Punches, Cussing, Threats: Tour Guides' Tasteful Treatment of JFK's Death

Tourists will brave Elm Street traffic to snap a picture at the X that marks the spot where JFK was shot.
Tourists will brave Elm Street traffic to snap a picture at the X that marks the spot where JFK was shot.
Dylan Hollingsworth

If Dallas was once ashamed of being the city where President John F. Kennedy was murdered, little evidence of that remains in Dealey Plaza today. An “X” on Elm Street, marking the spot where gunshots hit his motorcade, is a popular place for tourists to dare traffic and pose for pictures. The “X” is painted by conspiracy theorists, who in nice weather spend weekends working the grassy knoll behind the X, selling literature and documentaries challenging the official version of the assassination.

At crosswalks and parking lots around the plaza, another group of vendors has less to say than the conspiracy theorists but is more aggressive about selling it. Middle-aged to elderly men hustle to sell newspapers from the day Kennedy was shot, November 22, 1963. Some of them have been here for more than a decade. They yell at and follow tourists or relax on benches when traffic is slow.

At least one red trolley sits parked by the water fountains every day, offering tours for $20. A small white bus parks beside it, offering competing tours. The white bus used to be wrapped by a sign bearing Kennedy's face and the Dallas marketing slogan "Big Things Happen Here," until people noticed and got offended. Young employees, barely out of their teens, fight to load tourists onto the trolleys or buses.

At the next corner, on Main Street, is a Lincoln Continental convertible decorated with American flags. In the span of less than a minute, at least three tourists stop to ask if this is the actual limo that carried Kennedy. "It's a replica," the woman hired to watch the limo must explain, over and over. "If you want to take a picture of it, we ask for a $5 donation." Behind the limo is something that looks like a luxury stretch golf cart, called a "Cruizer," offering open-air tours of downtown.

Ricardo Hernandez, a husky 39-year-old man often dressed in a polo shirt and cowboy hat, has a strong presence here, even if you can't see him. Hernandez owns the replica limo, the "Cruizer" golf carts and the white buses by the fountain. He drives the limo and the Cruizers himself and helps sell tickets to his bus tours.

For some of the vendors here, he has been too familiar. On January 30, 21-year-old Samantha Howlett was working on the corner, trying to sell tickets to the trolleys operated by her father's tour company, which has long been in bitter competition with Hernandez. On this day, the fighting was worse than usual. Hernandez stood uncomfortably close to her, she says, and coughed on her. "So I turned around to like, get away from him," Howlett says. She claims Hernandez followed her. Through gritted teeth, the man who makes a living driving people around Dallas threatened to kill her, she says. "I am going to fucking kill you," says the police report, quoting Howlett's description of Hernandez's threats. "I am going to follow you home from work, and I'm going to take care of you." Howlett ran to a safety patrol officer, who called police. Hernandez got a ticket. And rather than pay the fine, he has chosen to fight it. Hernandez has a court date scheduled in June.

"I don't understand why he wasn't arrested when he said he was going to follow me home and take care of me once and for all. He should have been arrested for that," Howlett says.

Hernandez says Howlett is a liar. "I never touched her. I never said nothing," he says. His tourism business continues to thrive, but this isn't the only time he has been accused of harassing other vendors here.

The Sixth Floor Museum, a tasteful collection of news clippings, film footage and other exhibits, is the best-known tourist attraction here. Down on the ground is a different scene, one that city officials have long ignored or tried to drive away. The barren nature of the tourism industry has made it easy for newcomers like Hernandez to take over.

Scott Aston, Samantha Howlett's father, left Dallas in his youth to join the Navy, he says, and then spent years moving around the country, working as an engineer and then as a television producer. Years later, when he returned to Dallas to take care of his mother, he decided to go into a new business with a friend, selling trolley tours. In 2011, the company debuted their trolleys in St. Louis. The next year, they rolled out the service in Dallas, and eventually, in Louisville, Indianapolis and Kansas City.

Aston ran the company's Dallas operations and called it "Big D Fun Tours." When he brought his trolley to Dealey Plaza in 2012, it was the only one there. Like other vendors in the plaza, Aston claims he studied the Kennedy assassination extensively — he swears he read the Warren Commission Report twice. He portrays himself as the more legitimate, clean-cut businessman compared with some of the others. "We're a professional corporation. We do business the right way," he says.

Sitting in a conference room in the Old Red Museum, which lets him use their space, he describes the idea he had for his Dallas tour as an epiphany. "I realized everyone knows the president was shot and killed. But what was it like to be in Dallas as the events unfolded? So that's what our tour does. We take you on a minute-by-minute timeline as the events unfold, and it's been extremely successful."

Unlike the other, scruffier vendors in the plaza — those of the conspiracy theorists — Aston says his tours were quickly embraced by Dallas leadership. He now has partnerships with the Central Business District and Trinity River Corridor Project to help promote the city through his trolley stops. His tours tell the official, uncontroversial story of Kennedy's assassination and offer a quintessentially Dallas view of Dallas.

"If you go to New York City, you're definitely going to go to the Empire State Building, right?" said a Cowboys-hat wearing trolley driver on a Saturday in May, arguing that Reunion Tower is Dallas' Empire State Building. As he circled past the tower, he told people about the restaurant inside. "You've all heard of Wolfgang Puck, right?" he lured them. The tourists seemed to enjoy the trip. "It was pretty good," said a man from Mexico afterward, who was visiting Dallas on business. It was his second trolley tour. He liked them both, but wished there was more shopping around Dealey Plaza.

Aston saw Ricardo Hernandez ride on his trolley as a passenger six times, he says, and watched him shoot video of it. Aston assumed Hernandez was just passionate about the Kennedy assassination. Then, around the time NCAA basketball's Final Four tournament hit Arlington in 2014, a small white bus popped up where Aston and his trolleys had been enjoying a Dallas/JFK-death tour monopoly. Out of the bus stepped Hernandez. "Right then and there I knew that he was not a reasonable person," Aston says.

Ricardo Hernandez stands near the replica of JFK's limo. Tourists who want to take a photo of it are asked to pay $5. We didn't pay.
Ricardo Hernandez stands near the replica of JFK's limo. Tourists who want to take a photo of it are asked to pay $5. We didn't pay.
Dylan Hollingsworth

Ricardo Hernandez keeps his Kennedy memorabilia in his West Dallas junkyard — another business he has been accused of stealing.

Edgar Macias was only 22 when he started his first company, a junk-collecting agency called Junk Boys DFW. Hernandez was charming, Macias says, and pitched himself as a successful shoe salesman who ran his father's business. Macias hired him.

But Hernandez told Macias many stories that he found impossible to believe, and he came to the conclusion that Hernandez was a liar. (Hernandez says that the company was actually his, and he was only borrowing a trailer from Macias' father.) At some point, Macias realized that Hernandez had taken his junkyard business out from under him. Hernandez, only an employee, was posing as an owner of the company, Macias says, and directing his clients to call a separate phone number and pay into a separate account.

In 2010, Macias sued Hernandez, accusing him of stealing the business. Macias won a $10,000 judgment, court records show. Afterward, Macias dropped the junkyard business, feeling his bridges in that industry had been burned, but Hernandez stuck with it. Now Hernandez runs Junk Guys DFW out of a garage. Along with the junk, the Lincoln convertible replica is parked there. Newspapers printed by The Dallas Morning News for the 50th anniversary of the assassination are piled in the corner — Hernandez is starting to sell papers to the street vendors, too. "We do really good on the tour business, really good," Hernandez says. His profits in the past week, he estimates, were $6,200.

Like Aston, Hernandez claims he has deep roots in Dallas and has studied the Kennedy assassination extensively. He says he rode Aston's tour once and realized he could make it better in a variety of ways — for starters, with multimedia. "I put music all on the bus," Hernandez says, "so every time there was a dramatic part, such as the part that Kennedy's head is getting blown off on the TV, I put in an LCD screen." He says he gives a "second-by-second" description of the assassination that has made some people cry.

"That's what I wanted to get out of people," Hernandez says. "I try to hit emotions and Ms. Kennedy's side of the story, and that's how I do my tour."

Hernandez's execution, however, has been sloppy at times. He used to display a life-size cardboard cutout of Lee Harvey Oswald near the Kennedy Memorial. The image appalled Farris Rookstool III, a former FBI analyst who is now a JFK historian and frequent commentator on WFAA-TV. Rookstool, who says he once saw Hustler publisher Larry Flynt ride through Dealey Plaza while covered in ketchup, found the Oswald cutout particularly offensive. "That was the first and only time I've ever seen Oswald's likeness or anything macabre or disrespectful at the JFK memorial," he says. He posted a photograph of the cutout on Facebook, and local news picked up the story.

Hernandez says his putting the Oswald image at the plaza was accidental. He kept the cutout on one of his buses until a bus driver complained that it kept falling over. Hernandez told him to drop it off near where he sold tickets. "Next thing you know, I've got like 20 people taking pictures," Hernandez says.

Another minor controversy erupted in the local news over the "Big Things Happen Here" city slogan that Hernandez had printed on his bus, next to Kennedy's face. Hernandez fixed the snafu by covering the bus wrap with duct tape. He sounds only mildly apologetic about the tasteless pairing. "This was not intentional either. This one made us so much money, this was one of our best moves ever."

Aston was not pleased. He says people have mistakenly admonished his company for Hernandez's slogan and Oswald cutout. "You don't just come and confuse customers and do it right on top of me," Aston says.

The first day Hernandez parked his bus in front of Aston's trolley, Hernandez swears he was polite and asked one of Aston's young employees if he could put his sign on the ground nearby. The young man ignored him, Hernandez says. Then Aston himself stepped out and accused Hernandez of moving Aston's sign. "I said, 'No, sir. I even went to that guy right there,'" Hernandez says, standing in his junkyard and re-enacting his first fight with the trolley people. "'I'm talking to you, I told you that I was just walking up there, and you ignored me, you totally ignored me ... You're ignoring me now. What's going on here?'"

Then, for no apparent reason, Hernandez claims, Aston asked him if he was Mexican. One of Hernandez's young employees — an 18-year-old worker named Gabi Rodriguez — makes a similar accusation. She says Howlett once called her a "wetback." Howlett and her father deny ever using the slur.

Howlett can be seen pacing around Dealey Plaza daily, wearing a sweet-looking smile, asking people walking by if they're interested in taking a trolley tour. And when she sees Hernandez or one of his employees already talking to a customer, she's been known to step in, interrupt and offer a trolley tour at a cheaper price.

"All right, thanks for your time," Howlett says, triumphantly walking away with a group of customers she poached, after lowering the price of her tour to $5.

"Tyler, Tyler, give his for free," Howlett yells to her coworker in another instance, when one of Hernandez's employees was about to make a sale. Both of the incidents are captured in video recordings Hernandez uploaded to YouTube. A good chunk of Hernandez's time is devoted to recording Howlett. "What she does is camp out in front of my bus," Hernandez says. "Why is she over there by my bus? That's all she does all day."

Hernandez has taken Howlett's aggressive salesmanship extremely personally. He began recording her shortly after he arrived on the scene and had his girlfriend, Diana Viazcon, do the same. The videos capture Howlett's minor transgressions and have an obsessive quality, thanks to their sheer volume. On his YouTube channel, Hernandez gives the videos titles such as "Trolley driver using city fountains to wash bus," "Sam telling a customer that our 'business is not good,'" "Samantha Howlett Soliciting" and "Sam interrupts transaction tells tourists $5 tour if you don't take theirs."

Howlett sees nothing wrong with stepping in to steal potential customers. "My whole reasoning for going up and approaching a customer while they're talking to someone is because, 75 percent of the time, they're here for our company. They came down from our advertising, so they're looking for me," she says.

Howlett says she asked a police officer if Hernandez was allowed to film her all the time — she learned that it was perfectly legal. So she has tried to ignore all the GoPro cameras. Her father told her to keep doing her job. She got in smaller, pettier feuds with some of Hernandez's employees who are closer to her own age. In January, she says, Diana Viazcon walked by her trolley and spat on her, and then called the police to accuse Howlett of doing the spitting. Viazcon tells the same story, but reversed. Police filed reports against each woman for spitting on the other, but the charges were dropped. To outsiders in the plaza, the women seem to share the blame for provoking fights equally. "I think that's just the two girls. I think they had it in for each other," a newspaper salesman in Dealey Plaza says.

But Howlett's accusations against Hernandez are more disturbing. Last year, she says, he began making jokes about her wanting to sleep with him. "Samantha, stop trying to make me fuck you," she says Hernandez once yelled at her.

Upcoming Events

In another scuffle, Howlett says, Hernandez told a customer that she sold drugs out of the trolley. Then he sang a song from The Lion King, she remembers. She doesn't know why.

Another of Hernandez's employees, Gary Brosseit, sometimes followed Howlett around, she says, and purposely ran into her on the sidewalk. (Video images taken from the Sixth Floor Museum's security cameras, showing one person walk into another, were submitted into court records, but it's impossible to identify who's in the images). On another day, she says, Hernandez walked up behind her as she was talking to customers and put brochures over her eyes. (A person putting their hands around another person's face while holding something is also captured in the museum's security footage, but again, the faces are too obscure to be identified.)

In January, Howlett told police that Hernandez threatened to kill her. "After he threatened my life, that's when I started filming," Howlett says, turning the tables on Hernandez.

One video she submitted into court records shows Hernandez's 15-year-old son with his arms spread. Hernandez had instructed his child to walk in front of Howlett with his arms stretched out, to block her from making another sale.

Seeing this, Howlett's coworker Tyler Turrall steps out of the trolley and talks to the boy. What he says is inaudible in the video, but it immediately sets Hernandez off. He gets in Turrall's face.

"Don't fucking talk to him," Hernandez yells repeatedly in Turrall's face. "Stop harassing us!" Howlett shouts back, as she records video of the confrontation on her phone.

Hernandez admits he lost his temper that day but said he was only trying to defend his son. "I said, 'Dude, don't ever touch him, you're fucking stupid, you're a dumbass,'" Hernandez says. In fact, his diatribe against Turrall was much more vicious. "Talk to him one more time, I want you to talk to him," Hernandez says to Turrall in the video. "You're going to be fucking swimming in your own blood, motherfucker." Hernandez punctuates his threat with a high-pitched cheering noise. "I cannot wait, I cannot wait ... you don't fucking talk to him, he's 15 years old motherfucker."

"I said don't block," Turrall yells back.

"Nigga, watch yourself. Nigga, watch yourself," Hernandez replies, laughing and clapping.

Through all the fighting, Hernandez has remained insistent he is the one being victimized by Howlett. "There's a different kind of relationship with me and her," he says. "She's very aggressive with me, and I get very aggressive with her. I'm not going to take that away from her." He describes her as "evil" and her behavior toward him as inhumane. For proof that he didn't threaten to kill her, Hernandez points to his YouTube collection. "Sam standing next to Ricardo (seems not to be scared of him) January 12, 2015," is the name of one video he posted. The video shows Howlett talking to someone off-camera while Hernandez awkwardly paces in circles next to her.

Last October, Hernandez sued her and Big D Fun Tours. She was hurting his business by unfairly lowering her prices and verbally abusing him, his suit alleged. On one occasion, Howlett placed a "$5.00 Tours" sign near Hernandez's bus and loudly told approaching customers, "This tour is advertised at $5.00 and not $20.00," the suit says, "thus confusing customers, embarrassing plaintiffs and attempting to force plaintiffs to honor a $5.00 price."

The fifth bullet that rang out at Dealey Plaza hit Kennedy in the head, tearing off a chunk of his skull. "In a blossom of blood!" walking-tour guide Samuel Peebles says, raising his voice to emphasize the drama. "Brains and tissue will spray 360 [degrees] throughout the vehicle as it's coming down! All that gunk, all that gore, is going to blow back all over the back of the limousine and all over the two motorcycle cops behind the president!"

The Warren Commission, the FBI and most credible investigators say only three shots were fired at Kennedy, though conspiracy theorists have different stories. Peebles is the kind of poorly paid but enthusiastic street performer who would fit in much better in a city like Los Angeles, but Dallas is where he lives, so this is where he works. He pays his bills taking jobs as a stagehand, but a few years ago, Peebles learned about the scene at Dealey Plaza from a friend who sells papers there. That's when he found his passion. For $20, when the weather is nice, he tells people the story of that day as they follow him on foot. He says he studied it in history books and used to be a teacher. Most of his customers are couples on dates. He works the street corners "like a prostitute," he jokes, soliciting the couples as they pass. He has great reverence for the other walking-tour guides in the plaza, who have been here longer than him. But he was always unimpressed by the trolley tours. "The trolley folks are lazy," he says. "I was applauding Ricardo coming in, because he was a new force down there."

Last year, Peebles says, he was out of work and behind on his tour sales. He was desperate, he says, when Hernandez offered him a business partnership: Peebles would use his loud voice, Kennedy knowledge and public-speaking skills to help load people onto Hernandez's white buses. In return, Hernandez would act as Peebles' agent of sorts, helping him expand his walking-tour business. Hernandez would pay him extra if Peebles sold tickets to enough customers, Peebles claims he was promised.

Hernandez says leaving a cutout of Lee Harvey Oswald next to his tour bus at the plaza was unintentional, but good for business.
Hernandez says leaving a cutout of Lee Harvey Oswald next to his tour bus at the plaza was unintentional, but good for business.
Samantha Howlett

At first, "it went swimmingly," Peebles says. He exceeded his quota, and Hernandez offered him some useful advice about his walking tours, telling him which parts to cut to shorten them. Peebles admired Hernandez's work ethic and his pushy, yet charming, personality. Hernandez even persuaded Dallas street services to allow him to park his company's bus directly in front of Dealey Plaza, in front of the fountain, rather than off to the side. "I admired him for that," Peebles says.

But Hernandez stiffed Peebles on the extra money that was promised to him, Peebles says. In fact, Peebles grew convinced Hernandez just wanted to control all commerce in the plaza. "I call him the Hitler of Dealey Plaza because he wants to take over," he says.

Peebles describes an unhealthy co-dependent relationship that developed between the estranged business partners. Hernandez would rip Peebles off or insult him to his face, Peebles says, so Peebles would walk away. Then Hernandez would beg Peebles to return, and eventually he would agree.

At the end of last year, Hernandez added a new service to his portfolio: walking tours, like those Peebles offered before he began working for Hernandez. "I've sold my tour to somebody and he's taken it over," Peebles says. "That's how I looked at it. I sold my services to him, and now I'm not doing walking tours because I'm so good at getting people on the bus, that's all I'm doing for him. And that is not a career that I wanted."

So Peebles walked away for good. Hernandez was unforgiving. Shortly afterward, Hernandez used a familiar tactic to go after Peebles: YouTube. He uploaded a video to his YouTube channel of Peebles getting slapped in the face by a bum in Dealey Plaza. "You don't fight back because your [sic] gay," says a comment left underneath by Dallas City Tour, the name of Hernandez's company.

Underneath, the account called Peebles a "pussy faggot," Peebles says, though the comment is no longer there.

Peebles emailed Hernandez, saying he wouldn't be intimidated. "I'm such a pussy faggot I deserve it when you break your promises to pay me," Peebles wrote. "Only a faggot would believe that a guy like you, a fucking winner, would do what he said. Breaking deals is what faggots like me deserve, cause I suck dick and take it up the ass. Right?"

A week later, Peebles says, he was walking through the plaza when Hernandez approached him. Hernandez was wearing a dark sweater that day, Peebles told police later, and his hood was turned up. Hernandez punched him, Peebles claims. "He hits me on the top of my forehead. Not even a good punch, frankly."

In his junkyard, Hernandez offers an alternative story about why he has that assault on his record. "This guy that worked for me, and he had said something to my son, and when I went to approach him he spit on my face, and I took him down to the ground," Hernandez says.

Peebles, for his part, is also guilty of committing battery in Dealey Plaza. After his falling out with Hernandez, working as a free agent, Peebles punched Gary Brosseit, the man Hernandez hired to conduct walking tours for Dallas City Tours.

"There was always bad blood because I considered him second rate," Peebles says of Brosseit. The fight was "testosterone-driven bullshit," according to Peebles. "I apologized to Gary, and he graciously accepted it," Peebles says. (Brosseit did not return the Observer's calls.) After being assaulted and then committing an assault, Peebles decided he needed a break. He left Dealey Plaza for several months and vowed to recommit himself to Buddhism. He returned in late April. Since then, he's given five tours. He plans to sell T-shirts next month from the plaza.

Many of the stand-alone vendors in Dealey Plaza, those like Peebles, refused to talk to a reporter unless they were given money. One of the vendors who agreed to talk for free declined to give his name. He vaguely knew Hernandez for being obnoxious.

Another, a mild-mannered newspaper salesman, says that several times in the past Hernandez interrupted him while he was talking to people on the sidewalk. "When he came in, he just tried to take over everybody and everything," the man says.

Several vendors admit that their sales are poor. They come out because it gives them something to do. Therlee Gibson, who sells a self-published book about the assassination, shrugs at the two sales he's made on a crowded Saturday. He's just happy to be there.

On Hernandez's small white bus on a rainy weekday, a friendly tour guide tells the story of Kennedy's death to people from Puerto Rico, who seem to hear the story for the first time. "Oh, my God," a woman at the front repeats after hearing each and every detail of how Oswald murdered police officer J.D. Tippitt after the assassination. The bus is pulled over in Oak Cliff where Tippitt was gunned down.

In the Oak Cliff rooming house where Oswald stayed, Pat Hall asks people to sign in at the lobby and include which country they're from. Her grandmother owned the house when Oswald stayed there. The rooming house appears to be stuck in the 1960s. "I haven't had an Israelite yet. I'm looking forward to that. I have had some people of the Jewish persuasion," Hall says.

Pat Hall is one of the greatest assets to Hernandez's tour. Aston's trolley merely drives by her house, but Hernandez's white bus is often parked out front. He worked out a deal with Hall in which his customers can go inside her home for free, as part of the bus tour.

Hall proved to be a loyal business partner — so loyal that she agreed to go undercover for him. In a YouTube video Hernandez uploaded, Hall dons dark glasses and poses as an ordinary customer on Dealey Plaza, where the young trolley and bus people compete to sell her tickets. Hall asks about the rooming house tours. Howlett says they aren't that great, and that's why her company doesn't take people inside. Howlett adds that Oswald was only there for a few weeks anyway. Hall, with her dark sunglasses on, corrects Howlett, saying that Oswald was there for six weeks. The video ends anticlimactically. It would be a charming, competitive marketing trick, if only Howlett wasn't trying to file a restraining order against Hernandez for allegedly threatening to kill her.

Guide Samuel Peebles brings emotion and gore to his walking tours.
Guide Samuel Peebles brings emotion and gore to his walking tours.
Dylan Hollingsworth

On the grassy knoll on a warm Saturday, Robert Groden sits hunched over a table of his books and documentaries. Marshall Evans, his more talkative business partner, reads off Groden's credentials: Groden, a former photo technician, made the Alan Zapruder footage public after he jacked a bootlegged copy from Life magazine and aired it on the Geraldo Rivera show in 1974. That footage buttressed the popular theory that a second gunman targeted JFK from behind the knoll. Groden later became an expert witness for the Rockefeller Commission, a task force organized by then-Vice President Nelson Rockefeller in 1975 to investigate the CIA. In the '90s, Groden was a consultant for Oliver Stone's popular conspiracy-embracing film JFK.

Groden arguably has more credentials to talk about the JFK assassination than any other vendor here, yet he's the one who has enraged city officials the most. Groden began selling his literature and documentaries alleging a conspiracy from the grassy knoll in the '90s, and by 2013, he had received 81 tickets for doing so from city police. Every single ticket was thrown out by judges. In 2010, officers arrested him and deprived him of his medicine, according to public records recovered by the Observer several years ago. Yet police still couldn't come up with charges that would stick. Court documents suggested the Sixth Floor Museum was behind the city's harassment of Groden, though why the city would be so aggressive toward him was never made clear.

Most recently, Groden was ticketed by code enforcement for a giant sign he installed on the grassy knoll that says "grassy knoll."

That has not deterred people from crowding around his booth — in fact, people seem to enjoy the story of the conspiracy theorist city officials have conspired against. "That was the best tour here," one visitor says afterward.

Evans does the talking, using a microphone. In his 10-minute speech on a Saturday, the group around the booth swells to 21 people. After Evans completes his pitch, a woman walks over to pay $40 for Groden's book and DVD.

Peebles credits Groden and the other conspiracy theorists for making business possible down here — the judges in Groden's trials ruled time and time again that selling goods in Dealey Plaza is OK, paving the way for other people to do business. From Groden's spot on the knoll, the fights between the trolley and the bus people seem insignificant. "We know that they back the single-bullet theory and the Warren Commission garbage," is all Groden has to say of either.

In the back of the municipal courthouse, Hernandez lets out a loud, fake cough to get the judge's attention. She still doesn't notice, so he raises his hand. After a long wait, the judge is finally ready for him. Hernandez is there this day in May to fight the ticket that police wrote him for punching Peebles. He asks to delay the hearing, but the judge refuses. She says he has already delayed the hearing before and shows him a document he signed to prove it.

"Is that your signature?"

"What? No! No, that's not my signature!" Hernandez says. "No, that's definitely not. Can I see that again? No, no, no..."

"Lower your voice!" the judge interrupts. That someone forged Hernandez's signature seems highly unlikely. He had to show his ID before signing those legal documents, the prosecutor reminds him.

The judge tells Hernandez he'll have to face off against Peebles and city prosecutors for a trial later that day. Hernandez represents himself. In his closing argument, Hernandez maintains all he has ever done is try to help Peebles. He says he gave the struggling performer money, clothing and food when he needed it. Sure, he did call Peebles "gay" on YouTube, something he denied doing when first asked about it. But he acts shocked that Peebles would accuse him of assault.

"I donate dumpsters to the American Cancer Society. I bus kids around the city of Dallas," Hernandez tells the jury in his closing argument. "This guy, he's a street vendor. And he wants to accuse me of that?"

The jury takes less than an hour to find Hernandez guilty. He's fined $116.

Hernandez's next court hearing, over allegedly threatening to kill Howlett, is in June. The lawsuit he filed against her, meanwhile, did not go so well for him. In a February counter-claim, Howlett and her father detailed the harassment they said they were subjected to and accused Hernandez of copying their business. The judge agreed to grant Howlett a temporary restraining order. On April 20, Hernandez received a settlement offer from Howlett and her father, stipulating that the two businesses keep their ticket booths 50 feet away from each other. Aston, the trolley owner, believes the two can work together if they sell tickets from separate corners.

On a recent Saturday, Hernandez, dressed in his cowboy hat and polo shirt, drove his golf cart around. The weather was beautiful and warm. Tourists were packed on the Cruizer, ready to let Hernandez show them the sights of downtown Dallas. To outsiders, the fighting seems to have calmed down, but Hernandez's obsession with Howlett and her trolley sales is alive and well on YouTube.

Lately, he has documented her just walking around, claiming that she is violating the settlement agreement that is supposed to keep the businesses 50 feet apart.

"Big D Fun Tour company in violation of settlement agreement again" is the name of a video Hernandez uploaded on April 29. "So this is Samantha, she's on the other side of Record Street over here, and she's actually really close to me," Hernandez narrates. Hernandez points the camera to one of his more recent purchases: a red trolley, like the one operated by Big D Fun Tours. Hernandez began bringing a red trolley to Dealey Plaza in March, much to Aston's annoyance. The settlement agreement says Hernandez can keep his trolley in Dealey Plaza, but it must be painted green so that it's distinguishable from Aston's.

"I was standing beside my trolley here," Hernandez says in the video, pointing the camera to his red trolley. Howlett walks around Hernandez's trolley with her phone, snapping photographs. "And her hands are shaking. I don't know why," Hernandez says. Howlett finishes taking the photographs and begins to leave. "At least say bye," he says, keeping the camera on her as she walks away.


Sponsor Content

Newsletters

All-access pass to the top stories, events and offers around town.

  • Top Stories
    Send:

Newsletters

All-access pass to top stories, events and offers around town.

Sign Up >

No Thanks!

Remind Me Later >