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‘Project Angel’ gives disabled teen wings in viral video

FLOWER MOUND — Nick Murray likes to go fast.

Three weeks ago, the 16-year-old Flower Mound resident, who has Angelman syndrome, a neurogenetic disorder, flew onto computer screens nationwide after his brother posted a video on YouTube that subsequently went viral.

In the video titled “NICK CAN RIDE!: Introducing Project Angel,” Corinth-based motorcycle vlogger Chris Murray gifts his little brother a big surprise: a personalized sidecar tailor-made to accommodate his needs.

The video spread like wildfire. Uploaded June 17, the 10-minute clip has already accrued more than 120,000 views. Plus, Chris Murray’s “iamsoulless” YouTube channel and Instagram account have attracted thousands more followers since he made the post.

“This whole thing has been a roller coaster,” Chris Murray, 26, said. “I knew people were going to love it — I just didn’t know to this extent.”

In the video, Chris Murray introduces the audience to his Honda Grom’s custom-built sidecar, which is decked out in sleek, neon orange accoutrements. Then, it’s time to ride.

Nick Murray beams as he and Chris cruise down the streets of their mother’s suburban neighborhood, maxing out at just under 30 mph.

Fresh out of the U.S. Marine Corps, Chris Murray said he’s used to physically arduous tasks. Still, transferring Nick, who weighs around 150 pounds, from his wheelchair to the sidecar was difficult.

But the challenge was worth it, Chris Murray said.

“As soon as I got moving, [Nick] literally stops everything and just sits there and laughs and like, zones in — which was awesome,” he said.

To create the sidecar, Chris Murray worked closely with Industrial Moto, a custom motorcycle shop in Culpeper, Virginia. The shop’s owner, Tyler Haynes, said he was excited after Chris Murray reached out to propose the collaboration. Haynes offered to waive labor and shipping fees if the Murrays could cover the cost of parts.

That’s where his “iamsoulless” followers came in handy, Chris Murray said. In less than three days, friends, family and fans raised the necessary $2,700 for the venture, which he and Haynes dubbed “Project Angel.”

Mark Finley /  Simone Carter/ For the DRC 

Chris Murray, 26, and 16-year-old brother Nick (seated), at Nick’s home in Flower Mound, recently unveiled “Project Angel.” In a now-viral YouTube video, Chris Murray gave his brother a custom motorcycle sidecar.

Next, Haynes got to work. Not only did he forge a sidecar that precisely matched Chris Murray’s Honda Grom, but he also installed several customized safety features.

It wasn’t all logistics and precautionary measures, though; Haynes also gave the brothers a GoPro camera to sweeten the deal.

Haynes said he’s thrilled with how the sidecar — and the YouTube video — turned out.

“I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve watched that,” he said with a laugh. “It’s really moving. Just to do it and see a video of [Nick] riding was worth the whole thing.”

A rare neurogenetic disorder closely related to autism, Angelman syndrome affects one in every 15,000 live births, according to the Angelman Syndrome Foundation website. People diagnosed with the condition experience seizures, developmental delay, lack of speech, and balance and walking disorders.

As Nick’s daytime caretaker while their mother Kristi Murray works, Chris Murray feeds, bathes and changes his brother’s clothes every day.

But he hates that Nick is unable to experience many of the same things he and his other brother can, Chris Murray said. That’s the main reason why he decided to launch Project Angel.

“We’ve always understood that Nicholas is not going to have a life like everyone else; it’s just not possible,” he said. “The fact that I got this done for him and he has something that his brothers do just blew [my parents’] minds.”

In the weeks since he released the video, Chris Murray has been overwhelmed by a deluge of positive feedback from fans old and new. And while this video’s success could be the apex of his vlogging career, he said he’s already brainstorming ideas for future videos featuring Nick.

Chris Murray said he hopes that the success of the viral video will increase awareness of the disorder and raise money for the Angelman Syndrome Foundation. And he’s optimistic that a cure may be around the corner.

After all, scientists were recently able to ameliorate Angelman symptoms among lab mice, he said. Maybe a cure for humans is closer than we think.

“I would love to one day be like, ‘Dude, I have something for you that’s better than this stupid Grom,’” Chris Murray said. “I want that one day for Nick.”

For more information, or to donate to the Angelman Syndrome Foundation, visit www.angelman.org.


Courtesy photo/Amy Hart  

Looking northwest from BearStar Ranch in Bolivar, a reader took this photograph of a lightning strike ahead of thunderstorms that rolled through Denton County late Wednesday afternoon.


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Storm causes damage in Denton County

Winds of more than 60 mph accompanied a severe thunderstorm that came ripping through Denton County late Wednesday afternoon into early evening, causing damage across the area.

James Godwin, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service, said a wind gust of 66 mph was recorded at Denton Enterprise Airport at 5:18 p.m. and a gust of 77 mph was recorded in Corinth.

“We’ve had various reports of trees blown over and light wind damage like that,” Godwin said.

A large blackjack oak tree at a residence in the 900 block of Edgewood Street snapped off at its base and crashed onto a GMC Yukon, causing major damage to the vehicle. The residence is located in the neighborhood known as Idiot’s Hill, which took the brunt of the damage from a tornado that came through Denton on April 30.

Mark Finley / Al Key/For the DRC  

Susie Calvert looks over what is left of her blackjack oak tree that was snapped off at the base following Wednesday’s storm and fell onto her neighbor’s GMC Yukon in the 900 block of Edgewood Street in Denton.

Jody Gonzalez, Denton County Emergency Services coordinator, said downed power lines and six structure fires caused by lightning were also reported in the county.

As of 7:10 p.m., a county storm report listed two active structure fires in Flower Mound, one active fire in Aubrey and a grass fire in Krum.

Gonzalez said he hadn’t heard any reports of injuries or flooding related to the storm as of Wednesday evening.

CoServ reported dozens of outages throughout the county, with the largest ones outside the cities of Sanger, Argyle and Justin where hundreds of customers were affected.

Downed power lines and outages also affected Denton homes and businesses, primarily on the north and northeast side of the city. The largest outage was reported near North Lakes Park, where hundreds of customers were affected, according to the city’s outage map.

The Denton County Transportation Authority announced at 6:41 and 7:14 p.m. that all A-trains were delayed by 15 minutes because of the storm.

While measurements from Denton Enterprise Airport found just over a quarter-inch of rain, Godwin said radar estimates for areas around Ponder and Aubrey showed closer to a full inch for the same time period.

He said the storms began to form between 3 and 4 p.m. near or just north of the Red River before heading south along Interstate 35. A severe thunderstorm warning was issued at approximately 5 p.m.


Jeff Woo/DRC 

Executive director Vicki Oppenheim, left, announces Nina Chantanapumma as the “Market Favorite” poster winner during a Denton Community Market pop-up show at Armadillo Ale Works on Wednesday. The one-night event was a fundraiser for Denton Community Market.


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Ethics board wants to be more transparent

It will be awhile before the public can listen to meeting recordings for Denton’s Board of Ethics.

The meetings have been audio recorded, but the recordings aren’t posted online along with the 12 archived agendas and minutes posted so far. Board members learned Wednesday that the city staff doesn’t have the technology to do so.

The news bothered board members, who wondered why there wasn’t some way to work around the problem.

“We don’t want people to think we’re hiding the ball,” said Lara Tomlin, board chairwoman.

City Auditor Umesh Dalal told board members that his office would provide copies of recordings to anyone who asked. But he was also told to ask for the board’s patience, he said.

“They asked if you could wait a little bit longer,” Dalal said. “They foresee a solution very soon.”

The City Council agreed in April to expand the city’s video recording capabilities by buying new equipment that can auto-record meetings. The additional capacity would free up some staff time for other projects, but it wasn’t unlimited either.

The equipment comes with a support contract that allows the city a certain number of recordings per year. The agreement the staff recommended would support the city’s current meeting schedule plus a bit more.

Currently, the city livestreams and video archives council meetings along with the Planning and Zoning Commission, Public Utilities Board, Economic Development Partnership Board, Mobility Committee and Traffic Safety Commission. Council members have not yet decided which of the other board or commission meetings would be added to the list.

Earlier in the meeting, City Attorney Aaron Leal explained to board members why he and the other attorneys in his office have been taking a hands-off approach when the ethics board is handling complaints.

Texas has its own rules of conduct for attorneys, Leal said. Because he is an appointee of the City Council, he cannot advise the Board of Ethics when it is hearing a complaint about a council member.

“I am appointed by them and serve at their pleasure. It puts me in an awkward position and the appearance of a conflict of interest is there,” Leal said.

The board agreed it would continue to seek advice from outside, independent attorneys when taking up complaints against council members. They asked Leal whether they needed to formally request a change to the ethics ordinance that specifies the need.

Leal said he expected to be able to recommend the change when the time came.

The City Council is tentatively scheduled to take up more than a half-dozen needed changes to the ethics ordinance when it reconvenes Tuesday.


Washington
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Facing calls for resignation, Acosta defends Epstein deal

WASHINGTON — Trying to tamp down calls for his resignation, Labor Secretary Alex Acosta on Wednesday defended his handling of a sex-trafficking case involving now-jailed financier Jeffrey Epstein, insisting he got the toughest deal he could at the time.

In a nearly hour-long news conference, Acosta retraced the steps that federal prosecutors took in the case when he was U.S. attorney for the Southern District of Florida a decade ago, insisting that “in our heart we were trying to do the right thing for these victims.” He said prosecutors were working to avoid a more lenient arrangement that would have allowed Epstein to “walk free.”

“We believe that we proceeded appropriately,” he said, a contention challenged by critics who say Epstein’s penalty was egregiously light.

The episode reignited this week when federal prosecutors in New York brought a new round of child sex-trafficking charges against the wealthy hedge fund manager. And on Wednesday, a new accuser stepped forward to say Epstein raped her in his New York mansion when she was 15.

Jennifer Araoz, now 32, told Today she never went to police because she feared retribution from the well-connected Epstein. She now has filed court papers in preparation for suing him.

While the handling of the case arose during Acosta’s confirmation hearings, it has come under fresh and intense scrutiny after the prosecutors in New York brought their charges on Monday, alleging Epstein abused dozens of underage girls in the early 2000s, paying them hundreds of dollars in cash for massages, then molesting them at his homes in Florida and New York. Epstein has pleaded not guilty to the charges; if convicted he could be imprisoned for the rest of his life.

Acosta’s lawyerly presentation was an effort to push back against growing criticism of his work in a secret 2008 plea deal that let Epstein avoid federal prosecution on charges that he molested teenage girls. A West Palm Beach judge found this year that the deal had violated the Crime Victims’ Rights Act because the victims were not informed or consulted.

He was also out to persuade President Donald Trump to keep him on the job as Democratic presidential candidates and party leaders called for his ouster.

Acosta insisted his office did the best it could under the circumstances a decade ago. He said state authorities had planned to go after Epstein with charges that would have resulted in no jail time until his office intervened and pressed for tougher consequences, a contention that is supported by the record. The alternative, he said, would have been for federal prosecutors to “roll the dice” and hope to win a conviction.

“We did what we did because we wanted to see Epstein go to jail,” Acosta said. “He needed to go to jail.”But Epstein only was given 13 months in a work-release program, which let him work out of the jail six days a week. Acosta said it was “entirely appropriate” to be outraged about that leniency, but he blamed that on Florida authorities. “Everything the victims have gone through in these cases is horrific,” he said, while repeatedly refusing to apologize to them.

His account did not sit well with Barry Krischer, who was the Palm Beach County attorney during the case. Krischer, a Democrat, said Acosta “should not be allowed to rewrite history.”

Acosta’s South Florida office had gotten to the point of drafting an indictment that could have sent Epstein to federal prison for life. But it was never filed, leading to Epstein’s guilty plea to two state prostitution-related charges. In addition to the work-release jail sentence, Epstein was required to make payments to victims and register as a sex offender.

Krischer said the federal indictment was “abandoned after secret negotiations between Mr. Epstein’s lawyers and Mr. Acosta.” He added: “If Mr. Acosta was truly concerned with the State’s case and felt he had to rescue the matter, he would have moved forward with the 53-page indictment that his own office drafted.”

Acosta has said he welcomes the new case, and earlier defended himself on Twitter, crediting “new evidence and additional testimony” uncovered by prosecutors in New York for providing “an important opportunity to more fully bring him to justice.”

Pressed on whether he had any regrets, Acosta repeatedly suggested that circumstances had changed since the case arose. “We now have 12 years of knowledge and hindsight and we live in a very different world,” he said. “Today’s world treats victims very, very differently.”

Trump has, so far, also defended Acosta, praising his work as labor secretary and saying he felt “very badly” for him “because I’ve known him as being somebody that works so hard and has done such a good job.”

Though Trump may have made the tagline “You’re fired!” famous on his reality show “The Apprentice,” he has shown a pattern of reluctance to fire even his most embattled aides. Trump, for instance, took months to dismiss Scott Pruitt as Environmental Protection Agency administrator despite a dizzying array of scandals, and allowed Jeff Sessions to remain as attorney general for more than a year even as he railed at and belittled him.

Trump typically gives his Cabinet secretaries the opportunity to defend themselves publicly in interviews and press conferences before deciding whether to pull the plug. Indeed, he encouraged Acosta to hold Wednesday’s press conference laying out his thinking and involvement in the plea deal, according to a senior administration official, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

Early reaction in the White House appeared to be positive, with one official saying the performance was likely enough to buy Acosta more time unless questions about his part in the 2008 case linger in the news.

Trump has his own long personal history with Epstein, but has dissociated himself from the wealthy hedge fund manager, saying this week the two had a falling out 15 or so years ago and haven’t spoken since.

Acosta told reporters that his relationship with Trump remains “outstanding,” but also noted that every member of Trump’s Cabinet serves at the president’s pleasure.

Democratic presidential contenders and party leaders have been calling for Acosta to resign or be fired, and he has been called to testify in front of the House Oversight Committee on July 23. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Florida, welcomed that move, saying Acosta “has a disturbing record on sexual and human trafficking that stretches from the horribly permissive plea agreement he gave to Jeffrey Epstein, up to his time now as Labor Secretary.”

Many Senate Republicans, meanwhile, have taken a wait-and-see approach.