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editor's pick
TxDOT to close ramps between Business 77, I-35 ahead of demolition
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 

Commuters should keep their eyes peeled at the interchange of U.S. Business 77 and Interstate 35 next Monday.

The Texas Department of Transportation will close the elevated direct ramps between Business 77 and I-35, setting the stage for their eventual demolition as part of the ongoing I-35 widening project. Declining use of Business 77, however, means officials expect fallout from this aspect of the project to be minimal.

By Monday, drivers will need to use ground-level intersections to continue southbound from Business 77 onto I-35 or northbound from I-35 onto Business 77, also called New Dallas Highway.

The ramps will be closed to the public by 7 a.m. Monday. TxDOT area engineer Clayton Zacha said crews will start with the northbound ramp to Business 77 on Sunday night, then continue with the southbound ramp to I-35 Monday night. Demolition will follow, though an exact date is not available.

“35 will be un-impacted,” Zacha said. “But traffic on the frontage roads of Business 77 will be impacted.”

The plan is to refrain from working on the ramps during the day unless it becomes necessary, he said.

“A portion of the bridges can be done during the day, but we’ll only do lane closures during the night,” Zacha said. “Right now, we’re working through the details.”

Vehicles traveling northbound will have to exit at 337A, one stop earlier than before, come to a stop sign, then make a left under I-35 to continue onto Business 77. Southbound traffic will exit one stop early as well, at an exit labeled I-35 North, then come to a stop sign, and turn south.

TxDOT is urging drivers to watch carefully for stop signs, as the interchange is comprised of multiple intersections that likely will be used by people unfamiliar with the area because of the construction.

“There are several crossings very close together in this interchange, and drivers should be prepared for unexpected movements by others unfamiliar with the area,” a TxDOT press release states.

TxDOT district engineer Stan Swiatek said the ramps need to come down becasue they stand in the way of temporary detours construction crews will eventually have to build to accommodate traffic as the project continues.

“It’s kind of a temporary work-around,” Swiatek said. “That whole interchange is going to be very much simplified. It’s going to be totally different. Right now, it’s just an intermediate step.”

Highway 77 was once considered a main highway in Waco, but traffic flow steadily decreased after I-35’s completion in 1972. In 2016, the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization conducted a study on the Business 77 corridor, weighing whether the highway could be restructured by reducing the number of lanes to lower maintenance costs.

Lacy Lakeview City Manager Keith Bond said he does not think any local uptick in traffic or delays related to the ramps’ removal will be significant.

“I think it’s something that needed to be done,” Bond said. “That’s going to be so improved up there once it’s done. It’ll be great.”

Photo gallery: Interstate widening project

Interstate 35 widening project through Waco: May 2019

editor's pick
MCC-Tarleton student preaches, exemplifies resilience in earning degree
 Carl Hoover  / 

Elizabeth Bibus knows many of her fellow Tarleton State University/McLennan Community College graduates who she will address in her commencement speech have overcome challenges of broken families, violence, drugs and poverty to earn their degree.

What they may not know is how many of those barriers the 32-year-old Waco mother of five has overcome to get hers, with a master’s degree next in her sights.

Bibus, who is graduating summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in social work, will speak to more than 200 graduates in the College of Health Sciences and Human Services in Wisdom Gym, one of seven commencement ceremonies held at Tarleton’s Stephenville campus.

What she will share with her audience, outside of thanks for everyone who helped her along the way, is the importance of resilience, not only in finishing one’s education, but in living life.

“Never let your past or circumstances impede you. Trauma and adversity are not to be feared, but seen as a challenge,” she said in a recent interview at MCC. “Never let a fear of failure put borders around your belief in what you are capable of doing. And, ironic as it sounds, embrace insanity: Those crazy enough to make change in this world often do.”

Then an aside, “I’m really nervous about speaking,” she said.

Backing up her speech is a life loaded with talking points, starting with her birth in Austin’s Seton Hospital weighing slightly more than 4 pounds. The childhood that followed was often a chaotic blur. Both her parents struggled with drug addiction and eventually separated. A grandmother cared for Bibus and her sister Dana, but also had an alcohol problem.

Poverty kept them in public housing, and things did not improve when her mother moved them to Virginia to try and reconcile with family. Bibus did see her mother become sober: an Alcoholics Anonymous program led to her conversion to Christianity and a changed life.

“That let me know that true change, 180 degree change, is possible,” she said.

Her mom’s second husband went to prison, and the teenager, on the other hand, was in and out of juvenile court, dropping out of school by ninth grade. At 17, she was pregnant.

“You’re partying one day and ‘Ten Things To Expect While You’re Expecting’ the next,” she said.

Bibus ended up in the Liberty Godparent Home for single pregnant young women in Lynchburg, Virginia, — “an awesome experience” — until she had her son. Her mom later decided to move her daughters to Hubbard, northeast of Waco, when Bibus’ first child was a year old and she had a second on the way.

Six months after relocating to Texas, her mother was diagnosed with liver cancer. Four months after that, she was dead.

At 19, Bibus was a mother of three with custody of her teenage sister, living in Waco’s Villages Apartments, the only public housing available to her. Her father, long out of the picture, had been clean and sober for five years, earned an engineering degree and was working as a NASA subcontractor when he relapsed back into drugs. He moved in with Bibus’ family, his paycheck helping them move out of the Villages, but he later died, also from cancer.

In 2009, the shifting sands of her life started to find stability when she met, then married her husband, Maycol Arevalo, who had moved to Waco from Arizona. They had a child together, and his job enabled Bibus stay at home with their children, even if living on a shoestring.

Tattooed on Bibus’ right arm is the phrase “The rest will fall into place.” On his arm is its completion, she said, “As long as we have each other.”

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Tarleton State University-MCC graduate Elizabeth Bibus, who overcame a family history of drugs and poverty, will speak during a Tarleton commencement ceremony Friday in Stephenville.

A scare over Arevalo’s undocumented immigration status found them rescued by University of Texas at Austin law students working pro bono. He is now on a hardship work visa, she said. The incident also prompted Bibus to start thinking about how she could change things by going to college.

“Life is unfair, but some things don’t have to be,” she said.

And despite people in her life being damaged by drugs, violence and poverty, she knew firsthand they still were capable of love and change.

MCC’s University Center offered the prospect of a Tarleton State University social work degree. Surprised that she passed the entrance exam, she started her studies in 2014, with Arevalo working odd hours and different shifts to cover her time at class, she said. In her second semester came her latest, unexpected challenge: pregnancy with a fifth child.

Bibus persevered and five years later has earned a social work degree without leaving Waco. She plans on finishing a master’s of social work at Tarleton in the next year. Her and Arevalo’s children — Devin, 14, Dylan, 13, Kylie, 11, Maycol, 10 and Isabella, 4 — are doing well at Tennyson Middle School’s Atlas Academy, Indian Spring Middle School and Dean Highland Elementary School.

That balance of handling school work and family impressed Susan Copeland, director of the nonprofit RSVP Volunteer Program that connects volunteers, many of whom are senior adults, with nonprofits. Bibus’ internship with RSVP, part of her social work degree requirements, saw her organize a dental clinic for at-risk kids at Waco Charter School.

“She was adamant about helping kids,” Copeland said.

Bibus not only secured care for students and their siblings, but parents as well, all planned within a semesterlong internship.

“It was one of the best projects we’ve ever seen. … She pulled off a pretty big one,” Copeland said, adding with a laugh, “I’m pretty sure she doesn’t sleep.”

Armed with a social work degree and with a master’s in sight, Bibus wants to help others through change.

“My dream job is macro social work: creating legislation, writing policy, maybe politics,” she said. “I’d like to focus on rebuilding the public education system.”

People in poverty are no less people despite their circumstances, she said.

“Money can’t buy happiness, but it can buy comfort and free up your mind from stress,” Bibus said.

Her advice to her own children mirrors her hard-won lessons on what is valuable in life.

“I want them to grow up with a sense of individuality,” she said. “Take nothing for granted, find their passion — and find a way to use them for others.”

Even if public speaking makes her nervous.

Veteran forecaster Garrett announces retirement
 Mike Copeland  / 

KWTX-TV, Channel 10’s Rusty Garrett has announced his long-range forecast, and it calls for him to retire after the early evening newscast June 28.

The beloved weatherman is wrapping up a 30-year career in Waco, having signed his last contract with the station last summer “after a lot of prayer and a lot of thought.” Garrett, 63, was speaking by phone from the front porch of his home near the Falls County community of Mooreville.

He was watching the rain fall and pondering the day ahead as severe weather threatened, as it so often does in Central Texas during the spring.

“There are at least 16 counties we are responsible for, and we monitor storms until they pass through,” Garrett said. “Nights can be very long, taking us well into the wee morning hours.”

He said he recalls the earlier days of atmospheric science when forecasters used wall maps and L- or H-shaped magnets to discuss cold fronts and high or low pressure systems.

Technology has changed, but not Garrett’s love for the profession. The man who grew up idolizing Channel 5’s Harold Taft, the Fort Worth legend some dubbed the world’s greatest weatherman, thought the opportune time had arrived to “enjoy some freedom.” He said his health is good and jokingly added he did not want to slip into senility while still on the air.

He said he will miss his “family” at KWTX-TV, and the interaction with viewers who have embraced him and shown their love and acceptance “despite my missing more forecasts than I would like to admit.”

Some view weather forecasting as a perfect science, but it most definitely is not, even with exciting technological advancements and computer-enhanced tracking, Garrett said.

“It can get humorous, such as when the little old ladies confront me in the grocery store, their fingers wagging, reminding me that I said Saturday was going to be a beautiful day, but it rained on their garage sale,” Garrett said.

The Victoria native became only the fourth chief forecaster in KWTX’s 64-year TV broadcasting history when he was hired in 1989 to follow Roy Cook, a 19-year veteran at the longtime CBS affiliate. The station then was owned by M.N. “Buddy” Bostick, and Garrett accepted an invitation to meet with former station manager Ray Deaver and then-KWTX chief executive Tom Pears to talk about a vacancy. The rendezvous took place at Leo’s Town Cafe, halfway between Waco and Lufkin, where Garrett was employed.

The job offer and the Waco market were head-turners, he said.

“All I ever asked was that they take care of me financially,” Garrett said. “I thought, ‘Waco is an hour-and-a-half from Austin and an hour-and-a-half from Dallas.’ That was a pretty big deal to me. I really had no aspirations to leave Waco, to move into a larger market. I was just thrilled to move to a town that had a 24-hour H-E-B.”

The rest, as Garrett said, is history. He became the forecasting face for Waco’s dominant television station. He evolved into the Marine Toys for Tots point person, kindly pestering viewers to generously fill the studio with new or gently used items for the less fortunate. He plugged canned food drives, and with wife Ann hosted exotic cruises and trips sponsored by an international travel company, something he hopes to continue into retirement.

“Holiday Vacations out of Wisconsin, working through station management, asked my wife and I to put together these trips twice a year, and they didn’t have to twist my arm,” he said. “We’ve been all over the world since 2009.”

Then there is “Project Tornado,” Garrett’s efforts to bring life-saving information to students in classrooms across Central Texas.

Garrett said he broke his parents’ hearts when, as a young man, he moved from Victoria to Corpus Christi to take a radio DJ position. His father worked 34 years for Southwestern Bell and had something similar in mind for Rusty.

“They worried about me every day,” Garrett said. “Dad was always saying, ‘Hey, I know someone there with the phone company, if you’re interested.’ They knew I was not making much money, but I loved what I was doing, stuck with the radio station.”

His love for broadcasting and fascination with weather later took him to TV stints in Lufkin, Longview and Tyler.

In addition to his admiration for the work of KXAS-TV’s Harold Taft, longtime Channel 8 weatherman Troy Dungan, a Dallas-Fort Worth fixture known for his ever-changing bow ties, became a friend and mentor.

“I watched him and learned so much about presentation, style, never realizing I would ever get to meet him,” Garrett said. “We’ve become close friends and keep in touch on a regular basis. I also loved Tom Skilling, with WGN in Chicago.”

Locally, he has been blessed to have colleagues such as Gordon Collier and Julie Hays, among others, “whom I love to pieces,” he said.

He said the weather team at KWTX-TV has become a station strength, making his decision to leave a little easier. He said KWTX plans soon to announce his full-time replacement, and he chose not to speculate ahead of time.

Collier has known Garrett since both joined KWTX-TV in 1989, “when he had red hair and I had a full head of hair,” Collier said with a laugh.

“What makes Rusty such an icon in this business and in this market is he’s real,” Collier said. “What you see is what you get. He doesn’t have to pretend to care about the people of Central Texas because he does. He’s transparent in everything he does. … Rusty is passionate about everything he does, be it preparing for a weather forecast or working with Food for Families, or putting presents under the Christmas tree. It’s all or nothing with him.”

An announcement on the KWTX website states Garrett is an active Mason, and his son, Will, is a U.S. Air Force staff sergeant.

Garrett said he will fill in occasionally at the station when vacations trim the weather staff, but he looks forward to not wearing a suit every day.

“In my life, he will go down as one of the finest men I’ve ever known,” Collier said. “Not only is he the backbone of our on-air news team and the most recognized KWTX personality, he’s also a pillar in the community. … If I ever grow up, I want to be just like Rusty Garrett.”

editor's pick
4 Mart police officers resign in protest, leaving only chief
 Kristin Hoppa  / 

Four of Mart’s five police officers resigned this week, citing dissatisfaction with pay and city leadership, leaving the police chief as the only city official to keep the peace in a town of 2,400 residents.

“I am sad the officers chose to put their differences in their resignation letters rather than going through the formal process and letting the city address their concerns,” City Manager Kevin Schaffer said. “We have not been made aware of their complaints or grievances until they resigned and we did not have a chance to address them, but we are sad they feel like this was their only option.”

Police Chief Paul Cardenas declined to comment for this story. Three of the resignations take effect May 19, and the other takes effect May 16, according to the officers’ resignation letters.

Schaffer said the resignations were unexpected, and city officials plan to meet with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office on Monday to discuss police coverage in the town.

Mayor Len Williams said he will also reach out to notify surrounding law enforcement agencies of the situation. Schaffer said calls will be made to the Limestone County Sheriff’s Office and Riesel Police Department, among others, to ensure Mart residents are protected.

“The safety of Mart citizens is of the upmost importance to the city of Mart,” Schaffer said. “This is not going to deter us.”

The four officers are all relatively new to Mart, with Robert Pollard serving three years, Jaycee Steiner serving two, her husband Stephen Steiner serving one and Anthony Seng serving about four weeks. They cited displeasure with payroll issues and ongoing issues involving the city council and city manager.

The resignation letters cited a payroll error in which officers were inadvertently paid double instead of time-and-a-half. Officers were notified of the error in April, but Schaffer said he acknowledged the mistake was his error and would recommend that the city absorb the cost.

But officers stated in their letters that this was not the first time payroll errors had been made and that officers lost compensation time to make up for the errors.

Jaycee Steiner’s letter also states she feels undervalued as a city employee, describing a lack of trust between residents and city officials after an inquiry into potential criminal conduct by officials was launched last month.

“Not only am I resigning because I am disheartened with the unethical, immoral and criminal acts of the city officials, but I also have proof that I am being targeted in retaliation of the ongoing criminal investigation into criminal mischief that Public Works Director Stephen Smith and some of the other city officials are suspects in,” Jaycee Steiner’s letter states.

In an email released to the Tribune-Herald last month, Cardenas stated he was sending another agency information so it could look into the potentially falsified city wastewater logs, a possible social media conspiracy against a candidate for city office, possible improper use of city equipment and other misconduct. He said the Texas Rangers could investigate. It was unclear whether the referral had been made Thursday.

A former Mart City Council candidate has also sued the Save Our City group and served Williams, claiming the group is acting as a de facto extension of the city government. The candidate, Kollin Behrghundi, lost in Saturday’s election. His suit claims the political group violated his constitutional rights by opposing his candidacy and harmed his business.

Stephen Steiner wrote in his resignation letter that the mayor requested police open a terroristic threat investigation based on a social media post by John Riley, a longtime Mart resident. Riley and Williams had also gotten into a heated conversation last month inside Behrghundi’s Mart business. Williams received a trespass warning barring him from returning to the business, but no criminal charges were pursued.

The officer wrote in his letter that he told Williams he saw no criminal violation in the post that Williams was concerned with. However, Williams later emailed the officer and stated he wanted Riley arrested, Steiner wrote.

“There is no criminal charge against Mr. Riley,” Stephen Steiner’s letter states. “I believe this behavior by Mayor Len Williams to be unprofessional and an abuse of his power.”

Williams said because he felt threatened, he acted under the advice of his attorney and took his concerns to the police department. He said he never requested Riley be arrested and that he has since sat down with Riley and resolved the issue.

In his letter, Seng wrote that he was resigning to seek employment elsewhere and that the city administration “played a big role in my decision to resign.”

“With little to no support from the city council to back the police department, I believe they have forced our veteran officers out,” he wrote in part. “Without them here to continue training me, I feel as if this is a potential risk to my safety. The city council took for granted the peace officers and what they offer the citizens of Mart. I believe the citizens will ultimately suffer due to the neglectful action of the city officials.”

City Attorney Charles Buenger said he was unaware of the resignation letters, but said the council will likely discuss the resignations Monday. Schaffer said the city will decide how to move forward after consulting with the McLennan County Sheriff’s Office.

Resignation letters

Mart City Council candidate sues local political group

A candidate in the May 4 Mart City Council election has sued a group organized on Facebook that he claims is acting as a de facto extension of the city and violating his constitutional rights by opposing his candidacy and harming his business.

Staff photo — Rod Aydelotte  

Midway’s Joshua Parrish practices his shot put throw. The junior will compete in the shot put and the 100-meter dash at the UIL state meet on Friday.