Last week two officers of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department were investigating a crash involving a suspected drunk driver when their vehicles were struck…by a suspected drunk driver. Over the decades the Las Vegas region has done a great deal to rebrand itself as a launching point for the outdoors, a cosmopolitan arts and retail scene, a dynamic business environment, and a community of underdogs who are relentlessly #VegasStrong. But last week’s events contained echoes of an earlier branding effort: Sin City.
According to reports, the two Metro officers were stopped on Paradise Road to check on a crash victim who was suspected of driving under the influence (DUI).  One officer, believed to be Matthew J. Ware, had been traveling on a police motorcycle. The other officer, thought to be Jeremy D. Bozarth, was driving a police cruiser. Officer Ware had parked his motorcycle behind Officer Bozarth’s cruiser and both vehicles had their warning lights flashing as they dealt with the first DUI suspect.  At about 4:30 a.m. on January 1, a 27-year-old man came “barreling” down Paradise Road behind the officers as they stood outside of their vehicles. 
What appears to have happened is that the second man struck Officer Ware’s police motorcycle as well as Officer Ware’s right leg. The man’s car pushed Officer Ware’s police motorcycle into Officer Bozarth, knocking him down. The car then continued, striking Officer Bozarth’s police cruiser, and finally stopped. Officer Ware apparently suffered no reportable injuries, but Officer Bozarth seems to have suffered gravely. One report states that Officer Bozarth’s “substantial injuries” may result in “the prolonged use of a limb or limbs.” The first DUI suspect, who was in the back of Officer Bozarth’s police cruiser at the time of the collision, was apparently unharmed. The second man also emerged from the crash unhurt.
New Year’s Eve fell 2018 on a Monday night – not the typical time for vehicle-versus-pedestrian crashes. While 49 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur between the hours of 6 p.m. and 12 a.m., this is driven by weekend accidents. Weekday accidents tend to cluster in the 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. timeframe, with 38 percent of weekday crashes happening during these blocs. Just 9 percent of pedestrian fatalities occur on weekdays between 3 a.m. and 6 a.m., as happened in this crash. 
All the evidence suggests that the second driver, who “appeared confused” and had “bloodshot and watery eyes,” had been drinking to excess. He was surely not alone in that respect on New Year’s Eve, but his revelry clearly lasted until the early morning. More importantly, he was among a deplorable few who got behind the wheel that night.  The irony of this accident would be noteworthy even if it weren’t so tragic – two of Metro’s sworn officers were working together to keep the streets of Las Vegas safe from drunk drivers when they became victims of the same social harm. And for this to happen in Las Vegas just fifteen months after the horrific MGM mass shooting that brought the community together carries a heavy emotional weight.  The community is redefining itself as one with strength through diversity and grit, but this story has already begun to reverberate in the national and global press as another example of Nevada’s hub for recklessness and Bacchanalia. But our city will rise above this din because it truly is increasingly closer to the community we want it to be than the “Sin City” the outside world thinks of it as.
While Officers Ware and Bozarth were not the archetypal “pedestrians,” this tragic incident serves as a grave reminder of the prevalence of vehicle-versus-pedestrian accidents in Nevada. According to federal data, these crashes make up nearly one-quarter of total traffic fatalities in the state. That is among the highest rates in the country, with only less-developed Puerto Rico (31 percent) and the East-Coast communities of New York (29.7 percent), Washington, D.C. (29.6 percent), Rhode Island (27.5 percent), and New Jersey (27 percent) seeing pedestrian fatalities form a larger share of their deadly accidents. Nevada’s rate of 2.72 pedestrian fatalities per 100,000 people is only exceeded by New Mexico (3.51), Florida (3.16), South Carolina (2.90), Delaware (2.84), and Arizona (2.74). Nationally, pedestrian fatalities make up just 16 percent of all fatal crashes and occur at a rate of only 1.85 per 100,000 people. 
A year ago, the Nevada Department of Transportation was forced to report that “Nevada pedestrian traffic deaths rose in 2017 amid a decline in overall statewide traffic deaths.” In 2016, 330 people died in crashes on the highways and byways of the Silver State; 303 died in 2017, a reduction of nearly 10 percent. This good news was buffeted by a significant spike in pedestrian fatalities: up more than 23 percent from 80 in 2016 to 99 in 2017. Traffic fatalities involving cyclists increased by 50 percent, albeit from the low baseline of six deaths in 2016. The biggest spike in pedestrian deaths happened in Clark County, where they increased by nearly 37 percent. 
Unfortunately, early data suggest that 2018 may have seen a rise in traffic fatalities on Nevada’s roads. If you or a loved one have been hurt or killed in a traffic accident, you should consult an established personal injury law firm for a consultation about your legal rights and ability to win compensation for your injuries and loss.
Image Credit: Djwaro in Wikipedia Commons