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Long, hot summer blues: 2023 in a nutshell

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Fire Photo 001A wildfire that began in Jasper County and spread over into Tyler County in August was one of the most destructive wildfires on record. BOOSTER FILE PHOTO

By Chris Edwards
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The countdown toward 2024 is nearing the end of its tether, with Monday seeing the new year minted in full, and 365 open calendar squares of new possibilities.

Twenty twenty-three was a year of global upset and unrest, or at least that is what dominated headlines on the national and international fronts. Within Tyler County and the Deep East Texas region, life was marked by an unusually long, hot summer, marked with record highs and devastating wildfires.

Here are a few stories from the course of the year that was from our pages here at the Tyler County Booster:

Jan 5 – Regional manhunt ends in arrest

A manhunt that lasted almost a year came to a close on Dec. 29, 2022 near Hemphill.

Matthew Hoy Edgar, a 26-year-old Sabine County man, was arrested by the U.S. Marshals Service.

Edgar, who was convicted of the murder of his girlfriend, Livye Lewis, in January of 2022, had fled during his trial proceedings.

Edgar was convicted and sentenced, in absentia, to 99 years in prison. According to a news release from the U.S. Marshals Service issued after his arrest, Edgar, who was on the Texas 10 Most Wanted list, was apprehended when investigators received information about his whereabouts.

The Marshals Joint East Texas Fugitive Task Force, along with Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, and the Sabine County Sheriff’s Office, located and arrested Edgar at a residence in rural eastern Sabine County.

Aug 31 – Wildfire causes devastation in region

A wildfire that raged through the northeastern part of Tyler County, and started in Jasper County, last week, affected about 3,500 acres, according to emergency management officials. The fire was first reported Thursday afternoon.

As of Monday afternoon, Jasper County Judge Mark Allen said that the wildfire, which began in the Ebenezer Community, and is officially named the Shearwood Creek Wildfire, was 95% contained.

Allen said that firefighters were still working on site on hot spots, which flare up, and that officials with the U.S. Forestry Service will remain in the area for a few more days.

Tyler County Judge Milton Powers issued a disaster declaration on Thursday, and a mandatory fire evacuation, effective as of Monday, for residents living east of County Road 3400 to the Neches River and from RR 255 north to the Neches, up to the county line.

All the regional volunteer fire departments, as well as state and federal agencies engaged with the fire throughout Thursday, Friday and Saturday, with aerial and ground support making “substantial progress” by Saturday, according to an update from the Texas A&M Forest Service.

By Sunday, 3,000 acres had burned, and it was 70% contained. Rainfall in the region helped with further containment. The Shearwood Creek Fire was the largest of four wildfires that occurred over the weekend across the state. With dry weather conditions continuing, statewide, the A&M Forest Service reported that it is continuing to respond to requests for assistance.

Sept 21 – Officer shotduring incident;suspect killed

An officer with the Woodville Police Department was shot and wounded during an incident that occurred on the morning of Sunday, Sept. 17.

According to Woodville Chief of Police Mike McCulley, officer Troy Costello was shot by a suspect, identified as 41-year-old Reginal “Reggie” Owens, of Hemphill, who was later shot and killed by officer following a pursuit. Costello responded to a call on the 200 block of Shivers Drive in reference to a suspicious male subject causing a disturbance.

When Costello attempted to make contact with the male subject, whom he observed in a white pickup truck parked on the street, the man ignored his verbal commands to stop and drove away.

According to McCulley, Costello pursued the vehicle for several blocks down Shivers and onto MLK Drive, and radioed for assistance, while in pursuit, before blocking the subject into a private driveway.

The suspect, Owens, continued to evade by driving in reverse, and when Costello was finally able to approach the driver side of the vehicle, he was shot, and the suspect left the scene.

When the suspect’s vehicle was reported to be back at the Shivers location a while later, deputies with the Tyler County Sheriff’s Office arrived to assist. Some witnesses observed Owens flee, on foot, into a wooded area south of Shivers Drive, and several TCSO deputies and Woodville PD officers set up a search perimeter. McCulley said that at approximately 8:24 a.m., deputies saw the suspect exit the wooded area, with a handgun in his waistband. The deputies ordered him to stop and lie down, with arms extended, which he ignored.

“The suspect was non-compliant and hostile toward the officers, and made an aggressive movement toward the handgun,” McCulley said.

Multiple officers fired on the suspect, and he was pronounced dead at the scene by Pct. 1 Justice of the Peace Tina Self.

Costello, a five-year veteran of the Woodville PD, was airlifted to a Houston area hospital where he underwent surgeries and physical therapy. He has been home and recovering since.

Nov. 23 – County awarded $12 million grant

Pct. 1 Commissioner Joe Blacksher announced that the county has received a $12 million grant from the state’s General Land Office (GLO).

He said “the GLO emailed me last Monday, and said, you’ve got to justify two of your projects. Well, in the end, they emailed me back last Thursday to tell me we would be receiving the money.” Texas Land Commissioner Dawn Buckingham made the presentation at the Alabama Coushatta Multi-Purpose Center, Tuesday, Nov. 21.

The funding is part of a regional package of $68 million which is earmarked for mitigation projects and announced in September. According to Buckingham, who announced the funds in a news release at the time, the monies will “move forward projects that will protect the homes and businesses of those who live here.”

More than $42 million of that GLO money is earmarked for broadband and radio communications infrastructure. Tyler County will benefit from the broadband and radio funding, along with Polk; Jasper; Newton and San Jacinto counties.

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