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Chesswood Baptist set to reopen July 1

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Chesswood Baptist Church has plans to be back in their building off Highway 59 by July 1. Photo By Brian Besch | PCEChesswood Baptist Church has plans to be back in their building off Highway 59 by July 1. Photo By Brian Besch | PCE

By Brian Besch

There are big plans at Chesswood Baptist Church, as pastor Col. Howard Daniel says they will soon move back into their building just three months after it was decimated by fire.

July 1 is the targeted move-in date to 4357 U.S Highway 59, where there will be offices, restrooms, a nursery and exercise room. Last week, construction crews painting, putting in electricity and walls and spreading a new parking lot.

Also included is a room for worship that holds a capacity of 15 pews. That room is a temporary fix for Sunday mornings. On Dec. 25 and beyond, it will only be used for Wednesday and Sunday nights.

That is because there is a goal for the church to hold services in a newly completed sanctuary by Christmas Day.

Daniel admits that it is an ambitious goal, but work on the facility has been steady since the fire March 24.

"The cause of the fire was never determined," Daniel said while giving a tour of the ongoing work. "A lot of speculation on the street, but I can guarantee you, nobody knows."

Daniel said a secretary was in the building at the time and smelled something that she believed to be in her office. After disconnecting everything from the walls, she smelled smoke and eventually exited.

"We think it might have been some faulty wiring back there, but we don't know how or why it started,” Daniel said. “The speculation is out there big time and conspiracy theories. No one knows. But, we do know there was no foul play. That's the first thing people think of. The insurance company even hired an expert team to come in to find out the cause and they couldn't find anything."

The price tag for the rebuilding is thought to be just under $1 million. The amount lost in the blaze was about the same.

The conference room at the La Quinta Inn Livingston has been home to Chesswood for the past few months, where Daniel says a friend has helped the church.

"There is a nice conference room over there and they are taking care of us. There is a nice sign that we have put outside when you drive by there. We have felt at home over there."

The church turned to someone with experience for the construction, as the same contractor that built the sanctuary originally is back on the job.

"We are going to be bigger and better," Daniel said. "We have a state-of-the-art sound system going in and we will be able to video tape, so that we can have the fancy programming. We found the blueprints to the church that did not get burned. The only thing that is going to be different about Chesswood is that there is no two story. Basically, everything else is going to be the same."

Chesswood started in 1976 at a hamburger stand close to where Texas Bragg Barbecue once stood. Then, they moved in 1984 to the current address. The building used at that time was lost three months ago in the fire. From there, it moved just a few steps to the sanctuary that was also lost.

However, the church is already beginning to take shape once again. Daniel believes the goal of Christmas will be reached. There may even be a few flags out.

"I think it is the most beautiful church in Polk County and we want to keep it going."

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Binnion receives 10 years deferred

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Eli BinnionEli Binnion

By Emily Banks Wooten
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A sentencing hearing was held June 3 in the 258h Judicial District before the Honorable Judge Travis E. Kitchens Jr. for Eli Binnion, 22, of Livingston in Cause Nos. 26,265, sexual assault of a child, and 26,266, aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury. Binnion pleaded guilty to the offenses on March 14, 2019, and has been in the Polk County Jail since that time.

The sexual assault of a child offense allegedly occurred on July 2, 2018, at the Hampton Inn in the 200 block of Commerce Lane. Binnion was 19 at the time and the alleged victim was 14. The aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury stems from an incident that occurred on September 2, 2018, while Binnion was incarcerated in the Polk County Jail in which he allegedly punched a jailer more than once with a clenched fist and fractured his jaw.

On the charge of sexual assault of a child, Binnion was placed on deferred adjudication probation for 10 years with multiple conditions, including serving an additional 180 days in the Polk County Jail and registering as a sex offender. As for the charge of aggravated assault causing serious bodily injury, Binnion received a sentence of three years confinement in the Institutional Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. Having already served 991 days in the Polk County Jail pending disposition of the case, this sentence will be completed in approximately three months.

According to a press release from Polk County Criminal District Attorney William Lee Hon, the State, through Assistant District Attorney Rachel Ellsworth, stated its opposition to the Court’s decision to place the defendant on deferred adjudication probation.

Recent national publicity about the sentencing has resulted in numerous death threats for Kitchens, his family and staff, as well as a multitude of threatening emails being received by his staff.

“There have been some threats, blind threats I’ll call them, sent to the county’s webpage,” Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons said. “We’ve made our security staff aware of what’s going on, as well as the clerks’ offices and others who work closely with the judge and his staff.”

According to Michael L. Davis, Binnion’s defense attorney, the State, in writing, waived its right to a jury trial in the case at the time Binnion pleaded guilty in March of 2019.

“This is significant because if the State had truly wished to prevent Mr. Binnion from receiving deferred adjudication, the State could have legally barred such an option by refusing to waive their right to a jury trial,” Davis said.

“On June 3, 2021 Judge Travis Kitchens presided over the sentencing hearing, where the State was legally entitled to call any number of witnesses, including the victim or the victim’s family, that the State wanted Judge Kitchens to consider in rendering a sentence. Probation Officer Mary Beth Barker was the only witness that the State elected to call to testify for Mr. Binnion’s sentencing,” Davis said.

“Ms. Barker, the State’s only witness, made recommendations to the Court regarding terms and conditions of deferred adjudication. Polk County District Attorney Lee Hon was present at the hearing and, as reflected in the transcripts, at no time prior to the judge pronouncing his ruling did the State ever recommend prison time, for 15 years or any other number, or oppose adjudication. Only after the ruling was final did Assistant District Attorney Rachel Ellsworth state for the record that the State was opposed to deferred adjudication,” Davis said.

“Ms. Ellsworth further advised the victim’s family was notified of the hearing and did not wish to participate. First Assistant District Attorney Beverly Armstrong stated to the Court that the victim and family were no longer responding to their office,” Davis said, adding, “No judge could ever legally bar a victim from being heard at a sentencing hearing and any suggestion that such occurred in this case is unequivocally false. The State and the Defense were given the opportunity to present any witnesses they deemed appropriate.”

“While Judge Kitchens has only been elected since 2019, District Attorney Lee Hon and his office have handled cases such as this since 2007. Since 2016 alone, some very brief research confirms at least 19 cases wherein a defendant charged with a sex-related offense received deferred adjudication from different judges over the years, including former Judge Kaycee Jones and former Judge Ernie McClendon. The Polk County District Attorney’s Office, led by Lee Hon, was at the helm of them all. In at least 17 of those cases, the Polk County District Attorney recommended deferred adjudication probation to the Court as the desired sentence,” Davis said.

“I make this point to say, in sum, that the sentence assessed Mr. Binnion is by no means a light sentence and should not be construed as such. In addition, it has been my experience that in these types of cases, deferred adjudication is not uncommon, particularly when one considers the emotional toll that a public trial will have on any victim and especially, young and minor victims,” Davis said.

“Mr. Binnion’s movements, decisions and activities will be supervised and scrutinized closely by the judicial system for the next 10 years. Put another way – Mr. Binnion’s supervision will not end until he is 32 years old. His probation in this case cannot be shortened for any reason and there are many terms and conditions recommended by probation, and ordered by Judge Kitchens, with which he must comply for the next 10 years,” Davis said.

Some, but not all of those conditions include:

  • Lifetime registration as a sex offender;
  • Polygraph examinations on a regular basis;
  • Psychological examinations;
  • No Internet access or usage without prior approval;
  • No contact with the victim or victim’s family;
  • Restrictions on where Mr. Binnon can reside;
  • Reporting to a probation officer twice a month;
  • A $5,000 fine; and
  • Serve an additional term of 180 days in the Polk County Jail (in addition to the 35 months he has been incarcerated awaiting disposition of the case.)

“Any misstep or mistake by Mr. Binnion on the terms of probation can result in his arrest and being brought back to Court for a hearing by a judge – not a jury – for a potential prison sentence of up to 20 years,” Davis said.

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CHS seniors recognized on academic Signing Day

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ALTON PORTER | HCC Ten CHS graduating seniors were recognized at the school’s second academic signing day ceremony Wednesday, May 26. The college-bound students, from left to right, are: Jayron Daquon Wooten, Aaliyah Trishell Price, Sha’Driauna Hackett, Alexis Cheyanne Goolsby, Adrianna Gayle Juares, Jacob Walker, Carina Villegas Quintero, Rodrigo Hidalgo, Jennefer Cruz and Shatavia Rodgers.  (Alton Porter/HCC Photo)ALTON PORTER | HCC Ten CHS graduating seniors were recognized at the school’s second academic signing day ceremony Wednesday, May 26. The college-bound students, from left to right, are: Jayron Daquon Wooten, Aaliyah Trishell Price, Sha’Driauna Hackett, Alexis Cheyanne Goolsby, Adrianna Gayle Juares, Jacob Walker, Carina Villegas Quintero, Rodrigo Hidalgo, Jennefer Cruz and Shatavia Rodgers. (Alton Porter/HCC Photo)

 

By Alton Porter

CROCKETT – Crockett High School administrators continued a new tradition they started in March, recognizing 10 graduating seniors who have been accepted for enrollment at universities colleges and a vocational school.

Crockett Independent School District Superintendent John Emerich and CHS Principal Deborah Revels recognized the college-bound students at the second installment of the school’s recently established scholastic signing day ceremony held in the Andrew J. Hopkins Activity Center dome on the school’s campus Wednesday, May 26.

The students, who have been accepted into universities, colleges and the vocational school, will graduate along with the rest of the members of their CHS Class of 2021 at a commencement ceremony tomorrow. 

The students and their university, college and vocational school choices, are: Sha’Driauna Hackett, Sam Houston State University; Jennefer Cruz, Angelina College; Aaliyah Trishel Price, University of Mary Hardin-Baylor; Adrianna Gayle Juares, Tyler Junior College; Alexis Cheyanne Goolsby, Angelina College; Carina Villegas Quintero, Sam Houston State University; Shatavia Rodgers, Tyler Junior College; Jacob Walker, Tyler Junior College; Rodrigo Hidalgo, Tulsa Welding School; and Jayron Daquon Wooten, Tulsa Welding School.

“I started this and got this going this year and Mrs. Revels thought this was a great idea,” said Emerich. 

“So many times, we have a signing day for someone who’s going to play sports at college, and we do this type of an event. But we don’t do really anything for all those other kids that are going to college, and in my mind, that is just as big a deal as ‘I’m going to college to play football or basketball or whatever it is.’”

Emerich added, “So, we came up with this idea to do this (scholastic) signing day. We’re going to treat it just like you’re signing that letter of intent to go play athletics there. But you’re signing that letter to go and get your college degree.

Emerich continued, “I told the other group (that was recognized on March 10) this: any of you that want to go get a degree and come back and teach, I will guarantee you a job. If you haven’t thought about exactly what you want to do yet, consider teaching. And you’re always welcome to Crockett if you’re a Crockett student. If you get that degree, that’s a standing offer that I’m making to all of you.”

Emerich recalled “When I went to community college, I had no idea what I wanted to do when everyone said, ‘it’s okay; you’ll figure it out by the time you get done with your first two years.’ I got done with my first two years, and I still had no clue what I wanted to do in life.”

“Anyway, whatever you go to do, we wish you success, and we hope that you’ll be successful, and don’t forget about Crockett. Crockett’s a good place to be, especially when you come back, and you want to be here. Congratulations to all of you,” Emerlich told the students.

Revels said, “This is an exciting time for us, and I want all of our kids really to go to college or vocational school. So, we want to make sure we’re preparing them.” Photos of all the students are showcased on the CHS’ web page, Revels said.

Revels told the Courier, “We want to toot our little horn because we are very proud of them.

They’re excellent students. I can see them really being successful in their colleges. They’ve worked really hard and they’re ready. I think they’re prepared.”

About CHS, Revels said, “I want Crockett to know that this is the school to be at. We offer the college courses. We offer certifications. This is where you need to bring your kids. Things are happening here.”

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QUICK DELAY FOR CHICK-FIL-A ON OPENING DAY

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After a long-awaited opening, the popular restaurant franchise Chick-fil-A began serving customers Thursday.After a long-awaited opening, the popular restaurant franchise Chick-fil-A began serving customers Thursday.

 

Customers not chicken of the wait in line

After a long-awaited opening, the popular restaurant franchise Chick-fil-A began serving customers Thursday.

The response from Polk County was strong, as the drive-thru line flowed out onto Highway 190 and back to Discount Tire.

“We are super excited about it and have been looking forward for a long time to be here in Livingston,” restaurant operator Justin Belcher said. “Just to see some of the familiar faces and be here and bringing the brand of Chick-fil-A to Livingston is what we have been looking forward to. It has been exciting.”

The Livingston Police Department had officers stationed at the restaurant and on Highway 190 to keep the flow of traffic moving. They would also have a presence in the area Friday.

“Chick-fil-A is always looking for an opportunity to serve markets and cities and towns as much as possible,” Belcher said. “I'm not involved in that decision, I'm just very thankful that we landed here. They knew it would be a great opportunity to bring the brand to Livingston.” 

A Houston native, Justin Belcher grew up vacationing in Livingston and has fond memories of visiting Lake Livingston with his family. As the local operator of Chick-fil-A Livingston, Belcher is looking forward to building meaningful relationships and making a positive impact on his community.

Belcher is responsible for all day-to-day activities of the business, including employing approximately 120 full- and part-time team members, cultivating relationships with local organizations and neighboring businesses, and serving guests.      

Chick-fil-A Livingston is located at 1821 U.S. Highway 190, near the intersection of U.S. Highway 190 and U.S. Highway 59, and will be open from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m., Monday
through Saturday.

To limit contact between team members and guests, Chick-fil-A Livingston will open for drive-thru, carry-out and limited dine-in. Guests can take advantage of contactless ordering and payment through the free Chick-fil-A mobile app<https://www.chick-fil-a.com/appdownload> or through online ordering<https://order.chick-fil-a.com/location>. 

In place of the traditional Chick-fil-A First 100® Grand Opening celebration, the Livingston restaurant will surprise 100 local heroes making an impact in Livingston with free Chick-fil-A for a year. Additionally, in honor of the new restaurant opening, Chick-fil-A will donate $25,000 to Feeding America. The funds will be distributed to partners within the greater Houston area to aid in the fight against hunger.

Atlanta-based Chick-fil-A, Inc. is a family owned and privately held restaurant company founded in 1967 by S. Truett Cathy. Devoted to serving the local communities in which its franchised restaurants operate, and known for its original chicken sandwich, Chick-fil-A serves freshly prepared food in more than 2,600 restaurants in 47 states, Washington, D.C., and Canada.

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