Highway safety agency with dubious record in public information lawsuits ramps up denials

By Eli Wolfe, FairWarning

After a Florida driver was killed in a crash in 2016 while his Tesla was in “Autopilot” mode,  regulators assured the public that Tesla’s autonomous driving system was safe. An investigation by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) found that after a key component called Autosteer was added, crash rates in Tesla cars had dropped. When a skeptical researcher filed a Freedom of Information Act request for the data behind the claim, NHTSA balked. He successfully sued the agency — extending NHTSA’s poor record in defending FOIA cases. NHTSA, a branch of the Department of Transportation, did not respond to interview requests nor answer written questions for this story.

Roadkill hazards go beyond initial impact

Roadkill is not an uncommon sight along the rural roads and highways of the borderland. Yet, many people may not be aware of the hazards animal-vehicle collisions can cause. Lois Balin, an urban wildlife biologist with the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department’s Urban Wildlife Program helps the El Paso community with professional planning guidance, management recommendations and research associated with wildlife. She said animal and vehicle encounters are not only traffic hazards, but can also pose health problems for a community. “After a certain amount of time they are going to be filled with maggots and hopefully nobody is collecting these animals to eat,” Balin said.

El Paso working hard to reach no-kill shelter status by 2020

The City of El Paso has implemented multiple measures to address growing citizen concerns about the welfare of animals within the city. These measures include turning the El Paso Animal Shelter into a no-kill facility by 2020, encouraging more animal adoptions and increasing the number of volunteers working at the El Paso Animal Shelter. El Paso residents have frequently voiced concerns about the commitment of the city government to properly care for abandoned or neglected animals. In 2013, the city had a live release rate for shelter animals of roughly 26 percent, meaning that three-quarters of shelter animals were being euthanized. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA) estimates that anywhere from five to seven million animals are euthanized every year in shelters nationwide, while only 10 to 20 percent of families adopt their animals from shelters.

There’s no home for the holidays for deployed border agent family

On Nov. 13, nine buses carrying the first large wave of about 350 asylum seekers from the Central American migrant caravan arrived in Tijuana. Michelle Arandas’ mother and stepfather are both Customs and Border Protection agents assigned to the El Paso ports of entry. However, on Nov. 15, Aranda had to drop them off at the airport, where they joined other El Paso CBP officers in boarding a plane to Nogales, Ariz.

El Paso e-sports scene adjusts to new reality after shooting at Florida tournament

Repercussions from a deadly shooting in August at a Madden 2018 tournament in Jacksonville devastated the gaming community and repercussions are being felt across the nation and in the Sun City. After a gamer opened fire at the Jacksonville tournament and killed three, including himself, both gamers and tournament organizers were suddenly struck by a harsh reality: the safety and well-being of attendees is not something that can be taken for granted. Gamers have been coming together to compete against one another since the very first video games allowed head-to-head competition. What was once a hobby for enthusiasts at arcades to prove their dominance has turned into a multimillion-dollar industry, with major sponsors and dedicated E-Sports teams coming together to compete in high-stakes tournaments. To most of these gamers, whether it is a small local meet-up every weekend or a tournament in Las Vegas attended by 300,000 people, competitions are a haven where you escape from reality to practice your hobby.

Wise Latina summit showcases services available to women after leaving abusive relationships

Several El Paso women’s groups are helping victims of domestic abuse by providing them with resources to resume a healthy, productive lives after leaving abusive relationships, speakers at a recent conference said. Among the services provided for domestic violence victims are rental assistance, replacement of damaged property, medical bills, counseling, and protective orders from the County Attorney’s Office are available for victims of violent crimes, but shelter is the most need resource, said Jessica Ugarte, a certified crime victim compensation services provider. “They’re used to receiving financial support from their abuser, so when they leave they’re not sure where they can go or how can they support themselves,” Ugarte said during the annual summit called “Enough is Enough. Ya Basta” on Oct. 6 at the El Paso Community College.

If stricter gun laws aren’t widely adopted, some say children need gun safety courses in school

In the past five years, four of the five largest mass shootings in the American history have taken place – 58 people dead in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting; 49 killed at an Orlando nightclub shooting; 20 children and six adults killed in the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting and 25 people gunned down in Sutherland Springs, TX. We’re only five months into 2018 and there have already been 79 recorded shootings in the United States, according to the Gun Violence Archive. In addition, as of May 1 196 children age 11 and younger were killed or injured by guns. With 42 percent of U.S. residents living in households containing guns, some gun advocates believe it’s time to bring gun safety education to the schools. Firearm safety classes in grade schools aren’t unprecedented.

El Paso students uneasy after campus shootings nationwide

Students, teachers and family members are concerned for their safety after several school campus shootings during the past few years, including a campus shooting in Texas that killed 10 and another in Florida that killed nearly 20 people. Ten people were killed in a high school shooting in Santa Fe, Texas, on May 18. In February, in Parkland, Florida, 17 people – students and teachers – were killed at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Another 17 people suffered injuries when they were shot with a variety of weapons in the Feb. 14 shooting.

EPFD provides free smoke alarms

One week after a woman lost her life in a house fire on Caballo Lake Drive in East El Paso in March,firefighters were knocking on doors in the neighborhood. A crew of representatives from El Paso Fire Department’s Community Risk Reduction Division dropped off flyers and pamphlets detailing fire safety tips, as well as information regarding the city’s smoke alarm program. “Smoke alarms are a tool and they play a big part in that they are a first-line of defense to alarm residents that something is happening in the home, especially when they’re asleep,” said Lt. James Schaerfl with the Community Risk Reduction section of EPFD. The effort was part of a program called Return to the Scene, where firefighters return to residential areas after a fire to raise awareness on prevention and safety measures. They offer to perform inspections of homes and install smoke alarms.

“The best smoke alarms in the world don’t put out any fires, so we want no fires to take place in the first place, which is why prevention is always first,” Schaerfl said.

TimesUp and MeToo movements encourage dialogue on UTEP campus

In recent months, national news has reported on multiple cases of sexual assault and inappropriate behavior toward women by famous men in a variety of professions, from Hollywood to sports, the political arena, and even the news media. At the same time, little has been published about the #MeToo movement in academia. But campus crime statistics shed light on the existence of sexual assault on students, primarily women.A 2017 survey by the University of Texas System shows that around 20 percent of students have reported sexual assault incidents and 7 percent of those incidents reported by students were rape-related.The UT study, Cultivating Learning and Safe Environments survey, was released as the #MeToo and #Time’sUp movements were gathering steam across the country.The survey also showed results from UT Austin which revealed that in 2016, 28 percent of undergraduate women had been victims of unwanted sexual touching, 12 percent had experienced an attempted rape, and 15 percent had been raped. According to UTEP’s CLERY statistics report released Oct.1, 2017 and included in the UT survey, in 2016 UTEP had the highest number of reported rapes in three years, with three occurring in on-campus property and two in student housing. There was one rape reported on campus in 2015, and none reported for 2014.UTEP has responded in its own way to the national conversation about sexual assault and inappropriate sexual behavior with their own take on the #TimesUp movement by creating a gallery in honor of the movement.Dr. Guillermina Núñez, the director of the Women’s Studies Department at UTEP and a professor of sociology for 13 years, says that she has personally learned of the stories of some students severely affected in their personal and academic lives because of previous experiences of sexual assault.”When people have been sexually assaulted there is usually a lot of shame, fear, and stigma about these interactions,” Núñez said.The Golden Globes ceremony in January in which prominent actresses like Oprah Winfrey, Nicole Kidman, and Reese Witherspoon publicly supported the Time’s Up movement, motivated UTEP’s Coordinator of Campus Engagement Activities Mallory Garcia to increase awareness of the issue through a campus-wide activity, a reception at the Union Gallery in late January that supported the Time’s Up movement.”We wanted to provide a platform and an opportunity for the students here at UTEP to kind of bring Time’s Up to UTEP and figure out what it could look like here on campus, what conversations can we have, what actions can we take, what can we do here to make Time’s Up a local thing and not just something that we see on TV,” Garcia said during the #TimesUP event on campus.The reception showcased a wall that would let visitors write what they thought about the movement and what would be the next step for the university.”I want to show support to all the women who are not afraid to tell men to stop harassing and hurting them,” was one comment printed on the gallery’s wall.More solidarity with #TimesUP is on the drawing board during April Sexual Assault Awareness Month and the Student Engagement and Leadership Center is one of several campus departments in charge of planning events for the last week of this month.A Resource Fair is planned for the students on April 25 as well as the annual Denim Day Fashion Show.