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Early birds face steeper fines for overnight Mardi Gras parking


After years of addressing the issue anew with each festival, the city is drafting an ordinance that would permanently allow overnight seawall parking during the first weekend of Mardi Gras, a city spokeswoman said.

At the same time, the city aims to discourage weekday early birds by raising the overnight parking fine to $250 from $50 in the Monday through Thursday leading up to the first festival weekend, spokeswoman Marissa Barnett said.

“This would be increasing the cost to disincentivize parking there,” Barnett said.

In past years, people have paid the $50 per night fine to make sure they get their chosen parade spots, but the city hopes the higher fine will discourage this practice, Barnett said.

The city already bans parking on the seawall overnight, leveling a $50 a night fine against violators, but in the past, it’s been accommodating to the tradition of festival attendees staking a claim on Seawall Boulevard in advance of the first weekend’s parades.

“A lot of people like to do it, and we try to accommodate that, but at the same time, it needs to be something we can manage,” Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

The city’s main concern with overnight parking is access to the seawall, Barnett said.

“We don’t want people camping on the beach and parking RVs for weeks at a time,” Barnett said.

The cars are an impediment to the efforts to clean and maintain the seawall, Galveston Park Board of Trustees spokeswoman Jaree Fortin said.

The park board maintains the seawall and its amenities.

“Overnight parking on the seawall does prevent our trash truck crews from being able to access the receptacles,” Fortin said. “We are also unable to use the parking lane to safely empty the receptacles.”

The park board meets with the city before the first weekend of Mardi Gras to coordinate operations, Fortin said.

The ordinance would solve a lot of headache that comes with the annual overnight parking debate, Mayor Jim Yarbrough said.

“Instead of dealing with it every year, let’s incorporate an ordinance that just sets the policy,” Yarbrough said.

The drafted version of the rule would allow parking and camping between midnight and 5 a.m. on Seawall Boulevard between Sixth and 59th streets, between 63rd and 89th streets and from the 9300 block to the end of the seawall, according to city council documents.

The Galveston City Council is scheduled to discuss the proposed ordinance during its special workshop Wednesday, but won’t vote on the subject until its Jan. 24 meeting, Yarbrough said.

Mardi Gras celebrations are from Feb. 22 to March 5.

About 100 gather at vigil for three slain children


The sky over Pointe Ann Apartments filled with pink and blue balloons Sunday night during a vigil remembering three children killed inside a Texas City apartment building Thursday.

About 100 people gathered at the apartments, 1225 10th St. N., to honor Angela Pilot, 5; Prince Larry Brown, 2; and Ashanti Mehmood, 41 days old, who were beaten and stabbed to death Thursday.

When Pointe Ann resident Diane Bickey heard about the killings, she couldn’t believe it, she said.

She feels so shaken by the deaths, she doesn’t want to stay in the apartment complex anymore, she said.

“I felt like I was in another world,” Bickey said. “We haven’t slept yet. It seemed like a dream.”

The three children were pronounced dead Thursday in the apartment where they lived, police said.

Bickey joined family and friends at the Sunday night vigil.

During the ceremony, people launched balloons, two pink balloons for the two girls and one blue for the boy, into the sky above the apartment complex. People in the crowd raised candles as they said the children’s names.

Police on Friday charged Junaid Mehmood, 27, of Texas City, with three felonies, including two counts of capital murder in the deaths.

Mehmood also is accused of beating the children’s mother, Kimaria Nelson, 24, who was Mehmood’s girlfriend, and of shooting her in the face and body with a high-powered pellet gun, police said.

Ashley Williams, Nelson’s uncle, still hasn’t fully comprehended the events, he said.

“When I first saw it on TV, I couldn’t believe it,” Williams said. “It hasn’t really pressed down on me.”

The tragedy has been hard on the family, he said.

The family knows how to come together to support each other, said Gaylin Hosea, Nelson’s cousin.

“We’re going to stick together as a family so Kimaria can make it through this,” Hosea said.

Police found Nelson injured and hiding in the apartment Thursday hours after the attack happened, police said.

Mehmood called Houston police about 10:30 p.m. Thursday and identified himself as the suspect sought in Texas City, police said.

Police have not identified a motive for the killings but are investigating a social media post connected to Mehmood that appears to reference him recently being fired, police said.

Mehmood has twice been convicted of assault causing bodily injury to a family member and has been convicted of robbery and fraud, according to court records.

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Conference to promote industrial careers for women

High-paying and technically challenging jobs in petrochemical fields and other industry are mostly held by men.

But organizers of the fourth annual Women in Industry conference at Moody Gardens Convention Center on Jan. 30 seek to change that trend.

“We want to let young women know what career choices are out there,” said Laura Baumgartner, director of continuing education industrial workforce programs at College of the Mainland and a conference organizer.

“Not everybody is built to sit in an office all day.”

The all-day conference will feature petrochemical and other industry representatives, personnel from community colleges offering training in industry-specific skills and women who work in industrial skills-based jobs, discussing their experiences in what have been male-dominated fields for as long as they have existed.

If Baumgartner and Vera Lewis-Jasper, dean of technical and professional education at Galveston College have their way, that trend will change in years to come.

Both women are conference organizers and have been involved since Women in Industry got its start as an outreach of the Community College Petrochemical Industry, a consortium of nine area community colleges.

“CCPI is an initiative that’s been around for about five years, funded by ExxonMobil,” Lewis-Jasper said. “As an outreach, about four years ago we were talking and we realized, man, these are some really good high-wage jobs. We need to let females know about them.”

The conference has grown every year and this year expects more than 1,250 participants, including high school students and women pursuing work or changing career tracks.

“The crafts used in this industry are not gender specific,” Baumgartner said.

Women in her programs at College of the Mainland can train to be pipefitters, to do mechanical maintenance, to be manual machinists, to operate computer numeric control systems or to be electricians.

How many women participate in those training programs?

“Not enough,” Baumgartner said. “That’s why all nine of our colleges are supporting this. Industry is in need of workers to fill the gap, and it’s also a great opportunity for women. They bring a different skill set to the work force.”

The conference this year will feature a welding simulator, scaffolding and other job simulation tools for students to try out in a demonstration area, Lewis-Jasper said.

“All nine colleges will be there to talk about our training programs available and scholarships that are available,” she said.

An aging workforce, plant expansions and new construction starts in a growing economy mark a hot industrial job market in the Gulf Coast with refineries and contractors looking for trained women to hire, according to conference organizers.

“We want women to understand that they can work in crafts that support industry that are just as important as white-collar jobs and they can make just as much money,” Baumgartner said.

Corporate sponsors for the event include ExxonMobil, S&B Engineers, BASF, Chevron Phillips, Dow, Freeport LNG, INEOS, Jacobs, LyondellBasell, NolTex and Shell.

After city boot, Artist Boat still on Ave. O


Almost two months after a divisive decision to boot conservation organization Artist Boat from the Avenue O property it was leasing, the nonprofit hasn’t moved and hasn’t publicly announced plans to do so.

In a controversial move in November, the Galveston City Council voted not to grant property owner Clay Conrad a zoning overlay required to allow the eco-art and nature nonprofit to continue operating in the residential area. The city council decision came after complaints from some Artist Boat neighbors, who said the nonprofit didn’t belong in a residential neighborhood.

But Artist Boat remains at its Avenue O site, Executive Director Karla Klay said.

“We have a lot of internal processes to figure out our next step,” Klay said.

In October, the city council voted to revoke a permit Artist Boat had operated under by Dec. 31, but the city hasn’t demanded the nonprofit leave the property, Conrad’s attorney, Marc Hill, said.

The permit was awarded in 2002 to a previous owner.

“We don’t have a letter from the city saying this is what we want you to do,” Hill said.

Hill isn’t aware of any plans by Artist Boat to move to a new location in the immediate future, he said.

“I’m not aware of an extension,” Hill said. “I’m not aware of an effort to leave. I’m not aware of the city telling them to leave.”

The choice forcing the nonprofit’s move came after neighbors complained about kayak storage on the property and their worries that allowing nonresidential uses in the neighborhood would set a precedent.

The significant opposition triggered a rare six-vote supermajority requirement to approve the zoning overlay. District 1 Councilwoman Amy Bly and Mayor Jim Yarbrough voted against the special zoning district.

Yarbrough said Friday he wasn’t aware of any extension given to the Dec. 31 deadline.

After the November decision, he said he was willing to award Artist Boat an extension, if it needed one.

“We’re going to reach out to Clay and see what the status of things are,” Yarbrough said.

He and city officials don’t plan to boot the nonprofit out without discussion, he said.

“If we feel like we need to give them an extension, we will do that at our Jan. 24 meeting,” Yarbrough said.

The matter of an extension is between the city and the property owner, Klay said.

“We have not been told by our landlord to vacate the property,” Klay said.

The dispute won’t stop any of Artist Boat’s scheduled activities, Klay said.

Former judge Dupuy to stand trial

A trial is set to begin Monday for a former Galveston County court at law judge accused of posting photos of his ex-girlfriends on a website falsely advertising escort services.

Christopher Michael Dupuy, 47, is charged with two counts of online impersonation stemming from a July 2015 arrest, officials said.

Dupuy is accused of posting photos from a woman’s Facebook page as advertisements on Backpage, a classified advertising website, which offered escort and sex services, according to court records. Backpage was seized and shut down by federal investigators in April as part of a wide-ranging investigation into prostitution and human trafficking.

Investigators also accused Dupuy of posting photos of another woman’s naked breasts, which she had sent to him while they were dating, according to the records.

Dupuy is accused of using the alias Don Tequila and trying to cover his tracks by routing the posts through foreign computer servers, according to the criminal complaint.

Deputies apprehended Dupuy near Austin in July, six months after a visiting judge in the 405th District Court issued warrants for Dupuy’s arrest, officials said.

A visiting judge in the 405th District Court in June 2016 dismissed two counts of online harassment, arguing the state’s online impersonation statute was “unconstitutionally overbroad.”

The 14th Court of Appeals, which hears cases from Galveston County, on Aug. 17 reversed the judge’s decision.

Voters elected Dupuy as the judge of County Court No. 3 during a 2010 Republican landslide of countywide offices.

Dupuy was removed from the bench in May 2015 after he was indicted on about a dozen charges stemming from his conduct in office, including retaliating against attorneys who represented his former wife.

Dupuy in September 2013 pleaded guilty to two misdemeanor charges and was given two years of deferred adjudication and probation. He was still on probation when he was arrested in 2015.

Courtesy/Galveston County Sheriff's Office 

Christopher Dupuy

jenniferreynolds / JENNIFER REYNOLDS/The Daily News  

Fencing and a screen block views of kayaks stored at the Artist Boat’s office on 27th Street in Galveston on Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018.