2017, Year in review

Poster requesting additional information in the death of BP agent Rogelio Martinez remains on the windows of local businesses. The death remains unsolved.

By Gilda Morales

January was greeted with the first baby of the year, David Bennett Mendoza, son of Hillary Hillin and David Mendoza.  It is also the time of the year when the victors of the elections held in November are sworn in.  Sheriff Oscar Carrillo was sworn in for his 5th term with incumbents Cornelio Garibay, Steve Mitchell, Molly Hernandez and Gilda Morales also taking their oath of office from Judge Carlos Urias.  Three new deputies, Josh Tavarez, Arnie Bravo and Jackie Baker were also sworn in.  The City reported good news to the tune of more than $1,000,000 extra dollars deposited in general fund coffers compliments of the pipeline companies stay in Van Horn.  In what would become a protracted issue, CCAISD held the first of several meetings to discuss a level three complaint filed by Julie Uranga against Superintendent Dalia Benavidez.  On a much brighter note, the school district also began pre-demolition work on asbestos removal prior to actual construction on the new school.  In an effort to show support for our local veterans, Culberson County Commissioners provided funding to give veterans a place of their own at 507 Crockett Street.

February brought more frustration to the school district as they went “back to the drawing board” after revisions to the original construction plans for the new school increased the construction budget by more than 5 million dollars.  In other school news, the Lady Eagles finished second in district play and placed five on the All-District Team.  The Van Horn Fire Department proudly received a new, 2000-gallon tank fire truck made possible through a Department of Agriculture grant.  Meanwhile, County Commissioners received a glowing audit report showing the county in a “solid cash position.”  The Court also approved preliminary paperwork to begin the process on new HOME funding to benefit county residents.  Sadly, the remains of Sul Ross student Zuzu Verk were found after a lengthy search, which found that her death was probably a result of a homicide.  Union Pacific Railroad escaped what could have been a much worse outcome after a 23-car derailment 35 miles east of Kent.  Culberson Hospital received a mobile translator in what would begin a slew of improvements to provide new services to the area.  Well-known Tejano star, Little Joe, performed at the 5th annual “Valentine’s in Valentine” festivities, which were dampened by unusually cold temperatures.

March brought the retirement of Manual Carrillo, who worked for Culberson County for 36 years.  The windy season arrived earlier than usual, bringing dangerous conditions as a result of winds in excess of 35 miles per hour.  The 2017 All –District Basketball team was named with Van Horn placing Isaac Baca, Luis Escajeda, Sahil Damniwalla and Rafael Rodriguez making the team.  Culberson Hospital became the first in the state to receive a Level IV Trauma waiver as part of a pilot program to help relieve a doctor shortage in the state.  The familiar WWII monument in front of the County Courthouse received a much-needed facelift as part of the County’s effort to honor the “greatest generation.”

April brought welcome news that the county’s parks would get facelifts and new playground equipment thanks to grant dollars.  Veteran’s Park, Red Sox field and the City County Park will see major improvements through the year.  A large slate of candidates filed for city and school board offices including incumbents Aldermen Lyndon McDonald, Ryan Martinez and Nuny Morriss, who were challenged by Ruben Mendez and Marcial Gonzalez.  School board incumbents Sandy Urias and Lettie Hernandez went unchallenged.  The Annual Van Horn Cleanup campaign was extremely successful with the Xtreme Starz team taking the top prize of $500 for filling 199 bags of trash from Van Horn streets.  As a harbinger of things to come, there were reports of 4 applications for wildcat drilling in Presidio County in an area between Van Horn and Valentine.

May saw Renee Rivera and Leslie Jones returning to Austin to compete in State UIL Track and Golf competitions.  The boys’ baseball team won their 4th District Championship in a row and the girls’ softball team winning district as well.  Ernest Friel and Leslie Jones were crowned Prom King and Queen respectively.  CCAISD also announced that Leslie Jones would take Valedictorian honors and Renee Rivera Salutatorian honors for the Class of 2017.   The City and School Board elections resulted in a higher than usual turnout which saw all incumbents returned to their positions.

June saw 26 seniors graduate from Van Horn High School and CCAISD held a successful groundbreaking ceremony with more than 200 people attending the bittersweet event, and demolition beginning later in the month.  Meanwhile, Superintendent Dahlia Benavidez tendered her resignation, prompting a search for a replacement.  The Annual Frontier Days saw record crowds, especially from the Class of 1967, but some events were dampened by heavy rains causing flooding in low areas, measured at 1.32 inches falling in only 45 minutes.   The area heard better news about a Sand Plant company planning on locating their operations in the county, promising to bring more than 50 jobs, as well as construction of a cryogenic gas processing plant, both part of the burgeoning oil and gas industry in the county.  The First Baptist Church welcomed a new pastor and his wife, the Parkers, after a three-year search for the right fit.

July was a particularly wet month which brought heavy floods especially to the highway 54 area, creating quite a bit of damage and havoc in the form of temporary road closures. The City was also busy repairing a major main break at the Elm Street railroad crossing after trucks carrying debris from the school demolition crossed at this crossing instead of the stronger crossing, causing the street to collapse. Judge Carlos Urias announced that the County received a substantial grant from the Texas Indigent Defense Commission, which will provide funds for legal defense for those unable to pay for such services.  Postmaster Maria Elena Carrasco, a familiar face for many years, announced her retirement from the local post office after 31 years of service.