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10 Biggest Stories in Wichita Falls This Year

Downtown Wichita Falls - ©Townsquare Media
Downtown Wichita Falls – ©Townsquare Media/Dave Diamond

Much can happen in twelve short months. There’s so much that shakes and shapes our community every single day.

Here’s a look at some of the biggest stories that may have impacted your life in Wichita Falls in 2016.


1. Shooting of Two McNeil Middle School Students

Lauren Landavazo and Makayla Smith
Lauren Landavazo and Makayla Smith

On September 2nd, two Wichita Falls teenagers, Lauren Landavazo and Makayla Smith, both 13 years old, were shot multiple times as they walked home from school. Landavazo was shot more than a dozen times and was pronounced dead at United Regional Hospital. Smith survived the attack. Days later, a Wichita Falls Police officer stopped a 20-year-old man who was driving a vehicle that fit the description given by a witness to the shooting. Kody Lott was arrested after he consented to a search of his SUV that turned up .22 ammo and brass knuckles, the later resulting in a possession of a prohibited weapons charge. Ballistics matched the .22 cartridges found in the vehicle to those used in the murder. Lott confessed to police that he committed the crime and said ‘the devil told me to do it’. Lott had apparently been watching Landavazo for some time and was infatuated with the teen. Lott remains in the Wichita County Jail on a $1 million dollar bond, charged with murder and aggravated assault.


2. The Domanic Thrasher Murder Trials

(Wichita County Sheriff's Office)
(Wichita County Sheriff’s Office)

In June of 2015, Domanic Thrasher was gunned down in the City View addition of Wichita Falls in a drug deal gone bad. Two young men and a young woman drove to the intersection of Yuma and Gunnison. Moments after they arrived, Thrasher lay dead in the intersection. In 2016, two of the three suspects jailed in his murder were finally handed their fate. Justin Love accepted a 50 year prison sentence in a plea bargain arrangement. Blayne William Brooks, the accused trigger man, was sentenced to 60 years after a jury trial.  Whitney Mercedes O’Brien remains in the Wichita County Jail charged with murder.  As of December, there was still no official word on whether she would be offered a plea deal.


3. Wichita Falls Kid + Neighbors Save 7-Year-Old Kidnapping Victim From Sexual Assault

TJ Smith
TJ Smith

On December 10, 2016, a 7-year-old girl was abducted while riding her scooter near her home. It was the quick actions of 11-year-old TJ Smith and other neighbors that resulted in the safe rescue of the little girl from her kidnapper. TJ saw a man abduct the little girl and sprang into action, chasing the man and then getting more help from a neighbor. The neighbor was able to catch the kidnapper and detain him until police arrived. 26-year-old Raeshawn Perez was arrested and charged with aggravated kidnapping. Once in custody, Perez told police that he intended to have sex with the girl and then return her to her home.


4. Double Homicide Inside Wichita Falls Home

double-homicide
Jermar Jamie Fuller – double homicide

23-year-old Jermar Jaime Fuller was arrested near Dalhart, Texas in September. Fuller is charged with a double homicide. Fuller led a DPS trooper on a high speed chase in the Panhandle on October 10th, the same day law enforcement officials say he murdered William Samuel Rankin and David Wayne Phillips in Rankin’s home. The pair had been shot. Fuller has been held in the Wichita County Jail since November 1st on a $4 million bond.  He is charged with two counts of capital murder and will likely face the death penalty if the case goes to trial.


5. Million-Dollar Marijuana Bust on Hwy 287

$1 Million in Weed Seized in Iowa park
photo via DPS

On February 22nd, a DPS traffic stop on US 287 (humorously dubbed the ‘Mary Jane Highway’ this year) yielded one of the largest pot busts ever on this major drug trafficking corridor inside Wichita County.  Samuel Herschel Clauder II, 64, of Arcata, California was found in possession of 174 pounds of pot with a street value of $1 million. Clauder failed to make a December court appearance.


6. Wichita Falls Elects First Hispanic and Youngest-Ever Mayor

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In November, Wichita Falls elected its first Hispanic mayor and it’s youngest-ever mayor.  At 36, District 1 councilor Stephen Santellana was already making a mark on the city. His near landslide victory over Mayor Pro-Tem Tim Ingle came as little surprise to his supporters, many of whom had long pressed for the businessman to make the move. But his campaign was a bit rocky. His business partner, Chad Wilson, was arrested earlier this year for the ninth time on an alcohol related offense. A new business venture between Santellana and Wilson had been called into question by Ingle during the campaign, but voters overwhelming elected Santellana on November 8th.


7. Spectra Takes Over the MPEC

Wichita Falls MPEC
©Dave Diamond/Townsquare Media

After years of operating in the red, the Wichita Falls City Council approved a third party contractor to take over the day to day operation of the Multi-Purpose Event Center or MPEC for short. On October 1st, Spectra Venue Management, a division of Comcast, took over the operational control of MPEC. Within days, many of the staff members of the MPEC had walked out and the future of community non-profits relationship with the venue was in question. Spectra insiders say the venue will undergo major changes over the next 2 to 3 years, including the likely renaming of the Kay Yeager Coliseum and the abandonment of the ‘MPEC’ label. The company has promised much needed upgrades to the coliseum and will guarantee events and concerts. In years past MPEC had seen numerous cancellations, a trend that most certainly hurt early ticket sales for other events, as the bad reputation deepened.  2017 and 2018 could prove to be pivotal years for MPEC, with the announcement of a multi-million dollar hotel and convention center to be constructed…in the MPEC parking lot.


8. Trump Picks Wichita Falls Native Rex Tillerson for Secretary of State

ExxonMobil CEO And XTO Energy CEO Testify Before House On Merger
Rex Tillerson (Getty Images)

In the weeks following Donald Trumps history-making election for President of the United States, he began to name his cabinet appointees. His pick for Secretary of State is none other than Wichita Falls native Rex Tillerson, the current CEO of Exxon-Mobil. Tillerson was born in Wichita Falls in 1952. Upon the announcement of Tillerson as Trump’s pick for Secretary of State, most congressional democrats and a few republicans immediately began to seize upon his business ties to Russia as a possible reason to disqualify him for the position.


9. Cars Crashing Into Buildings

2016 seemed to be the year to crash cars into buildings in Wichita Falls. In January, a woman crashed her car into Local Boys Liquor Store. In April, a Wichita Falls couple narrowly escaped serious injury when a van crashed into the living room of their apartment complex. And in July, a woman crashed into the front of the Dollar Tree on Kemp Boulevard. Drive safely my friends.


10. City-Wide Smoking Ban Grace Period Ends; All Bars and Restaurants Now Smoke-Free

Credit: Jacklyn York
Credit: Jacklyn York

In June of this year, the two year grace period in the city-wide smoking ban officially expired.  As of then, all Wichita Falls businesses, bars and restaurants must be smoke free and no one is permitted to light up anything, not even e-cigarettes, within 20 feet of the public entrance to any business. It was one of the more controversial moves on the part of the city council, but one that follows in the footsteps of communities all across America who’ve jumped on the anti-smoking bandwagon.

NEXT: Wichita Falls Shelter Dog With Special Needs Passed Up For 6 Months Needs Miracle Family


BONUS: Famous People From Wichita Falls

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