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Boy’s death inspires bill targeting ‘reckless driving capital of the world’

Updated February 6, 2023 - 7:14 pm

A reckless driver struck and killed 13-year-old Rex Patchett as he rode a scooter in front of his school. The driver, who had been going more than 90 mph, could serve as few as two years in prison before being eligible for parole.

Now Rex’s family and a pair of lawmakers are working to ensure tougher criminal penalties for reckless drivers who cause injury and death, one of hundreds of proposals that will be considered by the Legislature after it convenes Monday in Carson City.

While Rex’s father, Jason Patchett, was happy that the driver received the maximum possible penalty for the crash, he said he felt six years in prison with a possibility for parole after two years wasn’t enough punishment for the crash that took away his son.

“When I found out what the sentencing guidelines were in regards to reckless driving, I was floored at the idea that a situation like what happened with my son occurs, and that’s the ramifications,” he said.

Henderson police said that a 21-year-old driver, Jose Marmolejo, lost control of his black Ford Mustang and that the vehicle then went up on the sidewalk near Mannion Middle School and struck Rex in the late afternoon of March 7.

Late last month, a judge ordered Marmolejo, who pleaded guilty in October to a felony charge of reckless driving, to serve up to six years behind bars.

Patchett said that he talked to other members of the community and that they shared his feelings about the maximum sentence.

Eventually, Patchett decided to try to change the law itself. He reached out to state Sen. Jeff Stone and Assemblyman Toby Yurek. Both representatives responded to his emails incredibly quickly, Patchett said, noting Stone replied to his email within “seconds” to ask when he was available to meet.

After meeting Patchett, Stone and Yurek worked together to create Rex’s Law, a bill proposal Stone plans to bring before the Legislature this session.

‘Reckless driving capital’

Rex’s Law would increase the penalty for reckless driving resulting in substantial bodily harm or death to 10 to 20 years in prison with an additional seven years if the crash took place in a school zone or construction zone.

“I wanna make it clear to anyone who revs their engine up in a school zone that the penalty is serious,” Stone said.

Stone said that Patchett endured the “worst nightmare a parent could face” and that the current laws didn’t appropriately punish the driver who caused the crash. Nevada drivers need to better abide by traffic laws, particularly in school zones, he said, adding that he hopes this bill will be the first step toward that goal.

Yurek, a former police officer, likened driving recklessly to driving under the influence, saying that drivers choose to drive recklessly just as drivers choose to drive after drinking or getting high. That element of choice, he said, drove him to pursue the steeper punishment.

“It was intentional reckless conduct that led to this accident,” said Yurek.

This proposal comes after the Nevada Department of Public Safety ranked 2022 as the fifth-deadliest year on the state’s roads over the past 30 years. Nevada saw 382 total traffic deaths last year, with 88 of them being pedestrians.

Patchett described Clark County as “the reckless driving capital of the world.”

Both Yurek and Stone expect the bill to have bipartisan support. They said they are ready to negotiate the terms of Rex’s Law and are optimistic about its chances in the Legislature.

If passed, Rex’s Law would join multiple other bills that took aim at Nevada’s reckless driving laws over the past five years.

A law passed in 2017 imposed the sentencing guidelines for reckless driving that were used in the case of Rex Patchett. The law changed reckless driving resulting in substantial bodily harm or death from a misdemeanor to a felony punishable by one to six years in prison.

In 2019, legislators expanded reckless driving to include trick driving on a public highway. In the same year, another law expanded reckless driving and vehicular manslaughter to include incidents that happened in parking lots, garages and other non-public roads.

‘To me it’s way cool’

Patchett sees Rex’s Law as a “community law,” one that is for the other families in the state. He said seeing his son’s name directly on the bill means a lot to him, and Rex would get a kick out of it, too.

“To me it’s way cool. I mean Rex would be grinning ear to ear if he were here,” said Patchett.

A previous version of this story misstated that Rex was walking in front of his school when he was struck.

Contact Mark Credico at mcredico@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @MarkCredicoII.

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