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  • High-speed chase ends in arrest in Tyler County

    RaheemJonesMugMUGSHOT Raheem Jones

    By Chris Edwards

    TYLER COUNTY - A high-speed chase on highway 190 near the Tyler County line resulted in the arrest of a Jasper man on several charges.

    The chase begun on Saturday evening, at approximately 8 p.m., according to the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe Police Department. Officer S. Allison with the tribal PD attempted to initiate a traffic stop for defective equipment, and the driver refused to stop.

    A high-speed pursuit begun along 190 eastbound, and once near the county line, deputies from the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office were called in to assist the AC officers in pursuit. The driver, who was identified as Raheem Wesley Corday Jones, got up to speeds in excess of 100 mph in the 2010 gold Cadillac he drove.

    Allison was able to get Jones to stop in Tyler County and held him until multiple units from TCSO and the Texas Department of Public Safety were on the scene. Jones was arrested for evading and driving with an invalid license and was also found to have an outstanding warrant for parole violations stemming from an intent to deliver a controlled substance conviction. He was taken to the Polk County Jail.

    He is currently incarcerated on bonds totaling $16,500 from the evading and DWLI charges, and no bond on the parole violation.

  • Historical Commission hosts tree dedication for fallen member

    IMG 0132COURTESY PHOTO Patricia Snook speaks to attendees at a tree dedication Oct. 24 to honor Dicki Lou Alston. Representative Polk County Historical Commission would like to thank family members, First United Methodist Church, Daughters of the American Revolution members, Polk County Historical members and Alston’s 1965 Livingston High School classmates.

    By Jason Chlapek

    The Polk County Historical Commission conducted a tree dedication ceremony on Saturday, Oct. 24, at the Polk County Memorial Museum.

    The ceremony was conducted in memory of former Historical Commission member Dicki Lou Alston, who passed away in December 2018.

    “(Dicki Lou) was a member of our commission, she was in the Livingston Class of 1965 and she passed away suddenly (two years ago),” Historical Commission co-chair Patricia Snook said. “We have this tree that we planted at the museum and we gave her family a plaque.”

    In addition to her tenure with the Historical Commission, Alston also was a volunteer at the Polk County Memorial Museum and the Moscow Cemetery. She earned her bachelors degree from Texas Tech, masters from Sam Houston, and spent 35-plus years in education, more notably as the curriculum director for Beaumont and Lufkin ISDs.

    Snook said the Historical Commission lost two trees, but have already replanted one and are replanting another one. She also gave a little insight into what the Historical Commission does.

    “We do historical markers and we have a marker chairman,” Snook said. “They have to be approved. We were lucky enough to have a family leave their home to us for the museum. The museum has been several places, but the county maintains the grounds of the museum. We’re more of the project people. We preserve history. We also help out with the old city cemetery. We put up Texas flags. May is preservation month and we put up signs on homes that need to be restored.”

    Joyce Johnson, also a Historical Commission co-chair, talked about other projects her group does.

    “The historical markers are from the state and we have to submit an application to the state to get markers,” Johnson said. “Last year we started an oral history gathering. We have about eight WWII Veterans still with us. During February, we focus on Black History. We worked on this for a long time.”

  • Honoring a Polk County hero (VIDEO)

    BR Haynes twoBRIAN BESCH | PCEFormer Livingston Fire Department Chief was laid to rest Thursday morning. Haynes was the Fire Chief in Livingston from 1963-77.

    By Brian Besch

    Masses gathered Thursday at First United Methodist Church to remember a former fire chief, friend and mentor to many.

    Billy Roy “B.R.” Haynes died March 13 at the age of 94. In tribute, a procession of first-responder vehicles made their way with Haynes for one last trip by Livingston Fire Department Station 1 before ending at Peebles Cemetery.

    Growing up in Livingston, Haynes played football for the Lions and graduated in 1943. After enlisting with the Merchant Marines during World War II, he joined the family business (Haynes Manufacturing Co., now Little Beaver, Inc.) with his father. After his father’s retirement, he took over the business and would later pass it on to his sons.

    Haynes was 1972’s Polk Countian of the Year and a 32nd-degree Mason. He was a member of the board of directors of First State Bank of Livingston since 1981, serving as Director Emeritus since 1997.

    Joining the Livingston Volunteer Fire Department in 1960, Haynes was elected chief just three years later. He was president of the Texas State Fireman’s and Fire Marshall’s Association in 1970. He served with Livingston Fire until his retirement in 1977 and will forever be known as Chief Haynes, Unit 3.

    He will be remembered by many, including current Livingston Fire Chief Corky Cochran, as someone who laid the foundation for what the department has become.

    “He passed a lot of knowledge and common sense, not only to me, but every person that served with him and under him,” Cochran said. “He came into the fire department at a time when it was in really bad shape because of a lack of equipment and supplies that were needed. The training was not up to par and B.R. was able to do the things that put the puzzle back together to take the fire department back in the direction that it is now. If it hadn't been for what he did then, we wouldn't be where we are now. He was the springboard that pushed the fire department out of the Dark Ages and toward modernization.”

    Cochran said Haynes was a father figure to younger firefighters who served under him and a leader amongst those his age. “He had the ability — whoever he was working with — to connect and make people feel comfortable and follow his lead,” Cochran said. A number of firefighters attended Thursday's funeral from the far reaches of the state. Fire departments from Riverside, Huntsville, Tarkington and Cleveland covered the shift for those at Fire Station 1 in Livingston, allowing local regulars to attend the funeral.

    Cochran said firefighters cover for each other when there is a family member or fellow firefighter who dies — a brotherhood that comes forward to help. He said it's something that dates back to Haynes’s early days, when Polk County had just two fire stations.

    “When he first came in, there were two departments in the county: Livingston and Corrigan,” Cochran said. “Our next two closest neighbors that we called on for help were Huntsville and Cleveland. When something happened, they would help each other out.”

    Haynes also had an impact on the Huntsville Fire Department, as well as many of the departments operating in Polk County today.

    “Jack King was a good friend of B.R.’s, and in 1972, Jack was in the department over there and became fire chief. The Huntsville Fire Department was a lot like Livingston was when Jack took over. There was a total lack of equipment and couldn't get any help to get the stuff they needed. When Jack became chief, he began to rattle cages like B.R. did, but sought B.R.’s help. B.R. helped by giving him some guidance on things that he had experienced and got the Huntsville department back on track.

    “Right here in Polk County, he helped Scenic Loop, Onalaska, the Alabama-Coushatta Nation and Indian Springs. They all came in about the same time in the mid-‘70s. He helped all of those departments as they were getting organized.”

  • Houston Countians urged to take broadband survey

    Broadband Graphic PixabayCOURTESY OF PIXABAY Broadband Graphic

    By Alton Porter

    An online survey is being conducted to determine the broadband internet needs of Houston County residents.

    The survey is being put forth by Connected Nation Texas, a localized division of a national nonprofit organization dedicated to expanding access to broadband. It was launched in January and will continue into May.

    County residents are encouraged to take the broadband survey.

    Involved in the Houston County Broadband Initiative is the county’s broadband committee, which is comprised of local community leaders from various sectors with a common mission of enhancing broadband access, adoption and use throughout the county for the benefit of local residents and businesses.

    With that goal, the committee is partnering with Connected Nation Texas and its “Connected Community” program to assess the present state of broadband in the county, establish a broadband planning process and address the county’s current and future broadband needs.

    According to survey coordinators, in order to perform an assessment of Houston County’s current broadband environment, the committee members are surveying local residents, businesses and other organizations across the county.

    Responses to the surveys will help them better understand the existing resources and capabilities available to support the access, adoption and use of broadband technology in residents’ homes and businesses.

    After a structured evaluation of this assessment is completed, the committee and other survey coordinators will be in a position to develop appropriate action plans and projects to effectively improve the county’s broadband environment.

    The results of the community broadband assessment and related surveys are planned to be shared with the public this summer, followed by additional work to develop a countywide action plan to address identified areas of need.

    County residents’ participation in the appropriate broadband survey and overall support of the committee’s efforts are seen as very important in developing an accurate assessment of broadband availability and related needs in the county.

    To take the survey as a resident, business owner or designated representative of some other organization, go online to https://www.myconnectedcommunity.org/houston-county/ and select the appropriate option.

    Readers of this article are asked to share this information with peers and to encourage others to take the appropriate broadband survey.

  • Houston County commissioners oppose being silenced

    IMG 7952ALTON PORTER | HCC Houston County Judge Jim Lovell and county commissioners court members met in person and remotely via Zoom Tuesday, March 23. Above, from left to right, are Gary Lovell, Willie Kitchen, Judge Lovell, Gene Stokes and Jimmy Henderson.

    By Alton Porter

    Houston County’s commissioners, like other local government officials across the state, have taken a stand opposing being silenced by state officials.

    The county officials adopted a resolution in opposition to Texas Senate Bills 10 and 234 and Texas House Bill 749, which they say introduce efforts to silence county officials. They took the action at a Houston County Commissioners Court meeting Tuesday morning, March 23.

    “SB 10 is a bill that’s being introduced (in the Texas Senate),” said County Judge Jim Lovell in presenting the resolution to the commissioners—as are SB 234 and HB 749. “They (state lawmakers) word it as taxpayer-funded lobbying.

    “But what it really is is we can’t join an association, such as Texas Association of Counties or County Judges and Commissioners Association of Texas, if they hire on their staff a lobbyist.”

    Judge Lovell added, “Not only that. We can’t go to Austin as commissioners court or sheriff or any other elected official to (voice our positions) if a bill comes up that concerns county government and we want to go and testify before a committee or talk to our legislator and the county pay for it.

    “So, this resolution is just a resolution saying that we oppose that bill.”

    County Auditor Melissa Jeter pointed out that SB 234 and HB 749 are Senate and House bills related to SB 10.

    The bills would “take your voice away from any unfunded mandates…,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Gene Stokes said.

    “They forgot about the First Amendment, didn’t they,” added Sheriff Randy Hargrove.

    Jeter noted, the Senate’s Local Government Committee, chaired by Sen. Paul Bettencourt, is to hold a hearing on SB 10 Thursday morning, March 25. Persons who want to comment on the bill should contact the committee before the hearing.

    It is “a community censorship bill that would prohibit a city or county from spending public funds to influence the outcome of legislation,” according to an interpretation released by the Texas Municipal League (TML).

    “At the most basic level, S.B. 10 would prevent a city from hiring staff, contracting with lobbyists or other professional advocates, or joining associations like TML that engage in advocacy at the state capitol.

    “Specifically, the bill would provide: ‘The governing body of a county or municipality may not spend public money or provide compensation in any manner to directly or indirectly influence or attempt to influence the outcome of any legislation pending before the legislature.’”

    HB 749, also dubbed community censorship legislation by TML, “would: (1) prohibit a political subdivision from spending public funds to: (a) hire an individual required to register as a lobbyist for the purpose of lobbying a member of the Texas legislature; or (b) pay a nonprofit state association or organization that: (i) primarily represents political subdivisions; and (ii) hires or contracts with an individual required to register as a lobbyist.”

    In addition, TML representatives note, HB 749 would: “(2) provide that if a political subdivision engages in activity prohibited by (1), above, a taxpayer or resident of the political subdivision is entitled to injunctive relief to prevent any further prohibited activity or any further payments of public funds; and (3) provide that a taxpayer or resident who prevails in an action under (2), above, is entitled to recover reasonable attorney’s fees and costs from the political subdivision.”

    SB 234 is a companion bill to HB 749.

    In other business, the commissioners voted to accept as information the resignation of Bobby Hutcherson from the Houston County Emergency Services District No. 2 Board of Commissioners and to appoint Greg Brooks, of Belott, to replace Hutcherson on the ESD2 board. Hutcherson had served as vice president on the board.

    In another action, the commissioners approved the holding of a county event and display permit for a Houston County Welfare Board and Kalin’s Center program and the adoption of a proclamation designating April as Child Abuse Prevention Month in Houston County.

    The program, promoting awareness of child abuse, will be held on the county courthouse steps April 9, beginning at 11 a.m., and the annual display of pinwheels and related items, intended to focus attention on such abuse, will remain on the courthouse grounds throughout the month.

    The commissioners approved participation in a right-of-way/utility project on State Highway 7 at the Trinity River with the Texas department of highways, by passing a motion authorizing the signing of an affidavit, an agreement to contribute right-of-way funds and a resolution authorizing Judge Lovell to execute an agreement to contribute funds to the state for proper development and construction of the state highway system.

    They voted to pass a motion on a request to approve a $1,000 donation from an anonymous donor to the Sheriff’s Office for Drug Awareness Resistance Education (DARE) expenses.

    The commissioners approved acceptance of a donation of $9,284 in road materials from an anonymous donor for Precinct 2.

    In another action related to the Sheriff’s Office, the commissioners approved a budget amendment request from the office for a vehicle replacement not to exceed $17,000.

    They voted to approve selecting which vehicles or departments are to be included to determine costs for a possible lease program with Enterprise Fleet Management.

    A motion to grant Piney Woods Fine Arts Association $1,000 from the county’s Hotel Occupancy Tax fund to help cover expenses for a Texas Tenors Concert scheduled Saturday, April 16, at the Crockett Civic Center carried on a vote taken by the commissioners.

    A proclamation, designating April as County Government Month in Houston County and setting April 29 as the date for a county employees picnic was adopted by the commissioners.

    Similarly, the commissioners adopted a proclamation designating April as Fair Housing Month.

    A motion declaring a 2005 Precinct 2 pickup truck as surplus and authorizing advertising for the sale of the vehicle passed on a vote by the commissioners.

    They approved District Clerk Carolyn Rains’ request for $100 for a change fund.

    The county’s former office of courthouse security was designated by the commissioners as additional space for Precinct 2 Constable Kenneth “Red” Smith, and they authorized the making of necessary budget amendments related to the matter.

    A motion to approve a contract with a company to haul and deliver road materials for Precincts 1 and 3 carried on a vote of the commissioners.

    They discussed a completed renovation project at the Precinct 2 road and bridge office building, located at 601 Cedar St., half of it which is being offered by Precinct 2 Commissioner Willie Kitchen to be used for other county purposes. The commissioners voted to reimburse the Precinct 2 road and bridge budget with $24,210 from the county’s general fund for expenses incurred by the renovation project so that they can be used to fund road and bridge projects. The commissioners approved making necessary budget amendments for this matter.

    They received as information a preservation/environmental testing report on the county courthouse presented by County Clerk Terri Meadows from G&H Environmental Consulting, LLC, and approved authorizing Judge Lovell to act on presented recommendations to make repairs to the courthouse.

    The commissioners voted to authorize Judge Lovell to negotiate a possible real estate purchase.

    And renewal of an insurance policy with Texas Association of Counties for property and mobile equipment was approved by the commissioners.

  • Houston County named to ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative

    NEWS Vaccine 031721FILE PHOTO

    By Chris Edwards

    CROCKETT – Governor Greg Abbott announced today that Houston County is one of four East Texas counties added to the statewide “Save Our Seniors” initiative.

    The initiative was announced on March 1 by Abbott to ensure that more senior citizens are vaccinated throughout the state. Houston County senior citizens can receive their free shot at the Crockett Civic Center Thursday, March 18 and Friday, March 19.

    The vaccines, which will be administered by a military team, will be available from 8 a.m. until 4 p.m. each of the two days. According to the Houston County Office of Emergency Management and Fire Marshal, the availability in the county of the vaccine as part of the initiative is the most recent plan to protect the county’s citizens. Five hundred doses of the Moderna vaccine will be available at the vaccination center.

    Anyone who is age 50 or older, along with members of the same household (21 and older) and/or caregivers is eligible for the vaccines on these dates. The availability has also been opened to employees of the education field.

    Other counties in the region that were added to this wave of the initiative are Trinity, Shelby and Hopkins. This is the third week, thus far, and there were previously 26 and 34 counties participating, respectively, each of the other two weeks. This week, in total, there are 28 Texas counties named to the initiative by the Texas Division of Emergency (TDEM), the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) and the Texas Military Department (TMD.)

    “The continued expansion of our ‘Save Our Seniors’ initiative is protecting elderly Texans from COVID-19 and ramping up our vaccination efforts across the state,” Abbott said.

    For those who have questions regarding the vaccine or might need to schedule a home visit for a home-bound individual, they can call 936-544-7175, and registration is also available on-site. The Civic Center is located at 1100 Edmiston Drive in Crockett.

  • Inking fame

    021121 inked 2COURTESY PHOTO Trinity County resident, Destiny Sigford, competes to be cover girl for Inked Magazine.

    By Tony Farkas

    TRINITY — A Trinity County girl is hoping to grace the cover of a magazine that focuses on the art of tattoos.

    Destiny Sigford has made the Top 15 in her group, even claiming the top spot, and hopes by Thursday to make the Top 5 and enter the quarterfinals of the Inked Cover Girl competition.

    Sigford got her first tattoo at 17, saying it was a spur of the moment thing. She said they can make you feel more confident in the same way that makeup makes women feel more confident.

    “The only difference is you don't have to reapply (tattoos) every day,” she said.

    Sigford decided to enter the competition for several reasons, but most importantly because she said she has been her own worst enemy.

    “I have stood in my own way most of my life,” she said. “If I think there’s even the slightest chance I might fail at something or disappoint my kids or my family, I let those doubts keep me from trying. I am trying to approach opportunities like this with a different mindset. At the end of the day, I have nothing to lose and everything to gain.”

    Sigford attended school in Trinity off and on growing up, and eventually her family purchased property near the county line a few years back.

    “I studied nursing at TVCC in Palestine and Angelina College in Lufkin,” she said. “Nursing was never my dream career though so when I was offered a job as a field clerk for an oil and gas company in South Texas a month after I turned 18, I decided to take it.”

    Still, the journey wasn’t easy, which led to some personal struggles.

    “I struggled with a reliable vehicle and was living in government housing,” Sigford said. “Fast forward 10 years later, and I have moved over from the contractor side of things to inspection. I still reside in Trinity technically, but I rarely get to go home. I love my job, but everything is so unpredictable in this field and I'm tired. My girls are tired of living out of an RV and switching schools constantly.”

    After struggling with depression and self-acceptance, Sigford started a fitness journey; that, combined with her love for tattoos, became a good way to celebrate her transformation.

    “I feel like if I won, it would send a powerful message to other women or struggling mothers like me to go after their dreams,” she said. “Don’t be a victim to your own doubts. It doesn't matter if you are the underdog or the deck is stacked against you; if it could change your life and you have nothing to lose by trying, go for it.”

    Aside from facing personal challenges, the competition itself will be tough for “just your everyday small-town gal from Texas.”

    “I’m going up against women who are popular influencers on Instagram or already modeling for other companies and have a huge following across multiple social media platforms,” she said.

    Sigford said that if she won the competition, the money would let her go back to college to be a civil rights attorney, or perhaps taking a course at Texas Laser Institute to get certified in micro-blading and shading and possibly opening up a small business.

    “I hope that I could make enough money doing that to get me through law school,” she said. “I'm going to need all the support I can get, and every vote is going to matter as the competition progresses.

    “I never expected the amount of support I have gotten since public voting started on Jan. 18,” Sigford said. “Even if I don't take anything else away from this, it will still have been worth it to me.”

    According to the Inked website, thousands of models registered for their chance to take home a $25,000 grand prize and be featured on the cover of the tattoo lifestyle magazine.

    To vote for a model, individuals with a valid Facebook account may use that account to vote once every 24 hours for free, as well as purchase additional votes for $1 each. A portion of the proceeds will go to the MusiCares Foundation, which helps musicians in health or financial crises.

    Voting for the Top 5 runs Feb. 4-11, followed by voting for group winners, which runs from Feb. 11-18. Group winners advance to the quarterfinals; that voting runs Feb. 19-25; semifinals run from Feb. 26-March 4; and finals voting starts March 5 and ends March 11.

    To vote for Destiny, or to find out about her standings, visit https://cover.inkedmag.com/2021/destiny-sigford.

  • Interview with Covid survivors (VIDEO)


    covid interviewCALEB FORTENBERRY | PCPC Livingston Volunteer Fire Chief, Corky Cochran and Livingston Junior High Coach, John Taylor speak on their experience of surviving Covid-19 in the exclusive East Texas News interview.

     

     

  • Ivanhoe awarded $11.4m

    Cathy Bennett lakeCHRIS EDWARDS | TCB Ivanhoe Mayor Cathy Bennett stands in front of the remnants of Lake Ivanhoe. Its dam was severely damaged during Hurricane Harvey.

    Funds will go toward flood mitigation projects

    By Chris Edwards

    IVANHOE – For a city that has seen its fair share of progress in its short life as an incorporated city, last Friday was a red-letter day for Ivanhoe.

    On that date, Ivanhoe’s mayor Cathy Bennett, along with the state’s land commissioner George P. Bush and state Senator Robert Nichols announced that the state’s General Land Office (GLO) approved a funding amount of more than $11.4 million to go to the city toward flood mitigation projects, which will improve the city’s drainage infrastructure.

    Bennett said when she received the good news, she was “extremely elated.” The money will go toward several projects in the city that, with its budget, could have not accomplished, she said.

    Multiple flooding events, going back to 2015, and the Hurricane Harvey disaster in 2017, have damaged parts of Ivanhoe’s dams, and in the case of the Lake Ivanhoe Dam, breeched it, and caused severe erosion on the face of the dam. Lake Ivanhoe was reduced from a 22-acre lake to a body of water the size of a pond. That dam will be reconstructed, along with the Camelot Dam.

    Along the Tristan Dam, the road level will be raised to match the level of the dam. Recent storms have exceeded the lake’s capacity of its emergency spillway. This has presented a hazard to first responders, as well as the public, travelling along Lakewood Drive during and after storm events.

    These projects are a few of the major infrastructure works to be undertaken with the funding within the city.

    According to a news release from the GLO, the scope of the work to Ivanhoe’s infrastructure will, in the long term, increase the city’s resilience to any future disasters and reduce the long-term risk of loss of life and damage to property.

    “Since 2015, 140 Texas counties have received a Presidential disaster declaration,” said Bush. “The need is extensive, and this first round of mitigation funding is geared directly at helping communities that are majority low-to-moderate income and lack the resources to fund their own mitigation projects. The GLO is proud to help communities across Texas increase public safety, prevent property loss and minimize hardship on residents,” he added.

    The grant carries a 1% match, which Bennett said the city still has money in its bond fund to cover. There are many in the community asking questions on social media about the coming windfall and the timetable of the work it will cover, and to that end, Bennett has scheduled a town hall meeting at the Ivanhoe City Hall for Saturday, June 5 beginning at 10 a.m. She said the meeting will address the myriad of questions that residents, as well as city officials, may have, including the timetable of the project and how the funding is awarded.

    Bennett has invited the engineer working on the project, the city’s grant administrator and also the GLO grant manager to participate. The town hall meeting will be livestreamed on the official City of Ivanhoe Facebook page and YouTube site. For anyone who might have questions to bring up at the event, but cannot attend, Bennett is encouraging them to email her at: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. with their name, address and question. Bennett invited the citizens to read the grant application, which the city has posted to its website, in full, at https://cityofivanhoe.texas.gov.

    Ivanhoe’s grant award is part of more than $2.3 billion in Community Development Block Grant Mitigation funds from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) earmarked to protect Texas communities affected by Harvey and other severe floods going back to 2015.

    Nichols made a statement last week in support of the grant funding, and noted that within Senate District 3, more than $105 million of the overall funding was awarded. Neighboring Jasper County was approved for $29.4 million, which will go toward projects in the cities of Jasper and Kirbyville.

    “This grant money will be key in protecting infrastructure that we have, and it is also going to be helpful in our economic future,” Bennett said.

    One bittersweet note occurred as the city’s grant award was announced on Friday. Jack Brockhouse, who served as the mayor of Ivanhoe for a term before Bennett was elected in 2014, died. Brockhouse lived on Lake Ivanhoe and had hoped to see it return one day, Bennett said.

  • Jailer abuse under investigation

    logoDPS file photo

    From the Polk County Sheriff’s Office

    A Polk County jailer was put on leave last week after a complaint of excessive use of force was filed.

    On Feb. 22, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office received a complaint where a jailer allegedly used excessive force on an inmate in the jail. PCSO administration notified theTexas Rangers and requested the Rangers’ assistance in conducting the investigation.

    The jailer was placed on administrative leave pending the investigation.

  • Jasper man indicted on child rape charges

    MUGSHOT Anibal VillasanaAnibal Mauricio Villasana Courtesy of the Tyler County Sheriff’s Department

    WOODVILLE –  A Tyler County grand jury handed down an indictment to a Jasper man on child rape charges.

    Anibal Mauricio Villasana, a 61-year-old Jasper resident, was indicted by the jury on two counts of Indecency with a Child by Sexual Contact. Villasana’s indictment came after an investigation regarding incidents alleged to have occurred in Tyler County. The information was submitted by Tyler County District Attorney Lucas Babin and his staff following the investigation.

    Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford said that the Texas Rangers worked on the case.

    Villasana, according to a news release, has worked for the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department for more than 20 years. He has worked in various capacities within that county’s jail, including as head of kitchen staff, head of maintenance and jailer.

    A statement made by Jasper County Chief Deputy Scotty Duncan to Jasper-based radio station KJAS affirmed that Villasana had been places on leave with pay, pending the case’s outcome.

    Villasana reportedly turned himself in to the Tyler County Justice Center on Tuesday morning, and was released after making arrangements to post his bail, which was pre-set at $100,000, or $50,000 per charge.

    The charges handed down to Villasana are a second-degree felony, punishable by a fine of up to $10,000 per charge, between two and 20 years in prison, or both.

  • Joe’s Italian Grill named ‘Do-Gooder’ of the Year

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE From left, Livingston city manager Bill Wiggins, Tanya Dora and Nancy Windham of the Texas Forest Country Partnership, Ilir Gjoka of Joe’s Italian Grill, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy and State Representative James White celebrate Joe’s Italian Grill receiving the 2020 “Do-Gooder” of the Year award for Polk County Tuesday morning.

    Special to the Enterprise

    LUFKIN - Joe’s Italian Grill of Livingston was awarded the 2020 “Do-Gooder” of the Year Award for Polk County during the 2020 Texas Forest Country Partnership (TFCP) Virtual Economic Development Summit on Wednesday, Nov. 18.

    The award presentation was made on behalf of the TFCP by Robert Allen, president & CEO of the Texas Economic Development Corporation; Adriana Cruz, executive director of the Office of Economic Development & Tourism, Office of the Governor; and Bryan Daniel, chair of the Texas Workforce Commission.

    Christi Sullivan, chair of the TFCP, noted Joe’s Italian Grill, owned by Ilir Gjoka, was established in 2009 and has 12 employees, who assist in giving back graciously to the community.

    A few of Mr. Gjoka and his staff’s selfless acts include opening his grill to feed the homeless every Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day. In addition, free meals are provided to military veterans every year on Veteran’s Day and free meals are also provided to the Polk County Special Olympics participants.

    “Mr. Gjoka also makes a special effort to take care of others during distressed times. A tornado hit Polk County in April and although he was negatively impacted, he thought of others first offering free meals to displaced families and relief aid works. Thank you for your extreme acts of appreciation and kindness; this honorable award is well deserved,” Sullivan said.

    “We are proud to recognize Joe’s Italian Grill for your genuine concern for the well-being of others and for your relentless hours spent making sure more families are fed. Your commitment to those in your community and to the Texas Forest Country region during the COVID-19 Pandemic is invaluable.

    “Our summit is an opportunity to explore ways to improve the economy of our region and we appreciate everyone who attended virtually to help us celebrate “Do-Gooders” who go over and beyond the call of duty to serve others and be an integral part of our future”, she continued.

    In addition to recognizing the counties’ “Do-Gooder” winners, Jay Shands of Angelina County received the 2020 Silver Bucket Award. The Summit’s Keynote Address was made by Governor Greg Abbott followed by a regional and state-wide in-depth discussion with Featured Presenters Robert Allen, Adriana Cruz and Bryan Daniel. Other participants included Lonnie Hunt, executive director of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments and Economic Development District; Jennifer Harris, State Program Director of Connected Nation Texas and Wynn Rosser, President and CEO of the T.L.L. Temple Foundation presented an overview and an update on Broadband in our region. Concluding the Summit was a panel discussion with the region’s State Senator and State Representatives.

    A total of 12 Do-Gooder awards were presented, one for each county in the TFCP area. Either business or individuals could be nominated for the honor.

    Criteria for being nominated for the award includes:

    • Has given back to a community during the COVID-19 Crisis
    • Located in Your County.
    • If nomination is a business, must be a viable on-going business for one or more years, experiencing growth or stability over its business life.
    • Employs less than 100
    • Provides critical service or product, fills a void in the business community, or has a unique approach to delivery of goods and services.
    • May have overcome diverse or extraordinary circumstances to remain in business.
    • Business/Individual is supportive of community growth sustainability.
    • Is not a governmental agency or municipality.

    The TFCP, formerly known as the Pineywoods Economic Partnership (PEP) and the Deep East Texas Development Association (DETDA), was founded in 1960 as a non-profit economic development organization.  The TFCP is a regional economic development organization that is committed to coordinating economic development-related activities in Deep East Texas and further enhancing the appeal of the 12-county area that it serves.

    The Texas Forest Country Partnership is committed to enriching the economic prosperity and well-being of our region through marketing, business development, and advocacy.

  • Judge Black issues peace bond warrants for Biden, Fauci

    ClydeBlack1FILE PHOTO Houston County Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Clyde Black has issued peace bond warrants commanding that President Joe Biden and medical adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci be brought before him.

    By Alton Porter

    Houston County’s Precinct 1 justice of the peace has issued peace bond warrants commanding that President Joe Biden and his chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci be brought before him to answer to complaints brought by county residents.

    The warrants were issued Wednesday by JP Peace Clyde Black to “the sheriff or any constable of Houston County.”

    “You are commanded to take the body of Joseph Biden, Defendant,” states the warrant issued for the president, “and bring Defendant forthwith before me at the Justice of the Peace Office, in Houston County, Texas, then and there to answer a lawful complaint that Defendant has threatened and is about to commit against the person of John Doe-Multiple Citizens….”

    The warrant states Biden is about to commit offenses by “mandating allowed entry of illegal criminal immigrants; threatening illegal confiscation of personal firearms; endangering lives with mask mandates; ordering mandatory vaccinations; creating panic and fear with false pandemic numbers; creating danger with gender regulations in schools, against the laws of the State of Texas.”

    Biden was due in Texas today to see damage caused by the recent disastrous winter storms, visit food banks and to address other issues.

    The warrant for Fauci claims he has endangered lives—creating public fear and panic—and has engaged in policies denying medicine needed to fight disease and more.

    “In Texas, according to Chapter 7 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure, the authority for peace bonds is given to the JP (justice of the peace) in all Texas counties to try to ensure the peace by protecting threatened people or people who feel threatened from violence or further violence or harm to them or their family or property,” Black told the Courier in explaining why he issued the warrants. “That’s the nature (of the warrants). I was just doing my job.”

    He added that we issued the warrants after “people came to me” expressing concerns about their safety and other matters. Those people “are looking for help and they’re concerned about everything from their personal health to the health of their family and their rights under the Constitution.”

    “And as judge,” Black said, “part of my duty and obligation to the people who elected me is to enforce the laws of the state of Texas. When people come to me with a complaint, if it’s something in my jurisdiction, I’m kind of obligated to do that. I was just doing my job that my constituents elected me to do and that I’m sworn in obligation to the Constitution.”

    Asked what he expects to happen next, now that the warrants have been issued, Black said, “I’ve been issuing warrants and giving them to law enforcement for 15 years now. I have the same expectation I do of a game warrant that I issued. I expect law enforcement to act on it.

    “When I issue a warrant, I take it to local law enforcement. After that, I have no further action with it until the warrant is served. I don’t know how the law enforcement agencies works. I’m not in law enforcement; I’m a judge.”

  • Judge Blanchette fights COVID

    Blanchette 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB File photo - Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette swearing in Warren ISD board members in November, 2020.

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE – Tyler County Judge Jacques Blanchette found himself among the 13 million Americans who have been diagnosed with the coronavirus this year.

    Blanchette received a positive result from a COVID-19 test administered on Friday, Nov. 28. He said he had begun feeling ill the day before Thanksgiving, and by Friday was very sick. He is currently staying confined at home. His wife, Leeza, had also fallen ill with the virus and is recuperating.

    An update from the Tyler County Emergency Management Facebook page noted Blanchette’s announcement and that he appreciates the prayers and support from the public in his recovery.

    As the pandemic has experienced a nationwide surge in the past month, the likelihood of infection has increased, and anyone is fair game for the virus.

    Several other elected officials in the area have tested positive for the coronavirus. According to a recent story from KJAS out of Jasper, the Jasper ISD School Board President Mark Durand and the county’s Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Raymond Hopson were both diagnosed with the virus last week.

    Hopson was elected to fill the seat held by Judge Jimmy Miller who died from coronavirus complications during the summer.

    In Tyler County, the total number of confirmed cases has surpassed 300, and at press time is at 320. This number represents the total number of positive cases in the county since reporting began in late March with the first confirmed case.

    Two recent deaths were also reported as COVID-related. Last week, Ruby Moore, of Warren, died from complications, and the week prior, Ethel McGough’s passing was linked to the virus.

    Those two deaths brings the COVID death count to nine in the county.

    In other COVID news, the county’s Emergency Management Coordinator Ken Jobe recently addressed the methodology for reporting the county’s number of cases and added reportage for the number of quick tests administered. Jobe said those cases are not listed by public health as active, but they are tracked, investigated and logged in the system as “probables.”

    In addressing questions about the seeming lapse in reporting cases, Jobe said “The public health numbers and my numbers don’t always match,” which he attributed to a timing issue.

    Additionally, the numbers from public health sources use the test date as the starting date for active cases, and then county 10 days and remove from active if they do not receive the result, Jobe said. Those cases are posted to the recovered category. “Several counties where we have residents go test are slow to get results to our public health group,” he said.

  • Kennard ISD election results canvassed, accepted

    NEWS KISD TrusteesALTON PORTER | HCC Kennard ISD trustees being sworn-in at Thursday’s meeting, pictured from left-to-right, are continuing Board President Rebecca Parker, Jo Smith and Kenneth Dowdy.

    By Alton Porter

    KENNARD – Members of the Kennard ISD board of trustees canvassed the district’s May 1 election results and approved and accepted them at a regular meeting of the board Thursday, May 6.

    After the canvass was completed, the board’s reelected and newly elected trustees were administered the oath of office and the six trustees present elected officers to lead the board during the next 12 months. Trustee Brijesh Patel was absent.

    Board President Rebecca Parker, who received 67 votes, was reelected to continue serving on the board, and Kenneth Dowdy, who received 66 votes, and Jo Smith, who received 58 votes, were newly elected. All three were administered the oath by Carolyn Harrison, administrative assistant to Kennard Independent School District Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

    Harrison also administered the district’s statement of office to the electees and passed out certificates of election to them.

    The two unsuccessful candidates in the election were Austin Gladden, who received 56 votes, and Tracy Sowell, who received 15 votes.

    “There were 102 people that came up to the school and casted votes,” Board Vice President Keith Cole said.

    Kennard ISD trustees serve in at-large positions on the board.

    The trustees reelected Parker to continue serving as board president, Cole to continue serving as board vice president and Brittani Womack to continue serving as board secretary.

    During the recognition part of the meeting, Lindsey congratulated and welcomed new trustees Dowdy and Smith to the board and commended the district’s softball and baseball teams’ coaches and student athletes who “are doing very well,” she said.

    “We had all-district honors for softball,” winning offensive player of the year; defensive player of the year, pitcher of the year, coach of the year, and first and second team awards.

    All-district baseball awards won by district athletes were most valuable player, offensive player of the year, defensive player of the year, first and second team honors, and coach of the year, Lindsey said. “So, we were well represented in softball and baseball.”

    On an agenda item requiring other action, the trustees approved an ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) III funds and plan proposal. Concerning ESSER III, Lindsey said, “Last week, the governor finally released that $11.8 million from the federal government to the school districts. There’s two phases. Right now, we’ll get two-thirds of our money. Our allocation is $1.2 million.”

    “This plan will utilize $835,000 of it, which is what our two-thirds is. There are specific program guidelines. The purpose of it is really to overcome the money loss of our kids from Covid. So, our plan here is to hire two interventionists—math and reading interventionists—for grades K (kindergarten) through five to support those kids with evidence-based and research interventions to help close those gaps.

    Under the ESSER Fund, established as part of the Education Stabilization Fund in the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, state educational agencies will award subgrants to local educational agencies to address the impact that the novel coronavirus disease 2019 (Covid-19) has had, and continues to have, on elementary and secondary schools across the nation, according to the US Department of Education’s Office of Elementary & Secondary Education website.

    According to the National Conference of State Legislatures website, the CARES Act, which passed March 27, 2020, provided $13.5 billion to the ESSER Fund. The Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, 2021 (CRRSA), which passed Dec. 27, 2020, provided $54.3 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, known as the ESSER II fund.

    The American Rescue Plan Act, which passed March 11 this year, provided $122.7 billion in supplemental ESSER funding, which is known as the ESSER III fund.

    State educational agencies are required to reserve their allocations to carry out activities: 5% to address learning loss, 1% for afterschool activities, and 1% for summer learning programs. Local educational agencies must reserve at least 20% of the funding they receive to address learning loss. Two-thirds of ESSER funds are immediately available to states, while remaining funds will be made available after states submit ESSER implementation plans.

    Concerning communications received by district officials, Parker said, “Some of the boys (in the district’s schools) provided a request” in a letter sent to the officials. “They would like to have a policy change, stating (in the letter), ‘We believe that boys should be allowed to wear earrings. Why should girls be able to and boys not? There should be no difference. Please consider this policy change (request).’”

    No item was on the agenda to address the matter at the meeting, so it will be placed on an agenda and considered at a future meeting, the board president said.

    In a discussion about district facilities, Lindsey and Parker noted that a house the district owns and is located on its property is dilapidated and needs to be gotten rid of.

    “Last month, we discussed several facility items,” Lindsey said. “One of the things we did talk about was the state of the house on our property.” Lindsey said officials requested that a potential contractor “come and give us a quote on demolition of the house and the tree; so, we’re just bringing that to you. The cost to demo the house and clean up and haul off would be $16,800. If we include all the … trees south of the power lines—this would not include the trees between the power lines and the highway—that would be an additional $4,200,” Lindsey said.

    “It’s just not really serving us any purpose, but we don’t want to lose the property because we don’t have a lot of land to work with,” Parker said. “We’ve discussed the possibility of just tearing it down and opening that up to have more space for something for the future or more parking … or whatever.”

    The trustees deferred taking action on the matter and will address it at a future meeting.

    Among other items requiring that action be taken, the trustees appointed Parker to be the district’s delegate and board member Terry Pilkington to be its alternate delegate at the Texas Association of School Administrators and Texas Association of School Boards 2021 convention which will be held in Dallas Sept. 24-26.

    In other business, the trustees approved the district’s students’ insurance policy with Health Special Risk, Inc. for the 2021-2022 school year and its 2021-2022 Allotment and TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills) certification form. TEKS are the state standards for what students should know and be able to do in each subject and grade level.

    In another action, the trustees approved an amendment to the District of Innovation program. “We are a District of Innovation; and currently, the only thing we use District of Innovation for is to start school earlier than the fourth Monday in August that the law requires,” said Lindsey.

    “However, it’s time for us to redo our depository contract. This provides us because we only have a depository here and we need to do it every two years. By gaining this exemption, we’d be able to choose our existing bank here as our contract and we don’t have to … use it for six or more years instead of having to come to you every year.

    “One of the reasons also is because it is very costly to the district. If we go out every two years, we have to do an RFP—request for proposal—put it in the newspaper, and our current commercial bank gives us the best rates. Our people would have to go somewhere else. If we chose something in Crockett, they’d have to go to Crockett every day or every other day to deposit our money. So, we feel like this amendment is in the best fiscal responsibility to our district.”

  • KISD trustees make mask wearing optional

    KISD supt img page wz0estCOURTESY PHOTO KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey

    By Alton Porter

    Like students, faculty members and staffers in other independent school districts across the state, those in Kennard now can choose whether or not to wear face coverings to school.

    Members of the Kennard Independent School District Board of Trustees approved a “mask or no mask requirement,” giving students and district personnel the options at a regular board meeting Monday, March 15.

    The trustees took the action in response to an executive order issued by Governor Greg Abbott March 2 and which took effect March 10, lifting his former statewide mask mandate and a change in health guidelines by the Texas Education Agency (TEA), according to KISD Superintendent Malinda Lindsey.

    “Our board approved the no mask requirement. However, it is optional. If a student or staff member wants to continue to wear their mask, they may do so. It is optional at this time.”

    Before Abbott issued the recent executive order, “TEA required us all to wear masks, based on the governor’s orders,” including his mask mandate executive order issued during the week of June 29 last year), Lindsey said.

    “And since he changed, TEA had changed their health guidelines. And it said that the only thing that the schools could do—the board had the local authority to change the mask requirement. We still have to continue to follow TEA’s public health guidance. But the only thing that we could change was the mask requirement. The school board had the authority to make that decision.”

    Among other actions taken at the meeting, the trustees approved a “missed school day waiver” to account for days missed by school employees during last month’s severe winter storms.

    “Due to the winter freeze in February, we had to ask TEA for waivers, due to not having electricity and those types of things,” the KISD superintendent said. “And we asked for waivers from Feb. 16-19 because that Monday (Feb. 15, when the first of the two storms created electrical power outage and water service loss problems), we were already out for a holiday.”

    The waiver eliminates the requirement that the staffers make up for those missed days, Lindsey said, adding, they will be paid as usual for those days.

    In other business, the KISD trustees voted to approve the district’s school calendar for the 2021-2022 school year and approved an Instructional Materials Recommendation Proclamation for 2021.

    A copy of the calendar is posted on the district’s website and Facebook page.

    About the instructional materials recommendation proclamation, Lindsey said, “This year is time to adopt new materials for pre-k, and we recommended to adopt Frog Street (one of several pre-kindergarten curriculums provided by an approved vendor included on a list provided by TEA),” and the recommendation was approved.

    “TEA provides a list of approved vendors for us to look at that they feel are appropriate and aligned with text,” Lindsey said. “And then, it’s up to the district to evaluate those on the list to make the best recommendation for their district.

    “It’s the curriculum that our teachers will use that are based on the pre-k guidelines. We currently use the program, but now it’s time to adopt our instructional coach. And our teachers did and evaluation process of three vendors and found that Frog Street they felt would be the best to meet the needs of our kids.”

    In another action, the trustees approved contracting with the Axley & Rode, LLP, certified public accounting firm, to serve as the district’s auditor for the 2021-2022 school and fiscal year.

    During reports by Principal Oscar Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Robin Stowe, it was noted that “we gave benchmarks last week,” said Lindsey. “And we just had a summary of our data to look at where we need to do some intervention prior to giving STAAR (State of Texas Assessments of Academic Readiness).”

    Lindsey said Encarnacion and Stowe were to meet with teachers Thursday or Friday, March 18 or 19, “to go over that data and make individual student plans” for administering the test. She said the district is required by TEA to administer the test this school year, adding, “we have chosen this year to go all online 100% for testing.” Most of the test will be administered to students in late May, she said.

    Students in grades three through eight, will be given the tests, Lindsey said. “And then, you have your Algebra I, Biology, US History, English I and English II” high school classes that will be administered tests.

    During the meeting, student participants in this year’s Kennard High School one-act play cast and staff were recognized for their success in advancing to bi-district competition, which took place Monday, March 22.

    “We also recognized our basketball all-district students,” Lindsey said, adding, “and our coach, Cory Carden, was named district coach of the year. So, we were very proud of him.”

    After reconvening the open, public part of the meeting, following a closed, executive session, the trustees approved annual contracts for Principal Encarnacion and Assistant Principal Stowe; the resignation of former school nurse Diann Deckard; and routine requests for personnel employment, teacher contract renewal and proposed renewal, renewals for professional employees in non-certified positions and approval of at-will employees for 2021-2022, Lindsey said.

  • Latexo ISD trustees cancel May 1 election

    IMG 7903ALTON PORTER | HCC Director Chris Cravens, of Latexo High Schools Career and Technical Education program spoke to Latexo ISD trustees about activities CTE students currently are engaged in and plans that are being made to provide more opportunities for them in the future at a meeting Thursday, May 18.

    By Alton Porter

    Members of the Latexo Independent School District Board of Trustees have cancelled the district’s May 1 election as the two incumbent candidates who were seeking reelection in the scheduled election were unopposed in their bids to continue serving as trustees.

    The Latexo ISD trustees took the action during a board meeting Thursday, March 18, following a discussion in a closed, executive session.

    The two board positions up for election are Position 3, held by Vice President Bobbie Jo Frizzell, and Position 4, which is filled by Secretary Jeffrey Catoe.

    “In the school board election, nobody signed up (to run against Frizzell and Catoe), so we don’t need to have that,” Superintendent Michael Woodard told the trustees. “So, Ms. Bobbie Jo and Mr. Catoe are good for another three years—nothing to worry about. I just ask you guys to cancel that (election) because we don’t need it.”

    In other business in the open, public part of the meeting following the executive session, the trustees voted to approve a 2020-2021 Public Health Planning Guidance policy for face coverings for staff members and students in the district to be recommended as presented.

    Woodard said, the district’s recommended policy regarding the wearing of masks is being typed up and will soon be released. “We haven’t had anything in our district since Jan. 27,” the superintendent said. “So, we’re going to look at it (the district’s mask policy) and if anything happens, we’ll come back and … look at recommending it. We came back from spring break; we had no issues. Nobody’s sick….”

    Also, following the closed session, the trustees addressed personnel matters, approving 2021-2022 teachers contracts as presented, administrators’ contracts and acceptance of the resignation of a Chapter 21 employee who was a pre-kindergarten teacher.

    Woodard reminded the trustees of the second reading of the Texas Association of School Boards Policy Update 116 and that it will be placed before them for adoption at their next meeting.

    During district administrators’ reports, Director Chris Cravens, of Latexo High School’s Career and Technical Education (CTE) program, let the trustees “know what’s going on in the CTE world.”

    Cravens spoke to the trustees about agriculture and technology departments activities, the district’s health science program in which a clinical practicum program was implemented in December in partnership with Crockett Medical Center (CMC), and opportunities school staff members are planning for students.

    Ag students are building trailers, one of which they plan to be enter in competition at the Houston Livestock Show, Cravens said, adding, some of the students have their National Center for Construction Education and Research core certificates and others are ongoing with a “floral buddies” project, where they sell floral designs to faculty and staff members.

    Cravens said all plants in the school’s greenhouse were killed by the freezing temperatures, snow and ice of last month’s severe winter storms. He said efforts will be made to purchase some plants for the greenhouse if there are any available.

    “We were all set, before the snow hit, to sell plants to the community,” said Cravens. “And that was going to be another way to raise money with the community. Unfortunately, now that’s not going to happen. The only damage that I remember that was done in the greenhouse was one of the pipes burst. But, other than that, there was no real damage to the greenhouse, so we’re happy about that.”

    In the technology department, a student in the robotics class built a robot’s arm and other students have been engaged in other projects, Cravens said.

    Through the health science program’s clinical practicum program, three selected Latexo ISD senior students spend two days a week at CMC making clinical rounds and job shadowing licensed professionals in the medical center’s rural health clinic, specialty care clinic, emergency room, laboratory, pharmacy, radiology department, and cardio-respiratory and physical therapy departments.

    In addition, two of the students have had the opportunity to observe two surgeries that Dr. Clifton O’Meara, an orthopedic surgery specialist, have done, Cravens said.

    “Our time at the hospital ends at the end of this month because they’ve (the three students) done all of the rotations. Then, in April, we’re set up to go to Aurora Clinic, Crockett Clinic with (Dr. Christopher) Haeckler (a family medicine specialist) and (Dr. Richard J.) Kelly (also a family medicine specialist).

    “We’re already in Davy Crockett Drug. We’re going to be in (seven medical facilities, also including) Stovall & Holcomb (Group, LLP, the dental office of Dr. John M. Stovall and Dr. Joseph H. Holcomb). We’re going to be in the Crockett Eye Clinic (of Dr. John McCall and Dr. Colin Castleberry).”

    Cravens said 10 LHS junior students have said they are interested in participating in the program next year, when it might be expanded to last all year.

    CTE opportunities that are being planned for students include expanding the practicum/clinical program, possibly hooking up senior students who are receiving advanced welding training with Vulcraft and floral design students with a local florist, Cravens said.

    In the works is a heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC) program to be implemented in partnership with Grapeland Independent School District officials and under the auspices and direction of Angelina College staffers, who have expressed an interest in developing a HVAC program in Houston County, the Latexo ISD CTE director said.

    Latexo ISD would provide the facility for the HVAC program and Angelina College would provide up to $200,000 worth of equipment free of charge to the school district and would pay for the instructor. The program would require that 10 to 12 students be enrolled in it each year, Cravens said, adding, at the end of the program, the students would receive residential HVAC certificates.

    In addition, Cravens said he is hoping to implement a program that would provide basic electricity training for students interested in becoming electricians, provide climbing training for those who want to be linemen and instruct those who want to obtain commercial driver’s licenses.

    Also, efforts are being made to offer assistance to technology-minded students who want to obtain employee certification by Dell Computer company, Cravens said.

  • Latexo ISD trustees select initial bond construction scheme

    IMG 7762ALTON PORTER | HCC Board President Kelly Nicol, left, of the Latexo ISD Board of Trustees, and District Superintendent Michael Woodard spoke and heard comments from other board members about the district’s $5 million bond construction project and other matters at a special meeting of the trustees Thursday, March 4.

    By Alton Porter

    Latexo school trustees gathered for a special meeting at which they discussed plans for the construction of facilities as part of the school district’s $5 million bond construction project and addressed other matters.

    The Latexo Independent School District Board of Trustees called meeting was held Thursday, March 4.

    “We’re really excited moving forward with the bond construction,” Board President Kelly Nicol said in a statement summarizing that discussion after the meeting was adjourned. “We’ve settled on our placement of the buildings (on the district’s elementary and secondary school campuses). And I think we’re moving forward and looking forward to getting the architectural drawings to be able to start bidding out through the bidding process.”

    The bond project includes the planned construction of a multi-use, multi-faceted facility that will be used as a gymnasium and for the holding of community events, as well as other additions and upgrades to district buildings, including a new career and technical education (CTE) building and an elementary school cafeteria.

    Nicol said, so far, the district officials have not run into any problems or major issues in their construction planning process, adding, “I think we’ve pretty much decided on the location of the gym and CTE building, and also the cafeteria down in elementary. And things are just moving forward.

    “We will be using this 9.2 scheme (a version of a drawing prepared by Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong architects and delegated for the project), and we’ve decided where this building (the multi-purpose facility) is going to go and the CTE classrooms and locker rooms.”

    “And down here (on the elementary school campus), this will be the cafeteria,” the board president said, referring to portrait of the scheme. “And those are what we decided on tonight. Everything else is kind of down the road.

    “These (the gym and CTE facilities) are the main two buildings we needed to approve tonight.” He said the planned cafeteria will be attached to the back of the current gym on the elementary school campus.

    “This (construction of all the facilities in the bond project) has been something that our community’s needed for a long time,” Nicol said. “We’re moving forward—looking forward to it. I’m happy to be a part of getting it for them. The whole board is looking forward for the community to get what they’ve been wanting for a while.”

    The trustees voted to pass a motion to “approve scheme 9.2, with the location of the multi-purpose center,” along with the elementary cafeteria and CTE building, as presented.

    In related actions, the trustees approved payment of $4,900 for geotechnical engineering services and voted to authorize Superintendent Michael Woodard to look into another situation and possibly negotiate the cost in a contract with Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong and get the best price he can for a survey to be conducted on the district’s land, buildings and attached properties on both of the district’s campuses before designing the planned bond facilities. Goodwin-Lasiter-Strong representatives had offered to conduct the survey for $7,200.

    In other business, the trustees approved a missed school days waiver for 2020-2021, authorizing Woodard to go online to the Texas Education Agency (TEA) website and request approval of the waiver by the state so that the district doesn’t lose any state funding for employees for the days missed due to “the bad weather that we had” last month, the superintendent said.

    In a similar action, the trustees voted to approve a resolution “authorizing all employee pay for bad weather days.” This is to “make sure all employees get paid for the same days that they missed work,” Woodard said. “That’s for all employees to make sure they don’t miss any paycheck.”

    Woodard noted that the board’s regular meeting for this month is being moved to Thursday, March 18, beginning at 6 p.m. The meeting was originally scheduled for March 11, but “that’s our spring break,” Woodard said.

    Concerning “the mask situation across the state,” Woodard said, “As you all know, the governor came out (Tuesday, March 2) about no more masks and (opening the state) 100%, starting Wednesday (March 10).

    IMG 7758ALTON PORTER | HCC Members of the Latexo ISD board of trustees, above, discussed and approved a scheme for the location and plans for buildings to be constructed as part of the district’s $5 million bond project and acted on other matters at a March 4 special meeting.

    “We were waiting on TEA and UIL (University Interscholastic League) to say anything. So, what TEA did say: ‘The governing body, which is the school board, may modify or eliminate by formal action the above mask-related requirements.’

    “UIL came out and said pretty much the same thing. That, ‘Consistent with TEA guidance, School systems’ governing bodies may modify or eliminate mask-related requirements. Schools may determine spectator capacity and seating arrangements for UIL events.’ So, the mask can go away.”

    Woodard added, “The only thing that’s still in play is the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) guidelines with conract tracing…. We haven’t had any cases here in a month. I was the last one that got sick here.

    “So, say, if something happens now, if we do away with the masks, think about the sports or any kind of activity. If little Johnny gets Covid, we still got to do the quarantine until CDC changes their guidelines—still got to do quarantines, still got to do the tracing, all of that. And the shut-it-down could still happen if it went that far.

    “I have talked to the principals and they’re okay with doing away with the masks and putting it back on who wants to wear it can wear it. I talked to, of course, the coaches—Coach (Greg) Horn. He said, if that’s what does happen, then he’ll probably make his players still wear masks. That way, they’re covered in case something does happen.

    “If something does happen, then you’ve got to quarantine. They’re going to be out 10 or 14 days, until CDC changes what they have to do.

    “I think the governor caught everybody off guard when he made his announcement” lifting the statewide facemask mandate.

    Woodard said he recommends that those who want to wear a masks do so. He said the school district has no need to change anything it is currently doing, including continuing remote learning, an option being utilized by some students.

  • Law enforcement asks for help to find Town Bluff man

    Missing Man 040121 copyCOURTESY PHOTO Thomas Thornton

    By Chris Edwards

    TOWN BLUFF – Law enforcement and family members are asking for the public’s help to locate Thomas Thornton, a 72-year-old Town Bluff resident who was reported missing last week.

    According to Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford, Thornton’s family last saw him on Wednesday, March 24. Thornton’s sister, Norma Armstrong, said that Thornton is in the early stages of dementia and she fears for his wellbeing.

    Armstrong said that her brother makes frequent trips from his Town Bluff home to the Walmart in Jasper, and that he left to go to the store on Wednesday and did not return.

    Thornton has grey and black hair and typically wears a baseball hat bearing a veteran slogan, carpenter-style blue jeans and a T-shirt. He stands 5’7” tall and weighs 255 lbs. Thornton drives a dark grey 2017 Ford Edge with the Texas license plate number NJJ-8580. A Silver Alert was issued on Sunday evening for Thornton by the Texas Department of Public Safety with further details, including his eye color (blue) and the fact that he has a visible scar on his right arm.

    According to Weatherford, law enforcement was able to track Thornton to a gas station in Hemphill on March 26. Sabine County Sheriff’s deputies reviewed store video footage showing Thornton purchasing fuel and then travelling north on Highway 87.

    Deputies were last able to track his phone to a location in Shelby County, but were unable to locate him, and currently unable to track him due to power issues with the phone.

    Along with the dementia diagnosis, his family told deputies that Thornton is also dependent on medications.

    Anyone with information regarding Thornton’s whereabouts is encouraged to call the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office at 409-283-2172.

  • Law enforcement seeks suspected ATM thieves

    KODAK Digital Still Camera     PHOTO COURTESY OF SAN JACINTO COUNTY SHERIFF’S OFFICE The entrance to the Timewise convenience store was damaged Feb. 23 after a group of men rammed it with a pickup truck in order to steal the ATM inside.

    By Tony Farkas

    SHEPHERD — San Jacinto County law enforcement officers are seeking the identification of a group of men believed responsible for the Feb. 23 break-in at the Timewise Convenience Store near Shepherd.

    According to Detective Gary Sharpen of the SJ County Sheriff’s Office, police received a 911 call at about 4:30 a.m. Feb. 23 at the store, which is located at 4700 US 59.

    Records show the clerk inside, who was not named, noticed a pickup truck that contained several African American males with hoodies, who then sped up and backed into the store, striking the ATM machine.

    “There were five to six black males wearing masks and gloves, and not wearing COVID masks,” he said. “They knew what they were doing — they had planned this out. This wasn’t something spur of the moment.”

    Sharpen said the clerk held their hands up throughout the robbery.

    The suspects loaded the ATM into the truck, which was identified as a stolen Dodge Ram 1500, and took off, heading into the town of Shepherd on Pine Street, reports indicate.

    Sharpen said a witness observed a bunch of debris on the roadway, and saw the pickup in the ditch, which apparently had crashed during its getaway. The witness saw males running around the vehicle, looking confused; however, the suspects had another car with them — a small dark colored 4-door vehicle — which picked up the suspects and fled the scene.

    The pickup truck, as well as several sets of gloves and masks, were recovered and are being processed for evidence. Additionally, the ATM was left in the back of the truck, and was recovered and turned over to the company that owns the ATM.

    Sharpen said the investigation is continuing, and anyone with information can call the Sheriff’s Office at (936) 653-4367 or the Multi-county Crime Stoppers at (936) 539-7867.