The Palestine Herald, Palestine, Texas

December 28, 2012

2012 Year in Review (Part 1): Railroad woes, festival mark first part of year

By CHERIL VERNON
Palestine Herald-Press

PALESTINE — The first half of 2012 was marked by an array of news ranging from the start of new Elkhart Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Ray DeSpain to the beginning of financial trouble for American Heritage Railways, which at that time operated the Texas State Railroad.

Some of the other newsmakers during the first six months of 2012 included:



JANUARY

1 — Josiah Thomas Williams, son of Audrea and Adam Williams of Neches, is born at 2:05 a.m. at Palestine Regional Medical Center to become the first baby born in Anderson County for 2012.

2 — Texas Department of Transportation plans to resume work on the Loop 256 construction project.

3 — Dr. Ray DeSpain starts his duties as superintendent of Elkhart Independent School District.

6 — Martin DeAnda, 30, of Palestine, is sentenced of Criminal Justice after finding him guilty of three counts of aggravated robbery by an Anderson County jury. DeAnda was found guilty of robbing the Tractor Supply store at 2200 S. Loop 256 around 8:15 p.m. on Aug. 29, 2009.

9 — Anderson County Commissioners Court approves changes to the care of stray livestock during a regular meeting, designating land in Precinct 4 as a site for abandoned animals.

10 — Lucinda Hanks Presley of Palestine, director of ICEE Success (Institute where Creativity Empowers Education Success) speaks on the state of education in America at the quarterly Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon.

11 — David Delgado, outreach coordinator for NASA’s Mars Public Engagement Team, attends a Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce reception in honor of the Imagine Mars Project program.

12 — David Delgado, outreach coordinator for NASA’s Mars Public Engagement Team presents an Imagine Mars program to Palestine Middle School students involved in the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce-sponsored educational pilot program with ICEE Success.

13 — The City of Palestine debuts new user-friendly website: www.cityofpalestinetx.com.

14 — Westwood High School senior David Reyes, 17, of Palestine, dies as a result of a gunshot wound at a mobile home park in the 2000 block of West Oak Street.

14 — More than $20,000 raised at the “Project Caden” benefit for Palestine 6-year-old Caden Bailey, son of James and Ashley Bailey. Caden has been diagnosed with Niemann-Pick Type C Disease, a neurodegenerative disorder which causes progressive deterioration of the nervous system.

16 — Local organizations join together to celebrate civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday with the annual parade and program.

16 — Floyd Cooper, 58, of Lancaster, drowns after the boat he and his wife occupied capsizes near The Villages resort on the Smith County side of Lake Palestine.

19 — David Wayne Green, 39, of Palestine, was indicted by Anderson County grand jury on three counts of sexual assault of a child and a single count of continuous aggravated sexual assault of a child.

23 — Demolition crews remove bricks from the historic Ivanhoe building in downtown Palestine. The roof collapsed in October 2011 following heavy rains.

23 — Palestine Independent School District Superintendent Jason Marshall’s contract is extended by one year by a unanimous vote during the PISD board of trustee meeting. Marshall started in August of 2011.

23 — The Palestine City Council votes to buy AEDs (automated external defibrillators) for fire, police departments.

24 — About 40 people — mostly first responders from area volunteer fire departments — attend the annual National Weather Service’s SKYWARN severe weather training program at the Anderson County Courthouse Annex in Palestine.

25 — Straight-line winds or a possible tornado destroys a residence in northern Anderson County in the 500 block of FM 2706 in the Bethel area and then continued in a southerly direction to damage two other residences several hundred yards away.

26 — Aaron Wade Pennington, 31, of Grapeland is sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual misconduct involving children. He pleaded guilty to seven separate charges at the Houston County Courthouse in Crockett and received the maximum prison sentence in each case.

27 — Avenue A reopened to the public traffic after more than three months of being closed due to the collapse of the Ivanhoe building.

30 — Longtime Elkhart State Bank employees Sherry Keeling and Rita Parker retire. Both spent more than 35 years at the bank.

30 — Ricky Lynn Adams, 48, of Palestine, was sentenced to 30 years in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice after pleading guilty to three charges, including aggravated robbery, in connection with the December 2001 holdup of a local convenience store.

31 —The 12th Court of Appeals upholds the conviction of Michael Wayne Howerton, 39, of Tyler, who was sentenced to 50 years in prison after being found guilty of intoxication manslaughter in 2010 by an Anderson County. The conviction stemmed from a wreck on Aug. 8, 2008 that killed Howerton’s lone passenger, Misti Kroll, 26, of Tennessee Colony.



FEBRUARY

2 — American Heritage Railways (which at the time operated the Texas State Railroad) asks for financial relief from city officials from Palestine and Rusk.

2 — Christian Heritage Academy students host a welcome-back celebration for teacher Roxanne Curbo following her breast cancer surgery.

2 — Charles Neal Carroll, 50, of Palestine was no-billed by an Anderson County grand jury in relation to a case involving a knife fight May 16, 2011 with Johnny Lynn Weaver, 48, of Palestine. Weaver was transported to Palestine Regional Medical Center where he was pronounced dead after being stabbed in the chest area, authorities said. Carroll also was injured in the incident and was life-flighted to a Tyler hospital. When a case is no-billed, it means the grand jury determined there was insufficient evidence to return an indictment.

2 — Larry Wayne Adams, 50, of Palestine, was indicted on the felony charge of intoxication manslaughter by an Anderson County grand jury. Keith Robert Gardner, 60, of Palestine, was pronounced dead at the scene of the two-vehicle wreck which occurred at the intersection of Court Drive and Bristol Street inside the Palestine city limits shortly before 9 p.m. on June 9, 2011, according to local police.

4 — Anderson County Sheriff deputies seized six horses and four donkeys from property off of CR 2608 in the Cayuga area. In addition to the 10 seized animals, the carcass of a deceased horse also was found on the property, according to officials.

10 — Retired real estate attorney Kirby McCord’s historical fiction novel “Cemetery Ridge,” set in the Civil War era, is released. McCord also writes movie reviews for the Palestine Herald-Press.

11 — The body of pilot Fred Scholz, who was in his mid-80s, was found  near the Lake Palestine dam following a single-engine plane accident on Feb. 8. The pilot departed from the Cherokee County Airport between Jacksonville and Rusk on Feb. 8 but failed to reach his destination at the Aero Estates Airport in Berryville. His plane was found Feb. 9 in about 18 feet of water after teams had been searching for it throughout the night.

11 — Extravagant floats, live music and lots of colorful Mardi Gras beads made up the second annual Main Street and Mardi Gras Parade in the Palestine Main Street District.

13 — Anderson County Commissioners’ Court approve the creation of a new position in the county — a Bond Supervising Officer.

13 — The Palestine City Council votes to confirm Alan Wilcher, 48, of Palestine, as the city’s fire chief. Wilcher, who previously served as the city’s fire marshal for nine years, began working for the Palestine Fire Department in February 1986. He succeeds former Palestine Fire Chief Henry York who retired in 2011.

13 — The Texas State Railroad Authority votes to speed up its method of reimbursement for a grant to American Heritage Railways, giving the company that managed the Texas State Railroad approximately $134,000 for operating capital for March.

16 – Kay and Ed White are named the Friends of the Year during the annual Palestine Library Friends Inc. meeting. Ana Sanchez was named the Palestine Public Library Employee of the Year.

16 — Approximately 40 people attend a public meeting conducted by the Palestine campus of the University of Texas at Tyler’s Innovation Academy, presenting information about the school, which opened for the beginning of the 2012-13 school year. The school initially will offer grades 3-6, adding a grade annually.

17 — Anderson County sheriff’s authorities seek the public’s help in a rash of incidents in southern Anderson County during which vehicle and residential windows have been shot out with a BB gun. Since Feb. 7, 13 criminal mischief reports had been received.

22 — A subject armed with a handgun attempts to rob Pitt Grill, 1600 W. Palestine Ave., by entering the back door, where a struggle takes place with an employee and the gunman flees the scene without obtaining anything of value.

23 — Aaron Wade Pennington, 31, of Grapeland is formerly sentenced to 20 years in prison after pleading guilty to seven counts of sexual misconduct involving children. He pleaded guilty to seven separate charges at the Houston County Courthouse in Crockett and received the maximum prison sentence in each case.

24 — The Palestine YMCA starts a capital fundraising program in hopes of raising $1.3 million in pledges to purchase the old Meadowbrook Country Club. Y leaders envision the long-time country club being transformed into a multi-purpose facility, including a nine-hole public golf course; four soccer fields; five tennis courts; a swimming pool; community recreation center; and community hiking trails. The entire complex would be called the Palestine Area Recreation Center (PARC).

24 — Robert Laughlin, 58, of Palestine was indicted by the grand jury on four counts of the felony charge of sexual assault of a child.

27 — The Anderson County Annex employees evacuated briefly as Palestine firefighters investigated reports of smoke in the building. According to Palestine Fire Chief Alan Wilcher, an HVAC unit burned out and was located and shut down. During the inspection by firefighters, a breaker was found to be tripped as a result from a direct short. The breaker was totally separated from the above incident and was isolated as well. Both problems were fixed.

27 — The Palestine City Council offers a “gesture of support” for the operators of the Texas State Railroad, approving the reduction of the interest rate on a $500,000 loan the Texas State Railroad Authority has with the city. The council agreed to reduce the interest rate from 5 percent to 2 percent for the 2012 calendar year and maintain its existing 1-year delay on the principal payment from American Heritage Railways.

28 — James Yarbrough Sr., 66, of Palestine, was killed in an 18-wheeler rollover on U.S. 79, south of Jewett.



MARCH

1 — The Veteran’s Service Center opens in the Palestine Mall, offering an easy-access facility for veterans and their families to meet with their service offices, as well as receive training, computer access, screening and other activities designed to assist veterans.

1 — The Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce announces plans that it has contracted with the City of Palestine to develop a new Christmas event to draw tourists to the city during the holiday season. The City of Palestine will take back the fall festival, bringing it back as the Hot Pepper Festival.

2 — Jermiah Cooper, 18, of Palestine, was arrested and charged with aggravated robbery in connection with the attempted armed robbery of the Pitt Grill on Jan. 22.

2 — Volunteers from various organizations joined together to plant dogwood seedlings to revitalize Davey Dogwood Park.

3 — Neches High School girls’ basketball team celebrates its third state title win in Austin, defeating Lipan, 60-41.

6 — Anderson County sheriff’s authorities made an arrest and seized an AK-47 assault rifle and approximately 200 rounds of ammunition during the serving of a search warrant at a residence inside the Palestine city limits on Rampart Road.

6 — Fire destroys a home in the 1800 block of CR 346.

7 — An unknown amount of money was taken during an armed robbery of Radio Shack in the Palestine Plaza.

9 — Dogwood Diner, 402 E. Palestine Avenue, is damaged by fire in the structure’s ceiling and attic, due to a possible electrical short.

12 — The Anderson County Commissioners Court gave its final approval on the creation of the Anderson County Bond Office, setting the salary and granting permission for the county judge to hire a candidate to take the role.

12 — Palestine City Council adopts a juvenile curfew ordinance to persons age 16 years and younger. Hours for the curfew are from 11 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday through Thursday and midnight to 6 a.m. Friday and Saturday.

12 — Latimer Lamar Baker, 38, of Palestine was arrested after turning himself in to authorities  for unlawfully possessing an AK-47 assault rifle. During a search of his residence, authorities found a loaded AK-47 assault rifle and approximately 200 rounds of ammunition in multiple boxes in the house. A small amount of methamphetamine was also located, according to the sheriff.

14 — Sheri Thornton, 49, of Palestine, was struck by a vehicle while attempting to cross the road in the 4000 block of South Loop 256. She later died from her injuries.

17 — The Cars of Palestine hold a ceremony at Davey Dogwood Park in recognition of their Potties in the Park campaign to build permanent restroom facilities in the park for visitors.

23 — The Palestine Community Theatre’s production of the classic comedy “Sugar” opens at the Texas Theater.

24 — The 74th Annual Dogwood Trails Celebration opens with its first weekend of festivities, including a parade, arts and crafts and live music in downtown Palestine.

25 — The Palestine City Council voted to pay a Tyler engineering firm $36,000 to conduct a drainage study at the Willow Creek Business Park.

25 — Union Pacific Railroad officials say one of its trains suffered a brake malfunction and traveled 7 miles from the company’s Palestine yard before rolling to a stop near Neches. No one was injured as a result of the incident.

26 — For their work on maintaining the financial transparency, Anderson County and its employees were awarded the 2012 Gold Leadership Circle Award from the Texas Comptroller’s office during a commissioners’ court meeting.

26 — Justin Stanaland, 19, of Palestine, was arrested on a felony charge of arson for allegedly setting his apartment at Inwood Place Apartments on fire.

27 — Local minister Dan Manuel celebrates his 40th anniversary as minister at Crockett Road Church of Christ.

28 — Texas Agriculture Commissioner and Palestine native Todd Staples speaks about the past, present and future of agriculture and its impact on the state during a Palestine Rotary Club meeting.

28 —  Carson and Barnes Circus visits Palestine with two shows.

29 — The three-day 11th annual Palestine Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival opens at the Museum for East Texas Culture.

30 — Karissa Kaye Baird, 18, of Tennessee Colony dies from injuries sustained in a two-vehicle wreck in the 4000 block of South Loop 256 around 4 p.m.

31 — The second weekend of the Dogwood Trails Celebration is held including the YMCA’s Mud N Run, Palestine Old Time Music and Dulcimer Festival, Boston Porter Memorial Scholarship Bull Riding fundraiser and other events.



APRIL

2 — Week-long activities of the Anderson County Youth Livestock Show open at the Anderson County Youth Livestock Pavilion.

2 — Four students are injured in brawl between Elkhart and Westwood students at the Elkhart tennis courts, adjacent to Elk Stadium where the annual Wesley Taylor Relays were taking place.

3 — During a ribbon-cutting ceremony and reception for Lakeview Methodist Conference Center’s newly expanded and remodeled Copeland Center, Lakeview Superintendent Matt Idom expressed a desire for the center to be used for meetings, banquets and large-scale events.

4 — Dogwood Diner, 402 E. Palestine Ave., reopens for business after being damaged by fire, possibly electrical in origin, on the night of March 9.

5 — Willie Mack Adams, 53, of Dallas, was found guilty Thursday by an Anderson County jury of the felony offense of engaging in organized criminal activity-forgery. A 12-person jury deliberated for approximately 30 minutes before finding Adams guilty of the offense, stemming from an event in November 2010 during which the defendant and three other men passed forged checks at a pair of Palestine financial institutions.

5 — Breck Alexander of the Cayuga FFA showed the show’s 2012 Grand Champion Steer during the Anderson County Youth Livestock Show Auction.

7 — Bunnies on Main Street end the three-weekend Dogwood Trails Celebration in Palestine as children are given the opportunity to take pictures with the Easter Bunny at Lee Loveless Photography in downtown Palestine.

9 — In move that will save the county almost $400,000, Anderson County Commissioners gave the OK to refinance bonds issued in 2003 and 2005 for construction of the Anderson County Courthouse Annex and renovations to the county jail, respectively, during a meeting.

9 — Members of the Palestine Police Department were recognized during the Palestine city council meeting for assisting the fire department at the scene of a recent structure fire on March 25 at Inwood Place Apartments, requiring the evacuation of more than 15 units, according to Palestine Fire Chief  Alan Wilcher.

10 — Dozens of community and public school leaders, students and others attended an open house as Trinity Valley Community College showed off the 50,000 square foot Palestine Workforce Education Center at the Palestine Mall, giving attendees a look at the present and a glimpse at the possible future.

11 — Child Protective Services staff members release blue balloons that represent the 145 child abuse victims in Anderson County in 2011, including two children who died during 2011, during a National Child Abuse Awareness Month ceremony Wednesday at Reagan Park. The event was hosted by the Anderson County Child Welfare Board.

13 — Congressman Jeb Hensarling, U.S. Representative from the 5th Congressional District of Texas, met with more than 100 constituents from Anderson County during a scheduled town hall meeting in Palestine to discuss his concern for the increasing debt.

14 — Anderson County Sheriff’s Office organizes a “9-1-1 in the Park” event designed to provide children with the proper tools to address a potential emergency situation.

16 — A  morning fire of unknown origin destroyed a house and mobile home north of the Palestine city limits. Anderson County sheriff’s and other officials were dispatched to a house fire at the intersection of CR 363 and CR 359 off of Texas 155.

19 — Gregory Sloan Jr., 23, of Palestine was sentenced to eight years in prison after an Anderson County jury found him guilty of a single count of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon and three counts of deadly conduct.

20 — Crime victims are honored and remembered during the fifth annual Anderson County Crime Victim/Survivor Tribute Dinner.

21 — The Crisis Center of Anderson and Cherokee Counties holds the second annual “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event in Palestine — with participation from 35 males willing to walk a mile in high heels to raise money and awareness for abused women.

22 — Robert Garner, 24, a specialist in the U.S. Army and 2005 graduate of Neches High School, is recovering in a U.S. military hospital in Germany after receiving multiple injuries during combat in Afghanistan

26 — John Goin, 23, of Haltom City was indicted by an Anderson County grand jury on the felony charge of intoxication assault in relation to a single-vehicle wreck earlier this year which seriously injured a 21-year-old woman.

28 — The Palestine YMCA holds its annual Healthy Kids Day event.

30 — PISD Board of Trustees tour the new Palestine High School facility. The essentially new high school was part of a $64 million bond package overwhelmingly approved by PISD voters in May 2009.



MAY

1 — City of Palestine Public Works employees begin demolition of the Reagan Park spray pool in preparation for an upgraded sprayground.

3 — Palestine residents gather in prayer for the 61st annual National Day of Prayer at Reagan Park.

3 — The 12th Court of Appeals in Tyler affirms a life sentence assessed against a 32-year-old Palestine man who was convicted of raping and kidnapping a local woman in September 2009. Dustin Matthew Huffman, 32, of Palestine was sentenced to life in prison on March 30, 2011 at the conclusion of his trial. Huffman’s punishment sentence came one day after the same jury had found him guilty of the felony offenses of aggravated sexual assault and aggravated kidnapping. Huffman was one of five Anderson County men charged with gang raping a 27-year-old local woman near Pat Morris Lake off of CR 2202 on Sept. 7, 2009.

3 – Robbin Lamb, 38, of Palestine, was killed as a result of injuries sustained in a one-vehicle wreck around 4:20 p.m. n CR 2107 off of FM 322. A passenger was taken to the hospital for injuries.

4 — Community leaders attend the Chick-fil-A Leadershipcast in Palestine, organized by the Palestine Area Chamber of Commerce.

4 — Hundreds participate in the Anderson County Relay for Life event at Westwood High School’s Panther Stadium benefiting the American Cancer Society. The event honors cancer survivors and remembers those who have lost the battle with cancer.

5 — The annual Anderson County Crawfish Broil raises money for Anderson County students.

5 — The annual Neches Heritage Day festival is held.

8 — Jacob Martinez, 22, of Palestine wanted locally for murder in connection with a November 2010 shooting death was arrested by authorities in Midland. Martinez was indicted by an Anderson County grand jury in April on the charge of murder for the Nov. 1, 2010 shooting death of 20-year-old Cedric Bland of Palestine at a Douglas Street residence inside the Palestine city limits.

10 — The Texas State Railroad Authority approves the proposed acquisition of the Texas State Railroad from its current operator, American Heritage Railways, to Iowa Pacific, which owns six railroads in the United States, as well as two lines in Great Britain. The transition would change the business model of the railroad from a tourist-only operation to combination of tourist and freight rail services.

12 — City and school elections are held with Will Brule winning the  City Council spot.

14 — Palestine city council approves a 27-hole disc golf course for Greens Park.

17 — The community and family members gathered for a send-off celebration to say good-bye to members of Palestine’s National Guard Delta Unit 144, who were scheduled to deploy to Afghanistan that week.

24 — Reenactors bring military history to life during the 5th Annual Memorial Day Armed Forces Event at the Texas State Railroad’s Palestine Depot.

25 — Seventy-five members of the Elkhart High School Class of 2012 graduated during commencement at the Palestine Civic Center.

25 — Wesley Keith Lively, 50, of Palestine was sentenced to 10 years in prison for DWI by 87th State District Judge Deborah Oakes Evans following his punishment trial  the Anderson County Courthouse. His blood alcohol content was more than 3 1/2 times the legal limit when he caused a wreck almost two years ago.

28 — Alvin Eugene Hines, 49, of Palestine, was arrested for murder after finding Warren George Smith Jr., 51, of Palestine, face down in the driveway of the scene of a disturbance at 518 N. Sycamore St. The two were roommates in a garage apartment behind the main house.

28 — A piece of research equipment headed from the University of Minnesota to the NASA-run Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility in Palestine goes missing.

29 — Primary elections are held. Anderson County Sheriff Greg Taylor earned 69 percent of the Republican Primary vote to defeat challenger Richard Welch. Ronnie Foster gained almost 60 percent of the vote to defeat Jeff Taylor for the Republican nomination for Anderson County precinct 1 constable. Kim Dickson nudged Ronnie Holcomb gained 53.5 percent of the votes to defeat Ronnie Holcomb for the Precinct 3 constable spot.

31 — A trailer that went missing while hauling a NASA-funded telescope from Minnesota arrived in Palestine at the Columbia Scientific Balloon Facility after being reported missing a few days earlier.