By Chris Edwards
CROCKETT – Crockett Police are reporting that two Crockett residents were arrested on Sunday, July 17, and charged with a variety of offenses, including operating a stolen motorcycle.
According to Crockett Chief of Police Clayton Smith, a CPD officer met with an individual on Sunday afternoon, who reported their motorcycle as stolen earlier last week, and had more information about it.
“While the officer was speaking with the victim in the parking lot [of the Sheriff’s office] the motorcycle in question drove past them,” Smith said.
The officer stopped the motorcycle on South Fourth Street, and identified the driver as Cordell Heath Ferguson, a 26-year-old Crockett man and a passenger, Brandi Michelle Soape, 46, also of Crockett.
Smith said the motorcycle had been painted blue, and the VIN sticker on its frame was destroyed, however, asecondary VIN number was located in another spot on the bike and verified as the stolen motorcycle in question.
Ferguson was placed under arrest and was found to be in possession of drug paraphernalia. Soape was found to be in possession of about three grams of methamphetamine and was also placed under arrest.
Ferguson was charged with Possession of Drug Paraphernalia (Class C Misdemeanor) and Unauthorized Use of a Vehicle (State Jail Felony). Soape was charged with Possession of a Controlled Substance Penalty Group 1 >1 Gram <4 Grams (third degree felony). The motorcycle was returned to the victim.
Both suspects are still in custody of the Houston County Jail.
AUSTIN – Human remains found in Midland County in 2013 have now been positively identified as Sylvia Nicole Smith following an extensive investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). A homicide investigation is now underway.
On Aug. 1, 2013, Smith’s then-unidentified remains were found near South County Road 1160 and FM 1213, south of Midland. Workers surveying near an oilfield wellsite discovered her partial remains. The Texas Rangers, DPS Aircraft and the Midland County Sheriff’s Office conducted an extensive search of the area to ensure all evidence was gathered. The remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, where an anthropology report was completed, and DNA was extracted. The results revealed the victim was a female between the ages of 14-21 who was likely the victim of a homicide.
The DNA results were put into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). No results came back over the next several years, and in 2020, working with the Midland County District Attorney’s Office, the Rangers looked for additional means to identify the remains. They were sent to DNA Labs International and, ultimately, to Parabon Nanolabs for advanced DNA analysis to determine what the victim looked like.
The results revealed the victim was of African-American descent, and identified eye color, hair color and skin tone. A genetic genealogist who examined the DNA assisted with a match which led to a distant relative. Rangers have interviewed numerous potential relatives to gather family information and in May 2022, information led to the victim’s mother in the Midland area. In speaking with the mother, she stated one of her daughters — Sylvia Nicole Smith — had been missing since 2000.
Her mother last saw her 16-year-old daughter on Feb. 14, 2000. Smith’s mother filed a runaway report with the Midland Police Department on Feb. 18, 2000.
Texas Rangers collected DNA samples from Smith’s family for analysis and on June 9, 2022, the University of North Texas verified that the remains of the person found on Aug. 1, 2013, was indeed Sylvia Nicole Smith.
The Rangers are now conducting a homicide investigation into her death and ask anyone with information into her disappearance or homicide to come forward with information.
To be eligible for cash rewards, tipsters MUST provide information to authorities by calling the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-252-TIPS (8477). All tips are anonymous. Individuals can also submit information through the Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website or by phone to the Missing Person Hotline at 1-800-346-3243.
The Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website provides information on more than 125 cases in an effort to garner public interest in unsolved or cold cases. Texas Crime Stoppers offers rewards (funded by the Governor’s Criminal Justice Division and administered by DPS) of up to $3,000 for information that leads to the arrest of those responsible for any Ranger cold case listed on the website. For more information, visit the Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website.
The Texas Ranger Unsolved Crimes Investigation Program was created to assist Texas law enforcement agencies investigating unsolved homicides or violent serial crimes. Since there is no statute of limitations on the offense of murder, investigators pursue these cases to a successful resolution or until no viable leads remain.
Public invited to comment on transportation projects
From Staff Reports
AUSTIN – The Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) is seeking the public’s input on the draft 2023 Unified Transportation Program (UTP), the state’s 10-year transportation plan.
The UTP guides the development of projects around Texas to improve safety, address congestion and connectivity, and preserve roadways for Texas drivers. It is part of a comprehensive plan, according to TxDOT’s website, that details the planning activity of the state agency within the next 10 years.
In addition to highway projects, the UTP addresses public transportation, maritime, aviation, rail, freight and international trade, and bicycle and pedestrian connectivity.
“The Unified Transportation Program is TxDOT’s road map to developing projects across the state,” said Executive DirectorMarc Williams. “It is important to work with our transportation partners and hear from the public to guide transportation improvements that address congestion and enhance safety across our state.”
The public comment period for the draft 2023 UTP began on Friday, July 8, and ends Monday, Aug. 8, 2022, at 4 p.m. (CST). Various methods to comment will be posted to the UTP Public Involvement webpage.
The presentations and recordings for the previous public meeting and hearing will be available for viewing on the UTP Public Involvement webpage.
TxDOT works with its transportation partners to identify projects to be included in the UTP. Public comments and feedback are also very important in developing the plan. Available in English and Spanish, the UTP Fact Sheet can be found on the same TxDOT.gov webpage and provides an overview of the program. According to the TxDOT website, the outcome of the UTP process is a list of projects TxDOT plans to develop, or begin constructing, over the next 10 years, as well as information on the available funding associated with the projects. The development process includes activities such as preliminary engineering and environmental studies.
The Texas Transportation Commission approves the UTP in accordance with Texas state law every August during the commission meeting and publishes the approved UTP on TxDOT.gov.
COLLEGE STATION – Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack recently announced, agricultural producers nationwide have already received more than $4 billion through the Emergency Relief Program (ERP), representing nearly 67% of the more than $6 billion projected to be paid through this phase of the program. Eligible producers in Texas have received $557.5 million in funding to date. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) mailed out pre-filled applications in late May to producers with crop insurance who suffered losses due to natural disasters in 2020 and 2021. Commodity and specialty crop producers have until July 22 to complete applications.
“Over the course of the past two years, natural disaster events in Texas have resulted in catastrophic production and property losses for our agricultural producers,” said Kelly Adkins, State Executive Director for FSA in Texas. “Although these payments will not make these producers whole, they will help alleviate some of the financial stressors brought on by these severe and devastating weather events.”
USDA is implementing ERP as a two-phased program, with the first phase utilizing existing claim data to provide relief expediently, and the second phase focusing on ensuring producers not covered by other programs receive assistance. For phase one, USDA used crop insurance and Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) claim data.
Both ERP and the previously announced Emergency Livestock Relief Program (ELRP) are funded by the Extending Government Funding and Delivering Emergency Assistance Act, which President Biden signed into law in 2021. The law provided $10 billion to help agricultural producers impacted by wildfires, droughts, hurricanes, winter storms and other eligible disasters experienced during calendar years 2020 and 2021. Eligible livestock producers received ELRP payments totaling more than $590 million since the program was rolled out in late March. Livestock producers in Texas have received $61.2 million in ELRP payments to offset the impacts of extreme drought conditions.
Eligible producers with eligible crop insurance claims have received pre-filled applications, which included eligibility requirements and payment calculations. Producers received a separate application form for each program year in which they experienced an eligible loss.
Producers should check with the Farm Service Agency (FSA) at their local USDA Service Center to confirm eligibility and to ensure that all required farm program participation, adjusted gross income and conservation compliance forms are on file. Producers who have previously participated in FSA programs likely have these required forms already on file.
ERP provisions allow for a higher payment percentage for historically underserved producers, including beginning, limited resource, socially disadvantaged and military veteran producers. To qualify for the higher payment rate, individuals must have a Form CCC-860, Socially Disadvantaged, Limited Resource, Beginning and Veteran Farmer or Rancher Certification on file.
To receive a payment, producers must complete and submit their forms by the July 22 deadline. Once the completed ERP application for payment is submitted to and signed by the FSA, producers enrolled in direct deposit should look for their payment within three business days.
Additional Assistance through Phase One
FSA will be sending pre-filled applications for about 9,000 producers nationwide with NAP coverage in mid-July.
The federal crop insurance data used to populate ERP phase one pre-filled applications included claim data on file with USDA’s Risk Management Agency (RMA) as of May 2, 2022. At that time, claim data for the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO), Enhanced Coverage Option (ECO), Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX), Margin Protection Plan (MP) or Area Risk Protection Insurance (ARPI) were not complete, so crop/units including these coverage options were not included in the pre-filled ERP application form. In late summer 2022, updated claim information will be used to generate a second pre-filled application for those crop/units on file with RMA not included in the first mailing.
ERP covers losses to crops, trees, bushes and vines due to a qualifying natural disaster event in calendar years 2020 and 2021. Eligible crops include all crops for which crop insurance or NAP coverage was available, except for crops intended for grazing. Qualifying natural disaster events include wildfires, hurricanes, floods, derechos, excessive heat, winter storms, freeze (including a polar vortex), smoke exposure, excessive moisture, qualifying drought and related conditions.
All producers who receive ERP phase one payments are statutorily required to purchase crop insurance or NAP coverage where crop insurance is not available for the next two available crop years.
Producers should contact their local Service Center if they have questions. Additionally, other resources include:
• ERP fact sheet
• ERP webpage
• “Top 6 Emergency Relief Program Checklist” blog on farmers.gov
• May 16, 2022, news release
The second phase of both ERP and ELRP will fill gaps and provide assistance to producers who did not participate in or receive payments through the existing programs that are being leveraged for phase one implementation. Through proactive communication and outreach, USDA will keep producers and stakeholders informed as program details are made available.
USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. Under the Biden-Harris administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit usda.gov.