News briefs from Austin, the region, and beyond
Ignore That Train (for Now)
If you see a MetroRail Red Line train and it's not rush hour, don't bother trying to get on – the additional trains you'll see today (Thursday), 9:30am-3pm and 7:30pm-midnight, are just test runs for possible expanded service. One of the most frequent complaints about the Red Line is that there isn't enough service – why only run at rush hour, potential customers ask, and not midday or weekends? Last month, Capital Metro staff presented the board's rail committee with four options (see "Naked City," Aug. 13), and today's extra train runs will help test the feasibility of one of those options: the addition of midday and Friday night service. The testing won't interfere with regularly scheduled service, so you may ride 5:25-9:25am and 3:45-7:42pm. The testing doesn't mean the board has settled on this option, but it is the one staff included in the fiscal year 2011 budget draft released on Wednesday. The board will vote on the budget at its Sept. 24 meeting. – Lee Nichols
Quintana Contests Firing
The civil service arbitration hearing for former Austin Police Officer Leonardo Quintana begins today. Quintana was fired earlier this year as a result of a January arrest for drunken driving. He's not contesting the charge but will argue that his termination was excessive punishment. Quintana was also responsible for the May 2009 shooting death of Nathaniel Sanders II in the parking lot of an East Austin apartment complex but was cleared by Chief Art Acevedo of any wrongdoing in that case. The hearing is expected to last through Friday. – Jordan Smith
Spiros Shooters on Trial
At press time, brothers LaBaaron and Brandon Hutchison, two Central Texas rappers with the LG Allstarz, were on trial in Travis County district court in connection with the May 2009 shooting at the now-defunct Spiros nightclub. After the brothers had missed their stage time and were told they couldn't perform at the end of the evening, they left the club and allegedly returned toting pistols, which they shot randomly into the crowd. Eight people were injured, and Spiros shuttered its doors not long after. Each brother is charged with two counts of aggravated assault; if convicted on both, they each face up to 40 years in prison. – J.S.
Murray Charged With Assault
On Aug. 28, Lacresha Murray – who in 1996 became the youngest person in Texas ever charged with capital murder when, at 11 years old, she was accused of killing toddler Jayla Belton – was arrested and charged with third-degree assault in connection with a domestic dispute outside a barber shop in Northeast Austin. According to an arrest affidavit, Murray got into a dispute with her former girlfriend, Nixie Phillips, whom Murray allegedly hit in the head; Murray told police that Phillips had also hit her in the head. Murray's murder conviction was ultimately overturned, when the 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that Austin police had circumvented the state's family law code when they interrogated Murray about Belton's death, coercing her into a confession. Lawmakers in 1999 closed the loophole that the state exploited for the case in order to interrogate Murray alone, without notifying any adults. – J.S.
Help EPA Take Out the Garbage
Texans concerned about the health impacts of burning coal are headed to Dallas on Wednesday, Sept. 8, to speak at a public hearing on the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed rules for the disposal of coal ash, the byproduct of burning coal for electricity. Coal ash often contains pollutants associated with cancer, birth defects, and other health problems, and the EPA is now considering recognizing it as a hazardous substance. The move would require companies to avoid disposing of the byproduct in a way that could contaminate groundwater and other vulnerable environments. The EPA is also weighing another option, according to the Sierra Club: simply regarding coal ash as no more dangerous than "household garbage." To speak at the hearing (Hyatt Regency Dallas, 300 Reunion Blvd.), sign up at www.epa.gov (at press time, the remaining time slots began at 3pm and 6pm). See www.cleanuptexasnow.org for more info on getting involved. – Nora Ankrum