Year in Review: Looking back at the biggest stories of 2014

Port Isabel-South Padre Press

January 1, 2015

4x5 Timeline

It’s been an interesting year for the Laguna Madre region. From stratospheric highs promising boons in both local commerce, increased jobs in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) fields via the proposed SpaceX launch site, to news of the death of an Island resident during battle in Israel, it’s been a rollercoaster of highs and lows.

In other news of international scale, long-sought fugitive Amit Livingston was brought to justice. Localized noteworthy moments included the first steps being made to revitalize a high profile property via state and federal grants and loans. In 2015 and beyond, Port Isabel will become home to a culinary school.

There was plenty to talk about during 2014, and the Press will continue to be the go-to place for our news-hungry readers in the coming year.

SpaceX breaks ground in South Texas

After meticulous testing, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) approved SpaceX’s proposal to build a launch site on Boca Chica Beach, allowing for the private space launch company to continue expanding its stellar operations. The announcement followed June’s release of the FAA’s final environmental impact study (EIS), which supported construction of the launch site.  The site will be the world’s first commercial orbital space port and liftoffs could occur as early as 2016. A groundbreaking ceremony was held in September, with many Cameron County and state leaders on hand.

The Valley lobbied strongly to be chosen as a SpaceX launch site, and its construction on Boca Chica Beach could mean huge economic gains for the area. From the initial construction of the facility to longterm STEM field jobs that would be created, to a launch watch tourist industry built on top of existing boat tour businesses, positive impacts can be expected in many local industries.

Convicted SPI killer Amit Livingston caught in India

Cameron County District Attorney Luis V. Saenz announced in May that a seven-year-long international manhunt has finally ended after authorities in India captured convicted murderer, Amit Livingston.The India National Police, apprehended Livingston at 3:30 a.m. on Tuesday, May 6th in his hometown of Hyderabad, India for the 2005 murder of his girlfriend, Hermilia Garcia Hernandez on South Padre Island.  He was sentenced to 23 years in prison. The MEA said the judgment allowed Livingston to linger out of custody on bond for 60 days so that he could prepare his affairs before serving the sentence, but he failed to surrender before the authorities after that period and fled the United States to his birth country of India.After being taken into custody, a New Delhi Court recommended convicted murderer Amit Muddamalle Livingston in December and ordered he be extradited back to the U.S.

Israeli SPI resident dies fighting in Gaza

Sgt. Nissim Sean Carmeli, 21, formerly of South Padre Island, was one of 13 soldiers from the Golani brigade who died in battle in the Shejaiyah section of Gaza while fighting with the Israel Defense Force in July. He and his Israeli parents Alon and Dalya Carmeli moved to the Laguna Madre area in search of business opportunities. The Carmelis were leaders in a religious awakening that took place in the area during the early 2000s.  Sean had two sisters and was deeply connected with his Jewish roots, living a Torah lifestyle.

PI iconic Yacht Club to undergo facelift as culinary school

In October, the city of Port Isabel approved a decision transform the Port Isabel Yacht Club into the City of Port Isabel Culinary Arts Institute, setting in motion a long set of meticulous phases included securing funds, determining design, and reconstruction. The city sought a $2.4 million loan for the acquisition of property, which was $750,000, and restoration of the hotel, now almost 90 years old, from the Texas Leverage Fund. Additional funding was received through a competitive grant from the US Economic Development Administration (EDA) of $1.2 million through the stabilization and construction phases. Grants were also received from the Texas Historical Commission, and private foundations. The maximum project budget is set at $5 million.

What structures are mendable will be renovated and what is deemed unrecoverable, such as some interior walls, will be selectively demolished. The institute is expected to host test kitchens, incubator spaces, five classrooms, verandas, and an operating restaurant. Compete restoration will ideally be finished in 16 months.

Laguna Heights woman accused of prostituting pregnant teens

Also in October, Cameron County Sheriff’s Department deputies arrested a 35 year old woman residing in Laguna Heights facing multiple felony charges for allegedly prostituting two underaged sisters from multiple locations in the Port Isabel area including the Port Isla Inn off Highway 100, both teenagers becoming pregnant during the operation. Martha Ochoa, which records state was a prostitute herself, is facing charges of sexual abuse, trafficking, promotion of prostitution and child endangerment. Also, 46 year old Gonzalo Landero, an alleged regular customer, is charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault of a minor and continuous sexual assault of a minor. Both are currently in custody awaiting trial.

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