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Weekly Newspaper and Travel Guide for Ward County Trans Pecos, Big Bend of West Texas

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December 17, 1998

By Rebecca Jones
News Staff

Five charged in Allsups robbery

Following the robbery of Grandfalls' Allsups Monday night, local law enforcement moved quickly to apprehend the suspects. Within 24 hours, five individuals were in custody.
Jeremy Joel Ray McPeak, 17, Michelle Lee McPeak, 19, Michael Albert Wayne DeFranco, 19, and Shirley Jo Littlejohn, 17, have all been charged with aggravated robbery and two counts of burglary. Littlejohn and (Jeremy) McPeak also are charged with theft of over $500 and under $1500, while (Michelle) McPeak has been charged with possession of dangerous drugs.
DeFranco is charged with possession of dangerous drugs and drug paraphernalia. A fifth individual, John DeFranco, is charged with tampering with evidence.
This robbery was part of a crime spree that's plagued Ward County for the past several weeks.
It was near midnight, according to the sheriff's department, that two individuals wearing bandanas on their faces entered Allsups while the clerk was in the back. One carried a loaded shotgun, the other a pellet gun.
After taking an unspecified amount of money, the two left the store on foot, and walked around to the south side of the building, police reports say. Before they left, however, they ripped the phone out the wall. They did not injure the clerk.
The clerk contacted the store's assistant manager, who then called the police.
The suspects were gone when deputies arrived, but their weapons and various articles of clothing were discovered near the store by the side of the road. The weapons were later determined to have been stolen in a burglary earlier that evening.
The police department, which had been investigating the previous burglaries, joined forces with the sheriff's department and highway patrol to apprehend these individuals. Said Sheriff Ben Keele, "A lot of good men worked on [this case], and they did a wonderful job. The police department and highway patrol helped us, and we sure do appreciate it- we all worked together in a great manner."
About fourteen hours later, they arrested their first suspect, with the rest soon following.
Confessions came quickly; according to the sheriff's department, it was the McPeak siblings who had held up Allsups the night before, with Littlejohn and Michael DeFranco's assistance.
Jeremy McPeak had already pled guilty earlier this month to charges of intent to commit the felony offense of injury to an elderly individual, and to intentionally and knowingly enter a habitation without effective consent of the owner thereof.
As part of his plea bargain, McPeak asked for his sentencing to be delayed so that he could first put his affairs in order. The state complied, and scheduled his sentencing for Jan. 8. In the meantime, he remained out on bond.
Sheriff Ben Keele said, "I am upset that he was still on the street."
According to court records, Michael DeFranco was already facing charges of burglary and assault. Littlejohn had been charged earlier with forgery but that charge was dropped.
Local law enforcement officials believe that the McPeaks, Michael DeFranco, and Littlejohn are responsible for recently burglarizing a house in Ranchero Heights and using a local's lost ATM card to withdraw approximately $1000.
Officers have already recovered a large amount of property valued at several thousand dollars.
The five teenagers are currently being held at Ward County Jail. Bonds were set Wednesday.
Jeremy McPeak's bond was set at $150,000 for the aggravated robbery, $5,000 each for the two counts of burglary, and a $25,000 bond for his theft charge.
Bonds for Michelle McPeak, Michael DeFranco, and Shirley Littlejohn were set at $100,000 each for the aggravated robbery and $10,000 total each for the two counts of burglary. Littlejohn was given an additional $25,000 bond for the theft charge. No trial date has been set.

Gleaners help Santa with food

Santa's helpers must start much earlier than that for every one to have a good Christmas.

In Monahans there are some key organizations that function as Santa's helpers.

The Gleaners work very hard to provide food so that needy families may have a festive holiday dinner.

The Volunteer Firemen collect and distribute toys for children who otherwise would have none and Child Protective Services looks to the Angel Tree program to provide gifts for the foster children in their care.

There is one other key ingredient that is necessary for these programs to succeed and that is a caring community. That caring is shown each time someone goes to one of the banks and selects an ornament that lists the needs of a foster child. It is shown with each toy that goes in the Toys for Tots boxes and it reflected with every donation of food and money that funds the Gleaners.

According to Gleaner board member Gene Brown, the organization provided Thanksgiving dinners for 150 families in November and anticipate providing at least that many for Christmas. This organizations depends on the donations of food and money from the community. Furr's and Lowe's provides vegetables and bread on a daily basis. The Gleaners also accept donations of clothing, bedding and furniture at their facility at 921 North Betty. Volunteers are working there each day from 8:30 to 10:30 a.m.

"Each Monday we distribute food to an average of 100 families," said Brown. "Exactly how many usually depends on who has been laid off the week before and who have found jobs in between weeks."

Various churches and organizations provide support each month.

"Many organizations paid a full year of support in one lump sum to help with matching fund campaign," said Brown. "Please remember to renew your monthly support in January."

Toys for Tots, organized by the volunteer firemen, is a campaign to collect toys that will be given to children who otherwise would not have Christmas gifts. The men put out boxes and depend on caring residents to fill them.

"Right now we still need more toys," said fireman, John Stuessey. Boxes are located at Lowe's and Furr's grocery stores, Alco Discount Store, Dollar General and Corner Drug. He reports as of Wednesday night, there were 150 more applications than they had toys to fill.

Applications for the toys are printed in the Monahans News or may be picked up at the police station. These must be taken to the fire station between 7 and 9 p.m. tonight (Thursday) when interviews will be conducted. The program is only available for children under 12 years of age. Ornaments are still hanging on Christmas trees at First National and First State banks. Anyone who would like to help with this project is encouraged to pick up an ornament, buy the suggested items and return the gift to the bank by Dec. 18. A local sorority will gift wrap the presents.

Christmas will be a lot happier for a lot of people because someone in Ward County cared.

Golf course agreement drawn

The first draft was completed Tuesday on an interlocal cooperative agreement for the golf course.

County Judge Sam Massey and City Manager David Mills have been working together to draft the document which will put into writing the responsibilities of the two govening bodies as concerns the facility.

All of the land where the golf course is located now belongs to the City of Monahans. At the city council meeting Tuesday, members voted unanimously to accept a bid from Henry Cutbirth to trade deeds for 15.960 acres next to his business south of town for the 3.82 acres that the pro shop, cart barn and driving range occupy, which he owned.

Cutbirth's bid was the only offer the city received for the 15.960 acres. "This had to happen to un-muddy the waters of ownership of land at the golf course before entering into an agreement with the county," said Mills. "As of Wednesday the City and the Cutbirths were in the process of executing the warranty deeds regarding the exchange of property," said Mills.

"The agreement between the County and the City is pending acceptance by the Commissioners Court Dec. 28 and the City Council the first meeting in January," said Mills, "Sam and I simply drew up the agreement. It's now up to the governing bodies . . . to approve or not to approve."

Clauses and covenants of the proposed agreement are:
The County will agree to provide up to $115,000 to a successful bidding contractor to manage and operate the golf course.

The City of Monahans will agree to offer the use of the land on which the golf course sets.

The City will allow the County to maintain and utilize premises for it's precinct maintenance operations.
The City agrees to furnish effluent water to the golf course in quantities based upon the irrigation needs and availability of water in storage.

The City will provide operation, maintenance, and service of effluent water system from City storage reservoirs to the golf course storage reservoir.

The City will provide for chlorination of the water at the course pumping facility.

The City will provide landfill disposal of rubbish and tree limbs generated on the premises.

The City agrees to provide trash service at the maintenance facility and pro shop and will also provide municipal waste and sewer utilities for the course.

For security purposes, the City will allow continued residential occupation of the premises by Ward County Deputy Sheriff Jerry Heflin until his retirement.

The term of the agreement is for one year, beginning January 1, 1999, but either party may terminate the agreement by submitting a 60 day written notice.

Neglected horses taken into custody

After several months of investigation and calls from concerned citizens, Ward County Animal Control Officer Lesley Clemmer, and the Inspector of Hides and Animals group, represented by Alan Martin, seized three neglected horses Thursday, Dec. 10.

The equine, owned by Larry Garlinghouse, 23, of Grandfalls, consist of a white Welsh stud, estimated to be between five and seven years old, a dunn mare, about 13 or 14 years old, and her 6-month-old colt.

The county will be auctioning them off in the near future, though no date has been specified. Clemmer said the three will likely be sold separately.

Proceeds will be used to cover expenses and housing of the horses; if any is left over, it will go to the horses' original owner, Timmy Davidson of Imperial, to whom Garlinghouse still owes payment.

According to County Attorney Kevin Acker, Garlinghouse was supposed to have sold the horses last month, and this month too, but the transactions never materialized.

Acker says that he's "not really looking to file charges at this point, but we may consider it."

The Inspector of Hides and Animals group, which helped seize the horses, in doing so probably committed its last official act. This is largely because Ector County decided to abolish them- and so the historic Inspectors will essentially go out of existence as of midnight, Dec. 31.

Martin said the reason Ector County abolished the group was because officials were afraid the Inspectors would start demanding money for their services.

He added that this particular Inspectors' group is the last in Texas, and the only one to ever have a female member.

Finley finds adventure in her work

After 42 years service to the citizens of Ward County, Jan. 1, 1999, Pat Finley will step down as County Clerk.
They have been good years, says Pat.

"Every day is an adventure. We do the same things over and over but the people are different, the requests are different. Every day is a new challenge that keeps you on your toes," she explained. "I've looked forward to coming to work every day. That's how it's been with me."

Pat grew up in Colorado City but moved to Monahans right after she graduated from high school. She started out working for Bruton's Jewelry, then worked for Southern Union Gas. It was during that time she married Don Finley.

She stayed home for a while after her daughter was born, then in Feb. of 1957 took a position with County Clerk, Mary Childs. At Mary's retirement 19 years ago, Pat was elected County Clerk and has never been seriously challenged for the

The courthouse was a different place 42 years ago. The County jail was located on the third floor where Sheriff [Blackie] McNerlin and his family also lived.

Monahans was still segregated and the colored men's restroom took up part of the space the Clerk's office now occupies. The north side addition to the courthouse didn't exist and all the books were kept up front.

Then, as now, accuracy was very important.

"There was a little room back in the corner that we called the comparing room," remembers Pat. "After the records were typed, one deputy would read and one would check for errors."

Other than the physical changes to the courthouse itself, Pat cites the changes in election procedures and laws as being the greatest.

Years ago the Clerk's office was responsible for all the elections, County, City and School.

"It was always done on a Saturday," she recalled. "On paper ballots that all had to be counted by hand.

"I've worked through three types of elections," she said. "Paper ballots, punch card ballots and now we are on optic scan. The first time I was elected, it was on a paper ballot."

Election laws also changed absentee voting to early voting - a change Pat heartily agrees with. "When we had absentee voting, you had to be in jail, swear you would be out of town or claim religious grounds that wouldn't allow you to vote on Saturday to vote absentee," she explained. "Lots of folks swore they were 'going fishing'."

Under early voting, anyone can vote early.

"Early voting keeps people from telling little white fibs," she said. She also believes it has increased voter turnout.
The Clerk's office is very important to the county.

Not only is the office responsible for elections, it is responsible for five courts - commission, civil, criminal, probate and juvenile. All vital statistics - births, deaths and marriages are also maintained in the County Clerk's office. In addition, in its books are recorded the history of the county - real property deeds, oil and gas leases and home mortgages.

About six years ago the office went to computers and while they have simplified the work, Pat still maintains everything on hard copy as well. It is a practice researchers in the Count records find very helpful.

"Our records are also microfilmed and stored in a temperature controlled vault in Dallas," she said.
Pat is looking forward to retirement.

"Though I really will miss the people, I'm looking forward to being relieved of the responsibility of being sure laws have not changed," she said. "I want to do things in a manner that isn't always hurried."

Pat will continue to live in Monahans. After she "enjoys retirement" for a while, Pat wants to do some volunteer work, some traveling and spend more time with her family.

"My mother will be 94 in January and I want to spend some quality time with her," she said. She also plans to spend more time with her grandchildren.

Post office to fete customers

Customer appreciation day is scheduled from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Monday at the Monahans post office, says Postmaster Bill Martinez.

Everyone is encouraged to stop by and enjoy all of the Christmas decorations that have been put up by clerks Faye Mayhall, Sue Dowlearn and Elena Sanchez.

They will serve cookies, coffee, punch and candy. Customer appreciation day started ten years ago by Dowlearn and then Postmaster David O'Dell. Dowlearn says that one of the reasons she and the employees have kept the celebration going all of these years is in memory of the late O'Dell.

The other reason says Dowlearn is "my customers are my friends and I have grown to love this town and all the people in it, and I want to take one day out of the year and celebrate with them."

"All of the employees at the post office donate time, energy and money to pull off the event.The customer is very important to the postal service, they are truly number one," said Postmaster Martinez.

"This time of the year is very busy at the post office, but we will have time to visit and share a few laughs with all of the customers on Monday," said Dowlearn.

Christmas pays off for merchants

No official figures are in yet, however, historically, December is for most retail stores one of their best months.
A lot of preparation goes into planning and preparing for the crowds of Christmas shoppers.

At Alco in Monahans, buying for the Christmas season is actually done in January and February for the upcoming year, said Ed Fisher the local manager. The store buys based on what the hot items were the year before, coupled with input from the manager about local needs.

Fisher reports that December is the store's best month of the year. He attributes it to being the Christmas season and the good selection of Christmas decorations, toys and all around variety of gift selections at Alco.

Even though December is usually the best month sales wise, he went on to say that "this year sales are softer than others."

Fisher added that he has been told that the softer December is a national trend in all retail business.

At Shoppe on Main Street in downtown Monahans, Carol Hurst, one of the store's owner reports, having a very good December. Hurst said, "We feel we're having a good December due to the holiday season and the fact that we are a new business. People know that they can call us and we will wrap and ship any gift for them." She also said that a popular cosmetic line added to the store in August has proven to be a good Christmas seller this year.

The store, like Alco, also carries Christmas decorations and ornaments that are selling well this season. Shoppe on Main Street does their Christmas buying in July and a lot of thought goes into preparations for the holiday season.

Both Fisher of Alco and Hurst of Shoppe on Main Street anticipate a busy next week due to last minute shoppers.
They both add they are ready for the rush.

Snowfall blankets area

After surviving record-breaking heat through the summer months and enjoying an unusually warm fall, Ward County residents were treated to about seven inches of snow Friday. The flakes began to fall sometime during the night and by daybreak, the ground was covered. Snowfall continued through most of the day.

It was a wet snow, the kind West Texans love and left behind about .7 inch of moisture. It also left behind numerous snowmen, a rare sight in the Basin. They quickly melted Saturday as temperatures rose to 78 degrees.

At the local schools classes met for most of the day, dismissing slightly early at 2:45.

Monahans Police Chief Charles Sebastian reported no accidents in Monahans that day though the State police worked some on the Interstate.

Perhaps the greatest inconvenience to area residents came when the accumulated snow caused a break in electrical service to parts of east side Monahans.

According to TU Electric manager Kevin Slay, the trouble began on East 15th in the vicinity of James Street with a large oak tree.

"It was a large beautiful tree," Slay noted. "One of these you see around here." Though the limbs were trimmed well back from the electric lines running beneath them, as the snow fell early Friday morning, one of the branches began to bend downward. The weight of the snow caused it to touch the electrical line which then began to arc, explained Slay. The electrical heat would melt the snow and the limb would rise, only to bend again as the snow accumulated. "This happened three or four times," he said. "Each time the lights would go off and then back on."

Finally the lines burned through and fell to the ground. "When that happened the breaker at the substation opened up and took those feeder lines out of service," Slay said, noting that that was exactly what the breaker was supposed to do.

"This happened about 7 a.m.," he said. "We got a crew right out and around 10 a.m. most homes in the area had service again. There were a few blocks where service was not restored until about noon.

"The lights are going to blink sometimes when a limb hits a line on a windy day but nine inches of snow created an unusual situation," Slay added.

There were also a few problems in Thorntonville and some out in the county.

"The Center here services about 5,000 square miles," said Slay. "We had crews in from Odessa, Sweetwater and Snyder to help out. Last year about this time our crews were in Sweetwater because of a similar storm."

By 9:00 that night, everything was taken care of and the crews were enjoying a meal in a local eating establishment.

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Copyright 1998 by Ward Newspapers, Inc.
Joe Warren, Publisher
107 W. Second St., Monahans TX 79756
Phone 915-943-4313, FAX 915-943-4314

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Copyright 1998 by Ward Newspapers Inc.