Victims of recent crimes tell their stories as residents, business owners seek to improve safety
Michael Dominguez was walking in a lighted area when he was hit on the head from behind. He said he left S4 at about 1:15 a.m. on Oct. 2 when he was attacked, somewhere between S4 and Havana — either on Cedar Springs Road, or possibly on a nearby side street.
He was stabbed in the neck, ribs and arm in the attack, and his eye socket was fractured
Someone in Havana nightclub made the first call to 911 when they saw Dominguez stagger by, covered in blood. He finally passed out in front of Kroger.
Paramedics, responding to another emergency call about Dominguez, found him there and transported him to Parkland Hospital.
He has little memory of what happened between the time he left the bar and the time he woke up at Parkland.
Dominguez said the attack wasn’t a robbery. When he got to the hospital, his phone was missing, but he still had his watch, credit cards and $200 in his pocket.
But police have not classified the attack as a hate crime because Dominguez can’t confirm that anti-gay language was used during the attack.
So far, no witnesses have come forward, even though the attack apparently happened on or near The Strip and people saw him covered in blood, staggering down the street.
What happened next speeded his recovery, he said. Friends rallied around him to make sure his bills were paid.
“That took the stress off my shoulders and allowed me to heal,” Dominguez said. Although he still has an orbital fracture and his eyesight is only at 80 percent, he returned to work last week.
“I can get through the day,” he said, “although my left eye doesn’t track.”
He said doctors suggested he could undergo surgery, but he has opted to just allow his body to heal naturally.
Dominguez is just one of at least 11 victims who have been assaulted and/or robbed in the Oak Lawn area since the first of September. Armed suspects committed five other robberies on the Katy Trail, not far from Oak Lawn. At least some of the other victims have similar stories, including Blake, a young man who was attacked Sept. 19, as he walked near Cedar Springs Road. He was dumped, badly beaten, on a side street off Wycliff.
Burke Burnett, a hate crime survivor who survived an attacked in Paris, Texas several years ago, has since moved to Dallas. He approached Dominguez about creating a survivors support group, and Dominguez, while still healing himself, jumped at the chance to help others.
The first meeting of Survivors Offering Support will be held at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 10 at Resource Center. The group will meet thereafter on the second Tuesday of every month and is open to any survivor of violent crime.
After the SOS website went live with an appeal for money to help the victims of these recent attacks, the group collected enough money in first day for Dominguez to help Tito Gonzalez, the latest attack victim.
Gonzalez was walking home from his job at Quesa, a restaurant on Cedar Springs Road on Sunday night, Nov. 1, when he was attacked. Gonzalez said he constantly looked over his shoulder as he walked down the dark stretch of Reagan Street toward Lemmon Avenue. When he saw someone appear suddenly behind him, he tried to cross the street. But a second assailant came from the other side of the street to box him in, and both men attacked.
Gonzalez said he covered his face to protect himself, so most of his bruises were on his hands and legs. After threatening and injuring him, the two men took off with his phone and his rent money.
Dominguez said he heard about the attack that same day. First he and Gonzalez spoke by phone and Dominguez heard how scared and upset Gonzalez sounded, so he went over to Gonzalez’s house to keep him company. He also wrote a check to cover Gonzalez’s rent, taking at least one source of stress off the young man’s shoulders.
Activist Daniel Cates, one of the organizers of the Light Up Oak Lawn rally and march held Sunday, Nov. 1, said he is “heartened to see the good efforts of a number of groups” to help the victims and find ways to improve safety in the neighborhood. He praised SOS for helping to care for the survivors immediate needs as well as long-term emotional recovery.
One of those groups is Dallas Stonewall Young Democrats, which has re-invigorated its previous attempts to improve lighting in the neighborhood by creating the Light Up Oak Lawn 2.0 effort. Cates said he hopes the city is serious about helping stop crime in the area and will work with DSYD to make Oak Lawn’s streets safer with better lighting.
Cates said that two Cedar Springs nightclubs, Alexandre’s and the Round-Up Saloon, are already adding cameras to monitor parking lots and sidewalks in front of their businesses. He said he hopes merchants and bar owners will go to City Hall to address the city council along with the group Citizens for a Safer Oak Lawn.
Cates did, however, criticize police, citing Gonzalez’s situation as an example. He said police picked Gonzalez up after he was attacked on Reagan Street, but thought they were answering a domestic violence call. So when the officer dropped Gonzalez off at his house, he told him to be careful because “that kind of thing” happens all the time in this neighborhood.
Cates called the officer’s attitude terrible, adding that “Increased patrols aren’t fixing the problem.”
Caven Enterprises CEO Gregg Kilhoffer said Wednesday, Nov. 4, that “bar owners [in the area] are taking this very seriously” and that safety in the neighborhood would be a main topic of discussion at the Dallas Tavern Guild meeting on Thursday, Nov. 5.
“We hope to come up with some plan of action we can all be part of,” Kilhoffer said.
He noted Caven, which operates four nightclubs on Cedar Springs, added lights behind its parking lot on Dickason Street, and that private security officers patrol Caven’s parking lots and the perimeter of the block. Kilhoffer said he is working with police to figure out where cameras can be placed to not only monitor the sidewalks in front of the bars, but also the streets from the bars’ parking lots.
He also said he’s been in touch with police to make sure extra patrols are continuing.
“We have a good relationship with our beat cops,” Kilhoffer said. Caven clubs will be putting up signage to make sure anyone who hasn’t kept up with the news is aware of what’s going on in the neighborhood and will provide extra training for door staff to encourage people leaving the bars alone to walk in pairs.
Effect on the community
Legacy Counseling Center Executive Director Melissa Grove called attacks like the one on Gonzalez very traumatizing, not just to the person attacked, but on the community as a whole.
“He needs to surround himself with support,” she said of Gonzalez and other crime victims. “Process it with someone.”
Attacks like this make someone feel unsafe and a person needs to feel safe to function, she said, adding, “A victim needs time to grieve.”
Grove said that while a random street attack feels very personal, these criminals aren’t targeting a specific person; it could happen to anyone.
But in the LGBT community an attack like this may bring up past trauma. If a person was bullied in school, beaten up or had a difficult childhood, this can bring back those memories. Someone who thought he was past that bullying suddenly finds he’s the target again, Grove said.
Her advice is that it takes time to heal, something that can be difficult in today’s world.
“In this Facebook world, things go viral and then they go away,” Grove said. But recovery from an attack takes longer than that, and Grove said she hopes friends and families of the victims understand that.
Because these crimes are so random, they have an effect on the entire community. When one person is victimized, the community feels attacked, making everyone feel unsafe. And when the community gets together to help someone who’s been a victim of crime, it helps all of us feel safer, Grove said.
While we can’t control the crime, we can make a difference in the victim’s healing, she said.
When disaster meets crime
Dallas City Councilman Adam Medrano contacted Crime Stoppers after Resource Center’s Rafael McDonnell suggested it, and this week, Crime Stoppers began offering a $5,000 reward for tips that leading to the arrest and conviction of anyone involved in these crimes. They’re particularly hopeful in Dominguez’s case, since that attack happened on Cedar Springs Road while the bars were still open where somebody should have witnessed the attack.
Medrano said he also checked with Dallas Police to make sure the extra patrols and undercover officers were still in place.
“They didn’t go away,” Medrano said. “We’re doing our best to catch these guys.”
But some residents of one condo complex believe the extra patrols are targeting them to benefit the city and not addressing the crime in the area.
After the parking garage collapsed at The Renaissance on Turtle Creek on Oct. 23, parking became an even bigger problem in the area. The two towers of the complex have 603 apartments and about 1,100 residents.
The condo’s insurance paid for rental cars for residents who couldn’t get their cars out of the structure, putting about 1,000 vehicles on the street — and those vehicles needed a place to park.
Several lots surround the complex and an open field sits across Cedar Springs Road. But Renaissance residents’ cars have been towed from those locations. Cars parked illegally have been ticketed, even those parked only marginally over a “do not park zone” or crosswalk.
Renaissance resident John Sieber said in an online post that “the city’s behavior has been disgusting.”
Resident James Cannata sent pictures of cars ticketed and said residents are afraid to park too far away because of the attacks on the Katy Trail a block from the complex and attacks in Oak Lawn two blocks away.
He said that if police are going to continue ticketing and towing cars for parking illegally around the complex, they owe residents a safe escort home when they parked in potentially unsafe areas.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition November 6, 2015.