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Staff photo — Jerry Larson 

Head coach Scott Drew speaks with Baylor’s Makai Mason during the second half.

AMR reaches full compliance with Waco response times
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

After a rocky start in its first two months, American Medical Response ambulances reached full compliance in November for appropriate response times in Waco and surrounding communities.

AMR officials met in the past week with members of the Emergency Medical Services Committee that oversees contractual requirements for Waco, Bellmead, Beverly Hills, Hewitt, Lacy Lakeview, Robinson, Woodway and unincorporated parts of the county. In the meeting, AMR Regional Director Robert Saunders said AMR has improved response time compliance and there are more available ambulances in the area to respond to emergency and transfer needs.

“With AMR being a large EMS company and having a history of coming into cities and doing a good job with a good turnaround, currently there are more ambulances on the streets in Waco and the cities in the county than there have ever been,” Saunders said. “We are supposed to be at a 90 percent compliance for the seven cities and we were at a 91.2 percent compliance, so it was a lot better.”

In August, AMR took over emergency medical services and transport services from ETMC/Paramedics Plus, which had served the area since 2003. Committee members voiced dissatisfaction in October for delayed response times and lack of available ambulances in many of the cities, prompting committee members to begin meeting monthly with AMR to ensure better EMS services.

“As far as I know, everyone seems happy,” Saunders said. “There is at least one representative from every single city in our meetings and everyone last meeting was extremely happy. We knew it was going to take some time, but when we put local dispatch in town, it is now up and running completely, we are fully staffed and it is going very smooth also.”

In a November compliance report, AMR reported response times were at nearly 86 percent, but the company did provide raw data to back up that figure, said Waco Fire Chief Bobby Tatum, who serves as chair of the Emergency Medical Services Committee said.

Local emergency responders had filed about 54 notices of dissatisfaction with AMR between Aug. 21 and Oct. 27, but Tatum said all committee members have seen a vast improvement. Depending on the day, 12 to 13 ambulances are on the streets during the day and six at night, marking a 30 percent increase since Aug. 1.

Ambulance response times in the cities are mandated to be less than nine minutes about 90 percent of the time for priority 1 calls, where immediate response is needed. For less dire priority 2 calls, an ambulance must arrive in less than 13 minutes about 90 percent of the time, according to AMR’s contract.

“We had some initial challenges in August,” Tatum said. “However in the past two months, their response times have improved. We’ve also implemented some methods to communicate with AMR to let them know of issues so they can address them before it gets to a concern.”

In the last month, no concerns were brought forward to the committee, Tatum said. Saunders said even during the two months of concerns, no patients were neglected or forgotten and all issues have been resolved.

“Since there are so many more trucks on the streets, I think we will continue to see greatly improved times,” Saunders said.

Rod Aydelotte  

Liberty Hill

LaVega’s head coach Don Hyde, center, along with DeMicco Chambliss (2) and John Richards, right, celebrate their state win over Liberty Hill.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte 

La Vega’s head coach Don Hyde holds up the state trophy after his Pirates defeated Liberty Hill for the Class 4A Division I state title.

Top 10 stories of 2018: Weather in Waco marked by extremes
 Carl Hoover  / 

Editor’s note: As we wrap up 2018, Tribune-Herald staff writers have been reflecting on Greater Waco’s biggest stories of this memorable year — good, bad and sometimes cringeworthy. Some stories brought a quick flash of national attention. Others will have a long, slow-burning impact on our community’s history. Most of these stories are still unfolding.

Count down with us over the next 10 days for a look back at our politics, education, criminal justice system, and starting today, our wacky weather.

It was the coldest of times. It was the hottest of times. It was Waco weather in 2018.

For those keeping score, the year saw Waco’s coldest temperature in 27 years: 8 degrees on Jan. 9. And it saw the hottest temperature ever: 114 degrees on July 23. Waco also chalked up its fourth driest summer on record, with only 1.24 inches of precipitation from June through August.

Two months later, the Waco area was seeing too much rain, with October logging 12.56 inches, triple the monthly average, to become the second wettest October on record and part of the fourth-wettest fall on record for September through November. The Brazos River covered Waco’s river trails as upstream dams kept the river from more serious flooding. Lake Waco went 20 feet over its normal elevation in late October, submerging pavilions and casting logs and debris far inland.

The year’s weather disrupted a number of outdoor events. Cold, windy weather on April 7 shortened the Heart of Texas Airshow and the Navy precision flying Blue Angels’ first show in Waco in more than 30 years.

October rains and winds also dampened several days of the Heart O’ Texas Fair and Rodeo, leading fair administrators to use rain insurance to offset losses.

Flooding and road damage from heavy rains caused cancellation of the Oct. 20 Skittles Waco Wild West 100 bike ride, and strong currents in the Brazos River following heavy rains upstream led Ironman 70.3 organizers to scratch the swimming leg of the Oct. 28 triathlon.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file  

Storm clouds greet motorists on Highway 6 near Lake Waco on Sept. 20.

October rains shrank the crowds for this year’s Silobration at Magnolia Market at the Silos, an event that in the past had drawn upwards of 20,000 visitors, while the threat of cold and rain caused the first cancellation of the Nov. 12 Waco Veterans Day parade.

While most McLennan County residents were mildly affected by this year’s weather extremes, the fickle weather hit local farmers in the pocketbook.

Figures produced by Shane McLellan of the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service in McLennan County indicate the drought halved this year’s corn production and per-acre yield in the county, halved the yield of hay and cotton planted and cut the pecan harvest by 10 to 15 percent. October’s rain reduced the amount of wheat acreage planted.

The year’s drought also affected local beekeepers, who reported lost hives and lower honey production.

The worst part of this year’s weather was its unpredictability, said Texas Farm Bureau spokesman Gary Joiner. Farmers can often compensate for weather effects through the crops planted and the amount of acreage devoted to them, but rains coming too early or too late in spring planting can throw off harvest schedules and yields.

Add fluctuating commodity prices this year, thanks in part to tariffs and trade negotiations, and more than a few farmers struggled to meet their projections, Joiner said.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte, file 

A flooding Bosque River in October displaced cattle near State Highway 56 at Valley Mills.

Local farms weren’t alone in suffering from this year’s weather. Cities like Waco found the swing in temperatures and heavy rains stressed streets and roads more than usual, resulting in a bumper crop of bumper-bouncing potholes.

“Our street department does an excellent job of trying to keep on top of this, but we have been inundated this year,” said Jim Reed, the city’s capital improvement manager. He noted that a new street repair program starting next month aims to seal cracks before they widen and let water seepage undercut the pavement. “It’s not the prettiest thing to do,” he said, but added that sealed streets are less likely to develop potholes.

What’s behind this seesaw weather?

“There’s no explanation for simultaneous high and low extremes, but it’s a bit of oversimplification to say weather is becoming more erratic,” said Texas State Climatologist John Nielsen-Gammon.

High temperatures and drought, however, are becoming more commonplace as average global temperatures rise, Nielsen-Gammon said.

“Overall, in recent years the record high extremes have outnumbered the record low extremes. As long as temperatures continue to rise, we’ll see more of that,” he said.

Also on the increase is the intensity of heavy rainstorms, illustrated by four of the wettest months in Texas history occurring over the last four years. The upcoming year may be a wet one, too, with the strong prospect of an El Niño climate pattern bringing in more precipitation than usual. The National Weather Service’s Climate Prediction Center estimates there’s a 90 percent chance of an El Niño forming this winter, although how strong that effect will be is uncertain.

What is certain is that no one will be able to change the weather before it happens. Says the Farm Bureau’s Joiner, “Weather is just one of those things you cannot escape.”

Shutdown due at midnight after lawmakers fail to reach deal

WASHINGTON — White House negotiators left the Capitol late Friday, and the House and Senate adjourned without a spending deal, ensuring a partial government shutdown at midnight with President Donald Trump demanding billions of dollars for his long-promised Mexican border wall.

Trump’s top envoys were straining to broker a last-minute compromise with Democrats and some of their own Republican Party’s lawmakers. But Vice President Mike Pence, incoming White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and senior adviser Jared Kushner departed after hours spent dashing back and forth, with no outward signs of an agreement.

“We’re going to have a shutdown,” Trump said via video message on Twitter less than three hours from the deadline. “There’s nothing we can do about that because we need the Democrats to give us their votes.”

Trump added, “The shutdown hopefully will not last long.”

The shutdown would disrupt government operations and leave hundreds of thousands of federal workers furloughed or forced to work without pay just days before Christmas. Senators passed legislation ensuring workers receive back pay; it will be sent to the House.

Mulvaney, who is currently the White House budget chief, sent out a memo around 10 p.m. instructing agencies “to execute plans for an orderly shutdown” when the funding lapses at midnight.

At a White House bill signing, Trump said the government was “totally prepared for a very long shutdown,” though hardly anyone thought a lengthy shutdown was likely.

The president tried to pin the blame on Democrats, even though just last week he said he would be “proud” to claim ownership of a shutdown in a fight for the wall. Campaigning for office two years ago, he had declared the wall would go up “so fast it will make your head spin.” He also promised Mexico would pay for it, which Mexico has said it will never do.

“This is our only chance that we’ll ever have, in our opinion, because of the world and the way it breaks out, to get great border security,” Trump said Friday at the White House. Democrats will take control of the House in January, and they oppose major funding for wall construction.

Looking for a way to claim victory, Trump said he would accept money for a “Steel Slat Barrier” with spikes on the top, which he said would be just as effective as a “wall” and “at the same time beautiful.”

Congress is planning to be back in session Saturday, but no votes were scheduled. Lawmakers were told they would be given 24-hour notice to return to Washington.

Sen. Richard Shelby, R-Ala., the chairman of the Appropriations Committee, left negotiations calling the chances of an accord by midnight “probably slim.”

Trump convened Republican senators for a morning meeting, but the lengthy back-and-forth did not appear to set a strategy for moving forward. He has demanded $5.7 billion.

“I was in an hour meeting on that and there was no conclusion,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell quickly set in motion a procedural vote on a House Republican package that would give Trump the money he wants for the wall, but it was not expected to pass.

To underscore the difficulty, that Senate vote to proceed was stuck in a long holding pattern as senators were being recalled to Washington. They had already approved a bipartisan package earlier this week that would continue existing border security funding, at $1.3 billion, but without new money for Trump’s wall. Many were home for the holidays.

After a marathon five-hour delay Pence cast a tie-breaking vote that loosened the logjam, kick-starting negotiations that senators hoped could produce a resolution.

“What this does is push this ahead to a negotiation,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn. He called it “the best we can do to keep from shutting down government — or if it does shut down, shutting down very briefly.”

Maryland Rep. Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 Democrat in the House, said it looked like a shutdown might not be avoidable, but top leaders were talking and he indicated any government disruption could be short.

Amid the impasse, Pence and the others were dispatched to the Capitol to meet with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who told them Trump’s demands for wall money would not pass the Senate, according to the senator’s spokesman.

Schumer told Pence, Mulvaney and Kushner that other offers to keep the government running with existing levels of border security funds remain on the table.

Pence and the others later walked across the Capitol to meet with House Speaker Paul Ryan.

The Senate was expected to reject the House measure because Democratic votes are needed and McConnell showed little interest in changing the rules — as Trump proposed — to allow a simple majority for passage.

One possibility was that the Senate might strip the border wall funds out of the package, pass it and send it back to the House. House lawmakers were told to remain in town on call.

Another idea was to revive an earlier bipartisan Senate bill with $1.6 billion for border security but not the wall.

“The biggest problem is, we just don’t know what the president will sign,” said Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz.

So restive were senators returning to Washington that McConnell and others sported lapel buttons declaring them members of the “Cranky Senate Coalition.”

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, the Senate’s No. 2 Republican, said he returned to the Lone Star state Thursday only to get back on an early Friday morning flight to Washington.

Democratic Sen. Brian Schatz flew all the way home to Hawaii, tweeting that he spent 17 minutes with his family before returning on the 11-hour flight.

“Wheels down IAD ready to vote no on this stupid wall,” Schatz tweeted Friday, referring to Dulles International Airport outside Washington.

Only a week ago, Trump insisted during a televised meeting at the White House he would take ownership of a shutdown over his border wall. “I will be the one to shut it down,” he asserted.

But with the hours dwindling before the midnight deadline, he sought to reframe the debate and blame Democrats for the impasse that threatens hundreds of thousands of federal workers at the end-of-the-year holidays.

The White House said Trump would not go to Florida on Friday as planned for the Christmas holiday if the government were shutting down.

At issue is funding for nine of 15 Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice, as well as national parks and forests.

The shutdown will not affect the Waco Mammoth National Monument or U.S. Army Corps of Engineers parks at Lake Waco, Lake Whitney and other area reservoirs. While other national park sites may be affected, the mammoth site is a partnership between the federal government and the city of Waco.

Many agencies, including the Pentagon and the departments of Veterans Affairs and Health and Human Services, are funded for the year and would continue to operate as usual. The U.S. Postal Service, delivering packages for the holiday season, would not be affected because it’s an independent agency.

Both the House and Senate packages would extend government funding through Feb. 8, all but guaranteeing another standoff once Democrats take control of the House in the New Year.

“There are a lot of us who want to avoid a shutdown,” said Kansas GOP Sen. Pat Roberts. “I’ve been through about five of them in my career. None of them have worked in terms of their intent.”


Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Kevin Freking, Mary Clare Jalonick and Jill Colvin in Washington contributed to this report.

Mattis resignation letter lays out challenges for successor

WASHINGTON — The extraordinary resignation letter that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis handed to a surprised President Donald Trump was not just a product of two years of accumulating frustration with an impulsive boss, but an outline of the strategic hazards facing the next Pentagon chief.

Mattis, who was quietly back at work Friday while stunned Pentagon staff soldiered on around him, implicitly warned in his letter to the president of the threat to the U.S. from allowing alliances to fray and of the risk that disrespecting allies will undermine U.S. credibility.

It was an outline of the challenges facing the nation and whoever takes over as defense secretary when Mattis leaves Feb. 28.

“As this Administration continues to implode, Secretary Mattis’ extraordinary resignation is a significant loss and a real indication that President Trump’s foreign policy agenda has failed and continues to spiral into chaos,” said Sen. Bob Menendez, the ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee.

Mattis announced on Thursday his plan to resign, a move prompted by the decision by the president to pull all of the approximately 2,000 U.S. troops from the fight against the Islamic State group in northeastern Syria.

Mattis also was dismayed by plans under consideration to cut the number of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and, as his letter made clear, did not see eye to eye with a president who has expressed disdain for NATO and doubts about keeping troops in Asia.

The person nominated to succeed Mattis will face a Senate likely to probe for evidence of new strategic direction in hotspots like Syria, Afghanistan and the Korean peninsula.

In making clear that he could no longer tolerate Trump’s approach to American foreign policy, Mattis appeared to fashion a resignation letter that not only expressed his reasons for leaving but also sounded an alarm. He implicitly criticized the president’s unwillingness to stand up to Russia or take a stronger stance against Chinese assertiveness.

“I believe we must be resolute and unambiguous in our approach to those countries whose strategic interests are increasingly in tension with ours,” Mattis wrote. “It is clear that China and Russia, for example, want to shape a world consistent with their authoritative model ... to promote their own interests at the expense of their neighbors, America and our allies.”

Nurturing and extending U.S. alliances was a pillar of Mattis’ approach to his job, which means he was at odds with Trump on that score from the earliest months of his tenure.

“While the U.S. remains the indispensable nation in the free world, we cannot protect our interests or serve that role effectively without maintaining strong alliances and showing respect to those allies,” Mattis wrote.

William Cohen, a former defense secretary and long-time friend of Mattis, put a finer point on this Mattis assertion by saying in response to his resignation, “He cannot be expected to stand behind a president who disrespects our allies and ingratiates himself to our adversaries.”

In addition to the frayed state of U.S. relations with NATO, Mattis’ successor also is likely to face other hazards hinted at in his resignation letter. These include preserving and rationalizing a strategy for ensuring a lasting defeat of the Islamic State group by the dozens of nations that had backed the U.S. after it entered Syria in 2014.

German officials expressed polite irritation that Washington had not consulted them on the Trump decision to pull out of Syria.

“As an ally and member of the anti-IS coalition we would have considered prior consultation by the U.S. government about the withdrawal of U.S. troops helpful,” government spokeswoman Ulrike Demmer said.

The Pentagon was still reeling Friday from the news that Mattis was leaving.

Inside what is normally a very orderly building, military members who are trained to take orders, salute and move ahead were stunned and a bit shaken.

Military missions in Syria and Afghanistan that just a week ago seemed clear and mapped out, were now thrown into chaos. Deep in the bowels of the Pentagon, planners scrambled to pull together a troop withdrawal strategy for Syria that the White House would accept, all while knowing that their boss a few floors above them quit over that order.

Mattis, 68, is the first Pentagon chief to resign in protest over a president’s foreign policy in many decades. In fact, there may be no historical equivalent to the circumstances of Mattis’ departure. The last defense secretary to resign was Chuck Hagel in November 2014, and although he had expressed differences with President Barack Obama over Syria policy, Hagel was essentially pushed out by an administration that viewed him as ineffective.

Robert McNamara, who served as defense secretary for seven years over two Democratic administrations, left the Pentagon in February 1968, three months after President Lyndon Johnson announced McNamara was resigning to become president of the World Bank. McNamara differed with Johnson and the military over Vietnam war policy amid an escalating anti-war movement, but his departure was not an explicit rejection of Johnson’s policies.