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editor's pick
Nationwide blood shortage heightens need for local blood donations, drives
 Brooke Crum  / 

A nationwide blood shortage has led Carter BloodCare and the American Red Cross to issue an emergency call for blood donations to support Waco-area hospitals, with the Red Cross giving out $5 gift cards for each donation.

Both Carter and the Red Cross have less than a three-day supply of most blood types and less than a one-day supply of the universal Type O blood, according to a press release.

“There is a real risk that by Wednesday we will not be able to meet all the orders for transfusion. We have two days to avoid a crisis,” the Carter BloodCare press release states. “We are urgently calling on the community to please help avoid this crisis by donating. There is no other option because there is no substitute for blood.”

To encourage people to donate blood, the Red Cross will give a $5 Amazon gift card via email to all who come donate between now and Aug. 29, thanks to a $1 million donation from Amazon.

Carter spokeswoman Linda Goelzer said the agency is distributing more blood than it is collecting right now. Typically, Carter delivers between 650 and 1,000 units of blood a day, but right now it is collecting fewer than 650 units a day.

“We’re literally collecting only enough to barely keep blood on the shelf,” Goelzer said.

Baylor Scott & White Hillcrest Medical Center is the largest user of blood in the area, blood bank supervisor Kathy Patterson said. The center is a Level II trauma center and the only trauma center in Waco, according to the Texas Department of State Health Services.

“Because we’re a trauma hospital, we get the people from car wrecks, shootings, accidents, anything like that, which usually increase in the summertime,” Patterson said. “Our usage doesn’t decrease in the summer.”

She said the hospital has seen an increase in car wrecks in the past month, especially on Interstate 35.

“The need never goes away,” she said.

The hospital generally uses its blood supply for emergencies, such as these traumas, and not for elective surgeries, Patterson said. The blood is used for surgeries that cannot wait, as well as for the center’s oncology patients.

Carter BloodCare is the hospital’s blood supplier, as well as the primary supplier to more than 200 medical facilities in a 50-county region in north, central and east Texas.

At any given time, about 37% of the population is eligible to donate blood, but less than 4% donate, according to Carter BloodCare’s website. Additionally, most donors are over the age of 50.

Goelzer said the challenge of the aging donor population is to incite younger donors to action. The onus, she said, is on blood banks to “tap into the altruism of younger people.”

Blood transfusions are one of the most common inpatient hospital procedures in the country, according to the Red Cross. Blood is needed every 2 seconds to help accident and burn victims, heart surgery and organ transplant patients, and those receiving treatment for leukemia, cancer or sickle cell disease.

The blood donation process takes about an hour from start to finish, but the donation itself only takes about 8-10 minutes, according to the press release.

To donate blood, individuals need to bring a government-issued photo identification, although the Red Cross accepts blood donor cards or two other forms of identification. Individuals must be at least 17 years old or 16 with parental consent, weigh at least 110 pounds and be in generally good health. Carter BloodCare has parental consent forms on its website, at blood drives and at donor centers.

Several local blood drives are approaching, but donations can also be made at the local Carter BloodCare donor center, 206 Archway Drive in Woodway. It is open 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. Monday, Tuesday and Thursday; 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Wednesday; 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Friday; 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Saturday; and closed Sunday.

Blood drives will be held at the following times and locations:

  • 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Friday at GameStop at Texas Central Marketplace, 2448 W. Loop 340, Suite 29
  • 5:30 to 9 p.m. Saturday, City of Hewitt “Battle of the Badges” blood drive, Warren Park, 450 S. Old Temple Road
  • 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Aug. 8 at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints of Gatesville, 307 S. 26th St.
  • noon to 4 p.m. Aug. 10 at Meadow Park Townhomes, 509 N. Hewitt Drive.

editor's pick
Fire destroys 125-year-old Westphalia church building
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

WESTPHALIA — Hope Hoelscher held a handful of charred pages from a church hymnal Monday as she watched firefighters put out hot spots where a 125-year-old community landmark burned that morning.

Crews from several volunteer fire departments responded to the Church of the Visitation, 144 County Road 3000 in Falls County, shortly before 8 a.m. when smoke was seen coming from the building’s south tower.

“I just grabbed whatever I could salvage,” Hoelscher, 19, said. “Westphalia is a tiny, tiny town, and you can see, or could see, the church towers from our pasture. Now, they are gone.”

Bishop Joe S. Vásquez and Father James Misko of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Austin traveled to Westphalia, about 35 miles south of Waco, and saw the destruction along with parishioners.

“My heart was broken the moment I heard about it,” Vásquez said. “I had spoken to Father Edwin Kagoo, the pastor here, and he told me what was happening. By the time he reached me, there was very little left and I immediately knew I had to come out here and be with the people.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Firefighters spray water on hot spots around the destroyed Church of the Visitation building as community members and officials look on Monday morning.

Falls County Precinct 3 Constable and volunteer firefighter Jerry Loden said strong wind fueled the fire that quickly spread through the wooden structure.

“I got married here. I go here every week. This is home,” Loden said. “The Church of the Visitation has been here, in fact, we were going to celebrate in 2020 in May the 125th anniversary of the church building, and of course over those years there have been thousands and thousands of people who have come through those doors.’’

The church building, designed in the shape of a Latin cross, has two bell towers, one on each side of its center area. The towers were each covered with copper sheeting and topped with a 9-foot stainless steel cross, according to the church website.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Father Darrell Kostiha with the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Cyclone, looks through debris after the Church of the Visitation burned Monday morning. Kostiha performed a wedding at the church Saturday, he said.

All of Westphalia, an unincorporated community, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1996 as the Westphalia Rural Historic District, according to a post on the Texas State Historical Association website.

“The Church of the Visitation was completed in 1895 on 100 acres of land high on a hill, and its picturesque twin towers can be seen for miles,” the website states.

Lifelong parishioner Marvin Meyer, 61, was one of about 15 nearby residents who ran into the burning church in an effort to salvage what they could.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Westphalia resident Marvin Meyer looks over the smoldering remnants of the Church of the Visitation in Westphalia on Monday.

“We got some stuff out, but it wasn’t near enough,” Meyer said. “We just saw the smoke and everyone came. Everyone just tried to do what you could to save what you could, but it went so fast. In like 15 minutes it was over.”

The wooden church currently serves 244 families. Catherine Halfmann, 31, was married in the Church of Visitation in February 2011, with her engagement photos taken at the church.

“I live outside of Rosebud, but when I heard about it, all I thought was absolute devastation,” Halfmann said. “There were immediate tears, sadness, because my husband’s entire family goes to church out here, was married out here, baptisms out here.

“There were so many families out here that we know that makes this hard for this community. This entire community was built around this church.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Father Darrell Kostiha with the St. Joseph Catholic Church in Cyclone, looks through debris after the Church of the Visitation burned Monday morning. Kostiha performed a wedding at the church Saturday, he said.

In speaking with grieving church goers, Vásquez and Misko reminded members about the true meaning of the church. He said the community’s strength and the strength of the church rest in its parishioners.

“The church is the people,” Misko said. “The church building is the building in which people worship God.

“These are strong people who are close to each other, they care about each other, and although the building is destroyed, the memories are not erased. I know they will rebuild.”

The State Fire Marshal was called to investigate the fire. No injuries were reported, authorities said.

Church of the Visitation in Westphalia

Photos: Church of the Visitation in Westphalia

Police negotiating with possible suspect after man killed, child injured in shooting Monday
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

A 31-year-old man was killed and a boy under the age of 14 suffered life-threatening injuries in a shooting Monday evening in East Waco, Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton said.

Police responded to the shooting at about 4 p.m., near the intersection of Houston Street and Faulkner Lane. First responders took the man and boy, whose age was not immediately available, to a local hospital, Swanton said.

The 31-year-old man died from his injuries after arriving at the hospital, and the boy, who was shot in the face, was transferred to a children’s hospital outside the Waco area, he said.

At about 5:30 p.m., police arrived at Trendwood Apartments, 1700 Dallas Circle, where they believe the suspected shooter, a 17-year-old boy, was alone in an apartment belonging to his family, Swanton said.

Staff photo — Kristin Hoppa 

Waco police remain outside Trendwood Apartments, 1700 Dallas Circle, on Monday night as they negotiated with a shooting suspect in one of the apartments.

Officials made contact with the suspect and were trying to get him to come out. Three neighboring apartments were evacuated, he said.

Police remained at the apartment late Monday night.

After preliminary investigation, police believe a group of family members were gathering outside a house in the 900 block of Houston Street, when a 17-year-old boy approached them, Swanton said. For an unknown reason, the 17-year-old fired multiple times, hitting the 31-year-old and the child, he said.

“What I know thus far is that it was a large gathering of mostly family, or related family members, that turned violent and led to the 17-year-old shooter pulling out a handgun and firing rounds with multiple people around,” Swanton said. “Unfortunately, two were hit, one being the pre-teen and one being the (31-year-old).”

The boy remained in serious condition, he said.

Swanton said it is unknown if the 31-year-old man was targeted, but it appears the boy was hit inadvertently during the shooting.

Officers and Waco fire remained outside Trendwood after 9 p.m., trying to talk the 17-year-old out of the apartment.

Doubts emerge about Trump pick for US intelligence chief

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s pick for national intelligence director has been mayor of a small Texas city, a federal prosecutor and a member of Congress. But questions were already emerging Monday about whether those qualifications are adequate for the position as the nation confronts threats that include foreign election interference, North Korea’s nuclear ambitions and the risk of war with Iran.

Rep. John Ratcliffe’s dearth of relevant experience — a departure from the decades of intelligence and foreign policy bona fides of past position holders — may especially matter at a time when current and former government officials expect Russia to interfere in the 2020 presidential election just as it did in unprecedented fashion when Trump first ran.

“Ratcliffe comes to the job with the least national security experience and the most partisan political experience of any previous director of national intelligence,” said Mike Morell, a former acting CIA director who now hosts the “Intelligence Matters” podcast.

The director of national intelligence has oversight of the nation’s 17 intelligence agencies. If confirmed, Ratcliffe would be the principal intelligence adviser to Trump, who has appeared determined to surround himself with vocal protectors and defenders even in national security positions that haven’t historically been perceived as overtly partisan.

It is unclear, for instance, what experience he will bring in helping thwart foreign government efforts to interfere in American politics. Also unknown is whether skepticism he has voiced in Congress about special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation into ties between Russia and the Trump campaign will affect his response to any foreign influence or cyberattacks on campaigns.

Ratcliffe, who was among the most aggressive Republican questioners of Mueller at public hearings last week, would replace outgoing director Dan Coats at a time of broader reshuffling within the national security leadership structure.

The selection comes two months after Trump empowered another ally, Attorney General William Barr, to declassify intelligence collected by other agencies, including the CIA, as part of the Russia investigation. Ratcliffe has made clear his skepticism of that investigation and his belief that Trump was treated improperly by investigators, saying in a talk show appearance Sunday that it was time to move on from discussion of impeachment.

“It’s a moment when Donald Trump can deepen his personal stranglehold over the intelligence function and knock out any voices of dissent to his particular world view,” said Democratic Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland. “That’s a scary thing for the country.”

Coats, who will step down next month, was publicly steadfast about his conviction that Russia had interfered in the election even in the face of the president’s ambivalence. He appeared to scoff when told in an interview last year that Trump had invited Putin to Washington.

In his resignation letter, he cited as an accomplishment the appointment of an election security executive “to support the whole-of-government effort to address threats against our election.”

Tensions with Trump notwithstanding, Coats did bring to the job decades of Washington experience, including lengthy stints as an Indiana congressman and U.S. ambassador to Germany. His predecessor in the Obama administration, James Clapper, spent decades in the military and in intelligence, including as director of the Defense Intelligence Agency.

Ratcliffe does not have equivalent credentials, though his supporters are likely to point to his experience as a terrorism prosecutor and federal prosecutor, as well as his recent membership on the House intelligence committee, which he joined in January.

First elected to Congress in 2014, Ratcliffe’s experience as top federal prosecutor in east Texas gave him instant clout when Republicans ran the Judiciary panel. He was one of the main questioners when Republicans hauled in Justice Department officials to question them about whether they were biased against Trump in the early days of the FBI’s Russia probe.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House’s intelligence committee, tweeted that Ratcliffe “understands the intricacies of the intelligence community as well as civil liberties.”

It’s unclear whether concerns about his credentials will trip up the confirmation process. Confirmation takes a simple 51-vote majority, under new rules in the Senate, but that leaves slim room for error with Republicans holding a 53-seat majority.

Sen. Richard Burr, the top Republican on the Senate intelligence committee, said Monday that he would move swiftly to push the nomination through his Republican-led panel, even though the Senate’s top Democrat, Charles Schumer of New York, warned that it would be a big mistake “if Senate Republicans elevate such a partisan player to a position requiring intelligence expertise & non-partisanship.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell issued a statement Sunday that praised Coats but pointedly noted: “The U.S. intelligence community works best when it is led by professionals who protect its work from political or analytical bias and who deliver unvarnished hard truths to political leaders in both the executive and legislative branches. Very often the news these briefings bring is unpleasant, but it is essential that we be confronted with the facts. Dan Coats was such a leader.”

Even before Mueller testified, Trump had his eye on Ratcliffe, who had already established himself as an outspoken defender of the president and raised Trump-backed questions about the conduct of the intelligence community in the Russia probe. But two officials said his aggressive questioning of the former special counsel cemented the president’s view that he was the right person for the job.

On Wednesday, he told Mueller that while he accepted that Russia’s interference was “sweeping and systematic,” he was also concerned about how much intelligence came from an ex-British spy who received Democratic funding to investigate Trump.

He pointedly accused Mueller of departing from the special counsel’s own rules by writing “180 pages about decisions that weren’t reached, about potential crimes that were charged or decided.”

“I think it’s fair to say that the political partisanship he brought to the hearing ... which came across as undertaken on behalf of the president to denigrate the work of the special counsel raises considerable questions about whether he is fit to serve as the DNI,” said David Laufman, a former Justice Department national security official.

Andrew Harnik