Posted by : February 2, 2017| On :
By Rachel Williams
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–The Athens City Council named an architectural/engineering firm to renovate the Cain Civic Aquatic Center Jan. 23. PGAL Architects, headquartered in Houston with offices in Dallas and Austin and founded in Texas in 1946, delivers international expertise with 11 regional offices and a staff of more than 200 architects, engineers, planners, and designers. The firm was named to the project after a qualifications-based assessment. The council members unanimously agreed PGAL Architects will provide the full complement of specialists and consultants to bring these facilities up-to-date. City Manager Philip Rodriguez is also authorized to execute an agreement, pending city attorney review.
The council also ordered an election for May 6 for Place 1, now held by Monte Montgomery and Mayor, held by Jerry Don Vaught. The city will share the costs of the election with Athens ISD by mutual agreement with Henderson County providing election services, and conducting Election Day voting.
Council members also held a public hearing on amendments proposed for mobile food vendors, subject to development standards and applicable zoning regulations, followed by a first reading of an ordinance pertaining to mobile food vendors. The city’s development services staff reviewed ordinances being used in other cities, including rules about restrooms, trash receptacles, proximity to brick-and-mortar restaurants and other items. Concerns about the disposal of grease and water was voiced. The item is expected to be listed for a second reading at a future council meeting. The next one is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday, Feb. 13.
The council also considered a first reading of an ordinance which would provide entry level police officers a hiring incentive. The ordinance proposes offering new officers a $1,500 signing bonus on the first day of work and a second $1,500 payment before the end of the first year of service.
In other business, council members:
• appointed Keri Wilmeth to the Planning and Zoning Board.
• adopted a resolution outlining a legislative agenda. In general, the collection of statements support policies that protect “home rule” and local control, encourage the state to support its mandates with resources and promotes effective local governmental processes, city staffer Ryan Adams explained. The resolution also directs the city manager or his designee to act or represent the agenda when corresponding with elected officials in Austin.
The Texas 2017 regular legislative session began on Jan. 10 and will continue through May 29. About 6,000 bills are expected to be proposed during the 140 days the state representatives meet every two years. The legislative agenda will help lawmakers understand the Athens perspective and enable them to act on their constituents’ behalf. Representatives include Lance Gooden in the House and Robert Nichols in the Senate.
• Approved the purchase by the Athens Fire Department of a new lightweight model brush truck running slightly over budget at $96,489. Fire Chief John McQueary said the vehicle meets all design specifications.
• Approved a request from the Athens Economic Development Corporation for a letter of support for the City of Athens to be included within the Foreign Trade Zone.
• Authorized a lease agreement with Steven Eddy for T-Hanger No. 1 at Athens Municipal Airport.
• Authorized the city manager to execute a contract with Stantec for street improvements in support of FutureMatrix, Inc, using 2016 Texas Capital Fund.
Posted by : January 19, 2017| On :
Special to The News
AUSTIN – State Representative John Wray took the oath of office Jan. 10 inside the Texas State Capitol, marking the beginning of his second term in the Texas House.
“I’m honored to represent House District 10 again in the Texas legislature, and will continue to fight tirelessly for the people and values of Ellis and Henderson Counties,” said Wray. “I am proud of the accomplishments we achieved last session, and although we face new challenges, I believe the House will continue to approach issues in the same conservative, pragmatic, and fiscally responsible manner that has helped our state prosper.”
In his first term as State Representative, Wray was appointed to the Homeland Security and Public Safety Committee and the Ways and Means Committee. As a member of those committees, Wray helped pass open carry legislation, increased security at the Texas-Mexico border, and provided nearly $4 billion in tax relief to Texans.
Wray also passed the most bills of any freshmen representative, and filed bills to repeal taxes, honor Texan and American hero Chris Kyle, establish a higher education campus in the district, and protect private property rights and taxpayers funds from the planned High Speed Rail project.
The Texas Constitution dictates that the legislature meet in a regular session every two years, convening on the second Tuesday in January of every odd-numbered year. These sessions are limited to 140 days. The governor can also call additional special sessions as necessary, which cannot exceed 30 days. The 85th Legislative Session is Jan. 10 through May 29, 2017.
John Wray is a principled conservative, serving his second term as Texas State Representative of House District 10, the area encompassing Ellis County and part of Henderson County.
Wray currently resides in Waxahachie with his wife, Michele, and their two children, Morgan and Patrick.
Posted by : January 5, 2017| On :
Posted by : October 20, 2016| On :
Special to The News
ATHENS – With more than 700 arrests made in his first four months in office, Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse continues his campaign against illegal drugs with the arrest of two men Monday, one a felon with methamphetamines and a firearm.
“Lead Narcotics Investigator Kay Langford, and investigators Brad Beddingfield and Josh Rickman are leading the charge in this war on illegal drugs,” Hillhouse said. “With the rest of my fine team, hundreds of drug dealers and users have been pulled off the street, put in jail and are facing serious time for their crimes.”
James Bedard, 42, has been charged with manufacture and delivery of a controlled substance believed to be methamphetamines between 4 and 200 grams, a first degree felony.
He was also charged for the unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon, a third degree felony.
Bedard faces up to 99 years in prison and a $10,000 fine if convicted of the first degree felony charge if convicted. He is being held on bonds totaling $14,000
Jerry Thomas Jr., 52, was arrested at an address on FM 2494 in Athens for possession of marijuana.
“It was during that initial arrest of Jerry Thomas for an outstanding warrant that the investigators saw the suspected methamphetamines,” Hillhouse said. “We obtained a search warrant from Justice of the Peace Precinct 4 Milton Adams, and arrested Bedard.”
Thomas was released the following day with a $1,500 bond.
Hillhouse took office June 1, promising to lead a campaign against illegal drugs in Henderson County. His efforts have won the praise of civic and community groups.
“The people told me their biggest concern was illegal drugs – especially the devastating impact of methamphetamines on the community,” Hillhouse said. “So, I made it this Office’s mission to spend every hour fighting drugs on the streets, and in homes, hotels, motels and trailer parks.
“To the dealers and users who don’t believe me, rest assured I have plenty of beds in the jail and if you bring your poison to my county, I’ll find you,” Hillhouse said.
Posted by : September 29, 2016| On :
Special to The News
HENDERSON COUNTY–On Sept. 23, Jamie Lawrence Meador, 31, of Brownsboro, was sentenced to 75 years in prison for a March 2015 shootout with Henderson County Deputies at a residence on CR 4305 near Coffee City. Meador was seriously injured in the shootout. Neither of the deputies was wounded.
Meador was sentenced to the 75 years for Aggravated Assault of a Peace Officer, and also sentenced to four other 20 year sentences for three counts of unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and one count of evading arrest with a motor vehicle.
Meador pled guilty to the charges earlier this year and elected to allow Judge Dan Moore of the 173rd Judicial District Court to set sentencing after a hearing. Meador was facing a punishment range of 15-99 years or life for the Aggravated Assault and up to twenty years each for the unlawful possession cases and evading arrest case.
The case was personally handled by Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee. According to McKee, the case was extremely important to him and the law enforcement community.
According to testimony and District Attorney McKee’s opening statement, the events leading up to the shootout began in December of 2014 when Henderson County Sheriff’s Deputy Keon Mack saw Meador on the side of the road in a broken down pickup with its hazard lights flashing. Although Meador had been to prison before, Mack testified that he did not know who Meador was when he stopped to assist him on FM 315 near Chandler.
Before offering to assist Meador, Deputy Mack asked him for his driver’s license. According to Deputy Mack, he wasn’t looking to arrest or detain Meador at the time. Mack testified that due to safety reasons, it’s important to know who you are dealing with on the side of the road in the middle of the night.
While Meador was looking for identification, Mack observed a shiny box shaped case in Meador’s front pants pocket. Upon questioning, Meador told Mack that it contained his marijuana. During a subsequent search of the case the deputy also found methamphetamine in the box.
A pat-down search of Meador yielded two additional ounces of suspected methamphetamine and over $2,000 in cash.
After the pat-down search, Meador was placed in hand restraints and a search of the truck was conducted. During the search, Deputies discovered over five pounds of crystal meth inside a stove in the back of the pickup. According to Henderson County Sheriff’s Investigator Kay Langford, the street value of the meth in 2014 was around $250,000.
Meador was arrested for the meth and was able to make bail just a few days later. According to McKee’s opening statement, he believed the bail was set “recklessly low”.
After bailing himself out of jail on the drug charges, Meador was stopped again by Deputy Mack on March 29 for a faulty license plate light. During the traffic stop, Meador admitted to smoking marijuana in the car just before the stop. As Mack tried to detain him, Meador broke free of the deputy and made it back to his vehicle and drove off at a high rate of speed while the deputy was still hanging on to him. Deputies were unable to locate him that evening and procured a warrant for his arrest the next day.
Two days later, on March 31, 2015, Henderson County Deputies Brad Beddingfield and Kyle Pochobradsky along with Sheriff Investigators Kay Langford and Wick Gabbard acting on information about the whereabouts of Meador, arrived at a home on County Road 4305.
Deputy Beddingfield, who was the first to arrive at the residence, immediately spotted Meador sitting on a 4-wheeler as soon as he drove up. As Beddingfield exited his patrol vehicle, he ordered Meador off the 4-wheeler. Rather than comply, Meador reached into a rifle case that was strapped to the front of the 4-wheeler and retrieved an AR 15 assault rifle. Meador then immediately raised the rifle and fired a shot at Beddingfield at a distance of less than 30 feet.
The shot missed Beddingfield and he immediately began returning fire. As this engagement was beginning between Meador and Beddingfield, Deputy Kyle Pochobradsky, the second officer to arrive at the residence, had already exited his vehicle and could hear Beddingfield giving Meador commands.
During questioning by District Attorney McKee, Pochobradsky told the judge that although he could not see the defendant as he was exiting his vehicle, he could tell something was wrong in Beddingfield’ s voice. Pochobradsky and Beddingfield began their careers at about the same time, first in the Henderson County Jail and through the years working together in various positions within the department. “I knew something wasn’t right by the sound of his voice.” Said Pochobradsky,
Pochobradsky testified that after hearing Beddingfield, he rushed to the back of the house where Beddingfield and Meador were located. As he was rushing to the location, he could see and hear the gunfire. Pochobradsky was able to draw his weapon and engage Meador.
The entire event lasted only a few seconds and was captured by Beddingfield’ s in-car video.
Meador, testifying against his attorney James Mills’ advice, said he never intended to kill the officers and that he was trying to commit suicide by cop.
During his testimony, Meador told the court that his life got out of control when he started using methamphetamine.
Meador also testified about the wounds he received in the shootout and his medical conditions. Since the shootout, Meador told the court that he doesn’t have full use of his legs or his bowels.
During cross-examination, McKee pressed Meador to tell him where he got the over five pounds of meth as well as what he planned to do with it. Meador testified that he was transporting it for drug dealers when he ran out of gas.
Meador apologized to the officers for what could have happened.
“I apologize for putting ya’ll in that position. I was only thinking about me,” he said. “I know you’ll do a good job.”
Meador has been arrested several times in Henderson County. Among the charges are felony drug and illegal possession of a firearm by a felon. He was released from prison in 2012.
Meador’s drug charges are still pending in the U.S. Attorney’s office.
Posted by : September 1, 2016| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS–Raheem Mark Miller has been found guilty Tuesday of capital murder in the death of Cedric Alvin Collins, 23 of Malakoff on June 8, 2014. Jurors returned the guilty verdict after two hours of deliberations.
This conviction has a mandatory sentence of life in prison without parole.
The State of Texas and the defense rested on Monday, Aug. 29 in a trial which began with jury selection only a week prior. The defense rested without calling any witnesses.
According to reports, Collins was found lying beside his vehicle in the 700 block of Robbins Road, near the intersection of Lantana and Robbins, with what appeared to be a gunshot wound. The victim was transported to East Texas Medical Center where he later died.
Witnesses had reported seeing two men fleeing the scene. Det. Adam Parkins was assigned the case and obtained information that pointed to Miller.
The jurors heard five days of testimony in which the Henderson County prosecutor tried to prove Miller had murdered Collins after robbing him, making this a capital murder offense. Evidence included videotaped interviews with the defendant.
The third videotape contained an interview conducted by Bobby Rachel, a reserve deputy from Navarro County who had been asked to interview Miller at the request of Texas Ranger Michael Adcock. During the interview, which jurors watched, Miller said he and another man made a plan to rob Collins after arranging a drug deal selling fake drugs.
Miller told Rachel he didn’t plan on using a gun. Miller said that Collins was killed after the other person pulled a gun on Collins and they fought over it. Investigators cleared the other person mentioned in Miller’s testimony of any wrongdoing in the murder case.
Miller had denied having a gun but eventually admitted to Rachel that he did have one. When Rachel asked if he shot Collins, Miller denied ever pulling the trigger. Miller has denied being the one who pulled the trigger since his arrest.
Miller had been held on a $2,000,000 bond in the Henderson County Justice Center since the 2014 murder. Defense attorneys John Youngblood and James Mills represented Miller. Assistant District Attorney Danny Cox assisted District Attorney Scott McKee with the prosecution.
In closing arguments, District Attorney Scott McKee reviewed the evidence as presented by the state. McKee stated that Miller killed Collins while committing the felony crime of robbery, making this a capital murder.
Judge Carter Tarrance had informed the jury they could find Miller guilty of captial murder, felony murder, aggravated robbery or robbery.
While the defendent showed little emotion when the verdict was read, the families of the victim and defendant were emotional.
Posted by : July 21, 2016| On :
News Staff Reports
HENDERSON COUNTY–Henderson County Sheriff’s Department Deputy Jannell Dunnington retired July 15 after serving the department for more than 21 years. She began her career with the department as a detention officer.
In a statement on its Facebook page, the Henderson County Sheriff’s Office said, “She has been an outstanding deputy and helped and touched many people throughout her career here. She will be missed by so many. Once again, thank you Deputy Jannell Dunnington for your outstanding and dedicated service to Henderson County.”
Posted by : April 28, 2016| On :
Rick Hirsch, 1965-2016, Texas A&M Extension Agent
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
HENDERSON COUNTY–A beautiful spring day for Henderson County, Sunday was the day County Extension Agent Rick Hirsch died at his residence. All who heard of the longtime extension agent’s death expressed shock and grief. Hircsh, 51, is well-known in East Texas and elsewhere as he dispensed advice and information via a newspaper column, radio show and agricultural clinics, tours and seminars in his 28-year career.
A funeral service is to be held at 10 a.m. Thursday (today) at the First Baptist Church in Athens. located at 1055 S. Carroll Street.
Most recently, he organized a pasture tour, including a location on the shores of Cedar Creek Lake in late March. He served Henderson County from 1992 as its Extension Office Agent on behalf of AgriLife of Texas A & M University.
He is well-known for his support of youth agricultural projects (FFA & 4-H) and its students. The Athens FFA has opened a gofundme page to raise funds for his family. In its first seven hours, nearly $2,000 had been raised. The goal is to raise $25,000.
Terrie Echols writes: “So sorry for your loss. Rick was a great teacher, I learned a lot from taking his class. May God bless and comfort his family and friends.”
The Carroll-Lehr Funeral Home in Athens is overseeing the funeral arrangements. Members of the community are invited to share their stories, photos and remembrances of Rick to comfort the family on its website.
Rick Hirsch is survived by his wife, Bronte, a teacher in the Athens ISD, and three children.
Lorri and Harold Hawkins of Brownsboro state of Hirsch: “He was always there to help the community and especially the young people of Henderson County. Rick will be greatly missed.”
The Henderson County Master Gardeners extend their condolences, adding: “Rick was a respected and wise leader. We will miss his guidance and counsel.”
Chad Coburn, who judged many bovine exhibits with Rick writes: “I’ve had the privilege to judge cattle shows with Rick and serve with him on the Animal Industries Committee. I was shocked to hear the news.”
Gregg County Extension Agent Randy Reeves describes Hirsch as a great mentor. “We will all miss Rick. He was a great mentor to all of us and will be sorrowfully missed. Extension will never be the same with a great friend and co-worker called home.”
Co-worker Jo Petty Smith writes: “From the time I was a kid on the end of a show halter, to the time I was able to call him a co-worker, mentor and more importantly, a friend, I will cherish those memories and the laughs that he was surrounded by. I felt it a great honor to work with him and know him. Extension lost one of its finest agents.”
Among the many accolades and recognitions Hirsch garnered through his successful career, is the County Agent of the Year award bestowed by the Texas & Southwestern Cattlemen’s Association in 2012.
Athens ISD agricultural teacher Jeff Jones summed up best what many recognize on this sad occasion: “Mr. Rick Hirsch was a great friend and an outstanding person. Rick was an iconic figure in Henderson County, a truly good man and someone who helped thousands and thousands of people in our community and across the state of Texas.”
Posted by : December 23, 2015| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–With the closing of the election filing period for the March 1, 2016 Party Primary, a few key races have taken shape in Henderson County. The most prominent is that Republican Lance Gooden of Terrell is challenging incumbent Dr. Stuart Spitzer of Kaufman in a bid to regain a seat in the Legislature as Representative of District 4.
Judge Carter Tarrance announced in September he was not seeking reelection to the bench of the 392nd District Court. Two have filed for the seat: longtime family law practitioner Marianne Warren of Athens with 23 years experience and two-term D.A. Scott McKee are both seeking the Republican nomination. No Democrats have filed for the office. Mark Hall is the sole candidate for District Attorney.
In addition, County Attorney Clint Davis faces a challenger in the Primary from former officeholder James H. Owen.
Both County Commissioners have said they will not seek re-election. Keith Pryor and Ken Hayes have filed for Precinct 1, now held by Scotty Thomas, who has held the office for one term.
Commissioner Ronny Lawrence is stepping down after four terms in office. Four contenders have filed to take his place. They are Mark Tillison, Sammy Scott and Kevin Head of Murchison and Charles “Chuck” McHam of Chandler.The winner will face Democrat challenger Aleciah Joyce Sims in the fall.
All five constable offices are on the ballot. In Precinct 1 Kay Langford, an Investigator with the Sheriff’s office, is unopposed in the Republican Primary but will challenge incumbent Daryl Graham in November 2016.
In Precinct 2, Interim officeholder Mitch Baker, with his office in Seven Points, will face Danny Howard.
Precinct 3 incumbent David Grubbs of Brownsboro is unopposed.
Precinct 4 incumbent Rick Stewart is not seeking re-election. Former Constable John Floyd has filed along with Wilford “Wick” Gabbard for the Republican ballot.
Precinct 5 Constable Brad Miers is challenged by Eric Adair.
Tax Assessor Collector Peggy Goodall is running for her first full term in office after filling an unexpired term of Milburn Chaney in January. She is unopposed.
Statewide offices appearing on the ballot include eight Republican contenders and three Democrats for their party nomination for Railroad Commissioner. Places 3, 5 and 9 have drawn two challengers each for the Supreme Court on the Republican ballot. The winner will each face a Democrat opponent in November. Republicans are also competing for places 2, 5 and 6 on the Court of Criminal Appeals. Each winner will then face a Democrat candidate in the fall
Voters in Henderson and Van Zandt counties will see two filers for the 12th Court of Appeal, both unopposed for Place 2 and 3, on the Republican ballot.
Locally, District 9 of the State Board of Education has put up four Republican contenders, the winner of which faces a Democrat in the fall.
Posted by : December 9, 2015| On :
Rules for use of medicinal marijuana, body cameras, Internet publishing reviewed
By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–Henderson County Bar Association members were briefed about federal and state law changes at Athens Country Club Dec. 4. Some changes are already in effect, with others, soon to follow.
The legislative and legal overview was presented by Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee along with Assistant District Attorney and felony prosecutor Justin Weiner.
The DA and his assistant also brought Henderson County peace officers up-to-date during a four-hour seminar late last summer at the Texas Freshwater Fisheries Center (TFFC) in Athens.
McKee said concealed carry permits for handguns automatically convert to allow open carry Jan. 1, 2016. The majority of American states already allow open carry, Weiner said.
But along with the law are rules that need to be followed: besides a permit, the handgun must be carried in a belt or shoulder holster in plain view. Openly carrying handguns will be allowed in all places where concealed carry is currently condoned. A handgun can be exposed in a vehicle as long as it’s holstered, Weiner added.
“It will be interesting to see how this all (open carry) fleshes out,” Weiner said.
Carrying weapons at dormitories, classrooms and campus buildings at public colleges is allowed by the State of Texas as of Sept. 1, 2016, Weiner said.
Colleges are in the process of establishing rules about where exactly open carry is allowed, as well as where guns can be stored. “A lot of universities are scrambling to see what they can do,” Weiner said.
Another legal issue is synthetic marijuana. The prohibition is now based on specific chemicals instead of the previous legal standard of proving “mimics the pharmacological effect of real marijuana.” Vaping now has the same rules as cigarette sales which includes banning e-cigarette use in public places.
Legally prescribed medicinal marijuana is now legal in Texas for the first time, Weiner said, and has been since June 1. It’s available only for epilepsy patients, he said, and the prescription must come from two licensed doctors and be filled at a state-approved pharmacy.
The medicinal marijuana derivative must contain low amounts of THC, which is the psychoactive element of marijuana.
Another issue addressed by state legislators is body cameras for police officers. A Senate bill provides law enforcement $10 million in grant money to obtain the equipment, with each law-enforcement agency matching 25 percent of the grant. The provision kicks in Jan. 1.
McKee said Henderson County Sheriff Ray Nutt has already applied for grant money from the governor’s office. District Attorney McKee advised law enforcement to adopt body camera policies before allowing use.
So-called “revenge porn” became a criminal offense and can include civil penalties as of Sept. 1 of this year. The offense deals with using explicit images or videos online without consent. That is now a Class A misdemeanor, one step below a felony.
“Doxing,” or the Internet-based practice of researching and broadcasting personally identifiable information gleaned from private (as opposed to public) records without consent, also is a state no-no, as of Sept. 1.
McKee and Weiner also discussed a United States Supreme Court decision. Riley v. California, decided in summer 2014, ruled that cellphone searches were just as invasive as home searches and should be held to similar legal standards. Consent to search along with exigent circumstances, along with felony warrants, are exceptions to the rule. “Get a cellphone, get a warrant,” McKee said.