Top stories of 2016 feature crime, natural disaster, bond vote


ABILENE, Texas - Plenty of stories grabbed our attention in 2016, from crime, to natural disaster, to a multi-million dollar bond package. Here is a look at the top five stories of 2016 in chronological order.

The year started off with a tragedy that shocked our community: the murder of a newborn.

"It's sickening, that's what it is really, sickening to hear something like that," said Dorothy Underwood, a neighbor. "I just can't believe somebody could do it."

Amber Craker and Damian Scott Cate are accused of murdering their infant daughter shortly after Craker gave birth Jan. 18 in their south Abilene home. According to the arrest report, Craker told police she "caused obvious injuries" to her newborn and hid the body in a trash can. The autopsy showed the baby was stabbed multiple times in the neck and chest. Craker and Cate are both charged with the baby's murder. Cate is out on bail, and his trial is tentatively scheduled for Jan. 23. Craker is being held at the Taylor County Jail after spending time at a mental health facility in Vernon. Her trial is tentatively scheduled for March 13.

Memorial Day, May 30, overnight flooding turned deadly in Breckenridge. One person was killed and dozens had to be rescued. We caught up with John Glenn, who said it was his aunt who died after getting swept away in a truck.

"She was a good woman, nice sweet lady, loved kids," Glenn said.

State Highway 6, near Cisco, was cut in half after raging flood waters tore through the pavement. The Red Cross said more than 70 people were displaced from their homes.

We checked with TxDOT for an update. A spokesperson said the Highway 6 bridge is expected to be back open to traffic by the end of January.

The morning of July 16, 55-year old corrections officer Marianne Johnson was found unresponsive near the kitchen at the French Robertson Prison Unit. She was later pronounced dead.

"I want them to be held accountable," said Leni Atkinson, Johnson's sister. "Marianne was 5'4" and 90 pounds, and she was left alone, and there's more the the story that's being told."

Atkinson said sources at the prison told her even though the prison was on lockdown, 21-year-old Dillion Gage Compton was still allowed to work in the kitchen with Johnson alone. Compton is accused of killing her. The Texas Department of Criminal Justice confirmed an assistant warden was suspended for seven days and put on probation for four months. The TDCJ also recommended the dismissal of a corrections officer and two food service managers. We checked with the TDCJ about potential charges against Compton. A spokesperson said investigators with the Office of the Inspector General are continuing to gather evidence.

October 11, the murder trial began for Phillip and Violet Walter. The couple stood trial at the same time for the murder of Abilene police officer Don Allen. Allen's body was found bound in his Clyde home August 31 of 2015. Evidence and testimony presented showed the Walters met Allen through a post Allen made on Craigslist seeking what many on the stand called "high-risk sex." Both Phillip and Violet Walter were found guilty and sentenced to 40 years in prison for murder, robbery and theft of a firearm.

In November, Taylor County voters passed a $55 million bond package for improvements to the Taylor County Expo Center. The measure passed with 72 percent of the vote. Taylor County Expo Center General Manager Rochelle Johnson said the Expo Center is in desperate need of repairs, and those improvements will allow them to attract twice the amount of entertainment to Abilene.

"I think we're going to be able to see Abilene grow as we see the Expo Center grow," Johnson said. It will mean a property tax increase of five-and-a-half cents on every $100 a home is worth. If you own a $100,000 home, you'll pay up to an additional $55 in property taxes a year.

Johnson said construction should begin after the fair and rodeo in the fall of 2017.

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