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Archive 2001

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Daily Newspaper and Travel Guide
for Pecos Country of West Texas

Top Stories

Tuesday, September 18, 2001

Bloody van connected to missing deputy, slaying

Staff Writer
PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- Law enforcement officials from Texas and Arizona have come to Pecos to gather information on separate cases involving a missing California woman and a homicide in Arizona after a van connected to both incidents was found on Sunday near Balmorhea in Reeves County.

Department of Public Safety Troopers found a silver 1995 Honda Odyssey at mile marker 200 on Interstate 10 early Sunday afternoon that belongs to Debbie Valdez, 43.

After obtaining a search warrant for the van, officials found it contained numerous firearms, while blood and hair were also found inside.

Valdez is a former China Lake police officer who was scheduled to begin working as a McKinley County Sheriff's Deputy on Monday in Gallup, N.M., which is located on Interstate 40 in the northwestern part of the state, about 450 miles from Balmorhea.

Valdez is five foot three inches tall, approximately 140 lbs., with hazel eyes and brown hair. She was last seen on Thursday evening according to Detective Paul Teran of the Coconino County Sheriff's Department in Flagstaff, AZ.

Teran along with fellow Detective Tim Cornelius are in Pecos in efforts to gain more information in connection to a homicide in Arizona.

A couple of the weapons that were found in Valdez' van are believed to have been used in the Arizona homicide.

The suspects in that homicide are Jimmy Lynn Odom, 36, and Donna Rae Lankford, 34, both from Newton County in Texas, which is on the Texas-Louisiana border north of Orange.

"That is how we were able to link (the homicide) to this," Detective Sergeant Mike Dominguez of the Reeves County Sheriff's Office said.

Teran said that the homicide is believed to have occurred early last week, but officers were not called to the scene until Thursday.

"It possibly occurred on Tuesday late or Wednesday morning of last week," he said.

The victim, Duard Stanphill, was found at a campsite just south of Williams, AZ.

Teran also said that a vehicle that he believes is connected to the Arizona homicide was found close to Valdez's home in New Mexico.

"A car was found located 15 miles east of Gallup that we believe is connected to our investigation," he said.

Texas Ranger David Duncan said that the suspects in that homicide are believed to be in East Texas.

"They are believed at this moment to be in the Houston area," he said.

State DPS Crime Lab officials are spending most of the day processing any information from the van.

Dominguez said that it is unknown if the blood found in the van belongs to Valdez.

"It could be anybody," he said.

Until the lab results have come back he said that they would continue to treat Valdez's case as a missing person.

Law enforcement spent most of Monday conducting an air search for a body in the area where the van was found but the search was called off during the afternoon.

Dominguez and Duncan both ask for the public's help on gaining any information to who was seen around the van this weekend.

"Any person that had seen the van this weekend might call the Reeves County Sheriff's Office," Duncan said.

If anyone has any information about Valdez or on the van please call 445-4901.

Lack of available water concerns Red Buff board

Staff Writer
PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- Red Bluff Water Power Control Board members had only a few items to deal with during their Sept. 10 meeting in Pecos, with the discussion centering mainly around the lack of water in the lake and getting salt out of the water already there and in the Pecos River.

About two-thirds of the 2001 allotment had been used by the seven water districts on the river south of Red Bluff, leaving Red Bluff Lake with only 32,771 acre/feet of water. A lack of rain both in the Red Bluff basin and in New Mexico was blamed for the drop in the water level at lake, which must maintain at least 20,000 acre/feet of water to maintain the structural integrity of the dam.

"They (New Mexico) are definitely not letting any water by, that's what being reflected (in the lake levels)," said board president Randall Hartman, during a discussion on a new low water crossing weir, on which no action was taken.

Board members also discussed future action of repairs to the district's measuring stations. Hartman said he was going to be in contact with engineer Kevin Lestrop with the Natural Resources Conservation Service to see what type of equipment the district would need to put in at the measuring stations.

No action was taken, but Hartman said the weir house for Ward County Irrigation District No. 3 would probably have to be replaced, and board member Jay Lee said, "The own on (Pecos County) No. 2 is not accurate too, because it leaks pretty good."

"Before it's over we're going to find out," about the weir calibrations, Hartman said.

Board members were also told patchwork needs to be done on the spillway west of Red Bluff Dam. "On the top of this thing some of the cement is breaking out," Hartman said. "We didn't do anything, but we don't want under any circumstances to have to replace that structure. That was about half the cost of the dam."

"It's not what you'd call massive cement work, but we have to do it," said Hartman, who will seek estimates on the job after the board approved the repair plan.

"It's minor stuff, but it should have been done a long time ago," said board member Lloyd Goodrich, who said the fractures were caused by water seeping into concrete cracks during the winter and then freezing. "When it gets down to the rebar it's serious, because the rebar will swell and split the concrete."

In general discussion, board members talked about, but took no action, on replacement of the district's 27-year-old backhoe at Red Bluff Lake. Lee said if it breaks down before a replacement is bought, one could be rented in an emergency.

The board was also told that lawyers involved in the Sun West (Loving) Salt negotiations with the state of New Mexico said they were getting closer to a final agreement on the Malaga Bend salt alleviation project. A salt spring will be diverted from the Pecos River and the water evaporated in ponds, with the salt being mined by Sun West once the project gets final approval. "The way they're wording it right here I'm optimistic," said Hartman. "I think it's going to take place."

Hartman also said he talked to Sun West's Albert Wagner about current salt sale payments, and that the company was planning to make good on back payments, which totaled $8,000.

The board was also updated on the latest round of salt cedar spraying along the Pecos River, which began on Sept. 8. The latest round of spraying would be from the Barstow Dam south, towards the Worsham Field area. Other spraying is due for the area around Imperial Reservoir; while local farmer Tom Nance said one area that probably would be left alone is the upper reaches of Screwbean Draw (Salt Creek), which enters the Pecos River just south of Red Bluff Dam.

"What everybody came to conclusion was it was best to leave it alone," he said. "It puts 25 tons of salt into the river, so they're just going to spray two miles up Salt Creek to keep contamination (from the river), because the salt cedars are drinking up the salty water."

Rattler fears, antivenom shortage produce warnings

Staff Writer
PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- Be on the lookout for rattlesnakes. That's the warning that is being issued, following a snakebite incident that occurred recently at a Pecos park, and especially since there's a shortage of rattlesnake antivenom in the United States right now.

"We did a complete sweep of the area, raked and cut all the weeds," said Town of Pecos City Health and Sanitation Director Armando Gil, referring to the Sept. 2 incident in which a teenage girl was bitten by a rattler at Rocket Park on the southwest side of town.

Gil said that city crews were dispatched to the park, located next to the Athletic Swimming Pool behind Maxey Park, following an incident in which a 14-year-old girl was bitten by a rattlesnake. The girl required medical attention and was flown for treatment to Covenant Medical Center in Lubbock after first being taken to Reeves County Hospital

Hospital officials had to restock their supply of anti-venom after that, and finding more venom has become difficult in recent weeks, after one of two makers of antivenom has quit the business.

"This is not a public health crisis," said Daniel Cobaugh, associate director of the American Association of Poison Control Centers, "but it certainly has been a real challenge, especially to the poison centers that operate in areas where there's a significant incidence of snakebites."

Meanwhile, a flock of sheep in Australia is working overtime, taking regular injections of venom to produce the remedy. But ewes can give only so much blood at a time: It takes about nine months to produce enough antibodies for the production of antivenom.

The makers of the sheep-based drug, CroFab, say they aren't ready yet to supply the entire market.

"When we entered the market there was another supplier of antivenom. We believed that they would continue to supply antivenom. We were as surprised as everyone else," said Saul Komisar, U.S. president of Protherics PLC, a small Wales-based company that won FDA approval to sell CroFab last December.

That other supplier was Wyeth-Ayerst Laboratories, which quietly decided earlier this year to halt production of Antivenin, a product that it had made with the blood of horses raised in Pennsylvania.

Wyeth spokesman Douglas Petkus said Wyeth, part of American Home Products, told the FDA nine months ago that it would cease production this year and gave customers the same information.

In May, however, Wyeth issued a news release that made no mention of the plan.

Dr. Greene Shepherd, director of the North Texas Poison Center at Parkland hospital, said Parkland has no CroFab. But it has about 50 vials of Antivenin, enough for two patients. Bad bites can require 30 to 50 vials. He said he could get more within a couple of days if needed from outlying hospitals.

"There is a relative shortage ... but it is available," he said. "We're at a weird crossroads with snakebite antivenom treatment."

Reeves County Hospital Resources Director Nadine Smith said that the hospital has the antivenom that is required after a rattlesnake bite.

Information gathered from the mother of the girl, led city officials to believe the snake that bit her was a baby snake, which is actually more dangerous than being bit by an adult rattler.

"Their venom is more potent," said Gil.

The cooler weather is drawing the snakes into town seeking a warmer climate.

"They're coming in because they want to keep warm and the weather has been cooling off," said Gil. "As the weather gets colder, they're more likely to seek shelter in high weeds and other areas."

Gil said that the park was closed following the incident, but has since been re-opened to the public and appropriate signs warning citizens of the snakes have been posted. "We want everyone to be on the lookout for them," said Gil. "But we're not 100 percent sure that there aren't any there at the park or that any will travel over there."

"Since the mother of the child had been told it was a baby snake, we felt there had to be a den somewhere in the area," said Gil. "That's what we were looking for, to prevent any more from coming in to the park."

Gil said that rattlesnakes will first warn individuals of their presence by "rattling." "That's their first defense and then they strike, the bite is just a distraction, to keep humans away," said Gil.

"The kids that were at the park that day probably didn't hear it rattle, because that's usually what they do first before biting," he said.

"We just want everyone to be careful and on the lookout for snakes, not just at the park but everywhere, because they'll be seeking shelter," said Gil. "And until we get a really good freeze, we won't get rid of them."

Health experts estimate that venomous snakes bite 7,000 people each year in the United States. Five or six die in an average year.

The Associated Press contributed to this report

Man flown to Lubbock following ranch explosion

Staff Writer
PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- A Pecos man was flown to Lubbock with several burns after a tank explosion early Sunday on a ranch south of Pecos.

Alonzo Munoz, 61, suffered several cuts and chemical burns on his body after the tank in which he was mixing granular chlorine plus and water exploded.

City and County Health Department Investigator Armando Gil said that he received a call at approximately 10:30 a.m., on Sunday informing him of the explosion.

After meeting Reeves County Sheriff's Deputies at Reeves County Hospital he discovered that the tank had exploded on Flattop Farms located 20 miles south on U.S. 285.

Gil said that he talked with Munoz, who informed him that he was only mixing the chlorine with water, which according to manufacture's labels should not have caused an explosion.

"(Munoz) was mixing the granular chlorine plus and water in a 1,000 gallon trailer-mounted fiberglass tank," he said.

"According to Mr. Munoz, the tank exploded during the mixing process," he said.

Gil said that Munoz was using a small pump to spray water inside the tank that already contained the chlorine.

Gil has sent samples of the soil and fiberglass to a lab in Georgia where they will be tested for other chemicals that might have caused the explosion.

"I sent the samples to the lab so they can run a chemical analysis to determine if there was any other chemicals used in the mixing," he said.

As a result of the explosion, the tank was also shattered, according to Gil.

"The tank was completely destroyed, the only thing left was the frame," he said.

Program offering special needs kids info for parents

PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- The Pecos Barstow Toyah Independent School District, Reeves County Hospital and the Community Resource Group have joined together to provide resource information for parents and educators of children with special needs.

Many agencies will provide information on various medical, financial and resource services available to the children in Reeves County. Parents will have the opportunity to visit with each organization present and receive valuable information to assist them with their children.

The event will be held at Austin Elementary, at 6 p.m., tonight, in the school's cafeteria.

`See You at the Pole' event on Wednesday

PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- See You at the Pole, will be held at 7 a.m., Tuesday, at the flagpole in front of Pecos High School, on South Park Street.

Everyone is invited to come and join the annual celebration.

A shuttle bus will be available for those students in the junior high schools and will transport them back to their respective campuses.

Memorial ceremony for terrorist attacks set

PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- Pecos High School employee Rosie Carrasco and PHS juvenile officer Hilda Woods are planning a Memorial Dedication in front of the Lucius D. Bunton Federal Building on Wednesday, following last week's terrorist attacks that occurred at the World Trade Center and the Pentagon on Sept. 11.

The ceremony will be held for all Pecos-Barstow-Toyah ISD students, and the public is invited to attend. It will be held at 7 p.m., Wednesday.

Everyone is asked to wear red, white and blue throughout that day. The group is also asking the students to take flowers, cards, balloons or any token of gratitude and sympathy.

For more information go to the PIP Office at Pecos High School or call 447-7239 and ask for Carrasco or Woods.


PECOS, Tues., Sept. 18, 2001 -- High Monday 98. Low this morning 66. Rainfall last 24 hours in Pecos .06 inch. Forecast for tonight: Partly cloudy. Lows in the mid 60s. Northeast winds 5 to 10 mph. Wednesday: Mostly sunny. Highs near 90. Southeast winds 5 to 15 mph. Wednesday night: Partly cloudy. Lows in the lower 60s. Thursday: Partly cloudy. Highs in the upper 80s. Friday: Partly cloudy. Lows 55 to 60. Highs in the mid 80s.

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Pecos Enterprise
York M. "Smokey" Briggs, Publisher
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324 S. Cedar St., Pecos, TX 79772
Phone 915-445-5475, FAX 915-445-4321

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