Jun

05

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

Athens Fire-Shawna Smith-5-29

By Erik Walsh
Monitor Staff Writer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May

23

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

Farm and Ranch 010 EDIT

By Erik Walsh
The News Staff

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

May

23

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

gilmore

By Erik Walsh
The News Staff

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

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

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

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

Mar

31

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

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

WEBSITE PIC

Mar

31

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mar

26

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

By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

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

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

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

Feb

21

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

Fierro WEB

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Feb

19

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

By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Jan

09

Posted by : Erik Walsh | On : January 9, 2014

By Russell Slaton
The News Correspondent

Ernest Fierro is the off-duty Malakoff police officer involved in the Dec. 11 incident near Corsicana in which William Livezey of Iowa died, the Navarro County Sheriff’s Office confirmed. It turns out that Fierro has a checkered history as a Dallas police officer.

Fierro became a Malakoff officer in August 2013 after serving with the Dallas police and as a Dallas County district attorney’s office investigator, and then as a police officer in Ferris.

The Dallas Morning News reported in 2008 that Fierro was involved in several driving incidents as a Dallas police officer. Also, the paper reported that Fierro was disciplined in 2000 for violating the Dallas Police Department’s off-duty employment policy and working another job the same day he called in sick.

In 2001, an investigation showed that Fierro fled a minor car accident in Northwest Dallas, and soon thereafter, hit a truck and wooden pole, Dallas police said. Automated tracking information showed that Fierro had been in that area, and was recorded as driving at speeds more than 100 mph. The driver of the car involved in that wreck also picked him out of a lineup, but did not pursue prosecution. He received a written reprimand from the second accident.

Fierro, citing injuries from that second accident, told investigators that he did not remember being in the area, and did not recall driving over 100 mph. Fierro eventually was fired from the Dallas Police Department in May 2001. He was later reinstated in October 2001.

In 2005, Fierro got a one-day suspension after a police investigation found that he again left the scene of an accident. He told investigators that he barely bumped the vehicle, that he was responding to the request of another officer for help, and that when he returned to find the vehicle, it wasn’t there.

Later that year, Fierro’s squad car was struck when he pulled his police vehicle into the path of a fleeing auto. Later still, he was accused of using another officer’s name badge number to generate a theft report in which he was listed as the victim.

Fierro resigned on November 7, 2005, while these investigators were taking place. Internal investigators subsequently concluded that he violated the department’s chase policy and filed a false report.

Resigning under investigation usually would have meant that Fierro would have lost his peace officer’s license, but he appealed and state officials allowed him to keep it.

Fierro’s name was released Thursday in response to an open records request filed by the Corsicana Daily Sun. A previous request made by The News was declined.

Not much is known on what happened to Livezey Dec. 11 besides accounts from two deputies
who found him 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.

The death is still under investigation by the Texas Rangers, and details remain unclear to the public.