FrontBurner

A Daily Conversation About Dallas

Basketball

Satou Sabally Is Here To Speak Her Mind

| 1 week ago

Satou Sabally will tell you that her second season in WNBA has been tougher than her first. And that has nothing to do what has happened on the court.

Opponents still haven’t figured out how to play the No. 2 overall pick of the 2020 draft. Good luck with that. One of the most versatile bigs in the league, the 6-foot-4 forward has been deemed a “unicorn” due to her rare skill set, and she probably deserves the compliment more than any other professional basketball player in Dallas. She can shoot threes, she can play in the post, she can pass, she can block shots, she can rebound. Her ballet-like footwork is reminiscent of a certain German expat with whom Dallas basketball fans are familiar. She was actually named to her first All-Star team this year, and she almost doubled her three-point percentage. 

It’s just that her rookie season was played in the WNBA bubble, referred to colloquially as the “Wubble.” That certainly presented a challenge. Sabally spent 97 consecutive days at IMG Academy in Florida, where she helped lead the youngest team in the WNBA, only for the Wings to miss the playoffs on the final game of the regular season. The Wubble season coincided with a racial tipping point in America, one that WNBA players met head on in 2020 better than athletes in any other professional sports league, despite getting less credit for their unflinching reminders of how Black Americans were getting killed by police. Just 22 at the time, Sabally was the youngest player named to the league’s inaugural Social Justice Council. 

So yes, last year was tough. But the Wubble kept her contained.

“Everything was put on hold due to COVID [last year], so I was really able to focus on Black Lives Matter and just the Black struggle in America,” Sabally says. 

Now she’s out. And there’s so much more to do.

Read More

Healthcare

The ‘Dental Desert’ Hiding in Plain Sight

| 2 months ago

Dan Burch thought he would become an engineer. He grew up on an Army base in Germany, where his father was stationed. On his first day at the elementary school there, which offered some Montessori-style education options, teachers saw him playing with Legos and put him in a track that added basic technical skills to the core curriculum.

That path for Burch ran in a straight line all the way to his senior year in high school. Then, in 2001, while watching TV with a family friend, he saw a report about the large number of engineers getting laid off. The friend laughed and said, “Man, you’ll never see a dentist getting laid off.”

That facetious remark was all it took to chart a new course for Burch. A few years later, he found himself working as a dental hygienist on a large base in Germany, cleaning soldiers’ teeth before they shipped off to Iraq and Afghanistan. He loved the job, especially because it gave him an opportunity to make new friends from all over the United States.

The story of how he came to establish a groundbreaking program for young dentists in Dallas, however, requires a few more stops. First, in Nashville, Tennessee, where he studied biology at Fisk University; then a master’s degree from a joint Fisk-Vanderbilt program; then dental school at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center; then to Washington, D.C., for a residency in pediatric dentistry at Howard University. It was there that he entered a program that integrates traditional pediatric dentistry with adults with disabilities and met a 67-year-old man with special needs who opened his eyes to a new challenge.

Once patients with special needs age out of their pediatric dentists’ offices, few general practice dentists will see them. Patients with special needs sometimes require sedation for a routine exam or cleaning. Parents might have to physically restrain their adult children, sitting on their feet or holding their hands, just so a hygienist can work.

The scarcity of dentists trained to treat patients with special needs is a national problem, but it’s especially acute in North Texas. About 300,000 patients with disabilities lack adequate dental care in Dallas because no one will take them. In May, while giving a national presentation to the American Dental Education Association, Burch noted, “There are dozens and dozens of pediatric dentists that are willing to see special needs kids. But as they transition into adulthood, it went from dozens and dozens of clinics to roughly six clinics that were willing to treat special needs adults and teenagers.”

Read More

Local News

A Story of Two Deaths at the Collin County Jail

| 2 months ago

Marcia Riley heard her 22-year-old son’s voice above a commotion of knocks and police commands. Marcus Elliott was on the phone in an apartment bathroom in some town in Texas that his mother had never heard of. He had moved to Plano to put some distance between himself and the life he was leading in Atlanta. A U.S. Marshal had called Riley to tell her they had federal warrants to arrest her son and demanded he surrender to the cops who were outside his door.

Riley tried to guide and support him through the incident. Run-ins with police in Georgia had piled up. On at least one occasion she co-signed to help him make bond. She was proud that Marcus had earned his GED while serving time in county jail back home. He was making an effort to fix his life while he moved between agencies and courts and jails. She thought about her son, who weighed no more than 130 pounds, up against what sounded like dozens of police officers. “I could hear extreme fear in his voice, a tone I have never heard before,” Riley later wrote in a newspaper essay. She convinced Elliott to give himself up. “I assured my son that he would be safe.”

Her son’s life was in the hands of law enforcement 800 miles away from her. Officers drove Elliott to the Collin County Jail. Jailers there placed Elliott on suicide watch as soon as he was booked in on June 28, 2007. Officers at the scene reported Elliott threatened to take his own life throughout their encounter with him. Detention staff that day had already sent a 45-year-old inmate to a hospital after he was found unconscious; the man later died from suicide. Back in Atlanta, a fog of anxiety and confusion settled over Riley as she dialed the jail’s main phone line repeatedly. Jail staff told her Elliott could not be reached. She finally talked to him the next morning. “He was eager to get back to Atlanta, serve his time, turn his life around, and have a future,” Riley wrote of the conversation, their last.

The next day, Elliott was killed. In a struggle that lasted nearly 20 minutes, detention officers tried to force Elliott into a restraint bed. A jail nurse reported to officers they found Elliott trying to asphyxiate himself.  In a custodial death report, officers claimed Elliott began to kick and swing at detention staff. Local news media and the sheriff’s office reported his death as a suicide. In reality, Elliott died after jailers strapped him into the restraint bed, according to the Collin County Medical Examiner’s Office, which ruled Elliott’s death a homicide.

Fourteen years later, Marvin Scott III would be arrested for a small amount of marijuana outside the Allen Premium Outlets. He, too, would die in custody at the Collin County Jail while being restrained. Like Elliott’s, the medical examiner would rule his death a homicide. 

Scott was 12 years old when Elliott was killed. Their lives were not mirror images. The circumstances that brought them into the same jail over a decade apart were worlds away, but their lives ended in similar fashions. 

Read More

Business

After the Fatal Winter Storm, This Law Firm Wants to Hold the Utilities Accountable

| 4 months ago

“Dying of hypothermia in Houston” should be a meme illustrated by a comical photo of a guy in a shearling-lined winter coat shivering in an overly air-conditioned office building in the middle of August. Instead, during the statewide rolling blackouts caused by February’s crippling ice storm, it became a tragic reality as temperatures dropped to 2 degrees in Dallas (11 degrees in Houston) and outages stretched for days.

Pipes froze and people died. But a question has lingered: can anyone be held responsible? Historically, it has been near impossible to successfully sue an electric utility for damages due to blackouts. For starters, there’s the fine print. Most contracts for electrical service, called tariffs, include waivers of liability for disruptions caused by an “act of God.” The legal term is force majeure, a French phrase that literally means “greater force.” The Texas Public Utility Regulatory Act defines it to include such things as hurricanes, ice storms, natural disasters, acts of war, terrorism, or civil disturbance beyond the control of an electric utility. The theory is that you can’t predict nuclear war or extreme weather, and, even if you could, the cost of protecting against such unlikely events would make it too expensive to turn on the lights.

But what if you do have notice that it’s going to, say, get really cold? And what if you know, based on the last time it got really cold, that there are some relatively simple and inexpensive fixes, like having a space heater on hand for when a control panel starts to freeze up?

Bryan Fears, who co-founded the Dallas-based Fears Nachawati Law Firm, believes in that case, the electric utility has committed gross negligence and all bets are off. Days after the rolling blackouts finally ended, his firm filed its first lawsuit against the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) and CenterPoint Energy in Harris County. The suit was brought by the daughter of Doyle Austin, a 95-year-old grandfather who died of hypothermia in his Houston home after days without power.

A few weeks later, the firm added a claim on behalf of the families of three adults from Nacogdoches who died of carbon monoxide poisoning after a generator on their front porch vibrated its way over to the wall, where it proceeded to burn a hole and slowly fill the home with noxious gas, unbeknownst to the residents trying to keep warm inside. In March, the firm filed its first suit against Oncor in Dallas County on behalf of the family of Elzie Ford. Ford’s power went out on February 15, a Monday, and it was still out that Friday when his son was finally able to navigate the icy roads. He found his father on the floor, severely frostbitten, hypothermic, and suffering “catastrophic brain damage.” Ford died the following day after being airlifted to a hospital in Waco.

The stories are heartbreaking. But I was curious about the legal reasoning behind the lawsuits. So I got on a call with Fears and Patrick Luff, an attorney at his firm involved in the suits, to find out why they think they can win and what they hope to accomplish.

Read More