|Polk County Enterprise - Local News
Stories Added - January 2009
Copyright 2008 - Polk County Publishing Company
Year in Review: Woman pleads guilty to fatal shooting
Polk County Enterprise - January 2009
LIVINGSTON – The third quarter of 2008 started with a bang in Polk County – the bang of fi reworks, that is. Onalaska celebrated Independence Day with its annual fi reworks display off the big bridge on U.S. 190, attracting thousands of onlookers. Livingston Main Street held its annual Red, White and Blue 4th of July parade in downtown Livingston where everyone from toddlers in wagons to grandparents on horseback celebrate our freedom. All those fi reworks prompted repeated warnings from the county fi re marshal and area fi re chiefs for residents to use extreme caution when using fi reworks or burning. In Onalaska, a dozen people were arrested during the fi reworks display for public intoxication, underage drinking and a couple of cases of possession of marijuana. Cynthia Duplechain was sentenced to 25 years in prison after pleading guilty to the shooting death of Raymond Keith Rhodes in December 2007. Duplechain was arrested in January and charged with Rhodes’ murder despite the fact that the gun has not been found. According to statements made to investigators, the gun was thrown into Lake Livingston. A murder charge is still pending against Cynthia’s daughter, Amy Duplechain in connection with Rhode’s shooting death. Kidnapping trial The trial of former Onalaska Police Offi cer Gregory Bogany began in July. Bogany was charged with abducting the mother of one of his children from the parking lot of Brookshire Bros. in Porter where she worked. Bogany hid in the trunk of Candace Robinson’s car and crawled out while she was driving, forcing her at gunpoint to take him to Livingston and, eventually, to his sister’s home. After much verbal wrangling between Bogany, Robinson, and Bogany’s family, Robinson left the scene with Livingston Police Sgt. Ronnie Bogany who turned the case over the Polk County Sheriff’s Offi ce and the Texas Rangers. Jurors handed down two 15-year prison sentences, which will run concurrently and two $5,000 fi nes. Skate Park opens The Livingston Skate Park Association installed ramps, halfpipes and stairs in the fi rst phase of their development of the property on S. Washington Avenue. Critters identifi ed A pair of scientists with McNeese State University identifi ed 10 species of microscopic animals thriving in the Big Thicket. Tardigrades, or waterbears, have the unique ability to go into suspended animation during extreme climate conditions. Tardigrades were fi rst identifi ed in 1773 and about 1,000 species are found worldwide with 35 species in Texas and Louisiana. A plant inventory of the Big Thicket revealed 3,378 separate species of vascular plants, including dozens of rare plants. The Big Thicket is considered an international biosphere and is comprised of 83,000 acres of dense forests of cypress, bogs, marshlands, grassy slopes and meadows in East Texas. Teacher’s aide arrested An aide at Living Christ Academy was arrested and jailed for allegedly having sex with a 15-year-old boy at the school. Felicia Edwards, 25, who was married with three children, was taking classes at the academy and working as a teacher’s aide. According to affi davits fi led in the case, Edwards was giving the boy a ride home after school and developed a “crush” on him which later escalated to sexual contact. Principal of the Year Malissa Williams, Goodrich High School Principal, was named Principal of the Year for Region VI. Williams has worked in education for 27 years and had been with Goodrich I.S.D. for six years. Local bass fi shermen Larry Jenkins and Dale Hill took fi rst place in the Angler’s Quest tournament on Lake Livingston. Local banks remain healthy Several bank failures around the nation prompted local residents to question the solidity of their own fi nancial institutions. First National Bank of Livingston, First State Bank of Livingston and People’s State Bank all faired well in an evaluation of their capital to asset ratios. Guaranty Bank didn’t fare as well, receiving the lowest ratings of the four banks. Unemployment Meanwhile, unemployment in Polk County continued to creep upward as it did in much of the country, although Texas as a whole saw increased job and population south. The Polk County Mission Center felt the pinch from growing economic woes of the country as its pantry shelves became emptier each month. Executive Director Aline Fisher made a public plea for support in July as she detailed the worsening condition of the group’s building and the waning donations of food and money. While Hurricane Dolly swirled in the Gulf of Mexico, coastal residents battened down hatches and hoped there would be no repeat of 2005 when Hurricanes Katrina and Rita devastated East Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi. Dolly hit the southern tip of the state, causing significant damage but sparing the Houston/Galveston area. The Livingston Future Farmer’s of America were ranked sixth best in the state of Texas at the 80th annual convention in Lubbock. Livingston High School alumni and U.S. Marine Beaux Cochran was injured in a fire fight in Afghanistan, sustaining shrapnel injuries to his right leg. Cochran underwent two surgeries before being sent home to recuperate. Eddie Chatman, 28, was arrested for the solicitation of a minor after he sent text messages of a sexual nature to the cell phone of a 14- year-old girl, including nude photos of himself. The messages were intercepted by the child’s mother who had the phone while her daughter was out of town. Investigators lured Chatman to the child’s home by telling him that the parents were not home. He was arrested and charged with online solicitation of a minor and possession of a controlled substance. A strike team from the Alabama Forest Service rolled into the area as the threat of wildfires continued around the state. The crew assisted in bringing a 226-acre forest fire in Walker County under control. The tinderbox conditions kept fire officials on edge throughout the summer. A thunderstorm blew through the area Aug. 3, leaving 17,000 SHECO customers without power and downing sheriff’s office radio equipment. High winds ripped through trees, broke limbs damaging several buildings and homes around the county. Roland Lee Hickman Jr., another of Polk County’s most wanted fugitives, was arrested in San Jacinto County after eluding authorities for two years. Hickman was on a 10-year probation for aggravated robbery and two counts of 1995 residential burglary. The Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts told the Polk Central Appraisal District that its tax appraisals policies could yield inconsistent evaluations mandated eight actions be completed by July 2009. Ernie Eugene Rodvant Jr., 54, of Big Sandy was arrested for growing 45 marijuana plants in a field. Polk County Sheriff’s Office narcotics detectives watched the field for weeks and were staked out for three days in thunderstorms waiting to someone to harvest the plants. Local chess player Robert Settles claimed the Class E National Chess Title at U.S. Chess Federation championship tournament in Houston July 20. Students around the county headed back to school Aug. 25 with free school supplies in Onalaska, expanded curriculum in Livingston, and grants and accolades in Goodrich. Raymond Eugene Vandiver, another of Polk County’s most wanted fugitives, was arrested in Panama City Beach, Fla. Vandiver was convicted of indecency with a child in 1997 and was required to register as a sex offender. Vandiver used the address of a home in Polk County on which he was working as part of a construction crew. In July 2007, the owner of the residence discovered Vandiver was still registered as living at her address. A warrant was issued for Vandiver’s arrest. Investigators at the Polk County District Attorney’s office tracked him to Galveston County, then to Alabama and to Florida where he was arrested and extradited to Polk County. Traffic in downtown Livingston came to a halt for about three hours Aug. 14 after a bread truck got stuck crossing the railroad track at Abbey Street and was struck by a train. No injuries were reported. The 9th District Court of Appeals in Beaumont upheld a murder conviction and 50-year sentence given to Kevin Rashawn Wright by a Polk County jury in 2007 for the shooting death of Clayton Junior Jones, even though the shots were fired by codefendant Jackie Welch. Brandon Rushing, 27, was given a life sentence for the molestation of his 9-year-old daughter. Rushing was found guilty on three counts of indecent acts and one count of sexual assault. Rushing also was sentenced to 20 years each on two indecency charges and 10 years on the third charge. Tropical Storm Gustav put state and regional officials on alert as it headed through the Caribbean and the Gulf of Mexico in late August. Emergency management officials warned residents not to be ambivalent about storm preparations. People flocked to local food and hardware stores to stock up on non-perishable food items, lumber, batteries and tarps. As fuel woes wreaked havoc with summer vacation plans, school officials had major concerns about the effects on rising gas prices on school budgets. Some school districts were cutting field trips to historic sites and museums. Rising food costs delivered a second blow to school districts’ already tight budgets. Dr. Robert Woodrome returned to a hero’s welcome after serving a tour in Afghanistan. A public celebration and welcome home party was held to honor the several months of volunteer work Woodrome performed as a physician in the Middle East. Nineteen-year-old Luke McLendon played in the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Penn., making two hits and scoring one run for the Houston West University team. By mid-weekend it was clear that Gustav would not affect the East Texas coast and everyone breathed a sigh of relief and took pride in the efficiency and ease with which emergency plans fell into place. Johnny Polar-Mize was sentenced to 20 years for intoxication manslaughter in the death of Janice Reindeau, 19, in September 2007. Polar-Mize also plead guilty to two aggravated robberies at a Polk County truck stop on March 7 and 11, 2008. He will serve 30 years for each robbery, two years on two burglary of a building charges and 20 years on two burglary of a habitation charges. The Livingston Police Department sought suspects in the midnight robbery of Pizza Hut after two unidentified men entered through the unlocked back door of the restaurant and demanded money from the employees. Larry Linn Overman, 37, of Livingston died from injuries sustained in a auto-pedestrian accident the night of Aug. 28 when Overman stepped into the southbound lanes of U.S. 146 at Valero. Mark Rose, 39, of Livingston was sentenced to 50 years in prison for the sexual abuse of a 6-year-old girl in June 2007. Rose will serve a minimum of 25 years before he will be eligible for parole. The Polk County Garden Club celebrated 60 years of community involvement and beautification. The group formed in 1948 with 49 charter members. Throughout the years the Garden Club has renovated Miss Effie’s Cottage, landscaped and planted around the courthouse and Anniversary Park as well as holding an annual ceremony at the Blue Star Memorial marker dedicated to service men and women everywhere. The group also awards annual scholarships and promotes a lifelong love of horticulture through its Flowerettes program and annual tasting teas and flower shows. On Sept. 11, Hurricane Ike churning far away in the southern Gulf of Mexico. After two false alarms and much preparation, residents were weary of hurricane warnings, but still on alert. The Polk County Office of Emergency Management was in full swing by Sept. 12 as the storm made a northward turn and headed for a direct hit on the Houston- Galveston area. The 450-mile wide Hurricane Ike came ashore near Galveston Bay around 2 a.m., Sept. 13, with monstrous waves topping the 17- foot high seawall and inundating the island and Bolivar Peninsula. Floodwaters reached 12 to 14 feet on the peninsula, wreaking catastrophic damage with the number of lost homes nearing 95 percent. To the east, Bridge City and Orange were devastated, with officials estimating that as few as 14 homes were left without significant damage. Despite untold warnings and because of the disastrous evacuation efforts during Hurricane Rita, more than 14,000 people failed or refused to evacuate low-lying areas along the coast. Nearly 3,000 of them had to be rescued after the storm. On Bolivar Peninsula as many as 300 people are still unaccounted for as 2008 came to a close. Millions of customers lost power across the region, cell phone circuits were overloaded and many Polk county residents were left without water since several companies did not have backup generators. The City of Livingston imposed a 7 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew as a safety measure to protect residents and prevent looting. The state and federal government scrambled to meet the unprecedented demand for supplies of water and food and many retailers remained closed due to lack of power. Limited shipments of food and supplies and employees who were struggling to clear their way out from the debris and damage. Thousands of work crews and volunteers made their way into the area to assist with power restoration, clean up and meeting the needs of those left homeless or stranded. Power within the city limits of Livingston began to return within 48 hours of the storm leaving the area and by the end of the first week the majority of city residents had power. Across the state, residents and city and county officials began voicing their dissatisfaction with FEMA as supplies trickled into some areas while rolling smoothly into others. Fuel shortages and continued power outages brought many to the breaking point as tempers flared. In Polk County where timber is king, home after home suffered severe damage by falling trees. The buzz of chain saws and rooftops covered with blue tarps became commonplace. In the days immediately following Ike, fuel and food supplies dominated everyone’s attention. The focus later turned to debris cleanup and with those mammoth tasks came the growing concern about local governments were going to pay for it all. Texas Governor Rick Perry made his way around the state, holding meetings and taking flak for every government misstep. The Southern Baptist Convention Disaster Relief Program set up operations in an old warehouse on Allie Bean Drive and began housing, clothing and feeding anyone who needed it. Day by day, FEMA began setting deadlines, extending them, extending them again and again and requiring mountains of paperwork from everyone who asked for help – from the county, to the city, to widowed grandmothers. Throughout the storm, cleanup and recovery our county and city leaders maintained order and gave direction to the efforts of thousands. Despite the shortcomings of state and federal officials, our friends and neighbors who govern at the local level were at the top of their game, prepared and taking action. Volunteer fire departments answered thousands of calls for assistance and information, local law enforcement kept roads safe and evacuee traffic moved through the area safely. By the end of September news across the state was less about Hurricane Ike and its victims and more about the crimes, corruption and mundane. The Sept. 28 edition featured news about three men arrested and charged with organized crime for burglaries following Ike, a driver killed in a truck rollover and about utility crews from around the country heading home.