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  • Additional charges for Jasper jailer

    MUGSHOT Anibal VillasanaMUGSHOT Anibal Villasana

    By Chris Edwards

    WOODVILLE –  A Tyler County Grand Jury handed down two more indictments to a Woodville man who was first indicted last year, all on child rape charges.

    Anibal Maurico Villasana, 61, was booked into the Tyler County Justice Center last week on two charges of

    Sexual Assault of a Child. He was subsequently released after posting bond. Each charge carried a $100,000 bond amount.

    Villasana was indicted on two counts of Indency with a Child by Sexual Contact in December 2020. The indictments came after an investigation regarding incidents alleged to have occurred in Tyler County.

    At the time, he was working for the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department. He has worked in various capacities within the Jasper County Jail, including head of kitchen staff and jailer. He had worked for the county for more than 20 years. At the time, he had been placed on leave with pay, pending that case’s outcome.

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

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • Remnants of Rockland (GALLERY)

    Remnants of Rockland 10CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Rockland, Texas Abandoned Railroad Trestle, completed in 1899.

    By Caleb Fortenberry

    Sawmill towns drove the economy of Southeast Texas in the 1800s. From topographical to abstracts, many of these forgotten towns can be referenced in early 20th century maps. One of the most notable towns that was forgotten and left to fall into ruin was the Aldridge Mill in Jasper County, just north of the Neches River and East of Zavalla. This is one of the only mill structures left standing in the area and for an unusual reason. Owner of Aldridge Mill, Hal Aldridge, had a fire occur on his mill in 1911 when it was fashioned out of wood. To avoid insurance rates increasing, he made the structures more fire retardant. He constructed the buildings out of concrete in 1912. With the buildings being made in this fashion, the structures are still standing to this day, and is a spectacular sight to see in the Angelina National Forest. Aldridge did not only operate just this larger mill. He actually started on a smaller scale in Rockland on the south side of the Neches nestled at the northern end of Tyler County.

    Remnants of Rockland 2 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Aldridge Saw Mill in Jasper County, Texas.

    Rockland is known for its stone, and various quarries that helped make the Galveston Sea Wall. Unknown to many, it also was full of longleaf yellow pines at one point and a mill was situated West, right next to the Texas and New Orleans Railroad. Many mills, such as the Rockland Mill, were placed near railroads for quick transportation to other towns, rather than letting the logs float down a river, which was not only time consuming, but problematic. Trams were built to bring logs back to mill ponds, which preserved them while they awaited to be sawn.

    Cary Ard with shovelCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS Cary Ard and his shovel in the rock pits near Rockland.

    Education coordinator for the Texas Forestry Museum, Kaitlin Wieseman clarifies, “they would build little short lines out into the forest so then they could cut the trees and have the train bring them back to their sawmill. So, basing their sawmill next to actual prominent rail lines that were main lines, like the Houston East and West, was probably a better idea to do than building out in the forest, in the middle of nowhere. They did have capabilities to build a line but usually they would have teams of men that would build that short line out just into the forest, not necessarily out to their own sawmill, but they could have if they needed to.”

    Remnants of Rockland 28CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB One of the only remaining track railings along the track bed.

    The Rockland Mill, also known as the Rockland Plant, was first owned by one of Rockland’s postmasters, John Delaney and others. Delaney, interestingly enough, worked with Aldridge at the post office. In 1890, Aldridge bought the mill and vast amounts of land tracts in the area. He operated the mill until 1898, when he sold the business to William Cameron & Co., one of the first forestry millionaires. It was burned down November 4, 1898, only a few short months after Cameron bought the sawmill.

    Remnants of Rockland 18CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Remains of the Rockland Sawmill. Steam wheel foundation, located West of most residents in Rockland and East of Highway 69.

    “If you can just imagine, we’re working with steam, which you have to have fire to be able to produce steam, to heat up the water, but also your working with wood around everywhere. So, some sawmill towns would build their sawmill only of wood. They wouldn’t build them, usually, out of stone just because that costs more,” said Wieseman, “most of the smaller ones, if it burned down, and they didn’t have enough money or area to cut down trees, then rebuilding wasn’t really in their thoughts of doing that because it would cost too much.”

    Woods Crew Near TrainCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A woods crew, possibly connected to the Aldridge Sawmill, stops for a photo.

    The plant was rebuilt with newer equipment and a water tower that measured 125 feet above the ground and able to hold thousands of gallons to transport water throughout the mill. Cameron operated the mill producing roughly 3,000,000 linear feet of lumber per year, until he sold it to John Henry Kirby in 1905.

    Remnants of Rockland 20CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Foundations at the Rockland Mill.

    One of the interesting details learned about mill towns of that time is that they had a form of currency for each company. In this particular mill, it could have had at least three different forms of coin being used for trade at the company general store and commissary. Aldridge, Cameron, and Kirby used these coins for the workers to make various purchases from the mill’s stores.

    Remnants of Rockland 1 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Bricks found adjacent to the Rockland mill pond and saw mill.

    One of the reasons Rockland became so popular, was not just the sawmill, but the fact that the railroad did not cross the Neches. It stopped in Rockland. That is, until 1899 when the rail road trestle was completed. Similar to the remains of the Rockland Plant, the bridge over the Neches still remains intact and unharmed by human vandalism, more than likely due to the inconvenience of getting to it. It is still a spectacular view if you can get to the bank near it. The engineering and man power that went into building it is perplexing.

    Rockland rail yard locomotive facing BeaumontCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A locomotive heads toward Beaumont, passing through the Rockland railyard.

    Remnants of Rockland 2CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Rail Road on the Jasper County side of the Neches leading to the Rockland Trestle.

    The main way to cross the river without taking the train was Dunkin’s ferry, which has been speculated that country singer, George Jones, once helped operate. Mac Dunkin’s well, barn and chimney are all that remain of the crossing. The old Lufkin – Beaumont Highway led to the ferry situated just Northwest of the mill. It operated until the 1930s when the US Highway 69 bridge joining Jasper and Tyler counties was completed. This left the town of Rockland off to the wayside and the mill eventually shut down. It wasn’t until rock quarries began to produce in higher volumes, that the town was revived for a period.

    Ferry Boat Neches RiverCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS A group of well-dressed travelers cross the Neches River using a ferry near Rockland.

    Remnants of Rockland 6CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB Mac Dunkin's well, located Northeast of the Rockland Mill site.

    The Rockland Mill site is on private property and unfortunately there is no public access to it. Because of this factor, it has remained in a healthier condition than the other structures such as the Aldridge mill, which has been defaced with spray paint graffiti for years. After being granted permission to locate different parts of the mill, many older bottles were discovered near where the general store or commissary would have been placed. What would have been trash, paints a picture of what life could have looked like back then. The concrete structure that held the steam engine still stands erect, but the steam engine itself is no longer on the site. Various concrete foundations lay in the dense underbrush. There are numerous possibilities of what they could have been used for, but it is safe to assume the boilers would have been located nearby and there is a good chance they would have been placed on foundations, such as the ones found. Trams that ran from the railroad are still built up around the mill pond. The pond is still holding water, but many trees have grown in it and around it, so it is not easily accessible nor noticeable.

     Remnants of Rockland 24CALEB FORTENBERRY | TCB The Rockland Mill pond's levee broke at some point, but still holds water and has traces of the tram surrounding it.

    According to Texas State Historical Association, Rockland has had a population of about 100 people since 1990. From 1900 to 1940 the population was roughly 300 and thought to have close to 500. The town included 150 to 200 dwellings for sawmill workers, a school and church building, three doctors' offices, two drugstores, a livery stable, a dance hall, and a railroad station. Now, only residential structures, rock quarries, and lumber tracts remain. Although, not much resides in the once bustling town, the remnants of Rockland are still there, underneath the earth being preserved in its once trampled grounds.

    Aldridge Home in RocklandCOURTESY THE HISTORY CENTER, DIBOLL, TEXAS The Aldridge family home in Rockland. Hal Aldridge built this house at the time of his marriage. The home was later turned into a hotel. The home was still standing in 2020.

  • Sabine County teen drowns at Dam B

    LE Flashing LightsFILE PHOTO LE Flashing Lights

    By Chris Edwards

    DAM B – A Sabine County teenager drowned on Sunday afternoon while fishing at Dam B, according to Jasper County Sheriff Mitchel Newman.

    Richard Tyler Johnston, 18, of Hemphill, was reportedly fishing near the spillway at the reservoir. The incident was reported right before 7 p.m., and volunteers from the Jasper County Emergency Corps, as well as others, were dispatched to the location, on the lake’s south end. The volunteers, along with officers from the Texas Department of Parks and Wildlife and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department arrived on the scene, and game wardens from TPW recovered Johnston’s body.

    According to Newman, the body was recovered from an area between the floodgates and the Willis Hydroelectric Unit. Johnston was pronounced dead at the scene by Jasper County Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace Raymond Hopson.

    Hopson said that he requested an autopsy be performed.

    According to Newman, from the preliminary investigation, it appears that Johnston, along with others, walked to the location where the incident was reported, from the east side of the dam. Johnston was reportedly there on a fishing trip.

    Johnston’s family has established a Go Fund Me page to raise money for his funeral expenses. According to the site, Johnston had turned 18 in December, and he had only begun working and had no life insurance.

    His father preceded him in death, and the family wishes to bury him next to his late father, as they believe it is what he would have wanted.

  • White takes proposed bills to task

    Jas White 110719CHRIS EDWARDS | PCPC State Rep. James White (R-Hillister) is shown speaking before the Woodville Rotary Club in November 2019.

    By Chris Edwards

    State Representative James White (R-Hillister) recently spoke out about some bill proposals up for consideration in the next legislation.

    The 87th Texas Legislature will not gavel in until January of 2021, but state lawmakers have had the opportunity to file bills since November. White recently took three of the proposed bills to task and called them “assaults on liberty.”

    The bills in question, House Bill 238, HB 185 and HB 196, all filed by Rep. Terry Meza (D-Irving) primarily deal with firearms-related issues, and White, in a news release, said the bills are “disrespectful, immoral and unconstitutional to freedom-loving and law-abiding Texans from the Sabine to the trans-Pecos; from the Texas Panhandle to the South Texas Plain.”

    HB 238, looks to repeal the state firearms pre-emption law and allow local governments to restrict guns as they please. HB 185, seeks to mandate firearms to be stored in locked gun cases, safes or cabinets, and would make failure to do so a criminal act.

    HB 196 was filed to modify the “castle doctrine,” which gives residents the right to use deadly force to protect their “land or tangible, movable property,” according to the Texas Penal Code. The bill looks to modify the requirement that homeowners not be able to safely retreat before deploying deadly force. It also seeks to remove robbery and aggravated robbery as crimes that can be legally stopped with deadly force.

    Meza’s bill to modify “castle doctrine” has already caused a stir. She claimed on Twitter that the bill has been misrepresented in news outlets. “While theft is obviously wrong, we have laws to address that. I don’t believe that stealing someone’s lawn ornament should be an offense punishable by death” she posted in a Nov. 19 tweet.

    Gov. Greg Abbott responded to Meza’s tweet by stating that “We won’t force Texas homeowners to retreat…homeowners need to protect themselves now more than ever.”

    White said that many of his constituents have expressed concern about firearms-related legislation. “None of these bills address any concerns with mass shootings,” White said. “The put more law-abiding citizens in danger, subject them to civil litigation and criminal prosecution.”

    Although thousands of bills typically get filed during a legislative year, only a fraction of them usually make it through the state House and Senate to find their way to Abbott in order to be signed into law.

    White, who serves as chair of the corrections committee in the state legislature, and also serves as part of the redistricting and judiciary and civil jurisprudence committees, has authored or sponsored several bills in advance of the coming session.

    One bill that has White’s authorship is a property tax reform bill, HB 529, which would cap year-to-year appraisal increases at 2.5%. Currently the limit on increases is 10%.