Updated March 2, 2021 - 5:02 pm
Thomas Driscoll was visiting Las Vegas on Sunday, ready to spend months hiking up the West Coast, when he was punched by a stranger.
At the bottom of an escalator near Bally’s early Sunday, a 33-year-old man became angry and threw a punch, knocking Driscoll to the ground and causing a fatal injury to the back of his skull, according to an arrest report. The Clark County coroner’s office ruled that the 57-year-old former Connecticut police officer and avid hiker’s death was a homicide.
“It was just such a violent ending to such a gentle person,” said 28-year-old Brian Hsia, who considered Driscoll a father to him and his younger brother “in every single way that matters.”
Brian Hsia’s mother, Annie Chong, said she knew Driscoll for 20 years, and that the two dated for a decade as Driscoll helped raise her sons. The couple went their separate ways, but Driscoll was still a large part of her family, Chong said during a phone interview on Tuesday.
Driscoll spent 22 years working for the Connecticut State Police, mostly as a member of the bomb squad, where his black Labrador retriever, Owen, patrolled the Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, Connecticut.
He retired from his job as a police officer in 2009, according to a statement from Connecticut State Police.
“It saddens us to hear that he died after being assaulted,” the agency said. “Our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”
Planned to hike Pacific Crest Trail
Since retiring, Driscoll focused on raising Brian and Evan Hsia, then traveling and hiking across the country, Chong said.
When he wasn’t traveling, Driscoll, who grew up in Chicopee, Massachusetts, split his time between a cabin in Maine and Chong’s family in Connecticut, Brian Hsia said Tuesday.
He had hiked several sections of the Pacific Crest Trail over the years, which runs more than 2,600 miles through California, Oregon and Washington. But this year, he was planning a thru-hike, meaning he wanted to walk from the start of the trail at the Mexican border to the Canadian border, Brian Hsia said.
Traveling the country to visit friends was typical for Driscoll, Brian Hsia said, but by Sunday, Driscoll had only planned to spend a few more days in Las Vegas.
Shortly before 4:30 a.m. that day, Driscoll was walking with a woman, identified by police as Nava Fuehrer, on a pedestrian bridge when they passed a group of men, according to police.
One of the men, identified by the Metropolitan Police Department as Brandon Leath, made a comment about the two walking through their group, investigators wrote in Leath’s arrest report. Leath ran toward Driscoll and Fuehrer, then ran down a set of stairs, where he waited for them at the bottom of an escalator.
“Leath set down his backpack and took a fighting stance,” the report said.
Driscoll walked toward Leath, and Leath punched him, police wrote. Driscoll did not move after the punch.
Leath was detained near The Mirage, and during an interview with police he acknowledged being at the location where Driscoll was hurt, but denied punching him, the report said.
He was booked into the Clark County Detention Center on a murder charge and was being held without bail as of Tuesday, court records show. He is scheduled to appear in court Wednesday.
‘The greatest man I’ve ever known’
Chong said that she and her sons have been heartbroken since Driscoll’s death. They have heard little information from Las Vegas police.
“He’s still a big part of my family’s life,” the 50-year-old said. “He’d call my mom every other week, text my kids every Friday.”
The two met 20 years ago, when Chong was working as a waitress at her parent’s restaurant in Windsor Locks, Connecticut. Every day, Driscoll walked into the restaurant, sat quietly in a corner, and ordered the same entree — chicken and broccoli.
It took him two months of daily lunches to find the courage to ask Chong for her name, she said.
“He’s not a big flirtatious guy, and he seemed very down to earth — laid back,” Chong said while thinking back on their first date. “He was so cute to me, too.”
Driscoll spent his free time enjoying baseball, football and working outdoors, she said. He took the boys to his Maine cabin, where he taught them to fish, build a fire and make s’mores, Brian Hsia said. He was there for lacrosse games and karate tournaments, and encouraged Brian Hsia when he went to medical school.
“He was just the greatest man I’ve ever known,” Brian Hsia said. “He wasn’t obligated to raise me, and help my mom raise me and my brother by any means. In every single way, he was our dad.”
Now, he has to adjust to a life without Driscoll being a text away.
“It’s just unfair that his life was stolen from him the way that it was,” he said. “He just deserved better.”