Clips

Investigative

At the jail, guards stripped Mark Baker and left him with a sex felon who raped him — Published April 19, 2015 — The Florida Times-Union

Story Note: At first, my editor didn’t want a story about a man who was raped after he was arrested for public drunkenness. I worked on the story anyway in my free time for four months. I gathered data and interviewed experts. Despite a federal law intended to gather data and prevent rapes, counties across Florida reported inconsistent numbers, making it hard to know how many inmates became victims. In Jacksonville, 109 inmates said they’d been raped from 2005 to 2015. This was the story of one of those inmates.

Man dies after emergency responders ignore 911 call — Published Nov. 29, 2012 — The Dallas Morning News

Matthew Sanchez had popped Xanax pills for hours and was fading fast. When he finally collapsed to the floor of his Far North Dallas apartment during the early morning hours of Nov. 16, a friend dialed 911 for him and disappeared. Emergency responders ignored the 911 call, and Sanchez died.

About the story: I heard from cops that for the third time since the summer a 911 call was mishandled in Dallas. I spent a week tracking down documents and sources who confirmed Matthew Sanchez died of an overdose while emergency responders ignored a 911 call. The story led to outrage and follow-up coverage from every TV station in town.

Narrative

These teenagers hope Raines football can carry them away from Jacksonville’s dangerous streets — Published Jan. 31, 2016 — The Florida Times-Union

EXCERPT: Wiley stared back. “The city is on your shoulders,” he said. “What are you doing? Man, we’re counting on y’all.”

At Raines, winning can bring college scholarships, college scholarships can bring an education, and that can bring a shot at the NFL. State champions are immortalized. Trophies will honor them. Future students will know their names.

Bishop Bonnett left behind a gang and most of his friends to dedicate his life to football. Sports might keep him safe.

Davonte Lawrence, kicked out of Raines his freshman year for fighting a teacher, had waited three years for this chance. Perhaps football would help him care for his mom.

Augie DeBiase, the team’s only white player, left the whitest neighborhood school in the county to join the blackest. At Raines, he saw an opportunity to prove his worth.

A mother’s grief after her 8-year-old was murdered — Published June 30, 2013 — The Florida Times-Union

Rayne Perrywinkle sometimes pretends nothing happened. She imagines her Cherish in the kitchen, getting something to eat. Cherish in the bathroom, washing up. Cherish in her mother’s bedroom, brushing her hair, trying on her mother’s clothes. Maybe she’s in California, about to get off the plane to see her father.

Esther Ohayon had 11 seconds to cross eight lanes of traffic. It wasn’t enough. — Published Sept. 22, 2013 — The Florida Times-Union

The men gathered their children and hurried across San Jose Boulevard.

One man covered his children in light-reflective safety vests. His beard reached down to his tie, his sons’ tufts of hair tucked behind their ears.

Jewish law tells men not to shave the side of their heads, just like it tells them on certain days not to push the button that would activate a walking signal across eight lanes of speeding cars. Esther Ohayon died making the same trek.

Story Note: A year later, I profiled Esther’s daughter.

How a 13-year-old girl became a small-time heroin dealer — Published Dec. 30, 2012 — The Dallas Morning News

Story note: Mariela had never smoked or drank. But at 13 years old, she tried heroin, and within a few months, she started selling and getting her friends hooked. This is the story of what happened next.

In North Texas, there’s a special type of powder heroin that’s snorted and sold by kids as young as 11. I spent seven months leaving my business card at drug dealers’ homes, interviewing incarcerated dealers at different prisons, talking to counselors, researchers, detectives. Eventually, I heard about Mariela Torres.

I conducted about 30 lengthy interviews, relied on hundreds of her personal notes and journals and pulled Dallas ISD Police’s investigative file on her. I also pulled court records and criminal backgrounds on almost everyone in the story. For the sidebar story about the current heroin problem, I culled through 10 months of toxicology reports for all heroin-related deaths. I also read a dozen journal articles and worked closely with a drug-migration expert at the University of Texas at Austin.

In the shadows of Jacksonville, a rebel artist takes hold — Published Feb. 5, 2014 — The Florida Times-Union

The ghost was clutching his son’s teddy bear as he tried to sleep.

He was lying on a yoga mat at the home of a friend, a fellow artist, with a pillow, a blanket and the stuffed bear.

He’d sought refuge there. Police seemed to be closing in on him, at first interviewing artists, then close friends, and now family members.

He didn’t want them barging into his home and taking him in front of the kids. He grabbed the bear to remind him why anonymity was important, to protect his wife and to protect his son.

The man who was calling himself Keith Haring’s Ghost vowed: He wasn’t going to turn himself in. He had painting to do.

Housing Issues

Frenchise Young saved her money, signed a mortgage and never missed a payment. So why is the bank foreclosing on her? — Published July 1, 2014 — The Florida Times-Union

Story Note: I met Frenchise Young outside her home on a summer day. She had binders filled with notes and court documents and settlement offers. She had signed a mortgage. She had never missed a payment. But the bank accidentally applied her payments to her daughter’s account, and now it wanted to take her home from her.

Reverse Mortgages: How banks take homes from the elderly | Two stories — Published Nov. 16, 2014 — The Florida Times-Union

Reverse mortgages are nightmare for some in Duval County, good deal for others

Mamie Rose wanted her last years to be simple.

She was already in her 80s. She bought her Northside home 40 years earlier. Her husband had died. Her children were grown, leading lives of their own.

She didn’t want to worry about mortgage payments, repairs or insurance. Her daughter told her about a “reverse mortgage.”

It sounded ideal — a lender gives her money and pays off the mortgage. She just needed to pay insurance and taxes, and she couldn’t move.

In exchange, when she died, the lender would take her home, unless her children decided it was worth it to pay back the mortgage.

Five years later, Mamie Rose is still alive at 90, and her sons are fighting to keep the lender from kicking her out of her home.

Retirement dreams dashed as reverse-mortgage lender forecloses

Jimmie Thompson dreamed his retirement would include fixing up the house, fishing every chance he got, hosting fish fries and enjoying his last years in peace in his home.

He tried to follow through on his dream.

After decades of construction and plastering work, he had paid off his house, the only one he’s ever owned. He then heard about reverse mortgages on television.

“At my age, at that time, you don’t have to pay anything back? That sounded pretty good,” the 78-year-old man later said.

Unlike other elderly people who’ve lost their homes, Thompson made his payments on time.

Explanatory

The city wants to right its wrongs, but the Florida Senate won’t let it. — Published March 19, 2014 — The Florida Times-Union

Story Note: Aubrey Stewart was paralyzed at 15 because of the city of Jacksonville’s incompetence. The city wanted to help him, but state law requires the legislature pass a claim bill first. The Senate president vowed he would never allow that bill to pass, and he would not let the city help the Stewarts. That meant Aubrey would live in a cramped house with a too-small bathroom and no vehicle capable of transporting his wheelchair.

After this story ran, the Jacksonville City Council passed an emergency resolution urging the Senate president to reconsider. A year later, after I wrote more stories, the bill passed and the city paid the Stewarts.

Beware, the red sign announces, sex predators ahead — Published May 14, 2013 — The Florida Times-Union

STARKE – Before you pull into the mobile home park, before you see the shopping carts full of lumber, the piles of old tires and the dozens of mighty oak trees, you’ll see a sign.

“PUBLIC NOTICE,” it reads in big, bold white letters on a red background. “Pursuant to F.S. 775.21 James Mort is a convicted Sexual Predator and lives at this location.”

Story Note: Bradford County houses the state’s worst prisoners, so this rural county also houses some of the most sex predators in the state. State law requires sheriffs to inform the public where sex predators live. Sheriff Gordon Smith believed the best way to do that was with big red signs in front of sex predators’ homes. I visited the felons’ homes, and I used dialogue and scenes to show how the convicted predators and their neighbors live.

Who makes up Occupy Chattanooga and what do they want? — Published Nov. 13, 2011 — The Chattanooga Times Free Press

Story Note: After my night cops shifts ended at 11 p.m., I and a photographer spent each night with the Occupy protesters, trying to piece together this community that had swept across the country. The protesters wouldn’t move for the sheriff, for the county commission, for the sheriff, but the day after this story ran, the protesters moved to host a wedding.

How will gentrification change the 60 people who’ve clung to Brooklyn? — Published Dec. 7, 2014 — The Florida Times-Union

Breaking News

Coast Guard battles storm to find crew of 33 adrift in hurricane — Published Oct. 4, 2015 — The Florida Times-Union

In the middle of the night Tuesday, a cargo ship left Jacksonville’s calm shore and sailed into darkness and a violent sea.

The cargo ship carried cars and groceries and random goods. It made this run from Jacksonville to Puerto Rico every week. But this week, low pressure met warm water and a tropical storm whipped and crashed into a frenzied Category 4 hurricane, leaving a path of destruction through the Bahamas, through the path of the El Faro.

The El Faro lost all contact Thursday morning at 7:30.

Now, more than 62 hours later, on Saturday night, the United States Coast Guard completed yet another day of searching for a crew of 33, some from Jacksonville.

If the Coast Guard doesn’t find them soon, this could be the worst cargo shipping disaster in almost 60 years.

Pray, many of the crew’s family members have asked. Pray that God has mercy. Pray that Michael Davidson, James Porter, Roosevelt Clark, Shawn Thomas, and the dozens of other seafarers make it home safely.

Story Note: I was working a Saturday cops shift after the El Faro cargo ship’s owner announced it lost contact in the middle of Hurricane Joaquin. I spent my Saturday messaging, calling, texting and driving to meet some 20 people connected to the crew members, all the while updating our website every hour. In the end, this is the story I produced for the Sunday centerpiece. Also, I reported this story while sick with a virus.

Who is Michael Davidson, captain of the El Faro? — Published Oct. 6, 2015 — The Florida Times-Union

Story Note: When I returned to work Monday, my editor told me he needed a profile of the captain. I persuaded eight people who’d sailed with the captain to tell me what he was like.

No matter where in America, gay couples may marry — Published June 27, 2015 — The Florida Times-Union

Every courthouse in every county in every state has a new edict: Let gay couples marry.

The Supreme Court of the United States on Friday ended legal challenges that were working their way through the lower courts. The nation’s highest court ruled that neither legislature nor state Constitution could keep gay couples from marrying.

Gay-rights activists rejoiced, Christian conservatives grumbled, and marriage license forms in the South and the Midwest changed.

Story Note: I cover civil courts, so sometimes, I cover Supreme Court decisions. I followed Florida’s gay marriage lawsuit through the appellate courts. When it merged with other lawsuits across the nation, I covered the Supreme Court decision that made gay marriage legal everywhere. This was my breaking news story.

Deadlier ‘cheese’ heroin mix feared — Published May 22, 2012 — The Dallas Morning News

Story Note: My first day at The DMN, my editor told me he might have a story for me. He said he wasn’t sure whether it’d end up turning into something, but I should call this woman who said her son died of a drug overdose.

That day, I discovered that a new heroin mix had taken the life of a 17-year-old and might be the start of a drug epidemic. The story went from being maybe worth something to the front page. I later found out the problem had been unreported for years.

Daily

One man marches for fatherhood and a business idea — Published June 14, 2015 — The Florida Times-Union

Story Note: I had a Saturday shift that turned into every reporter’s worst dream. No one showed up to the event I was supposed to cover. My editor had assigned me a fatherhood march, but no one except the organizers showed at first. Eventually, a young man named Antwan Bailey walked up, so I decided to write a profile of this 27-year-old single dad.

What does democracy look like? 24 immigrants taking an oath — Published June 20, 2015 — The Florida Times-Union

You can find democracy in the basement of a downtown library, in a conference room so full some had to stand. You can find it in the front three rows of seats where 24 people, whose stories could fill a newspaper all on their own, stood and put hands over their heart and made a promise.

Story Note: Sometimes I like taking story assignments that others might throw away. Here, the city sent out a press release about new immigrants naturalizing, and my editor asked if I could write something up. I already had two other assignments that day, so I had to think through the story structure as I was reporting. I decided to use vignettes from different immigrants’ stories interspersed with the citizenship oath.