Wells Dunbar

Senior Online Editor

As  online editor for KUT News, Wells Dunbar covers news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond. Before joining KUT, Wells served as staff writer and news blog editor at The Austin Chronicle, and covered the Texas Legislature for Gallery Watch. Hailing from El Paso, Wells is a longtime Austin resident whose interests include technology and social media, film and music, and spending quality time with his wife, child and cat.

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AM Update 6/25/12
7:15 am
Mon June 25, 2012

AM Update: Triple Digit Temperatures, Earthquakes Shake Texas, Crime on Campus

A trip to Barton Springs might help with high regional temperatures.

Triple Digit Temperatures Descend on Austin

This weekend saw triple digit temperatures arrive in Central Texas.

The National Weather Service predicts temperatures above 100 degrees every day this week. Tuesday should reach a stifling 106 degrees.

Meanwhile, chances of rain are slim and Central Texas remains in a state of moderate drought. Texas farmers and ranchers had hoped for some major rain as a result of Tropical Storm Debby, but the weather pattern has stayed relegated to the eastern Gulf of Mexico. 

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Austin
11:20 am
Fri June 22, 2012

Three Big Questions About an Austin Medical School

A replacement for 'ailing' Brackenridge hospital is pitched as part of a medical school for Austin.
Daniel Reese for KUT News

Last month, hopes for a vote on urban rail were dashed.

Despite years of discussion, preliminary routes, and an estimate of the cost, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell shot down the idea, saying plans lacked “a sufficient level of certainty” to put a proposal before voters in November.

There were political considerations too. Momentum’s building in the long push for a medical school at UT-Austin – and should public funding be required, backers had warned against asking voters to approve tax increases for urban rail and a medical school all at once.   

This week, flyers started appearing in Austin mailboxes, supporting the concept of a local medical school.

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Crime
4:38 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

APD: Jovita's Owner at Center of Heroin Ring; Sold Drugs in Restaurant

The 19 suspects in today's heroin bust, "Operation Muerte Negra."
Austin Police Department

Regional officials alleged today that Amado Pardo, the owner of Jovita’s Mexican Restaurant in South Austin, led a prison-gang connected heroin ring that moved between $3,400 and $6,250 worth of drugs daily.

Officials from the Austin Police, the FBI, the Texas Department of Criminal Justice’s Office of the Inspector General and other agencies announced 18 arrests and the seizure of over $1.5 million in assets in a press conference this afternoon, “including a well-known restaurant on South First Street, Jovita’s,” said APD Assistant Chief Sean Mannix.  

Patrick Loll, an FBI assistant special agent for Central Texas, said Pardo lead a “heroin distribution network that has operated here for over a decade.”

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police
1:09 pm
Thu June 21, 2012

Update: FBI, APD in Joint Operation Near Jovita’s Restaurant in South Austin

Jovita's is a popular Mexican restaurant on South First Street.
flickr.com/sleystl

Update (2 p.m.): Austin police and additional law enforcement agencies are holding a press conference at 3:30 p.m. to discuss "Operation Muerta Negra" (Black Death), the code name for this morning's bust. 

"The agencies executed nine search warrants and 19 people were arrested in connection with the year-long investigation," police write in a press release. That's four additional arrests than the 15 described by the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Update (1 p.m.): 15 Arrested in Connection With Heroin Distribution Ring

From the U.S. Attorney’s Office, Western District of Texas:

15 ARRESTED ON FEDERAL CONSPIRACY CHARGE IN AUSTIN-BASED HEROIN DISTRIBUTION OPERATION

Federal, state and local law enforcement have arrested 15 individuals, including ringleader 64-year-old Amado Pardo, in connection with an Austin-based heroin distribution operation …

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Health
9:48 am
Thu June 21, 2012

Supreme Court Punts on Health Care Decision

A health care decision may now come Monday.
flickr.com/envios

Despite wide speculation the U.S. Supreme Court would decide on the constitutionality of President Obama’s signature health care law today, no ruling was forthcoming this morning.

Instead, the high court issued decisions on four other cases, which you can find on the Supreme Court website.

AM Update 6/21/12
7:53 am
Thu June 21, 2012

AM Update: Health Care Decision Expected, New Education Website, 'Police Games' in Austin

Protesters clash over the Affordable Care Act in 2009.
KUT News

Supreme Court Health Care Decision Expected

The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to issue a ruling on the constitutionality of the Affordable Care Act possibly as soon as today.

The controversial law is the Obama administration’s most touted accomplishment. President Obama calls it "the most important piece of social policy since the Social Security Act in the 1930s, and the most important reform of our health care system since Medicare passed in the 1960s."

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Transportation
8:47 am
Wed June 20, 2012

Overnight Truck Accident Closes Lanes on I-35

A cameraphone picture taken early this morning showing the overturned truck,
dirtybad.imgur.com

Update (8:53 a.m.): Police say all southbound lanes of I-35 are now open.

Traffic was diverted for several hours this morning after an 18-wheeler jackknifed on I-35, trying to avoid hitting a pedestrian. The pedestrian died. The accident occurred at 2 a.m. today, Austin police said.

While both northbound and southbound lanes were closed for about an hour this morning around the 5500 block of the highway, all northbound lanes were said to be open by 8:30 this morning. Southbound lanes were expected to be opened by approximately 9 a.m.

AM Update 6/20/12
7:50 am
Wed June 20, 2012

AM Update: Unemployment Benefits Ending for Some, Border Patrol Changes, Summer Solstice Arrives

A job search center at Austin's Carver Branch Library.
Texas State Library and Archives, flickr.com/tslac

Unemployment Benefits Changing for Some Texans

The Texas Workforce Commission announced on Tuesday that certain groups of unemployed Texans won’t be eligible for unemployment benefits after 60 weeks starting in July.

Previously, claimants could receive benefits for up to 73 weeks. Those already receiving benefits based on the older criteria will continue to be eligible. The commission estimates that about 22,453 individuals may be affected going forward.

The changes come due to Texas’ improving unemployment rate, resulting in revisions to the length of Emergency Unemployment Compensation offered to job searchers.

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Police
2:16 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

In Wake of Cisco the Dog Shooting, APD Announces Changes to Canine Protocol

facebook.com/JusticeForCisco

After the controversial shooting of a pet dog named Cisco earlier this year, Austin Police are announcing training and policy changes to the use of lethal force on dogs.

Austin Police Department Chief of Staff  David Carter says the department is quickly implementing policy and training changes – in hopes an incident like the Cisco shooting doesn’t happen again.

“Before an officer takes action, there needs to be an imminent threat of bodily injury,” Carter says, “whereas in the past, it would describe that the animal was dangerous.” Additionally, officers would need to “justify the position of using a firearm, versus using some other method to repel a dog, if that’s necessary. For example using a nightstick, or chemical spray, or a tazer, or some other thing such as that.”  Additional responsibility now also falls on the officer’s supervisor to investigate such shootings, instead of having the officer self-report on the circumstances of the shooting.

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Austin
12:03 pm
Tue June 19, 2012

What if a Terrorist Attack Happened in Austin? City Officials Plan Response

Ronnie Taylor, with Texas Emergency Extension Service, engages city officials on their role during both natural and man-made disasters.
Kelly Connelly for KUT News

Here's one heck of a lunch topic: Responding to a terrorist attack in downtown Austin during South by Southwest.

That was one of the noontime subjects city officials considered yesterday, in a workshop discussing their role in case of catastrophe – such as terrorism, an infrastructure collapse or a natural disaster.

Attendees, including the members of the Austin City Council, considered a range of worst-case scenarios. One was that SXSW attack: “It is a beautiful morning in Austin – bustling, with SXSW in full swing,” a planning scenario posited. “Without warning a large explosion rocks downtown Austin … Confirmed fatalities – 83; Injuries – 200+ (some key officials and staff are known to be among them.)”

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Arts and Culture
11:03 am
Tue June 19, 2012

Dave Chappelle Playing Surprise Show in Austin

Chappelle at an Austin event in 2010.
flickr.com/annaustin

Comedian Dave Chappelle – who after massive success with his “Chappelle’s Show” TV series shunned the spotlight – is performing in Austin tonight.

Chappelle will be performing at the Paramount Theater at 8 p.m. tonight, in an appearance just announced this morning. After turning his back on his provocative comedy series in 2005, Chappelle has instead focused on standup comedy, often playing “secret” shows like this one just announced.

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Business
10:03 am
Tue June 19, 2012

Whole Foods Opens in South Austin

Employees literally broke bread at a Whole Foods opening this morning.
Mike Martinez, facebook.com/ElGalloMike

A new Whole Foods opened in South Austin this morning, the second location of the Austin-based chain to open within the region in as many months.

The original Whole Foods market opened in Austin in 1980 with a staff of only 19 employees.  Today its Austin locations number four, out of 310 locations internationally.

The store will reflect the “laid back, at home feel of the South Austin community” store team leader Steph Steele said in a statement. The store aims to provide “an intimate community grocery store experience,” Steele added – a seeming contrast to Whole Foods' bustling flagship location downtown (now complete with  self-driven shopping carts).

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Police
3:28 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

APD Defends Police Pursuit Turned Deadly

Assistant police chief Mannix defended the pursuit of a auto theft suspect today.
Andy Uhler, KUT News

Assistant Austin Police chief Sean Mannix today said officers followed proper protocol in a high speed chase Friday – but added that the chase would have been “terminated in a matter of seconds” had the suspect not crashed into another car, killing an innocent motorist.

32-year old James Williford was hit and killed by a Ford F-250 allegedly driven by Reynaldo Victor Hernandez Jr. Hernandez was running from police when he raced through a red light and crashed into James  Williford’s Mitsubishi Lancer.

“This happened in a manner of seconds – less than a minute and a half from the time the officer got behind the vehicle until the crash occurred,” said Mannix.

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University of Texas
1:50 pm
Mon June 18, 2012

Former UT Prof at Center of Higher Ed Storm

Teresa A Sullivan was let go as University of Virginia president under vague circumstances.
virginia.edu

A University of Texas professor is at the center of controversy in her new home at the University of Virginia, where until just recently she was president of the school. 

Teresa A. Sullivan taught for decades at UT-Austin, ultimately rising to Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs for the UT System. In the summer of August 2010, she was named president of the University of Virginia (UVA).

It was a position she held without apparent controversy – until news broke she was stepping down from her position, apparently under pressure, eight days ago.

In a way, the controversy in Virginia recalls a similar action closer to home: rumors that University of Texas president Bill Powers had been marked for ouster by the school’s Board of Regents. Speculation regarding Powers’ job grew after he clashed with the board after it declined to approve a tuition increase Powers sought.

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Economy
11:03 am
Mon June 18, 2012

Younger, Less Educated Take Hit in Recession

Increased education is associated with fewer losses from the Great Recession, according to census data.
flickr.com/maysbusinessschool

New estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau show the effects of a down economy: median household net worth declined by 35 percent between 2005 and 2010. That’s a loss of over $36,000, falling from $102,844 to $66,740.

”The overall decline in net worth reflects drops in housing values and stock market indices,” Census Bureau economist Alfred Gottschalck says in a statement.

While the households of people over 65 lost more money over the period, people under 35 lost a much greater percentage of net worth. Similarly, while groups at all levels of education also experienced declines, education provided a degree of economic insulation.

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AM Update 6/18/12
7:15 am
Mon June 18, 2012

AM Update: AISD Board Tackles Budget, Zeta Money Laundering Hearing, Hasan Returning to Court

The audience podium at AISD headquarters. Tonight, speakers can sound off on AISD's 2013 budget.
KUT News

Austin School Board Takes Up Budget Tonight

The Austin School Board meets tonight to discuss its budget for the upcoming fiscal year.

The proposed $838.9 million budget is closely aligned to the board’s “Strategic Plan Priorities,” which include expanding academic, physical, emotional initiatives to enhance the education of the “whole child,” as well as better preparing students for college and improving recruitment of educators.

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Formula One
3:09 pm
Fri June 15, 2012

Austin Ponders the Winning F1 Formula

One of the racers on display at this weekend's Formula One expo.
Filipa Rodrigues for KUT News

Get your helicopter permits in now.

That was one of the takeaways from a presentation to the Austin City Council yesterday, regarding planning underway for the Circuit of the Americas’ inaugural Formula One race this November – displaying the size, scope and expense of hosting the Grand Prix.

“We don’t know where to direct them,” council member Mike Martinez said of entrepreneurs inquiring about helicopter permits to chauffeur high-rolling F1 attendees. “They’re asking us questions that we’ve never heard of before, like where do we land a helicopter in downtown.”

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Immigration
10:22 am
Fri June 15, 2012

Obama Offers Work Permit Program to Undocumented Residents with Clean Backgrounds

The Mexico-California border.
Flickr user qbac07, flickr.com/30816404@N04

The Obama Administration announced sweeping changes to immigration enforcement policy today: effective immediately, young, undocumented residents of the U.S. with clean backgrounds “will be considered for relief from removal from the country or from entering into removal proceedings.”

The announcement comes from U.S. Department of Homeland Security. “Those who demonstrate that they meet the criteria will be eligible to receive deferred action for a period of two years, subject to renewal, and will be eligible to apply for work authorization,” the statement continues.

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Crime
4:09 pm
Thu June 14, 2012

Reports: Former State Hospital Doctor Charged with Child Sex Abuse

flickr.com/mirsasha

A former psychiatrist at the Austin State Hospital has been indicted on multiple felony charges, including child sexual assault, according to reports.

The Austin American-Statesman writes that Charles Fisher, who was fired from the facility last year amid charges he sexually abused two teen patients in 2003 and 2006, has been accused of abusing a total of five patients over a similar time period, from 2001 to 2005.

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