Editor’s Note: This is part of a five-day series featuring 10 of the biggest stories of the year. Today’s story features No. 10 and No. 9.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story did not list the producers of the Paris Fire Department's video.
The Paris Fire Department experienced a banner year in 2018. Not only did the department send some of its own to help battle deadly wildfires in California, but it created a viral video sensation that earned local firefighters a fan.
In answering a challenge by the Paris Police Department to create its own lip-sync challenge video, the Paris Fire Department became an internet sensation as its video, co-produced by eParisExtra.com, Broadway and Jeff Davis, was watched more than 1 million times. The video was then featured on various news outlets such as Star-Telegram of Fort Worth and New York City’s Huffington Post.
Among the watchers of that video was 3-year-old Daelynn Bitzer from Northern California.
“After she continued watching the video every day, I only wanted to reach out to the Paris Fire Department to let them know they inspired a little 3-year-old from California with their video,” said Daelynn’s mom, Shauna Bitzer. “Then, just the other week, Daelynn got to open a special package from your fire department with a little hat and shirt. She was so excited and made sure we knew what each firefighter looked like as they signed the hat with their character from the video. Cade Oates as Sparky was the clear front-runner favorite, but she loves them all.”
Daelynn’s fanship was a heartwarming way to end a year that saw two of the fire department’s own head to California to fight deadly wildfires. Capt. Matt Barbee and firefighter Corey Parks left Paris at 5:30 a.m. Nov 12 for Amarillo for assignment to a team before deploying to California. McKinney Fire Department firefighter Quincy Blount and Allen Fire Department firefighter Michael Fox also deployed.
Initially expected to be on assignment through Thanksgiving, the firefighters returned home unharmed just in time for the holiday.
Lamar County saw the conclusion of two high-profile court cases in 2018.
The first case, involving Donald Jack Robertson, who once landed on the Texas Top 10 Fugitive list, wrapped up in February when a jury of nine women and three men found him guilty of sexual abuse crimes against two children.
Robertson received a total of 108 years in prison for his crimes after he was sentenced to 60 years for a first-degree felony count of continuous sexual abuse of a child and 12 years on each of four additional charges. According to state law, Robertson is not eligible for parole for those 60 years.
Sixth District Judge Wesley Tidwell had the option of making the sentences run concurrently or consecutively. He opted to stack the sentences.
After witness impact statements, and mindful of the probable appeal, Tidwell said, “I have to watch my words. Crimes such as this, behavior like this ... preying upon children will never be tolerated in Lamar County.”
Later in the day, Lamar County Assistant District Attorney Jill Drake echoed the judge’s thoughts.
“The jury took their job seriously and sent a clear message to sex offenders in Lamar County that this behavior will not be tolerated,” Drake said.
The second high-profile case came to a close Dec. 19 when Asa Eli-Silvy Coker pleaded guilty to the brutal murder of 30-year-old Jason Payne.
Coker, 20, was sentenced by Tidwell to 50 years in prison.
“The 50 years is never enough, but it was time to move on so we can put this behind us,” Joshua Payne, the victims’ brother said.
On Sept. 24, 2017, Coker called 911 shortly after 3 a.m. and turned himself in, according to a statement released at the time by then Paris Police Lt. John Berry. When police arrived in the 1000 block of 16th Street NE, officers reported Payne’s body was found in his bedroom and Coker was taken into custody without incident. Police said Coker claimed the killing was done in self-defense.
Coker’s sentence was part of a plea bargain reached between Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young, the Payne family and Coker.
“After discussing the various advantages and disadvantages of trying this case, including a long appellate process, the Payne family was in agreement to plead Mr. Coker to 50 years in prison,” Lamar County District Attorney Gary Young said, “While he will certainly be eligible for parole after serving 25 years, it has been my experience that the vast majority of violent offenders of this nature serve closer to 75 to 80 percent of their sentence before parole.”