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Posts published in January 2013

Sheriff holds all-county School Safety meeting

EAST HARRIS COUNTY – Sheriff Adrian Garcia called an all-county meeting last Thursday night, Jan. 24 to tell the public what his department is doing to provide enhanced school safety, to allow school districts to explain their safety procedures, and to hear comments and answer questions from parents and the public.

The meeting was held in the new Grant Fine Arts Center of San Jacinto Community College North. It was attended by several hundred interested parties, parents and the public.

In his opening welcome remarks, Sheriff Garcia said that this forum had originally been planned after the Newtown, Connecticut shooting at the elementary school, but that it was even more relevant because of the shooting at Lone Star College only two days before. He said the forum would attempt to answer the question for everyone, “what are we doing to keep our children safe? What more can we do?”

Sgt. Jimmy Cook, HCSO, showed the audience a training video used in many school and office jurisdictions, preparing people for a correct response when there is an “active shooter.” The message of the video was, take three steps: Run or Hide or Fight, depending upon the circumstances.

Dr. Steve Head, president of Lone Star College, updated the audience on the events of the shooting on his campus on Tuesday, and the subsequent arrests of two perpetrators.

Sheriff Garcia praised the response of his officers and other law enforcement. He said that within a few minutes, 150 of his deputies responded, and another 50 officers from other jurisdictions also arrived.

Next, several officers in charge of divisions of the Sheriff’s office spoke on their responsibilities. Capt. Cordova heads the SWAT team or High Risk Unit, with deputies on call 24 hours. Christina Garza heads the information division, and spoke about methods of reaching the public and the media, with social media, webpage, and the website hcso.hctx.net, as well as traditional email for press releases. Sgt. Franks and the Sheriff urged the public to use the website: www.iwatchharriscounty.com for tips that report criminal activity. Sheriff Garcia said this has been very effective, with over 2 dozen behind bars from these tips. Lt. Robert Henry spoke about the development of the Mental Health unit, a necessary corollary to arrest and incarceration.

The public wanted to know what they could do to help school safety. A representative of the Houston Ministers Against Crime said they walk the halls of schools in Channelview, with a calming effect. Dr. Head agreed that a similar situation occurs in their campus at Victory Center. Pastor Gilmore said “we need to bring God back into school.”

Constable Ken Jones explained how his department contracts with 6 school districts to provide officers in the schools as needed, in 33 schools. These officers get special training every year, paid for by the districts, for gangs, first responders, and updating on basic policing.

Chief Clements of Galena Park ISD said they have used campus based officers since 1996, and they make a positive relationship with students. Drills are conducted on a regular basis. Some of the problems officers deal with are drugs, assaults, and counterfeiting.

Houston ISD’s Sidney Zullinger said that Safe School are a marketing necessity, that parents want to send their children to a safe environment. He has 200 officers, and 261 schools. Every high school has a certified police officer.

Zullinger and most of the panelists spoke on the issue of guns for school personnel. The concensus was that armed police officers are okay in the schools, but not armed teachers. Dr. Head said that in a chaotic scene after a shooting, you cannot be sure who is a “good guy” after gunfire, if everyone has a gun.

When asked by an audience member whether more deputies are needed, Constable Jones related his experiences in Highlands, where they concentrate officers in high crime areas, and partner with the Sheriff on Task Forces for special situations. He noted that the County budget would allow him to hire 3 new officers this year, paid for by the three precincts his district covers. These comments were in general, not necessarily related to schools, he said.

Sheriff Garcia said that most schools are conducting Safety audits in cooperation with the Harris County Department of Education. He said that Harris County had authorized his office to hire more officers this year.

In closing, Garcia urged citizens to participate in the CPA or Citizens Police Academy to learn more about his department and crime fighting. He said that School Safety should be looked at as a County-wide strategy, not individual districts.

SJR waste pits still a problem

McNair – A new ally to area residents concerned with pollution of the San Jacinto River ventured out to talk with residents here about the San Jacinto River Waste Pit Superfund Site last Thursday.

The Galveston Bay Foundation (founded in 1987) hosted a public meeting last Thursday night at the J.D. Walker Community Center, to provide more information on the sites concerning how cleanup is going and what the future could hold.

The pits are located on the west bank of the San Jacinto River immediately upstream of the I-10 Bridge in Harris County. An additional pit, currently under investigation, is located south of I-10.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is overseeing the cleanup of the pits, which received wastes from the Champion Paper mill in the 1960s. These wastes contain dioxins, which are toxic and can cause increased risk of cancer and other threats to human health such as liver damage and birth defects.

Startling revelations involve the bio-containment cap, (that this reporter was told would not erode at a meeting in Highlands last Summer) has eroded and must be replaced in certain locations. Tuesday, crews were probing the armored cap to determine where leaks have been found. The caps were designed to hold contaminants up to the 200 year flood level and yet has in two locations already eroded, never having attained the 200 year flood level.

Contamination Reports not ready

Both Sarah Davis and Jim Strouhal of the San Jacinto River Coalition attended the meeting and determined slightly different perspectives.

Davis learned there are 5 active Superfund Sites in Houston where construction does not comply, but felt there was little new and they still await the completion of additional studies.

Studies concerning the wildlife and migration of contamination have not been released but have been conducted. The new studies that should determine how extensive damage is to the environment, what the disposition of the sites are and therefore what is to be done about the sites is due out in March.

From this process feasibility studies will be conducted about what can be done to remediate the situations. The feasibility process is expected this Fall. Recommendation of a clean-up remedy by responsible parties is expected about December of this year.

Jim Strouhal found reason for hope in the broadening of allies and expertise on the subject.

“I feel like Scott Jones and Bob Stokes have been closely associated and allied with trying to communicate with the public concerning the Superfund Site including the entire Galveston Bay Watershed.” said Strouhal.

Linda Broach of the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality has been studying the dioxins in sediment extensively throughout the greater Bay area to determine where they originate.

Some of the public still lean on the signs warning of biohazards from eating fish and crabs from the locations not to fish.

Attendants learned that there are other concerns in the associated waters. One example is that PCB contamination is found from the Bridge of U.S. 90 all the way to the Trinity Bay and out as far as Galveston.

“PCBs have been a concern since 2001, consumption advisories have been issued but unless you are paying attention, you are not hearing about those.” Strouhal answered.

Groundwater tests scheduled

Strouhal asked about taking ground water samples in Highlands and was told that ground water samples would be taken for testing in February driven by the EPA. Results of seafood samples taken in 2011 and 2012 have yet to be released.

The Galveston Bay Foundation received a grant from the EPA to hire scientists from the Houston Advanced Research Center (HARC) to serve as the independent technical advisors and review site cleanup process reports, provide expert input and communicate their findings to the public.

Hawthorne Crosby Firefighter of the Year

KEMAH – The Crosby Volunteer Fire Dept. held their annual Awards Banquet last Saturday with special recognition for service, time with the department and leadership.

Within 2012, the local firefighters ran 837 calls for service of those building fire accounted for 92 calls, 36 of those calls were inside the Crosby District. A total of 129 of the calls were for motor vehicle accidents. The department is recovering from their most active year on record in 2011 where there were 964 calls. That year they were called out of district to deal with wildfires in distant counties.

Although they are a volunteer service they had even more accomplishments. The yearly average response time was 10.5 minutes from the time the call is received until arrival at the call. Within the month of December the average response time was reduced to 8.1 minutes.

According to Chief Alan Kulak, “There were no injuries to speak of last year, our number one goal is to stay safe.”

There were several 10 year recognitions this year Chris Reed, Jacque Barbonne, J.D. Giles and Mike Sims were presented with the awards. Chief Kulak was presented an award for over 30 years of service that was a fireman’s helmet in bronze. Shawn Robinson and James Brown were awarded recognition for 15 years of service.

Local legislators propose school safety bill – Shooting incident at Lone Star College shows danger

CROSBY – As local residents reacted to the news of another school shooting, this time close at hand at Lone Star College – North Houston, officials were moving at the same time to make changes in school safety procedures that would help reduce the chance of violence.

At least three initiatives will take place in the next few weeks, to address the problem.

State Senator Tommy Williams, representing Crosby and Huffman, joined with State Senator John Whitmire and Representative Dan Huberty to introduce a bill entitled “Texas School District Security Act” to help protect students and school personnel. The bill would allow local school boards to choose how to provide additional security, and provide a funding through local taxes in addition to other funds they raise for normal teaching operations.

Crosby Safety Measures

Commenting on the new legislation, Crosby ISD superintendent Dr. Keith Moore told the Star-Courier “We have taken all immediate measures that we can.” and added “We also will be conducting an active shooter training in February… with Precinct 3 constables for district staff.”

Sheriff’s Initiatives

In addition, Sheriff Adrian Garcia has organized a public forum on January 24 at San Jacinto College, bringing together officials and the public to discuss additional School Safety initiatives from these departments.

Lone Star College Shooting

At presstime on Tuesday, the details of the shooting at the main campus of Lone Star College- North Houston are just becoming known.

According to Major Armando Tello of the Harris County Sheriff’s department, at about 12:20 on Tuesday an altercation developed between two young men on the campus of Lone Star College. As the disagreement escalated, one of the men allegedly drew a gun and fired at the other. Apparently in the melee that ensued, he shot himself as well as the other person, and also shot a bystander, a maintenance man, in the leg.

An additional victim in the disturbance was a woman student, who was not involved in the fight or gunplay, but suffered a medical conditon, perhaps a heart attack.

Witnesses told media reporters that they heard six or seven gun shots. The activity occured in a courtyard between the library and an academic building, they said.

Authorities responded immediately to the shots, and EMS personnel who train at the college were on the scene in a few minutes, witnesses said, as well as Sheriff’s officers, Pct. 4 constables and College police.

Because the perpetrators were both wounded, the real danger was quickly contained. However, because officials did not know the complete circumstances that led to the shooting, they assumed there might be more danger. Therefore, they “locked down” the campus and eventually evacuated all students and personnel, as a Harris County SWAT team arrived and methodically searched each building.

Officials transported the two wounded men to Ben Taub hospital, as well as the custodian. Also the woman with the heart condition was sent to the hospital for evaluation and treatment.

As the scene developed, and with the possibility of other shooters, nearby Aldine ISD schools were put into “lock-down,” the campuses were sealed to the public, and students were sequestered. This happened at Nimitz High School, Nimitz 9th grade school, Parker Intermediate, and Dunn Elementary. All of these schools are along W. W. Thorne Drive in the immediate proximity to the Lone Star campus.

Authorities at first did not have much hard information to impart to the public and the media, but at 2 p.m. and again at 4 p.m. they were able to hold news conferences with updates on information.

These were conducted by HCSO Major Armando Tello, Christina Garza of the Sheriff’s office, John Ludemann and Chancellor Richard Carpenter, head of the Lone Star College System. In addition, Aldine ISD kept the public informed through the public information officer, Mike Keeney.

By evening, the campus was quiet, and almost everyone had left. The public schools were released from lock-down in the middle of the afternoon, and most students were dismissed near their regular times.

School Safety Legislation

Senators Williams, Whitmire and Representative Huberty propose “Texas School District Security Act” to help protect students, school personnel.

AUSTIN – Sen. Tommy Williams, R-The Woodlands, Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, and Rep. Dan Huberty, R-Humble, announced their intention today (Tuesday, Jan. 22) to file legislation to enhance safety for students and school personnel.

The “Texas School District Security Act” would give school boards, parents and taxpayers’ local choices and control in hiring licensed peace officers to protect school campuses. The plan is a response to the school-shooting tragedy last month at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Ct.

The plan would rely on professional police officers to defend our children and schools for local communities that want this option.

The three legislators characterize their plan as “a Texas solution to save lives without sacrificing freedoms” while noting “school communities are smart enough to figure out what works best for them and how much they’re willing to commit.”

“We can offer a solution that will save lives. We can do so without overreactions and gun control and with the best interests of our students, teachers, faculty and communities. We can also let local school districts decide for themselves,” Sen. Williams said. “A blanket state mandate won’t work. Nor will a one-size-fits-all policy. Our idea emphasizes local choice and local control.”

“I support Senator Williams in proposing a plan to allow school districts an option to develop their individual security plans,” stated Senator Whitmire, chairman of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee. “I trust our school boards and parents to decide what is best for their schools and this will allow them that opportunity.”

Representative Huberty served as president of the Humble School Board before his election to the Texas Legislature.

“I understand first-hand the importance of local control and how this law will allow school districts, school boards and their constituents the ability to decide for themselves how to best use their resources to protect our most precious assets — our children,” Rep. Huberty said. “I look forward to working with Senators Williams and Whitmire and my House colleagues during this session to pass this important piece of legislation.”

Additional protection of students and schools won’t come without additional cost, noted Sen. Williams, new chairman of the Senate Finance Committee.

“I know just how tight state and local budgets are these days. I also know that we need to pay as we go, avoid running up debt, and empower local school districts to decide what the best policy is for them,” the Senate Finance chairman said. “This plan also underscores accountability to voters.”

Many Texas school districts are already stretched to the maximum but should be able to decide for themselves if they want to invest in increased, dedicated safety protections, the officials said while outlining their “Texas School District Security Act.”

Modeled after current law, which allows municipalities to vote to adopt Crime Control Districts, the legislation, being drafted, would do the following:

• Allow individual independent school districts to vote on and approve dedicated funding for enhanced school security measures.

• Place trained, licensed and armed peace officers in all schools within a district – or only those in which the school district chooses.

-More-

• Provide funding for enhanced screening and security measures at public K through 12 schools.

• Allow for dedicated sales tax (if available under the state cap), or a dedicated property tax specifically for crime control and enhanced security based on local school district votes and desires. The revenue generated from a local option School District Security Fund would be separate from all other district funding.

• Provide transparency and accountability by requiring ISD’s to hold public hearings on what is to be included and provided by the “Texas School District Security Act”. Costs will be spelled out and voters will know the estimated amount of the dedicated property or sales tax to cover those costs before holding an election on the issue.

• Require a review and renewal election every 5 years by voters.

• Repeal of the “Texas School District Security Act” will be allowed with a repeal petition that contains valid signatures from voters in the district equal to at least 50 percent of the number of votes cast in the election creating the special district.

• The elected and accountable local school board would also serve as the board of the “Texas School District Security Act”.

• A constitutional amendment may be required to give school districts authority to fund the School District Security Act. The bill is still being drafted and the funding details are part of the process. We are confident that Texas voters will support such an amendment, if necessary, to help make our schools safer.

“Voters in school districts across Texas ought to be able to decide for themselves if they want to dedicate some funds – that are accountable and transparent – to enhance the protection of our school children and our schools,” Sen. Williams said.

“I believe we can offer solutions which don’t infringe on the lawful right to bear arms. I know each of us will sleep better knowing our local communities have options to fund safety measures so our children can learn and grow in safe environments,” Sen. Williams said.

Crosby School Bond: Moore asks for modest bond

CROSBY – The local Superintendent of schools asked for a 23¢ per $100 valuation for a year in two possible phases at the Crosby-Huffman Chamber of Commerce Luncheon Jan. 17.

The forewords by Board Chairman Glenn Cole before Dr. Keith Moore made his presentation gave indications far past any projections of Dr. Moore. “The Greater Houston area is to be the third largest metropolitan area when they take the next census. We will be surpassing Chicago. I was talking to the Executive President of Center Point Energy last week and he was telling me they are projecting six percent growth in this area over the next four to five years.”

The setting for calling for the bond is based upon a Citizen’s Advisory Committee recommending that the school undertake needs for the best interests of the students. The longest most complicated understanding is that currently interest rates are at historic lows they could be locked in by the bond and currently construction costs are low but they are rising.

Dr. Moore was speaking of Crosby Independent School District Campuses have a capacity of 5,203 students. Current enrollment is 5,170 students. There is space for 33 additional students district wide. His main point was that if the Crosby ISD Board of Education calls for the bond at the February meeting that 23¢ per $100 valuation that one year would present funding for a new high school, with grades 6th through 8th then taking the current high school with modifications. The 4th grade elementary school would be the current middle school. An Agriculture Barn would be built. A new David H. McNerney JROTC building would be built. New tennis courts, a new athletic field house, a new technology center, a turn around auto stacking drive for Newport Elementary, and elementary playground updates would be included.

Next a Phase 2 would go effect only if the tax base grows enough so that the same 23¢ generates enough revenue to begin Phase Two. Phase Two would also be 23¢ more per $100 valuation one year. It would widen the seating capacity at the football stadium and add new baseball and softball complexes.

The bond would mean that a house evaluated at $107,245 fair market value would be evaluated at $92,245 after state exemptions and that property holder would have to pay $212.16 more per year or $17.68 more per month. That home represents the average in Crosby. A home at a quarter million dollars would become $235,000 after state exemptions and an increase of $540 per year or $45.04 more per month. These increases would yield $76.5 million as Tax Base or enrollment grows $9.98 M more.

Daniel Grabill named Firefighter of the Year by Highlands Fire Department

HIGHLANDS– The Volunteer Fire Department held their 2013 Installation Banquet and Awards ceremony last Saturday night at the Monument Inn. Named to the top award as Firefighter of the Year by popular vote of the firemen, was Station 2 Captain Daniel Grabill.

This award is given in honor of Cecil Kelly, who volunteered with the Highlands VFD for over 42 years before retiring in 1996. The recipient chosen by vote of the membership is a firefighter who performed above and beyond the call of duty.

A large crowd of firemen and families, friends, community supporters, and board members attended the dinner. Fire Chief Harvey Little emceed the ceremony, introducing awards, guests, and honorees.

ESD# 14 President Jim Strouhal gave a history of the Department from its beginnings in 1942 to today. He emphasized the outstanding service delivered by the department, answering almost 5 calls per day, with response times of only 6 minutes for ambulances and 8 minutes for fire calls. Now supported by the Emergency Service District with a sales tax, and property tax, it originally was only volunteers and donations. In 1999 a Rural Fire Prevention District #14 was established. The original board was appointed by Commissioner Jim Fonteno, but the state now requires an elected board.

Chief Little also reviewed the department accomplishments and history of service calls for 2012. Highlights included purchasing a new Squad truck, upgrading the Water Rescue boat with a new 50 HP engine, and improving the ISO insurance rating from a 6 to a 4, for everyone who lives within 5 miles of a fire station. This should result in reduction of insurance premiums of as much as $100 per household. The department also improved its radio equipment, and launched a new website and a Facebook page to communicate with the public.

Glenn Chisholm reported on accomplishments in the training of six new members, and training and certification of existing firefighters.

Jerry Thompson reported on EMS accomplishments for 2012. The department has a new 2013 Dodge ambulance chassis and a new medical “box”. This department now has 12 paid volunteers, 4 intermediates, and 2 basics. Also 7 vounteer paramedics, 6 intermediates, 5 basics and 4 ECA’s. In the last year, they had 4 CPR incidents.

Chief Little reviewed the history of the department for 2012. He noted that there were 1991 calls for service: 1284 EMS calls, and 407 fire calls. Life Flight was called 24 times. The department responded to 147 Motor Vehicle Accidents.

Membership in the HVFD stands at 78: 37 regular, 2 on military leave, 10 apprentices, 4 juniors, 15 retires (not in the total), 1 EMS, 18 EMS part-time, and 6 regular out of district firefighters.

Our Holiday Break

By Kristan Hoffman and Angie Liang

Kristan

While there was no snow or sleigh bells, my holiday was otherwise fairly traditional. I flew home to Houston and was greeted with lots of hugs from my parents — as well as lots of kisses from mosquitoes.

That first weekend, we battled the crowds to do our last-minute shopping. Funny enough, nowadays my parents and I tend to buy our own presents and then wrap them as a surprise to everyone else. It may sound weird, but we enjoy it. Makes Santa’s life easier too.

After Christmas, my half-sister came to visit with her granddaughter, and we showed them a few of Houston’s highlights: Moody Gardens, Kemah Boardwalk, NASA’s Space Center, the Galleria and the Waterwall. We also drove around nice neighborhoods to look at their sparkling holiday lights. Though I had done it all before, it was fun to see my hometown through a newcomer’s eyes.

For me, the new experience was babysitting my cousin’s daughter for 3 nights. She’s now 5 years old, which is a fun but exhausting age. We colored Hello Kitty activity books, read If You Give a Mouse a Cookie, and watched My Little Pony. I gave her a bath and brushed her teeth. She ate the ham and eggs out of my kolache. I felt like I was playing Mom for a few days, and it was… illuminating.

Now it’s 2013, and I’m back home, back to my regularly scheduled life, back to work. I don’t have any specific resolutions, but I would like to continue applying a few themes across all areas of my life: (1) Don’t try to do/have it all; (2) Don’t worry about what people think; (3) Keep It Simple, Stupid; (4) Push yourself; (5) Be more assertive/decisive; and (6) Don’t aim for perfection, just keep getting better.

Angie

My parents and I always celebrate Thanksgiving in a big way — lots of friends and a massive feast — but for whatever reason, we don’t do any of the December holidays. So after a wonderful extended stay at home in November, I decided to do something different this winter: Freeze my butt off in Canada. At –10°F to be precise!

Why give up the balmy Texas climate for arctic Canadian weather? I wanted to learn how to ski. Also, as a child I had visited Banff National Park, a World Heritage Site notorious for its scenic beauty, in the summer. Now I wanted to witness firsthand its breathtaking views in the winter.

I was not disappointed. I spent a couple days touring the towns and then three full days skiing the popular sites: Lake Louise, Sunshine Village and Mount Norquay. Each day as I arrived on the slopes, with an instructor leading the way, I ooo-ed and ahh-ed – even falling once because I was so captivated by the view.

Needless to say, I fell quite a few more times trying to complete a green (“easy”) run on the second day. Although I picked up the basic skiing techniques quickly, gravity sometimes won. Nevertheless, I slowly but surely conquered the mountain, turning and braking my way down the steep inclines. By the third day, I felt confident on the slopes, and eager to return for more someday.

After my skiing adventures, I spent New Year’s Eve in Seattle with one of my best friends, eating and exploring the city. We even toured the old city underground and then watched the fireworks shoot off around the Space Needle.

On January 1st, I flew back to New York City, with sore legs and a clearer mind, ready for change in 2013.

Two Crosby car salesmen arrested on child sex charges

CROSBY – Two well-known men associated with the Keating Chevrolet dealership in Crosby have been arrested and charged with indecency with a child and one with sexual assault of a child. The community has expressed shock and disbelief at the allegations.

The charges stem from stattements made by the mother of the child, to an investigator for the Harris County District Attorney’s office. After interviewing the child and the mother, Sgt. Ronald Hunter swore out an arrest warrant for employee George Koutani, 37, and Keating owner Riku Melartin, 51. Melartin owns Keating with his wife Tina Jou, according to reports.

Court records show that Koutani was arrested on Dec. 20, and bonded out at $30,000 the next day. Melartin was charged the same day, but did not surrender until Jan. 3rd. He bonded out at $50,000, but on Jan. 8th he was rearrested and his bond rescinded, apparently at the order of the judge.

Through his attorney, James Butler, Melartin has denied all allegations as untrue. He claims the parents, who worked for him, tried to petition for a huge cash settlement not to bring charges. Attorney Butler said that because of his position and perceived wealth, that Melartin is an easy target for this type of demand, and believes others may also be motivated to try.

According to the original arrest warrant, there were three incidents which led to the charges. In mid August, Melartin and Koutani supposedly propositioned the girl, gave her a drink laced with alcohol, and fondled and touched her inappropriately in an upstairs office at the dealership. She said that Melartin then gave her money.

At a later date, in October, she claims that Melartin and she went to an upstairs room and had intercourse. He gave her money on this occasion, too, she said. The mother learned of the episodes, and the girl, who is only 16, was examined at Texas Children’s Hospital the next day, and showed signs of genital abrasions, according to the District Attorney’s warrant.

The girl had worked at Keating as a receptionist, and the mother had a cleaning contract. The father also worked at one of their used car lots.

Keating and Jou bought the Chevrolet dealership early in 2011 from the previous owner, John Keating, who had owned the business since 1990. The new owners at the time also owned several used car lots, but this was their first new car franchise.

Melartin has had other problems with the law, and is currently on probation, awaiting disposition of a case charging him with owning and running a Sexually Oriented Business without the proper licenses. This business is known as Babes, an adult nightclub on FM1960 in Houston. After being sued by Harris County Attorney Melissa Spinks as a public nuisance, Melartin subsequently closed the club.

Melartin is a citizen of Finland, not a U.S. citizen. As part of his bond requirements, he had to surrender his passport, not have contact with the girl or any witnesses, wear a GPS monitor, and remain in Harris County.

After the first arraignment, his case was assigned to Judge Maria Jackson, Harris County Criminal Court #339, and the next hearing was set for Jan. 30th. However, after his rearrest on Tuesday of this week, a new hearing date of Jan. 10th was set for these cases, and the SOB case also. Koutani’s hearing date is Feb. 5th.

According to the District Attorney, the charges against the two are 2nd degree felonies, with possible punishment of 2 to 20 years in jail, and $10,000 fines.

However, a court must determine guilt or innocence, and to date this has not happened. Therefore, presumption of innocence prevails.

Melartin is well-known in the Houston area, mostly due to a story about his apprehension at gunpoint of an armed robber in his Bellaire neighbor’s home, whom he detained with his own firearm until police arrived.

Keating Chevrolet went on to make a legend of the story, with video on YouTube and photos of Melartin with his gun, used in some Keating ads. He was dubbed the Finnisher, a triple entendré. He is quoted in the commercials saying “If there’s a bad guy in my neighborhood, I say, not on my watch.” And also, If there’s a damsel in distress, I say, not on my watch.”

County struggles to address burglary rate

NORTHEAST HARRIS COUNTY – While the general consensus may be that burglary and property crimes have escallated this year, it does not seem to be born out by official statistics, in fact the Harris County Sheriff’s Office indicates that the number of burglaries has declined slightly in 2012.

While there was almost a burglary a day in the Crosby area in December there were more in 2011.

Last Tuesday, the Harris County Commissioner’s Court began to address False Alarms, one of the burdens to law enforcement patrol units. False alarms in unincorporated Harris County for burglary, fire, or panic alarm amount to 100,000 calls a year in which 99% are false. Now a false alarm may be assessed for a $75 fine. An individual or business could get away with about 5 without getting the fine but after the fourth false alarm, the assessment begins. The county issues 14,000 more permits each year for alarms.

According to Harris County Sheriff’s Office Christina Garza, Manager of the Media Relations Executive Bureau, “We at the HCSO have statistics from January 1 through October 31, 2012. Cases from the remaining two months of the year are still being analyzed for statistical categorization. These are all under the Uniform Crime Reports data that go to the FBI through the Texas Department of Public Safety.

In those 10 months, there were 8,847 residential burglaries in the unincorporated areas of Harris County, compared to 9,155 during the corresponding period in 2011.

There were 1,489 commercial burglaries (not “offices”), compared to 1,273 in the corresponding period in 2011.

We do not have data for burglaries inside city limits, that would have to come from the Houston Police Dept.

With the population in the unincorporated areas continuing to boom, the drop in residential burglaries is a positive sign, and the HCSO is always analyzing data developing new strategies to stem an increase in commercial burglaries – keeping in mind that more and more businesses are opening in our patrol districts.”

And reporting and keeping track of crime statistics is a challenge for anyone since the standards for what consititutes a burglary changes from state to state. In Texas if someone is stealing copper wire from your outside air conditioning that is a burglary, in other states one must enter a residence to commit a burglary.

A U.S. Department of Justice source commented on recent reports that Houston was the top city for burglary in the United States. She indicates that whereas the City of Houston Police Department reported to the F.B.I. that there were 27,459 burglaries in 2011 and 303 less burglaries in Houston last year, when comparing to other cities the number of variables are multiple.

In her words, “Until data users examine all the variables that affect crime in a town, city, county, state, region, or other jurisdiction, they can make no meaningful comparisons. Besides, more proactive law enforcement will derive higher reportage of incidents. That does not mean that more crimes are committed in an area. You would be reporting a crime increase where there is more looking for crime.”

Crosby/Huffman Chamber Luncheon – Impact of Mexico on local economy outlined

CROSBY – At last month’s Chamber luncheon, local merchants heard an expert on trade between Latin American countries and Mexico outline the status and promise to local economies of mutual trade.

The amount of growth of trade between the U.S. and Mexico between 2010 and 2011 is from $435 Billion to over $500 Billion. The amount of exports alone from Texas is $87 Million annually and the total trade between Texas and Mexico is about $170 Million per year. Thirty percent of all exports from Texas in goods and services go to Mexico.

“So when you think about doing business there is a reason for agreements such as N.A.F.T.A.” said Pete Garcia, former Consul for Continental Airlines to Mexico at the Crosby-Huffman Chamber of Commerce on Dec. 20. International trade agreements have now been set throughout the world giving preferential treatment between countries. The three newest impacting this area include Columbia, Panama and Peru.

“With the expansion of the Panama Canal products will come right through our ports here and that will be good for our businesses. Columbia, oil is the primary product, there are a lot of opportunities in Columbia.”

Pete Garcia is the founder of Pete Garcia International, having invested 30 years in airline and aviation strategic planning, responsible for profit and loss of over $2 Billion dollars. His resume would include having climbed from reservation clerk to Vice President at Continental Airlines. Now his company sports clients like Aero Mexico, Merril Lynch, UBS, Mexico Tourism Board, DOB Systems and Minneapolis Airport Systems, among others. He has come to be called the Father of Latinization.

As he recounted his contribution to the developing market, the attendants heard descriptions of how Houston airports landed the description of international gateway, “Miami owned that tag almost exclusively for many years before Continental became involved in the Latin American Market.”

“Peru has been growing at about 8% G.D.P. They have a tremendous amount of resources that have been recently discovered.”

We are not the only ones going after that market, China has been making tremendous investment in Latin America.”

His advice for merchants wishing to do business in Latin America and Mexico might be summed up with four major points. Firstly, research the companies you want to do business with in regard to personnel, hubs and contacts, it is important to be doing business with who you wish to be doing business. Secondly, get to know the local cultural habits. At this point many of us learned that there are many more cultural diversities of etiquette in various parts of Mexico and Latin America than we were aware and why observation of cultural practices are important. Thirdly, be prepared to not close your deal or agreement on your first visit, but do prepare to develop a relationship with your prospect. Fourthly, understand and prepare to learn that relationships are about compromises.