And we wonder why kids aren't learning anything...
Police: Teacher enlisted students to burn her car
She tells officers she offered to pass the 2 Aldine teens if they helped her collect insurance
By PEGGY O'HARE and MIKE GLENN
Copyright 2005 Houston Chronicle
Two Aldine Senior High School students were failing their chemistry course when their teacher approached them with an unexpected opportunity.
The teens could change their academic fate with one project — and it wouldn't be in the chemistry lab. For a little help in torching and dumping her financially troublesome car, investigators said, the teacher offered a tantalizing possibility — passing grades.
Now, teacher and students are facing far more serious trouble than any report card or grade book could offer.
Tramesha Lashon Fox, 32, of Kingwood, is charged with insurance fraud, a first-degree felony, and arson, a second-degree felony, authorities said. Officers were still searching for her Tuesday evening after obtaining warrants for her arrest.
A listed phone number for Fox could not be found Tuesday.
The two students, Roger Luna, 18, of the 100 block of Coach Lamp, and Darwin Arias, 17, of the 1100 block of Fallbrook, were also charged with arson. Luna was arrested Tuesday night, and Arias was making arrangements to surrender.
Fox, in an interview with Harris County fire marshal's investigators last week, admitted to conspiring with the two students to destroy her 2003 Chevrolet Malibu so she could collect insurance proceeds. In exchange, she told investigators, she gave the students passing grades.
Luna and Arias had been failing Fox's class up until their final exam, but secured grades high enough to pass the semester, investigators said. Arias was given a score of 90 on the final after "miserably" failing the course the previous semester, and Luna was given an 80, said senior fire investigator Dustin Deutsch of the Harris County Fire Marshal's Office.
Aldine Independent School District officials said Tuesday they knew little about the case. Fox, who completed her first year of teaching there, remains employed. School officials have not yet reviewed the law enforcement report that led to the charges against her.
Once the Harris County fire marshal's report is in hand, "our folks will then do a thorough investigation and then make a decision as far as employment status," said Leticia Fehling, Aldine ISD spokeswoman.
Fox previously worked for the Houston Independent School District, where she was a teacher at Welch Middle School. Records show HISD originally hired her in August 2000.
Fox was at least three months behind on her car payments and facing repossession when her vehicle was reported stolen on May 27, Deutsch said. The car had been destroyed by fire when it was found 12 days later in a wooded area near Arias' home.
Investigators say Fox had bought a new car, a 2005 Toyota Corolla, before the older car was reported stolen and burned. She owed about $20,000 on the Chevrolet, Deutsch said.
Deutsch said the students thought Fox was joking when she first approached them on campus in early May about the conspiracy. As she continued to pursue them, they realized she was serious.
The alleged plan called for Fox to leave her car unlocked at Northline Mall. On May 27, the last day of school, both students drove to the mall and found Fox's car unsecured with the windows down and the keys in the passenger compartment.
After the car was dumped in a wooded area in the 1300 block of Fallbrook, it was doused with charcoal lighter fluid and burned. The vehicle was vandalized and its steering column broken to make the car theft appear genuine, Deutsch said. Fox reported the theft to police that same day.
The torched car wasn't found until June 8. Investigators then traced the vehicle to Fox.
When officers first talked to Fox, she implicated other students in the crime, indicating she must have been targeted in a revenge plot, Deutsch said. Luna and Arias were not among those she named, he said.
After calling her in for questioning last week, Fox admitted to the hatched plan.
One of Fox's neighbors wasn't surprised to learn of the alleged arson plot. Fox told neighbors that she was a teacher when she moved into the neighborhood last summer in the 2100 block of North Park at Kings Manor, said Cinda Koh.
Neighbors were suspicious when Fox drove up with her new Toyota because she often complained about subsisting on a public school teacher's meager salary, Koh said.
"She's always saying that she doesn't have any money and doesn't know how she's going to pay her bills," Koh said.