Who killed April Dabney?

Parents of retarded adults blame city's failure to heed plea for sidewalks

Darryl Fourte stands at the corner of Denton Drive and Storey Road, looking a bit like Wesley Snipes on a secret mission.

With one hand on his hip, the other clutching a black walkie-talkie, Fourte surveys the skid marks on the road before him through a pair of sleek, dark sunglasses. Across the street, a white van idles at the ready, its occupants awaiting their boss' next instruction.

Suddenly, an unfamiliar car approaches. Fourte watches skeptically as the driver, a woman he has never met, rolls down her window to talk to him. "So," I ask, peering up into Fourte's face, "when did Ron Kirk call you?"

Upon hearing the name of his titular commander-in-chief, Fourte does not skip a beat. "I guess he called LuAnn, and LuAnn put us on it," he says, referring to LuAnn Anderson, director of streets, sanitation, and code enforcement services for the city of Dallas.

"What does she want you to do?" I ask.
"Begin inspecting the area," says Fourte, a district manager for street operations. "Basically just check out the present situation and see if there is anything we can do to improve it."

Fourte lays out the present situation.
"Best I can determine, this person just drove off the road. See the tracks here," he says, pointing to the skid marks that veer toward us, stopping abruptly at a tall, mangled pole holding two street signs and a stop sign.

A terrible thing happened here last month, Fourte tells me: a hit-and-run accident that killed a young woman. To prevent it from happening again, Fourte says, he is going to sic the guys in the van on this intersection. They're going to clean this place up, he declares--even out this stretch of road to make it easier for people and cars to coexist.

"Great idea," I say. Except the hit-and-run didn't happen here.
It happened, I explain, farther down Storey Road--past the railroad tracks and the scuzzy-looking car wash. But even if you want to fix the problem, I tell the city street man, you can't. Because this is not a pothole problem. It's a curb, gutter, and sidewalk problem--in other words, a public-works department problem.

Fourte looks pensive now. As a lowly mid-level manager, stationed out in the northwest hinterlands of city street operations, he is too far removed from the scheming, butt-covering antics of 1500 Marilla to understand how in the world he got this stupid, rush-rush, hush-hush, wrong-place, wrong-people assignment anyway. "I'm in the wrong spot," he says finally, sizing up the situation.

Yeah, well, no rush. The city's already a dozen years and one dead pedestrian too late.

When I first read about the death of April Dabney, it barely registered. The short, just-the-facts-ma'am story that appeared November 19 in The Dallas Morning News described a familiar scenario: A 37-year-old woman with "learning disabilities"--whatever that meant--had been walking to a DART bus stop early one morning when she was mowed down by a 1992 Buick.

I felt bad. I turned the page.
One week later, a woman named Becky Boyer, mother of a retarded child herself, called me. The hit-and-run victim, April Dabney, had lived in a special place for young mentally retarded adults, called the Association for Independent Living (AFIL), Boyer explained. A wonderful, one-of-a-kind facility, it taught the mentally retarded how to live independently so they didn't have to rely on their families or the government. Eventually, they had the option of buying their own condominiums, built by the parents near AFIL on Storey Lane.

The biggest requirement for joining AFIL was a steady, full-time job. Which meant a reliance on public transportation. Which, in this case, meant enormous problems.

Last week, I drove up to the 2800 block of Storey Lane, expecting to find the kind of street you envision when you think of residential condominium living--especially when those condos are filled with people with bigger needs and bigger fears than most mortals and smaller chances of overcoming them. Instead, I found bleak black top lined with big industry--a lumber yard, a steel mill, a noisy warehouse operation with huge tractor-trailers that rumbled up and down the street constantly. I also found a messy hodge-podge of businesses--the car wash, a bar, the Drain Doctor, and a day-care center. Tucked in between it all were the four, fastidiously kept buildings that make up AFIL.

Sister Damian Tucker, a Catholic nun who is the caretaker of one of the two condominium buildings, drove me around. She showed me the two bus stops her residents rely on--both a good hike from home. One is located down Storey, across Starlight, across the train tracks, on the other side of busy Denton Drive, next to a crummy-looking nightclub. The other is farther away--down Storey, down Starlight, to insanely busy Northwest Highway (just west of Bachman Lake as it goes airborne at Harry Hines), which you cross at Community Drive to get to the bus stop.

It doesn't take a genius to see the problem: There are no sidewalks, curbs, or gutters on any of the streets except Northwest Highway. Walking is, to put it mildly, hazardous. Which makes these mentally retarded young people nervous. Especially since the accident. "In my building, they'll ask me, 'Is it all right to go visit my friends at AFIL?'" says Sister Damian, referring to the main building located three doors down from the condos. "In other words, 'Do you think it would be okay for me to leave the building other than for work?'"

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