By Steve Hammons
It looks like nearly the entire year of 2008 was filled with UFOs and other unusual goings-on in the town of Stephenville and Erath County, Texas. As late as Oct. 23, people in Erath County were still spotting very odd lights and an object hovering in the sky.
A newspaper report in the Abilene Reporter-News on Nov. 20 quoted local resident Michael Corn, 27, who said he saw a bright object in the sky as he stepped outside of his home. In a Reporter-News article by Angelia Joiner, Corn was quoted as saying, "It looked really close to Stephenville, like it was almost over the courthouse."
Corn, a military veteran, described amber-orange lights that pulsed right to left.
"I could see the bottom of the object from the illumination of those lights and the city lights. The bottom (of the object) looked smooth," Joiner quoted Corn as saying. "There is no way you could be outside and look up in the sky and not notice this thing. It was just weird," he said.
After watching the object for 15 seconds or so, it disappeared, making no sound.
Corn told Joiner, "It just vanished."
Ashley Couch, Corn's girlfriend, saw the same thing and said, "It reminded me of a carousel lying over on its side," according to Joiner’s report.
Several other witnesses in the area also reported seeing the same strange lights and local police told Joiner they received approximately 10 calls about sightings that night.
JANUARY IN STEPHENVILLE
The year 2008 started out like any other for most people in Erath County. However, in January several reliable local residents contacted the Stephenville Empire-Tribune newspaper to report seeing things in the sky that they could not explain. At the time, reporter Joiner worked at the paper.
Local resident Ricky Sorrells had experienced a close encounter that while hunting in the woods. A massive metallic-like object hovered directly over him, then took off in the blink of an eye.
Steve Allen, a pilot and respected businessman, also saw a huge UFO with friends while they sat around a campfire. It was so dramatic they were a bit shook up by it.
Dozens of other citizens eventually came forward, including several law enforcement officers.
County Constable Lee Roy Gaitan was one of the peace officers who stepped forward early in the sightings, reporting that he and his young son saw strange light patterns in the night sky.
Soon, the Associated Press, CNN and other national and international media were following the Stephenville UFO story. Surprisingly to many, the press covered the situation in a mostly serious, responsible and professional way.
Then, the Erath County incidents took some unexpected and somewhat ominous turns.
Witness Sorrells said he received calls telling him to stop talking to the press. He said helicopters were buzzing his rural home at all hours of the night and a menacing intruder approached his home in the early morning hours.
Joiner left the Stephenville newspaper after management there apparently became concerned that reports on the UFO sightings were overshadowing more routine area news coverage. However, she continued to report on the situation as a writer for a Web site and a reporter for a local radio station.
LOCAL PEACE OFFICERS
By February, Joiner obtained information indicating that law enforcement officers in the region had videotape of unusual objects taken by patrol car "dashcams."
In addition to Constable Gaitan, Sgt. Jim Clifton of the Erath County Sheriff Department came forward to say that he, too, had seen unusual phenomena in the sky during the same time frame. He provided details to Joiner for her reports.
Then, Mike Zimmerman, a retired veteran officer of 25 years with the Texas Department of Public Safety who served on the protective detail for five Texas governors came forward. Zimmerman told Joiner that he also saw things in the sky he could not explain and described them.
Another local officer, who Joiner identified as "Officer X" told her that he had clocked one low-flying UFO with his radar gun used to ticket speeders. The UFO was moving at 27 miles per hour, Officer X stated.
There were indications that other local officers had also seen things but they preferred to keep a low profile.
Among the journalists, researchers and possibly other people discreetly nosing around Erath County, the respected group Mutual UFO Network (MUFON) was also conducting an investigation.
MUFON set up meetings where witnesses could come forward and be interviewed. Dozens did speak with MUFON investigators.
When an initial report was later issued by the organization, some people were disappointed. The report indicated that some people may have seen natural phenomena and misinterpreted it, though many witnesses appeared to believe they saw something very unnatural. The report seemed inconclusive.
But in July, a second MUFON report was issued based on radar data from the region in question for the night of Jan. 8, 2008. MUFON representatives Glen Schulze and Robert Powell obtained radar information through the filing of 10 requests through the federal Freedom of Information Act.
Information from the radar data indicated there was a very unusual unidentified object or craft in the area and apparently unusual military aircraft activity.
The unidentified anomalous object had traveled within 10 miles of the Bush ranch at nearby Crawford.
Things seemed to quiet down quite a bit in Erath County in the second half of 2008. There were no mass sightings and the media coverage gradually declined, though the Stephenville, Texas, story was sometimes referenced in various TV shows and media reports. Documentary TV crews still visited, as did other researchers.
And who knows what kinds of government agents might have been lingering around Erath County?
It seemed clear that the early 2008 UFO "flap" in Stephenville would go down as one of the noteworthy events in UFO history and research.
Things were calming down and getting back to normal – until the Oct. 23 sighting that is. Maybe local residents and the media are so used to UFOs in the Stephenville area that it no longer surprises anyone.
A handful of reliable people see a large object the size of two buses with large, bright pulsing lights hovering near the courthouse? So, what else is new? Hey, this is Stephenville and Erath County – home of dairy cows, Dr. Pepper and UFOs. What do you expect?
If 2009 brings more unusual activity to Earth County, at least local residents and public safety personnel will be more prepared.
Regional residents have their new cameras. Law officers have their dashcams and radar guns ready to go. National and international media representatives know where the good inns and restaurants are.
The Stephenville UFO sightings may turn out to be an ongoing story. And there may be more chapters yet to come.
Thursday, December 18, 2008
By Steve Hammons