News Staff Reports
LAKE PALESTINE–The man who survived his boat going over the spillway at Lake Palestine April 19 died Sunday. His wife, Billemarie, 67, was pronounced dead at the scene. A double memorial service is set for Bille and Keith Wagnon, 69, was held Wednesday (April 26) at Rhone Memorial Chapel in Palestine. They were both local residents.
The News reporter Russell Slaton happen to have witnessed the horrific event from a distance, catching it on video, using his cell phone. Slaton said he felt helpless to do anything to prevent the tragedy from occurring. “I looked and kept thinking he would turn back, but he didn’t,” Slaton said. “Suddenly it went over and then there were several loud bangs or thuds.”
Game Warden Mike Hanson said freeing the boat to remove it was a problem because it got caught on some concrete pillars.
According to Hanson, the boat, occupied by a man and a woman, was traveling at a fast pace along the lake, traveling southward toward the dam. Hanson said the boat continued to travel and then passed the buoys which indicate the spillway’s edge, and continued straight on.
Hanson said some fisherman on the river near the spillway rushed over to try to save the boat’s occupants.
The man survived, but the woman was declared dead by Justice of the Peace Precinct 3 Phillip Grimes from Cherokee County. He was taken to a Tyler hospital and placed in Intensive Care, where he later died. Keith and Billemarie Wagnon were married for 50 years.
No foul play is suspected.
Posted by : April 27, 2017| On :
News Staff Reports
Posted by : April 27, 2017| On :
The New Staff Reports
ATHENS–Investigators are still looking into the cause of a deadly fire Saturday that resulted in the death of a man said to be in his 70s.
Fire at a boarding house on East College Street was reported at 8:36 p.m. However upon arrival, Athens Fire Department firefighters found the two-story structure fully involved. The name of the deceased was not disclosed as authorities hadn’t reached a next of kin by press time Wednesday.
The house was more than 3,500 square feet and built in the 1920s, Fire Chief John McQueary estimated.
The man was one of five or six individuals renting rooms in the house.
The chief reports rescue attempts made by the neighbors and another resident who saw the man on the second floor. “We assume he was overcome by smoke and probably collapsed. When the fire got intense enough for the floor and roof to fall, he ended up on the bottom floor,” McQueary said.
The blaze was so powerful firefighters were prevented from going inside upon arrival due to the flames. Their efforts prevented the fire from spreading to the two neighboring houses on either side. However, these structures sustained minor damage from the heat, McQueary said.
Posted by : April 20, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
MALAKOFF–The Henderson County Fire Marshal’s Office arrested a Malakoff man for arson after investigating a fire on Monday.
Troy Lynn Tucker, 29, was arrested on the scene for Arson of a Habitation/Place of Worship, a first-degree felony. Bonds were set at $23,500.
The fire was extinguished at lot 18 Spring Creek Parkway in Malakoff.
In addition, Assistant Fire Marshal Sherry Powers found a clear small plastic bag with suspected methamphetamine on Tucker’s person during the arrest. A drug possession charge was added to Tucker’s intake at the Henderson County Jail.
Sheriff Botie Hillhouse has set a no tolerance policy for drugs in the county and the Fire Marshal’s Office fully supports those efforts. “If we have to deal with you, and you have drugs, you’re going to jail for those charges along with any charges we have to file on you,” Fire Marshal Rodney Renberg stated in a press release. “We take arson very seriously and it will not be tolerated. We will investigate the cause and if you’re responsible, you’re going to jail.”
Posted by : April 13, 2017| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–East Texas Crisis Center staffer Gwen Cox read some astounding statistics on sexual assault and abuse during a Sexual Assault Awareness Proclamation ceremony on the courthouse steps in Athens Tuesday.
She said 6.3 million Texans have experienced sexual assault or sexual abuse. The Athens Office of the East Texas Crisis Center have served more than 200 such clients last year and is working 26 active cases.
County Judge Richard Sanders thanked all the volunteers that work each day to try to prevent this terrible crime “Without dedicated people who work each day, this problem could be a whole lot worse. To think almost a quarter of our population here in Texas has had some sort of sexual abuse happen to them or a family member is really mind-boggling to me.”
He read the proclamation making April a month to educate and raise awareness around the issues of sexual assault and abuse, which affects people of all ages, races and economic circumstances.
“The consequences of sexual abuse are often severe and long lasting. The risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder increases dramatically for victims of sexual assault. Therefore, let us extend our education campaign and build on the network of support to address this issue, including outreach to schools on topic issues of sexual assault.
“United in this effort we can continue to make a difference,” he read.
After thanking the many volunteers who work in this area, Sanders said he looks forward to the day when we can celebrate that sexual assault is no longer a factor in this county.
Rev. Ed Schauer of The Church of The Nazarene in Gun Barrel City closed the proceding in prayer asking God to “touch each of us to stand in the gap for these victims. Cure this disease by your touch, we pray.”
Posted by : March 30, 2017| On :
By Erik Walsh
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Athens City Manager Philip Rodriguez informed council and audience members that TCEQ confirmed the city is in compliance with water standards at the Athens City Council meeting March 27.
Rodriguez broke the news in a full council chamber at the Athens Partnership Center after getting the information himself earlier in the day from the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality (TCEQ).
Mayor Jerry Don Vaught was pleased with the outcome, thanking the city staff for its hard work finally getting the city water on the right side of regulation. Athens water had been out of compliance since 2015. He expects the city will remain in compliance now.
The compliance problem was explained in a press release. The city’s water had too much of a disinfection byproduct knows as HAA5. To stay in compliance with TCEQ, the city water must stay below .06 micrograms per millileter. When the water first fell out of compliance back in 2015, two of the testing sites had too much HAA5, and one had been rectified by November 2016. The most recent results were from a February test.
Rodriguez also clarified the city’s potential plans for annexing property outside the city. According to Rodriguez, the council has annexed a couple of properties within the last two years, and may add more.
The key is to keep an eye on the future in case economic growth spurts up outside the city limits.
“It’s a big deal for us to be thinking about the long-term commercial growth in the city,” Rodriguez said. “I’ve seen cities in Texas that have not been as thoughtful about that, he said. Some cities have had development grow up outside the city limits. The city gets none of the sales tax collected in those areas, so it is important to make sure that we’ve got access to future economic corridors.”
Rodriguez told council members that most of the property along Loop 7 is not within the Athens city limits and major exits on highways that enter Athens are prime targets for annexation. The city recently annexed property near the intersection of the loop and State Highway 19 south for development. He added that most of the locations planned for future growth with the airport master plan are not part of the city.
In other action, council members:
• held a public hearing recommending approval of changes to zoning ordinances to eliminate farming and ranching operations from residential zoning districts to allow no more than six hens as backyard chickens, or one horse per acre, and establishing a maximum number of farm animals allowed per acre in agricultural zones lands, and establishing the minimum size of future agriculture lots to be five acres.
• discussed the first reading of the zoning ordinance changes.
Posted by : March 2, 2017| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Henderson County Commissioners’ Court tabled action to permit the Tarrant Regional Water District Integrated Pipeline to move forward until a road closure and crossing agreement can be spelled out to the satisfaction of Precinct 1 Commissioner Ken Hayes.
Representatives from Tarrant Regional are to meet with Hayes and the County Attorney Thursday (today) so Hayes can explain to residents of Key Ranch Estates, where the pipeline will be buried, what will occur. “You understand why I need information on this, I have constituents to answer to,” Hayes said. Plans call for the crossing of one road in Key Ranch Estates, which will close the road and provide a detour for local traffic.
The commissioners were asked to approve permits to construct the pipeline in a floodplain, which had nothing to do with roads or road closures. However, Precinct 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney pointed out that this permit was the only leverage the court had to have any say in what would transpire, especially as regards to road damage caused by the construction to take place in Precinct 1.
TRWD director Wesley Cleveland tried to assure the court that the district has worked well with other counties on the project and have left roads in as good or better condition than they found them and that money was built into the budget specifically for road repairs.
Engineer Matt Gaughan answered questions about the burial of the 108-inch (nine-foot) pipe. He told Hayes that where the pipe crossed under a road that it would be encased in quick-drying concrete and he expected to open detours for the two days that the road crossing would have to close any road.
Emergency Management Coordinator Joy Kimbrough presented commissioners with an emergency management plan for the work to take place in the floodplain, stating that the permit includes a clause absolving the county from any and all liability in connection with the construction, operation and maintenance of the pipeline. There is no fee attached to the permit, she said.
The item is expected to reappear on next week’s agenda.
In other business, commissioners:
• agreed to assist with four local elections for the cities of Eustace, Athens and Gun Barrel City as well as the Athens ISD for early voting April 24-May 2 and Election Day, May 6.
• renewed membership in the Sabine-Neches Resource Conservation and Development group and appointed Thomas Fraiser and Fire Marshal Shane Renberg as representatives.
• approved bonds for 2017 county elected officials
• accepted Racial Profiling Report from the Sheriff’s Office.
• agreed to a number of appointments and reappointments to Emergency Service Districts No. 1 and no. 2.
• approved inter-local cooperation agreements for labor and equipment use in the amount of $500 with the cities of Berryville, Coffee City and Poynor.
• paid bills in the amount of $425,844.52 and payments to fire departments in Caney City and Eustace in the amount of $21,174.
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.