Yay, the New Buffalo Bayou Dog Park Is Open!

Categories: Spaced City

Photo by Craig Malisow
A much fancier park to poop in.
After more than a year, Houston's long-awaited Johnny Steele Dog Park opened January 17, and I'm looking forward to when the hype is over. Because it will probably take a couple of weeks before the $1.5 million, postcard-perfect grounds are utilized by lovers of dogs, and not lovers of shiny new things.

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership is so proud of its accomplishment that, when we visited Sunday, we saw that a security guard and a gentleman in a Partnership-logo shirt weren't enforcing the park rules. We saw plenty of children under 12, which park rules prohibit. But it was so crowded that I didn't stick around to check the enforcement of another weird rule: a one-hour time limit for each dog.

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UPDATED Investigators Seeking Owner of Starved, Dead Horses in Acres Homes

Categories: Spaced City

Facebook screenshot
Update, Jan. 16: Necropsies of the horses show they were starved to death, according to a press release from Crime Stoppers of Houston. If you have information on this case or any other felony crimes, please call Crime Stoppers at 713.222.TIPS(8477). You may be eligible for a reward of up to $5,000 if you have information that leads to an arrest. All calls can be anonymous.

Harris County Sheriff's investigators are trying to locate the owner of two emaciated horses that were found dead in Acres Homes January 10.

Deputies responding to a call about the horses in the 7600 block of Bramar also took a donkey from the same property, HCSO Spokesperson Tebben Lewis told us. She did not have information on the donkey's condition.

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Lawsuit Claims Houston Attorneys Threatened to Out Former Mob Boss Living in Witness Protection During Strip Club Deal

Tom Parnell via Flickr creative commons
The saga of a Westheimer strip club and the former mob boss who used to run it has taken another strange turn.

First, a little background: Lisa Hansegard bought the now-shuttered Baby Dolls strip club from the estate of Aris Mylonas, the father of her child, after Mylonas died in 2005, and shortly thereafter entered into an agreement with James Cabella to operate the club -- Cabella already owned a strip joint, the Penthouse Club, across the street and was apparently looking to expand his reach in the local strip-club scene. Hansegard claims in court documents that when she later started negotiating with Cabella to sell him Baby Dolls, she discovered through the strip-joint grapevine that Cabella was really Vincent Palermo, aka "Vinny Ocean," former acting boss of the New Jersey-based DeCavalcante crime family. After being indicted in the late 1990s on several federal charges, Palermo admitted to taking part in multiple murders, agreed to help the feds take down the DeCavalcante family, and, after spending two years in prison, entered the federal witness protection program (some have said that Tony Soprano was loosely based on Palermo's life in the DeCavalcante family).

The New York Post and KPRC identified Cabella as Vinny Ocean back in 2009, right around the time the Penthouse Club was suing the City of Houston over its sexually oriented business ordinance. But in 2007, it was still a fairly well-kept secret that a former mob boss was running strip clubs on Westheimer.

According to a lawsuit Hansegard filed in Harris County this week, her then attorneys Howard Steele and Charles Sturm (collectively Steele Sturm PLLC) tried to leverage that bit of information while negotiating the sale of Baby Dolls to Cabella. Unbeknownst to Hansegard, she alleges, Steele Sturm made thinly-veiled threats to publicly out Cabella as Vinny Ocean when he tried to back out of the sale in May 2007.

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Rice Crew Coaches Want a Boathouse on the Bayou, So They're Going to Row the Atlantic to Fundraise

Categories: Spaced City

Courtesy Michael Matson
David Avilar boats the Bayou
It's the day after Christmas, and David Alviar and Michael Matson are pissed.

Matson and Alviar are coaches for the Rice University crew team. They've come on Dec. 26 to a part of Buffalo Bayou on Houston's East Side to check on the team's boats, and upon opening their storage unit Alviar finds trouble. Graffiti is zigzagged along the white exterior of one boat. Spray painters -- Alviar would probably prefer the term vandals -- have also tagged the exterior of another shipping container.

Alviar and Matson moved the team's practice spot to Buffalo Bayou in September. The duo says it's a lot more convenient than the team's old practice location, the Bay Area Rowing Club in Clear Lake. The drive from campus is shorter, which is crucial for a team that practices early in the morning. The Bayou's water height is more predictable, too.

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Epic Facebook Fails and the Girl on the Torture Board: Our Most-Read Features From 2014

Categories: Spaced City

Thumbnail image for tortureboard.jpg

From harrowing tales of survival to features ranging from fracking to pot legalization, 2014 was a kick-ass year for longform storytelling at the Houston Press. Here's some of our most-read work from the year past:

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Appeals Court Overturns "Stand Your Ground" Case Because Jury Instructions Were Too Confusing

Robert Nelson via Flickr creative commons

By most accounts, Raul Rodriguez was looking for a fight the night of May 2, 2010.

Pete Fornols, who lived next door to the retired firefighter, testified in court how Rodriguez called him numerous times that evening, seething about a loud party down the block in their rural northeast Harris County neighborhood. Rodriguez eventually stopped by Fornols' house, "rambling on about the noise" coming from Kelly Danaher's place, Fornols testified.

Rodriguez seemed aggressive, the neighbor said. "His eyes were bulgy, and he was in a -- almost like a frantic state, like, you know, he was just about to pop."

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DuPont's Bad Safety Setup and Equipment Failure Led to Deaths

Categories: Spaced City


On Thursday, the Chemical Safety Board's top official testified before a U.S. Senate joint committee that the DuPont accident that killed four men at the La Porte plant in November was caused by equipment failure.

U.S. Chemical Safety Board Chairman Rafael Moure-Eraso explained in written testimony submitted to a joint committee -- the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions -- what we know so far about what happened that day at DuPont. And what the Chemical Safety Board has found out about the setup at DuPont is by no means encouraging:

"On November 15, 2014, there was a release of methyl mercaptan, a highly toxic and volatile liquid, which DuPont itself has estimated at 23,000 pounds - a very significant quantity. Odors of the chemical were reportedly discernible many miles from the plant. Four workers - including operators and would-be rescuers - perished inside the methomyl-production building where the release originated."

There was at least some explanation for the West, Texas, explosion in 2013 -- the company was a small one, not necessarily falling under the gaze of frequent regulators, not necessarily aware of all the rules or best practices for handling volatile chemicals and thus one that could more easily slip through the regulatory system, Moure-Eraso noted. But the same cannot be said for DuPont, he stated. DuPont is one of the largest chemical companies in the world and it has a much-vaunted, highly burnished safety record in the industry. However, even at a company that carries itself as one of the safest in the world, things can go wrong.

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Tony Buzbee, Rick Perry's Top Lawyer, Is Suing Some California "Film Producers" After Investing $1.5 Million in a Failed Dance Movie

After he was booked on two felony counts in August, Gov. Perry took Buzbee (far right) and the rest of his legal team out for ice cream
Tony Buzbee is probably the wrong guy to target if you're a con-artist looking for a mark.

Buzbee has built for himself a larger-than-life persona in the course of his many years as a top-gun Texas trial attorney. He's fought BP, represented families suing the late Texas philanthropist/accused pedophile Stanley Marsh, and, most recently, was tapped to lead the defense team for Rick Perry as he fights two felony counts in the twilight of his governorship.

The Texas Tribune has characterized Buzbee as "a big, mean, ambitious, tenacious, fire-breathing Texas trial lawyer. Really big. Poster boy big." But even big, mean fire-breathing Texas trial lawyers need to invest their money somewhere.

So when a couple of "film producers" from California approached Buzbee this summer about funding a movie production, he bit. Because an unknown film company making a movie called "In the Light of the Dance," supposedly starring Ryan Gosling or Justin Timberlake, doesn't sound fishy at all, right?

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24 Reasons We're Thankful We Live in Houston (Hint: It Ain't Dallas)

Katie Haugland via Flickr Creative Commons

Just kidding! We're also thankful for Dallas, which might share a high-speed rail with us one of these days, so we should probably play nice.

Here are the actual reasons we're thankful we live in Houston, presented without an ounce of snark, of course.

24. The Lady Bird Johnson wildlife beautification people plant bluebonnets and all that business along the roadsides so when we sit in traffic for hours on end, we have something nice to look at.

23. J.J. Watt, what with his pizza-schleppin' badassery and all.

22. Conversation at local parties can always be livened up -- so long as the battle over what to do with the Astrodome still rages.

21. We brought the world Anna Nicole Smith (#RIP).

20. We don't have alligators in the bayous ... because the polluted water killed them all. And oh, yeah, now the water is coming after us.

19. IN THIS ECONOMY...we are still nailing that job opportunity thing.

18. Virtually no winters = virtually no snow. But when it does (sort of) snow, we are so excited that the whole city shuts down.

17. The humid climate keeps us all looking much younger than our Texas counterparts.

16. The pollutants in Stinkadena smell horrible, giving us all fair warning when we're about to drive through what is probably a haze of carcinogens.

15. Given the above item no. 10 on our list, it's nice to know that we have MD Anderson Cancer Center so close...

14. Food lovers across the nation are jealous of our restaurant scene.

13. There's a Whataburger (properly pronounced as "Whut-a-burger") every five miles.

12. This ain't a hipster haven a la Austin.

11. No zoning means an...uh...interesting array of buildings sit alongside one another wherever you go.

10. We get to claim rights to not only a ridiculous local rap scene, but artists like Beyonce, Slim Thug, Paul Wall and Willie D. Damn it feels good to be a gangster.

9. On that note, you (as in the rest of the nation) can all thank us for Screwed Up Records & Tapes. You're welcome.

8. The local art scene is enviable, isn't full of those dreaded sellouts, and they put on an Art Car Parade in the middle of summer that's impressive enough to make people want to suffer in the Houston heat.

7. Houston has nicknames with actual street cred, like Screwston and H-Town.

6. Our city is the smart kind of fancy, with big brains leading research at places like NASA, the Medical Center, and the Baker Institute at Rice University.

5. The traffic. Without it, we'd never have the time we need to listen to all the podcasts we've synched to our phones. We've learned so much about history being stuck in traffic on the way to and from work that sometimes we feel like we're enrolled in a mobile community college class. So thanks, fellow Houston drivers, for keeping the lanes slow and our minds active.

4. Bars like Alice's Tall Texan and West Alabama Ice House are a thing here.

3. Where else can you find the Rockets, the Dynamo, and the Texans? No where, that's where. There's even those good ol' Astros, who we'll secretly always love, even if they're never going to get any better. Ever.

2. It's still relatively cheap to live here.

1. The city is vastly diverse, rapidly evolving, and yet is full of our favorite kind of people: Houstonians.

Houston Nonprofits Get Windfall From Millionaire's Will

Categories: Spaced City

Big day for Houston non-profits.
A bevvy of local organizations, including the Houston Parks Board and Trees for Houston, will receive $308,000 each, after a state probate judge approved the settlement of businessman James Martin Hill Jr.'s estate.

Hill, who "established a successful home building company," died in 2010, but an agreement over the distribution of $6.9 million left for 19 local and national non-profits was only reached Monday, according to a press release from Houston attorney Richard Mithoff, who represented a majority of the beneficiaries.

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