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Officials here say the new health clinic operated by the University of Texas Health Rio Grande Valley is just the beginning of a renaissance.

The eight-patient-room clinic opened for patients more than two months ago, and the town and the university will host an official grand opening on Wednesday at the clinic at 723 Santa Isabel Boulevard.

“We are under-served here, so it’s not just a health care issue for this community,” City Manger Rolando Vela said last week. “The fact that we’re located remotely from Harlingen, and San Benito, Brownsville, they have hospitals and a lot of clinics. It’s also a development issue. We have a high percentage of retirees, people in their 60s and 70s, and they just can’t readily drive 30 minutes.”

The medical clinic had been operated privately but the physician running the facility closed it and it was vacant for more than a year.

So Vela said the town and its 3,000 inhabitants went to work to entice the university to take over and operate the facility.

“We told the interim medical school dean, we happen to have a vacant clinic, the doctor was there less than a year, with eight waiting rooms,” Vela said. “All you have to do is put up your logo, turn on the electricity, hook up the Internet and you’re in.”

To make the property more attractive and to satisfy some of UTRGV’s concerns, the town agreed to put up $125,000 to enhance the clinic and to subsidize the first three years of the lease for about $84,000. After that, the clinic will be on its own, Vela said, and medical school officials have said they are in town long-term.

“It’s a win-win for everybody, it’s just a dream come true,” he said. “Since I’ve been here over nine years one of the things that was talked about is we need a clinic, and now it has become a reality.”

University jumped at chance

For UT Health RGV, it was an offer they couldn’t refuse.

Linda Nelson, senior director of clinical operations, said being presented with a turn-key situation like the existing clinic in Laguna Vista doesn’t come often.

“Actually they selected us, would be more like it,” she said. “They really wanted to expand services for their citizens in their community, and also surrounding communities, but particularly their community.”

Nelson said establishing the clinic in Laguna Vista isn’t part of any strategic plan to establish a UT Health RGV presence in smaller communities, but it does fit under the broader umbrella of the school’s commitment to improving the health of all Valley residents.

The new clinic offers urgent or acute care treatment, treatment of chronic conditions, school and sports physicals, immunizations, flu shots and is establishing preventive health programs.

“I’m calling Wednesday a celebration,” she said of the planned clinic dedication. “It’s a grand opening but it’s a celebration of our partnership with the city and the university and UT Health RGV.”

Sales taxes, housing up

The town of Laguna Vista also has shown strongly positive retail sales numbers, as gauged by state sales tax allocations.

Outside of the South Padre Island Golf Club, where the owners have been investing heavily in the property, the town has little in the way of retail offerings.

Still, Vela notes the Office of the Texas Comptroller sales tax allocations have been far above last year, posting increases of 17.44 percent in April, 8.13 percent in May, 9.13 percent in June and 18.17 percent for July. All are year-over-year numbers.

Housing, too, is on the upswing in Laguna Vista. Since 2014, 75 new homes have been built, including 21 already this year.

“The first new subdivision was approved over a month ago by the council, and it’s going to be about 30 new residential lots,” Vela said.

Eco-tourism boost

Much of the economic development potential for the town lies along FM 100, which will be a key part of the second South Padre Island Causeway and provide a northern east-west corridor all the way to Hidalgo County.

Eco-tourism is where the real momentum is coming from these days.

Cameron County will site the South Texas Ecosystem Center on 23 acres in Laguna Vista along FM 100. The county-town partnership will build a new facility on 10 acres of the site.

“We just submitted a million-dollar grant application to the EDA (Economic Development Administration) to subsidize the infrastructure,” Vela said. “The county is investing $6 million, $7 million for the construction of this facility. We’re working with the county to leverage additional resources with those funds.”

Vela said the town sees the eco-tourism center as a catalyst for the entire FM 100 corridor.

“We’re going to be extending utilities from Stripes all the way to the end of the 23 acres west of it,” he said. “All of a sudden, property that currently doesn’t have water and sewer will have water and sewer.”

Vela said there has been interest among developers to build with mixed-use facilities in the area, including storefront properties, retail and apartments.

“We’re seeing this growth in new housing, the clinic here, the tourism center and you’re seeing the sales tax revenue increases,” Vela said.

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer

In a UTRGV Coastal Studies Lab classroom, three boys donned purple medical gloves yesterday as instructors from the Cameron County Parks Beach Patrol prepared to demonstrate how to perform chest compressions on rescue dummies.

Chief Art Hurtado told the students in the junior lifeguard program not to be afraid of pushing too hard against the sternum, and Lt. Jonathan Castillo said a popping sound would indicate they were pushing down far enough.

“If you don’t hear it, you’ll feel it,” Castillo said.

The boys had spent the past week learning lifesaving skills under the tutelage of the beach patrol. Gisela Montoya, coordinator of the junior lifeguard program, said the students learned about escaping rip currents, using rescue equipment and the different types of victims lifeguards might encounter. Many who participate in the program eventually go on to work for the beach patrol, she added.

“I was scared to dive because my sister told me there were a lot of sharks in the water, and that got in my head,” said Daniel Castro, 12, adding that he’s confident he can snorkel on his family’s upcoming vacation without fear. “I feel better now.”

For 13-year-old Jorge Albores, the best part of the camp so far has been learning how to escape a rip current.

Daniel Fiurro, 12, said he most enjoyed learning how to use rescue devices to help swimmers in distress.

“I feel more confident now,” he said.

Hurtado said the students also will have a chance to participate in track-and-field-style events during the United States Lifeguard Association’s competition next week on the Island. The goal of the junior lifeguard program is to prepare students to be “more water-savvy” and gain safety skills, like the basic life support certification on which they worked Thursday.

“We spot dangers in the water, but we want to stop it before it becomes an emergency,” he said.

It’s not far-fetched to think the students will put their skills into action, Hurtado said. Junior lifeguards and surf school parents have helped during rescues before, such as when adults assisted with the recovering of a drowned surfer two years ago.

Next, Montoya said the students will learn how to safely jump from the jetties to rescue people caught in the rip current.

The next session of the junior lifeguard program, aimed at children ages 10-16, begins July 23. Get more information at (956) 203-2313 or junior.lifeguard@co.cameron.tx.us.



In the latest sign of activity at SpaceX’s future launch site at Boca Chica Beach, a 95,000-gallon liquid oxygen tank was delivered to the site via flatbed trailer Wednesday afternoon.

The massive “LOX” tank, which can hold almost as much as 20 tanker trucks, will be fully installed later this year.

SpaceX spokesman Sean Pitt said it points to the company’s continuing progress in developing the Boca Chica site 24 miles east of Brownsville.

“Delivery of a new liquid oxygen tank, which will be used to support propellant-loading operations during launch and vehicle tests, represents the latest major piece of launch hardware to arrive at the site for installation,” he said.

In February, SpaceX CEO and lead designer Elon Musk said brief “hopper flights” of the company’s Big Falcon Rocket spacecraft component probably will take place at Boca Chica, possibly next year.

SpaceX is focusing on the development of the BFR to get the first humans to Mars, Musk’s ultimate goal, though it had originally planned to develop the smaller Falcon Heavy rockets for the purpose. The BFR rocket/spacecraft system will be built at a SpaceX facility at the Port of Los Angeles. Fully assembled, it is expected to stand 340 feet tall, according to the Los Angeles Times.

SpaceX is headquartered in Hawthorne, Calif., with launch facilities in California and Florida and a rocket engine testing facility in McGregor, Texas.

STEVE CLARK, Staff Writer


Los Fresnos is for the birders. Or at least, city leaders are betting it will be.

Val Champion, executive director of the Los Fresnos Area Chamber of Commerce, is working closely with Los Fresnos Community Development Corp. Liaison Desi Martinez to put the city on the birding community’s map.

The chamber added a birding section to its website about two months ago, created a map that shows birding sites within one hour of Los Fresnos, and is part of the Texas Birding brochure distributed to birders from around the globe who travel during the fall to the Rio Grande Valley, Champion said.

Los Fresnos wants to attract those visitors to stay and patronize the city’s RV parks, hotel, restaurants and beauty shops, and come back the following season, Champion said, and it’s positioned to do just that with its close proximity to the Laguna Atascosa National Wildlife Refuge.

“When they come to see the birds, they’ve got to stay somewhere, they’ve got to put gas somewhere, they’ve got to eat somewhere,” Champion said,” so it helps the entire economy of our community. Our effort is to help in any way we can … and expand this industry.”

A 2011 study by Texas A&M University concluded that nature tourism annually generates more than $300 million in the Rio Grande Valley, considered the No. 2 bird-watching destination in North America, and supports 4,407 full and part-time jobs. The region is home to nearly 500 bird species, according to the study.

“Mother Nature’s done well for us in the coastal area,” Martinez said. “Because we are a small community, we all participate as a big team to get more for our buck, more for our effort.”

Javi Gonzalez, a naturalist educator at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, said birding is one of the fastest-growing hobbies in the United States, and the region’s subtropical climate means the Valley has species that can’t be found elsewhere in the country. It’s home to two migratory routes that bring hundreds of species to the area, including birds like green jays and chachalacas.

“That’s a big incentive for them to take a trip here,” Gonzalez said of visiting birders. “The winter is exciting because the diversity doubles (when) the birds travel south here.”

He said the wetlands, woods and proximity to the coast make Los Fresnos an area with good potential for birders to spot a variety of species. Gonzalez hopes more awareness of the Valley’s unique birding sites will lead to creation and preservation of wildlife habitat.

Donna Bates. former director of the Inn at Chachalaca Bend, where she now volunteers, said the upscale bed-and-breakfast’s pristine 40 acres boasts 300-year-old plant growth that attracts sought-after birds. Birding enthusiasts from Texas and abroad have stayed there to check species off their life lists, and the sighting of a rare rose-throated becard drew visitors from England.

“We’re kind of the best-kept secret in the Valley, unfortunately,” she said of the inn.

Bates said an advantage of Los Fresnos is its central location to other birding sites like Estero Llano Grande State Park in Weslaco and Resaca De La Palma State Park & World Birding Center.

“You can drive down Arroyo Boulevard and see birds you won’t see anywhere else in the world,” she said.

Bates said birders who visit the inn tend to be retired and financially well-off. According to the Texas A&M University study, travelers surveyed about visiting Rio Grande Valley for nature tourism spent about $128 per day for each person in their party.

“This is what they want to do. They want to put it on their list, and Los Fresnos is right in the center of it,” Bates said.

Champion said the effort began to develop about two years ago when Texas Birding called to tell him a rare Amazon Kingfisher had been spotted near Los Fresnos. That led to a visit from a German birding magazine writer, followed by a nine-person delegation of birders from China to tour the area.

While Los Fresnos doesn’t have an industrial park or manufacturing operations, the city has experienced population growth because of its good schools and friendly suburban community, Champion said. The city expanded 11.3 percent from 2010 to 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, and stands at about 7,800 residents.

Birding is part of growing the cultural offerings of the city, Champion said. Los Fresnos already hosts a monthly Under the Stars artisan market, and it will start its run as the new home of the Narciso Martinez Conjunto Festival in October. Also, the city is part of a plan to extend Brownsville’s Historic Battlefield Trail to Los Fresnos.

Martinez said there’s still work to be done building local partnerships and getting Los Fresnos on the national radar for birders. The city is working with Brownsville, Laguna Vista and South Padre Island to promote the region, he said.

Champion said that if visiting birders spent their day in Los Fresnos but opted to stay in Weslaco, that would be just fine.

“We’re trying to make this easy to share with the rest of the world,” he said.


Sitting down in a swimsuit or summer shorts is a sure fire invitation to spill pocket change all over the surrounding area, so when I am beach detecting, I always run my detector around beach umbrella rental set-up sites.

Many of the dune crossovers in the town of South Padre Island have benches near the entrance leading to the beach. Run your detector around the base. Search the ground especially carefully behind the bench.
Pay particular attention to any cracks in the cement. Oftentimes, rain will wash valuables and trash alike into these concrete crevices. When cement is laid in sections, large gaps called expansion joints are left between the sections to allow them to naturally expand and contract without cracking. This is the perfect spot to hunt for valuables. Usually they’re relatively wide and deep so it’s a good idea to carry a sharp knife or digging tool.

One of my favorite Island hunting spots is the stretch of shore near the south jetties. You can access the beach anywhere within the city limits and walk south, but if you wish to drive a vehicle there, you must enter through a tollbooth at the entrance to Isla Blanca Park. This is an area that is used heavily year-round. I have seen bags full of jewelry, coins and other “treasures” that had been found there by a professional hunter who spends the latter part of the summer hunting the beaches of South Padre Island.

Where do all those overlooked coins and pieces of jewelry that fall in sidewalk gutters go when it rains? Storm drain outlets are often overlooked by the beginner. Eventually, all that water goes somewhere. Everything on the surface gets washed along with the rain water into the storm sewers. Once you locate the outflow, usually along a river, you’ll find an outcropping of cement that slants into a moving stream or washout area. These areas are best hunted as soon after a good gully washer as possible. I’ve heard of substantial finds in Austin and other places in the Hill Country.

Good luck, and please, carry a small bag to collect pop tops and other garbage. There’s nothing worse than throwing it back for the next guy!


On Monday, Attorney General Ken Paxton ruled it’s now illegal for cities to ban plastic bags. A letter was sent out to 11 cities in Texas. Brownsville, Laguna Vista and South Padre Island all received letters from Paxton’s office.

The cities were identified by the Texas Supreme Court as cities that have banned plastic bags. According to the letter from Paxton’s office, Texas Health and Safety code prohibits the banning of plastic bags.

The letter cited the Texas Supreme Court’s ruling in the case of the City of Laredo v. Laredo Merchants Association, saying that bag bans violate Texas law regarding waste disposal.

Brownsville City Manager Michael Lopez said the city wants to work with businesses to find other possible solutions, if the city’s ordinance is repealed.

“We think it does help the community. As you are aware we did it with the flooding, there’s always a concern about trash and we know the single use did have some contribution to that,” Lopez said. “To move forward, having more outreach with our vendors who participated to see if we can continue you that process with or without an ordinance.”

When CBS 4 reached out to South Padre Island city officials for comment, they sent the brief statement, ” We are in the process of reviewing the findings with our legal team.”

Lopez will present the ordinance to Brownsville City Commissioners on July 17. From there, they will decide whether or not to repeal the ordinance. The public will be allowed to speak their minds.

by Stephen Sealey

Island Mayor Pro Tem Paul Munarriz greeted the participants of the annual Independence Day parade by saying proudly on the bullhorn, “Good morning SPI and happy birthday America!”

Hundreds of American patriots from the Island, the Valley and around the country met early yesterday morning to celebrate the Fourth of July with a patriotic procession.

“This Fourth of July Parade has been around for several years and it just seems to grow every year,” said Keith Arnold, Island Convention and Visitors Bureau executive director. “It’s a good way for us to pay tribute to America and show patriotism.”

The patriotic march was like no other happening around the country. It started on the silky soft sands at the Gay Dawn city beach access point and ended at the Starlight beach access where everyone enjoyed bottles of water and watermelon donated by the Island CVS and Councilwoman Alita Bagley.

Many spectators watched comfortably on the edge of the shore near the ebb and flow of the Gulf’s water as the parade passed by. Many of them were also showing their patriotism by waiving U.S. flags, recording the parade with their phones and smiling as the more than 100 participants passed by.

Schlitterbahn Beach Waterpark employees led the American independence march as they waived many tall American flags in the air proudly.

This year’s parade marked the city’s ninth annual Fourth of July Parade headed up by the Parks and Recreation Committee and Keep SPI Beautiful.

Arnold said the parade not only involves the residents but people who are visiting the Island.

One Edinburg family visiting the Island attended the parade with the intention of being some of the many spectators but decided to take the patriotic trek together.

“It was nice and it was a good walk,” said Marla Hernandez of Edinburg. “With the different things going on with immigration this year and things like that — it’s good to remember we are very fortunate and lucky compared to the immigrants that are coming to our country.”

Marla walked in the parade with her husband Willie and two daughters.

“We thought we were going to watch the parade not be in it.”

The Hernandez family like many of the other parade participants waived U.S. flags in red, white and blue to show their patriotism.

“It’s a great event and it’s fun to be a part of,” Arnold said. “It’s good for the community, good for the area and nobody else has a beach like this to celebrate Independence Day.”



Experts on the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley sea turtle say this year won’t match 2017’s record nesting numbers in Texas.

But the second-best year on record since 1980 may be good enough.

As of a recent count, North Padre Island had recorded 141 turtle nests and South Padre Island 64. Last year’s 353 nests were a record for the state, although it doesn’t look like this summer’s totals will match it.

“We have to take the long view on this,” said Dr. Donna Shaver, chief of the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery at Padre Island National Seashore.

“We are excited that this year we’ve had as many as we’ve had and we haven’t slipped down below 200, which we could have.”

An annual survey of Kemp’s ridley nests along the Texas and Mexico gulf coasts that began in 1966 showed the number of nests growing each year. But then, following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010, the number of turtle nests dropped unexpectedly by more than one-third that year and remained below predicted levels until last year.

Jeff George is executive director of Sea Turtle Inc. on South Padre Island, and like Shaver and all who study the critically endangered Kemp’s ridley, he is keeping close watch on nesting numbers to determine the species’ recovery since the spill.

“In light of the decline after the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is the population beginning to show signs of recovery again?” he asked. “We had a record year last year and the big question was well, let’s see if we got two years in a row, or if it was just a blip.”

George concludes that while this season in both Texas and along Playa de Rancho Nuevo in Tamaulipas, Mexico, where 27,000 of the turtles nested last year, isn’t record-setting, it might be good enough.

“It’s not a record year, but it is certainly a respectable year,” George said. “It shows the population is showing good signs of beginning to recover.”

Nesting times longer

This year marks the 40th anniversary of bi-national recovery efforts for the Kemp’s ridley between the United States and Mexico, and Shaver said the Division of Sea Turtle Science and Recovery plans a celebration in July.

“This year was a big question mark,” she said. “The numbers are fluctuating up and down and it probably relates to the length in re-migration intervals that we have been documenting the last few years — 3.5 years to return rather than two years.”

Re-migration interval means the time it takes for an individual female Kemp’s ridley to return to the beach where she was born to lay her own eggs. Recent studies show longer periods between nesting events, and since the only way to estimate sea turtle populations is through counting nesting females, it’s a complicating factor for scientists trying to compile an accurate sea turtle census.

What’s causing longer nesting intervals isn’t known exactly, but possibilities focus on a change in the available food biomass for the turtles in the Gulf of Mexico. Some scientists think a decline in the blue crab — a favored food for Kemp’s ridleys — could be linked to the major oil spill of 2010.

Unlike the juvenile green sea turtles found in the Laguna Madre which are herbivores, eating algae and sea grass, Kemp’s ridleys are carnivorous, feeding on shrimp and shrimp bycatch, crabs, jellyfish and other invertebrates.

The spill and the resulting fallout on the food chain in the gulf could have disrupted turtle nesting, causing females to put off mating and nesting for a season or two.

Conservation efforts

George cites three factors in the ongoing recovery of Kemp’s ridley turtles in the gulf and other sea turtle species elsewhere.

One is that turtle conservation efforts over the past four decades are paying dividends. And two, sea turtle conservation and recovery is becoming a robust global effort.

“The third thing is that the fishing industry has bought into the fact that these are important species for their livelihood in the long run,” George said. “For example, the ridleys are important to the gulf ecosystem, and a healthy gulf ecosystem means there are more brown shrimp out there.”

The gulf diet of Kemp’s ridleys include “organisms that are natural prey (particularly crabs, dominated by the blue crab, C. sapidus), scavenged discarded bycatch from shrimp trawling, or organisms that feed on such bycatch,” notes a recently published study by scientists Shaver, Charles W. Caillouet Jr., Scott W. Raborn, Nathan F. Putman, Benny J. Gallaway and Katherine L. Mansfield.

Gulf shrimpers were mandated to add turtle excluder devices to their nets in the 1980s to keep ensnared turtles from drowning. They also now have equipment and nets which reduce bycatch of unwanted fish and other aquatic species.

By reducing unwanted bycatch, a highly praised conservation measure, shrimpers trawling in the gulf may have reduced a valuable buffet line of easy food that Kemp’s ridley sea turtles have learned to exploit.

Which raises the question of just how many Kemp’s ridley sea turtles can the gulf support?

How many are too many?

Low Kemp’s ridley nesting numbers from the oil spill year of 2010 to last year may be at least partially attributable to a declining “carrying capacity” for the species in the gulf.

That means the Kemp’s ridley could reach “peak turtle,” and despite being an endangered species with a vast Gulf of Mexico in which to swim, its particular habitat and food needs could put an upper limit on the species’ total number.

“Some people do ask, ‘well, when are we going to get to the point there’s just no room for anybody else?’” Shaver said. “And that, hypothetically, is something to be concerned about.”

“Some have hypothesized that the carrying capacity has been reduced,” she added.

“We don’t know,” she added. “And that’s another reason to study them over the long term, to try to gather information to understand that to see if perhaps that is a factor.”

Longer timeline needed

George acknowledges there are many questions and even mysteries surrounding sea turtles for which researchers have no answers.

How long do Kemp’s ridley turtles live? How many of them are out there?

“You have to remember we are only in the infancy of sea turtle conservation,” he said. “Rehabbing a few hundred turtles a year is a small benefit to the species, and releasing 10,000 babies a year is a small benefit to the species.

“Our niche, if you will, is public stewardship, getting these kids in the Rio Grande Valley involved, getting our tourists involved, one little change in their life at a time,” George said. “And that’s what I think Sea Turtle Inc. has done very well over the last 40 years.”

By RICK KELLEY Staff Writer


A bird positively ID’d in the guide is worth two in the sky.

Identifying coastal birds is the subject of a free seminar July 12 at the Harlingen Public Library at 410 ’76 Drive.

The two-hour event, which begins at 6 p.m., is sponsored by the Lower Rio Grande Valley Audubon Society.

“Improving Your Birding Skills” is one of a series of birding seminars sponsored by the Audubon Society chapter, said Sue Griffin, education chair of the Audubon chapter.

Javier Gonzalez, naturalist educator at the South Padre Island Birding and Nature Center, will deliver the lecture on resident species found on the Island and along the South Texas coast.

“I’m going to focus on residents and breeding birds of South Padre Island and the coast,” Gonzalez said. “Birds that people can see when they visit the Island in the summer.”

Gonzalez said the seminar will discuss shorebirds and other species along the coast, including some of their unique behaviors and habitat which can aid in correctly identifying a species.

Included will be least terns, black skimmers, roseate spoonbills, royal terns, black-necked stilts and more, he said.

The event is free and no registration is required. Gonzalez said there is no need to bring binoculars or other birding gear,

“Just bring a notepad,” he said.


Once officers caught wind of the lip-sync challenge that was spreading through Texas, they knew eventually it was going to be their turn to show off their skills in the squad car.

So when Santa Rosa Police Chief Ronnie Hernandez accepted the challenge from his lieutenant, they recorded their song “Bringing Sexy Back” in the department SUV.

And then Hernandez challenged Cameron County Precinct 5 Constable Eddie Solis over the phone.

“It was exciting,” Hernandez said. “It was just for fun.”

Police in Port Isabel, San Benito and Weslaco also have posted videos doing the Texas police lip-sync challenge. The most recent challenges went out to South Padre Island and Laguna Vista.

The challenges started in San Antonio, and department officers began challenging each other across Texas.

Solis said a San Antonio officer who made videos to entertain his friends was asked by the police department to make a video to help recruit new officers.

For one week, starting near the end of June, officers from departments across Texas began posting their lip-sync video and challenges.

Solis said after the challenges began surfacing on Facebook, he started receiving messages from his followers on Facebook that it was his turn to do the lip-sync challenge.

Many genres of music had been recorded by officers, including rock, rap, country and Tejano.

And last Sunday after church, Solis said he found the time and picked a song to lip-sync.

Little did he know his rendition of the Christian song “I Can Only Imagine” played by the band named Mercy Me would take off. During a span of 24 hours, his post on Facebook had more than 200,000 views.

On Tuesday his video had reached nearly half a million views, 10,000 likes and 14,000 thousand shares.

“There are some good videos, but I think a lot of people are going to be touched by mine,” Solis said.

His video has not spiked as more and more people are watching and sharing Solis’ lip-sync challenge.

He said since his video posted, he has received hundreds of friend requests on Facebook from all over the United Sates and Texas thanking him for his service and picking that particular song for the lip-sync challenge.

“I learned that song at a church retreat,” Solis said. “I did it for the man up stairs, and all my followers on Facebook.”

RAUL GARCIA, Staff Writer