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Toll 49 directors launch pilot plan to try to curb U-turn wrecks

HENDERSON — Directors for East Texas’ only toll road say they hope adding a safety feature will curb traffic violations blamed in past serious wrecks.

The Northeast Texas Regional Mobility Authority also purchased message boards to alert drivers on Toll 49, a toll road that serves mostly Smith County drivers but also those from Gregg and surrounding counties.

Under a pilot study approved unanimously by NETRMA directors, 28-inch-tall plastic sticks will be installed as median delineators on two locations of Toll 49 — a 1,000-foot section north of Interstate 20 and a 0.75-mile section south of I-20 and north of Texas 64.

Managers will monitor how well the sticks work on the road, the maintenance costs and whether they can prevent U-turn wrecks, RMA Project Director Everett Owen said.

“It’s not a permanent barrier,” Owen said, “but it’s the next step above rumble strips.”

Each of the sticks will be about 6 feet apart. Staff said the sticks could deter drivers crossing oncoming traffic and also U-turns from Toll 49 drivers who miss the exit onto I-20 and try to turn around by crossing oncoming traffic.

A two-vehicle crash in May that killed three people involved a driver who was traveling south on the road “for an undetermined reason and went into the northbound lane of traffic,” according to a Tyler Morning Telegraph report.

In June, NETRMA Executive Director Chris Miller said despite criticism painting Toll 49 as dangerous, a wave of serious and fatal wrecks on the road was determined to have been caused by distracted or inebriated driving, inclement weather or other outside factors.

Installation of the sticks is expected to cost about $40,000.

The agency chose the 28-inch-tall delineators rather than 48-inch-tall sticks to limit damage to vehicles that might run over them, staff said.

“It’s a great idea,” NETRMA board member Dave Spurrier of Longview said. “It’s just another idea the board is making to improve safety.”

Passing isn’t allowed on any section of Toll 49 except in designated areas.

The board also approved spending $96,016 to buy six digital message boards.

Miller said the boards can alert drivers about upcoming construction zones or relay other messages, including advising drivers to buy a toll tag.

In other business, the board heard results from a recent analysis of transponder and pay-by-mail customers of the RMA during a presentation from Craig Bettmann, senior vice president for the Cogensia firm.

Transponders, or drivers who use a TxTag, Toll Tag or other device to pay for using toll roads, make up two-thirds of all two-axle vehicles on Toll 49, while the remaining one-third are drivers who use the road and pay their toll later by mail.

Most transactions on Toll 49 in the past 12 months were by Smith County users — 37,706 transponders and 42,816 pay-by-mail, Bettmann said.

Gregg County had the second-most pay-by-mail users, with 7,280 transactions. It also has 2,137 transponder transactions in the past year, Bettmann said.

Longview-area schools welcome back students

Campuses are filling up this week as Longview-area schools welcome students back for the 2019-20 year.

Spring Hill ISD, Hallsville ISD, Kilgore ISD, Gilmer ISD, Tatum ISD and Christian Heritage Classical School begin classes today. Students at St. Mary’s Catholic School in Longview returned Tuesday.

Here is a look at when other area districts start classes:

■ Thursday: White Oak ISD, Gladewater ISD, Union Grove ISD and Trinity School of Texas in Longview

■ Monday: Longview ISD and Sabine ISD

■ Aug. 21: Pine Tree ISD

■ Aug. 22: Longview Christian School

At Longview Poverty Conference, 'Chef' Jeff shares steps that led him to success

Growing up in South Central Los Angeles, Jeff Henderson’s influences were a mother who trafficked her body to make the rent and drug dealers he mimicked when he began his own street business in high school.

A child on the highway to prison, the future celebrity chef nevertheless was endowed with God-given gifts that he was beginning to unwrap — relationship building, a sense of urgency and a desire for something better.

Henderson, 55 — known as “Chef” — shared his story Tuesday with area educators to open the Junior League of Longview’s Poverty Conference at the Belcher Center.

In addition to hearing speakers, teachers from Longview, Pine Tree, Spring Hill and New Diana ISDs and the Asbury House Child Enrichment Center left with the descriptions and contact information for scores of local resources that focus on helping children realize better lives.

The annual one-day conference highlights nationally recognized keynote speakers whose work and expertise reflect issues of the local community, according to the Junior League. The event brings “community partners, educators, professionals and citizens together to create common conversation, strategies and vision regarding poverty.”

The author and host of the Food Network’s “Flip My Food with Chef Jeff,” Henderson told an audience reaching to the third balcony of the Belcher Center that federal prison had proved to be a blessing for him when he arrived in 1988.

Unlike state prison systems, federal lockups are populated by white-collar inmates — CEOs, stockbrokers, people whose lifestyles were alien to Henderson. The common room television played “60 Minutes” and “20/20,” he said.

“They were very polished,” Henderson said, describing his inspiration to pass the GED and to alter his walking and speaking patterns. “People embrace change when they see themselves in a different life.”

He said he absorbed a crash course in “the hidden rules of the middle class.”

“It’s the teaching of success,” he said. “It’s about sharing, it’s about building relationships. People judge you on how you sit in a chair. People judge you on how you walk, how you talk. People judge you on how you order off a menu.”

Henderson lost his prison-assigned job, which turned out to be another blessing when he was transferred to the kitchen.

That’s where he discovered his gift, and where his other gifts went into high gear.

“I started helping cooks out,” he said. “And I got really good. ... In poverty, you don’t know about a gift because it’s never exposed. ... Aha! This is how people dream and become successful is through exposure. Exposure is so important for people in poverty. I began to understand the culture of the middle class. For the first time, a black man put his hand on my shoulder and called me ‘son.’ He told me I have potential.”

The inmate studied the chefs in the kitchen as he washed dishes and cleaned the floors. By the time he left the lockup, after nearly a decade behind bars, he’d become the first black executive chef running the prison’s kitchen, with its $30 million annual budget.

That opened doors, as did his first book, “Cooked,” which caught the eye of Oprah Winfrey (Henderson said Will Smith recently called him to discuss turning the autobiography into a feature film).

Henderson also landed executive chef positions at Cafe Bellagio, in the Las Vegas hotel of that name, and at Caesar’s Palace just a few paces down the Vegas Strip.

Henderson opened his talk by sharing childhood fantasies.

“I dreamed about having a double-door refrigerator,” he said, describing delicious contents. “I dreamed about having a father in the house. I dreamed of living on streets free of gunfire and violence.”

And he dreamed of a house on a hill, with a basketball goal in the driveway and a white picket fence.

“School didn’t work for me, because nobody ever told me why I had to go to school,” he said. “No one ever connected education to the house with the white picket fence on the hill.”

Sgt. 1st Class Henry Jackson, who teaches a mentoring class at Foster Middle School, was among dozens lining up after Henderson’s talk to get an autograph on the chef’s latest of four books, “If You Can See It, You Can Be It.”

“A lot of the things that Chef Jeff talked about, I can implement into the classroom,” Jackson said. “He’s given me an idea of how to address these kids and how to give them a vision.”

Melissa Rayworth/AP Photo  

Avocado toast, banana and a glass of milk make up a fast but nutritious school-morning breakfast, and parents can add a hard-boiled egg for extra protein.

Blood supply no longer at critical level in Longview area

The blood shortage in East Texas is no longer at a critical stage, a representative of the blood bank that serves the area said Tuesday.

The “blood crisis has officially ended, due to significant community response,” said Linda Goelzer, director of public relations for the agency that collects blood from donors and distributes it to hospitals in the region. “The blood supply is at preferred levels.”

Late last month, Carter BloodCare said supplies of all blood types were so low that hospitals in Longview and nearby cities were put on notice that some elective surgeries might have to be postponed until levels increased.

The blood center made an appeal for donations. Since then, the number of donors, which traditionally dips in the summer, increased.

This past week Carter BloodCare meet its weekly donor goal.

“Carter BloodCare wants to see at least 1,000 donors a day, in order to maintain preferred levels in the community blood supply, year-round,” Goelzer said in a statement. “This consistency ensures product is available for local hospital patients, and Carter BloodCare has enough product to be prepared in case of an emergency, like the recent El Paso tragedy.”

On Aug. 3, a gunman opened fire at an El Paso retail center, killing 22 people and wounding 24. The tragedy showed the need to have a large supply of blood available. The number of donors in East Texas increased in the days after the shooting, she said.

Donations are needed constantly to maintain blood levels.

“While the crisis has come to an end, a drastic drop in donations could set Carter BloodCare back to below preferred levels. The need for blood is truly ongoing,” she said.

For information on donor eligibility and to make an appointment, call (903) 663-2650 in Longview or toll free (800) 366-2834 or go to .

Donations can be made at Carter’s office at 3080 N. Eastman Road, Suite 112, in Longview. Operating hours are 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Mondays, Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Fridays; 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Thursdays; and 9:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. Saturdays.