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‘Closure and healing’: Sisters hope for proper goodbye after missing mother’s car found near Kilgore
  • Updated

Bittersweet. Overwhelming. Relief. These are some of the words used by Lita Walker and Frances Rodriguez when describing how they felt when they learned this past week that their missing mother’s vehicle had been found near Kilgore.

Rosemary Rodriguez was reported missing Oct. 8, 2019, a day after she was last seen leaving her boyfriend’s home on Mount Pisgah Road in the Kilgore area. She was 54.

On Thursday, her bright green 2014 Chevrolet Sonic was found in a wooded area off Mount Pisgah Road. The car, which had human remains inside, was not far from where she was last seen, Frances said.

Finding Rosemary

The two women were contacted shortly after law enforcement found the vehicle.

“We were both at work, and we started getting blown up on Facebook Messenger,” Walker said.

Later in the day, the sheriff’s department confirmed to family that a vehicle was found. On Friday, they met with a lieutenant who told them about the human remains.

LES HASSELL/LONGVIEW NEWS-JOURNAL 

A photo of Rosemary Rodriguez stands on a table at her home Monday.

“He said, ‘We can’t identify them at this moment, but we wanted to let you guys know before the media took ahold of it,’” Frances Rodriguez said.

Officials have not confirmed the remains are those of Rosemary Rodriguez and were working Friday to extract the vehicle from the woods.

Lita said she and her sister started crying when they heard the news.

“We held each other and just cried,” Frances Rodriguez said. “It was more bittersweet tears. We’ve mourned our mother for two years and I mean, I’m at a loss of tears. I can’t make myself cry about it anymore.”

She said the news was a relief.

“As soon as they came back with the car, it was like a huge weight that had been sitting there for forever faded,” Frances said.

Rodriguez’s daughters in October 2019 helped organize a vigil for their mother to pray for her return and to continue to raise awareness about her disappearance.

“We just knew that it would take us having our story out there and continuing it or somebody stumbled upon something to know what they needed to look for,” Lita said. “And that’s basically what happened.”

Later, they created the Finding Rosemary Rodriguez Facebook page where information could be shared.

“We’ve been using that to share all of the news articles and any information to let people know what they needed to look for to help us,” Lita said. “We ask for their patience with us and understanding that we’re having to wait, so it may be a while before we are able to share anything.”

Rodriguez chose a bright green vehicle due to her love of frogs, the two said. That vehicle detail was included on every post on social media and on missing-person flyers.

“It’s because of the community and everyone sharing her story that she was found, and we so greatly appreciate everyone who’s been a part of that or has reached out to us in any way,” Walker said.

The pair turned off comments on the Facebook page after the announcement the car was found.

“We were already so overwhelmed, and we just needed a break,” Walker said.

Frances Rodriguez said it was hard to then see theories about what had happened to her mother.

“That’s what I wanted the most was just the peace of knowing where she is and not having to wonder because your mind goes everywhere,” Walker said. “The outcome is sort of what we expected. We knew she wouldn’t go for this long without contacting anyone in the family if she was anywhere where she was physically able to contact someone.”

“I know that sounds terrible to say but it was almost joyous in a way too because now it’s like, OK, we have her and that’s the most important thing with all of this,” Frances Rodriguez said. “Yes, we want justice. Yes, we want the person that did it to be responsible. But at the end of the day, we get to say a proper goodbye to our mother.”

‘Criminal activity’

Frances said her mother had no means to get money as her debit card was lost and canceled shortly before she was missing.

“I mean, everything pointed to something had happened to her,” Frances Rodriguez said.

Gregg County sheriff’s officials previously said law enforcement believe criminal activity could be involved in Rosemary Rodriguez’s disappearance. The daughters said law enforcement reaffirmed that with the recent discovery of the car.

“They called it a crime scene after they found the vehicle,” Lita said. “It was too far back in the woods for it to have been an accident. It was placed in the woods, in the middle of the woods.”

Frances Rodriguez said there were searches along that road after Rodriguez went missing but none fully reached that area where the vehicle was found.

She said the home where her mother was living with her boyfriend is south of where the vehicle was found.

The two women said the Gregg County Sheriff’s Office is keeping them informed about the investigation.

Frances Rodriguez said waiting during the investigation process over the past two years has been frustrating. Between waiting for more information and a global pandemic, there have been roadblocks when it comes to leads.

We don’t want to release too much information, but it’s a waiting game from here,” Frances Rodriguez said.

Memories

“We’ve been digging through a lot of old family photo albums and beginning to scan in a bunch of pictures to create a slideshow,” Walker said.

The photos are in preparation for an eventual memorial service.

Several photos from the early 80s hang on the wall of their mother’s home in West Longview. Portraits of 16- or 17-year-old Rosemary Rodriguez wearing large-framed glasses with curled hair sat in old detailed bronze picture frames. Another portrait shows Rodriguez with longer hair holding Walker as a baby.

LES HASSELL 

Photos of a teenaged Rosemary Rodriguez hang at her home Monday, January 3, 2022. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

“Once I found those, we couldn’t put them back in the box,” Lita said.

Walker motioned over to a TV tray table and sideboard with pictures of her mother and items, including frog figurines.

“I have this little shrine kind of over here that’s got a bunch of little knickknacks that people have given me over the last two years,” Walker said. “There will usually be a candle burning for her.”

“She never knew a stranger,” Frances said, remembering her mother. “She was always kind to so many people. Like, I mean, she worked at Walmart, in the pharmacy.”

Frances said she always had a smile on her face.

“I want to remember her like that,” Frances said.

Starting new

On Monday, the two women sat in the home in which their mother lived.

Walker, 32, now lives there with her dogs and a new kitten. Her husband, 34-year-old Mark Walker, died in October due to a blood clot causing cardiac arrest. His death was on the two-year anniversary of her mother’s disappearance.

Frances Rodriguez, 28, was living in Washington state when her mother went missing. She has since married and relocated back to the area. She and her husband are staying with Lita to help out.

It’s not lost on the sisters that this chapter in their lives closed at the very end of 2021 by finding the car.

“It’s been a hard year but we brought in the New Year together,” Frances Rodriguez said. “We both, you know, just looked at each other and said, you know, it’s a year of healing. It’s a year of closure. Closure and healing. It’s time to end this chapter and start new.”

In Texas, a person must be missing for seven years before they can be declared dead. The two had been looking at the timeline for their mother in the future.

“Maybe our plans going forward won’t have to be quite as long as we initially thought,” Lita said.

LES HASSELL 

Frances Rodriguez, left, and her sisiter Lita Walker talk Monday, January 3, 2022, about their mother Rosemary Rodriguez's missing person's case and the recent discovery of her vehicle near Kilgore. (Les Hassell/News-Journal Photo)

The sisters said they’ve grown closer over the past two years are grateful for that. They previously had been in different parts of their lives separated by distance and age. Now, they consider themselves to be best friends.

“We were watching a show the other day and the siblings were fighting and (Walker’s) like, ‘Stop, you’re going to cherish each other one day,’” Frances said.

“That’s our mom, right there,” Walker said of her own words. “We do cherish each other. I think she sees us. I think she’s happy.”

Anyone with information about Rodriguez is asked to contact investigators at (903) 236-8408 or Gregg County Crime Stoppers at (903) 236-7867 or greggcountycrimestoppers.com.


Arts_and_entertainment
centerpiece
East Texas restoration business to be featured on A&E series
  • Updated

An East Texas company that restores and repairs vintage RVs will be featured on an episode of A&E’s TV series, “Shipping Wars.”

The television network sent a crew to Longview last week to film the episode, which will feature American RV Restoration. Located in the Spring Hill area, American RV Restoration has been refurbishing vintage travel trailers for about 15 years with owner Ethan Langley turning it into a full-time career about three years ago.

“Basically, we make dreams come true,” Langley said.

Langley was in the automotive business for 26 years, but he said he got tired of “doing the same thing over and over.” He picked up a 1960s model travel trailer in Utah for himself and his family and he restored it. When the family went camping in it for the first time, people approached him wanting to buy it.

“We knew we had something at that point,” he recalled.

He decided to turn it into a part-time business. He picks up travel trailers from across the country, restores them and then sells them. Three years ago, he and his wife Amanda decided to turn their part-time hobby into a full-time business as its popularity grew.

Today, American RV Restoration has a 15,000-square-foot warehouse located on 5 acres in Longview.

“We have seven businesses out of this one complex here and employ over 24 people here,” Langley said.

Through his businesses, Langley said he can restore pretty much “everything and anything.” That includes vintage furniture and playground equipment, such as old McDonald’s playground pieces. In the past, he’s remodeled a 1970s VW bus, a DeLorean (the famous car from the “Back to the Future” film franchise) and he’s recently remodeled an AMC Gremlin that is being delivered to San Francisco. He said he’s even restoring a Ford Mustang for one of the Dallas Cowboys.

“A lot of my clientele are 70 to 90 years old, and I like that because they know what they want. They are ready to live their dream and we make it happen for them. We make them happy,” he said.

His business has gained attention nationwide, especially through social media. American RV Restoration is on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and other platforms. Langley said he hopes to bring more attention to the East Texas area through his work.

Langley said HGTV featured him in a segment in 2017 as he was a builder featured on a TV show about tiny houses.

“We have been coast-to-coast eight times this year — almost 80,000 miles — to make all these dreams come true as we pick up and deliver these vintage travel trailers all across the United States,” Langley said.

For A&E’s TV show, which began filming last Wednesday, a film crew was bringing in a semi-truck to simulate picking up one of Langley’s restored travel trailers, he said.

“They are going to load it up and then take it to another state, deliver it to a buyer and film that,” Langley said. “Kind of what we do every single day — the experience, the magic. It’s so cool to see the expression and the excitement that these people have after waiting three to six months for these campers to be restored.”

Although filming began last week, Langley said he does not know when the episode of “Shipping Wars” will air. He said when HGTV came out in 2017 it took about three to four months for the episode to air.

But A&E isn’t the only network that will be featuring Langley and his business soon. He said Discovery Channel is visiting him in February and the Travel Channel is coming in June.

“We are bringing a lot of publicity to Longview and showing people how great this town is,” he said. “That’s what we need to do.”

To learn more about American RV Restoration, visit americanrvrestoration.com or find the business on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok or YouTube.


Covid-19
Monoclonal antibody treatments sparse in East Texas as facilities await shipments
  • Updated

Amid a nationwide shortage of monoclonal antibody treatments, East Texas facilities are awaiting arrival of those treatments thanks to a federal allocation.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced shipments of sotrovimab, the monoclonal antibody treatment effective against the omicron variant, to resume this week. It will deliver 55,000 doses, plus an additional 300,000 doses of sotrovimab are expected to be available for distribution this month.

Last Wednesday, the HHS and the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) announced the pause of further allocations of select monoclonal antibody treatments in areas of the country where the omicron variant has an 80% prevalence. Officials stated sotrovimab was the only treatment to be administered, but the decision was retracted just before the New Year’s weekend. On Friday, the group said other treatments could be administered but reiterated they are not effective against omicron.

“If the Delta (Variant of Concern) still represents a significant proportion of infections in a region and other options are not available or are contraindicated, eligible patients can be offered bamlanivimab plus etesevimab or casirivimab plus imdevimab, with the understanding that these treatments would be ineffective if the patients are infected with the Omicron VOC,” HHS said in a news release on Friday. “This concern can be mitigated if virus-specific diagnostic testing in a given patient indicates infection with the Omicron VOC is unlikely.”

Dr. Tom Cummins, Division Chief Medical Officer for UT Health East Texas, said the pause was due to the therapies not being effective against the omicron variant. He added though, that he believes East Texas has already reached that 80% of omicron prevalence.

Cummins explained there may have been backlash because of the HHS’ pause of the distribution in areas where the delta variant, still classified as a variant of concern, is still prevalent, even though the therapies are ineffective.

At UT Health East Texas’ Regional Infusion Center, located at the UT Health East Texas North Campus in Tyler, there are no sotrovimab monoclonal antibody treatments available, Cummins said, but the treatment has been requested.

“We don’t have any of the sotrovimab. Most of our facilities that were infusing are now out of the others (treatments) as well. We may have a few doses at the North Campus facility, but we really sort of stopped distributing it because of the efficacy against the omicron variant,” Cummins said.

As of Monday, most of the facilities that offered monoclonal antibody treatments in East Texas do not have any available to give, including Red River Vital Care of Tyler, Exceptional Emergency Center and Genoa Healthcare.

According to the Texas Department of State Health Services’ map of monoclonal antibody treatments, on Dec. 31, there were 35 patient courses of the sotrovimab monoclonal antibody treatment available at Christus Mother Frances Hospital in Tyler. Since then, the count has not been updated.

Hospitality Health ER in Tyler had five patient courses available as of Tuesday morning.

In Longview, as of Monday there was a very limited supply of the sotrovimab treatment at Hospitality ER, only available for critical and high-risk patients, a representative from the clinic said. No other facilities in the area had the treatment as of Tuesday, according to the state website.

Patients are asked to contact a respective facility to confirm availability. With facilities awaiting shipments this month, the availability remains fluid.

According to the Public Health Emergency division of the HHS, between Jan. 3 to Jan. 9, Texas is expected to receive 11,376 total allocations of monoclonal antibody treatments, 2,406 of those will be sotrovimab.

There are other treatments available that remain effective against the omicron variant for those in need, including the oral COVID-19 antiviral medication, which is now available locally in limited quantities with a prescription while supplies last. Cummins said this is only recommended for use in people who are at high risk of severe illness.

Monoclonal antibody treatments have historically had an impact in hospitalization rates and local emergency room visits, but the lack of treatment now may not be as much of a problem just yet.

“If the virus does here what it has done in other countries, which is, have a really high, rapid rate and escalation in number of people infected, but the mass majority of them having a very mild infection and a very rapid decrease in the number of cases again, if that happens, then no, the lack of sotrovimab is not a big issue,” Cummins said, and added that if it persists, it may become a problem.

While some facilities across the state are seeing high hospitalization rates, Cummins said several people are testing positive in the UT Health system, but although hospital numbers have risen, they have yet to reach hospitalization levels historically seen with other variants, including delta.

“With the level of positivity we’re seeing, I would’ve expected a lot more people being hospitalized and critically ill, whereas we have a very small number on the ventilator, and while our numbers are rising, they aren’t rising at the same rate as the positive rate,” Cummins said.

At UT Health East Texas’ Tyler facilities, there were 18 COVID patients hospitalized and seven are on ventilators as of Monday. There were a total of 56 patients hospitalized for COVID across the division with 10 on a ventilator.

At Longview Regional Hospital there were 13 COVID-19 patients hospitalized as of Monday, according to hospital officials.

“This is kind of what I expected to see, based on what we were hearing about omicron from other countries, other places. The original reports was that it caused a milder symptom complex, so if that were the whole truth, you would expect lower numbers in the hospital, lower numbers on the ventilator, and so far, that’s what we’re seeing,” Cummins said.

He added a different variant could take hold and get into a much more vulnerable population, but so far, it’s what he expected to see.

Cummins said 90% of those hospitalized are not vaccinated against COVID-19. There have been breakthrough cases in some fully vaccinated and boosted, he said. Those hospitalized range in age from the mid-30s to upper 80s.

Eligible COVID-19 patients will need a form filled out by their doctor, which will act as a prescription for the infusion. To ensure the facility is utilized for patients who meet the treatment qualification standards for this type of treatment, a referral is required and walk-in patients cannot be seen. If you do not have a general practitioner, call the UT Health infusion center at 903-877-7119 for more information.


Bible verse 1.5.21

“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:8)


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