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Fatality Crash Near Latexo

By David Hendry, Sergeant
Texas Highway Patrol

On October 14, Texas Department of Public Safety (DPS) Troopers investigated a one vehicle fatal crash on FM 2663, two miles east of Latexo.

The preliminary crash investigation indicates a 2004 Chevrolet SUV was traveling east on FM 2663 at approximately 8:54 p.m. when the vehicle left the roadway to the left, overcorrected to the right where it struck a culvert and overturned.

The driver of the vehicle is identified as Daniele Amezquita, 29, from Caldwell, TX. Amezquita was transported from the scene of the crash to ETMC-Tyler with unknown injuries.

A passenger traveling with Amezquita is identified as Steven Sherley, 34, from Crockett. Sherley was pronounced deceased at the scene by a Houston County Justice of the Peace.

This crash remains under investigation. No additional information is available at this time.

Vaccinations offered to those exposed to flood

LIVINGSTON -- Eligible Polk County residents, first responders and volunteers exposed to Hurricane Harvey floodwaters who have not had a tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis) vaccine in the last 5-10 years can receive the vaccine and a flu shot from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday and Thursday, Oct. 17 and 19.

The Texas Department of State Health Services will provide the vaccinations at the Dunbar Gym located at 1103 Dunbar Ave, Livingston, TX 77351

For questions, please contact Emergency Management at 936-327-6826.

Industrial Park Development Seeing Progress

By Alton Porter
News Reporter
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Development of the Crockett Industrial Park is showing signs of progress as the facility for one of three currently planned entities is under construction.

Building of the future Muscles & Curves Gym structure, located on land purchased on Crockett Industrial Park property off East Loop 304, is underway and James Gentry, executive director of the Crockett Economic and Industrial Development Corporation (CEIDC) hopes this will lead to development of the entire roughly 90-acre park.

Muscles & Curves Gym proprietors purchased the future site of the gym from the CEIDC, which owns the park, and preliminary construction on the new Muscles & Curves Gym facility began several weeks ago.

The other two facilities currently planned to be built on land in the industrial park are a Dodge Chrysler Jeep Ram of Crockett auto dealership by owners Bill and Marinda Sweatt and others, and a firefighters training facility by the Houston County Firefighters Association and the Houston County Emergency Services District No. 2.

Land for the car dealership was cleared some time ago and the owners have received a commitment to provide 85-percent financing from Chrysler Capital, according to Gentry. He said the future dealership's proprietors are seeking to obtain a commitment for the other 15-percent of financing from a Crockett-area bank.

Muscles & Curves Gym is currently located on North 4th Street in Crockett and will be relocated to the Crockett Industrial Park site when construction of the new building is completed.

Cement for the concrete slab for the new facility was poured on Sept. 15 and erection of the steel frame of the building's structure began on Oct. 2.

"Building of the structure is coming along just exactly the way we planned," said Eunice Martinez-Kitchen, manager of the gym. "Our target opening date is mid-January or late January at the latest.

"This is our investment in Houston County and Crockett, Tex., to hopefully motivate economic development and better mental and physical well-being."

Martinez-Kitchen added, "When you're physically fit and you feel good about yourself, then you have a more positive attitude. It improves your attitude toward life in general. You're just generally a happier person.

"We've been in business 26 years, so we've seen from personal experience what physical fitness—the benefits of it—for many, many people who have been customers and have become friends.

"We look forward to many more years of service to our community. This facility is not just for those of us who own it. It's our gift to Crockett and Houston County. Everyone can enjoy this. This is our gift, as in a partnership, with the county. This is our investment.

"We encourage local residents to support local businesses. The owners of Muscles & Curves are local people—residents of Houston County and Crockett, Tex.—and support local businesses. They live here. They bank here. They shop here. And we support our local economy."

Gentry said, "They (Muscles & Curves Gym contractors) laid the pad several weeks ago and started steel going up on it last week. That (Muscles & Curves Gym) is the one that's going right now. I'm very happy and optimistic seeing that happening. And the impetus of getting started across the street (on the building of the dealership) will make my heart happier right now.

"I realize this is all a part of a process, so it's just a matter of getting the process complete."
Concerning the dealership, Gentry said, "We're just waiting for a follow up from the dealership (proprietors). They're just finalizing all their financing. They've got 85 percent of the financing pre-approved by Chrysler.

"And for the remaining portion, they want to try to do something with the banks here in the area. So, they've been in the process of negotiations with banks in the area here for the other 15 percent.

"I got a text (message) from them that they were in the process of just following up with some of the banks here in the area in my last communication with them last week.

"They're trying to do some investments in the area because they're looking at some potential for other business work in the area and want to be part of the community as well."

Concerning improvement of the rest of the Crockett Industrial Park land, Gentry said, "I'm hoping to do some development—clean up of the rest of the park—in such a way that we can present it in such a positive a way that will increase interest in the property.

"As a whole, we have right at 90 acres all together—all the way from 4th Street to 5th Street. And one of the things we are planning to do within this year is some manicuring and cleanup on some of the areas that need to be addressed on both of those streets so that people can see a vision of utilization of those properties."

Domestic Violence Awareness Balloon Release

Balloons

By Alton Porter
News Reporter
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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 Tragically Loses One of Their Own

By Alton Porter
News Reporter
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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. 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.

Jury wastes no time over verdict; Henderson guilty

By Alton Porter
News Reporter
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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)."