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News-Telegram: State News

Former president George W. Bush not chosen for Dallas jury

DALLAS (AP) — Former President George W. Bush may once have been commander in chief, but that apparently didn't help him when he showed up for jury duty at a Dallas courthouse.

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Blue Bell gets approval to resume Alabama plant production

BRENHAM, Texas (AP) — Blue Bell can resume production and sale of ice cream manufactured at its Alabama plant, the Alabama Department of Public Health announced Wednesday.

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West Texas rains expose national cemetery's grave conditions

EL PASO, Texas (AP) — Heavy rains have gone easy on Fort Bliss National Cemetery this season, officials said.

Rains have damaged about 45 sites this year, including sinking 15 graves, Fort Bliss National Cemetery Director Ame Callahan said. Other sites had minor damage.

It's a far cry from 2013, when as many as 1,000 gravesites were damaged by rains, including some that sunk several inches. Last year at least 300 graves sank during the rainy season.

Damaged graves are often older burials in which bare caskets were used, Callahan said. The caskets deteriorate over time. Then, when rainwater seeps into the grave, the soil collapses and the grave sinks, she said.

"As we've evolved, we've come up with newer and better" procedures, Callahan told the El Paso Times.

The cemetery's current burial process uses a concrete crypt or wraps the casket in a polyliner cover and crushed rock, helping stabilize the gravesite and limiting rain damage, said Callahan, who has overseen the cemetery since October.

That process should prevent graves from collapsing, University of Texas at El Paso geological sciences assistant professor Lixin Jin said.

Jin and fellow UTEP geological sciences professor Diane Doser have been studying the cemetery's soil, part of an effort spearheaded by state Rep. Joe Moody, D-El Paso, to discover why graves sink when heavy rains hit.

Jin said she expects the study will be completed this fall.

So far, soil samples and survey maps have found the soil in the area is made of loose sediments cemented together by salts, Jin said. Digging a grave loosens the particles, while rain can dissolve the salts, causing the soil to shift, she said.

Jin and her students are looking through library and newspaper archives for descriptions of past damage to graves. They hope to align any reports with historical rainfall data to see whether removing the cemetery's grass in 2007 had an impact on the soil.

If the researchers find reports of graves sinking in the decades before the removal of the grass, then the current xeriscaping likely isn't to blame for the damage, Jin said.

Callahan said rains damaged and sunk graves even when the cemetery had turf.

The cemetery is one of three national cemeteries with xeriscaping, all in the drought-ridden West. Xeriscaping is landscaping designed to limit water use. The National Memorial Cemetery in Arizona and Bakersfield National Cemetery in California have xeriscaping as well, Callahan said.

The Department of Veterans Affairs runs the national cemeteries, which are funded through congressional appropriations.

More than 50,000 people are interred at the Fort Bliss National Cemetery, which has a $2.16 million annual budget.

Congress would need to approve additional federal funding for the grass to return, Callahan said. The cemetery doesn't currently plan to replant grass because it's not a decision that would be made by local cemetery officials, she said.

Having grass required the use of 68 million gallons of water a year — enough for 1,311 El Paso households — at a time when federal agencies were encouraging water conservation, according to Callahan.

The cemetery couldn't use reclaimed water for grass because the local water commission allocations were all spoken for, she said.

Many veterans and family members still feel grass would prevent soil damage and make the cemetery more comfortable for visitors, said U.S. Rep. Beto O'Rourke, D-El Paso.

Family members don't want to kneel on gravel when they visit, O'Rourke said.

"It's not the oasis that you would like a cemetery to be," he said.

In January, the cemetery began offering kneeling pads for visitors.

"It's one of the efforts we've tried to implement to make it easier" for visiting families, Callahan said.

South Texas pipeline explosion injures 2

FALFURRIAS, Texas (AP) — Authorities say the explosion of a natural gas pipeline near the small South Texas town of Falfurrias injured two people and prompted the evacuation about 150 homes.

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Clowney's father charged with attempted murder

ROCK HILL, S.C. (AP) — The father of Houston Texans defensive end Jadeveon Clowney has been arrested and charged with attempted murder for a shooting at a bar in Rock Hill.

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Dallas/Ft. Worth News

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