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Vehicle fire holds highway traffic 

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20210222 135229COURTESY PHOTO Vehicle fire holds highway traffic 

By Brian Besch

A large vehicle fire held traffic on the county's main thoroughfare for nearly an hour Monday.

After rear-trailer tandem brakes overheated and ignited, the tires of a tractor-trailer caught fire around 1:45 p.m. The vehicle's driver was able to unhook the trailer, as it burned on a Highway 59 overpass across from Livingston Junior High.

"All eight tires were involved and with all the heat, it caused the trailer to buckle," Livingston Fire Chief Corky Cochran said. "With all the tires on fire and some of the materials inside, it took a little time to get it all knocked out."

An engine and two tankers responded from the Livingston Fire Department. Also on the scene were Livingston Police, Department of Public Safety, the Polk County Sheriff's Department, Texas Department of Transportation and City of Livingston Public Utilities.

The trailer was hauling polyethylene plastic polymer resin, a non-hazardous material.

"The packaging burned and also some of the product as the heat intensified," Cochran said. "We were delayed just a couple of minutes researching what was in the truck before we made any fire control attempt. We needed to make sure it wasn't something that was water reactive. When we got those doors open, you could immediately see about a third of the way into the trailer."

Traffic was blocked for around 45 minutes to extinguish the blaze and a small grass fire that began nearby. Officers diverted traffic into downtown and the highway's feeder road.

Livingston also assisted the Corrigan Fire Department with nine firefighters and two trucks around 9:45 a.m. Saturday at a residence just off Highway 59.

On Collins Street, 11 Corrigan firefighters and three engines responded to the nearby house.

"It was pretty significant," Corrigan Fire Chief Jimmy McDonald said of the damage. "It's a total loss. It had a good jump on us before we ever got there. We were all in the truck headed to hand out some water that day to the area. The call dropped when we were all in the truck. We didn't even need an address because you could see the smoke when we pulled out of the station. It had been burning for a little bit before someone called."

No one was at the residence at the time of the fire and no injury was reported.

McDonald took over the Corrigan Fire Department about a year ago and has several new members. The chief said they are looking for others to join.

"We're always looking for people," he said. "Anybody interested in joining up can come by the fire station on Monday night at 6 p.m. and pick up an application."

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County begins road to recovery from Uri

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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.”

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Sides grateful to survive boating accident

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                               JASON CHLAPEK I PCE Jim Sides poses with the throw cushion and life vest that saved his life when his boat capsized on Feb. 3 while he was fishing on Lake Livingston.

By Jason Chlapek

Jim Sides loves to go fishing.

On Feb. 3, Sides went fishing just as he did numerous times during his 78 years of life. But on this day, Sides’ fishing trip in Lake Livingston could’ve been his last.

The boat that Sides was fishing in three weeks ago sank, which forced him to grab the throw cushion and the life vest that were in it. More than three hours later, someone came to Sides’ rescue.

“I was in a horrible situation,” Sides said. “After having someone help me put the boat in the water, I went over to fish. I fished for about an hour or an hour-and-a-half then I noticed there was some water by my foot. I didn’t think much of it, but then I noticed there was more water. Then I started to wonder what was going on. I looked back and I had about a pencil stream of water coming into the boat from right underneath the motor.”

As it turns out, a bolt had been taken out of the boat and the hole wasn’t plugged. Sides purchased the boat a month earlier.

“I just bought this boat and I couldn’t get the motor to run,” he said. “I finally got the motor to running (on Feb. 3). The previous owner guaranteed me that there were no leaks and I took him at his word. I fished all my life and I had water get in the boat. I start the boat, pull the plug out, water runs out and I take off.”

But something different happened when Sides followed the start-boat protocol.

“I started the boat up and I took off, but all of the water came to the back of the boat,” he said. “Then the boat came down. I attempted to put on a life preserver, but I couldn’t get it to fasten around me. I was able to get my left arm through it and get it around my neck. I grabbed my throw cushion and got out of the boat as it was going down. I did not want to go down with the boat. Whenever I would hang on to the sides of the boat, it would sink. I worked my way to the front of the boat, but there were no other boats in the lake.”

Being 300 yards from either the Trinity County or Polk County shores of the lake, Sides was in the water for more than three hours. That’s when his Air Force training kicked in.

“I trained in the Arctic Circle when I was in the Air Force and I learned there not to do too much so I wouldn’t cramp,” Sides said. “I started hollering and waving my throw cushion.”

But there were no boats or people around. Sides started to prepare for the worst.

“I was getting blown up the lake because of the wind current,” he said. “I looked at my watch and noticed that I was about to get dark. I thought I was going to die. I asked the Lord not to take me, but then I saw a boat coming.”

Sides then picked up his throw cushion and waved it as the boat approached. As it turns out, the boat was coming for him.

“The man in the boat, Derek Rosenthal, had been contacted by another man, Bill Sory, who heard me screaming when he took his dog outside to use the bathroom,” Sides said. “Bill called everybody he knew who had a boat.”

Once the boat arrived, the obstacle was getting Sides in the boat. As exhaustion took over, the Air Force Veteran was unable to get into the boat by himself.

“Rosenthal threw a rope around me and pulled me around his pontoon boat. The boat had a ladder and I was able to get my knees on the ladder and Rosenthal pulled me up until I could reach the handrails then he pulled me belly-first onto his boat. I couldn’t stand up because my legs gave out and I was exhausted. Rosenthal then tied a rope onto my boat and took it back around his boat.”

Sides said if it had been another 30 minutes, he would’ve been dead. He’s very grateful for Rosenthal and Sory.

“If Bill Sory hadn’t taken his dog out to use the bathroom, I wouldn’t be here because there was no way I could’ve stayed alive,” Sides said. “I almost froze to death. I don’t know how it didn’t kill me. That water was cold. I had hypothermia. I wasn’t going to drown, but hypothermia would’ve killed me.”

Once Rosenthal and Sides reached the shore, there were two more people waiting for Sides with blankets. Despite pleas from the people who saved him, Sides refused to go to the hospital.

“I was shaking horribly and they begged me to go to the hospital,” he said. “But I wanted to go home. My car was parked by the boat ramp and Bill helped me get in his truck. The seat had a warmer and it felt so good. I talked him into taking me to my car and he followed me home and helped me get in the house.”

Once Sides returned home, he thought he was going to “scare the devil” out of his wife. While he didn’t say whether or not he actually did scare her, Sides was helped into the shower.

“When Bill helped me get in the house, I went straight to the shower and my wife turned the hot water on,” he said. “I sat there for a half-hour letting the hot water run on me. I found out later that there were two helicopters looking for me. You can’t imagine what it’s like being in that water. I knew I wasn’t going to drown and I’m a good swimmer, but hypothermia was kicking my butt. I was completely exhausted and I couldn’t get warm. I thank the Lord that he let me survive one more time. I’ve had a lot of missed calls in my life.”

Sides also said it’s going to be a while until he goes back on the lake.

“I’m not going back in the water until it gets warmer,” he said. “When I do go, I’ll make sure I have my life preserver on.”

He’ll be ready to go fishing then.

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Winter weather slams through Polk County

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                               PHOTOS BY JASON CHLAPEK AND PAM NOBLES I PCE Winter weather made driving conditions treacherous for a Toyota pickup truck and an 18-wheeler earlier this week.

By Jason Chlapek

Like the majority of the state of Texas, Polk County was not spared by Mother Nature this week.

A winter storm came through most of the state Sunday night and Polk County was one of the storm’s destinations. The storm left snow on the ground, which prompted schools and some businesses to close its doors because of adverse travel conditions.

Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy called a declaration of disaster from Sunday to Wednesday. The northern portion of the county received 4-6 inches of snow, while Livingston received 3-4 and the southern portion received 1-2.

Temperatures did not go above freezing (37 degrees) and are not projected to until Friday when the high is supposed to be 43. Temperatures dropped to as low as 4 Tuesday morning.

Truck 1

As of press time, the Polk County Office of Emergency Management reported that approximately 2,600 homes were without water and 292 were without electricity. A second cold front was projected to sweep through the county Wednesday afternoon, which would make driving conditions treacherous again.

All six county school districts – Big Sandy, Corrigan-Camden, Goodrich, Leggett, Livingston and Onalaska – either closed or performed virtual learning Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. C-CISD is closed for the remainder of the week, Goodrich is closed today and the other districts didn’t make a decision about today or Friday as of press time.

The Polk County Office of Emergency Management can be reached at 936-327-6826, or visit the website at http://www.PolkCountyOEM.com/ . Other agencies that can be reached during winter storm emergencies are the Polk County Sheriff’s Office (936-327-6810), Department of Public Safety (936-327-6806), Livingston Police Department (936-327-3117), Onalaska Police Department (936-646-5676), Corrigan Police Department (936-398-2551) and the Alabama-Coushatta Police Department (936-563-1200).

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PCSO seeks shooting suspect

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RamirezRalph Ramirez

From the Polk County Sheriff’s Office

The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is looking for a suspect involved in a shooting early last week.

Polk County Sheriff Bryon Lyons said his office received a 911 call on Feb. 15, at approximately 12:03 p.m. of a gunshot victim at a residence on Plum Pudding Rd. off FM 2798 in the Votaw area of Polk County. Deputies along with Americare EMS and South End First Responders arrived at the location and found Gregory Basham, 37, with a single gunshot wound to the abdomen area who was later transported to an out-of-county Hospital.

Polk County Detectives arrived at the location and identified the shooter as Ralph Ramirez, 44, of Liberty County. An altercation was reported to have occurred between Basham and Ramirez at which time Ramirez retrieved a 22 rifle from inside the residence and shot Basham.

The firearm was recovered at the scene. Ramirez left the location prior to law enforcement’s arrival.

Sheriff’s Office Detectives have obtained an arrest warrant for Ramirez for the offense of Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon issued by JP 4 Jamie Richardson.

If you know the whereabouts of Ralph Ramirez, Sheriff Lyons asks that you contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 936-327-6810 or Crime Stoppers at 936-327-STOP (7867).

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