Deadly crash prompts more pleas from police

When my dad was a teenager in the early 1960s, he drove a Corvette that he rebuilt in his dad’s auto shop.

I grew up hearing stories about this car, about how fast he drove it in rural New Jersey, about that one time he hit 160 mph.

Those stories fascinated me.

When I was a teenager in the 1980s, we didn’t have a garage at our little house here in Las Vegas, but I did build and rebuild my 1967 Volkswagen Bug so often they knew me by my first name at a few of the VW shops around town.

No matter what I did, though, I couldn’t get the darn thing to top 70 mph.

Enter the 1987 Pontiac Fiero SE V6, a shiny black pearl of a car that I paid for with my pizza delivery earnings.

Whew, that little two-seater flew – and I would prove it to anyone who happened by.

I drove the hell out of that car. Had to replace the clutch before a year was up, the tires more than once.

I hit 129 mph on the west end of Charleston Boulevard. I once lost it so bad behind the Smith’s grocery store at Jones Boulevard and U.S. Highway 95, I had to pull the emergency brake and slide the car sideways around a corner so I didn’t plunge through a chain-link fence and down an embankment and end up on the freeway.

Yeah, I know. What a stupid kid I used to be. I’m extremely lucky I didn’t kill myself, or someone else. I think about this every single day. I really do.

Which brings us to last Sunday morning, a curvy stretch of road, and a bunch of dumb kids in fast cars.

It was 6:30 a.m. The sun had risen a few minutes earlier.

There’s a 2006 Nissan 350Z driving east on Centennial Parkway. The 350Z is a car with 300 horsepower that’ll do 150 mph. It’s got two seats and a hatchback.

This particular two-seater held three people. Police later identified the driver as 21-year-old Blake James Shirley. In the front with him was 19-year-old Tyler Ray Watts. In the rear was 22-year-old Jennifer Schneider.

The Z was racing a black sports car, a witness told police. It was racing this black sports car just as a curve came up. At that curve, a Speed Limit 35 sign greets drivers.

This particular driver wasn’t doing 35 mph, though the police said it’s too early to say exactly how fast he was going.

In any event, he lost control. The car spun. It’s passenger side slammed into a palm tree in the median. This flipped the car onto its roof and knocked the engine free.

The car skidded across the pavement, came to rest way on the other side of the street, near a fire hydrant.

Both kids in the front seat died right there. The girl in the back was badly injured, rushed to University Medical Center in critical condition.

The black sports car fled the scene.

The two guys in the Z who died were the 76th and 77th people killed on the roads worked by Las Vegas police this year. That’s five more than died in all of 2011, according to Sgt. Richard Strader, who works with the department’s fatal accident detail.

Strader is a veteran cop. He’s used to dealing with this stuff, drunken drivers and bad decisions and stupid kids doing stupid things.

But he’s frustrated. He’s so frustrated he called the media out to the site of this crash the other day, even though there wasn’t much news to deliver.

He mostly just pleaded.

Please slow down.

Please stop drinking and driving.

Please stop racing to beat yellow lights.

Please stop talking on your phone, fiddling with the radio, eating your breakfast, texting your friends.

Please talk to your kids.

“This makes us scratch our heads and wonder what message we’re not getting out there,” he said.

Las Vegas City Councilman Steve Ross was there, too. He said the same things. He said people should slow down. He said 35 mph is plenty fast enough. He said that school starts soon, so people need to be extra careful.

And he also said this: “It’s difficult to legislate behavior.”

Truth, right there.

Which means it’s up to you and me, not the cops or the government officials. There’s no public service campaign that’s going to make all the kids with fast cars slow down.

It wouldn’t have worked on me.

But you know what did?

My dad.

He probably doesn’t remember it; it was such a routine conversation. Just another valuable life lesson dropped by the most valuable guy in my life.

The reality is, I don’t remember the words, but I do remember the idea.

Vegas wasn’t rural New Jersey, he said, and the 1980s weren’t the 1960s, and I really ought to be more careful out there, those streets full of innocent people. How would I feel if something terrible happened to one of them because I was driving too fast.

Sometimes, that’s all it takes. An adult who some dumb kid respects, telling him what he probably ought to have figured out already, at exactly the time he needs to hear it.

So go do that. Maybe it won’t help. Maybe you’ll just come off looking like some dumb adult who’s trying to get all preachy.

But maybe it will work. Maybe it’ll work and you’ll never know it, and that dumb kid in your life will grow up and start giving unsolicited advice of his own.

If you have a question, tip or tirade, send an email to road­
warrior@reviewjournal.com. Include your phone number.

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