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Billy Rowles named interim Newton Police Chief

NEWTON - A former sheriff who made national headlines for his role in the James Byrd Junior dragging death investigation is preparing to take on a new job, at least temporarily.

Newton City Council Monday night named Billy Rowles the interim police chief. He'll take on the position January 1 after Tommy Adams retires at the end of this year.

Rowles was the sheriff in Jasper County during the James Byrd Junior case. He's credited with helping the town remain peaceful during that time and for his role in helping with the investigation.

We spoke with Rowles by phone Monday night to get his reaction to the new interim police chief role.

"I'm excited," Rowles told KFDM News.

In talking about the City of Newton, he said, "It's 25 square miles. I measured it."

Rowles told us he'll work with "three other very good officers."

He expects the City of Newton to name a permanent police chief in the next few months. Rowles says he's not going to apply for the permanent position.

 

Some of the stories we are covering at 10PM

TUNE IN AT 10PM:

Reporter Sirai Demien rides along with deputies to find out if tensions from national events are spilling down to Southeast Texas.

A bedridden man is hospitalized after being beaten in a brutal home invasion, Reporter Laurent Huet investigates.

You do not have to use those flipping voting machines anymore. New ones are on order. Will they be simpler to use? What will it cost? When will they get here? Answers ahead at 10 p.m.

 

Tune in at 10pm for these stories, weather sports lots more with News Anchor Greg Kerr.

Gas Buddy reports prices continue dropping

SOUTHEAST TEXAS - Consumers are finding gasoline prices down to $2.05 a gallon at some service station/convenience stores in Southeast Texas, according to postings on www.GasBuddy.com.

Drivers say the price of regular unleaded is $2.05 at the Sunshine convenience store on West Port Arthur Road and 58th Street.

It was $2.06 a gallon at Fuel Depot on West Port Arthur Road near Norma Street.

In Beaumont the posted low was $2.09 a gallon at Step N Go on Calder at 7th and Global at Louisiana and 7th.

The posted low price for regular unleaded in Orange was $2.19 at a number of locations.

 

Average retail gasoline prices in Texas have fallen 11.9 cents per gallon in the past week, averaging $2.19/g yesterday, according to GasBuddy's daily survey of 13,114 gas outlets in Texas. This compares with the national average that has fallen 10.8 cents per gallon in the last week to $2.42/g, according to gasoline price website GasBuddy.com. 

Including the change in gas prices in Texas during the past week, prices yesterday were 84.4 cents per gallon lower than the same day one year ago and are 44.1 cents per gallon lower than a month ago. The national average has decreased 41.1 cents per gallon during the last month and stands 80.4 cents per gallon lower than this day one year ago. 

“As Americans take to the road for Christmas travel, they've all been given a gift that keeps on giving: falling gas prices,” said Patrick DeHaan, senior petroleum analyst with GasBuddy. “Americans are saving over $13 million dollars an hour versus gas prices a year ago- adding up to over $315 million every day. Big declines were witnessed in Montana, Michigan, Indiana, Idaho, and Ohio, where average prices fell over 20 cents on average just in the last seven days but everyone has been a winner." 

"Just in the last 24 hours, the national average has declined nearly 7c/gallon, one of the largest single day decreases ever. However, I'm worried the decline may soon begin slowing- oil prices have held in the mid-$50s, and the concrete may be setting in. If it does, and oil prices fail to drop below $50/bbl, gas prices likely won't drop more than another 10-20 cents per gallon. Either way, a sneak peak at our soon to be released 2015 gas price forecast reveals a yearly national average far lower than what we saw this year," DeHaan said.

About www.GasBuddy.com  

GasBuddy is the premiere source for real-time local gas prices. Founded in 2000, GasBuddy.com developed as an initiative to provide consumers access to local, current gas prices. Through the GasBuddy.com website and the free GasBuddy mobile app, users can find and share gas prices with fellow drivers, saving big money at the pump.

Video of Kyle Field demolition for upgrades
There's little to this story, just the video of the demolition this week of the west side of the Kyle Field stadium.  It is part of a $450 million renovation at the stadium.  We post this as a nostalgia piece for the Aggies out there.

Jefferson County Commissioners approve purchase of new electronic voting machines

JEFFERSON COUNTY - Jefferson County Commissioners have approved the purchase of a new electronic voting system the County Clerk says will ensure the integrity of the elections and is scheduled to be in place for the May elections.

Commissioners Court voted 4-0 Monday to buy the Hart Intercivic eSlate machines. County Judge Jeff Branick joined Commissioners Brent Weaver, Michael Sinegal and Eddie Arnold in voting for the new machines. Commissioner Bo Alfred wasn't at the meeting.

The County is buying the machines under a lease-purchase agreement of about $1.7 million. It's a five year agreement, but the state is examining a new system, and it could lead to a buyout of the final two years of the agreement if the state comes up with a new voting system.

The County will receive a $175,000 discount for buying the machines before the end of the year and a possible $75,000 discount in a buy back from ES&S, the company that sold the county the electronic voting machines it's been using for about ten years.

"I think it'll be a good system," County Clerk Carolyn Guidry told KFDM News. "We won't have to worry about the calibration issue. We'll have a lot of voter education on the new system as we approach the May elections. I'm sure we'll have Beaumont and Nederland elections, and others. It's user friendly. Instead of a touch screen it has a wheel. But it's just a training process. They'll get used to that. We're ready to move forward with elections and not compromise the integrity of the elections."

Guidry says her office will ensure voters become trained on the new system.

"Any organization can invite us to bring the machine for voter education and to train and teach," said Guidry. "We'll have our own classes at the courthouse and counting stations. We're excited about it."

Guidry expects Hart to begin delivering the machines in the first part of January.

 

(Previous report) JEFFERSON COUNTY - By Haley Bull

Changes in how you vote may not be far away in Jefferson County.

The November 4 election revealed several problems with the county's voting machines. They include people voting straight ticket for one party or voting for individual candidates and reporting the electronic machine flipped the vote to the other party.

The mounting problems are prompting Jefferson County Commissioner's Court to consider switching to a new system. The goal is to main the integrity of the vote.

Commissioners are considering a $1.7 million proposal to switch to a new company that promises the issues plaguing the past election won't happen again with their machines.

Two of the largest issues the County Clerk's Office reported were vote-flipping due to machines out of calibration and a failure with the scanner reading mail-in ballots, leading to an emergency vendor visit, late results  and voter concerns.

The County Clerk says she'd like to switch to what's called the Hart Intercivic eSlate.

The Texas-based company says 104 other counties in the state also use them. The company proposes a five-year lease to the county that would allow for an upgrade after three years to a new machine now in the certification process.

Poll workers in Commissioner Court got a chance Monday to test the machines during a workshop.

Instead of a touch screen they use scrolling wheels to select choices so the machine doesn't need to be calibrated.

The company says a controller storing the votes is also used for every 12 machines so poll workers only have to close that controller rather than each voting booth, saving time at the end of the night.

"I think it's important because you want to maintain voter integrity," said County Clerk Carolyn Guidry. "You want the voter to feel confident that their votes are being counted and it's always been an issue with ES&S system. It's not a system that I chose to begin with. I don't think we should have purchased to begin with and it's just not a good system for Jefferson County, so I think the change would be real good for the county."

Guidry says she'd like a new system in place by May. The last time the county bought voting machines, about ten years ago, federal funding was available. This time the county would be responsible for the cost.


Update on PA home invasion robbery that injures homeowner, teen

PORT ARTHUR - Port Arthur Police are investigating a home invasion robbery that injured a homeowner and a teenager.

Investigators say at 9:09 p.m. Sunday, December 21, the Port Arthur Police Department received a call of a robbery that had just occurred at a home in the 2800 block of 15th Street.

Officers found that two men had forced their way into a home. They used a weapon to assault the homeowner and a teenager. The victims received blunt force trauma. The attackers took cash from the home and ran away.

The homeowner and the child were transported to Christus Hospital St. Elizabeth in Beaumont by an EMS unit. They're injuries aren't believed to be life threatening.

Officers searched the area but didn't find the attackers.

If you have information about the home invasion robbery call Port Arthur Police or Crime Stoppers at 833-TIPS.

Update on murder of two NYC police officers

NEW YORK (AP) — A gunman who announced online that he was planning to shoot two "pigs" in retaliation for the police chokehold death of Eric Garner ambushed two officers in a patrol car and shot them to death in broad daylight Saturday before running to a subway station and killing himself, authorities said.

Watch KFDM News for local coverage and reaction to the shootings.

The suspect, 28-year-old Ismaaiyl Brinsley, wrote on an Instagram account: "I'm putting wings on pigs today. They take 1 of ours, let's take 2 of theirs," officials said. He used the hashtags Shootthepolice RIPErivGardner (sic) RIPMikeBrown.

Police said he approached the passenger window of a marked police car and opened fire, striking Officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu in the head. The New York Police Department officers were on special patrol doing crime reduction work in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn.

"They were, quite simply, assassinated — targeted for their uniform," said Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, who looked pale and shaken at a hospital news conference.

Brinsley took off running as officers pursued him down to a nearby subway station, where he shot himself in the head. A silver handgun was recovered at the scene, Bratton said.

"This may be my final post," Brinsley wrote in the Instagram post that included an image of a silver handgun. The post had more than 200 likes.

Bratton confirmed that the suspect made very serious "anti-police" statements online but did not get into specifics of the posts. He said they were trying to figure out why Brinsley had chosen to kill the officers. Two city officials with direct knowledge of the case confirmed the posts to The Associated Press. The officials, a senior city official and a law enforcement official, were not authorized to speak publicly on the topic and spoke on condition of anonymity.

The shootings come at a tense time; Police in New York and nationwide are being criticized for their tactics, following the July death of Garner, who was stopped on suspicion of selling loose, untaxed cigarettes. Amateur video captured an officer wrapping his arm around Garner's neck and wrestling him to the ground. Garner was heard gasping, "I can't breathe" before he lost consciousness and later died.

Demonstrators around the country have staged die-ins and other protests since a grand jury decided Dec. 3 not to indict the officer in Garner's death, a decision that closely followed a Missouri grand jury's refusal to indict a white officer in the fatal shooting of Brown, an unarmed black 18-year-old. Bratton said they were investigating whether the suspect had attended any rallies or demonstrations.

Brinsley was black; the officers were Asian and Hispanic, police said.

The Rev. Al Sharpton said Garner's family had no connection to the suspect and denounced the violence.

"Any use of the names of Eric Garner and Michael Brown in connection with any violence or killing of police, is reprehensible and against the pursuit of justice in both cases," Sharpton said.

Brown's family also released a statement condemning the shooting. "We must work together to bring peace to our communities," the statement says. "Our thoughts and prayers go out to the officers' families during this incredibly difficult time."

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the killing of the officers in the nation's largest department strikes at the heart of the city.

"Our city is in mourning. Our hearts are heavy," said de Blasio, who spoke softly with moist eyes. "It is an attack on all of us."

Scores of officers in uniform lined up three rows deep lined the hospital driveway and stretched into the street, their hands raised in a silent salute, as two ambulances bore the slain officers' bodies away. The mayor ordered flags at half-staff.

In a statement Saturday night, Attorney General Eric Holder condemned the shooting deaths as senseless and "an unspeakable act of barbarism." President Barack Obama, in a statement issued while he's vacationing in Hawaii, said he unconditionally condemns the slayings.

"The officers who serve and protect our communities risk their own safety for ours every single day — and they deserve our respect and gratitude every single day," Obama said. "Tonight, I ask people to reject violence and words that harm, and turn to words that heal — prayer, patient dialogue, and sympathy for the friends and family of the fallen."

Early Saturday, Bratton said, Brinsley went to the home of a former girlfriend in the Baltimore area and shot and wounded her. Police there said they noticed Brinsley posting to the woman's Instagram account about a threat to New York officers. Baltimore-area officials sent a warning to New York City police, who received it around the time of the shooting, Bratton said.

Criminal records show Brinsley has a history of arrests on various charges in Georgia, including robbery, shoplifting, carrying a concealed weapon, disorderly conduct and obstruction of a law enforcement officer. Bratton said his last-known address was Georgia, but he had some ties in Brooklyn.

A block from the shooting site, a line of about eight police officers stood with a German shepherd blocking the taped-off street. Officer Ramos was married with a 13-year-old son, police said. He had been on the job since 2012. Liu had been on the job for seven years and got married two months ago, Bratton said.

"Both officers paid the ultimate sacrifice today while protecting the communities they serve," he said.

Rosie Orengo, a friend of Ramos, said he was heavily involved in their church and encouraged others in their marriages.

"He was an amazing man. He was the best father and husband and friend," she said. "Our peace is knowing that he's OK, and we'll see him in heaven."

The president of the police officers union, Patrick Lynch, and de Blasio have been locked in a public battle over treatment of officers following the grand jury's decision. Just days ago, Lynch suggested police officers sign a petition that demanded the mayor not attend their funerals should they die on the job. On Saturday, some officers turned their backs on de Blasio as he walked into the hospital. At a news conference, Lynch said there is "blood on many hands" tonight, explicitly blaming the mayor and protesters.

The last shooting death of an NYPD officer came in December 2011, when 22-year veteran Peter Figoski was shot in the face while responding to a report of a break-in at a Brooklyn apartment. The triggerman, Lamont Pride, was convicted of murder and sentenced in 2013 to 45 years to life in prison.

___

Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire and Tom McElroy in New York, Juliet Linderman in Baltimore and Josh Lederman in Honolulu contributed to this report.

Remembering Joe Tortorice, Sr.

BEAUMONT - From Broussard's

Joseph “Joe” Vincent Tortorice, Sr., 90, of Beaumont, died Saturday, December 20, 2014. The incredible story of Joseph V. Tortorice, Sr., (Pop) began on 12 September 1924 in Plaquemine, Louisiana with his birth to Salvatore and Rosa Tortorice. Salvatore had immigrated from Gibellina, Sicily in 1895 and had begun a grocery business after his marriage.  Pop grew up as the fifth of seven children. His siblings were John, Vic, Jake, Mary, Charles and Frances.

The family moved to Beaumont soon after his birth when his father had the opportunity to open a small café in partnership with a relative. He witnessed work ethic at an early age as his father would catch the bus each day and return late at night.

The children were raised in a loving household.  His oldest brother “Johnny” would go on to become a Catholic priest.  All of the boys were great athletes.  Pop was once named to the All City teams in football, baseball and basketball.  Even later in life, his athletic ability was evident in the game of golf as he “shot” below his age over 20 times, a very difficult accomplishment.

As a junior in high school he enlisted in the United States Army to fight for our country in World War II. He trained at Fort Lewis in Washington before sailing to England out of New York aboard the USS Fair Isle. He had been assigned to the 17th Signal Corps Battalion of the U.S. First Army. This unit would play a key role as the allies advanced across Europe.

During the convoy crossing of the Atlantic, German U-boats sunk one of their ships.  Later that day, Nazi radio erroneously announced that the Fair Isle had been sunk and that it was a key target so as to destroy this communications capability.  In truth, Germany had sunk the wrong ship and Pop arrived in Bristol, England on 21 October 1943.

It was in England that he trained for the greatest military operation in the history of the world – the Normandy Invasion.  And on June 9, 1944 he came ashore in France at Omaha Beach.  His unit would then proceed through France, Holland, Belgium, the Ardennes Forest, the Battle of the Bulge and on into Germany.

He was a communication specialist and spoke many times of connecting phone calls for General Dwight Eisenhower to General Omar Bradley.  He ended the war in Weimar, Germany and was one of the first soldiers to enter Buchenwald Concentration Camp./   After 21 months overseas, he returned home and re-entered high school as a senior. As a war veteran, he said the nuns so revered him that he “didn’t have to crack a book”.

There he met the love of his life – Margaret Rose Montalbano.  He called her the “pick of the litter”.  They would spend a beautiful lifetime together raising four children; Joey, Judy, Pinky, “and Suzanne”.  His family was his life and he focused on loving, teaching, providing and protecting his wife and children./   Judy became a well-respected nurse and married Larry McFarland. They have three children, Amy, Cody, and Lindsey; and three grandchildren; Addie, Landon, and Brady.

Pinky earned a degree in Computer Science and married Bill Carden. They have four children, Polly, Katy, Tre, and Leesa; and three grandchildren, Emma, Charles, and Rosabelle.

Suzanne also became an LVN and married Dave Jones. They have five children, Julie, Ross, Charlie, Hunter, and Taylor; and one grandchild, Poppy Rose./   Joey attended Texas A&M, spent four years in the Corps of Cadets, met and married “Shelley Bill” Schoolfield. They have three children Jay, Rob, and Ashley; and nine grandchildren, Joseph IV, Luke, Lainey, Robert, Josephine, Mary Margeret, Georgia, Olivia, and Maceo.

After the war, Pop began his career as a salesman for a wholesale grocery company. His love of people and ability to build lasting relationships enabled him to buy a grocery store owned by an elderly couple. Fruitland Grocery became the opportunity that allowed his passion and persistence to flourish. Over time he expanded his holdings to four grocery stores, two laundromats, two drycleaners and one little sandwich shop, J’s BBQ and Washateria.

And it was out of that little sandwich shop that Jason’s Deli was born. Pop financed and guided his son Joey in the opening of the first deli at Gateway Shopping Center. As the years passed, he became an inspiration to the people of the Jason’s Deli Company. His ability to encourage others became a cornerstone of the culture of Jason’s Deli.  Today, the brand is in 29 states with 253 locations, and is considered one of the top ten Fast-Casual concepts in the nation by Forbes Magazine.

Pop retired in 1990 and he and Margaret spent their golden years traveling and enjoying one of their great loves – their beach house – the T-Box at Emerald Beach. He took up fishing and became known as the King of the Bay for his knack for catching many speckled trout.  The T-Box became the site of an annual beach party for the families of Joey and Aggie Buddies. These boys would become second sons to Pop as his love for A&M matched his spirit for life.

His enthusiasm and ability to inspire others was built throughout his lifetime by his faith.  Each summer he, Joey, Russ Mason, his sons-in-laws, and grandsons attended the Manresa Jesuit Retreat in Convent, Louisiana.  For seventeen years, he developed relationships with the Jesuits while enjoying the Southern Louisiana cuisine.  His eating was classified as “out of control” at times!  His friend, Father Edward Romagosa, always told him to not hold on to life too tightly and to “Let it go” when he needs to.  These became his final earthly words.

As he grew older, Pop began to face more health issues.  His relationship with his nephew, Dr. Al Brady, became one of mutual love as Al watched over him for the past thirty-three years.  His case became somewhat complex as Al referred him to a world renowned heart specialist, Dr. Reynolds Delgado, who truly prolonged his life. Dr. Delgado was so inspired by Pop’s determination, that he invented a new heart device for patients dealing with the issues similar to Pop.  It should be on the market in 2016 and will help thousands of patients throughout the world for years to come.

His life story would not be complete without mentioning his love for nephews, RC and Tony.  He would have many happy moments over latte with them. They would also, together, gripe about the Aggie football team.

Pop made us all promise to continue making Italian sausage for the holidays and planting Cucuzza on St. Joseph’s Day.

Pop’s friendship with Monsignor Jerry McGrath became a symbiotic relationship between the two men.  Father Jerry provided unconditional love and support in these last years.

Also, a special mention should be made of his caregivers and the role he played in their lives; Celia, Joy, Tchet, Fei, Esper, Lovely, Amor and his granddaughter, Julie.  He became a second father to them./     In his words, he was a simple man, who loved his family and “did it my way”./    In closing, the following is an excerpt written to the Jason’s Deli Company by his grandson, Rob:

Deli Family,

I am deeply saddened to tell you this news.  Big Joe went to see the Lord this afternoon. He passed in peace with his wife and kids at his side.

Big Joe had a zest for life that kept him alive and active for decades longer than his body allowed for.  That spirit inspired us on a daily basis, especially in his passing.  He was at peace in recent weeks but the man never, ever gave up fighting.  He had a will to fight and to live; not for himself but for his family.  He literally hung on these last months for the sake of others and it was only when they were all at peace was he willing to accept the inevitable passing from this earthly world and to go see the Lord.  "Perseverance" is a cliche that we hear all the time but it is infinitely easier said than done.  Anyone that has endured medical issues knows how utterly exhausting it is to go through all the poking, prodding, doctors visits, waiting, testing, giving blood, side-effects, etc, etc that come with fighting through an ordeal like this.  That is damn hard and Big Joe did it for decades with a smile on his face.  He did it not only because he had an amazing will to live but because that's what you do in service of others.  You owe it to them.  You owe it to yourself but more importantly, you owe it to your family and friends.  But few are able to persevere like he did.   He did for us.  What an ultimate act of Servant Leadership.  He kept that spirit and his wit all the way to the end; even in recent days.  He was sharp as a tack.  His mind was willing but his body was not able.  Big Joe was not only the Patriarch of our family but also that of the company.  He is responsible for the birth of this great organization and I know he touched many of the people in it.   He was an inspiration to me.  Let him continue to be so for all of us.

A gathering of Mr. Tortorice’s family and friends will begin at 4:00 p.m., with his Christian Vigil at 7:00 p.m., Monday, December 22, 2014, at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, 700 Jefferson, Beaumont. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 11:00 a.m., Tuesday, December 23, 2014, at St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica, with his entombment to follow at Forest Lawn Memorial Park, Beaumont, under the direction of Broussard’s, 2000 McFaddin Avenue, Beaumont.

Memorial contributions may be made to St. Anthony Cathedral Basilica School, 850 Forsythe, Beaumont, Texas 77701 or to St. Anne Catholic School, 375 North 11th Street, Beaumont, Texas 77702.  

North Korea internet "totally down" --expert
WASHINGTON (AP) - North Korea experienced sweeping and progressively worse Internet outages extending into Monday, with one computer expert saying the country's online access is "totally down." The White House and the State Department declined to say whether the U.S. government was responsible.

President Barack Obama said Friday the U.S. government expected to respond to the hacking of Sony Pictures Entertainment Inc., which he described as an expensive act of "cyber vandalism" that he blamed on North Korea. Obama did not say how the U.S. might respond, and it was not immediately clear if the Internet connectivity problems represented the retribution. The U.S. government regards its offensive cyber operations as highly classified.

"We aren't going to discuss, you know, publicly operational details about the possible response options or comment on those kind of reports in anyway except to say that as we implement our responses, some will be seen, some may not be seen," State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf said.

North Korea has forcefully denied it was responsible for hacking into Sony.

Doug Madory, the director of Internet analysis at Dyn Research, a company that studies Internet connectivity, said the problems were discovered over the weekend and grew progressively worse to the point that "North Korea's totally down."

"They have left the global Internet and they are gone until they come back," he said.

He said one benign explanation for the problem was that a router suffered a software glitch, though a cyber-attack involving North Korea's Internet service was also a possibility.

Routing instabilities are not uncommon, but this particular outage has gone on for hours and was getting worse instead of better, Madory said.

"This doesn't fit that profile," of an ordinary routing problem, he said. "This shows something getting progressively worse over time."

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