Thursday, June 4, 2009






  Murder-suicide probed
Estranged couple found dead in camper
Monitor Staff Reports
ATHENS–The bodies of a husband and wife were found shot to death Sunday in a wooded area of Henderson County between Athens and LaRue.
James McRae discovered the bodies of his 50-year-old son, Marc McRae and his daughter-in-law, Lori McRae, 46, dead in a camper located on property off of County Road 4712, according to Sheriff Ray Nutt.
According to an initial investigation, it appeared Marc shot Lori with a .22 caliber rifle and then committed suicide when he turned the weapon on himself, Nutt said.
Investigator Wick Gabbard reported that Marc McRae had been living alone in the camper. The couple had been having problems.
Lori reportedly visited occasionally and had gone to the camper some time Saturday.
“The last information we have is that they both spoke to someone on their cell phones after 5 p.m.,” Gabbard was quoted in the Athens Daily Review.
There was no sign of a struggle, and no suicide note was found.
The couple had one child, a 12-year-old daughter who was staying at her grandparents house at the time of the deaths, Gabbard added.
Precinct 6, Judge Milton Adams arrived at the scene and an autopsy was ordered on both deceased persons.
Carol & Lehr Funeral Home transported the deceased to the Southwest Institute of Forensic Science in Dallas for the autopsies.
Investigator Wick Gabbard was assigned to the case. Supervisors on the scene were Nutt, Major Kevin Hanes, Captain Kay Langford and Lt. Botie Hillhouse.

County rubble pile: refuse or riches?

Editor’s Note: Next week The Monitor will look at the impact Commissioners’ Court has on the Malakoff City Council and the rubble pile controversy.

By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer

MALAKOFF–To borrow a phrase: The worth of a pile of rubble is in the eye of the beholder.
In this case, we are talking about a big, neat pile of rubble that could be worth a lot of money to taxpayers. Or a big, random pile of refuse that could pose a health risk to taxpayers. It depends on who is doing the beholding.
Late last week, Athens attorney Brian Schmidt delivered a letter to Henderson County Judge David Holstein’s office complaining about a large pile of concrete rubble located on land owned by the county between The Lindy Mall and Spring Creek Mobile Home Park in Malakoff.
Schmidt, who represents Ray and Janet Brown, owners of The Lindy Mall, wrote, “... It is my belief that the manner in which the county is dumping material on this land poses a danger to the health, safety and welfare of the citizens of Henderson County. While the county over the years has used the property in various acceptable ways, the volume of materials ... over the last several years has created a public and private nuisance to the surrounding landowners. Furthermore, the manner in which the county is dumping these materials has created a substantial health and safety risk that threatens to become a liability to the taxpayers of Henderson County.”
Pct. 1 Commissioner Joe Hall is in charge of the site and he admits there is a lot of concrete and construction rubble right now. Hall, however, sees that as a good thing for the taxpayers of Henderson County.
He said the material, which came mostly from the demolition of the Malakoff Middle School auditorium earlier this year, is good for filling in washouts around culverts.
“That is what this is so valuable for,” he said, adding the precinct doesn’t have anything else as cost effective it could use to prevent those washouts.
“The only other choice is to pour concrete,” he said. “You know we can’t afford that.”
Plus, he said, ground up the material is “the best road base you can get.”
Hall pointed to a pile of base rock the county purchased and said it cost about $16 a ton.
“And you could put a couple of tons in a pickup,” he said.
Once the rubble is ground up, Hall said, the county will hopefully have a large supply of base rock at about $8 per ton. Hall had a contractor measuring the pile on Tuesday to come up with an estimate for grinding the pile.
Hall said Commissioner Wade McKinney has used some of the material and said Commissioner Ronny Lawrence has asked for some.
“Talk to other commissioners, this stuff is valuable,” he said. “To other people it’s junk, it’s worthless; but to me it is beautiful.”
Dangerous Dust?
Schmidt doesn’t share the commissioner’s enthusiasm. He wrote that the material at the site is causing a large amount of dust “creating respiratory issues for local residents, business owners and customers.”
In his letter, he writes that concrete dust, or the Silica from it, has the potential to be very harmful, referencing a report from the United States Department of Labor Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
To limit the hazard, Schmidt’s clients have asked Hall to water down the rubble pile.
“Mr. Brown has previously requested that Commissioner Hall assist the surrounding area by wetting the pile when the conditions for swirling dust are ripe. Commissioner Hall has repeatedly declined to do so,” Schmidt wrote.
Hall said the dust doesn’t come from the pile of concrete rubble. Instead, he said it comes from a pile of sand the county uses in culvert installations which was also on the site. That pile has since been moved to reduce the dust at The Lindy Mall, Hall said.
And about wetting down the pile?
“If I get that wet out there how many trucks do you think I could get in and out without burying one up to the axle?” Hall asked. “Common sense dictates we couldn’t do that.”
Schmidt additionally pointed out that prior to demolition, the Malakoff Middle School auditorium went through asbestos abatement. By referencing a MMS construction report which included instructions for if asbestos became “crumbled, pulverized, or reduced to powder,” Schmidt suggests that asbestos could be part of the Pct. 1 rubble pile.
“Although it is my understanding that the remnants of the building were to be delivered to an approved waste site in Corsicana,” he wrote, “they were instead dumped on the county property apparently at the request of Commissioner Hall.”
Hall doesn’t deny accepting the rubble. Hall said the contractor asked him if he wanted the material, and he gladly said yes.
As for the asbestos, Hall said, “(Schmidt) said it himself, it was abated.”
MISD Superintendent Dr. John Spies verified this week that the agreement which sent the remnants the auditorium to the county site was between Hall and the contractor, but did not include the school district.
Fences and Fires
Another issue for opponents of the pile is easy access. Up until a month ago, the pile sat out in the open. Since then, Hall has built a barbed wire fence around the 1.9-acre site.
Hall, however, had previously promised to erect a 6-foot chain link fence around the site.
“By Commissioner Hall announcing at a public meeting that he intended on taking specific remedial measure to address this safety issue (building the fence), then declining to take those remedial measure because of the cost involved, I believe the taxpayers of Henderson County have now been exposed to a great deal of potential liability should a curious child actually be injured on this property,” Schmidt wrote in his letter.
Hall said he understands the way his opponents feel, but added he didn’t realize the cost involved when he first suggested a chain link fence. The bid for a chain link fence came back at more than $25,000.
“I can’t do that,” he said. “If I would have done that, other people in the precinct would have said, ‘What in the world did you spend that money for!’”
Hall said the barbed wire fence makes the necessary point.
“The State of Texas says since I built that fence, my liability ends,” he said, “because (trespassers) have to physically cross that fence to get on government property.”
As for kids, Hall said, “Parents are responsible for their children,” adding that children from the mobile home park had not caused any problems for the precinct.
The pile of rubble isn’t the only contentious issue standing between the neighbors, there is also the burning.
“Another recent development with regard to the air quality in the area has been Precinct 1’s decision to begin burning plastic barrels, railroad ties and other unknown materials on the property wherein the precinct barn is located,” Schmidt wrote. “The burning of these hazardous materials has, to my knowledge, commenced only since my clients and others in the area began expressing concern about the dust that the previously referenced pile generates.”
Hall admits he has had to start burning brush in the precinct yard, but said it didn’t have anything to do with the controversy over the rubble pile. Instead, he said, the site where the precinct used to burn brush has been closed to him.
Pct. 1 workers collect brush in backhoes and trucks from the side of the road and while clearing drainage ditches, Hall said. In addition, up until this month Hall allowed area residents using the county dump at the back end of the precinct yard to stack their brush on the burn pile.
Hall said county workers are instructed to take out all the plastic and creosote railroad ties before burning, but admitted they didn’t always get everything.
In addition, area residents weren’t separating out plastic from the burn pile so Hall put an end to that practice. He is afraid that will just cause another problem, however.
“You know where we are going to find that brush now, don’t you?” he asked. “The side of the road.”
Hall said he has looked into buying a piece of land to store the rubble and use as a burning site, but said he hasn’t been about to find a suitable location.
In the meantime he has erected a dirt berm along the precinct yard fence to block the site of the yard from the mobile home park.
The Process
So what do opponents of the rubble site want? According to Schmidt, they want Commissioner’s Court to immediately:
1. Take action to remove the pile of concrete, rebar wire, dirt and other unknown materials that has accumulated on this property.
2. Commission an environmental impact study on this site so that it might possibly be determined what the short-term and long-term ramifications are for the property and the surrounding area.
3. Build a fence suitable to ensure the safety of the children in the area as the county makes arrangements to safely dispose of or store the existing material.
4. Install a water-based dust control system as the county makes arrangements to safely dispose of or store the existing material.
“I believe that our government has a responsibility to its citizens to be good stewards of the land it procures,” Schmidt wrote.
In an interview this week, Schmidt said the Browns have not filed a lawsuit against the county and want to deal with the problem without going to court.
Hall, however, said that when the Browns brought in an attorney he had no choice but to refer the entire matter to the county’s attorneys.
“I talked to those people until they started talking lawyers and lawsuit,” Hall said. “I’ve learned if they say anything about attorneys my conversation is ended. It’s a tough lesson that cost me $15,000 to learn.”
In 2006, Hall was indicted for Abuse of Official Capacity for working on a church parking lot. In the end, Hall was not prosecuted, but the experience personally cost him more than $15,000. He said he is a little more cautious now when attorneys get involved.
NEXT: Commissioners’ Court, Malakoff City Council, and City Ordinance 102.

78th Fiddlers’ Reunion: slice of Americana
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS–The 78th Fiddlers’ Reunion is so much more than a host of very skillful fiddlers from all over East Texas descending on the Courthouse Square in Athens, sawing out tunes at a ferocious pace, or lulling listeners to nostalgic memories as they compete with one another for the title of grand champion– no, it’s a picture of Our Town, what small communities once were and are again on the last weekend in May.
It gets us out of our air-conditioned isolation and throws us together with strangers, who share a love for music – acoustical music at that. No over amplified string of notes assaulting our ears and sensibility, the Reunion causes folks to lean in and listen, and see the sound being created as bow draws across strings.
Here, those getting star attention are apt to be old men wearing straw cowboy hats and brightly colored shirts, who if you ask them will say, they are ‘older than dirt’ and not anyone to be mistaken for “one of the beautiful (or rich) people.” Or, they are youngsters, who amaze by pulling such soulful or energetically entertaining strains from a piece of wood with strings at the mere age of 11, 12 and 13.
None are rich or famous, and not likely to be – but each is rich, in the richest sense of the word. They are Rich because they are not afraid to shine, and in so doing, give all who witness them the courage to shine as well.
We roar with enthusiasm to spur them on to even greater accomplishments.
Not all who attend the Reunion are strangers, many are friends who haven’t seen one another for ages, and come to the gathering just to see who else came that they may know from their youth – greeting each other and rekindling the common experience they have shared.
Small groups form in every corner of the square to play cards or “42” while enjoying the music. Bunches of musicians pick their way through songs finding one all of them knows. Sometimes called jam sessions, we love to listen or be a part of one to add our own unique voice, strumming, plucking, bowing or drumming to the mix.
Folk music is all about folks teaming up to make music, come along side with a harmony or an innovative slide.
When one adds to the sense of unity that comes from making music together to a sun-filled spring afternoon, on an historic courthouse surrounded by century-old red brick buildings, the smell of popcorn and grilled hamburgers, hundreds of your neighbors sitting in folding chairs they brought from home or spread out on picnic blankets; heck, you’re practically a part of a Rockwell painting.
You’re witnessing and participating in a very thick slice of Americana.
It’s Our Town — sweet, satisfying, comfortable, and rich beyond compare.
That’s what the Fiddlers’ Reunion is all about.

Monitor Photo/Pearl Cantrell
13-year-old Hannah Clemmons of Lindale treats those sitting on the courthouse
square with the "Clarinet Polka" and "Lovers Waltz."

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