Here’s a running list of my best Dallas Morning News stories

I started at The Dallas Morning News in February 2015. I started on the cops beat, covering the Dallas Police Department, and then in February 2016 I was moved (promoted?) to the Dallas County beat. Since then, I’ve been covering county government, the jail, Parkland Memorial Hospital — North Texas’ largest public hospital — Dallas’ juvenile detention facilities and other interesting stuff that my editor or I have come across.

It’s been tough to find the time to keep this website updated. Here are some stories I’ve done in Dallas that I’m particularly proud of:

Profiles

How Police Chief David Brown’s entire life prepared him for the Dallas shootings

This story was a finalist for the Pulitzer prize, as it was included among The Dallas Morning News’ entry for the breaking news category.

‘Too controversial’ for Fox, Dallas’ Tomi Lahren may be Facebook’s most loved and hated woman

Before the trial of his life, Dallas County Commissioner John Wiley Price isn’t worried


After Orlando, a Dallas drag queen looks out on her changed world

Features

Compassionate use: When the one drug that can protect your child could put you in jail

In rural Dallas County, a clash over the role of government

‘Goodbye to the girl I used to be’

In Baton Rouge, Dallas officers soldier on to honor brothers in blue

Victim in Garland terror attack tormented by belief FBI knew of ISIS plot

Investigative

The suburbs are booming, but their uninsured increasingly burden Dallas County taxpayers

Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins interfered in major deal on behalf of local firms, colleagues allege

A taxing problem: Dallas property taxes squeeze middle class while wealthy, businesses reap advantages

Unsupervised boys at Dallas County juvenile detention engaged in sex acts

Commentary

Why US Politics Keeps My Grandma, a Holocaust Survivor, Up at Night

I lost any sense of journalistic detachment when Patti Stevens mentioned me in her suicide note

What I learned from getting kicked out of a police gathering in Baton Rouge

Survivor: ‘It’s all just so crazy’

This story was published on page A1 of The Advocate on July 30, 2012.  

Of all the movie theaters to pass on a road trip from Seattle to Baton Rouge, Bonnie Kate Pourciau and her best friend ended up in the Aurora, Colo., midnight screening of the new Batman movie July 20, the night a gunman opened fire on the audience.

Pourciau, who was shot in the knee, was one of 58 who were wounded. Twelve others died in the massacre.

After flying home to Baton Rouge via air ambulance Thursday, Pourciau said she is preparing for a fourth surgery on her knee at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital.

Just 10 days ago, Pourciau and her best friend, Elizabeth Sumrall, were hiking at Mount Rushmore and Yellowstone National Park. Now, Pourciau said she knows it will be many months before she can walk again.

“It’s all just so crazy,” said Pourciau, 18, as she lay Saturday in her hospital bed surrounded by flowers and cards. “I was passing through for one night and just happened to see a movie that should’ve been sold out in a town that I didn’t even know existed.” Read more of this post

Baton Rouge women’s peaceful reststop in Aurora turns into setting of horror

This story was published as a sidebar to the A1 story on July 24 which covered President Obama’s visit to one of the shooting victims from Baton Rouge. 

As Elizabeth Sumrall pored over a map a month ago in Seattle, planning her cross-country road trip home to Baton Rouge, she decided Aurora, Colo., would be a more peaceful place than nearby Denver for her and her best friend to spend the night.

“I heard the parking was terrible in Denver,” Sumrall said Sunday.

So last week, Sumrall, 23, and her best friend, Bonnie Kate Pourciau, 18, embarked on their road trip to Yellowstone National Park and Mount Rushmore.

After arriving at their Aurora hotel Thursday, their plans took a fateful turn when the women decided to go see the midnight screening of the latest Batman movie. Read more of this post

Drivers relive fatal moment — Pedestrian deaths leave lingering effects

This story was published on page A1 of The Advocate on March 6, 2012. 

Photo by Libby Isenhower, The Advocate — The Rev. James Cowell says his church congregation has helped him heal since unintentionally killing a man three weeks ago.

The Rev. James Cowell, of Walker, ran over and killed a man with his truck three weeks ago.

While police said the shirtless man dove in front of Cowell’s truck at the last second, thus making the accident unavoidable, Cowell, 46, says he will be haunted by that fateful moment — the eye contact, the screeching brakes, the sight of the dead man’s body under his truck — for the rest of his life.

“The fact of the matter is I basically killed that man,” Cowell said, a week after the Feb. 9 accident. “I can’t describe how it feels other than complete shock and disbelief.”

It is a scenario that plays out twice almost every week in Louisiana: a sober driver usually traveling down a dark highway who doesn’t see the pedestrian until the last second before impact, if at all.

Of the 272 drivers who struck and killed a pedestrian in Louisiana since Jan. 1, 2009, 233 were not issued a citation, according to data compiled by Dr. Helmut Schneider, director of LSU Highway Safety Research Group.

Last year, at least 74 drivers were not at fault in the deaths of the pedestrians they struck with their vehicles, according to Schneider’s data. Read more of this post

French Quarter bar fight victim suffers lingering repercussions from head injuries

This story was published in The Times-Picayune on December 13, 2011. 

Two months ago in the French Quarter, two strangers got in a 30-second bar fight that will forever affect their lives. One now faces the prospect of permanent brain damage and hundreds of thousands in medical bills — without insurance. The other faces arrest for second-degree battery, a crime that carries a maximum sentence of five years in prison.

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Their fateful meeting occurred Oct. 16, at the Jax Brewery Bistro Bar in the 600 block of Decatur Street. New Orleans police said Tuesday that Jason Samuel Lawrence, 23, of New Orleans, allegedly placed the 28-year-old victim in a headlock, choked him unconscious, then threw him down a flight of concrete stairs.

Police do not publicly identify crime victims. The victim spoke with The Times-Picayune on condition of anonymity.

“I was very, very fortunate to not have died,” he said. Due to his injuries, he does not remember what happened that night. Read more of this post

That Sinking Feeling: Once-thriving businesses near Avondale Shipyard are now struggling to survive

This article was published in The Times-Picayune on July 24, 2011. 

Darcy Adams can’t believe she used to make enough in tips to go shoe-shopping. She misses those days now.

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With more bills and past-due notices arriving every day, Adams, 49, looks stressed as she lights another cigarette and surveys the bar. It’s happy hour, but with just four men in the place, two poking at billiard balls in the corner and two nursing beers at the bar, the dozens of empty barstools underscore just how dead it really is.

“I can’t sleep at night. I can’t pay my bills. I’m stressing so bad,” said Adams, of Waggaman. “This place used to be packed. Now, I’m lucky if I get 10 customers.”

As the bartender at O’Reilly’s in Bridge City for the past 10 years, Adams is among the hundreds of people in the Avondale Shipyard area who have seen their business plummet in the past year. Since Northrop Grumman announced last July it would close the shipyard by 2013, the yard’s 5,000 workers have been laid off or left to await their fate. The fallout, for the local businesses that rely on their patronage, has been devastating.

“Come 2013, I’ll be 55, unemployed, and unemployable,” said Rob Laborde, 53, who has worked at the shipyard for the past 22 years. “You gotta keep all your money now. You gotta count every dime you got.” Read more of this post

Small businesses get a lift from bank program

This article was published on July 20, 2011 in The Times-Picayune.  

As a 10-year-old, Malcolm Gibson of New Orleans knew he wanted to be a mortician.

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After being impressed at his grandfather’s funeral by the mortician’s ability to transform the body of someone who looked deathly ill to the way he remembered his grandfather in the best of health, Gibson knew that he would one day help families in much the same way.

“Seeing my poppa look so good helped me cope — it made me feel like he was in a better place,” Gibson said.

So after high school, Gibson went on to mortician school and later founded Professional Funeral Services, a funeral home located in the 7th Ward. He became known for his commitment to families, and his business flourished. But for many years, despite steadily rising revenues, Gibson was still operating deep in the red.

“I knew how to care for families and help them through the grieving process, but I couldn’t organize my business in a way that was sustainable,” said Gibson, now 41. “I’m a funeral director by nature, not an entrepreneur.”
Read more of this post

The Blunt Knife: Telling it like it is, James Carville sees his 60 Tulane students as a vehicle for change and long-lasting legacy

This article was published in The Tulane Hullabaloo on June 7, 2011.

Ted Jackson, The Times-Picayune

With a loud thump, James Carville plops his Nike sneakers up on his desk, leans back in his armchair, and rests his head in clasped hands. Clad in jeans and a black T-shirt, the 66-year-old CNN political pundit appears relaxed and content. His casual manner belies the hectic schedule that has just whisked him from Washington to New Orleans, where he’ll give a lecture tonight and eat dinner with his family, before flying out tomorrow to New York. This free hour between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m. each Tuesday evening  —  just before he teaches his political science class at Tulane University — is one he cherishes all week. For this sole hour, he gets to hang out with a few of his students, his personal assistant, his teaching assistant, and the week’s guest speaker, who, in the class’s three-year history, has been anyone from prominent Republican Newt Gingrich to liberal columnist Matt Taibbi of Rolling Stone magazine. As they casually dissect the politics of the day, Carville’s grating Southern drawl, authoritative and commanding, collides in the air with the 20-year-olds’ high-pitched admiring laughter.

Read more of this post

WTUL’s Senior Voice Hosts Longest-Running Reggae Show in US

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After watching the music industry evolve from transistor radios to mp3s, this 62-year-old reggae DJ fears the internet

This story was published on April 18, 2011 in Offbeat Magazine. 

The coffee shop on the corner of Carrolton and Oak Street, in Uptown New Orleans, is a century old, tall and white, with towering ceilings that bear the faded symbols of its days long ago as the neighborhood bank. It is mid-morning when the locals begin to file in, in droves, snaking their way to the long, narrow counter, as they have been doing for years, decades, even.

On one Saturday in November 2005, however, as the surrounding city was still staggering from Hurricane Katrina and everything seemed upside-down—businesses shut down, homes empty, knee-high grass where the streetcar used to run—the still-brewing coffee wasn’t the only welcome constant in the customers’ lives. Up on the overlooking balcony loft, Shepard Samuels, a round 57-year-old man with frizzy sideburns and long stringy brown hair parted down the middle, stood at a turntable, and spoke into a microphone, his deep, trembling, Southern voice familiar to listeners across the city, from the Ninth Ward to the Garden District to Metairie. The crew of college kids scurrying around him with technical equipment was broadcasting his words, as they slowly and deliberately trickled out, live on FM radio.
Read more of this post

Tulane-sponsored Debate League helps students overcome adversity

 As director’s teaching position ends, debate program’s future appears uncertain

This story was published on April 15, 2011 in The Tulane Hullabaloo. 

Sweating just a little in his pressed peach-colored shirt and striped tie, 14-year-old Malik Tropez faced the packed Lavin-Bernick Center conference room and argued his position that rap music causes more harm than good.

Peppered with personal anecdotes and data on rap’s correlation with adolescent crime, violence and promiscuity, Malik’s argument was compelling. In fact, if it weren’t for a few shaky words and mispronunciations, you might have never known that this confident young man had long battled a speech impediment and fear of public speaking.

Tulanes debate program has helped Malik Tropez,a 14-year-old at Lafayette Charter School, battle a speech impediment and crippling fear of public speaking.

“Now, I feel like I have something to say that matters,” said Malik, who has been debating competitively for two years. “Adults listen to me now.”

But Malik’s story, an unlikely metamorphosis from shy, inarticulate and apathetic to presenting coherent arguments on important issues, is emblematic of the Tulane Debate League’s impact on the 200 New Orleans public school students it serves. Since Tulane English postdoctorate fellow Ryan McBride launched the program in 2009, more than 150 Tulane students have coached children at six underperforming middle schools around the city in competitive debate.

“Once these kids catch a glimpse of their own potential, they are unstoppable,” McBride said. “They see what they are capable of, and they go for the intellectual challenge.”

The league held its largest debate tournament Saturday in the Lavin-Bernick Center, drawing 19 teams from eight schools. Approximately 50 Tulane students were the judges and coaches for the competitions, wherein one team had to prove a statement and the opposing team had to refute it. The judges determine the winning team to be the one that best laid out its argument beyond a reasonable doubt on topics ranging from free speech to drilling moratoriums. Read more of this post