EastTexasNewsWebsite BannerAd

Log in
  • County begins road to recovery from Uri

    image Photo by Charles Miller of RE/MAX Lake Livingston Arial footage of the city of Livingston depicts snowfall that covered the city and much of Polk County last Monday. The snowfall was the result of Winter Storm Uri, which made its presence last Sunday night and impacted the county much of the week.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Winter Storm Uri wrecked havoc on the entire state of Texas, including Polk County.

    While Uri forced several businesses to close for much of the week, the county’s biggest winter storm since 1996 didn’t do as much damage as anticipated. While there were power outages, frozen pipes, water main breaks and water shortages, there were no fatalities from automobile accidents or freezing/hypothermia.

    “Power in Polk County was restored quickly,” Polk County Office of Emergency Management coordinator Courtney Comstock said. “Water is still an issue. We are advocating for our residents in trying to get information when their water will be restored. There are a lot of water main breaks. It also took a little while for utility companies to identify the leaks. Crews are working diligently to restore homes.”

    Comstock said that power was restored fairly quickly after the storm. She said that SHECO (Sam Houston Electrical Cooperative) moved really quickly and Entergy resolved most of their outages Thursday.

    According to Comstock, SHECO had 11,758 meters without power due to outages from the storm in Polk County between Monday and Tuesday, but as of Thursday, they were up and operational completely. She said Entergy had slightly less than 100 outages as of Thursday and now they have just one.

    Uri made her mark Sunday night by bringing snow and freezing rain to the area. Snow continued through Monday night, and much of the county had to deal with icy road conditions until Thursday.

    “This disaster is different because it impacted all 254 counties in the state of Texas,” Comstock said. “DPS reported eight vehicular accidents. First Responders had to pull some folks out of ditches as well. But there were no fatalities from accidents or freezing.”

    Uri also forced the county’s six school districts – Big Sandy, Corrigan-Camden, Goodrich, Leggett, Livingston and Onalaska ISDs – to shut down for the entire week. All school district except Goodrich, which has a student holiday on Monday, are scheduled to return to the classroom on Monday.

    Comstock said she expects some supplies in from Red Cross on Monday, and the Center of Hope provided meals and beverages to residents in need on Saturday. She also said that drinking water was expected to arrive this weekend, and that most restaurants are open to serve hungry citizens.

    “Emergency Management has requested drinking water from the state,” Comstock said. “Residents have been directed to restaurants in Livingston because most have been operational in serving the past two days. We’ve been telling people to call local restaurants to ask if they have filters for their water so they can serve drinks. The state is getting ready to roll. I anticipate drinking water to arrive soon. When the water comes in, volunteer fire departments will distribute it. This helps with localized distribution.”

    Comstock also said that Lifeline Church of Livingston helped by opening a warming shelter and managed to maintain power and water. The church also provides showers and laundry services at the facility.

    Uri brought back memories for Comstock, a Livingston native. She compared it to another winter storm that took place a quarter of a century ago.

    “The last ice storm that could be compared to this one happened in 1996,” Comstock said. “I was in elementary school when the winter storm of 1996 hit. I remember that we had thick ice and snow mix on the ground for three days. I don’t remember a long-term power outage then, but as a kid, I was excited to get out and play. Those were fun memories.”

    Comstock said Uri was the first winter storm of this magnitude that she dealt with as coordinator of the OEM. This is her 13th year with the Polk County OEM.

    “I think Polk County fared better than many other counties,” Comstock said. “Power was restored quickly. Once we get water restored, we’ll be back to normal conditions. Some residents will have to make home repairs in order to get back to normal. I think we’re all looking forward to some 60-degree weather this weekend.”

  • County commits funds to regional communications infrastructure

                                   JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Polk County Sheriff’s Office Chief Deputy Byron Lyons addresses commissioners about an agenda item that he wants tabled during Tuesday morning’s Commissioners Court. The item was tabled.

    By Jason Chlapek

    LIVINGSTON — Polk County commissioners approved a measure that will help not just their own county, but other counties as well during Commissioners Court Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse.

    The measure is a resolution authorizing the commitment of county funds and participation in a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) project by the Deep East Texas Council Of Governments (DETCOG) for regional interoperable radio communications. Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy believes this is a good move.

    “A few years ago, one of our Sheriff’s deputies was shot at and he was unable to get out and his radio wasn’t working so he couldn’t get help,” Murphy said. “What we’re trying to do is get interoperable communications with the entire 12-county DETCOG region and build a network across those counties that will allow us to have interoperability for emergency management, law enforcement, first responders or anybody that needs to be in communication in a crisis situation or circumstances. If we can get this done, then they’re asking for a commitment of 1 percent from the cog, which is huge. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for these counties to be able to get good interoperability.”

    The DETCOG region consists of 12 counties that include Angelina, Houston, Jasper, Nacogdoches, Newton, Polk, Sabine, San Augustine, San Jacinto, Shelby, Trinity and Tyler counties. The project calls for some communication structure.

    “It’s going to be upgraded technology where towers will be placed strategically,” Murphy said. “For example, let’s say Polk County ends up with a tower. That tower will be powerful enough to cover part of Liberty County, part of Trinity County or part of Tyler County depending on where the tower is located. The idea is to put ‘umbrellas’ over the entire DETCOG region to where everybody is covered regardless of where the location of the tower is. It’s a regional plan.”

    Commissioners also approved a measure to submit a CDBG grant application for flood and drainage improvement in a subdivision in Precinct 1. The Precinct 1 Road & Bridge Department will match the funds.

    “What happens when you receive these grants, there’s a matching portion,” Murphy said. “They don’t just give you the money. You have to have ‘skin in the game.’ It’s a matching grant. Some of the HUD requirements that those people be low to moderate income. To be LMI, it’s based on the average income for that county. The average income for Polk County is lower than the average income for Montgomery County based on the businesses and what people make. The cost of living is also higher in Montgomery County. The LMI is what qualifies certain areas. Let’s say you live by the lake and you have a home with a low monetary value, but it’s right next to a mansion. The mansion skews it and does not allow the person living in the smaller home to receive as much funding or assistance because the value for that area is so high. HUD has set up requirements for LMI and that gives you points for when you apply for those grants. The lower the income, the more assistance you will be providing and the more points you get when you make application. The LMI is what qualifies that subdivision based on the conditions and the amount of money the people living in that area make.”

    Also approved was a measure for county transportation infrastructure. The Texas Department of Transportation is partnering with the county.

    “Our agreement with TxDOT is to help replace some bridges and culverts or things like that,” Murphy said. “Our agreement is to allow them to proceed and each commissioner will communicate with TxDOT engineers to get what those precincts need. We’re trying to streamline the operation as much as possible and allow it to be simplified.”

    The next Commissioners Court takes place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10.

  • County offices relocating during courthouse construction

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Matt March of Texas AgriLife discusses surface lease agreements with Polk County commissioners Tuesday morning.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Polk County employees who have offices in the courthouse will have to relocate for two years soon.

    That’s because the courthouse will undergo a renovation project after the county received a $3 million grant from the Texas Historical Commission earlier this month. During the projected two-year project, courthouse offices will be relocated to the vacant building of the former Regional Health Center and to the Polk County Annex building.

    “We’re scheduled to complete in mid-2023,” Polk County grants and contracts administrator Jessica Hutchins said. “But with construction, that could always change. The project is expected to begin within six months of our contract. We don’t receive contract until March, so we should be going out for bids within six months of that agreement. It’s roughly a two-year project.”

    The relocation measure was approved during commissioners court Tuesday morning. During the two-year period, commissioners court will take place in the former Regional Health Center building.

    “When we originally applied for the grant, we didn’t qualify,” Hutchins said. “But when THC had an additional $3 million left over, they awarded that to us. We’re not receiving the official award until THC meets on Feb. 3. Then we’ll know more and have an accurate date on contracts and construction.”

    Speaking of grants, the county is working on finding a project for the Texas Department of Agriculture Community Development Block Grant. Once an administrator and engineer have been selected, the project selection can begin.

    “TDA every year opens up grants for their CDBG program,” Hutchins said. “It’s basically to improve water districts, sewage and basic necessities for the community. Last year we received $250,000 for Dallardsville-Segno Water Corporation. Now we’re opening up a new grant period. We’re getting an administrator and an engineer to select a project in the county.”

    A similar process will take place for the Hurricane Harvey Regional Mitigation Program. Hutchins elaborated on that as well.

    “For Hurricane Harvey, there’s a mitigation program and that’s set where any flooding for Harvey was done we want to mitigate that for the future so those same areas are not flooded,” she said. “There are certain zip codes within the county that flooded so they are eligible to apply for the program. There’s two rounds of mitigation. The first round is competitive. We already applied and submitted that application. There’s allocated mitigation funding that’s given to each of the counties that DETCOG is receiving in allocated amounts that are set for us and they help the general land office come up with a way to disburse it among our community. The general land office will be allocating set funds to each of the counties that DETCOG services. Each county that was impacted by Harvey will be receiving funds that are not competitive that we are set to receive.”

    Matt March of Texas AgriLife discussed surface lease agreements. The lease agreements, which are set to expire June 30, are for land in Baylor and Throckmorton counties that Polk County has designated for its six school districts – Big Sandy, Corrigan-Camden, Goodrich, Leggett, Livingston and Onalaska.

    “A long time ago, the legislature set up some land in West Texas and designated it as property for the school districts in our county to be managed by the court,” Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said. “The lease money gets split up with the schools in the county and the county benefits as well. The majority of counties sold their land a long time ago. Polk County is one of the few that did not. We are responsible for managing it and maintaining the quality of the property, and making sure the money is going where it’s supposed to go.”

    The next commissioners court takes place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 9.

  • County to receive $3 million restoration grant

                                   JASON CHLAPEK I PCE From left, Polk County Commissioners Guylene Robertson and Tommy Overstreet listen to Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy during the first commissioners court of the 2021 calendar year Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Polk County will receive a $3 million restoration grant from the Texas Historical Commission soon.

    The grant was approved at the first commissioners court of the new year Tuesday morning at the Polk County Courthouse. The approval was music to Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy’s ears.

    “Thank goodness it was approved,” Murphy said. “It was a long time coming. It’s nice to receive $3 million.”

    The grant will be used to restore the court room located on the second floor of the courthouse. Murphy said county grants and contracts administrator Jessica Hutchins was instrumental in achieving this grant.

    “Jessica took the bull by the horns and submitted a beautiful grant request,” Murphy said. “She’s been in contact with the Texas Historical Commission throughout and it’s pretty exciting to be able to get the courthouse up to par.”

    Murphy does not have a timetable on when the project will begin. However, she said the news about receiving the grant was “pretty exciting.”

    “You have to go through planning and the THC has to approve everything before receiving the grant,” Murphy said. “One of the requirements is that the district courtroom has to be restored. We will have to remove some modifications that were made by the previous administration. It has to go back to its original look.”

    Commissioners also approved the purchase of nine foreclosed properties. Eight of the nine properties are located in Lake Livingston Village and the other is in Indian Springs Lake Estates.

    Tuesday’s commissioners court was the first for newly-elected Precinct 1 commissioner Guylene Robertson. More on her can be seen in Sunday’s Enterprise.

    The next commissioners court will take place at 10 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 26.

  • COVID CRUSADER: Retired physician taking stand against virus

                                   JASON CHLAPEK | PCE Retired U.S. Army Col. And Dr. Ronald Tolls is an advocate for Covid safety.

    By Jason Chlapek

    LIVINGSTON — Ronald Tolls has held a few titles during his 80 years of life.

    Among those are U.S. Army Colonel and Doctor. Tolls has an unofficial title these days — Covid Crusader.

    Inspired by friends who relocated from Houston to Livingston during the initial outbreak of Covid-19, the retired doctor is taking it upon himself to help prevent the spread of the virus around the Livingston community. He believes it is easier to spread than other illnesses as well.

    “The first thing that happened is we had a couple that I vaguely knew from our church who were displaced from Houston. They’ve been with us ever since,” Tolls said. “I became aware of it acutely that Covid had spread and was highly communicable. People who were in nursing homes have a high fatality rate. I’ve since been following the CDC recommendations and I think they were off track for a while because they thought it was spread like a common cold or the Spanish Influenza. But in fact, it can be spread via aerosol, which is akin to the smoke that we smell around a bonfire. In other words, it’s far beyond the six feet.”

    Tolls has taken his mission to the Livingston Walmart. He believes the virus is more likely to be spread there as opposed to churches or schools.

    “In our church, we have social distancing,” Tolls said. “But at Walmart, it has all fallen on the wayside. About a month ago, I did a tally at Walmart and I found that 50% of employees were wearing their masks improperly. I’m a staunch believer that the No. 1 spread of Covid is not in our churches or in the open marketplace. It’s in shops. Walmart is the principal retailer in town. A third of the people that come in are not even wearing masks. I am eager to raise awareness and what I’m proposing is that, with all respect to Walmart because next to (Livingston ISD) they’re our No. 1 employer in town, we get a systemized program at Walmart. They’re examples to the rest of our community. They can beat their chest and say ‘Look what we’re doing. We’re not killing you by selling cigarettes as much as we’re trying to save you from Covid.’ Cigarettes will shorten your lifespan by 10 years and those very same people have the audacity to go out and have a team on Relay For Life.”

    During Tolls’ time at the London School of Tropical Medicine & Hygiene, University of London, he learned about a man named Sir John Snow. During the London Cholera Epidemic of 1854, Snow figured out a way to slow down the spread of the disease.

    “In the social area of London (in 1854), there were 500 fatalities in 10 days,” Tolls said. “Somebody asked John Snow what they should do about it. He said to take the handle off of the Broadstreet Pump. He had a box of pins and a map of that region. Essentially, in 1854, John Snow was a couple of generations ahead of his time. I will never be able to prove things like he did. I will never be able to prove with pins like he did. What I would like to do is promote a program at Walmart and other businesses will follow suit. I would like to see them do it in good face. I want our Walmart to be an example to the community.”

    Tolls retired from practicing medicine three years ago. In addition to Walmart, he is interested in talking to other high-traffic businesses in Livingston.

    “I think there’s something people need to know about and I think they need to know how to stop the spread of Covid,” Tolls said. “It’s killed 200,000 Americans. It behooves us to do something about it. I’d be quite willing to talk to other stores as well.”

    He’s staying on the crusade.

  • Covid forces cities to cancel Veterans Day ceremonies

    Onalaska FlagJASON CHLAPEK I PCE A pair of volunteers post flags along US Highway 190 in Onalaska to honor Veterans on Veterans Day, which was celebrated on Wednesday throughout the nation.

    By Jason Chlapek

    ONALASKA - A pair of Veterans Day ceremonies were canceled or postponed because of Covid-19.

    The Polk County Garden Club’s annual tribute to Veterans on the Blue Star Memorial Highway marker has been postponed until Memorial Day 2021, and Onalaska’s annual Veterans Day program was canceled. Onalaska Mayor Chip Choate chimed in on his city’s decision to cancel its annual ceremony.

    “We did not have a Veterans Day ceremony this year because of Covid,” Choate said. “Most of the Veterans in this area are senior citizens and they are the most vulnerable to this virus. We wanted to be very cautious and try to avoid any congregation, so we’re going to plan to have it next year. We have plans for Veterans Day 2021.”

    Onalaska still did something to honor Veterans, however. The city placed American flags along both sides of US Highway 190.

    “We put out the American flags three times a year — Memorial Day, Fourth of July and Veterans Day,” Choate said. “We put the flags out a little early this year to let everyone have the opportunity to see the patriotism in our community.”

    Choate hopes the virus will run its course and not be a threat by Veterans Day next year. He also reminisced about previous Veterans Day ceremonies.

    “In the past, we invited Veterans throughout the community, played patriotic music and had speakers such as State Rep. James White, Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy and Commissioner Rodney Vincent,” Choate said. “We also displayed flags and played the songs of each of the five branches of the service. We also do a muster. This is where we call out the names of Veterans from our area who passed away in the past year. When we call their names, we invite relatives or friends to call out, ‘Here,’ when their Veteran’s name is called.”

    At the Blue Star Marker, Livingston VFW Post 8568 teamed up with Livingston High School Junior ROTC cadets to present the flags. The Onalaska High School JROTC did something similar at the Onalaska Veterans Day ceremony.

     

  • Covid-19 regional update

    N2103P48004CFILE PHOTO Covid-19

    By ETxN Staff

    Polk, San Jacinto, and Tyler Counties

    In the Trauma Service Area designated H, which includes Polk, San Jacinto and Tyler counties, the amount of hospital bed usage by COVID-19 patients is down to 10% as of Wednesday, April 21, according to figures from the state department of health services. 

    Of the ICU beds available, 14% are being used as of Wednesday by COVID-19 patients. 

    The figure for daily cases reported as of Wednesday was 13 and the cumulative totals for the trauma region are 11,591 cases reported since reporting began in 2020, and 698 total COVID-related fatalities.

    Since reporting of active cases ceased in early March, concurrent with the lifting of Gov. Greg Abbott’s mandate, Tyler County reported 1,213 total cases and 34 deaths since March of 2020 when the county’s first confirmed case was reported."

    Houston County

    According to emergency management coordinator Heath Murff, as of April 30, the total number of Covid vaccination doses that had been administered in the county was 10,431.

    He added, “6,500 of those have been first doses; 4,633 of those are fully vaccinated people.

    “Houston County Emergency Management has hosted three vaccinations clinics, and we have vaccinated 600 citizens.”

    Murff said DSHS staff members “used to give us information daily, as far as, how many cases we had, how many active cases we had, how many recoveries we had, all that kind of specific (information) for Houston County, and they quit doing that.”

    ET COVID CHART

    **More information for up-to-date numbers can be found at:

    https://txdshs.maps.arcgis.com/apps/dashboards/ed483ecd702b4298ab01e8b9cafc8b83

     

  • Dangerous drug kills 1, sends 3 to hospital

    PCSO logoPCSO logo

    From the Polk County Sheriff's Office

    One person is dead and three more in the hospital after they consumed a dangerous drug earlier last week.

    On Tuesday, Polk County Sheriff's Office deputies responded to a location in the Ace area of Polk County concerning the death of a local individual and two others that were believed to have consumed methamphetamines. Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons suspects that due to the evidence located at the scene along with drug evidence all three individuals consumed the unknown drug laced with an unknown chemical.

    Later that day another individual was discovered in a different subdivision with the same symptoms stating that he also consumed drugs associated with the three individuals from earlier. This person was transported to a local hospital.

    At this time detectives are conducting investigation and awaiting information from the Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office as well as hospitals the individuals were transported to for treatment.

    Lyons wants to make the public aware of drugs such as crystal meth and heroin being sold to individuals in Polk County that is suspected of being laced with an unknown chemical or possibly fentanyl. He asked that anyone with information as to the illegal use and sale of narcotics to contact and report to the Polk County Sheriff’s Office or Crime Stoppers at 936-327-STOP (7867).

  • Deer Season is underway

    white tailed 139715COURTESY PHOTO Whitetail Deer Season started on Saturday and concludes Jan. 3.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Polk County Game Warden David Johnson believes that Christmas time is here already.

    “Deer season is a Game Warden’s Christmas,” he said. “Most of us look forward to it. I enjoy getting out and visiting with hunters and people who are out having a good time. I enjoy seeing all of the new harvest of deer and getting to visit with folks who are hunting for the first time. It’s like a social event.”

    Johnson and his fellow game wardens across the state will be busy over the next two months. That’s because Whitetail Deer Season began on Saturday and will conclude in January.

    The general season for whitetail deer is from Nov. 7 to Jan. 3. Archery-only season took place from Oct. 3 to Nov. 6.

    With Covid-19, social distancing has changed the way of life in many areas. Johnson said it shouldn’t play too much of a factor in the general season, however.

    “There are no new rules for social distancing,” he said. “Our directive is to be smart and be safe. We’re just going to go out and do our work.”

    There are certain regulations when it comes to deer hunting. For starters, there is a county bag limit of no more than four deer — two bucks and two does — per hunter.

    While each hunter is allowed a maximum of two bucks, only one of those two may have an inside spread of 13 inches or greater. A legal buck is defined as a male deer with at least one unbranched antler or an inside spread of 13 inches or greater.

    “Do have a good time, Do be safe, and Do remember to be courteous to others,” Johnson said. “Be aware of shooting times — one half hour before sunrise and one half hour after sunset, Be mindful of your surroundings, and remember to properly fill out your tags and cut out your dates in addition to filling out your harvest log.”

    One change that has been made because of Covid is the publication of the Outdoor Annual magazine that is published on an annual basis. That has been replaced by a cel phone app.

    “Our outdoor Annual Now is online and is a downloadable app,” Johnson said. “They’re not printing them this year, but it’s a free app. It’s real easy to look up all of the information that you’re looking for.”

    Johnson plans to spend a lot of time in the woods over the next two months — both on and off the clock.

    “I believe I’ll take advantage of deer hinting on my days off,” he said. “I like to get out there and see what’s in the woods. I’m ready to get in the woods. It’s going to be a good time and a lot of fun. We look forward to seeing everybody out there. I enjoy hunting with my two boys and watching them have fun in the deer stand. You can’t beat it.”

  • Defending state champions swatting big flys

    IMG 6363BRIAN BESCH | PCE Lady Lion senior Elaina Evans stretches for the throw from third base in her final home game.

    By Brian Besch

    The Livingston Lady Lions dropped their final home game of the 2021 season Tuesday, as the Hargrave Lady Falcons took a 6-1 decision.

    Showing some power at the plate, the Lady Falcons utilized a couple of home runs in the fourth inning that would decide the outcome. Hagan Pike smacked a solo shot, and after a runner reached base, Maddi Smith notched two more on the board with a connection that cleared the wall in left field.

    Added to a run scored in the first, that put the girls from Huffman up 4-0. Livingston pushed a run across in the sixth inning, started by a Kaylie Bush single and sacrifice off the bat of freshman Jaycee Knighton to push her to second. Carrie Parker slapped a single into the grass and slid into second when the throw home could not catch Bush.

    IMG 6425BRIAN BESCH | PCE Carrie Parker slides into second base after driving in a run.

    Pike would strike again in the seventh with the bases loaded and no one out. Her single allowed two more to score.

    “It has been a struggle and we will make a mistake and then make another mistake,” Livingston coach Ruth Wright said. “Knowing what we are supposed to do when we get the ball, we've done a lot better, I thought. They don't have the experience and I have been playing with different positions, so they have had to get comfortable at two different positions. I basically go with if you are getting the job done at the plate, I am going to put you somewhere defensively.” 

    Three of those that Wright said has performed at the plate this season are freshmen. They have also functioned in key roles when the Lady Lions take the field. Allison Lytle and Knighton both contribute by pitching and Baylee Yantes has been on the receiving end behind the plate. On Tuesday, Lytle started, throwing four frames and Knighton finished off the final three.

    District 21-4A has produced the last two state champions in Liberty and Hargrave, and the competition is proving strong once more this year.

    “The bottom line is this district is amazing,” Wright said. “The pitching is great and if you miss your spot, it can be deadly. The combination of pitchers (Lytle and Knighton), they got a lot of reps this year and that confidence is going to help. On varsity playing as a freshmen, I have three of them and they stepped up and did a great job. They are only going to get better.”

    On the other end, the Lady Lions will lose a lone senior, first baseman Elaina Evans.

    “Ever since freshman year, this group of girls has been great,” Evans said of her time wearing the green. “I'm going to miss the girls the most. We have grown together, played together, improved together and made great memories. We have had great coaches that have not only taught us to play the game, but to love the game. I'm just going to miss the people I've built a family here with the most.”

    IMG 6354BRIAN BESCH | PCE Kaylie Bush would single and score the only Livingston run Tuesday.

    With most everyone returning next year, the coach is optimistic on the future of Livingston softball.

    “We’ll continue to grow. With Elena being gone, we're going to miss her, but the depth here is good,” Wright said. “These girls are going to work outside of school and there are several that are playing select ball. This year has been (about) building, obviously, and we are getting a little more consistent.”

  • Defense, defense, defense (VIDEO)

    IMG 5123BRIAN BESCH | PCE Dante Williams drives to the bucket.

    Big Sandy defeats state-ranked Garrison, advances to regional semifinals

    Watch the video here:

    By Brian Besch

    "I don't even know where to begin with this game," Big Sandy coach Kevin Foster said after the win over Garrison. "If we play them 10 times, we maybe beat them once. I told the kids we don't have to be better than them, we just have to be better than them tonight."

    By playing incredible defense and taking care of the basketball, Big Sandy was better than Garrison Saturday night, winning by a score of 32-28.

    Rarely turning the ball over, blocking out on every shot and constantly harassing the Bulldog offense, Big Sandy had just enough to defeat the No. 10 2A team in Texas.

    Two field goals and four free throws were all the Bulldog offense could muster in the first half. However, Garrison also played well on the defensive end, leading to a 13-8 score at halftime.

    IMG 5148BRIAN BESCH | PCE Josiah Celestine shoots a baseline jumper.

    "Fortunately, they didn't shoot the ball well, because they normally shoot it very well," Foster said. "Our kids stuck to our game plan.

    "We lost the lead and I'm so proud of them because we kept our composure and were able to hang on and make a play late. That's what these games come down to, whoever can make a play late. We were able to do it and I can't believe we are in the regional semifinals."

    Garrison trailed for much of the game and was down a bucket at 40-38 to begin the fourth quarter.

    Within a minute, they took the lead in what would be in a nail-biting final period.

    "We knew we needed to cover (Dayton Dewberry) and (Risten Cook), because they can shoot it," Foster said. "The rest of the guys can shoot, but we were going to take our chances with that and really try to crowd the paint. (Freddy Christopher) is so explosive and quick, we didn't want to let him get to where he needed to be. We did that for the most part. Coach (Darren) Cook is a great coach and he adjusted in the second half. He ran some hi-low stuff and was able to get it to them.

    IMG 5151BRIAN BESCH | PCE Adrian Thompson puts up a 3-pointer from the corner.

    With 20 seconds left to play, the Wildcats were clinging to a 30-28 advantage. Adrian Thompson knocked down two free throws, making it a two-possession contest.

    It would be all the stingy Wildcat defense would need to move on to the regional semifinals.

    Elias Bullock and Adrian Thompson led Big Sandy with eight points each. Risten Cook led Garrison with 10 points and Brad Reynolds had eight.

    LaPoynor will be the next opponent, as the two teams will meet Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. at Central Heights High School.

  • Eight indicted for transnational drug trafficking, money laundering Defendants connected to company located in Onalaska

                                   PCE STAFF The office of Aircraft Guaranty Corporation, located at 2058 FM 356 in Onalaska.

    From Enterprise Staff

    A federal grand jury in the Eastern District of Texas has returned an indictment charging eight individuals with various federal violations related to a complex international drug trafficking conspiracy, announced acting United States Department of Justice Attorney Nicholas J. Ganjei. This investigation to date has led to indictments of individuals for transnational drug trafficking, money laundering, and financial crimes out of the Eastern District of Texas Federal Court related to a complex international drug trafficking conspiracy.

    Debbie Mercer, 58, and Kayleigh Moffett, 33, both of Oklahoma City; Federico Machado, 53, of Florida; Carlos Villaurrutia, 40, of McAllen, Texas; and four others were named in an indictment charging them with conspiracy to manufacture and distribute cocaine, conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, conspiracy to commit export violations, and conspiracy to commit federal registration violations involving aircraft. The indictment details approximately $350 million in alleged criminal activity since 2016. The seven-count superseding indictment was returned by a federal grand jury earlier this week and unsealed recently.

    According to unsealed court documents, the defendants allegedly purchased and illegally registered aircraft under foreign corporations and other individuals for export to other countries. The indictment specifically alleges that Mercer and Moffett, through their company Aircraft Guaranty Corporation (AGC), registered thousands of aircraft in Onalaska, a Polk County town without an airport.

    According to the indictment, several of the illegally registered and exported aircraft were used by transnational criminal organizations in Colombia, Venezuela, Ecuador, Belize, Honduras, Guatemala, and Mexico to smuggle large quantities of cocaine destined for the United States. The indictment further alleges that illicit proceeds from the subsequent drug sales were then transported as bulk cash from the United States to Mexico and used to buy more aircraft and cocaine. According to the indictment, aircraft purchases were typically completed by wiring funds from casa de cambios and/or banks in Mexico to shell corporations operating in the United States as aircraft sellers/brokers.

    In March 2019, Polk County Constable Precinct 1 Constable Scott Hughes and South East Texas
    Export Investigation Group (SETEIG) Commander Beau Price received information regarding thousands of aircraft reported to be registered in Onalaska.

    Price discussed this matter with Department of Commerce, Office of Export Enforcement, Bureau of Industry Security Special Agents as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and a joint investigation was launched and is ongoing at this time.

    “The threat posed by transnational crime cannot be overstated,” said Ganjei. “The use of United States-registered aircraft by these criminal organizations and their networks of associates poses a clear and present danger to the security of our nation. The American public can expect EDTX to be relentless in its fight against the sometimes invisible, but always dangerous, threat of transnational organized crime.”

    This investigation became an Organized Crime Drug Enforcement Task Force (OCDETF) case and is being investigated by Homeland Security Investigations (Dallas, Brownsville and Laredo offices); Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security (Dallas and Houston offices); Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG); Internal Revenue Service; Federal Aviation Administration (FAA); Polk County Constable’s Office Precinct 1; SETEIG; Harris County District Attorney’s Office; and Harris County Constable’s Office Precinct 8. Also assisting in this investigation is Polk County Sheriff’s Office, Sheriff Byron Lyons and Texas Parks and Wildlife Game Warden David Johnson, Newton County Office Precinct 4 Constaple Howard Wonders.

    “This investigation is a perfect example of local, state, and federal agencies working together in a task force setting. The amount of time, effort, and resources dedicated to this case by participating agencies is monumental,” said Price.

    “Joint task force models that SETEIG is structured after has proven once again how efficient, effective and successful local, state and federal law enforcement can be investigating and prosecuting complex, sophisticated criminal organizations.” said Hughes.

    Hughes went on to express his appreciation to all agencies involved and to point out it is not uncommon for even the most rural locations to be safe havens for large scale criminal
    organizations.

    The indictment describes that foreign governments seized United States-registered aircraft containing multi-ton shipments of cocaine. According to the indictment, the aircraft were held in trust by AGC for the benefit of foreign corporations or individuals. The indictment identifies Machado, through his company South Aviation, and Villaurrutia, who used his companies TEXTON, TWA International, and Ford Electric, as aircraft sellers/brokers operating in the United States.

    The indictment separately charges Mercer, Moffett, and Machado with engaging in a fraud scheme related to the acquisition of aircraft. According to the indictment, Machado recruited investors to invest in aircraft purchase deposits for sales transactions that never took place. Investors allegedly placed their funds in an escrow account held by Wright Brothers Title Company, which was owned and managed by Mercer and Moffett. Machado then allegedly used these funds for purposes other than the purchase of aircraft.

    The case is being prosecuted by Assistant U.S. Attorneys Ernest Gonzalez, Colleen Bloss and Robert Wells. OCDETF is the largest anti-crime task force in the country and its mission is to disrupt and dismantle the most significant drug trafficking and transnational criminal organizations that threaten the United States. The prosecutor-led, intelligence-driven, multi-agency task forces leverage the authorities and expertise of federal, state, and local law enforcement.

    “The indictments resulting from this highly complex investigation showcases HSI’s unique and far-reaching authorities, serving as an example of what the global law enforcement community can accomplish when we work together,” said Ryan L. Spradlin, Special Agent in Charge, HSI Dallas. “We were able to deliver a significant blow to the transnational criminal organizations around the world by exposing a money laundering and drug trafficking scheme perpetuated by sophisticated drug cartels.”

    “As this case demonstrates, we will aggressively investigate the illegal exportation of aircraft contrary to U.S. national security interests,” said Trey McClish, Special Agent in Charge of the U.S. Department of Commerce, Bureau of Industry and Security – Office of Export Enforcement’s Dallas Field Office. “Alongside our Federal and State partners, OEE will leverage its unique criminal and administrative enforcement powers to detect and disrupt serious criminal schemes that violate U.S. export control law.”

    “The indictment in this case demonstrate that individuals who choose to circumvent Federal regulations pertaining to aircraft registration and ownership will be pursued to the fullest extent of the law,” said Todd Damiani, Special Agent-In-Charge, Southern Region, U.S. Department of Transportation Office of Inspector General (DOT-OIG). “The collaborative nature of this investigation is representative of the ongoing investigative work DOT-OIG performs to ensure aviation safety and maintain national security interests in order to prevent the nefarious acts these defendants are being charged with from occurring.”

    If convicted, the defendants face a minimum of 10 years and up to life in federal prison for the drug conspiracy charges and up to 20 years for the money laundering, export and wire fraud violations. It is important to note that a complaint, arrest, or indictment should not be considered as evidence of guilt and that all persons charged with a crime are presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.

  • Ellis back on board

    20201116 180424BRIAN BESCH I PCE Livingston ISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins swears in Bea Ellis during the November meeting of the LISD Board of Trustees.

    By Brian Besch

    LIVINGSTON - The Livingston ISD school board reshuffled some of its positions after accepting a “new” member Monday at Creekside Elementary.

    The November LISD Board meeting opened with the swearing-in of Bea Ellis. Ellis spent 26 years on the board, also serving as its president, and returns after just two years away.

    After, Ben Ogletree was named president for two more years, Scott Paske will serve as vice-president and Krissa Bass will be the board secretary.

    Livingston ISD Chief Financial Officer Ben Davidson presented the annual Financial Integrity Rating System of Texas (FIRST) report during the public hearing portion of the meeting. 

    The state's school financial accountability rating system ensures that Texas public schools are held accountable for the quality of their financial management practices and that they improve those practices.

    The system is designed to encourage Texas public schools to better manage their financial resources to provide the maximum allocation possible for direct instructional purposes. The FIRST report consists of 15 different indicators. The district scored the maximum allowed points of 100.  

    Board president Ben Ogletree noted during the review of the principal reports that the district is holding an attendance rate in the mid-90 percentile, which he attributed to the janitorial staff and the diligence of the teaching staff with efforts in fogging, cleaning, and handwashing.

    An action item approved by the board was the reconsideration of the board student outcome goals.

  • Fast start, press lifts Big Sandy

    IMG 2454BRIAN BESCH I PCE Alexis Thompson of Big Sandy drives to the basket. She had 22 points Friday.

    By Brian Besch

    LEGGETT - The Big Sandy Lady Cats established a large early lead and coasted to a road victory Friday night, beating the Lady Pirates of Leggett, 83-15.

    The Wildcats grabbed a 33-0 lead before Leggett was able to connect on a free throw late in the opening period. The first quarter was a festival of layups off of turnovers. The Big Sandy press smothered Leggett, robbing them of most possessions before the Lady Pirates could set up an offense.



    “We get in a rush when they start pressing,” Leggett coach Terri Barlow said. “We get in a rush and just throw the ball away. It is just simple little mistakes that we keep making over and over. I feel like we are going to be OK during district. These are tough teams that we are losing to like this.”

    Leggett has scheduled non-district games versus schools as big as Class 4A to prepare for district. They are currently 1-5, but have yet to play a school from Class 1A.

    To this point, Barlow said she likes the speed that her team possesses, but says they struggle with turnovers.

    “I told them to hold their heads up and not to worry about it and keep playing hard,” Barlow said. “It is an important game, but the most important games are the district games. I don't mind getting beat, but I just told them to not give up and keep working. When you quit on me, that is when you are a loser. If you keep playing hard, you are still a winner.”

    Erika Hansen led the Lady Pirates with seven points. For Big Sandy, sophomore Alexis Thompson had 22 points and freshman Faith Geller had 20. Savanna Poncho added 14 points, Baili Mitchell had 12 and Savannah Hoffman scored 11.

    “I thought early in the game we came out and played well,” Big Sandy coach Ryan Alec said. “We tell the kids when the ball is tipped, you have to play well early. You have to set a precedent in the beginning of the game. Our press had a lot to do with that. As the course of the game progressed, I thought our decision making wasn't as good. I think a lot of that was probably from fatigue. In the first half we did a good job of executing on offense and finding open people. We got turnovers and capitalized on those turnovers and was able to get some layups out of it.”

    Big Sandy has performed well of late, though fighting to keep a consistent roster for various reasons. The Lady Cats were only able to suit up seven girls Friday.

    “Defensively, I felt like we could have done a better job of keeping their best player in front of us,” Alec said. “We had a plan of trying to get the ball out of her hands and I thought at times we were successful in doing that. Other times, we let her split us and get to the basket. It was good preparation for us because once we get into district, we have Broaddus that has good guards and West Sabine.”

  • FBI requested for officer investigation

    FBI Seal on Red BackgroundFBI Seal on Red Background | Courtesy of https://www.fbi.gov/

    PCE Staff

    Via social media, the Polk County District Attorney announced his office has requested an FBI investigation for the possibility of federal charges against a former employee at the Polk County Jail.

    District Attorney Lee Hon messaged through Facebook that a complaint was received Feb. 23 by Polk County Sheriff’s administration regarding improper use of force by Polk County Jail Captain William Jerry on an inmate at the jail.

    Texas Rangers investigated that incident and the inmate was reportedly transported to another jail. Investigations have uncovered additional alleged incidents involving Jerry.

    According to Hon’s post, “The matter was promptly reported to this (district attorney) office and the Texas Rangers for an independent criminal investigation. In the initial investigation conducted by Texas Ranger Sgt. Ryan Clendenen, information was received alleging Jerry’s involvement in other instances of the improper use of force against inmates. Due to these additional allegations and the expanding nature of the investigation, on Tuesday, March 16, 2021, this office requested that the FBI assist in the investigation for consideration of any potential federal charges.”

    Hon also encouraged those with relevant knowledge of the circumstances in the investigation or other allegations of improper force against inmates at the Polk County Jail to contact Texas Ranger Sgt. Ryan Clendenen at 936-327-6836 or the Polk County District Attorney’s Office at 936-327-6868.

  • Forestry company conducts lengthy controlled burn

                                   JASON CHLAPEK | PCE A controlled burn took place southwest of the Livingston city limits Thursday. The burn lasted from 9 a.m. until 6:30 p.m.

    By Jason Chlapek

    Clouds of smoke could be seen for miles Thursday afternoon.

    And no fire departments were called to the scene.

    That’s because it was a controlled burn.

    The controlled burn took place southwest of Livingston in the vicinity of Farm-to-Market Roads 350 and 3126.

    The project was conducted by Lone Star Forestry LLC out of Huntsville.

    “We had zero issues,” Joe Pfluger of Lone Star Forestry said. “We burned 320 acres and did another 360 acres in San Jacinto County on Friday."

    The prescribed burn began at 9 a.m. Thursday and was completely put out by 6:30 p.m.

    Lone Star Forestry services Grimes, Polk, San Jacinto and Walker counties, to name a few. Pfluger also said that the prescribed burns revolve around one thing.“It’s all about the weather,” he said. “Weather is our boss. We’re looking for the right weather conditions such as wind, wind speed, temperature, humidity, the fuel on the ground, homes, people, airports, funeral homes, anything you could think of that cause issues with smoke. We wouldn’t want to be blowing into the city limits or the homes around us. We get a bunch of blocks set up and we wait for the right conditions to do the burn.”

    Lone Star Forestry recently received some grant money from the US Forest Service to help fund controlled burns. Pfluger believes controlled burns are necessary.

    “This is something that people should want more of,” he said. “The biggest part of the prescribed burn is to prevent wildfires. Fire is something of nature and has been for thousands of years. It’s by all means a good thing.”

    The irony behind prescribed burns is that they can reduce wild fires.

    “Prescribed burns reduce the fuel that’s out there,” Pfluger said. “Every year, pine straw and leaves fall and they accumulate. They’re tender blocks waiting to be lit. If we can keep a burn schedule of 2-3 years, we can eliminate the fuel. You’re also protecting the timber investment. It also enhances wildlife habitat and we want to get the woods back to their native state. You want to drive through the woods and see a grassy meadow underneath the trees. If it’s a controlled burn, it’s a good thing.”

  • Former PCSO Deputy arrested

    AUSTIN TYLER MCCRACKENMUGSHOT Austin Tyler McCracken

    From the Polk County Sheriff’s Office

    A former Polk County Sheriff’s Office narcotics detective is in trouble with the law.

    Austin Tyler McCracken, 27, was arrested on Monday after a warrant for his arrest was issued. The charge was misuse of official information.

    On April 12, PCSO received a complaint in reference to possible improper conduct involving former Detective McCracken following a traffic stop. The complaint stated McCracken had sent unsolicited private social media messages to the female subject shortly after the traffic stop.

    Feeling uncomfortable regarding the nature of the communications, the female subject reported the matter to law enforcement and an internal investigation was started by the PCSO. McCracken was suspended pending the outcome of the investigation.

    On April 14, McCracken was terminated from employment by Chief Deputy Rickie Childers. McCracken immediately appealed the termination to Sheriff Byron Lyons.

    Prior to his appeal hearing with the sheriff, however, McCracken resigned from the Sheriff’s Office while under investigation. The criminal aspect of the investigation was reported to the Texas Rangers for an independent investigation.

    On Monday, McCracken was arrested and charged with misuse of official information, which is a third-degree felony. McCracken was booked into the Polk County Jail and given a $5,000 bond by Justice of the Peace Darrell Longino.

    Anyone having information regarding any other instances of possible improper conduct on the part of McCracken is encouraged to contact Texas Ranger Sgt. Ryan Clendenen at (936) 327-6836. Sheriff Lyons expressed that he expects his deputies to always adhere to the highest standards of professionalism and law enforcement ethics in their dealings with citizens.

  • Gaming center temporary closure

    Naskila logoCOURTESY PHOTO Naskila logo

    Naskila Gaming has decided to temporarily halt operations once again due to the coronavirus pandemic. According to a post Thursday on social media, the gaming center in Polk County will close at midnight Dec. 10 and plans to reopen Jan. 16, 2021 at 10 a.m.

    "This is just to keep the community safe -- our patrons, our employees safe from the virus," Alabama-Coushatta communications director Christi Sullivan said."

    Sullivan said the closure is not related to an outbreak in the gaming center, but rather one to mitigate the spread.

    "Not at Naskila. Our numbers have risen, just as they have everywhere else, on the reservation. It is exactly how it is in Livingston and Woodville. All of the numbers are on the rise. This is exactly how we have done in November and early on when it first hit."

    Naskila has been operating at 50% capacity and chairs were removed from certain machines to aid in patrons keeping a social distance.

    Sullivan said the tribal council makes decisions for everything that occurs on the reservation. There has been an ongoing conversation amongst that group since March about hours of operation and helping prevent the spread of Covid-19.

    The tribe has not only considered local statistics for Covid-19, but also numbers from areas like Harris County and Jefferson County, as many patrons drive in from Houston and Beaumont.

    Employees of Naskila Gaming will continue to be paid, just as they have in other closures during 2020.

    Follow easttexasnews.com for any updates on this story.

  • Growing pains

    IMG 2622BRIAN BESCH | PCE Central Heights winning over the Lady Dogs of Corrigan-Camden on Friday 11 Decmber, 2020.

    By Brian Besch

    Central Heights started quickly and had Friday’s district matchup decided in a quarter, winning over the Lady Dogs of Corrigan-Camden 72-8.

    Holding the Lady Dogs without a field goal until the second quarter, Central Heights converted turnovers into layup, running up the first-half difference.

    “We have four freshmen, two sophomores, a junior and a senior. It is going to be rough at times this year,” Corrigan-Camden coach Ryan Hall said. “The ones that were the team leaders last year didn't come out and they left it on the young ones. This group works their tails off in practice and does everything I ask them to. They will get better; it is just going to take time. We are not in a developmental district, but we have a developmental team. We're going to have to develop and get better and it is just going to be trial by fire this year.

    “This is probably one of the toughest districts in the area and maybe the state. It is not because we have state-title contenders, but we have four or five teams in our district that, if the playoff bracket allowed them to, they could go to the regional tournament. They are very good and very high IQ basketball teams top to bottom.”

    The Lady Devils led 41-4 at halftime, as most who suited up scored at least two points. Nakalyn Wells and Kamryn Moore led the game by scoring 14 points each, while Hannah Shugart had 11. For Corrigan, Amiyah Jones had three points, Jonaisha Love and Paige Standley both had a bucket, and Kalyn Smith knocked down a free throw.

    The coach said Huntington, Central, Central Heights and Diboll would be favorites for the playoffs, along with Pineywoods Christian Academy.

    IMG 2617BRIAN BESCH | PCE players defending the net

    “That is the most athletic Central Heights team that we have played,” Hall said. “They always have good basketball IQ and good basketball teams, but now they are bringing athletes to it too. Huntington has dropped down (in classification) and they've got a D1 track recruit at point guard. She is all gas and no brakes, and she doesn't slow down even when she has the ball. She can go. I would say that they are probably the favorite to win district as long as she plays.”

    Hall said his squad's attitude is what he enjoys most.

    “Everything we asked them to do, they do. Everybody gets along, we have zero drama, and they play to the best of their ability. They are a fun group to be around. They are not the strongest basketball players right now, but if they keep that attitude and keep playing, they can learn basketball.”

  • 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.”