Las Vegas valley law enforcement is trying to cope with a rising number of random, violent street attacks by thrill-seeking youth who seem to lack any compassion for their victims.
Unpredictable and random, the attacks are known as "wilding out," an apparent morphing of the term "wilding" coined in 1989 by New York City police to describe a series of violent attacks in Central Park.
Lt. Clint Nichols, head of the Las Vegas police Armed Robbery Section, described wilding out as a type of bullying by groups of people who threaten or commit violence, often with a weapon. While the attacks often involve theft, financial gain is a secondary motive.
"They use robbery to get an adrenaline rush," Nichols said.
Authorities ticked off at least six separate wilding out sprees involving dozens of young people in recent years.
As an example, Nichols pointed to the October spree that led to the death of Eldorado High School teacher Timothy VanDerbosch, who was assaulted after he tried to run from his attackers. He was caught, beaten and left in the middle of the street where he was struck by a truck and killed.
In that case, six teens and young adults are accused of a long string of robberies the night of Oct. 20 in the northeast valley.
There were nine victims before VanDerbosch from 1:30 a.m. to 5 a.m., including a man on his way to his first day at a cab company and a couple walking from a bus stop. The cab driver surrendered all his valuables but was stabbed anyway. Two other victims were pistol-whipped and suffered substantial injuries.
"That (spree) was not supposed to start as a robbery spree," Nichols said. "It was a bunch of kids parading around that got caught up in it after the first one. They strung along until the death occurred."
In another troubling series of attacks in the southwest valley in September, four youths armed with a machete and handgun targeted women, pummeling one when she refused to surrender her belongings. On Friday, Brendan Jaimes, 20, was indicted in connection with those incidents. A juvenile also was arrested but two other youths remain at large. If convicted of pending armed robbery and conspiracy charges Jaimes could spend decades in prison.
While coming in more frequent waves, these attacks have been seen before in Las Vegas.
Antonio Tarrosa, 19, this week was convicted of first-degree murder with a deadly weapon for the shooting death of Dominique Evans, 19, during a 2008 street robbery in the southwest valley.
Evans cooperated with Tarrosa during an early morning robbery at gunpoint, but Tarrosa shot him anyway because Evans' girlfriend ran away. Tarrosa told detectives that he laughed after he shot Evans in the buttocks, then he and his crew drove to a McDonald's to eat.
The robbery of Evans was the second attempted that night by a crew of six young adults, some still in high school. Tarrosa first chased and shot at, but missed, a man who ran from him. Tarrosa could face 20 years to life in prison without parole.
On Friday, Matthew Laneave, 20, pleaded guilty to second-degree murder for his role as the driver in the Evans murder. His plea deal calls for a recommended sentence of 13 to 45 years in prison.
Three others in the case, including two girls, have pleaded guilty and face long prison terms. One defendant, Nicholas Medina, 19, awaits trial.
Police, defense attorneys and prosecutors all say they're baffled by the surge in wilding out violence and generally describe defendants who don't realize the gravity of their actions.
Laneave's attorney, Kristina Wildeveld, said her client doesn't understand why he was charged with murder.
"My client doesn't understand (how he can be guilty of murder) if he doesn't have a gun in his hand," Wildeveld said.
She said that's not uncommon. She frequently encounters young defendants who don't understand that if someone dies in the commission of a felony everyone involved can be charged with murder, even juveniles.
"I just think there's a lack of awareness on the part of (the defendants),'' she said. "It's serious. You'll go to jail for a very long time for this stuff."
Deputy District Attorney Sam Bateman, who prosecuted Tarrosa, said he doesn't understand the mentality of the young defendants who often escalate to violence for no apparent reason.
"The old school gangs had rules and a hierarchy. For these kids, there are no rules," Bateman said. "It's one thing to walk up on somebody and point a gun at them and rob them, but (they) go to the next step and shoot them for no reason, to beat them up for no reason."
Nichols pointed to a series of convenience store holdups in the southeast valley in May dubbed the "Mohawk Robberies" because several boys and young men sporting Mohawk haircuts used a machete, a knife and a pellet gun to rob eight convenience stores of beer and candy bars.
"They had no clue they were conducting robberies until we told them," Nichols said.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Roy Nelson, who worked on both the Evans case and the Mohawk Robberies, said the young defendants are most interested in the thrill of terrifying people.
"It's not like they are doing it for some huge profit margin,'' Nelson said. "In one of the machete robberies they got $5. They're doing it for the excitement of doing something to an innocent person. That's how they get their (thrill)."
Because Las Vegas is a 24-hour city, people often go to and from work at odd hours late at night and in the early morning. That means a steady flow of targets at bus stops or on the street. Incidents can happen anywhere, usually hit in a fast wave over a day or two and are committed by young people of all races and both genders.
"It's pretty much valleywide," Nichols said.
Law enforcement officials across the region are aware of the growing trend, but are frustrated because "there's nothing we can tell people to prevent themselves from becoming a victim," Nichols said.
Once a pattern of robberies is detected, all valley law enforcement agencies share the information and coordinate and saturate the area, Nichols said. And courts are coming down hard on wilding out perpetrators, dealing harsh prison terms to defendants as young as 16.
That response only happens after the damage is done.
Wildeveld said some type of outreach is needed to educate young people about consequences.
Lt. Ken Young of the Clark County School District Police said the district already has those programs for sixth-graders and high school freshmen, and plans are in the works for a program for seventh-graders.
Young said the programs aim to teach students what the long-term effects of good decision and bad decisions.
But Wildeveld said the youth don't seem to be "getting the message. What they think is fun -- the 'thing to do' now -- can lead to a life in prison."
Contact reporter Francis McCabe at fmccabe@review journal.com or 702-380-1039.