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Sister says man killed in crash was ‘good man taken too soon’

Updated January 3, 2021 - 6:18 pm

When Eric Echevarria heard that his sister needed money to buy his niece a birthday cake, he didn’t hesitate to lend it — it was a normal selfless act for him.

Echevarria’s sister, Marie, said she planned to quickly pay him back. But the night before she could, she got a phone call breaking the news that her older brother had been killed in a suspected DUI crash.

“I wish I got the chance to tell him I love him,” Marie Echevarria said in an emotional phone call. “I’m sure he knows that, I’ve told him before. I just wish I knew if this was going to be the last time I talked to him.”

Eric Echevarria, 52, died in the collision Wednesday afternoon near Fort Apache Road and Blue Diamond Road. The Metropolitan Police Department has said Echevarria was attempting to make a left turn when his 2016 Hyundai Accent was struck by a 2016 Dodge Challenger driven by 19-year-old Zaon Collins, who investigators say was speeding in a 35 mph zone.

Collins, a star basketball player at Bishop Gorman High School and the top recruit of this year’s UNLV class, was arrested on suspicion of DUI. Las Vegas Justice of the Peace Joe Bonaventure ordered Collins released from jail Thursday on “the highest level” of electronic monitoring and ordered him not to drive and to abstain from alcohol and drugs.

Prosecutor Peter Thunell on Thursday asked the judge to set bail at $150,000, noting that at least one witness reported seeing Collins driving upward of 100 mph along Fort Apache Road.

Marie Echevarria said she watched Collins’ court appearance over TV from her home in New York but plans to travel to Las Vegas for her family and to be there in person for the next hearing. Reading comments on social media about Collins’ basketball career has made her angry, she said.

“Not only that but they let him out, and he got to spend New Year’s Eve with his family while my family’s devastated,” the 40-year-old said. “I don’t see no remorse in his face — none.”

Marie Echevarria said she is afraid Collins “is going to get away with this.”

“I want him to do time, I want them to take his scholarship away, I want justice,” she said. “I want him to know that he devastated my family.”

‘Taken too soon’

Eric Echevarria, who grew up in the Bronx, was an Army and National Guard veteran who worked as a custodian at a local elementary school, his sister said. He is survived by his wife, a 14-year-old son, four adult stepchildren, six grandchildren, his sister and an older brother, Noel.

He moved to Las Vegas about 20 years ago and was friendly with everyone, especially his neighbors, Marie Echevarria said. He often shared stories of the children at the school where he worked.

“They loved him,” she said. “He was loved, at school (and) in his community.”

Marie Echevarria is 12 years younger than her brother, and both Eric Echevarria and her older brother “spoiled” her growing up, she said. She remained close with Eric Echevarria into adulthood and said when he wasn’t working or with his family, he was spending nearly every day at the gym.

He was a “good man who was taken too soon, and tragically,” she said.

Eric Echevarria died as he was being transferred to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, police said. While investigating the crash scene, officers found “a jar containing a leafy substance” on the floor of the car Collins was driving, according to his arrest report.

After the Thursday court hearing, defense attorney David Chesnoff issued a statement.

“Zaon Collins is a good young man who has always worked hard in school and on the basketball court,” the statement read. “He has brought much joy to our community and we ask that folks not rush to judgment. It is Zaon’s intention to plead not guilty.”

But when Marie Echevarria’s sister thinks of the 19-year-old, her only feelings are those of anger.

“I really don’t care if he’s a basketball player — (he) killed somebody,” Marie Echevarria said.

She was thousands of miles away and helpless to do anything when she got news of his death. Marie Echevarria said she remembers “going crazy” in her house, and the days that have followed have been filled with sadness.

“I’m just at a loss for words,” she said. “I’ve been crying every day, and sometimes when I feel like I have no more tears left, I’m crying again.”

Marie Echevarria said her family in Las Vegas plans to hold a vigil Sunday evening at the intersection where the accident happened.

Contact Katelyn Newberg at knewberg@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0240. Follow @k_newberg on Twitter. Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney contributed to this report.

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