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2022: Tyler County newsmakers in the rearview

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Compiled by Chris Edwards
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TYLER COUNTY – A new face at the helm of county government and a breath of positivity from our corner of the pines broadcast to the rest of the world in the form of a talented musician were two of the big stories jumping from the pages of this newspaper in 2022.

Twenty twenty-three will be another year full of comings and goings; art, commerce and jurisprudence and all manner of happenings to grace the pages of the Booster, but before that cork is popped and the final black-eyed pea moves us into the new year, here is a recap of a few of those stories brought to you from the pages of this newspaper.

February – Hicks sentenced to life

A jury handed down a guilty verdict and life sentence to Blaze Hicks for the 2019 murder of Brandon Wood.

Hicks, 29, a Silsbee man, stood trial last week in a five-day trial before District Judge Delinda Gibbs-Walker. The verdict and sentence were both handed down on Friday, Feb. 11 in the District Courtroom inside the Tyler County Courthouse.

Tyler County’s District Attorney Lucas Babin said the conviction was a victory for law enforcement in the county and added that “East Texas is safer now that Blaze Hicks has been removed from society.”

Babin said that during the trial, evidence made a case that Hicks had a long history of violence prior to the murder of 28-year-old Wood on the afternoon of Sept. 23, 2019.

During trial, more than 20 witnesses and 45 different pieces of evidence exhibited to the jury told the story of the day that Hicks traveled from Silsbee to Warren looking for Wood. The story that unfolded in the courtroom showed that Hicks carried a loaded .22 rifle with him and began firing at Wood, who was unarmed, shortly after he saw him.

Hicks shot Wood four times in the back and fled the scene, and although he got away, he dropped his cellphone in the process. That phone was recovered by law enforcement later, and it contained a selfie of Hicks on its home-screen, according to Babin.

First Assistant DA Pat “Hawk” Hardy added that Newton County deputy Keith Franklin was also a valuable contributor to making the case against Hicks.

“This was a team effort to get a dangerous individual off the street,” Hardy said.

May – WISD bond election passes

The results of the special May 7 election came in, and the proposed $47.8 million bond for district-wide improvements at Woodville ISD passed by a 51.20% majority.

“It means the work gets started now,” Woodville ISD Superintendent Lisa Meysembourg said after the results were made public.

The bond proposal came on the recommendation of a district task force comprised of residents, business leaders and WISD staff members. The improvements to WISD on the table include the construction of a new Pre-K through fifth grade elementary school building, which would be housed under one roof, as well as additions to the Career and Technical Education Center.

Meysembourg said the district hopes to have the design process started soon, and the building completed by December.

Once construction begins, there will be no disruption in the routine of WISD elementary students, as the new elementary campus will be built close to Woodville High School and the middle school campuses.

The bond election results was challenged in court in a suit brought about by Woodville businessman Charles Rawls. A district judge later ruled in WISD’s favor in the suit.

August – Daycare facility subject of investigations

Early Birds Learning Center, A Woodville-based daycare facility was the subject of an investigation involving multiple agencies.

The facility was the subject of a weeks-long investigation by the Texas Child Care Licensing Investigative Unit and the Woodville Police Department.

While Woodville police are handling the criminal investigation aspect, the state agency responsible for licensing will determine whether or not the facility stays open or if fines are levied, according to Woodville Police Captain Jathan Borel.

Kelly Bass, the director of the facility, denied the allegations aimed at the facility and its employees, and alleged that a former employee has made the claims.

The owner and director of the facility later received a no-bill in October from the Grand Jury.

October – ‘A pivotal moment’: Woodville singer/songwriter rises to national attention

Woodville native Kim Cruse managed to capture the nation’s attention with a run on NBC’s The Voice in the popular show’s 22nd season.

Cruse reached the semi-final rounds, and drew a great deal of praise from around the world with her soulful performances.

Cruse, who played hostess to a full house of family and friends at a watch party at the Emporium in Woodville on the night of her debut on the show, said the show could prove to be a pivotal moment in her life.

In her first appearance on the popular show, Cruse sang “The Best Part”, originally recorded by Daniel Caesar and H.E.R., and got the attention of all four celebrity judges, all of whom turned their chairs around and vied for her to choose them as her coach for the season. Cruse ultimately chose R&B/pop singer-songwriter John Legend as her coach.

Legend remarked about her voice that her “tone immediately got me,” and said “I can’t wait to work with her.”

No Doubt frontwoman Gwen Stefani, who is one of the four judges, called Cruse’s voice “so unbelievably pretty,” and added that she did not even think she could talk after hearing her sing.

The charismatic 30-year-old artist has already achieved viral video stardom prior to her star turn on television, and has toured the country, both as a solo act, as well as part of other artists’ shows. She has also proven herself as a songwriter and recording artist, with the 2021 release of an eponymously titled five-song EP.

Before all of that, Cruse grew up in her father’s church, Little Baptist Church, in Woodville, where she sang as often as she could from an early age.

She credits her parents, the beloved Rev. Bobby Cruse and Ramona Cruse, as her biggest inspirations to sing and perform.

“They’ve worked so hard to help make everything happen for me. I want to be able to give them the world and more,” she said.

Through her career, Cruse has already earned comparisons to classic women of song, such as Nina Simone and Etta James, and since her appearance on The Voice, some critics have stated that her vocals give the same type of emotional conveyance as the great Billie Holiday.

November – Powers wins county judge seat

TYLER COUNTY – When all was said and done after a long midterm election season in Tyler County, the county elected a new county judge by a decisive margin, and several other races, ranging from mayoral to school boards, were decided by voters across the county.

Republican nominee Milton Powers won the office of County Judge, with 4,699 votes, of 66% of the election. Powers’s Democratic challenger Wesley Whitman earned 11% of the vote, or 747 votes and write-in Republican Neil Alderman earned 23%, or 1,651 votes.

Alderman was not the only write-in candidate to earn a good number of votes in this midterm. Amanda Radke Hastings challenged incumbent Buck Hudson for the office of Pct. 4 Commissioner and earned 169 votes to Hudson’s 958.

According to statewide totals, voter turnout dropped, with a little more than 45% of the state’s registered voters turning out to the polls. Figures from Secretary of State John Scott’s office show Tyler County voters doing better than that, with 50.1% of the county’s registered voters making their voices heard at the polls.

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