Thursday, March 19, 2009






  Recruiter pleads guilty
to manslaughter

Monitor Staff Reports
ATHENS–A U.S. Navy recruiter charged in the deaths of two Brownsboro residents in a Feb. 13 automobile wreck pled guilty to manslaughter charges Tuesday.
Jose Luis Joel Miramontes Jr., 31, pled guilty to two counts of manslaughter in connection to the deaths of Shane Morgan, 34, and his 12-year-old daughter, Kaylee E. Morgan, who were killed in a head-on collision on Farm-to-Market FM 317.
Morgan was the pastor at Hilltop Baptist Church in Berryville. Kaylee was a student at Brownsboro Intermediate School.
They were riding in their family vehicle, along with Morgan’s wife, Lisa Morgan – a teacher in the Brownsboro Independent School District – and the couple’s 4-year-old daughter, Emily P. Morgan.
After pleading guilty, Assistant District Attorney Lenda Burnett asked 173rd District Court Judge Dan Moore to find Miramontes guilty on both counts.
Moore could have deferred finding Miramontes guilty and placed him on deferred adjudication probation during sentencing. Instead, Moore found him guilty and set a sentencing date for Monday, May 18.
The indictment against Miramontes also alleged that he used his car as a deadly weapon.
Under Texas law, Miramontes will not be eligible for probation if the judge makes an affirmative finding that his car was used as a deadly weapon. That issue will be resolved during sentencing.
Depending on the deadly weapon findings, Miramontes could be sentenced from two to 20 years in the penitentiary, or placed on up to 10 years probation, as well as a fine up to $10,000.
“These are emotionally difficult cases,” Henderson County District Attorney Scott McKee said in a prepared news release issued late Tuesday.
“I am relieved that Mr. Miramontes pled guilty and accepted responsibility for the two lives he took,” McKee said. “The Morgan family has been through so much. May 18th is going to be a tough day.”

County considers courts building
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

KAUFMAN–Once again, Kaufman County has run out of courtroom space.
Population increases have brought about a need for new courtrooms, as well as the need to guarantee the safety of jurors, court officers and even the prisoners.
Kaufman County has been talking about a new courts building for quite some time, and at one time, had plans to build one just after the new jail was finished.
“There have been several discussions over the past five to six years,” County Judge Wayne Gent noted during the county commissioners’ regular meeting Monday.
Thomas Pollan, with the Austin law firm of Bickerstaff Heath Delgado Acosta LLP, and George H. Williford, senior vice president with First Southwest Company, explained the steps needed to finance a courts building project.
“You are looking at a new justice center in close proximity to the jail,” Pollan said.
Pollan emphasized the need to minimize exposure of the inmates to the public, better security for the judges and less cost to transport prisoners from the jail complex to the downtown courthouse.
“It costs the county $800,000 a year to transport the prisoners back and fourth,” Gent pointed out. “With the expected population increase, it could be $1 million (soon).”
That money could easily be put toward a payment on whatever type of funding the county decided on, Gent said.
“Well, the first step is to get a handle on the cost,” Pollan said. “You need to contract with an architect (for a preliminary drawing).”
There are four different financing methods available to the county, Pollan said.
“But the first, a lease purchase option, you definitely do not want to consider,” Pollan said, explaining there were too many complications involved to make leasing practicable.
Other options are:
• general obligation bonds, which require an election (the next uniform election date available is in November),
• certificates of obligation, or COs, which require a 30-day public notification and
• tax notes, which are limited to a seven-year payback, compared to 10 or 15 or 20 years for bonds or COs.
“However, the legislature came in and decided at the end of the seven years, entities can convert to a 40-year payback,” Pollan noted.
Williford explained the estimates for interest depend on the length (payback time) of the loan. A seven-year loan has almost double the interest rate.
“One of your debt service notes pays off in 2013,” Williford said. Once that note is paid off, the county will not be paying out as much for debt service.
“Is this really a good time to be going into a building program?” Precinct 1 Commissioner Jerry Rowden asked.
“It is not a bad time in the market, and from the construction standpoint, it is a good time,” Williford said.
“There is the fear that once the stimulus program hits the construction industry, costs are likely to rise quickly,” Pollan added.
Both men agreed the first step is to seek out an architect.
“You need to find one you really want to use (for the total project), make an agreement for payments on the preliminary drawing and then on the final project, if you continue,” Williford explained.
In other business, commissioners
• did not continue the county-wide burn ban, which expired March 11, at the request of Fire Marshal Larry Ewing.
• set Friday and Saturday, May 1-2, as the Kaufman County Clean-up date and agreed to advertise for bids for waste hauling for the county clean up.
• agreed to advertise for bids for various grounds maintenance.
• agreed to buy dump trucks, with a repurchase option, for precincts 1 and 3 through the BuyBoard Cooperative Program.
• agreed to advertise for bids for road emulsions for all precincts.
Bidding will close Thursday, May 8, and be opened at 10 a.m. Monday, May 11.
• accepted the tax assessor/collector’s report for February.
Dick Murphy reported 88 percent of the general fund has been collected, along with 89 percent of the Road & Bridge levy.
“Last year, it was 90 percent at this same time,” he said.
Year-to-date, $25.5 million has been paid into the general fund while a total of $4.1 million has been collected in Road & Bridge, he explained.
• paid bills totaling $1,209,264.40.

Burn ban lifted
Large constable denied larger vehicle
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–The Henderson County Commissioners on advice from the fire marshal lifted the burn ban Tuesday morning.
The area received enough rain to raise the level of Cedar Creek Lake 18 inches over the past week.
The ban was declared lifted immediately, soon after the meeting’s 9 a.m.start.
At a request from Precinct 4 Commissioner Jerry West, the commissioners once more were urged to furnish a larger vehicle to Precinct 4 Constable Rick Stewart.
He was involved in an emergency situation in Frankston recently that could have had deadly results as he struggled to get out of his Chevrolet Impala.
Stewart is 6-4 and weighs 255 pounds. Precinct 1 Commissioner Joe Hall strongly agreed with West.
Although the other commissioners agreed in principle to the need, other considerations won the day.
County attorney Clint Davis cited problems if commissioners replaced the car over safety issues and another officer were harmed due to vehicle safety whose car wasn’t replaced.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Wade McKinney sympathized with the need but voted for following the budgetary procedure. “We begin budget talks in two months,” McKinney said. Holstein agreed, asking where would the money come from.
West responded it could come from the $50,000 paid for the old hospital or from any of the building funds, as could any other vehicle not suitable for the law enforcement officer driving it.
When the vote was taken, the motion to replace Stewart’s vehicle failed 3-2.
“I think this is one of those times we are straining a gnat to swallow a camel,” Hall protested.
In other business, commissioners:
• approved an interlocal agreement to house out-of-county inmates.
The agreement does not include transporting prisoners and houses them at $41 per day.
• heard the last construction item preventing the jail from taking on out-of-state prisoners is the faulty intercom system to 12 dormitory rooms, essentially blocking 159 inmates from occupancy there.
This ongoing problem has reached a head, with the subcontractor Metroplex Control Systems given one final week to make good.
The problem stems from the difficulty integrating the older and newer system. Maj. Kevin Haynes said Anderson County had a similar problem, and had to hire another company to remedy the situation.
• approved a contract with Dimension Imaging for software use and scanning district clerk records dating from 1950 to the present at 8.5 cents per page, and a first-year service fee of $6,000. In subsequent years, that annual fee drops to $500.
District clerk Betty Hanks has $65,000 as a line item in her budget for digitalizing records. “I hope to get a good bit of it done before I leave in 22 months,” she said.
What’s to become of the paper records once scanned has yet to be decided. “I come from the old school, and have difficulty shredding documents,” Hanks admitted.
Scanning will begin with records stored in the third floor of the courthouse, she added.
• proclaimed March 15-21 as Poison Prevention Week.
• approved adding a fourth nurse to the jail staff at Sheriff Ray Nutt’s request. “This is what we need to move forward” on taking in more prisoners and passing the standards, he said.
• paid a previously held bill to Templeton Construction totaling $34,070.65 as the last of the 2008 bills.
• paid 2009 bills totaling $564,740.07.

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