The New Year will bring an extended period of below-freezing temperatures and moisture in the air, a combination that can lead to dangerous road conditions.
An arctic cold front is expected to push through Central Texas Saturday evening with slight chances of precipitation, said Patricia Sanchez, a National Weather Service meteorologist.
The National Weather Service is forecasting a high of 38 degrees Sunday, and falling temperatures throughout the day. Once temperatures drop below freezing Sunday, they are expected to stay there until Wednesday. Forecast lows will be in the low 20s Sunday, Monday and Tuesday.
The weather on Sunday will include areas of drizzle and freezing drizzle, she said. Travel issues are of concern as moisture continues to accumulate in the air, Sanchez said. The system could impact driving conditions in McLennan County from mid-afternoon Saturday through Sunday, according to the NWS.
However, the chance for wintry precipitation is not expected after Sunday.
“Tell everybody to stay warm. That’s the big story,” Sanchez said.
By Sunday night Waco could see wind chills in the teens, dropping to single-digits by Monday morning.
Anyone over the age of 18 in need of a warm place to stay the night is encouraged to visit Mission Waco’s 56-bed homeless shelter.
My Brother’s Keeper, 1217 Mary Ave., is open for adults without cost. Those in need can register at the Meyer Center, 1226 Washington Ave., by checking in by 6:30 p.m. Due to the extreme cold, those in need can check in at the shelter itself until 10 p.m. to ensure everyone has a warm place to stay.
If the beds fill up, there is overflow space, said Kathy Wise, Mission Waco associate executive director.
“Next week is an unusual week,” she said. “It’s going to be multiple days with getting down in the 20s.”
No pets or children are allowed at the location.
For those with space heaters in the home, the American Red Cross suggests remembering the three feet rule. Keep a space heater on a level, hard surface and at least three feet away from anything flammable, including paper, clothing, bedding, curtains or rugs. Also never use a stove or oven to heat a home. The American Red Cross also reminds residents that as cold weather approaches to remember to protect the pipes. Running water at even a trickle will help prevent pipes from freezing.
Anyone planning on driving New Year’s Eve or the first day of the New Year should also take care on the road, Waco police officer Garen Bynum said.
If wintry weather conditions develop, it’s better to stay off the streets, Bynum said. Anyone that can’t avoid travel, should at least travel around any bridges or overpasses, which typically are the first to freeze, he said.
The Bosque Boulevard and Highway 6 intersection is one of the first areas to freeze every year, he said.
“All those hills over there, it is an absolute mess, and people can’t get up the hills,” he said.
Drivers that do hit ice on the road should try not to overreact, he said. Often times, drivers’ first reaction is to hit the brakes or turn the steering wheel, he said. The quick action will throw the car out of control, he said.
Drivers should try to guide the vehicle until traction is achieved and either gradually slow down or accelerate, he said.
Following distances of three to four seconds for dry pavement should be increased to eight to 10 seconds when driving on icy, slippery surfaces, according to AAA Texas. Drivers should also remember to not use cruise control on slippery surfaces.
Cameron Park Zoo is celebrating the first birthday of its baby orangutan, Razak, with a feeding formula drive to help orphaned baby orangutans.
Mei and Kerajaan, or KJ, welcomed their new baby boy Jan. 12.
Zookeepers wanted to celebrate Razak’s life with a fundraiser for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation after finding out firsthand what it takes to feed a baby orangutan formula for an extended period of time, said Terri Cox, the zoo’s curator of exhibits and programs.
“We had to hand feed him for almost eight months,” Cox said. “We know how much formula you go through.”
Zookeepers separated Razak from Mei when he was about 3 weeks old because Mei had started pulling him off her body and behaving abnormally around him, Cox said at the time. It is crucial for baby orangutans to cling to their mothers in order to develop the muscles necessary for a life in the trees, she said.
A baby orangutan drinks an average of three bottles of formula per day, and there are 23 babies housed at the survival foundation, according to information provided by the zoo. Five dollars is enough for three bottles of formula.
Donations can be made at cameronparkzoo.com/specialevents/milk-drive/.
The fundraiser will continue through Jan. 12. After the forumula drive, the zoo will host a birthday party for Razak that will be open to the public.
At 11 a.m. Jan. 13, visitors can enjoy cake and watch Razak and the other orangutans celebrate with a Lego-themed party.
Giant Lego building blocks are Razak’s favorite toys, Cox said.
“All the orangutans love Legos,” she said.
Zookeepers will also announce how much the forumula drive brought in for the Borneo Orangutan Survival Foundation. Everyone who contributes to the fundraiser will have their name entered to win a behind-the-scenes tour of the orangutan facility.
“We have lots of baby fun going on at the zoo right now,” Cox said.
Waco police investigated six homicides and one justified homicide in 2017, and welcomed a continued downward trend in overall criminal activity in the city.
Last year, police investigated a total of five homicides, the fewest murders since 2010.
This year, three of Waco’s seven homicide investigations remain open with no arrests made, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said. Two other investigations resulted in the arrest of a suspect and one included a murder-suicide, where the suspected gunman shot and killed himself during the incident.
“If you can ever say murder investigations are ‘average,’ we are running about consistent with what we had last year,” Swanton said. “Murders are something that law enforcement does not really have any control over, but I think being visible to the public and having a good relationship with the public helps keep our numbers down.”
The number of robbery, assault and sexual assault cases fell below the numbers reported in 2016, while reported auto thefts rose from 35 in 2016 to 45 this year as of mid-December.
Swanton said each homicide investigation is taxing on detectives. Violent crimes are a concern for law enforcement on a daily basis, but the risk of public safety and the impact on the community is typically a large motivation for closing homicide cases, he said.
“All the types of cases we work are significant, whether it is a burglary of a vehicle case or up to a murder, however, homicide cases are so much more personal,” Swanton said. “In murders, now you have family that is left to deal with the aftermath of the tragic circumstance and they have no closure.
“Detectives know that and that is probably one of the most significant things that keeps a detective tossing and turning at night — knowing that the family doesn’t have answers.”
Here are the homicide cases investigated by Waco police in 2017, to date:
Jeremy Dewayne James
The first homicide of the year was the shooting death of Jeremy Dewayne James, 29, on Feb. 27. James was found shot in the 2300 block of Edna Avenue, near North Waco Park, where police believe a fight had broken out.
James was shot several times in the upper torso before he died later at a local hospital.
No arrests have been made and the case remains open, but police believe the shooting was not random.
Gregory Brooks, 66, was allegedly shot and killed during a domestic disturbance with his younger brother, Stanley Brooks, then 65, inside their East Waco home on April 13. Gregory Brooks was allegedly shot before he was able to escape the home and was taken to a local hospital with a gunshot wound.
Stanley Brooks was barricaded in his brother’s home in the 1800 block of Pryor Street. He was taken into custody about two hours later.
Gregory Brooks died in the hospital on May 4. His brother was charged with his murder and faces a March 12, 2018 jury trial.
Deon Dashawn Love
Police were called to a fight at Jester’s Bar, 2119 La Salle Ave., on June 24, where a group of people began an altercation. During the incident, Deon Dashawn Love, 24, was shot and killed.
Eric Hernandez, then 31, was arrested the next day on a charge of murder. His trial date is pending.
Twila and William Mooney
Waco police were called to a murder-suicide investigation of 2017 on July 21. William Mooney, 47, shot and killed his wife, Twila Mooney, 47, on their houseboat at Speegleville Marina. William Mooney then shot and killed himself.
Waco police shot and killed suspected drug dealer Kerry Bradley, 37, on Aug. 1 after trying to execute a search warrant on Bradley’s SUV near North 24th Street and Olive Avenue. Police accused Bradley of selling heroin earlier that morning.
When they approached his car to serve the warrant, Bradley reportedly accelerated toward Waco SWAT officer William Graeber, striking him and running the officer over. Fellow officers fired shots at Bradley, striking him six times and killing him. Officers were able to lift the SUV off Graeber and administer first aid.
Graeber survived the encounter and continues to recover at home. Police closed the case when a grand jury in September found no probable cause to charge officers in the death of Bradley, ruling Bradley’s death a “justified homicide.”
Anthony D. Rivera
Anthony Rivera, 19, was shot and killed in the 2300 block of Park Avenue on Oct. 29. A second shooting occurred near 26th Street and Dutton Avenue while police were investigating the first incident.
A second man suffered non-life-threatening injuries at the second shooting. Officers said both shootings may be connected, but no arrests have been made.
The investigation is ongoing.
The last reported homicide of 2017 was the shooting death of Brian Robinson, 34, of Waco, after an argument erupted between two groups of men in East Waco on Dec. 14.
Police were called to the 800 block of Harlem Avenue upon reports of gunfire in the neighborhood. Officers said at least three vehicles in the neighborhood were struck by gunfire before police found Robinson lying dead in a yard in the area.
No arrests have been made and the investigation remains ongoing, police said.
According to Waco police crime statistics, officers investigated 163 robbery reports, 2,063 assault reports, 187 sexual assault reports and 35 reports of stolen vehicles in 2016.
In comparison, from Jan. 1 to mid-December of this year, Waco police took reports of 147 robberies, 2,032 assaults, 183 sexual assaults and 45 stolen vehicles.
Outside of Waco, three other McLennan County residents were victims of homicide.
Bruceville-Eddy police investigated the shooting death of Monica Tharpe, 31, who died at her home near Woodlawn Road and Interstate 35 on May 20. Authorities surrounded the home after reports of gunfire before officers forced their way into the home and found Tharpe’s husband, Kevin Tharpe, 41, dead from a self-inflicted gunshot wound.
McLennan County Sheriff’s Office detectives investigated a double homicide this year in the deaths of Valarie Martinez, 24, and her young daughter, Azariah, 1. Martinez allegedly agreed to meet Azariah’s father, Christopher Paul Weiss, 26, of Temple, at Tradinghouse Lake on Nov. 4 before he allegedly shot and killed Martinez and her daughter.
Weiss, who reportedly had a sexual relationship with Martinez while he was married, was arrested in Temple two days after the bodies of the mother and her daughter were found. McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara called the killings “cold-blooded” and said the deaths were “truly heart-breaking.”
Authorities arrested Weiss on a charge of capital murder. He remains in McLennan County Jail with a bond listed at $1 million, but he has yet to be indicted on the charge.
A software glitch Friday gave some Waco-McLennan County Library patrons a scare and library officials a headache.
Scores of patrons received an electronic notice stating that they had overdue fines of at least $50 and needed to call the library to avoid being sent to collections.
Call they did, tying up phone lines for much of the day. Top library staff worked the phones, explaining that the fines were in most cases much less than $50 and that there was no need to worry.
“I’ve been at the desk since 10,” said library director Essy Day on Friday afternoon. “I’ve been apologizing profusely. … People are very fair and honest. They realize there are glitches with computers.”
Day said the erroneous notifications resulted from a new library information system, and the vendor, Innovative Interfaces Inc., took responsibility for the error.
“They’re a wonderful company, and they’ve been nothing but helpful,” she said, adding that the notification system has been temporarily disabled. The system normally contacts patrons by email or text when an item is seven days overdue, with periodic reminders after that.
Among the alarmed patrons was Nicole Greb, a social work master’s student.
“I woke up this morning to an email about a book I rented in 2013, saying it was overdue and I owed $50 or more,” she said late Friday morning. “I’ve been trying to call them all morning. I’m assuming it’s a lot of money.”
Greb said she checked out the book about Harriet Tubman when she was a freshman in college history class, but she doesn’t remember failing to turn it in.
“It’s frustrating to me,” she said. “Obviously, they had my email address all the time. … At $50 or more I could buy them a couple of books about Harriet Tubman.”
Day said that as far as she knows all the patrons who got notices do owe at least $1 in fines, but the statement that the fine is over $50 was erroneous.
But Rebekah Hughes, a ministry coordinator at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, said she received her notice in error. She was also trying to call the library Friday morning.
“The book was ‘Abraham Lincoln Loves Animals,’ ” she said. “It’s a children’s book. We checked it out in July. I’m definitely not in possession of it. … I was a little perturbed because I remember returning all our books. We love the library and try to return their books and not leave them in small places around the house.”
Hughes said her children are regular patrons at Central Library, and her 6-year-old picked out the Lincoln book.
“I think it was a good book, but it’s not a cherished piece of literature I feel I need to own,” she said.
Day said the software glitch was especially unfortunate because the library was just rolling out a much-improved computer system for its staff and patrons.
“Searching is so much easier for patrons,” she said. “It’s a more robust site. It shows most of what patrons are used to showing on Amazon, for example. It’s so much easier to use.”
The original 116-year-old Greek goddess of divine law is back in McLennan County but homeless.
County leaders hope that isn’t the case for long, although they intend not to rush to find a home for the Themis statue that had long sat atop the county courthouse. Instead, they want to find a place that suits her significance.
“We would be interested in hearing from the community about it, although we would think it needs to be under the control of a city or a university or something that puts a significant amount of thought into security and those kinds of things,” McLennan County Judge Scott Felton said. “In other words, we wouldn’t want it as a permanent part of a new dance hall or anything like that.”
Meanwhile, the new 18-foot duplicate is scheduled to make her move to the top of the courthouse Jan. 6, 2018 if weather conditions allow.
County commissioners opted to have the statue replicated rather than repaired due to her fragility. The monument’s arm and scales of justice were ripped off by 65 mph wind gusts in a 2015 storm and more than a century of weathering the climate from her 150-foot perch atop the courthouse has worn down the historic zinc figure.
Montgomery Construction took down and delivered the statue to Robinson Iron Co. in Alexander City, Alabama, where the work was completed. Montgomery Construction — which has offered to donate a display case — recently brought both statues to McLennan County and are prepping the new one for her downtown Waco ascension. The original still rests on two, queen-size inflatable air mattresses inside an 8-by-16-foot wooden crate.
The original Themis was taken apart into 60 pieces, which were scanned to then allow for molds, said Mike Anderson, Montgomery Construction general manager. The new Themis even includes hail indentions that the original received over the years.
“That’s how exact it is,” Anderson said. “It even transformed the hail dents to the new one. Every detail is exactly like the original.”
One aspect that changed was the material.
The new Themis weighs about 1,700 pounds, or 1,000 pounds heavier than the original, Anderson said. The original statue was made of hollow zinc, which is as thin as the wall of a soft drink can, Anderson said. The new statue — which should last 200 years — was made of cast aluminum, he said.
“I don’t think we’ll be around to take it down the next time,” Anderson said.
But it wasn’t just the material that added to the original statue’s fragility. Age played a factor.
“You could actually thump this statue and knock a hole in it,” he said. “That’s how frail it is.”
The original Themis has been taken apart and repaired numerous times over its lifespan. A hole in Themis’ head allowed the hawk that often nested on top of the statue to drop its animal carcasses below after a meal. Anderson said there was quite a large pile inside the hollow statue.
Anderson said his grandfather re-hung the original scales of justice in 1953 after there was damage. He used a ladder propped alongside the statue on top of the dome while making 42 cents an hour.
“If he had known this was hollow he probably wouldn’t have been propped against it,” he said.
The structure holding the new Themis was also reinforced to ensure longevity and to handle the additional weight, Anderson said.
As long as winds don’t exceed 20 mph on Wednesday, the crews will make the journey to downtown Waco to lift Themis to her perch in a move they hope will be the last for a long time.