Top News stories of 2016

Hays County residents approve bonds totaling $237 million
A pair of bond initiatives that called for a collection of county-wide road improvements as well as various improvements to the county jail were given the green light by voters this November. Proposition 1, which called for roughly $106.4 million for jail improvements and a co-located 911 facility, narrowly passed with 51 percent of the vote. Meanwhile, Proposition 2, which called for $131 million in road improvements, passed with 59 percent of the vote.

Sheriff incumbent reelected, longtime constable ousted 
Hays County Sheriff Gary Cutler won the right to keep his seat in 2016 after defeating challenger Rodrigo Amaya by a 13.1 percent margin in the Nov. 8 general election. Cutler, who has served as Hays County’s sheriff for the past six years, claimed a substantial lead after early voting and won with 58 percent of the vote. But as the status quo remains at the sheriff’s office, a changing of the guard will take place in Pct. 2. After a 38-year tenure as the Pct. 2 constable, James Kohler was defeated Nov. 8 by Kyle Police officer Michael Torres. Kohler told the Hays Free Press in November he plans to run for the Pct. 2 Justice of the Peace seat, currently held by Beth Smith, in 2018.

Kyle election ends in runoff after stunning tie
In one of the more bizarre finishes to a city council race in Kyle history, District 1 incumbent Diane Hervol and challenger Travis Mitchell evenly split 1,020 votes right down the middle in the May 10 election. Following a mandatory recount, both parties entered into a runoff with Mitchell winning the seat in June. Incumbent reelected, newcomer voted to Buda dais A runoff election was needed this year to decide the Buda Place 1 city council seat after three candidates, Lee Urbanovsky, John Hatch and Theo Kosub, could not generate more than 50 percent of the vote. While the runoff between Urbanovsky and Hatch featured contention between campaign supporters, Urbanovsky ultimately claimed the seat. Meanwhile, Place 2 candidate Wiley Hopkins won his reelection bid Nov. 8.

The truck stops here
A developer’s attempt to rezone property in order to allow for a large-scale truck stop near Yarrington Road was once again met with stiff resistance by the community in 2016. But as a result of the furor surrounding PGI Investments’ request to rezone a 40-plus acre tract of land to warehouse, city leaders halted the request, which was considered a win for many who have opposed creation of a truck stop. PGI had tried on two previous occasions to build the truck stop.

Buda spends $300K to move tree
A 250-year-old, 53-inch heritage oak tree that grows in Buda became the center of controversy in August after city officials sought ways to move it from the footprint of the city’s new municipal building along Main Street. After discussion, the Buda City Council in September chose to relocate the tree to an option on-site of the new facility, which will cost $324,000. The relocation process should begin Jan. 3 and will take several weeks.

Tragedy in the sky
Weather and a possible cocktail of drugs taken by the pilot were two possible factors determined by federal investigators earlier this month to have led to a fatal hot air balloon accident that killed 16 people near Lockhart in July. Authorities identified the pilot as Alfred “Skip” Nichols, 49, of Kyle. The incident was described as the worst hot air balloon accident in U.S. history.

I-35 wreck claims 4, suspect sentenced to prison
Tragedy struck the Kyle area in February when four people, including an infant, were killed after a wrong-way driver collided with a minivan carrying six Canadian residents on Interstate 35 in Kyle. Wilson Rene Molinares, 24, of San Marcos, was arrested and charged with four counts of intoxication manslaughter following the accident. On Dec. 15, Molinares, who pled guilty earlier this year on all four counts, was sentenced to 20 years in prison by a Hays County Jury.

Contentious debate over Dripping Springs discharge permit
Controversy erupted in 2016 as area residents, environmental groups and even the city of Buda opposed the city of Dripping Springs Texas Pollutant Discharge Elimination System draft permit to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The permit would allow Dripping Springs to expand its wastewater system and could allow the city to potentially discharge up to 995,000 gallons of treated effluent into a tributary of Onion Creek. Earlier this month, the Enviornmental Protection Agency raised concerns over the permit and asked Dripping Springs to provide evidence the discharge permit wouldn’t affect Onion Creek.

James Adkins passes away
Area residents and Kyle public officials past and present celebrated the life of former Mayor James Adkins, who passed away Jan. 2 due to prostate cancer. Adkins, who was elected mayor in 1999, became the city’s first black mayor in its history and served Kyle until 2003. Adkins attempted an unsuccessful mayoral bid in 2014.

Local couple sues Buda Police
In October, a Buda couple filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Buda, Walmart and a Buda Police officer following a 2014 altercation. Juan and Guadalupe Martinez, of Buda, filed the suit alleging Buda Officer DeMerriel Young exhibited excessive force when detaining the two for a shoplifting charge in October 2014.

Deep Eddy expands to Buda
Buda city leaders this month put the OK in vodka when they finalized a deal allowing for Deep Eddy Vodka to expand to Buda. Deep Eddy, which is owned by the Heaven Hills brand, plans to open a second production facility in a vacant 194,000 square foot building along Precision Drive. Original estimates are that the facility will have 20 jobs, but John Scarborough, president of Deep Eddy, said there could be more jobs in the future.

Major issues concerning Kyle Housing Authority
Problems with Kyle public housing came to light in November after the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) alleged issues with administrator pay, maintenance problems and a lack of oversight within the Kyle Housing Authority. The fallout, which included allegations of the authority operating without a functioning board of directors for several years, led city officials to restructure the KHA board.

Train talk comes to Kyle
Discussions on possibly moving a rail siding, or switch station, near downtown Kyle moved full steam ahead in 2016. In December, Kyle city leaders approved a $250,000 engineering study for relocating the siding. The train has caused numerous traffic backups in the area. As part of the November 2016 bond package, Hays County allocated roughly $1 million toward Kyle’s rail siding project.

SH 45 moves ahead
An injunction filed by various groups attempting to stop the State Highway 45 Southwest project was struck down by a federal judge in October, paving the way for construction to start on the project. According to reports, Judge Lee Yeakel denied the lawsuit filed by groups that included the Save Our Springs alliance, which have attempted to stop the project several times. SH 45 SW is a proposed $100M, four-lane toll road that’s projected to connect FM 1626 at Bliss Spillar Road in Hays County to MoPac in Austin.

Woman charged with manslaughter in Kyle motorcycle death
A woman was arrested and charged with manslaughter in May after authorities allege reckless driving resulted in a motorcyclist’s death on Interstate 35 in August 2015. Kelly Lynn Watson, 38, was arrested and charged with manslaughter, which is a second degree felony. According to a Kyle Police investigation, multiple witnesses allege Watson was driving erratically before she struck motorcyclist James Keith Grear, of Tennesse, in a fatal accident.

Suspect in Hays City Store robbery sentenced
In May, a Hays County Jury sentenced Clifton Bryan Hennington, 37, of Austin, to life in prison for his role in the 2013 aggravated robbery of the Hays City Store. According to a Hays County press release, the jury learned during the trial’s punishment phase that Hennington, along with Nathaniel Jones, 31, had committed 27 robberies and attempted 7 others from July 2013 to January 2014. The spree spread across 20 Texas counties including Hays, Caldwell, Bexar and Comal counties.

Kyle woman arrested for sex trafficking of local teen
Pre-trial motions are expected to begin in January for a case involving a Kyle woman accused of trafficking a 16-year-old Kyle girl for sex in 2015. Nancy Cisneros, 43, of Kyle, was indicted on two counts of trafficking a child for sexual purposes and three counts of compelling prostitution, which are all first-degree felonies. According to a probable cause affidavit, Cisneros and Bernell Jackson Quillens, 35, of Houston, allegedly trafficked the teen using backpage.com, which was the center of controversy after the website’s CEO was arrested on pimping charges.

Trial date set in DWI death case
A May 2017 trial date has been set for the case involving Buda realtor Jason Tarr, who faces first-degree murder and second-degree intoxication manslaughter charges. Tarr was arrested in September 2015 after he was accused of driving drunk and crashing his truck head-on into a vehicle driven by Nancy Steling-Dalton, who was killed in the accident.

Murders take place days of each other in Kyle
Two people were arrested and charged with murder after seperate shooting incidents that happened within a week of each other. James Craig Keen, 49, of Kyle, was arrested and charged with first-degree murder on March 26 in connection with the death of Erin Wright, 39, of Kyle, who was found shot to death in the front yard of a home in the Spring Branch neighborhood. According to Hays County court records, pre-trial motions are expected to continue in the Keen case in January. On April 2, Kyle Police arrested and charged a Kyle teen with first-degree murder in the drive-by shooting death of Natanaell Barales in the Post Oak subdivision. In August, Jamez Gabriel Sanchez, 17, of Kyle, was booked into the Hays County Jail for first-degree murder on his 17th birthday. Sanchez’s case is expected to continue in January, according to Hays County court records.

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