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Posts published in “Day: May 31, 2012

Memorial Day Services honor those who serve

By Lewis Spearman

HIGHLANDS – The Memorial Day Service at Sterling White Cemetery last Monday was solemn, filled to capacity and chocked with a sense of values of patriotism that almost define this community, Crosby and Huffman.

As the Boy Scouts brought in the U.S. Flag before it was raised in ceremony a procession included the Memorial Wreath and a Color Guard of Honor. With them were trumpet player Dana Read and Pipe Major Tom O’Brien of Texas Bagpipes.

Jeff Moore, Managing Partner of Sterling White Funeral Home and Cemetery spoke an opening and pointed out recently interred veterans of the War on Terror as a reminder that the sacrifice was on-going for freedom.

Pastor Jerry Hovater of the Little Country Church in New Caney dedicated the services with prayer.

Guest Speaker Col. Frank Bertone has certainly paid his dues having served in the U.S. Army and in law enforcement for Precinct 3 Constable’s Office. A Master Peace Officer, he served 8 years in the U.S. Air Force, 17 years in the Texas State Guard, serving as Battalion Commander, Brigade Commander, Deputy Chief of Staff, graduated Sam Houston State University, Texas State Guard Officer’s Academy, U.S. Marine Corps Command and Staff College, ICMA Training Institute for Local Government and Police Management and the Southern Police Institute for Criminal Justice Studies, to mention a few of his educative backgrounds. Now he is serving as Texas State Chairman Awards Committee for the Department of Defense, Vice President of Texas State Guard’s Trust Fund, Vice Chairman of the Texas Military Forces Support Foundation, Past Grand Knights Council of the Knights of Columbus #3229, Grand Officer of the Solemn Military Order of The Temple of Jerusalem, and member of the American Legion of Crosby.

His address defined the Memorial Day celebration as a day to give thanks to those that have fought for the things that we have. His address called the day for quite celebration not for politics, debates or causes.

“Memorial Day is a day to say thank you to those that stand among us.”

A special dedication was presented by Pastor Hovatar. A roll call of those veterans interred at Sterling White in the last year was performed by Don Guillory. As bagpipes played Amazing Grace a dove release was performed by Houston Dream Doves. Sampson Masonic Lodge #231 lead by Sgt. Rusty Mayfield placed sprigs of evergreen on the tank representing eternal life of the struggle for freedom.

After the ceremonies, Sterling White offered up fresh hot dogs and buns and all the fixings for a traditional Memorial Day lunch.

Jeff Moore said, “The Staff of Sterling White Funeral Home and Cemetery gratefully acknowledges your presence and ‘Thanks You’ for your continued trust and confidence. I would like to thank all of you for attending our Memorial Day Services. It is a great honor to serve you and your loved ones. I would also like to thank my staff for all of their hard work and dedication. A special thank you to all the local vendors who have contributed to this years’ services. Houston Dream Doves, Crosby High School JROTC, Boy Scout Troop #107, the Crosby American Legion Post 568, Crosby Ladies Auxiliary Post #9761, Botanical Designs, bugler Dana Read and Pipe Major Tom O’Brien, Sampson Masonic Lodge #231 and with a very special thank you to Pastor Jerry Hovater and Col. Frank Bertone.”

Scenes from my aunt’s house

By Kristan Hoffman

One tree in the front yard, or two? Wood siding, or brick? Have I ever even set foot in the backyard?

These questions roll through my mind during the drive to Dallas. It’s been over 10 years since I last visited my aunt’s house, but 4 short hours later, here we are. The front walk is like memory lane, leading me to answers I didn’t realize I had forgotten.

I’m 7 years old, sitting at the dining table, legs tucked underneath me. I hold out one finger, my body tensed in fear of being bitten. Inside a brass cage, yellow and blue feathers rustle, punctuated by twin chirps. My aunt opens a little door and slips her hand in. Next thing I know, tiny claws are dancing across my pointer finger. I relax and smile.

I’m 9 years old, playing Hearts on my laptop. My cousin, older and wiser, leans over and shoulders me out of the way. “Have you heard of an mp3?” he asks. As I shake my head, he is already typing and clicking and downloading a few things from his server at MIT. “It’s the future of music,” he assures me. Soon we are listening to some song called “Sweetest Thing” by some band called U2 on some program called Winamp. Impressed, I nod to the beat and try to sing along with the chorus.

I’m 10 years old, knocking tentatively on my cousin’s bedroom door. He doesn’t say to come in, but he doesn’t say to go away either. I close the door softly behind me. He’s sitting on the bed, face red with anger, eyes wet with tears. I sit down on the floor in front of him, but he just keeps staring hard at the opposite wall.

After several minutes of silence, I ask if he wants to play Connect Four. He still doesn’t say anything, but he scoots off the bed and slides the board game out. We’re dropping our red and black checkers into place when his father comes in to apologize. But he never actually says he’s sorry. He just holds his arms out and waits. They hug silently, my cousin’s small body stiff, my uncle’s hand heavy on his back.

I’m 12 years old, up late for no real reason. While the rest of the house sleeps peacefully, my typing fills the darkness. A childhood friend is teasing me over chat, but I feel something else coming. Something exciting and frightening.

Oh god, there it is. But what do I do now? What do I do with those three little words? I want them — of course I want them — but not from him, not right now.

Joy, regret, and panic churn inside me. With tears in my eyes, I type, “I’m sorry.” I hit send. I sign off.

I don’t sleep that night.

I’m 26 years old, sharing a mattress with my mother. In the morning we wake to soft light filtering in through the windows. Still half-asleep, we stay in bed, lying on our backs and talking. Catching up, sharing stories.

Memories layer one on top of the other, new on top of old, hers on top of mine. It’s been over 10 years since I last visited my aunt’s house, but pieces of me linger, hanging on the walls next to the photographs. I collect them now, questions and answers no longer forgotten.

One tree. Brick. Still not sure.

Deputy’s widow sues ExxonMobil over death

HIGHLANDS – The widow of a sheriff’s deputy claims in court that ExxonMobil and a public water district failed to warn about dangerous currents in a canal to a refinery, and her husband drowned when the water pushed him through a culvert.     

Eddie Wotipka’s widow, Karen, and their three children sued ExxonMobil and the San Jacinto River Authority in Harris County Court.     

”On or about June 10, 2010, Eddie Wotipka was a deputy sheriff with the Harris County Sheriff’s Department. While on duty, Deputy Wotipka either fell or jumped into a fresh water canal allegedly owned by the defendant San Jacinto River Authority,” according to the complaint. “This canal services the Exxon Mobil refinery located in Harris County, Texas.     

”Unbeknownst to Deputy Wotipka, pumps were turned on at the request of defendant ExxonMobil.”     

Karen Wotipka says the pumps caused a “dangerous, hidden condition” in which the surface water looked calm but a swift current ran beneath.     

”The swift water caused Deputy Wotipka to be pulled under the water in the canal,” the complaint states. “Karen Wotipka saw her husband’s dangerous situation and jumped into the canal to assist her husband; however, Mrs. Wotipka was immediately pulled under and almost drowned prior to being rescued.     

”Deputy Wotipka, after being pulled underwater, was propelled through a culvert which went under a roadway, causing his death.     

”Defendants knew or should have known about the dangerous condition caused by turning on the pumps.”     The Wotipkas seek damages for negligence and wrongful death.     They are represented by Michael McGown with Benckenstein, Norvell and Nathan of Beaumont.

Deputy Eddie Wotipka, 51, drowned in a canal near West Cedar Bayou and Lynchburg Road June 10, 2010. Wotipka had just arrived at his Highlands home from his evening shift as a patrol deputy in District 3 when neighbors alerted him to dogs near the canal not far from his home. Deputy Wotipka went to check on the situation his dog either fell or jumped into the water.

Neighbor Donna Watkins said she was driving by when she spotted the dogs near the canal and stopped. That’s when she saw Wotipka, who asked her to aim her headlights in his direction. But Watkins said before she could do it, she heard a splash.

“When I opened my door, I heard a splash, and then seconds later I heard him hollerin’ and heard another splash,” Watkins said.

Deputy Wotipka had taken off his weapon and radio and jumped into the water to try and save his dog.  He began to struggle in the rough waters so his wife, Karen, jumped in to try and save her husband. 

Watkins saw Wotipka go under, come up and go under again. She said he was holding the dog the entire time.

“He looked up at me and he never let go of his dog. And he took his last breath going under and that’s when he let go of the dog,” said Watkins. 

Watkins said she went to get her husband, and her daughter stayed by the water to try to calm the deputy’s wife, who was clinging to a piece of concrete.

“She was screaming, ‘I can’t! I can’t!’ And my daughter was constantly telling her, ‘Yes you can. My daddy’s gonna get you,’” Watkins said.

“Me and my son went over to where the lady was hanging onto the concrete and threw the rope and got her to put it over, put it under her arms, and we pulled her to the bank,” Steve Watkins said.

HCSO’s marine unit and dive team, with the assistance of the Houston Police Department’s helicopter, arduously searched for Deputy Wotipka for several hours. His body was located at approximately 5 a.m. some 100-150 feet from where he originally jumped in. The body of the dog was also recovered.

Deputy Wotipka had served with the Harris County Sheriff’s Office since 1993. He is survived by his wife and two children, ages 24 and 26.