84° F Friday, July 28, 2017

By Cindy Taylor

Lake Travis Fire Rescue

Leadership Lake Travis Class 004

The Leadership Lake Travis 004 class looks forward to each month’s team day with anticipation and the high expectations were well warranted.

On Nov. 8, the Law Enforcement and Government Affairs Day team really outdid themselves. Team Leader was Jason Zbranek of Zbranek & Holt Custom Homes, and little did we know what he was up to that morning at Lakeway Resort and Spa. The committee for the day consisted of Nathan Button of Barker Roofing and Sheet Metal Inc., Jille Dorler of Body Balance Lakeway, Amber Hart of Keller Williams Realty, volunteer Jean Hennagin and Tom Siddons of Keller Williams Realty.

Resort marketing manager Erin Randell welcomed the class and gave a brief overview of the facility. The group also attentively listened to “Mr. Positive,” Jim Gentil, and one of the most positive remarks I came away with from his motivational dialogue was, “Who you are makes a difference to somebody.”

Also during breakfast, Lakeway Police Department Evidence Technician Edgar Smith gave an intriguing presentation about Lakeway’s “CSI” procedures. Smith corroborates a victim’s testimony, clears the innocent, allows for checks and balances and frees up Lakeway Police Department detectives and officers for other calls. His main mission at a crime scene is “what, where, when, how and who.” He commented that CSI is not the real world, and DNA analysis can take up to six months. Edgar also said his greatest evidence tool is the cell phone … just a warning. After walking out the front entrance of the resort, little did we know we were walking past a “crime scene” and had just been given tools by Edgar to help us through our mission that day.

Many of us missed the quarrel between Lake Travis Chamber Chair-Elect Steve Zbranek and Steering Leadership Chair Phyllis Campos, a Lake Travis Chamber Board member and general manager of Lakeway-West Lake Community Impact News. And the Lakeway PD sirens and lights came in blaring and flashing as we cluelessly walked past the evidence. So our Leadership Lake Travis Class 004 Murder Mystery began. Maybe we should have listened closer to Edgar at breakfast.

Class 004 meandered down to the dry boat ramps at the resort and hopped into pontoon boats to travel a short distance to the Lakeway Marina. During the cruise everyone just looked up in dismay at the banks of Lake Travis and where the water level used to be.

Janet Caylor, owner of Lakeway and Riviera marinas, spoke to the classmates and everyone was somewhat shocked by her informative talk, but I think most already knew this was in the forecast for the future of Lake Travis businesses and property owners.

Caylor addressed the audience passionately about the drought and what is to come in the not too near future. And by the way, she is a retired Wall Street aficionado, but has a passion for the lake business and property owners. It isn’t about being able to ski; it is about having drinking water.

She spoke about the 2003 and 2010 Water Management Plans, and she helped negotiate the new plan. She mentioned that the dispute for water is between the rice farmers and the multitude that pay for their drinking water at a higher cost and wonder if it will still be there for them.

Caylor said that the Highland Lakes and Colorado River is for flood control and water supply for more than a million Texans. She is now a member of the Central Texas Water Coalition pleading for the Lower Colorado River Authority to implement a continuance on their emergency drought plan, which is about to expire. As I write this, the LCRA Board did not act as many organizations in the Lake Travis basin have asked them to do including Lake Travis Chamber of Commerce, Lakeway City Council and the Travis County Commissioners Court, among many other organizations.

The class was so moved that a large percentage signed the petition letter for Caylor to deliver to LCRA, especially when they heard that LCRA would still let water go downstream at 590-foot level.

Some very interesting facts from Caylor were that rice farmers’ first drain on Lake Travis was in 1963 and the boating season was at a record low in 1964. Caylor says she pays $50,000 to LCRA for each of her marina permits per year. And by the way, all forecasts are that we are in for a record drought of all droughts! If weather trends continue, and LCRA does send water to the rice farmers in 2013, we will be able to walk across Lake Travis like property owners did in the 1950s.

My group’s next information session at the marina was with Travis County Sheriff’s Department Lake Patrol officers Keith Kunz and Kim Richards. They have three boats with six officers with two boats on the water at all times. They also have a dive team for underwater recovery, along with their new tool – the Otter submersible. They mentioned that when the lake level is low they find automobiles and anchors along with a lot of other interesting items. The officers said that lake fatalities average about 10 to 13 deaths a year. They patrol from Mansfield Dam to Starcke Dam.

LCRA Cpl. Chatt Cottle spoke to our group next. He said LCRA focuses on Boating While Intoxicated calls and partners with Texas Parks and Wildlife and Travis County lake patrols. He mentioned that Devil’s Cove is the premier spot on Lake Travis for partying, and that is where the majority of the accidents and drownings occur.

Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens Jeff Hill and Chris Sanchez spoke to us next and said they specialize in the Texas Water Safety Code during the summer season. They check vessels for safety gear and tags. The officers also ensure that boaters show no signs of alcohol or drug impairment. They perform the float test when they have signs that a driver is intoxicated. Designated operators are common these days, but they will also investigate drivers of autos emerging from the boat at the ramp.

We all boarded the bus to head to the Oak Hill Fire Department Training Center for demonstrations by my employer, Lake Travis Fire Rescue. On our way there, the Murder Mystery envelopes were handed out for four teams to read the LPD reports on the murder of our own Steve Zbranek.Was it his son, Jason? Or did Jason have an accomplice? Or did he just slip on the hot tub water? Why was Phyllis’ car parked by the body in a non-parking zone?

My team headed to the back of the bus and was in a forensic fury looking over the reports, evidence and photos. When we arrived at the fire training facility, Lake Travis Fire Rescue Assistant Fire Chief Robert Abbott greeted Class 004. Abbott, a graduate of Leadership Lake Travis Class 002, set up demonstrations for the four teams.

LTFR Battalion Chief of EMS Scott Fernandes’ station included a display and explanation of all the EMS equipment that all engines, fire prevention staff and the chief officers carry in their automobiles. The most interesting moment for my group was when he brought forth the baby blankets used during an emergency birth.

The next station was attended by LTFR Assistant Chief of Prevention John Durham, Lt. Brandon Blount and Wildland Fire Mitigation Specialist Adam Griggs, along with the first ever Wildland Fire Mitigation Hand Crew in Texas – the Lone Star Hand Crew.

Durham talked about the department’s wildland urban interface mitigation efforts.

Bee Cave Station 603 crew Lt. Brian Quinlan, firefighter Billy Threet and firefighter Joel Niemeyer, staffed another demonstration. Quinlan went over the logistics, operation and maintenance costs of the engine on display.

Last, but not least, Battalion Chief Preston Jacobi and Lt. Ben Sanders gave a live demonstration on different sizes of water hoses and breaking into an industrial building with no windows using a Halligan tool and axe. They had hands-on exercises for the class.

We boarded the bus again and the fervent Murder Mystery discussions ensued. The Yellow team was unwavering in the idea that they had the murder solved. We landed at Verde’s on Hamilton Pool Road for lunch, and the murder investigation continued at our group’s lunch table.

Next, Travis County Precinct 3 Commissioner Karen Huber spoke to the audience who were very appreciative for her attendance. She spoke about the Travis County 2013 budget and since this was Law Enforcement Day, she reinforced her decision that the Travis County Sheriff’s Office should receive an overall $11 million raise. County law enforcement employees went without a raise for five years. She said their compensation needed to be competitive with the Austin Police Department.

Well, finally the Yellow team got to speak to Edgar, the LPD evidence specialist, to view and collect evidence discovered at the Murder Mystery Breakfast. We obtained cell phone text message reports, background criminal checks, fingerprint and murder object reports and more. We also got to view the evidence collected at the scene.

My group then heard a presentation from the Lakeway Municipal Court Judge Kevin Madison. He is also the presiding judge in Horseshoe Bay and Johnson City. His background includes being a police officer for four years and the chief of police of Smithville near my hometown of La Grange. His philosophy in the courtroom is giving citizens who deserve it a second chance, except when it comes to domestic violence and animal cruelty. He also dismissed the urban legend of Lakeway having a traffic ticket quota to fill every month.

Next we heard from Lakeway Police Department Officer Steve Howell who spoke on animal control and deer management. The city of Lakeway mandates that domesticated dogs and cats need to be registered with the city and they accept the three-year rabies shot certificate. He said that after a pet owner receives three tickets for vicious animal behavior on the behalf of their pet, the animal would have to be surrendered. Lakeway is trying to implement a 6-foot leash law instead of the 16-foot leash rule. Howell reported that 60 percent of all Lakeway’s police calls are dog related.

He then moved onto deer management in the city. Howell said that Lakeway traps more deer than any other entity in Texas. They must follow the Trap, Transport and Process Rule. Deer no longer can be transported and released at another location. Once the animals are processed, the venison is taken to the Austin Homeless Shelter.

Our group moved on to receive a presentation from Lt. Vicente Montez of Bee Cave Police Department. Montez handed out graphic pictures of vehicle collisions (non-fatality) that have occurred in his jurisdiction – mainly on Texas 71 West near Vail Divide. He mentioned that Bee Cave police hand out traffic tickets which of 50 percent are warnings and 50 percent are citations. He said that the department only gets to keep 15 percent of the citation revenue. Montez stressed that everyone pass on the message to be a safe driver. The department’s officers who work a vehicular fatality are the same ones who have to notify the victims’ families.

Last, but not least, our group got to talk with Lakeway Police Chief Todd Radford and Lt. Ken Farr. Radford has been in the police force for 25 years and taught anti-terrorism strategy and tactics at Texas A&M University. He has been with Lakeway Police Department for six years. He said that his department is considered a medium-sized department with 30 full-time and three part-time officers. His staff handled 21,000 calls with 12,000 of those being traffic-related but only 36 percent received citations. He reported that 48,000 motorists drive along RM 620 through Lakeway every day, but in 2012, there have been no fatalities as of yet.

Radford said he has an aggressive law enforcement philosophy because he deeply cares for the community that he serves. He believes that keeping a community safe is a 50-50 partnership between the residents and his department.

Class 004 boarded the bus to head back to the Lakeway Resort and Spa and continued their detective work on who was the Mystery Murderer. My group, in our perspective, came up with the most “creative” crime scene story, but when we jumped off the bus and headed to Josie’s Bar at the resort we found out we didn’t quite have the right scenario. And can you believe our own Lake Travis Chamber President Laura Mitchell decided to murder the Chamber Chair-Elect?

Well, it was stimulating fictitious fun as all Murder Mystery events are and we all had a great laugh when our own Steve Zbranek walked into Josie’s and said “I’m back!” with a huge Texan grin on his face.
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  1. Now that’s not the sit-n-get training experience most of us are used to. What an exciting time for everyone involved with this training event, and creative thinking to boot!
    Cindy Taylor did a delightfully entertaining job of explaining a training day that was filled with crime solving excitement and information. I love her statement about the lakes being for water to drink, not just jet skiing! Then mentioning the drought of the 1950’s, that my father still talks about today, where people walked across the lake.
    Well written piece. :-)

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