January was the deadliest month of the coronavirus pandemic for Nacogdoches County as COVID-19 claimed the lives of more than 20 residents.
Last month, 22 people died of the virus, up from the previous record of 19 in July, according to data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.
A single week, Jan. 10 though 16, had 11 coronavirus-related deaths, more than the entire months of April, May, June, September and October.
Three more lives have been claimed by COVID-19 thus far in February, all three reported by the state Tuesday afternoon, along with 14 more confirmed cases of the virus. The death toll here now stands at 129. Active cases are estimated at 303.
The state on July 27 announced it was streamlining its reporting of fatalities through using the cause of death on death certificates. Up until then, COVID-19 fatalities had been reported by local and regional health departments after they received a notification and then verified the death — a process that could take weeks or months. Death certificates are required by law to be filed within 10 days.
“The current data is based on the date for all deaths,” state health department spokesman Chris Van Deusen said in an email Tuesday. “Deaths are captured whenever they occur.”
A fatality is attributed to COVID-19 when a patient’s doctor determines it was a direct cause of death.
Across the state, the virus has killed more than 37,000 people, a figure roughly half the population of Nacogdoches County.
The first phases of vaccinations, available for health care workers and by provider referral for those over 65 and with chronic health conditions, is underway.
“When you add the number of people who have had it and recovered in our county plus the folks who have been vaccinated, many of whom are getting their second doses, we’re probably, I’m guess-timating, at over 20% of our population between infected and having antibodies and those who have been vaccinated,” State Rep. Travis Clardy said during an update to Nacogdoches Chamber members Tuesday. “It’s still serious. Still deadly. Take precautions.”
Those qualified for the first phases of vaccinations are encouraged to keep an eye on the state’s updated vaccine provider map at bit.ly/3oDhjHu for vaccine availability.
A local call center remains open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at 936-468-4787 to answer questions and provide information.
Texas businesses were put through the wringer by the pandemic, and a representative of retailers statewide says the hurdles don’t end there.
A shutdown in early 2020 followed by reduced occupancies and COVID-19-related expenses either shuttered businesses or left them struggling, George Kelemen, president and CEO of the Texas Retailers Association, told Nacogdoches business leaders during a virtual Chamber of Commerce networking breakfast Thursday.
As the infomercial phrase says: But wait, there’s more.
Aided by sophisticated technology, the crime known as organized retail theft is a growing problem for Texas businesses, Kelemen said.
“It’s not petty shoplifting. It’s not even organized rings of petty shoplifting,” he said. “It’s a lot bigger than that, and a lot more sophisticated.”
Organized retail theft has climbed to devastatingly new heights in recent years, he said, thanks to the internet.
“We’ve seen an explosion in not only organized retail theft itself, but the usage of online marketplaces as the black market to sell stolen items or items that are fraudulent and counterfeit,” he said. “Over time, even before the pandemic, these organized crime rings have just become much more sophisticated in how they steal the goods and how they disguise themselves to sell them using online platforms as their new black market.”
Targeting these criminals and increasing efforts to make consumers aware of stolen merchandise are among a list of priorities the association has set out for the 87th Legislative Session. Most of the topics that need to be addressed, Kelemen said, are related to the pandemic.
“COVID will have an overlay in just about everything discussed at the Legislature and just about every issue we engage on,” he said.
Even though up to 70% of retailers were considered essential and allowed to stay open during the shutdown, protective measures and supplies weren’t cheap. And reduced capacity and other requirements presented further challenges for businesses with small profit margins to begin with. Businesses without a web presence were caught flat-footed as even the most technology challenged customers were converted to online buyers.
“The notion of online sales and e-commerce is not new,” Kelemen said. “There had been an ongoing trend, and over the last few years that had become magnified by how much holiday sales were online — that was always a barometer.”
For many consumers, though, the arrival of the pandemic shifted online buying from a convenient option to a necessity.
The entire realm of e-commerce was accelerated with the arrival of the COVID-19 and stay-home orders, Kelemen says, “much beyond companies having a website or the holiday period. It extended into the grocery and home improvement industry.”
Even with the pandemic, though, foot traffic at retailers during the holiday shopping period was better than expected — a good sign for the future.
“People who were employed were staying at home, not spending money to commute so there was some disposable income,” he said. “The whole experience of the holiday shopping season gave us the indication this is what this could look like on a larger scale once we emerge from the pandemic.”
Often held both in person and online, the Nacogdoches County Chamber’s Eggs and Issues networking breakfast was held virtually this month due to pandemic precautions. The next event is set for 7:30 to 9 a.m. Feb. 25. For details and other chamber events, visit nacogdoches.org.
Nacogdoches and Lufkin are often a “pit stop” for human traffickers taking victims from Houston to the Dallas and Tyler areas, an expert on the topic told Nacogdoches County Chamber of Commerce members Tuesday.
Deep East Texas is along the edge of what is known as the Red Triangle, an area where human trafficking flourishes between the triangle’s points of Dallas, Houston and San Antonio, said Maria Villarreal, a sexual assault/human trafficking specialist for Family Crisis Center of East Texas.
“Our area is like a pit stop for traffickers. These traffickers are trying to get their victims from Houston to Tyler,” she said. “I hear that a lot. I hear a lot of victims coming from Houston to Tyler or Dallas but they stop in our area to rest or for something.”
Texas is currently second in the nation behind California for the number of human trafficking reports.
“I do think in a few years it’ll be No. 1,” Villarreal said.
What human trafficking is and who it affects are widely misunderstood, she said.
“It’s really not the movie ‘Taken.’ What we tend to see is the trafficker knows the victim. What we tend to see is it’s a family member. It’s a boyfriend or a girlfriend. It’s a friend of the family. It’s somebody the victim knows,” she said.
In the 2008 film ‘Taken” Liam Neeson plays a retired CIA operative whose 17-year-old daughter is kidnapped by a group of Albanian smugglers while traveling in France.
“Those cases do happen where abduction takes place,” Villarreal said, but in her time working for Family Crisis Center of East Texas she’s not seen any cases like that locally.
Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud or coercion to obtain some kind of labor, whether that means being forced into prostitution or working at a business. In August 2018, a Nacogdoches couple was sentenced six months in prison and ordered to pay more than $40,000 in restitution for holding an illegal immigrant in debt slavery, a form of human trafficking most common in South Asia.
The average age of victims who enter human trafficking is 14, she said, and they tend to remain victims for around seven years.
“These victims will be hidden in plain sight. I know people tend to think that these victims are locked away and chained up in homes. But they’re still out. They’re still going to school. They’re still shopping,” Villarreal said.
Gov. Greg Abbott identified expanding broadband internet across rural Texas as one of five emergency items that will be eligible for consideration during the first 60 days of the 87th Texas Legislature, signaling that twin pieces of legislation by two East Texas legislators will likely gain traction.
“From medicine to education to business, broadband access is not a luxury, it is an essential tool that must be available for all Texans,” Abbott said Monday night in his State of the State address.
State Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, and Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, last week filed identical bills aimed at expanding critical broadband services by forming a state broadband office and creating a comprehensive plan.
“Over the last several months our offices have been working with stakeholders, from internet service providers to non-profit organizations, to identify the most efficient and effective path to expand access to broadband in Texas,” Ashby said in a statement. “Now, the Governor has given the Legislature the ‘green-light’ to get working on this critical issue, and I look forward to working with leadership to expand access and encourage adoption of broadband service to all hard-working Texans.”
The coronavirus pandemic has amplified the disparity in internet connectivity between urban and rural Texas. It became clear quickly when Abbott issued a stay-at-home order that Deep East Texas was at a major disadvantage. A 2019 study by the Deep East Texas Council of Governments found that fiber optic cable needed for broadband internet exists in less than 15% of the 12-county region including Nacogdoches and Lufkin.
“As we’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the internet is absolutely essential to the citizens of our already thriving state,” Nichols said in a statement. “Our massive, diverse economy has already propelled Texas as the top state for business over the last sixteen years, and bridging the digital divide with expanded access to broadband in rural areas will increase opportunities for high-quality healthcare, educational attainment, and economic development opportunities.”
In September, Ashby and Nichols authored a letter sent to Abbott’s office with bipartisan support calling for reforms proposed in their legislation — House Bill 1446 and Senate Bill 506. State Rep. Travis Clardy of Nacogdoches signed onto the letter and has expressed support for the legislation.
“It’s more than bipartisan. I think there’s absolutely universal support for this expansion,” he said in September.
In addition to broadband expansion, Abbott identified four other emergency items including punishing local governments that defund law enforcement agencies, overhauling the bail system in criminal justice and ensuring election integrity and providing civil liability protections for businesses open during the pandemic.
A federal push for liability protection authored by Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, failed to gain traction in Washington.
Nacogdoches Police Department investigators believe robbery was the motive behind the October 2020 shooting death of a local man.
Authorities charged 21-year-old Jacorion Shaizae Desmonte Mosbey with capital murder and theft of property when they arrested him on Jan. 28 in the case, according to jail records. The warrant for Mosbey’s arrest set bail for the murder charge at $2 million and $2,500 for the theft charge.
As of Monday, Mosbey was not listed as an inmate at the county jail.
Police initially contacted Mosbey as a the victim of a shooting after he showed up at a local hospital around 10:23 p.m. on Oct. 22 suffering three gunshot wounds — one to the chin, one to the leg and one to the abdomen, according to the arrest affidavit filed against him.
At the hospital, Mosbey reportedly told investigators he and another man had fired shots from a car while at the Eastwood Terrace apartment complex. When police interviewed the other person Mosbey identified — who as of Monday has not been charged with a crime — that individual said they’d been on foot when the shooting started.
The man told police he drove Mosbey to the hospital in Mosbey’s mother’s vehicle, dropped him off, then went to pick up Mosbey’s mother.
A bullet was removed from Mosbey’s body and taken as evidence in the case, according to the affidavit. Police were then dispatched to the apartment complex to search for a crime scene and witnesses, but none were located.
At the hospital, investigators searched the vehicle — a 2015 Chrysler — and inside found a dark-colored ski mask with “apparent bullet holes” that “appeared to correspond with the gunshot wounds to ... Mosbey’s chin” and “a pair of Nike shoes that had a large amount of blood present on them.”
On Oct. 23, police were dispatched to the 500 block of Ridgewood Drive where a man, later identified as Fredrick Roberts, was found dead.
“Roberts appeared to have died of a gunshot wound and evidence of gunfire was located at the offense location,” according to the affidavit filed against Mosbey.
Footprints appearing to match the shoes found in Mosbey’s car at the hospital were found at the residence, as was “evidence ... that was indicative of robbery being a probable motive.”
On Oct. 26, Roberts was autopsied in Tyler, and a slug from a firearm was recovered that was later analyzed by the Texas Department of Public Safety’s crime lab.
“On Dec. 22, 2020, the Texas Department of Public Safety Crime Laboratory informed Nacogdoches Police Department Investigative Staff that the projectile recovered from Jacorion Mosbey’s body was fired from the same firearm as the projectile recovered from ... Roberts’ body,” according to the affidavit. “Due to this criminal complaint being submitted for the limited purpose of obtaining an arrest warrant, every fact known .. .has not been included.”
The warrant for Mosbey’s arrest was signed Jan. 7.