Thursday, June 4, 2009

Firefighters Battle Condo Fire in Galveston


A 5-alarm fire raged through a 164-unit condominium complex on Galveston Island, destroying more than one third of the building.

It happened Wednesday afternoon at the Maravilla Condominiums, located at Seawall Boulevard near Cove View Blvd.

It had been shut down for more than 8 months because of Hurricane Ike, and started to reopen two months ago. Just when residents were beginning to return the fire happened.

Jim Young had just driven his wife, Darlene, six hours from Irving, excited to show her all the work he had put into their vacation condo at the Maravilla on the Seawall.

Their hearts quickly dropped when they saw what's left of the beautiful oceanfront complex. It was still burning when they arrived.

"I had put furniture in so she could come enjoy it and she didn't even get to see it," said Jim Young.

"It's pretty sad," said Darlene Young. "We had the storm, our units had been broken into twice, and now this."

More than 100 firefighters struggled for more than four hours to contain the fire. They say they encountered too many problems.

"The wind did shift on us," said Galveston Fire Chief Michael Varela. "On the west side of the structure we had no area that we could place the apparatus and the main body of the fire were on the west side of the structure."

Water shortage and low water pressure were also a problem until they figured out how to pump from a nearby pond.

In the end, at least 60 of the newly renovated units were destroyed.

A firewall prevented the blaze from spreading further.

"Our homeowners and our board are fantastic," said Cathie Bach, HOA Secretary. "We'll be back better than ever. My heart goes out to the 60 folks who lost everything."

Among them, Jim and Darlene Young, who unfortunately didn't renew their homeowners insurance when it failed to pay after Ike.

"After five years, it didn't pay anything," said Jim. "Why would I want to renew it. Will it cover the fire? Probably not."

Investigators believe the fire ignited when workers were welding and cutting into the walls. They say the fire quickly spread through the walls, into the ceiling, then the attic.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Are Online Degrees Worth the Work?


With the unemployment rate continuing to rise and thousands of local graduates entering the workforce each year, what's on your resume is more important than ever. But when it comes to education, how do online degrees compare the traditional degrees at a large university or college? 39 News ask recruiters just how they feel about both.

"We treat those the same as long as that university is accredited," said Marilyn Grant, a recruiter for the pipeline company, TransCanada. She goes through hundreds of resumes each year.

"The stereotype is not as negative as it has been in the past. Many people are opting to take the online route."

Headhunter, Kathie Forney agrees. Her firm, I-Focus, located in the Galleria, finds qualified workers for several major companies and they say there is no bias against online schools.

"The people who go there work hard, usually a day job and then night classes," said Forney. "And they get a much more practical education… a lot of my clients feel that way."

And that's just what Christina Grochett wants to hear.

"We have nearly 2500 corporate partners," said Grochett, who is Vice President of the University of Houston South Texas Region. "They set us apart I believe because people are saying, not only do they have the education… but they have the work experience."

Grochett says business is booming for her college.

"I think the University of Phoenix always have a misconception," said Grochett. "We are the largest private university in the country… and we have over 390,000 students."

Pets Hit Hard by Economy


In tough economic times, it seems more and more families have to make the hard decision to give up their pets. Just search and you'll find many dogs and cats looking to be re-homed, because their owners have either lost their jobs or their homes.

"There has been many people who give their pets up to the SPCA and their numbers fluctuate," said Meera Nandlal, a spokesperson for the Houston SPCA. From January 2008 to March 2009, the Houston SPCA says nearly a thousand unwanted pets have been dropped off by owners citing "they just can't afford them".

This increasing trend has pet lover Phil Waldrop disturbed.

"They are not that expensive," said Waldrop. "Just some dog food and some water, but that's a personal choice. We're not giving up our pets. We're keeping them at whatever cost."

The Heights resident had rescued two bloodhounds, named Rickey and Sunset, from the racetrack. Just two months ago, he lost his job as a construction supervisor. Added to that, Rickey got seriously ill.

"He had cancer and had to have a kidney removed," said Phil Waldrop. "It was about $8000 plus he still goes to chemo. Every week or so it's another $200 to $1000. It's hard to come up with that money, but we find a way to do it because you love your pet."

"Maybe you have lost your job," said Nandlal. "There is help and you can come to the Houston SPCA."

Animal experts there, say they can direct pet owners to low-cost spay and neuter facilities as well as educate people on how to put their pets on a budget. Their hope is to keep Houston's furry friends together with their forever families.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Breaking News: Three Dead after SWAT Standoff in League City


39 news is first to bring you breaking news of a deadly SWAT scene in League City. Police say three people are dead in the home located on Chinaberry Park Lane. According to investigators and neighbors, a man in his 20s shot and killed his parents and then killed himself. The gunman's 18-year-old brother escaped along with a younger sister. Neighbors are trying to make sense of the ordeal and say that the family was well liked.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Lakewood Church Celebrates Golden Anniversary

America's largest church celebrated a major milestone on Mother's Day. It turned 50 years old.

On May 10th, 1959, Lakewood Church held it's first service in Houston, and that same year, moved into an old feed barn. There were less than 100 members led by the late John Osteen.

"We felt all along and some of our people said that it should be a lighthouse to the world," said Virginia Ferguson, a founding Lakewood member. "And here we were... An insignificant group of people."

That group now includes tens of thousands of members.

"We made a decision that even if we grew to be a big church we would still keep that love that we had in the beginning," said Ruthie Dearman, a founding Lakewood member.

Joel Osteen took over in 1999 after his father passed away. In 2003 the church moved to the Compaq Center. The late pastor John Osteen had told his wife, one day he would be preaching at the Astrodome. Though it's not the Astrodome, one look at Lakewood Church and people will agree the pastor's son has fulfilled his father's dreams.

"I feel like my dad would be smiling on us today," said Pastor Joel Osteen, Lakewood Church. "He always imagined a place where people would be helped no matter their situation or what kind of background they came from."

The church was not without it's controversies and critics, but it also had its share of miracles. John's wife, who's turning 76 this year, was healed of liver cancer.

"I am thankful to be alive and thankful to the people who have stood with us all these years," said Dodi Osteen, the widow of the late Pastor John Osteen, and mother of Pastor Joel Osteen.

So what's in store for the next 50 years? Joel and Victoria Osteen say they hope their children will continue the Lakewood legacy.

"We just believe that all of the children will be a part of the ministry," said Victoria Osteen. "That they will find their place."

Lakewood Church boasts nearly 40,000 members to date.

Friday, May 8, 2009

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Gyms and Cable TV Thrive Despite Bad Economy

In a tough economy, many Houstonians are cutting back and they say cable TV and gym memberships are usually the first to go. But, surprisingly those companies are still reporting a rise in profits.

Marketing! Marketing! Marketing! That's what companies like 24 Hour Fitness and Comcast say are helping them not only retain their customers, but gain more during this recession.

"I'm actually watching and reviewing the pricing on my cable," said Rose Lopez. She is considering cutting some of her channels.

"We used to be members of the YMCA so we cut back on that," said Christina Matula. "I try to come out here, obviously it's free 27."

Matula is just one of many hitting public parks like the Memorial jogging trail to get a good free work out.

"The things that I found myself to be doing have been forgoing my gym membership to spending more time outside," said Kelly Crabb. "I'm not spray tanning anymore and just get some real sun. No Netflix, no cable."

And fearing this trend, companies are apparently offering better deals."I'm getting ready to switch because there are so many brochures of great introductory offers," said Albert Mare.

A Comcast spokesperson told channel 39, while its customers have been cutting out premium channels, most are keeping their service.

"We still have cable, we can't cut back on TV," said Christina Matula.

More popular now than ever, Comcast's economy bundle, which includes high speed Internet, home phone, and cable for less than $80.

Despite the recession, 24 Hour Fitness also says its memberships continue to rise every year.

The chain is drawing in more customers by offering better deals, zero initiation fees, and no penalty to cut your contract short if you lost your job.

Experts say customers have a lot more leverage now, so always negotiate.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Metro Officer Kills Suspect

Along a the busy main street jogging rail next to Rice University, a man lays dead after being shot to death by a Metro police officer.

Houston police, who are investigating the case, say it all started around 10:30 a.m. Tuesday at the Memorial Hermann Hospital light rail station. A woman flagged down a Metro motorcycle officer claiming an apparent transient or homeless man had assaulted her. But when the officer tried to confront him, detectives say the suspect took off on foot through a parking garage to Main street near University.

"The entire time, shouting at him, backing away, waving the knife that he got in a threatening manner," said Victor Senties, an HPD spokesman.

Detectives say the officer discharged his taser, but it had no effect. A second Metro officer arrived on scene, and also used his taser to no success. Police say it was when the man lunged closer to the officers that they had to use deadly force.

"The Metro officer in fear of his life, had his duty weapon drawn," said Senties. "The suspect lunges at him again and he fires an undetermined number of times, striking the suspect."

The man died at the scene. Police say an innocent bystander was also accidently shot in the upper arm. She was rushed to Ben Taub Hospital with non-life threatening injuries.

"We've never had an officer involved shooting where a suspect died as a result of the shooting since May 1st, 1982 when the Metro Police Department was established," said Chief Thomas Lambert. "We're glad no officers were injured. Now we will work them through this process and be supportive of them in this."

Pilot Makes Hard Landing in Downtown Houston

A Houston police helicopter on routine patrol takes a hard landing in midtown, and 39 News was first at the scene.

"We just had a catastrophic engine failure," said David Bateson, the HPD pilot who somehow managed to execute a very difficult and dramatic emergency landing using auto rotation.

He was able to save himself, a fellow pilot, and a Harris County Sheriff's deputy on board.

"When you're auto-rotating, basically you have no power going to rotor system and you're free-falling to the ground," said Sgt. L.W. Hromadka. "We train for that every three months, but it's simulated."

Within seconds after landing the chopper catches fire, but firefighters and fellow pilots quickly arrived to help.

Several witnesses say they heard a loud bang prior to seeing the helicopter drop 600 to 800 feet from the sky.

"It was pretty shocking," said one witness.

They say they saw the blue chopper come down over some rooftops at a steep angle and land hard on an empty lot.

"If there houses here," said Kevin Copeland, a witness. "He would have landed on something. It's a good thing there was a field here."

Now this pilot, who has well over 20 years of experience, is being called a hero.

"He came down really fast, really hard, but when he landed, he did a perfect landing," said Robby Hudson, another witness. "He did an excellent job."

"He handled it very well, took care of the bird, and he couldn't have done a better job," said Lt. Kenneth Campbell.

HPD says the chopper is one of its older model, which had logged more than 20,000 flight hours.

The department says the aircraft will be repaired and back in service soon.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Swine Flu Fears Flood Emergency Rooms

The swine flu outbreak has local hospital emergency rooms inundated with patients according to local health officials.

"We are seeing roughly a third more patients a day than we might normally see in our emergency department," said Dr. Brent King of Memorial Hermann Hospital. "It can be attributed to people who are concerned that they may have this infection."

Now called the H1N1 Flu the deadly virus has been fueling fear of a major epidemic. Doctors say patients who are unnecessarily flooding the ER are creating major backlogs for other patients who really need emergency care.

Patients are being advised to call their family doctor first if they need to be tested for the H1N1 virus or stay home to avoid spreading the infection. Doctors say only take children to the ER if they experience fast breathing, have bluish or gray skin, are not waking up, have flu-like symptoms that improve, but then return with a fever and worse cough, or have a fever with a rash. Adults who should go to the ER are those who haves difficulty breathing, chest or abdomen pain, are feeling dizzy or confused, and are experiencing persistent vomiting.

"There are patients in our community who tested positive, but most of the cases have been relatively minor," said Dr. King.

Fort Bend County Murder Mystery

Who killed 32 year-old Rosalyn Harmon and why? Police and neighbors want to know. She was found shot to death inside her Rosharon home about 10 miles southeast of Missouri City on Saturday.

"According to a neighbor, there were gunshots heard at the home at 11:30pm May 1st," said Chief Craig Brady, Fort Bend Co. Sheriff's Office. "That person heard a vehicle leave, but did not see a vehicle."

Francis Waterhouse is the neighbor called 911 after seeing Harmon's front door ajar.

"I saw the door had been kicked in and water was running from under the garage and out of the front door," said Waterhouse.

Police say a bullet had penetrated a water pipe.

"There was some evidence the house was ransacked 20 but there were many valuables left out at plain sight," said Chief Brady. "So robbery or theft does not appear to be the motive."

Neighbors and police describe the victim as a hardworking paralegal, who's also a divorce. They say she has a 10 year-old child who lives out of state with his biological father. They say she lived by herself and that the killer is someone she likely knew. Police say there appeared to be no sign of a struggle.

They say there are no suspects or persons of interest in this case. They are passing out flyers hoping to find more information.There is a $5,000 reward leading to an arrest.

Anyone with information is urged to call Fort Bend County Crime Stoppers at 281-342-TIPS. All calls are anonymous.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

New Online Adventure

Honestly, I am not tech-savvy. Just when I got Myspace figured out, everybody is now on Facebook. Now, I'm just barely starting on Twitter and Blogspot. It's a start of a new adventure.