All posts by Joe Snell

Joe Snell studied film and business law at the University of Southern California. He has worked for a number of film and television companies including 21st Century Fox, Starz Entertainment, Creative Artists Agency, and Brillstein Entertainment Partners.

Flying high at 100 years old

Patrice Howe, a bridge club buddy of Jane Lipscomb, was tasked with interviewing Jane a week before her 100th birthday. She wanted to find out more about Jane’s storied life and what the 100-year-old firecracker, as her friends call her, still hopes to accomplish.

“The last question I asked during the interview was out of all the adventures you’ve had in your life, what’s the one thing still on your bucket list,” Patrice said.

Jane, a former theater actor, opera singer, and “Debutante,” had a quick response: ride in a hot air balloon. So a group from Jane’s bridge club, led by Patrice and Nancy Cogburn, worked to surprise their friend and her son, Lloyd Lipscomb, at her upcoming birthday party.

Patrice called Brian Rohr of Rohr Balloons, a family-owned hot air balloon business in North Texas, and on Wednesday, July 12, Jane took to the sky in a hot air balloon.

With a rose-embroidered hat that she was quick to show off, Jane and her son took off from Allen on a trip she called once in a lifetime. 

Jane grew up on a ranch in Amarillo where she learned to drive at the age of eight. She received a degree in music education in 1937 from SCW (Texas State College for Women), a precursor to today’s Texas Woman’s University in Denton. After one year of teaching, she joined the Amarillo Little Theater, where she performed, helped build sets, and worked in the ticket booth.

Afterward, she pursued a master’s degree at Columbia University in New York to study voice. She auditioned for a Gilbert and Sullivan Opera on Broadway and joined the show’s chorus.

During that time, she also joined a group of six female singers called “Debutantes.” The group toured across the Unites States and Canada at state fairs, hotels, and variety clubs.

One night while her company left a show in Washington, D.C. bound for the Adolphus Hotel in Dallas, their train stopped in Tennessee and a man came on board and yelled, “We are at war!” It was December 7, 1941. 

Eventually fired because she could not hit the high “C” in a performance, Jane returned to Dallas and married her good friend, Joe Lipscomb. Joe had just graduated as part of the first class from Southwestern Medical School and later became an M.D. and Lieutenant in the US Army. He spent the war years as a ship’s doctor and captain.

While Joe was finishing school, Jane worked for Delta Airlines at Love Field. Later, the couple adopted two children, Lloyd and Laura. Adopting her two children, Jane admits, was the happiest moment of her life.

Jane’s 100th birthday party, hosted on Friday, June 30, at Via Real Restaurant, included her immediate family and bridge club partners. Honored to host the special occasion, the restaurant’s manager presented Jane with a card that gives her a free meal at the business for the rest of her life.

During the celebration, a group of Jane’s bridge club friends, including Patrice and Nancy, presented Jane with framed pictures as well as proclamations from the city of Irving declaring June 30 “Jane Lipscomb Day” as well as a congratulatory letter from U.S. Senator from Texas, John Cornyn.

Jane’s son Lloyd did not originally sign up for the ride. Patrice volunteered him in front of everyone in attendance during the birthday celebration.

“I handed the picture of the hot air balloon to Jane along with, ‘I’m not going with you, your son is,’” Patrice said. “I knew she would want to be with her child.” She said Jane cackled with excited upon receiving the gift.

After the ride, Lloyd was all smiles.

“It was magical, it was heavenly,” he said. “It was beyond what I expected. She stood up the whole time until we started coming in for the landing.”

Rohr Balloons began operations in 1994. Brian Rohr, a commercial pilot, has been flying since the age of six and his company has eight hot air balloons of various sizes. Rohr’s team said they recently flew a woman who was 101 years old.

When asked what would be her next adventure, Jane reflected for a minute before settling on a ride in an airboat across a swamp. For now, she says, she wants to concentrate on the hot air balloon.

“I’m going to get up in that balloon,” she said. “That’s enough for today.”

Local Irving family fighting for paralyzed son

On the morning of July 14, Alexia Rafeedie received a call from her mother, Sandi Brown, saying there had been a family emergency. Alexia was asked to return home immediately. A hospital in Hammond, Louisiana had called Brown minutes earlier saying her son had been in an accident, but they could not give more information on his condition.

Alexia picked her mom up and together they drove over eight hours to Louisiana to learn what had happened. Sandi’s son, Patrick Rafeedie, 20, was driving his new motorcycle to work when a truck pulled in front of him, causing him to slam into the back. His upper body took much of the force of the initial blow before he flew into the air and landed hard on the pavement, sliding nearly 200 feet.

Most of Patrick’s ribs were either broken or fractured. Both of his lungs collapsed. His pelvis was broken, and he had no feeling from the waist down.

“They didn’t think he was going to make it,” Alexia said.

Paramedics worked on him for over 45 minutes before airlifting him to North Oaks Hospital in Hammond.

“Most of the time he recognizes me,” Sandi said. “He doesn’t know where he’s at. Sometimes he’s in Florida. It’s touch-and-go with what he remembers and what he doesn’t. We have to explain to him that he’s in a hospital. He doesn’t realize, and when he does, he gets a really terrified, scared look on his face.”

Patrick’s hands are restrained to prevent him from pulling out or breaking the medical devices keeping him alive. He has a trachea in his neck providing oxygen and a peg in his stomach feeding him.

“He’s pulled the peg out five times,” Sandi said. “He’s actually broken the tubes on the trachea twice, not just pulled it out but both times he’s actually broken the tubes.”

Patrick, who lost his older brother in 2009 to a car accident, just finished his sophomore year at Louisiana’s Southeastern University. A boy that Alexia describes as very family oriented and hard-working, he had recently started a job at a landscaping company to help pay for college.

For his mother, a State-Farm insurance agent that owns her own agency on MacArthur Blvd, keeping spirits high and still running the business has been a struggle.

“My daughter has been here as much as she can, but I need her at the office working,” Sandi said. Sandi has been at the hospital for over 26 days, and the hospital staff set up an air mattress in the waiting room for her.

The truck driver received a ticket for failure to yield at a stop sign. He was driving on a suspended license and has had a bench warrant out since 2012. At the time of the accident, he had no insurance on the vehicle and was driving four children.

“I’m working hard to get somebody to pick him up on the warrant that he’s had out since 2012,” Sandi said. “Then I’m waiting for this case to be put on the docket so I can try to pursue further charges.”

On Thursday, August 3 Patrick had back surgery to fix his fractured T4 through T11 and T1 spinal nerves. Sandi said he may need more surgery as they monitor each day.

Since the accident, Patrick has not recovered feeling from his waist down. He has received 19 units of blood and is on life support, but doctors told his family to remain optimistic.

“They’ve told us not to give up hope, but as of now it’s not looking good,” Sandi said. “My goal is to get him completely off the ventilator, to get him in the right state of mind, and to get his physical therapy started. That’s the goal before they’re able to even get him out of SICU (Surgical Intensive Care Unit).”

For now, the family has limited hospital visits to immediate family because Patrick contracted MRSA in his lungs, an infection caused by a staph bacteria resistant to many antibiotics. He also fights fevers every night from a rare super bug in his lungs that doctors have yet to identify.


Although the family has insurance, most medical providers will cover up to a certain amount, leaving the family to foot the bill for the remaining cost.

“Out-of-pocket expenses he’s incurred so far on 23 days is $32,000,” Alexia said. “That’s not including what health insurance is going to cover. That’s out of pocket that we have to pay.”

Patrick is set to be in ICU for a few more weeks before moving to another room. The price of staying in an ICU varies, but generally is over $5,000 a day.

Although Patrick was initially air lifted just five miles from the site of the accident, the cost of that flight alone could easily be thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, medical flights are not required to report fees, and they can range from $12,000 to as much as $25,000 per flight.

Sandi was told by the hospital staff that the medical flight will not be covered by insurance. Now, the family hopes to save money so they can air lift Patrick to TIRR Memorial Hermann Rehabilitation and Research in Houston, one of the leading rehab facilities in the country. A medical flight to Houston from Hammond could cost as much at $20,000.


Patrick’s family made the decision to make their private struggle public. They hope that by telling their story, they can raise money for his rising medical costs. The money raised will help cover continued care after hospitalization and living expenses after rehabilitation. The family’s GoFundMe page has a goal of $50,000.

“The funds will go for anything that insurance doesn’t cover as far as any medical equipment he’s going to need,” Sandi said. “He’s going to need a wheelchair. He’s going to need ramps whenever he does come home. He’s going to need living expenses and getting readjusted to being paralyzed.”

A family friend has set up a blood drive at Sandi’s office on August 19 from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. at 717 North MacArthur Blvd to store blood for the Irving community. The blood won’t assist Patrick directly, but is a way for Brown and her family to honor his name.

“With the amount of blood that has been given to Patrick, I want to do something for our local community,” Sandi said. “Without the blood that Patrick’s been given, he wouldn’t be here.”

Tipping culture grows uncomfortable, greedy


Ericka Prince frequents a snow cone stand in Irving with her husband and children. The ice-cold strawberry, lime, and rainbow treats, however, do little to cool off the heated exchange she has with the cashier who asks if she wants to include a tip. Not sure of whether it’s customary to do so, she sought advice from others around the stand.

“I don’t feel like I need to tip for a snow cone, but often I do because it’s awkward,” Ericka said.

Ericka and her husband, Philip, join a growing number of people frustrated at what they feel are abusive tipping practices.

“We make sure we’re doing what the norm is in society,” Philip said. “We tip our masseuse, we tip our beautician, we tip our hair dressers, and we tip our servers here. If I had to pick from this point forward, I would say I do not want tipping to exist.”

Diane Gottsman, national etiquette expert, author of “Modern Etiquette for a Better Life,” and founder of The Protocol School of Texas that specializes in corporate etiquette training, said what is happening now among a lot of businesses is “tip-shaming”.

“What happens is people feel uncomfortable,” Gosstman said. “They say, ‘I don’t want to tip nothing, because then I feel uncomfortable.’ Then what they do is tip too much and walk away uncomfortable or unhappy.”

The annual tradition of tipping doormen, mail carriers, maids, nannies, and others originated in the 1700s when young newspaper delivery boys got in the habit of asking subscribers for gratuities on Christmas or New Year’s Day. The practice was later adopted by other local service people. In recent years, companies have begun taking advantage of the practice, including a decision by Marriott International to start placing tip envelopes in its hotel rooms. This practice of aggressively prompting customers for tips, Gottsman said, only ends up hurting businesses and customers.

“You end up losing customers that way, because they don’t want to go back and have that uncomfortable feeling,” she said.

Jo Ann Goin, founder of Glory House Catering Receptions Bistro on Main Street, agrees tipping practices have gotten out of hand.

“Most of us tip somebody, because we think we’re supposed to and then we adjust the amount of that based on how impressed we were,” Goin said. “But it’s getting abused because growing up it was only restaurants and now everywhere we go, we’re wondering if we’re expected to be tipping or not.”

Goin, who has been working at restaurants since she was in high school, said that unless circumstances are horrible, you should always tip a minimum of 20 percent.

“If a server is totally in the weeds, which is a term of being so far behind you can’t catch up because you’re so busy and you have too many tables, that’s one thing. The restaurant’s short staffed and you’re overwhelmed, that’s not their fault. But if they’re lazy and don’t care, that’s something else.”

Gottsman said the standard practice is actually closer to 15 to 20 percent and there is never a situation to tip under 10 percent.

“It’s difficult to say the food wasn’t good because that’s a kitchen issue and that’s not your server’s issue,” Gottsman said. “Let’s say you have a bad experience, you should leave 10 percent and talk to the general manager because oftentimes in restaurants, servers split their tips with others.”

Some residents believe that anything over 10 percent is excessive.

“I give 10 percent,” said a customer at Di Rosani’s, an Italian restaurant on Main Street. “I can’t figure out why I would give anybody more than what I give Jesus.” In one particularly bad instance of service, the same customer left a tip in a glass of ice water.

Philip and Ericka feel 15 to 20 percent is an acceptable range, but the problem with a set percentage is it implies the more expensive the product or meal, the better the service.

“We had a $100 meal, and I gave this person $15,” Philip said. “They didn’t do any more for me than the place down the street where I got a $30 meal did, and I only gave him 15 percent of $30.”

Philip grew up with a family that owned a restaurant and worked there as a waiter until he graduated college. Now, he owns a business and does not accept tips.

“It’s in my nature to provide good customer service, a tip doesn’t change the way I provide service for that person,” Philip said. “Managing other people, if you haven’t had the pleasure, is very stressful and labor intensive, and it’s hard work. The last thing I want to do is be judging somebody’s work when I’m not at work.”

The average tip rate seems to be rising. According to a PayScale study, the median tip is at 19.5 percent and a 20 percent tip, once considered generous, is now about average.

“The way it stands now, if you don’t tip, the person on the other end doesn’t necessarily take that and say they didn’t do a good job, they take it and say, ‘Oh this person’s a bad tipper,’” Philip said. His solution is a scale of one to ten on each table with a suggested percentage associated with the scale. That way, the server has a visible measure of their performance.

“That would reflect responsibility back on the service provider,” he said. “Now it becomes about the server as opposed to me the tipper.”

Shifting the emphasis to the server, Goin said, can have an impact beyond a restaurant.

“I remember giving a girl a $100 tip for a $30 lunch, because I just felt like I wanted to bless this girl,” Goin said. “If I was in college and somebody tipped me $100, I would have remembered that for the rest of my life.”

Irving recruits new sports complex


Perhaps the only person more excited than Irving city officials to attend the July 20 hard hat tour of the new Drive Nation sports complex was the facility’s owner, Jermaine O’Neal.

“Obviously it’s been a long process to get to this point,” O’Neal said. “It’s taken a lot of long nights and a lot of long days, and to be honest, a lot of people thought it couldn’t be done.”

That process began two years ago, when the five-time NBA All-Star received a call from his Cowboys season ticket account manager. O’Neal was unsure if he was going to renew his tickets, because he had been struggling to get his sports complex idea off the ground in Keller, Texas. His account manager connected him with John Terrell, Vice President of Commercial Development at DFW International Airport and former Mayor of the city of Southlake.

The game changer, O’Neal admits, was this area panned out both athletically and academically for his daughter. Located off Rental Car Drive near DFW airport, the 85,000 square foot complex is designed for all ages and tailored toward youth athletes. It includes 6 basketball courts, 8 volleyball courts, a turf field, batting cages and pitching tunnels, a sprinting track, weight room, hydrowork training room, as well as offices, team meeting rooms, and a kitchen.

“This is a corporate headquarters,” O’Neal said. “I don’t believe a facility for amateurs should look like a box gym. When they walk through these doors, we want them to feel as if they’re walking into the Cowboys arena, as if they walked into the Mavs headquarters.”

Construction on the $10.4 million, 16-acre youth sports facility started roughly eight months ago and is slated to open in the middle of October.

The complex is managed by Sports Facilities Advisory: Sports Facility Management (SFA and SFM) and focuses on performance training, nutrition, and wellness education. This headquarter facility will incorporate some of the latest sports science and technology including a shot tracker where amateur and professional athletes can monitor their field goal percentages or free throw percentages. O’Neal says the technology is used as a compliment to helping kids grow mentally as well as physically.

“Kids are always going to get bigger, stronger, and faster by nature because they’re getting older, but it’s that mental process that sets you up for everything,” O’Neal said. “If your mentality is all wrong, it doesn’t matter whether you can shoot, dribble, or play the game, so we want to create this environment where life lessons and athletic lessons are the exact same thing.”

At the start of 2016, DFW airport’s commercial real estate team, led by Terrell, informed the city of Irving they had a prospect looking to build a facility within Irving’s city limits. O’Neal’s team was also looking at five other cities including Keller and Frisco.

“Jermaine was looking at other outlying areas,” said Jay Ory, director of business development and marketing for Drive Nation, “but with this being on the Dallas-Fort Worth airport grounds, we thought it would be centrally located to attract not only Dallas-Fort Worth participants from surrounding communities but also out-of-towners that come in for these elite tournaments. Just imagine, you can fly right into DFW airport and there’s a cluster of Irving hotels surrounding the location. It’ll be very easy and convenient for these tournament participants and families to get to Drive Nation.”

Upon hearing of O’Neal’s project, the Irving Chamber of Commerce, city officials, and Irving ISD acted quickly to sit down with O’Neal and the Drive Nation team to learn more about the project.

“Any time we have a business that comes to the city of Irving, we ask them how we can help,” Councilman Dennis Webb said. “It’s their vision, but we want to partner with them and assist, because it’s going to benefit us. We want them to be successful.”

Drive Nation estimates a $13.1 million dollar economic impact for the DFW areas and surrounding communities. The real value, O’Neal says, lies in education and that begins with the parents.

“The parent becomes paralyzing for the kid,” O’Neal said. “They want their kid to be so good, they think their kid is Michael Jordan and the kid can barely dribble. Some people grow early, some people grow late. That’s mentally, physically, emotionally. It’s important for parents to be patient. If the kid is working, don’t drive him or her to the ground where they don’t want to play anymore.”

For at least the first year, O’Neal will serve as the complex’s basketball director.

“I’m a very aggressive personality when it comes to doing it right,” he said. “There’s no concessions to a talented kid that wants special treatment because he or she can play. So we’re going to be as I lead. In order for us to be the best version to get to what we’re trying to do, we’ve got to have great leadership.”

Drive Nation was founded in 2016 by O’Neal in Dallas as a grassroots youth sports organization that also hosts a basketball skills academy and an AAU team. They have partnerships with some of the largest youth sports providers in the country including Nike and AAU, the largest amateur sports organization in the country. By hosting national tournaments including USA volleyball tournaments, AAU tournaments, and Nike EYBL, some of the top high school and college players and coaches in the country will come to the area. That economic drive, Webb said, will help propel other new building projects.

“(This venue) is going to draw people in who then can go to our music factory,” Webb said. “Once they get here, they can go right down the street and visit this world class music factory and entertainment venue.”

Apollo 13 recounts NASA’s “successful failure”

“Fred, no more jokes,” were Captain’s James Lovell’s first words to his Lunar Module Pilot, Fred Haise, after hearing an explosion while aboard Apollo 13.

For the weeks leading up to the flight, Haise had been firing a repress valve to get a scare out of Captain Lovell and Command Module Pilot Jack Swigert. Firing the valve during training created a loud bang sound and always got a laugh from Haise.

“Suddenly on the flight, I hear the same thing,” Captain Lovell said. “When I looked up, [Fred’s] eyes were real wide, and I could tell from his expression that he had no idea what was going on.”

The Apollo 13 craft launched on April 11, 1970 on its journey to the Moon, but the lunar landing was aborted after an oxygen tank exploded two days after takeoff.

Nearly 50 years later, Captain Lovell and Haise recounted the mission that has since been classified as a “successful failure” at the Frontiers of Flight Museum’s Exploration Space 2017 Gala, where both astronauts were presented the George E. Haddaway Award.

Presented each year by the Frontiers of Flight Museum, the award honors individuals who have distinguished themselves by their accomplishments in the realm of flight and can include pilots, aircrew members, corporate or political leaders, engineers, educators, or writers.

“I’m glad that Fred and I received this together, because Apollo 13 was a team effort, not any individual but a team effort to make sure we got that spacecraft back in one piece,” Lovell said.

Haddaway was involved in the north Texas aviation scene in the 1930s through the mid-70s as a pilot and aviation journalist, publishing the aviation magazine “Southwest Aviation”.

Past winners of the award include General James “Jimmy” Doolittle, Charles Lindbergh, and Wiley Post.

Mark Davis, host of 660AM’s The Answer, moderated a discussion between Lovell and Haise following the awards ceremony, where both astronauts spoke about their experience on the mission.


Ken Mattingly was originally intended to be the Command Module Pilot on the flight, but only three days before launch at the insistence of the flight surgeon, John “Jack” Swigert was moved to the main crew.

“Jack helped develop some of the malfunction procedures for the command module,” Lovell said. “If we wanted someone else on board, he was the guy to have.”

Several days into their mission, however, Jack recorded the first incident on Apollo 13.

“Jack suddenly looked at us and said, ‘You know, I didn’t file my income taxes. I’m in deep trouble,’” Lovell said. “He told mission control and finally they called back and said, ‘Well we talked to the President and he said since you’re out of the country, we’ll give you a pass.’”

Not long afterwards, the crew heard a loud bang.

“It kind of echoed, because we were sitting in metal hulls,” Haise said. “It sounded like somebody hitting a sledgehammer on the side of a big tin can you’re in.”

That explosion crippled the Service Module and led to uncharted territory for NASA, which for the first few minutes after the explosion was not certain what was happening.

“The first thing that mission control thought about was all this could not happen at one time, because we build things with redundancy,” Lovell said. “The original thought was it’s gotta be a communications problem. The information coming down from the spacecraft was really caused by a solar flare. Of course in the spacecraft, we knew what was going on. It took a little while for the ground to finally realize this is not just a communications problem, it’s a real one.”

The crew then had to rely on the lunar module, a device meant only to operate for two days. The crew, however, was at least four days away from getting back to earth. Captain Lovell asked Haise to do a consumable check, a checklist of everything they had remaining on the ship.

“I felt we were really in good shape excepting I forgot about the lithium cartridges,” Haise said. “They are the things that cleanse the air of carbon dioxide, which builds up as you’re breathing out. In a submarine, you have to figure out a way to scrub it. I didn’t think about it but we didn’t have enough of those cartridges.”

NASA engineers on the ground had to quickly solve the problem and relay instructions.

“They actually tested that with human subjects in a chamber before it got shipped up to us,” Haise said.


Upon reentry into earth’s atmosphere, the crew was concerned their heat shield was damaged. If the heat shield didn’t function properly, the hull would burn up.

“There was nothing we could do if the heat shield was damaged,” Lovell said. “All of the other questions we’d gone over one by one, but the damaged heat shield, there was nothing that we could do. We just prepared to come in.”

For roughly three minutes entering the atmosphere, a ball of fire surrounded the hull and kept a signal from going out from the capsule and Houston’s signal from coming in.

“Jack and Fred and I looked at each other and said ‘Don’t call [Houston] because this might make a good movie,’” Lovell said.

The craft was recovered by the USS Iwo Jima six days after launch. Lovell says that although the flight was a failure, it could not have happened at a better time. 

“If you recall from Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo, success looked so easy,” Lovell said. “The news was getting to be stale. The launch of Apollo 13 was registered on the weather page of the New York Times, because people weren’t interested anymore. Then suddenly, there was a resurgence of interest in space flight.”


In recent decades the trend among space exploration has turned toward international cooperation. The International Space Station (ISS) launched its first component into orbit in 1998. The station is a joint project among five space agencies: NASA, Roscosmos (Russia), JAXA (Japan), ESA (European Space Agency), and CSA (Canada). Ownership and use of the space station is established by intergovernmental treaties and agreements. The American portion of the ISS is funded until 2024.

“It’s worked out pretty good from a management standpoint,” Haise said. “I hope people will now get more of a picture of not the U.S. Space Program but the Earth Space Program, to have that unity and that funding support from a multitude of countries, to really make it happen. Right now without a drastic change in what this country’s willing to fund, it’s not going to get there very fast.”

NASA was established in 1958 by President Dwight D. Eisenhower. According to the White House Office of Management and Budget, the percentage of the federal budget allocated toward NASA has been steadily falling since the 1966 Apollo program, when the U.S. saw the federal budget briefly fund the program at 4.41 percent. Now the number sits at just under 0.5 percent.

“NASA’s hopefully going to get back into the exploration business and continue to build things that can move us further out,” Haise said. “Right now underway they have a capsule, a little bit bigger than the Apollo capsule that can carry a few more people, and they’re building a big booster. They can go out to the moon, but they really don’t have all of the ingredients to land on the moon or certainly not to go to Mars at this point.”

“It takes a lot of money, and it actually has to be a national policy and a national priority to do something like Buzz preaches to go to Mars or if you went back to the moon even and set up a base,” Lovell said, who believes we have barely scratched the surface of the moon.

“We should direct our technology for going back up to the moon, learning more about it and developing the infrastructure to be very comfortable about doing regular flights back and forth without really having the risks we fought when we did it on Apollo. We then take that and build it up to eventually go to Mars.

“We know more about Mars today than Neil Armstrong knew about the moon when he landed on it,” he said. “Mars is there, and someday, somebody is going to go there. It’s like the highest mountain to climb, somebody is going to do it, and it might as well be the United States.”

Electronics store catches fire in Irving Mall


Firefighters were dispatched on Monday evening, July 24, to a two-alarm fire at Irving Mall.

The alert initially came into the Irving Fire Department (IFD) at 9:17 p.m. as a smoke investigation. As soon as firefighters arrived to the mall, located at North Belt Line Road and State Highway 183, they noticed thick clouds of smoke and called for a larger response.

The smoke originated in an Xspress Electronics storage room. Firefighters initially had a difficult time locating the fire because of reduced visibility caused by smoke.

“If we see a lot of fire, in a sense it’s easy,” said Jack Taylor, Assistant Chief of Operations for the Irving Fire Department. “We know right where to go, we know how to attack it, it’s visible, and you know what you’re working with. The more difficult ones are the ones where you have a lot of smoke. If you have a lot of smoke and it’s really charged and thick, you can’t see your hand in front of your face. There’s a seat of the fire somewhere, so it’s very anxious trying to find where that is before it advances and gets out of control.”

According to Taylor, in smoke heavy situations where it is hard to see flames, firefighters feel around for heat to know if they are heading in the right direction. At the Irving Mall, however, firefighters did not register a change in temperature and felt the entire room was warm.

“The sprinklers that had gone off actually kept the smoke there and didn’t let it dissipate,” Taylor said. “It stayed there like a cloud and made it a take longer to find where the fire had started. By the time we got there, it was a relatively small fire. The sprinklers did a really good job and kept it at bay.”

A second alarm was activated to have fire staff on hand help evacuate the mall, which included mostly store employees and AMC theater patrons. According to Taylor, the second alarm was more of a precautionary measure because of the size of the mall, the number of employees and customers still inside, and the poor visibility caused by the thick smoke.

IFD has a set amount of equipment they send on an initial structure fire for a first alarm. Depending on the structure or how big the fire is, the commander on the scene will call for a second alarm, which brings double the equipment and manpower. Four alarms is the biggest call that can be made in Irving.

Should IFD ever run out of resources to battle a fire, they can call on neighboring cities for support. Mutual aid agreements with other Dallas County fire departments allows neighboring cities to assist one another when large or multiple emergencies exceed a city’s capacity. The cities share a master list of all of the equipment each department has available.

At Monday’s Irving Mall fire, the DFW Airport and Dallas Fire-Rescue were called to bring truck-mounted ventilation fans. These big fans push a high volume of air to help clear smoke from large structures.

The fire was officially under control at 10:20 p.m. and no injuries were reported. In total, 18 pieces of equipment were used from IFD, two from DFW Airport, and one from Dallas Fire-Rescue. The fire was contained to the storage room, and investigators are still determining the cause.

According to Taylor, a number of 911 calls were made early enough into the incident that helped minimize damage. His team regularly sees people stopping to take a picture or film an incident rather than calling 911, and recalled an extreme situation at an apartment complex fire in Irving a few months ago.

“A lot of people there expected everybody else was calling it in,” he said. “Nobody did, and the fire was very advanced before we were ever called. We always try to push the urgency, to let people know to call 911 first, and then film it if you want to.

“In this day of social media, people are quick to pick up their phones and start filming something and not think about calling 911. I’m always reminding people to make sure 911 is called first. Several people did call in [about Irving Mall] so that’s always a good sign.”

PINSTACK in Las Colinas offers new vision of bowling


The new PINSTACK on West I-635 is not your grandpa’s Wednesday night bowling league.

In fact, it might as well be a scene from a TRON movie with changing color patterns on the walls and floor, a large arcade and laser tag arena, and loads of LED-lit hand holds on climbing walls from a company out of Norway.

“When you hear gaming or bowling, it’s not what you’re envisioning,” said Gene Muncy, the Las Colinas PINSTACK General Manager. “If you’ve never been in, you wouldn’t imagine what you’re going to experience until you walk in the front door. I think the finish and the experience of the facility really tells that story.”

Alongside 28 bowling lanes, Las Colinas’ new 53,000 square-foot entertainment venue features a two-level laser tag arena, rock climbing walls, high-ropes course, a large arcade, and a full-service bar with beer and wine on draft. 

“Draft wine is starting to catch on and becoming more popular here,” Muncy said. “So we’ve increased it. We had six [drafts] in Plano, and we now have twelve in addition to all of our regular wines sold by the glass and bottle.”

Customers can even head outside during the hot summer, as a 2,000 square-foot, temperature controlled covered patio offers games including bocce ball and giant games in chess, connect four, and jenga.

Most of these areas are available for private parties and corporate events.

“We have meeting rooms that face the lanes,” Munch said. “We do full service banquet catering like you would find at any nice hotel property. We do a lot of corporate meetings where [corporations] have training. They’ve got a product launch or team building, and they’ll do food and beverage in their room and then come out and have lanes reserved for them and have their own private area to have an event.”

There are also features in games that are tailored for outings with a boss and work colleagues. One style of play in laser tag is called “lone wolf” and allows everyone to go after one player, which Muncy said is typically used to go after the boss.

Entertainment Properties Group, Inc. operates the new venue. Based in Dallas, they run three entertainment venues in Texas under the iT’ ‘Z Family, Food & Fun brand. PINSTACK is their latest location and first opened in Plano in 2015. Las Colinas marks their second location, and they plan to open their third PINSTACK in Allen in fall of 2017.

As part of their launch, PINSTACK in Las Colinas honored The Salvation Army of Irving and Irving Cares with a donation at a special VIP event attended by community leaders and PINSTACK executives.

“We look forward to being a good community partner,” said Mark Moore, president and CEO of Entertainment Properties Group, Inc. “We are confident the Las Colinas community and surrounding areas will enjoy PINSTACK’s many entertainment amenities, dining options, and more.”

The location has some differences than Plano’s, including a larger laser tag area. The Las Colinas venue used a subtle design change to add 700 square-feet to their laser tag arena without adding square footage to the building.

But the real draw is bowling.

A regular lane, which fits eight people comfortably, costs $18 during the weekdays for one hour and $22 for a VIP experience. Those prices rise to $34 and $45 during the weekends and shoe rental costs $4.

LED-lights on the sides and walls is coupled with advanced technology, including programmed bumpers for each bowler. This new type of bowling, Muncy believes, will be popular among young people.

“You don’t have to be a superstar bowler to have fun bowling,” he said. “Particularly millennials these days want to do fun activities together in a social environment but don’t want to be eliminating or isolating people who may not be experts. Bowling’s a great way to do that.”

City officials seek community input in DART fare restructure


DART’s fare structure was met with a mixture of corporate and community wide concern as transit agency officials hosted a public hearing on Tuesday, July 27, at their downtown Dallas offices.

The fare increase is part of DART’s 20-Year Financial Plan, which assumes an increase to the average fare about every five years. Some of the major changes include fare capping for daily and monthly passes, contactless (smartphone app) payment cards, replacement of the 2-hour passes with AM/PM passes, and removal of trade school eligibility.

The following is brief list of some of the proposed changes:

Starting in November of this year, DART will install fare boxes on all of their buses to issue a new kind of ticket replacing the two-hour day pass tickets with an AM/PM pass as well as a Mid-Day pass. Mid-Day passes allow unlimited travel between 9:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Also in November of 2017, DART will work with roughly 1,000 retail locations in the area and allow customers to use cash to purchase a GOPass for their smartphones from these locations.

On GoPasses, DART will implement fare capping beginning in May of 2018. That means if a customer buys $5 day passes more than 16 times throughout a month, the system will keep track of them. If a customer buys $80 worth of $5 day passes, the customer will receive a monthly local pass and will no longer need to pay for any fares for the rest of the month.

The fare structure amendment will take place in a series of steps, beginning in November of 2017. More changes will take place in January, May, and August of 2018.

DART officials began holding pre-public hearing community meetings in May at a number of city halls as well as civic and recreation centers to begin gaging the community’s response to the fare structure proposal.

According to Joe Costello, Senior Vice President of DART finance, most of the price changes will become effective in 2018 but many of the new features will be available earlier.

DART has received 196 written comments on the fare restructure. The total includes comments received through the DART website, and online social media. On Tuesday evening, 20 additional comments by community members were added to the public record.

After hearing all of the public comments and reviewing previously received comments, DART officials are implementing changes to their initial proposal.

“From customer comments, we discovered a circumstance where a rider might board shortly before noon, buy an AM pass, and then that pass would only be good for a short time,” Costello said.

“Monday through Friday the solution for that rider would be to buy a mid-day pass, but on weekends we don’t have the mid-day pass currently, so we’re changing our proposal to extend the availability of the midday pass to the full week.”

Also changed from the initial proposal are busy days such as holidays and big game days where customers preferred to buy day passes rather than AM/PM passes.

Baylor Scott and White, one of a number of corporations that purchases DART’s corporate local passes, builds the cost of purchasing local DART passes for their employees into their yearly budget and asked officials for more notice for the fare increase.
“Our budget starts July every year,” said Shawn Orrange, an assistant director at Baylor Scott and White. “Getting notice for this now, our budget’s already been set.”

Regina Montoya, chair of Dallas Mayor Mike Rawling’s Task Force on Poverty, linked the cost of transportation as a critical factor in individuals escaping poverty.

“We would urge you to consider discounted rates for low-income riders,” Montoya said. “A $5 weekly increase may not seem like a lot to some people, but it is to someone who is barely surviving.”

One attendee at the hearing had lost her job that same day after having sat at her bus stop for an hour and 45 minutes before learning her bus had been in a wreck and another had not been sent.

“The only people this is going to help are the people that are going to come to the conventions and the football games,” she said. “It doesn’t help the residents and the people in Dallas. It does not get us where we need to be.”

The DART board is expected to vote on a new fare structure by August 2017.

Irving police department honored with barbeque

Just in time for summer grilling season, the Open Door Church in Irving hosted a barbeque to show their appreciation for the Irving police department on Tuesday, June 6.

“Last year, we had our first event after the police shootings in Dallas,” Open Door Church Pastor Phil Durham said. “We wanted a way to honor the police here in Irving.”

Food and drinks were donated to Pastor Durham’s group. A dozen volunteers passed out meals to the officers to show the church’s support for everything the officers do for the community.

The church is only a year and a half old. One way they have started making an impact is by having a strong youth group presence. The barbeque is another way they hope to bring the community closer together.

“We wanted to not forget,” Durham said. “Just because there’s no tragedy going on, we’re not going to forget the police. We really want to serve those who serve us, and certainly let the officers know that we care about them.”

Challenge Air hands controls to youngsters with special needs

As his son took over the plane’s yoke, Brad Forsthoff leaned toward the window and pointed at landmarks he has been flying over for years.

Forsthoff and his son Christopher’s fourth flight in five years took place as part of the McKinney Challenge Air Fly Day, an event that allowed special needs kids to fly real airplanes alongside a pilot at the McKinney Airport on April 8.

“The whole purpose of this is to show these kids who have special needs that if they can control a plane up in the air, then they can really do anything in life,” Forsthoff said. “The whole goal of this entire gathering is to show the kids there are things out there that they can do. Christopher has enjoyed every minute of every time we’ve come.”

The event, which has been going on for over 20 years, begins with a quick briefing before kids are led to airplanes, each with a pilot and a flight team. Every one of the 143 kids who participated could take a 20 minute flight and after they landed, each received a certificate, had wings put on their shirts and walked across a red carpet lined with local high school cheerleaders.

“When a little brother and sister brings their siblings down the red carpet, they’re all smiling,” said event volunteer K. Lyle Froese of the McKinney Sunset rotary club. “All of them, and that’s just worth an awful lot.”

Challenge Air was founded by Rick Amber, who became a quadriplegic when his plane crashed in the Vietnam War. When he came back to the states, Amber learned to fly general aviation with hand controls and took up wheelchair tennis. After winning the U.S. Open National Wheelchair Tennis Championship and going on to teach wheelchair tennis lessons, some of his tennis students asked if they could fly with him.

“They met in this grass field,” said April Culver, executive director of Challenge Air who has been with the company for nearly seven years. “The transformation he saw on the kids faces from being in a wheelchair, and then being in the airplane and actually flying was just so phenomenal, he thought that ‘I need to make sure I can do this for all kids.’”

That first flight in 1991 watered the early seeds for what is now known as Challenge Air, a group whose mission is to build confidence and self-esteem in kids with special needs through the gift of flight.

“Our motto is if you can fly an airplane, what else can you do?” Culver said. “A lot of these kids can’t play on team sports, and there are not a lot of extra activities, so they get to come here and be normal.” She estimates they’ve flown almost 40,000 kids in 23 years in almost every state in the country.

Challenge Air puts on 12 to 15 events a year for kids between the ages of 7 and 21. Each event hosts roughly 150 kids with special needs and tends to attract the same volunteers year after year.

“This is our third or fourth year to do this,” volunteer Steve Wintory said. “I used to work in special ed, so I know what it means to these kids to get a chance to do something a little out of the box.”

Wintory’s job for the day was escorting students along with pilots from the hangar to the plane, helped them get on board safely, and making sure they got off the plane safely and onto the red carpet.

 “This is an opportunity to break some boundaries that they might have preconceived and just let them know that there’s a lot out in the world to be experienced,” he said. “A lot of them will be able to go beyond here and this will be a big highlight for them.”

This was Froese’s fourth time attending the event and he’s seen the event grow a lot.

“The rotary clubs here in McKinney have supported Challenge Air for a number of years,” he said. “It’s bigger. We have more pilots and more planes. The amazing thing is these pilots give their time, they pay their own fuel, they give their Saturday, and it’s just amazing.”
Eighteen pilots volunteered their Saturdays to fly all 143 students, so each pilot and their flight team took around seven to eight flights.

“We couldn’t do this without our pilots,” Weaver said. “We can’t pay for their fuel, we can’t give them the fuel, so really they make the magic happen. They’re the ones that talk to the kids, tell them what to do, tell them how cool this is that they’re flying the plane.”

The pilots agreed it is a thrill to see a kid’s reactions in the air.

“[These kids] get such a thrill out of it, because you tell the kids nobody has a disability,” pilot John Couzelis said. “You can do anything if you can fly this airplane. You can do anything in your life, there’s no challenge that you can’t overcome.”

Couzelis first heard about the event from a friend in 2008 and has been volunteering with Challenge Air twice a year since then. He says doing the event is his way of giving back his gift of flying.

“God gave us this talent,” he said. “So we’re trying to give back to God what he gave us.”