Regular attendees of the Dallas International Film Festival (DIFF) felt the absence of one vibrant film critic at this year's gathering. Gary Murray died during last year's festival after a pickup truck hit him while he was crossing Mockingbird Lane. The driver, still unidentified, fled the scene.
"When Gary was killed last year, a year ago this week actually, I was devastated," says Devin Pike, who organizes local film screenings and festivals. "A lot of the ... local press community and film critics were as well, and honestly, it was a senseless death."
In 2009, Texas Department and Transportation (TxDOT) and Dallas city officials announced plans to build a pedestrian bridge at the crossing where Murray died, which is one of the city's most dangerous for pedestrians, but the project has been repeatedly delayed.
"The city has had the plans for this pedestrian bridge in the works for years, funding set aside for it, but for whatever reason – political infighting, whatever – it stayed on the back burner," Pike says. "It took Gary getting killed by a hit-and-run driver to get the project back on track. And the more I've thought about it, the madder I've gotten, and I was plenty
Last Thursday, construction crews took a major step toward completing the bridge with the installation of three large support pillars. Pike started a petition on Change.org to name the new pedestrian bridge after Murray. The petition is directed at Dallas City Councilman Phillip Kingston, Friends of Katy Trail President Rob Little and University Crossing Public Improvement District Executive Director Patrick Sanders. It has gathered 245 signatures in the last five days.
The Observer has reached out to Kingston for comment but has not yet heard back.
Friends and colleagues of Murray met on Sunday at the Angelika Film Center, located near the future bridge at Mockingbird and Central Expressway, to discuss strategies for gathering more support for the naming honor as well as their fondest memories of Murray.
When he wasn't working his day job as the instructor of a comedy defensive driving course, Murray was attending film screenings and festivals and writing for sites such as Selig Film News and bigfanboy.com. The latter's founder, Mark Walters, said he could always count on Murray – even when he was sick or required a cane just to get around following foot surgery.
"Gary was a guy who said, 'I'll write for you as long as you need me,'" Walters said. "He was very accommodating and was always there when you needed him. He also had a childlike sense of fun. He never lost that sense of fun no matter what was going on. He always had a smile on his face and was always there for you."
Don Ford refers to Murray as his "best friend, or what we'd call brothers." He says some of Murray's favorite things were Jimmy Buffet's music and the movie The Blues Brothers, which played in the background of the memorial Sunday.
"Gary was Gary and that's the best way to describe that he was really one of the most caring people you'd ever meet," Ford says. "Let's say something happened where you had a bad day and he knew about it. He would call the next day and say, 'Hey, how are you doing?' and he'd make sure that you're doing all right. ... He was one of the most caring people I ever knew."
Murray's hospitalization and subsequent death occurred during the 2016 DIFF. Walters says he was crossing the street to get back to his car after spending the entire day at film screenings when he learned of the accident. Even some of the celebrity attendees that year, who talked to an endless line of press members, remembered Murray in the midst of his death.
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"Diego Luna ran up and was asking what's going on and even he was like, 'Oh my God' because he remembered meeting him at DIFF in
Pike hopes the city chooses to dedicate the Mockingbird Lane bridge in Murray's memory because he was an ardent supporter of Dallas' arts and film community.
"When I was first getting back into the critic scene in 2007, Gary was one of the first people to welcome me in, telling me who I should talk to at which agencies, giving me the lay of the land," Pike says. "I know a dozen other writers and bloggers in town who had the exact same experience. He was incredibly generous with his time and energy. He covered a lot of other arts beats than film, and the arts scene in this town lost a really staunch advocate."