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Time for 'dangerous' substation on Bonnie Brae to be razed, officials say

Jesse Davis

The Bonnie Brae Substation is antiquated and will be demolished in a few years in favor of a new one nearby, and that’s good because it’s an eyesore for the community, city officials said.

“It was constructed under different design standards than we have now,” said Tony Puente, Denton’s executive director of utilities. “It was built in the 1960s and is very dangerous for our staff. It could also become a safety concern for our citizens.”

Underground work for the planned construction of the Hickory Substation — across from the old substation on Bonnie Brae Street — is scheduled to be complete within six months. The total Hickory Street project will cost the city $29 million. Denton Municipal Electric’s new facility is being built in a neighborhood filled with numerous apartments and renters near the University of North Texas.

“We know from DME that’s outdated equipment at the Bonnie Brae facility,” Denton City Council member Jesse Davis said. “We know it needs to be replaced. The added benefit [is] removing something not very attractive to the neighborhood. It is a gateway into the university area, historic homes area and the whole western part of the core of the city.”

Plans include decorative walls around the Hickory Substation to make it less obvious that it’s a utility facility.

“It’s a good time to have better equipment, a safer substation, and it will look nicer,” Davis said.

As for the Bonnie Brae Substation, Puente said that while no injuries have been reported there in decades — if ever — employees still face multiple hazards.

“We have a control house where wiring is underneath and because of way it’s designed, we have occasional rodent issues,” he said. “We have to continuously have pest control. Also, the walls are much shorter than walls we build now for our substations, and it has wire above it to keep people from climbing into the property.”

The Hickory Substation will have a smaller footprint but will also allow trucks to enter the property more safely and easily.

DME, the city’s community-owned utility, provides service to more than 50,000 customers. It also has substations at Kings Row, Jim Christal, North Lakes, Arco and Locust. But those have been decommissioned and need to be demolished, Puente said.

Denton County Brewing Co. and more: Local businesses win top honors from Denton chamber
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Denton County Brewing Co. was named the Small Business of the Year during the Denton Chamber of Commerce’s first standalone Small Business Awards Luncheon on Thursday.

The awards ceremony typically takes place during the chamber’s annual banquet, which was held virtually in September, said Shaina Thomas, the chamber’s director of events and member services. But because this is the chamber’s first year celebrating National Small Business Week — during the first week of June — the organization decided to move the awards ceremony.

DCBC owner Seth Morgan received a standing ovation as he approached the podium to take home the ceremony’s most coveted honor. The Small Business of the Year Award goes to a chamber member and for-profit business that offers high-quality products or services, exhibits strong employee relations and demonstrates leadership in an industry, among other accomplishments.

Verus Commercial owner Greg Johnson, who introduced the award, acknowledged the brewery for its dedication to Denton and its efforts to help employees and local residents during the COVID-19 pandemic and the winter storm in February.

Morgan said passion for the community has always been at the heart of Denton County Brewing Co.

“When you start a business … you do it because you have a passion, you have something you want to follow, and you do it for your community,” Morgan said during his acceptance speech. “It is about the beer, but it’s not about the beer — we wanted to create something that would give back and share in what we do, and that’s exactly what has happened.”

LashUp BrowDown took home the New Business of the Year Award, which recognizes a business operating between one and three years that has gained a positive reputation, used innovation and grown. The Community Investment Award, which recognizes outstanding community service contributions such as special programs, partnerships and employee volunteerism, went to East Side Denton.

Other award winners included Best Western Premier Crown Chase Inn & Suites, which received the Family-Owned Business of the Year Award; Imagine Renovations, which took home the Minority-Owned Business of the Year Award; and Davanti Salon & Spa, which was named the Woman-Owned Business of the Year.

Jeff Woo/DRC 

Award winners pose together for a photo during the Denton Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Awards Luncheon on Thursday at Embassy Suites by Hilton Denton Convention Center.

“A very wise person told me one time that if you take care of your business, the business will take care of you, and I believe that has happened today,” Davanti owner and president Tracee Herring said during her acceptance speech.

Chilli Peña, who accepted Imagine’s award on behalf of owners Isabel and Luis Gachuzo, encouraged those present to continue supporting minority-owned businesses to strengthen the community.

“This year our country has been rocked with racial turmoil, and an often-overlooked solution to the problems we face as minorities — there are many — is business, particularly small business,” Peña said. “If we want more peace in the city of Denton, we need more minority-owned businesses, which means we need more patrons for minority-owned businesses. We at Imagine Renovations imagine and look forward to the day when minority-owned business and women-owned business isn’t even a category for awards because the diversity reflected in not only the membership of this chamber but also in the leadership will make it so.”

Nominations were accepted online for the awards, and a nominating committee made up of chamber members selected the final three nominees in each category ahead of Thursday’s event.

The decision to celebrate small businesses this year was an easy one, Thomas said.

“We were supposed to actually do it in May of last year, but because of COVID we had to cancel that, unfortunately, so we wanted to do it this year,” Thomas said. “We thought it was the perfect year to start this up because of how crazy last year was — our small businesses have been through so much.”

Although the luncheon ended shortly after the Small Business of the Year award was announced, Morgan invited attendees to continue the party — hopefully for them, with drinks on the house.

“Congratulations to all of you who had the guts and the integrity and the moxie to open a business, especially in a tough time,” Morgan said. “Thanks to everyone and the Chamber of Commerce. Afterwards, come over to Denton County Brewing Co. or East Side for a beer — let’s celebrate.”

Former Guyer High teacher pleads guilty Thursday after 2019 arrest
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Jeana Wesson, a Guyer High School chemistry teacher until 2019, pleaded guilty in district court Thursday to having had an improper relationship between an educator and student.

Wesson, 48, was sentenced to 10 years of deferred probation and a $1,000 fine.

Under those terms, she must report to the Community Supervision and Corrections Department of Denton at least once a month, break no other laws, avoid illegal drugs and CBD and surrender her teacher’s license.

The State Board of Educator Certification was investigating possible sanctions against her in July 2019, and she voluntarily surrendered her teaching licenses the following year.

Educators can opt to surrender their licenses in lieu of disciplinary proceedings, according to the state board’s website.

She also isn’t allowed entry to any Denton ISD property in any manner for any reason.

Because the crime was a second-degree felony, Wesson could have been sentenced to a maximum of 20 years in prison and a fine of $10,000.

Wesson, then 44 years old, performed oral sex on a 17-year-old male student in her classroom at Guyer sometime around May 15, 2017, according to court records obtained by the Denton Record-Chronicle.

The incident took place less than three weeks before the end of the student’s senior year during the last instructional block of the day, when Wesson didn’t have a class.

The Record-Chronicle does not publish the names of victims in these circumstances.

The 17-year-old, now graduated, told someone about the interaction, and that person subsequently informed the Denton Police Department by Dec. 5, 2018, according to Wesson’s arrest affidavit.

Officers learned through interviews with the student and teacher that Wesson had been his chemistry teacher his sophomore year of high school. The two “spoke about having sex and had shared several sexually explicit messages, nude photos and videos,” according to the affidavit.

The officer obtained a confession from Wesson at her home on Feb. 25, 2019. She turned herself in and was arrested the following day.

Officers said at the time there was no indication of other victims.

She turned in her written resignation to Denton ISD on March 26, 2019, which the district accepted the same day, according to documents obtained by the Record-Chronicle through the Texas Public Information Act.

Wesson was placed on administrative leave until her last day of employment on April 15, 2019.

Her court dates were regularly postponed or canceled for more than two years until her Thursday plea.

Ex-Tarrant deputy accused of killing Denton girlfriend out on lowered bail

A former Tarrant County sheriff’s deputy accused of killing his girlfriend in a Denton home last year has been released on bail after the amount was lowered from its original $1.15 million amount.

Jay Allen Rotter was a Tarrant sheriff’s deputy living in Denton when he allegedly killed his girlfriend Leslie Hartman on Aug. 26. He originally reported her death as a suicide, but Denton police determined her death was a homicide, according to records.

Rotter was arrested on Sept. 14 in connection with Hartman’s death and was confined to the Denton County Jail until he bailed out on June 2. The order lowering Rotter’s bail to $770,000 was filed March 4.

According to court documents, Rotter and his family weren’t able to raise enough money to pay the minimum amount for his $1.15 million bail. Rotter’s attorney argued in January that amount was unreasonable and that he was being unlawfully restrained at the jail.

“Said restraint is illegal because the Defendant is entitled to a reasonable bond under the statutory and constitutional provisions set out above,” states the writ of habeas corpus and writ for reasonable bond. “The amount of bond is a tool to guarantee the Defendant’s presence in court and not to be used as an instrument of oppression.”

The original bail amounts were $1 million for murder, $150,000 for tampering with evidence and $10,000 for a drug possession charge. Following a hearing in March, the amounts were lowered to $750,000 for murder and $10,000 for tampering with evidence, but the bail amount for the drug charge remained the same.

Court records show Rotter’s attorney wanted to lower the bail amount for murder to $50,000 and stated his family could collect enough money to post a maximum bond of $125,000 by putting forth $12,500 to an area bail bondsman.

In the petition to lower Rotter’s bond, his defense argued the trial court abused its discretion in setting his bail amount by not properly considering relevant factors, stating the $750,000 isn’t congruent with similar cases in Texas and adding that the $750,000 amount is “presumptively oppressive.”

The 2nd Court of Appeals in Texas upheld the new bail amount, noting Rotter is accused of murder and his story of the events was inconsistent with the evidence, the lengthy prison sentence if convicted heightens the importance of setting a sufficiently high bail, and questioning if his family ties would outweigh flight-risk and suicide attempt concerns.

“This court and others have affirmed bail amounts set at $750,000 or higher in cases of murder or other serious first-degree felonies,” court records state. “The record before us contains no evidence that the trial court’s express purpose of setting a $750,000 bail — lowered from $1 million — was to keep Rotter incarcerated.”

As a part of his bond conditions, Rotter had to report to Denton County adult probation on June 3 to receive an on-person GPS monitor. A court order shows he’s allowed to travel only within Denton and Tarrant counties without prior approval from the court or probation officers.

According to police records, Rotter called 911 on Aug. 26 and said Hartman shot herself with his gun. During Denton police’s investigation, they found he admitted in an online chat to shooting someone that same night. Police said Rotter used his phone when detectives left the room from interviewing him to reset it to its factory settings.

Rotter’s attorney didn’t return a call back for comment by early Thursday evening.

Rotter’s next court appearance, scheduled for June 18, will be an announcement hearing.