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Set to turn 100, Selma's days may be numbered

GALVESTON

The SS Selma, the concrete shipwreck in the Houston Ship Channel that’s one of the region’s oddest landmarks, will turn 100 next month.

But as a small group of Selma supporters prepare to celebrate the anniversary of the wreck, as they’ve done for the past 26 years, the Selma’s owner says its days might be numbered.

At the current rate of deterioration, the wreck could be completely submerged within the next couple of decades, said Ken Cox, the president of the corporation that owns the Selma.

“It’s deteriorating, deteriorating greatly,” Cox said. “It really, really is in pretty bad shape and could be completely under water within 15 years.”

There are no plans, right now, to try to stop that from happening, Cox said.

The Selma has sat in its final resting place, in the Houston Ship Channel about a mile north of Pelican Island, since it was scuttled in 1922.

It had launched only three years earlier, from Mobile, Alabama, on June 28, 1919. It was one of 12 experimental ships built during World War I that was constructed using concrete instead of steel because of a metal shortage.

The ship never saw service during the war. The day it launched was the same day Germany signed the Treaty of Versailles, which officially ended the war. It was instead put to service as an oil tanker.

The ship was abandoned after it hit a reef that ripped a 60-foot hole in its hull, which could not be repaired.

Since its sinking, the Selma has been many things, including home to a hermit and a place of refuge during strong and sudden storms, said Norma Jean Nelson, a member of the Crew of the SS Selma, a group of enthusiasts who celebrate the ship with a party every year.

Nelson hoped the 100th anniversary of the ship’s launch would bring more attention to the landmark, she said.

“It’s a part of Galveston history,” Nelson said. “I would just like to see her never forgotten. A lot of people know of the Selma, but they don’t know the Selma.”

While the ship has sat in the ship channel for generations, interest in preserving it and its history took sharper focus in the 1990s, when it was purchased by A. Pat Daniels, a retired journalist who was once a reporter and editor at The Daily News.

The Selma was declared a state archeological landmark in 1993, and a sign honoring the ship was placed on Pelican Island. It also is on the National Register of Historic Places.

Today, the Selma is one of the dozens of historical sites around Galveston Island. While it is, officially, closed to the public, the vessel sometimes is used by anglers who want to make use of reef-like qualities, and by urban explorers who want to see the ship up close.

The wreck is one of the locations on the Galveston Historical Foundation’s tours of Galveston Harbor, and for visitors, represents one of the truly unique sights on the island.

“People think of historic Galveston as more of the turn of the century,” said Will Wright, the chief creative officer at the historical foundation. “For them to come up and see something of that nature, that’s visually pretty different, it ties into a different aspect of the community.”

The Crew of the SS Selma plans to celebrate the ship’s centennial with at private party in Galveston on May 11.


News
Judge, attorney settle claims over work for indigent clients in Galveston County

GALVESTON

An attorney who sued a court-at-law judge over claims the judge discouraged him from working too much on cases involving low-income clients has dropped his case in a settlement with the county, officials said Monday.

Galveston County Commissioners voted to authorize a settlement agreement between attorney Drew Willey and Judge Jack Ewing, ending a lawsuit filed in March 2018.

In the lawsuit, Willey, a Galveston criminal defense lawyer, claimed Ewing pulled him off cases involving poor clients after Willey requested the court pay for an investigator to assist in his clients’ defenses.

The lawsuit drew the attention of The New York Times, which ran a article under the headline “Preferring a quick guilty plea to a more thorough defense.”

Ewing at the time told the newspaper he assigned some cases to lawyers other than Willey because the young lawyer seemed overwhelmed.

U.S. Magistrate Judge Andrew Edison in December dismissed part of Willey’s lawsuit that sought an injunction against Ewing and repayment of attorney’s fees.

Attorneys notified Edison on April 4 they had agreed to mediation to reach a settlement. The mediation hearing happened April 9, according to court records.

The settlement agreement, released by the county on Monday afternoon, said Ewing and Willey agreed to settle all of the claims and controversies.

“Nothing in this settlement should be considered as an admission by Judge Ewing of any wrongdoing,” the settlement states.

Late Monday, Charles Gerstein, an attorney who represented Willey, said his attorney would continue to be on a rotation of defense lawyers assigned to cases through Ewing’s court.

“We are very happy to reach a fair resolution,” Gerstein said.

No money was paid in the settlement, and both the attorney and the county would cover their own legal expenses, a county spokesman said.

Willey will continue to be appointed to indigent defense cases, according to the settlement agreement.

Ewing did not respond to a request for comment on Monday. Commissioners voted unanimously to accept the settlement.


News
World War II sailor identified as League City man

LEAGUE CITY

A long-unidentified sailor killed aboard the USS Oklahoma during the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor has been identified as a League City man, officials announced recently.

Though long included in a list of people missing after the horrific attack, Navy Seaman 2nd Class Richard J. Thomson was identified by experts through DNA analysis as one of the 429 crewmen killed aboard the ship, according to officials with the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency.

“It’s important for the public that a story like this come out,” said Rick Lawrence, a League City resident and president of the Houston chapter of the Sons and Daughters of Pearl Harbor Survivors. “I talk to people all of the time who have no idea what Pearl Harbor is or why World War II started.”

The Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941 was a surprise military strike against the U.S. Navy base in Honolulu, Hawaii, that killed about 2,400 people and injured another 1,100 people. The next day, the United States officially entered World War II.

The Nevada-class battleship USS Oklahoma, moored at Ford Island, was struck by several torpedoes during the bombing and eventually capsized, leading to the deaths of 429 crewmen, according to the accounting agency.

Navy personnel recovered the remains of the deceased crew from December 1941 to June 1944 and interred them at Halawa and Nu’uanu cemeteries in Hawaii, officials with the agency said.

But then in September 1947, investigators with the American Graves Registration Service disinterred the remains of U.S. causalities from the two cemeteries and transferred them to a laboratory at Schofield Barracks as part of a larger effort to recover and identify fallen personnel in the war’s pacific theater, according to the accounting agency.

Laboratory staff members could then only confirm the identity of 35 men aboard the ship at the time and buried the other unidentified remains in 46 plots at the National Memorial Cemetery of the Pacific, known as the Punchbowl, in Honolulu, according to the accounting agency. A military board in 1949 then classified those who could not be identified, along with Thomson, as non-recoverable.

But military officials in 2015 exhumed those still unknown from the Punchbowl for further analysis, including for DNA, circumstantial and material evidence, officials said.

“This has been part of an ongoing process,” Lawrence said. “They’re doing a few of these at a time, but it’s a long process with a lot of work to do.”

Lawrence noted it was interesting Thomson’s identification came near the same time that League City police released the names of two of the women whose bodies were found in a field near Calder Road.

“DNA technology is really advancing,” Lawrence said.

Investigators only recently announced Thomson has been accounted for, about 77 years after the attack. A rosette will be placed next to Thomson’s name on the Punchbowl’s Walls of the Missing to indicate he has been accounted for, officials said.

Locally, there’s been some talk that Thomson’s remains might eventually be returned to League City, and that he might have a sister still living somewhere in Texas, but nothing is confirmed, Lawrence said.

League City officials on Monday said they had no news to share about Thomson and calls to the accounting agency went unreturned by deadline Monday.

More than 400,000 of the 16 million Americans who served during World War II died during the war, officials said. About 72,700 people are still unaccounted for — of which about 26,000 are considered possibly recoverable, officials said.


Coming soon

What does League City have planned to address concerns about a planned extension of Walker Street?


News
Texas A&M Galveston launches 'sea turtle think tank'

GALVESTON

In the world of sea turtle research, Texas is something of a black box, said Christopher Marshall, a professor of marine biology at Texas A&M University at Galveston.

While regions such as Florida have reams of information about the turtles specific to their waters and beaches, such information about Texas is disjointed, harder to collect and harder to share, Marshall said.

“There’s not much data coming out of Texas,” he said. That’s despite an increase in the number of sea turtles being found and that are nesting on the Texas coastline.

“We now have turtles in every estuary and bay system in Texas,” he said. “But we really don’t know who’s here and how frequently they’re in the area.”

The university announced Monday it has a plan to correct that information gap.

The Galveston campus is the new home of the Gulf Center for Sea Turtle Research, the university announced on Monday. Marshall will be the center’s director and intends for the center to be a “turtle think tank,” he said.

“This isn’t necessarily a physical structure, this is a way to organize sea turtle biologists across the Gulf of Mexico,” Marshall said.

Texas A&M University has awarded the program $135,000 for two years of funding, a university spokesman said. The center will seek more funding through grants, Marshall said.

The new center also will be partially funded by a new sea turtle-emblazoned license plate that will be sold through the Texas Department of Transportation beginning April 29. A portion of the proceeds from the license plates will go toward funding the center and its research.

The center’s goal will be to organize the research of sea turtles in Galveston Bay and the Gulf of Mexico and to train the next generation of sea turtle biologists, Marshall said.

The center is a separate entity from the Texas A&M Sea Life Facility, a laboratory that includes a rehabilitation center for injured or ill sea turtles, Marshall said.

The announcement of the new research center in Galveston comes as a different well-known facility is going through changes.

Last summer, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it was reducing the amount of sea turtle rescue and rehabilitation work being done at its Galveston-based laboratory.

The administration’s Galveston lab has helped sea turtle researchers with various projects, including testing safety nets that are meant to prevent turtles from being caught by fishermen.

How much, if any, of the federal facility’s work will be picked up by the new research center remains to be seen, Marshall said. In the early days of the new center, much of the work that needs to be done will be building relationships and mapping out a future, he said.

“We’re just trying to get people out of their silos and to start working together,” Marshall said.