December 2016: State mourns with Iraan

A Dec. 2 bus crash killed Iraan teacher and booster Elizabeth Pope and injured eight Iraan cheerleaders who were on board a bus driving home from a football playoff game.
The entire state rallied in support of tiny Iraan following the tragedy with cheerleaders from as far away as Oklahoma raised funds and offered to cheer for the Braves who were in a run for the state title.

  • The City of Odessa made the annual Starbright Village even brighter with new light installments. The free annual event draws tens of thousands who either walk or drive through McKinney Park during the holidays.
  • Thousands also lined the streets for the annual holiday parade. Rainy weather didn’t discourage those participating or watching.
  • The fight between Medical Center Hospital and retirees came to a head when the former employees demanded a meeting with the board and were denied. Hospital officials refused to let the retirees speak during the hospital board’s Dec. 6 meeting, despite a request from David Meisell, a former human resources administrator for the hospital, via a lawyer ahead of the meeting. Meisell led a group of 380 retirees who received free health insurance from the hospital but will have to find new insurance after the Oct. 4 decision to scrap the program in a move to cut costs. Another 88 active employees eligible for the health plan once they retire will also be affected.
  • Meisell and the others didn’t get mediation. The group filed a lawsuit as December came to a close. The suit alleges the hospital district violated promises made to the former employees and breached their contracts by removing them from the hospital insurance plan. Hospital officials dispute their claims.
  • City officials in December began tweaking a grant program that provides money to developers who invest in Odessa’s blighted downtown infrastructure, in what signaled a significant shift in the way the city invests the sales taxes it collects for economic development.
  • If the city is successful in luring more businesses downtown, then the immediate takeaway of the program could be more spending by the Odessa Development Corporation on projects aimed at improving the city in ways not measured by jobs created or capital invested.
  • “It is an expansion beyond the traditional role that they’ve had so far,” City Attorney Larry Long said.
  • Cash-strapped county officials approved extending a jail contract until 2020 that would also give money from Community Education Centers to go toward sewage system repairs at the courthouse jail. The jail is leased by the CEC to house a private federal lockup, but in recent years has been the subject of scrutiny as raw sewage has showed up in several offices when inmates clog the toilets and burst pipes.
  • The money was part of a renewal contract that will see the agreement between the county and CEC extended until Aug. 31, 2020, an agreement that currently generates between $600,000 and $650,000 for the county each year
  • On Dec. 13, State Sen. Kel Seliger, State Rep. Tom Craddick and other civic dignitaries turned out for a groundbreaking ceremony at a seven-acre plot of land to mark the pending construction of a new Midland/ Odessa driver’s license facility.
  • Seliger and members of the Texas Department of Public Safety kicked off the seven-month project that will develop an 18,000-square foot building. It is expected to accommodate a projected 10-year population growth and that would be staffed by 36 employees who would helm 24 customer service stations.
  • Completion of the project is expected mid-summer in 2017 and would be located at 2800 Wright Drive, near the Midland International Air and Space Port, said Carey Matthews, regional commander for DPS’ Region 4, which covers 36 counties in West Texas.
  • The current driver’s license services in Midland and Odessa would be moved to the new facility when it opens; DPS troopers will remain at both locations in Odessa and Midland, said DPS Sgt. Oscar Villarreal. DPS officials touted the new driver’s license facility as the first significant expansion for driver’s license services in the region.
  • On Dec. 15, two women and one man were arrested and charged with murder in connection with the fatal shooting of an Odessa man after two reported drug deals during three days.
  • Morgan Christina Garrett and Tiayana Marie Dixon, both 21, and Exzebia Terry, 22, were arrested for their suspected roles in the Dec. 8 slaying of 24-year-old Jordan Cass Minear, who was shot to death during what the Odessa Police Department said was a drug transaction all three suspects conducted with Minear at an apartment complex at 4330 N. Grandview Ave.
  • Garrett and Dixon were “persons of interest” in Minear’s killing but later became suspects when the investigation turned up new information that confirmed their reported connection to the crime, OPD spokesman Cpl. Steve LeSueur said. Terry remained at large at the time Garrett and Dixon were taken into custody but were later caught in Dallas by the U.S. Marshals. The OPD initially believed four black male suspects had fled the crime scene the night Minear was gunned down, but no longer anticipate making any more arrests in the case following the arrests.