Arlington in 2013: A look back

Posted Thursday, Jan. 02, 2014  comments  Print Reprints
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What will 2014 bring in Arlington? We may not know the full answer for 365 days, but it’s safe to say that 2013 had its moments.

Public safety, and the sometimes lack of it, made the biggest headlines in a year that started with the sentencing of a strip club owner to a decade in federal prison for a failed plot to have Mayor Robert Cluck killed and went on to include a steroid scandal in the Police Department, the unsolved slaying of a great-great-grandmother who was carjacked in her driveway, a woman’s fatal fall from the Texas Giant at Six Flags Over Texas as family members watched, the embezzlement of Little League funds and the pending retirement of an assistant police chief under the cloud of a domestic violence accusation that was made — and then vehemently retracted — by his wife.

At least there wasn’t a tornado. But let’s not talk about that ice.

Other notable stories included a pair of firsts: the city got its first mass transit, allowing it to shed, at least for now, the label of being the largest U.S. city without it, and voters approved package liquor sales. A liquor store may soon be coming to a location near you.

A look back at 2013.

January

The co-owner of a now-closed Arlington strip club was sentenced in January to 10 years in federal prison for a failed plot to hire hit men to kill Cluck and a Dallas lawyer who handled cases involving adult businesses for the city.

U.S. District Judge Terry Means also ordered Flashdancer co-owner Ryan Walker Grant of Kennedale to pay a $17,500 fine. Before Means handed down the sentence, Cluck gave a victim’s statement to the court in which he thanked federal agents and Arlington police for their work on the case.

“There is no greater public service than the work we as a society can do to ensure that justice is served,” he said. “In this case, justice is served and society is better for it.”

In his own statement, Grant tearfully told Means that he never intended to harm anybody and offered an apology to Cluck.

“I messed up, “ he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

Grant admitted in September 2012 that he contacted an intermediary to hire men from Mexico to kill Cluck and Dallas attorney Tom Brandt for $10,000 each.

The intermediary was an informant for the Drug Enforcement Administration who recorded the meetings and phone calls.

Flashdancer, at Texas 360 and Randol Mill Road in north Arlington, closed for a year in January 2012 under a settlement in a nuisance lawsuit brought by the city and the Texas attorney general’s office. Authorities cited the prevalence of drugs, prostitution and assaults at the club as the reason for labeling it a nuisance.

Not long after, then-Police Chief Theron Bowman revoked its sexually oriented business license on the grounds that dancers were letting customers touch them and that documents with misleading information had been filed with the city.

The club cannot reopen without the license.

Means took over the sentencing of Grant on Dec. 31 when U.S. District Judge John McBryde recused himself for reasons not made public.

March

Newly sworn-in Police Chief Will Johnson briefed the City Council on what he calls a “Focus on Five” crime reduction strategy designed not only to make Arlington safer but also to get residents more involved in crime-fighting.

The initiative includes refocusing on geographic policing, using enhanced intelligence-gathering techniques and promoting community engagement in person and online.

It also calls for the department to adopt a multiyear approach to addressing certain crime issues, such as nuisance commercial properties, and to look for the most effective means beyond arrests to enforcing the law.

Johnson was sworn in as the city’s 15th police chief. He has been an Arlington police officer since 1997.

“Our goal is to have as many communication vehicles as possible to get maximum participation in the community, “ Johnson said. Already, the department shares information about crime, enforcement and volunteer efforts through a variety of media, including Facebook, Twitter and neighborhood newsletters.

“You don’t have to physically be at a meeting to be involved. You do have to be involved if you want to improve your neighborhood.”

The department plans to tackle specific issues, including a spike in alcohol-related traffic fatalities, and ongoing efforts with school officials to ensure that campuses are prepared for emergencies.

Last year, 62 percent of the city’s traffic fatalities were linked to alcohol. The national level is typically 33 to 40 percent, he said.

“Certainly this has grabbed our attention, “ Johnson said.

June

Leona Faye Swafford was three days shy of her 84th birthday when, upon returning home from a trip to the doughnut shop one morning, she was accosted in her car in a violent attack that drew the attention of her daughter and a neighbor, both of whom tried to rescue her.

Police arrived minutes later, but her attacker had driven off with her in the car. Swafford, who lived near Vandergriff Park, was found not long afterward at a vacant house about 3 miles away. The medical examiner’s report said she died from being shot in the head, beaten and choked.

Police are looking for a black man in his late 20s or early 30s who is about 6 feet tall with an average to muscular build.

Crime Stoppers has offered a reward of up to $1,000, and Oak Farms Dairy of Dallas announced a $10,000 reward, both for information leading to the man’s arrest or indictment.

July

• Arlington Detective Charles Lodatto was shot when he and other officers went to arrest Tyler Holder, the suspect in the slaying of a Saginaw girl in July.

Holder was 17 when he was indicted in October on a charge of attempted capital murder for wounding Lodatto.

Holder, who also was wounded, is accused of kidnapping and killing 6-year-old Alanna Gallagher.

Alanna was found dead July 1 in Saginaw. Her family lives near Holder and his mother, about a mile from where her body was found. Authorities have said they used DNA evidence to connect him to the killing.

• A 52-year-old Dallas woman was killed when she fell from the Texas Giant at Six Flags as horrified family members watched. Police ruled out a criminal offense; Six Flags and the German firm that made the roller coaster have denied wrongdoing in response to a lawsuit filed in Tarrant County by Rosa Esparza’s family.

Safety changes to the ride include redesigned lap bar pads and the addition of seat belts. Also, test seats were placed at the ride’s entrance so riders could determine whether they would fit safely in the cars.

August

The Metro Arlington Xpress bus service, which runs from 5:30 a.m. to 11:30 p.m. Monday through Friday, launched as part of a two-year pilot project to gauge interest in public transportation.

In addition to regular stops at the University of Texas at Arlington’s College Park Center and the Trinity Railway Express Centreport/DFW Airport Station, commuters can catch a ride to work, shops, restaurants and even Rangers Ballpark in Arlington or AT&T Stadium in the city’s entertainment district.

From downtown Arlington, riders can take the bus to the TRE station, where they can connect to Dallas/Fort Worth Airport or catch a train to Dallas, Fort Worth or other destinations along the rail line.

The last bus leaves the downtown stop at the southwest corner of UTA Boulevard and Center Street for the TRE station at about 10:44 p.m.

About 250 riders use the service each day, according to the city.

The pilot program, operated by Dallas Area Rapid Transit and the Fort Worth Transportation Authority, is expected to cost $1.4 million.

The North Central Texas Council of Governments has agreed to reimburse half of the costs. The city, UT Arlington and the Arlington Chamber of Commerce combined are paying the other half.

September

Claudia Yamell Castillo, 34, was arrested on suspicion of embezzling $23,113.62 from Southeast Arlington Little League while serving as board president. The story had a happy ending thanks to donations from the Texas Rangers.

Board members said Castillo was able to juggle the money the way they did because she was the only one with access to bank information.

November

Lauren Nevil, 13, sat on a witness stand in a Hope, Ark., courtroom and talked about her ruined life without her mother, Katy Nevil.

The Nevils were driving along a dark stretch of Interstate 30 near Hope on Nov. 16, 2012, when they were hit by a pickup driven by John David Coe, who was drunk.

Katy was killed and Lauren was severely injured.

Coe, 36, recently received a string of sentences for the horrific wreck, which occurred as the Nevils were driving from their home in Franklin, Tenn., to visit family and friends in Arlington and Burleson for Thanksgiving.

Katy’s husband, Steve Nevil, told Coe how he lives every day with a broken heart.

“My heart literally feels as though it is broken in half,” Steve Nevil said. “It’s a feeling that you simply can’t understand unless you experience yourself. I wish I could bottle it up and allow you to feel it for just one second so you can truly understand and possibly be properly remorseful.”

The emotional victim impact statements were given last week after Coe pleaded guilty to eight charges in a Hempstead County courtroom.

Coe, of Prescott, Ark., pleaded guilty to negligent homicide in Katy Nevil’s death and was sentenced to 40 years; one count of first-degree battery for the injuries caused to Lauren Nevil, 40 years; two counts of aggravated assault against Steve Nevil and son Will Nevil, 15 years on each count; two counts of aggravated assault on family or household members (his daughters were in his vehicle), 15 years on each count; possession of a controlled substance of less than four ounces of marijuana, one year; and possession of drug paraphernalia, one year.

The sentences will run concurrently.

Coe must serve at least 10 years before he’s eligible for parole, according to an Arkansas prosecutor.

After the fatal crash, Lauren Nevil stayed in the hospital for 161 days, and support for the family grew in Tennessee and North Texas. Steve Nevil created a Facebook page “Praying for the Nevils.”

be today. May god show you the right path to lead you on.”

Patrick M. Walker, 817-390-7423 Twitter: @patrickmwalker1

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