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Texas Rangers shortstop Elvis Andrus, right, celebrates with Danny Santana, left, after both were driven in on a single by Nomar Mazara off Boston Red Sox relief pitcher Matt Barnes during the ninth inning of a baseball game at Fenway Park in Boston, Monday, June 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa)

Saving the paving: Overhaul beginning for New Road, Bagby, Old Hewitt Road
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

A new round of major Waco street reclamation projects began Monday, thanks to a funding boost from the city, and more are in the pipeline.

Big Creek Construction is beginning work to replace failing pavement on a portion of New Road near Franklin Avenue. When it’s done, crews will move on to sections of Bagby Avenue and Old Hewitt Road, wrapping up by the end of October.

City officials say the $3.4 million price tag will result in new pavement with a life expectancy of half a century.

The road projects are part of the city’s pavement management program, known as Better Streets Waco. All three are long overdue, said Jim Reed, public works capital improvement plan manager.

“We really do rely on citizens’ voices, what they think should be done and shouldn’t be done,” Reed said. “If we can’t take care of our citizens, it doesn’t matter what programs we have that can tell us what we should do, we’ve got to get eyes and feet and hear voices.”

Waco City Council raised the streets department’s budget from about $3 million to $17.1 million for the pavement program, slated for 2018-2019. Reed said that number should increase with every following year.

“Our problem is that we haven’t had a true pavement program in many years,” Reed said. “We’ve had money, but nothing that could start an emphasis on pavement.”

The first project, at the intersection of New Road and Franklin Avenue, will take roughly six weeks. Construction is scheduled between 7 p.m. to 7 a.m., to minimize delays during the day.

“The traffic concerns there are so dynamic, especially when people are getting off of work,” Reed said. “A lot of people want to stop at Walmart and the businesses along there.”

Rodney Duron, co-owner of Freddy’s Glass on Franklin Avenue, said he’s watching traffic at Franklin and New Road grow steadily worse over the years.

“Each year it’s backing up further,” Duron said. “We’re used to it. We just have to be patient.”

He said while traffic usually slows down around 6 p.m., restricting the construction to nighttime will likely save everyone some grief, whereas daytime construction would be “a whole different story.”

Reclamation involves removing and replacing pavement entirely, while leaving storm drains and utility lines intact. Reed said the new New Road is designed to last about 50 years.

“In this situation, we believe the road is borderline-failure,” Reed said. “You’ll start having large sections that will start popping up during the freeze-thaw situation you have in winter.”

Reclamation projects, which are more expensive and take longer than mere resurfacing, are reserved for roads in very poor condition.

“It’s a huge investment that you make when you do road condition,” Reed said. “So, your intent is to have a product that’s going to last.”

A section of Bagby Avenue between Loop 340 and New Road is next on the list. The section includes Central Texas Marketplace and Waco ISD Stadium.

Reed said work on the wider road will take longer.

“It has a lot of important venues alongside it, but it is a great conduit to avoid having to use I-35, so we see it becoming a more popular route,” Reed said.

Bagby Avenue first came to Reed’s attention in 2015 during a community meeting initially meant to be about West Waco. Attendees quickly shifted the focus to Bagby’s poor condition.

“Bagby is important, and we knew we needed to do something before it went into total failure, where you just have your operations team out there trying to keep it glued together,” Reed said.

The Old Hewitt Road section will be reclaimed between Highway 84 and Mars Drive.

School traffic on Old Hewitt Road has caused pavement to shift over time. Reed said the road was also headed toward complete failure, and trying to do work piece-by-piece is only a greater risk to the workers and the public.

“We think that road is ideal for a complete reclamation,” Reed said.

The city conducted a study on its pavement quality in 2015, based on a high-tech scan of every street by a contractor. Waco scores a 40 on the Pavement Condition Index, which grades cities on a scale of zero to 100. Waco has roughly 630 centerline miles to care for, and many have been largely untouched for 25 years.

“We were trying to do rehab of the roads that had really turned bad, the ones we were getting calls about,” Reed said. “Well, while you’re doing that, you’re starting to get oxidation, you’re starting to get cracking, and you’re starting to see those cracks.”

Roads in less dire straits can be repaired with less expensive methods, like mill and overlay rehabilitation, which involves grinding down and replacing only the top layer of pavement. The city is set to begin work on a $4 million mill and overlay package that covers about seven centerline miles of city streets. Reed said mill and overlay is a common approach for city governments, more extensive than a restoration but less expensive than replacing the road entirely.

“A lot of roads have a big, heavy crown on them because they just keep milling out the edges and putting overlay on them,” Reed said.

Another upcoming reclamation project on Speegleville Road, from Highway 84 to Middle Bosque River Bridge, will cost roughly $3 million. Additions will include a guard rail on the bridge, extended culverts with safety features and an intersection signal by River Valley Intermediate School. Reed said the stop is currently marked by a stop sign on Oak Road.

“That’s a complicated issue when school is in session, there’s a lot of traffic in the morning,” Reed said. “That’s a great project. We think it’s important.”

The pavement management program also includes a $1.8 million preservation package that will cover about 28 miles of road, sealing it and protecting it from the elements.

editor's pick
Sheriff pins star on 4-year-old sidekick in car chase drama
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

At 4 years old, Wyatt Barker may not have his career path figured out, but the Hallsburg boy has already been sworn in as McLennan County’s youngest junior deputy.

Sheriff Parnell McNamara pinned a junior deputy badge on Wyatt at the sheriff’s office Monday morning, hailing him as the youngest deputy to be involved in a running gun battle.

Wyatt was riding as sidekick as his father, William Rex Barker, helped deputies track down five suspects in a car theft and chase that started at Tradinghouse Park 2 on June 4.

McNamara said the Barkers were instrumental in helping law enforcement in the six-hour manhunt that ended with five Bell County residents in custody on multiple felony charges.

McNamara said the Barkers took off after a vehicle was stolen from a family that was swimming at Tradinghouse Lake and at one point faced gunfire, though no bullets struck their truck.

“His father was pursuing the criminals, the carjackers, and he just happened to have his 4-year-old son with him,” McNamara said. “He did play it safe, put the young man down on the floor of the car and backed off to a safe distance, but he kept eyes on the cars and gave dispatch their location moment by moment.”

Rex Barker said he and his son were taking a leisurely drive at the lake that Tuesday afternoon while on a shopping errand. They were driving around the park when a man approached them.

“A gentleman came up to the truck waving his hands telling us his car had just been stolen and we must have just passed it,” Barker said. “We turned back around and he asked if we found it, if we could call 911.”

Rex Barker took off in pursuit, trailing a red SUV and the victim’s gray sedan.

“At first, I thought the gray car was trying to stop the red car, so I was just going to help out where I could,” Barker said. “Then the red car started shooting at us.”

Telling his son to get on the floor of the truck, Barker slowed down, but continued to follow both cars while on the phone with authorities. The gray car crashed near Cottonwood Creek Road and County Line Parkway, and two teenage girls tried to walk away, but Barker ordered them to stay as he talked on the phone to law enforcement, which soon arrived to arrest them.

Meanwhile, the other suspects drove the red SUV into a field, then abandoned it and fled on foot.

A lengthy manhunt ensued as deputies and multiple other agencies searched the countryside for the three other suspects on foot and by helicopter. Officers made five arrests, including three girls ages 13, 14 and 15; Kwane Davis Lucas, 17; and Kyhrek Holder, 25.

“Had it not been for Mr. Barker, we may not have known the whole story,” Detective Michael Hutchinson said. “We would have had the ending and we could have worked it backwards, but with his story and with what he did, it was great.”

Detective Eric Carrizales agreed. He said because of Barker’s timeline and contact with dispatchers, the apprehensions were successful and no one got hurt.

“What he did, he also helped us catch the people too,” Carrizales said. “He was able to keep his eyes on him to let us know where the ending points were and where we needed to start.”

Barker’s wife, Felicia Barker, was shaken when she heard what had happened.

“I was so upset, but I knew he would keep our son safe,” she said. “I am now so proud of him.”

Rex and his son were recognized as playing paramount roles in the chase and arrest of the five suspects. McNamara said the story could not have ended any better and he was proud to have the Barkers as honorary members of the department.

“Because of them, this story has a very happy ending and now we have the youngest member in our posse,” the sheriff said.

Wyatt is named after the legendary Sheriff Wyatt Earp of Arizona, but whether he plans to follow his namesake into law enforcement remains to be seen.

“I want to be a firefighter,” Wyatt said.

“He goes back between wanting to be a deputy or firefighter,” Rex Barker said. “But really, he can be anything he wants to be.”

editor's pick
Louisiana Crab Shack bound for former Twin Peaks site
 Mike Copeland  / 

A Vietnamese-American family is planning to bring a dash of Cajun spice and seafood to a building at Central Texas Marketplace where Twin Peaks and Scotty’s Brewhouse have come and gone.

The owners of Louisiana Crab Shack signed a 10-year lease Monday on the 7,000-square-foot building at 4671 S. Jack Kultgen Expressway and began placing temporary signs for the restaurant, set to open this summer.

“They didn’t waste any time,” said Clay Fuller, a Turner-Behringer Real Estate agent who closed the deal. He met with four members of the family ownership group and a kitchen supervisor Monday to tour the plastic-wrapped structure.

The Louisiana Crab Shack ownership group includes Victor Nguyen and Lap (Ryan) Duong, the family patriarch who emigrated to the United States from South Vietnam in 1979, and a few years later opened a seafood restaurant in Biloxi, Mississippi. The family relocated the restaurant’s headquarters to Austin, where it now operates two locations. The regional chain operates or plans to open locations in Plano, Houston, San Antonio, Cedar Park and Kyle.

Fare includes shrimp, oysters, crab, crawfish, catfish, salmon and sides served in a casual setting with the ambiance of a fishing village, meaning lots of netting, said Victor Nguyen. He said a facelift and renovations to alter the building’s aesthetics will begin immediately. The restaurant should open well within a month, if the process of remodeling and securing city permits goes smoothly.

“It will have a family atmosphere,” Victor Nguyen said. “We will serve beer and wine, and the site has a liquor permit, but our point of emphasis will be the food. We will be hands-on, from cleaning the restaurant to preparing the dishes. We will treat customers just as we want to be treated. We exercise quality control and food control beyond that of most restaurants.”

The building hasn’t yet had a long-term tenant. It opened in August 2014 as Twin Peaks, a restaurant with hunting lodge decor and scantily clad servers. The restaurant closed in May 2015, after an infamous biker shootout that left nine dead.

The building’s most recent tenant, Indiana-based Scott’s Brewhouse, folded in December, less than a year after opening. But Nguyen said he thinks Louisiana Crab Shack is the right fit for the long term, with its family recipes and community focus.

“We will get traffic from the interstate. We will have a huge sign,” Nguyen said with a laugh. “But we consider ourselves a restaurant for the community. We love Waco. As I said, we will be hands-on. I don’t believe Scotty’s Brewhouse, which was based up North, could make the needed adjustments, though they did do a good job renovating the space.”

Several family members and Pablito Martinez, who was introduced as the restaurant chef, walked to the nearby Don Carlos restaurant Monday afternoon to talk shop and order Tex-Mex. They were asked about other Cajun-themed restaurants that have opened in Waco, and indicated they were not aware of the Waco location of Walk-On’s Bistreaux & Bar, a growing Louisiana-based chain founded by a pair of Louisiana State University graduates.

“That’s the chain owned by Drew Brees, isn’t it?” said “Lucky” Duong, joining the conversation. Brees, the New Orleans Saints quarterback, has become part-owner of the chain that opened locally in summer 2018 in Legends Crossing, the development near Baylor Scott & White Medical Center Waco.

Several other dining establishments locally specializing in Cajun cuisine include Buzzard Billy’s, Interstate 35 at Lake Brazos; Te’Jun The Texas Cajun, 711 N. Robinson Drive; Cajun Craft, 601 S. 11th St.; The Catch, 1230 N. Valley Mills Drive; Shaan’s Southern Eatery, 18th Street and Waco Drive; Friday’s Seafood and More, 1308 New Dallas Highway; and Shaking Seafood & Wings, 414 N. Valley Mills Drive, in the former Casa Ole location.

Victor Nguyen said the team hoped to scout area restaurants Monday.

“Our seasoning will make the difference,” Victor Nguyen said.

Ryan Duong said the restaurant will accommodate 200 to 250 patrons, including patio seating, and will open seven days a week.

It will employ 20 to 25 wait and kitchen staffers, Nguyen said.

Fuller said he negotiated with the family for months.

“I think this is a good-news story for Waco,” he said Monday.

editor's pick
Pastor sues church after members fire him, call cops to remove him
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

The former pastor of a Waco church is suing the church and seven of its members, alleging they fired him at an improper meeting, then called police when he arrived to deliver the sermon.

John Rector is seeking $100,000 in damages in his lawsuit against Antioch Missionary Baptist Church and seven church leaders, including four deacons. The suit was filed last week in Waco’s 170th State District Court on Rector’s behalf by Waco attorney Christopher D. Demerson.

Rector was hired in December 2016 as pastor at the century-old, predominantly black church at 2814 S. 12th St., which has about 125 members.

He alleges in the lawsuit that some members gathered May 15 in what Rector calls an “unauthorized meeting” that violated church bylaws requiring the presence of the presiding pastor, secretary and treasurer at meetings. Also, bylaws require the entire congregation be given notice and that a vote by held by secret ballot.

After that meeting, church members drafted a letter of termination and delivered it to Rector on Saturday, May 18, the suit alleges.

“The following day, May 19, 2019, when John Rector showed up to church to deliver his sermon, defendants called Waco Police Department, tendered the unauthorized termination letter to the officers and asked that John Rector be issued a ‘no trespassing’ warning,” according to the lawsuit. “Thereby, preventing John Rector from carrying out his duties as presiding pastor.”

Demerson said Rector left the church that morning because he “didn’t want to push the issue or cause any more trouble within the church.”

The suit alleges that church members tortiously interfered with Rector’s contract with the church and that their actions damaged his reputation, causing his inability “to continue his career as a pastor.”

Demerson said Rector has not sought another job because he “wants to work things out with the church.” Demerson said he is unaware of the issues that caused the rift between Rector and the members.

Winfred Watkins, a retired microbiology professor at McLennan Community College, is listed in the lawsuit as chairman of the deacons and the person to accept service of the lawsuit.

Watkins, a church deacon and a minister, said he attended the May 15 meeting and those in attendance “mostly just complained about church affairs.”

“There seemed to be something between Rector and some of the members. They just got cross-wise,” Watkins said. “I let some things just go in one ear and out the other. It was mostly people with accusations. Nothing that I know of was written and signed by anyone. There was nothing really normal about any of this. This is as mysterious to me as it is to you.”

Watkins said the seven church members named as defendants “are the ones who told him to leave.”

Members named as defendants include John Fulbright, Richard Evans, Larry Jackson, Robbie Brooks, Thomas Brooks, Charles Reed and Cora Bennett. None of the defendants responded to social media or phone messages left for them Monday.