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Man jailed for sexual assault

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Wayne BennettWayne BennettA Livingston man has turned himself in to law enforcement after a warrant was issued for sexual assault of a child

Polk County Sheriff’s Office detectives have arrested Jason Wayne Bennett, 46, for the second-degree felony. 

Detectives began an investigation after a female child made an outcry of being sexually abused by Bennett, on more than one occasion at his home.

The child was forensically interviewed and taken to St. Luke’s Health – Memorial Hospital, where exams were administered.

After further investigation by detectives, an arrest warrant was obtained May 17, for the arrest of Bennett. The following day, he turned himself in to the Polk County Jail and was later released on a $50,000 bond, with conditions of a protective order and other bond conditions protecting the child from further contact.

Second-degree felonies can extend to as long as 20 years with fines of up to $10,000.

Those with information on this case are asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office Criminal Investigation Division, at 936-327-6810.

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Correctional officers, inmate transported to St. Luke’s Hospital

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Jail Bars

Wednesday, while conducting a 16-man cell search, several corrections officers began to experience what they described as a reaction to some type of substance or substances. All inmates had been removed from the cell before the search began. 

The Correctional Officers were taken to St Luke’s of Livingston emergency room for observation. One inmate was also taken to the emergency room for observation after being interviewed. The correctional officers and inmate were released from the hospital without incident. This matter is being investigated by the jail administration and narcotics division of the Polk County Sheriff’s Office.

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PCSO Suspect wanted for robbing grandmother

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grandma robber w pics 1The Polk County Sheriff’s Office is requesting the public’s assistance in obtaining information on a burglary of a habitation in the Lakeside Village Estates subdivision south of Livingston. Video captured what law enforcement describes as “a skinny male,” who approached the home and kicked the door open on an occupied home on May 5, around 12:47 a.m. The actor took items including a purse, medication, and hearing aids. At the time he was wearing clothing with a unique pattern, a dark sock on one foot and was barefoot on the other. Those with information on this case that may help are asked to contact the Polk County Sheriff’s Office at 936-327-6810. You may also submit an anonymous tip at p3tips.com, the P3 app, or call Polk County Crime Stoppers at 936-327-STOP, where tipsters remain anonymous and may collect a cash reward for information leading to an arrest.

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Naskila celebrates sixth anniversary

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Naskala celebratesz

Amid struggle to keep doors open

By Emily Banks Wooten
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Over 100 supporters of the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas gathered Monday to celebrate the sixth anniversary of the opening of Naskila Gaming and its profound economic benefit to the region. Elected officials, community supporters, tribal citizens and others marked the anniversary of Naskila Gaming, an electronic bingo facility that has welcomed more than 5 million guests since it opened in May 2016.

“Thanks to the success of this facility, we are able to take better care of our people: our elders, our sick, our families and our children,” Tribal Council Chairman Ricky Sylestine said. “But the impact on the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas is only part of what we are celebrating today. In fact, what we are celebrating is a major economic engine for East Texas.”

The largest private sector employer in Polk County, Naskila Gaming is responsible for 700 jobs and an annual economic impact estimated to be $170 million. When it was shut down for numerous months in 2020 due to the pandemic, its employees were still paid, so that they could provide for their families. “We are grateful to have contributed to the economic development of this region,” Sylestine said.

“Congratulations on continuing to move forward. It has been a wonderful experience for me to partner with the tribe to make a better place for the tribe and a better way of life,” Polk County Judge Sydney Murphy said, commenting on the economic development for Polk County as well as the benefits and healthcare the facility provides.

“We couldn’t ask for a better leader or a better friend to our tribe,” Sylestine said of Murphy.

  Throughout Monday’s celebration, tribal leadership recognized and thanked elected officials who have fought on behalf of tribal citizens and Naskila Gaming employees.

“We are extremely proud of what Naskila and the Alabama-Coushatta Tribe of Texas have built here and we’re very, very encouraged by the legacy you’ll leave for many generations,” State Rep. James White, who has long represented the tribe in the Texas Legislature, said.

“This is a regional effort that will have an effect on East Texas and all of the 12 counties in the DETCOG region and the State of Texas,” Eddie Hopkins, executive director of the Jasper Economic Development Corporation, said.

Rachel Iglesias, a member of U.S. Rep. Brian Babin’s staff, read a certificate from Babin expressing support for the tribe and Naskila. While Babin has represented the tribe in Washington for many years, the reservation will no longer be in his congressional district following the redistricting that was signed into law last year. “Y’all have been a friend to him for many years and even after redistricting he wants to be a champion for you all,” Iglesias said.

“We’re celebrating six years of Naskila but in reality, we’re celebrating our tribe’s tribal sovereignty which is the right of Indian tribes to govern themselves,” Tribal Council Treasurer Ronnie Thomas said. “It allows our people to follow our cultural traditions and way of life – to build homes, give raises and pay for college tuition and books. We recently broke ground on a new educational center.

“We are facing this challenge as a sovereign people … to sustain our people and traditions,” Thomas said.

The U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments Feb. 22 in a case brought by Ysleta Del Sur Pueblo, a federally recognized tribe in El Paso. The Alabama-Coushatta Tribe will also be affected by the ruling as the oral arguments presented could make clear that the two federally recognized tribes in Texas are allowed to operate the electronic bingo facilities on their reservations.

The case is extremely important to the economy and the people of Texas because a ruling from the Supreme Court has the potential to end the State of Texas’ longtime effort to prevent the two tribes from offering electronic bingo on their reservations.

“The Court’s term ends at the end of June, so sometime between today and the end of June but that’s all we know,” a member of the tribe’s legal team said, when asked when a ruling is expected.

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Texas crawfish acres expand

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Crawfish continue to gain popularity around Texas. Production acres increased by around 2,500 acres over the past three years. Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Adam RussellCrawfish continue to gain popularity around Texas. Production acres increased by around 2,500 acres over the past three years. Texas A&M AgriLife photo by Adam Russell

By Adam Russell
Texas A&M AgriLife Extension
Communication Specialist

Texas crawfish emerged from the pandemic in good condition, but cooler winter weather kept poundage yields down during this season’s peak, according to a Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service expert. Whether you call them crawfish, crayfish or mudbugs, Todd Sink, Ph.D., AgriLife Extension aquaculture specialist and director of the AgriLife Extension Aquatic Diagnostics Lab, Bryan-College Station, said the industry continues to grow in Texas.

And although yield numbers were above average, weights were down as a result of late-winter cold. The last three seasons have been difficult for the industry overall, he said. Sink said 2020 was a good harvest year for crawfish producers, but pandemic restrictions that led restaurants to close or limit capacity hurt demand for a food that is heavily dependent on social settings and events, including crawfish boils.

Then in 2021, Winter Storm Uri delivered another blow, he said. The extended cold snap did not kill crawfish, but it did stunt their growth, which made them smaller at the season’s peak. Numbers were typical, but the weights were below average. Hurricane Ida in late August 2021 presented another setback for overall crawfish production, Sink said. The storm didn’t impact Texas producers on a large scale, but some of Louisiana’s top crawfish-producing areas were ruined by infrastructure damages and saltwater swells that reached farms.

Sink said 2022 has been similar to 2021 with colder weather slowing crawfish growth and hurting poundage despite healthy numbers. “I would say we’ve reached pre-pandemic levels in that Texas’ crawfish production was going up every year,” he said. “But the sizes have been below average, so our poundage is probably not quite there yet.”

The per-pound price paid for crawfish depends on where and when consumers purchase them, Sink said. Lent, the 40-day period from Ash Wednesday and ending on the Holy Saturday before Easter, is typically when crawfish season peaks, Sink said. In 2020, on the first day of Lent, live crawfish were around $3 per pound or $90 per 30-pound bag around College Station, which is relatively close to farming operations in western Louisiana and Southeast Texas. This year, live crawfish were $4 per pound or $120 per bag. Prices were even higher this year in metropolitan areas like Austin, San Antonio and Dallas, where live crawfish prices routinely push beyond $4 per pound and even $5 per pound during peak demand, Sink said. “Most of the time it comes down to how far you are from crawfish production locations,” he said. “The bigger the market and farther away like Dallas, they can get expensive. Fuel prices have amped up those prices this year as well.” But after Easter, prices begin falling. Sink said he’d seen live crawfish for $2.35 per pound recently.

Sink said the recent calamities have not deterred growth of crawfish production in Texas. The state added around 2,500 acres of crawfish production over the past three years. This brings the state’s crawfish production capacity to approximately 9,500 acres. Pounds of crawfish are hard to pin down due to the lack of official reporting, but Sink believes producers average between 750-800 pounds per acre, or 6.75 million to 7.2 million pounds of crawfish.

Around 60% of Texas acres are dual-purpose flooded rice fields that provide habitat for crawfish farming until rice is planted. Those acres produce around 650 pounds of crawfish until they are shut down for rice planting. Acres dedicated solely to crawfish produce 900-950 pounds per acre and can be harvested a month to six weeks longer than rice acres, Sink said. Texas ranks No. 2 in crawfish production and remains far behind Louisiana in production. But he estimates Texas gained about as many acres as Louisiana lost this past year to economic hardship and hurricane damages and invasive apple snail infestations. “Texas maybe gained 1%-3%, but we are still small apples compared to Louisiana,” he said.

In 2019, Louisiana crawfish farmers harvested 150 million pounds of crawfish from 250,000 acres. Sink said the popularity of crawfish continues to grow. A recent article by Aquaculture North America reported crawfish popularity hit a record high this season based on domestic and foreign demand from countries like China. “It’s been a strange couple of years for crawfish producers,” Sink said. “I’m looking forward to a year with a mild winter and without any disruptions. That should bump our numbers up.

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