Lake Whitney parks remain closed as Corps assesses flood damage
With the Fourth of July holiday approaching, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers lake managers are assessing flood damage at area lakes and considering opening dates for facilities.
Corps officials announced last week that Lake Whitney received major road damage and has massive debris fields, which means that opening dates for USACE managed parks are not currently available.
Lake Whitney staff members hope to reopen a limited number of parks by the Fourth of July holiday, according to the Corps.
“Aquilla Lake boat ramps are now open for the public to enjoy,” the Corps announced in a press release.
As the water begins to recede, staff members are assessing damages from submersion and wind gusts. Issues such as road and electrical inspections, debris removal, repairs and cleaning services must be addressed before park operations return to normal.
Typically, water must be clear of concrete and asphalt surfaces for a period of at least 21 days to allow the surface material to dry before the area can have any impact.
If ample time is not allowed for drying, traffic on softened base material will result in significant road damage, which would further extend opening dates.
Once the surface area dries, maintenance staff can assess the repair needs for that specific area.
Private marinas and other private concessionaires may be available for services during this time. Individuals planning lake activities should contact those locations in advance for their current status.
The Corps of Engineers is also reminding boaters to use caution and always wear a lifejacket, adding that floodwaters have pushed large amounts of debris into the lakes and may create hazardous boating conditions.
For more information on Whitney and Aquilla lakes, contact the lake office at 254-622-3332.
Whitney man sentenced to 20 years for deputy assault
A 32-year-old Whitney man was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Hill County jury Tuesday, June 11, for an assault on a peace officer.
The charge stemmed from an incident between the subject, Justin Cheyenne Walker, and his brother in 2018 that resulted in a 9-1-1 call due to an ongoing fight.
According to information presented in court, Hill County Sheriff’s Office deputies Rachel Callender and Jessica Castro responded to the fight, and Callender was punched in the face by Walker.
Constable Justin Girsh and Game Warden Doug Volcik also responded to the scene and assisted in subduing Walker, who was taken into custody for the second degree felony offense of assault of a peace officer for striking Deputy Callender.
The State of Texas was represented in the trial by assistant Hill County district attorneys Sherri Wagner and Matt Boyle.
The defendant had two separate attorneys appointed to represent him by District Judge Lee Harris, but he insisted that each of the lawyers be removed and that he be allowed to represent himself.
Wagner called the victim, Deputy Callender, to testify, and then played the body cam video from Game Warden Volcik.
Following closing arguments by Wagner and Boyle, the jury deliberated for less than 30 minutes before finding the defendant guilty as charged.
District Attorney Mark Pratt said that the defendant was eligible for probation since he did not have any prior felonies, but the jury quickly returned a verdict of 20 years in prison, which was the maximum sentence allowed by law.
“The jury’s swift and strong verdict clearly reflected that Hill County citizens agree that our law enforcement officers should be allowed to respectfully conduct their jobs serving the public without being threatened and physically assaulted,” Pratt said.
Hill County Grand Jury
returns indictment list
A Hill County Grand Jury that convened Friday, June 7, returned the following indictments:
Linda Louise Anderson, 37, of Hubbard, bail jump and failure to appear
Doneill Bible, 35, of Whitney, prohibited weapon; unlawful possession of firearm by a felon
Kevin Shea Bradley, 43, of Hewitt, driving while intoxicated – third or more
Victor Francisco Caballero, 45, of Dallas, tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair
Marvin Loyd Coble, 52, of Whitney, criminal mischief – impairment or interruption of public service under $30,000
Vincent Nigel Garrett, 32, of Hillsboro, robbery
Rhonda Denise Gatewood, 46, of Hillsboro, possession of cocaine under one gram
Eric DeLeon Harrison Jr., 25, of Dallas, theft under $2,500 with two or more previous convictions
Adam Tyree Johnson, 36, of Hillsboro, possession of methamphetamine between one and four grams
Amanda Gatlyn Matthews, 26, of Blum, abandon/endanger a child criminal negligence (two counts)
Abraham Marquez Martinez, 68, of Cranfills Gap, attempted aggravated sexual assault – elderly/disabled
Geoffery Montgomery, 63, of Hillsboro, possession of methamphetamine under one gram, evading arrest detention with previous conviction
Qimani Alyce Ratliff, 27, of Crawford, possession of THC oil under one gram
Daniel Ivan Rios, 32, of Irving, theft under $2,500 with two or more previous convictions
Jason Tyron Rogers, 37, of Hillsboro, burglary of a habitation
Michael Nikhiryn Shelby, 17, of Itasca, evading arrest detention with a vehicle
Jeremie Dwain Simpson, 29, of Lakeland, Tennessee, possession of THC oil under one gram, possession of MDMA between four and 400 grams, tamper/fabricate physical evidence with intent to impair, evading arrest detention with a vehicle
Samuel Edward Thomas, 32, of Land O’ Lakes, Florida, possession of dimethyltryptamine under one gram
Shelley Chasteen Weverka, 35, of Everman, theft under $2,500 with two or more previous convictions
The cases were presented to the grand jury by District Attorney Mark Pratt, and District Judge Lee Harris presides over the court.
Whitney’s June tax allocation up 13 percent
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar announced recently that he will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $782.1 million in local sales tax allocations for June, 10.1 percent more than in June 2018.
Whitney’s June rebate came to $55,438.13, up 13 percent from last June. Year-to-date figures show the city receiving $309,775.98, up one percent from the same period in 2018.
Allocations for other Hill County entities include: Abbott – $6,388.06, up 12 percent; Aquilla – $703.94, up 44 percent; Blum – $2,302.49, up 25 percent; Carl’s Corner – $5,432.99, down 0.13 percent; Covington – $5,146.61, up 67 percent; Hillsboro – $255,355.55, up five percent; Hubbard – $10,915.41, down six percent; Itasca – $27,539.93, up 146 percent; Malone – $1,066.90, down 24 percent; Mertens – $82.42, down 74 percent; Mount Calm – $850.80, up 21 percent; Penelope – $421.23, up 87 percent; Whitney – $55,438.13, up 13 percent.
June rebates for Bosque County cities were as follows: Clifton – $57,445.69, up 12 percent; Cranfills Gap – $2,239.03, down 20 percent; Iredell – $1,708.39, down two percent; Meridian – $14,915.24, up six percent; Morgan – $1,382.25, down six percent; Valley Mills – $8,834.25, up 24 percent; Walnut Springs – $4,330.49, up 32 percent.
These allocations are based on sales made in April by businesses that report tax monthly.
Bill signed by governor to benefit county payments
The Hill County Commissioners’ Court met in regular session Tuesday morning, June 11, and discussed recent legislation that will make it easier for the county to pay its bills.
Senate Bill 354 was approved by a legislative supermajority, which means it became law immediately upon being signed by Governor Greg Abbott on May 31.
An August 2017 attorney general’s opinion placed a burden on small counties by adding extra steps to the process of paying employees and bills in a timely manner.
That opinion stated that counties with populations of 190,000 or fewer lacked the necessary statute to authorize pre-approval of payroll and office expenses without special meetings of the commissioners’ court.
Commissioners have been holding special meetings almost weekly since the ruling, because they have to approve all expenditures before payments are made by the treasurer.
In the past, they were able to approve a list of routine and recurring payments that could be immediately paid by the treasurer before being reviewed and ratified at the court’s next meeting.
Hill County Treasurer Rhonda Burkhart said that recurring expenses, such as utilities, payroll, fuel and state fees often become due between regularly scheduled commissioners’ court dates.
She added that vendors who are assured timely payments can better negotiate terms, prices and services for the county.
Commissioners approved a list of expenses that may be paid before being ratified by the court.
Hill County 4-H member Camryn Camp spoke to the court about the county’s youth shooting sports team.
She told commissioners that at last September’s kickoff meeting, around 150 young people showed up to participate. Most of those could not be retained due to the county not having a shooting range facility.
“I think the youth of Hill County would greatly benefit from the addition of a county shooting range,” Camp said.
County Judge Justin Lewis thanked Justice of the Peace Shane Brassell for volunteering to assist the youth in the program.
Precinct 2 Commissioner Larry Crumpton brought up the issue of barricades on county roads, saying that the movable barricades have become a problem.
Crumpton said that during recent flooding, he had to close HCR 2129 and HCR 2415 with barricades, but they were knocked down, moved out of the roadway or disregarded as motorists drove around them.
The commissioner said that other commissioners have discussed placing locked bars over closed roadways and that may be a necessary step to keep someone from getting hurt.
“I think there’s something to be said for that,” Lewis said. “That’s the only option we have at this point. They’re stealing out barricades and disregarding anything that’s movable.”
Crumpton and Precinct 3 Commissioner Scotty Hawkins also reported that illegal dumping continues to be a problem.
Hawkins told the court that on two nights the previous week, someone dumped two truckloads of tires on HCR 3102 and HCR 3363. He said that his crew lost two days of hauling rock to pick up about 500 tires, and it cost the county between $1,500 to $2,000 to address the issue.
Precinct 1 Commissioner Andrew Montgomery reported that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is still working to tour damaged roads in his precinct, and Precinct 4 Commissioner Martin Lake said that his crew has replaced around 50 culverts this year and has another 50 to go.
Hill County Emergency Management Coordinator Tom Hemrick said that the conversion of the sheriff’s office radio system to digital format has been completed.
Lewis told commissioners that Hemrick worked to obtain the grant for the project and said that the new system is improving voice clarity and making it possible to use radios in any area of the county.
“Big pat on the back for Tom,” Lewis said. “He deserves recognition for what he’s done.”
Commissioners voted to go out for bids for electricity service in the county with the county’s current electricity contract expiring next year.
The county will also seek bids for employee health insurance this year, and the court approved the request for proposals.
Health insurance bids will be due in the county judge’s office by Monday, July 8, at 4 p.m. with the goal of making a decision before the proposed county budget is drafted next month.