By Will Johnson
HOUSTON COUNTY – Poaching is defined as the illegal practice of trespassing on another’s property to hunt or steal game without the landowner’s permission and in Houston County it is taken seriously.
Just ask 48-year-old Thomas Farrell Hankins from Bullard and 44-year-old Alvin Lee Strong from Fairfield. The two men were caught red-handed on Sunday, Dec. 3 and now both face three state jail felony counts of taking wildlife resources without the consent of the property owner to go along with two Class A misdemeanor charges for criminal trespassing and criminal mischief.
According to affidavits of probable cause filed by Houston County Game Wardens Zak Benge and Eddie Lehr, a call was received at approximately 7 a.m. “… from the Houston County Sheriff’s Office concerning poaching activity on the McCall Ranch near the Trinity River and Navarro Crossing in northwestern Houston County.”
Lehr contacted a hunter he knew to be in the area and the hunter informed Lehr she had witnessed two men in a gray truck shooting at a deer from the road into the ranch. She further informed the game warden she witnessed the truck enter the ranch in order to “… recover one antlerless whitetail deer.”
The hunter also reported she observed the two men shooting at other deer in the vicinity while they were on the McCall property. The affidavit reported the hunter contacted the property owner – Dr. John A. McCall, Jr. – about the matter.
After receiving the news from the hunter who had permission to be on the land, McCall proceeded to her location in a utility buggy where he observed the truck, the affidavits reported.
“McCall attempted to block the exit of the poachers with his buggy at the entrance gate of his property. The suspects’ vehicle then circled around and proceeded south along his fence line at a high rate of speed. The truck crashed through McCall’s fence and into neighboring property. The truck then rammed through a set of locked double gates to exit the property onto CR 2260, headed south,” the reports stated.
Lehr responded to the McCall Ranch while Benge “… headed north on U.S. Highway 287 in an attempt to locate the vehicle.”
As Lehr started to gather evidence at the ranch, the reports indicated he found a third “… whitetail antlerless deer that had been killed within the boundary of the McCall Ranch.”
The game wardens had requested assistance from other area law enforcement agencies and a short time later, the vehicle was stopped by DPS Trooper Reid who observed two antlerless deer in the bed of the pickup, the report indicated.
Benge arrived at the scene a short time later, the affidavits reported, and after he had read the two men their rights, both admitted to trespassing, shooting the deer, driving through the fence and crashing through the gate.
Hankins and Strong were transported to the Houston County Jail where they were both booked into custody on three counts of taking wildlife resources without the consent of the property owner along with charges of criminal trespassing and criminal mischief.
The first three counts are considered as state jail felonies. According to Section 12.35 of the Texas Penal Code, “An individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony shall be punished by confinement in a state jail for any term of not more than two years or less than 180 days. In addition to confinement, an individual adjudged guilty of a state jail felony may be punished by a fine not to exceed $10,000.”
The criminal trespassing and criminal mischief charges are considered as Class A misdemeanors. According to Section 12.21 of the Texas Penal Code, “An individual adjudged guilty of a Class A misdemeanor shall be punished by a fine not to exceed $4,000; confinement in jail for a term not to exceed one year; or both such fine and confinement.”
Will Johnson may be reached via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.