Tatiana Toomer I Reporter

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3 Cannon AFB airmen indicted, family speaks out

by Tatiana Toomer

CLOVIS, New Mexico (KVII) — A Curry County grand jury indicted the three airmen who are stationed at Cannon Air Force Base on Friday. The defendants were denied bond during their detention hearings this week.

Senior Airman Thomas Newton, Airman First Class Isaiah Edley and A1C Rahman Buchanan are charged with the second degree felony of criminal sexual penetration. 

The defendants are assigned different Curry County district court judges, who each ruled that because of the nature and seriousness of the charge, flight risk concerns and the Ninth Judicial District Court's lack of jurisdiction over the Air Force Base, the airmen will remain behind bars without bond.

Chief Deputy District Attorney Brian Stover presented the victim's case on Wednesday against Newton. Stover told ABC 7 News, the State met its burden of proving the necessity of pretrial detention.

"We presented sufficient evidence to show that the defendant is a danger to the community," Stover explained. There were no conditions of release that the court could put in place that would adequately protect the community," he added.

During the court proceedings it was revealed that the DNA test results were not readily available.

Family members of the defendants flew to Clovis this week from the east coast and overseas to be present at the detention hearings. The families expressed that they want the airmen to be given fair trials.

“I hope that people allow all three of them to be innocent until proven guilty. And if they're proven guilty fairly, then they're proven guilty," Newton's older brother Alex Williams emphasized. "I just hope that the public allows our system to work the way it's supposed to,” he pleaded.

Buchanan's mother, April Shepherd, expressed a similar sentiment.

“My greatest fear is that they won't be given the best chance of showing who they are or proven their innocence. The worst right now is that they are guilty until proven innocent,” Shepherd said.

Buchanan's detention hearing was held on Monday. Shepherd pointed out that she opted to hire a private attorney because her son still lacked a public defender two days before his hearing.

"He had been in jail already a week and no one had come and talk to him. That was very frustrating. People from the Air Force had come to talk to him, counsel him to help him get through it, but he had no lawyer for a week," she said.

Paula Brown, Edley's mother, said she is devastated at the possiblity of her son being convicted.

"He’s worked so hard in his life. There’s no way he should be put away, castaway in a hole because of something like this. He has not been convicted of a crime. It’s almost as if he’s guilty before it’s even proven," Brown expressed. "The United States Constitution says you are innocent until proven guilty and that’s not what’s happening here," she speculated. 

According to court records, the defendants do not have a criminal history.

Brown described Edley as a protector and knowledgeable about sexual assault cases.

"He worked the Teal Program, which was a sexual assault command team; taking statements and identifying sexual assault cases," Brown divulged about Edley's time at Fort Sheppard.

Williams explained that he has spoken to his brother since the arrest, and said Newton is more concerned about the well-being of his family than he is about his current situation.

"He just keeps saying, 'God has a plan for me. I’m in here for some reason. I don’t know why and what that is, but I trust Him. And when I get out of here it’s all going to be okay,' Williams disclosed of their conversations. 

The victim was present at all of the hearings this week, and Stover explained that she has been given ample support to cope with the matters.

“She has been provided with the appropriate counseling services and victim advocate services so that she can participate in these," Stover said.

Brown and Shepherd affirmed that they intend to file a complaint against the State of New Mexico for civil rights violations and racial discrimination.

Closed Dairy Queens want to reduce liability for rent

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

The financial battle continues for Varsari LLC., with its recent Dairy Queen closures. 

According to court documents, the landlord for the now-closed location in Stratford, Texas, Edwin Estes Jr., has filed an objection to Vasari's request for a retroactive lease rejection. 

On November 3, 2017, Vasari, LLC (the “Debtor”) filed its Motion for an Order Authorizing (I) Rejection of Certain Unexpired Real Property Leases and (II) Abandonment of Related Personal Property [Docket No. 65] (the “Original Motion”), requesting that the Court enter an order authorizing retroactive rejection of certain unexpired leases listed on Exhibits A and B to the Motion, which includes a lease wherein Estes is the landlord. 

The lease between Varsari and Estes was entered into in May 2014 and paid until September 2017. Estes stated retroactive rejection of the lease should not be authorized, but instead should go into effect once the premises are surrendered to him. 

READ MORE: Dairy Queen in Stratford closes, leaves residents shocked

Estes claimed he has not received the keys to the building and that Vasari is currently holding an auction for items that will be removed no later than November 16. 

The purpose of the motion for retroactive rejection of the lease is to minimize liability for rent and other charges under the lease once the request is filed. In this instance, Vasari is requesting the relief while it still has possession of the property. 

READ MORE: Dairy Queen files for bankruptcy; may close some Panhandle locations

A similar situation is happening with the Gruver and Coleman locations in Texas. The stores have been closed, but Vasari has not turned over the keys and is again asking for rejection of the leases. The landlord for those two locations, the Brown Family Revocable Trust , also filed an objection and stated it should be paid rent until the property is relinquished. 

A hearing is scheduled for December 5. 

Son charged in father's murder undergoing mental evaluation

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

A judge ordered a 46-year-old man charged in his father's death to be examined for incompetency Tuesday. 

On October 26, Amarillo police officers were called to a home at 3804 Mesa Verde around 3:45 p.m. on a report of a person who had been shot.  APD said the victim, 69-year-old Ricky Lee Howerter, was dead at the scene.

According to the complaint filed, the victim's son Robert Harold Howerter admitted to an officer in an oral recorded statement that he had committed the crime. 

Howerter was ordered on Tuesday to submit to an examination on Wednesday, because "the Court is of the opinion that there is evidence to support a finding of incompetency," the judge stated in the documents. 

The examiner's report will include the expert's opinion of whether or not Howerter can stand trial.

READ MORE: Son arrested for shooting, killing father in Northeast Amarillo

Howerter is being held in the Potter County Jail on a $500,000 bond and the examination will take place within the Potter County Detention Center. 

Ruby Tequila's lawsuit defendant responds to complaint

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

R Tequila Acquisition, LLC responded to the lawsuit filed against them by former Ruby Tequila employees on Friday. 

The original complaint was filed on September 7. 

Notable answers to the long list of complaints brought against the company includes its denial that it employed any of the plaintiffs at the time of the alleged violation.

With regard to Paragraph 75 of Plaintiffs’ Complaint, Defendant denies it employed any of the Plaintiffs at the time of the alleged violation

 It goes on to deny it is a proper defendant in this class action.  

With regard to Paragraph 125 of Plaintiffs’ Complaint, Defendant admits Plaintiffs purport to bring this action as a class action. Defendant, however, denies it is a proper Defendant in this purported class action.

According to court documents, R Tequila Acquisition states it did not employ plaintiffs at the time of the restaurant closures and/or is not a "covered employer" under the WARN Act violations. The defendant claims there is no standing for them to be sued for WARN Act violations. 

The company also denies all defendants were joint employers and/or acted as a single business enterprise for the purposes of the Fair Labor Standards Act. The other defendants in the case are Fired Up Holding Company, Inc., Richard Kevin Foote, Chalak Mitras Group, LLC, Gurdev Singh Gill, M.D., and Rajeev Singh Gill. 

R Tequila further denies breach of contract claims, that they agreed to pay the state law plaintiffs a fixed salary during each pay period they were employed,  forming an enforceable contract for so long as they were employed. The company denies they failed to pay salaries for the last three to four weeks of the plaintiffs' employment. 

Plaintiffs, to the extent employed by Defendant on April 30, 2017, have been paid all sums legally owed by Defendant under the FLSA.

The company admits Fired Up Holdings and Richard Foote assumed responsibility for the "day-to-day operations of the restaurants." In the court documents, the company also states that it lacks sufficient knowledge or information to admit or deny the allegations that employees were not provided with any notice, written or otherwise, of the mass layoff.

Defendant Richard Foote filed his answer to the complaint on September 21. 

Indicted Clovis coach loses another judge

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

A Clovis district judge recused himself from a sexual offense case brought against a former assistant track coach on Tuesday.

Judge Matthew Chandler excused himself after being assigned to the case on November 2.  Fly’s attorney excused the initial judge, Judge Fred Van Solen, on October 18. Judge Chandler filed his recusal less than a week after taking on the case. 

Garrett Scott Fly was indicted October 6 on a felony charge of criminal sexual communication with a child.

The court is due to have stipulation order by November 21.

More than 20 ways to get active before the holidays

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

There are less than two weeks until Thanksgiving, and just a short while before New Years resolutions begin to kick in. Verdure, a fitness facility, is eager for people to try out their endless options of activities as a way to get a head start on any fitness resolutions. 

"We offer something for pretty much everybody," said Justin Ragsdale, Verdure general manager. "We offer over 50 group exec [sic] classes free per week...We also have our kids zone, which is great for parents," he added.  

Malee Needham leads Pilates classes and told ABC 7, the Pilates reformer is great for ages 10 to 100 and is for able-bodies, as well as those who have injuries.

"This is good for many reasons, just a few being, strengthening your muscles, flexibility and also just improving overall health," Needham explained. 

There are also high intensity workouts like the Boxing & Bags classes. 

"Boxing & Bags is going to be a full body workout, really high intensity. You're going to start out at the bags, we're going to do some mitt work, get you into the H.I.I.T. zone...add in different weights, incorporate abs. It's a really good class to just get started for that holiday season," explained Delaney Burney, Boxing & Bag instructor. 

For alternative exercise, Ballet Amarillo is stationed inside of Verdure, but a membership is not required to join in on the exercises. 

"Ballet Amarillo offers all varieties of dance, for all ages starting at three years old. We also offer a special needs class," said Jillian Hughes, Ballet Amarillo instructor. 

For a full list of facilities and amenities, click here

Amarillo police chief plus more than 80 officers listed as possible witnesses in lawsuit

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Plaintiffs in a civil rights lawsuit with three Amarillo police officers filed an amended complaint on Thursday, as ordered by the court. A designation of experts document was also filed earlier this week.

Amarillo officers Lieutenant Scott Chappell, Sergeant Thomas Callahan and Sergeant Chris Sheffield’s legal battle with California parents Michael Wartena and Michael Tiffany Stewart, over the handling of the investigation into their daughter Alexis' disappearance, is now involving a long list of non-retained witnesses who may be called to testify.

More than 80 APD officers, pathologists, language specialists, as well as members of the Randall County Sheriff’s Department, Amarillo Fire Department, Texas Department of Public Safety, Potter County Sheriff’s Department, Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, Child Protective Services and The Bridge are named in the court filing as possible witnesses.

READ MORE: Judge denies motion to dismiss Amarillo officers' lawsuit

In the amended complaint, the plaintiffs provided a detailed timeline of the moments leading up to and after Alexis' disappearance, as well as when her body was found in T-Anchor Lake. It also clarifies when the Wartena’s four other children were returned to them by Child Protective Services.

The Wartenas also detailed each item collected by officers and when those items were returned to them. The list includes 31 items.

READ MORE: California family pushes to continue lawsuit against Amarillo officers

The Wartenas maintain that the officers violated their fourth and fourteenth amendment rights and are requesting a trial by jury.

According to the plaintiffs’ lawyer, Attorney Jesse Quackenbush, the Wartenas and the officers will have their depositions on January 2 and January 3, followed by a court ordered settlement conference on Janaury 4.

Defendant responds to HAZMAT lawsuit

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

A defendant in a lawsuit regarding a HAZMAT incident, that left four children dead and others injured, responded to the claims on Wednesday.

Isidro Ulloa has entered a denial in his answer to the lawsuit.

Peter Balderas and Martha Balderas filed the lawsuit on behalf of themselves and their injured and deceased minor children, along with their adult daughters Cassandra Balderas and Jacqueline Balderas in October.

According to the original petition, “The lawsuit arises from an incident which occurred on or about January 2, 2017...Plaintiff was provided Weevil-Cide pellets contained in a canister by Isidro Ulloa...the pellets emitted phosphine gas that killed four of their eight children.”

Ulloa is currently representing himself.

United Phosphorus, LTD., UPL Corporation Limited, and United Phosphorus, Inc., are also defendants in the case and have yet to file a response with the court.

Curry County reveals $11 million jail design plans

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

CLOVIS, New Mexico — A New Mexico jail is on track towards becoming a more secured facility.

Curry County revealed design floor plans to ABC 7 News for their adult detention center's upcoming renovation in January. The Curry County Commission approved the design documents on Wednesday.

The upgrades are estimated to cost around $11 million, with expenses split between a $10 million bond and general fund dollars.

Amarillo is experiencing an increase in the amount of discarded items dumped in its alleys, which has left some homeowners frustrated.  The city announced Monday it will be adopting a method to better streamline the Solid Waste collection process.

“Building a detention facility is extremely costly, but you have to have a secure facility. It’s a facility that’s operated 24/7, and we have to make sure that we have those secure measures put in place,” said Lance Pyle, Curry County Manager.

The expansion will include a wider entryway, 48 additional beds, and a new medical unit. Plye mentioned they will also aim to improve safety and security with the aid of new technology. 

“We’re looking at ways to hopefully reduce staff and how to manage the population, we’re going to propose video visitation,” Plye said. 

The video visitation will be a paid service aimed towards reducing the amount of traffic through the jail and allowing people to visit an inmate remotely from a computer.

Plye acknowledged that the changes are being made with the community in mind.

“It’s very important because we’re enhancing and improving the safety and security of the facility. In addition, we’ll be able to properly house our inmates here and avoid sending tax dollars out of county, out of the state,” the county manager explained. "We have plans and would like to see down the road, is to have a connection point connecting the detention center directly to the courthouse. Currently, the inmates are transported over by either crossing the street or by sheriff vehicles," he added.

The Curry County Adult Detention Center is also working towards receiving accreditation.

Mattresses, furniture clogging Amarillo's alleyways, new clean up process announced

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Mattresses, furniture and other large items are being left in alleys next to dumpsters. The large items are not currently picked up with the regular trash collection and have created eye sores and unsanitary pile ups. Beginning June 14, the city will add resources to the trash collection crews, who will be responsible for removing all trash and debris found in alleys. 

The city anticipates it will take several months for the current situation to be cleared, and then the alleys will be cleaned on a two-month cycle. Residents are encouraged to request curbside pickup when disposing of large items. 

In section 8 in the code of ordinances it states, "It shall be unlawful for any person to deposit or place Garbage or Trash upon any Street, Alley or other Public Right-of-way adjacent to any Premises within the corporate limits of the City except as allowed in this chapter." It also maintains, "heavy accumulations, such as bricks, broken concrete, lumber, shingles, ashes, clinkers, slag, cinders, dirt, plaster, sand or gravel, automobile frames, furniture, appliances, dead trees and other bulky, heavy material shall not be deposited in or near receptacles or containers for collection, but shall be immediately disposed of at the expense of the person in possession of such material."

On the city's website, it notes special collection of large, bulky items can be arranged by calling the Solid Waste Collection Department at (806)378-6813.

Tear gas, robot prompts surrender, arrest of suspect in South Amarillo SWAT standoff

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

A man is in custody Monday morning after a felony warrant for burglary ended in a SWAT standoff. Amarillo Police Department went to 4117 S. Hughes Street in search of 42-year-old Jerald Garcia around 10:00 p.m. Sunday. Officers said they contacted people in the residence who confirmed Garcia was inside of the home. 

Officials said Garcia had access to a firearm and that he had made statements that made officers believe he was a danger to himself and others. SWAT, negotiators and the Bomb Robot Team were called to the scene around 12:23 a.m. After negotiators made contact with Garcia, he refuse to come out. 

The surrounding blocks in the neighborhood were blocked off by police vehicles for about six hours until Garcia surrendered after chemical irritants were released into the home.   

Garcia was taken into custody around 4:06 a.m.

Officers remained on the scene for about an hour after the standoff, and searched inside of the home as well as a vehicle that was in the driveway. 

High Plains Food Bank reveals which areas have the highest demand for food

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

The High Plains Food Bank revealed an overall improvement in the number of people facing food insecurity in the Texas Panhandle. According to the HPFB's latest hunger study, it showed an overall percentage of 14.6 food insecure individuals, down from the reported 15.4% the previous year. 

“Overall Potter and Randall Counties, according to this year’s estimates, decreased about five percent and two percent respectively," noted Zack Wilson, High Plains Food Bank Executive Director.

Wilson explained that the poor economy has had a negative effect in some of their service areas. 

“According to the latest report, Cottle County, Childress County, Donley County and Hardeman County, are our highest counties and those are all along the Highway 287 and our southeast quadrant," Wilson explained. "A lot to do with the economy, the fundraising right now. The cost it takes to stay in operation for our partners down there, and of course the need that still remains high in those counties. Based on those two factors, it is what allows them to still remain high on this latest report," he acknowledged. 

Wilson pointed out community support is instrumental to their continuing efforts to feed those in the panhandle. 

"Great campaign with Walmart right now. "Fight Hunger. Spark Change," said Wilson. "You go into any Walmart in our service area, you can buy specially marked products, but more importantly you can donate at the register and 100% of those proceeds comes back to us. And that’s really the most quickest, easiest and most effective way you can help us get food on our shelves and get food out the door for us," he explained. 

“In order for us to bring in all this food along with the donated food, the financial donations help a lot. With every dollar that’s given to us, we can access about eight dollars worth of food. So, effectively your dollars multiple by eight every time that you give," Wilson maintained. 

For a detailed map of the hunger survey, click here

'Every four minutes someone dies of a stroke,' doctor explains urgency of treating strokes

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Local physicians are working to educate the community the importance of recognizing stroke symptoms and responding quickly for National Stroke Awareness Month. 

“Approximately every forty seconds, someone in the United States has a stroke and every four minutes someone dies of a stroke. And if it’s recognized early, it can be a very treatable condition,” cautioned Dr. Thomas Mercado, Neighbors Emergency Center physician.

Mercado sat down with ABC 7 News to explain how this dire condition can affect people of all ages and preventative steps to take.  

“The most important one, that’s correctable, is high blood pressure. A lot of people don’t recognize that they even have this. It’s often called the silent killer because people don’t even know that they have it. Other risk factors involve elevated cholesterol, diabetes, smoking and inactivity," he explained. 

Mercado pointed out how response time could affect the diagnosis. He suggested an simple way of recognizing symptoms and signs is by using the acronym F.A.ST. This represents facial drooping, arms drifting downward, slurred speech and time to call for help. 

“A stroke is any loss of blood flow to a certain part of the brain, and depending on where this occurs in the brain, you can get varying neurological signs and symptoms. The most common are numbness or weakness to the face, arm or leg, and confusion, difficulty with speech and walking, Mercado explained. 

Rising opposition in Nara Visa, more residents against nuclear waste experiment

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

There are growing concerns from Nara Visa residents regarding a potential nuclear waste experiment in the area. The Department of Energy is researching alternatives for nuclear waste disposal. Four locations in the country are vying for a contract with the DOE for the deep borehole field testing including, Nara Visa in Quay County, Otero County, Pecos County in Texas, and Haakon County in South Dakota. Enercon, which is overseeing the project in New Mexico has said no nuclear waste disposal will be involved in the testing experiment

It is a five year contract, consisting of five phases. All sites are currently in phase one, which involves garnering community support.  A site won't be selected until phase four. Nara Visa residents told ABC 7 News, they want to stop the process now before it goes any further. They said they don't want to open the door to the possibility of long term negative effects. 

Ed Hughs, Nara Visa resident, told us he fears the drilling could lead to water contamination. The Canadian River breaks at Nara Visa, which is why some residents believe, this source of water to more than half a million people in the Texas Panhandle would be compromised if this location is selected for testing. 

"If there is contamination what do you do? I mean that's our whole resource for the cattle industry, the drinking water, that Ogallala under there, if that gets contaminated we're done. There's no future industry," Hughs cautioned. 

Enercon spokesman Chip Cameron told ABC 7, they  believe the drilling will not have any effect on the groundwater, but they need to do more detailed research. 

"They found that at this particular site there was not going to be any danger to groundwater, but we really need to do some environmental review work to determine what the effects might be. We're not thinking there's going to be any, but we're going to evaluate that," Cameron pointed out. 

Enercon also said they need to continue educating the community before they can move forward. 

"We need to do more work with people, because even though I think people understand that there's not going to be any radioactive waste at this drilling site either now or in the future, people are still concerned that inevitably there's going to be some effort by the federal government to put waste there," Cameron explained. 

Cameron also clarified, that in the contract it states that any site selected for testing will not be used for nuclear waste disposal. Another site, in a different location, will be used based off of the information that was found during the experiment. Also, that it would be a limited type of radioactive waste. 

“One of the things that isn’t understood yet, is that for any site that might be selected, any borehole site, that it’s going to be a limited type of radioactive waste that would go there. It’s not going to be for example, the spent fuel that everybody thinks," Cameron said. 

Regardless, Hughs told us he is worried about the negative stigma that would be left upon the community.

"No one is going to want to buy, sell or buy cattle from an area where's there's nuclear waste," Hughs maintained.

Low barrier shelter not likely in Amarillo

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

A task force was created about a year ago to address concerns about a city ordinance, which bans camping or sleeping on public property. Virginia Williams Trice, a member of the ad hoc sub-committee, told ABC 7 News no actions have been made on proposed solutions, including the suggestion of a low barrier shelter. 

Mayor Paul Harpole said, there were disagreements among members as to whether or not a low barrier shelter was the appropriate solution.

“This is a complex problem. Solving it by something that as a very nice name and has a nice thought of a low barrier shelter, in my view doesn’t fix the problem and others on that committee said the same thing,” Mayor Harpole revealed.

Williams Trice said she was unaware some members were opposed to a low barrier shelter.

“There still hasn’t been any action taken. I know the solutions report was rejected because there was a couple of controversial items on it, but in all the meetings that I attended with the ad hoc committee, no one verbally objected to the low barrier shelter,” Williams Trice claimed. 

Mayor Harpole said, while the city does want solutions, a low barrier shelter is not the answer.

“My concern is that it sounds like a great idea on paper, but as we looked at, I looked at, other cities that have done this, many have withdrawn that. It hasn’t been a simple process, the problem is ongoing funding," said Harpole. "I don’t say we wouldn’t want to create something to help deal with this over time, but there isn’t a simple solution to this,” he continued.

Harpole also disclosed experts advised against this type of shelter. 

“These non-profits that have been in this business 30-35 years, they don’t dismiss that there’s a problem, but they do say that it’s complex and they try to deal with it everyday. They are, I think, the experts we have to look to," he said. "So those people who are experts, warned against this low barrier shelter being an instant solution to this,” Harpole revealed.

Williams Trice told ABC 7, there still needs to be an alternative place for people to go when they are turned away from other facilities.

“I think there’s been five or six people that have died since the committee was formed. I‘m not saying all of them would’ve been saved by a low barrier shelter, but it might have been a place that they would’ve been able to go to,” she noted.

But Mayor Harpole stressed, there is no simple solution and a different path needs to be taken to accommodate the homeless community. 

"We don’t have a solution, we don’t have funding, we don’t have the expertise," Harpole admitted. “I think people need to understand that even with a low barrier shelter, you don’t always take these people off the streets and they go in there. There’s socializing problems, there’s problems with mental illness that are mixed into those camps. Those problems of abuses that take place, whether criminal or sexual inside those camps that are very, very difficult to deal with," he acknowledged.  "I know the people coming to us have their heart in this, they want to see a solution. I simply say, there is not a simple solution. And also, I don’t believe it is the city’s function to solve this problem,” he concluded.

Amarillo College honored for poverty initiative

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Amarillo College won the prestigious Bellwether Award at the 2017 National Policy Summit and Futures Assembly in Florida today. The Bellwether Award recognizes programs advancing community colleges. AC won over a panel of judges with their No Excuses Poverty Initiative, which helps students living in poverty succeed in school.

"What we learned about students living in generational poverty is that they need a relationship with a person who can help them navigate systems," said Dr. Russell Lowery-Hart, President of Amarillo College. "They need someone to help them remove a life barrier that would actually keep them from finishing their studies and we built a system around that, it’s working really well," he continued.

This year there were 3,000 applicants vying for this honor. Dr. Lowery-Hart said the initiative was started five years ago and implemented in the school four years ago. As part of winning the award, they will now travel the nation to share their No Excuses plan and guide other schools. 

"This award is really for the community," Dr. Lowery-Hart said. "We partner with our non-profits, with our churches, with our businesses and even with WT, to serve the students that are in the college and we wouldn’t be here without tremendous support from the community," he acknowledged. 

Prayers & Crosses: Pro-life supporters take to the streets of Amarillo

by Tatiana Toomer  I ABC 7 Amarillo

“We have to stop funding Planned Parenthood with our taxpayer dollars,’' said John L. Denton, Amarillo resident. “I think people need to know that there is a choice out there and the choice is life,” said Nanette Nguyen, Respect Life Ministry Assistant.   

Opponents of abortion rights began Saturday morning with mass at St. Mary's Catholic Cathedral, followed by a silent walk less than a mile to Sanborn Park, which is directly across the street from the CareNet Pregnancy building. Residents said the building is the former site of Planned Parenthood before it was replaced with the anti-abortion facility. 

The Catholic Diocese of Amarillo has lead their annual Walk for Life for 20 years. 

“This is our 20th annual Walk for Life. And it’s beautiful because we’ve done it for 20 years, coming out to the community, being a witness for hope and life and love,” said Stephanie Frausto, Family Life Director. 

Frausto told ABC 7 News, the Catholic Diocese of Amarillo brings support to expectant mothers in need. 

“The community is able to see that there are folks out there that are lifting them up in prayer, and praying in the defense of all life, in every age and stage," Frausto affirmed. 

After the walk, residents told us they felt inspired by the new Trump administration and the President's pro-life support.

“I did vote for him because I am pro-life," said Nguyen.  "When that was one of the first things that he did, it touched my heart that actually a President would do immediately what they said they were going to do,” she continued.

“I am so excited that he actually kept his promise and he is working for us, said Claire Ohmes," Amarillo resident. "You have to just hope and pray and do what you can to make the world a better place,” she expressed. 

Janda Raker, chair of the Reproductive Rights Committee for the Panhandle Women for Peace, Justice and Sustainability, told ABC 7 in regards to the walk, "We believe there are circumstances in which a women may need or want to choose to end a pregnancy, so women should have the right to do so." Raker continued, "The Supreme Court has upheld that right. For any women who does not agree with that, she should not do so."  

Kindergarten students show off math skills and count to 100

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Gene Howe Elementary School celebrated the completion of 100 days of school today. More than half-way through the school year, this annual event is marked by class projects and activities. 

Kindergarten teacher Lynn Spurlin said she practices counting with her students year round to build up their skills. 

"It's a great way for kids to recognize going to 100. It's one of things that they need to master when they're done with kindergarten," Spurlin explained. 

One of the activities for Spurlin's class was dressing up as 100-year-old people.  Angeleigha Parr, kindergartner, dressed up as an 100-year-old grandma. 

"It's a grandma. My mom made wrinkles on my face," Parr said of her costume.

Spurlin told ABC 7 News, she wanted to make counting an enjoyable experience for the children.

"We did some pictures and aged their photos. And then some of them got to dress up, they did the grey hair and some of them brought a cane. So that was helpful to show them that as we grow, we get older," Spurlin added.

For the students who mastered the counting task, they were rewarded with an indulgent treat. 

"We had an ice cream sundae party," Spurlin said. "So if they counted to 30, they got the ice cream. If they counted to 50, they got the toppings. If they counted to 75, they got the whip cream. Then 100, they get the whole sundae, the cherry," she explained. 

Consumer Alert: Door-to-door solicitors, protecting against con artists

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Door-to-door salespeople are known to sell discounted goods, everything from magazines to cleaning supplies. The Amarillo Police Department said they receive complaints year round regarding solicitors knocking on doors, hoping to make a sell. 

"It is against city ordinance to go door-to-door trying to sell without a permit," said Officer Jeb Hilton, Amarillo Police Department. 

Hilton cautions residents to use discretion when responding to door-to-door salespeople. He recommends asking to see a solicitors permit. 

"If you have people coming door-to-door and you are curious if they have a permit, you can ask them. They have to show that, they have to carry that with them," Hilton advised. "Just because we approve a permit, it doesn't mean this person is a legit business, it doesn't mean that they have our backing, it just means they meant all the requirements to get a permit," he continued.

APD runs a background check on applicants seeking a permit prior to approval. 

The Better Business Bureau told ABC 7 News, residents should be aware of high pressure tactics.

"If someone's at your door and they're saying that they have material that's left over that they need to get rid of today, or that the offer that they're making you is only good today, that's a red flag," said Janna Kiehl, BBB Amarillo CEO. 

Kiehl suggested that consumers check the company's rating through BBB's website before going through a transaction. She also noted a tell-tale sign of a con artist is if they ask for personal information without a reason why of how that information will be used. 

"If they ask for any type of personal information, you want to make sure you know what they're using it for and why they need that. And be very cautious when given it out," Kiehl recommended. 

Officer Hilton also explained that it is okay not to answer the door. 

"If you don't feel comfortable even opening your door, you can talk to them through your door and say, 'I don't want to buy what you're selling, or I don't know you, get off my property.' Again, I would suggest not letting anybody in your house that you don't know," Hilton emphasized. 

Your Voice, Your Vote: Elisha Demerson running for re-election

 by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Amarillo City Council member, Elisha Demerson, announced his intentions to run for re-election for the Place 1 seat today. 

"I decided that there were still things that I wanted to see accomplished. Things that I think we have made a great start and we need to continue working on those things, and so that's why I decided to run for re-election," Demerson told ABC 7 News. 

Demerson revealed that one of the more pressing issues is that Amarillo's current tax rate is not enough to support the city's budget.

"We have almost a $330 million budget...And at the current tax rate, it is not enough to support that budget," Demerson asserted. "You have to increase your economic development tool kit. And that's one of the areas that we are going to have to focus on," he continued. 

The city council member said he has been focused on the community and will continue to bring a thoughtful perspective to the city council.

"I've tried to be an independent thinker on the council and a steady and calm leader," he said. "And of course I have the experience of having served in government. Both in an elective capacity as well as an employee of the federal government," Demerson continued. 

The Amarillo native admitted there are many communities that the city has yet to focus on. 

"We've been able to expose, if you will, or at least bring into light, that there are communities throughout Amarillo, there's areas like San Jacinto, there's areas like Pleasant Valley, that perhaps the city has not focused on addressing needs or deficiencies in those areas," Demerson said. 

Demerson also noted that he wants to revise city codes and improve the city's response times. 

Local women's group celebrates Roe v. Wade, church plans Walk for Life

 by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

A local Amarillo women's group marked the 44th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision to legalize abortion by hosting a discussion about resources available to women in the area. 

The Reproductive Rights Committee gathered at the  Amarillo Downtown Library Saturday afternoon, to open a dialog about women's rights. Janda Raker, chair of the committee, told ABC 7 News the discussion was needed because it's challenging for women in Amarillo to receive abortion services. 

Raker said they were meeting to, “Have a discussion to see what we can do to help women in this area who want or need abortions because it’s very difficult to get them.”

Amarillo also has pro-life supporters, one being the CareNet Pregnancy Center. The organization states on its website that they help women carry their babies to term by providing emotional support and practical assistance.  They also state they will uphold the sanctity of human life and never refer for abortion.

Claudia Stravato, formerly CEO of Planned Parenthood in Amarillo and now a professor at WTAMU, spoke at the women's group meeting about her experiences with opponents and the needs she says women have. 

Stravato said, “There’s very limited resources. There’s a few foundations but it’s based on need and number of people who are seeking funding...particularly if there’s a late term abortion based on health needs, those are very, very expensive.”

Jaker told us, she has concerns that the Trump administration is on its way of overturning the Roe v. Wade ruling. 

The committee's chair also  responded to the new Texas rule, which calls for the burial or cremation of fetal remains by saying, “That’s strictly done to penalize women who are having abortions. Women have been having miscarriages forever, since the beginning of time and they’ve never had to have a burial or cremation for those remains and this is the same issue exactly. It is not a health issue. That is strictly a smoke screen trying to stop abortion,” she continued. 

Next Saturday, the national March for Life, which projects life affirmation, will be held in Washington D.C.  Amarillo will host it's version called, Walk for Life,  on the same day and will begin at St. Mary's Cathedral.

Amarillo reacts to President Trump's inaugural speech

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

The world watched as President Trump called for a return of power to the American people. His inaugural address received mixed reactions from local residents. 

One Amarillo resident told ABC 7 News, he is interested to see how Trump's policies will play out. 

"From what I got to watch, it was really interesting and I thought he touched a couple good things. Some of them I would like to know a little bit more about, like more in depth, but it was pretty interesting to watch," said Austin Vandagriff. "I'm optimistic. I want to see what's going to happen. It's too early to tell, but I think that it could be a pretty good four years, we'll see what happens," he continued. 

Some other locals weren't interested in the ceremony and decided not to tune-in.

"It's the same thing as every President that gets inaugurated. You never know what you're going to get, just have to go with what's going to happen," said Cullus Westbrook, resident. 

Randall County's Democratic Madam Chair, Mariah Strong-Woods, said she decided not to engage in the day's ceremonious events.

"I did not watch it. I had no desire to. I have no intention of entertaining the back and forth on social media. Whether you despise it or support it, that train wreck left November the 8th," said Strong-Woods.

Strong-Woods also told ABC 7 she is focused on what is happening in the city locally.

"I'm just going to focus on our local things, said Strong-Woods.  "I'm going to watch what goes on at city hall...I just want to continue to push the progress for the remaining steps for the adoption of the North Heights Neighborhood Plan," Strong-Woods explained.

Randall County Republican Party's Vice Chair of Activities, Susan Allen, said Trump's speech gave her hope for our country's future.

"It was about America. He's speech was about America, so it was extremely encouraging," said Allen.

Allen also noted that she is confident Trump is the person to turn the country around.

"I think for the economy and for our health care, and for taxation and for regulation, I could go on and on, but I'm ready for America to be great again, and I just know that Trump is going to do that," Allen maintained. 

Power restored in Darrouzett, Salvation Army donates meals

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Thursday evening Xcel Energy said service had been restored in Darrouzett, with only a few homes still without power. School is canceled for Darrouzett ISD on Friday,  but Superintendent Troy Humphrey told ABC 7 News, storm damage clean up at the school is scheduled for tomorrow.  

The Salvation Army is the latest organization to donate meals to the people of Lipscomb County. Salvation Army passed out thousands of meals earlier today to residents who ran out of food after going several days without power. 

"We came up today and we stopped this morning in Higgins and dropped off about 3,000 meals, said Jennifer Santer, The Salvation Army Director of Social Services. "Then we came up from there and got here about 10 o'clock this morning to Darouzzett and brought 7,000 more meals and another six pallets of water," said Santer. 

Humphrey told ABC 7 News, that a cell tower had collapsed, which had left some residents without a source of communication.

“Yesterday afternoon, a cell phone tower apparently got damaged or had to be taken down to be repaired. When that happened, I would say about 90-95% of the people lost cell phone coverage,” said Humphrey. 

Early next week, the Texas Baptist Men will volunteer to help the city clean up debris. Officials said the limb pile will remain open 24/7 for residents who are able to drop off their own branches. 

City of Borger hauling out damage from the ice storm

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

Clean up efforts are taking place in the City of Borger after damage from the ice storm this past weekend.  Multiple crews from the region have stepped in to help. City officials told ABC 7 News, they are working to prevent personal injuries from fallen branches. 

“We have got Borger Fire Department, Texas Forest Service, our city street crews, our city park crews, are all working together. Within those, there’s multiple crews from each different entity,” said Captain Brandon Strope, Public Information Officer. 

Emergency Management said they are focusing on tree damage and trying to prevent future hazards. 

“Today we’re putting extra effort on any of the trees that have been damaged, that have hanging branches or anything. We have wind forecast coming in this weekend," said Jason Whisler, City of Borger Emergency Management Coordinator. 

Although Hutchinson County has lifted the burn ban, Strope is warning residents not to burn within the city limits or near grassy areas, because of incoming high winds for the weekend.  

"Crews are spread thin. They are working as hard as they can. If we can keep the additional fire threats down, that's a huge help," Strope advised. 

Officials also told ABC 7 News, people should take precautions if they see branches in a compromising position. 

“Safety first. If you have any power lines or branches on power lines or anything like that, you need to get a hold of dispatch, we need to have fire crews, Xcel Energy come out and assess and make sure it’s safe,” said Whisler. 

Keeping the homeless alive during winter weather

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Yellow City Community Outreach opened the doors for their emergency shelter for the third time. The organization was started just over a year ago and has been built with the help of volunteers.

"We do have a homeless problem in Amarillo, Texas, and we do want to get it under control while it's manageable," said Dan Ferguson, YCCO President. 

Ferguson told ABC 7 News, Randall County Sheriff's Department, Potter County Sheriff's Department and Amarillo Police Department has helped them get people off the streets.

"We are thankful to have our partnerships with Randall County Sheriff's Department, Potter County Sheriff's Department. APD has even dropped prisoners here, homeless prisoners. We're just all about taking people off the street," Ferguson said. 

YCCO says one of their main goals is to build a tiny house community for the homeless.

Ferguson told ABC 7 News, "We got to house them. Take the main burden of being homeless off them, put them in a house and then we can begin to treat them...The whole function of the emergency shelter is to keep Amarillo's homeless alive until we can house them. Everything that comes in, goes right back out to help the homeless."

While it is a low-barrier shelter, YCCO says they still have rules and regulations.

"We're a low barrier, but no we don't condone drugs or alcohol use in here. As a matter of fact, it'll get you expelled just like any other place. We have three of us stay here at all times. We have a security team. Yes, there's incidences all the time. If you have 70 people in one room and it's going to get critical sometimes," Ferguson said. 

For now, the shelter is housed at Palo Duro Panels located at 612 SW Second Ave. The organization accepts donations on-site as well as through a PayPal link on their Facebook page.

More people are putting their cars at risk of being stolen

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Amarillo Police Department alerted the public today of a rise in auto theft since January 1st.

"As of January 1st, we've have 31 stolen auto reports," said Officer Jeb Hilton, Amarillo Police Department.

Officer Hilton said residents are leaving their keys in the ignition and making their vehicles vulnerable targets.

"When it gets colder we have more people starting their vehicles to warm them up in the mornings. It's really easy and convenient to leave it running, go back inside and come out and get in your warm car," said Hilton. "What we've noticed is that we have a group of criminals that take advantage of that," he continued.

Some residents are taking precautions to keep their vehicles safe even when the temperatures drop.

"I never leave my car unattended. That's usually an invitation to have it stolen or broken into. My wife parks in the garage so her car is usually warm but I just can't afford to take a chance on mine getting stolen," said Chris Bohannon, Amarillo resident.

Officer Hilton suggests residents take the necessary steps to protect their vehicles at all times.

"You can get a remote car start and things of that nature...The best advice that I can give is sitting in it while the car warms up," Hilton advised.

Could drilling in Nara Visa contaminate Amarillo's water supply

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

NARA VISA, New Mexico (KVII) — A potential nuclear waste research study in Nara Visa, New Mexico, has raised concerns about potential effects on Amarillo's water supply. The Department of Energy said in a release that it is trying to discover if deep boreholes might offer a safe and practical alternative for smaller forms of nuclear waste.

Nara Visa is one of four locations being scouted for deep borehole field testing. The other locations include Otero County, NM, Pecos County, TX and Haakon County, SD. In this situation, the deep borehole would be a narrow, vertical drilled approximately three miles below the earth's surface.

Residents of Nara Visa told ABC 7 News, that the community's population has dwindled down to about 50 people. If Nara Visa is selected, they hope the drilling will stimulate their economy.

"It could bring money and stuff to the community and we need that. And, like grocery stores or some of the property around here if they want to rent it...but I like I said we need that," said Charlotte Stull, Nara Visa resident.

The DOE says community support is a central factor in whether or not the project moves forward at a proposed site.

The Canadian River breaks near Nara Visa and this has sparked questions of whether this source of water could become contaminated.

"The environmental impacts of this, of such an operation are potentially great, said Greg Mello, Executive Director of Los Alamos Study Group. "It doesn't take but a very small nuclear accident to contaminate a very large area permanently, including the water," he continued.

Enercon is overseeing the project in Nara Visa and told ABC 7 News the drilling will not impact groundwater.

"We're going to look at that issue and if there's any possibility of that happening then we're not going to be selected as the site," said Chip Cameron, Enercon spokesman. "They're on record of saying no radioactive waste disposal would be disposed of at any of the sites selected for this borehole exploration," he assured.

Enercon also said they are currently in the process of leasing 40 acres of land for the tests.

The five-year contract between the DOE and potential testing sites prohibits the storage, disposal or use of nuclear waste at the site of the field test, and requires the borehole to be permanently sealed and the land restored after testing. DOE said there are five phases and by the third phase only one site will be chosen to drill. The bidding process is likely to take a year, and actual drilling scheduled to take place in early 2018. 

Demand for shelters increasing as temperatures drop

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Traditional and non-traditional homeless resources are stepping in to help get people off the streets.

“There’s not enough shelter beds here in the city, and when the weather gets like this people can freeze, and die, and become very ill,” said Tiffany Heizer, Amarillo Housing First's Case Management Program Director.

Amarillo Housing First told ABC 7 News their main focus is to get people off the streets and into permanent housing. .

Hezier noted, “Our goal is to set up a case management program where we assist the homeless getting into permanent housing. People can’t work on their addiction problems or other issues if they’re living on the street.”

AHF opened their emergency unit when temperatures hit below freezing. The unit is located in the parking lot of 219 S. Pierce Street in downtown Amarillo. AHF says it's a low barrier shelter that can sleep up to eight people.

“The only rules we have here are to be nice. And no drinking smoking or drugs inside our shelter,” said Heizer.

The Salvation Army of Amarillo says they will make accommodations for everyone who comes through their doors when temperatures hit below freezing.

“We can hold about 230 in the shelter, but if we get to that capacity, we have cots that we can set up and if somebody got stranded here or something and we needed extra space we can set up part of our dining room or conference room to accommodate more people,” said Jennifer Sander, Director of Social Services.

The Salvation Army also told ABC 7 News they've seen a higher demand for shelter over the past couple of months.

“ With the colder weather, the shelter has been pretty full. It’s been that way for the last two months since we started to get a lot colder weather. Yes during the snowstorms and things we have a few extra people that come in. We’ve been really busy. We’ve been over 200 people for most of the last two months,” said Sander.

For information on how to donate to these organizations, visit Amarillo Housing First's Facebook and The Salvation Army's Facebook page.


TEA releases grades for AISD, A-F rating system

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — The Texas Education Agency has released preliminary grades for Texas school districts and each campus. TEA is converting to a new accountability A-F rating system. It officially becomes effective in August 2018. The data was released to meet law requirements for a provisional work-in-progress report with potential grades. TEA states the A-F work-in-progress report shows academic accountability ratings for the 2015–16 school year.

TEA cites limitations of data available, and the report only features four of the five judging criteria and does not issue an overall rating.

According to the report, all but one AISD campus met the state's standards. The district received a "B" for closing performance gaps, a "C" for student achievement, a "C" for student progress and a "F" for post-secondary readiness. 

“It’s important that every student that’s in AISD is successful,” said AISD Superintendent Dr. Dana West. “This information is based on previous data and old data, and also some incomplete data...And that’s what the Commissioner of Education has said is, with the three pages of what the limitations are, that communities shouldn’t jump to conclusions about their school district or their schools,” she continued.

AISD ELA Curriculum Specialist Shanna Peeples told ABC 7 News, AISD has always prepared students for success after high school and will continue to do so.

“It doesn’t change our mission to graduate every student, prepare for success beyond high school. That’s what we were doing before this system came along and it’s what we’re going to be doing Monday morning,” said Peeples.

Dr. West said AISD has an open door policy for any community members who may have concerns. “If they have questions, talk to their school, Dr. West noted. "Talk to the teachers in the school...In our district, we’re interested in every individual child. And we will know your child and how your child is performing,” she assured.

For the full report, click here.


HAZMAT investigation continues

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — The investigation into a fatal hazardous materials incident is still underway.

BSA Hospital told ABC 7 News today, that the five victims under their care are now in good and stable condition.

Texas Commission on Environmental Quality told us, the site assessment is still ongoing and the site clean-up will begin once the assessment has been completed. 

Amarillo Police Department said the Special Crimes Unit is still in the early stages of the investigation, and since this is an active investigation, the names of the living victims, witnesses or possible suspects will not be released. 

A representative from the American Red Cross in Amarillo told ABC 7 News, they have been in contact with a member of the family and the organization is treating the situation as they would any natural disaster.

"We have talked to the family and we are in the process of helping them," said Mary Tolbert, Disaster Program Manager. "We go and interview the clients and give immediate assistance and give help for if they need a hotel room for a couple of days and we also refer them to other agencies to help out with what we can't," Tolbert continued.

The Red Cross relies on donations from financial supporters to help alleviate suffering during times of emergencies.

John Faulkner, owner of Faulkner Pest Service, said it is likely the victims will suffer long term effects.

"People that have been poisoned by pesticides can have breathing issues all their life, they can have internal organ issues..." said Faulkner. 

Faulkner also warned, that anyone using a pesticide should follow the instructions on the container thoroughly.

"Sometimes people think, well if three ounces of this will kill bugs, maybe I want to apply six ounces. That's wrong. They need to apply the products exactly the way it's labeled," said Faulkner. 

The HAZMAT incident occurred Monday, and resulted in the deaths of four children from the Balderas family in Northeast Amarillo, and left six other family members hospitalized.


Investigation underway into fatal HAZMAT incident in Northeast Amarillo

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Multiple agencies have joined forces to investigate Monday's fatal HAZMAT incident that happened in Northeast Amarillo.

According to the Amarillo Police Department, the Special Crimes Unit is beginning its investigation into the deaths of the children by speaking to those who may know how the pesticide was obtained and which resident of the home used it. 

"We are talking to family members that we can speak with," APD's Officer Jeb Hilton said. "We're trying to talk to family friends and anybody that might have known anything about the substance that was used under this house. Once they can determine what that is exactly, where it was from, things of that nature, they'll be able to pursue the case further."

Officer Hilton said its still early in the investigation, and because the home has not been determined as safe to enter, that is slowing the process.

"There hasn't been a determination of if this was an accident or if it was more than that at this point," Officer Hilton said. "All that will be determined in the investigation, and then the District Attorney will decide on whether or not charges are filed."

Clean-up of the pesticide has yet to begin, but The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Environmental Protection Agency said they are taking steps to assess the best approach. 

"Currently the Environmental Protection Agency and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality is working together to assess the area to see how clean up is going to be moving forward," said Jesse Patton, City of Amarillo.

The Texas Department of Agriculture has jurisdiction over the proper use of pesticides and is conducting an investigation, as well.

The neighboring community has not been evacuated. Officials told ABC 7 News, the site is secured and contained.

"There is a 100 ft. radius as protocol dictates in this type of situation. To the best of their knowledge, the neighbors are not in any sort of danger, they are not in any health hazard or risk. And so until such time that it is deemed that it can be taken down, the radius will stay in place," said Patton. 

Patton also noted that the family had several pets and all of the animals are safe. The Texas Panhandle Poison Center told ABC 7 News, the pets were outside at the time of the incident and had enough ventilation to survive.

"In the cases where you have a poisonous gas animals and humans are at risk. In this case, the pets were outside so they had pretty good ventilation for the pets. If you're in a restricted area like a home then the ventilation is not going to be quite as good," said Jeanie Jaramillo.

Jaramillo warns that symptoms of being poisoned by a toxic gas can be confused with the flu.

"If a person is exposed to this type of pesticide they may have dizziness, vomiting, abdominal pain, lightheaded. Symptoms that would be very similar to the flu," said Jaramillo. "Anytime a toxic gas is suspected the best thing to do is to get out of the home, or the office or where ever they are and then call for help," she continued.

Five family members are in stable condition at BSA Hospital. The mother, as of Tuesday morning, is in critical but improving condition at UMC in Lubbock.

Justice of the Peace Gary Jackson tells ABC 7 News autopsy results of the four family members who died are, "pending further studies." Jackson said toxicology results could take up to three to four weeks.


Homeless lives lost, remembered in Amarillo

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Community members brought in the New Year by honoring the lives of local homeless individuals who died in 2016.

"It's a memorial service for all of those who have passed away over the last year," said Chris Seright, community activist. "To respect those who have passed away and to think about what it is we need to do differently over the next year to improve the situation," he continued.

The solemn observance was held at Ellwood Park.

According to the United Way of Amarillo & Canyon Community Status Report, Amarillo has seen an increase in homelessness. The report states, in January 2016, there were 572 sheltered homeless individuals.

"Our goal is awareness. We would like to bring awareness and solutions to the homeless problem here in Amarillo," said Seright.

Seright told ABC 7 News, he will continue to remember those who have passed and tell their story.

"We most certainly will promote and support the event next year. And intend to host this as an annual event," Seright assured.


Declutter for the new year, find out where to donate or sell your items

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Local thrift shops and consignment stores are seeing a surge in end-of-year donations. Local retailers tell ABC 7 News it's a prime time to clean out closets and donate items.

"We know that people are cleaning out their closets making room; toys, clothes all of that," said Krystal Reynolds, Once Upon a Child. "So we have people who do it before Christmas and they clean everything out and they bring things in. And then we have people who wait and you know they check everything and fix it all after Christmas," Reynolds continued. 

Got Junk Thrift Store told us, they accept almost anything that is usable.

"Pots and pans, dishes, clothing, pictures, what-nots, knick knacks, just about everything," said Barbara Belter, Got Junk manager.

Got Junk has drop-off bins alongside their building for people looking to donate items after hours.

Consignment retailers like Once Upon a Child, have certain criteria for items they purchase from customers. Any items they are unable to accept, they offer the option of donation. 

"Gently used. We like everything to look new but be used. We want to be able to give it to a family and it be looking in great condition."

Other donation centers around town include the Amarillo Habitat for Humanity Restore, Thrift City, America's Best Thrift and Discount, The Salvation Army and Goodwill.


Championship Roughstock Challenge prepares for big event this weekend

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

The Championship Roughstock Challenge is gearing up for a two-day event at the Tri-State Fairgrounds this Friday and Saturday in Amarillo.

CRC Founder Robert Allemand told ABC 7 News, they have added a new twist to the competition this year.

“What’s unique about this, we’re also having a horse riding competition where we have ten stock contractors, bringing their three best horses to compete against each other for added prize money as well as the cowboys,” said Allemand.

Allemand told us, there will be over one-hundred contestants competing for up to twenty-thousand dollars.

“We’ll have a total of I think there’s forty contestants in the junior divisions, and I think we’re right at seventy in our professionals.”

The challenge will feature professional bull riders, championship bull riders and professional rodeo cowboys and stock. The CRC says this is a home grown competition that has something for everyone.

“Over the years, we had a New Year’s Eve bull riding deals but we’ve never really had a roughstock deal. We’ve got several stock contractors in the area that have some of the horses in the country anywhere and best bulls. So it just kind of made sense to utilize our resources in the area as far as stock and contestants,” said  Allemand.


New Year's resolutions are already boosting gym memberships

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — The new year is just days away, sparking a surge in New Year's resolutions.

Local gyms and health clubs tell ABC 7 News they have already begun to see a spike in their memberships and are hoping to help people reach their fitness goals for the incoming year.

"This is the best month for all gyms in Amarillo, Texas, because we get memberships flowing in like crazy, said Lisa Stanfield, Director of Boot Camp Challenge at Gold's Gym in Amarillo. 

Tammy Prescott, owner and general manager of Zach's Club, said people are eager to get ahead on their New Year's resolutions.

"We have seen a rise recently in memberships this month, with people coming in after Christmas. They're getting a jump start I think on the new year. I think people are excited to get started a little bit earlier than January and I think that's a good thing. That's a good sign," said Prescott. 

Zach's Club is currently undergoing major upgrades. The health club will soon include a smoothie bar, a supplement store, an apparel store, a pool room among other amenities.

"Generally, people do tend to slack off a little bit after awhile, but we're hoping with our encouraging staff and all the good amenities that we're providing that people will want to stay and to make it a lifestyle, a good healthy lifestyle," said Prescott. 

Stanfield told us, Gold's Gym tries to match clients with programs they are excited about to keep them coming back.

"The key is to keep those new members coming throughout the whole year, not just that first month or two of their New Year's resolutions," said Stanfield. "But if they get into a program they really like then they stick with it and so that keeps the attendance growing throughout the whole year," she continued. 


Local boutiques offer big discounts after Christmas

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Year-end season sales are giving shoppers one last chance to stock up on good deals. Local boutiques are offering big discounts just like the major retailers, but without the long lines and crowds of people.

Et Cetera boutique owner Amy-Beth Morrison told ABC 7 News, her store is hoping to clear out the holiday inventory to make room for new merchandise.

"Luckily we sold through most of our Christmas items at full price so we don't have a whole lot left. So that's right where you want to be at this time of year as a retailer this time of year," said Morrison. "So we're just kind of getting rid of Christmas and ready to start the year with new fun merchandise," she continued. 

Et Cetera is offering half off their holiday decor.

"We have things from candy to platters, we have some Santas left, we have some Christmas decor. Just kind a mixture of things, kind of like what we have in the store," Morrison said.

Dosty's boutique has discounted prices on a wide range of trendy items through the end of the week.

"We actually have quite a lot on sale this whole week, said Dosty's manager Elissa Allison. "We've got 20% off all of our cocktail dresses, so people can get ready for New Year's parties. We've got 20% off all of our bottoms. Twenty-five percent off coats and then an additional 20% off all of our sale clothing. We have a whole big collection of shoes that are half off," she continued. 

Makie Black boutique has $10 to $20 sale bins, and Silverland's Christmas clearance is 50% off.


Find out when Santa Claus will make his way to Amarillo

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Santa Claus has made his list and he's checked it twice. Now Father Christmas is on his sleigh traveling around the world on a tight deadline.

According to one local truck driver, looking up at the sky at the right moment, might grant a glimpse of Santa and his reindeer.

"One night driving down here last year, I got passed by Santa in the air...He was moving. He's got a time frame to make," driver Tim Short said. 

Santa trackers tell ABC 7 News, Mr. Claus and his elves have been working painstakingly hard to get ready for the big night. We checked with the Texas Air and Space Museum to see if they've been able to track Santa with their radar system.

"When you're tracking Santa you've got to realize, even with these radars that have been around a long time, he's hard to find," Ken Hanson, from the Texas Air and Space Museum told ABC 7 News. "He's not made of metal. He doesn't have much reflectivity so you don't get much of a radar return, even if he is within range," Hanson continued.

The North American Aerospace Defense Command, better known as NORAD, tells ABC 7 News Santa is expected to make his way through Amarillo sometime between 9 p.m. and midnight Christmas Eve. NORAD warns that in order for Santa to be able to stop, everyone has to be asleep during those hours.

But according to Google's Santa tracker, he won't get to Amarillo until about 2 a.m. Christmas morning.

Hanson tells us that tracking Santa is not an exact science.

"Back before we had electricity, Santa was doing this. He was navigating around the world without any help, in the dark. How does he do that? We may never know," Hanson said.


Red Kettle campaign falls short, Salvation Army needs help

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

The Salvation Army of Amarillo missed the mark on their fundraising goal.

Bell ringers were set up at various locations in Amarillo and Canyon since mid-November, hoping to raise $250,000 for the incoming year's programs and services the organization provides to the community.

The Salvation Army's Major Harvey Johnson says he is still appreciative of the community's efforts.

"We appreciate the community support and involvement from volunteering to the financial contributions and our Red Kettle effort, which is the biggest fundraiser we do every year. This year we're down about twenty-two percent from where our goal is," said Johnson.

The Salvation Army is hosting Christmas dinner for the community from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m on Sunday. The organization will treat people to a sit-down dinner that includes hostesses as well as servers.

For more information on how you can donate to Amarillo's Salvation Army click here.


Challenging the safety of Amarillo's water supply

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Amarillo's water supply coming into question after a four-day water ban was lifted in Corpus Christi, Texas. Amarillo's 2015 Water Quality Report shows that Amarillo meets all of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and state drinking water health standards.

City officials telling KVII that what happened in Corpus Christi could happen anywhere in the world, but it is not likely to happen in the Texas Panhandle. Authorities say the water is tested regularly and precautionary and preventative measures are taken to maintain clean water.

"The number one priority that you have as a water operator is that you deliver safe, clean, drinkable water." says Dan Reese, Public Works Director for the City of Canyon. 

The Director of Water Utilities for the City of Amarillo, Russell Grubbs, says there is a quick response protocol in place in the case of a water emergency.

"I would talk to the city management, if it was bad enough I would issue a water notice," said Grubbs.

Canyon also holds the same sense of urgency in the case of a water crisis.

"Of course we would notify the public as soon as we could. As soon as we knew what the problem was, I believe that it was our duty to let the public know as soon as possible," Reese said.

Amarillo's water supply mainly comes from surface and groundwater. The city uses a conventional treatment process to supply drinking water and to insure its safety.

"The water utilities industry through disinfection has saved more lives than any other industry in history," notes Grubbs. 


Cold temperatures cause concern for Amarillo's homeless

by Tatiana Toomer I ABC 7 Amarillo

AMARILLO, Texas (KVII) — Amarillo's frigid temperatures are causing an increased demand for shelter and warm clothing for the community's homeless.

The Guyon Saunders Resource Center is a local community day shelter, which aids a high percentage of the homeless population in the Texas panhandle.

According to Guyon Saunders Resource Center's program director, Bryan Gillespie, hundreds of homeless men and women visit their facility during the winter months.

"We're seeing over 100 people come into the resource center a day during the winter hours, said Gillespie. "We provide basic services for those in the community that are in need, who are experiencing homelessness or may be becoming homeless."

Gillespie also said the resource center will make space for all who come.

"We don't turn anyone away. We have room and we're going to find a place to get people out of this weather," Gillespie expressed.

Community activist Chris Seright is also working hard in the homeless community, trying to fill the voids left by the shelter system. He's focusing on case management with the Pathways Housing First organization.

Seright told us, "If you go outside at night after closing hours at any of these faith-based organizations you'll see the homeless camping outside, trying to stay warm...they're sleeping under mattresses with blankets and tents."

According to Seright, the severe weather can be deadly for those who are not able to find shelter.

"This time last year we had three homeless people die because of the cold, and they weren't allowed inside our Amarillo shelters," said Seright.

Another major concern for the homeless is not being able to get hired for work.

"We're homeless people, we need help. Help us out. It's hard for us.. There's no jobs around here, and people need help," said Michael Darrel Dickson, a Guyon Saunders client.