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Posts published in December 2005

MacArthur High alum dies at UT Austin frat house

MacArthur High alum Phanta “Jack” Phoummarath, 18, died December 10 in a fraternity house on the University of Texas campus in Austin. The Travis County medical examiner ruled the cause of death as acute alcohol poisoning.

Phoummarath’s body was found following a party to celebrate the acceptance of Phoummarath and six other males as new members of Lamda Phi Epsilon, a national Asian-American fraternity.

An investigation is continuing. So far no charges have been brought against the fraternity or its members. The fraternity is a registered student group on campus, but is not an official fraternity in the school’s Greek system. Lamda Phi Epsilon is now on temporary suspension while UT’s administration gathers more information.

The Phoummarath family moved to Houston in 1979 after emigrating from Laos. Jack was the youngest of five children. Those who knew Jack say he was a generous, bright, people-person. Jack was known to tutor classmates, give a ride to friends, and help out whereever needed.

According to research conducted on alcohol and metabolism, for an average sized young man to suffer acute alcohol poisoning, he would have to consume the equivalent of 12 beers in one hour.

One to two students die each year on the UT campus from alcohol poisoning.

Phoummarath is the first student to die from alcohol poisoning in Austin this year. This is the second such death in the Lamda Phi Epsilon fraternity this year nationwide.

Each year, 1,700 18-to-24 year olds die from alcohol related auto accidents and alcohol poisoning, according to the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. In addition to the 1,700 deaths, alcohol is linked to 50,000 injuries and 97,000 incidents of sexual assault among students alone each year.

Dr. Alton Smith named to succeed Emmett W. Hill on AISD Board

During the Dec. 13 Aldine ISD Board of Education meeting, Dr. Alton Smith was named to fill the unexpired term of former Trustee Emmett W. Hill, who resigned in October due to health concerns.

Dr. Viola M. Garcia, chairperson of the Selection of New Board Members Committee, along with committee members Marine Jones and A.W. Jones, received numerous nominations to fill Hill’s seat. The committee was given information on all candidates and candidates were interviewed by the entire board for the Position 2 seat. After careful consideration and much discussion, the committee recommended to the entire board that Dr. Smith be chosen to fill Hill’s unexpired term.

Dr. Smith is a resident of the Inwood community and currently serves as principal of Nitsch Elementary School in Klein ISD. Nitsch Elementary is a nationally recognized Blue Ribbon School and a TAAS Exemplary campus. He has nine years of experience in the field of education.

AISD Board President Rick Ogden, along with the entire board, welcomed Dr. Smith to the board and looked forward to working with him.

“The Aldine ISD Board of Trustees is pleased to welcome Dr. Smith as part of our governance team,” Ogden said. “Alton’s background in responsible positions in a major oil company together with his outstanding record of service as a professional educator provides a strong foundation for service as a Trustee of the Aldine School Board. We look forward to many years of partnering with him as we champion students, faculty, staff, support staff and business partners in our quest to produce the nation’s best!”

Dr. Smith also served as a special education teacher in Goose Creek ISD and Klein ISD and as a department chair and assistant principal in Klein ISD. Prior to entering the public education field, Dr. Smith spent more than 30 years in the private sector in human resources with Shell Oil Company. He worked in benefits processing, payroll, recruitment, labor relations, wage and salary administration, training and development and safety and industrial relations.

Dr. Smith holds a doctorate in educational leadership from Sam Houston State University, an MBA from Texas Southern University and a BS in business administration from Southern University in Baton Rouge, LA.

Dr. Smith is a member of various civic and professional associations and organizations and his children are graduates of Aldine ISD schools. He is a member of the Educational Leadership Advisory Board at Sam Houston State University, the Klein Education Association, past president of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, a member of the Texas Association of Secondary School Principals and of the Texas Elementary Principals and Supervisors Association. He is also a member of the Texas Association of School Administrators, the Southwest Educational Research Association and the National Dropout Network.

His civic activity includes membership in the Sam Houston State University Alumni Association, and the Southern University Alumni Association. He also serves as coordinator of new members committee of Living Word Fellowship Church.

Dr. Smith’s wife Marjorie is a former Aldine ISD teacher.

Coach survives shot in head after school bus attack

Police are still searching for whoever shot at the Jesse Jackson Academy school bus December 9 as it was stopped in the 5800 block of Mesa Drive at 10 p.m. One of the bullets pierced a bus window and hit Gregory Grant in the head. There were 23 students aboard the bus during the shooting.

Grant is the southeast Houston charter school’s assistant principal and basketball coach. The school’s team was returning home after a basketball game against Smiley High School Friday night.

Grant was released from Ben Taub Hospital Monday, December 12. The bullet ricocheted off his skull and left a blood clot on his brain. Grant is now unable to use the left side of his body. He is expected to recover after extensive physical therapy.

Students said they saw three men standing near the bushes along the side of the road and believe they may have been the shooters.

This was the second of three shooting at a school bus in the Houston area.

On Tuesday, December 13, someone fired a BB gun at a Cy-Fair ISD bus as it drove near Eldridge and West Little York. Flying glass from the shot hit a sixth grader in the neck. Authorities are still investigating the incident.

Earlier in the month, an eighth grade Cy-Fair student was caught after he shot a BB gun at the window of a parked school bus full of children. No one was injured in that incident. The student was disciplined.

Commissioner Garcia to run again

EAST HARRIS COUNTY—Harris County Precinct 2 Commissioner Sylvia Garcia is asking voters to give her four more years in office.

On Dec. 3, the first day of filing for the March 2006 Party Primaries, Garcia threw her hat in the ring for the Democratic nomination.

Precinct 2 covers portions of East Harris County including Highlands, Barrett Station, Baytown and part of Crosby. “Serving the people of Precinct 2 is the greatest job in the world and I am asking for their support so I can get started on the next four years,” Garcia said. “I can’t wait to get started on the next four years.”

Garcia, the first Hispanic woman to serve on the court, was elected in 2002 after then-Commissioner Jim Fonteno chose not to add to his close to 30 years on the court.

Among her accomplishments during her first term, Garcia points to improving flood control, expanding the precinct’s senior citizen program, strengthening infrastructure and creating the first-ever post of full time director for homeland security issues for the precinct.

“We’ve made great progress toward making Precinct 2 a better place to live, work and raise a family, but there’s still more to be done,” Garcia added.

Garcia also points out that during her administration, renovations were done to both the Lynchburg Ferry crafts and landings. She also closed the ferry down at night, during hours that have been classified as “low-usage times.”

Prior to becoming commissioner, Garcia served as comptroller for the City of Houston, and director and presiding judge of the Houston Municipal Court System.

According to a spokesman for the Harris County Republican Party, no candidate had filed as of press time no candidates have file to run for the GOP nomination for the office.

As of presstime, Garcia also has no challengers from within her party.

Garcia’s court colleague, Jerry Eversole, has filed for reelection for Precinct 4. Eversole, a Republican, had no challengers in either party as of presstime.

AG works with counties across Texas to help crime victims

Law enforcement officers are responsible for bringing criminals to justice. It’s our job. Yet, our duty “to serve and protect” also compels us to reach out to victims who are left battered and broken — physically, emotionally and often financially — in the wake of the violent crimes committed against them.

One of my great privileges as Attorney General is to partner with crime victim advocates across Texas who walk through the recovery process with crime victims in their communities. Many advocates are victim assistance coordinators (VACs) or crime victim liaisons (CVLs) who work for local law enforcement agencies and prosecutors. These caring people help crime victims in their areas find counseling, emergency shelter, or funds to cover expenses they have incurred as a result of the crimes committed against them.

This year, my office awarded $29 million to 326 nonprofit and community groups across Texas that aid victims of crime. Of that amount, $2.3 million went to 64 district and county attorneys, sheriff’s offices and police departments to fund VAC and CVL positions. Last year’s funding enabled law enforcement and prosecutors to assist roughly 24,000 victims of crime and we hope to help even more this year.

Take the example of a 15-year-old girl in Lamb County who was sexually assaulted by a high school coach. During the trial preparation, the victim assistance coordinator in the Lamb County District Attorney’s office realized the girl was not ready to testify.

The VAC worked closely with the victim to make her feel more comfortable, taking her to see her counseler, visiting her at home, and accompanying her to the courthouse. The defendant pled guilty before the trial was to begin, but the sentencing phase may still require the victim’s testimony. If the girl is called to testify, she will be ready, thanks to the help and support of the Lamb County District Attorney’s VAC.

Crime victim grants are critical to help children who have been assaulted, women who have been abused, and other victims of violent crime get the medical attention, grief counseling, legal services and other assistance they need to put their lives back together.

Coordinators and liaisons also help victims by orienting them to the criminal justice system; accompanying them to appointments; notifying them of changes in offender status, investigative status or court events; assisting with crisis intervention; helping with restitution requests; and intervening with an employer on behalf of the victim. VACs and CVLs also provide training about victim rights to law enforcement and others in the community, and promote victim rights through the dissemination of public information.

The grants mentioned were made through my Crime Victim Services Division following a formal application and review process. The funding was approved by the 2005 Legislature and is provided through the state Crime Victims’ Compensation Fund, which my office administers.

In addition to these crime victim grants, last year our Crime Victim Services Division provided more than $85 million from the Fund to directly help victims pay for medical and emergency out-of-pocket expenses and other costs associated with the crimes committed against them.

There is nothing we can do to fully erase the pain which violent crime inflicts. But I am pleased my office is able to work with crime victim advocates across the Lone Star State to help victims rebuild their lives.

Christmas celebrations vary around world

Christmas 2005! It is almost here and the young children of Christendom can hardly wait as these final days and hours tick down to the special night, Christmas Eve, and the arrival of their gift giver. And the gift givers of the world are ready for their big night. I can remember, at a tender age, having a terrible time going to sleep on Christmas Eve.

Gifts have probably been given among families and friends for centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ, for whom we celebrate Christmas. But the mythical gift givers of the world, such as our own Santa Claus can look back upon a real live human as the time of their beginning.

Certainly one of the most famous gift givers in the world was a man named St. Nicholas who was born some 270 years after Christ on the shores of the Mediterranean in Lycia, now a part of Turkey. As I recall he was consecrated Archbishop of Myra while still a young man. He lived a difficult, hard life that was also filled with grace, Worship and giving.

He was imprisoned and tortured during the reign of one Roman Emperor at a time when many Christians were persecuted. One of the less known facts about St. Nicholas is that he was a gift giver to children and the poor during his lifetime and many, many stories abound to this day about his giving of gifts. In some European countries, children “know” he still exists and travels on the eve of his day, December 6, to deliver his gifts.

He was arguably the foremost Saint in Christendom from the thirteenth century until the Reformation. With many he still remains so.

Down through the year’s gift givers such as Santa Claus, Old Father Christmas and Kris Kringle have probably all stemmed from the many stories, truth and fables, of this famous St. Nicholas of the Mediterranean.

Other countries have their gift givers as well. They visit children on a special night during the year. Some are men, some women.

In Italy for example there is the famous good witch, La Befana, who can be seen on the Eve of Epiphany, January 6, flying across the dark winter skies of Italy swooping down the chimneys of homes of children with her gifts. Her beginning dates back to the birth of Christ when the three kings, Melchoir, Gaspar and Balthazar who, as the legend goes, journeyed through Italy on their quest to find the Christ Child. They stopped, asked La Befana for directions and invited her to accompany them. She refused. After they left she changed her mind and tried to find them, became lost and never made the trip.

We really don’t know how many kings sought that Christ Child but the three—Melchoir, Gaspar and Balthazar—are often pictured as three who made the journey. Perhaps their gifts of gold, frankinsense and myrrh are perhaps the best-known gifts ever given.

Russia has several known mythical gift givers, one another woman known as Babouschka who suffered the same fate as La Befana. Another that is known to frequent this vast land in Europe and Asia is Kolyaka. She also walks about the towns and villages of certain parts of Russia on Christmas Eve.

In Germany there is the Christ Child, a representative of the greatest gift giver of all, Jesus Christ, the giver of life itself. The Christ Child is the gift giver who grew out of the Reformation. Sometimes this gift giver appears as a young boy, sometimes a young girl and other times in the abstract. The Christ Child leaves apples, nuts, sweets and other gifts for young German children.

Holland has perhaps the most unique mythical gift giver. Here St. Nicholas has a partner named Pete. They arrive by boat from Spain in mid-November. Once there they begin the task of checking behaviors of the young. St. Nicholas travels on a magnificent white horse and Pete follows, dressed as a Moorish servant carrying switches and a large bag on his back. For the “bad” little boys and girls he leaves a switch or a lump of coal. For those with the worst behaviors he loads them in his bag and takes them back to Spain. Why Spain? I have no idea.

Whatever the legends and truths of a nation or region, Christmas is a special time. It is a time of gift giving (hopefully more than receiving) and Worship. The churches of the Crosby-Huffman area invite you to Worship within their walls as part of your giving this Christmas season.

Merry Christmas!

Does life really begin at 60?

Read with interest this morning the article about the first batch of baby boomers turning 60 beginning 2006. Oh Lordy I thought, that includes yours truly. Just think, in 20 years I’ll be 80 years old. That my friend is older than dirt. Of course, used to think people past 40 were old.

Having out lived both parents’ age by 7 years, one feels fortunate to have made it this far and long.

Would like to hang around long enough to see if the granddaughters have twins since they run in the family.

The Mrs. says twins are from the woman’s side of the family and I had nothing to do with our set of twins. First off, my mother was a twin and I had a little something to do with our set of twins’ thank you very much. We were married for 13 months and had two kids.

Bad health and limited physical problems are what make people seem old. Of course, our twins going on 35 are enough to make one feel old or at least older.

Seems as though the secret for feeling young is by staying busy and some regular exercise; the key there is regularity, it works in more ways than one.

The big city paper showed 30+ photos of people hitting 60 years old in 2006. Some look real good, while some others look rode hard and put up wet. Interesting article indeed as I found out Tommy Lee Jones and Oliver Stone are 6 days older than me.

Poor ole Jimmy Buffet’s birthday is December 25th. What a bummer.

Does life really begin at 60? You tell me.

One must not take life too seriously, ‘cause nobody gets out alive anyway.

Statistics show that at the age of seventy, there are five women to every man. Isn’t that the darndest time for a guy to get those odds?

Maybe it’s true that life begins at sixty. But everything else starts to wear out, fall out, or spread out.

Old age is when your friends compliment you on your alligator shoes and you are barefoot.

The trouble with old age is that it does not last long.

Old age ain’t no place for sissies.

Then this man was telling his neighbor, “I just bought a new hearing aid. It cost me over four thousand dollars, but it is state of the art.”

“Really,” asked the neighbor, “What kind is it?”

“Twelve Thirty.”

Is Indy-Seattle game a preview of Super Bowl 40?

First things first: Here’s wishing all of you a safe and happy holiday season. This is a wonderful time of year to be with family and friends, so be sure to spend as much time as possible with your loved ones.

Now, let’s get down to the business at hand.
In addition to sharing time with the family, opening gifts and enjoying plenty of good food, the Christmas weekend also brings with it a plethora of NFL games from Christmas Eve to the day after Christmas. NFL fans should find plenty of games to view while they are digesting their turkey or roast, and the one played between the Colts and Seahawks in Seattle could be a preview of Super Bowl 40, set for February in Detroit. It could also be the day the Colts’ quest for an undefeated season comes to an end.

But before we look at this weekend’s games, let’s review last week’s record. A strong 7-1 week brought the season record to 88-52 (62 percent).

Now, let’s take a look at this weekend’s schedule.


Jacksonville at Houston: “Consultant” Dan Reeves will get his first look of the Texans in their home surroundings with the playoff-bound Jaguars come calling on Christmas Eve. Owner Bob McNair dropped a bombshell on General Manager Charlie Casserly and head coach Dom Capers when he announced Reeves’ hiring to serve as a consultant on Dec. 12. There have to be some nervous folks in the front office wondering about their futures and don’t be surprised if Casserly is the odd man out once the season is over. Reeves’ health concerns will probably preclude him from coaching again, but he’s a solid football man and could help in the front office. Expect a strong effort from the Texans on Sunday as they perform in front of who could be their new boss in a few short weeks. The Jags know they need to win out to host a first-round playoff game, so look for them to give Houston a steady dose of a now-healthy Fred Taylor and Gregg Jones in this one. My pick, Jacksonville 23, Houston 21

San Diego at Kansas City: This one is a battle for survival between these two AFC West rivals. The winner keeps their Wild Card hopes alive, while the loser is virtually eliminated from the playoff hunt. The Chargers suffered an inexcusable loss to the lowly Dolphins at home two weeks ago as running back LaDanian Tomlinson never got the chance to get untracked. That makes two straight sub par games for the game’s best running back. The Chiefs, on the other hand, suffered a tough loss at Dallas in a game they controlled for most of the afternoon. This one should be a high-scoring affair as both teams can score via the ground or the air. Look for the Chiefs to pound Larry Johnson at the stout SD defense, while the Chargers will look to get Tomlinson untracked to open up the Drew Brees and the passing game. Remember, the Chiefs have won 17 straight home games in December, and like a buddy of mine once told me, never bet on a streak to end. My pick, Kansas City 38, San Diego 36

Atlanta at Tampa Bay: Isn’t it funny how things always seem to work out for the NFL schedule makers? Another late-season game with playoff implications pits the Falcons against the first-place Bucs in a key NFC South match up. The Falcons know they must run the table to even have a shot at a Wild Card spot, let alone the division title, while the surprising Bucs can take control of the division race with a win over Michael Vick and Co. at home. Vick looked sharp in his team’s 36-17 win over the Saints two weeks ago, but he suffered bruised ribs on a late hit late in that game. He should be OK, but if he can’t go, that’s bad news for Falcon fans. Tampa Bay is rolling again because rookie running back Cadillac Williams has found his second wind and is churning out the yards like he did earlier in the season when he rushed for more than 100 yards in his first four games. Look for plenty of Williams in this one as the Bucs get the job done and all but eliminate Atlanta from the playoff hunt. My pick, Tampa Bay 26, Atlanta 21

Minnesota at Baltimore: Talk about your reclamation projects! The Vikings were left for dead midway through the season and head coach Mike Tice was all but fired in Minneapolis, but six straight wins have put the Vikes back in not only the Wild Card race, but the race for the NFC North title. Don’t expect them to let up this weekend against a Baltimore team that is a shadow of its former dominant self. Quarterback Brad Johnson has the Minnesota offense humming, while the defense is making playoffs and forcing turnovers. That’s bad news for a Ravens’ offense that is plain pathetic. Running back Jamal Lewis has apparently shut it down for the season, while quarterback Kyle Boller has yet to grasp the game at the NFL level four years in. My pick, Minnesota 32, Baltimore 16

Chicago at Green Bay: One of the NFL’s fiercest and oldest rivalries renews in Green Bay this holiday weekend and look for the Packers to give the Bears all they can handle. It’s been a long season for Green Bay and quarterback Brett Favre, but they would like nothing more than to spoil the Bears holiday weekend and make their quest for the NFC North title just a little bit more difficult. A loss here and the Bears would face a must-win situation at Minnesota the following weekend. Interesting. Look for the Pack to run Samkon Gado at the stout Bears defense to try to soften it up. If Green Bay has success running early, look for Favre to hit some key passes later in the game. The Bears defense is great, but its offense is not. Rookie quarterback Kyle Orton is not getting the job done and it is becoming do-or-die time for the Bears, so don’t be surprised if Rex Grossman takes over if Orton continues to struggle. Something tells me Favre has one big game left in him this year, and it just might come this weekend against the Bears. My pick, Green Bay 20, Chicago 17

New York Giants at Washington: A huge battle in the NFC East as the first-place Giants take on a Redskins team that knows it must win out to have a chance at the playoffs. Playing this one at home is a big plus for the Redskins because New York quarterback Eli Manning has struggled on the road and this week, he will face one of the top defenses in the league. Look for the ‘Skins to bring a lot of pressure from the outset to force Manning into making mistakes and turning over the football. Don’t be surprised if the Giants turn to running back Tiki Barber early and often to take pressure off of Manning and to soften up the Washington defense. The Redskins will also pound their running back Clinton Portis, at the Giants as well in an attempt to make this a field position game. I think Washington’s defense will force Manning into a key turnover or two late in the game to pull out the win and keep their playoff hopes alive. My pick, Washington 24, New York 20

Dallas at Carolina: A key NFC tilt with playoff implications galore pits the Cowboys against the Panthers, with the winner probably assuring itself of a Wild Card slot with one game to go. The Cowboys ended their three-game losing streak two weeks ago with a thrilling 31-28 win at home against the Chiefs and this week they will take on a Carolina team that has given them fits over the last few years, especially in the playoffs. Dallas must have success running the football in this one, so look for head coach Bill Parcells to once again to split time with Julius Jones and Marion Barber III. Both played well in the KC game and the fresh legs paid off down the stretch. But the key for the Cowboys will be quarterback Drew Bledsoe’s ability to make plays in the passing game. He looked sharp against the Chiefs, so maybe he’s regained the form he had earlier in the year when the Dallas offense was clicking. When the Panthers have the ball, look for them to give DeShon Foster plenty of carries and then attack the Pokes deep with speedy wide receiver Steve Smith. This could turn into a high-scoring game, so turnovers could decide the winner. My pick, Dallas 33, Carolina 31

Indianapolis at Seattle: From a playoff perspective, this game means little to either team. Both have wrapped up home field advantage in their respective conferences, but this game could be a preview of Super Bowl 40, so pride will be at stake. There’s also the matter of an undefeated season for the Colts, so expect head coach Tony Dungy to play his regulars a lot in this one until it is decided one way or the other. This will be a good test for the Indy defense as it goes up against a versatile Seattle offense that has one of the game’s top runners in Shaun Alexander (who is also going after Priest Holmes’ single-season touchdown record) and a competent passing game led by quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. The Colts have a pretty fair runner themselves in Edgrin James, and a great quarterback in Peyton Manning. This should be a fun game to watch with plenty of offensive fireworks. Like my buddy said, don’t bet on a streak to end, which means the Colts ring up win No. 15 on Christmas Eve. My pick, Indianapolis 38, Seattle 29

“Walk the Line” is middle of the road

“Walk the Line”
Running time: 136 min.
MPAA rating: PG-13

Joaquin Phoenix is no Johnny Cash. But then, who is? Therein lies the problem with “Walk the Line,” director James Mangold’s biopic of the legendary perfomer.

Rather than have Phoenix lip-sync to recordings of Johnny Cash, Mangold has the actor re-create the performances himself. Big Mistake. Phoenix tries hard to mimic Cash’s voice and mannerisms, but he falls painfully short, especially in the singing department. To Phoenix’s credit, though, he does do an admirable job of conveying that cocky, onstage Cash presence.

Another challenge for Mangold is how to tell the story of a man whose career spanned six decades. He gets around this by concentrating on the early years of Cash’s career leading up to his legendary comeback concert at Folsom Prison in 1968.

The film begins backstage at Folsom Prison as Cash is preparing to go on. He isn’t in a dressing room, but rather the prison workshop. He stares at a circular saw, and the film goes into flashback mode, back to Cash’s turbulent and traumatic childhood. His father (Robert Patrick) is an abusive alcoholic, and when Johnny’s brother dies in a sawmill accident, his father blames Cash for his death.

Fast-forward a few years. After a stint in the Air Force, he marries a woman named Vivian (Ginnifer Goodwin), who tries to push him into a life of suburban normalcy, but Johnny instead takes a couple of his buddies to Sun Records to record a gospel song. The audition is a bust until Cash and Co. belt out an unrehearsed version of “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Cash gets signed to Sun Records, goes on tour with Elvis (who gets Cash hooked on amphetamines) and meets June Carter (Reese Witherspoon). Cash adores June, but circumstances (like her already being married and his becoming an alcoholic and junkie) keep getting in their way.

The romantic angle of the film could’ve been so much more if there had been more chemistry between the two actors. I went into this film prepared not to like Witherspoon’s performance, but she does such a spectacular job, you can’t help but fall in love with her.

“Walk the Line” is an almost good/almost bad movie. Its title sums up the film perfectly. When the performances are right on, the film shines, but the flashbacks are so brief and episodic that often the movie feels more like an E! True Hollywood Story with a budget rather than a dramatic, polished motion picture.

If you’re a fan of Cash, I think you’ll be disappointed. But the casual filmgoer could see it at a matinee and not feel cheated.