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'We're becoming an RV park'

DICKINSON

With little at-home cooking and lots of patience, the Jones family has begrudgingly called an RV home for the past few weeks.

After a few weeks in temporary housing at The Victorian in Galveston, Vanessa and Matt Jones, and their three children, moved into a rented RV in the front yard of their Old Bayou Drive home in Dickinson to be nearby as it’s being repaired.

“At first, I was excited to be closer and not driving from Galveston four times a day,” Vanessa Jones said. “Now it’s feeling tight, but better than commuting.”

The RV has two rooms about the size of a double bed, a small kitchen and a couch where the family of five sleeps and tries to relax after days at work or school, and evenings overseeing house repairs.

During Hurricane Harvey in late August, rain swelled Dickinson Bayou, causing about 6 feet of flooding in their home, Jones said. The family had flood insurance and has started to rebuild the home. But the Joneses keep encountering red tape as they struggle with adjustments and other aspects of rebuilding, they said.

They’re renting the trailer for about $1,100 a month, Vanessa Jones said. They had originally planned to stay in a hotel room, but the only available spaces are a longer commute from Dickinson than the family wanted when it came to taking three children to school, she said.

In the camper, everyday tasks are a chore, she said.

“I’ve tried to use a crockpot or skillet but it’s a hassle,” Vanessa Jones said. “The sink is small and trying to clean a skillet or crockpot in it — ugh.”

“It sucks but this is the reality,” Matt Jones said, standing in the RV’s living room.

In another section of the Bayou Chantilly subdivision, the Davison family is similarly living in an RV parked beside their flooded home. A friend had loaned the family the RV, David Davison said.

“I enjoy it actually,” he said. “We’re so happy they loaned it to us.”

As the weeks pass, more and more of the Davisons’ neighbors on Blue Water Lane and across the city are moving into RVs, Monica Davison said. Others are still staying in hotels or with family or friends, they said.

“We’re becoming an RV park,” Monica Davison said.

The couple and their two daughters have been sharing the RV, where they typically cook dinner in slow cookers or on an outdoor grill, she said.

The rebuilding process is coming along slowly, especially since the family didn’t have flood insurance, she said. But the family also felt grateful for the outpouring of love and support they’ve received from family, friends and strangers, Monica Davison said.

“We’re taking everything one project at a time,” Monica Davison said. “I can’t be upset when other amazing things are happening, plus what’s the point?”


News
Downtown businesses report mixed bag during rally

GALVESTON

During the island’s biggest tourist weekend of the year, Mike Bouvier closes up shop.

Bouvier learned that was the best option several years ago, after he stocked his freezers at Hey Mikey’s Ice Cream, 2120 Postoffice St., downtown for the weekend. Lone Star Rally, a four-day motorcycle event that annually brings upward of 350,000 to the island, logically seemed like it would be great for business, Bouvier said.

That business didn’t come, Bouvier said.

After several years of losing money during the yearly event, Bouvier decided to close the shop for this year’s rally to save money on overhead and cost of labor, he said.

“Bikers like beer,” Bouvier said. “They don’t like ice cream.”

Bouvier is far from alone in reporting slow business during the rally weekend. While much of the rally takes place on The Strand, Galveston’s historic tourist shopping street, a lot of the foot traffic stays outside the stores and in the roadways, where attendees can find dozens of vendors and thousands of motorcycles.

But other shop owners feel just the opposite, and those who sell beer out of their storefront windows said the weekend is great for business.

“As far as beer goes, this is the busiest weekend,” said Jason Sheaffer, owner of Old Strand Emporium on 2425 Strand. “It’s kind of our niche.”

Lone Star Rally is a boon for Galveston’s overall economy, said Sharon Damante, the event’s media liaison. The rally in 2016 contributed about $115.6 million to Galveston’s economy, and about $113 million of that came indirectly through retail, food and lodging spending, according to an economic impact study.

“This amount of money over four days is fabulous,” Damante said.

Rally organizers estimated that more than 250,000 motorcycles and 500,000 people would be on the island for the weekend this year. The event ends today.

Island hotels fill up almost entirely every year during Lone Star Rally, said Steve Cunningham, president of the Galveston Hotel & Lodging Association.

“It’s the busiest weekend of the year as far as hotels and rates,” Cunningham said. “They all do well for us.”

Boyce Pryor, manager of the boutique Tina’s Ladies Clothing & Home Décor, 2326 Strand, said her sales are lower during the weekend. Pryor typically earns some loyal customers who want to come back and spend at a later date, however, she said.

“Does the rally help me on Friday, Saturday, Sunday? No,” Pryor said. “Next week it may be crazy busy, because they see something they like and come back. We’ve made some of our best customers from the rally.”

Gracie’s, a gift boutique on 2228 Strand, finds that loyal customers don’t come out during the weekend because they can’t find parking, store manager Veronica Gonzalez said.

“It does slow business, because our regular customers are like, ‘Where do we park?’” Gonzalez said. “It gives us time to get ready for Christmas.”

Other businesses make up for a lack in sales by hawking beer out of storefront windows and doors. Tola Mo’ Bettah Market on 2208 Strand closes its store for the busiest rally days and opens a beer counter instead, manager Sarah Tavarez said.

“It kind of evens out,” Tavarez said.

Lonie Johnson, manager at C-Level Surf Shop on 2101 Strand, said she feels that the rally actually helps her business keep people employed during the fall, which is a slower season in tourist cities such as Galveston.

“I used to work on Seawall, and they used to lay everybody off in the fall,” Johnson said. “These events like Lone Star, they kind of keep the budget so we can afford people.”

Even if businesses aren’t benefiting from increased food traffic in the downtown district, that money usually gets to the business in some way because it’s all flowing through the local economy, Damante said. A waiter that receives extra tip money during Lone Star Rally would likely go spend that money somewhere else, for example, Damante said.

“All tourist destinations that do special events, they all use what’s called a multiplier effect,” Damante said. “That money keeps turning through the town.”

A few blocks from the main events, Proletariat Gallery & Public House, 2221 Market St., was experiencing slow business as well, co-owner Becky Major said.

“We’ve realized people aren’t here for art galleries and craft beer,” Major said. “It brings business to the island, so I’m totally cool with it.”


News
10 years after Baby Grace, another mystery grips isle

GALVESTON

Something like this has happened before.

The body of a small child is found near Galveston Island. There are no adults around. No immediate apparent cause. A sketched likeness is produced, distributed and spread across the country.

Do you know this child? Can someone help with the identification?

On Oct. 20, a person walking on the beach near the Galveston Seawall found the body of young boy in the dunes. Who he was and how he died haven’t been determined

Ten years ago, on Oct. 29, 2007, a fisherman in Galveston Bay found the body of a young girl inside a plastic container. Investigators first called the girl “Baby Grace.” After a month, her real name, Riley Ann Sawyers, was known to the world.

As the Galveston Police Department works to investigate the latest tragic discovery, officials have released few details. But just because officials haven’t revealed the daily ins and outs of the investigation, it doesn’t mean detectives aren’t working diligently to follow leads, said Galveston County Sheriff’s Office Lt. Michael Barry, the lead investigator on the Baby Grace case.

When Riley’s body was discovered, there wasn’t much to work with in terms of leads, Barry said.

“We had nothing to go on,” he said. “The majority of the time you do have something to go on. But we had a child who was in a container who washed up in the water. We had nothing.”

During the Baby Grace investigation, the sheriff’s office received hundreds of leads. Tips about potential missing children came in from as far away as Portugal, Barry said.

“I can’t tell you the number of call-ins we got,” he said.

The investigation was led mostly by two people, Barry said, but many other people contributed. The investigation was constant for five weeks, he said. Barry isn’t involved in the current investigation of the young boy’s death.

But it’s likely officers are coordinating with the Texas Department of Child Protective Services, which can check with families under its watch to make sure children are safe and accounted for, Barry said.

There also might be forensic evidence that hasn’t been released publicly that police are checking on, Barry said.

“We are not going to divulge a lot of things because only the perpetrator would know,” Barry said. “We release what we can and we feel comfortable with to try to get as much information we can get from the public. But we don’t divulge certain factors.”

By the end of November 2007, the sheriff’s department felt it was exhausting its leads in the Baby Grace case, Barry said. They had even called in a hypnotist in attempt to jar the memories of witnesses who might remember something.

The break in the case came soon after that. Sheryl Sawyers, an Ohio woman, saw a picture of the Baby Grace sketch on the internet. The drawing looked like her granddaughter, Riley, who she had not seen in months.

“She just happened to see the drawing,” Barry said. “The thing that really keyed it was the clothing that Riley was wearing was an outfit the grandmother bought.”

Sawyers called in the tip. Her instincts were confirmed by a DNA test. Riley’s mother, Kimberly Dawn Trenor, and stepfather, Royce Clyde Zeigler, were convicted of capital murder in 2009. Both are serving life sentences.

Barry credited cooperation between investigators and the media for breaking the case.

For Galveston police, it could just be a matter of time. The FBI is reportedly helping with the investigation. Interested people have already sent tips to Galveston that police have dismissed, including a case out of Tennessee in which a missing boy bore a striking resemblance to the child found on the beach.

The boy found in Galveston was about 3 feet tall and weighed about 30 pounds, police said. He had dark hair and brown eyes and was possibly Hispanic, authorities said.

The body was in the early stages of decomposition, Galveston Police Capt. Joshua Schirard said. The body appeared to have been in the water, but police were uncertain whether it had washed ashore or had been placed on the beach where tides might have reached it, Schirard said.

There were no signs of major trauma, such as missing limbs or a gunshot wound. The boy was nude, though investigators did not know whether his clothes had come off in the water because of the Gulf’s current.

Anyone with information concerning this case or the identity of this child please call 409-765-3776 or Crimestoppers at 409-763-TIPS.


News
centerpiece
Police: Lone Star Rally doesn't bring rise in crime

Lone Star Rally brings more than 250,000 motorcycles and a half-million visitors to Galveston in the island’s largest yearly event, but the numbers don’t necessarily bring the rise in crime some might expect, police officials said.

“It’s Saturday, so we have about two days left, and we’ve only made three arrests during the event,” said Capt. Joshua Schirard, spokesman for the Galveston Police Department. “This is looking to be on par for last year, where we only made 10 arrests.”

Galveston police officers, as well as some SWAT officers, patrolled The Strand on Saturday and Schirard and several cadets surveyed events at the mobile command center in the newly constructed transit terminal, but despite the heavy presence, there hadn’t been much drama to report, Schirard said.

“This is always a great event,” Schirard said. “It’s a great crowd that actually does a lot of self-policing.”

It helps, of course, that the department has had 16 years to perfect its presence at the event, Schirard said.

“It’s incredible,” Schirard said. “Half a million people come here, but we’ve only had three arrests.”

The motorcycle rally, which organizers say is the largest four-day rally in the country, is one of the island’s biggest yearly economic drivers. City officials estimate the event brought about $115.6 million to Galveston in 2016.

Rather than the many visitors and motorcyclists, if police worry about anything this weekend, it’s mostly forces outside of the event, Schirard said.

“It’s coming not from the bikers, but people who might come because this is a target event with a large audience,” Schirard said. “That’s why we have SWAT guys with rifles patrolling.”

Officers also set up concrete barriers at each entrance to the rally on the off chance that anyone tries to drive a car through the pedestrian area, Schirard said.

Law enforcement officials weren’t the only ones to note how low key the event has been.

“I’m not immersed in the biker culture, but everyone has been great,” said Victoria Allyse, who came to Galveston for the event supporting a Chicago business. “You have this expectation about everyone being rowdy, but everyone has been nice.”

Repeat visitors for the rally were divided on how the crowd compared to years past, but agreed with Allyse’s assessment of their fellow attendees.

“I really like getting to see all the new people that come to this event from around the world and the bikes are sweet,” Houston resident Vidal Jackson said.

The combination of a 2015 gunfight in a Waco restaurant among two biker gangs and the police that killed nine people and injured 20 others and Hurricane Harvey has made attendance a little lighter than usual and a little more skittish, said Hank Novak, of Port Lavaca, who has attended Lone Star Rally for 13 years.

“It’s kind of slow,” he said. “Usually people are walking shoulder-to-shoulder by this point.”

Officers are monitoring the event to make sure everyone stays safe, Schirard said.

“Of all the people who come here and get a little drunk, few of those are unsafe,” Schirard said. “Burnouts, however, are a safety issue. We had someone do a burnout last year that sent three people to the hospital.”

While many in Saturday’s crowd were quick to comment on the friendly nature of the event, not everyone was quite convinced.

“Maybe it’s tame right now,” said Yolanda Montemayor, of Missouri City. “But Friday night it can get a little wild. We come to look at the merchandise, but usually have an early dinner and get to bed kind of early.”

Gary Pyzik, of Dallas, disagreed with Montemayor’s assessment, pointing out just how well-worked the event is.

“It seems a little better than in years past,” Pyzik said. “There are a lot of people working this event. Everyone is very friendly.”


Coming Monday

Why did Vanilla Ice receive a key to the city of Galveston?


News
editor's pick
Land swap might allow Porretto Beach development

GALVESTON

Galveston city attorneys have entered mediation talks with a bankruptcy trustee who threatened to sue the city over ownership of several rights of way near the seawall.

The city will hold two public hearings on the potential abandonment of the rights of way, which are in and around Porretto Beach, between Sixth and 10th streets. The beach is known to be the last property left in the bankruptcy estate of Sonya Porretto, and the estate trustee has said he has a buyer ready to take the property as long as the rights of way are included in the sale.

Trustee Randy Williams declined to comment because mediations are confidential, he said.

The council will have public hearings on Nov. 9 and Dec. 14 and will take a vote on the abandonment Dec. 14, according to the mediation agreement.

“Under this mediation agreement, no particular course of action or vote is guaranteed by city council,” City Attorney Don Glywasky said. “It is just a process to allow us to try to resolve this.”

Williams and others working to sell the property have claimed the rights of way belonged to the Porrettos since 1978, when the Galveston City Council voted to abandon them to the family.

Proof of the transaction is largely nonexistent, however, as the city has not found official records showing the required legal documents were ever filed to turn over the properties.

The city’s vote in December would either recognize or deny that the abandonment took place.

Williams filed a letter with the city in April, threatening to sue over the matter.

“I am at an end of the chicanery and mischief of Galveston,” Williams said in the letter.

“My goals are to sell the property of the Porretto estate and pay creditors,” the letter states. “My goal is not to engage in litigation. That said, I will if there is no alternative.”

The mediation agreement specifies that the rights of way would only be abandoned if the trustee deeds the city 100 percent of Porretto Beach West, a few blocks from Porretto Beach. That land is valued at somewhere around $160,000, Glywasky said.

Plans to develop on the Porretto land have been controversial. Developer Galveston LLC has made the $6 million offer and plans to build a mixed-use development on the land.

Elizabeth Beeton, a former city councilwoman, said she doesn’t believe the city should give away public property because of a claim that hasn’t been proven true.

“City council should consult an independent legal expert to advise the council regarding the merits of this claim, because it’s a bogus claim,” Beeton said.

The existence of a buyer has “really not that much import” to the city in signing a mediation agreement, Glywasky said.

“The buyer, I think, provides the impetus for the trustee to want to resolve this quickly,” he said.