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By Traci Chapman
Mustang officials are counting down to a hoped July 1 launch of a new city website.
“We’re getting excited – it’s something we’ve needed for a long time and it will be a great resource for everyone across the city – citizens, businesses, all of us,” City Manager Tim Rooney said last week.
The first work in developing the new site started in earnest last week, when aHa! Consulting President Brian Gilday traveled from Oregon to meet with city staff to get input on the new site’s design. City Council recently approved the contract with aHa! To build the site, after sending the project out for bid.
Gilday said Monday he met individually with each department to get their insight on what they wanted to see, as well as holding an extensive meeting with department heads who gave their input, as well.
“We had a chance to see what they thought would be best – we needed to make it easier to add documents to the website, improve citizen communication, improve the calendar,” Gilday said. “Everything will be integrated – parks and recreation, city council, all of it.”
The site will also be mobile compatible for phones and tablets, Gilday said. It will be readily updated and maintained, which in the long run will save money for the city, he said.
Over the next three months, Gilday will work to train city staff to use the site and add new content, with the aim of bringing it live on or before July 1, he said.
“Everyone here said they wanted to improve Mustang’s image and profile and promote open government,” Gilday said. “This will definitely do that.”
By Mustang News/El Reno Tribune Staff
Two El Reno teens have died and four others were injured in a two-vehicle accident that happened early Sunday, March 2.
El Reno High School sophomore Jesse Gorbet, 16, died from his injuries after being taken to OU Medical Center following the collision. Fifteen-year-old Karson Baker died at OU Medical Center early Wednesday, El Reno School Superintendent Craig McVay said. Two of their fellow EHS schoolmates –Connor Ryan and Taylor Maine – remained hospitalized Monday, while Abby Schwarz and Josh Castrop were taken to Mercy El Reno Hospital, treated and released.
As of Wednesday, Ryan was listed in good, and Maine in fair, condition, OU Medical Center officials said.
The collision occurred at 12:15 a.m. at the intersection of Manning and Britton roads, Canadian County Undersheriff Chris West said. Gorbet was driving a silver Chevy pickup truck and traveling southbound on Manning Road with his five passengers. The vehicle collided with a red Chevy pickup truck, driven by 20-year-old Ty Hood of El Reno. Hood, who was driving westbound on Britton Road, was also taken to Mercy El Reno and released. He was alone in his vehicle, the undersheriff said.
Both trucks were traveling too fast for the weather conditions, West said.
A “Pray for Karson Baker” page was set up on Facebook, which allowed family members of all of the injured teens to provide updates. A huge outpouring of concern and support on that page and other social media sites started up shortly after word of the crash spread through El Reno.
The community has rallied around the families hit by the tragedy. Sunday evening, a prayer vigil was held at First Christian Church. Tara Dew, youth director at First Christian, has set up a fund for Karson Baker at El Reno’s Bank of Commerce. Deposits should be made to “Tara Dew for Benefit of Karson Baker” and can be taken to the bank, located at 220 S. Bickford Ave.
A memorial fund has also been established for Jesse Gorbet at the Rock Island Credit Union.
“This is a small community and we love our kids,” McVay said. “El Reno Public Schools extends loving thoughts and prayers to all of our students and their families.
“Please know we value each and every one in our school, and as such, are focusing on providing support for each other,” he said.
McVay said the community has been hit hard by this tragedy and he and his staff will do everything they can to help the community heal.
“Counselors are available for our kids right now,” he said. “Something like this affects everyone.
“Our administration and staff are tuned into the needs of our kids and we will be available now and for as long as necessary,” the superintendent said.
Others in the community who are reaching out to the families, McVay said.
“The El Reno Ministerial Alliance, El Reno First Baptist Church and The First Christian Church have held or are holding events for the kids to help them heal through this tragedy,” he said.
The accident came at a difficult time for El Reno schools. McVay said he was on his way to a funeral for a spouse of an El Reno teacher who lost her husband on Friday. Also, another EHS student, Kali Daly, was involved in what McVay said was a “horrific accident” Friday evening.
The superintendent said Daly is also being treated at OU Medical. He said the senior was new to EHS this semester. McVay said he and Matt Goucher, assistant superintendent, plan to visit her later Wednesday.
“We had been walking by her room at OU trauma and didn’t even know it,” McVay said.
In even more tragedy for the school, Susan Veenker, a longtime EHS foreign language teacher, died Tuesday. Veenker had been injured in a traffic accident in late January.
Students had rallied around her, raising funds to help with medical expenses.
Funeral services for Gorbet will be at 3 p.m. Friday at Jenks Simmons Field House. A memorial fund has been established in his name at the Rock Island Credit Union in El Reno. Services for Baker and Veenker are pending.
By Traci Chapman
Oklahoma aviator Pearl Carter Scott now has a permanent place at the state Capitol.
A portrait of Scott, one of the country’s youngest pilots and a former Chickasaw legislator, was unveiled Wednesday in the Oklahoma House of Representatives. The portrait, painted by Oklahoma artist Christopher Nick, was a gift of the Chickasaw Nation, Gov. Bill Anoatubby and Rep. Ray McCarter.
Although Scott lived and died long ago and never lived in Canadian County, her story has still touched the area. In October 2008, cast and crew of the independent film “Pearl” traveled to the county, shooting scenes in Yukon and El Reno, at that city’s airpark. The movie’s flight scenes were filmed at the airpark with vintage planes loaned to the production. During filming in El Reno, several local extras worked on “Pearl,” including Dane Holland and Evan Goeringer.
The movie won a “Best of Show” award at the 2009 Indie Fest.
Sponsored by the Chickasaw Nation, the film depicts the life of Pearl Carter Scott, a Marlow native who was the youngest person to ever earn a commercial pilot’s license. At the age of 14, after meeting Wiley Post, the young girl turned her love of flying into a profession, appearing in air shows and working as a stunt pilot across the country.
Scott was a unique woman, far beyond her time, line producer Amy Briede said. Born in 1915, she was one of only three people allowed by Post to fly his signature plane, the Winnie Mae. The two maintained a friendship until Post’s death in 1935, Briede said.
Scott was a woman of many “firsts,” Briede said. Scott’s mother, Lucy Carter, was an original enrollee of the Chickasaw Nation. Scott returned to those roots in 1972, when she became one of the tribe’s first community health representatives. In 1983, she also embodied another first when she became the first woman elected to the Chickasaw Nation Legislature, serving three terms before her retirement.
Scott was inducted in the Oklahoma Aviation Hall of Fame in 1995 and the Chickasaw Nation Hall of Fame. She died in Oklahoma in 2005 at the age of 89 years.
“Pearl,” like its subject, also claimed a first as the inaugural film to qualify for the Oklahoma Film Enhancement Rebate Program. The program offers a rebate of up to 37 percent on expenditures made by a production company during filming in the state, as long as at least $25,000 is spent in Oklahoma. Other local filmmakers, like Mustang’s Jeff Robison, have taken advantage of the tax credit to make films in the state.
“Pearl’s” producers used several sites throughout the state, including Guthrie, Macomb and the Harn Homestead in Oklahoma. Briede said El Reno’s airport was “perfect” for the production because of its grass landing strip and the surrounding rural landscape.
“The airport was perfect, and the buildings were also great for the time period. We also had a wonderful experience with the airpark and the entire community, so it made the filming a wonderful experience for all of us,” she said.
The Indie honor is not “Pearl’s” first. In March, the film was selected for screening during the American Film Institute Dallas International Film Festival.
By Traci Chapman
Crews are busy on concrete and steel work as they look to a December completion date for Mustang’s St. Anthony Healthplex.
Darin Miller with Miller Neff Development said Tuesday the 80,000-square-foot building was on track. With a target completing date of Dec. 15, officials hoped to open the complex in early 2015, Miller said.
Located at state Highway 152 and Sara Road, the healthplex will include a full-service emergency room, diagnostic imaging, breast center and suites for medical procedures. A second floor will house primary care and specialist physicians with St. Anthony Physicians Group, and additional space will be available for commercial lease, officials said.
Mustang’s complex will look similar to projects built by Miller Neff in east and south Oklahoma City, Miller said. His firm has worked with St. Anthony’s for several years but just became involved with the firm’s healthplex construction about five years ago, he said.
The healthplex design differs from traditional medical and hospital accommodations, Miller said.
“It gives a feeling more of a hotel than a clinical setting,” he said. “It really is a very updated kind of design, compared to an ordinary medical office or emergency room.”
The healthplex will be operated by SSM Health Care Oklahoma, which administers all of St. Anthony’s operations. The project was the culmination of several months of discussion and negotiation between SSM and Mustang city officials, they said.
“We have enjoyed working in collaboration with the visionary city officials in Mustang to develop a medical campus model that will provide accessible health care with attention to high levels of customer service to the community,” SSM regional president Joe Hodges said last year.
For their part, Mustang officials said they were excited about the services the healthplex would offer and appreciated the smooth progress of construction.
“A facility of this nature will have a significant impact on the quality of life and Mustang’s economy,” Mayor Jay Adams said. “It’s a very positive development for all of us.”
Miller and his partner, David Neff, worked from design stage to development on the project, and Jason Givens has worked as project manager for Miller Architects on the healthplex. Once concrete and steel work is complete, crews will turn next to the building’s plumbing and electrical components.
“For us it’s a project moving through its phases, but for the people in Mustang, the important thing to know is everything is going as planned,” Miller said.
By Traci Chapman
Mustang residents who have suffered the loss of their home will now have the opportunity to stay on their property while repairs are completed.
The city ordinance change goes into immediate effect, thanks to a unanimous vote by city council Feb. 18. The new ordinance allows a resident who has suffered significant damage – such as fire, storm or other issues – to stay in temporary housing on their property while repairs or replacement of the original home are completed.
Ordinance No.1100 allows residents to permit a travel trailer for a limited amount of time, which would allow them to stay on their property – something that could help residents both financially and emotionally, City Manager Tim Rooney said.
The ordinance came about after Ward 6 Councilman Donal Mount was approached by Dale and Kim Duncan, whose house was damaged in a January fire. The couple attempted to stay in a travel trailer on their property, then learned it was against Mustang ordinances.
“These people are hurting and need some help,” Mount said. “I see a real need for something like this.”
Rooney said his staff and City Attorney Jonathan Miller looked at ordinances in Piedmont and El Reno. Robert Coleman, Mustang community development director, said El Reno passed a similar ordinance after a structure fire.
In the past, Mustang residents had to go through the city Board of Adjustment to put a travel trailer on their property.
“That can take a lot of time,” Rooney said.
Temporary occupancy permits are valid for up to a year, and city officials may extend the permit another six months, if needed. City council must approve any extension beyond that time, to a maximum of two years. Residents must fill out an application and provide site plans, photos of the travel trailer and a statement stating residents intend to rebuild a permanent home on the site, Miller said.
While the ordinance includes RVs, travel trailers – such as fifth-wheels and pop-up campers – it does not include mobile homes, the city attorney said.
The ordinance, which was passed with an emergency clause allowing it to go into effect immediately, would help people who need help after a disaster.
“This is a good thing, it’s a way for people to remain with their home and oversee the rebuilding effort, as well as defraying the expense of having to stay somewhere else,” Mayor Jay Adams said last week. “It’s difficult enough to deal with a situation like this – whether it’s a tornado, a fire or anything else like that.
“It’s good that we can help give our citizens some relief,” he said.
By Traci Chapman
Work is going on behind the scenes to find an independent water source in Canadian County.
That was the word last week, when members of Central Oklahoma Water Resources Authority met to discuss the status of the organization’s Phase II – negotiating with landowners for test well sites, officials said.
Seeking to help member cities – Mustang, Yukon, El Reno, Okarche and Calumet – become water independent, COWRA officials said a $425,000 plan to locate sites for testing was on track. All of those municipalities, as well as Canadian County, take part in the water-hunting effort.
Phase II is a nine-step plan, which organizers hope will culminate in locating the well with the smallest level of salt in local water. Members have been studying the feasibility of treating the brackish water, rather than continue the dependence of many members on Oklahoma City for water. A source of water about 800 feet deep contains enough water to supply Canadian County for 100 years, some have said.
The first necessary step was to determine the test well location and then which of those wells was the most promising, Karl Stickley with Oklahoma City-based Guernsey said. The engineering and architectural firm was hired by COWRA and has worked with the organization’s consultant, Shawn Lepard, to move the project forward.
“This is the first step, and it’s an important one,” Stickley said. “Everything we do from here depends on this.”
Test wells have been proposed along SW 29th Street on the eastern border of the county, as well as a fourth well just west of U.S. Highway 81 between Union City and El Reno, Lepard said.
Being at Oklahoma City’s “mercy” for water gives local officials an uncomfortable feeling.
“What happens to us and the other towns if Oklahoma City decides it needs all its water,” El Reno City Manager Tony Rivera said recently.
“This is our effort to do something today that will help the county for years to come,” Yukon City Manager Grayson Bottom said.
Should the plan proceed to its conclusion, officials estimated the brackish water treatment plant could run between $60 million to $100 million to construct. An updated report concerning well site negotiations was expected at COWRA’s next regular meeting, scheduled for March 21.
By Traci Chapman
A lot of warm hearts heated up a cold event last weekend to help Mustang’s special athletes.
The annual Polar Plunge, held at Whitewater Bay, brings together a disparate collection of people from very different places across the area, but each had a similar goal – to help others.
Those kids are Mustang’s special education students, many of whom compete in Oklahoma Special Olympics. Juniors and seniors in Greg Oswald’s SAS class – Students Assisting Students – spend time with and help those in special education, giving them a link to the rest of the school’s student body, plungers said.
“We love them,” Ashton Evans said.
That led the group to the Polar Plunge, an annual Special Olympics fundraiser. Held at locations throughout the country, in Oklahoma City the event was held last Saturday at Whitewater Bay. Plungers came from several schools, joined by members of law enforcement and individuals who wanted to lend a hand. All plunged into the 40-degree water to help raise funds and awareness for Special Olympians.
“It’s a great experience,” Oswald said. “I am so proud of all of these kids and how they’ve worked to help their fellow students, both in and out of the classroom.”
Mustang students were not alone in their representation of the community. Police Chief Chuck Foley took a dip in his second plunge, sporting a Duck Dynasty motif and raising about $1,100 in the process. His goal was $1,000, and he collected $775 last year, he said.
“I was never able to take part in the Polar Plunge until last year,” Foley said. “It was a chilly experience, but there’s so much festivity going on, it’s just a great, great thing.
“We have several Special Olympians in Canadian County and particularly in the Mustang School District,” the chief said. “I want to do this for them, to help raise money and also to support them in their efforts.”
Those Special Olympians do a lot more than compete in the games, their champions said. While jumping into a cold pool to raise funds would be both fun and rewarding, it was nothing compared to their interactions with their friends in special education, she said.
“They are definitely amazing – they take for granted things we do without thinking every day,” Alexa Elders said. “They change your life.”
By Traci Chapman
Nineteen years ago, Camie McNeil joined Mustang Police Department.
Last week, the veteran detective was named American Legion Post 353’s Outstanding Police Officer of 2014, an award her boss, fellow officers and people throughout the community said was very well-deserved.
“Camie consistently maintains empathy for crime victims while methodically investigating offenses of all types,” Mustang Police Chief Chuck Foley said. “McNeil has traditionally been the primary investigator in crimes against children and sexual assault victims.”
In addition to her case duties, McNeil has taken a lead role in communication relations for the department, including Shop with a Cop, begun in 2011 as a partnership with Yukon Police Department and last year expanded to include Mustang students, Foley said. She also was assigned the task of meeting with local media about cases, arrests and other police activity, he said.
It was September 2011 when a case that demanded all of her skills as an investigator and communicator would thrust Mustang Police Department – and specifically McNeil – into the national spotlight. For McNeil, it would not only be a challenge as a detective, but it would also extend into her personal life, because she knew both the victim and the woman who would be accused of killing him.
It was the night of Sept. 20, 2011, when McNeil was called to the home of former Mustang City Councilman and Nichols Hills Fire Chief Keith Bryan. The Mustang man had been shot by an intruder, his wife, Rebecca Bryan, said. It was a difficult case from the start because McNeil knew the Bryans from church. It became more so as the investigation quickly took a turn detectives didn’t expect. Working with Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents, McNeil learned things were not as they seemed in the Bryans’ marriage.
“Camie’s tasks included coordination of investigative and forensic tasks and conducting interviews of witnesses and involved persons over an extended period of time with OSBI team members, who had joined the investigation at its inception,” Foley said.
Although Rebecca Bryan said an intruder entered the couple’s home and shot her husband, evidence found in the Bryans’ dryer – including the gun, shell casings, a glove and a blanket – cast doubt on her story. McNeil was tasked with interviewing Rebecca Bryan, collecting evidence and working a high-profile case which would garner national interest.
“Now challenged with what was likely the biggest case in her career, Camie had to act on behalf of the deceased, innocent victim Chief Keith Bryan, who deserved the best investigation possible,” Foley said. “Detective McNeil was not only willing to accept this challenge but overcame all obstacles based on the eventual, successful outcome of the case.”
It was McNeil’s testimony in Rebecca Bryan’s preliminary hearing that gave many people, including the Bryans’ friends and even some family members, a completely different picture of the Mustang woman. The work leading up to that testimony continued for months, while McNeil also served as the department’s only detective on other cases running through it, Foley said.
“Not only did McNeil have to deal with the death of someone she knew, she was forced into considering someone else she knew as the prime suspect in the homicide,” the chief said. “This just enhanced the pressure of investigating a high profile crime with a lot of local and national media attention along with the responsibilities of being a wife and mother.”
It was McNeil’s hard work, her ability to work seamlessly with OSBI agents and get to the truth of the matter – no matter how difficult – that helped prosecutors obtain a conviction of Rebecca Bryan on May 21, 2013, Canadian County District Attorney Michael Fields said. The verdict was a victory for prosecutors and law enforcement, many of whom knew Keith Bryan, as well as the Bryan family and his many friends, the district attorney said.
“Camie McNeil’s work in the Bryan case exemplified professionalism, diligence, and a willingness to go above and beyond the call of duty,” Fields stated in a Tuesday email. “The citizens of Mustang and the state of Oklahoma are well served by her desire to seek the truth and pursue justice.”
“We are proud of Detective McNeil and congratulate her on the award,” City Manager Tim Rooney said Tuesday. “It’s always gratifying when a member of our staff is recognized for the great work they do.”
While McNeil’s accomplishments in the Bryan case were known to many, it was the quality of her work, day in and day out, that really set her apart, Foley said.
“We as a department are very lucky to have a person of Camie McNeil’s caliber,” the chief said. “She is an outstanding detective, a top-notch investigator and a great person.”
By Traci Chapman
A former Mustang Centennial Elementary PTA president last week plead guilty to embezzling more than $900 from that organization.
Jennifer Marie Young, 32, entered a guilty plea stemming from two felony counts – one each of embezzlement and forgery – filed in Canadian County District Court in August 2013. According to court documents, Young used PTA checks for her own use, paying her personal wireless, electric and water accounts, as well as more than $147 for tanning membership fees.
“She later assumed the duties of treasurer of that organization as well,” stated Mustang detective Michael Adams in an Aug. 16, 2013, affidavit. “In November 2011, she used the funds from a previous bank to open a checking account in the name of CEPTA at a new bank.
“The defendant made herself the sole signer to this account,” he said.
State and national Parent Teacher Association guidelines mandate the position of treasurer be maintained separately from any other officer, and checks should be signed by more than one person. While Young’s actions were against PTA rules, no further action against the Mustang woman was expected, officials said.
Young was sentenced by Canadian County Special Judge Jack McCurdy to a one-year suspended jail sentence, as well as supervised probation, restitution and court costs and fines.
The guilty plea was not the first time Young admitted to embezzlement. In a December 2011 case, the Mustang woman was charged with six felony counts in connection with her employment as property manager at East Hills Condos. Young was accused in that case of taking more than $3,600.
On Aug. 22, 2013, Assistant District Attorney Austin Murrey filed an application requesting the court issue an arrest warrant for Young due to the new charges and her alleged failure to report to a probation officer and pay restitution and probation fees monthly, as required by her plea in the 2011 case.
By Rex Hogan
Canadian County commissioners took “a first step” Tuesday to find out what can be done to help build a new fairgrounds that would include a modern multi-purpose event center. The proposed new fairgrounds could be located on county-owned land, just east of the Gary E. Miller Children’s Justice Center on state Highway 66. The site is just west of Banner Road, about halfway between Yukon and El Reno.
Mustang businessman Ken Carpenter, chairman of the Fair Board Building Committee, told commissioners at their regular weekly meeting that the time is right for the county to have a first-class “revenue-raising” events center.
Carpenter said the current fairgrounds in El Reno was created in the 1950s and is not adequate to accommodate events.
The Fair Board Building Committee is proposing a 5,000-seat multi-purpose event center be built on the 160-acre state Highway 66 site. Carpenter said such a center could host a number of events, from high school graduations to agriculture events and sporting events.
Commission Chairman Phil Carson said the county is in need of a center like this. He pointed out Garfield and Grady counties have event centers that host an array of events.
El Reno Mayor Matt White said the idea needs more study.
“I’m not here to pick a fight, but I’m disappointed in the process. I don’t know where you’re posting meeting notices, I haven’t seen one,” White said. “No one has talked to us (the city) and we want to be part of the process. It just seems to me there’s a lot of loose ends.”
Fair Board Building Committee member Dan Wedman of Calumet said the committee “hasn’t talked to any city. We’re not trying to run around you. We’re not operating in a veil of secrecy,” Wedman said.
Commissioner David Anderson recommended county financial advisers be brought into the discussion to help determine the scope of the project.