East Texas Year in Review: 2013 - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

  • What was the top story in 2013?

  • Thank you for participating in our poll. Here are the results so far:

    5 votes
    Tyler mall shooting
    3 votes
    West plant explosion
    45 votes
    Bobby Nichols verdict
    0 votes
    Kaufman Co. slayings
    9 votes
    Chinese rocket breaks apart
    0 votes
    Cyclospora outbreak
    0 votes
    Theft ring
    0 votes
    Tyler park shooting
    3 votes
    Longview hospital stabbing
    17 votes

East Texas Year in Review: 2013

Posted: Updated:
An explosion at the West Fertilizer plant devastated the small Texas town in April. An explosion at the West Fertilizer plant devastated the small Texas town in April.
DA Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia in happier times, before being gunned down in their home in March 2013. DA Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia in happier times, before being gunned down in their home in March 2013.
This piece of debris found in Buna, Texas, was possibly a piece of debris from a Chinese rocket that broke up over East Texas. This piece of debris found in Buna, Texas, was possibly a piece of debris from a Chinese rocket that broke up over East Texas.

It's always surprising to reach the end of a year and to realize how much has happened in the past twelve months. So much happens every day that the months speed by; let's slow down for a few minutes to take a look back at the stories that impacted many of us across East Texas in 2013.

First, you might say that East Texas rocked this year; or that it was rocked, literally, by several earthquakes. The United States Geological Survey reported over a half dozen, beginning in January of 2013. The majority of the earthquakes occurred near the Timpson area, about 25 miles north of Nacogdoches, though people miles away reported feeling the rumbles under their feet. There was great debate over whether the quakes are caused by fracking in oilfields. One expert we spoke with said the earthquakes could be caused by aftershocks from other quakes, fracking, or just Mother Nature shifting a bit.

Another story that shocked many in East Texas took place in February at Tyler's Broadway Square Mall when an argument over who tweeted whom turned deadly. On February 1, police say Ricky Neal, Jr., 25, shot and killed 23-year-old Chris Mass in the parking lot of the mall. Authorities said that Neal had gone into the mall to buy shoes when he spotted Mass, and an argument ensued over Neal communicating with Mass' girlfriend via Twitter. The men decided to take their argument outside. Witnesses said that instead of fighting, Neal went to his vehicle, got his gun, and began shooting at Chris Mass, a former Chapel Hill High School football star. Chris Mass died at the scene. Ricky Neal, Jr., is still in jail awaiting trial.

On April 16, 2013, a massive, deadly explosion ripped through the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas. Fourteen lives were lost in the blast, and many others were injured.  Fifty to 60 homes were heavily damaged, according to West Mayor Tommy Muska, as well as a nursing home, 50-unit apartment building, businesses and a school. Gov. Perry declared West a disaster area.  According to the U.S. Geological Survey, the force of the explosion through the air was greater than a 2.1 earthquake. The exact cause of the explosion has not been confirmed. 

Also this year, a jury found former Tyler dentist Bobby Nichols guilty of the murder of his wife, Rosalind. Nichols was accused of shooting the 71-year-old woman in their South Tyler home on June 29, 2012. The jury reached the guilty verdict in January 2013 on the charge of murder after deliberating for just over an hour. Because the jury decided that the murder was a crime of passion, Nichols received a 20-year sentence as opposed to a life sentence in prison.

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were found dead March 30, 2013 in their Forney home. It was just weeks after  Mark Hasse had been gunned down while walking to the Kaufman County Courthouse on January 31.

It was a horrific, mind-boggling mystery to investigators at first, but they soon found the guilty parties: Eric Williams, a former Kaufman County Justice of the Peace, and his wife Kim. Eric Williams had been arrested for stealing three computers that belonged to Kaufman County, and though he did not go to jail for that crime, he was no longer able to work in criminal justice. Those who knew the DA and Assistant DA said from that time forward, both men carried weapons with them, feeling their safety was threatened by Williams.

Jury selection will begin in the Williams' trial by Spring 2014. A trial could begin in October 2014. Mike Snipes, a judge from Dallas, will preside over the case. Eric Williams will face the death penalty if convicted.

A fireball broke into a cluster of smaller streaks that continued to move across the sky in the early morning hours of February 26. "At first I thought it was a plane crash and then I realized it was high enough in the sky that it probably wasn't that, so then I was just unsure what it was," said one of many East Texans who saw the display.

The AMS says that the fiery display was caused by the re-entry and disintegration of the Chinese rocket  body CZ-4B, which was launched on May 10, 2012, from the Taiyuan Satellite Launch Center in China. Pieces of the rocket were  found in various places, including Buna, Texas, a town in Jasper County.

Cyclospora spread across Texas in Summer 2013 and the number of cases in the Lone Star State reached 235 reported illnesses.  This is a huge increase in cases when you compare that number to the number reported for all of 2001-2010: a mere 35.

Cyclospora is a food-borne intestinal illness caused by a one-cell parasite invisible to the naked eye. It takes around two weeks to incubate, then causes intense diarrhea, loss of appetite, weight loss, stomach cramps and pain, bloating, nausea and fatigue. The illness can last several weeks to over a month.

Back in May, Tyler Police released the names of 21 suspects they believed had stolen more than $24,000 from 42 unsuspecting victims. According to some attorneys representing the nearly-two-dozen-defendants, the ring stole sensitive information like names addresses, phone numbers and social security numbers. Then, the leaders of the ring hired young women to falsely apply for loans, paying them from the profit. They would then deposit that money into different bank accounts and spend the cash. They're also accused of buying and selling cell phones in other peoples' names to make a profit.

Three members of the alleged theft ring have already been sentenced. Those people are Christopher Pipkins, Shavonda Jones and Kendallyn Adams. They received punishments ranging from 10 years community supervision to 25 years in prison.

There are still 15 more pending cases in this large identity theft ring.

20-year-old Bri'ana Raquel Young was shot and killed July 30 at P.T. Cole Park in Tyler. Young was at the park with her 3-year-old son, who was not injured, in what officers suspected was a gang-related crime. Witnesses said Briana heard the gunfire and ran to her son to shield is body. As she ran, she was shot in the chest.

Dennis Montrell Bendy, Rahkeem Goldstein and Elisha Juwan Williams were each indicted on first degree felony murder charges connected to Young's death.

The year came to a violent end when two people died as the result of a stabbing at Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview on November 26. Nurse Gail Sandidge heard a disturbance in the day surgery center where she was working with patients, and went to assist. She was stabbed in the chest by 22-year-old Kyron Templeton, who was there with his mother who was scheduled to have surgery.

Templeton also stabbed Harris Teel, Sr., who later died from his injuries, as well as Teresa Allison and Karen Bobo, who were treated and released.

Templeton fled the building but was caught minutes later by police. He is charged with murder and four counts of aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. He is being held on $2.6 million bond.

A lot happened this year in the East Texas. As 2013 comes to a close, what do you think was the biggest story of the year? Take a moment to vote in our poll at the top of this page.

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