Year in Review

Death of Tidehaven student shakes area during first half of 2018

 

Editor’s note: This is the first of a two-part series spotlighting the events that made news in Matagorda County during 2018.

From the stunning death of a Tidehaven High School student to Bay City naming of a new athletic director at the high school, Matagorda County had plenty of news-worthy events in the first half of 2018. 

 

January

More than two-dozen laws went into effect when the clock struck midnight on New Year’s Eve in Texas bringing changes for voter I.D.’s, property tax appraisals and even new regulations on hauling milk.

A Bay City couple is dead after being found by their son in their house.

A report by the Bay City Police Department reveals friends were unable to reach the pair and went to the house, knocking for several minutes without getting an answer.

The deceased are identified as 44-year old Bryan Hogg and 42-year old Sandra Hogg who resided at 6 Lazy Lane in Bay City.

Bay City’s council will vote to approve a new ordinance transferring the Convention and Visitors Bureau’s (CVB) administrative position under the city’s control after council members were irked over being left out of the last-minute decision by Mayor Mark Bricker at the last council meeting of 2017. The contract between the CVB and the city’s Chamber of Commerce expired at midnight Dec. 31. Bricker and Chamber chairman Robert Lister wanted the Chamber’s operational support of the CVB to cease and be moved under the city’s control, effectively creating a new department and department head. 

The group known as the Bay City Restaurant Initiative have received more than enough petition signatures to call for a special election supporting equal alcohol sales rules for all of Bay City.

Despite fear’s that 2017’s Matagorda Christmas Bird Count’s (CBC) slightly reduced numbers due to the frigid weather would cost the county’s long-held top spot in the nation, the Mad Island Marsh count is once again number one in the nation.

The average count is 230 species but volunteers counted 220 unique species.

A Bay City man is dead after being shot at an apartment complex in the 1400 block of Whitson Ave.

The Bay City Police Department got calls about shots fired in the area at 4:47 p.m. according to a police report.

The victim is identified as 26-year-old Jeremy Mitchell of Bay City. 

Every year, the Bay City Chamber teams up with other chambers in the county to award Citizens of the Year, Man and Woman of the Year, Teacher of the Year and Bay City Student of the Year. Tenaris-Bay City also awards a $60,000 scholarship to their own Student of the Year.

Matagorda County District Attorney Steven Reis is awarded Man of the Year at the Bay City Chamber of Commerce Banquet and Sue Milberger was named Woman of the Year. 

The Bay City ISD school district is scheduled to receive its second installment project funds from the $124 million bond voters approved in 2016 in the amount of $30 million. The first installment of $50 million in bond funds was sold last year. A total of $44 million of the bond remains.

An interlocal agreement approved last week by the county commissioners will finally allow the city of Palacios to replace its aging fire station with a brand-new one on the south side of Henderson Ave. between Sixth and Seventh Streets.

Bay City’s Charter Review Committee (CRC) is ready to present their list of recommended changes to the city’s charter next month after meeting one final time with attorney Charlie Zech.

A former substitute teacher incarcerated for threatening children and Bay City ISD officials in 2011 is a free man following his release from prison last week.

Bay City ISD released a statement Friday that Texas Department of Criminal Justice (TDCJ) had notified them that Paul Nolan May was released.

February

A Matagorda County jury needed only one hour to determine the fate of a convicted burglar found with methamphetamine with intent to deliver the drugs.

Zachary Ryan Simons (34) was arrested on May 23, 2017, based upon a warrant for an alleged shooting incident in Van Vleck the day before.

Tidehaven ISD is shook when a student collapses and dies at Tidehaven High School. 

According to the Sheriff’s Office’s statement released a short time later, the student went into “medical distress” about 7:45 a.m., was taken to Matagorda Regional Hospital but did not survive. 

Micah Martinez, an 18-year old senior at the school, was sitting with friends in

 the cafeteria about 7:45 a.m. when he collapsed and was unresponsive.

“It’s just so heartbreaking. We’re really hurting,” said Tidehaven ISD Superintendent Dr. Andrew Seigrist. “We were at breakfast. He’s just sitting there talking to his friends. Next thing you know he just passes out. They did everything right that they could do. There was a whole team of coaches and teachers supporting him until the ambulance could get there  In the end, It just wasn’t enough.”

Voters will decide two positions on Bay City’s city council as well as a proposition legalizing the sale of alcoholic mixed beverages throughout the city and precinct No. 1.

The Matagorda County District Attorney announced a thorough review of felony cases prompted by statements made during the campaign for the 130th District Court between Judge Craig Estlinbaum and then-Assistant District Attorney Ken Leatherman was completed with no findings.

“There is nothing we found that supports the allegations – not the defense attorneys, not the internal audit, not the judicial process, not even the explanation by the person who initially made the statement,” said District Attorney Steven Reis.

Leatherman had accused Estlinbaum of pushing defendants for plea deals in order to rush cases through his court and “pad his numbers.”

Bay City residents hoping to vote on amendments to the city’s charter will have to wait until November. 

The Charter Review Commission (CRC) presented their final report to council on Feb. 8 but concerns raised by local businessman Jerry Evans on a number of legal issues are causing the council to launch an internal investigation into previous charters.

March

Matagorda County Judge Nate McDonald received a Special Achievement Award from the U.S. Nuclear Infrastructure Council (USNIC) at the council’s Fifth Annual Advanced Reactor Summit at Texas A&M University.

Primary elections typically produce low voter turnout and Tuesday’s election was no different. There were 21,342 registered voters available to cast their ballot in Matagorda County but only 4,115 (19.28) percent, did so. A total of 3,124 Republicans showed up on primary day, voted early or mailed their ballot as opposed to 901 Democrats.

Bay City Police Chief Robert Lister reported a 21 percent overall decrease in the city’s crime rate in his annual report. 

“If you look at our stats from 2016 to 2017, we had nearly 300 fewer calls, which is a 21.6 percent decrease in the eight index crimes,” Lister said.

Bay City Junior High is about to “go vertical” and the new baseball field is “99.5 percent complete” according to Francis Zordilla with Claycomb Associates Architects.

 “What remains is the canopy over the bleachers,” Zordilla said. “We’re having issues with the windstorm certification with a couple of the vendors. We did find one that will certify it, though. If we can’t get that completed during the baseball season, we’ll wait until after the season.”

April

A single-vehicle accident claims the life of a 26-year old Palacios man. Matthew Merck died in the fatality collision east of Blessing on FM 2853 in Matagorda County. 

The preliminary information indicates at approximately 11 p.m., a northbound 2017 Ford F-250 drove across the roadway and into a ditch, then struck a tree.  

 Three individuals have been charged in the theft of over $50,000 from the Matagorda Volunteer Fire Department (MVFD) following a joint criminal investigation between the Matagorda County Sheriff’s Department and the Department of Public Safety’s Financial Crimes Division.

All three were charged with theft from a non-profit and engaging in organized crime March 29 after a nine-month investigation. Charged are 46-year-old Thomas Everett Holstine, 61-year-old John Marvin Ward and 57-year-old Cynthia Franklin Ward.

Matagorda County AgriLife Extension will be getting two new agents as Dr. Aaron Sumrall and Gabrielle Washington were approved at commissioners court.

U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold, R-Corpus Christi, abruptly resigned from Congress after announcing his intention to retire in December. 

The four-term congressman was under intense scrutiny for months from sexual harassment allegations and ongoing ethics investigations.

Patrick Matthews was officially hired as the new head coach and Bay City ISD athletic coordinator. The BCISD board of trustees approved the hire by superintendent Dr. Marshall Scott III.

“A small town like Bay City is where I want to be,” Matthews said. “Starting with elementary kids, moving to junior high, and up to high school, the kids grow up wanting to be a Blackcat.”

A Bay City High School science teacher was killed in a car accident on her way to work. 

Grace Wuthrich taught science and was also the director for the school’s robotics team.

Bay City Council members emerged from an executive session with a ‘letter of expectations’ for Mayor Mark Bricker after expressing dissatisfaction with his job performance.

It’s the second such meeting closed-door meeting to evaluate the mayor’s performance. The city council also met in executive session after the March 22 meeting hoping to have a discussion with the mayor but took no action.

An investigation ordered by Bay City city council revealed several errors made in previous iterations that may have an impact on November’s ballot.

When the Charter Review Committee (CRC) presented its list of recommended changes to the council on Feb. 8, Jerry Evans, a former councilman who also served on a previous CRC, noticed several alleged irregularities including both deleted or altered text.

“I made all these inquiries about how our charter, our constitution, was changed without the consent of the voters,” Evans said during a council workshop Thursday. “At the end of the day, it’s the voters that change the constitution, not the politicians.”

Bay City’s Community Development Corporation (BCCDC) will be seeking a new executive director as D.C. Dunham submitted her letter of resignation to the board of directors.

With U.S. Rep. Blake Farenthold’s abrupt resignation April 6, Texas Governor Greg Abbott was faced with a dilemma: call for a special session of the Texas legislature or order an emergency election for voters to decide who serves out the remainder of Farenthold’s term.

Abbott announced a special election would be held Saturday, June 30 and candidates had until April 27 to file their candidacy. In the event of a runoff, that election will likely be held in September. Early voting by personal appearance will begin June 13, and end June 26.

May

Bay City’s city council will meet May 10 to formally vote on choosing new legal counsel for the city. The law firm of Denton, Navarro, Rocha and Bernal, P.C. has represented the city since 2012 after replacing local attorney Bill Pendergraft.

The only item on the ballot in Bay City’s election Saturday won big as more than 78 percent of the 380 total voters approved equalizing alcohol sales rules within the city. The final tally was 299 for and 81 against. 

The Matagorda County Hospital Board of Managers say they are moving in a “different direction” after CEO of Matagorda County Hospital District (MCHD) Steve Smith resigned.

The Board of Directors approved Steve Smith’s resignation May 1 and named Chief Financial Officer Bryan Prochnow as interim CEO.

Local U.S. missionary Kenneth Danforth, Jr. has been missing after a boat carrying him and five other men capsized off the coast of Tanzania more than a week ago.

On May 3, 34-year-old Van Vleck graduate Danforth, also known as J.R., was taking a two-hour boat ride to Mafia, a small island in the Indian Ocean off Tanzania’s east coast, when they encountered rough weather causing their vessel to capsize.

Bay City’s City Council approved an application for a 2018 Economic Development Administration (EDA) Grant for $2 million dollars supporting public infrastructure improvements. 

Bay City police warned local residents that used an ATM at Texas Dow Employees Credit Union Bank to keep an eye on their bank accounts after a card skimmer was found.

A Bay City man is facing four criminal charges of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon of a family member after a morning shooting at a motel in the 5500 black of 7th Street.

June

The Bay City mayor and two council members are under fire after a lawsuit filed against the city government.

The lawsuit, filed by Bay City resident Robert “Bobby” Head, seeks an injunction to prevent Mayor Mark Bricker from casting any more city council votes, unless to break a tie. It will also prevent Bay City council members Bill Cornman and Julie Estlinbaum from any council votes beginning in June.

Matagorda County is facing litigation from a former employee’s whistleblower lawsuit.

Kevin B. Davis’ suit alleges that Matagorda County terminated him from his position on the Precinct 3 road and bridge maintenance crew in February for reporting department head, County Commissioner James Gibson to human resources department and the Texas Rangers. Davis also claims that acts of discrimination, harassment and retaliation from his supervisors and coworkers after he made the report, but is only seeking reparations for under Texas Whistleblower Statute.

Davis claims Gibson managed the initialize and sale of scrap metal. Scrap iron was sold and funds generated from the sales were placed in what was called a “Kitty Box,” according to documents filed on May 24 in the Galveston County 122nd District Court.

The Bay City Community Development Corporation (BCCDC) announced the selection of Jessica Russell as executive director, replacing D.C. Dunham.

“We were very impressed with Jessica’s confidence and intellect. She has all the basics to make a great economic developer,” Dunham said. “We have already booked Jessica for some economic development classes.”

A tropical weather system dumped more than one foot of water on top of Matagorda County and much of the Texas coastline.

Bay City Regional Airport reported more than 10 inches dropped June 20 and 21, causing flooding across the county.

Schools across Matagorda County are taking measures in the name of safety and there will be additional security procedures implanted beginning at local schools next fall.

Tidehaven, Van Vleck and Bay City have already made administrative procedure changes, from see-through backpack to tightening dress codes. Some schools are moving toward several pending policy changes that could be considered by school boards for more security by arming teachers and staff.

 “The school board is looking at a wide variety of policy issues. We’re currently looking at the school marshal plan,” Tidehaven Superintendent Dr. Andrew Seigrist said Thursday. “As administration, we went ahead and made a procedural change to implement clear backpacks, not mesh, just one thing we could do to improve school safety.”

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