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Family of missing man hoping for clues

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Missing Man Thomas ThorntonCOURTESY PHOTO Thomas Thornton

By Chris Edwards

TYLER COUNTY – Family members of a missing Town Bluff man have spread the word through social media, and given descriptions, along with photographs, of the 72-year-old Thomas Thornton. Thornton has been missing for a little more than a month now.

According to his family, Thornton is good-natured, likes to chat with people and has a distinctive, loud laugh. Like many men of his generation who saw combat in Vietnam, however, Thornton has a history of PTSD and a few other health issues that worry his concerned family members, since he did not take any of his medications with him.

Thornton went missing on March 24, when he was last seen leaving his Town Bluff home around 6 p.m. to head to Jasper, where he used his debit card at Brookshire Bros. According to the timeline of Thornton’s last known whereabouts, which were gleaned from security cameras and cell phone pings, he was last on the grid on March 26, when his cell signal was pinged in Shelby County, but lost after that. It is surmised that his cell phone lost its charge, and that is when his family and the Tyler County Sheriff’s Department attempted to get a Silver Alert issued for him, which was activated two days later.

The Silver Alert has since been discontinued, but Thornton’s family members are still asking the public to be on the lookout for the missing man. His niece Dana Lee Summerlin Hutto asked the public to check their hunting clubs and fish camps. “We are really hoping for some clues to lead us to him,” Hutto said.

Hutto said her uncle, who has lived in Tyler County for more than 20 years, enjoys fishing and walking in the woods, and of primary concern, medically, is the fact that he is in the early stages of dementia, which has caused his family to fear for his wellbeing since he initially went missing.

His sister, Norma Armstrong, said that her brother is dependent on his medications, and there is no evidence that he has had any of his meds since he took off. She also said that “Tommy,” as his family knows him, typically wears a baseball cap with a “Vietnam Veteran” patch on it, and usually sports T-shirts and carpenter-style blue jeans.

He stands 5’7” tall and weighs 255 lbs. Thornton drives a dark grey 2017 Ford Edge with the Texas license plate number NJJ-8580. He also has blue eyes and a visible scar on his right arm.

Hutto said the family is prepared for the worst but needs closure. Although there have been no updates in more than a month, she said that the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office has been nothing but caring and compassionate to the family during their ordeal. She praised the efforts of Sgt. Don Calhoon, deputy Travis Rice and Tracy Bump for working the case. Anyone with information regarding Thornton’s whereabouts is encouraged to call the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office at 409-283-2172

Hutto celebrated her birthday last week, and although she said she never asks for anything for her birthday, she wants to ask the public a “big favor,” and for people to be on the lookout for her uncle. She also said that if individuals work in, or visit, hospitals, nursing homes or homeless shelters, to be on the lookout for him and to spread the word.

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WISD discusses first step in long-range planning

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SHP Donation 042221CHRIS EDWARDS | TCB Wheat Elementary students present a check to Brian and Deborah Smith of Sleep in Heavenly Peace. The students raised the money through a coin drive fundraiser.

By Chris Edwards

WOODVILLE – At its regular monthly meeting, the Woodville ISD Board of Trustees discussed taking the first steps toward long-range planning involving its facilities.

The district recently went out for request for proposals from architects and construction managers and received eight submitted proposals. Superintendent Lisa Meysembourg said that in reviewing the materials and conducting interviews, it will be a matter of finding out who will be able to suit the district best. “This is the initial part of seeing what firm best fits the district’s needs,” Meysembourg said.

The board discussed the best method for reviewing the proposals and agreed to use a 10-day period for review, ranking and to schedule interviews on May 10.

Meysembourg emphasized that in gathering the proposals and reviewing them that was the first step toward whatever the district might need in the future; that there’s been no discussion of any expenditures concerning the facilities or other infrastructure concerns, and that needs might change years down the road.

Wheat Elementary students make presentations

At Monday night’s meeting, the WISD board convened with a full boardroom full of Wheat Elementary students, faculty and parents. Several Wheat second graders and gifted and talented students made presentations. Wheat Vice Principal Allison Mosley and second-grade teacher Bridgette Stott introduced the students.

The presentations by the second graders ranged from facts about flying squirrels to a discussion about what tigers eat. Stott said the students began their projects in March, with researching.

The GT students presented a check to the Woodville chapter of Sleep in Heavenly Peace, which builds beds for children who do not have beds to sleep in.

The GT students, through a coin drive fundraiser, raised more than $1,200 to give to the charitable organization. SHP’s Brian and Deborah Smith were on hand to accept the donation. Stott said the fundraiser was helpful in teaching financial literacy to the students.

On behalf of the WISD board, Vice President John Wilson said the students’ efforts made the board, faculty and parents of the district proud.

Other Business

At its meeting, the WISD board also approved the following items:

  • The board approved a resolution regarding affordable broadband access. The resolution is one going through school boards across the state, Meysembourg said. She said broadband access has “a critical impact upon the education of our students.” The resolution will be sent to Gov. Greg Abbott and the state legislature.
  • The Texas Education Agency’s annual verification for TEKS certification was approved.
  • A two-year extension for WISD’s depository contract with Citizens State Bank was approved.
  • The next regular meeting of the WISD Board of Trustees is scheduled for 7 p.m., Monday, May 17.
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Hearing scheduled for Woodville motel

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Willis MotelCHRIS EDWARDS | TCB Willis Motel in Woodville, Texas

By Chris Edwards

WOODVILLE – A motel that is said to be more than 75 years old is the subject of concerns by the city of Woodville.

The Willis Motel, which was the location of a fire in late 2019, is the topic of a hearing set for Monday, April 26. The City Council will meet in the capacity as the city’s Building Standards Commission and give consideration to the condition of the facility and what action(s) should be taken.

The city has compelled the owner to attend the upcoming hearing to “show cause why [the motel] should not be ordered vacated, secured, repaired or demolished.”

The Willis Motel, known to many locals simply as “The Willis,” or “The W,” has long been in operation in Woodville. City Administrator Mandy Risinger said the motel’s owner said at a previous hearing that it was more than 75 years old. A file on the motel from the Better Business Bureau indicates that it has been in operation as the Willis Motel since at least Jan. 1, 1978.

Risinger said that the fire marshal investigated the Willis after the fire and requested that the city’s building inspector come and assess things.

The pandemic hampered the city’s ability to work on cases of dilapidated structures last year, and also, Risinger said, the fire marshal, Chuck Marshall, died last year and there was no documentation that the Willis’s owner had resolved any of the issues.

Risinger said that at a recent hearing, held on March 29, the owner was under the impression that all of the issues had been resolved.

The Jasper fire marshal, whom the city is contracting, re-inspected the property, Risinger said, and found issues to be addressed, which the owner began working on. Additionally, the fire marshal requested the city’s building inspector and health inspector look into the facility.

Risinger said the city has also received a number of complaints from residents of the motel as well as charitable organizations who have used the facility to put people up. She said the owner is compiling a list of livable rooms to present to the Building Standards Commission and has to provide a plan for addressing all of the existing issues and a timeline.

Public records show an LLC, Vaishvi, as owning the Willis Motel. The Secretary of State’s office lists a Dipesh Lad as the principal with Vaishvi.

For the coming hearing, the council is sitting as the Building Standards Commission. Under the city’s by-laws, they can either appoint one or serve as the commission themselves. They will choose how to move forward with the owner and the facility, and can give the owner 30 days to address the issues. If they give him more than 90 days, Risinger said, a detailed timeline is required.

Progress reports on the work will also be required. At present, Risinger said the owner is supposed to be getting estimates on how to bring the problem parts of the property up to code.

Risinger said it stands to reason that the property would need continual maintenance and upgrades over time, and that typically in the motel industry, as well as with most commercial property, major overhauls usually take place.

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Dogwood Festival: a look at its return in photos

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Dogwood Dash Winners GroupDogwood Dash Winners Group

All photos by Jim Powers

WOODVILLE – The 78th installment of the countywide Dogwood Festival was a success and drew large crowds for its third and final weekend, Queen’s Weekend.

Sunnie Wilkinson, of Colmesneil, was crowned as the new Dogwood Queen to top off the festival, and a variety of events took place, with a great deal of family friendly fun to be found in Woodville.

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The Dogwood Dash drew runners from all over the state on Saturday morning, and Jaycie Spann of Idalou, was the overall winner for the female runners with a time of 24:10.9 and Rex McGehee, also of Idalou, won in the male runners’ division, with a time of 19:43.6.

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The overall theme of the festival was “We are Tyler County, a Celebration of the Beginning,” and the 175th anniversary of the county, which occurred on Friday, April 3, was celebrated within the historical play on Saturday night. Additionally, members of the Tyler County Historical Commission served as marshals of Saturday afternoon’s parade, which featured more than 100 entries.

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NEWS Herb Branch photoCOURTESY PHOTO Woodville Mayor Paula Jones presents long-serving councilman Herbert Branch with a key to the city. Branch was recognized on Monday night for both his coming 90th birthday and his long, faithful service to the city.

By Chris Edwards

WOODVILLE – Woodville Mayor Paula Jones began Monday evening’s regular meeting of the Woodville City Council with a proclamation to acknowledge the month of April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Along with the proclamation, Terry Allen, with the Tyler County Child Welfare Board was on hand with other volunteers from the CWB and spoke about the problem of child abuse as it affects the county.

Allen said there are 31 children from Tyler County in foster care, and added that the pandemic has complicated the data, in her estimation, on how many children have died as a result of abuse or neglect.

Branch honored with key

Under the standing agenda item set aside for reporting community interest news, City Administrator Mandy Risinger announced a special “milestone” birthday approaching for a certain Woodville resident – longtime councilmember Herbert Branch. Branch will turn 90 next month.

Jones presented Branch with a key to the city and a hearty thanks for his service to the city. Branch said he has lived in Woodville for 48 years and was appreciative for the gift. “That is so nice. Thank you very much,” he said.

In other business on the brief agenda for Monday evening, the city approved the procurement of Lufkin firm Goodwin Lasiter Strong for engineering services for an upcoming CDBG program grant application.

The grant cycles every two years, Risinger said, and the city will be applying for a street improvement project. One stipulation is that a grant administrator and engineer must be appointed, and Risinger said the city has utilized the firm’s services for past projects.

A special meeting will take place this week to authorize the submission of the application.

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