Sunday, January 4, 2009

Tragedies all

Slayings jump to seven in ’08
By Scott Sticker

A county announcing it had a 600 percent increase in the amount of violent deaths in a year can be alarming.

Comal County saw this tremendous increase throughout 2008, but officials say there is no common denominator, and no cause for alarm.

During the past year, officials said seven homicides took place in Comal County, five of which were within the New Braunfels city limits.

“It feels like there have been more violent crimes in the area,” District Attorney Geoff Barr said. “I tell people that it certainly feels like it. We’re growing as a community, and with more people you expect more crime.”

The city averages about one violent death every two years, according to New Braunfels Police Department spokesman Lt. Michael Penshorn.

A search of the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s annual Uniform Crime Reports proved that to be true.

According to the UCR, one homicide occurred in the city limits in 2007, one took place in Comal County in 2006, and none were committed in 2005.

“It saddens me that Comal County has experienced more of this in the past year,” Barr said. “This is not the same county I knew as a kid.”

Tuesday morning, police busted down an apartment door, finding a man and his wife dead inside after receiving several disturbance calls. Police believe this recent incident to be a case of murder-suicide, but Penshorn said the investigation remains pending.

Although population was mentioned by all, no officials could speculate on the reasons for the increase in violent deaths.

“There are several cities as large as New Braunfels, but their location plays a big part in crime statistics,” Comal County Sheriff’s Office spokesman Lt. Mark Reynolds said.

Barr pointed out that Comal has a very low number of homicides compared to neighboring counties.

Several cases the police department handled were domestic disputes or family violence, Penshorn said.

“We don’t see much gang violence or drug related violence around here,” Penshorn said. “The best thing we can do about this is educate the public. It’s difficult to say why these things are happening though.”

Barr said he could not see a link or trend in the violent deaths either.

“I look at these cases and I don’t see a common thread,” he said. “They each have their own stories, and they don’t link up.”

He said pressure from the failing economy also might be a factor in the increase of violent deaths and crime in Comal County.

On Jan. 13, 2008, 53-year-old Frederick Dwulet died at University Hospital in San Antonio after being shot in his home at 251 Indian Grass Drive. Deborah Goodine Yarborough, 49, was arrested and charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon.

Fernando Ortegon, 37, was stabbed to death on March 23 in the 1100 block of Winston Avenue. Police arrested Ortegon’s brother-in-law, Edwardo Sanchez, two days later on a first-degree felony murder charge.

In Canyon Lake, Robert Smith, 40, allegedly stabbed his 53-year-old girlfriend, Nancy Shields, to death at their home at 1235 Hedgestone on July 11. Smith was indicted on a murder charge in November.

Earl Lynn Tomerlin, 55, allegedly shot and killed his wife, Joy Tomerlin, and turned the gun on himself in the 200 block of Indian Grass Drive on July 30, police said.

On Sept. 21, Kenneth Leo Pittman Jr., 34, was allegedly shot and killed by Keegen Armke of New Braunfels. The Travis County Medical Examiner ruled the death a homicide in early October.

A Canyon Lake man, 25-year-old Jordan Weber, was arrested on Dec. 23 — the same day Sheriff’s officials allege he shot and killed his father. Jordan Weber called 911 that morning, telling operators he found his 55-year-old father, Ron Weber, dead.