The 70-year-old man charged in the deaths of two people after driving a car through a casino entrance in Laughlin told police he had a history of blacking out and was taking medication for seizures, an arrest report released today said.
As he sat on the driver’s seat of the 2007 Pontiac Vibe that barreled 100 feet past the main doors of Edgewater Hotel & Casino, Walter McGie of Kelso, Wash., said he was unaware he drove into the building, the report said.
Nevada’s driving laws, some of the toughest in the country, might have prevented McGie from legally getting behind the wheel in the Silver State.
Nevada is one of a handful of states that requires both drivers and doctors to report a medical condition that can affect a person’s ability to drive. Failing to report is a misdemeanor.
Motorists are not supposed to drive for three months following a seizure and may have to surrender their license during that time, according to state law. The drivers license will also have medical restrictions clearly marked.
Clark County District Attorney David Roger said in general terms any driver who has a medical history similar to that told to police by McGie would be scrutinized by state officials.
“I think the DMV would have to take a hard look at his application,” Roger said.
According to the report, McGie — who is licensed to drive in the state of Washington — said he had been having blackouts for the past two to three years and had been taking medication.
The report did not state what medication he was taking or whether he had taken it before the crash. It made no mention of how much time had passed since McGie’s last blackout prior to the crash. Roger said it becomes a legal issue if a person is aware of a problematic medical history and still chooses to drive.
“Such information can be held against them in a trial.”
The Washington Department of Motor Vehicles does not require drivers or their doctors to report medical conditions. However, drivers applying for or renewing their licenses are asked whether they have any conditions that could impair their ability to drive, said department spokeswoman Christine Anthony.
In addition, a relative or doctor can notify the department, which would trigger a reexamination, and possibly require a medical certificate from the doctor explaining the driver’s condition.
The state’s driving guide reads that people who have a history of blacking out can legally drive as long as they are “under the care of a doctor, have been taking medication and have not had a seizure for six months.”
McGie is still licensed to drive until Nevada law enforcement notifies Washington officials about the incident, which would “trigger a review process and we’d take a look at whether he needs a reexamination,” Anthony said.
McGie was arrested on two felony counts of reckless driving causing a death and later released on $6,000 bond. In addition to the two people killed, seven people sustained injuries ranging from minor to critical, police said.
The nine people struck by McGie’s car were either playing slot machines or located near them close to the casino’s entrance.
Danita Cohen, a spokeswoman for University Medical Center, said two women were being treated at the hospital who were airlifted in critical condition Wednesday. Cohen today said the condition of the women, ages 70 and 80, had been upgraded to fair.
Roger and Las Vegas police said additional charges might be forthcoming. Officer Bill Cassell, a Las Vegas police spokesman, said the department’s investigation into the crash is ongoing and has yet to be submitted to the district attorney’s office.
Cassell said police had probable cause to arrest McGie, even if he did have a medical episode as he told the arresting officer.
“If the defendant wishes to advance the theory that the accident was due to a medical condition, that is certainly his right to do so,” Cassell said.
“That is the purpose of the courts. It’s not the purpose of the Police Department to determine if someone should or should not be arrested based on the possibility that there was some kind of medical incident that preceded the crash.”
Cassell added that police are looking into all scenarios that might have triggered the crash. The Vibe is a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors Co., but only 2009 and 2010 models are affected by a recall that comes in the wake of reports of sticking accelerators.
The police report said once McGie arrived at Tucker Holding Facility for booking, he laughed when the arresting officer told him to step out of the police cruiser. He seemed generally confused, the report said, but ultimately got out of the car and followed commands.
On Thursday, Nebraska resident Helen Hindmand, 81, was identified as one of the deceased. Authorities today identified the second woman who died as 74-year-old Helene Katherine Walker of Mesa, Ariz.
Both were pronounced dead at the scene. Hindmand’s grandson described her as a sweet woman who was not an avid gambler but liked to accompany friends on bus trips to Laughlin from Mesa, where she vacationed three months out of the year.
Walker’s family could not be reached for comment today.