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‘He’d give you the shoes off his feet’: Stories of those who died in 2023

Dr. Aaron Bivens rarely said no to an adventure. The 36-year-old veterinarian played multiple sports growing up, and he loved to travel and explore.

No one who knew him would be surprised to find Bivens at Lake Mead, near Calville Bay, in late July. Bivens and a friend were on Bivens’ new boat when he went into the water but didn’t resurface.

His parents, Tonnie Bivens and Susan Hernandez, said their youngest son was an avid swimmer who got caught unawares by monsoon conditions that day.

Hernandez said her son’s death could have been avoided. She said Bivens and his friend would have not been in the water if they had been warned of the dangerous conditions.

According to data released by the Clark County coroner’s office, 42 people died from drowning last year. The office investigated more than 5,300 deaths in 2023.

The National Park Service said six people drowned in the Clark County portion of Lake Mead National Recreation Area in 2023.

“The circumstances surrounding the incidents vary, but a common theme is not wearing a life jacket, swimming in the lake in windy or hazardous conditions, and cliff diving,” the NPS said in a statement.

Other fatalities in the recreation area included six people who died by suicide, seven who died in vehicle crashes and two who died in a boating crash.

Aaron Bivens’ parents vowed to spend 2024 advocating for change at Lake Mead by speaking with politicians about increasing safety procedures and weather warnings.

“There has to be some warning signals out there,” Tonnie Bivens said.

Aaron Bivens, or “Dr. Biv” as some referred to him at South Buffalo Springs Animal Hospital, had an innate connection with animals, according to his parents, who said young Aaron had cats, dogs, turtles and birds.

Bivens was the managing veterinarian at South Buffalo Springs.

“[He] just made you feel like you were the only person in the world,” said fellow vet Dr. Charlotte Pulliam, who went to school with Bivens. “That’s how he excelled in his field is having that connection and shutting everything else out.”

‘Devastating’

Cardiovascular and heart illnesses caused 1,602 deaths in Clark County last year, making it the most common cause of death, followed by the 1,023 who died from drugs and alcohol.

Firearms killed 406 people, and 257 died in vehicle crashes.

Luke Martin, 35, and his mother, Jeannie Martin, 70, headed for Las Vegas at the end of the Thanksgiving weekend.

Luke’s older brother Cole Martin lives in California and missed the family gathering.

“I made plans with my mom and my brother to see them for Christmas, so that’s why I didn’t come out [for] Thanksgiving,” Cole Martin said.

At around 7:15 p.m. on Nov. 26, Luke lost control of their vehicle. It rolled over and struck a median. They were driving southbound on Interstate 15, just south of Mesquite, and both died at the scene.

Luke was one of Jeannie’s seven children.

“Devastating,” Cole Martin said as the only way to describe what happened.

He said everyone loved his mom, who was generous and down to earth.

“He’d give you the shoes off his feet,” Martin said of his younger brother.

‘A gardener at heart’

On Nov. 12 around 8 a.m., a Nevada Highway Patrol trooper gave Fahid Amin a ticket and a warning after pulling the 35-year-old over for driving 94 mph in a 65 mph zone on the 215 Beltway.

About six hours later, according to police, Amin crashed into a vehicle at Charleston Boulevard and Merialdo Lane, killing 81-year-old Susan Rynas, the passenger in the car he hit. Amin is accused of speeding and driving drunk.

Rynas’ husband, Mike Rynas, 80, was driving the second vehicle. He was injured in the crash and taken to University Medical Center.

Mike and Susan met in 1963 and were married the next year. They moved to Las Vegas in 2020 to be closer to Susan’s cousin and because of her love of desert wildlife and sunshine.

“She was a gardener at heart. She loved to plant and replant her flowers, herbs and especially kale in the cooler months,” Mike Rynas wrote in an email. “She spent hours talking to, trimming and watering her plants.”

‘Quite unusual’

In July, 24-year-old Brandon Farber collapsed while playing tennis at a Henderson country club. Apart from suffering a concussion six months prior, Farber had no major previous illnesses, according to his autopsy report.

The coroner ruled Farber died from Parainfluenza 3 Viral Infection.

Dr. Marc J. Kahn, dean of UNLV’s Kerkorian School of Medicine, said parainfluenza is one of the most common respiratory viruses, but “it is quite unusual,” for someone who is not immunocompromised to die from an infection.

Kahn said the common symptoms are runny nose, sore throat and cough.

According to the coroner’s office, seven people died from parainfluenza or influenza last year. The next youngest person who died from that cause was 50, and the remaining five were in their 60s or 70s.

Parainfluenza has similar signs and symptoms to influenza, according to the National Institutes of Health, but is a unique virus.

A photo caption in a previous version of this story misidentified Luke Martin.

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com.

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