Monitor Staff Reports
TAWAKONI–The family dog, who had gone on the duck hunting trip with a Qunilan man and his 5-year-old son who did not return Monday lead rescuers to the body of the boy who was out on his first duck hunt about 11:30 p.m. Monday. The father’s body was discovered about 12 hours later at 9:45 a.m. Tuesday.
The missing persons were identified as Corey Saunders, 26, and his son Nathan.
Texas Game Warden Steve Stapleton believes rough weather, plus a lot of heavy hunting gear in the small boat may have contributed to the accident. He added that Lake Tawakoni is unpredictable and is known for being a rough and difficult lake.
The man’s wife reported the pair missing, stating that the pair left at 5 a.m. and when she returned home from work, they had not returned, Hunt County Sheriff Randy Meeks said at a news conference Tuesday afternoon.
The investigation determined that neither victims were wearing life jackets when their bodies were found. Autopsies reported cause of death was accidental drowning.
The boat was discovered early Tuesday near the area where the boy’s body was found, he reported. It was turned completely over on a stump, Stapleton said. in the middle of the Caddo Inlet arm of the lake.
The emotional impact of the incident on everyone, including he investigators was addressed.
“Game wardens work a lot of grounds, but the ones that hit closest to home are those with a kid. If you want to see a game warden cry, this is the place to be, he said. “Garme wardens preach life jackets. We enforce life jacket rules. It’s because of tragedies like this. We don’t know all the circumstances. We don’t know if jackets were involved or not. I can tell you the child we recovered did not have a life jacket on.”
Stapleton stressed the importance of boarters to have a float plan. “Let people know where you’re going, when you’re going to be back and always be mindful of the weather.”
Posted by : January 6, 2017| On :
Posted by : December 30, 2016| On :
By Emmalee Doss
GUN BARREL CITY–Gun Barrel City Council members approved a contract providing the City of Tool with Animal Control services when it met for the last time in 2016 Tuesday, Dec. 20.
In addition, Councilwoman Linda Rankin paid tribute to city resident and volunteer Loretta Taylor, who died recently, and City Secretary Christy Eckerman was presented a retirement gift, after 21 years of employment with the city.
The Gun Barrel City Council approved a contract in which the city will provide the citizens of Tool with animal control services in return for $10,000, annually. Council members altered the two-year contract to test the arrangement for one year and split the annual payment into four quarterly payments, adding up to $10,000. Gun Barrel will pick up their stray animals. To retrieve lost pets picked up by Gun Barrel City, Tool residents will follow guidelines and pay fees set by Tool’s regulations.
Rankin opened the meeting by acknowledging the passing of Loretta Taylor, the creator of the city’s first flag and emblem. Rankin spoke of Taylor’s generous service to the citizens of the city. “She is the epitome of the true meaning of Christmas,” Rankin said. Taylor was very influential in the Fire Department Auxiliary, and on the city’s Beautification Committee and she designed and sewed the first Gun Barrel City flag, which remains on display at the city hall. Rankin said she was an “outstanding citizen” and that she “gave her heart and soul to the city.”
In closing, Council members acknowledged the “ending of an era, going on 21 years,” by gifting Christy Eckerman an engraved bowl. Mayor Jim Braswell suggested she “fill this with guacamole,” upon presenting it to her. They Introduced Janet Dillard, who will be taking Eckerman’s place as city secretary.
In other business, council members ratified the EDC’s decision to grant Swagg by J. Fluker up to $5,000 for façade improvements on the west end of Main Street.
Posted by : December 28, 2016| On :
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
CEDAR CREEK LAKE—Several record-breaking news events were witnessed by those living in this part of East Texas during 2016.
The farthest reaching was the outcome of the U.S. Presidential Election, which drew about 1.4 million more Americans in this year’s election than in 2012, but the numbers of those eligible to vote also rose during the interval. Approximately 57 percent of eligible voters cast ballots in the presidential election, according to the latest estimates from Michael McDonald, associate professor at the University of Florida, who gathers data at the U.S. Elections Project, down from 58.6 percent in 2012 and 61.6 percent in 2008, which was the highest mark in 40 years. Turnout remained well above levels for most presidential election years from 1972 to 2000.
The outcome seated capitalist businessman and non-politician Republican candidate Donald Trump as this country’s 45th top executive. The upset was one of just five elections in our nation’s history where the Electoral majority votes outweighed the popular vote, which went to Democrat candidate, Hillary Clinton. Trump won 306 electoral votes to Clinton’s 232. Clinton won 48.3 percent of the popular vote to Trump’s 46.2 percent. The electoral college system was put in place by the nation’s founders to ensure cooperation across all segments of American society as explained by Prager University.
More Record Breakers
• Malakoff ISD is a star player in some of those record-breaking events seen in 2016, including back-to-back annual national recognitions as Blue Ribbon Schools. In 2016, Tool Elementary School joined Malakoff Elementary School (2015 recipient) in gaining the honor this year, under the direction of all the teachers and Principal Christal Calhoun. Tool Elementary was one of 26 Texas schools nominated to receive the award.
Every year, the U. S. Department of Education seeks out and celebrates great American schools, which demonstrate that all students can achieve to high levels. More than 7,500 of schools across the country have been presented with this coveted award. The National Blue Ribbon School flag gracing an entry or flying overhead is a widely-recognized symbol of exemplary teaching and learning.
In addition, the Malakoff Tigers Football Team broke a school record making it into the final round of statewide competition on the gridiron. A parade and celebration are being planned to honor the high achievement of the student athletes at Malakoff ISD.
• Before leaving this part of the lake, another record-breaker was seen in the ending of the longest standoff with law enforcement this country has never heard about. The 15-year standoff with the law, came to an end Jan. 6, as a result of a news reporter informing the Henderson County authorities that the Anderson County DA’s Office had dropped charges against John Joe Gray. News of the dropped charge came to light in the aftermath of another armed standoff on public lands in Oregon. Gray, now 66, was arrested in 1999 for assaulting a state trooper during a traffic stop in Anderson County. Gray said it was his God-given right to carry the pistol he had that day, without a concealed handgun license. When the trooper tried to arrest him, Gray admits getting into a scuffle and biting him.
Gray was eventually charged with assaulting a public servant. But after free on bail, he refused to return to court, and instead, armed himself at home.
“If they come out after us, bring extra body bags. Those who live by the sword will die by the sword,” Gray told ABC News in a 2000 interview.
Since the felony charge in 1999, Gray reportedly hadn’t left his 47 acres along the banks of the Trinity River between Tool and Trinidad.
• 2016 came in allowing those licensed to own a gun to carry it in a holster without needing to conceal it. A bunch more rules were erected around the practice, regarding places of instruction and education and its prohibition if a sign is posted at private or public buildings restricting it.
Second amendment rights enthusiasts are gunning for Constitutional gun carry rights, without moderation by state and local governments, such as Mr. Gray.
• Local Veterans Memorials were the sites of numerous observances this year, chief among them the 50th anniversary of the Vietnam War.
The City of Kaufman saw something its residents have wanted for more than 50 years. A State Highway 34 bypass road was opened, taking heavy truck traffic away from downtown and opening hundreds of acres to economic development. The building of the multi-million road project was accomplished with the unique partnering of local, state governments and city and economic development corporations. The construction project took a little more than two years.
• Another record breaking accomplishment was the recognition of the Power Center as a finalist for a national innovation award. The Innovations in American Government Award is heralded as the premier public-sector honor in the nation and are given to programs that serve as examples of creative and effective government at its best. The Ash Center will once again be awarding two $100,000 top prizes, for the Innovations in Amer¬ican Government Award through the Harvard Uni-versity, Kennedy School of Government. Terrell Mayor Hal Richards and Mike Sims, who applied for the pro¬gram, explained that the 30-year award program has reviewed more than 27,000 applications in that time and named just 500 award nominees. The Power Center Board in Terrell, focuses on facilitating new economic development in the area of the I-20, west of Farm-to-Market 148 and Spur 557. Members of the Power Center Board include two Kaufman County Commissioners: Kenneth Shoen and Jimmy Vrzalik.
• A Kemp area young lady took a chance and saw her talent and determination catapult her to the semi-final round of America’s Got Talent. Then 12-year-old Kadie Lynn burst on the national music scene with “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and was hailed as a local dream spinner with a parade in Gun Barrel City and numerous guest appearances. Cedar Creek Lake basked in her glow.
•An earnest young woman made headlines when a diner at another table overheard her speaking to a Vetoni restaurant guest of her plans to attend Tyler Junior College and how working as a waitress and the sacrifices her family was making to help her achieve that dream.
The eavesdropper saw to it that Kemp High School senior Alesha Palmer, 18, received an unexpected tip of $1,000 from someone she hadn’t served that night. The story went viral on social media. When the president of TJC, Dr. Mike Metke learned of Palmer’s college intentions, he transferred $1,000 from the President’s Circle fund – a discretionary pool of donations from TJC friends and alumni – to her account when she registers. “We felt it was a great story, a nice gesture by the restaurant guest
and an investment in the most important resources a small community has.
The Athens branch of Trinity Valley Community College was on the receiving end of the largest single endowment in its history when Athens attorney Nancy Perkins pledged a multi-million-dollar gift in honor of her mother, naming the Trinity Valley Community College Foundation as the beneficiary of her entire estate, Pauline Perkins was the first secretary to college founder and President Orval Pirtle, and ultimately became the longest-living member of the original faculty. Pauline passed away May 22, 2016 at the age of 90. Nancy presented a 1946-47 signed yearbook belonging to her mother to the TVCC Foundation as a token of the gift. While at the college, Pauline studied to obtain her teaching degree and fulfilled a 27-year career in education. Her first position was as a sixth grade teacher for the Mabank school district, Nancy said, though most of her mother’s teaching was at the middle and high schools in Athens. She retired from teaching in 1989 but continued to live a life of service, assisting her daughter in her law practice. “TVCC is where my mother began her professional career and where she was happiest,” Nancy told representatives of the college. “Her gift is her legacy, which we believe will help future generations and will forever commemorate her beauty and generosity.” Nancy Perkins is a practicing attorney throughout the state of Texas and a Mabank High School 1973 Valedictorian. “It is because of her encouragement that I have what I have,” she told The Monitor.
Some of the notable economic moves of this year include Walmart opening and then closing its Neighborhood Markets within the same year; and Brookshire’s picking them up, which turned out to be a lasting win for shoppers in Kemp.
• The Gun Barrel EDC purchased Big Chief’s Landing, demolished the buildings and is exploring options, including opening a small convention center on the site.
• In Athens, the city did similarly, taking over the longtime Cain Community Center, with bond funding to renovate and update the facility greatly in need of repair, including its indoor swimming pool!
However, to get it all done, the center will be closed for all of 2017, causing the Gun Barrel City Quilters to look elsewhere for its annual show. With help from the EDC, again, it found favorable terms at a new facility, once a drive-through beverage barn, expanded and renovated to become CR Legacy Event Center will host the annual quilters show in the city it is named for this coming April.
• In like vein, the City of Mabank saved the Tri-County Library when it absorbed that community operated facility. However, with change comes change and that meant the ouster of Whisper, the cat, from the city premises. Whisper, who has celebrated all of its eight birthdays at the library with a party has become the permanent charge of its weekend foster home, among much sadness and regret from many of the regular visitors to the library.
• Kemp City Council agrees to issue $322,000 in bond money to revitalize downtown (Aug. 9).
• The Henderson County Commissioners Court announced in April its final payment on the 2005 county jail expansion, making the county debt free for the first time in recent history.
Mayhem and murder
Unhappily death and mayhem was also part of the scenery in Cedar Creek Lake. A few of the most notable cases included the boating death of a 9-year-old girl. Cierra Morman was boating with her family at about 7:15 p.m. when she became tangled in a tow rope in July.
• An ATV accident claimed the life of a recent high school graduate from Eustace Kirby Grimes; and a young man, Zack Earl Childers, was struck by a car and died while walking across the Gun Barrel City Bridge toward Payne Springs late at night in June.
• Two visitors died on the lake this year, one 64-year-old man from Arlington lost his life when the boat he was in hit the same bridge.
• Another man died when he stepped into a hole while eradicating weeds at the spillway on the west side of the lake and never resurfaced in time to take another breath.
Several judgments were rendered on the charge of murder this year. The most appalling was the confession of a mother to killing her 4-year-old daughter. Jurors returned a guilty verdict in the trial of Stacie Marie Parsons, 27, Nov. 17, for slaying, Victoria Wyatt, on July 21, 2014. The seven-man five-woman jury returned its verdict after roughly 90 minutes of deliberation. Parsons was known to be somewhat “slow-witted” but jurors determined she knew exactly what she was doing and what to expect as the outcome of her actions when she turned herself in for the crime.
Happily, Seven Points police officers saved the life of a young boy who became pinned in the water by a root system. Officers arrived to the address on Lillian Way in Seven Points just a minute and a half after getting the dispatch to find a male juvenile in the water with a root penetrating the center of his right foot. Seven Points Officer Joshua Shoemake and Sgt. Cody Kennedy quickly removed their police equipment and jumped into the water to assist the child, cutting the bottom of the root with a wood saw to free him from the water. Shoemake now works for Gun Barrel City PD and Kennedy was picked up by the Kaufman County Sheriff’s Office.
On the Tigers’ charge to the football finals, Malakoff ISD Police Chief Stacy Hillhouse distinguished herself with fast action at an away game when Malakoff played the Teague team in Palestine. Hillhouse effectively disarmed a volatile shooting altercation between two Teague fans in the parking lot prior to the gridiron action. She held the perpetrator until local police officers could arrive on the scene. She was recognized by the Malakoff School Board for her heroism and quick response to the situation.
Other people of note include volunteers, who because of their long and consistent service, received awards of recognition this year. These include Mabank Firefighter of the Year Jody Farrell, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliarist of the Year Royce Brimage, Rotarian of the Year Bill Burnett and Citizen of The Year Jim Thompson. Also, retiring as a volunteer from the utility board at East Cedar Creek Fresh Water Supply District this year was Carol Meyer, who was recognized by the water board she served as treasurer for 14 years.
The American Legion Post 310 in Gun Barrel City recognized first responders with annual awards Oct. 8. Gun Barrel City Firefighter of the Year James Bahr, Patrol Officer of the Year Victor Parras, EMT of the Year Ricky Harris, Paramedic of the Year Stephanie Clark, Henderson County Deputy of the Year Spencer Gray and Mabank Firefighter of the Year Fred Carter.
The Gun Barrel City recognized Toni Muirhead for her dedication to charitable work with the Family Resource Center and the founding of the Tool animal shelter. Most recently the city recognized the Nov. 20 passing of Loretta Taylor, 83, who was instrumental in the founding of the city’s fire department, beautification committee and designed and sewed the city’s first flag, which flew over city hall in the 60s.
Other worthies recognized for their achievements include Joe Walenta, local musician and band leader, who was inducted into the Western Swing Music Hall of Fame this year; Outstanding Principal of the Year for Region 7 Eustace Middle School administrator Truman Oakley; and Malakoff Elementary School Principal Ronny Snow nominated one of nine Texas National Distinguished Principal finalists.
New faces installed to top offices this year include sheriffs in all three area counties: Henderson County’s Botie Hillhouse; Kaufman County’s Bryan Beavers; and Van Zandt County Sheriff Dale Corbett. All three men came up through the ranks of their perspective departments.
Bret Bauer was installed as Gun Barrel City manager; while Bryant Morris was named to administrate the City of Mabank. Three cities named new
Police chiefs; Rickey Smith in Trinidad; Darrell Dean in Kemp and Raymond Wennerstrom as police administrator in Seven Points.
Losses of local citizens who impacted many of us by their leadership and service include Henderson County Extension Agent Rick Hirsch, Van Zandt Constable C.B. Wiley, U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary leader Giles Farmer, who also lead the East Texas Fresh Water Supply District board for many years, one of the founders of Gun Barrel City, Tom “Buddy” Ward, and The Monitor’s own Opal Toney, who touched all our hearts with her column “As I was saying.”
Here at The Monitor, award-winning correspondent David Webb distinguished himself in his investigative reports following the shooting death of a Tolosa recluse. A standoff between a 56-year-old gay man and law enforcement officers ended in Anthony Bertoni’s death Feb. 10, revealing how the isolation and disregard of a deeply disturbed individual can end tragically and endanger a community.
Intrigued by the incident and the many unanswered questions, Webb found the man’s next of kin, when no one else did and in the process told the story of a life of an adopted boy, who suffered abuse and neglect.
For Webb’s ability to take a police incident and paint it in human terms, he was recognized by the Dallas Press Club by induction into its Hall of Fame. “Your body of work is respected, makes a difference in our community, and rises to the level of excellence,” the notification letter read.
A judging panel of journalism professionals bestow the Excellence in Journalism: North Texas Legends Award to working journalists who
exhibit both excellence and innovation. “You clearly qualify on both fronts.”
“The Monitor heartily concurs and congratulates David Webb on the well-deserved recognition of a productive 30-year career. We appreciate his investigative reports and faithful coverage of city and business news in the Cedar Creek Lake area,” General Manager Susan Harrison said. “He is a professional without peer.”
Sadly, Webb retired as a correspondent for The Monitor this year. This was one of several staffing changes at the paper. Upgrades in technology, press production and distribution made this a very challenging year on all fronts at the paper. We thank our faithful subscribers who stuck with us through all the changes and upgrades, which should increase our effectiveness for many years to come.