You are the owner of this page.
A1 A1
Rod Aydelotte  

Lorena China Spring

China Spring’s Gabrielle Cleveland (22) center, pulls in a rebound over Lorena forward Michelle Runyan (20), right, in the first half.

Council hears pitch for Wilbert Austin Park; approves Suspension Bridge overhaul

The man filling out the last year of Wilbert Austin’s term on the Waco City Council has one last goal before he steps down in May: renaming East Waco Park in Austin’s honor.

District 1 Waco Councilman Noah Jackson Jr. proposed the renaming at the end of the council meeting Tuesday and received support from Mayor Kyle Deaver.

“I think the council would find that appropriate,” Deaver said.

He said later that he hopes to have a vote by early May.

The council appointed Jackson last June to fill the seat Austin had vacated because of his battle with cancer. Austin, who served on the council since 2006, died the day before the council swore in Jackson, a longtime friend and ally.

Jackson is not seeking re-election in the May 5 District 1 race, but he said he wants to honor his predecessor for his years of hard work representing the district.

“It’s what I think he deserves,” Jackson said.

East Waco Park is next to a new Neighborworks Waco subdivision and just around the corner from Austin’s small home. Austin fought to make the park safer and to get improvements such as curbs and gutters and better lighting, which are now being added.

Jackson said East Waco Park’s improvements made him feel comfortable in naming it for his friend.

Suspension Bridge overhaul

In other business Tuesday, the council approved an $8.9 million certificate of obligation for the Tax Increment Financing Zone for three major pedestrian projects in the center city.

The bond will provide $1.3 million for streetscape improvements along Webster Avenue, including sidewalks, curbs and streetlamps; $2.1 million for “aesthetic lighting” under three soon-to-be-rebuilt Interstate 35 underpasses in downtown; and $5.5 million for the complete renovation of the Waco Suspension Bridge.

The city will use TIF funds to stabilize the towers and anchors for the 1870 bridge, replace the decking and install new cables.

The council also agreed to bump up TIF funding for the $3.8 million Elm Avenue Streetscape project, from $956,200 to almost $1.3 million, after rules on the state grant for the project changed. The council also hired BSP Engineers at a cost of $473,500 to design the project between the Washington Avenue bridge and Garrison Street.

Former Waco nurse defying odds after pancreatic cancer diagnosis

Marliss Williams doesn’t like the phrase “fighting cancer” any more than she likes watching boxing or wrestling on TV. She almost always turns off the TV or goes in another room, and she is quick to say the last four years of her life have been about living with terminal cancer how she can, she said.

She does it with an unending faith and a never-fading smile, her supporters said.

In February 2014, the former Baylor Scott & White nurse was told she had stage 4 pancreatic cancer and was likely to live three months without any treatment. Only 2.7 percent survive five or more years after a diagnosis of metastatic pancreatic cancer, according to the National Cancer Institute.

But Tuesday at Texas Oncology-Waco, doctors, nurses and family surprised Williams with cupcakes, balloons and stories to mark her 100th chemotherapy treatment and celebrate that her past four CT scans showed no signs of the fatal illness.

“It’s really amazing. I have so many people ask my all the time, ‘Why do you do oncology? Isn’t that depressing?’ ” Williams’ oncologist Dr. Carl Chakmakjian said. “But this is why we do oncology. You can see the joy in her eyes and her family’s eyes, and she’s really a miracle. It’s a very aggressive cancer. The average survival is six to eight months, and that’s why we’re celebrating her life and how wonderful she’s done.”

Williams made the decision not to use the word “fight” almost from the get-go, she said. When she got the call about the diagnosis, it was the only time she and her husband shed tears, she said.

Instead of letting a negative mentality take over, she took the illness as a sign from a higher power to pursue other opportunities beyond her career as a labor and delivery nurse at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center.

“God works mysteriously. I’m not saying God gave me cancer, I’m just saying he works mysteriously like maybe it was time for me to quit nursing, so I had to go in another direction,” Williams said. “I don’t believe God harms people, I don’t believe in that. I believe he gives you other pathways to go.”

Williams quit nursing about a month after her diagnosis and started chemo treatments every two weeks, she said. She told doctors she did not want to know all the ins and outs of how the cancer was affecting her body, she said.

A year later, Chakmakjian happened to mention Williams was “already living a miracle” to a shadowing intern, and that was the first time Williams had a full grasp on her situation, she said.

Her scans started coming back clear this summer, Williams said. The first time, she blew the results off.

“It’s an incurable disease. Her CAT scans right now don’t really show any evidence of the disease,” Chakmakjian said. “We’re in uncharted territory, and that’s what I’ve talked about with her. Her CAT scans look great, so do we just keep doing what we’re doing or do we take a break? Nobody knows.”

For fear changing her treatment would cause the cancer to return, Williams chose to keep going, he said.

“After the second, the third and the fourth time, oh my God. The third time, I was really bouncing off the walls, and after the fourth time, I was extremely bouncing off the walls and telling everybody,” Williams said of the clear scans. “But Dr. Chak says we don’t know enough about pancreatic cancer, stage 4 especially. We don’t know enough, and if this is working, I’m tolerating this very well. I’m not having any real bad side effects and I might as well just keep going. Why would I stop?”

Almost every time Williams visits for another round, her 89-year-old mother and her husband, Michael, sit beside her to offer support and keep her mind off the chemicals running through her body, she said. She’ll do whatever she can to not talk about cancer if she can avoid it, she said.

“It’s the only way to go. If you don’t have support, I could see you not surviving at all,” Williams said. “You can’t go it by yourself. It’s not just having family and friends. It’s also having God and having your own religion to help support you and guide you through, because there are times when you’ve got to talk to somebody, and God’s always there.”

On the car ride over to the clinic Tuesday, she and her husband spent time talking about the Super Bowl. And her mother, Margaret Dunlap, often spends appointments chatting about their pets, Williams said. She grew up in Waco but now lives in the country between Crawford and Valley Mills. Once, Williams was even lucky enough to sneak a couple newborn kittens into the clinic to watch over while she was treated, she said with a smile.

“I’m just trying to help her,” said Dunlap, whose son also survived a rough bout of bladder cancer at 44. “It’s tough to take, but we do it one day at a time. I go to church an awful lot.”

With a new grandchild born last year, Williams still has plenty to look forward to without thinking about the cancer flaring up again, she said. Her grandson is just about to start walking. She has joined a choir and sings louder on the days she’s feeling at her best, she said. She has also returned to Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest to volunteer in the baby gift shop, she said.

Williams’ ability to continue her life four years after her terminal diagnosis is something Texas Oncology-Waco receptionist Debra Thornton said is a testament to Williams’ strength. The two met 46 years ago, when Williams helped deliver Thornton’s first son, Thornton said.

“All sickness is not death,” Thornton said. “To see her come in every day is encouraging. I work the front desk and to see her come in with a smile on her face, even on the days when she doesn’t feel good, I’m just glad to see her. Her smile is hope, to see her go through it and be so triumphant.”

Her journey is not over, but Williams knows she can keep going as long as she can keep grinning, she said. It helps lessen her stress, and she is able to handle chemotherapy better because those around her share the same mentality, she said.

“Today’s celebration is just awesome,” Williams said. “People need to realize you can live with cancer. You can survive.”

SpaceX's big new rocket blasts off, puts sports car in space

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. (AP) — SpaceX's big new rocket blasted off Tuesday on its first test flight, carrying a red electric sports car aiming for an endless road trip past Mars.

The Falcon Heavy rose from the same launch pad used by NASA nearly 50 years ago to send men to the moon. With liftoff, the Heavy became the most powerful rocket in use today, doubling the liftoff punch of its closest competitor.

For SpaceX, the private rocket company run by Elon Musk, it was a mostly triumphant test of a new, larger rocket designed to hoist supersize satellites as well as equipment to the moon, Mars or other far-flung points. For the test flight, a red sports car made by another of Musk's companies, Tesla, was the unusual cargo, enclosed in protective covering for the launch.

The three boosters and 27 engines roared to life at Kennedy Space Center, as thousands watched from surrounding beaches, bridges and roads, jamming the highways in scenes unmatched since NASA's last space shuttle flight. At SpaceX Mission Control in Southern California, employees screamed, whistled and raised pumped fists into the air as the launch commentators called off each milestone. Millions more watched online, making it the second biggest livestream in YouTube history.

Viewers were left with video images beamed from space of Musk's red Roadster circling the blue planet after the protective covering had dropped away and exposed the car. A space-suited mannequin was at the wheel, named "Starman" after the David Bowie song.

"It's kind of silly and fun, but I think that silly and fun things are important," said the SpaceX chief who also runs Tesla and is keen to colonize Mars. "The imagery of it is something that's going to get people excited around the world."

Two of the boosters— both recycled from previous launches — returned minutes after liftoff for on-the-mark touchdowns at Cape Canaveral. Sonic booms rumbled across the region with the vertical landings.

Musk later revealed the third booster, brand new, slammed into the Atlantic at 300 mph and missed the floating landing platform, scattering shrapnel all over the deck and knocking out two engines.

He was unfazed by the lost booster and said watching the other two land upright probably was the most exciting thing he's ever seen.

Before liftoff, "I had this image of just a giant explosion on the pad, a wheel bouncing down the road, the Tesla logo landing somewhere," he said. "But fortunately, that's not what happened."

Musk's rocketing Roadster is shooting for a solar orbit that will reach all the way to Mars.

Ballast for a rocket debut is usually concrete — "so boring," Musk said in a post-launch news conference.

The Roadster was anything but. Cameras mounted on the car fed stunning video of "Starman" tooling around Earth, looking something like a NASCAR racer out for a Sunday drive, with its right hand on the wheel and the left arm resting on the car's door.

A sign on the dashboard read: "Don't panic!" Bowie's "Life on Mars?" played in the background at one point. A Hot Wheels roadster was also on the dash with a tiny spaceman on board.

The Falcon Heavy is a combination of three Falcon 9s, the rocket that the company uses to ship supplies to the International Space Station and lift satellites. SpaceX is reusing first-stage boosters to save on launch costs. Most other rocket makers discard their spent boosters in the ocean.

Unlike most rockets out there, the Falcon Heavy receives no government funding. The hulking rocket is intended for massive satellites, like those used by the U.S. military and communication companies. Even before the successful test flight, customers were signed up.

"It was awesome like a science fiction movie coming to reality," said former NASA deputy administrator Dava Newman, Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Apollo professor of astronautics. "They nailed it. Good for them."

Given the high stakes and high drama, Tuesday's launch attracted huge crowds not seen since NASA's final space shuttle flight seven years ago. While the shuttles had more liftoff muscle than the Heavy, the all-time leaders in both size and might were NASA's Saturn V rockets, which first flew astronauts to the moon in 1968.

On the eve of the flight, Musk said the company had done all it could to maximize success. Musk has plenty of experience with rocket accidents, from his original Falcon 1 test flights to his follow-up Falcon 9s, one of which exploded on a nearby pad during a 2016 ignition test.

"I've seen rockets blow up so many different ways, so, yeah, it's a great relief when it actually works," Musk said after liftoff.

Not counting Apollo moon buggies, the Roadster is the first automobile to speed right off the planet.

The car faces considerable speed bumps before settling into its intended orbit around the sun, an oval circle stretching from the orbit of Earth on one end to the orbit of Mars on the other. It has to endure a cosmic bombardment during several hours of cruising through the highly charged Van Allen radiation belts encircling Earth. Finally, a thruster has to fire to put the car on the right orbital course. The car battery was expected to last for about 12 hours after liftoff.

If it weathers all this, the Roadster will reach the vicinity of Mars in six months, Musk said. The car could be traveling between Earth and Mars' neighborhoods for a billion years, according to the high-tech billionaire.

"Maybe discovered by some future alien race, thinking what were you guys doing? Did they worship this car? Why did they have a little car? That will really confuse them," Musk said.

Musk acknowledged the Roadster could come "quite close" to Mars during its epic cruise, with only a remote chance of crashing into the red planet.

Also on board in a protected storage unit is Isaac Asimov's science fiction series, "Foundation." A plaque contains the names of the more than 6,000 SpaceX employees.

The Heavy already is rattling the launch market. Its sticker price is $90 million, less than one-tenth the estimated cost of NASA's Space Launch System megarocket in development for moon and Mars expeditions.

SpaceX has decided against flying passengers on the Heavy, Musk said, and instead will accelerate development of an even bigger rocket to accommodate deep-space crews. His ultimate goal is to establish a city on Mars.

"If people think we're in a race with the Chinese, this is our secret weapon: the entrepreneurship of people like Elon and others like Jeff Bezos," said Stanford University's G. Scott Hubbard, NASA's first Mars czar.

Amazon's Bezos heads Blue Origin, which is developing a big, reusable orbital-class rocket and already is making suborbital flights in Texas.

"Woohoo!" Bezos said in a congratulatory tweet.


AP Science Writer Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

Baylor asks court to throw out Title IX lawsuit

Baylor University asked a U.S. district court judge to throw out a Title IX lawsuit alleging the school mishandled a sexual assault investigation after announcing it had implemented extensive reforms to its processes.

Identified as Jane Doe 11, the plaintiff alleges a fellow student sexually assaulted her in April at an off-campus residence during a party. A university investigation found the alleged assailant did not commit the assault, based on the preponderance of the evidence standard used in Title IX investigations, according to the suit.

Baylor argues the existence of its revamped Title IX policy clears the university of Title IX liability.

Baylor argues the existence of its Title IX policy “is the only standard by which Baylor’s Title IX liability — and the plausibility of plaintiff’s allegations — must be judged.”

The university also argues it did not consider Doe 11’s claims with deliberate indifference, a key point that would have to be proved in her lawsuit.

“Although plaintiff clearly disagrees with the results of the investigation into her alleged assault, Title IX does not mandate a particular outcome,” Baylor’s motion states.

According to the lawsuit, Baylor police investigated the report, but no charges were filed.

A university spokesman declined comment on the school’s filing, which was made late Monday.

Doe 11 is one of 15 plaintiffs suing Baylor represented by Waco attorney Jim Dunnam and Houston attorney Chad Dunn. Her experience with Title IX officials “directly contracted any assurance that meaningful change had occurred … despite the university’s repeated boastings of full implementation of the recommendations,” made by the Pepper Hamilton law firm after a nine-month investigation, according to her lawsuit.

“Baylor simply continues to avoid accepting responsibility, despite all statements to the contrary,” Dunnam told the Tribune-Herald.

The university faces five lawsuits with pending Title IX claims. The suits include 17 plaintiffs, one a former staffer.

In May, Baylor announced it had implemented 105 recommendations made by Pepper Hamilton to improve its institutional response to sexual violence.

County to boost security at adult probation

McLennan County commissioners created two positions Tuesday to provide full-time, consistent security presence at the adult probation building.

The Community Supervision and Corrections Department, formerly adult probation, is located in a building not covered by courthouse security and has had to hire officers from various law enforcement agencies to perform security work, County Attorney Mike Dixon said. Relying on officers who already have full-time jobs, and only being able to offer relatively low pay, resulted in varying degrees of skill, competency and work ethic, he said.

“With the way the world is going now, more and more companies are hiring off-duty officers for security and they are paying a lot better,” Dixon said.

The department faced a security crisis, Dixon said.

The sheriff’s office agreed to assist by providing two deputies to work security at the Community Supervision and Corrections Department, Dixon said. Adult probation director William W. “Chip” Seigman is able to cover three quarters of the $128,000 annual cost out of the department budget and is asking the county to pick up the rest of the tab, Dixon said.

There is a higher concentration of criminals at the Community Supervision and Corrections Department than at the courthouse, which has security, Dixon said. At least 3,089 probationers, of 5,031 total probationers on supervision, report to the office each month. The presence of security personnel prevents problem behaviors and diffuses potentially volatile situations, he said.

Dixon said he was also blown away by how many leads a deputy would get standing in the lobby listening to people discuss criminal activity.

The Community Supervision and Corrections Department security spending will almost double from $65,000, but the jump is worth it, Seigman said.

“It’s a matter of us having somebody who is professional and knows the system in the county, and having someone on site like that would be a godsend, it really would,” Seigman said.


Commissioners also potentially brought an end to an issue Precinct 1 Commissioner Kelly Snell said has been deferred for more than a year.

Snell again requested the county allow elected officials and department heads interested in a timekeeping system to adopt a program researched by a committee. Snell said about 115 employees would like to go onto a system, and he had the funds budgeted.

His motion to approve the move died for lack of support.

County Judge Scott Felton and County Auditor Stan Chambers said they had heard concern from department heads and elected officials about the current system. The duo said the concern came from individuals led to believe the county was out of compliance and therefore had to move to the system. Chambers reiterated the county is not out of compliance with federal requirements.

Chambers, who said he bought his own time clock, said he believes there is a less expensive way to monitor hours worked than what was being proposed.

Precinct 4 Commissioner Ben Perry said if a department head or elected officially voluntarily wants on the system proposed by Snell, he would support the move.

“But to lead them to believe they’ll be in trouble if they don’t get on board, I’m not OK with that,” Perry said. “It’s been leveraged there’s a problem. It’s been leveraged we’re not doing things right and that’s totally bogus.”

Snell made another motion to allow department heads and elected officials interested in getting on the system he proposed to do so if interested. The motion passed, with Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Jones voting against it. Jones said he wanted more information.

Commissioners then approved a budget request from the health services department to move $300 out of one line-item to another line-item to allow for the purchase of a time clock.

Snell opposed the motion.

“We just approved, that day, that we could order and implement the time clock system that we have been trying to get done for a year,” Snell said after the meeting. “The one that was vetted by IT, the one that works with every system that we have, then (Health Services director Eva Cruz-Hamby) wants to buy an off-the-wall time clock. That’s going to be another way of doing it that isn’t the same as everyone else.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Mars expansion

Mars has announced a $30 million expansion of its plant in Waco.