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January 5, 2014

2013 featured ups and downs for Stephens County

DUNCAN — For the Duncan and Stephens County area, 2012 was a year of progress and community deconstruction.

This year’s top story even managed to draw national attention, bringing news media from Australia. Chris Lane, 22, an Australian native, was shot and killed Aug. 16, while he was out for a run near Country Club Road and Twilight Beach.

In the days following, three teenage Duncan boys were arrested for Lane’s murder. Initially, Chancey Allen Luna, 16, and James Francis Edwards Jr., 16, were charged as adults, facing first-degree murder, and a third teen Michael Dewayne Jones was charged as a youthful offender to accessory to murder. In November, Jones, 17, was recharged as an adult facing first-degree murder.

A trial date has not been set for the three teens. A gag order was also issued in relation to the case.

Lane was known for his skill in baseball, having played for Redlands College and East Central University. He was in a relationship with Duncan resident Sarah Harper.

Following his death, a memorial was placed just north of the Country Club Road and Twilight Beach intersection. A community wide memorial service took place at Plato Elementary and nearly 200 people attended. A baseball game also took place between Redlands College and East Central University to establish a scholarship in remembrance of Lane.

Lane wasn’t the only murder to occur in Duncan in 2013.

Alyssa Wiles, 14, was stabbed to death June 10 in her bedroom.

Michael Anthony Ray, 16, was arrested for her death. Ray was Wiles’ ex-boyfriend, who she had broke up with two days before her death. On Dec. 30, 2012, Ray changed his plea to guilty and will be sentenced March 5 in Stephens County District Court.

In honor of Wiles, lime green ribbons were tied to various posts throughout Duncan and a candlelight vigil took place at the Duncan High School baseball field.

The City of Duncan ran into a few issue in 2013.

Among them was the defeat of the city’s street bond election.

Of the 1,507 people who voted in the May 14, 2013, bond election, 889 people (or 58.99) percent voted against the bond issue. The election was aimed at improving various street segments throughout Duncan.

“The disappointing part of the whole thing is there’s a lot more to it than streets involved,” Duncan Mayor Gene Brown said at the time. “It was future growth, city pride. We want to diversify. How can we diversify if we can’t even keep our streets up?”

Streets weren’t the only concern for Duncan in 2013.

A prolonged drought caused concern for the city’s water supplies, coming from area lakes, such as Wauika Lake. This led to the city’s mandatory water rationing.

By the end of September, the water rationing had been upgraded to Stage 3, which limited outdoor water usage to 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Wednesday and Saturday. This schedule will continue into February.

As a reaction to the street and water complications, the Duncan Area Economic Development Board talked with the City Council to propose splitting a half cent sales tax that goes to vote every five years. If the council agrees and the resolution is passed, DAEDF will use half of the tax for economic development and the city will use half of the tax for improvements to streets and water supply.

While there was an influx of negative occurrences throughout the community, some progress did take place.

On June 10, 2013, Duncan Public Schools had a ground breaking ceremony at the Duncan High School to officially begin construction at the high school. The construction is the result of a bond issue Duncan residents passed in February 2012.

Days earlier, work began on the press box at Halliburton Stadium. And eight days later, construction began on the new Stephens County Youth Shelter. The high school building project is involving the construction of a new cafeteria and library complex, a new entrance, new office space, and more classrooms.

Much of the building project is using the existing building. Although, the former teachers parking lot has become the site for the cafeteria/library complex. The school district is working with PBK Architect, who was responsible for the design of the school, and CMS Willowbrook, who is taking charge as construction manager.

Another form of progress occurring in Stephens County is the institution of a recycling program in Duncan, Marlow and Comanche through the South Central Oklahoma Environmental Authority. Members from each community sit on the board, and those members signed the recycling program into action in January 2013.

By April 2013, recycling polycarts began arriving and were delivered to residences throughout the community. There wasn’t an option to opt out of the recycling program, and some people did have concerns about being charged for a service they weren’t sure they wanted to use.

Toward the end of April, nearly 1 million pounds had been recycled in the first five months of the program. SCOEA received the 2013 Environmental Excellence Award through the Keep Oklahoma Beautiful program.

At the end of March, three Duncan convenience stores were robbed, beginning March 26, 2013. The last two stores were robbed March 30, 2013. Four men (one a juvenile at the time) were arrested between April 2 and April 4, 2013.

The youngest of those arrested, Tre Demetrius Babineaux, 18, pleaded guilty to the crimes. He was charged with three felony counts of robbery in the first degree. For each charge, he was sentenced to 25 years in prison with all but the first 15 years suspended. Each of the charges are to run concurrently, meaning he will serve a total of 15 years.

Dakota John Smith, 20, and Quincy Sahtoren Barnes, 20, will appear on the January docket. Peyton Thad Graham waived his right to a jury trial and will next appear in court Feb. 5.

In February 2013, Mike Terry purchased the Battison Auto Group with other investors. But by July 15, Terry became tangled in a battle against the other investors, who were trying to out Terry from the company.

Early in September, District Judge Joe Enos approved the sale of the Mike Terry dealerships to Randy Byford, the other of Byford Buick GMC in Chickasha.

Enos also appointed Michael Deeba as a receiver, giving him control of the company assets and operations. Deeba submitted a receivers report in November 2013, which expressed his concerns with the Mike Terry Auto Group finances.

While 2012 might have featured several home invasions, another home invasion occurred Jan. 29, at a residence in Comanche.

In that home invasion, a man was shot twice and a woman was tied up. The man was taken to OU Medial Center.

Stephens County District Court filed charges against Jeramy Wayne Roebuck in relation to the home invasion in February. Toward the end of November 2013, Winston Ray Walters, 20, and John Edward Oxford, 25, were formally charged for conjoint robbery, burglary in the first degree, burglary in the second degree, two charges of conspiracy, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon.

Stephens County Sheriff Wayne McKinney said Walters and Oxford had been on the Sheriff’s Department’s radar for months. Evidence came together to make the arrests.

“We’re dealing with a totally different type of criminal,” McKinney said in November 2013. “They’re ruthless. They could care less about other people’s feelings, other people’s lives. It’s really been the last two years. I don’t think it’s just local. I think it’s on a national level.”

As 2013 was getting started, Duncan’s largest employer Halliburton downsized its workforce, laying off 130 people.

All of the positions released were in manufacturing and support. Rumors of a potential layoff had been circulating since December 2012, when Halliburton management met with employees.

Workforce Duncan’s Rapid Response Team responded to the Halliburton layoff, working to find jobs for those who were let go. Three meetings were held to aid those who lost their jobs.

Tara Mullee-Agard, Halliburton public relations supervisor, issued a statement following the decrease in workforce.

“We must adjust our manufacturing capacity to fit 2013 requirements,” Mullee-Agard said in a press release. “On Jan. 13 and Jan. 14, 2013, we reluctantly took the necessary step of making adjustments to the number of employees who work at the Center, a move which is affecting 130 jobs.”

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