The Family Crisis Center of East Texas (FCC), which recently opened a branch office in Crockett, hosted a Domestic Violence Awareness Month activity on the Houston County Courthouse lawn Thursday, Oct. 5.
The event, moderated by Heather Kartye, FCC executive director, who is stationed in Lufkin, featured a brief program with agency representatives and local dignitaries speaking about the effects of domestic violence.
In addition, it included a release of 49 purple balloons recognizing the 49 victims who sought out FCC's services and received help last year and two white balloons representing unreported incidents of domestic violence. The program concluded with a pizza lunch provided by the FCC.
Veronica Pace, who is a crisis worker in FCC's Safehouse (39-bed emergency shelter) and also is a facilitator in FCC's Battering Intervention and Prevention Program (BIPP) in Houston County, presented some startling domestic violence statistics.
The BIPP allows the agency to take a wholistic approach to domestic violence by, not only providing services to survivors but also providing groups to perpetrators of domestic violence, said Kartye in introducing Pace to speak at the event.
"According to the National Network to End Domestic Violence, one in three women and one in four men will experience violence from their partner in their lifetime," Pace said. "Nationwide, an average of three women are killed by a current or former intimate partner every day. "Approximately 15½ million children are exposed to domestic violence every year. Children exposed to violence are more likely to attempt suicide, abuse drugs and alcohol, run away from home, engage in teenage prostitution and commit sexual assault crimes." Pace continued, "Men exposed to physical abuse, sexual abuse and/or domestic violence as children are almost four times more likely than other men to perpetrate domestic violence as adults.
"Domestic violence has been estimated to cost employers in the U.S. up to $13 billion each year. Between one quarter and one half of domestic violence victims report that they lost their jobs, at least in part, due to domestic violence."
These are some "pretty astounding statistics," Kartye said. "Maybe you are a survivor of domestic violence. Maybe you're not. It affects all of us. It truly has an impact on everyone."
Calling FCC-Crockett legal advocate Maria Rodriguez "the true star of our agency here in Houston County," Kartye introduced Rodriguez to speak next.
"I have been working with victims of domestic violence for over 26 years," Rodriguez said. "One of the reasons why I started working with victims of domestic violence was because of my background—because of what I went through with my children and my sister's children.
"My sister was killed in 1983 by her husband and she left three children—12, nine and two years old. At that time, there was not the help that there is now.
"My husband and I did not know what to do. We didn't get any help. We had to pay for the funeral ourselves. We didn't know anything about counseling.
"I knew I had to get some kind of help for the children. I focused on my sister's children, and not mine. I didn't focus on my husband or myself. I was just focusing on those children who lost their mother. Our lives had been split in an instant. We did not know what to do. It was very hard to move on.
"At that time, my husband and I had two children. So, all of a sudden, we had five, and one of them was almost a teenager." Rodriguez said after her sister's husband killed her sister, he fled and disappeared for 13½ years. When Rodriguez's family heard of him again, she said, he had been in El Paso and unfortunately had killed another woman, a common-law wife, there. He is now serving time in prison, but will be eligible for parole in six years, she said. "And it's very sad."
This ordeal has been very hard on her and her family, Rodriguez said. "That's one of the reasons I believe in this agency (Family Crisis Center). I believe in the help we give. And I'm very excited with the BIPP as well."
She said getting help that is needed and stopping domestic violence is important.
In addition, County Attorney Daphne Session and County Attorney Investigator Buck Carroll, who assist FCC in many ways, spoke at the noonday gathering.
"Domestic violence is a serious crime," said Carroll, who also is Crime Victim Assistance Coordinator in the County Attorney's Office. "It should be recognized and treated as such. Many times, the best way to attack a problem or to get someone to recognize a problem is through the criminal justice system.
"We should all treat domestic violence as a serious crime. If we, as a society, treat domestic violence the same way as we treat violence against anyone else, any other person, involving violence against strangers, the impact would be even greater. There's one thing that batterers take seriously, and that's brushes with the law."
Carroll added, "Domestic violence is complex. It involves behaviors among those who love and care for each other."
Session, who at times broke down in tears, said, "At the County Attorney's Office, we work really hard to support the victims who we have—who come into our office—whether they are named as victims on a criminal case that we are pursuing or they come in for a protective order. "We try to encourage them. We try to help guide them through the (legal) system. We try to support them. We refer them to resources, like the (Family) Crisis Center for help. We try to be their sounding board and some of the people behind them who say, 'You can do this. We know it's difficult. We know it's hard, but we'll help you through it.
"We ask that you help support whatever victim you might know who is in your life. Help them through the tough decisions.... We try to do the best we can, and we just ask that you, as part of our community, try to do the best you can too when it comes to our victims.
Others who spoke were Mary Curtis, FCC-Crockett counselor; Maria Raley, FCC child advocate; and Glenna Harkness, FCC program director. Harkness said, in 2016, FCC, which serves nine East Texas counties, provided over 118,000 services to 1,200 survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Crockett High School senior Tyress Anderson lost his life on Sunday, Oct. 1. Memorial services for Anderson will be held on Saturday, Oct. 7 at 11 a.m. in the Crockett ISD Andrew J. Hopkins Activity Center. The Crockett community lost an outstanding young man, student and athlete in a one-vehicle accident that occurred in Houston County early Sunday morning, Oct. 1.
Tyress Anderson, 17, a Crockett High School senior and two-way starter on the Bulldogs varsity football team, lost his life in a single-vehicle wreck that occurred off County Road 1825 near Latexo about 6 a.m.
Anderson played in his last Bulldogs football game— CHS's homecoming game against the Coldspring Trojans—Friday night, Sept. 29.
"Tyress was a fine young man who is going to be very much missed here in our district," said Superintendent Terry Myers of the Crockett Independent School District. "He was a great young man and he will be missed.
"He always had a smile and was one of those young men who was a fierce competitor, and was also a friend to a lot of kids and a lot of folks here in our community. We loved him and we'll miss him. He played football, basketball, and I believe he ran some track as well." Concerning Anderson's participation in the Bulldogs' homecoming match-up against Coldspring, Myers said, "He showed a lot of heart in that ballgame."
Myers added, "We—the coaching staff, a couple of the principals, counselors and myself—spent some time with the family yesterday (Sunday). Losing him is just like losing one of my own children. They (students in the district) are all mine. It's very, very difficult for me as superintendent to lose one."
Myers said circumstances like these are "why we all pull together and why we all love one another and take care of one another." Athletic Director and Head Football Coach Jimmy Thompson, confirmed that Anderson was a two-way starter for the CHS football team this year, in addition to participating in basketball and track.
"When Tyress walked into a room, the room became brighter," Thompson said. "He was smiling, dancing, joking and having a good time with his teammates.
"I never saw him get in an argument with anybody and I never heard anyone say anything negative about him. He lived each day to the fullest.
"He was an all-around wonderful kid who had a great future, but God took him home early. He was one of those kids that you love being around. It breaks your heart (to lose him)."
Thompson added, "Losing is always tough, but this puts everything in perspective. I lay there Friday night (after the Bulldogs lost to Coldspring) and can't sleep because I lose a football game.
"You feel sorry for yourself and then something tragic like this happens. It makes you open your eyes and realize that losing a football game isn't really that big of a deal."
Thompson said a balloon release, followed by a candlelight ceremony, was held in memory of Anderson at Monte Jack Driskell Stadium Sunday evening.
About the incident that took Anderson's life, Myers said, "All we know, is he lost control of a vehicle he was driving. That's what caused the accident that took his life. It was somewhere out past the Latexo schools on a county road."
According to a Texas Department of Public Safety trooper, Anderson was traveling south on CR 1825 about six miles north of Crockett at an unsafe speed when the vehicle he was driving failed to negotiate a curve.
The vehicle—a 2002 Chevrolet Tahoe—veered off the road, entered a side skid and overturned.
Precinct 1 Justice of the Peace Clyde Black of Houston County pronounced Anderson dead at the scene of the accident.
It took a jury less than 30 minutes to find James "Eddy" Henderson guilty of aggravated kidnapping and about that same amount of time to sentence him to 99 years imprisonment for his participation in the incident that resulted in the 2015 brutal beating death of Vanessa Melson.
The 12-member jury reached the unanimous guilty verdict and handed down the sentence at the conclusion of a five-day trial, which began Monday, Sept. 18, in the 349th District Court in Crockett Monday, Sept. 25. The sentence is the maximum allowable for the offense for which Henderson was found guilty.
The jury could also have assessed Henderson a fine of up to $10,000, but did not decide to do so.
After receiving hearing his sentence, Henderson of Crockett, who was found guilty of aggravated kidnapping in the first degree in connection with Melson's murder, told District Judge Pam Foster Fletcher he will seek an appeal.
In mid-June 2015, Melson was brutally murdered after being driven by Robert Mobley Jr. to a home that was being shared by Henderson and Henderson's girlfriend Brenna Theurer.
On July 7, 2015 cadaver dogs led authorities to Melson's partially-buried body on Henderson's land near his home off County Road 1737 in the Grapeland area She was 29 years of age and the mother of three children.
After being arrested on outstanding warrants July 30, 2015, Henderson and Theurer agreed to talk to authorities about the incident. Theurer testified for the prosecution at Henderson's trial.
On Aug. 25, 2017, Mobley was found guilty of first-degree aggravated kidnapping by a Houston County jury in connection with Melson's death. His sentencing hearing is expected to be held today, Thursday, Sept. 28, according to District Attorney Donna Gordon Kaspar.
In reading the jury's verdict form in the sentencing phase of Henderson's trial Monday, Fletcher quoted the factfinders, saying, "We, the jury, having found the defendant guilty of aggravated kidnapping, as charged in the indictment, do assess his punishment at 99 years' confinement in the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Institution Division. We assess as further punishment a fine of no fine."
Fletcher said the punishment will be meted out as set by the jury. She noted Henderson will be required to pay court costs and any other costs that are associated with court-appointed attorneys' fees.
Representing Henderson, Defense Attorney Stanley Sokolowski requested that the jury of six men and six women be polled after the announcement of Henderson's punishment, and the judge asked each juror if they had concurred in the verdict. Each one affirmatively stated the verdict was their individual verdict.
Four of Melson's family members and close friends presented victim impact statements, saying how devastating Melson's death is for them and how her loss of life grieves and otherwise affects them.
In a press release late Monday, Kaspar wrote, "A jury trial began Tuesday, Sept. 18, 2017, in the State of Texas vs. James Henderson. It is the second trial involving the death of Melson who went missing June 17, 2015, and was discovered in a shallow grave on the Henderson property July 7 of that same year.
"The jury heard evidence from Theurer, the girlfriend of Henderson, who testified that Mobley showed up at the Henderson property in the early hours of June 17 with Melson, who he was having an argument with.
"Mobley left, then returned to the home and put Melson in the laundry room and made her sit in a fold-out chair. Melson was not allowed to leave the laundry room. Theurer confronted Mobley in an attempt to make him leave to no avail.
"When she tried to call 911, Henderson took her phone away from her. Later that morning Theurer heard Mobley striking first the wall then Melson with a nunchuck wrapped in electric tape that Mobley had brought into the house with him. Theurer also testified that she believed both Mobley and Henderson sexually assaulted Melson.
"Video interviews made during the investigation of Henderson were played to the jury. They consisted of several versions of what transpired offered by Henderson to Bill Ruland, investigator for the Houston County Sheriff's Department and Andres de la Garza, a Texas Ranger.
"Henderson told several versions of how Mobley beat Melson with his fist out in the pasture behind the house and that he had nothing to do with her being confined in the laundry room or with her death.
"Throughout the interviews, Henderson claimed that Melson was alive when he saw her last. However, Theurer's testimony refuted that claim as she had seen both Henderson and Mobley put a black area rug with hair the color of Vanessa's hanging out of the end of it in the back of Mobley's truck.
"The jury took less than half an hour to find Henderson guilty. After the guilty verdict, the jury was responsible for assessing punishment. After carefully considering the facts of the case, the evidence of Henderson's criminal history, as well as part of an interview where he discussed purchase and sale of drugs that he and Mobley had planned, the jury assessed his punishment at 99 years imprisonment for aggravated kidnapping.
"I hope this verdict brings some closure to Melson's family. I feel such deep sympathy for them. This verdict unfortunately can't undo what has been done.
"I commend the jury for making the hard decision in this case and assessing this punishment. It is rarely easy to give out a sentence that will affect someone for such a great portion of their life, but in this case, it was warranted.
"Mobley has previously been found guilty of the offense and is set to be sentenced by Judge Fletcher on Thursday, Sept. 28. Sokolowski, whose law practice is based in Palestine, told Fletcher he does not wish to be on the appellate list to represent Henderson in his efforts to have his sentence appealed. He told the Courier after the sentencing phase concluded Monday, "I just appreciate the hard work of the jury—their time they spent considering this.
"This was a long and difficult trial. I'm sure it was hard for them (the jurors) to hear. While we respect the verdict, we're certainly disappointed by the verdict. It wasn't what we expected in this trial.
"We certainly were looking for a 'Not Guilty' verdict due to the nature of the testimony from Ms. Theurer. We don't feel she was credible at all due to the duress I believe Mr. Henderson was under (at the time of Melson's murder). So, we felt like a 'Not Guilty' verdict would have been appropriate."
Sokolowski added, "The punishment certainly surprised me. Obviously, the jury believed him (Henderson) to be guilty. I thought the level of his involvement certainly was less than a 99-year verdict. I didn't think her (Theurer's) testimony was credible due to her criminal history and the fact that she had a deal (with the district attorney) to testify."
Regarding his decision to not add his name to the appellate list to possibly be chosen to represent Henderson on his appeal effort, Sokolowski said, "I think it's generally best to have somebody who didn't try the case to look at the appeal to make sure there wasn't something missed (by the trial attorney)."
LUIS ALFREDO HERNANDEZA domestic dispute turned into a violent episode where three children allegedly were endangered and in imminent danger of bodily injury Friday night, Sept. 15, according to a Warrantless Arrest Probable Cause Statement filed by the Crockett Police Department.
CPD Lt. Lonnie Lum was dispatched to a residence on Cedar Street in reference to a disturbance involving weapons.
The Maximo Orduna reported his bedroom is next to his sister's, and that he heard her and her common law husband, Luis Alfredo Hernandez, 24, arguing. According to the police report, Orduna said the dispute sounded physical so he went to the couple's room to find Hernandez allegedly on top of Orduna's sister, Jessica Orduna, choking her.
The police report alleges, "Maximo said that he pulled Luis off of his sister and then Luis punched him in the right side of his face. Luis then pulled a pistol from a holster on his side and pointed it at Maximo telling him not to interfere or he would shoot him."
The report further alleges, "Maximo said that Luis then cocked the gun and a bullet fell out on the floor. He described the gun as a silver in color semi-automatic pistol with brown handles."
The disturbance reportedly continued in the living room, with Hernandez allegedly retrieving a "machine gun" (an AK-90 reportedly was found while executing a search warrant) and sitting down on the couch with it.
Maximo Orduna reportedly tried to get his sister and the three children to leave with him, but she stayed while Maximo waited outside for the police. Jessica Orduna denied seeing any weapons or being choked.
Lum reported observing and photographing red marks on both sides of her neck consistent with the report of being choked.
Hernandez was placed under arrest and transported to the Houston County Jail. By the time the process was complete, Hernandez was charged with the following offenses:
- Abandoning or enddangering a child with imminent danger of bodily injury (x3 - one charge for each child) for allegedly displaying a weapon and threatening to shoot Maximo Orduna in the proximity of the children (second degree felony); - Aggravated assault of date/family/house member with weapon, for allegedly pointing the pistol at Maximo Orduna and threatening to shoot him while both men live in the same house (first degree felony); - Assault family/house member - impede breath/circulation, for allegedly putting his hands around Jessica Orduna's throat and choking her, his common law wife (third degree felony). - Assault causes bodily injury family member, for allegedly hitting Maximo Orduna in the face with his fist (Misdemeanor A); - Possession of controlled substance in Penalty Group 1, <1 gram (allegedly found during booking process at jail) (state jail felony); - General violation for possession of fake or fictitious Texas ID (Misdemeanor A, allegedly found in wallet at jail); - General violation for possession of fake or fictitious Social Security card (Misdemeanor A, allegedly found in wallet at jail).
Two men released from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice in 2016 are in the Houston County Jail, facing multiple theft of firearm charges following a Crockett traffic stop during the wee hours Sunday, Sept. 10.
Sgt. Alfredo Fajardo of the Crockett Police Department reported seeing a 2003 Chevrolet Trailblazer leaving the Holiday Inn Express parking lot while he was on patrol at approximately 2:48 a.m. Sunday.
"The vehicle proceeded north on State Loop 304 in front of me and as it slowed for the intersection at East Bowie Avenue, I saw that its high mounted stop lamp was not working, as required by law," Fajardo stated in the Warrantless Arrest Probable Cause Statement.
When Fajardo initiated a traffic stop on the Trailblazer, it continued into the Xpress Truck Stop parking lot where it came to a stop at the fuel pumps, Fajardo reported.
While speaking with the vehicle's occupants, Andrew Joe Atkinson, 22, and Brodrick Da'shon Gaston, 21, Fajardo reportedly observed a Rock River Arms LAR-15 rifle in plain view in between the two in the second row floorboard.
Fajardo also reportedly saw another rifle soft case on the back seat, and what appeared to be gang-related tattoos on Gaston's hands. According to the Probable Cause Statement, dispatch confirmed both subjects are felons. Atkinson was released from TDCJ in March 2016 after serving time for theft of property, >$1,500 <$20,000.
Gaston, a registered Natural Born Trappers gang member according to the Probable Cause Statement, was convicted of unlawful carrying a weapon prohibited places (third degree felony) in July 2016 and was on parole with TDCJ until Oct. 31, 2017.
"When asked about the firearms in the vehicle after being advised of the Miranda Warnings, both subjects denied ownership of the guns and Atkinson first stated that someone else had put them in the car," Fajardo stated in his report. "They both were uncooperative and were advised that they were under arrest," he alleged.
The report continues, "After they were arrested, both subjects were searched. During the search, both were found to have a window punch and broken pieces of glass in their pockets. "
Fajardo further stated in the report, "During a probable cause vehicle search, I found that the soft rifle case contained a Marlin model 389 .50 caliber dart rifle (a firearm that uses .22 caliber blank power loads). I also found a soft pistol case on the front passenger seat that contained a Taurus Judge revolver. On the front passenger floorboard, I found a green bag that contained darts for the rifle and several items for animal vaccinations."
Another officer, Lt. Lonnie Lum, went to the Holiday Inn Express and found three vehicles that had broken windows. Lum and Fajardo contacted all three vehicle owners and they confirmed evidence taken from Gaston and Atkinson belonged to the vehicles' owners, according to the CPD report.
Atkinson and Gaston each are charged with burglary of a vehicle x three, theft of a firearm x three and unlawful possession of firearm by a felon.
Bond was set as follows: three bonds at $8,000 each for burglary of vehicle, $15,000 for unlawful possession of firearm by felon and three bonds at $10,000 for theft of firearms (total $69,000 each suspect).
Both remain in custody at the Houston County Jail as of press time Tuesday afternoon, Sept.12.
An Oklahoma truck driver employed by a contract trucking company was severely injured in a flash fire that blazed up as he was attempting to load waste material onto his tanker truck at a Kinder Morgan Pipeline company processing plant near Weldon Tuesday, Sept. 5.
The driver, whom authorities declined to identify citing conceivable HIPAA (Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) issues, received significant burns over approximately 70 percent of his body and was flown to a Houston hospital for treatment, according to Roger Dickey, Houston County emergency management coordinator and fire marshal.
Dickey said the incident occurred about 8 a.m. Tuesday at the Kinder Morgan Pipeline pump station facility located off CR 3575 out of Weldon.
"He (the truck driver) was loading condensate at an oil well or gas processing plant," Dickey explained. "As he began the process of loading this condensate in his truck, it looks like, right now, he had some vapors escape and just reached an ignition point.
"There was a flare that operates around the clock down there. (I'm) not sure that he did everything procedurally correct right now. Anyway, it probably allowed some excessive vapors to get out and come to a flash point. Basically, he just had a flash fire as he started that process and it enveloped him and he was burned in the process. He was outside the truck (when the incident occurred).
Dickey added the condensate is a common product at processing plants. "It's got a little bit of everything in it," he said. "It's almost like a waste product. They'll take it and process it sometimes, or they'll go and put it in a disposal well."
An investigation by authorities into the incident was continuing, as were separate internal investigations by the pipeline company and trucking company, Dickey said, adding, OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration), Texas Railroad Commission and other entities also most likely will inquire into the incident.