A Baytown man has pleaded guilty to stabbing his 16-year-old girlfriend to death and hiding her body in a wooded area in November 2016 in Texas City.
Jesse Christian Dobbs, 23, pleaded guilty to one count of murder Tuesday in the 56th District Court in Galveston, court records show. A hearing is tentatively set for Sept. 24 to determine his sentence, court records show.
Defense attorneys plan to argue that Dobbs killed his girlfriend, Kirsten Nicole Fritch, as an act of sudden passion, said Jyll Rekoff, who is representing Dobbs.
If a jury finds he acted in sudden passion, the punishment range is two to 20 years in prison instead of the normal five to 99 years for a murder charge, Rekoff said.
“Jesse had nothing to do with those two murders in Baytown,” Rekoff said. “He had no reason to murder her mother and sister. He was put in that situation by Kirsten with no idea what was about to occur. He hasn’t been charged in the other two murders yet. There’s no evidence putting him there at this point.”
Cynthia Morris, 37, and her daughter Breanna Pavlicek, 13, were found shot to death in their Baytown home Nov. 8, 2016. Fritch and the family’s white PT Cruiser were missing.
The discovery launched a statewide Amber Alert for Fritch, and within hours authorities had tracked the car to Shenanigans Sports Bar in the 800 block of 34th Street in Texas City.
Dobbs was arrested inside the bar that night on a resisting arrest charge.
Baytown police, Texas City police, FBI agents and the Texas Department of Public Safety began searching the land near the bar. More than 36 hours later, on Nov. 10, police found her body.
The medical examiner’s office told a grand jury in February 2017 that Fritch had been stabbed as many as 60 times.
Dobbs told investigators he had killed Fritch, but that it hadn’t been the “real Kirsten,” according to a probable cause affidavit.
Fritch died in November 2016 of multiple stab wounds.
Police found Fritch’s body Nov. 10 in a wooded area near Shenanigans Sports Bar in Texas City after a days-long search that started in Baytown after Fritch’s mother and sister were found dead in their home.
A torrential early morning rain storm swamped Texas City on Tuesday morning, forcing schools to close, damaging the community college and flooding some homes in the city.
Arriving near the anniversaries of Hurricane Ike and Hurricane Harvey, and with tropical storms lining up in the Atlantic Ocean, the rainy weather stressed local residents and reminded them that damage can come quickly during peak hurricane season.
The heaviest rains began over Galveston County just before 3 a.m., and prompted a flash flood warning for eastern and southern parts of the mainland about 5 a.m.
Parts of Galveston County saw as much as 10 inches of rain during the morning, with the hardest rainfalls happening in the Texas City and La Marque areas.
The rain flooded roadways, including FM 1765. Texas City Independent School District canceled classes for the day — citing forecasts of persistent rain.
“We didn’t want people to get here and not be able to get home,” district spokeswoman Melissa Tortorici said.
Texas City Mayor Matt Doyle called the event a “tough rain.”
The city evacuated one couple from a home, and performed a handful of vehicle rescues in the morning, officials said.
Several homes were flooded, including on Edwards Street, Doyle said. That street, in the western part of the city, flooded often, he said. The city was prepared to work with homeowners to address the issue, although a solution might come down to buyouts, he said.
“We’re not going to be able to help them with drainage,” Doyle said. “We’re going to have to figure out something.”
Some of the most significant damage happened at the College of the Mainland on Amburn Road. The college’s main administrative building was flooded with up to 2 inches of water, college spokeswoman Ruth Rendon said.
The flooding might have come from a failed drainage pipe under the building, Rendon said. The water appeared to be coming from inside the building and caused the foundation under a section of the vice presidents’ office to buckle, she said.
The college planned to hire an engineer to assess the damage in coming days, she said.
“There was maybe an inch or two of water through most of the building, enough to create headaches,” Rendon said. “Everything is going to have to be dried out.”
Officials canceled classes at the college Tuesday but planned to resume the normal schedule today, she said. The administrative building will be closed for the rest of the week as crews clean the building, Rendon said.
Other parts of the county fared better than Texas City. There was one confirmed report of a house being flooded in La Marque and none in League City or Dickinson, according to officials in those cities.
Still, the heavy rains and rising creeks caused anxiety among residents who survived Hurricane Harvey last year.
In League City’s Bayridge subdivision, one of the worst flooded during Harvey, residents said they were worried.
“I’m anxious,” said Marika Fuller, a resident of Bayridge. “Everybody is anxious. A lot of us are finally back in our homes and we are not in the mood to go through another flood.”
Fuller awoke to the sound of rain about 3:30 a.m. Tuesday and had been keeping an eye on the neighborhood’s detention pond, she said.
“If we get another 6 inches tonight, I don’t know,” she said.
The 433-home subdivision soaked in floodwater for four days after Hurricane Harvey hit Galveston County in late August last year.
The rain abated about noon, but more is forecast for the week, although not as much as fell Tuesday morning, according to the National Weather Service in League City.
But as Tuesday’s rain passed, emergency managers were casting a wary eye on a tropical disturbance in the Gulf of Mexico and a series of hurricanes and a tropical storm forming in the Atlantic Ocean.
The disturbance, still known as Invest 95L on Tuesday evening, had a 70 percent chance of forming into a tropical depression or storm over the next five days.
That system was expected to reach the Texas coast on Friday and Saturday, according to the weather service. Local officials were hopeful the storm would track south of Galveston County — but said it was too early to know what the storm’s path would be.
“We’ve got to wait and see where it develops, where it’s going and how it might make landfall,” League City spokeswoman Sarah Greer Osborne said.
In more changes among the Port of Galveston’s top management, Harbormaster Brett B. Milutin advanced in the ranks with Monday’s announcement of his promotion to director of port operations.
Port officials and board members have praised Milutin for his work attracting more lay vessels to the publicly owned docks, generating about $1.25 million in revenue during the first six months of 2018. The same period of 2017 only brought in about $400,000.
“I just want the port to grow to the capacity that it’s capable of doing, getting in every vessel that we can,” Milutin said. “An open dock does not make us money.”
Port officials did not immediately provide Milutin’s salary in his new position, but said they would today.
The 17-year employee of the port climbed the ranks from a police officer in 2001. In his previous position as harbormaster, which he took in June of last year, Milutin oversaw arrangement of ship movements within the port.
His new position is a modified version of the previously titled deputy director role, Milutin said.
In August, the port fired interim Port Director Peter Simons in its reorganization. Before he was interim port director, Simons was deputy director of the port. Port management removed several other high-ranking employees during 2018.
In Milutin’s role as director of port operations, he’ll oversee cruise operations, traffic controls, passenger logistics, parking and assisting tenants. He also will work to bring in more businesses and tenants to the port.
“I’m going to give everything that I have to make sure this port goes where it needs to go which is to grow, to create job opportunities,” Milutin said.
The Port of Galveston isn’t currently looking for a new harbormaster, but will eventually, Milutin said. For now, Milutin continues to handle all harbormaster duties, including security of the port.
“One of the best employees I’ve ever seen,” Board of Trustees Chairman Ted O’Rourke said. “He definitely deserves it. He’s done a remarkable job. He’s dedicated. He’s just really committed to making the port better.”
Port Director Rodger Rees expressed confidence in Milutin’s new position in a statement.
“Having been employed with the Port for over 17 years, Brett not only possesses knowledge of past port operations, he also brings a ‘can do’ attitude that we are instilling at the port,” Rees said.
“I am excited about Brett’s fresh new ideas and his loyalty to this Port,” Rees said.
Rees joined the Port of Galveston in December of 2017.
Milutin’s promotion comes after several staffing changes at the port.
Lawn-care contracts and drainage ditch funding raise political eyebrows. Read all about it in Political Buzz.
A former Dickinson High School softball coach was arrested last week and charged with having an improper relationship with one of her students.
Kristin Pike, 28, of Livingston, turned herself in at the Galveston County Sheriff’s Office on Friday, according to the Dickinson Independent School District.
Pike was charged with a felony count of improper relationship between an educator and student, according to court records.
Pike is accused of having a relationship with a 15-year-old, 10th grade in 2016, according to a police complaint. Pike worked for the district from August 2015 until June 2018, Dickinson Independent School District spokeswoman Tammy Dowdy said.
Pike had sex with the student inside a classroom at Dickinson High School, according to the complaint.
The district was made aware of the allegations against Pike earlier this month, Dowdy said. A student made a statement to a school administrator that caused the school district to report Pike to Texas Child Protective Services, Dowdy said.
“The district immediately forwarded the information to CPS and law enforcement and is cooperating with authorities in the investigation,” she said.
Pike’s departure from the district was not related to the charges, Dowdy said.
Pike was an English teacher and assistant varsity softball coach while she worked in Dickinson, according to documents posted on the school district’s website.
Pike was arrested Friday, according to court records. Her bond was set at $20,000, according to court records. She was no longer in custody as of Tuesday afternoon, according to jail records.
It’s the second time in two years a Dickinson teacher has been accused of having an improper relationship with a student.
In April 2017, Justin Devera, 32, was charged with one count of improper relationship between an educator and a student. Devera admitted to having sex with a 17-year-old student in his car and at a local hotel. He pleaded guilty to the charge in August and was sentenced to 10 years probation.
Devera was a career and technology teacher at Dickinson High School.
Inappropriate relationships have been a target of state lawmakers in recent years. A new law passed in 2017 requires school administrators to report inappropriate relationships to the state, or else face jail time or a $10,000 fine.
There were 222 improper teacher-student relationships investigated by the Texas Education Agency in 2016, according to the state. In 2014, there were 179 such relationships investigated by the state.
From 2008 to 2015, the number of improper teacher-student relationships investigated by the education agency increased by 53 percent, from 123 to 188, according to the Austin-American Statesman.