Las Vegas Sun

October 15, 2018

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Car surfing: Deadly but not a crime

It is definitely dangerous and certainly ill-advised but car surfing apparently is not illegal.

"Specifically, no -- there is no law against it," said Metro Police fatal detail investigator William Redfairn, who in five years recalls investigating at least four such incidents that ended in a death.

The latest is a 16-year-old girl who fell off the roof of a Chevrolet Blazer Thursday night in the parking lot of Shadow Ridge High School. Adasha Edison died Saturday at the University Medical Center from head injuries sustained in the accident.

"If we had a primary seat belt law and I saw someone doing it, I could stop the car and ticket the passenger outside the vehicle," Redfairn said, noting that Nevada's secondary seat belt law requires him to first see another infraction before issuing a seat belt citation.

"Then again, there is the legal issue of whether the person on the car is a pedestrian or a passenger. From a legal standpoint I might not be correct in stopping the vehicle, but from a moral standpoint -- and as a parent -- I would stop the car."

Meanwhile, Shanna Mack, assistant principal at Shadow Ridge, said counselors have been attending each of Edison's classes to provide extra support to students, who have been signing a scroll in the school library and tying ribbons on a wreath. Both items will be presented to Edison's family, Mack said.

"Adasha was a wonderful young lady -- a breath of fresh air," Mack said. "You wished you had a classroom full of students like Adasha, if not an entire school."

Since Edison's death school officials have already talked to students about the importance of safety around cars but will likely hold a series of more formal presentations, Mack said.

"We want to keep all our students safe -- we want them to go out and become productive members of society," Mack said.

Car surfing, the act of riding on a part of a vehicle or being pulled by a vehicle while riding a skateboard or roller skates, became popular with teenagers in the mid-1980s after such scenes were depicted in the films "Footloose" (1984) and "Teen Wolf" (1985).

Following a rash of such accidents, the activity quieted for a while, but scenes depicting such stunts have resurfaced in shows such as "Jackass" and, a week ago, in the hit TV series "CSI."

"You also have extreme sports and shows such as 'Real TV' that show these kind of silly and dangerous stunts," Redfairn said. "The difference between the TV shows and movies and real life is that in real life the victims usually don't get up and walk away."

Thursday's incident was caught on school security videotape and showed Edison standing on the roof while a boy got on the hood of the car, Redfairn said, noting there were several other incidents of car surfing around the school that night that were not reported to police but that he learned of in the course of his investigation.

"They rode on the vehicle at an accelerating speed. When the car made a right turn and the girl fell off and landed on her head," Redfairn said, noting that a 16-year-old girl was driving the vehicle. Her name was not released because she is a juvenile and has not been charged with a crime.

Erin Breen, director of Safe Community Partnership at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, which addresses road laws and safety measures, said there should not be a need for a specific law because "it is common sense not to stand on the hood of a moving car. You would think, 'Why in the world would you need such a law?"'

However, she said, because there has been an average of a death a year over the past several years in Southern Nevada, "Car surfing is something we are going to address, certainly with an education program in middle and high schools. And we will pursue a bill."

Darnell Couthen, spokesman for Clark County School District Police, said he did not have an exact count this morning on instances of car surfing in the district.

"It's something our officers have encountered, I'd call it a troubling and dangerous fad," Couthen said. "Maybe this tragedy will remind students they may have a license and can get behind the wheel, but cars are not toys."

Despite there being no law specifically on the books outlawing car surfing, Redfairn said he intends to wrap up his investigation in 30 to 60 days and hand the case over to the Clark County District Attorney to determine whether charges can be filed.

Billie Rayford, assistant superintendent of the district's northwest region, said school authorities are investigating whether the driver of the vehicle should face punishment such as suspension. The district's crisis team has been at Shadow Ridge this week helping students to deal with their grief, Rayford said.

It's too early to say whether the driver of the car -- a female friend of Edison's who has not been identified -- will face school sanctions, Mack said.

"Right now our energies are focused on providing support to (the driver's) family and Adasha's family and helping our students through this terrible time," Mack said.

A 1999 study warned of the dangers of car surfing in the United States.

"Car-surfing is an emerging cause of extreme injury that frequently results in death," Dr. Timothy Peterson, then-medical director of the Iowa Department of Public Health Bureau of Emergency Medical Services, wrote in his study, "Car Surfing: An Emerging Cause of Extreme Injury."

His report was based on a study of five such incidents in Iowa in 1996 and 1997, all of which involved head injuries and three of which were fatalities.

"Public awareness about car surfing injury needs to be raised for all groups, especially for parents and adolescent risk-takers," Peterson wrote.

"A nationwide effort at injury control is urgently needed and must involve research and both primary education and enforcement ... to reduce the occurrence of car surfing and related injuries."

In one of the cases Peterson used in his study, a 15-year old boy pretended to be a hood ornament on a moving car and fell, fracturing his skull. He died in a hospital emergency room.

Another case was a 20-year-old woman who fell off a moving car, striking her head. She died four days later at a hospital.