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A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Crime

‘Brain in a Bucket’ Story Gets Play on Crime Junkie Podcast

| 2 days ago

Attentive readers might remember D Magazine’s story from 2018 titled “Brain in a Bucket,” by Jessica Pishko. You can go read it for free — for now (hint, hint). The story was about a mother and daughter who were murdered with an axe in New Zealand and the quite possibly innocent husband/father who is serving time for the crime. What’s that have to do with Dallas? Well, a pathologist here, it turns out, played a key role in convicting the alleged murderer, and he (the pathologist) did it, in part, using chicken entrails and a human brain that walked out of UT Southwestern Medical Center. There’s a lot to explain here. Anyway, the very popular podcast Crime Junkie has done two episodes on the New Zealand axe murder, and the second one, which dropped last weekend, brings up our story from 2018. Start with our story. Then listen to the Lundy episodes on your favorite podcatcher, or find them here.

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Local News

Goblin Death Cult Practices Dark Arts on Shores of White Rock Lake

| 2 days ago

Dear readers, the disturbing image you see here was captured two days ago at White Rock Lake. I was on a ride when I spotted this structure at the water’s edge and immediately stopped to record the scene. Here is a closeup shot, so that you can study in greater detail the evidence of what is transpiring in one of Dallas’ most beloved parks. You see the rope, yes? The telltale construction techniques used in the log structure — and we’re not talking algebraic geometry! This is clearly the work of goblins. Or orcs. Or maybe hobbits. Whichever beast built this, the danger this presents to our community needs to be addressed immediately by Chief Eddie Garcia. Forget street racing. Dallas’ real problem is the goblin death cult at the lake.

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Restaurant Business

The Governor Turned Dallas Restaurants Into Enforcers

| 2 days ago
Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision to eliminate the mandate that has kept restaurant capacity limited and masks secured to faces sparked concern and baffled a restaurant community that was taken off guard by the sudden evaporation of health-minded measures. Next Wednesday, the statewide order disappears. It marks a shift of responsibility to business owners who will now determine and enforce their own rules. It puts restaurant owners—providers of hospitality—in the precarious position of enforcer.

Immediately, restaurateurs reacted with a flurry of Instagram posts.

“I believe in business and safety. I am here to try to protect our people and my long term interests. For my sake, I am not reopening our dining room for at least another month at @whiskcrepes and until I feel like it. [smiley face emoji],” wrote Julien Eelsen, owner of Whisk Crepes, in a caption.

The post itself—“This week we are still opening 0% of our dining room”—could not be clearer. Eelsen underlined what the business is offering, from patio dining to curbside pickup, catering to provisions packages. Restaurateurs have had to be nimble—and vigilant. The state is loosening its reins. Businesses now have to be firm, without being able to point to a statewide ordinance.

Andrew Savoie, the chef-owner of Resident Taqueria, posted an image of himself donning a mask, with the caption: “Masks on Please!” This followed a post Tuesday that began “I know we are all eager for this to be over …,” but asked that customers still wear masks. The dining room opening will be patient and gradual. The post received almost 880 likes, hundreds more than the usual average, which peaks near 150.

Even small pick-up-only businesses like Moon Child Vegan Cakes wrote: “Texas may have lifted the mask mandate, but our bakery hasn’t. Please continue to sport those stylish masks when picking up your orders. Thank you!” Baker Amaris Riddle obliquely draws attention to something that has become a norm. With our collections of fashion statements, we’ve established a semblance of equilibrium.

It’s stirring the pot again.

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Local News

Leading Off (3/5/21)

| 2 days ago

Cop Allowed to Patrol Despite Being Investigated for Murder. Ofc. Bryan Riser, a 12-year veteran of the Dallas Police Department, was a person of interest in a pair of murders since 2019. Former Chief U. Reneé Hall had been briefed on the matter. Using guidance from investigators with the Department of Justice and the district attorney’s office, the chief allowed Riser to continue to patrol the South Central division. Doing otherwise would, she told the Dallas Morning News, “compromise the murder investigation.” Police didn’t have enough evidence to secure an arrest warrant until this week, when a man accused of murder said Riser paid him to do it. In 2017, a few months after Riser was arrested on a misdemeanor family violence charge—and still allowed to remain on the force—30-year-old Lisa Saenz was found in the Trinity River near downtown by some boaters. She’d been shot. Six months later, a tipster pointed police to three suspects. They were charged with murder. In August of 2019, one of those men told investigators that Riser had paid them to kill Saenz and another 60-year-old man named Albert Douglas. Douglas’ remains haven’t been found. Riser had been the subject of multiple internal investigations, including “escalating or participating” in a disturbance. He’ll keep being paid on administrative leave until an internal investigation is complete. Chief Eddie García said Riser “has no business wearing this uniform.”

ERCOT Overcharged $16 Billion for Electricity. Last week, I learned all about electricity scarcity pricing by talking to two former energy retailers who sold their companies. They were fearful that the state would allow generators to sell electricity at exorbitant rates, which is allowed when supply is low and demand is high. According to an independent market monitor, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas—acting with permission from its oversight body, the Public Utility Commission of Texas—kept prices too high for two days after the storm. What is too high? About $9,000 per megawatt hour, when it was just $50 before the storm. The decision resulted in excess charges of $16 billion, which will surely cause defaults and bankruptcies. We’re already seeing that.

Full Vaccination Effort for Educators Could Take Weeks. State and federal directives now ask counties to add teachers and child-care professionals to the list of eligible vaccine recipients. But the county doesn’t enough vaccine to pull it off. As it stands, County Judge Clay Jenkins is using the 17 FEMA priority ZIP codes to vaccinate educators who live there. The state, it seems, isn’t really communicating with the county about this. Which is super reassuring, especially considering we’re a few days away from the governor’s mitigation efforts flying out the window.

Beautiful Weekend Ahead. Until Saturday, with highs in the low 60s and lows in the 40s, we’ll have to deal with a minor chance of rain. Like, 10 percent today. It’ll be mostly sunny this weekend, with Sunday peaking at 67 degrees. Enjoy it. 

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Coronavirus

The Grassroots Group Finding COVID-19 Vaccines in Dallas-Fort Worth

| 3 days ago

Gene Davis was trying to get his parents a vaccine appointment. He called hospitals but found that he had outdated information about which facility was vaccinating and when. It was a lonely experience; how many others felt they existed in an information gap? 

Before the county established its major hubs, Davis created a Facebook group called DFW Covid Vaccine Finder with a few friends to share information about vaccinations. He found that calling smaller pharmacies and providers in towns around Dallas was the most effective. Some locations, such as UT Health in Tyler or a pharmacy in Weatherford, were hosting first-come, first-serve sign up lists that opened at the beginning of the week. He shared what he was learning with the group. What began with just 30 people quickly ballooned to 500 members. 

When the hubs were established, there was significant confusion regarding the sign up process and whether it was OK to share links. Soon came reports of ineligible residents trying to be vaccinated. It resulted in another feud between Mayor Eric Johnson and County Judge Clay Jenkins, though it seems that most of those early issues have been remedied. That confusion made it more difficult for those who were eligible for the vaccine to navigate the bureaucracy. This is where the group came in. 

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Coronavirus

Not in 1A or 1B? Here Is One (Ethical) Way to Get Vaccinated

| 3 days ago

The search to become vaccinated against COVID-19 has become a bit more desperate for some after Gov. Greg Abbott announced that he was canceling the state’s coronavirus mitigation efforts. While vaccination hubs are still working their way through the lists of prioritized residents in groups 1A and 1B, volunteering at a vaccination site may get you a dose. 

Dallas County is accepting volunteers at the Fair Park COVID Vaccine Mega Center to fill several roles. They are needed to help residents who have arrived for their scheduled vaccine. Others are asked to direct people around the site to the correct building or door. There is a need for handling paperwork, directing cars, and many other responsibilities, as needed. (You also may get to drive a golf cart.) Cell phones are required to check in and out with QR codes. Bilingual volunteers are also required to handle the same responsibilities. The county also needs medical volunteers who can help with the vaccinations through the Dallas County Medical Reserve Corps

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Local News

Leading Off (3/4/2021)

| 4 days ago

Families Sue Oncor. After the recent storms and power outages, Larry Ford found his 68-year-old father, Elzie Ford, frostbitten and near death at his home in Whitney. A neighbor had called on February 14 to say Elzie had fallen; later that night, the electricity went out. Due to road conditions, Larry wasn’t able to reach his father until February 19. Elzie was taken by helicopter to a hospital in Waco, where he died on the 20th. A new lawsuit filed on behalf of Larry, by Dallas attorney Patrick Luff, alleges that Elzie’s death could have been prevented if Oncor had properly prepared its facilities in preparation for the anticipated severe weather event. Another lawsuit was filed in Dallas County by Houston attorney Anthony Buzbee on behalf of the family of Katherine Birdwell, who died after her oxygen machine stopped working when the power went out.

Oncor Apologizes to City Council. Officials told Dallas City Council yesterday that they would improve communication in the future but denied that intentional bias determined the neighborhoods where power was cut. Oncor cited an internal review for its conclusion, but did not provide raw data or a report to Council. Even though ERCOT officials have said that the entire grid was minutes from collapsing on February 15, Oncor failed to communicate to residents that the planned 15-30 minute rolling blackouts were going to turn into days without power when the company discovered that insufficient power was being generated due to frozen natural gas pipelines and other system failures caused by the extreme cold.

ERCOT Fires Its CEO. Bill Magness, who had been drawing an $803,000 yearly salary, got his walking papers yesterday.

County Judge Clay Jenkins Loses His Voice. Metaphorically, of course, from screaming into the void. The latest tally of 26 COVID deaths and 718 new cases is the first after Governor Greg Abbott’s announced revocation of the mask mandate, and therefore is apropos of very little. The full vaccination total for the county now stands at 8.7 percent for residents 16 an older. But as medical professionals and we all know [recites in unison] reduced mask use leads to increased spread of the disease.

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Politics & Government

Oncor Apologizes to Dallas City Council for Winter Storm Power Outages

| 4 days ago

Representatives from Oncor, which manages electricity distribution for much of North Texas, came before the Dallas City Council today, hat in hand, to apologize for the power outages that left thousands of residents without power for days during one of the coldest freezes in the state’s history.

“Your electrical providers totally failed you,” said Mark Carpenter, the senior vice president of Transmission and Distribution Operations at Oncor. “The situation we found ourselves in was we simply did not have enough electrons to deliver.”

The briefing offered a glimpse into the chaotic unfolding of February’s winter storm event from Oncor’s perspective. It also provided council members an opportunity to air any grievances over the company’s handling of the response. Although the root cause of the outages can be traced to problems with failing power generators and the state government’s inadequate oversight of Texas’ electricity marketplace, council members said communication failures at Oncor exacerbated the situation on the ground.

“The communication was ‘CYA’ at best,” said South Dallas council member Adam Bazaldua, referencing the phrase “cover your ass.” “What I was able to give my constituents, we really told them nothing. It was even disingenuous.”

One key frustration was Oncor’s failure to inform the public that rolling blackouts would be something much longer. The company was not able to cut power in 15 to 45 minute increments a because of the sheer size of the power load it was being asked to shed from the electrical grid. In order to stay operational, the power grid must maintain a balanced wattage load across the system. But as the winter storm knocked out power production plants – right as freezing temperatures drove a surge in consumer demand for electricity — the grid became dangerously unstable.

The Electric Reliability Council of Texas, or ERCOT, which manages Texas’ grid, demanded Oncor shed massive amounts of power in order to avoid a total collapse of the state’s electricity distribution system.

“Had we not taken the drastic action that we took we would have had much, much worse events that would have lasted many, many days,” Carpenter said.

Carpenter said Oncor knew the storm was coming and had prepared. It increased staffing at its emergency operations center and deployed crews throughout the city. But it did not anticipate the sheer size of the load ERCOT would require Oncor shed from its grid – about five times more than what was required during the 2011 winter storm, the last major winter outage event in North Texas. Oncor was forced to shut off nearly every neighborhood in the city except for those connected to the system “feeders,” which function like circuit breakers for the entire grid. If those feeders blow, the entire grid goes down with them.

“We were playing that dangerous game for three days,” said Charles Elk, the director of customer operations at Oncor. “It was changing minute-to-minute, and we didn’t do a good enough job keeping our customers informed minute-to-minute.”

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Coronavirus

The End of the Mask Mandate Won’t Delay Dallas’ Herd Immunity

| 4 days ago

Gov. Greg Abbott’s announcement to end the state mask mandate and open all businesses at 100 percent was met with criticism from medical experts, but it most likely won’t impact Dallas County’s path to herd immunity.

The Parkland Center for Clinical Innovation has been measuring the pandemic’s impact since the virus arrived in Dallas about a year ago. Last week it predicted that Dallas County could reach herd immunity by June, which means that 80 percent of the population will be either vaccinated or have antibodies after recovering from the infection.

Steve Miff, the CEO of PCCI, says the prediction factored in infection rate increases due to the Easter holiday and spring break, as well as the impact of new variants. That means increased spread due to the end of the mask mandate won’t have a large impact on the herd immunity timeline. “Infections might accelerate in some areas within certain demographics, but they can be balanced by the accelerated timeframe for the availability of vaccines and pace of vaccinations,” he says.

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Local News

Tim Coursey Is the Quietest (and Maybe Best) Artist in Dallas

| 4 days ago

I will admit I do not know all the artists in Dallas. I frequent (or did, back in Precedented Times) a number of galleries, but my interest is casual and my knowledge has giant gaps in it. But when it comes to writers, I’d like to think there aren’t many living in and around Dallas who have escaped my notice, at least not many worth knowing about. I read and write for a living and I read and write in my downtime. One way or another, it’s important to me to check out everyone with a pen and North Texas ZIP code.

Somehow, Tim Coursey—who counts as his friends and fans the bestselling author Ben Fountain (Billy Lynn’s Longtime Halftime Walk) and essayist David Searcy—got by me. At least he did until sometime last year. I saw a photo of him that Sofia Bastidas Vivar, curator at SMU’s Pollock Gallery, posted to her Instagram account, showing Coursey working on a book he was printing on the gallery’s Risograph machine. I was intrigued. Even more so when it turned out that what he was working on, a spiral-bound collection of his short stories, Driving Lessons: Thirteen Stories, was to serve as the basis for an exhibition at the Pollock.

It’s up now, through March 13, and I encourage everyone to go check it out. It’s where I met Coursey in December, a conversation that turned into a profile of the artist, writer, and furniture maker. It’s in the March issue of D Magazine, and you can read it here. As I followed him around the exhibition, which features his pencil drawings, broadside excerpts of his stories, and a new sculpture, Hope Chest, he spoke so softly that it barely registered on my phone recorder. So maybe that’s how I missed Tim Coursey.

He has mastered the art of hiding in plain sight, almost invisible even to me in an empty gallery.

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