Jun

26

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : June 26, 2014

Train accident2

By Russell Slaton
Monitor Correspondent

MALAKOFF–A 14-year-old Malakoff boy was killed Thursday afternoon when he ran in front of a passing train while trying to cross the tracks.

Kim Suttle, whose son Dakota, 16, witnessed the death, said Harry Smith, 14, was clipped in the leg crossing from his home, directly south of the railroad tracks at the intersection of the Union Pacific Railroad and FM 3441 (S. Terry Street, in downtown Malakoff.)

The witness was taken to Malakoff City Hall, his mother said, to be interviewed by law-enforcement officials. Officers on the scene included several state highway patrol officers, along with local law enforcement. Henderson County Precinct 5 Justice of the Peace Tommy Barnett also was at the scene, as was a law-enforcement chaplain.

Jill Davis of Malakoff said she was at the nearby Methodist Church and heard a train whistle about 3 p.m., then heard a loud crash. “I thought, oh my God, the train derailed,” Davis said. The victim sometimes worked at an antiques business just north of the tracks, she added.

The train was uncoupled, with each segment on both sides of the FM 3441 intersection, through which traffic proceeded. Traffic was blocked by the front portion of the uncoupled train at the Carver Avenue intersection, to the west. None of the train’s cars appeared to be derailed.

Jun

18

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : June 18, 2014

By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

MALAKOFF–The family of an Iowa man who died of a heart attack following a reckless driving incident with an off-duty Malakoff police officer late last year has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against the city, where the later-indicted officer remains on administrative leave with pay.

Records obtained through a public information request made April 23 by The News and obtained June 6 include court documents filed April 24 in federal court in Marshall by Tyler and Sulphur Springs attorneys representing the family of William Livezey. The suit alleges that the city of Malakoff used “substandard and inadequate hiring and screening policies” when it hired Ernest Fierro, who has a checkered past as a Dallas police officer.
The lawsuit also claims the city of Malakoff “implemented policies, procedures and practices which actually interfered with and caused (Fierro’s) wrongful acts and/or omissions,” according to the court filing. The lawsuit continues: “These official policies of the city of Malakoff were the moving force behind the wrongful acts and/or omissions plead for herein that was a direct and proximate cause of the death.”

The Livezey lawsuit asks a jury to award an unspecified amount “for each element of damages that is just and fair, based on the evidence.” Also filed in federal district court was an April 28 summons to Malakoff Mayor DeLois Pagitt notifying the city of the lawsuit, which names both Fierro and the city of Malakoff as defendants.
Other documents obtained through the public information request show that Fierro’s Malakoff employment application included his Dallas police record. That record reflects Fierro’s Nov. 2005 resignation while under investigation for a violation of the department’s chase policy, and 2001 termination following Class B misdemeanor criminal accusations not specified in documents, which Fierro successfully appealed down to a 20-day suspension to continue his Dallas police employment. A police officer who resigns while under investigation usually loses his or her state peace officer’s license, but Fierro successfully appealed to state officials to keep it, The Dallas Morning News reported in 2008.

Fierro’s employment file also includes letters of recommendation, including one from a former Dallas Police Department (DPD) colleague and another from the mayor pro tem of the Ellis County city of Ferris, where Fierro worked before Malakoff.

“I have always found Ernesto to be very reliable, truthful, ethical and very hard-working,” wrote Armando Dominguez Jr., a senior corporal with the DPD canine squad.

Ferris Mayor Pro Tem Gary Ross also put in a good word for Fierro during his Malakoff job application process. “I recommend him to you without reservation,” Ross wrote. Fierro resigned July 15, 2013 with a general discharge from the Ferris Police Department and was eligible for rehire, according to documents, then was hired July 31 by the city of Malakoff.

Other former employers were not as glowing. In a background investigation questionnaire dated July 25, Ferris Police Chief Sam Love was asked to categorize Fierro as an employee, with choices of excellent, good, average or poor. Love chose average. When asked how Fierro takes receiving corrections or being critiqued by a supervisor, Love wrote “fair.” When asked whether Fierro followed instructions well and worked well with co-workers, the Ferris police chief chose both yes and no.

Another document obtained through the public information request shows that Fierro was placed on administrative leave with pay from the city of Malakoff on Feb. 22 “pending further investigation and completion of a criminal trial,” Malakoff Police Chief Billy Mitchell wrote in a letter sent to Fierro’s Dallas address officially notifying the officer of the leave.

That letter came three days after a Navarro County grand jury indicted Fierro Feb. 19 for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, official oppression and reckless driving related to a Dec. 11 incident alongside State Highway 31 east of Corsicana, during which the grand jury indictment alleges Fierro ran Livezey off the road with his motorcycle, then held him in handcuffs until Navarro County deputies arrived on the Chambers Creek bottom scene after numerous calls to 911. Livezey, 70, soon fell ill and collapsed, then was sent by ambulance to Navarro Regional Hospital in Corsicana, where he died of a heart attack. Jury selection for Fierro’s criminal trial is set to begin July 21 in state district Judge James Lagomarsino’s Corsicana court.

Several other documents requested by The News were not produced by the city’s attorney, Hank Skelton of the Athens law firm Kugle, Skelton and Bennett, who claimed the information’s release was protected by state law. Some of those documents include the investigation into Livezey’s death by Cleburne-based Texas Ranger Michael Stoner, a memorandum regarding Fierro from Chief Mitchell to City Administrator Ann Barker the day after Livezey’s death, and an affidavit from Fierro five days after the incident.

Jun

05

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : June 5, 2014

Athens Fire-Shawna Smith-5-29

By Erik Walsh
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–Monday, investigators reported that the cause of the May 29 fertilizer storage facility fire in downtown Athens is “undetermined.” Criminal intent was ruled out, due to the absence of evidence identifying an ignition source. Until Monday, the facility had been treated as a crime scene. After the findings were issued, the East Texas Ag Supply property was released to its owner.

The findings were issued by the Texas State Fire Marshal’s Office in conjunction with the Athens Fire Department, Henderson County Fire Marshal’s Office and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (Dallas Field Division).

“The fire originated in the northwest quadrant of the building, at ceiling level. Based on the origin of the fire, the only causes that could not be eliminated are related to an electrical failure,” Athens Fire Chief John McQueary stated in a press release.

State Fire Marshal Chris Connealy stated, “Per national guidelines and standards, the fire will be classified as undetermined because the ignition source and the first material ignited could not be determined.”
The finalization of the fire investigation report is expected in the weeks ahead.

“The city appreciates the hard work and investigation by the agencies involved in determining the final conclusion regarding this incident,” Athens Mayor Jerry Don Vaught said shortly after the findings were released Monday.

The time between the departure of the last person from the facility’s 105 Larkin St. location May 29 and it being engulfed in flames 30 minutes later, had raised suspicion of possible criminal intent. The findings also ruled out weather as a factor.

East Texas Ag Supply owner Ken McGee was the last to leave the facility at around 5:15 p.m., McQueary said during a press conference the following day. “By 5:45 p.m., the building was almost fully enveloped in flames,” McQueary said. “The timetable is highly unusual and may not have been accidental.” McGee had just received 70 tons of ammonium nitrate fertilizer earlier that day, he added.

The fire caused massive disruption to the downtown area sending up a column of smoke that could be seen from Mabank, leading to an evacuation zone that first included three city blocks and was later expanded to five. More than 300 residents were forced to leave their homes that evening. They were able to return Friday, after officials with the Environmental Protection Agency conducted air quality tests with negative results for toxicity. Fifty displaced residents who could not find shelter at hotels, motels, friends or family stayed at the Cain Center.

The blaze also disrupted the opening festivities to the 83rd annual Old Fiddlers Reunion. The jam session usually held the night before the competition was canceled. The competition slated for May 31, was held at the Athens Courthouse Square as planned, along with the second annual Walk a Mile in Her Shoes march and fundraiser. Nearby businesses and Trinity Valley Community College closed as a precaution and vehicle traffic was rerouted along Loop 7. On Friday the U.S. Post Office was inaccessible.

According to McQuery, the storage facility contained more ammonium nitrate than the one that caused the massive blast in West last year that killed 15 people. The Athens fire resulted in no injuries.

“What you had here is somewhat larger than a storage shed in the back that houses your gasoline can, fertilizer, flower seed,” McQueary said. West had a large facility that housed not only ammonium nitrate, but also anhydrous ammonia and trucks that ran on gasoline- and diesel.“They had tractor trailers and a lot of products that can contaminate,” he said.

May

23

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : May 23, 2014

Farm and Ranch 010 EDIT

By Erik Walsh
The News Staff

ATHENS–The Athens Chamber of Commerce hosted its 51st Annual Henderson County Farm & Ranch Tour May 20, culminating with Ken McGee, Jr. receiving the 25th Joe B. Fulgham Agriculturist of the Year award.
After beginning the day at 8 a.m. at the Cain Center with complimentary coffee and donuts, a crowd of more than 200 piled into busses provided by Athens Independent School District and departed for the three agricultural tour sites.

The first stop was the TVCC Ranch, a 254-acre facility in Malakoff. The ranch is managed by TVCC instructors Marc Robinson and Brent Bratton, along with three students who live on the grounds. According to a press release from TVCC, Henderson County Agrilife Extension Agent Rich Hirsch told the crowd on hand that the TVCC Ranch is an important stop on the Farm & Ranch Tour, which aims to highlight the facilities that help fuel a $130 million agriculture industry in the county.

“TVCC offers a lot of good courses in agriculture and ranch management,” Hirsch said. “(This ranch) is not only a great resource for the college, but for Henderson County.”

After loading back onto the buses, the Farm & Ranch Tour made its second stop at the Rafter C Ranch, a 900 acre ranch of rolling hills and Bermuda grass. It is owned by Pete Carr and managed by Clay McCallie. The ranch is home to 270 horses, 50 bulls and 60 roping steers. The National Finals Rodeo picked 17 horses and 10 bulls from the Rafter C Ranch, more than any other stock producer in the country. It is also the home to Wise Guy, past Bucking Horse of the Year. Cowboys scored 90 or above on Wise Guy, more than any other horse in history.
The last stop on the Farm & Ranch Tour was the Sanctuary Ranch, L.P, located five miles west of Cross Roads. Sanctuary Ranch operates on just shy of 3,000 acres and is divided into three segments: cattle, whitetail deer breeding (the offspring are released into the wild to enhance the genetic quality of native deer) and a private segment for the owner, family and friends to enjoy.

Buses arrived back at the Cain Center at 11:45 in time for a noon barbecue lunch.
Former Bastrop County Judge Ronnie McDonald was the keynote speaker, citing the importance of being an “ag believer.” He is currently working with the directors of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Services and the Texas A&M Forest Service.

A true “ag believer,” McDonald said, can become an “ag leader,” and share the message of agriculture with the public, government officials and fellow agricultural producers. “Ag leaders understand the concept of reaping and sowing,” he said. “Things don’t just happen on their own.”

Finally, the event concluded with Ken McGee, Jr. receiving the Joe B. Fulgham Agriculturist of the Year award. McGee’s father, Kenneth, won the same award in 1993.

McGee is a graduate of Athens High School and Texas A&M University. After college, McKee returned to Athens to join his father in the agriculture business of raising cattle and maintaining a herd of cross-bread steers that are mainly sold to participants in the Henderson County Livestock Show. He is the owner-operator of AgServices in Athens.

May

23

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : May 23, 2014

gilmore

By Erik Walsh
The News Staff

ATHENS-Investigators released new information that led to the May 9 arrest of former Malakoff Independent School District Police Chief Todd Gilmore for theft of property valued between $1,500-$20,000.
According to an arrest warrant affidavit from the Athens Police Department (APD), Gilmore confessed to stealing $1,500 cash from Carroll-Lehr Funeral Home in Athens after being confronted with video surveillance evidence.
The affidavit states that video surveillance showed Gilmore arrive at the funeral home in his MISD vehicle, where he was employed as a contract labor embalmer, at 10:23 p.m. April 28. After gaining access to the building, the time stamp on the video surveillance immediately changed from 22:25:35 to 22:51:34 – a 26 minute gap.

Michael Conley, a representative of the funeral home, stated that Gilmore had no contract work at the funeral home that night and, according to the funeral home’s technical support team, unplugging the surveillance system main power cord from the wall outlet would account for the time stamp gap. Conley also brought attention to a chair near the filing cabinet where the missing cash was stored. After the 26-minute gap, the chair in front of the file cabinet had a noticeable change in position. Conley suspected Gilmore moved it to gain access to the filing cabinet.

Additional video showed Gilmore enter the main front office area, turn on the office lights and file a document before turning off the lights and leaving the building. Conley believes Gilmore allowed himself to be seen in the office doing paperwork as an excuse to be in the building, according the affidavit.
The reporting officer to the initial theft report Friday May 2, Corporal William Carlow, of the APD, contacted Gilmore by phone May 6, and the two met at the police department the next day. During the interview, Gilmore admitted to taking the $1,500 cash.

Gilmore was arrested on May 9 and was jailed for six minutes before posting a $10,000 bond. Malakoff ISD Superintendent Randy Perry said Gilmore resigned as MISD Police Chief May 7. Gilmore has been the district’s chief since April 2008. Before that, he served as a police officer with Parkland Hospital in Dallas for eight years, and an officer with the City of Malakoff from 1992-2000. He has been a licensed funeral director and embalmer for more than 25 years.

Mar

31

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : March 31, 2014

The News Photo/Erik Walsh
Coach Todd Gilleland (right) gives tips and direction to the players on the Rangers Little League team in Malakoff March 21.

WEBSITE PIC

Mar

31

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : March 31, 2014

By David Webb
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–Part of North Prairieville Street will be closed for four hours on May 17 for a 100-year anniversary celebration of the courthouse.

The Athens City Council approved the request by Henderson County during a meeting March 24. The street will be closed from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for the event.

County officials have not yet released details of the planned event.
City officials said they can close a street for up to four hours without requiring a permit from the Texas Department of Transportation.

The historic three-floor courthouse on the town square was built in 1913. It is constructed of red brick in Classic Revival style. The building, which includes a full basement, was designed by L. L. Thurman. It has angled wings and a cupola. It is Henderson County’s fourth courthouse, and the second one to be constructed in Athens.

Henderson County’s first courthouse was built in Buffalo in 1850, and the second one was built in Centerville in 1861, according to pictorial histories of Texas’ 254 counties depicting grand courthouses. Both cities are now considered ghost towns. The third courthouse was built in Athens in 1887.
The Texas Legislature established Henderson County on April 27, 1846, and named it in honor of James Pinckney Henderson, the first governor of Texas. In 1848 the legislature broke up Henderson County to form Van Zandt and Kaufman Counties. Athens was founded as the county seat and given its name with the hope that it would become a center of learning.

In other action, the council:
• rezoned a lot on Frizzell Street from single-family residential to two-family residential duplex.
• abandoned an unused alley in Bishop Heights Addition.
• authorized a contract with Henderson County Girls Softball Association for use of Cain Park.
• appointed an election judge and an alternate for the May 10 city election that will include a proposition to consider abolishing the Athens Municipal Water Authority, which the city is now engaged with in a lawsuit. The ballot will also include three contested council seat races.
• approved a replat of two lots into one in the South Platte Subdvision of the Lake Athens area.
• tabled appointing a new member to the Zoning Commission until more candidates come forward.

Mar

26

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : March 26, 2014

By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

MALAKOFF–At a special called Malakoff City Council meeting held Monday, March 24, members voted to table any action on its deliberation of police officer Ernest Fierro’s appointment, employment, evaluation, reassignment, duties, discipline, or dismissal of a public officer or employee, as noted on the agenda.
Mayor DeLois Pagitt said following a one-hour executive session that under advisement of city attorney Hank Skelton, who was present, that the council was inclined to table any action, then called for a vote which backed that decision unanimously.

Fierro is under indictment in Navarro County for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, official oppression and reckless driving in relation to a December 2013 road-rage incident near Corsicana during which Iowa man William Livezey became ill and was pronounced dead at Navarro Regional Hospital.
Fierro was arraigned March 21 in Corsicana. The indictment states Fierro used his motercycle to run Livezey off the road. The aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and oppression counts are before 13th District Court Judge James Lagomarsino, while the misdemeanor charge will be heard before a misdemeanor jurist. A trial announcement is set for June 19 at 9 a.m., with a trial set for July 21 at 9 a.m., Butler added. That July 21 date also includes jury selection, she said.

District clerk files list three attorneys representing Fierro: Vincent Wisely, a police union attorney, and Tim Choy and Jim Lane, both Fort Worth criminal defense lawyers. A phone call to Wisely’s office Tuesday was not returned by press time Wednesday, nor was one placed to Choy and Lane, who share the same office number.
Council members also approved an agreement for the second phase of Jake’s Skate Park, near the Malakoff Community Center. The addition is named Sully’s Loop in memory of Garrett Sullivan, a Malakoff High School freshman who died two years ago from complications after breaking his ankle while skateboarding, his father, Greg, told the council at its regular meeting March 10. The council voted to begin the project at that earlier meeting, then worked out the agreement between American Ramp Co. of Joplin, Mo., Estella Lyon, and the city. The city is not bearing any costs for the $70,000 enlargement, said Clyde Tinsley on behalf of Lyon during the earlier meeting.

Feb

21

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : February 21, 2014

Fierro WEB

Malakoff officer bonds out of Weatherford jail after indictment
By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

Malakoff Police officer Ernest Fierro bonded out of the Parker County jail in Weatherford Thursday evening, after turning himself in on capias warrants issued after indictments in Corsicana Wednesday alleging aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, official oppression and reckless driving.

For the alleged aggravated assault with a deadly weapon offense, the weapon is the vehicle Fierro was driving, which was a motorcycle, Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson said Friday. Once paperwork is returned from Parker County, then the alleged offenses will be put on a district court docket, Thompson said. An arraignment, therefore, has not been set, he added.

The warrants were served Thursday, following a Navarro County grand jury’s findings the day before. Because Fierro was not already in custody or under bond for the charges, state law precluded the Malakoff police officer’s grand jury results from being released until the warrants were served, according to Section 20.22 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure.

Parker County online records show that Fierro was released at 5:45 p.m. Thursday after posting $78,000 in bonds through a Weatherford bondsman: $75,000 for the aggravated assault with a deadly weapon charge, $2,500 for official oppression, and $500 for reckless driving. The site showed Fierro was confined initially at 5:11 p.m. The website listed a Dallas address for Fierro.

According to the Texas penal code, aggravated assault with a deadly weapon is a first-degree felony when committed “by a public servant acting under color of the servant’s office or employment,” while official oppression and reckless driving are misdemeanors. First-degree felonies can include state imprisonment from 5 to 99 years, or a life term. Those felonies also can include a fine up to $10,000. First-degree felonies are the second-most serious charges under state law, behind capital felonies, which are eligible for the death penalty.

At issue was a roadside incident that took place Dec. 11 in which William Livezey of Iowa later died. Callers to Navarro County’s 911 system reported reckless driving on Highway 31 near Chambers Creek, east of Corsicana, which later was confirmed to be between Livezey and a Malakoff off-duty police officer, who was later identified as Fierro. Navarro County deputies arrived on the scene to find Livezey in handcuffs. Once Livezey fell ill, deputies removed the handcuffs and took Livezey to Navarro Regional Hospital, where he later died. An autopsy report later attributed the cause of death as heart disease, and its manner as “natural.” More details of the incident have been kept under wraps officially while the investigation proceeded.

Feb

19

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : February 19, 2014

By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

CORSICANA–A Navarro County grand jury considered indicting Malakoff police officer Ernest Fierro Feb. 19, but no official results of the grand jury’s actions were available at press time Wednesday.

Before the courthouse closed at 5 p.m., and after the grand jury was released for the day at about 4:30 p.m., Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson told The News that in general, if an indictment is handed down, a warrant is issued, and that the person for whom the warrant is issued will either turn themselves in, or be arrested.

Once either of those happens, Thompson said, a court docket date will be set, and either a plea agreement will be reached, or the matter will go to trial.

The district clerk’s office in the Navarro County Courthouse said they were unable to release a copy of any indictments handed down that day before close of business Wednesday, which coincides with The News’ weekly deadline. A phone call to Vincent Wisely, a Dallas/Fort Worth police labor attorney who is representing Fierro, was unanswered.

At issue was a roadside incident that took place Dec. 11 in which William Livezey of Iowa later died. Callers to Navarro County’s 911 system reported reckless driving on Highway 31 near Chambers Creek, east of Corsicana, which later was confirmed to be between Livezey and a Malakoff off-duty police officer, who was later identified as Fierro. Navarro County deputies arrived on the scene to find Livezey in handcuffs. Once Livezey fell ill, deputies removed the handcuffs and took Livezey to Navarro Regional Hospital, where he later died. An autopsy report later attributed the cause of death as heart disease, and its manner as “natural.” More details of the incident have been kept under wraps officially while the investigation proceeded.