Like watching a head-on collision in slow motion, the nasty fight between Clark County Commissioner Steve Sisolak and former girlfriend ex-Henderson City Councilwoman Kathleen Vermillion makes the weak of stomach wince.
The crunch of metal has only begun to ring out. You can see the worst happening before your eyes, and it's too late to avert disaster.
As the founder in 2000 of the Nevada Partnership for Homeless Youth, in recent years Vermillion enjoyed a sparkling public profile that helped lead to political office.
That came to an abrupt halt a few months ago when she resigned her Henderson council seat -- supposedly to spend more time with her charity and her teenage children -- and then watched as its interim executive director filed a complaint with the state against her, alleging misuse of the charity's funds.
Vermillion on Thursday filed a lawsuit against Sisolak claiming he had disclosed her confidential health records, which included drug test results that appeared to show she had tested positive for the synthetic opiate methadone. She also alleged that, "after the breakup, Sisolak attempted to carry on improper and secretive relationships with Vermillion's family including her minor daughter."
That creepy-sounding last part, of course, is what threatens to maim Sisolak's political career.
Cut to a meeting Sunday afternoon at the downtown office of public relations manager Mark Fierro, who was retained by Vermillion's attorney Robert Martin. The meeting was attended by Fierro, Martin, Sisolak and attorney Stanley Hunterton.
Vermillion's side describes the meeting as an attempt to settle the lawsuit before the crash of negative publicity and potentially damning evidence started circulating in public. Sisolak calls it an attempt to extort $3.9 million from him or face a vicious campaign that might cripple his credibility.
"I will not be blackmailed," Sisolak told reporters Monday as he announced he had filed a police report alleging extortion against Vermillion, Martin and Fierro.
No, but he was willing to listen to Martin's offer, and in the meeting, he was reminded by Fierro that the Clark County firefighters who loathe the commissioner did not yet have their hands on potentially devastating material. Fierro represents the firefighters union and said Monday he made it clear to Sisolak that the labor group wasn't behind the commissioner's troubles.
By Monday afternoon, Vermillion was returning fire through her representatives with a news conference at Martin's office that featured an edited version of the two-hour interview recently conducted with her 15-year-old daughter.
Among the girl's allegations: That Sisolak took the teenager shopping at Victoria's Secret and shopping for a bikini; that he engaged in late-night texts, took her on a "movie date" and talked about giving her some of the expensive jewelry he had gifted her mother in happier times; and that he sent the teen a gift card worth hundreds of dollars after the couple had broken up. In the interview, the girl calls the contact "weird," and adds, "I can't believe I was just, like, OK, and went along with it."
Weird is one way to describe it. Sleazy is another way.
Or was this something innocent that has been twisted out of proportion by a former girlfriend through her able advocates?
Even attorney Martin admits, "We're not alleging that there's criminal conduct here." He then quickly adds, "I think what I can certainly say is we believe the allegations in the complaint can and will be proven."
The texts between Sisolak and the teenager might help clarify the picture. Some texts between Sisolak and Vermillion have already surfaced.
The extortion complaint would seem more difficult to establish -- unless, of course, that Sunday meeting was recorded. Call me curious.
What it all adds up to remains to be seen. For now, there are two certainties.
One, by anyone's measure the Vermillion-Sisolak relationship has gone irreparably cold.
And, two, no one associated with this twisted wreck will walk away unscathed.
John L. Smith's column appears Sunday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday. Email him at Smith@reviewjournal.com or call 702-383-0295. He also blogs at lvrj.com/blogs/smith.