Problems continue at juvenile group home

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The Austin County Sheriff’s Department announced last week another incident at the Five Oaks Achievement Center in New Ulm, the latest in a string of occurrences that have plagued the at-risk juvenile group home, prompting residents and elected officials to plead with the state to shut it down.

On April 24 the sheriff’s department was notified that two male juveniles ran away from the facility at 7674 Pechacek Road. Sheriff Jack Brandes initiated an aerial search and the runaways were located in an abandoned house on Post Oak Point Road a few hours later.

Austin County commissioners unanimously agreed Feb. 12 to oppose the continued operation of the home, but the power lies with the state.

While the Commissioners Court does not have regulatory authority over the privately-owned group home, their resolution called for an investigation by Texas Sen. Lois Kolkhorst and asks that she use her authority to close the facility.

Five Oaks made headlines in January when a runaway from the facility set fire to a private residence in the area. The 15-year-old left the home in the early hours of Jan. 18 and walked half a mile through the woods, setting fire to a home. No one was injured.

Following the incident, the Austin County District Attorney’s Office said in a press release that the runaway stated “lax security at Five Oaks allowed him to walk out of the facility while supervisors were asleep.” The juvenile pleaded “true” to burglary of a habitation and arson and was placed by court order in a Texas Juvenile Justice Department facility on Feb. 1.

"After the assessment, TJJD will place him in one of their facilities for treatment and detention. He will be held a minimum of one year and up to his 19th birthday," Chief Juvenile Probation Officer Kortney Estep said at the time. "Upon completion of that term, he could be released. Depending on his conduct, he could be transferred to adult prison."

A town hall meeting was held soon after the arson incident at which residents expressed their frustration about recurring incidents at the group home.

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