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 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 : April 5, 2017| On :
By Toni Garrard Clay
AISD Communications Coordinator
ATHENS–Thanks to a solid foundation of community support, 2017 is a year of building at Athens ISD — literally. Topnotch instruction and dedicated leadership continue to flourish within the walls of each campus while new walls rise around the district.
At Athens High School, the courtyard that once stood empty between the main building and the high school annex is now a construction zone. A new structure is rising up to tie the two facilities together into a single footprint.
A Career and Technical Education (CTE) building to the north of the annex is on track to be completed for the fall of 2017, and within the main high school building, renovation of existing space is planned. Upon completion, AHS students will enjoy new science classrooms, a new and larger shop class, and a new gym that will allow all students to assemble under roof in one space for the first time in years.
“This building project is not only good for the students and staff,” said Superintendent of Schools Blake Stiles, “it’s good for the community at large. I believe strongly, as I know others do, that as our schools thrive, so do our communities. This is an important and critical moment for us all.”
In addition to the work at the high school, all three elementary schools, which accommodate grades pre-K through fifth, are part of the master construction plan. The work there – which should be finished by or near the 2017-2018 school year – includes a new and larger library at Central Athens and new assembly/activity spaces at Bel Air and South Athens.
Just in time for the 2017 football season, the public will also enjoy brand new (greatly needed) restroom facilities at Bruce Field. The restrooms are part of a building on the east end of Bruce Field that will also serve concessions to both home and visitor sides. On the west end, a new field house will accommodate a weight room, the football program and the girls and boys soccer programs.
Even as construction continues, the primary focus remains on what happens in the classroom. All Athens ISD campuses once again “Met Standard” on the most recent Texas Education Agency’s accountability ratings. Public schools in Texas receive one of three ratings: met standard, met alternate standard or improvement required. In order to meet standard, a school must satisfy criteria in areas such as student achievement, student progress, closing performance gaps and postsecondary readiness. Athens ISD has done that at all three elementary campuses, the middle school and high school, securing a districtwide “met standard” label. In addition, banners of academic achievement continue to flourish across the district.
In other news, Athens ISD, in conjunction with Trinity Valley Community College, will begin offering an HVAC (heating, ventilation, air conditioning) certification program to Athens High School students in the fall of 2017. The program is possible thanks to AISD securing a Texas Workforce Commission Jobs and Education for Texans (JET) grant which covers 95 percent of the purchasing price for necessary training equipment.
AISD’s attention to detail when it comes to financial matters was reflected once again in the most recent report of the Texas Education Agency’s Financial Integrity Rating System. The district achieved a perfect score of 100 points and an accompanying “superior” rating.
As 2016 came to a close, the board of trustees was also informed that the TEA awarded $120,339 in compensatory funding to the school district through the Highly Qualified Pre-K Grant Program. Money spent on pre-K for supplemental curriculum, progress monitoring, highly-qualified teacher professional development, parent involvement and technology is reimbursed through the grant.
“Athens ISD is a leader among school districts in East Texas,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Janie Sims. “We have outstanding instructors and outstanding leadership at each of our campuses. In fact, we have some of the absolute finest campus-level leaders anywhere around. It’s a great time to be a Hornet.”
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 30, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS—Sheriff Botie Hillhouse reports the arrest of a father and son involved in a truck chase Tuesday morning.
Stephen Wilcox, 44 and his son, Dustin Wilcox, 26, have been arrested for theft, and evading arrest.
A team of deputies, Department of Public Safety officers, police and tracking dogs participated in the investigation and chase, Hillhouse said in a press release.
Shortly after 8 a.m., a caller reported a truck stolen near State Highway 19 South. The vehicle was tracked down to an apartment complex on Gibson Road, where it had been abandoned. The men took off in a second vehicle.
According to witnesses recording comments on social media, the vehicle crossed the loop by the hospital and ran through a stop sign on Mill Run, while being pursued and never checked up. “They almost hit my fiancé and another vehicle,” Steve Sparks wrote. “They were probably doing about 80, I’m thankful no one was hurt or killed. No regards for anyone else.”
Sheriff Hillhouse said he is relentless. “We don’t give up. If someone tries to steal here and we get a call, I’ll put everyone at my disposal on the case right then and there,” he stated in a press release.
The vehicle was finally stopped on County Road 4600. The younger Wilcox is being held on bonds totaling $60,000. His father is being held on a $50,000 bond.
At press time, word from the Sheriff was he and his deputies were involved in another vehicular pursuit Wednesday morning.
Posted by : March 23, 2017| On :
By Erik Walsh
The News Staff Writer
ATHENS–Athens City Manager Philip Rodriguez presented city council members a “strategic map” at the council meeting March 13, outlining the goals of the city over the next two years.
The key points of the strategic map included preserving Athens’ heritage, improving its quality of life, keeping the city rooted in community pride and growing its economy.
Rodriguez assured council members that getting the Cain Center back to full functionality was a matter of large importance for the city’s sense of heritage. He said the pool in its current condition is “unsalvageable,” but said it’s in the plans over the next two years to have a pool functioning in the Cain Center than is suitable for competitive and recreational swimming.
“We want the the Cain Center to be the premier event center in Henderson County,” Rodriguez said.
To make that a reality, he said that the phase-one goal is to get the upstairs up and running where it can host events and conferences like it has in the past. He expects phase one to be complete this year. Phase two, getting the aquatic center online, is the more expensive and time consuming part of getting the Cain Center back to its past glory. He expects phase two to be complete next year.
Quality of life improvements for the city include bringing Athens ISD campuses under the umbrella of the Athens Police Department for law enforcement purposes by the 2017-2018 school year; adding two police officers to the Athens Police Department; bringing Athens into full compliance with TCEQ for water and wastewater for the first time this decade and ensuring all Athens boundaries have Emergency Notification Systems facilities.
To increase community pride, Rodriguez said enhancing code enforcement and property standards will strengthen property values and increase public safety and support the beauty of the community. A new website is also in the works that lets the user interact based on if they are a resident, visitor or business.
The big topic in the economy portion was the airport. Rodriguez wants to finalize and implement the findings of the Airport Planning Advisory Committee to expand the airport and the aviation industry in Henderson County. Other economic improvements the city will be striving for include gathering public input on new housing programs for developers and develop housing incentives for first time home buyers.
Rodriguez said he wants Athens to “be the place” investors and businesses want to come to in East Texas.
In action items, the council approved an agreement for the construction of the Texan Theater project in downtown Athens with Watson Commercial Construction in Tyler. The work will not exceed $1,498,000
The council also approved:
• a resolution making sole source findings and authorizing staff to purchase hot mix asphalt material without going through the competitive bidding process;
• the purchase of a Caterpillar Mini Excavator in the amount of $49,868 from Holt Cat of Tyler for use in line maintenance;
• the purchase of a Bobcat Compact TrackLoader in the amount of $63,758.05 from Dallas-Cedar Hill for use in the Line Maintenance Department;
• an agreement with Ben Griffith for T-Hangar No. 6 at Athens Municipal Airport;
• supplemental requests for the 2017 budget; and
• closing several streets in the vicinity of the Henderson County Courthouse during the “Celebrating the Texan” event on April 1.
Posted by : March 9, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS–Three vehicles were reported stolen Monday morning in a three-hour period according to Athens Police Department reports.
Beginning at 7:30 a.m. Monday morning, the calls started rolling in to Athens Police. Officer James Graham took the first report involving a missing 2004 Dodge truck from an apartment complex in the 2100 block of East Tyler St.
The second call, coming in a few minutes later, concerned a 2006 Ford F-250 missing from a residence in the 200 block of La Jolla St. The third theft, reported around 10 a.m. involved a 2014 Buick apparently taken during the night from the 900 block of East Corsicana St.
The F-250 is reported to have been recovered in Dallas.
All three thefts are currently under investigation by the Criminal Investigations Department and may be related. No arrests had been made as of press time.
Posted by : March 9, 2017| On :
The News Staff Reports
ATHENS—Henderson County Sheriff Botie Hillhouse reports the arrest of four suspects involving auto theft and drug warrant charges.
Ronnie Waters, 53, was arrested at an address on State Highway 274, where a backhoe and trailer that were reported stolen were discovered. He was also found to be in possession of methamphetamines. The state jail felonies are punishable up to two years in prison and a $10,000 find.
In similar action, narcotics investigator Brad Beddingfield and deputy Kyle Pochobradsky arrived at a residence on CR 1504 to serve an outstanding felony arrest warrant for Brunswick Jones, 45, wanted for manufacturing and delivering controlled substances. During the arrest, more narcotics was located in the home under search warrant. While officers were there, two men arrived. Both were in possession of illegal drugs and were taken in. They are Michael Barker, 35 and James Sockwell, 36. Sockwell was charged with possession of meth, and both men were also charged with possession of marijuana.
“It was a busy day for our team.” Hillhouse said. “Thanks to the alert, careful and persistent work of these deputies and the growing cooperation from the community, we are making a difference.”
Posted by : March 2, 2017| On :
By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent
ATHENS–Malakoff Rotary members met Feb. 21 in Athens to hear Faith in Action Outreach’s executive director, fellow Rotarian Teri Caswell, give a report about the group’s Day Resource Center, which has been helping the homeless in Athens since it opened on Dec. 5, 2016.
Serving the homeless population – along with those who are on the brink of homelessness – needs extra help from the community, Caswell told Rotarians. “Since we opened our doors, the number of people we are serving continues to grow each day, so the cost of staying open is growing, too,” Caswell said.
“We need funds to keep our doors open so we can continue to serve the poor and needy in our area,” Caswell continued. “We know that God has called us to open this mission, and we know that He will provide the funds through His people – YOU! Please help us to help others.”
The fundraising drive is hosted on a GoFundMe web page, where online donations can be made. FIAO would like to reach its fundraising goal by March 15, Caswell said.
The FIAO Athens Day Resource Center, which is located at the corner of Maple and Pearl streets in northwest Athens, operates from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The center offers a safe place to use the Internet, take a shower, wash clothing, eat a warm meal, or get a coat or a blanket, along with toiletries and food items.
Several area businesses, organizations and individuals have already stepped up to the plate to help Faith in Action’s Athens Day Resource Center, Caswell said. Clothing is provided by Athens Thrift Store, while Baker Brothers and Randy Featherston donated plumbing services, including a hot water heater and finished-out shower and bathroom facilities. Acme Brick also has provided new industrial carpeting.
Malakoff Rotarians also brought donated items to Feb. 21’s meeting, including canned goods and Valentine’s Day candy. Further community service will come during Spring Break, when First Baptist Church of Athens’ will scrape, paint and perform other chores at the Athens Day Resource Center.