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First coroner’s inquest since rule changes set for May

Updated Friday, March 9, 2012 | 4:26 p.m.

The first Clark County coroner’s inquest since the County Commission revised the process in 2010 has been scheduled for early May.

Las Vegas Justice Court Chief Judge Karen Bennett-Haron will preside over the inquest into the death of Eduardo Lopez-Hernandez, who died Aug. 25, 2010, after Nevada Highway Patrol troopers used a Taser to subdue him during an altercation, county officials said.

Authorities said Lopez-Hernandez was driving erratically on U.S. 95 and collided with at least one car before exiting the vehicle and acting violently toward other motorists and combative with troopers.

After he was controlled, authorities said, Lopez-Hernandez wasn’t breathing and officers began performing life-saving measures, but he died at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.

The inquest, a fact-finding process to investigate deaths at the hands of law enforcement, will be Clark County's first since October 2010.

Since then, the commission adopted the use of an ombudsman to represent the decedent’s family and the public, the exchange of key evidence and investigative files, and the restructuring of meetings leading up to the inquest hearing.

But legal challenges by police officers halted all inquests last year, officials said. Clark County Coroner Michael Murphy said there were 18 cases pending inquest review.

Murphy said two different cases had been holding up inquests. The legal battle in state court brought up in the Lopez-Hernandez case, however, has been settled and Murphy has been given the go ahead to move forward with the inquest.

The other challenge, concerning the deceased Benjamin Bowman, is still pending in federal court, Murphy said, but will not preclude the Lopez-Hernandez inquest.

The seven-member inquest panel no longer determines whether the actions of law enforcement were justified, excusable or criminal. Instead the inquest panel will be responsible for answering a set of questions suggested by the respective interested parties and approved by the judge, said Dan Kulin, Clark County spokesman.

The inquest into the death of Lopez-Hernandez is scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. May 3 and 4 at the Regional Justice Center.

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