Officer didn't see damage to car before it caught fire

A Henderson officer suspended after he drove a damaged SWAT vehicle until it burst into flames told investigators he had struck a median on his drive home.

Justin Simo, 36, stopped the car but didn’t see any damage. So he continued driving.

By the time Simo arrived in front of his gated Southern Highlands neighborhood at Somerset Hills Avenue and Villa Del Este Street about 11 p.m. Feb. 27, the vehicle was on fire.

Simo tried to douse the fire with water bottles and a neighbor’s fire extinguisher but was unsuccessful.

“The driver side tire was nearly consumed, exposing the tire rim which appeared to have partially softened along its resting point,” a Clark County fire investigator wrote in a report.

Although Simo said he hadn’t seen any damage, investigators said there was clear impact damage to both the bumper and fender.

And a witness who called 911 told the Las Vegas Review-Journal he followed the smoking SUV for at least a mile and a half as sparks were shooting from the car.

“Hot metal was flying. It looked like something you see in a police chase in a movie where the tire blows and you just keep driving,” he said.

Investigators said the fire was accidental.

The 2008 Chevrolet Tahoe, a $50,000 unmarked SWAT vehicle, was a total loss. Expensive police equipment — including a computer, tactical equipment and other firearms — was also lost. Fire investigators estimated the total loss at $60,000.

Henderson police, which has opened an internal investigation into the incident, said there was no indication Simo was drinking. It’s unclear how many miles he drove the damaged vehicle.