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Ex-UNLV basketball recruit Zaon Collins to plead guilty in deadly wreck

Updated June 1, 2023 - 7:12 pm

Former UNLV basketball recruit Zaon Collins said Thursday that he intends to plead guilty to criminal charges that could land him in jail for three months for a 2020 fatal crash that left a 52-year-old man dead.

During a court hearing Thursday, Chief Deputy District Attorney Eric Bauman said Collins has agreed to plead guilty to a felony charge of reckless driving resulting in death or substantial bodily harm, and a misdemeanor charge of vehicular manslaughter, avoiding the DUI charge he initially faced.

Bauman said prosecutors were not opposed to Collins being sentenced to probation for the felony charge, and that the misdemeanor count comes with a sentence of three months in the Clark County Detention Center.

A District Court judge will have the final say in Collins’ sentence, but if the judge orders a different punishment, Collins can withdraw his guilty plea and proceed to a trial.

Bauman said a felony reckless driving charge can carry a sentence of one to six years in prison, but it is likely that the judge will follow the negotiations in Collins’ case and sentence him to probation following jail time.

“Do you want to accept those negotiations?” Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure asked Collins during Thursday’s hearing.

“Yes,” Collins replied.

Defense attorney Frank Kocka said Collins intends to enter a guilty plea when the case moves to District Court. Kocka declined to comment further on the case.

Police accused Collins of driving nearly 90 mph in a 35 mph zone before the crash on Dec. 30, 2020, when he slammed his Dodge Challenger into Eric Echevarria’s car near Fort Apache and Blue Diamond roads.

Collins had played point guard at Bishop Gorman and had signed a letter of intent to play basketball at UNLV, which was rescinded after the crash.

Criminal proceedings were significantly delayed while former defense attorneys for Collins argued that the DUI charge was based on an unconstitutional state law regarding driving while under the influence of marijuana.

“From the state’s side, it’s been frustrating not just for us, but for the victim’s family,” Bauman said following the hearing.

He declined to comment further on why Collins is not intending to plead to a DUI charge. Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Authorities have said that Collins has 3 nanograms of THC per milliliter of blood in his system at the time of the crash, but defense attorneys have argued that the level of THC was so low that Collins could have consumed the marijuana days prior. The legal limit for drivers in Nevada at the time of the crash was 2 nanograms per milliliter, which defense attorneys have argued is an arbitrary amount.

In November, the Nevada Supreme Court denied a petition to dismiss the DUI charge against Collins, appearing to agree with prosecutors’ arguments that instead of the Supreme Court stepping in during the early stages of the criminal proceedings, Collins could instead appeal a finding of probable cause or possible conviction.

The Clark County district attorney’s office had continued to pursue the DUI and reckless driving charges against Collins after a grand jury refused to return an indictment on the DUI charge in March 2021.

Collins remains out of custody on house arrest. He is scheduled to appear in District Court next week.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter.

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