Corsicana Daily Sun, Corsicana, Texas

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March 23, 2013

Derrick Days losses now said to exceed $25,000

Corsicana — The losses from the Derrick Days bank account are now estimated at more than $25,000, according to festival organizers. Police have not yet caught the suspect, who fled Monday night.

“We don’t even have all the final figures yet, and I can tell you it’s over $25,000,” said Fran Townes, Derrick Days chairwoman.

Christle R. Owens, 31, of Corsicana, is being sought in connection with the funds taken from the Derrick Days coffers. The losses were discovered Monday, when the bank called Townes to tell her the bank account was overdrawn.

Owens, who has also gone by Christle Hardin, Christle Jones and Christle Reamy, was the former manager of Ideal Storage in Corsicana. Police are also investigating a reported theft of cash from Ideal, according to Police Chief Randy Bratton.

“We’re still looking for her,” Bratton said Friday afternoon. “We’re getting leads. We’re pursuing them.”

The two most frequent questions have been “how could this happen?” and “why did she do it?”

The “how” is pretty simple. She passed background checks performed by her employer. She volunteered and showed herself to be energetic and helpful. The trust grew, and then was betrayed.

“It can happen,” Townes said. “Her employer did background checks. She came to us because it was a new business and she wanted to get involved.”

Former festival chairman Brad Haynie agreed. “She worked with us last year. There was no problem, so why would we think there’d be a problem now?”

The “why” is still unclear.

Bratton said he wouldn’t describe the suspect as a con artist, at least not in the classic sense. Professional con artists have a set pattern of scams and are more overt, which this doesn’t seem to be.

“Based upon her alleged actions, I think that she took advantage of people,” he said. “You could call her manipulative.”

Since the theft was discovered, festival organizers have been scrambling to try to figure out where the event stands, both financially and organizationally. Owens was the Derrick Days vice president, and had volunteered to take over the responsibilities of keeping the books when the treasurer resigned around the first of the year. The earliest thefts appear to have started almost immediately.

“The bulk of the losses were in March,” Townes said.

The three biggest expenses will be trash collection, portable toilet stations and security, which should cost about $6,000. What’s unclear are the incidentals. What was paid for? What wasn’t? Many of those questions will have to remain until next week, when the organizers hope to have some of the paperwork returned from police detectives.

Townes estimates they’ll be about $8,000 to $10,000 short of the budget.

“It will cut our advertising budget more than anything else, which is unfortunate because that’s what attracts vendors, and we don’t want fewer vendors,” she said.

Currently, there are about 60 vendors signed up for the festival. Last year, there were about 100 booths.

Haynie, his daughter, Carly, and Chris Martin, owner of Ideal, are all working together to man a Derrick Days donation booth on the day to help pay for next year’s festival. People who want to help the festival beforehand can send donations to the Corsicana/Navarro County Chamber of Commerce (See “To Help” box), which has taken over the bookkeeping for this year’s event.

“If people want Derrick Days to continue, and they feel good about it, maybe they’ll be willing to give $2 or 50 cents or whatever they can muster,” Haynie said.

Haynie has faith in Corsicana. “Most people will step up to the plate,” he said. “It’s just their nature to help each other.”

Already, Navarro Regional Hospital has offered to pay for the band for the Friday night street dance. Richard Arnett, owner of The Trading Post, is covering the Wednesday hot dog luncheon and dinner, as well as the printing of the food tickets for the festival. Guardian Industries is sponsoring banners. A couple of grants — from the city and the tourism commission — hadn’t been received or deposited yet, so that’s been a pleasant surprise for the festival. And about half a dozen people have stepped up and offered to make donations, and there’s hope that more will follow suit, Townes said.

“The stuff that makes me sickest is we applied for a grant from the Navarro Community Foundation, and they gave us $5,000. Unfortunately, it had already been deposited,” she said.

They don’t expect to recover any of the stolen funds.

As well, the missing money encompasses donations from local banks, and the proceeds from last year’s sale of food tickets.

“It’s just an unfortunate event,” Haynie said.

Derrick Days almost died out in the late 1990s, but was revived by Haynie and a few dedicated volunteers, who saw value in the city hosting a festival not just to attract visitors, but also to build a sense of community. He stepped down as chairman of the festival last year. Townes became chairwoman in September. Haynie still works with the committee, primarily in an advisory capacity, but this past week he’s been heavily involved in picking up the pieces.

Despite a bad situation, big sponsors and donors shouldn’t fear more fundraising visits.

“We spent months soliciting,” Townes said. “To me, it has to come from them. I don’t think we can go back to anyone a second time.”

Townes said she would love it if a white knight showed up to rescue the day, but she understands the reality of the situation. She tries to take her cues from Haynie, who is positive that the festival will go on, and it will be a good event.

“It’s all going to work out,” Haynie said. “Keep the faith.”

Derrick Days is scheduled to take place on April 27 in downtown Corsicana.

—————

Janet Jacobs may be reached via e-mail at jjacobs@corsicanadailysun.com. Want to “sound off” to this article? E-mail: Soundoff@corsicanadailysun.com

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