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Trinity Standard - Local News

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School finances, crime topped list of 2010 stories
Trinity Standard -

PART 2 of 2

TRINITY – School finances, murder conviction and street work were among the stories which topped the list during the second half of 2010. Below is the second and final part of a recap of those 2010 stories on a month-by-month basis. JULY The second half of 2010 got underway with the announcement by Trinity school officials that local schools faced the possible loss of almost $300,000 in state funds during the 2010-2011 school year. A state budget deficit looming on the financial horizon caused officials to warn school board members that funding could be cut during the coming year and the money that would be received could be slow in arriving. School board members were in the process of finalizing their budget for the year, which began Sept. 1, 2010, and began implementing spending cuts. A 42-year-old man was sentenced to two concurrent 15-year prison terms after pleading guilty to charges stemming from a Valentines Day shooting and standoff with law enforcement officers. Michael Baker pled guilty to the murder of his mother, Joyce Baker Stewart, 67, and the aggravated assault of his stepfather, H.F. Stewart, 67. While he allowed his wounded stepfather to leave immediately after the shooting, he kept his mother as a hostage once sheriff’s deputies arrived that the family’s home near the intersection of Highway 94 and FM 3188. The mother was allowed to leave two hours into the standoff and Baker surrendered to police about five hours after that. It was also in July that the Trinity City Council adopted a tax freeze for property owners who were 65 years of age or older. A massive fire at the YMCA’s Camp Cullen near Trinity destroyed the facility’s dining hall during the early morning hours of July 19. The fire forced the camp to shut down its summer camping operations and send home 110 campers ranging in age from 8 to 16. On the evening of July 19, David Plymale of Waelder was named as the sole finalist for the job of Trinity school superintendent and Craig Ruby of Diboll was hired as the Trinity High School principal. At the end of July, former Houston Mayor Bill White made a campaign stop in Trinity as part of his bid to become the governor of Texas. On July 29, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) announced the city had been awarded a grant of over $1 million to improve sidewalks along and near Highway 19 in Trinity. The project would install about 7.500 feet of sidewalk along Main, Robb, San Jacinto, Maple and Stadium streets. AUGUST A City of Trinity street paving program begun in the fall of 2009 was expanded in early August when the Trinity Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (TEIDC) agreed to allocate an additional $750,000 of local economic improvement funds for the work. The city began the program in 2009 after selling $500,000 in certificates of obligation and had begun Phase II projects in the spring. The additional TEIDC funds enabled the city to add 14 more streets to the paving program. A move to rename Lakefield Street in western Trinity was begun when a petition asking that it be called Martin Luther King Street was discussed by the city. When a resident of South Lakefield objected to the change, the city council voted to table the matter to allow city officials to investigate the matter. On Aug. 24, an 11-year-old Jungle Village boy was killed in a one-car accident during a police pursuit. The boy, Scott Allen Williford, had reportedly taken his father’s pickup without permission and was spotted on FM 356 soon after her entered the Trinity City Limits. The youth was pursued by Pct. 1 Deputy Constable Rusty Barrett out Highway 94 toward Groveton and lost control of the pickup west of the Boone Town Road intersection. The boy was pronounced dead at the scene. SEPTEMBER On Sept. 3, a gang of Hispanic men passed 32 bogus payroll checks at Trinity’s two banks and managed to make off with about $20,000. Police said six or seven men were involved in the scam which came to a halt when a bank teller noticed the same man coming back to cash another payroll check. All of the thieves managed to leave before any arrests were made. During their September meeting, the Trinity City Council voted to rename North Lakefield Street as Martin Luther King Street. Earlier, a request had been made to rename all of Lakefield after the slain civil rights leader, but the matter was tabled when opposition was presented from a South Lakefield Street resident. Under the plan approved by the city, the section of Lakefield that runs north of Main Street (FM 230) was renamed Martin Luther King Street and the portion of the street south of the intersection would retain the Lakefield name. The 61st Annual Trinity Community Fair was held Sept. 24-25 in and around the Trinity Community Center. Evelyn Burton was crowned as the fair queen and Mallory Stout of the Trinity FFA was awarded the grand champion banner for her 1,205-pound steer which was sold to the 7-11 Social Club for $4,500. OCTOBER In October it was announced that officials had discovered four altered county checks totaling $9,000 had been passed at banks in Groveton and Corrigan County Auditor Sheila Johnson said it appeared that someone had gotten a hold of a real county check, scanned it into a computer and then altered it. The incident was being investigated by the U.S. Secret Service as part of a larger rash of altered government checks being passed throughout East Texas. Two Houston men had been identified as suspects in the case. Change ordered approved by Trinity County commissioners in October boosted the ongoing cost of renovating the Trinity County Courthouse to over $5.2 million. The original bid for the work came in at $4.7 million but changes to the original contract issued in 2009 had gradually caused the price tag to climb. Commissioners were assured that despite the increases, the project was still within the original budget and that the county would have money left over at the end of the work. The courthouse is being renovated using a $5 million Texas Historical Commission Courthouse Preservation Grant and $1.6 million in local funds raised through the sale of certificates of obligation. On Oct. 28, a pair of wildfires destroyed about 500 acres of grass and timberlands near Trinity. A total of 10 fire departments from four counties joined the Trinity firefighters to battle the blazes. While the fire threatened a number of homes in the Lake L Acres subdivision, the only structures that were destroyed were a vacant mobile home and a hay barn. NOVEMBER During the general election, Trinity County elected a new county judge, Doug Page, and its first Republican county commissioner in well over 100 years. Rich Chamberlain defeated his Democratic Party opponent, former Commissioner Bill Burton, in the race for the Precinct 2 seat on the county commissioners court. Page, the Democratic nominee for the judge’s post, defeated his Republican opponent, Frank S. Cowan of Trinity. Cowan was the first Republican to seek a county-wide office in recent memory. A 42-year-old Trinity man was convicted of two counts of sexual assault of a child and one count of indecency with a child following a trail in Groveton. James Totten was sentenced to two 99-year prison terms for the sexual assault conviction and 20 years on the indecency charge. Totten was initially arrested in March on an unrelated fraud charge but investigators found what was termed a “rape kit” in his possession, which prompted the investigation that lead to the other charges. The “kit,” which was in a plastic grocery bag, consisted of a sweatshirt, tennis shoes, long cloth strips, latex gloves, handcuffs and a man’s wig. During the early morning hours of Nov. 29, a break-in occurred at the Lifechek Drug Store in which 5,000 pills of hydrocodone were stolen. While police patrols were diverted to another part of town with a bogus report of shots being fired, thieves broke out a front glass of the pharmacy, entered and stole the prescription pain medication. DECEMBER On Dec. 3 the annual Christmas Tree Lighting Ceremony was held on the grounds of the Old Red Schoolhouse in Trinity and on Dec. 4 the day-long Countdown to Christmas celebration was held. Also in early December, a widely known merchant, Greg Grider, was killed in a two-vehicle crash on Highway 19 in front of his residence. Grider reportedly was making a left turn off Highway 19 into his driveway when another pickup driven by Frank McFarland collided with his pickup., A shooting incident reported near the intersection of Smith and Church streets in Trinity resulted in the arrest of a 20-year-old Trinity man. Demetrius “Gerb” Wheeler was arrested Dec. 19 when Precinct 1 deputy constables stopped a vehicle matching the description of one that left the scene of the shooting. A weapon and a small amount of marijuana was recovered from the vehicle. Police said the caliber of the weapon recovered matched several spent shell casings found at the shooting and the pistol had been reported stolen in Walker County. Wheeler subsequently gave police a statement admitting being involved in a shooting, but told officers he fired in self defense.


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