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Dallas journalist says he, son were threatened by horseman; Harrison County Sheriff's Office disputes account

A Dallas man says he was driving a country road in his native Harrison County a couple of weekends ago when he found himself in stare-down with another man on a horse.

Retired Dallas Morning News columnist James Ragland describes what happened the evening of Aug. 4 on Floyd Evans Road almost like a Western movie but says the local sheriff doesn’t appear to be coming to the rescue.

Ragland has since posted about the incident on social media.

On Monday, Harrison County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy B.J. Fletcher issued a statement, saying that his agency monitors social media but doesn’t respond to allegations on social media.

“This office investigates all criminal complaints or allegations that could put our citizens in danger. If a criminal complaint is substantiated, it would then be referred to the correct court of jurisdiction,” according to the statement.

Ragland said Monday that the sheriff’s statement “is misleading and mischaracterizes not only what occurred on Aug. 4, but the conversations I had with authorities that night and subsequently.” Ragland also said that he’s taking the matter to state and federal authorities.

Ragland said he was driving down Floyd Evans Road near Elysian Fields — his hometown — in a rental car with California license plates shortly after 5:30 p.m. that Sunday. Also in the vehicle were Ragland’s 10-year-old son Judah and his son’s 12-year-old cousin.

They noticed three people along the road, but then one of the men motioned his horse into the middle of the road, Ragland said.

“I was really slow as we approached them,” Ragland said, and the horseman walked toward the vehicle on his horse, coming to a dead stop about 10 yards from the car’s hood.

The man stared into the car, then led his horse to the driver’s side window and stopped, he said.

“When I rolled the window down to see what he wanted, … I looked up at him, and he was glaring at me, and he said not a word,” Ragland said. Ragland tried breaking the ice, telling the man, “Nice horse,” but Ragland said the man responded, “Thank you, but these are Texas roads.”

“I said, ‘Sorry?’ and he said, ‘These are Texas roads.’ I said back to him, ‘I know. I’m from Texas,’ and he said, ‘Your car has California plates,’” Ragland said.

After the horseman seemed to reach down and said a third time that “These are Texas roads,” Ragland said he started to drive away.

The man “didn’t follow us. He just sat there and glared at us as he walked away,” Ragland said.

After dropping the 12-year-old off at a relative’s home and visiting for almost a half-hour, Ragland said he and his son made their way back down Floyd Evans Road, only to find that the horseman was waiting for them.

During the second encounter, Ragland feared at one point that the horseman was reaching for a weapon, but he, instead, produced a loosely rolled-up rope that Ragland described as a noose, he said. At one point, Ragland stopped his car, stood up and took photos of the man holding the rope before driving back to Dallas and then calling Harrison County law enforcement.

“When (the horseman) saw me standing outside the car, he came to a stop in front of a house and held a rope up, and he was yelling something that I couldn’t hear,” Ragland said. “I just took the pictures and climbed back into the car, and we drove away. I then told my son that I needed to report, and he was in tears and just wanted to go home, meaning back to Dallas, and so I made the decision that I didn’t want to traumatize him any further.”

That night, Ragland talked with a Harrison County sheriff’s deputy who said he would question the man, he said. Ragland asked for an update from the deputy and said that he wanted a copy of the incident report.

Ragland said Friday that he didn’t get a return call until Wednesday, after he grew impatient and posted about the incident on Facebook and Twitter, encouraging people to share the posts and call the sheriff’s office.

That’s when Lt. Floyd Duncan called and accused Ragland of harassing the sheriff’s office, he said.

“His tone was very much, ‘You can’t just say stuff on Facebook,’” Ragland said of the conversation. Ragland said Duncan “started talking about the guy has a wife and kids and that he was scared he may lose his job. … With all due respect, I’m the victim here.”

Ragland, who also worked for the Washington Post, has attracted more than a 1,000 comments on Facebook posts about the incident.

On Friday, Lt. Jay Webb referred questions about the incident to Fletcher, but Webb said Ragland’s accounts about his dealings with the sheriff’s office were inaccurate.

“There is a 180-degree difference between our side of it and his side of it,” Webb said. “This is turning into something that is very sensitive and very inflammatory and could be a very interesting turn of events.”

As for Ragland’s claims that the man was holding a noose, Webb said, “The man is training a horse. He has a lariat and not a noose.”

According to the agency’s statement Monday, Harrison County Sheriff’s Office received a call at about 8:20 p.m. Aug. 4 from “a complainant” who said that a man on horseback stopped him on Floyd Evans Road “telling him to slow down. After an exchange of words, the complainant drove away. The complainant later drove back by the location and stated the person on horseback chased him with a rope. The complainant advised that he did not wish to file a ‘bad report’ but wanted to make us aware of what had happened.”

Capt. Duncan contacted “the alleged actor” and asked him to come to the sheriff’s office to talk about the alleged events, and that during an interview Duncan addressed the man about stopping traffic on a county road and instructed him to call authorities with any speeding complaints, according to the sheriff’s office.

“Capt. Duncan concluded after talking with both (Ragland) and (the man) that no threats of bodily injury or racial slurs were voiced from either complainant or actor,” the sheriff’s office said in its statement. “There are no charges to be filed in this case due to stated offenses that occurred would have to be witnessed(sp.) by a (law enforcement) officer. The issue of stopping cars for speeding or any other matters have been addressed.”

Ragland said that there were witnesses — his son and his great nephew who were in the rental car with him.

“At no point did the person who twice threatened me and my son utter a word about speeding, and for good reason — I wasn’t speeding,” Ragland said.

A woman who answered a phone line belonging to the horseman hung up the phone when a reporter identified himself on Friday.

“I wouldn’t be able to live with myself if he did this to someone else and it escalated beyond what happened to us,” Ragland said. “The only agenda I have … is to use whatever resources I have to make sure people are safe on that road and make sure that people like him aren’t allowed to get away with what he did.”

Wine grape quality above average despite challenges in Texas vineyards

The 2019 growing season bestowed blessing and curse for Texas vineyards, with a challenging growing year culminating in lower yields but the promise of exceptional wines from Texas wine grapes.

Early harvest varieties in Northeast Texas are bearing out the forecast of high-quality 2019 fruit.

“This season has been the tale of two extremes for most producers,” said Michael Cook, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension viticulture program special in Denton. “We had an exceptionally wet spring from the Gulf Coast to Hill Country and High Plains over to North Texas. Ample rains started in the fall and didn’t stop. All that rain was a blessing and a curse.”

Vines emerged uniformly at bud break due to consistent rains, he said, but strong, steady growth required more management of vines. Moisture also meant more intense disease pressure from fungal pathogens, including black rot and downy mildew.

“(Mold) was a major threat to producers who were not steadfast in their proactive management strategies,” Cook said. “But I think most producers were prepared and adapted to the disease pressure.”

Brianna Hoge, AgriLife Extension viticulture specialist in Fredricksburg, said Hill Country vineyards also dealt with a full array of bacterial and fungal issues.

“Some producers maybe sprayed a little late, but it’s definitely been a busy season,” she said. “Disease pressure kept everyone on their toes.”

In most vineyards across the state, Cook said, lower-than-normal yields are due to late April storms that impacted fruit set during bloom.

“The wind, rain and cloudy days slightly reduced fruit set at that critical time,” he said. “Vineyards in the High Plains are expecting higher yields because their vines were not in full bloom when those storms were occurring.”

Hoge said Hill Country grape yields were similarly low but berry weights could make up for reduced fruit sets. The weather also meant vines required less thinning.

Despite slight losses, Cook said vineyards along the Gulf Coast and Northeast Texas have reported high-quality grapes from their earlier harvest varieties. Hoge said Hill Country grape quality was expected to be exceptional.

“The reduced fruit set meant vines could put more energy into each berry,” she said. “The rain and cooler temperatures also kept pH levels below 4, which is good, and brix levels — the sugar content in grapes — were good overall.”

Also in the blessing and curse department: Soil leaching from heavy rains benefited and detracted from vine production, Cook said. Sodium leaching boosted vines but producers had to be more attentive to nitrogen management.

Then, in the past several weeks, a new set of challenges emerged as Mother Nature switched gears from deluge to drought.

“Drought conditions in late season from such a wet fall and spring caught some producers off guard,” Cook said. “Vines were living the good life early in the season and now the ground is cracking, temperatures are searing and vines are responding to the added stress.”

But Texas’ long growing season should allow producers enough time to harvest and maintain irrigation levels to help vines recover from dry conditions and store ample energy in their roots and trunks for the winter months.

Despite challenges, both Hoge and Cook used the word “excited” when talking about the potential 2019 wines.

“We’re all excited about the quality of the fruit coming into the wineries to be crushed,” Cook said. “It was a challenging year, but it looks to be another good season for Texas vineyards.”

One last chance: Marshall's city pool closes for the season Friday

The Sam Birmingham City Pool, managed by the Boys & Girls Club of the Big Pines, is closing its doors on Friday — so those looking for a fun way to escape the blazing summer heat should throw on their suits and head on over before the splashes are gone.

The pool’s hours this week are from 3 to 7 p.m., and the cost is $2 per person per swim session.

All children under 12 years old must be accompanied by a person 17 years or older.

Temperatures will not see much of a respite this week, with a heat advisory still in effect today for the Marshall/Harrison County area, according to the National Weather Service in Shreveport.

“An upper level heat ridge will remain in place across the Four State Region through the early part of the work week,” the heat advisory said. “High temperatures will continue to approach triple digits with heat index values ranging from 105 to 110 degrees. Expect very limited relief overnight with lows into the upper 70s to around 80 degrees.”

The NWS is predicting a high today of about 100 degrees, with heat index values as high as 107 degrees.

Wednesday will see about a 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms early, then partly sunny skies, with a high near 94 degrees. Heat index values on Wednesday will be as high as 106 degrees, the NWS predicts.

Thursday will be sunny and hot with a high near 95 degrees and another heat advisory in effect. Friday and Saturday will see more of the same with a high near 96 and 95 degrees, respectively.

Sunday will see mostly sunny skies and more hot temps, with a high near 96 degrees, and Monday will see a 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms early before the sun returns with more hot temps and a high near 97 degrees.

“Take extra precautions if you work or spend time outside,” the heat advisory said. “When possible, reschedule strenuous activities to early morning or evening. Know the signs and symptoms of heat exhaustion and heat stroke, such as a sudden lack of perspiration. Wear lightweight and loose fitting clothing when possible and drink plenty of water.”

Marshall firefighters battle early morning blaze

From Staff Reports

Marshall firefighters spent the early hours of Monday morning battling two structure fires in Marshall.

“At 2:35 a.m., Marshall fire units were called to a structure fire at the 800 block of Howard street,” Marshall Fire Chief Reggie Cooper said Monday. “Upon arrival, the house was fully engulfed in flames.“

Cooper said the flames from the empty home soon touched another nearby uninhabited home.

“An already dangerous situation was intensified by arcing power lines and another home very near,“ he said. “Fire crews did an outstanding job given the circumstances. The house next to the initial incident sustained fire damage.”

Cooper said fires such as this present unique challenges to firefighters.

“In scenarios such as this, you’re dealing with several factors of trying to balance the safety of both fire personnel and citizens,” he said. “There was a search of both premises and luckily, no one appeared to be occupying either of the structures.”

No injuries were reported and the fire is currently under investigation.