2019-01-09 / News

Second half of 2018 not dull

BY ALLEN ESSEX
Staff Writer


DAVID SANCHEZ, LEFT, JUDGE OF THE 444TH STATE DISTRICT COURT IN BROWNSVILLE, with Commissioner Eddie Gonzales, 197th state District Judge Adolfo Cordova, Willacy County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Commissioner Oscar De Luna. (Photo by Allen Essex) DAVID SANCHEZ, LEFT, JUDGE OF THE 444TH STATE DISTRICT COURT IN BROWNSVILLE, with Commissioner Eddie Gonzales, 197th state District Judge Adolfo Cordova, Willacy County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr. and Commissioner Oscar De Luna. (Photo by Allen Essex) During the second half of 2018, readers of The Raymondville Chronicle and Willacy County News learned that protestors spoke at Willacy County commissioners’ meetings about their opposition to the re-opening of the former “tent city” prison on the east edge of Raymondville.

The facility was re-opened to house the increasing numbers of illegal aliens arrested by the U.S. Border Patrol as President Donald TrumpĂ­s crackdown on immigrants from Central America and Mexico ratcheted up the numbers to be housed by the federal government.

Management and Training Corp., of Centerville, Utah, had earlier purchased the facility from Willacy County it had operated prior to a 2015 riot during which the tent portion had been destroyed.


JUDGE ADOLFO CORDOVA TRIES ON HIS NEW ROBE for the first time at the New Year’s Day ceremony at the Willacy County Community Safe Room. He will preside over the 197th state District Court, which has jurisdiction over Willacy and Cameron Counties. (Photo by Allen Essex) JUDGE ADOLFO CORDOVA TRIES ON HIS NEW ROBE for the first time at the New Year’s Day ceremony at the Willacy County Community Safe Room. He will preside over the 197th state District Court, which has jurisdiction over Willacy and Cameron Counties. (Photo by Allen Essex) A 1,000-bed brick-and-mortar facility remained after MTC cleared away the damaged tents. MTC began moving federal detainees to Raymondville as such centers filled up along the Southwest U.S.-Mexico border.

Also, in the July 5 issue, Chronicle readers learned that Weslaco trucker Antonio Quintero-Valdez Jr., would be tried on four counts of criminally negligent homicide for allegedly causing the deaths of four family members on Christmas Eve 2016. His semi tractor struck a family’s pickup truck head-on on the Scurve on Highway 186 on the western outskirts of Raymondville.

Quintero’s case is still proceeding in the 197th state District Court as well as a civil lawsuit filed on behalf of relatives of the family that died in the accident.

A local man whose wife had been incarcerated for months in the Willacy County jail continued to ask that his wife be sent to a mental hospital for proper care, rather than held in jail. She allegedly attacked him in the home each time she was released from jail.

Willacy County received four new mosquito foggers after weeks of heavy flooding caused an explosion in mosquito swarms. The machines, which replaced old and broken foggers, were immediately put into use in populated areas.

In the July 18 issue, it was reported that Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales had been hospitalized after suffering a heart attack. He quickly recovered and returned to his duties, attending meetings and other functions.

Willacy County’s “Community Safe Room” was opened and quickly put into use for public events. A large open area remained ready to shelter residents during the onset of a major storm such as a hurricane. Offices of the adjacent Willacy County Housing Authority’s Labor Camp development were opened in a small portion of the facility. A summer basketball camp opened in the center and County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra said many other types of activities would be held there.

Resignations and transfer of job duties at the Raymondville Independent School District was reported. School District Police Chief Oscar Gutierrez was assigned more duties, such as overseeing construction and maintenance and the school bus system as longtime department head Richard Flores retired.

Gutierrez’s wife Judy was one of two school board members who had voted against purchase of a $434,349 computerized “Jumbotron” football stadium scoreboard, a project of Superintendent Stetson Roane. Roane was involved in a similar controversy at his previous position as superintendent at Seguin, where a $1.3 million scoreboard had been purchased.

Owners of 8-liner game rooms in Sebastian and Lyford who had been denied permits under a new county ordinance appealed the decisions but lost those appeals. The denials were made in July by retired justice of the peace Richard Solis who was appointed by county commissioners as a hearing officer for the cases.

In the July 11 issue of the Chronicle, a protest at the Willacy County administration building was reported. Protesters who had been bused in from out of the county held a demonstration against reopening of the former “tent city” facility. During the county commissioners’ meeting representatives from the groups learned the decision to allow reopening of the facility was made when the county had sold the facility to MTC, the company that managed it prior to a February 2015 riot that caused the facility’s closure.

Prior to the riot, the facility was housing U.S. Bureau of Prisons detainees in the last year of their sentence.

Also, in the July 11 issue of the Chronicle, it was reported that Willacy County planned to seek federal disaster aid for flood damage to public facilities from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. No money would be available for private homes during June flooding. Ultimately, no federal funds were awarded to Willacy County.

Also, Lyford, which had suffered major flood damage to its new Central Park and other areas of town, was slowly drying out after the June flooding. Clean-up work was being carried out on public and private property through the city.

Five people were arrested for alleged narcotics trafficking by Willacy County Sheriff’s Department and two task forces when a home on Emma Ross Road was raided.

The 44th annual Port Mansfield fishing tournament began, the July 25 issue of the Chronicle reported. The event was a success, with over 300 entries reported.

The MTC Detention Center was officially reopened after being closed due to a February 2015 riot, readers learned.

Drought and flooding were blamed for crop damage in 2018. However, some of the cotton crop did get harvested after a difficult season.

Raymondville city officials approved use of land belonging to the Economic Development Corp. and other measures to make it possible for the long-delayed Tractor Supply Corp. to be built. The store opened this Saturday.

Population will fluctuate at the MTC El Valle Detention Center, local officials learned when news that 37 Guatemalans were deported back to their country. More arrivals and departures were expected.

In the Aug 8 edition of the Chronicle, local resident Michael Gonzales, who works at lawn care, is a contractor for the Chronicle and is a cashier at Ed’s #3 and other convenience stores, was working a late shift at Ed’s #3 when a masked bandit held him up at knifepoint. Martin Mendoza was later arrested in connection with the robbery.

Also, in that edition, it was reported that Raymondville Mayor Gilbert Gonzales, who had recently suffered a heart attack, was recovering and would soon be back at his desk at City Hall.

Willacy County Republican Party Chairman Roland “Wolf” Chapa reported on a GOP caucus in Austin and explained some of the measures approved for a party platform, including party rules, school choice, abortion, property taxes and other issues.

A feature story on pitayas, more commonly known as dragon fruit, was published Aug 8. Dr. Charles Taylor, who has been experimenting with and producing pitaya was quoted about research he has been doing with the plant at Pitaya Farms, which is located in Willacy County.

In the Aug. 15 edition, Raymondville Police Department’s efforts to collect school supplied and other items for the National Night Out/Christmas in August event were showcased on the front page.

Also included was a report that RPD Detective Sgt. Marcelino Flores was arrested by Texas Department of Public Safety troopers for driving while intoxicated. His case was dismissed for lack of evidence since he was not taken to a hospital for a blood-alcohol test but he was later dismissed from his position by a vote of the City Commission.

Also on Aug. 15, Willacy County officials approved a “jail diversion” program for people repeatedly jailed due to mental problems. The program is now being operated at La Jarra Ranch by Inspired Behavioral Health. Residents are monitored to ensure they stay on their medication.

Also, Raymondville City Commissioners approved an increase in mowing fees for property owners cited for having weedy lots.

Willacy County officials announced plans to hold with the current property tax rate, although the total amount of taxable property had increased during the past year. Pay raises for county employees were not approved but bonuses based on years of service would be continued, commissioners agreed.

On Aug. 22, South Padre Island police and Texas Rangers recovered the body of former Massachusetts priest William “Bill” Costello from a shallow grave in the International Boundary and Commission floodway near Santa Monica. Costello had been living on the Island. Costello, his dog and his car had gone missing.

Contractors rushed to complete installation of the controversial $4.34k “Jumbotron” scoreboard at Raymondville High School’s Burnett Stadium, readying the computerized display for football season.

The ongoing controversy about 8-liner arcades, especially in Sebastian continued in 197th state District Court. Some 8-liner cases were transferred to federal court and litigation still continues about the gaming houses.

A tax imposed for maintenance and operation on property owners in Southern Willacy County by the Port of Harlingen raised the ire of Willacy residents. Ron Mills, port director for Port Mansfield, said his agency cannot tax the same area that the Port of Harlingen claims, but can tax some Willacy residents’ property.

On Aug. 29, details about the troubled past of former Massachusetts priest William “Bill” Costello came to light. Arrested and charged with murder of the 71-year-old Costello was Juan Carlos Baez Escobedo, 27, a resident alien who had been living in San Benito. Costello had earlier been investigated by Rhode Island State Police for allegedly paying a young man for sex, but was not charged with a crime. However, he retired early after as requested by a bishop.

Willacy County officials discussed an application for a grant for up to $500,000 from Texas Parks & Wildlife for a community building.

Willacy County Navigation District officials learned that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had received approval to conduct the biggest dredging project at the channel leading to the Gulf of Mexico since 1962. The multimillion dollar project will include the harbor, channel through the Laguna Madre and the “land cut” leading to the Gulf.

Raymondville city officials approved keeping the tax rate at 76.82 cents for each $100 in property value.

In the Oct. 10 issue of the Chronicle, readers learned that heavily armed federal officers and Texas Department of Public Safety troopers raided Brittany’s Boutique, a downtown Raymondville gold and silver exchange, as well as the El Toro 8-liner arcade and an adjacent gold and silver shop in Lyford, in connection with 8-liner operations. Little information was made available to news media.

In Raymondville, a World War II sailor was honored at a ceremony at American Legion Post 390, where he was presented with a forgotten wartime medal. Robert De La Garza was presented with the Navy Occupation Service Medal with Pacific Clasp.

City of Raymondville officials opened bids for an estimated $2.4 million street paving project.

In the Oct. 17 issue, the Chronicle reported that Willacy County was stretching its small road-paving budget with “millings,” which is ground-up asphalt from state highway projects. The materials are used to fill in potholes or to pave muddy, rutted sections on rural county roads.

City of Raymondville officials awarded R&R Paving Co. a $1.4 million contract for the first half of the city street-paving project.

Early voting was to start on Oct. 22 for Willacy County Navigation District’s election and for statewide races and ballot propositions.

Raymondville police made five arrests and seized an un-disclosed sum of cash at the Power Ball 8-liner arcade in the Raymondville Plaza strip shopping center.

A new location on the expressway frontage road near the Veterans of Foreign Wars hall boosted attendance at the annual Wild in Willacy nature festival. Despite drizzly weather, the offering of mechanized rides for children and other new activities, drew a larger crowd than previous festivals on the courthouse grounds downtown, Chamber of Commerce organizers said.

Texas Department of Public Safety officials released a surveillance camera photo of a second suspect in the killing of former Catholic priest William “Bill” Costello, 71, of Massachusetts. Costello disappeared from South Padre Island. His body was found near Santa Monica by SPI police and Texas Rangers Aug. 17. Carlos Baez Escobedo, 27, a resident alien, was previously arrested in connection with Costello’s killing.

A story published Oct. 31 reported that Port Mansfield officials said that social media accounts of the port’s mission and finances were short on facts. Funding for major dredging work approved by Congress did not mean the funds would go into the Willacy Navigation District’s coffers or could be used for any other purpose, Port Director Ron Mills and Chairman of the Board Tommy Rains said. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will handle selection of contractors and supervise all dredging work, they said.

Funding the port had set aside for dredging its harbor was transferred to road paving inside the small town of Port Mansfield.

Raymondville Police Department’s Safe Haven Halloween celebration was to be held Oct. 31, the Chronicle reported.

A planned visit by Democratic Party U.S. Senate candidate Robert “Beto” O’Rourke was announced. O’Rourke challenged Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas and received national attention but Cruz won another term in the election.

Raymondville police reported that a local man, Christopher John Chavarria, was stabbed in a fight at the Drunken Armadillo bar. Two women, Marisol Leija, 40 and Stephanie Trevino, 31, were also arrested in the bar’s parking lot for disorderly conduct after they were observed fighting.

Raymondville native son Rogelio “Roy” Valdez, chief justice of the 13th state District Court of Appeals, announced his retirement. He recalled his career and upbringing with a Chronicle reporter.

Stacey Reyes won a seat on the Willacy County Navigation District in the Nov. 2 election.

Also, on election night, DPS troopers investigated the death of a local pedestrian, Jose De La Garcia, 69, of Raymondville. He was walking in the dark at Business 77 and Canal Avenue and was struck by a pickup truck.

Willacy County Sheriff’s officers and a U.S. Homeland Security task force raided the Silver Outpost 8-liner arcade in Sebastian. Officers seized $10,722 in cash and the motherboards from 86 gaming machines.

Lyford Police investigated a Lyford incident at a cemetery “party” and a middle school winedrinking incident. Eight people were later arrested on felony charges in connection with the cemetery incident.

On Nov. 14, the Chronicle reported the 30th annual Veterans Day program at Lyford High School was held indoors due to chilly, rainy weather. The event was well attended despite the change of plans.

Raymondville city officials announced a new stand-alone emergency room facility will be built in the city near the school complex and I69E/Expressway 77. Four medical professionals and 21 other employees are to be hired.

The annual Feast of Sharing was announced, an event held for over 20 years, with Our Lady of Guadalupe Catholic Church and other local volunteers, Raymondville police, Amigos del Valle and H-E-B Supermarkets all contributing to the event.

In the Nov. 21 issue, Lyford officials declined to take action to reopen the Horseshoe Entertainment 8-linder arcade that was the first to be closed after the city passed an ordinance to limit maquinitas in 2013.

Officials of Universal Health Services Inc., a company planning to open an emergency room facility in Raymondville, met with officials of the city’s Economic Development Corp. to explain details of the facility.

New commissioners for the Willacy County Navigation District board were sworn in and the agency’s attorney explained their terms would begin Dec. 1. The new members, Stacey Reyes, Chad Kinney and Alberto Trevino were invited to participate in the meeting. Only members of the previous board could vote, however.

Conservative speaker and filmmaker Dinesh D’Souza spoke at Marine Military Academy in Harlingen. He told of his childhood in India and his continued belief that America is a land of opportunity. His wife Debbie, a native of Venezuela, was raised in Harlingen. He explained the many opportunities he has had in the United States. He also spoke of actions that he believes were taken against him by former President Barack Obama, including imprisonment, for producing a film called “Death of a Nation,” which included an interview with Obama’s brother in Kenya, who stated the U.S. president did nothing to help him, even though he lives in a hut with few prospects. The Internal Revenue Service and U.S. Justice Department had him arrested and imprisoned for income tax evasion and for contributing an excessive amount of money to a political candidate, D’Souza claims.

The passing of Frank Yturria, 95, a rancher with extensive land ownership in Willacy and Cameron Counties was documented in the Nov. 28 edition. He was an avid environmentalist and descendant of Francisco Yturria, taking a keen interest in preserving the ocelot and other endangered species in the Lower Rio Grande Valley.

Upcoming major court cases were reviewed. The alleged killer of Nora Rodriguez (Conde) Villalobos, her then-boyfriend Juan Manuel Tobias Jr., an illegal alien from Mexico, is scheduled to go on trial in Hidalgo County this month. Rodriguez-Villalobos was an Army veteran and Whataburger employee. Her body was found near Lasara and Delta Lake in Hidalgo County May 23, 2017.

Other trials, such as that of Ismael Hernandez-Vallejo, a second suspect in the killing of an offduty Border Patrol agent, is being conducted in Brownsville in 197th state District Court, which has jurisdiction in both Willacy and Cameron Counties.

Antonio Quintero-Valdez Jr., a Weslaco trucker who faces four counts of criminally negligent homicide for the deaths of a family of four in a Christmas Eve 2016 accident on the Highway 186 Scurve west of Raymondville, will be tried in 197th state District Court.

Also working its way through the 197th schedule is the trial of Stephen Dale Hommel, who is charged with attempted murder and other charges related to a shootout at the family home near Raymondville.

Convicted child molester Raul Arevalo Jr. went back to court to fight an Adult Probation Department order that he move out of his home because it is located within 500 feet of a school.

Nicholas Wayne Doss’ arrest on seven sex charges related to children was reported. The Raymondville man was arrested on three warrants related to online sale of child pornography.

Raymondville police were investigating a shot being fired at a sheriff’s deputy’s home inside the city.

A reception to honor retiring 197th state District Court Judge Migdalia Lopez and welcoming incoming judge Adolfo Cordova was held at the L.E. Franks Tourist Center.

Aggravated robbery charges were filed against Victor De los Reyes for brandishing a pistol at homeowners who discovered him in their garage. Willacy County Sheriff’s deputies arrested De los Reyes at an apartment building.

On Dec. 12, Lyford City Commissioners gave animal control officers the authority to issue tickets for violations of the city animal ordinance.

Also, a Raymondville man was charged with driving while intoxicated after a three-vehicle accident in which a pickup truck crashed into the front of Watson’s City Drug and The Boutique at Watson’s. Urbano Cavazos Jr. was first placed in the Raymondville city jail and later transferred to the Willacy County jail.

Raymondville City Commission approved the use of tax abatements as a tool for the Economic Development Corp. to attract business and industry to relocate to Raymondville.

Two men were in custody for allegedly holding up the Lyford Superette.

The City of Raymondville began the holiday season with the Christmas tree lighting ceremony at the downtown pocket park.

On Dec. 19, eight people were arrested with felonies in connection with a Nov. 3 incident at the Lyford Evergreen Cemetery. A 16- year-old was allegedly lured to the “party” in an attempt to bring his older brother to the rescue but that brother was among those charged for allegedly striking one of the party-goers with his car.

A wreath-laying ceremony was held at a ranch cemetery owned by the Chavez Cemetery near Sebastian. Members of the Chavez Family honored six relatives who were military veterans. The event was part of the National Wreaths Across America Memorial Day.

Lyford City Commission approved a new subdivision that will include a doctor’s clinic and up to 10 new homes.

During the month of December, photos of Christmas parades and other events were featured in the Raymondville Chronicle & Willacy County News. Gifts for children and festive lights, marching horses and floats entertained many spectators. Parades were held in Raymondville, Lyford and Sebastian. Santa Claus passed out gifts to children around the county.

Willacy County Veterans Service Officer Daniel Gomez was arrested for DWI Dec. 22. Gomez, a three-tour veteran of Army service in Iraq, was a sergeant in the Texas Army National Guard on active duty with the Guard, assigned to active duty to help guard the U.S.- Mexican border. Gomez has been on active duty with the Army National Guard since being hired as VSO by the county. County Judge Aurelio “Keter” Guerra said he is reviewing what action might be necessary.

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