The Bulletin complied a summary of some of the top events of the outgoing year including:

 

Politics

The political landscape changed in 2019, beginning with the New Year’s Day swearing-in of Paul Lilly as county judge.

Lilly’s oath of office marked the first time in 26 years Brown County has sworn in a new county judge. Lilly took office after upsetting 26-year incumbent Ray West in the March 2019 Republican Party Primary election. Lilly went on to defeat write-in challenger Steve Fryar in the November general election.

Other changes included Mike Smith’s decision to file to run as 35th Judicial District judge in the March 2020 Republican Party Primary.

Smith, who will be unopposed in the primary and does not have a Democratic opponent in the November general election, announced his intent after incumbent Steve Ellis said he will not seek a new term.

Also in 2019, U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway announced he will not seek re-election to the 11th Congressional District of Texas seat he currently holds. After changing his mind several times, Texas House District 60 Rep. Mike Lang decided not to seek re-election.

 

Criminal justice

Two unrelated capital murder cases were resolved in 35th District Court with guilty pleas.

Ryan Riggs pleaded guilty to capital murder on Feb. 15 in the May 13, 2016 slaying and sexual assault of Chantay Blankinship of North Lake Brownwood and was sentenced to life in prison without parole.

Riggs, 22, took a deal for the mandatory life with no parole sentence in exchange for prosecutors declining to seek the death penalty. District Judge Steve Ellis accepted Riggs’ plea and sentenced Riggs. Life without parole was the only option in a capital murder case when the death penalty was not imposed, prosecutors said.

Blankinship, 25, was last seen alive the night of May 13, 2016, a Friday. Searchers found her body two days later in an abandoned cellar on isolated property in northern Brown County.

On Nov. 14, Vanessa Narvaez, 22, who was initially charged with capital murder in the November 2018 death of her 2-year-old son, pleaded guilty to murder in exchange for a 50-year prison sentence.

Ellis approved a plea bargain negotiated between District Attorney Micheal Murray and defense attorney Angie Hadley. Narvaez faced a sentencing range of 5 to 99 years or life in prison with the murder conviction and will be eligible for parole after 25 years, Murray said.

 

Ten Mile Crossing drowning

A pickup with three occupants was swept into the high, fast water of the Pecan Bayou when the pickup entered the Ten Mile Crossing area on County Road 257 at 1:30 a.m. on May 27. A woman riding on a jump seat in the rear part of the pickup’s cab drowned.

The driver, Kathy Armendarez, 41, of Mullin, was indicted on a charge of criminally negligent homicide.

The drowning victim was Armendarez’s mother, Susan Susan Smith 59, also of Mullin. Armendarez is accused by indictment of causing Smith’s death “by driving into water of an unknown depth or failing to stop at a high water barricade or road closed sign.”

Armendarez and a front seat passenger made it out of the pickup. Firefighters rescued Armendarez from the water. Searchers located the pickup 18 days later after the water receded and recovered Smith’s body.

 

Brownwood gets new police, fire chiefs

Ed Kading was sworn in on July 8 as Brownwood’s new police chief, filling a three-month vacancy created by the resignation of former Chief Terry Nichols. Kading held the rank of lieutenant with the San Angelo Police Department, where he worked for more than 25 years, when he was chosen as Brownwood’s new police chief.

Kading, a native of Huntsville, Kading, a native of Huntsville, held held several command positions in San Angelo including commander of the SWAT team and Street Crimes Division which includes narcotics, gangs and special operations. On Nov. 26, Eric Hicks, a former fire chief in DeKalb, Ill., was named Brownwood’s new fire chief and emergency management coordinator. Hicks replaces Eddy Wood, who resigned earlier this year.

Hicks retired as fire chief in DeKalb and moved to with his wife to Whitehouse, Texas to be closer to family.

Hicks will begin work in Brownwood on Jan. 2 or as soon as the Texas Commission on Fire Protection finalizes his credentials.

 

Redevelopment of downtown Brownwood

Emphasis on the redevelopment of downtown Brownwood continued throughout 2019 with several noteworthy events including:

• City of Brownwood Development Services Director Tim Murray proposed an ordinance in February to reclassify 96 blocks of downtown as a historic district in order to spur development and fill vacant buildings.

• The Brownwood City Council approved a feasibility student in March for the possible renovation of the old Brownwood Hotel.

• The Pioneer Tap House opened in late July on Baker Street, generating a large, quick following.

• Brownwood City Council members approved funding in September for schematic drawings for a facilities improvement project. The project could mean a multi-use event center and outdoor event and concert stage venue — both located near the Brownwood Coliseum — as well as the renovation of the coliseum.

• Teddy’s Brewhaus opened in October in the former location of the Weakley-Watson Sporting Goods store at Fisk and Baker.