Dec

30

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : December 30, 2014

Athens Fire-Shawna Smith-5-29

By Erik Walsh
The News Staff
HENDERSON COUNTY–Much has transpired in Henderson County in the past year. From the courthouse’s birthday, to school bomb threats, to tragic accidents, these are the stories that mattered to us the most at The News.

AMWA dispute resolved: Voters decided to keep the Athens Municipal Water Authority (AMWA) afloat on Election Day May 10 after 668 voters decided not to dissolve the authority, with 590 voters in favor. The decision came after the Athens City Council voted to dissolve the authority in January. AMWA scrambled to come up with enough signatures to push the decision to a vote decided by Athens residents.

Two Grand Jury Indictments: Two Athens residents were indicted by a Grand Jury in 2014. The first was Stacie Marie Parsons, 25, of Athens. Parsons confessed to killing her 4-year-old daughter July 21 after an argument with her common law husband the previous day. The other was Raheem Mark Miller, 19, of Athens. Raheem was charged with the June 8 shooting death of Malakoff resident Cedrick Collins, 23, whose death occurred during a robbery.

Bomb Threats: Athens had two bomb threat scares in about a two week time frame. The Henderson County Courthouse and all five Athens ISD schools were all evacuated on two separate dates. The courthouse threat was called in Oct. 23 and ISD threat came Nov. 5. No bombs were found and nobody was injured. Athens ISD is offering $1,000 to anyone with information that leads to the arrest of the person responsible for the threats on the schools.

New Athens Chamber President: After a long search, Mike Coston took over the job as the Athens Chamber of Commerce President last August. Coston replaced former president Mark Rathe, who moved back to Oklahoma to be closer to family.

Home of the Hamburger: Good Morning Texas filmed a live segment at the Athens city hall April 23 about Athens being the “Home of the hamburger.” According to many in Athens, the first hamburger in the world was taken from a small cafe in Athens all the way to the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis.
Walk-a-Mile: Men put on their high heels for a stroll around the Athens square for the second year in a row for the annual Walk a Mile in her Shoes March 31. The event raises domestic violence awareness and challenges men to put an end to abuse.

Agriculturist of the Year: Ken McGee, Jr., won the Joe B. Fulgham Agriculturist of the Year award May 20 after the annual Farm and Ranch Tour. McGee’s father, Kenneth, won the same award in 1993.
Fertilizer plant fire: Just two week after claiming the Agriculturist of the Year award, McGee watched his storage facility near the courthouse square in Athens burn to the ground days before the Old Fiddler Reunion. The aftermath was initially investigated as a crime scene, but no wrongdoing was found. The fire sparked a blaze of controversy and media attention because the facility stores ammonium nitrate, the same substance found in the massive explosion in West. When the smoke cleared, the Athens City Council approved an ordinance in December not allowing the flammable fertilizer in a zoning district within city limits.

Old Fiddlers: With the area just off the square still on lockdown after the fire, Dale Morris Jr., of Fort Worth, went on to take home the title of Grand Champion at the Old Fiddler’s Reunion on the Athens square May 31.

County Courthouse 100th birthday: Henderson County residents and officials celebrated the 100th birthday of the Henderson County Courthouse May 23. Notable activity included a time capsule placed in the ground, to be opened up in 2114.

Troubled officer: Former Malakoff police officer Ernest Fierro lost his Peace Officer license in a settlement that included nine years deferred adjudication and 40 hours community service on the charge of aggravated assault. Fierro was off duty December 2013 when he stopped and cuffed an elderly Iowa man who later died of cardiac arrest.

Tragedy on the tracks: 14-year-old Malakoff resident Harry Smith died June 26 when he ran in front of a passing train while trying to cross the railroad tracks. Smith was clipped in the leg crossing from his home, directly south of the tracks at the intersection of the Union Pacific Railroad and FM 3441 and died from his injuries. A memorial for Smith was erected at Jake’s Skate Park in Malakoff.

New leader at the Performing Arts Center: Longtime Henderson County Performing Arts Center Executive Director Dennis Gilmore retired after 25 years of service last February. Gilmore oversaw a tremendous period of growth from the one-time “Athens Little Theatre.” Gilmore traded a home in Athens for the sunny beaches of Palm Spring, Calif. Marcia Colbert took over the role in March. Colbert has served on the HCPAC board since 2003.

Domestic Violence Awareness Month: Shirts were on display on the courthouse lawn last October as part of The Clothesline Project. The Clothesline Project is a world wide awareness program that is facilitated locally through the East Texas Crisis Center representing domestic violence victims in Henderson County.

ISD Chief resigns after theft: Former Malakoff ISD Police Chief Todd Gilmore resigned after making bond from the Henderson County Jail last May. Gilmore confessed to stealing $1,500 in cash from Carroll-Lehr Funeral Home in Athens after being confronted with video surveillance footage.

Cop killer gets execution date: Convicted killer Randall Wayne Mays knows when his final day will be. Mays was convicted of killing Henderson County deputies Paul Habelt and Tony Ogburn, in May 17, 2007 when they responded to Mays’ Payne Springs ranch on a domestic call. Mays execution date is set for March 18, 2015.

TVCC sports:
Trinity Valley Community College saw muiltiple sports championships in 2014. The No. 1 ranked TVCC Lady Cardinals won their third consecutive national basketball championship March 22 at the Bicentennial Center in Salina, Kan. The match up was a repeat of the the 2012 title game. The Lady Cardinals now lay claim to eight titles, in 1994, 1996, 1997, 1999, 2004, 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Not to be outdone, the Cardinals football team won the Texas championship by defeating the Coffeyville Community College Red Ravens 27-24 in the Heart of Texas Bowl. They finished the year with a perfect 12-0 record.

Tigers Roar:
The Malakoff Tigers football team fielded one of its best squads ever in 2014, maintaining a top-10 state ranking all season. The Tigers ended the season with a 9-2 record and a disapointing first round loss in the playoffs.

Dec

30

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : December 30, 2014

The News
Staff Reports
MALAKOFF–Malakoff Independent School District (MISD) Board of Trustees approved the installation of new turf at Tiger Stadium, which may likely make them one of the preferred ball fields for game play in Henderson County.
The Matrix Synthetic Turf, consisting of two different grass blade sizes and two different colored fibers, will cost $889,083 with installation by Hellas Construction beginning in early May 2015.
The turf, according to the Matrix Turf website, brings together a combination of qualities for ideal light deflection, enhanced playability and system stability on an artificial turf that looks natural in appearance.
The project should take about 90 days to complete but should be ready before football season begins according to MISD Superintendent Randy Perry.
Perry says the school’s band has grown too large to be able to practice on their field and will now be able to do so at Tiger Stadium.
Also in the works for the stadium are restroom and concession stand improvements.
The two women’s restrooms on both sides of the football field will undergo renovations and building additional restrooms may be possible as well.
Malakoff is the sixth Henderson County school to install the Matrix Synthetic Turf at its facilities.

Tiger Stadium

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.

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

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.

Jan

29

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : January 29, 2014

By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

MALAKOFF—A Texas Rangers investigative report into a December 2013 incident involving an off-duty Malakoff police officer during which an Iowa man died has been forwarded to the Navarro County District Attorney.
“It will be reviewed to see if any criminal charges will come out of the action,” Navarro County District Attorney Lowell Thompson said, “and if there are, it will be presented to a grand jury Feb. 19.” Thompson said the report was received Tuesday, Jan. 28. The district attorney declined further comment.

Navarro County Sheiff Elmer Tanner named Ernest Fierro Jan. 9 as the Malakoff police officer involved in the incident in which William Livezey of Iowa died. On Jan. 11 final autopsy report obtained by The News from American Forensics in Mesquite ruled Livezey’s “manner of death” as “natural,” with the cause of death listed as “hypertensive and cardiovascular disease.” The report states Livezey had a “history of congestive heart failure and diabetes mellitus” with “evidence of coronary artery bypass grafting.”
The autopsy report also noted “no evidence of significant trauma,” but did list an “abrasion on top of the head with no underlying injuries,” and “two quarter-inch abrasions right lower abdomen.” The autopsy report notes a “history of collapse while in police custody during an arrest,” but that refers specifically to the single Navarro County incident in question, according to Amy Gruszecki, the forensic pathologist who signed the report. Additionally, the final autopsy report concluded that “if any additional investigative information becomes available, this report may be amended.”

Livezey died Dec. 11. Calls that morning to the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office reported reckless driving involving Livezey and a motorcyclist, later learned to be Fierro, but it is not clear which party was reported as driving recklessly. Moreover, little is known about what happened specifically during the incident along Highway 31 in the Chamber Creek bottom east of Corsicana besides accounts from two Navarro County deputies who found Livezey on the side of the road in handcuffs, presumptively from Fierro. Livezey then fell ill, and deputies removed the handcuffs and began CPR on him while awaiting an ambulance. Livezey later died at Navarro Regional Hospital.

Fierro has been employed by the Malakoff Police Dept. since mid-summer 2013, after serving previously with Dallas police, then as a Dallas County district attorney’s office investigator, and then as a member of the Ferris Police Department. Fierro resigned from the Dallas police in November 2005 during an investigation into questionable activities during his stint, The Dallas Morning News reported in 2008, but kept his peace officer’s license. Fierro was still on-duty with the Malakoff police force as late as Jan. 13.