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Four killed as car demolishes bus stop in Las Vegas

The sun had just risen, at 6:22 a.m.

The bus was due in four minutes.

A small crowd of people - it's unclear how many - waited at a bus stop in front of a Carl's Jr. fast-food restaurant on Spring Mountain Road just 270 feet east of Decatur Boulevard.

It is impossible to know if any of those who died while waiting for the 6:26 a.m. bus on Route 203 Thursday saw or heard the big black Chevrolet traveling east on Spring Mountain so fast that it bottomed out as it crossed Decatur. A Las Vegas police officer happened to be fueling up at the 7-Eleven on the corner, and saw the car speed past.

By some estimates, the 3,000-pound 2001 Monte Carlo was moving at 100 mph when it spun out of control, rolled and slammed into the lightweight sidewalk bench and sun shade on the south side of the street, where people patiently waited for a ride to work.

The first 911 call came at 6:25 a.m.

Four people died there, some torn to pieces, their bodies thrown dozens of yards from the point of impact. It was difficult to determine their identities, Las Vegas police officer Laura Meltzer said, but police believe all were waiting for the bus. They were identified Thursday night only as three women, ages 65, 49 and 47, a 24-year-old man, all of Las Vegas.

Eight people were seriously injured, with several in critical condition late Thursday night.

The driver of the Monte Carlo, Gary Lee Hosey Jr., 24, was listed in serious condition. Though still hospitalized, he was booked in absentia on four recommended charges of DUI causing death.

Rescuers who cut Hosey and four passengers from the car told the police they smelled alcohol, said Las Vegas police Sgt. Richard Strader. The rescuers also reported Hosey "even said something to the effect that he had been drinking," Strader said.

Hosey's injuries are thought to include a broken back and a collapsed lung, Strader said.

While police said little more about the crash, the incident brought criticism of both the driver and of the agency that maintains the valley's bus stops, the Regional Transportation Commission.

"This is not meant in any way to cast blame on the RTC for the horrific situation that took place this morning: All of that belongs to the drunk driver," Sandy Heverly, executive director of STOP DUI, said in an email Thursday.

"It is, however, important to have a conversation about what can be done to improve the safety of those shelters," she said.

SAFETY OF BUS SHELTERS QUESTIONED

This is not the first time in recent years that a car has plowed into a Las Vegas valley bus stop. It is not the first time someone has died that way. It is not even the first time multiple people have died that way.

And yet, this bus stop, like hundreds of others around the valley, remained just inches from the roadway. While it had a shelter of mostly plastic and aluminum, it had no reinforced structures to protect it - or its occupants - from speeding cars. It had no concrete barrier, no steel poles.

Heverly said those devices should be added.

"There's no protection for these people,'' she said. "It's ridiculous."

But it is not that easy, transportation experts said.

Those protections are great for fire hydrants, or for utility boxes in parking lots. They work well for slow-speed crashes. When a car is moving at high speed, hitting a pole produces shrapnel.

A car hitting a steel pole or concrete barrier doesn't entirely stop. Parts of the car, perhaps most of it, will fly through the air at the same speed the car was going. Like metal from a bomb, those parts shred whatever - or whomever - is in the way.

"When you're traveling high speeds, they don't provide a lot of safety," said Carl Scarbrough, the transit amenities manager for the RTC.

"I can't imagine what you could do to protect someone at a bus stop from a car going 100 mph," he said.

It is part of Scarbrough's job to make bus stops safer.

He said there are 3,700 bus stops in the valley, including 1,600 shelters.

New ones are always set far back from the street. That's the safest way to build them.

But it is often impossible to move old stops and shelters, such as the one that once stood on Spring Mountain just east of Decatur, away from the street, he said.

"We don't have the right to put anything on private property," said Tina Quigley, the RTC's general manager.

A study done after a series of crashes in the early 2000s looked for a pattern in the crashes. Was there something wrong with the valley's bus stops?

The only common thread was the drivers. They were always breaking the law, Scarbrough said.

HOSPITALIZED VICTIMS IDENTIFIED

Those injured Thursday were taken to University Medical Center and Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, but a listing of who went where was unavailable. All but one was listed with Las Vegas police as a Las Vegas resident.

Police identified pedestrians at the bus stop as Zakiya Corner, 29, and Zexiang Wang, 19, both in critical condition; and Billy Joel Ramirez-Fuentes, who suffered minor injuries.

Passengers in Hosey's car were Aklilu Atanaw, 24, and Tamesgen Adam, 22, of San Diego, both in critical condition; Maarig Tewolde, 26, and Wendim Fisenar, 31, both in serious condition.

Heverly encouraged families of the victims to call STOP DUI at 456-7867 for financial and emotional assistance.

STOP DUI will not offer assistance to those who were in the car, however.

"We only service innocent victims, and by our standards an innocent victim is not driving or riding in a car with a drunk driver," she said.

"The only thing I can think of now is the four people that were killed and the devastation and trauma all those families will go through the rest of their lives because somebody was so irresponsible and selfish to drink and drive," she said.

Heverly said she had spoken with the daughter of Patricia Hoff, a 55-year-old woman killed by a car while sitting at a bus stop in 2008. The driver of the car had four prior DUI convictions.

"Each time she hears about one of these situations with an impaired driver at a bus stop she relives it minute-by-minute," Heverly said. "We call it random murder because it's so unacceptable and so avoidable."

In another multiple fatality accident, in March 2004, Veronica Schmidt lost control of her Explorer and rammed into a bus stop near Smoke Ranch and Rock Springs roads, killing Raquel and Angelica Jimenez, 16 and 14, Samantha Allen, 36, and Reginald Williams, 16. Schmidt avoided felony charges because prosecutors determined there was insufficient evidence of a crime.

ONE REGULAR BUS RIDER STAYED HOME SICK

Thursday night a crowd gathered at the crash site as the mangled Monte Carlo was taken from the scene on a flatbed truck. About 20 minutes later, police took down the police tape that roped off the parking lot between the Crown & Anchor bar and Carl's Jr.

On the asphalt they left behind words painted by accident scene investigators in various colors: shoe, shoes, hat, bench. A metal pole that once stood about 10-feet tall was bent parallel to the sidewalk.

Robert Stamper, 48, said he was supposed to be at that bus stop early Thursday, as he is on most mornings when he commutes to a job laying tile.

He visited the crash site Thursday night to say a prayer. He said divine intervention kept him alive: He was sick Thursday morning.

"I had a sore throat," Stamper said. "It was a God shot."

Stamper said the bus stop is always full, and while he usually keeps his headphones on most mornings, he said he likely had acquaintances among the dead.

When asked if he was religious, he looked down at the cross on a chain around his neck and said he is a Christian.

"I think he took care of me," he said, referring to a higher power.

Like Stamper, Penny LeClair fears that she, too, knows some of the victims. She has driven a bus on the Spring Mountain route for several months, though on Thursday morning she was driving westbound at the time of the crash. She said it's mostly working people who use that route at that time of the morning. The route is used by some kids, too, middle-schoolers and high-schoolers, she said.

She said she sees drivers going too fast, sometimes, in too much of a hurry to get wherever they're going.

"People drive a little too fast, heading toward the Strip," she said. "There's a lot of congestion in that area, a lot of pedestrians. People should slow down."

But people have to get to work, even in the wake of a horrific incident that ended and altered lives.

The RTC said buses will stop at Spring Mountain and Decatur again this morning.

Contact reporter Mike Blasky at mblasky@review
journal.com or 702-383-0283, reporter Richard Lake at rlake@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0307 or reporter Antonio Planas at aplanas@reviewjournal.com or
702-383-4638

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