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Police seek Strand shooter who left one injured

A Galveston SWAT team raided a downtown bar early Monday morning, hours after one of its employees was shot, police said.

The raid, however, did not result in an arrest, and the hourslong operation that closed down a large section of The Strand ended with police saying they still were searching for the shooter.

Police were called to the La Playa Latin Club, 1828 Strand, at about 3:15 a.m., Galveston police spokesman Capt. Joshua Schirard said. They found the victim, a 19-year-old man, suffering from a gunshot wound.

He was taken to the University of Texas Medical Branch, where he was recovering Monday.

While investigating, police determined that the shooting happened inside the club, Schirard said. They also determined that people were still inside the building while the crime scene was being secured, he said.

Police used a bullhorn to command the people inside the building to come out, Schirard said. Several did, and they were detained as potential witnesses to the shooting.

But, fearing the shooter was still hiding inside the pink and purple building, police secured a search warrant to enter using a SWAT team.

The team entered about 9 a.m. to find the building empty, Schirard said.

While police surrounded the bar, employees from other nearby businesses were asked to stay away from the scene. Several stood outside the police perimeter for more than an hour while the raid was completed.

After the scene was cleared, Schirard said investigators believed they knew who fired the shot and would be seeking an arrest warrant.

“We are still searching for the suspect,” Schirard said. “We do have suspect information. We expect to obtain an arrest warrant in the near future.”

No arrests had been announced by Monday evening.

Police did not immediately release other details about the shooting, or other events surrounding it.

One explanation was offered at the scene by a man who identified himself at the victim’s father, however.

Damon Jackson said his son, Logan Jackson, is a barback at the business and was shot during an attempted robbery in a nearby alley. He said his son was recovering in the hospital from a shattered pelvis, but was conscious and in stable condition.

Police did not confirm whether there had been an attempted robbery. Schirard said initial evidence suggested the shooting happened inside the building, which was closed at the time, according to its posted hours. Jackson said he was told by his son the shooting happened outside the building.


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Advisory council takes up marine sanctuary expansion

GALVESTON

A panel of marine scientists, representatives from the oil and gas industry, and recreational and commercial anglers are zeroing in on a plan to significantly expand the boundaries of a federal sanctuary in the Gulf of Mexico rich with coral, marine life and ecological features.

The advisory council is nearing the next phases of a yearslong effort to protect certain natural features, while also accommodating economic interests in an area more than 100 miles off the coast of Galveston.

After more than a decade of discussion about a proposed expansion, the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary Advisory Council, as it’s formally called, is hashing out a final draft proposal based on geological data, fishing interests and oil and gas activity.

The plan is to get a proposal to the Sanctuary Advisory Council, an overarching committee, by April, members said. That proposal will ultimately need approval from Congress and the Trump administration before the expanded area becomes a protected sanctuary.

“We want to make sure there’s a light at the end of this tunnel and that the light at the end of the tunnel isn’t a train,” said Shane Cantrell, an advisory council member representing commercial fishing.

The Flower Garden Banks is one of 13 national marine sanctuaries managed by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The administration designated the Flower Garden Banks a marine sanctuary in 1992 in an effort to study and protect the biological diversity of three communities: East Flower Garden Bank, West Flower Garden Bank and Stetson Bank. It covers 56 square miles.

The agency began exploring options for expansion in the early 2000s. An advisory council for the administration in 2007 recommended an alternative including 12 natural features and encompassing 281 square miles, said George “G.P.” Schmahl, Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary superintendent.

But after numerous surveys of the area, NOAA staff members suggested additional areas that should be covered because of their environmental significance. The agency’s recommendation includes 18 natural features and covers 383 square miles.

In a meeting Monday, council members pored over data, maps and ideas about which banks and geological areas should be protected by a sanctuary expansion and how boundary lines should be drawn.

NOAA, the government entity that oversees the marine sanctuary, has shown preference for a plan that would expand the sanctuary to 383 square miles.

At a time when coral reefs are under threat from warming oceans, scientists for the agency have argued protecting the ecological features and marine life is important.

Conservation groups have offered similar arguments for a sanctuary expansion, but in public comments have shown preference for a plan that protects a greater area.

Recreational and commercial anglers haven’t issued a full-stop opposition to expanding the boundaries, but have been involved to advocate for regulations that still allow access to productive reefs for fishing, said Buddy Guindon, owner of Katie’s Seafood Market and an advisory council member representing commercial fishing.

“We need a place to anchor where we don’t mess up coral,” Guindon said. “The council is interested in the core biological areas being protected — how you do that and allow anchoring around that with the boat over top is really the tough part.”

The fishing industry accepted some parts of the boundary expansion, but without addressing those regulatory parts of it, the recreational and commercial anglers’ support for expansion would likely be withdrawn, Cantrell said.

Much of the discussion Monday came down to fine-point questions of the shapes of boundaries and buffer zones.

For instance, could the boundaries be curved to protect certain features without including large areas around it or did they need to be straight-lined shapes on the map for buffer zones, members asked.

Clint Moore, an advisory council member and geologist representing oil and gas, said the energy industry was concerned with being able to drill about a mile outside of the so-called “No Activity Zones,” areas where the federal Bureau of Ocean Energy Management prohibits drilling.

“We as an industry do not want to drill on these banks; it’s just salt and it isn’t profitable,” Moore said. “What we’re most interested in is drilling beyond the no activity zone.”

But other members wanted to see oil and gas activity farther from protected banks and reefs.

“This is the give and take,” said Jake Emmert, an advisory council member representing conservation interests and a dive officer at Moody Gardens. “I want to see this line come in and you want to see this line go out.”

Oil and gas interests, which have represented the biggest opposition to the expansion as proposed in public comments, raised concerns about having wide buffer zones that would prevent oil and gas companies from leasing in parts of the Gulf. Moore advocated for moving certain buffer zones closer to allow for drilling around salt domes.

Schmahl countered that the agency had already made some concessions on buffer zones. The agency had originally advocated for 1,000 meters from salt domes to protect ecological features, but had agreed to move the buffer zone to 500 meters out from the domes, Schmahl said.

“It’s still too big,” Moore said. “It renders the salt domes useless for drilling.”

“It’s not too big if you’re trying to protect the biological features,” Schmahl said. “It’s a balance. We can meet in the middle.”

There needed to be compromise, Moore said. Most of the banks and salt domes were already off limits to oil and gas, but the industry wanted to see the boundaries narrowly confined to protect just the structures not the buffer zone around it, Moore said.

The advisory council will continue to meet to form a compromise proposal that can go before the Sanctuary Advisory Council, members said.

In a previous public comment period over an initial proposal, the agency received more than 8,000 comments relating to the expansion between June and August of 2016, according to the administration.

Nearly 75 percent of people who submitted comments supported the expansion, with the vast majority of those letters in favor of the expansion stemming from letter-writing campaigns and petitions from conservation groups such as the Sierra Club, according to the agency.

Many of those people who submitted comments wanted the agency to pick alternatives that would cover a greater swath of the Gulf, according to administration documents.

Of the 2,129 comments against the expansion, 95 percent stemmed from petitions and letter-writing campaigns brought by the American Petroleum Institute and Consumer Energy Alliance, according to the agency.

About 420 comments were unaffiliated with organized petitions and of those, 85 percent were in support of the expansion, according to the agency.


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Political Buzz: Primary election season enters its final stretch before voting begins.


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Trial opens for man accused of beating child to death

The trial of a League City man accused in the 2016 beating death of his 6-year-old stepdaughter began Monday, as prosecutors and defense attorneys laid out their opening arguments to a Galveston County jury.

Evan David Nolan, 28, is accused of beating 6-year-old Whitney Williams to death in 2016 while he was watching the girl in the family’s apartment.

A Galveston County grand jury in 2016 indicted Nolan after viewing evidence from the homicide. Whitney Williams died from severe injuries, including brain trauma, a lacerated liver and internal bleeding.

“The effects of the injury would have been almost immediate,” Chief Assistant District Attorney Adam Poole said. “We’re dealing with a small window of time for the injuries to go unnoticed. And I will show you that the defendant was the only one with her during that window.”

Nolan’s attorney on Monday painted him as a kind man who was wrongly accused of the crime.

“I just ask that you do what police could not and keep an open mind,” attorney Abigail Anastasio said. “By the conclusion of this trial, I promise you will know the rest of the story.”

The defense used its opening statements to paint Nolan’s wife as abusive toward Williams and arguing she lied several times after the child’s death.

A League City police officer driving to work the evening of Aug. 17, 2016, spotted a motorist driving recklessly and stopped the vehicle in the 1500 block of East Main Street. Whitney Williams’ mother, Brithony Williams, got out of the vehicle carrying her unconscious daughter, police said.

Emergency medical personnel took the girl to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center, and later to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where she died the next day.

Brithony Williams initially told detectives a baby sitter had been watching her children, but she could not provide police with a phone number for the caretaker, according to the affidavits.

The mother told police the baby sitter had called her at work to tell her Whitney suffered a seizure and hit her head, according to the affidavits.

When detectives questioned Brithony Williams about text messages between her and Nolan indicating he was watching the girl, she told investigators Nolan had been watching her daughters at the couple’s League City apartment, according to the affidavits.

“It is my belief the defense will use those lies to shift the blame to her,” Poole said. “But the medical evidence shows that is impossible.”

Brithony Williams was at work during the day, Poole said.

“The medical evidence is just not conclusive,” Anastasio said. “No one can rule out that she might have caused the injuries before going to work that day.”

Brithony Williams had a history of abuse, while Nolan didn’t, Anastasio said.

League City police and U.S. Marshals arrested Nolan after a traffic stop the day after officers encountered the girl, police said.

Nolan is facing a capital murder charge. If convicted, he would be eligible for the death penalty.

The trial is expected to last through the week, Poole said.


Evan

David Nolan


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City seeks straight talk about traffic circle

LEAGUE CITY

A roundabout traffic circle is one option civil engineers are considering to improve the League City Parkway and Brittany Lakes Drive intersection, but it’s not the most popular one with residents.

Residents will get another chance today to comment at a second public meeting about proposed improvements at the intersection.

The roundabout isn’t popular with many residents who said it could be too confusing. Other options to control the intersection include traffic signals and adding left turn lanes, according to a Dec. 14, 2017, presentation from North Carolina-based Kimley-Horn and Associates.

Today’s discussion will weigh the pros and cons of all ideas as city staff and the consultants gather more public input, Budget and Project Management Director Angie Steelman said.

League City council approved a $128,000 contract with traffic and civil engineering consultant Kimley-Horn in August 2017. The consulting firm is designing plans for improving the intersection, but first, it’s getting a consensus on a preference from residents and city staff.

The intent is not just to improve the existing traffic flow, but to plan for future growth on the west side of the city, staff said.

A possible traffic light at Fennigan Lane, a less-traveled minor road, and League City Parkway could cause problems for motorists trying to get out of their Fennigan driveways, residents said at the Dec. 14 meeting.

The biggest concern at the Dec. 14 meeting was the timing of the project, Councilman Hank Dugie said. If the city goes with the traffic-light options, residents want both sides done at once to shorten the time they have to live in a construction zone, he said.

Kimley-Horn conducted field observations and collected traffic data and analyzed improvement concepts.

League City Parkway, also known as state Highway 96, is a four-lane road with a dividing median and a 45 mph speed limit.

The city has no existing crosswalks at the intersection and drivers have a hard time seeing oncoming traffic, Kimley-Horn noted in its report.

One option to improve the intersection is shifting League City Parkway for additional left-turn lanes and adding traffic signals. This option would be less expensive than the others, but it would be less efficient, the consultant said.

A second option is covering the drainage ditch on League City Parkway to create left-turn lanes and to also add traffic signals. This option would be more efficient and would make it easier for drivers to see oncoming traffic but it would also be more expensive and take longer to construct, the consultant said.

A third option is the roundabout, a traffic circle requiring limited coverage of the drainage ditch. Entering traffic would yield to other motorists.

A roundabout would improve traffic safety and be aesthetically pleasing, but it would also be the most expensive option and would take the longest to construct, according to the consultant’s study.