Updated June 8, 2021 - 8:22 pm
Family and friends of five bicyclists killed by a box truck driver who was high on methamphetamine filled a Las Vegas courtroom on Tuesday for the first of a scheduled two-day sentencing hearing.
They recalled cherished moments in the lives cut short on a clear morning in December as they rode along U.S. Highway 95 near Searchlight.
Jordan Barson, 45, pleaded guilty in April to two counts of DUI resulting in death and faces up to 40 years behind bars.
Chief Deputy District Attorney Thomas Moskal asked District Judge Bita Yeager to offer the families of the victims “some faith in the criminal justice system” in handing down Barson’s sentence.
“The price to be paid must be of the highest nature because the cost could not be greater than in a case like this,” Moskal said. “The wounds inflicted by Mr. Barson will at best be mental and emotional scars as noticeable on these victims as if the scars were on their face when they looked in the mirror. At worst, the wounds will forever remain open and bleeding.”
The bicyclists killed were Erin Michelle Ray, 39; Gerrard Suarez Nieva, 41; Michael Todd Murray, 57; Aksoy Ahmet, 48; and Tom Trauger, 57.
Trauger’s widow, Donna, told the judge that her “world has come to an end.” She said he was her soulmate and best friend for more than 23 years.
She still keeps her husband’s ashes in an urn on a dresser next to her bed. His toothbrush, razor and tag from a hoodie remain on the bathroom sink.
“I can’t bear to remove any of it,” she said. “I’m not ready to remove any trace of him. It’s all I have left.”
Ellen Leis of Colorado spoke via videoconference of her “fun, fierce, feisty and energetic” daughter, Ray.
“There is no true justice when a life, and in this case five lives, are taken,” Leis said.
Murray’s family, like others, asked the judge for the stiffest sentence within her power.
“We have a hole in our family now that will never be filled,” his brother, Douglas Murray, said.
Because of the number of relatives expected to speak during the sentencing and pandemic courtroom capacity restrictions, the hearing is expected to conclude Wednesday with Yeager’s sentence.
Barson’s guilty pleas accounted for each of the fatalities and show that he was under the influence of methamphetamine, which was found in his blood after the Dec. 10 crash.
Along with those killed, four others were injured. The plea agreement also accounts for two victims — Jose Vasquez and Jerome Ducrocq — who suffered substantial bodily harm in the crash.
Records show that Barson had more than nine times the amount of methamphetamine in his system needed to be considered legally impaired at the time of the crash on U.S. Highway 95 near Searchlight.
Barson, who resided in Kingman, Arizona, is being held without bail at the Clark County Detention Center.
He originally faced five counts of DUI resulting in death, two counts of DUI resulting in substantial bodily harm and seven counts of reckless driving, court records show.
The bicyclists were with a group of about 20 who set out from Henderson that morning to complete the roughly 130-mile Nipton Loop.
All of the bicyclists who were killed or injured were seeking cover from the wind and riding behind the group’s safety escort vehicle when the box truck Barson was driving crashed into them, according to a Nevada Highway Patrol report.
Barson appeared to cry as he spoke through a video stream from the jail, apologizing and asking for forgiveness.
“Knowing I caused the deaths of five people and severely hurt two others is unbearable most of the time,” he said. “I’ve caused so much pain in all of your lives, and I want you to know that I’m so truly sorry for what I’ve done. I know you will carry this pain forever, and it breaks my heart that I caused this. If I could give my life to bring your loved ones back, I would. I’m so ashamed of myself.”