Top Stories of the Decade, Vol. II

Left: Lady ‘Hounds Softball Team 2015 Center: Former District Attorney Armando R. Villalobos Right: SBCISD Administration Building


Last week, the San Benito News published five of the top ten stories of the 2010’s in honor of the new decade’s arrival. Here is a look back at the top five stories whose influence reverberated across the Resaca City, unraveling our city’s own complicated challenges as we witnessed history in the making.

5. Lady ’Hounds softball continues excellence
Known as the “Premier Softball Program in the Rio Grande Valley,” the San Benito Lady ’Hounds affirmed that statement by making the Valley’s first-ever appearance at the UIL State Softball Tournament in Austin in 2013. San Benito was already the only softball team to reach the Elite 8 in 2011. Players like Amber Jasso, Jackie Elizondo, Dina Treviño, Jav’ana Gonzalez, Kim Harper, Mel Ramirez, Dorothy Millan and others became not just household names, but Valley sports legends in the process.
Then in 2015, the girls advanced to the State Final Four tournament for the second time in three years. Behind All-Valley Female Athlete of the Year Crystal Castillo, San Benito bulldozed the competition on their way to their 5th consecutive district title.
Their continued excellence brought together San Benito residents during times of strife in the local political climate, as Lady ’Hounds’ fans traveled hours to fill stadiums and cheer for the purple and gold.

4. Ricky Treviño incident causes turmoil
One of our most covered issues the late 2010’s, Ricky Treviño III’s fatal shooting at the hands of San Benito Police on Dec. 7, 2018 sparked community outrage while officials remained tight-lipped throughout much of 2019. The issue brought intense media attention to the city, including from out-of-state journalists, as questions remained unanswered on the events of the Dec. 7, 2018. A nine-month criminal investigation by the Texas Rangers ensued while residents filled in the blanks into the nature of the incident, which had been streamed on Facebook live and recorded by Treviño himself during the chase. Little by little answers surfaced, including the names of the five SBPD officers involved. The grand jury determined that the officers were justified in their use of deadly force, which resulted in four police officers firing 31 rounds.

3. Villalobos convicted
On May 24, 2013, former Cameron County District Attorney and 2012 Congressional candidate Armando R. Villalobos was convicted of racketeering, conspiracy to commit racketeering, and five counts of extortion.
The trial and conviction of Villalobos exposed networks and patterns of corruption in the Cameron County legal system, as the case was part of an ongoing high-profile FBI investigation into said corruption.
Prosecutors said Villalobos bribed former State District Judge Abel Limas and accepted bribes from attorneys in a cash-for-court favors scam. Among the accusations was that Villalobos received an $80,000 kickback in a scheme that ended in convicted murderer Amit Livingston escaping imprisonment.
U.S. District Judge Andrew S. Hanen sentenced the former district attorney to 156 months (13 years) in federal prison and three months of probation on Feb. 11, 2014. Villalobos was also ordered to pay $339,000 in restitution.

2. Water Treatment Plant No. 2 closes
The City of San Benito’s $17 million Water Treatment Plant No. 2 was closed in 2014, resulting in total dependence upon its original Water Treatment Plant No. 1 to supply water to residents. A study conducted by Lou Portillo and Associates PLLC, and Coym, Rehmet & Gutierrez Engineering LP stated that Plant No. 2 “never operated efficiently except in the early months of operation.” In 2014, the city filed a lawsuit against the engineering and construction companies seeking damages to repair the water treatment plant. The city sued Evoqua, formerly Siemens Corporation, and other companies for negligence, negligent misrepresentation, fraud, breach of warranty, breach of contract and violating the Deceptive Trade Practices Act.
On Dec. 5, 2017, the city settled a lawsuit and in November 2018, a pilot study was submitted to the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality.
In Oct. 4, 2019, the pilot study was reviewed and approved with Evoqua, which continues to work with the city to restore production of the water plant.
City officials said they are waiting for approval of that study from TCEQ.

1. Michael Vargas resigns
Speaking from a local perspective, it is hard to forget a case in which a county judge had to intervene in order to remove a sitting elected official.
At around 2 a.m. on July 5, former SBCISD school board president Michael Anthony Vargas, 32, was arrested after he was found allegedly “sleeping behind the wheel of a black passenger vehicle,” according to a Harlingen police report.
The news eventually followed Vargas into two court proceedings: the first for his driving while intoxicated charge and the second following a group of San Benito residents who filed a petition for his removal on Sept. 24, 2019. The latter eventually led to judge Manuel Banales’s decision of temporarily removing Vargas from his position as board president on Dec. 13, 2019.
Shortly after Banales’s decision, however, Vargas decided to resign from his position on the school board. The board accepted his resignation days later.

Editor’s note: This article has been edited for length. To read the full story, click here or make sure to grab a copy of the Jan. 10-16, 2020 issue of the NEWS.

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