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Former Longview ISD teacher gets life sentence for child sex assault
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A former Longview High School teacher has been sentenced to two life sentences after pleading guilty Wednesday to aggravated sexual assault of two children.

Topher James Stout, 41, was indicted by a Harrison County grand jury in October on four counts of sexual assault of a child, two counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child and one count of continuous sex abuse of a child younger than 14.

“The victims’ family and I visited multiple times and in lieu of the victims having to testify, we all agreed this was the best disposition,” said Harrison County First Assistant District Attorney Madison Hood. “We are pleased with the plea, and hope that the victims can continue their healing with the criminal side closed.”

According to the indictments, the sexual assault occurred July 9, 2020; July 1, 2019; March 1, 2019; and Dec. 1, 2018. The aggravated sexual assault of a child occurred Nov. 1, 2018 and June 1, 2020.

The indictments further note continuous sexual abuse of a child younger than 14 occurred on or about Jun 1, 2017, through July 16, 2020, during a period that lasted 30 or more days.

Stout initially was arrested July 16 and charged with aggravated sexual assault of a child after police responded to a residence in the Harrison County part of Longview regarding a report of aggravated sexual assault of a 12-year-old child.

The victim was then interviewed at the Martin House Children’s Advocacy Center, and a sexual assault nurse administered an exam. During an interview, authorities were told the victim had been sexually assaulted by Stout multiple times.

“The victim stated the offenses happened many, many times over a period of years,” the DA’s office said. “During additional interviews ... it was discovered that the defendant had sexually assaulted other victims as well.”

Stout initially was booked into the Gregg County Jail and then transferred to the Harrison County Jail where he was booked on additional charges.

“Once LPD detectives made us aware, we worked with them, Harrison County Sheriff’s Office, Gregg County District Attorney’s Office and Longview PD to get a new charge,” Harrison County District Attorney Reid McCain said previously.

ETAA bringing new counseling program to its Longview ISD campuses

A new counseling program is aimed at helping some Longview ISD campuses be proactive in helping students’ mental health.

East Texas Advanced Academies is bringing the Character Counts counseling program to all its schools by the start of classes in the fall.

ETAA is the nonprofit organization that operates East Texas Montessori Prep Academy, Ware East Texas Montessori Academy, Johnston-McQueen Elementary School, Bramlette STEAM Academy, J.L. Everhart Elementary School and Forest Park Middle School as charter campuses for Longview ISD.

Deputy of Business Operations Donald Stewart said a goal of ETAA is not just academic learning, but social and emotional improvement, as well. That desire led to ETAA officials finding a counseling program that is proactive versus reactive.

“Our goal was to not be the reactionary process, but to be in front of it, to be able to provide a layer of service to students prior to it becoming a real issue to the kiddos,” he said. “It doesn’t just address the needs of the students. We’re looking at addressing the needs of the staff as well, along with the families and parents.”

Character Counts uses six pillars to help create a positive, safe school environment for students, according to its website — trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.

The program provides training and materials for schools to help students, families and staff, Stewart said.

Counselors have the tools to pull students aside for group therapy or work with them one-on-one to address issues before they become a problem in the classroom, he said.

The counseling program will be fully implemented in kindergarten through eighth grade next school year, Stewart said, and also will be available to staff.

“We want to provide that very similar service for our staff,” he said. “Because they’re people and they too experience the ups and downs of being a person. It’s tough to maintain bills and to stay employed and keep relationships with family members and friends because all of those require you to make effort. What we want to do is be able to provide that to them.”

Stewart said, in the past, a student would come to a teacher or office staff member to convey a concern when it already was a crisis. This program will work to change that so students might not get to that point, he said.

“The expectation is that the counselor will be able to identify the issues on their campus and then get the professional development they need with the models to address that,” Stewart said. “That requires a lot more work on the end of the counselor. Counselors have always been good at listening to kids and assisting where they’re at, but we need the system to assist, and that’s where the benefits of Character Counts come in.”

One example is if a student is dealing with parents getting a divorce. Stewart said a teacher or staff member can notice if a child is sad and intervene before it affects him or her too much in class. Once a counselor reaches out and knows the situation at home, steps can be taken, such as confidence boosting, instead of waiting for the student to be unsuccessful and addressing it then.

Longview ISD’s largest demographic is students of color, and many in the district are at or below the poverty line. Stewart said there are ways the counseling program will benefit them.

“The crises that kids deal with are not exclusive to their race or religion. I think the difference, though, is kids who are not in poverty tend to have more access to external services even if their parents aren’t aware to some of the issues they have,” he said. “Oftentimes, because they more frequently see their doctor for yearly checkups, they more frequently interact witch coaches and other adults, they’re more quickly able to identify if their child is having an issue and then provide those services.

“Because there are a disproportionate number of students of color who are experiencing poverty, they oftentimes lack that access, and many times that access they do get isn’t services outside of school,” Stewart said. “So what we have to do as a school is try to find a way to bridge that gap and identify for those kids.”

A school cannot replace a licensed therapist or other mental health professional, Stewart said, but it can provide some needed services to students.

Moving forward, he said ETAA will use the new counseling program to help each student be successful.

“It’s going to focus more on identifying the issues and then addressing those issues with each individual kid to help them be successful,” Stewart said. “I’ve been part of it before, and it profoundly changes the culture and climate of the school.”

Longview Regional Medical Center announces $4.4M cardiac unit expansion, renovation

Longview Regional Medical Center is making a $4.4 million investment to expand and renovate its cardiac service areas.

The project, which the hospital announced Wednesday, will included adding an electrophysiology lab and renovations to the entry and public spaces of the hospital’s Heart and Vascular Institute and Regional Clinics Cardiology, which is inside the 709 Medical Park Plaza building at LRMC.

Renovation and construction will take about six months and is anticipated to be completed by fall.

“Longview Regional Medical Center is fortunate to have a longstanding, committed group of cardiac professionals who provide comprehensive, quality cardiac care to East Texas,” CEO Steve Gordon said. “We’re very excited about this expansion of services as it will allow us to continue to provide unparalleled care to our community without traveling outside of the Longview area.”

The new, 7,000-square-foot electrophysiology lab will be equipped with advanced technologies. Minimally-invasive techniques will be used to diagnose and treat such cardiovascular conditions as irregular heartbeats or arrhythmias, without leaving East Texas, according to the hospital.

“Longview Regional Medical Center’s new electrophysiology lab allows us to provide timely and more complex cardiovascular treatments to patients seeking care right in their own community,” said Dr. Jorge Massare, an electrophysiologist on the Regional Clinics Cardiology team.

Other enhancements included in the project are a newly renovated Heart and Vascular Institute entrance and additional guest seating in the lobby. The Regional Clinics Cardiology suite will receive similar enhancements to assist patients in arriving for their appointments, according to the hospital.

The latest renovations follow a previous addition in March 2018 of a $2.9 million cardiac catheterization lab. Since the cardiac catheterization lab completion in 2018, the hospital said, it has provided access of advanced heart procedures to more than 10,000 patients.

“Our goal at the Heart and Vascular Institute of Longview Regional is to achieve the best results for all of our patients and to improve their overall quality of life,” said Dr. Samir Germanwala, an interventional cardiologist with LRMC. “I’m proud to practice alongside a vested team of fellow cardiac professionals who have a combined 300 years of cardiac care experience in East Texas.”

As Longview Regional Medical Center begins work to enhance its cardiac unit, work also is underway at nearby Christus Good Shepherd Medical Center.

Christus Good Shepherd is in the process of building a 21,500-square-foot cardiac center that also is slated to be completed by fall. Christus has previously said its new center will house the hospital’s cardiology specialists and feature room for comprehensive cardiac care services, including diagnosis, treatment, prevention, rehabilitation and education.

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East Texas Giving Day yields more than $100K for Gregg County nonprofits

Leaders of several Gregg County nonprofit organizations say they exceeded fundraising goals during this week’s East Texas Giving Day.

In total, donors contributed $2.7 million for more than 250 agencies of all sizes in 32 East Texas counties. In 2020, East Texas Giving Day drew $2.2 million in donations.

More than 30 nonprofit organizations received more than $100,000 in total donations.

The online East Texas Giving Day fundraiser was hosted by East Texas Communities Foundation of Tyler.

The online fundraising effort began at 6 a.m. Tuesday and ended at midnight. The goal of the online day of giving was to bring the region together on a single day and as one community to raise funds and awareness for East Texas nonprofit groups. The fundraiser provides the public an opportunity to donate and pledge volunteer hours to a variety of nonprofit organizations through one online platform.

Refuge International Executive Director Ginia Northcutt said the Longview organization was able to secure matching grant donations. Though its preliminary fundraising total is $10,110, Northcutt said an additional donation and matching grant brought the final total to about $13,000.

“We were so excited,” she said. “The support came in from everywhere, from all over Texas and all over the country.”

Refuge International aids with lifesaving medical mission trips, supporting schools, educational programs and vital clean water projects in Guatemala villages. In Longview, volunteers provide medical assistance to homeless residents at the Hiway 80 Rescue Mission.

“Those funds are going to help us continue to serve the people in Guatemala and the people at the rescue mission,” Northcutt said. “We’re so grateful for the East Texas Communities Foundation. They do such a great job organizing and making it easy for people to support all charities. When one of us does well, we all do well.”

Northcutt is hoping the organization can resume full services soon, including reopening its clinic at Hiway 80, which closed in March 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Silver Paws Founder and Director Casie Buck said she was thrilled to reach and surpass her organization’s goal of $6,000, bringing in more than $6,700.

“It was so exciting,” she said.

Silver Paws is an organization of certified therapy animal teams that provide animal assisted intervention, activity and therapy programs.

Though East Texas Giving Day donations to Silver Paws have remained consistent over the past few years, Buck believes there were several new donors this year.

“Those funds are going to help us to grow our program in the next few weeks,” Buck said, adding that the organization is expanding because of increased need. “Due to COVID, our services have been asked for more than ever. We’re getting more dogs and getting into new facilities.”

Buck said she heard from people who wanted to help and others who did not know the organization existed.

“It’s great people are getting back out,” Buck said. “It’s been a roller coaster. It has been an adventure.”

Other highlights: The Longview Dream Center raised $21,512; the Texas Shakespeare Festival received $13,696; Hiway 80 Rescue Mission raised $7,134; and Family Promise of Longview brought in $6,831.

For information and fundraising totals for all participating nonprofit groups, visit EastTexasGivingDay.org .