A1 A1
Salvation Army's Red Kettles return this week, and Angel Tree signing up adopters
  • Updated

The Salvation Army’s Denton branch is aiming to raise $90,000 and gifts for 900 children through two holiday programs kicking off this week: its Red Kettle Campaign and its Angel Tree toy drive.

Salvation Army of North Texas officer Whitney Houston said the kettle campaign will bring bell ringers to 25 Denton area locations this year, including Walmart, Kroger, Sam’s Club and Hobby Lobby. She said it’s the most important fundraiser of the year for the Denton branch, which uses the money to keep its homeless shelter up and running. In 2020, the nonprofit fell short of its $100,000 goal, drawing about $85,000 in donations.

“Our goal this year is $90,000 — we’re trying not to shoot too far over,” Houston said. “We [build] our budget around whatever we make during Christmas season. … This covers a year’s worth of keeping our building open.”

Whitney Houston

The campaign instituted several changes last year due to the pandemic. Bell ringers wore masks and gloves, and frequently disinfected the setup with hand sanitizer. Houston said one particularly impactful setback was some stores asking them to stand 15 feet back from the door.

“There weren’t as many people out shopping in person,” Houston said. “People couldn’t quite get to us in some places. That’s what caused us to have a hard time last year reaching our goal.”

Salvation Army did implement an online option last year, which will stick around for this year’s campaign. Bell ringers will continue to wear masks and use hand sanitizer. Donations can be made at the physical kettles or via the virtual Red Kettle website until the campaign concludes Dec. 24.

The official kickoff in Denton will take place Wednesday morning at Golden Triangle Mall. Denton Mayor Gerard Hudspeth, Denton ISD cheerleaders and the Salvation Army band will be in attendance for the ceremony, which is scheduled to start at 10:30 a.m.

The organization is also hosting its Angel Tree toy drive, with the Denton branch expecting to provide gifts for about 900 area kids. The program, which got started Nov. 5, has shoppers adopt a child either online or from an in-person tree, and later drop off gifts at a designated drive-thru location — Golden Triangle Mall for the Denton area.

Al Key/DRC file photo 

Salvation Army Lt. Whitney Houston, right, delivers a bag full of Christmas gifts to Nicole Restrepo for her kids as part of the 2019 Angel Tree program.

Residents have until Dec. 3 to adopt an angel, with gift drop-off dates set for Dec 3-4. Gifts will be packaged and distributed to families from the Denton Record-Chronicle building starting the second week of December.

“We worked with the schools this year, getting info out to them to see if they could help us identify those in need,” Houston said. “We usually do in-person applications, but we haven’t been able to [with COVID-19].”

Houston said organizers were still looking for paid bell ringers and other volunteers as of Monday morning. Further information on getting involved can be found at the Salvation Army of North Texas’ main website.

General manager Aaron Ball sets up the last piece of a Christmas tree outside Golden Triangle Mall on Friday.

Shoppers walk by Christmas decorations that recently went up at Golden Triangle Mall last week.

Abbott tells state agencies to develop standards to block books with 'overtly sexual' content in schools

Gov. Greg Abbott on Monday told state education officials to develop statewide standards preventing “pornography” and “other obscene content in Texas public schools,” citing two memoirs about LGBTQ characters which include graphic images and descriptions of sex.

Abbott’s directive to the Texas Education Agency, Texas State Library and Archives Commission and State Board of Education comes days after the governor told another entity — the Texas Association of School Boards — to determine the extent to which “pornography or other inappropriate content” exists in public schools across the state and to remove it if found. But the association told Abbott it had no regulatory authority over school districts and suggested the governor direct his inquiry to TEA or SBOE.

The political back and forth came on the heels of Keller ISD removing a book — Gender Queer: A Memoir by Maia Kobabe — from one of its high school libraries after some parents raised concerns over the books’s graphic images. Kobabe’s graphic novel is about the author’s own journey with gender identity. At one point, it includes a illustrations of oral sex and other sexual content, along with discussions related to pronouns, acceptance and hormone-blocking drugs.

In his Nov. 8 letter, Abbott mentioned that book along with In the Dream House by Carmen Maria Machado, which the governor said “describes overtly sexual and pornographic acts.” That book along with several others, the governor said, was recently removed from classrooms in Leander ISD. In the Dream House is a memoir that examines an abusive relationship between two women.

Abbott told education officials Monday that the Texas Association of School Boards had “attempted to wash its hands clean of the issue by abdicating any and all responsibility in the matter.”

“Given this negligence, the State of Texas now calls on you to do what the Texas Association of School Boards refuses to do,” Abbott wrote, saying that the standards the entities develop “must ensure transparency about the materials being taught in the classroom and offered in school libraries.”

In statements later Monday, heads of the TEA and SBOE said they would work alongside the other to develop those statewide standards as requested by the governor.

Texas Education Commissioner Mike Morath said the TEA “takes seriously” Abbott’s “call for action on this mater of great importance to families of Texas public school students.” And Keven Ellis, SBOE chair, said Texas public school families “should have the reassurance that their children are not at risk of being confronted with pornographic and obscene material when they are in school.”

The question of inappropriate content in public schools has also gotten recent attention from state Rep. Matt Krause, a Fort Worth Republican, who launched an inquiry into certain school districts over the types of books students can access. Krause, a member of the hardline conservative Texas House Freedom Caucus who’s also running for state attorney general, included in his inquiry a roughly 850-book list that included novels about racism and sexuality and asked the districts to identify which of those books were available on school campuses.

The lawmaker, who asked districts whether they had those books and how much money was spent on them, has declined to offer specifics beyond that, saying he does not want to “compromise” a pending or potential investigation as chair of the House General Investigating Committee.

Meanwhile, another Texas House Republican, state Rep. Jeff Cason of Bedford, has asked Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton to launch a statewide investigation into Kobabe’s novel and others of similar content. The attorney general’s office has not responded to requests for comment.

The drama has played out against the backdrop of the Legislature passing two laws earlier this year restricting how teachers can talk about race-related subjects in school.

GOP lawmakers advocated for the legislation to push back against what they describe “critical race theory,” an academic discipline that holds that racism is embedded in legal systems and not limited to individuals. It’s taught at the university level, though it has become a common phrase used by some Republicans to include anything about race taught or discussed in public secondary schools.

Suspect in fatal Denton crash last month accused of murder

A little over two weeks after a fatal crash, one man is in custody on a count of murder in the death of a 34-year-old Aubrey man, according to a news release.

The arrest comes weeks later because the suspect was also injured in the crash and was recovering. The Denton Police Department identified the suspect Monday afternoon as Damon Brown, 52, of Krum.

Just before 2:17 a.m. on Oct. 22, Aman Jason Qureshi of Aubrey was killed in a car crash at Jim Christal Road and Western Boulevard.

First responders found Qureshi dead at the scene in his car and Brown in the grass, ejected from his car. Brown was unconscious and taken to a hospital with critical injuries. In the release, Denton police said he had been in the hospital until Monday afternoon, and he was then booked into the Denton County Jail. His bail hadn’t been set by Monday night.

While responding to the crash, paramedics reported smelling alcohol on Brown’s person. Speed was also a factor in the crash.

Denton police spokesperson Amy Cunningham confirmed police got a sample of Brown’s blood and determined he was intoxicated.

The preliminary investigation found Brown, driving a Nissan pickup, allegedly didn’t stop at a stop sign and struck a Toyota sedan on its passenger side. Qureshi, in the Toyota, was found dead at the scene.

Brown is accused of driving west on Jim Christal at a high rate of speed while Qureshi was going north on North Western Boulevard.

Rather than being charged with intoxicated manslaughter, Denton police charged Brown with murder because they learned he has a history with driving while intoxicated.

Brown had been convicted of driving while intoxicated three times, which made the most recent offense a felony under statute enhancements, the release says. Denton County records show Brown was sentenced in 2000 to 10 years in jail for driving while intoxicated, three or more convictions. He was on supervised release for eight years.

According to the Texas Penal Code, someone commits murder if they commit or attempt to commit a felony other than manslaughter and, while doing so, commits an act dangerous to human life.

The Denton Police Department has arrested almost 800 people on DWI charges this year, exceeding 2019’s previous record.

So far this year, Qureshi is the 19th person killed in car crashes in Denton and Brown is the fourth person charged with murder in a Denton death.

UNT System's next chancellor coming from its Health Science Center

The University of North Texas regents announced Monday night that Michael R. Williams, current president of the UNT Health Science Center at Fort Worth, will be the new chancellor of the UNT System.

Williams replaces Lesa Roe, the first woman to be named UNT Chancellor. Roe was named chancellor in 2017 and will retire from the post on March 21. Williams is set to be the university system’s fourth chancellor.

“The UNT System Board of Regents selected Dr. Williams as our next Chancellor because we believe in his vision for, and deep understanding of, our system and member institutions, as well as his proven track record transforming HSC,” Laura Wright, UNT System board chair, said in a statement. “Dr. Williams’ innovative mindset, values-based approach and focus on customer service will be essential leading us into a changing future.”

In 2013, Williams became the first alumnus to be named president of UNT Health Science Center. He has also served on the UNT System Board of Regents. During his tenure at the Health Science Center, enrollment reached record numbers without a tuition increase, according to the university.

Under his leadership, the center created more than 650 new medical residency slots for the Dallas-Fort Worth region and opened a new pharmacy school. The center also established the Lena Pope Early Learning Center on campus and increased research awards by more than $115 million. The center also ranked first among U.S. medical schools for innovation and research impact according to the George W. Bush Institute.

“I am grateful for the support of the Board of Regents and the confidence they have in me to lead the UNT System as Chancellor,” Williams said in a statement. “I am excited and energized for the opportunity to lead these world-class universities forward. The potential has never been greater, and the opportunity is endless. I look forward to positioning the entire UNT System as a thought leader in higher education, and propelling meaningful, innovative ideas forward that will shape the future.”

Before moving into higher education, Williams practiced as an anesthesiologist and critical care doctor for more than 20 years.

UNT President Neal Smatresk said he’s worked with Williams since arriving at UNT in 2014.

“I have great respect for all he has done for HSC, including growing the reputation and stature of the institution in the areas of medical education and research,” Smatresk said in a statement. “I look forward to working with Michael to help build a stronger UNT System to serve the State of Texas.”