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Santa Fe soldier to receive Distinguished Service Cross

In a special ceremony Wednesday at Fort Hood, Sgt. Daniel Cowart, of Santa Fe, will receive the Distinguished Service Cross, the U.S. Army’s second highest award for extreme gallantry and valor, almost 12 years after Cowart placed himself between a man in a suicide vest and members of his platoon in Iraq.

Cowart is one of 12 soldiers around the country who will receive the Distinguished Service Cross, Army public affairs officer Gabriel Ramirez said.

“Previously recognized for their bravery by award of the Silver Star, the Department of Defense upgraded the soldiers’ medals as part of a comprehensive review of commendations for heroism in Iraq and Afghanistan,” Ramirez said.

Cowart, married to Sarah and the father of twin 14-year-old daughters, said he was surprised to learn his award had been upgraded when he got the call in December from Sgt. Major of the Army Daniel Dailey, who was on the review board for Cowart’s medal.

“He said my actions fit the criteria for the Distinguished Service Cross since they directly saved the lives of three of the men in my platoon,” Cowart said.

“I’m surprised and honored and everything like that. But my lieutenant was killed in the blast, so there’s a feeling of unfairness.

“Why should I be getting something like this, being congratulated when there’s a family out there that lives with the loss of their son every day? I feel like it’s a little unfair.”

Cowart’s platoon leader, Lt. Andrew Bacevich Jr., received a call on May 13, 2007 in Samara, Iraq, from a neighboring platoon in need of a motor-vehicle part. Bacevich and his crew, including Cowart, delivered the part by convoy and were headed back to base when they passed a slow-moving route-clearance team heading in the other direction, backing up vehicles behind it. Bacevich set up a traffic control point and his platoon dismounted to do a quick check of the vehicles.

One of them, a British-style car that looked nicer than the others, seemed suspicious and Cowart and his fellow soldiers checked it out. Two men were in it — one with a rifle and one who appeared unarmed.

After the men emerged from the vehicle, Cowart confronted the unarmed man, knocking him to the ground.

“I know I didn’t see a weapon,” Cowart said. “I didn’t see a suicide vest. I wasn’t just going to shoot an unarmed guy, but I knew he was a threat and had to do something.

“We had a struggle, but then it was all black, and I woke up in a hospital.”

The blast destroyed most of Cowart’s left leg, but his quick actions contained the blast to the ground below and to the vehicle, saving the lives of others in Cowart’s platoon and an unknown number of others, the intended targets of the bomber somewhere down the line.

Cowart’s medical journey was arduous. He underwent 20 surgeries over 18 months. He lost his left leg, suffered nerve damage and hearing loss in both ears. He retired from the Army and settled first in Pearland. In 2015, an infection in his left leg led to the loss of 4 more inches of his femur, leaving him largely wheelchair-bound.

In 2017, the family built their fully wheelchair accessible home in Santa Fe. It’s nice and quiet, Cowart said.

“I’m doing a lot better,” he said. “I’m working out again. I’ve struggled with weight over the past couple years, but it’s coming off.”

Previously a CrossFit and rock-climbing enthusiast, he went skiing this winter and is working on scheduling an adaptive surfing trip to California. He’s not able to tolerate a prosthetic, but is determined to get back on his feet in the coming years, to walk his daughters down the aisle at their weddings, he said.

This week at Fort Hood, in a ceremony to be held in the late afternoon with mounted cavalry and full military regalia, Sgt. Cowart will be joined by his immediate family, parents and in-laws, uncles, a nephew, friends and two platoon mates who were with him on the truck that day in Iraq.

“They’re pulling out all the stops,” Cowart said.


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Spotty weather spreads spring break crowds downtown

GALVESTON

Mike Boyles loves downtown Galveston, but he’d probably have spent a little more time on the beach this week if the weather had been warmer.

On a brisk Friday afternoon, he and his family played in Saengerfest Park downtown, but they would have loved to have gone swimming, he said.

“We’d be out if it was warmer,” Boyles said.

A foggy, overcast start to the week pushed some beach-goers downtown for spring break.

The weather affected Dennis Byrd’s businesses, he said.

He owns The Spot, 3204 Seawall Blvd., and a DoubleTree by Hilton Galveston Beach, 1702 Seawall Blvd.

“We’re seeing really good daytime traffic, but certainly not what we’ve seen in years past due to the inclement weather,” Byrd said Wednesday.

He’s seeing fewer hotel stays from guests who choose not to extend their time, he said.

The poor weather can be a challenge for businesses trying to plan for the summer crowds, he said.

“When you don’t have good weather, it’s very difficult to make staffing decisions,” Byrd said. “We use this week to test new menu items.”

But cold weather on the beach can mean a busy day downtown, said Trey Click, president of the Historic Downtown Galveston Partnership.

If people plan an overnight vacation, they’ll come no matter what the weather is, he said.

“If they can’t go to the beach, then we have a lot of other things to offer,” Click said.

The earlier part of the week was great for downtown businesses, said Mitch King, owner of La King’s Confectionery, 2323 The Strand.

“Sunday and Monday were all good but Tuesday was the best day so far,” King said.

Tuesday was great, but the middle of the week leveled out, said Wendy Morgan, owner of The Admiralty, 2221 The Strand.

This leveling of the crowd was because weather apps predicted poor weather, she said.

“They’re wrong almost all the time,” Morgan said Thursday. “We are our own ecosystem here. Their forecast can make the difference between a good day and a bad day.”

The beach wasn’t devoid of tourists though. On a sunny Thursday afternoon, groups of beach-goers were clustered on the sand and strolling on the seawall.

The cold temperature didn’t deter Denae Charles, she said.

“There’s still the water to swim,” Charles said. “We didn’t let the weather hold us back.”

She and her Waco family visited The Strand on Friday, but went to the beach earlier that week, she said.

For a spring break, the crowds weren’t that bad for seawall businesses, said Payden Adams, manager at Float Pool & Patio Bar, 2828 Seawall Blvd.

“Even in the fog and the little spurts of rain, we still had pretty good business throughout the week,” Adams said.

The chilly Friday was slower for the bar, but seawall pedestrian activity remained steady, he said.

Forecasts for the weekend call for more wet and wind Saturday, but clearing Sunday and warmer, drier days for the first part of next week, according to the National Weather Service.


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Coming Sunday

The nation’s medical schools aren’t turning out enough primary care physicians, but this year at least three local grads are choosing family medicine.


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League City man found guilty of injuring child

A League City man faces up to 20 years in prison after being found guilty Friday of reckless injury to a child causing serious bodily injury.

The verdict came late Friday afternoon in the third trial of Evan Nolan, 29, in the 2016 death of Whitney Williams, 6, his stepdaughter.

Juries had failed to convict or acquit Nolan in trials in 2017 and 2018. The jury in the most recent trial had the opportunity to convict him of murder, but unanimously convicted him of the lesser charge.

The jury also declined to add an enhancement to the charge, ruling it did not find beyond a reasonable doubt that Nolan used a weapon to injure Williams.

The same jury will sentence Nolan on Monday in the 56th District Court. He could receive between two and 20 years in prison, but could also be put on probation, prosecutors said.

Nolan, who had been out on bond before the trial, was taken into custody after the verdict was read.

Prosecutors declined to comment Friday afternoon, citing the pending sentencing phase of the trial.

Nolan’s attorney said he planned to wait until after a sentence is handed down before deciding whether to appeal the verdict.

“I think that it speaks a lot that they came with the lesser charge and that there was no deadly weapon finding,” attorney Adam Banks said. “To us, it is a bit of a win. We’re awaiting sentencing. He is probation-eligible now. That’s a big deal. Seeing what happens Monday, we’ll go forward and see if there’s an appeal or not.”

Nolan was accused of beating Williams to death while he was watching her and his 1-year-old daughter in 2016 at the family’s apartment.

On the evening of Aug. 17, 2016, a League City Police Department officer spotted a motorist driving recklessly and stopped the vehicle in the 1500 block of East Main Street.

Brithony Williams got out of the vehicle carrying her unconscious daughter, police said.

Emergency medical personnel attempted CPR on the girl before taking her to Clear Lake Regional Medical Center and later to Texas Children’s Hospital in Houston, where she died the next day.

An autopsy revealed she had suffered multiple severe injuries before her death, including brain trauma, a lacerated liver and internal bleeding.

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

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

Williams later changed her story and told police that Nolan had been watching the girl. Nolan was arrested Aug. 18, 2016.

In previous trials, Nolan’s attorneys had attempted to shift blame for Williams’ death to her mother, while prosecutors argued that Nolan was the only person who could have caused the injuries in the small window of time he was alone with the young girl.


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La Marque man who died in custody identified

GALVESTON

Officials on Friday identified the man who died while in custody of the Galveston County Jail as a La Marque resident arrested in January.

Ronald Cotton Jr., 30, of La Marque, died early Thursday morning at the University of Texas Medical Branch, according to the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office.

Cotton had been taken to the hospital at about 6:40 p.m. for treatment for dehydration, according to the sheriff’s office. He died about 12:44 the next morning.

The sheriff’s office has not said why Cotton was dehydrated, or how he had reached the point where he needed medical treatment.

The Galveston County Medical Examiner’s Office had not identified a cause for Cotton’s death as of Friday afternoon.

Cotton was being held in the general population area of the jail before he was taken to the hospital, Galveston County Sheriff Henry Trochesset said.

Cotton was in jail awaiting trial on multiple charges, including felony charges of burglary of a habitation and unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon and misdemeanor charges of assault causing bodily injury to a family member and criminal mischief.

Cotton was charged with burglarizing a home in La Marque while using a gun in January. While he was in jail, prosecutors added the assault charge and cited an incident from June 2018. The victim of the assault and the burglary appear to be the same person, according to court records.

Cotton had a criminal record dating back to 2011, according to court documents. In 2012, he pleaded guilty to a charge of accident involving death, over a February 2010 hit-and-run crash in Texas that killed 56-year-old Richard Marschner.

Cotton was paroled in 2015, according to public records.

Cotton was being represented by Galveston attorney Susan Criss. Criss said on Friday she had been appointed to represent Cotton after he was arrested in January.

Criss on Friday said she had little information about Cotton’s death. Her office received a message from a relative of Cotton’s about 4:30 p.m. Wednesday saying he had fallen ill at the jail, Criss said. The caller did not leave any contact information with Criss’ office, she said.

Criss said she went to the jail Wednesday evening in attempt to get information about Cotton’s condition, but he had already been taken to the hospital.

She learned Thursday that Cotton had died, she said.

Cotton’s death is the fifth reported death of an inmate in custody of the Galveston County Jail since 2016.

The Texas Rangers are investigating Cotton’s death and will deliver a report to the Galveston County District Attorney’s Office, officials said.