LAUGHLIN — Debra Porter was in the lobby speaking with a friend Wednesday morning when the chaos began. A speeding Pontiac Vibe crashed through the Edgewater Hotel & Casino’s front doors, mowing down patrons and slot machines before coming to rest near the cashier’s cage.
The Phoenix resident said she was about 20 feet from the front doors when she caught a glimpse of the silver car that came barreling through.
She heard screams and raised an arm to shield herself from flying debris. When she put her arm down and opened her eyes, she saw that the car had plowed through rows of slot machines. She saw at least four people sprawled on the floor.
Las Vegas police said that for reasons unknown, a 70-year-old man crashed the 2007 Vibe through the casino’s entryway about 9:25 a.m., killing two women and injuring seven other people.
The driver was identified Wednesday evening as Walter McGie of Kelso, Wash., a town about 70 miles south of Olympia.
At least two of the injured were listed in critical condition Wednesday afternoon at a hospital, police said. Some of the patrons received only minor injuries.
Sgt. Oscar Chavez with the Metropolitan Police Department’s fatal traffic detail said the driver was uninjured and police interviewed him to get his account of what had occurred.
McGie was later booked into Laughlin’s Tucker Holding Facility on two counts of felony reckless driving causing death.
Early reports by police indicated the driver may have had a medical episode, but an exact reason for the crash had not been given as of Wednesday night. Alcohol, Chavez said, did not appear to be a factor.
Bullhead City Fire Division Chief Bill Kinsey, incident commander for a mutual aid response from the Arizona city across the Colorado River from Laughlin, said the vehicle came to rest about 35 feet inside the casino.
“Slot machines were just everywhere, just wiped out, tumbled and tossed,” he said.
One of the dead ended up a few feet from the back of the vehicle, Kinsey said. Another was wedged beneath the vehicle and some slot machines.
Power was immediately shut off, and the casino area was evacuated.
Kinsey said he expected casino security videotapes would show every detail of the crash.
“Those poor people, just minding their own business, and they get plowed over by a vehicle,” he said.
Chavez said the driver was headed east on Bruce Woodbury Drive when he drove through the intersection at Casino Drive — Laughlin’s main drag — toward the 26-story hotel on the Colorado River waterfront. A witness to the incident estimated the driver was traveling 60 mph at that point.
Police said the driver failed to stop at the intersection’s red light before entering the Edgewater’s main driveway. The Pontiac continued east on the west side of the driveway before striking a raised median and returning to the east side of the road, police said.
Chavez said police couldn’t find any indication that the driver tried to brake. There were no skid marks leading up to the entryway.
Chavez said a few hours after the crash that there was no indication the driver purposely drove through the entrance, even though it appeared he had to do some “maneuvering” to crash in the manner he did.
“It’s not a straight shot,” Chavez said.
One of McGie’s sisters, reached Wednesday night in California, said her brother has a mobile home in Laughlin and goes there for the summer. She hadn’t heard about the incident.
Witness Andres Martinez was directing pedestrian traffic at the intersection of Bruce Woodbury and Casino when he saw the speeding car.
“He went by here so fast, I couldn’t even tell if there was someone in the car,” said Martinez, 23. “I was thinking to myself, ‘Something bad is going to happen.’ ”
The Pontiac Vibe is built under a joint venture between General Motors and Toyota and was included in the recent Toyota recall for sticking accelerator issues. However, that recall affected only the 2009-10 model.
The Edgewater, its sister Laughlin casino the Colorado Belle and the M Resort are owned by Anthony Marnelle III. Joseph Magliarditi is the chief operating officer for the three casinos.
“Obviously our feelings go out to the people affected,” Magliarditi said. “The people involved, to the patrons who witnessed it, as well as our employees.”
Magliarditi said the crash damaged the entry doors and four to five rows of slot machines. Only the damaged portion of the casino floor remained closed.
By Wednesday afternoon he still had not been told the names of those injured and killed.
Similar tragic incidents have occurred before in Nevada.
In 1980, Priscilla Ford killed six people and injured 23 after she drove her car down a crowded Reno sidewalk on Thanksgiving Day. She was sentenced to death but died in prison in 2005 before her execution could be carried out.
In September 2007, a man drove up on the sidewalk in front of the Planet Hollywood Resort on the Strip, injuring 14. The driver, Robert Allen Christenson, 63, suffered a medical episode and was cited for failure to keep his vehicle in a travel lane.
At the Edgewater, several hours after Wednesday’s crash, business went on as usual. Visitors continued to gamble and ate at fast-food restaurants. Yellow police tape surrounded rows of slot machines and gaming tables. A black curtain was hung, blocking the public from the crash scene.
Porter, the Phoenix tourist, said she was still trying to regain her composure.
“It was very scary. Very scary,” she said. “I had to have a few drinks at the bar afterwards.”
Las Vegas Review-Journal reporter Lawrence Mower and The Associated Press contributed to this report.
Contact reporter Antonio Planas at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-4638.