Case stems from Sept. 21 incident

Mauricio Julian Cuellar Jr., Alice Echo-News Journal

A local resident's attempt at a good deed may lead to punishment if charges of illegal dumping are found to be true in court.

An illegal dumping case against Alice ISD Place 4 candidate David Johnson was continued Wednesday because he and Jim Wells County Attorney Jesusa Sanchez-Vera were unable to meet to discuss the facts of the case.

Johnson contends he was told the case would be dismissed. Instead, a future court date will be set on the charges that stem from a Sept. 21 incident.

During his arraignment earlier this year, Johnson pleaded not guilty to the charges.

"I have the facts and files here at the office, but I didn't have an opportunity to talk with him before hand, so I did not object to the continuance," Sanchez-Vera said. The Sept. 21 incident was reported by Jim Wells County Abatement officer Hector Zertuche.

According to his report, Zertuche responded to a call concerning a pile of treated lumber on County Road 247. As he neared the location, Zertuche noticed smoke in the vicinity of south County Road 247. When he reached the location, the pile of lumber was on fire, and the grass surrounding the area was wet.

A black pick-up truck drove up to the scene, and the rear bed of the vehicle was loaded with old lumber, Zertuche said. The truck drove up slowly to the fire and drove past the fire. Zertuche said he then followed the truck and made a traffic stop. He said the driver, identified as Johnson, acknowledged he piled the lumber and set it on fire because he was cleaning CR 247, which is near his residence.

"Mr. Johnson stated he picked up the lumber on the road and was doing a public service by piling it up and burning it," Zertuche said in the report.

Zertuche said he asked Johnson to dispose of the remaining lumber at the landfill.

"I told Mr. Johnson that it was against the law to dump lumber on the public right-of-way and also against the law to burn treated lumber and asphalt shingles as the type that was burning in the pile," he said.

Zertuche said he had driven CR 247 earlier in the day and had not seen any lumber. He also said county workers had cleaned the area three weeks prior to the incident.

Johnson said after speaking with County Judge L. Arnoldo Saenz on the issue, he was told the case would be dismissed. He admitted to burning trash on the road leading up to his residence, but he said he couldn't recall the contents of that trash.

"I was doing a pubic service by picking up that trash. Usually the county comes by to clean it up, but it was lying around, and I decided to clean it up myself," Johnson said.

He said when he first received the citation, he presented Saenz with pictures of the trash. During his arraignment, after he pleaded not guilty, he said he was never told that a trial date would be coming up.

"This is news to me, I don't know if it is politically motivated," he said. "I'm not concerned about it because the judge knows what he told me and I know what the judge told me, and even up until recently, the judge told me what would take place."

Saenz said he met with Johnson, but denied he said he would dismiss the case.

"No, I told him we would look into it. There must have been some misunderstanding. We will proceed with the case and see what we can do," Saenz said.