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Green goodbyes: Longview High School ceremony kicks off graduation season

A week of Longview High School graduation ceremonies ended Friday night as seniors gathered in Lobo Stadium.

The school gave students and families the choice to participate in individual graduation ceremonies over three days earlier this week or in Friday’s group commencement.

The Longview ceremony kicked off graduation season in the area.

Pine Tree High School’s graduation ceremony is scheduled 8 p.m. May 27 at Pirate Stadium.

Spring Hill High School’s ceremony is set at 7 p.m. May 21 at the Belcher Center at LeTourneau University.

Meanwhile, White Oak and Sabine high schools also have commencements planned at the Belcher Center.

White Oak seniors are set to receive their diplomas at 10 a.m. May 22, with Sabine holding its graduation at 4 p.m. the same day.

And Gladewater High School has planned its ceremony for 8 p.m. May 28 at the football stadium.

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East Texas high school graduate profiles: Pine Tree senior overcomes loss, illness in family
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Editor’s note: This is part of a series profiling East Texas high school graduates.

On Super Bowl Sunday, Pine Tree High School senior Nikema Williams was watching the game and preparing to take his mother for surgery the next week. During the third quarter, he got a call that changed his life.

His grandfather and grandfather’s girlfriend had been shot and killed, and his brother was arrested in the deaths.

“I was helpless to the situation,” Nikema said. “Just getting a phone call and then knowing that I had to deal not only with the loss of my grandpa, but knowing that my brother had done it.”

On May 27, Nikema will graduate with his classmates at Pirate Stadium, ending a journey filled with obstacles.

His freshman year, his parents divorced, and Nikema said it took a toll on him and his brother, Nichlous.

“Recently my mom, she came down with skin cancer, and it was severe and it was behind her eyes,” he said. “She was going to appointments after appointments, and she finally got it removed.”

While preparing for plastic surgery, Nikema said doctors found a clogged artery in her brain and told her if it burst, she could die instantly.

Nikema had to take her to medical appointments in Louisiana, he said, juggling those trips on top of school and athletics.

His mother’s brain surgery was rescheduled because his grandfather’s funeral had to be planned.

“We had to get the money and all of that,” Nikema said. “Then she got her surgery about a month ago, and everything is all right now — skin cancer’s gone. All of it’s gone. Now we just wait. Wait to hear what the judge has to say about the whole situation.

“My brother, I may not ever get to see him outside of jail again. I don’t know. I just gotta see and pray.”

This week, Nikema saw his brother for the first time since the night he was arrested. He said they smiled when they saw each other.

“I’m not mad at him,” Nikema said. “The whole situation should have never happened. My grandpa, he was on meds after meds of depression medicine, and my brother, he had got caught onto drugs and stuff. I knew it was going downhill. I never told him, but in my mind I was like, ‘You’re going to end up dead or in jail. You’re going to either hurt yourself or hurt somebody.’ I got that phone call, and it was like I could tell the future.”

Nikema said he believes the situation was self-defense.

“I feel bad for him,” he said. “I just wish it never happened, but everything happens for a reason.”

Nikema said he tries not to think about and dwell on the situation. He has received support from coaches, teammates and his school. Although he would have been allowed to miss more school, he said he knew how important it was to keep going to class.

“That’s also what pushed me through,” he said. “They were asking everything, ‘What can I do to help? Do you need to come to school today?’ When it happened, I came to school, and they were like, ‘Why are you here? Go to your family. Go do what you gotta do. Don’t worry about school until you’re ready to come back to school.’ But I mean, I gotta come to school. I gotta keep my grades up. I gotta do everything I can so I can move on past high school to college and do what I really want to do.”

Going through the events of the last few years and still graduating with plans to study mechanical engineering at the University of Texas at Tyler shows he can do anything, Nikema said.

“Not matter what it is, I can do it,” he said. “No battle is too big if you just stay to your goal, don’t worry about nothing else. Do what you can do, and if you can’t do more, leave it alone.”

Longview woman jailed in fatal shooting during 'argument that turned physical'
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A Longview woman has been arrested after a man was fatally shot Thursday during what police describe as an argument that turned physical.

Officers responded at 7:48 p.m. to a report of a shooting in the 400 block of East Pliler Precise Road in Longview, police said.

Upon arrival, officers found Chris Baker, 41, of Longview had been shot. Baker was taken to a local hospital with injuries described as life-threatening, police said. Police learned Friday morning that Baker had died.

At the scene, detectives spoke with Jeanne-Marie Minter, 36. She and Baker were involved in a “verbal argument that turned physical,” police said.

Minter told police she got away from Baker and went to another room where she got a firearm. She said she returned to the room with Baker where they continued to argue, and she shot him, according to police.

Minter was booked into the Gregg County Jail on a charge of assault with a deadly weapon/family violence, but additional charges are pending, police said. Her bond was set at $50,000.

Police said the shooting “appears to be an isolated incident between these two parties.”

The death could be the third homicide of the year in Longview.

In February, a Longview man was found dead after a reported shooting in the 2700 block of North Eastman Road in the parking lot of HomeTown Inn & Suites, police said.

Police also said previously that it was unclear if the victim, identified as 27-year-old Rashad McCray, was targeted in the shooting.

And officers responded at about 12:30 a.m. Feb. 1 in Longview to a “shooting just occurred” in the 900 block of Ridgelea Avenue.

Upon arrival, officers found a victim who had life-threatening injuries. Emergency personnel took the man, identified as DeMarcus Else of Longview, to a local hospital where he later died from his injuries.

Anyone with information about the incidents is encouraged to contact Longview police at (903) 237-1170 or Gregg County Crime Stoppers at (903) 236-7867 or greggcountycrimestoppers.org .

Texas Legislature approves bill to ban residential wholesale electricity plans
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With just over two weeks remaining in the legislative session, the governor’s office is getting the first key bill that Texas House and Senate lawmakers have passed in response to February’s widespread power outages.

House Bill 16, which got final approval from the House on Wednesday, would not allow residential or small-business electricity customers in Texas to sign up for electricity plans where wholesale prices for power are passed to customers. Those plans include the kind that caused February power bills to skyrocket for several customers of Griddy Energy and other companies. Some customers reported bills over $15,000.

And while HB 16 is the first legislation of some significance to gain approval by both chambers, lawmakers are trying to approve many more power grid-related changes following the storm, in which more than 100 people died. Lawmakers have considered an $8 billion proposal by Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway Energy for backup power, and they have advanced sweeping omnibus legislation that could change some of the state’s energy regulatory structure.

But the legislative clock is ticking.

Most Texas residential customers are not on the types of plans addressed in HB 16. Power grid officials don’t disclose specific tallies, but of the roughly 10 million residential electricity customers, around 30,000 Texans are on wholesale energy plans, experts estimate.

Fixed-rate plans, which a majority of Texans sign up for, typically insulate customers from market swings, instead of the rate being tied to the spot price of wholesale electricity.

The main incentive with plans like Griddy’s is cheap electric bills — when power is plentiful. But when electricity in the market is scarce, as was the case during February’s winter storm, the wholesale price for electricity rises. Griddy, with its approximately 29,000 customers who were charged $29 million for energy during the winter storm, according to bankruptcy court documents, has gone out of business.

The Public Utility Commission, which oversees the grid operator, raised the wholesale market price of electricity to $9,000 per megawatt-hour for days during the height of the deadly winter storm to entice power generators to produce more electricity. The price hike is a feature of the Texas electricity market’s emergency protocol, carried out by the main grid operator, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas. The average price for power in 2020 was $22 per megawatt-hour.

But experts said many electricity consumers are not as aware of the price fluctuations as some “sophisticated” electricity customers, who can manage on wholesale energy plans because they know what they’re signing up for and the potential financial pitfalls.

Beth Garza, director of ERCOT’s independent watchdog from 2014-19, said the volatility around these plans can be a serious challenge.

“They can get so high,” Garza said of the potential price of electricity when power is scarce. “But even with them getting so high, if you can manage that volatility you will pay less money on your electric bill. The problem is, most of us can’t manage or don’t want to manage those kinds of swings.”

Pat Wood, the former PUC chair, is one electricity customer who had been on a Griddy plan. He has said he was able to fend off an exorbitant February power bill thanks in part to the solar panels installed at his home that provided an independent source of power while Griddy’s rates likely rose for customers who couldn’t generate their own power.

Recently, the House advanced a $2.5 billion plan to bail out Texas’ distressed electricity market from the financial crisis stemming from the storm. The plan would impose a fee — likely for the next decade or longer — on electricity companies, which would then get passed on to residential and business customers in their power bills. Similar legislation is being considered in the Senate.

That legislation would do nothing to address challenges that future inclement weather could present. Other related bills being considered by legislators include protecting the state’s oil and gas industry from efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, replacing experts on ERCOT’s board with political appointees and targeting renewable energy sources, which experts have called “discriminatory” and “politically motivated.”

A plan to subsidize power plant upgrades for extreme weather, however, could begin to address critical needs after the storm. But Garza said an enforcement mechanism and clear weatherization standards need to be in place in order for there to be real impact.

“Just telling people to weatherize is meaningless,” Garza said.