With the amount of news in a whirlwind year like 2020, it’s hard to encapsulate it all.

To try and make sense of the year that was, the Goliad Advance-Guard has produced the following list of the top five news stories of 2020, using reports through news pages dating back to January. The list will be in ascending order, starting with:

5. 8-liner parlors shut down; task force arrests employees:

Deputies from several area enforcement divisions hit jackpot on Feb. 27, converging on two game rooms and arresting four employees following the raid and closure.

A task force of deputies from Refugio, Bee, Goliad, Yoakum and Victoria counties closed in on the two 8-liner businesses shortly before 8 p.m. that night, with all of the employees of the location arrested, according to Victoria County chief deputy Ray Boyd.

About 50 patrons were at the two businesses when officers arrived with search warrants. While the patrons were not arrested, they were identified before being allowed to leave.

“Gambling is an illegal activity,” Boyd said. He added that anyone caught in a gambling hall can also be prosecuted.

The employees were booked in the Goliad County jail accused of engaging in organized criminal activity. One of the employees was also arrested and accused of acting as a security guard without a license and possession of a weapon.

According to Boyd, both locations were “seized in their entirety,” with the building locked by the morning after the closure.

Eight-liner machines are not inherently illegal, as Boyd noted that legal limitations force “trinkets” to become prizes for winnings instead of cash. Dispensing cash in any form is illegal, and a several-month investigation into the businesses exposed the payout of cash to under cover officers.

4. No charges filed on three commissioners:

A grand jury declined to issue indictments against three county commissioners on May 29, with no charges filed against David Bruns, Kenneth Edwards and Alonzo Morales in cases under review by the Attorney General’s Office.

Investigations were not handled by the Goliad County Sheriff’s Office, citing potential conflict of interest.

“The sheriff’s office did not investigate any of these charges,” Sheriff Kirby Brumby said. “If (the AG’s office) asked us for any information, we would have provided it.”

Three commissioners were under fire during an April 27 commissioners’ court meeting for giving employees an additional 30 minutes of pay during Hurricane Harvey cleanup.

“You cannot give them (compensatory) time because that is what you want to do,” said Commissioner Mickey White during discussion of the topic. “You cannot give comp time to people who didn’t earn it. You cannot gift them time. It is not legal.”

Bruns said during the meeting that this was done because these employees were still coming to work, while others were still receiving their regular wages but not coming in because offices were closed.

“Those employees who worked at those (closed) offices all got paid for that week,” Bruns said. “Since all the precinct workers worked that week after the hurricane and the other employees didn’t, we gave them comp time just like the other employees got paid.”

3. Life sentence for a life taken:

The story of the murder of Margaret Ellen Tucker of Goliad county was finalized when the murderer, Christopher Allen Debord, plead guilty to the count in August.

On Aug. 27, Debora was sentenced to life in prison, and will not be eligible for parole for 30 years according to Texas Government Code. Debora was charged in October of 2019 in the shooting death of Tucker, a 62-year-old resident in the Schroeder area.

Tucker was found dead in her home on Sept. 29, 2019, when she failed to respond to her mother’s attempts to wake her, according to officials. An autopsy later revealed that Tucker had been shot with a small-caliber weapon.

The report of a weapon being used in Tucker’s demise led to an investigation between a team of Goliad County Sheriff’s deputies (led by Sgt. Donna Starry), Texas Ranger Drew Pilkington and investigators from the Victoria County Sheriff’s Office.

An investigation uncovered that Debord, along with relative Devon Keith Debord, began their criminal activities in Victoria County by stealing a car and a firearm. The items were recovered by Goliad County deputies, linking them with Tucker’s death.

Under the terms of the plea agreement, Debord took the stand and testified as to his role in the crime, with 24th Judicial District Court Judge Jack Marr presiding. After consultation with Tucker’s family, the decision was made to accept Debord’s plea.

“Our prayers are with the Tuckers in this trying time,” the 24th Judicial District Attorney’s Office stated in a press release.

2. County reserves plummet 70%; commissioners agree to transfer unspent money

Goliad County officials were stunned during a June commissioners court meeting when an audit revealed a 70 percent depletion in the county’s reserve fund between 2016 and 2019.

An audit by Harison, Waldrop and Uherek showed that between the years of 2016 and 2019, the county went from a fund balance of $5.1 million to $1.5 million. During the same time, the combined county road and bridge funds for the county’s four precincts grew by $1.49 million.

It was noted by commissioners and County Judge Mike Bennett that the loss of money was due to budgets being passed that required a depletion in the general fund to balance, which is a practice discouraged in government.

While the general fund was decreasing, the audit showed that money in county precinct accounts had been growing. At the end of 2019, Precinct 2 had 127 percent of its recommended amount, Precinct 3 had three times the necessary amount, and Precinct 4 had 198 percent of its suggested amount.

“We are not out of money,” Bennett said. “It is in the wrong place.”

Transferral of money from county commissioner accounts back into the general fund was delayed due to mistrust from the numbers provided by Bennett from the outside auditor.

“My preference would be to give back the money you thought you had already given back so we can operate our county,” Bennett said at a later meeting.

While Commissioner Mickey White requested an immediate transfer of funds, calling it “the right thing to do,” the motion garnered no support from fellow commissioners.

“We don’t know if your numbers are right,” Commissioner David Burns replied.

Despite the reluctance and the delay, the matter was settled at a July 1 meeting, with commissioners approving moving the unused, cumulative balances from their precinct accounts to the general fund, helping to keep the county in the black in 2020. Precinct 1 agreed to transfer $71,114, Precinct 2 transferred $571,882, Precinct 3 moved $1,355,349 and Precinct 4 transferred $982,546 into the fund balance.

“This will probably be the last time in Goliad County that everyone agrees to the same thing,” Bennett said. “No one knew the money was still in the commissioners’ accounts.”

1. COVID-19 pandemic hits Goliad area

The Goliad region was like any other in 2020, an area affected by the COVID-19 pandemic that has terrorized the globe.

As of press time on Dec. 23, Goliad County has had 191 confirmed cases of the virus.

Despite not having any cases when the threat became earnest on United States shores in early March, the county was able to bear down for the looming disease. On March 17, County Judge Mike Bennett declared a “local disaster for public health emergency,” with the County Courthouse transitioning to meetings via telephone. Meals at the Goliad County Senior Center began to be served as take-out early, while schools transitioned into remote learning. Mayor Trudia L. Preston also put in place an order for businesses to limit the number of customers to 10 or fewer during the March proceedings.

Remote learning for Goliad schools was a particularly tricky situation, with some students in the region lacking the requisite technology or WiFi connection to take part in remote learning. To remedy this, Goliad ISD instituted an expansion of its WiFi broadcast at district offices and school buildings, allowing any student within 100 feet of buildings to get a good signal.

Some students were also given Google Chromebooks for computer technology as needed.

“We are building this airplane as we are flying it,” Assistant Superintendent of Goliad ISD Chris Ulcak said in April. “We have a lot of the resources that are already there. Some we don’t have. Some we haven’t deployed. We are going to be making changes as we go.”

One positive made on the fly by Goliad ISD was a school lunch program, with students able to receive daily meals from the 10 a.m. to noon hours from staff. The program was able to be stretched to several locations, including Goliad Elementary School, Fenner Square, Spring Creek, Berclair General Store and St. Andrew’s Lutheran Church- Weesatche.

March 30 brought the announcement by Bennett that the first confirmed case of COVID-19 was in the county, with the judge urging the practicing of recommended steps to beat the virus, namely social distancing.

“The only weapon we have is separation,” Bennett said on March 30. “We have no other weapon currently.”

A human toll was taken on the county during the surge of cases over the summer. On July 22, the first death in Goliad County was reported from the disease, with 45 active cases of the virus in the county at the time of reporting.

The Goliad Advance-Guard would like to wish readers a happy and safe 2021.

•tleffler@mysoutex.com•

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