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Texas Won’t Pay To Test Thousands Of Rape Kits, So Maybe Crowdfunding Will

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Five stories that have North Texas talking: A Dallas legislator wants to crowdfund for testing rape kits; Willie Nelson makes a surprise appearance at SXSW; Texas teen is struck and killed by train during a fashion photo shoot; and more.

A Texas legislator from Dallas wants the state crowdfund to pay for the thousands of untested rape kits collecting dust in Texas’ forensic labs.

According to the bill, introduced by Rep. Victoria Neave, every person would be given an option to donate at least $1 to the state’s rape kit funds when they apply for or renew their driver's license. Texas has a similar program in place for veterans’ funds, which collects roughly $1 million each year. Neave and the bill’s backers hope their own program could scrounge up another million for rape victims.

In 2011, Texas launched an effort to tackle the major backlog, which saw some 20,000 untested rape kits stored in Texas crime labs. The state passed a law requiring investigators to test all evidence from sexual assaults within 30 days, and following that in 2013, the state gave the Texas Department of Public Safety an $11 million grant to test all rape kits collected from 1996 to 2011.

But the grant wasn’t enough. Decades of backlog overwhelmed crime laboratories. State records show that as of January 31, 2017, more than 3,600 of the pre-2011 kits are still untested. [Texas Tribune]

  • A 19-year-old aspiring model from College Station was killed by a train during a photoshoot on train tracks last Friday. Witnesses say Fredzania "Zanie" Thompson was crossing the tracks in Navasota to avoid an oncoming train, when she was hit by another train coming from the other direction. Thompson died en route to the hospital. The Blinn College student was expecting a child with her fiancé. Her friend who was taking the photos was not hurt in the incident. [Dallas Morning News]
  • Willie Nelson made a surprise appearance Tuesday night at Ray Benson’s birthday party at SXSW – and music fans who skipped out are now kicking themselves. Nelson came onstage unannounced at the showcase in Austin around 9:30 p.m. following performances by the Avett Brothers and Asleep at the Wheel. Nelson played several songs, including classics like, “Whiskey River” and “On the Road Again,” as well as “Still Not Dead” from his upcoming album due out this spring. Other highlights included a heartfelt cover of Townes Van Zandt’s “Pancho & Lefty,” which Nelson played with Benson. Nelson recently canceled several concerts due to illness, but concertgoers say the country legend looked in good spirits while holding his own on stage. [Austin 360]

      A post shared by Austin 360 (@austin360) on Mar 14, 2017 at 7:58pm PDT

  • Texas park rangers may have stumbled into the Dr. Seuss universe. The park rangers were at Atlanta State Park, southwest of Texarkana, when they discovered a fluffy white ball covered in pink polka dots. They posted photos of the peculiar plant on Facebook, which have been shared more than 1,600 times. The park rangers explained that the ball is the result of when a woll sower wasp lays its eggs in a white oak. The eggs hatch in spring, and chemicals on the grubs stimulate the plant to produce the pink spots. [NBC 5]

Former KERA staffer Stephanie Kuo is an award-winning radio journalist who worked as a reporter and administrative producer at KERA, overseeing and coordinating editorial content reports and logistics for the Texas Station Collaborative – a statewide news consortium including KERA, KUT in Austin, Houston Public Media and Texas Public Radio in San Antonio.