The Brick reopens for New Year’s Eve after fire causes damage to strip center

Recovery trucks are parked outside Sal’s Pizza Restaurant, which is hoping to reopen Friday after a fire at Oishii caused damage. The Brick was closed Sunday but reopened for New Year’s Eve. (David Taffet/Dallas Voice)

Wycliff Avenue gay bar The Brick reopened for New Year’s Eve after a fire caused major damage to nearby Oishii Sushi on Dec. 30, according to Brick spokesman Jimmy Bartlett.

Dallas Fire Rescue spokesman Lt. Joel Lavender said the cause of the fire is under investigation. There were no injuries.

Sal’s Pizza Restaurant and a dental office, which are next to Oishii, suffered water and smoke damage. Sal’s representatives said they are hoping to reopen Friday.

Bartlett said the Brick had only minor smoke damage. Electricity was restored to the bar on Monday morning but as of this morning, the office, situated between the bar and a bank, was still without power.

“Somehow they skipped us when they turned the power back on,” Bartlett said, adding that the gas also was still off.

The two-alarm fire was reported at 6:37 a.m. About 40 firefighters responded.

“Our biggest concern was extension of the fire,” Lavender said.

The Hondo Park apartments are directly behind the shopping center and firefighters were concerned the fire might spread to the residential units.

—  David Taffet

Gay man’s fatal overdose is latest controversy for Dallas’ 911 call center

Matthew Sanchez, left, and his brother Samuel Sanchez.

A gay Dallas man died from a Xanax overdose earlier this month after emergency crews failed to respond to a 911 call from his apartment because of a miscommunication, the Dallas Morning News (subscription required) reported Friday. Matthew Sanchez, 20, the younger brother of gay activist Samuel Sanchez, died Nov. 16 at the apartment the two shared in Far North Dallas. Like Samuel Sanchez, Matthew Sanchez was gay.

The Morning News reports that Matthew Sanchez had been popping Xanax pills for hours when he collapsed on the floor of the apartment in the early morning hours of Nov. 16. Matthew Sanchez’s friend, Samuel Kim, called 911 from Sanchez’s phone before leaving the scene. Samuel Sanchez was not home at the time.

Dallas Fire-Rescue crews had responded to another, reportedly similar 911 call from the same apartment complex 11 minutes earlier. So the 911 dispatcher contacted paramedics in the ambulance that was transporting the first patient, to find out whether the second phone number also belonged to him. The patient erroneously said that it did, so the dispatcher told police officers to stop responding to the second call, from Sanchez. who was found dead several hours later by his mother.

Sanchez’s death is one of three high-profile incidents this year involving apparent mistakes by Dallas’ 911 call center, and Samuel Sanchez told The DMN that his family wants justice.

“My baby brother’s dead because of their mistake,” he said. “How many dead bodies does a city need before it will change?”

A Dallas Fire-Rescue official claims the department followed proper procedure by confirming that the second phone number also belonged to the first patient, even though it didn’t. But it’s hard to believe that proper procedure is asking someone who’s in an ambulance — possibly because they just overdosed on drugs themselves — whether a phone number belongs to them.

Our hearts go out to Samuel Sanchez, who’s been active in the Human Rights Campaign’s DFW Federal Club, and his family. The Sanchezes are from Harlingen, and Samuel said his brother, a member of the bear community, had found the ability to be himself since moving to Dallas to live with him a few years ago after they lost another brother in a car wreck in South Texas.

—  John Wright

Blaze destroys 10 units at Oak Lawn complex

Congress House Apartments, 4320 Congress Ave. (Anna Waugh/Dallas Voice)

Dallas firefighters battled a three-alarm blaze early Wednesday morning in Oak Lawn that destroyed 10 apartments.

Firefighters were alerted at 4:45 a.m. to the fire in a downstairs apartment in the Congress House Apartments, at 4320 Congress Ave., according to Dallas-Fire Rescue.

A second alarm was called 10 minutes later and a third alarm for additional help came at around 5:15 a.m., resulting in 54 total firefighters fighting the flames that reached the attic and were intensified by the heat.

—  Anna Waugh

Rihanna fans demand refunds after fire ended show; authorities backtrack on cause of blaze

Fans who attended Friday’s Rihanna show at the American Airlines Center — which was cut short by a fire above the stage — have taken to Facebook to demand refunds, WFAA reports.

As we’ve reported, the fire broke out near the end of the show, after Rihanna had performed for well over an hour, so I’d say a full refund is probably asking a little much. But it’s true that she didn’t get a chance to play some of her biggest hits, and if I had paid for my tickets — and if I really liked Rihanna – I might be demanding a refund, too.

Either way, it’s true that the PA announcer told the crowd they’d be compensated when he announced the concert was canceled and asked people to evacuate. Perhaps he was just trying to get them to comply and avoid a bad situation, but he said it, so I think there should be some form of compensation. A free Rihanna album? A discount to her next show in Dallas? Officials reportedly are meeting today to discuss the matter further.

Also, Dallas Fire-Rescue issued a press release this afternoon backtracking from their initial explanation as to how the blaze started. “Initially, the fire was thought to have started when embers from the pyrotechnics ignited a chair near the stage; however, fire investigators have become aware of new information that contradicts that position,” DFR spokesman Jason Evans said in an email this afternoon. “I am waiting on that information and will update the press release if and when I receive it.”

We will, in turn, keep you posted.

UPDATE: Asked what the new information might be, Evans said the following: “For concern that the new information may not be accurate, I don’t want to tell you what they are considering. However, I did just get off the phone with Arson Investigation and they tell me that, despite new information, they have interviewed some key people and are still leaning heavily toward the originally suspected cause.

“I was told that they should be able to confirm something in the next hour or so. I am waiting on a call back and will send updates as soon as I hear something new.”

UPDATE NO. 2: Evans now says that the cause of the fire was as originally suspected:

“I hate that it took this long just to come full circle, but as it turns out the cause of the fire was as originally suspected,” Evans writes. “However, there are some additional details that are included in the release. … Also, since I received some other questions regarding the Brittany Spears concert, I feel I should let you all know that this incident has in no way effected her concert (at least as far as FD is concerned).”

The press release attached to Evans’ email reads as follows: “Fire investigators determined that the fire started when sparks from the pyrotechnics ignited a fabric chair. The chair was situated to a truss member directly above the pyrotechnics display, where it was being used by a person that was controlling the main spotlight. The person operating the light did suffer a minor burn, but decided not to go to the hospital. No citations were issued.”

—  John Wright

Officials: Oak Lawn man likely electrocuted after crossing crime scene tape near power line

Dallas Fire-Rescue officials investigate an apparent elecrocution on Lahoma Street in Oak Lawn this morning. The man’s body was found on the opposite side of the fence from where the investigators are standing. Part of the power line that is believed to have killed the man can be seen dangling from the tree above. (John Wright/Dallas Voice)

A unidentified man found dead in Oak Lawn this morning likely crossed crime-scene tape surrounding a downed power line and was electrocuted, according to Dallas Fire-Rescue spokesman Jason Evans.

Evans said Fire Rescue crews responded to a report of a downed power line at the Sycamore Tree Apartments, at 5051 Lahoma St., at 10:08 p.m. Tuesday. They cordoned off the area around the power line and waited for crews from Oncor to arrive.

While the area was cordoned off, a resident of the apartment complex wondered into it and was apparently electrocuted, Evans said. The victim’s roommate told authorities they had been out drinking at a bar. The roommate had gone to bed when the victim, whose identity has not been confirmed, went outside. He wasn’t found until shortly before 7 this morning by someone from the apartment complex’s management.

“Based on statements that we’ve gathered from one lady that claimed she heard a scream, and the alleged roommate who claims that they came home after drinking … that puts him inside the perimeter after we had already established it,” Evans told Instant Tea. “We pretty much sat on the lines all night, outside the apartment gate. Apparently sometime between then and this morning that person walked through the perimeter and ended up like he was this morning.”

The victim was found just inside a wrought-iron fence surrounding the 96-unit complex, in a backyard area between an apartment unit and a wall that runs along the pool. A neighbor said most of the people who live in the area are gay. The victim is believed to be a member of the LGBT community, and Instant Tea is working to confirm his identity.

Evans said the Medical Examiner’s Office, which removed the man’s body this morning, will determine an official cause of death.

The tree that took out the power line was felled by a strong thunderstorm that moved through the area on Tuesday night. The storm cut a swath across north Oak Lawn from Love Field to Highland Park.

More photos and a video report from Fox 4 below.

UPDATE: The victim has been identified as 35-year-old Robert Ragan, and the Medical Examiner’s Office has confirmed that Ragan died from accidental electrocution.

Ragan was gay and has been active in the local bear and leather communities, as well as the United Court system, according to reports. He had also worked as a gay porn actor/model who went by the name Robert Elephante.

According to his Facebook profile, Ragan graduated from Mesquite High School in 1994 and the University of Texas at Dallas in 2006, where he obtained a bachelor’s degree in accounting.

A man listed as Ragan’s boyfriend on Facebook couldn’t immediately be reached.

The man’s body was found in the area where this tree limb fell.

—  John Wright