(Photo by Gage Skidmore used via Creative Commons)

Texas Gov. calls for resignation of GOP official over George Floyd conspiracy theory

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Published in The New York Post on June 4, 2020

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has called for the resignation of a county GOP chair who posted a conspiracy theory that the death of George Floyd was staged.

Nueces County GOP Chair Jim Kaelin, a former sheriff in the county, shared the conspiracy theory — which said the death was staged to harm Trump with Black voters — to Facebook, freelance reporter James M. Russell reported.

“Interesting perspective: Staged Event? These officers were involved with something, I’m not sure exactly what, but something is just not adding up,” the post begins.

“I think there is at the very least the ‘possibility’, that this was a filmed public execution of a black man by a white cop, with the purpose of creating racial tensions and driving a wedge in the growing group of anti deep state sentiment from common people.”

Abbott’s office told the Corpus Christi Caller-Times that Floyd’s death was a “crime and an act of police brutality.”

“Spreading conspiracy theories that the murder was staged simply defies reality; it is irresponsible, and unbecoming of anyone who holds a position in the GOP,” a spokesman for the governor told the Caller-Times.

Kaelin’s post comes after Abbott and other Republicans in the state called for the resignation of Bexar County GOP chair Cynthia Brehm — who refused to resign for posting the same comments, the Texas Tribune reported.

Lieutenant Governor Dan Patrick slammed the comments as racist on Twitter.

“Cynthia Brehm must resign now, today. There is no excuse for this outrageous, ignorant racist message made worse by using her position as a local party leader to spread it.”

Republican U.S. Senators Ted Cruz and John Cornyn have also called for her resignation, the outlet reported.

Brehm has since deleted her post but Kaelin’s remains up on Facebook, reports said.

(Photo by Adam Schrader)

Experienced balloonmeister to lead flight at Highland Village Balloon Festival

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Published in The Dallas Morning News on Aug. 15, 2014

It is the Tuesday night after world-renowned balloon pilot Pat Cannon of Highland Village garnered eighth place against 58 other pilots at the 2014 US National Championship.

Cannon, 67, is balloonmeister for this weekend’s Highland Village Balloon Festival at the Briarhill Middle School football field. The event is sponsored by the Highland Village Lion’s Club.

Cannon looks into the setting sun, turning his back to find the wind so he can get his balloon properly and safely inflated for the media preview. The plan on this evening is to inflate and glow a hot air balloon against the night sky.

Cannon has flown the national and world championships since 1989 and retired from high-stakes competitive ballooning last weekend. He said he feels good about the retirement and hopes to celebrate his victories over the years with successful launches and turnout at this year’s festival.

“I have two U.S. national championships that I’ve won and two senior national championships that I’ve won,” he said with a laugh.

Light wind stirs the purple collar of his Balloon Federation of America polo as his wife and crew chief, Carol, sits in the shiny red F350 parked in a nearby grass lot. The company truck is called the Taiho Niji-Go Hot Air Balloon Team company car. She is reading a book. She’s been his crew chief since Day 1, when the couple started ballooning as a family sport.

“My wife and I were looking for something to do in aviation,” Cannon said. “We tried gliders, helicopters and airplanes.”

Cannon said ballooning families often include several family members, since it takes a crew to get the balloon into the air.

“If you use people in your family, you get to know who they are and their processes,” Cannon said. “Unless you have family that will help you put up the balloon, you need friends there.”

Cannon said he has flown balloons in Japan, Austria and Australia and said they still communicate with people from the world championships in Japan in 1996.

Cannon’s said his love for the air started when he was a U.S. military helicopter pilot during a tour in Vietnam. He flew CH 47 Chinooks. When he returned, he used the G.I. bill to get his airplane ratings and has stayed in the business ever since. He also owns a company at the airport in Addison called Turbine Aircraft Services that provides product support for a series of turban-powered airplanes the Japanese built here over the years. Cannon also works as a designated pilot examiner to certify pilots for the FAA.

This weekend, Cannon said he’ll have to be careful. If the balloon goes too high in this airspace, he could hit the altitude cap and enter potentially dangerous airspace above Highland Village that is FAA-assigned for airplanes arriving at Dallas/Fort Worth Airport. But, unlike airplanes, he doesn’t have to coordinate with the FAA and commercial air traffic controllers on a daily basis.

The mornings of the festival, balloons will fly either to or from the football field and try to drop bags of sand on a bull’s-eye to score points like at national competitions. Other competitions in the nationals include trying to land in a particular spot but can also be as complex as a global positioning system box in the sky that has to be hit or flown through at different levels.

In the case of this, Cannon uses propane for fuel and can’t dribble it into the balloon or maintain the same size of flame, so he pulses the flame to meter the heat into the balloon. As propane exits burner jets, it expands so rapidly it approaches -270 degrees and can freeze valves.

Cannon has a grown daughter who lives in Austin. So, she cannot be a regular crew member. This means he and Carol must recruit friends who like the sport.

He looks at the blowing trees and branches to determine wind direction and wind speed at different heights, which he calls micrometeorology. Friends and fellow Lions start arriving to help. Cannon is so focused on his task, he doesn’t greet the men, who all wear yellow work gloves. His attention shifts between the grass under his feet to the sun setting behind him. Dark clouds are coming in from the south, so he might not be able to inflate.

Carol looks up from her book, sees the gathering crowd and joins her husband outside. Four men take the basket and the bag that holds the balloon envelope out of the pickup bed and lay them on the grass. The envelope is the fabric that fills with air. They lay the basket on its side and tether the metal bars on the basket to the trailer hitch with a thick rope.

The men, under Carol’s guidance, unroll the 80,000-cubic-foot envelope.

Cannon instructs one of the men on the dangers of the fan, which is used to blow the balloon up when it’s on its side. He said that the $4,000 fan is the most dangerous part of ballooning with wood propellers that are known to come apart spinning inside a cage.

A couple of crew members pull the opening so the new wind can fill the envelope. Carol directs Allan Haugen, who is struggling to hold the balloon, which inflated and battered by the breeze can weigh as much as a car, straight.

Scott Rohn comes and takes his place. As the inflated balloon starts to rise, cars start appearing in the previously vacant lot to see the takeoff.

Excitement builds among the small crowd and the crew. Cannon squats behind the burner, occasionally throwing flame toward the balloon. Nearly 30 minutes after unpacking the envelope, the balloon is in the sky, and the men rush to keep the basket upright in a new game of tug-of-war against nature.

Cannon smiles, places his hand on the bars connecting burner to basket and swings in. The men gather, each holding the bars firmly. Cannon and his friends joke and laugh together as he occasionally hits the burner. And when he does, the men all lift matching green sleeves to wipe the combined heat of the burner and the night sky from their faces. Cannon, however, stays cool inside the basket, as the it finally settles on the ground.

The sun hasn’t quite set but he makes sure to hit the burners lighting the balloon against the oncoming storm.

Lewisville/Flower Mound editor Adam Schrader can be reached at 214-773-8188 and @schrader_adam on Twitter.

Jack’s Lounge signature cocktails include the Red Poppy Cosmo, (left) and the Spicy Rita (right). (Photo by Adam Schrader)

Jack’s Lounge offers local experience, cocktails and small plates

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Published in Community Impact Newspaper on April 12, 2017

Jack’s Lounge, at the south end of Sheraton Georgetown Texas Hotel & Conference Center, offers a gastropub experience without providing a full dinner. The bar offers small plates and pairings in a room characterized by rustic chic decor.

Joshua Goodine, director of restaurants and bars at the hotel, said the most striking qualities about the bar are its cleanliness and emphasis on providing a local experience.

Local artists created all art adorning the walls. A Texas crafter designed and created the bar’s central table specifically for Jack’s Lounge, and it is made from Thailand-sourced chamcha wood on a stainless steel base.

“Everyone asks about the table,” Goodine said. “It’s an expensive, beautiful wooden table.”

Goodine said the bar’s cocktail menu also draws inspiration from the locale, such as its Spicy Rita and Red Poppy Cosmo. The bar features Austin-area brews from Independence and Solid Rock breweries as well as Georgetown’s Rentsch Brewery.

“We like to have Rentsch in both the restaurant and the bar because the locals love it,” Goodine said.

Executive Chef Luiz Quezada created the bar’s menu, which is not standardized across Sheraton hotel bars. The bar, which offers 35 bottled wines and 25 bottled beers, also has no sommelier. But
Goodine said he and Restaurant Manager Liesel Krawik frequently identify new wines to rotate through the available selection. Goodine said he hopes the bar will soon offer local wines in addition to local beers.

Jack’s Lounge offers a social hour from 5-7 p.m. with $5 14-oz. drafts, $5 select wines and $1 off paired food items. All bar guests get a bar snack, such as potato chips made in-house with an adobo spice rub. The lounge also offers a “More for Four” special on Fridays and Saturdays.

The bar, since the start of April, occasionally hosts local musicians. In April, the bar also began selling $3 brisket sliders smoked in-house.

Goodine said he expects a full house more frequently. The 2,100-square-foot lounge can hold 80 people.

“I don’t like overcrowded bars. I want to be able to walk in and have my drink in less than five minutes,” Goodine said. “That’s not to say we’re never busy. But my four bartenders are well-trained and accommodate everyone.”

Red Poppy Cosmo Recipe

  • 1oz. fresh lime juice
  • 1 oz. strawberry puree
  • 3oz. Tito’s Vodka
  • Combine all items into a shaker with ice. Shake vigorously, strain and pour. Garnish with a lemon wheel.

Jack’s Lounge
1101 Woodlawn Ave., Georgetown
Hours: Sun.-Fri. 5 p.m.-midnight, Sat. 5 p.m.-1 a.m

In Double Oak, types of escaped animals can prompt a double take

Published in The Dallas Morning News on Dec. 4, 2015

It’s common for livestock to escape in Double Oak, a town just west of Flower Mound that is often considered an urban farming community because of its large acreage properties.

But regardless of its regularity, escaped livestock still excites those who spot the missing mammal.

“There has been a longhorn going through the yards on South Forest Lane for the last couple of hours,” a Double Oak resident posted on Facebook this morning. “I tried to go over there to let them know but they have an electric gate. Only in Texas lol!”

Blake Ringberg, a Double Oaks police officer, said that by the time he responded to the call, the owner already had the longhorn put up.

Residents in the 200 block of Kings Road have three longhorns “that are basically pets of theirs,” Rinbgberg said. A creek on the backside of their property touches the fence line. Because of heavy rain last week, part of the fence washed way.

The owner was able to get the animal corralled and was repairing his fence.

About a third of the residents in Double Oak have some sort of livestock. You’re not quite sure what you’re going to see from day to day.

Ringberg said he’s seen everything from horses and longhorns to miniature donkeys and llamas. At one time, a zebra even called Double Oak home.

“You wouldn’t think you’d get livestock calls in a metropolitan area, but we do frequently and actually keep equipment in the car to wrangle them,” Ringberg said. “We keep horse halters, horse ropes, lead ropes, snake poles, pretty much anything for an animal we’d need to deal with.”

Construction begins on Lewisville's Coyote Drive-In theater.(Photo by Adam Schrader)

Anticipation for Coyote Drive-In grows, company postpones opening for rain

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Published in The Lewisville Texan Journal on June 4, 2016

Drive-in theaters have been absent from the Denton County community since The Rancho in Denton closed in the 1980s. There hasn’t been a theater like it in Lewisville since one closed off Business 121 in the 1970s.

So when Fort Worth-based Coyote Drive-In announced plans to open Lewisville location, the community couldn’t get enough of the news. It continues to be one of the most talked about local stories and residents frequently ask The Lewisville Texan Journal for updates.

The opening, which was once planned for late last year, will be postponed again after a series of delays in the planning stages when the theater realized it had space to add a sixth screen, and rain.

Coyote had then planned for a July 1 opening but now won’t be open until early fall, said Glen Soloman, a partner in Coyote Drive-In. No changes have been made to the planned design since Lewisville approved $306,500 of incentives in February; and work was moving on schedule since the company broke ground in January, before recent rains.

“Nobody is more sorry about the delay than we are,” Soloman said. “But when the long-anticipated location finally opens, it will be worth the wait.”

Soloman said significant progress will be seen in the next coming weeks as the weather forecast shifts.

Lewisville resident Todd Simpson, 36, said he loved going to theaters like it when he was younger.

“I absolutely would go and I understand it’s very difficult to build things when we’re getting the type of rain we’ve been getting,” he said.

Simpson said that next summer, when Coyote Drive-In is open, Texans won’t have to worry about the summer heat like they did.

“When we think of drive-ins, we think of the old days of having to roll down the windows,” he said. Coyote Drive-In uses special FM radio frequencies to which guests tune their car’s radio, so “there is never going to be an issue with the heat,” he said.

Lewisville resident Sallie Burris, 62, said that when she was dating in high school, she used to catch films at the Rebel Twin Drive-In off Belt Line in Carrollton. By the time the previous Lewisville theater opened, she was a young married woman with a baby daughter.

“We would load our Volkswagen bus with bottles, diapers and baby food and go to the movies,” she said. “Now I want my grandchildren to experience the drive-in movie. I am sure they’ve come a long way since then.”

Flower Mound resident Nicole Webb, 23, who is currently in school in Washington D.C., said she’s never been to a drive-in theater.

“Me and my friends in high school always wanted to. We never got around to it because all the ones open then were too far away,” she said. “I’d love to go when I’m in town next.”

Some residents had suggestions for Coyote before they open.

“We honestly don’t go to movies, but if there were a decent family film we would consider it,” Lewisville resident Kari Simpkins, 53. “I don’t care for any sort of violence or foul language. I would love to see some of the recent Christian movies shown there.”

Coyote opened its second location in Birmingham, Alabama, at the start of May. Until the new cinema opens in Lewisville, residents looking to catch flicks from the comfort of their car can head to the company’s original Panther Island location in Fort Worth.

21-year-old Lewisville native Anne Winters pursues acting dream in Los Angeles

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Published in The Dallas Morning News on Jan. 14, 2016

Anne Winters, 21, uses her youthful looks to her advantage, usually playing 15- to 17-year-olds on shows like The Fosters, Wicked City and Tyrant.

After Winters begged her mother to help her land commercials in high school, her career quickly evolved.

“I thought it would be fun and I could make some extra money,” she said. “It would either grow into something more or it wouldn’t.”

It grew into enough to derail Winters from her plans of a traditional college track. By 19, she left her Lewisville home for Hollywood and hasn’t been without a job for more than six weeks since.

“She was always willing to perform in front of people,” said her mother, Karen Winters.

At 15, Anne won a Los Angeles talent competition, scoring a contract with a manager. She would return to Los Angeles for pilot season and callbacks.

“My sophomore year, I missed like 75 days of school, and that was tough,” she said. “I missed homecoming and all the fun things a high-schooler gets to do.”

That year, she booked commercials across Dallas and a Nickelodeon pilot. Ultimately, it didn’t run.

“To get anything so soon in the game was the biggest shock ever, particularly to my dad,” she said. “He’s still skeptical of my career.”

Her junior year, Winters took a break from Hollywood to focus on acting in North Texas and her goal to be accepted into the acting program at Southern Methodist University.

Staying close to home, she worked a movie called Cooper and the Castle Hills Gang that was filmed in her Castle Hills neighborhood.

Winters auditioned for SMU during her senior year at Prestonwood Christian Academy. But she already had a growing resume. Faculty asked her why she wished to attend school instead of following her Hollywood path.

“That’s when I chose to move and pursue acting for real,” Winters said. “If things didn’t work out after a year, I could always come back.”

Winters said she had backup a lot of starting actors don’t have. Her parents could afford to provide time and financial support.

Winters graduated in 2012, moved to California and enrolled at the College of the Canyons.

“I went to college for a minute and booked the role of Lauren in Sand Castles, which filmed in Indiana. Professors told me I had to choose,” she said. “I never went back to school.”

Sand Castles follows a family wrestling with the mysterious return of Lauren, a mute who had disappeared from a beach parking lot.

Winters said she landed the role because of her acting coach, Saxon Trainor.

“I was working with her a lot when I moved out there. She got the role of this drunken mom, and told producers I’d be great to play her daughter,” Winters said. “They loved how she was my coach and said it would be a good dynamic on set.”

In California, she rooms with Devyn Smith, an actress from Rockwall. In their free time, Winters and Smith visit different churches around Los Angeles most days of the week. Church provides Winters a social outlet with people her own age in a town where it can be hard to make friends. She also enjoys singing during services.

“It’s great to have a fellow Texan to room with so far away from home,” Smith said. “We have a similar foundation and understanding of our upbringing that creates a mutual respect and bond.”

During pilot season in 2012, Winters tested for a role seven times and didn’t get the part.

“It was devastating. It was the first time I had my hopes up so much,” she said. “I mean who tests seven times and doesn’t get the role? That’s crazy. But no, it’s not crazy. That’s normal, apparently.”

She went on to land her breakout role — “mean girl” Kelsey in a recurring, two-season spot on ABC Family’s The Fosters.

“I loved being on The Fosters because it was a bunch of kids and I got to make friends,” she said.

After The Fosters, Winters was in the Showtime movie Fatal Instinct. She also starred inAll is Vanity, a post-apocalyptic movie set for release this year.

“I carried a rifle around and had a country accent the whole time,” she said.

In a Lifetime movie, The Bride He Bought Online, she is the main character, one of three girls who prank a man. He discovers their identities and takes revenge.

Growing fame helped her book Tyrant, an FX drama about an unassuming American family drawn into a turbulent Middle Eastern nation. Winters lived in Israel for six months while filming season one. She said she could see missiles from her apartment.

She also went to Budapest for season two of Tyrant. Acting now pays all her bills.

Actress Jennifer Finnegan said she feels lucky to be Winters’ on-screen mother on the show.

“I’ve had the pleasure of watching Anne grow into a beautiful woman and extremely talented actress,” she said. “She’s a natural performer and always wants to listen and learn which makes her a force to be reckoned with. I adore her.”

Southern Denton County/Northwest Dallas County editor Adam Schrader can be reached at 214-773-8188. Twitter: @schrader_adam.


2009 — Gloria (short)

2010 — Summer Camp (Nickelodeon), A Christmas Snow (direct-to-DVD release)

2011 — Cooper and the Castle Hills Gang (Released online at castlehillsmovie.com), In My Pocket (DVD release)

2013 — Liv and Maddie (Disney Channel)

2013-14 — The Fosters (ABC Family)

2014 — Fatal Instinct (Showtime)

2014-15 — Tyrant (FX)

2015 — Pass the Light (Released in select theaters), The Bride He Bought Online (Lifetime),Wicked City (Hulu)

2016 (set for release) — Sand Castles (filmed in 2012 and shown at film fesitvals in 2014), All is Vanity

Disabled Lewisville couple faces unique challenges to remaining independent

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Published in The Dallas Morning News on Oct. 29, 2015

Shawn Koester and his wife, Monica, claim one functioning arm and a pair of unbalanced feet between them. But their brains are as sharp as ever.

Their diseases have made them develop logic skills greater than their able-bodied peers, Shawn said.

Shawn Koester and his wife, Monica. (Photo by Adam Schrader)

Shawn Koester and his wife, Monica. (Photo by Adam Schrader)

“Able-bodied people don’t realize what a process it is to put on your pants,” Shawn said. “I actually have to through a systematic process of how I’m going to brush my teeth, shower, comb my hair.”

Shawn, 50, and Monica, 42, live together without outside help as they both deal with disabilities. Monica has cerebral palsy, which comes with poor coordination, stiff and weak muscles and difficulty speaking. Shawn is a quadriplegic resulting from Charcot-Marie-Tooth Disease, which, much like muscular dystrophy, has left him without any muscle strength.

Fighting for independence comes with obstacles, they said.

“I don’t want to give up. I research ways to stay independent,” Shawn said. “It comes down to attitude and the will to make things happen.”

Shawn Koester and his wife, Monica. (Photo by Adam Schrader)(Photo by Adam Schrader)

Shawn Koester and his wife, Monica. (Photo by Adam Schrader)(Photo by Adam Schrader)

The disease isn’t fatal, and most people with it have normal life expectancies, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke.

The Koesters use robotic electric wheelchairs. Their Lewisville apartment includes a motorized rail lift to carry Shawn through different rooms and lift him onto his bed and recliner. It keeps him out of the nursing home, he said.

“I have a lion inside of me, but I know that my body is disabled,” Shawn said. “I love football and run a college fantasy league online. I would love to play some football. My mind says I can do it, but my body won’t let me.”

Insurance paid for most of the lift; Shawn set up a GoFundMe campaign for the rest.

“I’m not completely paralyzed,” he said. “I can still move some, which is a blessing because I can scoot on the floor. That’s usually how I get around and use the computer.”

Shawn Koester and his wife, Monica. (Photo by Adam Schrader)

Shawn Koester and his wife, Monica. (Photo by Adam Schrader)

Monica does most of the caretaking. She cooks, cleans and takes care of their dog.

“I’m not as strong as I used to be and have issues cleaning and stuff, too,” she said. “We have to eat a lot of frozen stuff, which I know isn’t very healthy.”

In the meantime, Monica also works at Ross, a department store, across the street part-time to provide for the family.

“I like working at Ross, but it’s getting harder to do it because there are days I don’t feel very good or Shawn needs me,” she said. “But we do what we’ve got to do to stay independent.”

Monica used to ride her electric scooter to work day shifts. But now, she’s on a nightly schedule. Shawn said that a friendly co-worker drives her two to three nights a week, which has been a blessing as colder weather approaches.

“If a friend wasn’t willing to pick her up, she probably wouldn’t have a job,” he said. “We don’t really think it’s safe for her to ride her scooter across the street at night.”

Monica was raped more than 18 years ago, she said. The attack led to her now 18-year-old daughter, who also endured sexual assault as a child, Monica said. The Koesters met in an online chat room for singles soon after. Shawn helped her overcome the trauma.

More than their disabilities, Monica said, it united the couple in their fight for independence.

“Figuring out how to get the diaper on, dress Emily and being able to take care of her financially or otherwise was difficult,” Shawn said. “At one time, I was going to try to adopt Emily, but that didn’t work out. We actually missed out a lot on her growing up, which was difficult for Monica being the biological mother.”

The Koesters met Jan. 1, 1999, and were married July 2, 1999. Monica walked down the aisle. Shawn used a three-wheel electric scooter.

“My family was old-fashioned and didn’t want me to move in with him until after we got married,” Monica said. “When I was in Vegas for our honeymoon, they moved my stuff in for me.”

Monica said that unlike Shawn, she was sheltered growing up and that concerned her before the wedding.

“I didn’t know how to cook,” she said. “I was staying with my family, and they took care of the cooking and cleaning.”

Shawn walked as a child, but as he aged into adulthood, he needed support.

“Then I started falling down more frequently and had to go to a manual wheelchair that I was able to push myself,” he said. “When my muscles got weaker and I could no longer push myself, I got the electric wheelchair.”

This was around the time he married Monica — when he still had the use of his hands and could dress and wash himself.

“Sometimes when I’m trying to eat, I need help,” Shawn said. “Monica will feed me.”

Shawn said it’s been traumatic for Monica to watch his disease worsen.

“When we got married, we discussed the future and talked about how this is what we’d face,” he said. “Monica, the strong person that she is, understood that and decided to stay with me anyway.”

But Monica, too, has lost some of her ability. Her balance has worsened and her left arm, once semi-functional, is now unusable. Luckily, her speech impediment has improved some, Shawn said.

“When I met Monica, the communication between us was challenging,” he said. “Now we have no trouble with it.”

Monica says it’s because she talks more now.

The couple has lived together for 16 years — the length of their marriage. Ten years were spent in a Section 8 housing program, Shawn said. But those funds have decreased annually.

The Lewisville apartment complex formerly accepted Section 8 vouchers, Shawn said, but its new owners will not after December. The Koesters will have to start paying regular rent, which is around $950 a month.

They could try to find a new home that would take the funds, Shawn said, but a new place means costly transport and rebuilding the lift.

Shawn got his GED and attended Richland and El Centro colleges in Dallas.

“I didn’t get my degree, but I got a job in the computer lab and tutored classes,” he said. “Then I got a job as a computer operator at a bank association, which launched my IT career.”

Shawn then worked at JC Penney corporate headquarters, but his last job was at National Tech Team in Dallas before its move to Fort Worth. In all, he worked in the IT industry for 17 years.

“It was a real high honor to work for National Tech Team,” he said. “But with the baby and my increased ailments, I had to take my severance package.”

Shawn drove until 2009, when it became too difficult to transfer from his wheelchair to the driver’s seat.

“Since we don’t really go out now, we have our computer and TV and watch a lot of movies,” he said. “When we do get to go on dates, it’s awesome. It’s the little things that really give you joy and happiness.”

Now, Shawn can get stuck in the apartment for a month at a time because he doesn’t have reliable transportation. He can’t load his electric wheelchair unless a vehicle is equipped with a ramp or lift. So, he’s been researching ways purchase another van.

“God has blessed us with good brains, and I have looked into working from home,” Shawn said. “But I’ve been out of the workforce for more than a decade.”

Shawn said his IT skills are now obsolete like the technology he worked on, but updating his skills would cost money he doesn’t have.

“Reliable transportation is the only way to have any quality of life,” he said. “With a new van, I wouldn’t be able to drive — but my sister could.”

Not having to worry about paying rent would change their lives, Shawn said, and taking some of the stress off Monica having to work.

“We just want peace of mind that we can pay our rent, pay our bills and get our groceries,” he said. “Right now, we rely on those days she gets at Ross to get by. “It’s really frustrating; we don’t qualify for Medicaid and food stamps because we’re just over the limit. It just makes it tough that I can’t go out and work a full-time or part-time job to help pay the rent.”

Shawn said that living on a limited income is more difficult for people with disabilities, and living independently takes serious planning skills.

“If you needed to make some money, you can go to McDonald’s and get a part-time job,” he said. “We can’t, so we have to find other ways.”

Police designate safer space for trades

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Published in The Dallas Morning News and The Denton Record-Chronicle on May 23, 2015

The Flower Mound Police Department recently put up two signs marking two adjacent spaces in its parking lot. Police hope the signs, which read “online exchange zone,” will encourage smarter shopping with online classified sites such as Craigslist.

Wess Griffin, a Flower Mound police spokesman, said the signs are precautionary measures. So far, the town has been fortunate to avoid incidents in which an unwary buyer or seller gets ambushed when meeting someone with criminal intent.

“I can’t think of a single instance in Flower Mound where online transactions had gone wrong,” he said.

Craigslist transactions go flawlessly 99 percent of the time. It’s just one nice person trying to sell an object, and one nice person buying an object, Griffin said.

“If you’re someone who’s thinking about doing harm to someone else, hopefully you’ll think twice before trying to attempt that at the police department,” he said. “But I’m not going to say nobody would be brazen enough to try something in front of the police station.”

In February, Denton police Officer Orlando Hinojosa proposed the idea for online safe zones for Denton residents — also for precautionary measures. The safe zone in Denton is also at the police station.

“It wasn’t because we were having issues. Anybody will feel safe doing a transaction at the police department,” Hinojosa said. “If they don’t want to make the exchange at the station, I wouldn’t make a deal with that person.”

Online transaction zones have become popular because of several high-profile cases in which a buyer or seller went to meet someone and ended up getting robbed or killed.

A Dallas County state district judge recently declared a second mistrial in the capital murder case of Christopher Howard Beachum, according to a Dallas Morning News report. Beachum was accused of killing Gerald Canepa, 68, a man he met through Craigslist.

A post on the Richardson Police Department’s Facebook page mentions two robberies in which Craigslist sellers lured potential buyers to two homes in Richardson and robbed them at gunpoint. Similar crimes have occurred across the country, such as the case of Philip Haynes Markoff, the so-called “Craigslist Killer,” who is accused of one murder and two aggravated robberies in Boston.

Dan Rochelle, a captain with the Lewisville Police Department, said his station doesn’t have any designated safety zones. But residents are always welcome to do their exchanges at the station, he said.

“We’ve had plenty of reports filed that they didn’t get the merchandise they paid for,” he said. “But I don’t know of any that are violent in nature.”

The Flower Mound zones have received positive feedback on social media.

Greg Decker, a Flower Mound resident, said safe zones represent an improvement in services.

“I have done quite a few Craigslist deals, and I would never go to [someone’s house] or ask the other party to my house,” he said. “I used a public lot near a restaurant I patronized where I knew employees. I parked in sight, told my buddies what I was doing and to watch, and also had my own defense if needed.”

Brenda Stiles Johnson, another Facebook user, wrote the safe zones are also a great place for a divorced parent to drop off children with the other parent. Johnson said her divorced daughter is more comfortable now when she drops off or picks up her child.

“My daughter loves that Flower Mound has a place,” she said. “She has been meeting her ex in front of Denton PD, but both of them are in our town a lot as both work here.”

Griffin said his department hadn’t envisioned that the safe zones could be used by divorced parents.

“For years and years, our police department has been used for custody exchanges, and we encourage people to do that too,” he said. “It’s always good if there’s any ill will there.”

Griffin said the benefits of buying or selling items at the police department is that the station is staffed 24 hours a day, every day of the year.

Additionally, the spots were chosen to be close to security cameras as possible, which would make it easier to identify suspects and vehicles.

Officers had not considered the possibility that some may use the safety zone for nefarious operations — essentially hiding in plain sight, Griffin said. For example, some drug dealers could think that conducting business in front of the station may prevent them from getting shot by potential buyers.

“I’d hope the safety zones would act as a deterrent, but you never know,” Griffin said. “We caught a guy stealing a bottle of hand sanitizer from our lobby on camera.

“If my dealer wants to meet me in the police department parking lot, I’m probably not going to show on that one. But you never know. Stranger things have happened.”

ADAM SCHRADER can be reached at 940-566-6882 and via Twitter at @schrader_adam.

Fracking the Bakken Formation in North Dakota (Photo by Joshua Doubek used under Creative Commons)

Smitherman asks city officials not to approve ban on fracking in letter

News Stories Archive

Published in the Denton Record-Chronicle on July 11, 2014

Barry T. Smitherman, chairman of the Texas Railroad Commission, has asked Denton city officials not to approve a ban on hydraulic fracturing within city limits.

Denton City Manager George Campbell, Mayor Chris Watts and members of the council all received Smitherman’s letter Friday. He also asked in the letter that his comments be read at a public hearing on the fracking ban proposal during Tuesday night’s City Council meeting.

Under the city charter, the council must hold a public hearing on an initiative petition before taking a vote on the matter. A group of Denton residents organized the initiative in the spring, delivering the signatures of nearly 2,000 registered voters supporting the ban. If the council passes the ban Tuesday, Denton would be the first city in Texas to ban fracking inside its city limits.

Denton sits on the state’s largest onshore natural gas field, the Barnett Shale, and to access this natural gas, companies use fracking.

“Natural gas production in America has also soared because of hydraulic fracturing,” Smitherman wrote.

The Texas Railroad Commission regulates oil and gas drilling, and Smitherman’s letter stressed the importance for drilling in Denton.

According to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, Texas was the leading crude oil-producing state in the nation in 2013 and exceeded production levels from federal offshore areas. Texas accounted for about 29 percent of U.S. marketed natural gas production in 2013, making it the leading natural gas producer among the states.

Smitherman wrote that a ban on fracking is “a ban on oil and gas drilling, one of the key pillars of our Texas economy.”

Staff writer Peggy Heinkel-Wolfe contributed to this report.