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Crime taints Big Spring in 2012

December 31, 2012

Looking back, 2012 was a turbulent year for the Crossroads area as numerous high profile incidents and court cases found their way into the headlines.
The Big Spring Police Department had its hands full early, as the investigation into the shooting death of a 27-year-old Crossroads man began New Year Day. Christopher Castanuela, 27, of Big Spring was pronounced dead at Scenic Mountain Medical Center emergency room shortly after 6 a.m. Jan. 1 by Howard County Justice of the Peace Quail Dobbs, who later ordered an autopsy.
According to police reports, officers were dispatched to the 200 block of N.E. Third Street in reference to a shooting. At the scene, officers discovered Castanuela had been shot and was transported to Scenic Mountain Medical Center by a private vehicle. The Big Spring man was pronounced dead-on-arrival at the emergency room.
Police officials said Castanuela had been shot multiple times. The investigation was later handed over to the Howard County District Attorney's Office, according to police. However, no indictment or arrest was made in the incident, which may have been a case of self defense, according to law enforcement records.
Just days later, 62-year-old Eleutario Torres Padron was pronounced dead following a vehicle-pedestrian collision near the intersection of Sgt. Paredez and Trades Avenue. The Big Spring man was discovered in the roadway by a passerby following what investigators deemed a hit-and-run incident.
Following an autopsy ordered by Howard County Justice of the Peace Kathryn Wiseman, Padron's death determined not to have been a simple accident.
“He suffered two collapsed lungs as a result,” Wiseman said. “He died shortly after arriving at Scenic Mountain Medical Center. The autopsy leaves no doubt that he was hit by a vehicle. His death has been ruled a homicide.”
Despite numerous attempts by investigators to encourage witnesses to come forward, no description of the vehicle or driver has been determined, according to Sgt. Tony Everett, public information officer with the BSPD. A reward for information is still being offered by Big Spring Area Crimestoppers, however. Call 263-TIPS for more information. No caller ID is ever used and tipsters may remain anonymous.
A Big Spring man was indicted Feb. 2 by a Howard County grand jury on numerous charges stemming from the Aug. 22, 2012, chase and attempted shooting of local man that led to the invasion of a family's home in the 500 block of State Street.
Brian Christopher Lewis, 27, was indicted on charges of deadly conduct (two counts, both enhanced first-degree felonies), unlawful possession of a firearm by a felon (two counts, both enhanced first-degree felonies) and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon (first-degree felony, enhanced).
Lewis stood trial in 118th District Court in mid-August, with the trial ending in a mistrial when the jury announced it was hopelessly deadlocked. District Attorney Hardy Wilkerson, who presented the prosecution's case, said he expects to retry the case at a later date.
In February, former KBST Radio news director 27-year-old Kyle Guthrie was arrested on a charge of online solicitation of a minor after law enforcement officials discovered a number of illicit text messages on a 16-year-old girl's smart phone. He was indicted by a Howard County grand jury in early June and went to trial in early October.
Guthrie pleaded guilty to the charge of online solicitation of a minor, presenting testimony solely during the punishment phase of the trial, which was presided over by 118th District Court Judge Timothy Yeats.
Yeats sentenced Guthrie to six years in prison. However, later in the day Guthrie tried to hang himself and was rushed to the emergency room at SMMC, where he was treated and released back into law enforcement custody. Guthrie must serve a minimum of 25 percent of the sentence before he will be eligible for parole
The Big Spring Police Department investigated an altercation at the Big Spring Mall on May 13 that claimed the life of a 22-year-old local man. Noe Sanchez, 22, was pronounced dead at the scene after being struck by a vehicle. Everett said officers were dispatched to the Big Spring Mall parking lot in response to a “shots fired” report.
“Officers arrived (on the scene) within one minute and discovered one man down and a large crowd of people gathered around,” Everett said. “At that point, officers learned there had been a disturbance involving several subjects. A fight had started, at which time one of the subjects produced a handgun and shots were fired.”
Everett said at some point in the melee Sanchez was hit and killed by a car. The altercation was the result of a longstanding feud between two families, Everett added. Law enforcement officials say the case has been filed with the district attorney's office, however, no homicide indictment has been delivered.
In June, a Martin County man was sentenced to 180 days in prison — with the possibly of another seven-and-a-half-years to serve after that — after pleading guilty to third-degree felony charges of injury to a child in 118th District Court.
Dominick Robert Peña, 24, of Stanton was indicted on a single charge of injury to a child stemming from the 2011 incident that sent a 1-year-old child to the Martin County Hospital with second-degree burns over much of his body. The plea agreement required Peña to serve 180 days of “shock probation” in a Texas Department of Criminal Justice facility before appearing before a judge again, at which time it was to be determined whether he would serve an additional seven-and-a-half-years. However, in October, Pena was released from TDCJ and placed on eight years probation.
A local woman was arrested in July in connection with a 2009 traffic fatality that claimed the life of a former Big Spring resident. Crystal Lee Calderon, 30, of Big Spring, was arrested on a charge of intoxication manslaughter, a charge that carries a potential sentence of between two and 10 years in state prison.
Calderon is alleged to have been intoxicated on July 12, 2009, when the vehicle she was driving was involved in an accident on Interstate 20 in Martin County. Rosie Hernandez, a passenger in the vehicle Calderon was driving, was killed as a result of injuries received in the accident. Hernandez was a native and long-time resident of Big Spring who was living in Midland at the time of her death.
Calderon was arrested by a Department of Public Safety trooper in Big Spring and booked into the Howard County Detention Center, where she was later freed on $75,000 bond.
In September, a 54-year-old man was sentenced to 10 years in prison in 118th District Court/ He pleaded guilty to one count of prohibited sexual conduct after law enforcement discovered he had fathered a child with his daughter. Edgar Dale Whitt was indicted in June on two counts of prohibited sexual conduct and four counts of indecency with a child, all second degree felonies.
Whitt — along with his daughter, 26-year-old Tamara Ruth Whitt — was arrested March 18 after police officials responded to a report of a 7-year-old boy traveling down S. Highway 87 on a bicycle, attempting to run away from home. According to law enforcement officials, there were also two other children living in the home at the time, a 5-year-old and a 2-year-old. Edgar Whitt pleaded guilty to the charges in exchange for charges against his daughter being dropped.
In October, a Big Spring man was arrested on charges of sexually abusing a child. Samuel Lee Lyte, 70, of 1811 S. Lancaster, was locked up Oct. 22 and charged with indecency with a child – sexual contact and tampering with or fabricating physical evidence with intent to impair.
Lyte was later charged with continual sexual abuse of a child and was indicted by a grand jury in early November. Police confirmed the victim was a female under the age of 14, but declined to comment further.
Gunfire erupted Oct. 22 in what appeared to be two unrelated altercations that sent a couple of people to the hospital. The two were among three injured in a drive by shooting about 2 a.m. in the 1400 block of Mesa.
One man received a bullet wound to his right forearm and a second was shot in his left lower leg and buttocks. Both — in their mid-20s — were airlifted to a Lubbock hospital. A third victim refused treatment.
A separate incident just prior to 12:30 a.m. that day, placed a Plainview man under arrest for aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, deadly conduct and possession of a firearm by a felon. Juston Louis Martinez was arrested after allegedly pointing a gun at a group of individuals in the 1300 block of Madison and firing a round into a vehicle before fleeing the scene.
Law enforcement officials with the sheriff’s office investigated a shooting Oct. 27 that claimed the life of a Big Spring man and injured another. Luis Adolfo Pena, 33, was pronounced dead at Scenic Mountain Medical Center shortly after 2:30 a.m. from a gunshot wound.
The altercation took place at 2:33 a.m. at the VFW hall located at 500 Driver Rd. A second man was transported to the emergency room and released following treatment. On Oct. 31, 19-year-old Chris Daniel Marquez was arrested and charged with the crime, however, he has not yet been indicted.
A Big Spring man received three 30-year prison sentences after being convicted Dec. 5 of child sexual abuse. Hector Manuel Gonzales Jr., 33, was assessed the sentences — along with a $10,000 fine — at the end of a two-day trial in 118th District Court.
He will serve the sentences concurrently. Under state law, he will not become eligible for parole until he has been in prison at least 15 years.
Gonzales had been indicted on four counts of aggravated sexual assault of a child — a first degree felony — by a Howard County grand jury in April. Assistant District Attorney Robin D. Orr, who prosecuted the case, expressed satisfaction with the sentence.
“The jury had a very difficult task — the evidence centered mainly on the testimony of the victim vs. that of the accused,” Orr said. “But I am well-satisfied with the sentence.”
The jury determined Gonzales had sexually assaulted the victim, a minor under the age of 14 who was a member of his extended family, on at least three occasions during a period of time between March and November 2010.

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