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LaVega Paris

La Vega’s John Richards (17) breaks loose on a long gainer before getting pulled down by Paris’s Cameron Jones, left, in the second half.


Health
centerpiece
Work underway on $50 million sports medicine center at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest
 Mike Copeland  / 
 11.29.18

Work is underway on a $50 million sports medicine center at Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest in Waco that will give athletes and those suffering from joint ailments and injuries more resources starting in December 2019.

Dozens attended a sun-splashed ceremony Thursday where community and hospital leaders discussed their vision for the four-story, 106,000-square-foot Baylor Scott & White Sports and Orthopedic Center. Construction already has started adjacent to the hospital at Interstate 35 and State Highway 6, as the groan and rumble of earthmoving equipment announced.

Baylor Scott & White will underwrite the building’s cost, while a $6 million capital campaign pursues donations for specialized equipment. Commitments to date have reached $2.8 million, said Becky Lindsey, a member of the fundraising group who spoke during Thursday’s festivities.

The facility will place under one roof technologies to diagnose, treat and rehabilitate patients suffering pain in their hand, wrist, foot, elbow, ankle and spine, according to a press release from Baylor Scott & White Health. Glenn Robinson, president of Scott & White’s Waco region, said the facility will “seek to prevent injuries before they occur,” but when they do strike, “we stand ready to treat patients with a team approach to each individual’s unique injury.”

About 50 support staffers and 10 physicians will occupy the new facility, to be anchored by Baylor Scott & White Southwest Sports Medicine and Orthopaedics, now housed elsewhere on the hospital campus. Those numbers likely will increase, said Matt Rohrer, vice president of clinic operations for Baylor Scott & White in Waco, speaking after the ceremony.

He said the 106,000-square-foot complex represents a doubling of space devoted to orthopedic care. The existing facility treats more than 3,000 patients monthly, including athletes from school districts around Central Texas who have suffered injuries, Rohrer said. It also sees patients who have suffered injuries, including falls, or who need joint replacement surgery.

“This definitely will give us the ability to grow,” Rohrer said.

Features will include physical rehabilitation areas inside and outside, including an exercise track, MRI and X-ray capabilities, a surgery center, and administrative offices, Southwest Sports Medicine founder Dr. Jon Ellis said after the program. Space also will accommodate athletes wanting to have their movements analyzed to improve strength, conditioning and performance “with a focus on safety,” he said.

Specialized equipment on the shopping list includes a Tesla 3.0 MRI, a Biodex machine, an anti-gravity treadmill and robotics.

“Robotics definitely are high on our wish list,” Ellis said.

The burgeoning technology improves precision in joint replacement procedures, he said. Robots do not actually perform surgery but are used by surgeons to make exacting calculations during the procedures.

Ellis said the new center reflects Scott & White’s commitment to its patients and the 70-plus high schools it has relationships with.

The new facility will provide opportunities to work with graduate students, including those at Baylor University, on research and development, he said.

“And, God willing, we want to recruit young specialists who want to practice here and raise a family in Waco,” Ellis said.

He said space the sports medicine facility will leave when the new $50 million complex is ready will provide more room for expansion.

“We have a lot of opportunities to explore, I can assure you,” he said.

Doctors at Southwest Sports Medicine serve as team physicians for Baylor University athletics in addition to seeing patients from area high schools. The facility welcomes referrals from other health centers and likely will see a greater number in the future, Ellis said. He also serves on the Big 12 Physicians Network, through which he often receives inquiries.

Discussions about creating a new sports medicine “center of excellence” have been ongoing for years. In November 2015, the city of Waco, Baylor University and Scott & White revealed plans for a land swap that would allow Baylor to build such a center at Interstate 35 and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard near McLane Stadium, where Waco cleared a former pesticide plant.

Plans announced at the time included a facility that would house Southwest Sports Medicine and a “human performance center,” with Scott & White reportedly involved in development.

That project was not mentioned at Thursday’s groundbreaking.

Baylor spokeswoman Lori Fogleman said in an email response to questions that “there are no conversations or developments on the project.”

Robinson could not be reached for additional comment.


City_of_waco
Loki, Cameron Park Zoo's first shark, makes debut
 Phillip Ericksen  / 
 11.29.18

The first shark to have a home at Cameron Park Zoo went on display this week after a 13-hour trip from Chattanooga, Tennessee, and a two-month observational period.

Loki, a 4-year-old bonnethead shark, is on display in the Flower Garden Banks exhibit at the zoo.

Bonnethead sharks are related to hammerhead sharks. Loki is named after the trickster god from Norse mythology (and later a Marvel Comics character), whose companion (half-brother in the comics), Thor, wields a mystical hammer. The shark has a sibling named Thor.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

A visitor takes a cellphone photo of Cameron Park Zoo's new bonnethead shark, Loki.

Loki is about 2½ feet long and weighs about 4 pounds. He was born in Springfield, Missouri, and was previously held at the Tennessee Aquarium in Chattanooga, where he was never quite comfortable in a tank that also housed sand tiger sharks.

“They were worried the sand tigers might eat him,” Cameron Park zookeeper Isaac Burkhalter said.

Burkhalter was part of the team that transferred Loki from Chattanooga to Waco. The 13-hour trip was “extremely stressful,” he said.

The specialized transport tank required constant checks of oxygen levels, ammonia levels and other water parameters. A stingray named Morty joined Loki for the trip and could soon join him in the same tank.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Loki, a four-year-old bonnethead shark, Cameron Park Zoo's first shark.

Bonnethead sharks have a lifespan of about 12 years, according to the zoo. They are found in estuaries, shallow waters and reefs of the western Atlantic Ocean, the eastern Pacific Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. They are not threatened but are sometimes caught in shrimp nets and casts. They are also exploited in Mexico, where their teeth are used in jewlery, zoo aquarium staffer Brittanie Delorit said.

Loki’s tank is made to mimic the Gulf of Mexico by the inclusion of angelfish and squirrelfish, Burkhalter said. Loki’s acclimation to his new environment has impressed staffers, he said.

“Seeing how far he’s come as far as trusting us and feeding, and being in that exhibit, he looks fantastic,” trainer Alexia Avila said.

Loki’s diet includes shrimp, smelts, capelin, mackerel and squid. He can chomp down about 18 pieces of shrimp, his favorite food, in one sitting, Avila said.

“It takes everyone to make this happen,” aquatics animal care supervisor Priscilla Duran said. “Yes, he’s a small species, but it’s one of those big deals for us, being our first shark.”


Business
Gas prices slip below $2 a gallon at some Waco pumps
 Mike Copeland  / 
 11.29.18

That was no mirage Thursday outside the Sam’s Club on East Waco Drive. Regular unleaded gasoline was selling for $1.99 a gallon, the first local petroleum retailer to tumble below the $2-per-gallon plateau.

With prices locally plunging another 8 cents the past week, Sam’s Club soon may have company, said Patrick DeHaan, petroleum analyst with GasBuddy.com, speaking by phone about rising oil inventories, falling oil prices — at least until Thursday — and their impact on pump numbers.

“There in Central Texas, you could see prices fall another 5 to 15 cents now or in 2019,” said Chicago-based DeHaan.

The only cloud on the horizon is talk among oil producing and exporting countries that they may decrease production to drive up prices, DeHaan said. He also noted the wholesale price of gasoline rose a nickel on Thursday, while oil was up $1.23 a barrel.

For now, though, those shopping for holiday gifts will have more jingle in their pockets — and that’s fine with Laura Chiota, city of Waco budget officer, who expects sales tax revenue to exceed $30 million this fiscal year. The more discretionary income consumers have, the better the city’s chances of seeing hefty sales tax rebates from the Texas Comptroller’s Office. Money spent on gasoline does not find its way back into city coffers.

“I would guess this is coming at a good time for merchants, with the holiday season upon us,” said Chiota, speaking by phone. “We obviously benefit from lower fuel prices for several reasons, among them the price we pay to keep our vehicles running. We take a conservative approach to preparing our budget, which envisions unleaded gasoline priced at $3.25 a gallon, diesel priced at $3.75 a gallon. If fuel prices continue to fall, the city manager’s office, in conjunction with the city council, may take action.

“But as of now, we will keep those projections in place,” Chiota said.

Releasing a prepared statement, the National Retail Federation said low gas prices are always welcome as they allow consumers to spend on other items such as groceries, apparel, and holiday gifts, since we are in the season.

Local motorists on Thursday were paying $2.09, on average, for a gallon of regular unleaded, according to GasBuddy.com. That was down 2 cents from Wednesday, 9 cents from a week earlier, and 36 cents from a month earlier.

One year ago, the average stood at $2.19, according to GasBuddy.com, which tracks retail prices at 124 locations in Greater Waco.

Price reductions have come hot and heavy in recent weeks.

Ben’s Short Stop, a Chevron-branded station on Hillcrest Drive, was charging $2.09 a gallon on Thursday, down from $2.19 Wednesday evening.

“Why are they coming down? I have no idea,” said an employee, who declined to provide her name. “Everyone’s price is going down. My boss told me to change them this morning, so I changed them.”

At Sam’s Club, manager David Martinez said the $1.99 price was available only to members, who pay either $45 or $100 a year for a basic or enhanced membership. Martinez said Sam’s Club strives to charge competitive prices, so he did not really notice an increase in traffic at the pumps.

Karr Ingham, an Amarillo-based economist who prepares a monthly economic snapshot for the First National Bank of Central Texas and the Tribune-Herald, called falling gas prices “an unexpected consumer blessing.”

“I filled up in Amarillo this morning, and paid $1.92 a gallon, at Walmart. Everybody up here is charging a touch above or below $2 a gallon,” said Ingham, who also serves as a consultant to the Texas Alliance of Energy Producers, a 2,600-member organization. “Clearly, there is one reason for all this: a pretty sharp drop in crude oil prices. Oversupply concerns started pushing prices down in mid-October, and we’ve seen a slide of about $20 per barrel. Gasoline prices have gone down with them.”

Ingham said gas prices were not onerous even before the slide began, and he expressed doubt they will become burdensome in 2019.

“Growing U.S. production, even at current prices, will put a lid on any drastic increases,” said Ingham. “Global politics, of course, will play a role in any decision made by OPEC, which meets again in just a few weeks. But as I sit here today, I just don’t see any reason for great concern in the near term.”

Danny Vannatta, a salesperson for Reeder Petroleum Distributors, said he’s enjoying telling farmers and construction companies that fuel prices have dropped another nickel. But he wonders how long the fun will last.

“As soon as we see some kind of skirmish overseas, we will see a spike,” he said. “I’ve been waiting for a change, but haven’t seen it yet. We continue to have a surplus, and prices will go down as long as that continues.”

Prices hovering at or near $2 a gallon for regular unleaded gasoline were commonplace on Thursday, with Murphy USA, H-E-B, Stripes, Pilot and Flying J locations in South Waco and along I-35 charging $2.01 to $2.03 a gallon.

DeHaan said the lowest price nationally on Thursday was $1.69 per gallon for regular unleaded, though he did not have an exact location. He said the Sherman-Denison area was the first nationally to post a communitywide average of less than $2 per gallon for regular unleaded.


Courts_and_trials
DA-elect hires first assistant
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 
 11.29.18

When Barry Johnson was campaigning against McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna, he promised to surround himself with skilled attorneys with an extensive background in criminal law.

Johnson, who takes office in January, said his first official hire as district attorney-elect fits the bill. Johnson announced this week he has hired 52-year-old Nelson Barnes, a longtime prosecutor in Bell County, as his first assistant district attorney.

“Nelson came highly recommended,” Johnson said. “He has tried everything from traffic tickets to death penalty cases. It became more and more clear as I began doing my due diligence and talking to other DAs and assistant DAs around the state that I really need to have someone as a first assistant with deep, broad experience as a prosecutor.

“I have been trying lawsuits for 30 years, but my main area has been in civil prosecutions. I had several people who are DAs and prosecutors tell me that it could be a recipe for disaster if you don’t have someone in there who doesn’t know the rules of the road and the tricks of the trade as your wing man.”

Barnes grew up in San Antonio and graduated from Trinity University. Three days after graduating from Baylor Law School in May 1991, he started work in the Bell County Attorney’s Office. He worked on a juvenile gang task force and became chief of the juvenile section before going to work for Bell County District Attorney Arthur “Cappy” Eads in 1994.

Eads, who served 24 years as Bell County DA, was succeeded by current Bell County DA Henry Garza in 2001.

“Nelson is a senior trial attorney in my office who has a wealth of experience and good judgment and will be an asset to Barry Johnson as first assistant in Waco,” Garza said. “Although I have a bittersweet feeling about having a trusted senior member of my staff going to Waco, I do know that Nelson will do a good job. He has been a good hand, a good colleague, a good friend and a good prosecutor for Bell County. I know he will be the same thing in McLennan County.”

Barnes was named prosecutor of the year by the Texas Gang Investigators Association in 2003. He left the Bell County DA’s office for a year in 2006 to work as a State Department contractor in Afghanistan, where he worked on police reform issues with the Afghan National Police.

“That was my great adventure,” Barnes said.

Edward Vallejo, a former prosecutor in McLennan and Bell counties who works in the general counsel’s office for Texas State Technical College, worked four years with Barnes in Bell County.

“If what Barry was seeking to do is get experience on his staff, he is going to be hard-pressed to get a more experienced prosecutor,” Vallejo said. “Having worked as a prosecutor in Bell County alongside Nelson Barnes, I can say that McLennan County is fortunate to have this knowledgeable, experienced and professional prosecutor join the office. Nelson is respected by law enforcement and practitioners on both sides of the bar. His sense of justice is in line with the McLennan County community. If the promise to bring in experience was made, then that promise was kept.”

Barnes won a capital murder conviction in 2016 against David Risner, a former police officer who shot and killed Little River-Academy Police Chief Lee Dixon in 2014. Risner was sentenced to life without parole after the jury hung up while trying to decide if Risner deserved the death penalty.

“I am excited about this opportunity to join the new team,” Barnes said. “I know Barry is a guy who really wants to make a difference, and I am just glad to be a part of that.”

Barnes will start his new job in Waco on Jan. 7. He will retire from Bell County with almost 27 years of service.

Russ Hunt Jr., who represented Risner, said Barnes is “extremely skilled and experienced.”

“He is a thoughtful guy,” Hunt said. “He is a tough prosecutor. He teaches college courses, so he has to interact with all kinds of different folks, and I think he is very appealing to a jury.”

In what spare time he has left, Barnes serves as assigning secretary for the Waco chapter of the Texas Association of Sports Officials. He has been a high school football referee for 35 years, since he was in law school in Waco.

“It’s my addiction,” Barnes said. “I don’t really know how to quit.”


AP
Trump cancels meeting with Putin as he heads to G-20 summit
 
 11.29.18

BUENOS AIRES, Argentina — President Donald Trump abruptly canceled a planned meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin as he headed to the Group of 20 Nations summit Thursday, citing Russia’s seizure of Ukrainian vessels as a source of tension in a relationship he has fostered in the face of criticism.

Trump tweeted his decision from Air Force One shortly after his former lawyer, Michael Cohen, revealed he had lied to Congress to cover up that he was negotiating a real estate deal in Moscow on Trump’s behalf during the Republican presidential primary in 2016.

The news ensured any meeting with Putin would spotlight the special counsel’s investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Moscow during the campaign. Trump has denied any wrongdoing and on Thursday called Cohen a “weak person” looking for a reduced sentence.

The president arrived in Argentina late Thursday for a global economic meeting expected to be dominated by Trump’s seat-of-his-pants diplomacy. The Putin meeting — a continuation of a controversial summit between the two in July — was just one of a series of high-stakes items on Trump’s agenda, which also includes talks with Chinese President Xi Jinping on how to ease a rising trade war.

Although Trump had previously floated canceling the meeting with Putin, White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters he did not make the final decision until boarding the plane for Argentina and speaking with national security adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. The Kremlin said it had not been formally notified of the decision, which came hours after Moscow said the meeting was on track.

“I look forward to a meaningful Summit again as soon as this situation is resolved!” Trump tweeted from Air Force One.

Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko praised Trump on Twitter, saying, “This is how great leaders act!”

Sanders also said Trump will not hold formal meetings with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and South Korea’s Moon Jae-in, but will instead speak informally with those leaders at the conference. She did not offer any explanation for those changes to the schedule.

The stakes for the sit-down between Putin and Trump were raised this week by Russia’s stepped-up aggression in the Kerch Strait, stemming from its years long occupation of Eastern Ukraine. Russia recently seized three Ukrainian vessels and crews. Russia said Ukraine didn’t have permission to pass between Russia’s mainland and the Crimean Peninsula. Ukraine insisted its vessels abided by maritime laws.

Tensions had already been high over the war in Syria and allegations of Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential race. Trump has sought to improve the relationship with Putin, but was roundly criticized after the July summit in Helsinki for failing to publicly denounce Russia’s interference and appearing to accept Putin’s denials of such activity.

While Trump’s statement was strongly worded, he has made similarly dramatic moves before only to walk them back. In the spring he canceled a planned summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, only to revive the meeting a week later.

The G-20 meeting in Buenos Aires comes amid growing economic uncertainty and global displeasure with Trump’s trade policy.

The most pressing issue on Trump’s packed schedule of meetings is whether he can reach a detente with Xi over trade after months in which both sides have raised tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of each other’s goods, shaking financial markets and threatening the global economy. Without an agreement, the U.S. is set to increase the tariffs on January 1.

Departing the White House Thursday, Trump said he was “very close” to a deal with China, but added, “I don’t know that I want to do it, because what we have right now is billions and billions of dollars coming in to the United States in the form of tariffs or taxes.”

With China, experts said Trump likely wants to see something come out of the meeting.

“I think it’s in President Trump’s interest to have this meeting be viewed as a success,” said David Dollar, a senior fellow in the John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution. “The markets are looking for some kind of dialing down of the rhetoric, and in particular markets are hoping there will not be an escalation of U.S. tariffs on January 1. So there’s a foundation for some kind of agreement.”

That approach leaves open the possibility for a preliminary or vague deal. Trump’s Singapore summit with Kim produced a vague agreement on denuclearization with few, if any, specifics. Since then progress between the two nations appears to have slowed, but Trump continues to hail the meeting as a historic breakthrough.

Trump’s advisers have sought to manage expectations heading into the talks, though some have projected optimism.

“If China will come to the table, or in this case the dinner table, with some new ideas and some new attitudes and some new cooperation, as the president said, there is a good possibility they could make a deal,” economic adviser Larry Kudlow said this week. “He’s open to it. So nothing is written in cement or stone.”

On the ground for just two days, Trump is packing every moment with diplomacy, conducting bilateral meetings with numerous world leaders as well as group events.

Trump’s visit will also put him in the same room as Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman for the first time since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi. The U.S. resident and prominent critic of the Saudi royal family was brutally killed last month upon entering the country’s consulate in Istanbul, Turkey, a plot that sparked a diplomatic row that cast the future of the U.S.-Saudi relationship into doubt.

U.S. intelligence officials have concluded that the Saudi crown prince, known as MBS, must have at least known of the plot. Lawmakers in both parties have called on Trump to, at minimum, avoid the young heir apparent as punishment.

But Trump publicly announced his decision to effectively give the prince a free pass in the name of “America First,” citing vastly exaggerated claims of Saudi military contracts and investments in the United States.


Rod Aydelotte  

20181130_loc_standoff_ra9

Waco police department Swat team along with other officers respond to a man hold up in a house at in the 100 block of Chestnut Street forcing two schools to be on lockdown.