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Fort Worth boy declared co-champion of National Spelling Bee


The dreaded bell that signals a misspelled word tolled for each of the last two spellers in the Scripps National Spelling Bee on Thursday night. But in an exhilarating twist, it wasn’t the end for either of them.

Sriram Hathwar of Painted Post, New York, and Ansun Sujoe of Fort Worth, Texas, got back-to-back words wrong, each giving a reprieve to the other. Neither stumbled again, and a dozen words later, they ended up as co-champions of the bee for the first time in 52 years.

“The competition was against the dictionary, not against each other,” Sriram said after both were showered with confetti onstage. “I’m happy to share this trophy with him.”

Ansun said afterward that he knew the word that Sriram got wrong: “corpsbruder,” a close comrade. Ditto for 14-year-old Sriram, who said he was familiar with “antigropelos,” which means waterproof leggings. That word dashed 13-year-old Ansun’s chance for an upset victory.

After their misses, the boys staged a riveting duel, plowing through the toughest words the bee had to offer: Skandhas. Hyblaean. Feijoada. Augenphilologie. Sdrucciola. Holluschick. Thyemelici. Paixtle. Encaenia. Terreplein.

Finally, only four of the 25 championship words remained. Two had to be kept in reserve so that the bee wouldn’t end with an incorrect spelling.

Sriram’s last word was stichomythia, a theatrical term for dialogue representing an altercation and delivered in alternating lines.

Sriram rarely appeared flustered, nodding confidently when he got a word he knew. Ansun was more nervous and demonstrative, no more so than on the word that gave him a share of the title: “feuilleton,” the features section of a European newspaper or magazine.

Upon hearing the word, Ansun opened his mouth wide, grimaced and rolled his eyes. As the stage lights turned red, signaling that he had 30 seconds left, he said, “Ah, whatever!” before beginning to spell.

They became the fourth co-champions in the bee’s 89-year history and the first since 1962. Although they hoisted a single trophy together onstage, each will get one to take home, and each gets the champion’s haul of more than $33,000 in cash and prizes.

In addition to their shared love of spelling, both boys play double-reeded instruments: oboe for Sriram, bassoon for Ansun, who also plays piano and guitar and has perfect pitch. Sriram’s parents are both physicians, and he hopes to become an ophthalmologist.

Both champions are also Indian-American. The past eight winners and 13 of the past 17 have been of Indian descent, a run that began in 1999 after Nupur Lala’s victory, which was later featured in the documentary “Spellbound.”

Gokul Venkatachalam of Chesterfield, Missouri, finished third, and Ashwin Veeramani of North Royalton, Ohio, was fourth.

With only one previous appearance in the bee, Ansun said he looked up to Sriram.

“I’d seen him in the finals, and I wanted to be like that,” he said.

Said Sriram: “I guess a veteran and, let’s say a rookie, it’s pretty cool.”  See video here.

Census: Texas has 3 of 5 fast-growing cities

Oil equals boom – especially in population right now. And Texas, in the midst of a significant energy rush, is seeing its towns and cities burst at the seams.

Three of the nation’s five fastest-growing cities – and seven of the top 15 – are in the Lone Star State, according to new data from the U.S. Census Bureau, part of a trend across the West largely fueled by an oil boom. Most of the cities are West of the Mississippi.

The Texas cities of San Marcos, Frisco and Cedar Park were No. 1, 2 and 4 in percentage population growth between 2012 and 2013, each growing by at least 5 percent in that time span. Utah had two of the top five: South Jordan, at No. 3, and Lehi, at No. 5.

Now these cities need to have enough roads, schools, water and infrastructure to keep up – the growing pains of a surging population. And while it is viewed as opportunity, city planners are frazzled.

Odessa, Texas, smack-dab in the middle of the oil-rich Permian Basin, is No. 11 on the Census Bureau list. People are flooding the oil fields, booming thanks to new hydraulic fracturing technologies that allow drillers access to once out-of-reach resources.

People are lured by higher-than-average salaries, but developers can’t build homes quickly enough, the schools are rapidly filling and an overburdened water supply, made worse by a long drought, is stretched thin.  Continue reading here.

Supper is served at San Elizario High School

by Alex Hinojosa

San Elizario High School is now offering supper to its students.

After-school meals are now being served to high school students who are involved in after school activities, San Elizario Independent School District officials said. Supper is offered at 4 p.m. and ends at 4:30 p.m. at the high school’s cafeteria.

The program, which began May 1, is funded through a reimbursement grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture Child and Adult Care Food Program, said Raul Jacques, nutrition services director for the district. The cost for the program will not be known until this school year ends and district officials get an accounting of how much was spent on supper.

“This is really intended to recognize the needs of the students that have an active day,” Jacques said. “We need to be responsive to their needs of an extended day because when you have lunch at noon, by this time they are hungry. So we want them to be able to perform well.”

Students who opt to stay for supper get a $3.21 meal for free through the grant reimbursement program, district officials said.

Meals that are being served for supper include hamburgers, spaghetti, hot dogs, Chicken sandwiches and tangerine teriyaki.

Elizabeth Almanzar, a freshman at the high school who is also on the school’s volleyball team, said she learned about the program last week.

“I think it’s a good idea,” Almanzar said. “I think it gives the people in sports a good advantage because we get to eat in between our practice and it gives us more energy.”

Before the program was offered, sophomore Jevon Caster said his routine consisted of participating in basketball practice until about 4:45 p.m., then heading home.

“I come here because it’s fun, I get to hang out with my friends and the service is good,” Caster said. “Before this I would have practice, then maybe work out some more and then eat at home. This is a good idea because people are hungry after practice and workouts.”

Since the start of the program, about 200 to 260 students have participated each day, Jacques said. Jacques added that participation may increase as more students learn about the program.

Supper will continue to be served to students through June 6, and will be offered to the students again in the fall.

Study: Teens who expect to die young are more likely to commit crime

Growing up in a North Dallas neighborhood plagued by drugs and gangs, Jordan Henderson envisioned just two options for his future: end up in jail — or the graveyard.

With little to look forward to, the 18-year-old began to pursue short-term successes, getting involved in drugs and criminal activity. He prayed that he’d live to see 21.

“We all like to think we can outsmart the system, but it never works out that way,” Henderson said. “We all end up in jail or dead. I always thought it would be much better to be dead than in jail.”

Henderson’s choices shouldn’t come as a surprise, according to a new University of Texas at Dallas study that found that teens who believe they will die young are more likely to commit crimes — and more serious ones at that.

The study, released last month, asked more than 1,300 serious juvenile offenders in Arizona and Pennsylvania one question: How long do you think you’ll live? Their answers ranged from 16 to 200 years old. Researchers then checked in periodically with them over a period of seven years and asked about subsequent criminal activity.

The youths who went on to offend most were the ones with a short-term mentality. Notably, there was also a group of offenders — those who could think long-term — who successfully reformed.

“What that tells us is you can’t just say all of these serious offenders are all bad and they’re all going to be bad forever,” said UTD criminologist Alex Piquero, who led the study.

Piquero said letting kids know “that your life now is not destiny” can make a difference.

“That’s the take-home policy message from this: It’s not a bleak thing,” he said. “We can turn some of these kids around if we give them these opportunities and we give them these consistent messages.”

Surviving today

For a long time, Henderson felt he had neither. All the adults he knew had no college education, and many dealt drugs to make money, he said. Earlier this year, Henderson was arrested for distribution of marijuana — a felony charge that’s pending.

“I basically had no visible hope,” he said. “I thought to myself, this is the lifestyle that everybody before me shows, this is the lifestyle that everyone around me is doing and this is the lifestyle I have to choose.

“I was involved in that lifestyle not by choice, but because I felt I was condemned to that lifestyle,” he said.

That’s a mentality that 15-year-old Merl Lovings of DeSoto can relate to. His father is serving a 15-year prison sentence for aggravated robbery with a deadly weapon, and he said he has a cousin his age who is in jail.  Continue reading here.

North Texas Tollway Authority begins banning ‘habitual toll violators’ from area tollroads

By Robert Wilonsky

The North Texas Tollway Authority is ready to make good on its threat to ban so-called “habitual toll violators” from area toll roads beginning … well, now, actually.

At the end of last week the NTTA posted a release to its website warning drivers with more than 100 outstanding tolls that they would be cited and eventually banned from using NTTA-controlled roads beginning May 1. Says NTTA spokesman Michael Rey it’s taken this long to begin the ban because the NTTA “had to make sure everything was in order” following last June’s passage of Senate Bill 1792. There are some 30,000 drivers on the NTTA’s list of toll violators, says Rey, and the agency’s attorneys recently began serving a fraction of those folks in the weeks leading up to the enforcement.

“We went out and served 500 habitual violators and told them they are banned from driving on the NTTA roadway,” says Rey. “They received what’s known as an order of prohibition.” Officially, says Rey, 105 people who received those orders are “formally banned,” while the others are “eligible” for the big adios.

So here’s how it works: If someone on that list is found on an NTTA roadway they will be given a Class C misdemeanor citation. After that, state troopers could pull impound their cars.

“And later this month we’ll bring the automated license plate recognition readers online,” says Rey. “These will be portable, stationed on the side of the roadway. They will read plates. If they get a hit on a banned driver, it will go to our command center and related to Texas Department of Public Safety troopers in what we call a ‘toll enforcement zone,’ and they will pull over the driver, cite them or impound them, based on the circumstances.”

If someone on the banned list gets pulled over for an unrelated infraction, they could still get served by a trooper. At that point, says Rey, a 10-day waiting period kicks in, giving the driver time to settle up. After that, the driver you could get towed if their plates are dinged on the ALPR.

“It is illegal for habitual violators who have been banned to continue to drive on NTTA toll roads,” says Marty Legé, NTTA’s director of System and Incident Management, in the agency’s release. “Deploying this program, as well as all toll enforcement remedies available to NTTA under SB 1792, is about fairness to everyone who does pay.”

Incidentally, that infamous online list of violators has been pulled, but Rey says it may be replaced by a searchable database in the future.

Houston-area man guilty in shipping container scam

A Houston-area man faces up to 20 years in prison in a $5.5 million shipping containers scam.

Prosecutors in Houston say 49-year-old Steven Patrick Jones of Kingwood and Panama City, Panama, pleaded guilty Thursday to mail fraud. His partner, 71-year-old John Patrick Acord of Magnolia, faces similar charges and remains at large.

Investigators say the pair formed a company called Intermodal Wealth. Intermodal offered to sell the containers to investors, then lease the items for the investors. Jones promised to an annual return of 16 percent.

Prosecutors say the company had few containers, did not lease any of them and the partners instead spent most of the invested money.

Jones remains in custody pending sentencing in September.

For State Politicians, BLM Dispute is Fertile Turf

by Jim Malewitz

State Rep. James Frank has been hearing from constituents since February about goings-on along the Red River: The U.S. Bureau of Land Management, citing a series of court rulings dating to the 1920s, had decided that a 116-mile stretch of land belonged to the federal government.

The roughly 90,000 acres included property long ago deeded to residents who had raised crops and cattle and paid taxes on it.

Questions had been swirling in North Texas since December, when BLM representatives came to discuss updates to its resource management plans in Kansas, Oklahoma and Texas — how the land would be used for the next 15 to 20 years.

So Frank, R-Wichita Falls, and other area lawmakers quietly went to work, first trying to understand two centuries of treaties, litigation and changing geography rooted in the bureau’s claim. They teamed with U.S. Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Clarendon, who had requested information from the agency and was mulling legislative action.

Then came the national headlines.

Amid the bureau’s headline-making standoff with Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy over grazing fees on clearly established public land, which has little in common with the Red River debate, Texas politicos seized on the border angst of state residents. In statements and national television appearances, Gov. Rick Perry, Attorney General Greg Abbott and Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst were among those who spoke of an imminent takeover of Texas land.

“They sure have jumped ahead on talking points,” Frank said, chuckling. “All of a sudden I’m going, ‘Who are all these people sending out statements?’”

But Frank said he was not put off by the attention, sensing an opportunity to raise awareness.

Abbott, the Republican candidate for governor, talked of a “potential seizure of land” and sent a letter last week to the bureau seeking more information on its claims. Two days later, after an appearance on Fox News in which he mentioned possible litigation, Abbott’s campaign sent an email with this message for the bureau: “Come and take it.”  Continue reading here.

Open-carry protestors rally at police substation

By Drew Joseph

More than 80 activists and members of the group Open Carry Texas rallied outside a San Antonio police substation Sunday to protest a city ordinance that they say illegally limits their right to carry loaded weapons.

The rally was planned after Open Carry Texas member Henry Vichique, 19, was arrested last month while walking with a loaded weapon. Vichique was violating a city ordinance that says, in part, it is illegal “to carry a loaded rifle or shotgun on any public street.”

But Open Carry Texas believes the ordinance violates state law, making Vichique’s arrest unlawful.

“This isn’t going to stand,” Vichique told the crowd Sunday outside the police department’s West substation on Culebra Road.

Most of the crowd was made up of men from a wide range of ages. The people gathered talked with each other about their weapons and listened to speeches. The occasional passing car honked in support of them.

Most of the rally’s participants also seemed to be following the city ordinance by not having a round in their weapons’ chambers. But a few in the group did raise their hands when asked if they had a loaded weapon, acknowledging they were knowingly violating the ordinance.

No one from the substation came out to address the crowd, but police said earlier this week that Chief William McManus had been in touch with the organizers.

Continue reading here.

14 die as criminals clash in Mexico border state

Tamaulipas authorities say a series of clashes among criminals has left 14 dead in the northeastern Mexico state bordering Texas.

The state’s coordinating group of state and federal law enforcement says the confrontations occurred throughout the day Sunday in Madero and Tampico. The statement late Sunday did not name the criminal groups or say if the attacks were related.

Tamaulipas, one of Mexico’s most violent states, has been hit by infighting in the once dominant Gulf Cartel, which has also come under attack from its rival, the Zetas.

The statement said four people were killed in separate shootouts in Madero, with two more bodies found separately. Six people died in a shootout in Tampico. Two more were found shot to death in other locations, one inside an ice cream store.