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In brief

MARITIME

Man rescued from tanker off Galveston

GALVESTON

The U.S. Coast Guard rescued a man from off the coast of Galveston on Saturday afternoon, after he broke his leg aboard a tanker in the Gulf of Mexico.

A helicopter from U.S. Coast Guard Air Station Houston flew to the 336-foot tanker, Kassos, on Saturday. The tanker was anchored about 40 miles south of Galveston.

The captain of Kassos told the U.S. Coast Guard that the man had broken his leg. A Coast Guard surgeon determined the man should be rescued by helicopter and flown to the University of Texas Medical Branch in Galveston for treatment.

The helicopter flew to the tanker and used a basket to lift the man aboard. During the rescue, winds were reported as 17 mph, and the seas were 5-feet high.

The 38-year-old mariner was in stable condition at the hospital on Saturday evening, the U.S. Coast Guard said.

— John Wayne Ferguson

ROAD CONSTRUCTION

Calder Road work continues in League City

Calder Road work will continue this week, after work crews had to fix two pipe leaks.

On Monday, crews discovered a leak on the 39-inch water main south of Ervin Avenue.

The contractor installed temporary pavement along the west side of the road to maintain two-way traffic flow while the Gulf Coast Water Authority began repairing the water line Thursday.

On Wednesday, a gas line ruptured at the intersection of Calder and Weyer Street, causing a road closure for approximately two hours.

The contractor working on Calder Road in League City has completed temporary paving along the east side of the road.

The route should be open for traffic by Friday, city officials said.

Once traffic shifts to the east side of the road, the contractor will begin work on the west side of Calder Road, including the installation of a storm sewer and permanent pavement construction, the city said.

— Valerie Wells

TECHNOLOGY

High-tech van evaluating Friendswood streets

Friendswood is evaluating its streets with a new, modified 15-passenger van.

The city’s new Road Service Tester van has lasers, distance measuring instruments, accelerometers and rate gyroscopes, inertial navigation-based GPS and high-resolution digital cameras that will cover every city-maintained street in Friendswood.

The instruments collect objective pavement surface distress data, roughness and rutting, city staff said.

After the van collects data, the staff determines where a stretch of road is on a life-cycle curve. The staff can prioritize and schedule pavement repair projects.

The data can also help in making budget proposals.

A trained visual inspector conducted the previous Friendswood citywide survey in 2008.

— Valerie Wells

RECREATION

Rec group awards League City for paddle trail event

The East Region Texas Recreation and Parks Society honored a League City program at a Jan. 18 event.

The society gave League City the Lone Star Programming Award for its Paddle the Trail event at Heritage Park.

League City partnered with the American Hiking Society June 3, 2017, to offer a National Trails Day event at Heritage Park.

The event introduced watercraft and the Clear Creek Paddle Trail to residents, city staff said.

Heritage Park offers canoe, kayak, paddle boarding and pedal boat launching.

League City worked with the Clear Creek Paddle Association to provide expert kayak and canoe volunteers to the event. More than 250 people attended, most of them coming as families, officials said.

— Valerie Wells


News
Construction fraud up slightly after Harvey

State, county and city officials who track cases of contractor fraud in post-Hurricane Harvey repairs and rebuilds are surprised at the low numbers so far reported, more than five months after the storm made landfall.

But for homeowners who gave money to contractors who never did the repair work promised, the damage is monumental.

Joey Kukuch, who lives on Bayridge Drive in League City, turned to a contractor he knew for years and trusted when he needed repairs on his flooded home. Kukuch gave the contractor money on Oct. 13, 2017, but the work they agreed on was never done, he said.

The $12,750 Kukuch gave the contractor came from his Federal Emergency Management Agency disaster assistance, Kukuch said.

After trying to resolve the issue and getting the runaround, Kukuch went to the League City Police Department on Jan. 9. The police report describes the crime as theft of service.

UP SLIGHTLY

League City doesn’t have a specific number of how many post-Harvey contractor fraud cases they are handling. That’s partly because complaints can fall into many different categories, police spokesman Kelly Williamson said.

“As expected, after a natural disaster like Harvey there has been an increase in consumer-contractor disputes,” Williamson said.

The Galveston County District Attorney’s office, however, is closely monitoring contractor fraud. Robert Buss, an assistant criminal district attorney in charge of the major fraud office, tracks complaints and looks for patterns of fraud.

In League City, the police are investigating two such incidents, Buss said. He is also aware of one case that the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office is investigating as well as one that Dickinson police are investigating.

“I expect more cases are coming,” Buss said.

Friendswood police report no complaints of contractor fraud or theft of service since Harvey, spokeswoman Lisa Price said.

Dickinson police have seen a slight increase in such cases, spokesman Tim Cromie said.

“The majority of the cases are civil,” Cromie said. “There was not an intent to defraud.”

Dickinson police have also had complaints from contractors complaining about homeowners who are not paying for work done, Cromie said.

Buss is investigating two other cases that law enforcement agencies in the county assumed would be civil matters. His office also researches civil cases filed to see if those involve any contractor fraud.

LOOKS FOR PATTERNS

Contractor fraud is criminal when a contractor takes the money and knows the work won’t be done, Buss said. It can also be criminal if part of the work is done but not everything is completed, he said.

Determining which cases are criminal takes a lot of work. Buss collects bank records, credit reports and other data from other accounts. It takes 30 to 40 days to get those records. Then he sifts through the numbers and looks for patterns.

“It’s a whole lot of hurry up and wait,” Buss said.

After Hurricane Ike in 2008, complaints came into the district attorney’s office a year after the disaster. Some went through the civil court process first, with homeowners suing contractors then later filing criminal complaints, Buss said.

The statute of limitations is five years for contractor fraud cases, Buss said. Those involving more than $2,500 are felonies while those less than $2,500 are misdemeanors.

After Ike, Galveston County prosecutors argued cases against 34 contractors who committed multiple cases of contractor fraud, Buss said. Of the 34, 11 were accused of committing multiple felonies and 23 were accused of committing multiple misdemeanors.

Some cases were dismissed because of insufficient evidence while others were dismissed because the contractor paid the money back to the victim.

Because of those Ike cases, the district attorney’s office started the major fraud department to have a staff who could specialize in the details of proving fraud cases, Buss said.

VERBAL AGREEMENT

The Texas Attorney General’s office also tracks post-Harvey contractor fraud, spokeswoman Kayleigh Lovvorn said.

But FEMA does not track or have any oversight over contractor fraud, spokesman Jose Jimenez said.

“We give grants to disaster survivors, who then decide how to best use the funds to repair their dwellings,” Jimenez said.

FEMA recommends that disaster survivors use licensed contractors for any work done on their dwellings and that survivors get a detailed, written estimate before any work begins, he said.

While Kukuch did use a licensed contractor, he didn’t get a written estimate or a written agreement, he said.

“It was a guy I considered a friend,” Kukuch said. “We had a verbal agreement.”

Buss encourages homeowners with contractor complaints to file paperwork with authorities so he can compare data and find patterns of fraud.

“If people believe they’ve been cheated, they should call law enforcement,” Buss said. “If they don’t get anywhere with them, they can follow up with us.”


 

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Police identify man shot, killed in Texas City

TEXAS CITY

Police on Saturday were searching for the man who shot and killed a Texas City man, and wounded a woman following a shooting in the early hours of the morning.

Kendrae Jones, 32, of Texas City, was shot and killed in the 5100 block of FM 1765 at 2:17 a.m., Texas City police said.

A 25-year-old woman was also shot in the leg. She was in stable condition, but remained in the hospital late Saturday, police said.

No one was immediately arrested in relation to the homicide, the first reported killing in Texas City this year. On Saturday afternoon, Texas City police spokesman Cpl. Mel Villareal said detectives had identified a person of interest, but no one was in custody.

Only a few details were released about what happened before the shooting.

Police said Jones and an unidentified man got into an altercation at a bar in the 900 block of Texas Avenue in La Marque. Investigators did not know on Saturday what started the fight. The men ultimately ended up on the other side of Texas Avenue, inside Texas City limits.

That’s where Jones and the woman, who has not been identified, were shot. Police on Saturday said the woman was an innocent bystander and was not involved in the altercation.

Both Jones and the woman were brought to the Mainland Medical Center in Texas City where he was pronounced dead.

Police did not provide a description of the shooter, who fled the scene in an unidentified vehicle.

The homicide is the first reported in Texas City this year. The last reported homicide in the city was in May 2016, when a man was shot dead on a dead-end street off FM 1765 following an argument. That shooting happened at an address just a mile away from Saturday’s incident.

The shooting is still under investigation. Police asked anyone with information about the incident to call Crime Stoppers at 409-945-8477 or Texas City Police Det. Robert Wiley at 409-643-5831.