A1 A1
Longview police spokeswoman Kristie Brian to retire Feb. 21

In one week, Kristie Brian will retire from her full-time job at Longview Police Department to open an insurance office in Winnsboro.

She might still be seen in badge and uniform around Longview as a reserve officer, but she will no longer be the department’s spokeswoman.

After 16 years in law enforcement, as a patrol officer, police area representative and a public information officer for Longview Police Department, Brian is retiring Feb. 21.

She often has been the face of the department and the city during significant moments over the past decade, from homicides to officer-involved shootings.

She also has been of service outside the microphone or camera, serving as instructor for Longview Teen Court, the Women’s Safety or Explorer programs, along with on the Gregg County Adult Protective Services board, among others.

Brian has been a familiar face of security at a number of events held at Maude Cobb Convention and Activity Center, Heritage Plaza or elsewhere in the city. She also was one of the original members of the East Texas Human Trafficking Team that formed under guidance from the Zonta Club and the city’s Partners in Prevention division.

She said she plans to move to Winnsboro, where she will open a Farmers Insurance office. But from time to time, Brian intends to return to Longview as a reserve officer, she said.

“I appreciate all of the citizens and the community that put so much faith into the department over the years,” she said, “and all of the friendships.”

Brian joined the department 16 years ago as a patrol officer.

After nearly three years, she received the police area representative assignment for Beat 40, which includes East Marshall Avenue. She called it her favorite assignment.

“I loved Beat 40 and the East (U.S.) 80 area,” she said, adding that she believes the area has seen improvement over the years.

“There’s been a lot of focus on East 80 through Mayor (Andy) Mack’s Go-Giver Gala this year focused on East 80 and the Teague Park area,” she said. “There’s been a lot done and motels torn down. I think it’s come a long way. You still see the ladies out there walking sometimes and the people hanging out, but I just don’t think it’s as much as it used to be.”

In 2010, former Longview police Chief J.B. McCaleb asked Brian to consider becoming the department’s public information officer. She had early reluctance because of her desire to remain on Beat 40, but after some thought, she applied for and later accepted the job.

“For me at the department, (being a PAR officer) is probably one of the best jobs, because you get to be in the community. You get to talk to people, whether good or bad. You can go out and work traffic, or you can do a crime watch group. That’s how you meet the most people, I think, is being in a PAR unit,” she said.

Her experience in talking to people — and particularly the media — aided her transition into department spokeswoman.

Providing information to the public on cases involving a death were most challenging, she said.

“You can’t let your emotions show when you’re talking about somebody’s family member that has died, no matter what the circumstances are,” she said. “There’s just no good way to talk about that.”

She served as the PIO until 2017, when the job was split up. Shane McCarter became the department’s spokesman to broadcast and print media, while Brian handled social media.

When McCarter retired about a year ago, Brian started handling both jobs.

“I never went back to being the PIO, but I kind of assumed those duties again,” she said.

Through the department’s Women’s Safety Program, Brian instructed more than 1,000 women over nearly 11 years. Watching students who sometimes have never seen and are “totally afraid” of handguns transition to wanting to attain a concealed carry permit is a highlight, she said.

“You can see that light bulb kind of come on when you start talking about becoming more aware of situations,” Brian said.

Brian’s family has lived in Winnsboro, and some relatives are still live there, she said.

“It’s small,” she said, “but it’s got that small-town feel to it, so I’m excited to meet new people, get in the community and interact — which I still love Longview and will still come back here, too.”

Students deliver mail call to veterans for Valentine's Day

Veterans across East Texas are getting notes of appreciation for Valentine’s Day that are reminiscent of something they often anticipated most during military service — mail call.

Students from Pine Tree ISD’s Birch Elementary School joined Hospice of East Texas personnel at Heritage at Longview Health and Rehabilitation center Thursday to present student-written thank-you letters to veterans who live or work at the facility.

The mixer-type event attracted a crowd of residents including Army veteran Ozell Holland, who was dressed in an American-flag-themed shirt and hat when 9-year-olds Nevaeh Clugston and Averie McQueary greeted him.

“Are you proud of this country?” Holland asked Nevaeh, who nodded affirmatively. “Very good, very good.”

Amy Clugston, Nevaeh’s mom and a Pine Tree ISD instructional coach, told her, “He helped make this country what it is today. ... You have a responsibility. You have to do your part.”

That appreciation is a valued byproduct of Thursday’s presentations, Birch Elementary School Principal Derrick Conley said.

“It lights (veterans) faces up,” Conley said, “and it helps our kids understand and appreciate the things that we have that are a direct result of the service of these people.”

The letters were written by Birch students after a 7 a.m. school assembly Oct. 11 in which military service people and veterans greeted children and explained their branches of services, said Hospice of East Texas’ John Lehenbauer and Julie Rucker.

Lehenbauer’s wife is a fourth-grade teacher at Birch Elementary. The children were taught about the importance of mail call, which was used to disperse mail when these veterans were active military, he said. The system still is used in military boot camps.

At least 305 letters are being delivered to veterans in nursing homes from Jacksonville and Tyler to Marshall, including more than 100 letters to Longview facilities, he said.

Each veteran also receives an American flag, a flag for their military branch, a branch pin, a certificate of thanks signed by the medical director for the nonprofit hospice and a door piece “so that anyone who goes by their room knows that there’s a military veteran in that room and which branch that they’re in,” Lehenbauer said.

“People donate and give to us all the time,” he said, “so we want to give back to the community, and this is one of the ways we can give back to the community.”

Billy O’Neal, assistant activity director for Heritage at Longview, also received a letter and care package from the students to honor his three years’ service in the Army.

When asked his thoughts about the presentation, O’Neal responded, “Just a feeling of joy that they can really appreciate veterans that need to be appreciated.”

Conley said he hopes other schools hear of the mail-call idea and introduce it to their students, which could inspire more people to consider serving in the military as they enter adulthood, he said.

“I think honoring veterans is important for our young people,” Conley said, “and if you want to continue living in the greatest country in the world, we need to always help our kids understand the commitment of the people that went before them and honor them for their service.”

Jimmy Daniell Isaac covers the city of Longview and Gregg County. Follow him on Twitter: @jimmyisaaclives.

Officials: Christmas shopping surge yields hike in sales tax refunds

Christmas shoppers spending more money in December than a year ago apparently helped to boost sales tax proceeds to several area jurisdictions, public officials said.

The higher proceeds show up in sales tax disbursements that Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar reported he is returning this month to taxing entities. The increases range from 1.14% in Marshall to 5.87% in Longview to 47.08% in Gladewater, while Kilgore saw its disbursements fall by 12.08% and Carthage’s return came in 12.64% lower than February 2019.

Gladewater City Manager Ricky Tow said Gladewater’s jump is thanks to residents shopping in the city’s antiques district.

“This is our Christmastime push that we do for our downtown (antiques) district,” Tow said. “And it just shows that the citizens came down and shopped local.”

Gladewater’s sales tax proceeds increased this month to $151,040 from $102,687 a year ago, based on December sales.

Hegar reported he will send cities, counties, transit systems and special purpose taxing districts $1.04 billion in local sales tax allocations for February, 9.4% higher than a year ago.

After seeing proceeds drop 3.19% in January, Gilmer rebounded in February with a $211,044 allocation, up 16.92% from $180,494 a year ago.

More people are going to Gilmer to shop, City Manager Greg Hutson said.

“That is obviously the driver,” he said.

December sales were the driver in Longview, city spokesman Shawn Hara said. The city’s allocation increased by 5.87% to $3.77 million this month from $3.56 million a year ago.

“It’s good news,” Hara said. Referring to December, he said, “It’s a very important month because it is annually the largest single month in the year ... in terms of total dollar amount.”

Hara said the city has experienced some moderate increases, “which is good news for the overall Longview economy.”

While December contains the Christmas shopping season, Kilgore’s proceeds are affected in part by fluctuations in the energy market, City Manager Josh Selleck said. Kilgore’s allocation in February fell to $861,657 from $980,061 a year ago. The drop came after a 18.81% decrease in January.

Selleck said the oil and gas field and other industries in Kilgore account for as much as 70% of the sales tax revenues.

“I think it is right in line with what we are seeing with the economy, oil and gas,” Selleck said. “And it might be a slightly rosier picture than what we are actually seeing.

“We are keeping a very objective perspective of what these numbers mean. We budget for these kinds of fluctuations.”

First case of coronavirus identified in Texas; group returning from China quarantined in San Antonio

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has announced the first confirmed case in Texas of a patient contracting the new strain of coronavirus that has led to a worldwide epidemic.

The individual who tested positive for the new coronavirus, recently named COVID-19 by the World Health Organization, is isolated and receiving medical care at a local hospital in San Antonio, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at a Thursday news conference.

The individual was part of a group that was flown to a San Antonio Air Force base Feb. 7 on a State Department-chartered flight from the Hubei province in China. Of the 91 people on the flight, only one showed symptoms, Nirenberg said.

The other 90 members in the group are considered “at high risk of having been exposed to this virus,” the CDC said. They are subject to a 14-day quarantine on the military base and will be released Feb. 20, said Capt. Jennifer McQuiston, the deputy director of the center’s Division of High Consequence Pathogens and Pathology.

“On Feb. 7, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services began transporting American citizens evacuated from the Hubei province of China, and Joint Base San Antonio-Lackland Air Force base was one of the four designated quarantine sites,” Nirenberg said.

Americans evacuated from Hubei province arrived at military bases in Texas, Nebraska and California, according to the CDC.

The bases include Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Travis Air Force Base in Sacramento, California; Marine Corps Air Station Miramar in San Diego; and Eppley Airfield in Omaha, Nebraska.

The San Antonio case is the 15th confirmed case of the virus in the United States, according to the CDC.

There will likely be more cases in the next few days and weeks, including other people who’ve recently returned from Wuhan, China, according to the written release.

U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-San Antonio, whose district includes much of the Air Force base, said in a Thursday press call that he was happy with the collaboration between federal agencies and local authorities. He stressed that San Antonians who work in medical facilities where the patient is treated are safe and that those medical professionals are tested as well after interacting with the person with the new coronavirus.

Castro said he, along with other lawmakers, signed a letter in support of reimbursing local governments for their work containing the virus.

Last month, the World Health Organization declared the deadly coronavirus outbreak a global health emergency — the sixth declaration of its kind in the past decade. Worldwide, there have been more than 60,000 confirmed cases of the pneumonia-like virus. More than 1,300 people have died in China from the virus so far.