Some of my work from the first half of 2014.
Local and statewide law enforcement had been planning for months to raid Kevin Koonce’s compound in the woods and take him to jail. He was accused of all kinds of things, and they were ready to have him off the streets.
Koonce turned the whole plan upside down the morning it was supposed to go down by leaving home and driving down a Nacogdoches County highway. A traffic stop on a small bridge led to a shoot-out.
A maintenance worker arrived at the First United Methodist Church in Carthage one morning and discovered the ceiling in the sanctuary had collapsed onto the pews below it.
When we found one of the congregants working in the church’s front yard pumpkin patch, it was a chance to turn a spot news story into something memorable.
An overnight attempt at stealing some four-wheelers in rural East Texas proved the thief picked the wrong family to mess with.
The father confronted the man with a gun in the dark but ended up on the wrong end of the barrel after a struggle with the man who was trying to steal from him. An errant shot woke the man’s son. The next shot killed the thief and saved the dad.
People in Milford, TX woke up one morning to a massive explosion along a major gas transport pipeline. As the fire burned thanks to an almost-unlimited supply of fuel at the site of the explosion, all 700 people from Milford were forced to evacuate to a neighboring town.
As we drove from Tyler, we started seeing the plume of smoke from about 45 minutes away. The flames were visible for miles. And the stories we found amongst those people who evacuated were very much worth telling.
For weeks it seemed like it was all we heard about: Wendy Davis, a filibuster and the battle between pro-life an pro-choice. Texas’ abortion bill gained nationwide attention for what was either a shameless attack on women or a long-verdue return to moral high ground–depending on whom you asked.
We followed a group of East Texas pro-life protesters to the capital for the final day of debate on the bill.
By 10:00 that night, it was mayhem inside the capitol building. That made for one of my most interesting live shots ever.
Tyler’s homeless community has long extended beyond the people on downtown benches and inside the Salvation Army. Less than a mile away, there’s a small city of tents and camp fires where people go when they’re out of options.
In the fall of 2013, a man moved in despite having a place of his own. With the help of some anonymous backers and some basic supplies Tim Harris started Camp P.S. 91, after the verse in Psalms.
P.S. 91 is a place that helps people find meaning in a life that’s taken a turn for the worst. Harris says it’s his calling.
For 105 hours, a devoted volunteer stood in the cold trying to help the homeless. Andre Thompson drew a lot of attention with his attempt at breaking the world record for ringing a bell for the Salvation Army.
I spent one afternoon with him right after he started his journey.
His goal of 80 hours by the red kettle would have broken the record easily. At 105 hours, it’s safe to say he demolished it.
Based on a tip, we started looking into East Texas day cares. A review of open records revealed a shocking number of cases involving day care workers abusing the children in their care. It ranged from dragging children across the floor to forcing a child to sleep in urine-soaked clothing.
The more widespread problem involved background checks and state requirements for getting them done, and getting them done quickly. It became clear that there is a systemic problem with day cares letting people work without being sure about their past.
When we went looking for answers, they were few and far between.
Just before Christmas, we learned about a retired man in a small town called Mt. Sylvan who spends his days making wooden toys meant to remind all of us of a simpler time.
During the holidays, Winford Stone puts up a sign proclaiming his workshop “Santa’s Toy Shop.”
He has no beard, and no padded red suit, but who am I to argue?