Las Vegas police mourned one of their own on the Internet and in public Thursday, but few details of the Wednesday night crash that killed one officer and seriously injured another have been released by Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie.
The fatal single-vehicle crash, which occurred while the officers were not responding to an emergency, happened exactly five months after another young officer was killed under similar circumstances.
"Losing an officer to a shooting or anything like this is very tragic, but we're a family, and we'll continue to do our jobs," a somber Gillespie said Thursday morning.
Officer Milburn "Millie" Beitel, 30, died at 1:30 a.m. Thursday at University Medical Center following surgery. He had been with the Metropolitan Police Department for six years. The second officer, a 25-year-old, three-year veteran of the department, has not been identified. He was in critical but stable condition at UMC Thursday afternoon.
In the hours after the crash, dozens of officers waited outside UMC as police cars filled the streets. On one police memorial Web site, several officers and dispatchers posted their condolences under Beitel's profile.
One, who identified himself as a Las Vegas officer, said, "It was an honor working with you. You were an inspiration to all of those who knew you and you will be sorely missed."
Gillespie and other officers wore a strip of black ribbon across their badges to honor Beitel.
In May, officer James Manor was killed after his patrol car, traveling 109 mph on Flamingo Road without emergency lights or sirens, struck a pickup truck and rolled. He was responding to a reported assault on a 14-year-old girl.
Gillespie wouldn't speculate Thursday about whatever parallels may exist between the two fatal crashes. The investigation into the latest accident has yet to be completed and there are many answers police still lack, he said.
What police do know:
• More than 20 minutes before the accident, Beitel and his partner smelled and began investigating a "chemical odor" on the 5200 block of East Bonanza Road, a half-mile from the accident site. Police believe they had cleared the call and weren't responding to another call at the time of the accident.
• The patrol car struck a "fixed object" just north of the intersection of Nellis Boulevard and Washington Avenue, rolled and came to a stop on its roof. The car did not strike another automobile, although skid marks at the scene appeared to show the driver of the patrol car attempted to steer away from something.
• The posted speed limit on that stretch of Nellis is 45 mph.
Details police don't know or haven't released include: the speed at which the patrol car was traveling, whether the officers were wearing their seat belts, whether their emergency lights and siren were on, what happened in the moments leading up to the crash and who was at the wheel.
The reticence to disclose details about the fatal accident is in stark contrast to the release of information in the Manor crash. Gillespie, just hours after the May accident, claimed the driver of the truck was under the influence and had pulled in front of Manor while the officer had his lights and siren on.
An investigation revealed both of those assertions were wrong, and Gillespie held another news conference to set the record straight. This time, police are taking their time.
"Be patient," Gillespie said. "We don't have all the answers today and won't tomorrow."
Police identified Beitel as a member of the department's saturation team, a collection of officers from various area commands and sections who target high-crime areas, usually at night. Beitel had no children, police said. His page on Facebook, a social networking Web site, listed him as single.
At Beitel's Las Vegas home, a sign saying "No media," was taped on the front door. Police officers were in the driveway Thursday afternoon.
His parents, who live out-of-state, according to Gillespie, were traveling to Las Vegas on Thursday.
At the crash scene, where investigators worked late into Thursday morning, red spray paint marked the path of the police cruiser. Randy Jackson, 43, left a bouquet of flowers at the scene.
"This officer was patrolling my neighborhood. He was protecting my neighborhood," Jackson said. "They're hired to protect us. I felt the need to honor this great hero."
More police officers died in car crashes than in shootings in America last year.
In the wake of Manor's death, Gillespie created a panel to look at ways to improve the safety of officers and the public, which could include policy changes. During an interview with the Review-Journal two weeks ago, Gillespie said he expected the panel's suggestions to be delivered later this month.
Among the ideas the panel was considering was whether to require more training during an officer's first five years on the force.
Currently, after a recruit goes through 40 hours of automobile training in the academy, they are only required to undergo a full-day of automobile recertification every two or three years, depending on if the officer is assigned to patrol duty or not.
The training involves a discussion of what went wrong in fatal Las Vegas police accidents as well as training in the car and how to handle the car at high speeds.
One of the panel members, who is an instructor for those full-day courses, suggested that new officers undergo the recertification every year for their first five years. Manor, just shy of his second year with the department, had not undergone recertification.
Another issue that the panel is likely facing is how to improve the rate of officers who use their seat belts.
Manor was not wearing his seat belt before he died, and it is unknown whether wearing it would have saved his life. But the issue has troubled department officials. If the panel recommends targeting the problem, they will be going up against the prevailing culture among officers -- a Las Vegas police training instructor has estimated that only half wear their seat belts.
Review-Journal writer Brian Haynes contributed to this report. Contact reporter Mike Blasky at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0283. Contact reporter Lawrence Mower at email@example.com or 702-383-0440.