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Local
Longview ISD Trustee Chris Mack resigns, says he wants to spend more time with family
  • Updated

The resignation of longtime Longview ISD trustee Chris Mack accompanied several changes to the structure of the district’s board during its meeting Monday night.

Place 4 Trustee Ginia Northcutt started the meeting by reading Mack’s resignation letter.

Mack, who was the second-longest serving trustee having been first elected in 1993, said he resigned to spend more time with his family.

“I’ve been on (the board) 27 years, and I’ve been thinking on resigning for a while,” Mack, who was not at the meeting, said Monday night. “I just wanted to wait until the district didn’t have to do a special election. I wanted to spend some time with my family.”

Superintendent James Wilcox said the board will meet soon to find someone to replace Mack in his place until an election can be held in May.

Mack said in his 27 years of service, he is most proud of the 2008 bond the district passed to rebuild and renovate its facilities. The bond was approved for $266,875,000.

“We rebuilt the whole district and made all the facilities equal and equitable, and it solved a whole lot of problems for us,” he said. “It was a big deal; our facilities and our systems, our technology, it was all antiquated. Under Wilcox’s direction, we decided trying to do this one school at a time isn’t fair, and he said let’s do it all.”

Mack said he enjoyed his time on the board, and he thinks Wilcox and the administration are doing a great job.

“I had a good run and worked with some great people,” Mack said. “It’s just time for some new blood in there.”

Place 7 trustee Troy Simmons said he is sorry to see Mack leave the board.

“He was very passionate about what he believed in,” Simmons said. “I’m sorry to see him leave, but I certainly understand.”

Place 5 Trustee Shan Bauer echoed Simmons’ sentiments on Mack’s passion, which she said was for the interest of the kids in the district.

Bauer also said Mack was accepting toward her when she first joined the board and that he helped her early on.

On Monday, the board also reorganized leadership. Bauer will serve as president of the board. Place 1 Trustee Michael Tubb will serve as the vice president.

Place 6 Trustee Ted Beard will serve as the secretary, and new place 2 Trustee Brett Miller will serve as the assistant secretary after winning an election against incumbent Ava Welge.

During the board formally recognized Welge for her three and a half years of service to the school board as her time as a trustee came to an end.

“It gives me great pleasure to honor you and tell you how much we as a board appreciate your service,” Northcutt said to Welge. “We are so grateful.”

Welge said she thoroughly enjoyed her time on the board.

“I want to say what a joy and an honor it’s been to serve as a trustee for Longview ISD for the past three and a half years,” she said. “I think we’ve got a good replacement.”

The board approved several items during the meeting, including the purchase of 15 buses using a maintenance tax note.

The tax note is for $1.5 million and allows for the district to finance the purchase of the buses with maintenance and operations taxes before the taxes are collected. The district will borrow the money at an interest rate of about 1%.

The board also approved an amendment to its District of Innovation plan. The amendment allows the district to hire elementary-level teachers who are not certified to meet the needs of students.

Chief Innovation Officer Craig Coleman said the district uses the plan for bilingual or foreign language teachers.

Coleman said in order to fulfill International Baccalaureate standards, they have to offer a foreign language. He said there are people in the community who are speakers and can teach the classes but who are not certified. The amendment allows them to start teaching while they still are working on getting their certification from the state.

For example, Coleman said there is a current employee who is an instructional aide. She has an education degree, but she is not certified to teach a foreign language though she speaks the language fluently. He said the amendment allows the district to let her teach.

Bauer said the district provides the resources for them to become certified.

Miller voted against the amendment, but he said it was because he did not yet have all the information he needed.


Police
centerpiece
Overnight Gilmer convenience store shooting leads to chase, shootout in rural Upshur County
  • Updated

A chase following a shooting early Monday at a Gilmer convenience store ended with a suspect and an Upshur County Sheriff’s deputy injured in gunfire.

Upshur County Chief Deputy David Hazel said the suspect was taken to a hospital after the incident in the Glenwood community, but he did not know the extent of the suspect’s injuries.

At about 1:40 a.m. Monday, Gilmer police and Upshur County deputies responded to the CEFCO store at the intersection of U.S. 271 and Texas 300 in Gilmer.

According to the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office, law enforcement learned a man fired multiple rounds inside and outside of the store. Several rounds were shot in the direction of people, according to the office.

No one was reported injured at the location, but there was property damage, according to the sheriff’s office.

“The reason for the suspect’s behavior at that location is being investigated,” the sheriff’s office said in a release. The name of the suspect has not been released late Monday.

Officers located the suspect’s vehicle traveling south on U.S. 300 toward Longview, and law enforcement pursued the vehicle.

“The chase extended into southern Upshur County and northern Gregg County,” the release said. “The suspect shot at officers during the chase.”

The man eluded capture at that point. While checking a possible address for the suspect car on Snider Road, an Upshur County deputy took gunfire to his vehicle from the area of a residence off of Green Hills Road in the county, the sheriff’s office said.

Longview Police Department, Gregg County Sheriff’s Office, Gilmer Police Department and Ore City Police Department responded to assist.

“Law Enforcement was coordinating further strategy to capture the suspect when, at approximately 5 a.m., the suspect drove up to law enforcement officers that were staged nearby,” the sheriff’s office said. “The suspect began shooting at law enforcement personnel. Officers and deputies returned fire.”

An Upshur County Patrol Deputy was shot during the altercation. He was treated and released from a Longview medical center, the sheriff’s department said.

“The suspect was shot and was transported to a Longview medical center where he remains at the time of this press release,” the sheriff’s department said at about 12:30 p.m. Monday. “This investigation is not complete so specific charges have not yet been fully determined.”

The Texas Rangers are leading the investigation into the incident.

The scene was blocked off through the morning by Gregg County Sheriff’s Office SUV at one end of Green Hills Road near Snider Road, and an Upshur County Sheriff’s vehicle at the other end. Yellow evidence markers could be seen on the ground near Snider Road.

Neighbors noticed the commotion and sound of gunfire in the early morning hours.

Tony and Diane Martin said they live at North Fuller Road and Walnut Road. She said the couple heard a police chase at about 2 a.m. Martin said police vehicles in the chase had their lights and sirens on, and it woke up the couple.

“There was probably anywhere between nine and 11 police cars, including a SWAT van, in high pursuit. I mean they were going down Walnut Street really, really fast.”

Matthew Ward was in the area overnight. He was parked alongside Green Hills Road with a woman named Kara Lea and his dog Kane at about 11 a.m. Monday, waiting to go back to a residence where they were staying.

Ward said at about 2 or 3 a.m., he was getting ready for bed and before heading off to sleep, he heard gunshots.

Hearing gunshots is not too abnormal for the area, he said, but these seemed more rapid than normal.

“Then, we heard it again, maybe four or five more rounds,” he said. “This time it was a lot louder like they could have been either in our yard or close to our yard, and that made me nervous.”

Ward said they called the police and were told someone was on the loose in the area. He said police told them to lock the doors and turn the lights out.

”And I said, ‘Hell, no,’” he said, “Because I was afraid they were going to stumble through the woods see that little cabin and say, ‘This is a nice place for us to camp out.’”

He said he, a woman and his dog turned out the lights, grabbed a shotgun and headed toward the car. They had been driving around since then.

The last officer-involved shooting involving the Upshur County Sheriff’s Office was on Jan. 2, 2017, in Gilmer, according to News-Journal records.

Dale Hightower Jr., 53, was shot and killed by an officer after making suicidal statements and holding two women hostage in a home on the 1700 block of Cottonwood Drive in Upshur County.

Hightower came out of the house with a rifle and pointed it at officers, ignoring commands to drop the weapon, according to a report.


Local
Gregg County canvasses election results

Gregg County Commissioners canvassed election results Monday, as the county recorded more than 48,000 ballots in the general election.

Elections Administrator Kathryn Nealy said 48,161 Gregg County voters cast ballots in the Nov. 3 general election. They represented 65.95% of the county’s total registered voters. There are 73,027 registered voters in Gregg County.

“That was a really good turnout for this election,” she said. “People were ready to get to the polls.”

Nealy described this year’s election as “unusual” as the COVID-19 pandemic forced social distancing at the polls. Additionally, city and school elections, which are typically held in May, were combined with the general election this year after being delayed in May because of the pandemic.

Typically, about half of voters cast ballots during early voting and half vote on Election Day, Nealy said. This year, early votes accounted for about 79% of total ballots cast. The county also saw almost as many people vote by mail as on Election Day, she said.

Of those who voted, 4,831 people cast absentee ballots; 38,020 people voted in person during early voting; and 5,310 people cast ballots in person on Election Day, according to information provided by Nealy. In 2016, 41,618 votes were cast, representing 59.97% of voters. In 2016, there were 69,403 registered voters in Gregg County.

Pct. 3 Commissioner Gary Boyd commended Nealy and her office for their work during the election process this year.

“That was a monumental job,” Boyd said.

In other business Monday, commissioners also approved funding agreements with the Kilgore Public Library and Longview Museum of Fine Arts. The funding agreements call for Gregg County to give $7,000 to Kilgore Public Library and to pay $3,000 to LMFA for exhibition of artwork at the East Texas Regional Airport.

The county also approved a memorandum of understanding for Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding for White Oak ISD to reimburse the school district up to $32,796 for technology purchased for its students. White Oak ISD previously participated in the “Operation Connectivity” program through the Texas Education Agency that allowed the school district to buy 400 iPads and 65 wireless hotspots at a discount.

“These devices will allow our students to continue receiving high-quality remote instruction in the event of quarantine or shutdown situations,” Megan Lawson, chief financial officer for White Oak ISD, wrote in a letter to the county.

The amount paid by the school district for the technology was then eligible for a $1 to $1 match from the state through the Local Match Reimbursement Program, up to the amount that the county could share from its Coronavirus Relief Funds. White Oak ISD requested up to $32,796 from Gregg County, which commissioners granted Monday in the memorandum of understanding with the district.

Commissioners also renewed contracts with attorneys Molly Larison, Edward Choy, Zachary Austin and Barrett Hunt for indigent defense services. Contracts for the four attorneys show that each can work a maximum of 450 cases a year at a total cost of $72,000 annually, or $6,000 per month. The county reapproved the contracts in a 3-1 vote with Pct. 2 Commissioner Darryl Primo casting the opposing vote.


2nd virus vaccine shows striking success in US tests
  • Updated

A second experimental COVID-19 vaccine — this one from Moderna Inc. — yielded extraordinarily strong early results Monday, another badly needed dose of hope as the pandemic enters a terrible new phase.

Moderna said its vaccine appears to be 94.5% effective, according to preliminary data from an ongoing study. A week ago, competitor Pfizer Inc. announced its own vaccine looked 90% effective — news that puts both companies on track to seek permission within weeks for emergency use in the U.S.

The results are “truly striking,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious-diseases expert. “The vaccines that we’re talking about, and vaccines to come, are really the light at the end of the tunnel.”

A vaccine can’t come fast enough, as virus cases topped 11 million in the U.S. over the weekend — 1 million of them recorded in just the past week — and governors and mayors are ratcheting up restrictions ahead of Thanksgiving. The outbreak has killed more than 1.3 million people worldwide, over 246,000 of them in the U.S.

Stocks rallied on Wall Street and around the world on rising hopes that the global economy could start returning to normal in the coming months. The Dow Jones Industrial Average gained more than 470 points, or 1.6%, to close at a record high of over 29,950. Moderna stock was up almost 10%.

Both vaccines require two shots, given several weeks apart. U.S. officials said they hope to have about 20 million Moderna doses and another 20 million of the vaccine made by Pfizer and its German partner BioNTech to use in late December.

Dr. Stephen Hoge, Moderna’s president, welcomed the “really important milestone” but said having similar results from two different companies is what’s most reassuring.

“That should give us all hope that actually a vaccine is going to be able to stop this pandemic and hopefully get us back to our lives,” Hoge told The Associated Press. He added: “It won’t be Moderna alone that solves this problem. It’s going to require many vaccines” to meet the global demand.

If the Food and Drug Administration allows emergency use of Moderna’s or Pfizer’s candidate, there will be limited, rationed supplies before the end of the year.

Exactly who is first in line has yet to be decided. But Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said the hope is that enough doses are available by the end of January to vaccinate adults over 65, who are at the highest risk from the coronavirus, and health care workers. Fauci said it may take until spring or summer before anyone who is not high risk and wants a shot can get one.

Neal Browning of Bothell, Washington, who rolled up his sleeve back in March for the first testing of Moderna’s vaccine in humans, said he is excited about Monday’s “excellent news” but is still carefully wearing a mask and taking other precautions.

“I’m super happy to be a part of this and to try and help bring some kind of peace back to the world,” Browning said. “I have a lot of hope.”

The National Institutes of Health helped create the vaccine Moderna is manufacturing, and NIH’s director, Dr. Francis Collins, said the two companies’ parallel results give scientists “a lot of confidence that we’re on the path towards having effective vaccines.”

But “we’re also at this really dark time,” he warned, saying people can’t let down their guard during the months it will take for doses of any vaccines cleared by the FDA to start reaching a large share of the population.

Moderna’s vaccine is being studied in 30,000 volunteers who received either the real thing or a dummy shot. On Sunday, an independent monitoring board examined 95 infections that were recorded after volunteers’ second shot. Only five of the illnesses were in people given the vaccine.

Earlier this year, Fauci said he would be happy with a COVID-19 vaccine that was 60% effective.

The study is continuing, and Moderna acknowledged the protection rate might change as more COVID-19 infections are detected. Also, it’s too soon to know how long protection lasts. Both cautions apply to Pfizer’s vaccine as well.

But Moderna’s independent monitors reported some additional, promising tidbits: All 11 severe COVID-19 cases were among placebo recipients, and there were no significant safety concerns. The main side effects were fatigue, muscle aches and injection-site pain after the second dose.

Scientists not involved with the testing were encouraged but cautioned that the FDA still must scrutinize the safety data and decide whether to allow vaccinations outside of a research study.

“We’re not to the finish line yet,” said Dr. James Cutrell, an infectious-disease expert at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas. “If there’s an impression or perception that there’s just a rubber stamp, or due diligence wasn’t done to look at the data, that could weaken public confidence.”

States already are gearing up for what is expected to be the biggest vaccination campaign in U.S. history. First the shots have to arrive where they’re needed, and Pfizer’s must be kept at ultra-cold temperatures — around minus 94 degrees Fahrenheit. Moderna’s vaccine also starts off frozen, but the company said Monday it can be thawed and kept in a regular refrigerator for 30 days, easing that concern.

Beyond the U.S., other governments and the World Health Organization, which aims to buy doses for poor countries, will have to separately decide if and when vaccines should be rolled out broadly.

“There are many, many questions still remaining,” including how long protection lasts and if the first vaccines to emerge work as well in older people as in the young, said WHO chief scientist Dr. Soumya Swaminathan. “We also hope the clinical trials will continue to collect data, because it’s really going to be important for us to know in the long term.”

The vaccine from Cambridge, Massachusetts-based Moderna is among 11 candidates in late-stage testing around the world, four of them in huge studies in the United States. Collins stressed that more U.S. volunteers are needed for those studies.

Elsewhere around the world, China and Russia have been offering different experimental vaccines to people before completing final-stage testing.

Both Moderna’s shots and the Pfizer-BioNTech candidate are so-called mRNA vaccines, a brand-new technology. They aren’t made with the coronavirus itself, meaning there’s no chance anyone could catch it from the shots. Instead, the vaccine contains a piece of genetic code that trains the immune system to recognize the spiked protein on the surface of the virus.

Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla tweeted that he was thrilled at Moderna’s news, saying, “Our companies share a common goal — defeating this dreaded disease.”

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AP Photographer Ted Warren contributed to this report.

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.


Correction

A story on Page 1A Sunday incorrectly reported the use of city facilities for outdoor events. Currently, city of Longview facilities, including parks and pavilions, are not available for event rental (except for limited purposes, such as governmental). In not approving events on city property, the city of Longview also is not granting events, such as parades, that require the closure of city streets.