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Celebration Today for Toll 49 Transfer

thumb_loop-49SMITH COUNTY — A public celebration is being held Saturday morning at 10:00 to mark the transfer of Toll 49 to local authorities. It happens on the roadway, about a half mile south of the bridge at I-20. The primary parties involved are the North East Texas Regional Mpbility Authority and TxDOT. The celebration is to commemorate the transfer of Toll 49 from TxDOT to the NET RMA, approved Thursday by the Texas Transportation Commission. Slated speakers include Chair of the NET RMA Linda Thomas, TTC member and former Chairman of the NET RMA Jeff Austin III, Senators Kevin Eltife & Robert Nichols, County Judge Joel Baker, and City Mayors Barbara Bass of Tyler and Robert Nelson of Lindale.

Activities include the Robert E. Lee Southern Belle Drill Team, Lindale ISD Band Drum Line, a vintage car show, Corvette Club representation, food & beverages provided by Collin Street Bakery & Villa Montez, and the Team Texas High Performance Driving School with 2 NASCARS & an Indy car on display. Segment 3B of Toll 49, connecting the toll road to I-20 for the first time, is expected to open around March 29.

Pine Tree High School Briefly Placed on Lockdown

LONGVIEW — Pine Tree High School went into lockdown Friday after a burglary suspect was reported loose in the area. Shortly before 1 p.m., according to KETK, school administrators decided to close down the school as a precautionary measure. The school lifted the lockdown after a short time. There were no known injuries. Further information wasn’t immediately available.

Longview Police Warn of New Phone Scam

thumb_police-longview-shieldLONGVIEW — The Longview Police Department wants citizens to be aware of a new scam of which police were made aware Friday morning. This scam involves someone calling the victim on the telephone and telling the victim that he or she is going to be receiving a new Medicare card in the mail. The caller is asking the victim to verify his or her information by telling the caller his or her social security number and bank account information. Police say, “PLEASE remember to never give out personal information over the phone to anyone. If you feel that the call may be a scam get as much information about the caller as possible and call police to make a report. Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in America. Don’t fall victim to scams by giving out your personal information.”

East Texas Sheriff Facing Theft, Tampering Counts

Ron Clinton-Panola County SheriffCARTHAGE (AP) – The sheriff of an East Texas county has been arrested in a public corruption investigation involving alleged theft, abuse of power and fraud. Texas Rangers and the FBI on Thursday arrested Panola County Sheriff Ron Clinton, who took office in January. Department of Public Safety Trooper Jean Dark says Clinton faces charges of tampering with a government record defraud/harm, abuse of official capacity and theft by a public servant. He’s free on $50,000 bond. Clinton did not immediately return a message for comment Friday. A statement provided Friday from the sheriff’s department in Carthage says two outside agencies conducted the investigation and to contact Texas Rangers.

East Texas Sailor Sentenced to Prison

Christopher Browning-U S Navy-Athens TexasTOKYO — A court in Japan sentenced two American servicemen Friday to jail terms of respectively nine and 10 years for the rape of a Japanese woman in October 2012, while the men were on duty at a U.S. military base in Okinawa. According to KETK, the arrest of the Aviation Machinist’s Mate Airman Christopher Browning, Athens, Texas (pictured) and Aviation Electrician’s Mate Skyler Dozierwalker, both 23, prompted outraged reactions from Japanese officials and resulted in the imposition of a curfew by the U.S. military on its troops in Japan. They were both based in Fort Worth.

Lindale Bank Robber Sentenced to 40 Years

anthonyriosTYLER — The man who robbed the Capital One Bank on South Main St. in Lindale last year has been sentenced in a Smith County courtroom to 40 years behind bars. KETK reports Anthony Rios, 43, of Lindale, pleaded guilty to Aggravated Robbery for the incident before Judge Jack Skeen in the 241st District Court. In September of 2012, armed with a gun and face covered with a towel, Rios robbed the bank and drove away. His car was found in the airport garage at DFW airport in Dallas. It was covered in the red dye from the bank’s security device. He was found later in the Philippines, and was taken into custody at DFW airport after arriving back in the U.S.

Driver Involved in Fatal Wreck Identified

police-car-lights2TYLER — Tyler police are continuing their investigation of a fatality accident. The one vehicle wreck happened around 9:00 Wednesday night at the intersection of Loop 323 and Old Jacksonville Highway. Authorities said the vehicle, driven by Eugenia Matthews, 30, Whitehouse, left the roadway and struck a traffic light pole at the intersection. She was pronounced dead at the scene.

Tyler Cathedral Honors Outgoing Pope

Cathedral of the Immaculate ConceptionTYLER — At 1:00 Thursday afternoon, the bells of Tyler’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception tolled for eight minutes to signal the official end of Pope Benedict’s pontificate. The cathedral’s Father Anthony McGlaughlin told KETK, “We relate to him as a father figure, not just simply as a distant CEO or as a president, and in a very familial way, so we will miss him. He was a tremendous, tremendous gift.”

TxDOT Transfers Ownership of Toll 49 to NET RMA

thumb_loop-49AUSTIN – The Texas Transportation Commission has transferred the ownership of Loop 49 from the state to the Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority (NET RMA). TxDOT officials term the move “another example of collaborating with partners to advance transportation projects around Texas.” Locally known as Toll 49, the transfer includes 26 miles of roadway from Interstate 20 to State Highway 110 southeast of Tyler. Loop 49, which has been in the works for more than 30 years, now is operating in segments south and west of town. The latest segment, 3B, is tentatively set to open March 29, connecting the facility with I-20. Future segments are being planned to further connect the Longview-Tyler region and provide additional mobility options in the area.

According to a TxDOT news release, Thursday’s action “is a big step for many people who have made the loop an economic stimulator for the region.” Texas Transportation Commissioner Jeff Austin III says, “Transferring Toll 49 to the NET RMA is a key milestone for those who have seen the vision of a high-speed loop around Tyler become a reality. Through regional cooperation setting regional priorities, this highway not only continues to be a lever in enhancing economic development and business activity, it also improves quality of life in the region.” Thursday’s action is also a prelude to an event this weekend at which local dignitaries celebrate the opening of Segment 3B. Visit http://www.loop49.org for more information about Toll 49.

Justice Pct. 1 Alcohol Election Moves One Step Closer

alcohol salesTYLER — An alcohol vote for Smith County Justice Precinct 1 is inching nearer. A petition with 2,206 verified voter signatures was recently turned in to the Smith County Elections Office, according to Elections Administrator Karen Nelson. A total of 1,835 were needed for consideration. KETK reports the petition will now go before the Commissioner’s Court on March 19. If the court approves, voters will decide in November if the sale of beer and wine for off premise consumption will be allowed in portions of the precinct that lie outside the Tyler city limits. Smith County Justice Precinct 2 and the City of Tyler passed similar measures in November 2012.

Trial Date Set for Ex-Upshur County Commissioner, Son

thumb_Lady-JusticeGILMER — An April 30 trial date has been set in the case of former Upshur County Commissioner Lloyd Crabtree and his son, who each face multiple felony indictments stemming from an October incident in which they are accused of disarming a state game warden and holding him at gunpoint. That’s according to KETK and the Longview News-Journal. Upshur County District Attorney Billy Byrd said after a Thursday morning hearing on the cases that jury selection is set for April 29. It has not been decided whether the two cases will go to trial simultaneously, but at least one trial will begin that day, he added.

Gohmert Votes Against Violence Against Women Act

thumb_louie-gohmert-3WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler has voted against the Violence Against Women Act, and he’s explaining why. In a statement, Gohmert says, “It is never acceptable to carry out acts of violence against women – or anyone for that matter. It violates existing laws in every U.S. state and territory. We should always defend and protect women from abuse and mistreatment. I have prosecuted and, later as a judge, personally sentenced violent abusers to prison for such heinous crimes. Violence against women is a critically important issue to me, and I also personally know the laws in our state of Texas protect women.

“The Violence Against Women Act was previously struck down by the Supreme Court for violating the Constitution and intruding on each State’s jurisdiction. This new Senate bill was seriously flawed also having Constitutional violations again. It will eventually be struck down. The bill also gave away far more money than even the President had requested. The House bill was better but still had very serious Constitutional flaws. Even though the name of the bill appealed to me on a very strong emotional basis, I still could not in good conscience vote for a bill that will again be found to violate the Constitution.

“Also the Speaker of the House had promised to return to regular order in the House so that bills would have legislative hearings, have wide open debate and have an open amendment process to provide complete transparency. That process more than likely would have provided a bill I could have voted for, but this bill was secretly negotiated and rushed to the floor for a vote. Additionally, granting Indian tribes special domestic violence jurisdiction over non-native Americans is blatantly violative of the Constitution.

“We know some of the groups helping battered women do wonderful, healing, helpful work. However, there is inadequate supervision of the money spent by the federal government in these matters causing some women’s advocacy groups, such as Eagle Forum, to state that this Act has a ‘billion-dollar-a-year price tag’ that is ‘spent by the radical feminists to pursue their ideology and goals.’ Shielding women from physical and mental abuse is of the utmost importance. However, this bill was not the answer while violating the Constitution.”

Schaefer Files Bill, Links Abortion to Economy

thumb_matt-schaeffer-1AUSTIN — State Representative Matt Schaefer of Tyler has filed House Bill 1413, which he says forces the state to take a hard look at how the practice of abortion affects the economy. Schaefer says House Bill 1413 is unique among pro-life bills in that it directs the State Demographer to investigate abortion trends and the socioeconomic impact of abortion on the state. One of the duties of the Office of the State Demographer is to inform the legislature of demographic and socioeconomic changes in the population. Schaefer says House Bill 1413 capitalizes on this mission.

“An economy grows due to an in increase in working age adults, or by increased productivity. Countries that have declining birthrates have economic difficulties. Abortion leads to fewer people who contribute to the economy, and that has a socioeconomic impact. It is time we tell that story in Texas,” Schaefer says.

According to information from Schaefer’s office, though the Department of State Health Services currently collects and reports the number of abortions in the state, no state agency conducts a socioeconomic analysis of the data. In 2010, the most recent year that data is available, DSHS reported a total of 77,592 abortions in Texas. According to Schaefer, “The state would be negligent not to assess the impact of such a large scale practice.”

Schaefer says his legislation has gained ground among pro-life conservatives, including co-authors Bryan Hughes of Mineola, and Charles Perry of Lubbock. Schaefer adds that Elizabeth Graham, Director of Texas Right to Life, recognized the need for HB1413. Graham is quoted as saying, “Texas Right to Life, along with Representative Schaefer, recognizes the need for accurate statistical insight into the effect elective abortion has on Texas, including the economic and cultural impact.”

Fire Damages Longview Home

Longview Fire DepartmentLONGVIEW — A Longview home has been extensively damaged by fire. It was reported around 4:00 Thursday afternoon in the 1300 Block of Carnegie Drive. It looks like it started clogged dryer vent pipe. No injuries were reported.

Officials: Man Admits Lying about Shooting

Cherokee County Sheriff's Department BadgeRUSK — Cherokee County Sheriff’s Deputies say they met with Garrett Scott Curtis, the Rusk State Hospital Employee who was shot on Tuesday, and his story has changed. The Sheriff’s Department tells KETK numerous inconsistencies in Curtis’s account of the shooting led them to believe that the incident was staged. During an interview on Thursday, Curtis reportedly told detectives that he fabricated the facts and that the gunshot wound was self inflicted. Curtis first told detectives he had been involved in a dispute with several people in another county recently, and that the shooting was in retaliation for the previous incident. Officials earlier reported that Curtis returned to work from lunch Tuesday with the gunshot wound and was transported to a Tyler hospital. No criminal charges have been filed at this time.

Time Running Out for Warrant Round Up Amnesty

thumb_smithcounty-sealTYLER — Today is the last day for Smith County residents to make payment arrangements for outstanding court costs and fines before facing arrest during the Great Texas Warrant Round Up. Smith County has joined forces with 300 other jurisdictions across Texas to participate in the largest joint warrant round up of this type in the state. Anyone with outstanding court costs and fines has until March 2 to arrange for payment before the warrant sweep begins. On March 2, officers will begin visiting homes, neighborhoods and places of work to arrest anyone who has not settled their debt with the county.

Smith County Judicial Compliance Supervisor Sheryl Keel says her office is receiving an average of 75-100 phone calls per day from Smith County citizens who want to make payment arrangements and avoid being picked up on March 2. “Save yourself the expense and embarrassment of being picked up during the warrant round up. Call the Smith County Collections Department and make arrangements to pay your outstanding fees today,” she said. Since the warrant round up amnesty period began on February 15, Smith County has collected approximately $11,000 in outstanding fines and closed about 40 cases.

Citizens are encouraged to take advantage of the grace period between February 15 and March 1, during which time they may resolve their case without penalty of arrest. Check to see if you have unpaid court costs or fines online at http://www.smith-county.com or by calling the Smith County Collections Department at 903-590-4620. Beginning March 2, the enforcement period of the warrant round up will begin and individuals will be arrested at their homes and places of work and brought to court to address their outstanding warrants before a judge.

Personnel Changes for City of Tyler

Dan BrottonTYLER — After 26 years of service, Solid Waste Director Dan Brotton retired Thursday. A celebration will be held yesterday afternoon at the Rose Garden Center. “Dan has been a tremendous asset for the City of Tyler and we will miss his leadership,” said Mark McDaniel, Tyler City manager. “On a personal level, I will greatly miss his business acumen and his servant leader’s heart.”

In another move, McDaniel has announced the appointment of a new communications manager, Kristi Boyett. Boyett has worked for the City of Tyler for more than seven years, most recently as the manager for organizational development. Among other things, she also serves on the city’s Performance Excellence Program team.

Van Shooting Follows Concealed Handgun Class

VAN — An accident after concealed handgun license training in Van has sent an employee of the school district to Tyler’s East Texas Medical Center for treatment of a leg wound. KETK reports the accident happened Wednesday after class when a certified person stayed for a private instruction with the instructor.

It was reported that there was a mechanical malfunction with a weapon. As they were working on the malfunction, the gun misfired and the bullet ricocheted coming back to hit the VISD employee in the left leg. The injury is not life threatening. The accident comes a month after the Van school board voted to allow guns on campus.

Expert: Fireball Over Texas Likely Chinese Craft

TYLER (AP) — A scientist says fireballs that streaked over the East Texas skies before dawn were likely pieces of a rocket booster that launched a Chinese satellite into orbit. Shanyn Beason of Beckville, about 25 miles southeast of Longview, told KLTV-TV of Tyler that she saw multicolored streaks of light shooting southeast to northwest over her head just after 3:00 Wednesday morning.

Harvard astrophysicist Jonathan McDowell tells The Associated Press that a Chinese CZ-4B rocket booster had been in a decaying orbit after lifting a satellite into orbit on May 10. It was expected to re-enter the atmosphere about the time as Beason saw the streaks of light, and McDowell says it’s highly likely they were fragments from the Chinese booster.

Former Lindale Firefighter Pleads Guilty to 2011 DWI

Christopher Michael CombsLINDALE — A former Lindale firefighter has pleaded guilty to driving while intoxicated in November 2011. That’s according to KETK. Christopher Michael Combs, 27, has been ordered by Judge Thomas A. Dunn to serve 180 days in the Smith County Jail and fined $200.

On November 27, 2011, Combs was accused of crashing into a Tyler gas station drunk. According to jail records, his blood alcohol content was higher than .15. Tyler Police say the incident happened shortly after 2:30 that morning at the Exxon station on the 1200 block of West Gentry. Combs had previously stated he fell asleep at the wheel and drove off the roadway, hitting several gas pumps and causing major damage to the business.

Tyler Fire Department Haz-Mat responded to the scene to control gas leakage in the parking lot. There was no report of any fire that occurred from the crash. Combs was taken to a local hospital following the wreck.

Navarro College Responds to Pepper Spray Incident

Navarro CollegeKILGORE (AP/Staff) – Leaders of Navarro college have defended their basketball team after Kilgore College police used pepper spray on the squad following a loss. Navarro College District President Richard Sanchez denies that his players were unruly after an 88-78 loss Saturday at Kilgore. KC spokesman Chris Craddock said Wednesday that Navarro players made threats and two officers discharged pepper spray when the team refused to return to the locker room. Craddock says the officers remain on the job and the investigation continues. Navarro Athletic Director Roark Montgomery says all 15 players and three coaches suffered some pepper spray effects and police were too aggressive. Several players applied cooling foam to their skin.

Van Cliburn Dies

Van CliburnFORT WORTH (AP/Staff) – The renowned American classical pianist Van Cliburn has died. He was 78. Cliburn was born in Louisiana and raised in Kilgore, where an auditorium at Kilgore College bears his name. His publicist and longtime friend Mary Lou Falcone told The Associated Press that Cliburn died Wednesday morning after suffering from bone cancer. She’d announced in late August that Cliburn had been diagnosed with advanced cancer and was being cared for at his home in Fort Worth.

Cliburn’s triumph at a Moscow competition in 1958 helped thaw the Cold War and launched a spectacular international career. Cliburn skyrocketed to fame after winning the first International Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow at age 23. He returned to a New York ticker tape parade, a first for a classical musician. He’d performed for every president since Harry Truman, and for years devoted his time to the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

According to a news release from Kilgore College, the school is saddened to hear of Cliburn’s passing. KC President Dr. Bill Holda says Cliburn is among the college’s most distinguished alumni. Cliburn attended summer classes at KC in 1951 and 1952. “He was a once-in-a-lifetime musician who in many ways was bigger than life,” Holda said. “Whether on the musical stage or the international political stage, he was a signature individual.” Holda said Kilgore College will always cherish the long and warm relationship the college has enjoyed with Cliburn through the years.

Smith County Postal Facility to Begin Closure Next Month

usps_etx_centerOWENTOWN — Officials now say the East Texas Mail Processing and Distribution Center in Owentown will close beginning in mid-March. KETK reports mail originating in the greater Tyler area will go to Shreveport and Houston or Dallas and Austin for handling, all by May 1. The closure of East Texas P&DC was originally reported in February of 2012, when the decision was made to shut down the facility. The issue of the processing center’s shutdown was initially broached in December of 2011, when the U.S. Postal Service held a public meeting about the potential closure of several processing centers across the country in order to save money. The Waco and Lufkin centers were also among those slated to close.

Officials Believe Shooting Was an Isolated Incident

Cherokee County Sheriff's Department BadgeRUSK — Cherokee County officials believe a shooting Tuesday involving a Rusk State Hospital employee was an isolated incident. Sheriff’s Capt. John Raffield issued a statement Wednesday saying, “Apparently there have been calls to several news outlets from concerned citizens about the safety of the general public in regards to this shooting. From all information available to investigators yesterday, last night, and this morning, we believe this was an isolated incident that was directed solely at the victim and not a random attack.” Raffield says officials “are actively pursuing what leads we have from the victim and witnesses that were at Rusk State Hospital when he arrived back at work.”

The statement continues, “An investigator spoke briefly with him last night at the hospital, but because of the medications being administered, that interview was cut short. When he is released from the hospital, he has agreed to meet with investigators on the case. At this time this department has no information on when he will be released. The victim made statements to several people prior to the shooting, that he had been in an altercation with some individuals from another county in the past week, and this shooting was in direct retaliation to that altercation. Investigators are actively pursing all leads in the case and an update on the investigation will be released as soon as it becomes available.”

Officials said earlier that the victim returned to work from lunch Tuesday with a gunshot wound to the shoulder or neck area. He’s identified as Garrett Scott Curtis, 22, of Alto.

Longview Man Shot at Local Motel

motel_shootingLONGVIEW — Longview police investigate a gunfire incident. Tuesday evening shortly after 10:15, officers responded to a shooting at the Globe Inn Motel, at 1300 East Marshall Avenue. When officers arrived they were told a man identified as Will Cox Jr., 37, of Longview, and several others were involved in an altercation. Witnesses said Cox allegedly shot Darkis Ramond Vaughn, 29, once in the leg. He then allegedly turned the weapon on a 29-year-old woman and threatened to shoot her as well. He allegedly fired the weapon several more times, striking the rear of the car the woman was sitting in. Cox then reportedly fled the scene. He was located a short time later near Teague Park. Cox was arrested for Deadly Conduct and Aggravated Assault with a Deadly Weapon. He was transported to the Gregg County Jail without incident.

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