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This look back at the top Polk County stories in 2022 is the final part of a three-part series. The first was in the Dec. 29 issue and the second was in the Jan. 5 issue.
•Family of eight saved
by good Samaritans
What was to be a day of fun quickly turned into a life-threatening situation for a family of eight in Lake Livingston.
Late in the evening of June 17, Bob Earl, owner of Lake Life Concierge, returned home to find law enforcement officers limiting access to his lakefront home. When asked, a deputy sheriff informed that there were people in the water and they could not respond.
Earl, along with 20-year-old Concierge employee Trevor Mayhue and his 22-year-old brother, Josh, quickly launched the company Tritoon boat into a dark sky blowing 20-knot winds with oncoming four-foot waves bouncing off the nearby bulkhead.
“We had the boat in the water in about a minute, but I was lucky to get it out of the slit, to be honest with you,” Earl said. “The swells were pushing me.”
A father with two daughters were the first to be found. The father had managed to hold onto their wave runner that had capsized, but the two girls had to be lifted from the water. The large waves had unseated them both. Closely followed by their father, the girls were taken to a protected cove near Tigerville and Country Lane.
Earl, Trevor and Josh then went back into the storm to find the wife and two sons. All three were in the water with their inverted wave runner rolling around nearby. The mother reportedly said her goodbyes by cellphone and was near drowning when Earl arrived. Trevor jumped in to help all three onto the boat, which then sailed back to the protected cove where the family and sheriff deputies joyfully greeted their safe return.
We got on them just in time,” Earl said of rescuing the mother and two sons. “We caught them with a spotlight. The cops just gave me a general idea of where they thought they were, and we just got lucky. The wave action was really intense. They had (life)jackets on. The oldest son had a whistle. I have a P.A. system on the front of my boat and I was able to call out.”
One last trip was made to find two remaining family members stranded on Pine Island. Both were found and retrieved from the beach and reunited with the others.
Without wearing life jackets, Earl believes the day would have turned deadly. The following morning, the team led by Earl found and retrieved the other wave runner, towing it ashore to its owner.
•White resigns from House
Long-serving Texas House of Representatives member James White (R-Hillister) announced his resignation from the state’s lower chamber in August.
White, who has served District 19, which includes Polk County, since 2010, said in a resignation letter to Gov. Greg Abbott that serving in the House for the last six legislative sessions was “a privilege and honor. I am proud of the work that I have accomplished for my community and for our whole state.”
White’s term was set to end on Jan. 10, 2023, and he announced that he is stepping into the role of executive director for the Texas Funeral Service Commission, which was effective on the day of his resignation announcement.
District 19, which comprised Polk, Tyler, Hardin, Jasper and Newton counties, will no longer exist due to last year’s redistricting maps. The district, instead, was divided to four surrounding districts. Polk County will be represented in the House by District 57 and Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin).
In addition to his achievements during his 11 years in office, White was named to the Texas Monthly list of top legislators, following the 2019 session. The magazine profile referred to him as “a rock-ribbed conservative in good standing with the right … and one of his party’s leading advocates for criminal justice reform.”
During his tenure, White served as the chairman for the House Committee on Corrections and on the Judiciary and Civil Jurisprudence and Redistricting committees. He received accolades from a variety of organizations and publications, including the Texas Association of Business, the Texas Eagle Forum and the National Federation of Independent Business in Texas.
Among many of the bills White authored, co-authored or sponsored, he was involved
with bills relating to eminent domain, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas and criminal
justice reform. He co-authored HBs 2 and 3, which sought to reform property taxes and school
finance, respectively, which both passed with bi-partisan support.
Social media threat disrupts Livingston ISD
Vehicles of Livingston ISD parents and guardians lined the high school campus back to FM 350 in September to check their child out of school.
A social media post from Sunday night was discovered by school officials around 7:22 a.m. Monday. It caused unwarranted panic at school districts in Hardin, Dayton, Coldspring and Livingston.
Livingston ISD officials released a statement Monday regarding the matter, saying a Snapchat post threatened a school campus. After investigation, it is believed the post originated in the Dayton area, and police there had a person of interest in custody to investigate.
The post has since been removed from social media, and there is no information that Livingston ISD was the threat’s target, if there in fact was a target. While the post made its way to multiple school districts, it did not mention a specific campus, district, city or state.
“We do not take this kind of threat lightly, and we have all the necessary protocols in place to ensure the safety of students, staff, and the community, which is our highest priority,” the release from Monday read.
Both state troopers and Livingston Police were on the campus as parents crowded the front entrance of the high school to receive their children.
Livingston ISD Superintendent Dr. Brent Hawkins sent a message to parents Monday to cover the topic. The threat of a school shooting was “vague and suggested that a message was written on a bathroom wall,” according to Hawkins’ release.
The school lockdown was lifted at around 9:30 a.m. The social media threat indicated there was writing on bathroom walls and a gunman in the restroom, yet none of those occurred at Livingston High School and no arrests were made.
Man steals vehicle, leaves child
A Splendora man was behind bars after stealing a vehicle and abandoning his child on Youngs Lane in Livingston.
After crashing his car near a sewer treatment plant in Livingston, Clifford Jason Guynes, 43, of Splendora, walked down the railroad tracks while holding his eight-month-old daughter.
The Livingston Police Department received a phone call from Union Pacific Railroad Saturday at approximately 3:30 a.m. that their train had possibly struck an individual laying parallel to the track in Livingston.
Guynes, without pants, would walk down the railroad tracks from the scene of the crash. He is thought to have possibly lost his clothing when attempting to hop onto a moving train. He entered a clearing from the tracks where lights could be seen. That led Guynes to the shed of John and Katherine McClain, about 300 feet away, a little after 3:30 a.m.
Around three hours later, camera footage shows Guynes emerging from the shed without his daughter. Cameras captured Guynes walking around the McClain driveway, looking inside vehicles. It then shows him look quickly back toward the house and hide behind a tree in the corner of the front yard.
Just minutes later, Guynes is in possession of a neighbor’s Dodge pickup that comes back to the McClain residence, estimated at around 50 miles per hour on the residential road. John said it may have been an effort to retrieve his daughter, but a light on or the front door now opened caused him to make a u-turn and leave at a high rate of speed.
The Livingston Police Department was notified by the San Jacinto County Sheriff’s Office that the stolen vehicle had been located and recovered, and Guynes was detained.
The neighbor who was victim of the theft told the McClains that his fuel light was on and his truck wouldn’t make it very far, because it is an older Dodge and doesn’t get very many miles to the gallon. McClain said Guynes at some point put gas in the vehicle — in his underwear.
Once apprehended, Guynes attempted to relay a message through police to the victim that “he has a nice truck and it runs great,” according to Katherine.
The Livingston Police Department charged Guynes with felony injury to a child causing serious bodily injury, felony child endangerment/abandonment and felony vehicle theft. According to hospital sources, the infant was in stable condition and Child Protective Services was involved in the investigation.
Court approves new roof for courthouse
The Polk County Commissioners Court approved amending the agreement with Komatsu for courthouse architecture services to include design plans for a new roof during its regular meeting in October.
According to County Judge Sydney Murphy, the existing courthouse roof was replaced in 2016 with a five-year warranty that is expired. The options included patching the roof at a cost of approximately $39,000 or replacing it with a new one at a cost of $270,000 with a 20-year warranty. The Court opted to get a new roof.
JUMPING FOR JOY
The ancient proverb, “Necessity is the mother of invention” has proven true for one local other. Pamela M. Thiel, a single mother of two boys, Dylan and Hayden, invented The Remote Retriever, an electronic accessory to help find lost or misplaced remote controls.
“In November of 2019, my nonverbal autistic son, Hayden, lost three remote controls. After purchasing new remotes at $60 each, I thought there has to be an easy way to find a remote. The following year while visiting my Dad, I found out that his remote was missing, too. I ordered him a new one and then another one a few weeks later. This is where the idea for The Remote Retriever was born,” Thiel said.
The exciting news is that The Remote Retriever will be one of five small businesses featured in a live program on QVC2 to celebrate disability-owned small businesses in honor of National Disability Employment Awareness Month. The show is an opportunity for The Remote Retriever to share its brand story with QVC viewers nationwide.
The Remote Retriever comes in both black and white and retails for $59.99. It is an electronic accessory that helps individuals find lost or misplaced remote controls quickly and easily with the touch of a button using Bluetooth technology up to a 150-foot range.
Two inmates escaped after contract prisoner transport buses were pulled to the side of Highway 190 just east of FM 1276.
Initial reports were that two transport buses were on the side of the road, repairing one that had a flat tire, while two inmates escaped, assaulted one of the guards, took a weapon and ran into the woods, according to Polk County Sheriff Byron Lyons.
Nicholas Cordell Graham, 30, of Houston, has now been charged with felony escape while confined, deadly conduct and unlawful possession of firearm by a felon.
Prior to escaping, Graham was able to grab an unsecured firearm from the front of the bus. Officers subsequently located the firearm in the wood line.
Braxton James Grant, 19, of Livingston, was charged with felony escape while confined.
“They ran from the bus, and while doing so, got a weapon away from an officer and knocked him down and ran into the woods,” Lyons said. “We had backup and support officers from the DPS, district attorney’s office, (Alabama-Coushatta) Indian Reservation Police Department, and several different agencies that responded. TDC dogs were on standby, but a short time after we arrived on the scene, we got the first subject in custody. The second subject, who was in possession of the firearm, was actually caught a half a mile from here, where he’d run off into the woods and ran up on a homeowner. The homeowner found him and held him there until DPS got there and took him into custody. By the grace of God, this incident was able to be brought under control in just a matter of 30 or 40 minutes without any injuries.”
Historic day as work begins on Corrigan Relief Route
A Monday in December was a history-making day for the north end of the county, a day that many wondered if they would ever see. With a slew of dignitaries on hand to hold the shovels, ground was broken for the construction of the Corrigan Relief Route, the largest and most expensive project ever undertaken for the Texas Department of Transportation’s (TxDOT) Lufkin District.
“This project will bring Hwy. 59 up to interstate standards and will result in goods and services being sourced in the area for years to come,” Shawn Dunn, speaking on behalf of Sen. Robert Nichols, said.
The $172.8 million construction project will be built to interstate standards and will include construction of new U.S. 59 northbound and southbound lanes with controlled access.
The 6.3-mile project will be from 3.4 miles north of U.S. 287 to three miles south of U.S. 287. Work will include the construction of overpasses at United Pacific Railroad, U.S. 287 and Union Springs Road. Entrance and exit ramps will be added at U.S. 59 tie-ins and at the U.S. 287 overpass and will include the construction of four main lanes for travel.
James Construction Group LLC of Baton Rouge, La. will serve as contractor for the project that is scheduled to be completed in six years.
Planning for the Corrigan Relief Route began in the late 1990s when environmental studies began but were stopped due to budgetary constraints. Project development resumed in 2012 when I-69 in Polk County was considered a top priority by the I-69 Segment Two Committee. Schematics and right-of-way maps were studied and in 2014, an open house was held for the public to view the proposed path.
Further refinements to the plan were made and presented to the public in 2015, and in 2016 environmental studies and schematic reviews were performed. A public hearing was held in 2017 to gather public comments and the Texas Transportation Commission approved the revisions and funded the project.
Prepare for freezing weather
An Arctic cold front brought strong winds and bitterly cold air into Southeast Texas.
“The combination of winds and low temperatures will combine to create dangerously low wind chill indices, posing a danger of hypothermia and burst water pipes. Strong winds could lead to scattered power outages. A long duration freeze is expected, meaning it will remain below freezing in most zones from Thursday night into Saturday,” predicted Dan Reilly, Warning Coordination Meteorologist of the Houston/Galveston office at the National Weather Service.
“What we know is that extended durations below freezing are expected for many locations and we recommend finalizing preparations to protect people, pets, plants and pipes before Thursday when the coldest air begins arriving,” Reilly said.