A Look Back at 2012
People were withdrawing money from banks at an unusual speed during the last six months of 2012. The people weren't customers. Robbers hit four financial institutions in six months, a record number for the Greater Orange Area. If crime was a baseball season, the cops would be batting 1.000. Four people have been arrested for the robberies and one has even pleaded guilty to the federal charges. Citizens have helped catch the crooks. Surveillance recordings of the robberies were distributed to the media and people helped identify the culprits. Orange police also report that a witness wrote down the pickup truck license number of the suspect in the fourth robbery, helping police to make an arrest. The spree started on June 17 when the Capital One in downtown was robbed by a well-dressed woman. Then the Capital One branch on 16th Street was robbed by a man wearing a cowboy hat on July 27. A few weeks later, on Sept. 6, a man wearing a ski cap, sunglasses and gloves, and brandishing a shotgun held up the Firestone Federal Credit Union on MacArthur Drive in West Orange. A robber took cash from the Chase Bank on 16th Street Dec. 19. Orange police say a man has been arrested for the Chase Bank robbery though charges have not been filed. Charges have been filed against the three other people in connection with the other three bank robberies. Elizabeth Ann Hardin, 54, has pleaded guilty in a federal court to robbing the downtown Capital One. Police say she also robbed a convenience store and liquor store in Orange plus a convenience store in Beaumont before the bank robbery. She was arrested on June 18 at a local motel after people recognized her from the surveillance. James Hunter Bergeron, 22, of Sulphur, La., was arrested a couple of days after the second Capital One robbery. It took police 10 weeks to file charges against the suspect in the Firestone Federal Credit Union robbery. Federal charges have been filed against 26-year-old Justin Samuel Mink of Orange. Orange police say the suspect in the Chase robbery is being held in Louisiana on warrants for unrelated charges. Federal robbery charges have not been filed at this time.
A Look Back at 2012...
Ribbon-cutting ceremonies were held around Orange as new public buildings were completed. Most of the new construction came courtesy of federal hurricane recovery grants to replace buildings damaged by Hurricane Ike in 2008. Those new buildings were the new Orange Central Fire Station, the new downtown center for senior citizens and the Meals on Wheels program and the county adult probation office to the side of the main courthouse. In addition, the Housing Authority of Orange opened the new James Zay Roberts Villa apartments built on the site of demolished Arthur Robinson apartments. Hurricane recovery money also helped with that project, too. Orange County Commissioners Court selected the name "Orange County Convention and Expo Center" for the shelter of last resort being built on FM 1442 with federal grants. The building was supposed to be finished by December but the contractor got an extension. The county also got a $60,000 donation from DuPont Sabine River Works to help with the new building that will be used for public and industrial emergency workers during hurricanes or other disasters.
Pinehurst moved into its new city hall in February. The city didn't get federal grants for the building but paid for it by issuing about $1 million in bonds. The renovated building on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive also holds the police department and city offices. The old city hall on Mockingbird Street was sold to Al Granger in an auction at the end of November.
New public construction is also under way without the use of hurricane recovery money.
The City of Orange started its riverfront boardwalk and park area after about seven years of stops and goes. The project was originally set for land along the Sabine River at Simmons Drive but eventually moved to the downtown area. The Stark Foundation is a partner in the project and is paying the cost for the performance pavilion being built at the old Jack Tar Hotel site on Division Street. The riverfront project is expected to be finished by March.
Lamar State College-Orange broke ground Nov. 1 for a new $10 million classroom building for the nursing program. The building has been budgeted through the school’s allocations from the Texas State University System. Construction has started on the new building on the site of the old Orange Leader building on Front Street.
At the end of December, Stark Foundation President and CEO Walter Riedel told KOGT that the foundation is buying the First Baptist Church campus on Green Avenue. The campus has been for sale for about three years. The church is building a new complex on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. Riedel said the 1913 Greek Revival-style sanctuary will be restored and preserved.
A Look Back at 2012...
The presidential race for 2012 lasted for months, but locally more attention was tuned to the Orangefield school board election than national contests. The upheaval in the school board make-up ended a year of changes and controversies in the district. Underground mumblings had been going on around the district for a few months about various complaints. Suddenly in early March, Superintendent Phillip Welch, submitted his resignation and retirement request. Welch had worked for the district for nearly 30 years as a teacher, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent.
Some 50 teachers and citizens showed up at the next school board meeting but the board did not recognize anyone to speak about the resignation. Instead, the board hired Kay Karr, a retired educator, as the interim superintendent. By the end of the month, the board was meeting to vote on whether or not to renew the contract for Athletic Director Coach Brian Huckabay. Huckabay kept his job by a narrow vote but then resigned from the job at the end of May. Chris Jost, the girls volleyball coach who had faced complaints about dress policies, resigned to go to another school.
The school board hired a consultant to help search for a new superintendent. However, the board decided to keep the job with someone local who knows the district. The board in June hired Dr. Stephen Patterson, the director of curriculum and instruction, to become the new superintendent. High School Principal Shaun McAlpin was promoted to Patterson’s previous position. Ben Petty from Klein was hired as the new high school principal. Josh Smalley was hired as the new athletic director and head football coach.
Things settled down for the new school year with the new administration but apparently citizens wanted to change the school board. The Orangefield district has school board elections in November on the same date as the general election. This year, four of the seven positions were expiring. Nine candidates ran for the four positions and a record number of voters went to the polls. Longtime board member Nancy Gray Ashworth, who was serving as board president, was the only one of the four incumbents who decided to run. She was unseated by Jesse Fremont for Place 3. Former board member Bo Henley won the Place 1 seat, Dr. Ronald Risinger took the Place 6 seat and Brad Frye won the Place 7 spot.
A Look Back at 2012...
A shooting death in July 2010 continued through legal processes in 2012 and still isn't finished. Off-duty Orange Police Captain Robert Arnold shot and killed James Whitehead, 28, during a confrontation in an auto parts store parking lot. A grand jury in late 2010 rejected any criminal indictments against Arnold, but then-Police Chief Sam Kittrell fired Arnold. The city of Orange's insurance carrier settled a civil suit in 2012 with the family of Whitehead for a total of $610,000. Arnold filed a federal racial discrimination lawsuit against the city. Late in 2012, a visiting state district judge overturned a civil service arbitrator's 2011 decision to give Arnold his job back. Another civil service hearing has not been set but will likely be held sometime in 2013.
A Look Back at 2012...
Teenagers drew the most attention for crimes and punishments in 2012. In January, Orange County Deputy Fred Ashworth was shot twice in the chest by a juvenile prisoner that he was taking to the Minnie Rogers Detention Center outside of Beaumont. The 16-year-old prisoner got out of his handcuffs and took Ashworth's service pistol. The shooting was in the closed sallyport area of the detention center; so law officers were nearby to give medical attention to Ashworth and apprehend the shooter. Ashworth recovered from his injuries and later returned to work. 16-year-old Dillon Dwight Schlegel of Vidor agreed in Jefferson County court to be tried as an adult and he pleaded guilty to attempted capital murder. The teen asked the judge to give him of sentence of 15 years in prison, but State District Judge Layne Walker gave a sentence of 30 years.
In May, 15-year-old Braeden Richter of Orange went to state prison for 30 years for killing Charles Henry Southard, 63, on the front porch of a West Orange house. The shooting was the evening of May 25, 2011, when two boys went to the house and demanded car keys from a woman at the house. Southard tried to stop them. Richter was only 14 at the time of the shooting in mid-May, he agreed to be tried as a legal adult and the next day a grand jury indicted him for murder. He pleaded guilty to the charge a few days later and received the sentence from 260th District Judge Buddie Hahn.
Another teenager was prosecuted as a juvenile for the 2011 murder of his mother, but he will end up serving time in an adult prison. The boy was 14 when Orangefield school teacher Staci Hebert Lisenby was shot in the back of the head in her house on a Sunday evening in February 2011. Orange County District Attorney John Kimbrough said the teen pleaded ‘true’ to ‘allegations that he intentionally and knowingly murdered’ Lisenby. The teenager will serve a total of 20 years in custody. He will be held in a youth detention center until he becomes a legal adult, at which time he will go to an adult prison.
A Look Back at 2012...
As Texas was suffering the second year of severe drought in 2011, the Sabine River Authority of Louisiana began plans to sell Toledo Bend water to private Texas investors to pipe to the Dallas area. The SRA-Louisiana had public hearings and a lot of complaints about the plan and withdrew it in mid-January. A few weeks later, the Sabine River Authority of Texas, based in Orange, announced that Toledo Bend water could be transferred to the Neches River system. The two state river authorities are separate entities and each controls a half of the river and Toledo Bend. The SRA-Texas announced it would work with the Lower Neches River Authority, based in Beaumont, to begin the plans for a water transfer. The Lower Neches authority could be transferring up to 200,000 acre feet of water from Toledo Bend to the Neches system. The SRA-Texas said a transfer between the two systems would not affect the freshwater flow into Sabine Lake because both rivers empty into the brackish bay. Orange County and a few other areas of Southeast Texas escaped drought conditions for most of the year even though the rest of the state did. Late in the year drought conditions returned, but not enough to be serious enough to call a countywide burn ban. Water issues will be on schedule for the 2013 session of the Texas Legislature.
A Look Back at 2012...
Orange lost two ladies who were icons of the arts and history during 2012. Johnnie Faye Hattman, who was known to everyone as "Jeff" died after a stroke in May at the age of 88. She had been a high school drama teacher and a founder of Orange Community Players, where she directed productions until her death. Two weeks later, Elizabeth Williams died at the age of 82. She, too, had been active in Orange Community Players and in preserving local history with her husband, Dr. Howard Williams. Elizabeth Williams was one of the founders of the Heritage House Museum and was a director at the museum for three decades.
Ruby Pickard, another lady who left a mark on Orange County, died in October at the age of 84. In the 1980s, she founded 'My Wish,' a local group that granted special wishes to children with terminal diseases. She was known to the children and the volunteers who worked with her as simply 'Miss Ruby.'
Other notable local deaths in 2012 included Orange County Engineer Les Anderson, 66, who died at his home of a heart attack in February. Former West Orange Police Chief Bruce Simpson, who worked in law enforcement for 40 years, died in May at the age of 68. Former Precinct 1 County Commissioner Forrest Hudson, 77, died in March. He had also severed as an elected Precinct 1 constable. Lawyer Ed Barton, 74, died in December. He had been chair of the Orange County Democratic Party and had practiced law in Orange for 30 years.