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Denials and delays: NHP won’t provide information on Kenny Lee crash a year later

Updated November 25, 2022 - 2:17 pm

John Mears and his co-worker may never forget the devastation they saw on U.S. Highway 95 the day Kenny Lee’s minivan crashed into their truck, killing Lee.

In the aftermath, Mears said he’s also struggled to learn more about what led to the wreck that killed Lee, the head of a popular Las Vegas liquor store chain, and to gather details from authorities about the investigation.

Since that day last November, Mears and the truck’s driver, who he did not name, have requested information on the crash about 200 miles from Las Vegas every few weeks from the Nevada Highway Patrol. But police have continually denied their inquiries.

“I’ll be honest with you, a year later my patience is wearing pretty thin,” Mears said in an interview Tuesday.

Lee, 53, was the chief executive officer of Lee’s Discount Liquor. His death on November 19, 2021 came less than three months after his father and founder of the liquor empire, Hae Un Lee, died from cancer at 79.

Mears and his co-worker, who was driving the truck, suffered a few scratches and bruises in the crash, but they may never recover from the emotional pain they have since endured.

Mears and his co-worker, geologists for Pathfinder Minerals LLC, had spent two weeks helping develop a mine in Tonopah. They were headed home to Spokane, Washington, for Thanksgiving when the crash happened.

Mears said Lee’s white minivan crossed into their lane, and his co-worker steered their truck off the road, leaving only their left tires on the narrow shoulder.

“He kept coming over and slammed into side of the truck,” Mears said. “There wasn’t anything we could do. We were as far over as we could go without me rolling over in the ditch.”

The empty trailer connected to their truck was ripped off in the crash. Boxes of wine from inside Lee’s van spilled across the road. Mears’ co-worker parked and rushed to the minivan, only to discover catastrophe.

“He ran right up to the minivan, into the horror show,” Mears said. “It was very obviously apparent Kenny Lee was dead. We didn’t know who he was, but it was extremely traumatic.”

Authorities said Lee was not wearing a seatbelt and was pronounced dead at the scene.

Since the crash, Mears and his co-workers have requested the police report from the highway patrol countless times, he said, but they continue to face unexplained denials and delays.

An insurance company reimbursed Mears for his truck, but Pathfinder Minerals is still waiting for compensation for their insurance company and for the driver’s therapy.

“The biggest frustration thing for me right now is the situation with the records,” Mears said. “We get zero response from anybody. We’re stuck waiting for the police report to come out. We sent certified letters to Lee’s Liquors and filed a Freedom of Information Act request with NHP. They refuse to give us anything.”

Similarly, the Las Vegas Review-Journal has made multiple requests for a police report, audio and video from the crash, along with autopsy and toxicology reports. None of those documents had been made available as of Wednesday, and authorities did not explain why the records related to this crash were not completed or available a year later.

Lee’s Discount Liquor did not respond to multiple requests for comment from the Review-Journal.

Chris Wicker, an attorney who represents Pathfinder Minerals, said Lee’s insurance company cannot determine their liability until they have seen the police report as well.

“We’re completely stymied until the investigative report comes out,” Wicker said. “And we have no estimated date. It went into a black hole, and so we really have to wonder why over a year passed. It’s not a complicated investigation.”

The man who was driving the truck for Pathfinder Minerals continues to undergo therapy for PTSD, and Mears said every time a driver veers into his lane, the man spirals into stress.

Mears continues to spend two weeks in Tonopah at a time and takes the same road back to Spokane on the third week. He said reckless, speeding and swerving drivers have only become more frequent.

“These accidents are happening all the time,” Mears said, referencing a recent head-on crash in Goldfield that killed four people and injured several others. “Between truck traffic and people just driving insanely stupid up the 95 all the time, going 100 mph, passing in no passing zones.”

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter.

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