Thursday, June 19, 2008

     

 

 

 

Boy held following weekend fire spree
Monitor Staff Report
EUSTACE–A series of fires in the Porter’s Bluff community over the weekend is thought to be the work of a 15-year-old boy.
Firefighters responded to four separate calls at the boy’s home between late Friday night and early Monday morning, Henderson County Sheriff’s Office public information officer Lt. Pat McWillams reported.
The first came in at 11:44 p.m. Friday, when the youth woke up family members, who discovered a storage shed behind the house fully engulfed by fire, McWillams said.
In the early morning hours, another fire call came in, as the family discovered a recliner burning in the yard.
At that time, the youth reported he had seen two neighborhood youths running from the scene. Reportedly, the youth’s family and the neighbors had exchanged words in the past, McWilliams explained.
A little after midnight Sunday morning, firefighters again responded to a call, finding a bedroom in the home ablaze.
The youth told authorities he had heard a crash, as if someone had thrown something through the window of his younger brother’s room.
At 9:06 p.m. Sunday, family members were moving furniture out of the charred portion of the house, but discovered the fire had rekindled and again summoned firefighters.
Henderson County Deputy Fire Marshal Amy Zamora and sheriff’s office investigators began looking into the fires, and shortly after midnight Monday morning, formally arrested the 15-year-old.
The youth admitted he had set the fires at his home, as well as at a neighboring residence, and was transported to a juvenile facility in Palestine, McWilliams said.
As of Tuesday morning, it was unclear if formal charges had been filed by the fire marshal’s office, but the youth likely will face arson charges, McWilliams said.

Behind iron bars
Comissioners tour completed jail expansion; facility opens this month
By Michael V. Hannigan
Monitor Staff Writer

ATHENS – When the jailhouse door slammed behind County Judge David Holstein and commissioners Jerry West and Ronny Lawrence last week, at least it wasn’t for long.
Henderson County Commissioners invited members of the Citizens Advisory Committee and the local media to tour the nearly-complete jail expansion Thursday.
In 2005, a 10-member citizens committee was appointed to explore the county’s options regarding the jail and housing inmates.
“This was a collaborative effort. And it was only right, we feel, to invite those who had such a big hand in getting this together to an exclusive walkthrough of a facility that will probably never be open to the public – other than if you are an inmate,” Holstein said before the tour began.
“Enjoy your stay here, because hopefully this is the only time you’ll be here,” he said to general laughter.
Along with helping plan the expansion, members of the citizens committee also attended a series of county-wide town hall meetings to explain why the project was needed.
In November, 2005, voters approved an $8.5 million bond to pay for the expansion. The county had already set aside about $3.5 million to cover the nearly $12 million cost to expand the facility and renovate the existing jail, built in 1991.
“Commissioner’s Court selecting the citizens committee was certainly the key (to getting the expansion built),” Sheriff Ronny Brownlow told committee members before the tour. “You don’t have to look very far to see that other folks have problems getting things done. This committee came together as a group, worked in a timely fashion and I think without it we wouldn’t be here today.”
The expansion is broken down into six areas, or “pods,” each of which can house 48 inmates. One deputy from a station outside the cells can watch each nearly hexagonal pod.
Every two pods share an exercise yard and multipurpose room.
In addition, the expansion includes several “separation cells,” for solitary confinement.
The expansion was designed to be expandable, if needed. Areas like the laundry and kitchen have spots already available for future equipment.
“I am very impressed by the construction and the standards these people have met,” Citizens Advisory Committee Chairman Orville Bevel said.
“There were some glitches they had to work through, but it is a very impressive structure; well thought out. I think the architect did a wonderful job of putting it together to meet the TDC (Texas Department of Corrections) standards. I am just really pleased with the way it went,” he said.
The most important people to thank are the voters, Bevel added.
“This would not have been accomplished if the citizens of this community had not bought into the project,” he said.
Earlier this month, the county received word that the jail had passed state inspection. The county is now waiting for the Texas Commission on Jail Standards to issue a formal Certificate of Occupancy.
Although the exact date when prisoners will begin occupying the facility is unknown, Lt. Ben Kinder, who led the tour, said officials hope it will be sometime this month.
Remodeling of the existing jail is to be complete in August. A ribbon cutting will follow.
“This is certainly one of the most significant issues we’ve (Commissioners’ Court) addressed,” Holstein said. “It was a collaborative effort. Without the support of the Citizens Advisory Committee, commissioners, sheriff’s Department, architects and also the people of Henderson County understanding the need for this, it would have never happened.”


Monitor Photo/Michael Hannigan
Deputy Kevin Harris watches the monitors in the jail expansion's Master Control
Room while members of the Citizen's Advisory Committee tour the facility last Friday.

Youth drowns in lake
Monitor Staff Reports
GUN BARREL CITY–A 20-year-old Seven Points man drowned in Cedar Creek Lake while swimming off the Eastwood Isle Property Owners Association’s park in Gun Barrel City late Monday afternoon.
According to Henderson County Sheriff’s Office information officer Lt. Pat McWilliams, the young man, identified as Gregory Eugene Fields (also known as Greg Wagner) was swimming with his 14-year-old younger brother off the POA park.
The younger brother decided to swim from an inflatable raft to the park’s pier, but looked back to see Fields in difficulty, and disappearing under the water, McWilliams reported.
The youth immediately called 911 near 3:45 p.m., McWilliams said. Volunteer firefighters, sheriff’s deputies and state game wardens all responded to the call.
Using a sonar imager, sheriff’s deputies spotted what was thought to be Fields’ body at 5:33 p.m. close to where he disappeared, and game wardens recovered the body near 7:15 p.m., McWilliams reported.
“It was a really tragic deal,” McWilliams added. “He was in 18 feet of water, but only 50 or 60 feet from shore.”
Precinct 2 Justice of the Peace Dale Blaylock held a brief inquest, and ordered Fields’ body taken to the Southwestern Institute for Forensic Medicine in Dallas for an autopsy.


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