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2005: Grisly murder and another war casualty - Odessa American: 75th Anniversary

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2005: Grisly murder and another war casualty

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Posted: Wednesday, September 23, 2015 8:45 am

The city of Odessa almost made it through 2005 without a criminal homicide.

Almost.

The year ended instead with a shocking murder when Leo Angel Luna shot to death his common law wife, 19-year-old Diana Ponce, who was nine months pregnant with his child.

The shotgun blast killed Ponce and the baby girl and Luna also shot to death Ponce’s mother, Blanca Ponce, and injured Diana Ponce’s brother, William Ponce.

Luna would be convicted and imprisoned to life. In 2010, he was found in his prison cell hanging by a state-issued sheet.

Another war loss: An Army Ranger from Odessa was killed in Afghanistan in August - 19-year-old Damian James Garza died during his second deployment.

Garza enlisted in the Army in April 2004, one day after he graduated from Zion Christian School in Odessa. His mother, Denise Garza, said she wanted him to wait, but her son insisted. “He said. ‘No, I think they need me right now,’ ” she recalled.

Damian Garza, 19, was killed in an accident after his vehicle slid off the road into a river near Jalalabad. The Army Ranger’s Humvee was part of a larger convoy and slid into the Kunar River, which was swollen from melting snow and rainfall, an Army news release said.

One other Ranger, Pvt. John Henderson Jr., 21, of Columbus, Ga., died in the incident. Two other Rangers escaped. Garza was deployed to Afghanistan in November 2004 and again in July 2005. Garza also attended Odessa High School and was a member of JROTC.

Garza was awarded the National Defense Service Medal, the Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Award, the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal, the Army Service Ribbon, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the Parachutist Badge.

MOJO coach out: Scott Smith, Permian’s head football coach, would leave ECISD.

Desegregation and the Good Book: For the Ector County Independent School District, 2005 was a year of give and take. The district gained a Bible elective, chose a Bible curriculum, took on a quest for unitary status, brought back Coach Gary Gaines and moved its truancy court.

On the other hand, ECISD lost Coach Scott Smith, trustee Bill Rutherford, KOCV-TV and the board of trustees eliminated an optional contraception class.

The district’s move to bring an elective Bible course to its high schools drew national attention. That attention waned only briefly after the April decision, as the board of trustees nearly immediately began looking at which program to teach — one from the National Council on Bible Curriculum in Public Schools or one from the Bible Literacy Project.

The Tri-Ethnic Committee invested the bulk of the year into helping ECISD in its quest to get out from under a 1984 desegregation mandate. U.S. District Judge Rob Junell called a status hearing in June to find out how ECISD was complying with the 1984 order that created among other things, the magnet school system. At that hearing, Junell asked ECISD to file a motion explaining why it’s ready to be released from the desegregation order.

ECISD filed that motion in September. In November, the Mexican American Legal Defense and Education Fund — representing The Committee for Redress, Unity, Concern and Integrity at All Levels — and the U.S. Department of Justice filed responses to that motion.

Among the district’s other losses in 2005 was KOCV-TV. The board voted Aug. 30 to allow Odessa’s Public Broadcasting Station to change hands to the Permian Basin Public Telecommunications Inc. ECISD got the license from Odessa College in 2003.

Meanwhile, among ECISD’s welcome additions was the return of former Permian football coach Gary Gaines as the district’s athletic director. The board voted Jan. 7 to bring Gaines back.

Three days after Gaines was hired, Permian Coach Scott Smith accepted the head football coaching job at Rockwall, a suburb east of Dallas. Gaines would later hire former Permian Panther Darren Allman to coach the Panthers.

Headlines

  • George W. Bush is inaugurated for a second time.
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  • Pope John Paul II died.
  • Benedict XVI is elected pope.
  • Carrie Underwood wins American Idol’s fourth season.
  • Lance Armstrong wins the 92nd Tour de France.
  • Thirty-eight were killed and more than 700 wounded as terrorists struck London in coordinated strikes.
  • Tiger Woods wins the 134th Open.
  • Rosa Parks dies.
  • Reggie Bush wins the Heisman.

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