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Driving on the rim totals $50,000 SWAT vehicle

Accidents happen. But this one might be difficult to explain.

The Henderson Police Department lost an expensive SWAT vehicle last week after it caught fire in front of a gated Southern Highlands neighborhood.

Officer Justin Simo, 36, with almost a decade of experience with Henderson police, was driving home Wednesday night when a tire blew on his unmarked, custom police Chevrolet Tahoe.

But instead of changing the tire or waiting for a tow truck, Simo continued to drive for several miles on the car’s rim. He was still a few miles from home about
11:15 p.m. when the vehicle began smoking and became engulfed in flames on Somerset Hills Avenue near Southern Highlands Parkway.

The Tahoe ­­­­— purchased and outfitted for policing for $49,449 — was a total loss, although Henderson police spokesman Keith Paul said Simo was able to save several firearms from the burning SUV.

In addition to the car, valuable police equipment — including a computer, tactical equipment and several other firearms — were also lost. No value on the equipment has been established, Paul said.

There were reports of ammunition exploding as Clark County firefighters arrived to put out the blaze, but no injuries were reported.

Several Las Vegas police supervisors and a traffic officer went to the scene, Las Vegas police spokeswoman Laura Meltzer said. A Henderson sergeant also responded.

Although no incident report was taken, and it’s unclear whether Simo was tested for alcohol, Meltzer said officers determined nothing criminal had taken place.

Paul also said there was no indication the officer had been drinking.

An officer with knowledge of the case put it more bluntly:

“He wasn’t drunk. He was just stupid,” the officer said.

Paul said he didn’t know how far Simo drove on the damaged vehicle or when the tire might have blown on his nearly 20-mile commute.

An internal investigation is under way, and Simo remains on regular duty, Paul said. It’s unclear whether the officer violated any department policies or when the details of that investigation might become public.

Although Henderson patrol vehicles recently were outfitted with dashboard cameras, Paul said he didn’t think Henderson’s unmarked cars have them.

The other agencies involved in the investigation had little to say on Monday.

Because no one was arrested and no one was hurt, Las Vegas police had almost no information to release.

Clark County spokeswoman Stacey Welling said the fire investigator who took the report was out of the office. Information on the incident would not be available until at least Friday, she said.

Simo did not return a call seeking comment.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0283.

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