Remembering 2017: A year in review

Betty Schleder and 100-year-old Al Blaschke celebrate. PHOTO COURTESY OF TAD BROWNING/ GEORGETOWN MULTIMEDIA LLC

Year in Review

Farewell to back-in parking downtown

An early gift to those who dreaded backing into parking places in portions of downtown was the abolishment of the practice. The San Marcos City Council voted on Jan. 3 to end the practice, which was initiated in 2014.

The council vote was unanimous, and it was taken during the first council meeting with John Thomaides as mayor.

Diving into records at 100

Also in January of 2017, a story from the Record was retold around the world, our staff heard from former San Marcos resident Betty Schleder, who took a tandem skydive with Al Blaschke. The dive broke records because it was accomplished on Blashke’s 100th birthday. Schleder, 72, said she had always branded herself as a thrill seeker who was almost cast in “Survivor” and “The Amazing Race.”

Five-year-old girl murdered

The community was shocked, and seasoned law enforcement veterans shaken, when a five-year-old girl was found murdered and mutilated inside a Kyle area mobile home, allegedly at the hands of her mother.

Krystal Villanueva, 24, is awaiting trial for the capital murder of a person under 10 in connection with the death of Giovanna Hernandez.

New City Manager

City leaders learned that City Manager Jared Miller had accepted a job in Amarillo and the search for his replacement was launched.

2 year old boy dead

For the second time in weeks, a young child died. On Jan. 17, 911 dispatchers responded to a report of an unresponsive child on Sagewood and arrived to find a two-yearold boy with numerous bites believed to be from the family’s German Shepherd.

The attack allegedly occurred while the child’s father was napping. The family said the eight-year-old dog had never shown aggression before. It was later euthanized at the request of the family.

San Marcos resident Rose Brooks, who was then 83 years old, was one of tens of thousands who traveled to Austin in January for the Women’s March. DAILY RECORD PHOTO BY DENISE CATHEY

San Marcans joined Women’s March

San Marcos residents were among the tens of thousands who traveled to Austin on Jan. 22 to participate in the Women’s March, held one day after the inauguration of President Donald Trump. They included then 83-year-old Rose Brooks, who has been a social activist for 50 years.

Two busloads of local residents, both men and women, were among those who made the trip to march in solidarity for equal rights among genders.

Fraternities suspended after frat party death

February began with the announcement by Texas State University that four fraternities associated with an off-campus party where a 20-year-old woman died had been suspended.

Jordin Taylor’s body was found under a party bus the day after the Halloweenthemed party at Cool River Ranch in Guadalupe county on Oct. 28, 2016. Pi Kappa Alpha was suspended for two years, while Alpha Tau Omega was suspended for three years, Delta Tau Delta for five years and Kappa Alpha Order for four years.

Gumby’s CUP overturned

There was also bad news for a successful pizza restaurant in February. The city council overturned a decision by the planning and zoning commission that would have allowed the sale of mixed drinks at the new Gumby’s Pizza at 312 W. Hopkins Street.

Opponents including the owner of the Crystal River Inn two doors down said they believed it would degrade the historic nature of the area. Forrest Higdon, one of the owners of the restaurant, maintained it would be a restaurant rather than a bar.

City’s first murder of the year

The city’s first murder of the year occurred Feb. 9 and was, police said, drug-related. Terrance Valentine II, 21, was found with a gunshot wound to the head at the Avenue Apartments. Witnesses said the confrontation started as an “argument during a drug transaction” and escalated when both the suspect and victim drew handguns.

Authorities would later arrest two men from Missouri City, Texas, one charged with murder and the other with failure to report a felony.

Bond election plans begin

It was also in February that the city of San Marcos, Hays County and the San Marcos CISD got serious about their plans for a May bond election.

The school district sought $107.3 million to build a new elementary school and improve the district’s other campuses. The city’s pitch was for $17.45 million to renovate the police department, relocate one fire station and build another, and improvements to the public library.

‘Day Without Immigrants’

On Feb. 16, the “Day Without Immigrants” called to protest Trump’s immigration stance, some students left the San Marcos High School campus and marched down SH 123 to Broadway Street. The school district said there was about a five percent drop in attendance that day.

Suspected tornadoes, one confirmed

One or more suspected tornadoes swept across the area on Feb. 20, damaging a playground at Blanco Vista Elementary, damaging fences in the adjacent neighborhood and toppling trees at the San Marcos City Cemetery. The presence of one tornado was later confirmed by the National Weather Service, and a day after that, the Daily Record talked to San Marcos resident Tracie Ferguson, who rode out the twister in a new, anchored addition to her mobile home. Ferguson is well known as a booking agent for Gruene Hall.

Uncounted Votes in November election

In a story that would capture headlines for months, it became known in late February that almost 2,000 votes cast in Hays County in the November 2016 election had not been counted. Brand-new Elections Administrator Jennifer Anderson acknowledge human error in the mishap and said that one Mobile Ballot Box had been overlooked.

City W-2 forms stolen in phishing scam

In mid-March, close to 800 employees of the city of San Marcos learned that their W-2 forms had been stolen in what was described as a “spear phishing” scheme, putting them at risk of having their identities stolen.

The situation was uncovered when employees began to file their tax returns and learned someone else had already done so. The IRS said it would work with the city in rectifying the problem. Days later, news came of a similar, but unsuccessful, attack on Texas State University.

Apartment fire left some homeless

Residents of a dozen units at the Champions Crossings Apartments were left homeless in later March when wind-whipped flames destroyed much of the complex. Much of one building’s roof collapsed, but there were no known injuries to residents or firefighters.

Urban Mining headquarters

April brought economic development news when the manufacturing firm Urban Mining announced it would build its headquarters here. The company, which secured a Chapter 380 agreement with the city, recycles rare earth minerals from computer components. The deal was shepherded with the help of the Greater San Marcos Partnership. Urban Mining said it will hire 100 people.

Cool River Ranch death lawsuit

A lawsuit filed by the family of a Texas State University student who died at a fraternity-sponsored party at a Guadalupe County tubing and music venue last year names 14 defendants. The suit was filed in district court March 21 by the estate of 20-year-old Jordin Emily Taylor, whose body was found beneath a Skyline Party Bus at Cool River Ranch on Oct. 29, the morning after a Halloween-themed party sponsored by four fraternities associated with Texas State. The family is seeking $10 million in damages in the wrongful death suit. Taylor was a 2015 graduate of Burleson High School in Burleson and was studying respiratory care at Texas State. A bus driver reported the vehicle’s hydraulic brakes malfunctioning late on Oct. 28, and Taylor’s body was found the next day by a mechanic called to fix the problem. An autopsy indicated she had been dragged approximately 50 feet.

Jason Tarr convicted

Jason Floyd Tarr, a prominent Hays County realtor, was sentenced in May to 20 years in confinement with a $10,000 fine on the charge of murder.The jury deliberated over the punishment for approximately 11 hours. Tarr was facing five to 99 years or life in prison after having caused the death of 60-year-old Nancy Sterling-Dalton in a drunken driving accident. The crash occurred Sept. 29, 2014. Tarr was initially charged with intoxication manslaughter in January 2015; however, the state added a felony murder charge in October 2015 due to three prior DWI offenses since the year 2000, according to a release by District Attorney Wes Mau.

Residents air election grievances

In July, concerns about voting machines that do not provide a paper trail, on the heels of a controversy centering on missing ballots from a November 2016 election, led the Hays County Commissioners Court to hold a workshop meeting. During the meeting, residents voiced their concerns about election issues that covered the missing votes, voting machine choices, questions about election judge training and a theory that Democrats are behind a plot to get Republicans in Texas to adopt voting machines that provide paper ballots.

“We’ve heard pros, cons, questions have been answered, we’ve kicked this can down the road and back again,” County Judge Bert Cobb said toward the end of an eightand-a-half-hour workshop meeting on election issues Tuesday.  

And at the end of it all, the Hays County Commissioners Court took no action.

Thomaides discusses local control issues with governor

San Marcos Mayor John Thomaides was one of a handful of Texas mayors who got to discuss issues of local concern with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott in July. Eighteen mayors signed a letter requesting a meeting with Abbott to discuss preemptive legislation – proposed laws that undermine local control over issues ranging from annexation powers to protecting trees during development. Abbott requested meetings with 10 of those mayors, including Thomaides. Earlier, Thomaides spoke to the House Committee on Urban Affairs about the importance of home rule.

“It went great,” Thomaides said of the meeting with Abbott. “I very much appreciate the invitation and hope he continues to meet with mayors of the cities of Texas. … I think he definitely listened and heard the concerns we in San Marcos share with cities across the state.”

Cobb takes leave of absence

County Judge Bert Cobb announced in early August that he would take a leave of absence from the dais to begin treatment from leukemia. The county announced that Cobb’s leave is for an indefinite amount of time.

“I’m a fighter,” he said. “This is a very aggressive disease, and I plan to treat it aggressively. I’ll be out for a while, but my heart and my mind will still be with Hays County. Electronically, I will be in your presence. Spiritually, I will be in your presence.”

In October, longtime Hays County Precinct 3 Commissioner Will Conley announced that he would step down from his position on the commissioners court to run for county judge.

City files amicus brief in SB4 lawsuit

After initially deciding to issue a statement rather than get involved in a lawsuit centering on Texas’ Senate Bill 4 (the “show us your papers” or “sanctuary city ban” bill), the San Marcos City Council voted unanimously on Aug. 22 to file an amicus curiae brief in the federal court case over the law. SB 4 requires local law enforcement departments to carry out federal immigration laws.

“Are we happy with the fact that council is making this decision 10 days before SB 4 takes effect? No,” said Karen Muñoz of Mano Amiga, the grassroots organization that has been working for local action against SB 4 for several months, after the council meeting. “But we’re really incredibly proud of everyone who pushed council to make the right decision.”

Tommy Cuevas, under contract with the city, removes Hurricane Harvey debris that had blown down on local roadways. DAILY RECORD PHOTO BY DON MOORE

Hurricane Harvey hits

San Marcos was spared the brunt of Hurricane Harvey, a Category 4 storm that hit the Texas coast in late August and went far enough inland to affect Central Texas. Yet the storm did not leave the city entirely unscathed. High winds downed trees and caused hundreds of power outages over the weekend, and heavy rain caused numerous road closures in and around San Marcos. Cory Van Pelt, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service Austin/San Antonio office, said 9.08 inches of rain was the storm total at a station near San Marcos. The National Weather Service reported on Saturday that a wind gust of 53 mph was recorded at the San Marcos Airport. San Marcos Electric Utility crews addressed more than 400 outages on Sunday alone, with more than 1,000 calls coming in over the weekend. The last Category 4 hurricane to hit the Texas coast was Carla in 1961.

Hays County deputies ambushed in Wimberley

A Wimberley resident is believed to have called in a fake burglary report early one morning in late November, then ambushed four Hays County Sheriff’s Office vehicles that responded, wounding one deputy. The deputies returned fire, after which the suspect, 26-year-old Rocky Miles West, was found dead. The officer, 28-year-old Benjamin Gieselman, was wounded and airlifted to an Austin hospital where he is recovering from injuries not described as life-threatening. Sheriff Gary Cutler said the 911 call now believed to have been placed by West came in at 3:47 a.m. reporting “a man with a gun possibly breaking into Jean’s Antiques,” which is located on Ranch Road 12 on Wimberley’s south side. He said dispatch further informed the four officers responding “that the caller was possibly a resident that lived above the antique shop” who was known to deputies. When everything seemed secure at the antique shop, Cutler said the deputies headed up Spoke Hollow Road, which branches off RR 12 near the shop. It’s there they were fired on. Cutler said just as they topped the hill, the suspect opened fire from behind a rock wall along the side of the roadway. Three of the patrol vehicles were hit and Gieselman had injuries from buckshot from his neck on down.

Cinema Club organizes first Lost River Film Festival

The inaugural Lost River Film Festival was held Nov. 2-5 at venues throughout the city. The San Marcos Cinema Club brought together films and television and web content from local, national and international filmmakers, along with workshops, concerts and other events, for a four-day celebration. Jordan Buckley, a member of the Cinema Club, said the festival attracted movies from around the world and also inspired local directors to submit films. Buckley said the festival received entries from South Africa, Mexico, the Russian Federation, Turkey, Poland and Iran. Enough film submissions came from Iran for the festival to include a Persian showcase. The major screenings during the film festival were for “Requiem for a Running Back,” “Tower,” “Sir Doug & the Genuine Texas Cosmic Groove,” “Southwest of Salem,” “No No: A Dockumentary,” the director’s cut of “When We Burn Out” and “Every Night’s a Saturday Night.” The festival also included live music, BMX bike exhibitions and other live events.

Robert Redford named “honorary citizen” of San Marcos

Robert Redford, whose great-great -grandparents were among the city’s founders, was named an “honorary citizen” by the city council in October. The noted actor and filmmaker’s ancestors included Zacariah Bugg, who was Hays County’s first sheriff and Ed J.L. Green, who brought electricity to town with his Electric Light and Power Company and also organized First National Bank of San Marcos. The proclamation notes that in 2012, Redford told a Houston publication that there is a family gravesite here and that he used to spend summers in San Marcos when he was growing up.

Redford also founded the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, named for the Sundance Kid character he played in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.” The film was shown free at the public library earlier this year, courtesy of the San Marcos Cinema Club. The Lost River Film Festival was modeled after Sundance.

Racial tensions rise at Texas State

More flyers promoting white nationalism were discovered on the Texas State University campus in October, and a banner reading “America is a White Nation” with the phrase “Blood and Soil” was hung from the Alkek Library. In December, university police discovered five men, all with outof-town addresses and all of whom were not university students, with flyers similar to those found in October. The men were given criminal trespass warnings. Also in December, an opinion column in the University Star called “Your DNA is an abomination” ignited a firestorm of accusations of anti-white sentiment on campus and led for calls for newspaper staff to be fired and/ or the newspaper to be defunded. The Star later issued an apology and said it would not publish any other pieces by the student columnist.

San Marcos senior quarterback Prudy Calderon runs past Westwood defenders for a touchdown, winning the San Marcos Rattlers a Bi-District Championship. DAILY RECORD PHOTO BY GERALD CASTILLO

Rattler football’s winning Season

The 2017 football season will go down as one of the most memorable seasons the Rattlers will be able to look back at. Head coach Mark Soto, his staff and the Rattlers ended the season 10-2 overall and went undefeated (5-0) in District 14-6A. An undefeated district record brought home the first championship in 14 years. The district title was well earned. The Rattlers had plenty of chances to lay down. But San Marcos fought back from 21 points down against Manor, 13 points against Bowie and 22 points against Bi-District opponent Westwood. The Rattlers ended up defeating Westwood 64-50 in bi-district, but would not advance beyond the second round of the playoffs.

Local DACA recipient detained for a month, not charged

Local activists held a day of action in November to help a DACA recipient from San Marcos who has been detained at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) facility in Pearsall for a month. Mano Amiga invited the San Marcos community to meet in front of the San Marcos Public Library on Tuesday afternoon and place phone calls to ICE leaders and demand Felipe Abonza-Lopez’s release. Abonza-Lopez is a Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals beneficiary who is not facing any criminal charges. His DACA status does not expire until May 2019. He claims that during his detention, guards have mocked him for having an amputated leg and that he has been denied medical care. U.S. Customs and Border Protection’s (CBP) Border Patrol stated that Abonza-Lopez had not been charged with anything but maintained that “he was actively involved in human smuggling and stands by the decision to process him for deportation.” Abonza-Lopez was later released but stripped of his DACA status.

Student death leads to Greek suspensions

Texas State University was in the bullseye of national news in mid-November following the death of a 20-year-old fraternity member and President Denise Trauth’s decision to suspend all Greek activities on and off campus. Alcohol poisoning is suspected in the death of 20-year-old Matthew McKinley Ellis, who was found unresponsive at the Millennium Apartments on Post Road Monday morning. However, that can’t be confirmed until toxicology reports are completed by the Travis County Medical Examiner, something that Hays County Justice of the Peace Maggie Moreno says could take six weeks or more. As a result of his death, Trauth suspended “activities of all Greek fraternity and sorority chapters at Texas State.” That prohibits “new-member events, chapter meetings, social functions and philanthropic activities” pending a thorough review of the Greek system to be overseen by Vice President for Student Affairs Dr. Joanne Smith.

Hundreds of residents attended a candlelight vigil for SMPD Officer Ken Copeland on Dec. 7, just as rare snow began to fall across the area. DAILY RECORD PHOTO BY DENSE CATHEY

San Marcos Police Officer Kenneth Copeland killed in the line of duty

Officer Kenneth Copeland was shot while carrying out a warrant service before 2:30 p.m. on Dec. 4 in the Camino Real subdivision, located off CR 266 between Redwood Road and State Highway 123. At a press conference held at SMPD headquarters on Dec. 4, San Marcos Police Chief Chase Stapp said that Copeland and other officers were serving a warrant for the suspect’s arrest. The suspect fired on the officers, and Copeland, who was wearing a protective vest, was hit several times. Stapp said he was taken to Central Texas Medical Center by police car but was declared deceased at the hospital.

The suspect, who was injured by police gunfire, eventually surrendered and was charged with capital murder.

A surprise snowstorm on Thursday, Dec. 7 brought most local residents outside to enjoy the rare white stuff. On the campus of Texas State University, many had their cell phones out to record the phenomenon. DAILY RECORD PHOTO BY GERALD CASTILLO

San Marcos Daily Record

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