Who killed April Dabney?

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

Yet they could not, no matter how hard they tried, get sidewalks from the city, even though Guillermo Vidaud was a city of Dallas employee--an architect in the public works department--when all this started. (He retired in early 1984 to start his own architectural firm with his son William.) They could not get sidewalks even though the city has since 1982 offered federal grant money to low-income people who request sidewalks--a program that no one has ever bothered telling the AFIL parents about.

In 1993, the Vidauds' son William began his own crusade--lobbying DART to put a bus shelter at the Denton Drive bus stop. To his surprise, he was told that DART was out of bus shelters. Period. "It was so ridiculous," William says. "It just goes to show you that they're spending so much on the rail side that they're falling back on basic bus service, where it all started."

Like his dad, William had some ties to the people he was lobbying. As a former DART contractor who had designed some of the rail stations, he served on a DART committee made up of consultants, engineers and architects. Last year, he chaired the committee. But none of that made a difference. At one point, DART did put a shelter in--at the wrong bus stop, in a barren, little-used spot farther down Denton Drive. When nobody used it--surprise, surprise--DART yanked it out. And moved it to another part of town.

Vidaud is mystified at his inability to get a simple bus shelter installed for 44 regular DART customers who plan to live out the rest of their days standing in the rain and sleet waiting for buses. In fact, he's so disgusted, that he recently quit the DART committee to spend his limited free time doing something more worthwhile--tackling transportation problems for the Association for Retarded Citizens. "I tell you what I think this all boils down to," he says. "When you have small, special-needs groups spearheaded by a few individuals, they don't give you as much attention as the larger, militant-type groups and the people with big names. It seems like the only way to get things done is if you have this militant approach, which is really unfortunate."

When April Dabney died last month, the Vidauds and other parents went militant. "Who killed April Dabney?" screams the first line of a letter to Mayor Ron Kirk drafted by Guillermo Vidaud. "Was it a drunk driver? Or was it the irresponsible negligence of the city of Dallas for not providing its Storey Lane citizens the basic protection of curbs and sidewalks to ensure their safety?"

Vidaud has given copies of his letter to all the AFIL parents and everybody else they can think of. They are asking people to mail one in and pass on the rest. They're looking for high impact. And they're getting it.

Two weeks ago, after 100 letters had hit his office, Ron Kirk asked his staff to call the city manager's office to get a status report on Storey Lane. Which, of course, suddenly made long-neglected Storey Lane the number-one problem in the city of Dallas.

Last Wednesday--perhaps not coincidentally the day Kirk held his first town-hall meeting--city employees were all over Storey Lane. Darryl Fourte and his van of employees were assessing the condition of Storey Road. Jerry McClain, a street crew-foreman, was filling potholes one street over. Sedley McLaughlin, a project coordinator for public works, was cruising Storey Lane, taking photographs. "I've asked my staff to see if there would be a way to put in some sidewalks to address the concern, short of doing a complete street improvement," acting Public Works Director David Dybala told me later that day.

That night, two AFIL parents signed up to meet with the new mayor on an old topic. Sidewalks. Curbs. Gutters. "I think it's a reasonable request," Kirk told them.

It was no less reasonable 12 years ago.
But then, no one has ever accused the city of Dallas of having its priorities straight. I mean, why spend a couple thousand dollars on sidewalks for 44 hard-working, handicapped young people who want to work and live independently--off the public dole--when you can give $35 million to a millionaire like Don Carter so he can build himself a sports arena--on the public dole? You could build a lot of sidewalks and improve a lot of streets for $35 million. Most taxpayers would consider improving the streets a higher priority.

But maybe these are magic times. Maybe Kirk, hellbent on building Carter his arena, will find a way to do both. Maybe he's going to straighten out the priorities and do the gold-plated stuff. I guess the first test will be Storey Lane.

The parents--and residents--are waiting.

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