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Affidavit: Man who shot into apartment where girlfriend had been hiding caused Oak Cliff explosion

Phillip Dankins is accused of shooting into the unit where his girlfriend and son had been earlier that night, rupturing the hose behind a stove.

Update: Updated at 7:54 p.m. with comment from the city's emergency management director.

A man accused of causing an apartment explosion in southeast Oak Cliff fired a shot the night before into the unit where his girlfriend and son hid from him, according to an arrest warrant affidavit obtained Wednesday. The bullet hit a stove and created the gas leak that ignited and injured residents and firefighters.

Phillip Dankins, 28, faces seven counts of deadly conduct in connection with the Sept. 29 explosion at the Highland Hills Apartments in the 5700 block of Highland Hills Drive. Firefighters were investigating reports of a gas leak when the blast occurred about 10:30 a.m.

Dankins has been in the Dallas County jail since early October on other charges. His lawyer did not respond to requests for comment.

Phillip Dankins faces seven counts of deadly conduct related to an apartment explosion in southeast Oak Cliff.
Phillip Dankins faces seven counts of deadly conduct related to an apartment explosion in southeast Oak Cliff.

Dankins is accused of shooting into the apartment unit where his girlfriend had been earlier that night with their child, rupturing the hose behind a stove and causing a gas leak, the affidavit says. It is unclear whether he knew they had left. The couple argued about 10 p.m., and the woman — who is pregnant with their other child — fled and was wandering the apartment complex with their 8-month-old son.

A man who lived at the complex saw her and the baby and let them into his apartment, the affidavit says. Dankins came to the man’s apartment looking for them, and the man pointed a gun at Dankins, according to the affidavit.

The girlfriend told detectives that the man shot at Dankins, but the man told police he never opened fire, according to court records. Dankins left the apartments, and the man and woman left sometime after, the affidavit says.

Dankins, according to the affidavit, told detectives he walked around the complex for several hours before getting an Uber ride to South Dallas about 2:30 a.m. Camera footage shows Dankins wandering the complex at several points before 2:30.

Debris removal work is carried out in the apartment complex at 5700 Highland Hills in Dallas on Oct. 20, 2021, after a gas explosion that occurred in September.
Debris removal work is carried out in the apartment complex at 5700 Highland Hills in Dallas on Oct. 20, 2021, after a gas explosion that occurred in September. (Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

At one point during that time, Dankins returned to the man’s apartment and fired into the front door and side window, hitting the hose behind the stove, the affidavit says. The cameras were not pointed at the apartment and didn’t capture what happened.

The hose leaked gas until about 10 a.m., prompting other apartment residents to call authorities.

Four Dallas Fire-Rescue officials — Capt. Christopher Gadomski, Driver Engineer Ronald W. Hall, Officer Pauline Perez and Officer Andrew Curtis — responded and met with three apartment employees. Perez went into the apartment and smelled gas, the affidavit says. She turned to exit just as the gas from the oven ignited.

The blast hurled Perez, who was released from the hospital Friday, 30 feet and she suffered third- and second-degree burns, the affidavit says. Gadomski was blown backward into a nearby apartment, and he suffered broken tibias and fibulas in both legs, as well as burns to his face and body.

Dallas Fire-Rescue Officer Pauline Perez was released from Parkland Memorial Hospital on Oct. 15, 2021, after being severely injured in an apartment explosion Sept. 29.
Dallas Fire-Rescue Officer Pauline Perez was released from Parkland Memorial Hospital on Oct. 15, 2021, after being severely injured in an apartment explosion Sept. 29.

Hall broke his right tibia and had second-degree burns. Curtis’ right foot was injured, but he was treated and released the day of the explosion. Gadomski and Hall remained hospitalized Wednesday.

The three apartment employees also suffered injuries, including burns, cuts and singed hair.

The corner of a two-story building with 10 apartments collapsed, and debris was thrown 20 to 30 yards from the blast. The building where the explosion happened was torn down later that same day because of its instability.

As of this week, about 250 residents were still displaced from their homes. Some have since faced break-ins and a car fire.

The apartment building that exploded had to be demolished, and city inspectors are studying the structural integrity of two nearby buildings. Some of the other buildings are also off limits because the management company cut off water and gas to assess the damage.

The city has paid for hotel stays over the past two weeks, which was scheduled to end early this week. Rocky Vaz, director of Dallas’ Office of Emergency Management, said Atmos turned on gas to the complex Wednesday and hotel stays were extended through Thursday. Residents were expected to check out Friday.

Subsequent investigation

In the hours before the explosion, an apartment resident found several bullet casings near the unit where the blast occurred, the affidavit says. The resident picked up one .380 Hornady auto casing, which detectives later linked to a handgun that Dankins admitted owning, according to the affidavit.

The Ruger 380 handgun was recovered, along with drugs, from a bag that authorities found when they arrested Dankins on Oct. 2 in Mesquite while investigating a burglary call. Dankins ran from police, according to court documents, but he was taken into custody on a family violence charge.

Personal belongings left behind after apartment complex at 5700 Highland Hills closed the units adjacent to the building that had to be demolished after a gas explosion in September.
Personal belongings left behind after apartment complex at 5700 Highland Hills closed the units adjacent to the building that had to be demolished after a gas explosion in September.(Lola Gomez / Staff Photographer)

His girlfriend had reported a family violence offense that she said happened three days before the explosion, according to an arrest warrant affidavit. She told detectives that Dankins was intoxicated and assaulted her multiple times Sept. 26 at the Highland Hills Apartments before he locked her out of their unit.

She said she returned a short time later carrying her son to get items for the baby, and Dankins pointed a loaded handgun at her and yelled expletives, the affidavit says. The woman ran away, and Dankins chased her with the gun but did not fire, the affidavit says.

The affidavit says Dankins confirmed the details of that offense, as well as those leading up to the Highland Hills shooting.

Dankins was being held Wednesday in lieu of $450,000 bail.

Mayor Eric Johnson said in a tweet Wednesday that “domestic violence tears families apart. In this case, it also destroyed homes, displaced residents, and injured our firefighters. This shows why we must fight against this scourge.”

He referenced the city’s new domestic violence plan, which was unveiled last week amid an increase in domestic aggravated assaults in 2021. The strategy includes resuming visits to the homes of vulnerable survivors and increasing collaboration between homicide and intimate-partner violence detectives.

“We must ensure that it is implemented,” Johnson said in the tweet.

Kelli Smith, Staff Writer. Kelli covers breaking news and public safety at The Dallas Morning News. She is a native of El Paso, Texas, and a recent graduate of the University of Notre Dame. Before joining staff, she reported for The Chicago Tribune and KTSM, the NBC affiliate in El Paso.

kelli.smith@dallasnews.com @KelliSmithNews
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