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Loved ones of man killed in wrong-way driving crash bring message to court

Family and friends of a man killed in Southern Nevada’s latest wrong-way driving crash showed up en masse at a Las Vegas courtroom Monday morning where a hearing for the suspect was scheduled, demanding justice and advocating for changes that could help curb wrong-way driving.

“It happens way too often,” said Maribel Garcia, whose husband, Christopher Garcia, 45, was killed in the Jan. 17 crash at the airport connector.

Authorities said Christopher Garcia’s Audi was struck by a Chevrolet Cruze headed south in the northbound lanes of the airport connector tunnel at 2:15 a.m. The Nevada Highway Patrol said the driver of Chevrolet, Ciera Brawer, 20, of Las Vegas, was charged with driving under the influence resulting in death.

Maribel Garcia said her husband was headed to McCarran International Airport to pick up his brother for a family reunion at the time of his death.

“His flight was delayed three times,” Maribel Garcia said. “He should have never been there at 2 o’clock in the morning.”

An arrest report said Brawer reportedly told police “I was driving drunk and I think I hit someone. I think I was on the wrong side of the road but I don’t know.”

Police said Brawer smelled like alcohol and her speech was slurred. She was hospitalized and required surgery for her injuries.

Proceedings delayed by defendant’s injuries

Brawer was scheduled to be in the courtroom of Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Suzan Baucum early Monday, but the proceedings were delayed until March 2 because she remains hospitalized from injuries suffered during the crash.

Christopher Garcia’s loved ones had hoped to send a message to Brawer and showed up holding signs bearing Christopher Garcia’s photo. Maribel Garcia held a sign that said “High school sweethearts! Love of my life! Stolen from us on 1/17/20.”

One man held a sign depicting Christopher Garcia’s smashed car with the words “I was driving drunk and think I hit someone but I don’t know.” Another person held a sign saying “You will never know the value of a moment, until it becomes a memory.”

Maribel Garcia said she hopes Las Vegas Valley residents will take heed of the devastation caused by driving under the influence. She also believes there needs to be changes to Nevada’s roadway infrastructure.

“We need to fix the signs on the roads,” Maribel Garcia said. “How often has this happened? Twenty two calls since January (of) people driving in the wrong direction. Are they doing anything to fix this?”

Christopher Garcia’s death is the latest in a recent rash of deadly wrong-way crashes in Southern Nevada. They include:

— On Dec. 22, 41-year-old Roshonda Sawara Thornton was killed when her vehicle was struck by a suspected DUI wrong-way driver in the southbound lanes of the 215 Beltyway, near the Charleston Boulevard exit. The wrong-way driver, identified by the Highway Patrol as Ashley O’Neil, 26, was seriously injured. She has been charged with DUI resulting in death, DUI resulting in substantial bodily harm and driving the wrong way on a one-way road.

— On Dec. 21 police said a 23-year-old Las Vegas woman was driving the wrong way in the northbound lanes on I-15 near Jean when her vehicle hit a tractor trailer head-on. The Clark County coroner’s office later classified the woman’s death as a suicide.

Two people were killed on Dec. 5 in a wrong-way crash on Interstate 15, also near Jean. Authorities said motorist Frank Thomas, 42, of Jean, was driving while under the influence of alcohol when his vehicle – traveling north in the southbound lanes – struck a vehicle driven by John L. Camilo, of Valley Village, California. Both died at the scene. The Clark County Coroner’s Office said Thomas had a blood alcohol level of 0.22, nearly three times the legal limit of 0.08.

— On Dec. 3 at about 3:30 a.m. Frank Magliarditi, 39, of Henderson was driving south in the northbound lanes of I-15 near the Charleston Boulevard off-ramp when he collided head-on with an Amazon semitrailer. Magliarditi, of Henderson, was pronounced dead at the scene. The coroner’s office said Magliarditi had a blood alcohol level of 0.143 and tested positive for THC.

— An impaired driver, Ericka Avila, 27, was killed on Nov. 14 while driving the wrong way on I-15, between Lake Mead Boulevard and Cheyenne Avenue. The Nevada Highway Patrol said the crash happened at 3:30 a.m. as Avila was driving the wrong way in the northbound lanes of I-15. Avila’s blood-alcohol content was 0.252, or more than three times the legal limit of 0.08, the coroner’s office said.

‘It impacts our lives’

Maribel Garcia’s aunt, Nellie Rubi, said “All of us need to be mindful of drinking and driving. It is not just a saying. It impacts our lives.”

Maribel Garcia, her family members and friends all said Monday’s turnout demonstrated what a special person Christopher Garcia was.

“He was loving, compassionate, generous, give you the shirt off his back,” Maribel Garcia said. “He was accepting. Forgiving. He wouldn’t want me to be angry about this and there is no way I was not going to come here to support him.”

Rubi added her unofficial eulogy for Christopher Garcia:

“Remember to be kind. Remember to love. Remember to live life to the fullest. I have never, ever, met an individual like him. He was just love.”

Contact Glenn Puit at gpuit@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0390. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter.

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