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Reckless driving law sees outpouring of support at legislative hearing

Nevada legislators on Tuesday heard a proposed bill that could increase penalties for reckless driving.

Senate Bill 322 is also known as Rex’s Law, named for the 13-year-old victim of reckless driving victim that inspired the legislation.

Rex Patchett was killed by a reckless driver as he rode a scooter home from a friend’s house in March of last year. Henderson police later said the driver was going over 90 mph when he lost control of his car and killed the teenager in front of his middle school.

The driver, 21-year-old Jose Marmolejo, received the maximum sentence for reckless driving: Six years in prison, with the possibility for parole after two years.

But Jason Patchett, Rex’s father, was not satisfied with the maximum sentence for the crime that killed his son. He reached out to Republican state Sen. Jeff Stone and Republican Assemblyman Toby Yurek, both of whom represent the area of the city where Patchett lives, in an attempt to change the laws surrounding reckless driving.

Stone told the Senate Judiciary Committee Tuesday that he was “extremely moved” by Patchett’s story and coordinated with Yurek to create SB 322.

The bill proposes increasing the maximum penalty for reckless driving resulting in substantial bodily harm or the death of another person.

The previous sentence was one to six years with a possibility for parole after two years, with a fine ranging from $2,000 to $5,000. Rex’s Law seeks to extend that penalty to one to ten years in prison if the driver was going less than 50 mph over the speed limit, and eight to 20 years in prison if the driver was going more than 50 mph over the speed limit. The fines would not change under the proposed legislation.

Erin Breen, director of Road Equity Alliance and coordinator of the Traffic Safety Coalition at UNLV, and Deborah Kuhls, trauma surgeon at University Medical Center and professor of trauma and critical care at UNLV, both spoke to the committee in support of Rex’s Law.

“When I first moved here, I was horrified at the number of adults and children that were struck by vehicles,” Kuhls said to the committee.

Representatives from Clark County, the Nevada District Attorneys Association, the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office, the Nevada Public Health Association, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the city of Las Vegas also voiced support for the bill during the hearing.

Many testimonies focused on the increasing volume of traffic-related deaths in recent years. Last year was the fifth-deadliest on Nevada roads in last 30 years, with 382 fatalities being reported, according to data from the Nevada Department of Public Safety.

There were no neutral or opposing testimonies against Rex’s Law during Tuesday’s hearing.

After the meeting, Patchett told the Review-Journal it was difficult at times to talk before the committee about the bill, but that he was willing to do so “knowing there’s a bigger purpose to what we’re doing.”

Patchett was hopeful for the bill’s chances of passing after the hearing. He said his interactions with members of the Legislature, the outpouring of support and lack of opposition give him hope that the bill “has the legs” to be passed.

In his testimony, Patchett fought back tears as he recalled his son’s death and talked about how Rex inspired his family to fight for the legislation.

“Rex lived his life helping those around him,” Pathcett said to the committee. “Whether it was being a friend to someone that needed one or standing up and defending someone because it was the right thing to do, Rex was selfless and truly loved to help other people. Senate Bill 322 is our family’s effort to continue Rex’s legacy, to help other people.”

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

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