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Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

Mart’s Tyrek Horne runs past Grapeland’s Tyrin Wiley (right) for a long gainer in the first half.

Spring Valley Road in Hewitt up for $16 million overhaul
 Cassie L Smith  / 

Hewitt city leaders are preparing for $16 million in improvements to Spring Valley Road that could take two years to complete.

An interim resurfacing project is underway on the road, but the larger $16 million overhaul will add a center turn lane and wider shoulders and reconfigure the road’s drainage.

City officials said they had not expected the project to get going for another few years, but the Texas Department of Transportation recently informed them it had identified funding for the project. The work will extend more than 2.2 miles along Spring Valley Road, also known as Farm to Market Road 2113, from Sun Valley Boulevard to Hewitt Drive.

The major arterial road that extends all the way through Hewitt past residential areas and an elementary school often sees backlogs as vehicles wait to safely make left turns. It was designed in the 1950s for a rural area and no longer meets the area’s needs, said Chris Evilia, director of the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization.

In addition to the traffic concerns, extensive development has left the road’s drainage through open ditches “woefully inadequate,” Evilia said.

“I’m sure when they designed the roadway it was probably perfect for that time but it has significantly outgrown what it was intended for,” said Jim Devlin, Hewitt police chief and interim city manager. “Your high-volume times on I-35, people that live in this area know about that road, which can take you all the way to Moody, then hit 327, and down to the Belton/Temple area.”

The contract for the work is expected to be awarded next year, and the project timeline will depend on that process, TxDOT Waco District spokesman Ken Roberts said.

Spring Valley has two 12-feet-wide travel lanes, with shoulders that vary from 1 foot to 8 feet with an open drainage ditch. When work is complete, it will have two 12-feet-wide travel lanes, a 14-feet-wide center turn lane and 10-feet-wide shoulders with curbs and gutters.

TxDOT plans state no additional right of way will be needed.

About 7,300 vehicles per day travel the western end of the project area near Hewitt Drive, while the traffic count drops to about 4,600 vehicles per day closer to Interstate 35, Evilia said.

Hewitt resident Bob Martin has lived in a house alongside Spring Valley Road for 12 years and has watched development and traffic increase in the area, he said. Often, when he is returning home on Spring Valley from I-35, cars will back up behind him as he waits for an opening in oncoming traffic so he can turn left toward his house, Martin said.

“It backs up a long time if there’s lot of traffic coming toward me,” he said.

Martin said the project is long overdue and should be a major improvement. He hopes TxDOT moves swiftly.

In the meantime, cones with directional arrows are delineating the center line as the mill and overlay project already underway continues, Roberts said.

“There has been some milling and subsequent spot overlaying taking place as an interim measure until the actual project gets underway,” he said. “Our standard temporary center line markers (tabs) won’t stick to the milled surface.”

Hewitt City Engineer Miles Whitney said state officials told him as recently as a few weeks ago that he overhaul would not be funded for several years. Having recently learned the project is moving forward, he is looking into the steps the city needs to take, Whitney said.

The city of Hewitt has water and sewer lines along the road that may need to be relocated, but any cost the city may need to cover for that part of the project remains unclear, he said.

“There’s a lot of questions I still have,” he said. “Sometimes federally funded projects there is allowances in there for some reimbursements in conflict areas, but I don’t believe this one has federal money.”

Devlin said he plans to continue to advocate for Spring Valley’s 55 mph speed limit to be reduced. He said he has been in favor of reducing that rate for a long time because there are several major intersections and regular traffic, including pedestrian traffic, associated with Spring Valley Elementary School. Sidewalks and traffic signals would also significantly help the area, he said.

Martin said he would also like to see the speed limit reduced, especially near the elementary school.

“It’s too fast up there, even when students are in class or off on spring break or summer break, 50 mph is too fast,” he said. “Lots of people don’t pay attention to signs and can just fly right through that school zone.”

Message of family outweighs score in rare football matchup between Juvenile Justice schools
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

Trailing by 17 points after the first half, Giddings Indians lineman, jersey number 17, rallied his fellow players with a speech of family and brotherhood.

“We family. We got each other. We stick together and we family,” he said in the locker room at Paul Tyson Field on Friday night. “No matter what, we got each other.”

That message of togetherness overpowered the Friday night lights on the six-man football playoff field. For the first time in the history of the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools’ six-man Division 1 football, the Gainesville Tornadoes of Lone Star High School North and the Giddings Indians of Lone Star High School Southeast squared off in the football division semifinals.

The Texas Juvenile Justice Department school teams, with rosters filled by boys serving sentences for felony convictions, typically face off against private and parochial schools. Friday’s contest offered a rare matchup between two state schools. Because the players are juvenile offenders, they cannot be identified by name.

“Football means a lot and we take it seriously,” said Gainesville Tornadoes lineman, jersey No. 1. “Like coach tells us, this is a new chance to make our lives right. That is what means a lot.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

A Giddings Indians player (left) shakes hands with Gainesville Tornadoes players ahead of the first football matchup between the Texas Juvenile Justice Department schools. Gainesville won, 44-32, to advance to the state championship game Thursday at Panther Stadium in Hewitt.

After the battle on the gridiron settled and Gainesville hoisted the trophy in a 44-32 win to advance to the state championship game against Austin Veritas on Thursday, the fellowship of brotherhood surpassed the importance of the final score, said Sandy Brown, Giddings’ coach for 38 years.

“You guys handled us and by 12 points more,” Brown said at the end of the game. “We are real proud of y’all, and I’m proud of my kids. They played all-out, but we are with you guys in the championship game.”

While serving their sentences, players go to classes and work through courses to prepare them for the future, said Seth Christensen, Texas Juvenile Justice Department director of stakeholder relations.

“This type of game and these types of programs normalizes their day-to-day (life) inside our facilities,” Christensen said. “Just like in high school, any high school has a football team, and in Texas, football is a big sport that does great things and creates great leaders.

“At our facilities, it works in the same way.”

Christensen helped coordinate efforts with Waco Independent School District to secure the football field for the playoff game, he said. The players, aged between 16 to 18 years old, experienced a true football atmosphere with cheering fans and encouragement from mentors in the stands.

“I’ve seen players who have played on our football teams at our facilities have come back to talk about how the program helped them in their lives to become better leaders than what they otherwise think they could have been,” Christensen said. “Our whole goal is to move these kids back into communities where they can make rational choices and decisions, and treat the trauma that has affected each of them.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

A Giddings Indians player chases a Gainesville Tornadoes player during the first half of the TAPPS six-man semifinals in Waco on Friday night. With a 44-32 win, Gainesville advances to the state championship game at Panther Stadium in Hewitt on Thursday.

Emotions ran high as players focused their attention and work onto football field. At the end of the game, Gainesville’s second year coach Roy Burns had a final message for the opposing team.

“You are a great football team,” he said at the center of the field. “We are going to go win the state championship for y’all. This is going to be for you.”

Kickoff for the state championship game will be at 3 p.m. Thursday at Panther Stadium in Hewitt.

Visitors line up to take a ride on the Ferris wheel at Waco Wonderland.

GEORGE H.W. BUSH: 1924-2018
Former President George H.W. Bush dies at age 94

HOUSTON — George H.W. Bush, a patrician New Englander whose presidency soared with the coalition victory over Iraq in Kuwait, but then plummeted in the throes of a weak economy that led voters to turn him out of office after a single term, has died. He was 94.

The World War II hero, who also presided during the collapse of the Soviet Union and the final months of the Cold War, died late Friday night, said family spokesman Jim McGrath. His wife of more than 70 years, Barbara Bush, died in April 2018.

The son of a senator and father of a president, Bush was the man with the golden résumé who rose through the political ranks: from congressman to U.N. ambassador, Republican Party chairman to envoy to China, CIA director to two-term vice president under the hugely popular Ronald Reagan. The 1991 Gulf War stoked his popularity. But Bush would acknowledge that he had trouble articulating “the vision thing,” and he was haunted by his decision to break a stern, solemn vow he made to voters: “Read my lips. No new taxes.”

He lost his bid for re-election to Bill Clinton in a campaign in which businessman H. Ross Perot took almost 19 percent of the vote as an independent candidate. Still, he lived to see his son, George W., twice elected to the presidency — only the second father-and-son chief executives, following John Adams and John Quincy Adams.

Once out of office, Bush was content to remain on the sidelines, except for an occasional speech or paid appearance and visits abroad. He backed Clinton on the North American Free Trade Agreement, which had its genesis during his own presidency. He visited the Middle East, where he was revered for his defense of Kuwait. And he returned to China, where he was welcomed as “an old friend” from his days as the U.S. ambassador there.

He later teamed with Clinton to raise tens of millions of dollars for victims of a 2004 tsunami in the Indian Ocean and Hurricane Katrina, which swamped New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005. During their wide-ranging travels, the political odd couple grew close.

“Who would have thought that I would be working with Bill Clinton, of all people?” Bush quipped in October 2005.

In his post-presidency, Bush’s popularity rebounded with the growth of his reputation as a fundamentally decent and well-meaning leader who, although he was not a stirring orator or a dreamy visionary, was a steadfast humanitarian. Elected officials and celebrities of both parties publicly expressed their fondness.

After Iraq invaded Kuwait in August 1990, Bush quickly began building an international military coalition that included other Arab states. After liberating Kuwait, he rejected suggestions that the U.S. carry the offensive to Baghdad, choosing to end the hostilities a mere 100 hours after the start of the ground war.

“That wasn’t our objective,” he told the Associated Press in 2011 from his office just a few blocks from his Houston home. “The good thing about it is there was so much less loss of human life than had been predicted and indeed than we might have feared.”

An avid outdoorsman who took Theodore Roosevelt as a model, Bush sought to safeguard the environment and signed the first improvements to the Clean Air Act in more than a decade. It was activism with a Republican cast, allowing polluters to buy others’ clean-air credits and giving industry flexibility on how to meet tougher goals on smog.

He also signed the landmark Americans with Disabilities Act to ban workplace discrimination against people with disabilities and require improved access to public places and transportation.

Bush failed to rein in the deficit, which had tripled to $3 trillion under Reagan and galloped ahead by as much as $300 billion a year under Bush, who put his finger on it in his inauguration speech: “We have more will than wallet.”

George Herbert Walker Bush was born June 12, 1924, in Milton, Massachusetts, into the New England elite, a world of prep schools, mansions and servants seemingly untouched by the Great Depression.

His father, Prescott Bush, the son of an Ohio steel magnate, made his fortune as an investment banker and later served 10 years as a senator from Connecticut.

George H.W. Bush enlisted in the Navy on his 18th birthday in 1942, right out of prep school. He returned home to marry his 19-year-old sweetheart, Barbara Pierce, daughter of the publisher of McCall’s magazine, in January 1945. They were the longest-married presidential couple in U.S. history. She died on April 17, 2018.

Bush approached old age with gusto, celebrating his 75th and 80th birthdays by skydiving over College Station, the home of his presidential library. He did it again on his 85th birthday in 2009, parachuting near his oceanfront home in Kennebunkport, Maine. He used his presidential library at Texas A&M University as a base for keeping active in civic life.

He became the patriarch of one of the nation’s most prominent political families. In addition to George W. becoming president, another son, Jeb, was elected Florida governor in 1998 and made an unsuccessful run for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

The other Bush children are sons Neil and Marvin and daughter Dorothy Bush LeBlond. Another daughter, Robin, died of leukemia in 1953, a few weeks before her fourth birthday.

Judge says Twin Peaks civil lawsuits can proceed
 Tommy Witherspoon  / 

A federal judge lifted a stay Friday in the civil rights lawsuits filed by more than 100 bikers arrested after the 2015 Twin Peaks shootout in Waco and said the lawsuits can proceed.

U.S. District Judge Alan Albright’s ruling during a 40-minute teleconference with attorneys in the cases does not include the two dozen bikers with pending criminal cases in McLennan County, only those with civil suits pending whose criminal cases have been dismissed or those who were never indicted.

The lawsuits allege McLennan County, city of Waco and state officials violated the plaintiffs’ civil rights by wrongfully arresting the bikers en masse and without probable cause after the May 2015 shootout at the former Twin Peaks restaurant that left nine bikers dead and 20 wounded. About 200 bikers were arrested and 155 initially were indicted on identical engaging in organized criminal activity cases.

The bulk of those criminal cases were dismissed after McLennan County District Attorney Abel Reyna was defeated by Barry Johnson in the March Republican primary.

The lawsuits were filed in Travis County, where Senior U.S. District Judge Sam Sparks had issued a stay on the civil proceedings while state and federal criminal cases against leaders of the Bandidos motorcycle group were being played out in Waco and San Antonio.

Sparks has since transferred the cases to Albright, who was sworn in as Waco’s new federal judge in September.

Sparks denied a motion last year from defendants in the case to transfer the cases from Austin to Waco. On Friday, Albright was asked by Mike Dixon, who represents the city of Waco in the Twin Peaks suits, if he would consider another motion asking that the cases be heard in Waco.

Albright said he will review Sparks’ ruling on the venue matter, but said his “gut reaction” is to allow the plaintiffs to have the cases heard where they chose to file the lawsuits, which is in Austin.

Federal courts in Waco and Austin are part of the sprawling federal Western District of Texas.

Albright’s lifting of the stay allows the plaintiffs to amend their petitions and for the defense to file challenges to the claims. After that stage, attorneys will seek discovery and schedule depositions.

Tom Brandt, who represents McLennan County and Reyna, told the judge he will be filing motions claiming defenses of qualified immunity and said deposing Reyna and others should be postponed until the judge rules on his motion to dismiss the cases.

Albright left it with the attorneys on both sides to work together and said he would get involved in discovery issues when the sides could not agree. He compared the complex case with multiple parties to “herding cats.”

“I am happy to be involved and happy to do what I can to keep the trains moving on time,” Albright said. “This is a very unwieldy case, and we need to keep the train on track.”

No trial date has been set for any of the lawsuits.

Besides McLennan County, Reyna and the city of Waco, other defendants include former Waco Police Chief Brent Stroman; Waco Detective Manuel Chavez; Waco police officials Robert Lanning, Jeffrey Rogers and Patrick Swanton; and Department of Public Safety officials Steven Schwartz and Christopher Frost.

One of the suits also names Peaktastic Beverage, which held Twin Peaks’ liquor license; Front Burner Restaurants, the former franchise holder; and Twin Restaurant Investment Co., the restaurant chain owner.

Jerry Larson  

Reece Zukerman, 11, and her mother Stacy look over colorful Christmas trees at The Giving Trees Festival for the Raising Wheels Foundation at Waco Wonderland.