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A Daily Conversation About Dallas
Dallas History

D Magazine’s 50 Greatest Stories: The Explosion that Forever Changed West, Texas

Zac Crain
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The remains of West Fertilizer Co., in 2013. Elizabeth Lavin

I lived in West, Texas—the comma always pronounced or else it gets really confusing really fast—until I was 20 and moved to Austin to go to UT. It’s a tiny town that hugs I-35, built mostly by Czech immigrants like my great-grandparents. My dad was a schoolteacher, then an administrator, spending the last part of his career as the superintendent of West ISD. My sister was salutatorian of her class. My brother was an All-State pitcher who dueled future major-leaguer Arthur Rhodes at the diamond two blocks from where we lived. I read a lot. 

But that version of West went away, or started to, anyway, on the evening of April 17, 2013. Wednesday will mark 11 years since.

The house I grew up in is gone, and so is the one across the street where I spent the first few years of my life, where we grew green beans in the backyard and where my first pet, a fluffy cat named Chewbacca, died. The park where I played basketball and football and once got into an epic fight with some other kids that seemed like the most important thing that would ever happen to me—gone. So is the apartment complex where those kids lived, and the rest home across the street where my great-grandmother, my mom’s grandma, spent her 90s. The water tank at the end of Reagan Street, all my friends’ houses, my old middle school. There is a lot more, but you get the idea.  

The only tangible remnant of my first two decades is an oak tree in what used to be my front yard, small enough that we once were able to hop over it with a running start, now looming over a property I can’t recognize. “You can’t go home again” is beyond shopworn now and was never meant to be taken literally. But sometimes it’s the only thing you can say. 

The beginning of the end happened when an ammonium nitrate explosion at the West Fertilizer Co. killed 15 people, injured 200 others, and resulted in the eventual destruction of more than 300 homes. Some people never rebuilt. It took others a few years to move on, even when what they had lost was replaced. I was lucky. I just lost a few memories. 

But I did gain something. In reporting and writing about the explosion and its immediate aftermath, I was able to reconnect with a lot of old friends, and I still talk to one of them, Mike Lednicky, pretty regularly, usually late at night when the kids have gone to bed. So I guess I did get my home back in a way. 

“Love and Loss in a Small Texas Town” ran in June 2013, two months after the explosion. It is one of the 50 greatest stories we’ve ever published, and you can read it here.

Media

Has Monty Bennett Hoisted Himself on His Own Petard?

Tim Rogers
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Photo by Tim Rogers

A lawsuit was filed yesterday against Monty Bennett and certain members of the board that oversees his hotel company. It concerns a proxy fight and an out-of-state guy named Jason Aintabi who, through a company called Blackwells, owns shares in Bennett’s hotel operation and would like to have other shareholders vote on board members he has nominated. Unless you’re Robert Ritchie or K. Virginia Burke DeBeer, the two local Vinson & Elkins lawyers who represent Aintabi, most of this lawsuit is pretty dry stuff—even if the named defendants include Bennett allies and board members Candy Evans, of Candy’s Dirt fame; Stefani Carter, the former Texas state rep who currently suckles at Bennett’s REIT; and Matt Rinaldi, whose name has been tied to White supremacists.

Boring stuff.

But then there’s the part in the lawsuit about how Bennett—a Capitol riot conspiracist and noted wearer of ill-fitting suits—allegedly used his nonprofit media outlet, the Dallas Express, to influence shareholders in this fight. As in:

[Bennett’s company] has unlawfully failed to disclose to the SEC and the public that an undisclosed participant in its proxy campaign is a “newspaper” called The Dallas Express. Mr. Bennett finances and publishes The Dallas Express. Actual journalists have characterized The Dallas Express as a “propaganda site.” From November 2023 to January 2024, The Dallas Express ran a series of five articles about Blackwells and Jason Aintabi, who is Blackwells’ Chief Investment Officer. Those articles included a number of false and misleading claims about Blackwells and Mr. Aintabi, and were clearly published at Mr. Bennett’s behest with the intent of influencing the Company’s shareholders and directors with respect to a proxy contest that Mr. Bennett knew was impending. Mr. Bennett’s efforts to leverage The Dallas Express as his personal mouthpiece during the proxy fight are consistent with his long-running pattern of engaging in “pay-to-play” journalism, which was previously the subject of a 2020 article in The New York Times. The Company’s failure to disclose The Dallas Express as a proxy participant is a plain violation of the Exchange Act, as are The Dallas Express’s numerous false and misleading statements in the hit pieces it published against Mr. Aintabi. 

Which of course makes one wonder what the plaintiff means when he says Bennett finances the Dallas Express. The lawsuit clarifies:

On information and belief, The Dallas Express is an unprofitable enterprise that is being propped up by Mr. Bennett. In 2022, The Dallas Express had advertising revenues of approximately $24,000 and expenses of approximately $3 million. In the last two years, Mr. Bennett has made over $3.4 million in “donations” to The Dallas Express

So all of that is interesting, no? Did Bennett launch a media outlet with the stated ideals of being unbiased and fair and fact based, but then did he break SEC rules as he used it to slag his enemies? That would be something.

Before I let you go, I feel compelled to mention that after Dallas Mayor Eric Johnson received favorable coverage from the Dallas Express, he hired one of its writers to be a communications and policy coordinator.

Transportation

Megan Kimble Explains Why Texas Is So Dumb

Tim Rogers
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Kimble at Interabang. Her book, which you should read, is titled City Limits.

Quick story: Megan Kimble was writing a book about highways and their deleterious effects on American cities. Without knowing what she was looking for, she went to the Eisenhower Library and started combing through old handwritten notes of meetings with the president who launched our national highway system. You know what she stumbled across that was amazing?

You’ll have to listen to this podcast to find out. And/or read her new book, City Limits: Infrastructure, Inequality, and the Future of America’s Highways. We talked a lot about I-345 and its history, which Kimble dug up only after she learned how to use microfiche. But we also touched on Houston highways and the insanity of the Texas Transportation Commission and Kimble’s unimpressive high school basketball career. There’s something here for everyone.

Use the player below or download EarBurner with your favorite podcatcher. If you would, please rate and review the podcast. It makes Zac happy.

Local News

Dallas Summers Are Hot. In These Neighborhoods, It’s Even Hotter

Bethany Erickson
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The City of Dallas and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration partnered to map a third of the city's heat Islands last summer. The rest of the city will be mapped this summer. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

New data released by the city of Dallas and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration reveals that the summer heat is far worse in some pockets of the city, exacerbated by concrete and a lack of shade that can make it feel up to 10 degrees warmer than what the thermometer says.

Last summer was brutally hot. North Texas recorded 47 days of triple-digit temperatures. Dallas ISD warned parents that school buses couldn’t cool down fast enough for their young riders. School districts moved football practices and games around to avoid the heat. Postal worker Eugene Gates died of heat illness in Lakewood while delivering mail.

“I think we had three consecutive days where we hit 109 last summer,” says NBC DFW chief meteorologist Rick Mitchell. “It was just ridiculous, and I don’t know if it’s because I’m getting old, but last summer was just nuts. I started to be the cranky old man.”

Mitchell says we’re paying the price for all the attendant concrete and asphalt that goes with living in a city. 

“If you’re in an urban environment, that concrete, all that stuff just absorbs the heat and then gives it back off at night,” he says. “And that’s the whole thing of the urban heat island effect—it manufactures heat from all that stored heat within the concrete and those other surfaces.” 

Last summer, the city and the NOAA gathered data to map the city’s heat islands—areas where pavement is more plentiful than trees, which traps the heat. Urban heat islands can be up to 20 degrees hotter than parts of town with more trees and grass. (Dallas was one of 18 cities participating in the 2023 Urban Island Mapping Campaign.)

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Dallas County Heritage Society Defends Sale of Old City Park Items. Before the society hands off control of the city’s oldest park to the Parks and Recreation Department, it is selling off over 22,000 items that reside inside the homes, other buildings, and a warehouse. Its CEO says the most valuable and historic items have already been off-loaded to other museums, and selling the rest of the items is the best chance at preserving them.

Duncanville Neighborhood Evacuated after Man Finds ‘Live Artillery Shell.’ Very Texas, this one. A man was doing yard work in his backyard in the 1300 block of Circle Drive when he found a “missile-shaped object” and called the police. Dallas PD’s bomb squad confirmed that the item was live artillery, shut down the block, and took the bomb away. A veteran lived in the house before the present homeowner and likely buried it. For some reason.

Chiefs WR Rashee Rice Surrenders in Glenn Heights. Rice faces one count of aggravated assault, another of collision involving serious bodily injury, and six counts of collision involving injury following a race-related wreck on Central Expressway last month. He bonded out shortly after turning himself in. SMU suspended sophomore cornerback Theodore “Teddy” Knox after learning that he was charged, too.

Sunny Weekend Ahead. Expect highs in the low 80s and some consistent breeze. It should be gorgeous.

Media

Mike Mooney Has a New Podcast About ‘The World’s Largest Sex Trafficker’

Tim Rogers
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Mike is known to favor track suits.

You guys remember Mike Mooney, right? He used to work at D Magazine. As part of our 50th anniversary romp through the archives, we just reran his “Most Amazing Bowling Story Ever.” Now Mike works for himself, and today he dropped a new nine-episode Audible podcast titled Hold Fast. It’s about Backpage.com, whose origins trace back to Dallas. One of the federal prosecutors who took down the site called it “the world’s largest sex trafficking operation.”

Mike came in from the suburbs (he won’t let us say which one) to talk with us at the Old Monk about covering the trial of Mike Lacey in Phoenix (where the federal courthouse’s exterior is all glass, causing everyone to sweat profusely) and what it was like to produce his first big-time podcast. We had some good laughs. Then we got serious. Then we laughed again.

Use the player below or your favorite podcatcher. And please, if you use the latter, rate and review EarBurner. It helps with the algorithm.

Warrant Issued for Rashee Rice. An arrest warrant was issued for Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Rashee Rice in connection to a multiple-vehicle crash last month. Rice has acknowledged being the driver of the Lamborghini involved in the crash and faces eight felony charges. SMU cornerback Theodore Cox, the alleged driver of the Corvette involved in the crash, faces the same charges.

Hillcrest Student Files Civil Rights Complaint Against DISD. A Hillcrest High School student filed a 17-page complaint against the district, saying that district officials failed to respond appropriately to antisemitic bullying. According to the complaint filed with the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the student kept a log of incidents dating back to 2021. StandWithUs, an international nonprofit Israel education organization, filed the complaint with the student and has filed similar complaints against several universities. The student is an intern with that organization.  

Defense Rests in IV Tampering Case. Closing arguments will begin today in the case of a Dallas doctor accused of tampering with IV bags at Baylor Scott & White Surgicare in North Dallas. Prosecutors said that Dr. Raynaldo Ortiz tampered with the bags, which led to 11 patients suffering cardiac events and the death of a colleague. 

Stones Stolen from Grapevine 9/11 Memorial. Grapevine police are looking for two missing stones from the city’s 9/11 memorial site. A stone from the Flight 93 crash site in Shanksville, Pennsylvania, and a limestone fragment from the Pentagon crash were part of a tribute to the crews aboard those flights.

Publications

Robot Trucks Are Among Us

Micaih Thomas
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Robot truck driving
Your Ikea sofa may have arrived via robot. James Steinberg

One day very soon, you’ll be driving down the highway and see an 80,000-pound big rig in your rearview mirror. It won’t have a human driver on board. Don’t worry, though. Its computer system saw you from four football fields away, and it won’t be angry with you for driving 10 mph under the speed limit because you were fiddling with your Whataburger.

Autonomous trucks make sense. They don’t get tired or distracted, and there’s a shortage of human drivers. And Dallas makes sense as a testing ground because we sit at one vertex of the Texas Triangle (including Houston and San Antonio), through which 15 percent of all the nation’s freight moves. Plus our weather is generally good, and state law allows vehicles without a “human operator.” Kodiak Robotics operates a hub in Lancaster and hauls for Ikea; Gatik transports for Kroger and Sam’s Club; and Aurora Innovation, with a market cap of nearly $4 billion, moves freight for pilot customers such as FedEx out of Palmer, Texas, just south of Dallas. The company calls Palmer the “first automatic truck hub on the planet.” Right now, Aurora’s trucks use onboard safety humans to back up the robot driver, but the company plans to go full auto later this year. 

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R.I.P. James Washington, Longtime Publisher of the Dallas Weekly. Washington, 73, died in his home in Atlanta earlier this month. He acquired the Weekly in 1989, leading a paper that reported the news in Dallas’ Black communities that was often overlooked or missed by other publications in town. Today, the newspaper is operated by his children, Patrick and Jessica, who praised their father for creating an ecosystem that lifted up Black-owned businesses and their neighborhoods. His memorial will be on May 4 at Friendship-West Baptist Church.

Fort Worth Police Release Video of West 7th Shooters. Officers are searching for five suspects who were part of a shooting that resulted in a single injury in the crowded West 7th entertainment district near downtown Fort Worth. The weekend’s shooting escalated from a fistfight, and officers have pretty clear footage of who was holding the gun.

Dallas Police Oversight Board Continues to Review Veteran Harassment. The board voted unanimously on Tuesday to open an independent review of the police officers who mocked a veteran who urinated on himself after one of the cops denied him entry to a bathroom. The incident happened at Serious Pizza in Deep Ellum, and the off-duty officer refused to allow the man, who had a medical condition related to an injury at war, to come in and use the restroom after closing time. The cops were then caught on bodycam mocking him. They’ve received a written reprimand and will undergo sensitivity training while the board investigates.

Expect Rain Today, but More to the East. Dallas and Collin counties will likely have spotty showers throughout today, but the severe weather will remain east of us. It should be gone by about 7 p.m.

Programming Note: Matt Goodman, D Magazine’s Online Editorial Director, will be in conversation with Megan Kimble at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, April 10, at Interabang Books. Find more information here.


The history of Texas highways—and across the nation, really—is fraught with examples of how these enormous capital projects have damaged cities. In Dallas, 1944’s Federal Highway Act and 1956’s Interstate Highway Act produced highways that made it faster to move from point A to point B, but also cut off entire Black and Brown neighborhoods and communities from the rest of the city, enveloping them in traffic noise and polluted air. 

This month, Texas journalist Megan Kimble’s book, City Limits: Infrastructure, Inequality, and the Future of America’s Highways, looks at three different communities and their fight to have more say in how the Texas Department of Transportation envisions their neighborhoods. Kimble looks at the impact I-10, I-35, and I-345 had on Houston’s Fifth Ward, East Austin, and Deep Ellum in Dallas, respectively.

The book could have become a wonky slog, but Kimble deftly weaves the stories of the residents who joined the fight into the narrative. Dallas readers will see familiar names (including D’s own Matt Goodman and DART board member Patrick Kennedy), but more importantly, they’ll see how the three stretches of highway are intertwined.

It’s a smart, compelling read that raises questions we should all be asking, whether our homes are adjacent to a highway or not. What would Dallas look like if I-345 had never existed? How do we get past the siloed expectations of each entity involved: TxDOT’s mission to move cars, the regionally-minded priorities of the North Central Texas Council of Governments, and Dallas’ economic realities that dovetail with its relatively new racial equity, climate, and land use plans?

Kimble also homes in on the fact that when the federal interstate system was initially planned, there was a push for a more thoughtful approach. President Dwight D. Eisenhower had tasked Gen. John S. Bragdon with researching plans. Bragdon’s findings, if they had been followed, would’ve meant something much different for Dallas, Austin, and Houston. 

“We do not believe that the Interstate System is the vehicle for solving rush-hour traffic problems, or for local bottlenecks,” Bragdon said in his report. “Rapid transit and mass transit systems are the solution.”  He argued that communities should not develop around highways but should be developed through economic growth and land use plans. Bragdon pointed out what has become a familiar refrain during current discussions about TxDOT’s plans—the bigger the road, the more people travel on it, the more traffic increases. 

Publications

You Need More Neighbors

Matt Goodman
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Dallas City Planning
John Devolle

Joe Minicozzi is a Harvard-trained urban planner from Asheville, North Carolina. The readers of Planetizen, a respected outlet that covers planning, voted him one of the 100 most influential urbanists of all time, placing him at No. 33.  He’s clever and professorial, a slightly younger, hipper Paul Giamatti, with a full goatee and a bald head. Using data from local sources, he travels the country, trying to show cities how to avoid financial ruin. His PowerPoint presentations tend to galvanize some people and make others squirm. 

Minicozzi’s firm, Urban3, looks at the taxable value of land 1 acre at a time, showing how zoning and land use drive cities’ revenue. He explains it this way: you wouldn’t ask how many miles a car travels on a tank of gas. You want to know how far it can get on a gallon. Similarly, a Walmart might represent a lot of taxable value, but it also occupies a lot of land. In Dallas County, Minicozzi found that a Walmart represents, on average, just $600,000 in taxable value per acre. That’s because all those parking spaces aren’t worth much, and the building itself is designed to last only about 15 years. It’s a smart strategy to keep taxes low. Good for Walmart; bad for city coffers. 

In January, Minicozzi Zoomed into a committee meeting of the Dallas City Council to present some of the findings from a study he’d conducted on Dallas County. Council Member Cara Mendelsohn, who represents Far North Dallas, seemed to squirm the most. She didn’t like that Minicozzi was “denigrating a Walmart.” People like Walmarts, she said. “We should have the full array both of housing and retail and even density,” she said. “When a Walmart closes in Dallas, we get emails saying, ‘Where am I going to shop?’ ” 

“Don’t get in the way of information. You can interpret it any way you want, but let’s all look at it together.”

Joe Minicozzi

I called Minicozzi after his exchange with Mendelsohn. Her reaction, he says, isn’t uncommon; some people are naturally defensive of the status quo. His response is: “Don’t get in the way of information. You can interpret it any way you want, but let’s all look at it together. And then you can come to your conclusion.” He just wants cities to think about where the Walmart should go and weigh the opportunity costs of allowing so many similar big-box stores. By the same token, you can think of single-family lots as the Walmarts of housing.   

Right now in Dallas, there are some folks in single-family neighborhoods who are stoking anxiety over a possible change in zoning. Planners at City Hall are researching how to encourage more housing construction through a variety of methods, including allowing duplexes, triplexes, and quadplexes in neighborhoods currently filled with only single-family homes. That possible change has some people scared, and they’re letting councilmembers—like Mendelsohn—know it.

So Minicozzi came to town at a good time, like an urbanist Paul Revere. Let’s consider what he found. 

I wrote a short story for the April issue of D Magazine about Frontera, the Southwest Review– and SMU-sponsored lit fest coming to three venues on April 12 and 13. Find some time to get to Wild Detectives or the Kessler Theater or the Texas Theatre to catch a reading or a show or a movie (Wild at Heart, with Barry Gifford in attendance). It’s all free.

Also find some time to check out this podcast we made for you with Greg Brownderville, the SMU prof who is driving this affair. Brownderville is a fun listen—and not just because his Arkansas accent is one of the best of all time. We talked about arts and letters and about his greatest physical achievement, a feat that many years later still fills people with wonder in the city of Arkadelphia.

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