As time goes by, so do news events. The year 2013 ended with Orange County having controversies and changes. One of the changes made earlier in the year has ended the old tradition of waiting for the first baby of the year to be born. Baptist Hospital Orange announced in April that it would be closing the obstetrics unit in May. Hospital Administrator Jarren Garrett said the obstetrics unit closed because of the end of a Medicaid program that paid about $1 million a year to the hospital for delivering babies. The hospital couldn’t afford to provide the services any longer. The closing of the obstetrics unit cut more than a dozen jobs and one local physician moved to another city. In 2012, the last full year of delivering babies, the hospital had 353 births. A local midwife delivered 14.
Other major stories KOGT covered during the past 12 months include, in no particular order of importance:
· The release of new federal flood maps to set rates for flood insurance. The flood maps set most of the areas that received the storm surge during Hurricane Ike in a flood zone, meaning those properties will have large increases in rates for flood insurance. Bridge City officials say the increased rates could hurt the city and make homes and businesses too expensive. Rates will also go up in West Orange, some parts of Orange and Rose City. The cities and Orange County are hiring engineers to fight the map designations.
· County Commissioners Court during budget workshops in the summer revealed that the county was $3 million in the red. Commissioners have ordered department heads not to fill vacant positions after resignations or retirement. That means less janitors and clerks. Plus, commissioners have had to remind people to turn out the lights after work.
· County Judge Carl Thibodeaux announced that he would not seek re-election in 2014 for a sixth four-year term. Thibodeaux, a Democrat, will retire after 20 years as county judge, the longest in the county’s history.
· The City of Orange and the Chamber of Commerce attracted the Bassmasters Elites Tournament to town in March. The Stark Foundation helped underwrite the event and the crowds showed it was a grand success. The four-day tournament, the first of the 2013 schedule, drew an official Bassmasters record of 33,650 people. The festivities at the City of Orange’s boat ramp park off Simmons Drive included a carnival, festival and performance by singer Neal McCoy. Jasper native Todd Faircloth was the winner.
· New public construction projects were completed during the year and downtown Orange took on a new look. The city finished its riverfront development and a boardwalk along the Sabine River opened. A park with a performance pavilion was developed on the site of the old Jack Tar Hotel and several concerts were held. Lamar State College-Orange opened its new $10 million Nursing and Classroom Building for its growing Allied Health program The two-story building is on Front Street and has 32,000 square feet. Orange County finally completed the Convention and Expo Center on FM 1442. The project has been known as ‘the shelter of last resort’ because it was built with federal money to house emergency operations during a disaster. The dome-shaped building is supposed to withstand the winds of a hurricane or tornado. During non-emergency times, the center will have space to rent for meetings, parties and conventions. The formal dedication is set for January. And in Vidor, the Orange County Vietnam War Memorial was dedicated in August. The memorial park honors the 28 men from the county who were killed during the war. The memorial was built with donations and volunteers.
· Fired Orange police captain Robert Arnold and the City of Orange settled legal disputes going back three years when the off-duty captain shot and killed a man in an auto parts store parking lot. Arnold had filed a racial discrimination suit and sued to get his job back. He was fired by then-police chief Sam Kittrell in November 2010 for violating city policies. The city in 2012 had settled lawsuits filed by the surviving family members of James Whitehead, who was killed during the argument with Arnold in July 2010.
· The Orange chapter of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in late January received a City of Orange building permit to construct at confederate flag memorial on Martin Luther King Jr. Drive at Interstate 10. The move drew people to complain to the Orange City Council and city officials explained they could not stop the project because of the rights of free speech. The land, now listed with an address on Interstate 10, is zoned commercial, which allows the memorial. However, the City Council passed an ordinance limiting the size of flags that can be flown in the city limits, with a ‘grandfather’ clause to allow ones already installed. The memorial at the end of the year had not been finished.
· A lawsuit filed in Orange County before 260th District Judge Buddie Hahn drew national attention to a new social media form called ‘revenge porn.’ That’s when an ex- boyfriend or husband posts nude or semi-nude photographs of a woman sent to them when they had a relationship. The racy pictures are distributed with the names of the women and without their permission. The lawsuit was filed against two Orange County men and the parents of one of the men. Some of the victims were county residents.
· An old-timer who had set policies and made history throughout the county died in 2013. That’s the Democratic Party. For more than 150 years, that party dominated local politics and basically all office-holders ran as Democrats. That trend remained as the rest of Texas started turning Republican in the 1970s. Local news was made in 1998 when a Republican won a precinct justice of the peace position. The Democrats took that seat back in 2002. Then in 2010, the county got its first Republican county commissioner. Democratic office holders began to switch parties for the 2012 election. In 2013, when the filings for the March 2014 primary elections ended, only three people filed in the Democratic party. Incumbent County Clerk Karen Jo Vance and Precinct 3 Justice of the Peace Janice Menard were the only incumbents remaining Democrats.
Orange County lost some people who had an influence on local lives and culture. The included Richard Corder, the voice of KOGT radio for a half century, died in September at the age of 79. Corder was known on air as ‘BBRC.’ Through the decades he had reported news like Hurricanes Audrey, Carla and Rita, and had broadcast the play-by-play action in hundreds of high school sports games. Dr. Max Pachar, a longtime veterinarian and civic leader, passed away during the year, as did Rev. David Berkheimer, who served as the minister of Community Church and oversaw its growth for 32 years before he retired in 2011. Football coach Bum Phillips was a native of Orange who went on to national fame but always listed Orange as his hometown. Others we lost during the year included Doug Harrington, who was a longtime Bridge City pharmacist; the Rev. Joe McKnight, pastor at Central Baptist Church in Vidor; Fred Cervelli, a former sports editor at The Orange Leader; Brigitte Mangham, a longtime educator in the Little Cypress-Mauriceville school district; Charles Austin, who served 32 years as business manager for the old Orange Independent School District and then the West Orange-Cove Consolidated Independent School District. Other notable deaths included law officer Ronnie Barrett and Burt Hardwick, a blind man who operated the courthouse concession stand for more than 30 years. Little Indy Parkhurst was only 5 years old when he passed away, but he left a mark on the community. He was diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor when he was 3 years old. It seemed he never quit smiling during his short life and he won the hearts of everyone.
News stories that also made headlines during the year include the 100th anniversary celebration of the discovery of oil in the area that became known as Orangefield. The City of Orange closed several railroad crossings in the Old Orange Historic District as preparation for the railroads to start a ‘quiet zone’ for no train whistles. However, the trains were still sounding at the end of the year. A proposal by the Housing Authority of Orange to build new low-income apartments near the Hillbrook Estates subdivision brought dozens of complaints from people living in the area. Also, 5-year-old John Allen Read of Vidor died after he accidentally shot himself in the face with a pistol left loaded and unattended. His babysitter, 19-year-old Melissa Ann Ringhardt was charged with felony abandonment or endangering a child.