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Local charged with murder of brother

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Peggy Sue Simmons, 63 of Livingston, has been charged with murder in conjunction with the death of her brother, Aaron Earl Figgs, 67 of Leggett.

Detectives with the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division responded to Figgs’ home at approximately 9:40 p.m. on Dec. 6. Upon arrival, detectives discovered Figgs deceased in his bed, with evidence of possible foul play. Simmons was at the house at the time of Figgs’ death and was interviewed by detectives at the scene.

Detectives attended the autopsy of Figgs the following morning at the Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office where it was determined that he died from an injury sustained by an event which caused him to bleed to death.

With sufficient probable cause, detectives obtained an arrest warrant on Dec. 22 charging Simmons with murder. She was subsequently arrested at the Pardon and Parole Office in Huntsville and transported to the Walker County Jail. She was on parole for unrelated events and her parole was revoked at that time.

“I’d like to express my gratitude for the hard work and professionalism displayed by the criminal investigation division, along with the Polk County District Attorney’s Office and the Jefferson County Medical Examiner’s Office. Their hard work collectively brought justice for Mr. Aaron Earl Figgs and his family,” Sheriff Byron Lyons said.     

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Seeking an anti-mosquito molecule

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Research takes novel approach to protect from bites, disease


The Aedes aegypti mosquito is a known carrier of diseases that pose a threat to humans. Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Gabriel HamerThe Aedes aegypti mosquito is a known carrier of diseases that pose a threat to humans. Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Gabriel Hamer

By Adam Russell
AgriLife Extension

Texas A&M AgriLife Research scientists are on a mission to create a new weapon against disease-carrying mosquitoes.

Patricia Pietrantonio, Ph.D., a Texas A&M AgriLife Research Fellow and professor in the Department of Entomology in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, is leading a three-year project toward a new method of mosquito control. The project will focus on Aedes aegypti and Culex quinquefasciatus species, which occur in Texas and around the globe.

The team aims to identify molecules that can protect deployed U.S. armed forces members from mosquito bites and vector-borne diseases like Zika fever, yellow fever, Dengue fever and West Nile. A $672,000 grant from the U.S. Department of Defense, DOD, is funding the study.

Most mosquito control utilizes pyrethroid-based products or malathion, an organophosphate, Pietrantonio said, but the DOD is looking for insecticides with new modes of action because the disease-carrying insects are developing resistance to those insecticides.

Female mosquitoes, especially in known disease-vector species, bite to feed on blood, which is necessary for egg production, she said. The study is based on established research but focuses on a novel approach relating to receptors in mosquito mouth parts, legs and internal organs.

“We really don’t know what will happen at this point, but this is of interest because our research is investigating a novel mode of action for mosquito control,” she said. “This is a completely different approach that will be a multidisciplinary effort with many different players.”

Toxic molecule provides potential against mosquito bites

Pietrantonio said AgriLife Research scientists and graduate students will be a part of the project in collaboration with the laboratory of James Sacchettini, Ph.D., the Rodger J. Wolfe-Welch Foundation Chair and professor in the Department of Biochemistry and Biophysics, and collaborators in the Department of Chemistry at Texas A&M and in Portugal.  

The project aims to test small synthetic molecules that may be used to create a compound toxic to mosquitoes. Pietrantonio and her team have screened more than 20,000 molecules and discovered several that could potentially inhibit bites, modify mosquito behavior or kill the insects.

The project will test those molecules’ impact on female mosquitoes. To test efficacy, the team will offer the chemicals to mosquitoes in a feeding mix of blood or will apply them directly to the insect.

Pietrantonio hypothesizes that a successful chemical will prevent bites by disrupting mosquitoes’ sensory signals. In prior testing, the team conducted a high-throughput screen of chemical libraries owned by AgriLife Research. From that screen, three molecules ended up causing paralysis of the hindgut in female Aedes aegypti mosquitoes, which are known carriers of yellow fever and other diseases.

Those molecules and others will be tested further with the goal of producing a protective compound.

“Right now, we are trying to see if the synthetic molecules chosen that have drug-like characteristics will affect the mosquitoes,” she said. “Whether they interrupt feeding or lead to paralysis or death, we want to determine how they might impact the insect and prevent bites.”

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‘Exciting times’ for Alabama-Coushattas

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Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Members Herb Johnson Jr. and Yolanda Poncho recently presented a program to the Livingston Rotary Club. (l-r) Rotarian Kole Puckett, Poncho, Johnson and Rotary President Mike Overhoff. Photo by Emily Banks WootenAlabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas Members Herb Johnson Jr. and Yolanda Poncho recently presented a program to the Livingston Rotary Club. (l-r) Rotarian Kole Puckett, Poncho, Johnson and Rotary President Mike Overhoff. Photo by Emily Banks Wooten

By Emily Banks Wooten
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An update on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas was provided to the Livingston Rotary Club recently by Tribal Members Herb Johnson Jr. and Yolanda Poncho.

“We’ve been neighbors here in Polk County for many, many years. We migrated here from Alabama. We were here when Texas was a Republic. We were a big essential part of the Republic,” Johnson said.

“Although they were two separate tribes, the Alabamas and Coushattas have been closely associated throughout their history. Their cultures have some differences but for the most part are nearly identical,” Johnson said.

“General Sam Houston brokered a treaty with the tribes before the Texas War of Independence from Mexico. The agreement provided the title of land between the Neches and Sabine rivers for one community with both tribes in return for assurance the tribes would not side with Mexico. Tribal members served as guides for Houston’s army and provided provisions to feed Texas refugees fleeing from Santa Anna’s army. Today, Houston’s descendants still acknowledge that contribution to the Republic of Texas,” he said.

“Most of you know us for our fry bread, beadwork and pine needle baskets. But we’re known for other things too,” Johnson said. “There’s an old game reestablished by our young people called stickball. If you take lacrosse, soccer and football and put them all together, you have stick ball.

“We have one of the oldest Head Start programs in the U.S. It is in its 57th year. We have our own fire department and recently built Station No. 2. We have our own police department. We have the Chief Kina Clinic. We have own foresters to make sure everything is planted and maintained,” Johnson said.

“We have our own lake with the best fishing. The cabin rentals are a great opportunity to visit around the lake in the Big Thicket area. It’s very peaceful and you can even rent a teepee,” Johnson said.

Poncho, who serves as secretary on the Tribal Council, referred to the cultural exhibits at Naskila Gaming that detail the tribal history, saying that she is a big part of that.

She reviewed the timeline of HR 2208, the bill that would allow the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo and Alabama-Coushatta tribes to conduct gaming activities on their land in Texas if certain conditions are met. Currently, the tribes are prohibited from conducting gaming activities on their land if those activities are prohibited by Texas law.

After five years of litigation, however, the United States District Court in Beaumont ruled recently that the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas may legally operate its Naskila Gaming electronic bingo facility, saying that such gaming is permissible under the Tribe’s 1987 Restoration Act. The ruling was a major victory for the future tribe, the hundreds of people employed at Naskila and the economic stability of the East Texas region.

For years, the State of Texas has worked in court to close Naskila Gaming, even as tens of thousands of Texans, dozens of civic groups and elected leaders from both parties have expressed strong support for allowing the Tribe to operate the facility.

Naskila employs over 400 people from seven different counties and has put $170 million into the local economy, Johnson said, adding that Naskila offers full benefits – medical, vision, dental and a 401K.

“Healthcare is a major thing at the reservation. We’re thinking about our kids, our grandkids. Everyone thinks Indian people have it made – that we get free healthcare and we get free education – but no. We have to work for everything,” Poncho said.

“We’ve come a long way and we’re so happy to be here today. We are a proud people. We’re proud of our culture, our independence. But the message is prosperity. We want to be prosperous,” Poncho said, adding the tribe had recently presented a $50,000 check to a tribe in Louisiana that had suffered severe destruction from storms.

“We’re very fortunate and we’re very blessed. About 55% of the tribe live off the reservation but we’re about to build 53 homes. They can come home. We’re also going to have a grand opening for our new education center. It’s exciting times for us right now,” Poncho said.

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Livingston College student to perform on PBS

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christmasatbelmontFrom Enterprise Staff

Eric Febles of Livingston joined nearly 650 Belmont University students and faculty in the performance of the 2021 nationally-televised production of “Christmas at Belmont” set to air on PBS for the 19th straight holiday season.

“Christmas at Belmont” premieres Dec. 20 at 8 p.m. on NPT and PBS stations across the country, with an encore broadcast on NPT Christmas night at 9:30 p.m. Check local listings for additional broadcast times. This year’s performance of “Christmas at Belmont” promises an array of traditional carols, classical masterworks and seasonal favorites in addition to selections from Belmont alumnus Josh Turner’s new Christmas album.

Produced by Nashville Public Television (NPT), “Christmas at Belmont” was taped live for the first time in the newly opened Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on the University’s campus. “Christmas at Belmont” is underwritten in part by presenting sponsor Tyson Foods.

Located two miles from downtown Nashville, Tennessee, Belmont University consists of nearly 8,800 students who come from every state and 33 countries. Consistently recognized by U.S. News & World Report for innovation and commitment to undergraduate teaching, Belmont brings together the best of liberal arts and professional education in a Christ-centered and student-focused community of learning and service.

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Second arrest made in burglary of business

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Benjamin Lee BrownBenjamin Lee BrownLaw enforcement has arrested another suspect in the burglary of a business last week that left one suspect dead.

In the early morning hours of Dec. 8, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office responded to a shooting in the 10200 block of U.S. Highway 190 West in Livingston.

At that time, it was believed that the owner of a business confronted three suspects who were burglarizing the business. Joshua Read, 37, of Houston was fatally shot by the property owner. 

On Dec. 14, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office filed additional criminal charges in connection with that burglary. Detectives identified the other suspect as Benjamin Lee Brown, 31, of Conroe.

Detectives obtained a warrant on Brown for burglary of a building and he was subsequently arrested with the help of the Conroe Police Department Narcotics Division. 

Brown is also being held on unrelated charges out of Louisiana. Additional charges in the incident on Highway 190 are being considered by the Polk County Sheriff’s Office and district attorney’s office, pending completion of the investigation.

At this time, the Polk County Sheriff’s Office is not looking for additional suspects in this case. They request that those with information contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division at 936-327-6810.

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