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Officer death reported at Gib Lewis

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071022 gib officer deathThe cause of death of an officer at Gib Lewis Unit was due to a self-inflicted injury, as sources indicate.

By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – Last week, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed the death of a corrections officer at the Gib Lewis Unit in Woodville.

A TDCJ spokesperson, Amanda Hernandez, said the agency is investigating the officer’s death, which occurred Monday, June 27. The cause of death was due to a self-inflicted injury, as sources indicate.

A name was not revealed of the deceased. The Office of Inspector General is also part of the investigation.

Incidents of suicide among corrections workers is greater than most other occupations, according to the National Institute of Corrections, which operates under the federal DOJ.

In 2019, 13 cases of suicide among correctional officers were reported, for the highest total ever, according to the head of their union, a report stated.

For years, U.S. Bureau of Prisons officials have called for an increase in staffing to match the rising incarceration rates. Staffing shortfalls is one stress factor that experts have said could contribute to suicide among corrections officers, but there is no data to support the claim.

According to the TDCJ website, Gib Lewis, which opened in 1990, houses up to 2,232 inmates and employs a staff of 570.

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Fire reported at La Enchilada

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070710 La Enchilada firejpg

By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – Firefighters responded to a fire at the popular Woodville Tex-Mex eatery La Enchilada last Friday night.
According to Woodville Volunteer Fire Department Chief Alan Gartner, the call came in from a woman who was working out at the Anytime Fitness gym, located in a shopping center near the restaurant.

Gartner said the fire started in the kitchen and spread to the roof from the Vent-a-Hood ventilation canopy. Firefighters began working on the fire at 11:43 p.m.

Along with responders from Woodville VFD, firefighters from Colmesneil and Shady Grove VFDs also assisted on the scene. The fire was contained to the kitchen area of the restaurant, and the firefighters were able to stop it there.

By 1:40 a.m., Woodville’s units were back in service from the scene. Gartner said that the assisting personnel from Colmesneil and Shady Grove were released earlier, but the Woodville firefighters stayed on site to make sure everything was extinguished.

Gartner said he also wanted to thank officers with the Woodville Police Department for their assistance, as well.

He said it would likely be a month or a month and a half, at most, depending on the contractors, as to how long before La Enchilada would reopen. According to the owners, the Vent-a-Hood has to be replaced as well as the wiring.

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Suit to overturn WISD bond dismissed

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lawsuit graphic

By Chris Edwards
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WOODVILLE – A suit challenging the results of the Woodville ISD May bond election was dismissed on Friday morning.

During a hearing in Tyler County’s District Courtoom, visiting judge Robert Trapp, who represents the state’s Second Administrative Judicial District, heard arguments from counsel for the plaintiff, Charles G. Rawls and for the listed defendants Lisa Meysembourg and County Clerk Donece Gregory.

Rawls’ suit alleged that voters within the WISD balloting area were given incorrect ballots for the May 7 special election. The outcome of the election was that the $47.8 million bond passed by a slim 51.2% majority. When canvassed at the regular May meeting of the WISD Board of Trustees, the tally was 621 voting “for” and 592 “against.”

Gregory was named as co-defendant, in her official capacity, because, according to the suit, she “intentionally, recklessly, or negligently made inaccurate or false statements regarding the length of time to contest [the] election.”

The counsel for Meysembourg/WISD explained, in an opening statement, that the suit must be filed against the president of the WISD Board, Jimmy Tucker, and not the district itself. 

Bruce Partain, who represented Rawls, argued that as the ordering authority, the suit was properly directed at Meysembourg, in her capacity as WISD Superintendent.

David Iglesias, who represented Gregory, asked Trapp for his client to be granted qualified immunity, for in spite of the agreement between Tyler County and WISD to hold the joint election for the bond, the school district was responsible for conducting and canvassing the election as a political subdivision itself.

Iglesias said that “in this particular case, it’s very clear that Donece Gregory is not one of those people” responsible for the election.

According to the suit, Gregory falsely stated that a constituent who wishes to contest an election’s outcome must go to the county clerk’s office, along with an attorney, for the contest to be brought.

Rawls’s suit claims that he “identified at least [30] votes in question,” which did not include 60-80 votes on private roads shown on maps obtained through the Appraisal District.

Partain said that there were at least 45 people willing to sign a declaration stating their ballots were improperly printed.

The bond covers a district-wide series of improvements, including the construction of a new elementary school campus, which is to be located under one roof and near the Woodville High School campus.

After the election results were announced, Rawls spoke to the WISD board about his concerns with regard to improper balloting, but also possible safety issues with the new elementary campus being located so close to the high school.

Another issue addressed following the election, but not covered in the suit, was allegations of voter intimidation. Woodville businessman Phil McClure spoke to that issue before the board in May, particularly to Tucker whom he said “should not serve on the board.”

After giving his final word on the suit, Trapp concluded with “good luck to everyone.”

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DPS identifies remains as missing person

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063022 missing person identifiedOn Aug. 1, 2013, Smith’s then-unidentified remains were found by survey workers near South County Road 1160 and FM 1213, south of Midland.

AUSTIN – Human remains found in Midland County in 2013 have now been positively identified as Sylvia Nicole Smith following an extensive investigation by the Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS). A homicide investigation is now underway.


On Aug. 1, 2013, Smith’s then-unidentified remains were found near South County Road 1160 and FM 1213, south of Midland. Workers surveying near an oilfield wellsite discovered her partial remains. The Texas Rangers, DPS Aircraft and the Midland County Sheriff’s Office conducted an extensive search of the area to ensure all evidence was gathered. The remains were sent to the University of North Texas Center for Human Identification, where an anthropology report was completed, and DNA was extracted. The results revealed the victim was a female between the ages of 14-21 who was likely the victim of a homicide.


The DNA results were put into the Combined DNA Index System (CODIS). No results came back over the next several years, and in 2020, working with the Midland County District Attorney’s Office, the Rangers looked for additional means to identify the remains. They were sent to DNA Labs International and, ultimately, to Parabon Nanolabs for advanced DNA analysis to determine what the victim looked like.


The results revealed the victim was of African-American descent, and identified eye color, hair color and skin tone. A genetic genealogist who examined the DNA assisted with a match which led to a distant relative. Rangers have interviewed numerous potential relatives to gather family information and in May 2022, information led to the victim’s mother in the Midland area. In speaking with the mother, she stated one of her daughters — Sylvia Nicole Smith — had been missing since 2000.


Her mother last saw her 16-year-old daughter on Feb. 14, 2000. Smith’s mother filed a runaway report with the Midland Police Department on Feb. 18, 2000.


Texas Rangers collected DNA samples from Smith’s family for analysis and on June 9, 2022, the University of North Texas verified that the remains of the person found on Aug. 1, 2013, was indeed Sylvia Nicole Smith.


The Rangers are now conducting a homicide investigation into her death and ask anyone with information into her disappearance or homicide to come forward with information.


To be eligible for cash rewards, tipsters MUST provide information to authorities by calling the Crime Stoppers hotline at 1-800-252-TIPS (8477). All tips are anonymous. Individuals can also submit information through the Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website or by phone to the Missing Person Hotline at 1-800-346-3243.


The Texas Rangers’ Cold Case website provides information on more than 125 cases in an effort to garner public interest in unsolved or cold cases.

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USDA announces measures to help address threats to food security

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062322 usda food secrurityFSA is mailing letters to producers with expiring acres that detail this flexibility and share other options, such as re-enrolling sensitive acres in the CRP Continuous signup and considering growing organic crops. 

COLLEGE STATION – The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will allow Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) participants who are in the final year of their CRP contract to request voluntary termination of their CRP contract following the end of the primary nesting season for fiscal year 2022. Participants approved for this one-time, voluntary termination will not have to repay rental payments, a flexibility implemented this year to help mitigate the global food supply challenges caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine and other factors. Today, USDA also announced additional flexibilities for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

“Putin’s unjustified invasion of Ukraine has cut off a critical source of wheat, corn, barley, oilseeds, and cooking oil, and we’ve heard from many producers who want to better understand their options to help respond to global food needs,” said Kelly Adkins, USDA’s Farm Service Agency State Executive Director in Texas. “This announcement will help producers make informed decisions about land use and conservation options.”

FSA is mailing letters to producers with expiring acres that detail this flexibility and share other options, such as re-enrolling sensitive acres in the CRP Continuous signup and considering growing organic crops. Producers will be asked to make the request for voluntary termination in writing through their local USDA Service Center.

If approved for voluntary termination, preparations can occur after the conclusion of the primary nesting season. Producers will then be able to hay, graze, begin land preparation activities and plant a fall-seeded crop before October 1, 2022. For land in colder climates, this flexibility may allow for better establishment of a winter wheat crop or better prepare the land for spring planting.

Organic Considerations

Since CRP land typically does not have a recent history of pesticide or herbicide application, USDA is encouraging producers to consider organic production. USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) provides technical and financial assistance to help producers plan and implement conservation practices, including those that work well for organic operations, such as pest management and mulching. Meanwhile, FSA offers cost-share for certification costs and other fees.

Other CRP Options

Participants can also choose to enroll all or part of their expiring acres into the Continuous CRP signup for 2022. Important conservation benefits may still be achieved by re-enrolling sensitive acres such as buffers or wetlands. Expiring water quality practices such as filter strips, grass waterways, and riparian buffers may be eligible to be reenrolled under the Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers (CLEAR) and CLEAR 30 options under CRP. Additionally, expiring continuous CRP practices such as shelterbelts, field windbreaks, and other buffer practices may also be re-enrolled to provide benefits for organic farming operations.

If producers are not planning to farm the land from their expiring CRP contract, the Transition Incentives Program (TIP) may also provide them two additional annual rental payments after their contract expires on the condition that they sell or rent their land to a beginning or veteran farmer or rancher or a member of a socially disadvantaged group.

Producers interested in the Continuous CRP signup, CLEAR 30, or TIP should contact FSA by Aug. 5, 2022.

NRCS Conservation Programs

USDA also encourages producers to consider NRCS conservation programs, which help producers integrate conservation on croplands, grazing lands and other agricultural landscapes. EQIP and CSP can help producers plant cover crops, manage nutrients and improve irrigation and grazing systems.

Additionally, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP), or state or private easement programs, may be such an option. In many cases, a combination of approaches can be taken on the same parcel. For example, riparian areas or other sensitive parts of a parcel may be enrolled in continuous CRP and the remaining land that is returned to farming can participate in CSP or EQIP and may be eligible to receive additional ranking points.

Other Flexibilities to Support Conservation

Additionally, NRCS is also offering a new flexibility for EQIP and CSP participants who have cover cropping including in their existing contracts. NRCS will allow participants to either modify their plans to plant a cover crop (and instead shift to a conservation crop rotation) or delay their cover crop plans a year, without needing to terminate the existing contract. This will allow for flexibility to respond to market signals while still ensuring the conservation benefits through NRCS financial and technical assistance for participating producers.

More Information
Producers and landowners can learn more about these options by contacting FSA and NRCS at their local USDA Service Center.

USDA touches the lives of all Americans each day in so many positive ways. In the Biden-Harris Administration, USDA is transforming America’s food system with a greater focus on more resilient local and regional food production, fairer markets for all producers, ensuring access to safe, healthy and nutritious food in all communities, building new markets and streams of income for farmers and producers using climate smart food and forestry practices, making historic investments in infrastructure and clean energy capabilities in rural America, and committing to equity across the Department by removing systemic barriers and building a workforce more representative of America. To learn more, visit usda.gov.

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