Police Close In On Fraudulent Check Writing Ring
By Pearl Cantrell
Monitor Staff Writer
GUN BARREL CITY-Gun Barrel City investigators have identified one person and strongly suspect at least eight others in being involved in a rash of check forgeries and mail tampering in the city.
So far, the financial loss is nearing $40,000 to two main victims and their banks, investigator Judie Burley told The Monitor Thursday.
The money heists occurred over two- and three-day periods in October.
Here's how it works. Mailboxes on Welch, Box and Norma Lee roads were rifled through and bank account information lifted.
Checks were forged with the victim's account numbers on it. Then deposits from the first victim's account was made into the second victim's bank account with cash back from the deposit received by the thieves.
For example, a check for $2,400 would be deposited and $900 would be asked for back in cash.
This activity took place at bank branches in Tool, Seven Points, Gun Barrel City, Athens and Corsicana-one after another on Oct. 10 and 11 as well as Oct. 17-19.
Evidence gathered from bank surveillance videos, recent vehicle burglaries, interviews and information gathered from a routine traffic stop is helping investigators put the pieces together.
This labor-intensive investigation is somewhat hampered by the fact warrants must be sworn out on each individual instance of fraudulent check passing instead of tried en masse as an organized crime, Burley said.
That's why their strongest suspect Christy Rena Warren of Gun Barrel City is free to move about.
"She cleared one warrant yesterday," Burley said. "We've got her on video on others. She's agreed to come in and talk about it, now."
Three other adults in a vehicle police recognized as involved in the mailbox thefts and forgery cases drove up to a bank, and was called in by the teller as suspicious, contained Casey Housewright, Matthew Clark and Melissa Alvarado.
All three were arrested in connection with drug possession and are believed to be part of the fraudulent check passing ring.
Four vehicles are believed to be involved, two of which are a green 1995 Ford Contour and a 1989 black Chevy pickup with sidestep, Burley said.
Fire School Held in Henderson County
Courtesy Photo/Randy Harley
Payne Springs training officer Sean Kelsay questions tactics with student firefighters at the cottage fire project during fire school held outside Athens Oct. 28. About 107 students attended some 30 classes, including one given by the Drug Enforcement Agency on the dangers of meth lab fires.
Tool Fire Chief, Others Quit
Tool Mayor Says Mutual Aid Pacts Are In Place
By Kerry Yancey
Monitor Staff Writer
TOOL-Tool Volunteer Fire Department Fire Chief Bruce "Doc" Thurston, the department's secretary and one or more members resigned Wednesday.
The resignations may signal the fragile truce forged last month between the department's leadership and the Henderson County Emergency Services District No. 4 board of directors has collapsed.
Tool Mayor Scott Confer chose to look at the situation as an opportunity to move forward.
"We know the members of the district board aren't going to fight the fires; we know the members of the city council aren't going to fight the fires; we know the county commissioners aren't going to fight the fires," Confer said.
"The men and women who volunteer, who endanger themselves for the betterment of the community, are the ones who fight the fires," he added. "We need to do everything we can to support them and help the department grow."
Confer confirmed he had received Thurston's resignation, adding he had spent more than 90 minutes Wednesday evening talking with several Tool volunteer firefighters to review the situation.
"We have a good strategy in position, and the mutual aid agreements among the west-side fire departments have been confirmed," Confer said Thursday.
"Now is the time when we have to make the changes in the relationship between the district and the department that will enable the rapid improvement of the department to respond to emergency service calls within the district, including the city of Tool," Confer said.
Emergency Services District secretary/treasurer Larry Moran said he had not heard about the resignations when contacted by The Monitor Thursday morning, but added he had heard rumors saying some fire department members might resign.
"There are probably several former firemen in the wings who probably would be willing to step in" as leaders of the department, Moran said.
"The board's got to get busy to get coverage for fire and emergency situations," he added. "It's our responsibility to provide that."
Moran said he would be contacting other members of the board with the news, and noted a special board meeting likely would be called as soon as possible, certainly prior to the board's Nov. 14 regular session.
A female caller reported the resignations to The Monitor late Wednesday, saying the resignations were in response to the board's continued reluctance to release funding due the fire department.
The caller, who refused to identify herself other than "a regular volunteer," said one of the problems - from the department's viewpoint - was the board members "are not accountable for anything."
"They're dragging their feet," she said.
In a pair of three-hour meetings last month, members of the fire department and the Emergency Services District board first battled, then moved forward by approving twin fiscal year (FY) 2007 budgets.
At the board's Oct. 10 regular session, board members officially halted the meeting about 15 minutes in, but then spent more than two hours responding to complaints, rumors and accusations voiced by fire department members and citizens.
In a special meeting Oct. 16, board members and fire department members approved the FY 2007 budgets for both the department and the district, including a $1,500 increase to have the department's books done by an outside accountant.
At the same time, the board heard a proposal from Confer to have the department use mutual aid funding from the county to finance a new fire station construction project.
The female caller accused board members of seeking to delay any building project, because they want to relocate the fire department to a building already constructed near the end of Farm-to-Market 3225 in the Flagg Lake community.
Moran denied that, saying the building was built by a good friend of his to be a warehouse and storage facility, not a new fire station.
Van Zandt Reports Six Drive-By Shootings
By Donna Limberger
Monitor Staff Writer
The Van Zandt County Sheriff's Office is asking for citizen help in locating three suspects involved in a drive-by shooting spree north of Wills Point.
On Monday, Oct. 30, between the hours of 10 p.m. and midnight there were six drive-by shootings on VZCRs 3710, 3702, 3502, FM 751 and FM 47.
According to witness statements, two male suspects were in the back of an older model Ford or Dodge, gray or silver pickup, shooting at houses.
The pickup has an exhaust leak and is possibly burning oil.
The pickup was last seen traveling north on FM 751.
"This is a very serious offense. We need citizen involvement to bring these people into custody before they can do it again," said Van Zandt County Sheriff R.P. "Pat" Burnett. "We are looking for the driver of the pickup and the young men in the back of the truck."
Damages to houses and vehicles is estimated at $20,000, Burnett said.
"We are talking about damages but if these suspects hit a person, we could be talking about murder," said Burnett.
Burnett said that some of the rounds from a .22 Magnum rifle went through the front doors and storm doors of houses.
"One round went through a house and into the shower in the bathroom. If someone had been in there, they would have been hit," Burnett said.
Anyone with information on the shootings is urged to call the Van Zandt County Sheriff's Office at 903-567-4133 or the Wills Point Police Department at 903-873-2588.