Entries in Texas (260)


Playboy Bunny Sign Stirs Controversy Along West Texas Road

Amina Munster/Getty Images(MARFA, Texas) -- A 40-foot tall neon Playboy bunny erected just outside  the high desert town of  Marfa, Texas, has stirred controversy among West Texas residents, with some calling the sign a work of art and others declaring  it an eyesore and a marketing ploy.

The Texas Department of Transportation has ordered that Playboy’s roadside artwork, called “Playboy Marfa,” be removed on the grounds that Playboy did not have a Texas license for outdoor advertising, never submitted a specific permit application for the sign, and that, furthermore,  the location did not qualify for a permit,  according to a statement the agency released to ABC News.

Marfa Mayor Dan Dunlap said it was not surprising that Playboy would try to promote its brand in a town long known as an art mecca, adding that perhaps Playboy’s was trying to create a new image for itself. Playboy’s website does refer to the company trying to “reimagine the iconic brand.”

“The exploitation of Playboy to try to tag on to Marfa seems to irritate a lot of people,” said Dunlap. “The Texas Department of Transportation is treading a thin line here. They decided it’s advertising, versus artwork, therefore, it falls into the category of signage.”

Playboy could not be reached for comment over the July 4 holiday weekend, but company representatives told the El Paso Times that Playboy had not violated any laws and would try to work with the Texas Department of Transportation to resolve its concerns. PR Consulting, which represents Playboy Enterprises, told the paper its legal counsel “was looking into the matter and hoped to resolve the issue satisfactorily and as quickly as possible.”

“Playboy Marfa” doesn’t stand alone in the pasture along Highway 90. Designed by New York artist Richard Phillips and Playboy’s creative director of special projects Neville Wakefield, it is part of a roadside installation that also includes a 1972 Dodge Charger, another American icon.

Dunlap said he suspected Playboy would fight against removing the sign.

“This is not the first time something like this happened,” Dunlap said. “Prada Marfa,” erected in 2005 on the same stretch of highway as “Playboy Marfa,” spoofed the luxury fashion house.

“Other artists come into town to set up shop. There is other artwork that’s outside city limits that is not permitted either. Personally, I don’t find the sign to be offensive.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Mother Protects Kids From Alleged Carjacker: ‘He Messed With the Wrong Witch’ 

ABC News(BAYTOWN, Texas) -- A Texas mother's determination to keep her family out of danger drove her to battle an alleged carjacker until he fled from her minivan -- only to be struck by her vehicle as she tried to "stop him so he didn't hurt anybody else," the woman said.

While Dorothy Baker and her 2-year-old and 5-year-old sons were shopping Friday at a CVS in Baytown, Texas, a man identified as Ismael Martinez allegedly hid out in her unlocked van, police said.

When the family got back into the car, Baker said Martinez "popped up out of the backseat and said that if I didn't want my kids to get hurt, that I would do exactly what he said."

Martinez, 54, allegedly pulled a knife on Baker while she was driving and demanded she stop at an ATM for money, she said.

When she refused, Martinez allegedly became violent, she said.

Baker said she fought back, refusing to compromise the safety of her children.

"She's got a cut that goes across her chest, and she grabbed the knife and he bit her hand," Baker's husband, Charles Flugence said.

"I took my fist and I hit him in the face, and I told him to get out of my car," Baker said.

Baker intentionally drove her van into a telephone pole in hopes of sending Martinez through the front windshield, according to the Baytown Police Department crime report.

Police said she managed to dial 911 while she grappled with the suspect in hopes that a dispatcher might hear what was going on in the car and find a way to help, ABC station KTRK-TV in Houston reported.

"I thought, 'If you swerve and hit the pole, he's not wearing a seatbelt, he'll go through the windshield or at least hit his head, and you can stop him. You can do something to make sure that he doesn't hurt your kids,'" Baker told KTRK-TV. "That's all I was thinking of really, was just to get him away from my kids."

Police said Martinez eventually jumped out of the van and tried to flee. But before Baker knew it, she had run her car into him.

"I didn't mean to run him over," she said. "I was just trying to stop him so he didn't hurt anybody else."
Martinez was airlifted to Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston with serious injuries after the alleged attack. He is expected to face felony charges once he is discharged.

Meanwhile, Baytown residents have rallied around Baker's bravery.

"She was trying to protect herself and her kids. I would do the same thing," resident Joyce Sparks said.
But Baker said she is just glad her family is safe.

"You don't come after people with kids," she said. "I told him he messed with the wrong witch."



Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Texas Judge Bans Gang Members from Houston Neighborhood

Brand X Pictures/Thinkstock(HOUSTON) -- Texas prosecutors say one Houston neighborhood that's been ravaged by drug dealing and violence will be a bit safer after a judge's ruling barred 16 members of the Bloods, Crips and Most Wanted gangs from entering the area.

Prosecutors in Houston's Harris County decided to take a civil approach to the criminal problem under Texas's public nuisance laws. They had to prove to a judge that the individuals were gang members, who had criminal records showing that they were nuisances, according to the Harris County Attorney's office.

The judge ruled in their favor Tuesday, granting an injunction against the 16 gang members.

"This enables us to get injunctions against gang members who are causing nuisances," said Laura Cahill, senior assistant county attorney, who handled the case.

"This is a way to clean up certain areas where there has been a lot of gang activity, particularly drug activity. It has gotten so bad the area was called no-man's land because of the drug dealers out there dealing all the time," Cahill said.

The county attorney's office presented testimony and evidence in a civil trial Tuesday, including testimony from five Houston police officers.

None of the 16 defendants showed up to court or were represented by attorneys. They have not actively participated in the suit, and four are currently in jail, Cahill said.

Filing civil actions against gang members proved difficult because they are often transient, she said.

"We had an original list of 28 (gang members), and there are probably more than that, but we had hard a time tracking them down to serve them with a lawsuit," she said.

The judge's ruling Wednesday means that the 16 individuals are prohibited from entering the "Safety Zone," created in the Brays Oaks neighborhood of Houston, about a mile-square area in the southwest part of the city. The neighborhood, which has two daycare centers and an elementary school, is heavily populated and has been inundated by gang violence, Cahill said.

The county also used public nuisance laws in order to sue two Brays Oaks convenience stores where gang members were hanging out during the day, Cahill said. The county then worked with the landowners of the properties to put in place more stringent security measures.

Cahill said that a civil injunction banning gang members has happened only once before in Harris County.

Lead county attorney Vince Ryan told ABC News station KTRK-TV in Houston that the injunction would help the community become a safer place for residents.

"These gangs are committing numerous criminal offenses in this area, close to a school, in residential areas and close to residential areas," Ryan told KTRK. "This is to create a safety zone so that people in the neighborhood can feel more comfortable and also give officers probable cause for stopping these gang members."

Following the judge's ruling, any of the 16 gang members found in the Brays Oaks Safety Zone could face one year of jail time and a $4,000 fine.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Marine Killed by Police Linked to Two Deaths

KLST/ABC News(EDEN, Texas) -- Police on Sunday identified a U.S. Marine accused of a drive-by shooting rampage that left one woman dead and five others injured in Texas, and said they believe he is also be responsible for the death of another woman in North Carolina the day before.

Esteban J. Smith, 23, was killed in a shootout with police early Sunday morning after randomly firing on five vehicles from his pickup truck as he drove around Concho County, Texas, according to Tom Vinger, spokesman for the Texas Department of Public Safety.

Smith is an active duty Marine stationed at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina. His rank and service record have not been made public.

He allegedly began the spree around 4:30 a.m. Sunday, opening fire on a vehicle in Eden, Concho County, where a woman was wounded.

He then allegedly fired at a car at a convenience store, injuring two people.

The next shooting occurred at approximately 5:30 a.m. back in Eden, where another woman was injured.

None of the four were seriously hurt.

Just after 6 a.m., the Concho County Sheriff's Office received a call about shots fired, and when they investigated found a woman shot to death in her car in Eola.

The deceased woman has been identified as Alicia Torres, 42.

When Concho County Sheriff Richard Doane caught up with the suspect about 15 minutes later, Smith allegedly opened fire on his vehicle, wounding him.

Highway Patrol troopers and a Texas Parks and Wildlife Department game warden arrived on the scene, and Smith engaged them in a firefight. He was killed in the shootout.

Police discovered "an assault rifle, a handgun and hundreds of rounds of ammunition" at the scene, according to Vinger.

Smith has also been linked to the death of another woman, whose body was found on Sunday at the Sunset Inn motel in Jacksonville, N.C., police said.

There are more than 1,500 miles separating the two incidents.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Student Rants at Teacher in Viral Video

Hemera Technologies/ThinkStock(DUNCANVILLE, Texas) -- A Texas high school student’s rant against his teacher has gone viral on YouTube, prompting the district to look at its teaching procedures.

“If you would just get up and teach us instead of handing ‘em a packet, yo. There’s kids in here that don’t learn like that. … They need to learn face-to-face,” Duncanville High School student Jeff Bliss said in the YouTube video recorded by a classmate. “You want kids to come to class? You want them to get excited? You gotta come in here, you gotta make ‘em excited. To change him and make him better, you gotta touch his freakin’ heart. You can’t expect a kid to change if all you do is just tell him.”

Bliss, 18, was kicked out of class by his history teacher after a discussion escalated between the two. Bliss said that a test required three days to complete, but his teacher demanded that the class complete the test within two days.

In the YouTube video, Bliss was told repeatedly by his teacher to leave the classroom. However, as he made his way to the exit, he continued to tell his teacher that her pedagogical approach was wrong.

“You gotta take this job seriously,” Bliss said in the YouTube video. “This is the future of this nation. And when you come in here like you did last time and make a statement about how, ‘This is my paycheck,’ indeed it is, but this is my country’s future and my education.”

Bliss told ABC News that he wished he’d delivered his message in a different manner.

“As far as my attitude was during the video, that could have been taken better in a better manner,” he said. “But at the same time, I realize we all have our spur-of-the-moments.”

Duncanville School District Chief Communications Officer Tammy Kuykendall told ABC News she understood Bliss’ view.

“He makes a number of valid statements about how schools across America need to change, and it is creating a conversation,” she said. “We have focus groups, student panels, so we listen to students and we will continue to listen.”

Kuykendall added that she does not condemn Bliss.

“I feel it is important to share [that] we don’t blame this student or think he did something wrong,” she said. “There are other ways to go about sharing concerns happening in a classroom. Administrators need to know about that. He makes a number of valid statements.”

Bliss’s mother, Rhonda Bliss, said she is not upset with her son and respects his stance.

“I have told the people I support what he did,” she said. “I am an educator, too, and I understand his passion and I understand his concerns, and I support what he did.”

She said Bliss’s tirade was not specifically aimed at one person alone.

“It wasn’t to the teacher,” she said. “It was to address the bigger issue which is education.”

As for Bliss, he said he hopes his declaration inspires others to take action.

“I’m hoping that maybe this sparks something up in other people, teachers, and parents, and even administrators, as well,” he said. “I’m hoping that maybe they, themselves stand up and also demand more. I hope they go to their sons’ schools or school board meetings and speak and see what’s going on in the schools.”

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Days After Fertilizer Plant Explosion, Some Residents Return Home

Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images(WEST, Texas) -- After small fires were contained at the site of the massive West, Texas fertilizer plant explosion, a town official said on Saturday that some residents are being allowed to return to their homes.

"Everything is safe. Any rumors you've heard today, forget about it," West City Council member Steve Vanek said at a news conference Saturday. "Everything is safe, safe and safe."

While the news was welcome for some of West's displaced residents, those returning are under strict orders to stay in their homes and will also have to adhere to an evening curfew.

Evacuated residents have been waiting to return to assess the condition of their homes and belongings after they were forced to flee at a moment's notice after a blast on Wednesday at West Fertilizer Co. killed at least 14 people, injured 200 more and carved a widespread path of destruction.

Firefighters responded at the plant on Wednesday at 7:29 p.m., and after realizing the severity of the situation, began evacuating people in the vicinity.

Approximately 20 minutes later, an explosion tore through a four-to-five block radius, leveling roughly 80 homes and a middle school and trapping 133 residents of a nursing home in rubble. The blast was so powerful, residents said it shook the ground and there were reports of people hearing it several miles away.

"At some buildings, walls were ripped off, roofs were peeled back," Waco Police Department Sgt. William Swanton said.

The cause of the explosion is still under investigation

Donald Adair, the owner of West Fertilizer Co. and a lifelong resident of the town, said Friday his heart was "broken with grief."

"This tragedy will continue to hurt deeply for generations to come," Adair said in a statement.

"My family and I can't express enough our deep appreciation for the loving service and selfless sacrifice from within and around our community responding to the urgent needs of those affected," he said.

Adair vowed his company would "pledge to do everything we can to understand what happened to ensure nothing like this ever happens again in any community."

As the town works to rebuild after the tragedy, Vanek said a large memorial service is being planned to honor the victims, many of whom were first responders.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Rescuers Searching for Survivors, Missing People After TX Explosion

Mike Fuentes/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WEST, Texas) -- Search and rescue teams in Texas are looking for survivors and missing people amid buildings where walls and roofs have been torn away and other buildings have been flattened by an explosion at a fertilizer plant. Firefighters are among the missing and authorities fear that five to 15 people could be dead.

"It ranges from broken windows to complete devastation," Waco Police Department Sgt. William Swanton said at a news conference Thursday. "There are homes that are no longer homes."

At some buildings, "walls were ripped off, roofs were peeled back," the sergeant said.

The fire and explosion Wednesday night in a small town north of Waco prompted widespread evacuations and sent more than 160 injured people to hospitals.

The blast at the West Fertilizer Plant in West, Texas, occurred just before 8 p.m., but officials still were struggling to tally the dead and injured early Thursday morning and searching door-to-door amid the rubble for survivors, police said.

Authorities expressed concerns on Thursday about looting, but now say they believe what was initially reported to them was an isolated incident.

"I have confirmed at least there was an incident last night when they thought they may have had a looter," Swanton said, adding that the incident occurred "very, very early in the scenario."

He said there was no arrest and the problem is "not rampant," but people are still being kept out of the main disaster area.

Swanton said the five to 15 deaths is a "rough number" and they are unverified.

"I don't have a number of how many they have rescued or how many potential bodies they have found," he said.

"There are still firefighters missing," Swanton said.

He said an estimated three or four who are missing are volunteer firefighters, "meaning that they probably have a very large contingent of people that are willing to risk their lives for the neighbors and community."

They are the first responders who were battling the fire when the explosion occurred, he said.

A firefighter and law enforcement officer who was previously mentioned as missing has been found, Swanton said. He is in a hospital with "pretty serious injuries," he added.

Swanton said authorities are still in search-and-rescue mode and are not yet in recovery mode.

"The town is secure. There are plenty of law enforcement officials that are stationed around the town," Swanton said. "There is no fire out of control. There is no chemical escape from the fertilizer plant that is out of control."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Former Justice of the Peace Charged with Making 'Terroristic Threat'

Digital Vision/Thinkstock(KAUFMAN COUNTY, Texas) -- A former Kaufman County, Texas, justice of the peace was charged with making a "terroristic threat" after authorities searched his home as part of the ongoing investigation into the killings of two prosecutors in the county.

Eric Williams, 46, of Kaufman, was booked into the Kaufman County Jail early Saturday morning. His bond was set at $1 million, ABC Dallas affiliate WFAA-TV reported.

The search was executed after the fatal shooting of District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, whose bodies were found in their Forney, Texas home on March 30. In January, Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was gunned outside the county courthouse.

Williams was not named a suspect in the deaths of the Kaufman County officials, The Associated Press reported.

Authorities searched both Williams' home and his in-laws' house from Friday afternoon into the early hours of Saturday morning. They removed boxes, computers and guns from the former justice of the peace's residence, WFAA reported.

Earlier this month, Williams' hands were tested for gunshot residue. The test results were negative.

Williams' attorney, David Sergi, said his client denies the charges against him.

"[Williams] has cooperated with law enforcement and vigorously denies any and all allegations," Sergi said. "He wishes simply to get on with his life and hopes that the perpetrators and brought to justice."

The district attorney's office prosecuted and convicted Williams last year for two counts of felony theft, which resulted in him losing his justice of the peace position, WFAA reported.

Williams appealed his conviction. He is scheduled for a hearing on May 22 in the Fifth District Court of Appeals in Dallas.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Texas Sheriff's Office 'Taking Precautions' to Protect Elected Officials After District Attorney, Wife Slain

Hemera/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- After the second murder of a prosecutor in the past two months in Kaufman County, Texas, the sheriff said his department was "taking precautions" to protect elected officials, but stopped short of saying he believed they were being targeted.

Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife, Cynthia, were found shot to death in their Forney home on Saturday, Sheriff David Byrnes said on Sunday.

Byrnes would not definitively say whether he believed the murders were related to the slaying of Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse, who was gunned down outside the courthouse on Jan. 31.

"We have nothing indicating that for sure," he said at a news conference on Sunday afternoon.

Byrnes declined to discuss what security measures were already in place and whether any new steps might be taken, but said people should not be afraid to go to the courthouse, where there would be "visible security."

"It's pretty obvious it's unnerving and its unnerving to the law enforcement community and the community at large, which is why we're striving to ensure the community we are providing public safety," he said.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Texas DA, Wife Found Shot to Death in Their Home

Ingram Publishing/Thinkstock(DALLAS) -- The Kaufman County, Texas, district attorney and his wife were found shot dead inside their home on Saturday, police said, nearly two months to the day that the county assistant district attorney was murdered in the county courthouse parking lot.

Police would say nothing more than that Kaufman County District Attorney Mike McLelland and his wife Cynthia were found shot in their home in Forney, but sources told ABC affiliate WFAA-TV in Dallas that their front door was reportedly kicked in.

Investigators from the FBI, the Texas Rangers, the Department of Public Safety and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms were all on scene and a wide roadblock was set up around the crime scene in the small rural town.

The task force investigating the murder of Kaufman County Assistant District Attorney Mark Hasse was also at McLellands’ home.  Hasse was gunned down execution-style outside of the Kaufman County Courthouse on Thursday, Jan. 31, just before 9 a.m. by one or two unknown assailants as he walked from his car to the courthouse in Kaufman, southeast of Dallas.

The assailants, who may have been masked and dressed in black, fled the scene in a silver four-door sedan.

Hasse, 57, had been a longtime felony prosecutor for the Dallas County District Attorney’s Office, according to WFAA-TV. He headed the organized crime unit in Dallas in the 1980s. He started work in Kaufman County three years ago.

McLelland had vowed to hunt down Hasse’s killer.

“He knows and I know there will be a reckoning,” McClelland said at Hasse’s memorial service, WFAA reported. “Too many people are focusing on that. That’s not going to be a problem.”

Authorities have also been trying to determine whether Hasse’s killing was related to the murder of Tom Clements, Colorado’s prison director, last month.

The Colorado man implicated in Clements’ murder, Evan Ebel, was killed in a shootout with police in Texas two days after the killing. He was pulled over by police in Texas and fired at deputies, launching a high- speed chase and shootout that ended when he was fatally struck by police gunfire.

Ballistics testing showed that the gun found on Ebel in the Texas shooting was the same one that was used to kill Clements. Police are trying to determine whether there are any other suspects who acted with Ebel in the murder.

Ebel is also a suspect in the murder of a pizza delivery man last Sunday, March 17, in Denver.

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio

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