About 35 Las Vegas law enforcement officers came together Thursday morning to dedicate state Route 157 to DUI victims from Southern Nevada — an initiative they believe to be the first of its kind in the U.S.
A sign was placed beside Kyle Canyon Road, just west of U.S. Highway 95, dubbing it DUI Victim Memorial Highway.
Sandy Heverly, executive director and victim advocate for Las Vegas-based Stop DUI, called the dedication a personal bucket list wish that was a long time coming. Heverly co-founded Stop DUI in the early 1980s after her mother was killed and her husband and four children were seriously injured in a DUI crash in the valley.
The dedication was important to her because it covers all victims.
“During the month of December we have our fatal victim memorial signs that line both sides of this highway, but we’ve never been able to show recognition for our injured victims,” Heverly said. “This is what was so exciting about this sign because it is inclusive of not only those that were killed, but those that were injured as well.”
She said her group hopes “that maybe other states will follow suit and recognize their victims as well, by designating a section of their highway to honor their victims.”
Clark County saw 17 DUI-related fatalities 30 years ago, Heverly said. But in the 29 years since, law enforcement has been able to reduce that to an average of only two each year, which she called “totally phenomenal.”
“It is senseless that in today’s day and age, with options like taxis, Uber and Lyft, that people are still choosing to drive drunk,” Metro Traffic Bureau Capt. Jason Becker said. “Well, I promise you this: It’s my decision that if you make that decision, we will do everything we can to catch you and put you in jail because we are committed to zero fatalities.”
Las Vegas Justice Court Judge Cynthia Cruz, who presides over drug and DUI treatment courts, said that while she believes DUI offenders should be punished, jail isn’t always the answer. She said that in her courtroom, she tries to focus on rehabilitation, treatment and education.
“Our program is committed to trying to, through behavior modification and substance abuse treatment, get these offenders where they are not repeating again, that they do not commit a DUI again and that they are not a danger to our community,” Cruz said.
Diane Malone said she doesn’t believe education is enough to incentivize offenders not to drive under the influence again.
“We need to make sure that our DUI penalties are stronger, and make sure that they have to live out that penalty, not just get out in a year and a half, two years,” Malone said. “It needs to be more than just a slap on the wrist.”
Malone’s daughter and son-in-law were killed in a DUI crash last year. Christa and Damaso Puente were stopped at a red light when a 2014 Mercedes C250 rear-ended them, “going over 100 miles an hour,” Malone said.
The driver, 23-year-old Henry Aparicio, long argued that he was not behind the wheel. He pleaded guilty on Aug. 1 to two charges of DUI resulting in death, one charge of DUI resulting in substantial bodily harm and three charges of reckless driving, and his sentencing was set for Friday.
Malone said she hopes the sign on state Route 157 will serve as a reminder for those driving up to Mount Charleston for a fun night away.
“Anybody who’s from here knows that a lot of people drive up to the mountain to drink, then drive home,” Malone said. “So we’re just hoping that it will raise some sort of awareness.”