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Yorktown city administrator, 28, killed in car crash

By Sonny Long
Dec. 1, 2010 at 6:01 a.m.


Esther Puente last saw her son, Marcus, the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

Three days later, the 28-year-old Yorktown city administrator died in a one-car crash about three miles southeast of the Cotton Patch community.

"I've lost my treasure, my golden boy," she said. "I called him Tuesday and left a message, but he hadn't called back yet."

Esther and Mike Puente, Marcus' parents, live in San Antonio, but also have a home in Cotton Patch. Esther said she thinks her son was visiting a friend in the area Tuesday night.

Esther Puente said her son had his eye on public office, something he had already experienced at an early age.

He was elected to the Yorktown school board when he was 18, the youngest trustee ever in Texas. Puente's accomplishment is part of a Texas history textbook.

"He had goals. He wanted to go into politics. This is so hard. This is so hard," his mother said, tears flowing. "I can't believe he is gone."

COMMUNITY REACTION

Yorktown Mayor Rene Hernandez was also obviously shaken when reached by telephone Wednesday morning.

"We are grieving just like his family is," Hernandez said softly. "Marcus, for 28 years old, accomplished more in his life than most people do in a much longer lifetime. He was very humble about it, too. That's just who he was. He will be missed dearly."

Patricia Nelson, former Yorktown mayor, said that Puente was good for the city.

"He had a brilliant mind," she said. "He had big dreams for the city of Yorktown and was very competent."

Melissa Armstrong, who worked closely with Puente as executive director of both the Western Days Association and the Yorktown Economic Development Corporation, said, "It is a tragedy and a true loss for the community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."

The man Puente succeeded as city administrator, Larry Lancaster, said he was shocked when told of Puente's death.

"Marcus was a very talented young man with a bright future and will be missed by all," said Lancaster, who continues to work as a consultant to the city. "He brought new ideas and technology to the city of Yorktown and was an excellent choice as my replacement."

Even those who didn't always agree with Puente, respected him.

Phil Ross, owner of Yorktown Memorial Hospital, met Puente in person at a couple of city council meetings after the city administrator forced Ross to quit holding ghost hunts in the building until it was brought up to code.

"Mostly we talked on the phone and exchanged e-mail about the hospital. Our social interactions were always cordial and both times we met we shook hands," Ross said. "There was never an unkind word exchanged between us. I extend my condolences to his family and friends."

RETURNING HOME

Puente became Yorktown's city administrator in November 2009 and was excited about the challenge.

In an interview with the Advocate late that month, he said, "Part of what attracted me to the job is that it is in Yorktown. You don't always get a chance to come home and make a difference in your community."

And he was making a difference, according to Nelson, the former mayor.

"He knew what needed to be done and was working on getting it done," she said. "We had just talked about ways to increase revenue for the city. He was open to suggestions."

Puente moved from Cuero to Yorktown in the fourth grade and after graduating from high school in 2000, attended the University of Texas at San Antonio majoring in economics.

He continued his education in graduate school at Texas A&M University where a project on micro-finance got him involved with the city of Bryan. It was there that he gained firsthand exposure to the workings of city government.

In November 2008, he took a job with the city of Austin as a budget analyst before returning to Yorktown a year later.

"I think he was doing a good job. I don't think there was any problem with his performance," said Bill Robinson, Yorktown municipal judge.

THE WRECK

Robinson, who is also a DeWitt County justice of the peace and the Yorktown emergency medical services coordinator, was one of the first to respond to the accident scene early Wednesday morning.

"When we got there, there was one of our volunteers from Nordheim already on the scene doing CPR," Robinson said. "Of course, I went to the hospital with him and we did CPR for about 40 minutes. Then the doctor pronounced him dead."

Department of Public Safety Trooper Dustin Slovacek reported that Puente was driving a 1993 Pontiac east on Farm-to-Market Road 952 near Cotton Patch.

The vehicle failed to negotiate a curve, left the road and rolled, Slovacek said.

Puente was not wearing a seatbelt and was thrown from the vehicle, according to the DPS report.

The crash was reported about midnight.

Robinson said he conducted an inquest and has ordered blood work to test for alcohol and drugs but did not order an autopsy.

COMMUNITY IMPACT

Hernandez declined to comment on how or when Puente's position would be filled.

"This is not the time," he said.

City Hall closed Wednesday but will reopen Thursday.

The mayor said the city council was not scheduled to meet in December, but a special session might be called to discuss the city administrator's position.

"I just can't commit to that right now," he said. "We need to give the family time and this community time for some closure."

Lancaster said Puente will be tough to replace.

"I know the city staff and council will miss him greatly," he said. "Yorktown is a great community and I know it will rise from this tragedy as the unified strong rural community it is."

It is the community of Yorktown that Puente loved.

"It was important for me to come back home," Puente said in the 2009 article. "...I want to help make sure Yorktown is the best place it can be to live."

Also in the 2009 article, Mark Weischwill, a member of the committee that recommended Puente for the city administrator's position, said, "Through the years, it's been hard to find someone who would stay more than a couple of years so we could develop some continuity. Hopefully, Marcus will stay with us a long time."

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