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Warren man dies in fatal intersection crash

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Fatality STOCK

By Chris Edwards

WOODVILLE – A two-vehicle crash in Woodville last week resulted in a fatality.

According to Capt. Jathan Borel, with the Woodville Police Department, a small, four-door Nissan Frontier, driven by Richard “Kerry” Winter, a 54-year-old Warren resident, was southbound on US 69 (Magnolia Street), near the intersection of US 287 (Pine Street) and Magnolia at approximately 12:40 p.m. on the afternoon of Wednesday, Oct. 4.

Winter crossed over into the turning lane at the intersection and struck the side of a Coca-Cola delivery vehicle. That vehicle was northbound and about to turn onto 287.

Winter was pronounced dead on the scene. The driver of the delivery truck was unharmed.

Woodville PD is leading the investigation, Borel said, with the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) assisting with on-scene documentation.

This investigation is ongoing and there is no further information to report at this time.

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Warren man charged with child porn

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By Chris Edwards
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 Spurlock MugshotAustin SpurlockWARREN – A Warren man is in custody on a multiple-count felony child pornography possession charge after an arrest last week.

According to Tyler County Sheriff Bryan Weatherford, deputies with the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office arrested 22-year-old Austin Spurlock last Wednesday, while on patrol in the Warren area. Weatherford said the deputies stopped at a residence on FM 2827 in order to locate Spurlock, who had arrest warrants out of both Tyler and Hardin counties.

The child porn warrants were issued out of Tyler County, and he was charged with 10 counts of felony possession. He was also charged with felony possession of a controlled substance, on a warrant out of Hardin County.

Records show that Spurlock was arrested in July on charges of unlawful carrying of a weapon and possession of a controlled substance charges, in Tyler County.

He remains in the Tyler County Jail on a bond of $255,000 which was set by Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Tina Self.

In Texas, the act of viewing or possessing child pornography materials is a third-degree felony charge, which can result in fines of up to $10,000 and a prison sentence of two to 10 years, per charge, for first-time offenders.

According to statute, if an individual is accused of possessing six or more items of child pornography, the individual can face charges of promotion, which is a second-degree felony for a first-time offender, but a first-degree felony charge on subsequent offenses.

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Auto-pedestrian accident results in death

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AutoPedtetrianAccident STOCK

By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – The Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) is investigating a fatal hit-and-run auto-pedestrian crash that occurred in Woodville last Friday.

According to Sgt. Shana Clark with the DPS, the body of Jason Williams, a 41-year-old Jasper man, was discovered on the side of US 69, south of Woodville, near Woodville Pellets on Friday night. Clark said Williams was hit and killed before 8 p.m. that same day. Reportedly, Williams was hit by a Dodge Ram pickup.

DPS troopers, on Saturday, were able to find the truck involved and its driver, 18-year-old Raygan Picou, of Sour Lake.

As of Monday, according to Clark, no charges have been filed, and investigators have interviewed Picou. The results of the investigation will be turned over to the county’s District Attorney, Lucas Babin, for possible prosecution.

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Trees spared in TxDOT plan

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longleafpine STOCK

By Chris Edwards
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TYLER/HARDIN COUNTY – The plan to remove nearly 200 acres of trees along U.S. 69 as part of the expansion project was amended to spare some of those trees.

Last Tuesday, during a public meeting at the Hardin County Courthouse in Kountze, Martin Gonzalez, who works as an engineer with the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) Beaumont District, shared those plans.

The project had concerned many environmental conservation groups, including the Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust. The project route runs along the highway from FM 1943, near Warren, down to FM 1003, which is north of Kountze. The iteration of the project announced on Tuesday evening at the meeting is the third plan announced for the 11-mile stretch of road. Gonzalez said the plans call for the thoroughfare to be retooled as a four-lane, divided highway with shoulders and an evacuation lane on the northbound lanes, as well as a median to divide.

The plan calls for 40 feet of clear zone from the edge of the travel lane. Initially, it called for 30 feet of clear zone. The new plan would have a little over 155 acres of trees removed. It was then changed to clear 250 acres of trees.

According to earlier documents regarding the project from TxDOT, the removal of the trees is “in keeping with the revised TxDOT Design Manual to clear obstacles in the right of way, such as landscaping, TxDOT will clear the median and portions of the right of way removing trees and shrubbery. TxDOT recommends a roadside free of unyielding obstacles including landscaping for increased safety and reduce the extent of damage and injury of single vehicle, run-off-the-road crashes.”

Gonzalez cited safety concerns as the rationale for more clear zones, in keeping with the agency’s “Road Zero” safety initiative. That initiative calls for a goal of zero auto fatalities on Texas highways by the year 2050. Gonzalez also spoke about TxDOT’s safety initiatives to the Tyler County Commissioners Court the day before the Kountze meeting, and said that there are, currently, an average of 10 fatalities daily on the road in Texas.

Gonzalez said he believed the amended plan will work toward the goal of safety while also “conserving the beauty of the Big Thicket.” The 40-foot clear zone, he said, will give motorists enough room to correct their driving if they veer off the roadway, and also provide enough side distance for motorists entering U.S. 69 from side roads.

In addition to the road widening and accompanying features of the project, it will also extend the 10-foot hiking and biking trail for the entire length, which is 10.8 miles long and the trail will be 10 feet wide.

Ellen Buchanan, of the Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust, has been one of the key advocates to save the trees. She said, on behalf of the conservation trust, that they are appreciative of the efforts made to preserve the trees, and said the project would be great for the region.

Work on the project is expected to begin either late this year or early in 2024.

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Conservationists, Texas Department of Transportation Announce Public Meeting on Big Thicket Protections

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BEAUMONT, Texas -- Today, a coalition of local, state and national conservation groups including the National Parks Conservation Association, Big Thicket Association, Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust, The Conservation Fund, The Nature Conservancy, The Big Thicket Biosphere Reserve and Texas Conservation Alliance, are proud to announce a public meeting with the Texas Department of Transportation regarding protections for the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway amid highway expansion.

For months, Big Thicket advocates have participated in productive conversations with the Texas Department of Transportation on how to limit the impacts of highway expansion adjacent to this national park site, surrounding communities and along the scenic Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway which thousands of park visitors and community members use every year.

We are encouraged by our progress and TxDOT’s willingness to make changes. TxDOT agreed to hold a public meeting to inform communities of potential positive changes to the highway expansion plan and listen to concerns and receive comments.

TxDOT will speak on new changes to the US 69 Gateway to the Big Thicket Project, such as decreases in tree removal acreage and minimized impacts of highway expansion, including planting native plants in areas where tree removal is necessary.

Earlier this year, TxDOT officials in Beaumont revealed plans to remove up to more than an additional one hundred acres of trees along the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway (part of US Highway 69). This was a significant departure from previous versions of the highway expansion, alarming conservationists and community members who were not consulted on the decision. The changes, made to improve road safety for motorists, would have substantial impacts to the area.

Now, thanks to the advocacy of friends and neighbors in the Thicket, TxDOT has had an opportunity to work with conservationists to improve the plans. The National Parks Conservation Association and partners look forward to robust community engagement at the following meeting:

September 26th at 5:30PM

Hardin County Courthouse

300 West Monroe Street Kountze, Texas

Statement of Erika Pelletier, Texas Associate Director for the National Parks Conservation Association:

 Texans show up for their national parks and communities. This promising news from TxDOT is a testament to the grit and fortitude of advocates and neighbors who raised their voices for the national park site in their backyard, Big Thicket National Preserve.

“We are encouraged by our conversations with leaders at the Texas Department of Transportation and we are grateful for their perspective. We know that their number one priority is creating a safer Big Thicket region for all and we share that vision. We know there is still so much more work to be done, and we encourage anyone with concerns about the project to bring them to this public meeting. No concern is too small.

“There is only one Big Thicket, but our one Big Thicket is so many things to so many people. It’s a biological crossroads, a natural wonder of the world. It’s a scenic drive, a hiker’s paradise, and a local jewel that friends and neighbors have worked to protect for generations. If we want the next generation to enjoy this national park site just as much as we have, we have to keep showing up for the Thicket every single time.”

 Statement of Ellen Buchanan, President of Big Thicket Natural Heritage Trust:

 “We are thankful for citizens who appreciate the Big Thicket and the rural character, nature, and biodiversity of our region and who spoke up to protect these resources. We are equally thankful for Congressman Babin, Senator Nichols, Representative Bailes and Representative Ashby for listening to us and bringing us to the table with TxDOT. We look forward to a productive relationship with TxDOT to highlight and protect our Big Thicket resources while providing safe roadways for the public.

Statement of Mary Bernard, Executive Director, Big Thicket Biosphere Reserve:

 “For years, our coalition of Southeast Texas conservationists and volunteers have urged the Texas Department of Transportation not to clearcut miles of trees along the Big Thicket National Preserve Parkway in the name of highway expansion. The state agency’s recent announcement that they would reduce the number of trees chopped down and plant native grasses in the project area gives us hope for the future of the Big Thicket. The Biosphere looks forward to seeing more affirmative steps towards conserving this invaluable natural resource as project planning continues.”

 Statement of Diane Thompson, Executive Director, Big Thicket Association:

Big Thicket Association is pleased with the cooperation from TxDOT to save the trees on Highway 69, plant native plants where tree removal is necessary, and to finally hold a public meeting to review changes and hear the public’s comments on this project. We look forward with great anticipation to this upcoming public meeting.

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