Prayer, we unite with purpose and resolve, and recommit ourselves to the core freedoms that helped define and guide our Nation from its earliest days.

    “We celebrate our incredible good fortune that, as Americans, we can exercise our convictions freely—no matter our faith or beliefs. Let us find in our prayers, however they are delivered, the determination to overcome adversity, rise above our differences, and come together as one Nation to meet this moment in history.”

    “And today is a moment in history,” Kelly said. “And I know that God has good things for our future regardless of our government. Amen. Can we all agree on that?”

    Kelly said she was honored when Pastor Tim Allen, of First Christian Church in Crockett, selected her to emcee the prayer day event, because the late Pastor Steve Meadows, of Westside Baptist Church, “was the one who often organized the National Day of Prayer events” in Crockett.

    “And one of the things that I really loved and appreciated most about him was that he loved to pray, and he loved our nation,” Kelly said. “And oftentimes, he was committed to do that right here at this courthouse on a weekly basis during seasons of time that it was necessary.”

    Kelly then had the late pastor’s wife, Terri Meadows, the Houston County Clerk, pray the first prayer, which focused on love and life.

    Ten other individuals, including Kelly, followed Meadows in praying specific prayers targeting various focuses.

    Those prayer warriors included Allen, who also is president of the Texas Council of Child Welfare Boards, who prayed for children and families; Pastor Michael Bedevian, of First United Methodist Church, who prayed for the elderly; and Pastor Leon Wallace, of Good Shepherd Fellowship Church, who prayed for churches.

    In addition, Maria Mathis, a First Baptist Church Crockett member and an educator, prayed for the education system, students and educators; Tiffany Wiggins-Blackmon, owner of Crockett Printing, prayed for businesses and their customers; and Houston County Sheriff Randy Hargrove prayed for freedom and government.

    Also praying at the event were Crockett Mayor and Minister Dr. Ianthia Fisher, who focused on all levels of government; Pastor Reggie Gregory, of Calvary Baptist Church, who prayed for local, state and national unity and the elimination of prejudice; Kelly, who made additional comments and prayed a general prayer; and Houston County Judge Jim Lovell, who prayed the closing prayer.

  • Regional legend Country Willie to perform at Camp Street

    Country WilliePHOTO COURTESY OF COUNTRY WILLIE EDWARDS Singer/songwriter Country Willie Edwards is scheduled to perform Saturday night at Camp Street Café in Crockett.

    By Chris Edwards

    CROCKETT – Country Willie Edwards is a name well-known to many music lovers within the East Texas region.

    Edwards, a singer-songwriter, whose sound harkens back to the days of troubadours such as Ernest Tubb and Hank Williams, will appear at the Camp Street Café, in downtown Crockett, on Saturday, May 29. The show begins at 8 p.m.

    Edwards is currently promoting his latest record, Midnight Cowboy, a 14-track collection that was recorded at Encore Studios in Nacogdoches with Heath Perritt engineering. On the album, Edwards’ deep, bass-baritone vocals and acoustic guitar mastery is joined by his longtime drummer/percussionist Thomas Oliver. Edwards and Oliver fill up an astonishing amount of sound space for just two musicians, both on record and in live performances. Edwards’ vocals, which are tuneful and resonant, are at the forefront, and cover the frequencies a bassist would typically occupy. Occasionally Edwards and Oliver are accompanied by a standup bassist for live shows.

    Onstage, Edwards is a man of few words in between songs, instead, he allows his music to tell the tales. He maintains a powerful stage presence with just the performance of his songs, and it is something that has endeared him to many audiences. One reviewer, Kevin Curtin, in the Austin Chronicle, wrote the Edwards “transformed into the coupling rod on a locomotive via his right arm, which strummed with unrelenting momentum.”

    Oliver said he has enjoyed working with Edwards through the years. “Working with Willie is amazing,” he said. “He is a master of his own craft. He takes the simplest things in life and turns them into folk classics. It is just a treasure, for me, to be a part of the rhythm to help Willie deliver his final product.”

    Alongside his unforgettable stage presence, Edwards has also gained a cult level of interest in the Texas songwriters’ community for his large repertoire of original compositions. Some of them, such as “Marfa Lights,” “Rollin’ Down the Highway” and “Dallas in the Night” are standards at his shows and inspire singalongs with those in the know. To the uninitiated, they are liable to be singing along (and tapping toes) well before the performance’s end.

    The new record is a whole slate of songs sure to become crowd pleasers. Songs such as “When I’ve Finally Gone Crazy” and “Down by the Railroad Tracks” seem to transport the listener to a roadhouse on the outskirts of town, circa 1955, but at the same time, there’s still a modern edge in some of the lyrics.

    Edwards’ music has made him something of a legend among connoisseurs of live music, and not just in Texas. He grew up in the tiny Cherokee County community of Sardis, where he returned to establish roots in recent years. A farmer by trade, Edwards has been playing music from a young age, when he led hymns in church and played the East Texas opry circuit as a teenager.

    Since his collegiate days, he has played before live audiences steadily, and became a favorite in the Nacogdoches area, typically mesmerizing audiences as a solo acoustic act. Throughout his career, he has also played in bluegrass bands, like the Nacogdoches favorite the Remains, and even led the punk band Country Willie and the Cosmic Debris, which showcased a more rock-based influence, and allowed Edwards’ songwriting to branch out to include lyrics that worked in his fascination with extraterrestrial matters, as well as B-movie type imagery about zombies. Edwards also starred in a film, Rainbows End, which was directed by Eric Hueber, a filmmaker and musician, who played in the Cosmic Debris. The film documented an ill-fated tour undertaken by the band and featured a cast of other real-life characters associated with the band, including the late East Texas mystic Audrey Dean Leighton.

    Aside from his live gigs, Edwards has also recorded many albums, in a variety of locations. The latest album is available through his website, www.countrywillieedwards.com and will be available at the show.

    Despite all of his recognition and achievements within music, and other media, Edwards remains a humble country boy. “He is so humble, and so talented,” Oliver said. “Just a great dude!”


    IMG 9919LARRY LAMB | HCC Former Crockett Bulldogs taking on the 2021 team Saturday, Feb. 6 were (front l-r) Kendall Rhodes, Joseph Smoldas, Dustin Wyble, Antwaain Boston and Garrett Reeves; (back l-r) Ryan Young, Jake Young, Larren Reeves, Drew Corry, Rascal Yates and coach Joe Smoldas. Not pictured is Tyrone Colter.

    Crockett baseball alumni shine again

    By Larry Lamb

    Eleven former Crockett High School baseball players dusted off their gloves, grabbed a tube of sports cream and returned to the diamond for the annual alumni match-up against the 2021 Bulldogs Saturday, Feb. 6.

    The “Bulldogs vs. the Old Dogs” battle has become a tradition in Crockett along with a home run derby in which the old-timers have a chance to show off their power hitting prowess.

    Kendall Rhodes and Tyrone “Six” Colter, both members of Crockett’s 1996 state championship team, headlined the alumni squad’s roster. Rhodes and Colter played for legendary coach Tommy Parker, who earned championship rings in 1982 and 1996 during his stint at Crockett.

    Rounding out the Old Dogs roster were 2001 graduate Antwaain Boston, Joseph Smoldas, Dustin Wyble, Garret Reeves, Ryan Young, Jake Young, Larren Reeves, Drew Corry and Rascal Yates. Joe Smoldas coached the Old Dogs.

    Continuing their domination of the series, the Old Dogs won this year’s battle 8-5.

    Bulldog baseball coach Cole Pemberton told the victorious alumni, “Nothing but love and respect for you guys. Today was about honoring y’all. Old guys still got it.”

    Pemberton, a CHS graduate who took the reins as head coach this season, inherited a baseball program that has struggled in recent years.

    Addressing the alumni crew before the game, Pemberton said, “You guys started this tradition of greatness in Crockett and it’s something we don’t take lightly. I preach every day to my guys about the greatness Crockett baseball has produced.

    “I’m beyond proud to be the head coach here in Crockett and an alumni from here myself. To the class of ‘82 and ‘96, thank you for showing us what excellence is all about. We hope one day to get the program headed in that direction that you guys showed us,” Pemberton concluded.

  • Second arrest made in Paul case

    1 MUGSHOT Edwards 031621MUGSHOT Clara Kimble Edwards

    By Chris Edwards

    CROCKETT – A second arrest was made in connection with the disappearance of Faye Lynn Paul on Monday.

    Crockett Police Chief Clayton Smith announced on Monday that Clara Kimble Edwards, age 31, was taken into custody by investigators on the charge of Tampering with a Human Corpse, a second-degree felony. Edwards was apprehended with the assistance of the US Marshals’ Service, at her family’s home in Houston County.

    According to Smith, the arrest came about through the ongoing investigation into Paul’s murder. Houston County District Attorney Donna Kaspar approved of a warrant being issued for Edwards’s arrest.

    Crockett Police began investigating Paul’s disappearance in February of last year, when the 79-year-old Crockett woman’s Chevrolet Impala and her nephew, David Wayne Denson, were also missing. A Silver Alert was out for Paul, and the Houston County Courier was notified that Denson was wanted for questioning about his aunt’s whereabouts.

    Denson and the vehicle were both located, and the 25-year-old man was brought back to Crockett from Alamosa, Colo., where he was discovered, for questioning and on felony charges for violating an existing probation.

    Although Paul was not located after Denson was questioned, Smith announced in March 2020 that his department was actively investigating Denson for capital murder. Earlier this month, the case was presented to a Grand Jury, which returned a True Bill for the case. A True Bill indicates that enough evidence was presented to proceed with a trial.

    Smith added in a news release on Monday that Paul’s remains have yet to be recovered. “Investigators hope to one day be able to locate her and provide the family with some closure,” he stated in the release.

    Edwards is currently being held in the Houston County Jail on a $100,000 bond. Crockett Police are encouraging anyone with information about the case to contact them at 936-544-2021.