Denton police said Monday that a fiery crash on Interstate 35W was still under investigation and that no official cause had been determined over the weekend.
Three people were confirmed killed in Friday’s crash and explosion, which police said involved two semis and four passenger vehicles. Photos and news helicopter footage of the wreckage showed a flatbed trailer carrying large tanks, and a safety placard on the truck indicated it was carrying liquefied petroleum gas.
All three victims were identified by the Tarrant County Medical Examiner’s Office by Monday afternoon.
Paul B. Sachs, 59, of Fort Worth is listed as one of the victims, the medical examiner’s office website shows. He died from burns and smoke inhalation, records show.
Ann M. Cole, 63, of Denton died in the crash from blunt force trauma, the medical examiner’s office said.
Jennifer K. Ferguson, 30, of Fort Worth died from blunt force trauma as well, the website shows.
Sachs was the first to be identified Monday morning. A Denton police spokeswoman said at the time that the other victims were still being identified by medical authorities. By Monday evening, all three were listed on the medical examiner’s website.
The spokeswoman said Monday morning that investigators were working to determine the cause of the crash. Nobody has been ticketed or charged, police said.
The crash happened a little before 1:30 p.m. on northbound I-35W near FM2449, police said Friday. Initially, all traffic on the interstate was stopped. The northbound lanes were closed until almost 3 a.m. Saturday as authorities investigated the scene.
A commemorative soil collection next month in Pilot Point will include the formal acceptance of some of that collection by representatives of the Legacy Museum in Alabama, organizers said Monday.
The museum displays soil from counties all over the country, particularly the South. The collection represents the sacred ground where thousands of people were lynched and often denied a proper burial. The museum currently has no soil from Denton County, although people were lynched here.
Volunteers with the Denton County Community Remembrance Project have been planning the soil collection ceremony for several months. Shaun Treat told the group Monday night that representatives from the Equal Justice Initiative, which opened the museum along with the National Memorial for Peace and Justice in Montgomery last year, will accept the soil at the ceremony and escort it back to Alabama to represent Denton County’s human losses.
“We’re pleased that Pilot Point has a leading voice in this, but lynching happened all over,” Treat said. “This is a Denton County project.”
The soil collection ceremony will be held on Dec. 14, 97 years to the day after two men went missing from the Pilot Point jail. They are presumed to have been murdered, but local historians have tracked down only scant details so far.
“We’re remembering people who’ve been lost,” said Willie Hudspeth, a volunteer with the project and president of the local chapter of the NAACP. “We don’t know who they are.”
The event is expected to begin at 10 a.m. in downtown Pilot Point with a short pilgrimage between the two soil collection sites, one at the old jail and another at the calaboose (a one-room jail). The rest of the ceremony may remain outside, if the weather is nice, organizers said.
That portion of the ceremony will include hymns and other music along with several short speeches on themes of peace, justice and healing. Organizers were hopeful that they could also pull together a first-come, first-served luncheon and reception following the ceremony at a yet-to-be-named downtown location.
The event is the first of several local initiatives that will culminate with the “bringing home of Denton’s beam.” The Alabama memorial has a steel beam on display commemorating the two Pilot Point men, along with hundreds of other beams representing the thousands of people who were murdered during Reconstruction and through the Jim Crow era. A replica beam is available for each county to reclaim that part of its history.
Linnie McAdams shared a racial justice reading list for volunteers and others, one that she hoped would become part of the group’s public education efforts in the coming months. Laura Douglas, a librarian with the Denton Public Library, confirmed that many of the books are already in the library’s collection, or will be in the library soon.
The books could be the basis of conversation series, perhaps with the Denton County Office of History and Culture or through the libraries, Treat said.
“We’ll invest a lot in 2020 to help with public education,” Treat said.
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Pending the Denton City Council’s approval, the city could declare the Green Tree Estates’ water services situation an emergency in order to get money for temporary solutions.
City staff held a public meeting for residents Monday evening at nearby Pecan Creek Elementary School to discuss temporary solutions for Friday, when the community’s water service is set to be shut off by the water operator.
The private water supplier, Don Roddy, told the city he’ll be shutting water services from his well Friday. The city reached out to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality and the Public Utilities Commission on the matter, but they sided with Roddy in stopping operation of the well after determining his well is privately owned and therefore can be shut down whenever he wishes.
While responding to a resident’s question, City Manager Todd Hileman said it’s possible officials could declare the situation an emergency.
“All [an emergency declaration] allows us to do under Texas law is spend money to help provide a temporary solution for all of you,” Hileman said. “For that, that’s the most important thing and why we have to have that emergency declaration.”
If an emergency declaration were to come, Hileman said it would be announced Friday.
City staff said they will research and relay to the City Council the temporary solution brought forth Monday by residents of Green Tree Estates. For this meeting, the city provided a translator to make sure the largely Spanish-speaking community would understand what was being said.
Large water storage tanks are a temporary solution that the mobile home community in southeastern Denton is urging the city to pursue as they are slated to lose water services this week.
With the help of a translator, residents were able to voice their concerns and frustrations to city staff and City Council members who were also in the audience. Most were not able to give input at the initial Oct. 29 meeting due to a language barrier.
Ednna Guajardo, a Green Tree Estates resident who has been vocal about the situation, said they wanted the temporary solution to be easy for both residents and the city.
“We want this solution to be temporary, because you all know having this system is difficult for us as families,” Guajardo said in Spanish. “We also want the city to work for us because we really need the help. We can’t live the rest of our lives like this.”
More than 45 people live in Green Tree Estates. A majority are families with multiple elementary- and middle school-aged children.
Residents rejected the ideas brought forth by city staff involving portable toilets and a central community shower trailer, saying both would be inconvenient due to freezing weather. City staff members were shut down on these ideas in the middle of their presentation.
Alfredo Sanchez, vice president of Denton’s League of United Latin American Citizens, said the city should take on the residents’ ideas instead of continuing to talk about their own ideas. City staff and Green Tree residents butted heads during the first half of the meeting.
“Why don’t you work with them and try to figure [it] out?” Sanchez asked. “Because they’re the ones that are being affected. ... In order to solve a problem, we get the people involved [who] actually have a problem and ask them, ‘How do we fix this? How do we come up with a solution?’”
Hileman said city staff will meet with the City Council during Tuesday’s work session to present the residents’ idea for a temporary solution. The staff’s main priority for Tuesday is to come to an agreement on a temporary solution, while also starting a conversation on a more permanent solution.
Guajardo said the residents would make sure they could use the tanks to get water into their homes via a pump. Depending on how many people live in a household, a second water tank could be necessary, she said.
Per the city’s presentation, the temporary solution approved by the City Council would only be instated for 90 days. Hileman said a more permanent solution could take nine to 12 months to put in place.
Local shelters are preparing for low temperatures and inclement weather over the next few days.
Monsignor King Outreach Center and the local Salvation Army are both offering overnight care for those experiencing homelessness.
According to the National Weather Service, the wind chill could bring could make it feel like 11 degrees in Denton in the early hours Tuesday, with a low of 27 degrees on Wednesday.
Katherine Gonzales, executive director at Monsignor King, said the shelter would open at regular hours — 6:30 p.m. Monday.
She said the shelter will remain open until 9 a.m. Tuesday, an hour later than usual, to coincide with the opening of Our Daily Bread soup kitchen.
The Salvation Army did not immediately respond to a request for comment Monday afternoon, but the shelter is open each evening at 5 p.m. Daily dinner begins at 6:30 p.m.
While nothing was set in stone by late Monday afternoon, Gonzales said organizers had been trying to arrange transportation between Monsignor King on Woodrow Lane and Our Daily Bread downtown.
“We are still working on that,” Gonzales said via phone Monday afternoon.
She said the shelter could see roughly 100 people staying over Monday night.
The plan is then to have Monsignor King open early, approximately 2 p.m., on Tuesday in preparation for another cold night. Depending upon the weather, Gonzales said, Wednesday might see similar arrangements.
While the shelter regularly operates Monday through Wednesday, it will open any day of the week if temperatures drop below freezing. Despite that policy, Gonzales said planned renovations to the floor in the sleeping area will keep the shelter from opening Thursday, even if temperatures drop below 32 degrees.
As of Monday afternoon, the National Weather Service didn’t anticipate temperatures below 34 degrees Thursday night. High temperatures are expected to rebound Wednesday, with highs in the low 50s. Highs will be in the mid- to upper 50s Thursday through Sunday under mostly sunny skies.
Construction at the Monsignor King center is expected to last through the weekend, Gonzales said, in preparation for the shelter’s expansion to daily operation in January. The expansion follows a commitment from the city to subsidize additional hours.