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‘It’s not like any other crime’: Hit-and-run crashes rising in Las Vegas Valley

Updated October 16, 2023 - 7:26 pm

Hit-and-run crashes are on the rise in the Las Vegas Valley.

The Metropolitan Police Department traffic bureau said that this year they have investigated about 3,400 hit-and-run cases — up about 7 percent from last year.

On Sunday, a suspected drunk driver ran a red light near Warm Springs Road and Shadow Crest Drive, crashing into another vehicle before, according to police, the driver tried driving off before crashing himself and trying to flee on foot. The woman driving the vehicle that was struck suffered critical injuries.

The driver, Ryan Nimmo, is a firefighter with the Las Vegas Fire Department, city officials confirmed.

Between 2018 and 2020, there were about 3,000 hit-and-run cases per year, according to Sgt. Richard Rundell. Since 2021, that number has climbed to more than 4,000 a year, he said.

“It’s not like any other crime. These are two random people who just happen to come together at one point at that one time,” said Rundell, who is part of the collision investigation section for the department’s fatal and hit-and-run detail. “One person leaves, and they never see each other again. There’s no motive. There’s no clear-cut reason for why it happened.”

This year, 14 pedestrians in Clark County have been fatally struck by vehicles before a driver fled a crash scene, according to data tracked by Erin Breen, director of the Road Equity Alliance Project. All but one of those occurred at night.

Two fatal hit-and-run bike crashes have occurred in Clark County this year. Both occurred within the past month.

Those crashes do not include the death of retired police Chief Andreas Probst who, police say, was intentionally struck by a stolen vehicle occupied by two teens. Jesus Ayala, 18, and Jzamir Keys, 16, have been charged with murder in connection with Probst’s death.

“This isn’t one that we don’t know what the fix is,” Clark County Commissioner Michael Naft said. “We know that when people drive a little bit slower, less people die. We know that when you have infrastructure that’s built for all road users, including vulnerable road users, less people die.”

Rundell said the most important information to get from a vehicle fleeing a crash is its license plate. The next best is a physical description of the driver.

Building community

U.S. Rep. Susie Lee is well aware of the dangers of crashes involving bikers. An avid biker who uses roadways both in Nevada and Washington, D.C., Lee has seen the growth in Nevada’s local biking community over the past three decades.

The focus now, Lee said, needs to be on designated bikes lanes or designated bike trails away from roadways altogether.

One planned project is the Red Rock Legacy Trail, which will create a 40-mile, two-way trail for bikers and pedestrians.

“I am very committed to making sure that people who want to enjoy the outdoors on bikes are able to do so in the safest way possible and have access to as many options as they possibly can,” Lee said.

In March, Lee co-sponsored House Resolution 1319, the Biking on Long Distance Trails Act, which if passed, supports biking trails on existing or potential federal trails.

Naft and fellow Clark County Commissioner Justin Jones highlighted improvement projects on Fort Apache Road and Starr Avenue that aim to redo roads that only considered moving vehicles in the fastest way possible.

Two of three phases of improvements are completed on Fort Apache Road, Jones said. Roadwork has been completed north of Huntington Cove and when finished will connect to Blue Diamond Road. The project includes widening the road and adding buffered bike lanes.

“The goal is not to build roads; it’s to build communities,” Jones said.

Naft said road infrastructure such as bike lanes with curb barriers and detached sidewalks that put landscaping between the road and pedestrians would make a real difference.

Safer roads create several benefits beyond safety, Naft said, including improving quality of life, raising property values and saving taxpayers money.

“Why on earth roadway systems were ever designed to put human beings inches away from cars driving at such high rates of speed, I don’t know, but I think it’s time we start getting serious about not following that mindset anymore,” Naft said.

Roads that put bicyclists in the most precarious positions, Breen said, are ones that don’t give a cyclist enough room, forcing them to share the lane with vehicles.

She pointed to a stretch of Main Street from Wyoming Avenue to Bonneville Avenue as being safer for cyclists because the design of the road naturally slows down vehicles along with a posted 30 mph speed limit. Making roads more appealing to walkers and cyclists will bring more customers to local businesses.

“You can’t see what people are selling when you’re passing at 40 mph,” Breen said.

Near misses

Craig Davis was rollerblading near Tenaya Way and Centennial Parkway on his way to the Northern Beltway Trail when he was nearly struck twice by a speeding vehicle. That happened about a week before Probst was intentionally struck by teens in a stolen car in the same area.

Davis said the occupants laughed as they passed him and made a U-turn before narrowly missing him again. He tried to report the near miss to Las Vegas police but received little response.

The Metropolitan Police Department said it does not take near-miss reports because it would be overwhelmed with reports. Police investigate near misses that are determined to be intentional.

Davis founded cyclistvideoevidence.com, which advocates for cyclist safety and tracks near miss crashes on its incident management system.

“We don’t believe collisions are inevitable,” he said.

Davis doesn’t advocate for changes to the law or road improvements. Instead he focuses on pushing for enforcement of existing laws such as reckless driving and assault.

Near misses and the fear of collisions are what stop avid cyclists from riding and prevents people from taking up biking in the first place, Davis said.

“The vast majority of drivers are safe drivers. It only takes one to kill somebody,” he said. “But these incidents do happen, and they need to be taken seriously. We can change dangerous drivers’ behavior before tragedies occur by enforcing existing laws for near miss incidents.”

Contact David Wilson at dwilson@reviewjournal.com.

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