Thursday, May 8, 2008





NWS confirms tornado hit Canton
By Julie Vaughan
Monitor Staff Writer

CANTON–Things are back to normal in Canton after a tornado swept through last Friday, toppling trees, snapping power lines and spreading debris throughout the First Monday grounds.
The National Weather Service in Fort Worth confirmed late Friday afternoon initial reports the damaging storms that moved through did in fact contain a tornado.
“Based on eyewitness reports, and talking to vendors at First Monday and the characteristics of the storm,” National Weather Service Warning Coordination Meteorologist Gary Woodall said, citing those factors as confirming the storm was a tornado.
Woodall said the tornado was at the bottom end of the EF-1.
The Enhanced Fujita (EF) Scale is used to measure the strength of a tornado. Friday’s tornado had maximum wind speeds estimated to be 85 to 90 mph, with a path 1.3 miles long and at least 75 yards wide, Woodall explained.
The tornado moved in an east to northeast pattern, and Woodall explained the funnel skipped up and down before dissipating.
“Fortunately, it was a weak tornado,” Woodall said. “This has been quit a severe weather season, and historically, we are at the peak of the storm season right now.”
Many in Van Zandt County – and the National Weather Service – were not warned about the nature of the storm until the tornado had already touched down.
“Larger rotation is much easier to see with Doppler radar. With this particular storm on Friday, it appeared that this storm did not have one of those larger rotations,” Woodall explained.
“Tornadoes will sometimes form from storms that don’t have those larger-scale rotations,” Woodall added. “Unfortunately, those are the tornadoes that usually are going to be smaller and dissipate quicker which makes them much more difficult to detect.
“We are still trying to piece together the final sequence of events, but it looks like shortly before or right about the time we got the first funnel cloud report here (at the National Weather Service), we were preparing a severe thunderstorm warning for the storm,” he said. “It looked like it was getting a hail potential with it, and of course, as soon as we got the report of the tornado, we upgraded it to a tornado warning.”
Woodall said the tornado was alive for an estimated two minutes from the time it formed to the time it dissipated.
“The really fortunate thing, though, was that this wasn’t a really larger, more organized storm that could have produced a larger more significant tornado. Because of the path it took, it would have had a much greater impact on the First Monday grounds.”
Woodall said once the storm moved through Van Zandt County, it went on to the northern part of Smith County and into the Lindale area, where they had reports of tornados on the ground as well.
Another storm formed in Henderson County, which Woodall said was more organized and actually moved into Tyler.
“Our staff was quick to respond, and they responded well,” Canton city manager Andy McCuistion said. “I have an excellent staff.”
“We were at the station watching the storm and looking up at the sky,” fire chief Charles Bazhaw said.
The city’s five civil defense sirens were then activated by dispatchers.
Bazhaw said he was notified a tornado had hit the First Monday grounds at 8:14 a.m.
Bazhaw called for help and set up his command post on the First Monday grounds at State Highway 19.
The Canton Fire Department was assisted by the South Van Zandt Volunteer Fire Department, who took calls at the Canton station, while the Wills Point, Edgewood and Mabank fire departments assisted in taking immediate calls.
Bazhaw said there were two heart attack calls, but it is not known if they were related to the storm, and only minor injuries were reported.
Later, Bazhaw learned some people had minor injuries on the grounds and treated themselves without notifying EMS.
“Overall it went well,” Bazhaw said about the operation. “We got plenty of help, and everyone showed up in a timely manner.”
Characteristics of a tornado
“We look at the characteristics of the damage path. If we see a long, slender, defined path, that would suggest a tornado,” Woodall said.
Woodall explained if the path is broader and more diffused, it would suggest a downburst or straight-line winds.
If there is evidence of debris blown into the center of the track, that would also suggest a tornado. If damage spreads away from the center of the track, that suggests a downburst.
If you look how the debris is scattered, you can sometimes see the evidence of the rotation, Woodall said.
Downburst can have winds of excess of 110 mph, or upper Category II hurricane winds.
A tornado warning means that a tornado has been spotted, or that Doppler radar indicates a thunderstorm circulation which can spawn a tornado. When a tornado warning is issued take immediate safety precautions.
A tornado watch defines an area shaped like a parallelogram, where tornadoes and other kinds of severe weather are possible in the next several hours. It does not mean tornadoes are imminent – just that you need to be alert, and to be prepared.

Monitor Photo/Julie Vaughan
Vendors busily work to clean up after what is believed to be a tornado swept
through the First Monday grounds Friday in Canton, toppling tents and scattering

Opening statements made in Mays’ trial
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–Prosecution and defense attorneys made opening statements at the start of Randall Wayne Mays’ capital murder trial before 392nd District Court Judge Carter Tarrance Monday.
Mays pled not guilty to the shooting deaths of two Henderson County Sheriff’s deputies, Tony Ogburn and Paul Habelt, who responded to a 911 domestic dispute call May 17, 2007.
District Attorney Donna Bennett, arguing for the state, outlined a brief summary of that day’s events at May’s two-acre tract, which fronts County Road 2529 about two miles past the Golden Oaks subdivision.
When deputy sheriff Billy Jack Valentine began reading Mays his rights the confrontation took a turn for the worse, she said.
“Mays drew out a knife, slashed at the officer and ran into the house,” Bennett said.
Officers spent the next 15 minutes talking to Mays, and trying to coax him out. In the meantime, more officers arrived, including Ogburn, Habelt and Kevin Harris, who received a gunshot wound to the leg.
Valentine was successful in getting Mays out of the house, but after a few minutes of talking, Mays turned and dove back into the house through an open window, Bennett told the jury.
Valentine tried to cut him off, but was unsuccessful, and then was trapped along the house wall between two windows, where he was an easy target if he moved, she described.
“The next few minutes, nothing is going on. Valentine requests assistance. Then a shot from inside the house is heard, and deputy Tony Ogburn had his head shot off,” Bennett said. “Mays then aimed at the head of Paul Habelt and shoots his head off.”
Mays then came out of the house on the side away from the officers, and fired at Harris. Fire is returned, and Mays was hit in the arm, and gave up, she said.
Bennett said a video camera from Valentine’s car was turned on during the event, and jurors will get to view and hear what occurred.
“This did not have to happen,” defense attorney Bobby Mims said.
“We are not going to bring any excuses, but we are going to show what was in the mind of Mays and the officer, and the circumstances,” Mims added. “We are going to fight to bring you the truth.”
Earlier that day, many Henderson County officers were attending a memorial for those officers who had been killed in the line of duty, and reliving their losses, Mims pointed out.
At Mays’ property, he and his wife, Candice, were quarreling about her rape sometime in the past, and she walked away along the road, Mims.
“Mays began shooting a handgun out there, which was unusual,” Mims said. A neighbor, Frances Nicholson, called 911.
“It’s not the first time deputies have been called out there. Mays doesn’t make a lot of money as a self-employed welder, but he doesn’t owe anyone a dime,” Mims said.
Valentine was at the Seven Points substation and responded to the 911 call.
He and Mays have a history, Mims said.
Mays was charged with assault on an officer when Valentine worked for Kaufman County and was responding as backup to a Henderson County call. Valentine was the officer allegedly assaulted, Mims said.
Charges were later dropped, Valentine learned via radio as he was enroute to the Mays’ property.
Valentine was the first officer on the scene, so he becomes officer in charge, Mims said. Valentine also learns there are no outstanding felony warrants against Mays.
Officer Duane Saunders arrived shortly afterwards, talks with Candice Mays, tells Valentine about the rape and says, “she needs some help,” Mims recounted.
Saunders was then sent to Nicholson’s residence to talk to the 911 caller. Frances Nicholson doesn’t want to be involved, but her husband says he’ll file a complaint “if you’ll arrest him.”
Saunders uses his cell phone to tell Valentine this, and Valentine starts reading Mays his rights, Mims said.
“That’s when everything went south,” Mims said.
When Mims came to the standoff between the officers and Mays, just before Ogburn was killed, Mims told jurors there’s a sound on the video tape that sounds like a shot.
“It’s not distinct, but it’s there,” Mims said. “Then Mays shoots and kills Ogburn. Then no one fires for 39 seconds, and then two more shots are heard. One killed Habelt,” Mims said.
“In the next 60-70 seconds, a barrage of shots is heard. Valentine dives behind a shed, and Randall Mays is shot in the arm and side,” Mims said.
“The families and the public deserve to know the truth,” Mims said. “The evidence will show this did not just happen.”
Prosecution testimony opened with deputy sheriff Christina Modzelewski, dispatch supervisor that day, who worked with Kim Clark and Allysia Harris, Kevin Harris’ wife.
Jurors heard and read a transcript of the first 15 minutes of the 911 call.
Frances Nicholson, who made the 911 call, also took the stand, as did her daughter-in-law and neighbor, Kelly Nicholson, who took several photos of the event.
Frances Nicholson’s 911 call was prompted by concern that a school bus was soon to arrive on the very corner.
Nicholson was expecting her granddaughter, 12, to arrive from the Eustace schools on that bus around 3:30 p.m., about the same time shots were being fired toward Mays’ wife, who had walked in that direction following their quarrel.
Nicholson also testified Candace Mays did not seem to be troubled by the shots, and wasn’t hit.
Mays stopped shooting and continued yelling at his wife, she said.
After Gerald Nicholson drove a pickup to the corner to collect his granddaughter and returned, he told officer Saunders he would file a complaint.
In tears, Frances Nicholson testified she dropped to her knees to pray, and next time she looked out the window, she saw the back of a squad car drenched in blood.
Kelly Nicholson watched from her porch, and took photographs right after Mays got away from the officers and back into the house.
“I was just taking pictures of officers hunkering down,” she said.
Kelly said she didn’t hear any shots while she was taking photos, and then did hear a shot.
“I saw the officer’s hat fall, and heard ‘officer down,’” she said.
The officer’s body was blocked from her view by a tree. “I didn’t see it,” she said.
Kelly Nicholson testified the shot just before the hat fell was the first shot she heard.
The trial is expected to last two weeks, Mims said.

Mabank FFA auction draws best
ever total

Monitor Photos/Kerry Yancey
Auctioneer and school board vice president Kenny Odom points to a bidder
during the annual Mabank FFA auction in the Mabank Middle School cafeteria
Saturday. The auction featured about 300 items and drew about 350 visitors to the school.

Central Texas body may be a missing Tool resident
By Barbara Gartman
Monitor Staff Writer

TOOL–Missing since Feb. 19, the body of Tool resident John Robert Ivy, 46, may have been found.
A motorist who had stopped at a roadside park just a few miles east of Evant on U.S. Highway 84, called 9-1-1 to report a gruesome discovery.
Officers on the scene said the male body appeared to have been dead for a long time and Ivy’s wallet, containing his identification, was discovered on the corpse.
The man possibly may have been shot, deputies said, but they will have to wait for the autopsy report from Southwest Institute of Forensic Sciences to be certain.
Ivy was last seen in February, but his 1984 Chevrolet truck was found abandoned almost a month later, on March 18, approximately 60 miles from where the body was discovered.
“We are waiting the results of the autopsy,” Tool Assistant Police Chief Kendall Wellman said, adding it could be three, four or more weeks before results were available.

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