Gainesville Daily Register

Local News

December 21, 2012

Triumph, tragedies mark 2012

Gainesville — (This is the first of a two-part series.)

The year 2012 brought the expected mix of highs, lows and middles — and this applied to Gainesville and Cooke County as firmly as any other place. During the summer, the city of Gainesville experienced the notable honor of being declared the “Most Patriotic City” in the United States, a merit that resulted in national publicity and local celebration.

This moment of glory, however, fell before and after many other local events during 2012; some of those events were joyous, some were mundane, some qualified as unfortunate and a few of them were deemed pure tragedies. The Register provided coverage of most of them.

Notable news items during the first few months of 2012 included:

January

• Army Corps of Engineers officials have announced that blue-green algae levels at Lake Texoma remain too high for safety.

An advisory is in effect at the lake following water samples taken Jan. 11. These most recent samplings follow other Army corps tests conducted through past months, a process that began in August 2011.

The lake’s current status prohibits swimming and discourages direct water contact, though fishing and boating are still allowed.

The Army corps advisory, however, includes a warning for fishermen to thoroughly clean whatever they catch.

 Joe Custer, a manager at Lake Texoma, said the recent extreme heat and stagnant water levels likely triggered the algae bloom. The Army Corps announcement also explained blue-green algae are naturally present in Tulsa-area lakes but it was high heat and dryness that exacerbated them into a harmful spread.

• On Saturday, Jan. 21, at approximately 6:37 p.m., Department of Public Safety troopers were notified of a reckless driver traveling north on Interstate 35, north of Sanger.  Troopers located the 2004 Black Ford F150 pickup in question on the interstate jut north of the Denton/Cooke County line. The trooper activated his emergency lights and the drive exited Interstate 35 at Lone Oak Road and stopped at a travel center. The driver stepped out of his truck and as interviewed briefly. During that interview, the trooper saw a handgun in the truck. The male driver then got back into his truck and drove slowly through the parking lot of the fuel center. He pulled out onto Lone Oak Road and headed west at a very slow speed with a trooper following behind. The driver of the pickup turned north on the Interstate 35 Service Road and stopped next to the travel center. The trooper told him to step out of the pickup. The trooper then heard a gunshot from inside the truck. It was determined the driver took his own life.

• A resolution passed by Gainesville City Council allowed the Gainesville Economic Development Corporation (GEDC) to invest $150,000 in the Medal of Honor Park, set to be located at 101 S. Culberson. During the meeting, Medal of Honor Host City President Scott Richardson said the park will be designed to be a visual gateway to the city, which will contain a monument honoring Medal of Honor recipients and veterans. GEDC Executive Director Ken Sharp said, however, that the $150,000 incentive is contingent upon the Medal of Honor Host City Organization raising an additional $80,000 in project funds. Sharp said the entire project will cost around $230,000.

February

• North Texas Medical Center (NTMC) directors approved the purchase of Red River Medical Center during a regular board meeting in early February.

The clinic at 801 N. Grand Ave. in Gainesville is currently under the direction of pediatrician Patrick Kwan, who reportedly began purchase negotiations with NTMC in February 2011.

A press release distributed shortly after the meeting explained Kwan has operated in Gainesville for nearly 30 years — and while he won’t be retiring, he does plan to move into the role of “back-up physician.” The release said following the acquisition of the medical center, newly hired pediatrician Martha Thomas will operate in it while Kwan transitions his patients to her and to another practitioner.

The changes began in April. The district’s purchase of Red River Medical Center is another step NTMC took to localize its medical service and deter Cooke County residents from seeking treatment in distant cities.

• A Cooke County resident was sentenced in February following his conviction in the August 2010 death of a toddler.

Wesley Schutes, 32, was sentenced by jury to 10 years penitentiary confinement, having been found guilty of knowingly and recklessly causing serious bodily injury to a child under the age of 14. Cooke County District Attorney Janice Warder said MiKaylie Cole Biggers, seven months old, died Aug. 19, 2010, after sustaining blunt-force injuries to the head from Schutes four days earlier.

She explained a motive never finally surfaced, since there were no witnesses to the injuries and since Schutes denied deliberately imposing them.

They occurred in the southeastern Cooke County residence of mother McKenzie Bauwin.

“According to defense, the mother was asleep at the time,” Warder said adding that Schutes offered inconsistent reports during the initial investigation. “He claims the child was in a car seat and he went to the restroom, and that the car seat was on the floor next to the television, and that the car seat had tipped over and the child was limp and he called 911.”

Warder said this first account was what Schutes initially told officers from Child Protective Services and the Cooke County Sheriff’s Department in August 2010. “When no one would believe that, he said he was fixing formula and had the child on the counter in the kitchen,” she said. “He said he had his hand on the child’s stomach and the child fell — and he grabbed the child’s pants and the child fell onto the kitchen floor.”

Mikaylie Biggers died of serious injuries to the brain, following two days on life support at Cook Children’s Medical Center in Dallas. Warder said the child’s head sustained at least two points of forceful impact, according to doctors, though Schutes insisted the injuries were accidental.

“Basically, the doctors said it would take a great deal of force to cause this kind of damage to the brain,” she said.

At the time of the incident, Warder added, Schutes was the live-in boyfriend of mother Bauwin.

“He was not the father of the child,” she said. “The father had just moved out, not long before.”

March

• Army Reserve Staff Sgt. Robert Cates (left) received a signed proclamation from Cooke County commissioners during a regular meeting in March. Cates is about to embark on his third overseas deployment in a 12-year-period. In the proclamation, county officials gave the name of “Staff Sgt. Robert Cates Day” to May 12, 2012.

• A chase in March between a state trooper and a suspect began on wheels, continued on foot and became a scuffle that ended with a shooting.

Department of Public Safety officials said a male suspect received hospital care in Fort Worth after being shot by a state trooper he was trying to fight. This fight followed a pursuit on Interstate 35 near Valley View that began at around 3:45 p.m. The suspect was traveling by motorcycle, and the trooper tried to pull him over. The suspect refused to stop and exited the interstate at FM 922 and North Shore Road. This led to both men abandoning their vehicles and running through a field — where the suspect finally stopped and tried to attack the trooper. In self-defense, the trooper shot the suspect once in the stomach. The trooper was not injured.

April

• Construction began in April on the Red River Gathering Line, a 95-mile natural gas pipeline set to stretch through Cooke County.

The 30-inch line will move gas from XTO Energy well sites in the Woodford Shale — located near Ardmore, Okla. — to a Parker County processing facility managed by Energy Transfer Partners, a Dallas-based company that is overseeing the line’s build.

The pipeline should be operational by September following a production cost of $360 million. Its local route will extend across the Oklahoma border and through a point underneath Highway 82, directly between Gainesville and Muenster, before moving south toward Wise County.

Chris Martin, the energy company’s public relations representative, said the pipeline will have an initial capacity to gather 450 million cubic feet of natural gas storage per day. He added that, once operational, the pipeline’s day-to-day production should be safe for its employees.

“The hazards at a pipeline construction site are similar to that of any construction site,” he said Wednesday. “But Energy Transfer builds pipelines in the most safe and efficient manner possible, and is conscious to incorporate strategies that minimize any impact on the surrounding areas.”

He also said the pipeline should provide the following local benefits: It will increase the regional workforce by offering more than 600 temporary jobs and a handful of long-term jobs for employees to operate the pipeline; it should provide tax payments of up to $3.1 million each year to all of the counties that are included in its route; and it will Increase revenues to local businesses such as hotels, restaurants and gas stations through the spending of construction personnel.

• Medal of Honor Host City events were April 11-14 in Gainesville and included a military parade, banquet, fish fry and speaking engagements at Gainesville schools. Notably, this year’s roster of guest Medal of Honor (MOH) recipients has a count of 15, four more than the list in 2011 — and the highest the city has ever hosted.

“When you consider that there’s only 82 recipients still living, this percentage is quite significant,” said Medal of Honor historian Gary Alexander.

Confirmed visiting MOH recipients include Army veterans Allen Lynch, Jim Taylor, Bob Patterson, Mike Fitzmaurice, Hal Fritz, Kenny Stumpf, Joe Marm and Bruce Crandall; Marine veterans Barney Barnum, John McGinty, Robert Modrzejewski, Hershel “Woody” Williams, Richard Pittman and Duane Dewey; and Navy veteran Don “Doc” Ballard.

Alexander credited the community for the high number and explained that Gainesville’s four-day MOH block of events, now entering its eleventh year, can cost as much as $50,000.

“There’s no corporate interest here,” he said. “There’s no ‘big money.’”

But it’s finally made possible through local aid; not only fundraisers but sponsorships, donations and in-kind services.

“We couldn’t do this without the support of people in Gainesville and Cooke County, coming back every year, offering more and more money,” Alexander said. “The more money we have, the more recipients we can get.”

Gainesville’s Medal of Honor Host City program is a nonprofit coordination among city and school officials and entities such as Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce.

• A jury trial was deliberately absent in the case of Gregory Eugene Knabe, 53, who received a concurrent 12-year sentence in April for the July 2011 vehicular manslaughter of William Rohmer, 52, plus the serious injuries to Rohmer’s daughter and a failure to stop and render aid.

Cooke County Assistant District Attorney Ron Poole said Knabe will have to serve a full six years before parole eligibility.

He added that Knabe opted to skip a jury trial — likely to evade a longer prison term.

“That’s usually why people waive their jury,” Poole said.

The manslaughter and bodily injury convictions stemmed from a collision on westbound Highway 82 shortly before 4 a.m. July 23. Law enforcement reported later in the morning that the incident began as William Rohmer stood on the side of the highway with wife Laura, helping their daughter Amanda.

“They were in the process of changing a flat,” Cooke County Sheriff Mike Compton said, adding that their separate vehicles were parked close to a roadside park near the FM 1198 turnoff into Myra. “A vehicle struck the three, and left the scene.”

The impact killed William Rohmer on site and seriously injured Amanda Rohmer, who was airlifted to Harris Methodist Medical Center in Fort Worth and later released. Laura Rohmer suffered no major physical harm, but was taken to North Texas Medical Center and treated for shock.

The driver was Knabe, who reportedly spent time at local bars before heading home to his residence on County Road 360 in Muenster. But Poole explained that Knabe’s vehicle, a truck, didn’t belong to him. It had been lent for the night despite the fact that Knabe had a suspended driver’s license.

“An employee of his rented the truck from Enterprise Car Rental,” Poole said about Knabe. “And lo and behold, Knabe was driving it. So once they checked that out, they knew who he was.”

The truck was soon found parked in Muenster, though Knabe wasn’t there. On July 23, Compton said Texas Department of Public Safety Cpl. Mike Linnell arrested Knabe at his rural residence only hours after the collision.

Knabe then spent several months in holding at the Cooke County Justice Center, awaiting legal hearings. And though his defense later reportedly raised doubt about his intoxication at the time of the collision, Poole said a jury trial would have quelled this.

Knabe was later indicted on one count of manslaughter, a second-degree felony; one count of aggravated assault, a second-degree felony; and three counts of failure to stop and render aid, all third-degree felonies.

May

• Volunteers braved May storms to do some good on Taylor Street in Gainesville.

The “Day of Caring,” regularly a Cooke County United Way (CCUW) project, became a coordination between that agency and the City of Gainesville as a way of cleaning one city street distinctly in need of upkeep.

A crew that included Gainesville City Council officials and United Way staff took to Taylor Street in the rain and attempted an overhaul to the yards of six houses in the street’s 500 and 1000 blocks.

“I’m just thankful it’s not 100 degrees, like it’s been before,” said volunteer Rhonda Beam.

Workers trimmed and cleared branches, hauled away piles of junk tires and loaded dumpsters with litter and refuse, giving their main focus to Taylor Street homes of elderly or disabled residents who would otherwise receive public citations, as some of them already have.

Day of Caring is an international United Way initiative, not unique to Cooke County. Hare said her local organization became involved with it in 2009, and began in “baby steps” as a collection drive for the American Red Cross and for local senior citizens in need of care items.

From there, the local version of the initiative became more hands-on, sending volunteers to work at physical locations, and was moved from mid-June to an earlier month.

• Dustin Office Machines owner Johnny Leftwich, who started out as a teenage worker at Dustin Office Supply, ended up owning the business and was celebrated in May for his 60 years of local service.

“The 60 years went by so fast it seems as if it was only yesterday that I walked across the street and up some stairs and talked to Mr. Frank Dustin and asked for a job at that time,” Leftwich said in May. “I was 15 years of age and we came to an agreement very easily. I kid people quite a bit and say I’ve had a job ever since. Today I think you would call that job security.”

Leftwich, 75, marked six decades of business along with the Dustin family who celebrated the 80th anniversary of Frank Dustin’s original business supply company.

Leftwich — who has since become a paragon for civic service — called his years in Gainesville and Cooke County “a great ride.”

“The people of Gainesville and the surrounding county have blessed us with business all these years, and Frank Dustin had a 20-year head start on me,” Leftwich said. “The business started in 1932 and I’ve really enjoyed it.”

• Cooke County Relay for Life representatives reported that local participants teamed up and raised a final total of $130,000 for the American Cancer Society during the 2012 installment of the fundraiser.

Stacy Dickerson, the county organization’s chair and volunteer, said the recent 2012 campaign effort included the input of 40 local teams — and in a statement, she gave thanks to all who took part.

“The outstanding support received proves that the people of Cooke County are truly committed to the fight against cancer,” Dickerson said. “I want to applaud the 84 survivors plus all the caregivers who participated in the opening lap and the survivor recognition. They are the reason we continue to fight. We want them to celebrate more birthdays.”

The 2012 installment was originally May 4, at Leopard Stadium, but heavy evening rains stalled the proceedings and forced organizers to restage them on May 19, in the Gainesville High School gymnasium.

The scaled-down version, called “Relay Recovery,” occurred after teams had already raised $96,000 of the initial $100,000 goal. But the final tally exceeded the goal, since fundraising continued beyond Relay events and through all of May.

“We are just astonished and feel very blessed that our community has come out to support us,” Dickerson said in early May. “We want to blow this goal out of the water, and I’m so proud of Cooke County for coming together.”

 

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