Published Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 | 11:46 a.m.
Updated Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 | 1:21 p.m.
A 24-year-old woman who’d been living in a car with her 3-year-old daughter in Las Vegas killed one person and injured nearly three dozen others Sunday evening when she steered the vehicle onto a crowded Strip sidewalk at least twice, authorities said.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said this morning that officials were still unclear why the driver, Lakeisha N. Holloway, allegedly plowed into pedestrians on the Strip. Lombardo said that although he did not believe the tragedy was an act of terrorism, that possibility hadn’t been completely ruled out, pending a more extensive review of Holloway’s background.
Speaking at a news conference carried live by CNN, Lombardo described a horrific scene in which pedestrians were struck by the car while others jumped on the vehicle, pounded on the windshield and tried to open the doors in an attempt to subdue Holloway. The Clark County coroner identified the woman who died as Jessica Valenzuela, 32, of Buckeye, Ariz., and officials said 35 pedestrians were injured.
The incident occurred along the northbound lanes of Las Vegas Boulevard South, starting outside Planet Hollywood north of Harmon Avenue and continuing past Paris Las Vegas and Bally’s. More than 100 people were on the sidewalk as the vehicle sped through, Lombardo said.
“This is a tragic event, and hopefully it never happens again in our community,” he said.
Lombardo said Holloway had “some disassociation” with the father of her child, whom authorities believe is living in Dallas. It is possible Holloway was on her way there from Oregon, where the vehicle is registered, by way of Las Vegas.
“We don’t know if that was the (precipitating) event or whether it was planned,” he said.
Holloway told officials she had been in Las Vegas for about a week, Lombardo said, living in her car and parking in various resort garages overnight. The vehicle's registered owner lives in Portland, Ore., but Holloway told authorities she regularly drove it.
Lombardo said Holloway was arrested at the Tuscany Suites and Casino, near Koval Lane and Flamingo Road, shortly after the incident. He said Holloway drove there, approached a parking attendant and told that person she had hit several pedestrians on the Strip. She asked the attendant to contact authorities.
When officers arrived, Lombardo said, Holloway was coherent and “stoic.”
“She didn’t appear to be distressed due to her actions,” he said. “That’s the best way I can describe it.”
Lombardo did not elaborate on statements Holloway made to officers who took her into custody. According to an arrest report, she said she'd been trying to rest inside her vehicle at difference properties earlier in the day but kept being run off by security. She didn't offer any explanation for the crash, but told authorities she was not under the influence and remembered a body bouncing off of her windshield, breaking the glass. Police said she drove about a mile on a flat tire before reaching the Tuscany.
"She did not demonstrate signs of being under the influence of alcohol," he said, but added that an officer trained in drug recognition suspected Holloway may have used a stimulant narcotic. Results of a blood draw have not been completed, Lombardo said.
Holloway was arrested on counts of open murder, child abuse or neglect and duty to stop at the scene of an accident involving death or personal injury. She was being held without bail. Investigators are trying to locate Holloway's relatives and friends to learn more about her background. Lombardo said a criminal database search did not indicate any prior arrests.
Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson said today he was planning to charge Holloway immediately with a count of murder with use of a deadly weapon. He said he was considering also charging her with attempted murder, child abuse and neglect, and leaving the scene of an accident.
“I anticipate a great number of charges to be filed,” he said. "We are going to do everything in our power to see that (Holloway) remains in custody under the law and file charges appropriately and seek a vigorous prosecution."
Holloway’s child, who was found in the backseat of the vehicle, was not injured in the incident and has been taken into protective custody, officials said.
Holloway has an initial court hearing set for Tuesday morning, according to the jail records. Wolfson said it was too early to determine whether prosecutors would seek the death penalty.
The incident prompted authorities to close Las Vegas Boulevard for nearly 12 hours before reopening it by 6 a.m today.
The Clark County Fire Department sent more than 70 emergency responders to the scene, and the crews collaborated with Metro, Las Vegas Fire and Medical, AMR and MedicWest to help the victims. At least 10 ambulances, some carrying multiple victims, shuttled the victims to local hospitals, with most ending up at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center and University Medical Center.
"The efficiency of the response was fantastic," Lombardo said, praising all emergency workers involved.
Clark County Fire Department spokesman Jeff Buchanan said six victims were transported to Sunrise Hospital & Medical Center and University Medical Center in critical condition. At 11:15 p.m., authorities listed those six in stable condition. Victims also were sent to Spring Valley Hospital, according to Metro Police. Four victims were treated and released.
Sunrise spokeswoman Stacy Acquista told The Associated Press that 11 adults were in good condition as of 9 p.m.
Danita Cohen, spokeswoman for UMC, said the hospital took in 15 victims, one of whom died. She told the AP injuries ranged from head injuries to broken bones and lacerations.
Lombardo said other victims were from Quebec, Oregon, Colorado, Florida, Washington, California and Mexico.
Three people, meanwhile, were in critical condition and two in serious condition, Cohen said today. The rest brought in for treatment have been released, including an 11-year-old, she said.
Lombardo said initial reports that suggested gunshots were involved appear to be false. He attributed the sound to the damage being caused by the car as it careened down the sidewalk, striking not only pedestrians but magazine racks and other objects.
The preliminary investigation indicates the driver jumped the curb just south of Paris, striking numerous pedestrians, before continuing north on Las Vegas Boulevard. The vehicle hit pedestrians in two separate locations — just before Paris and then in front of Paris.
Justin Cochrane, visiting from Santa Barbara, Calif., said he saw the vehicle “taking people out” as it hurtled north on the sidewalk outside the French restaurant, Mon Ami Gabi.
“It was just hysteria,” he said. “I’m shaken still.”
Gov. Brian Sandoval issued a statement saying he had spoken with Lombardo and would “remain in contact with him as this incident continues to evolve and additional information is released. The state stands ready to help and will provide any assistance needed to ensure the safety of our visitors and residents.”
The crash occurred as the 2015 Miss Universe pageant was airing live from inside Planet Hollywood.
Police are asking any witnesses who have not given a statement to contact homicide investigators at 702-828-3521.
Antonio Nassar was counting his money as he exited Planet Hollywood when he saw a vehicle drive up onto the sidewalk, striking numerous pedestrians.
The vehicle stopped briefly outside the Paris before accelerating toward Flamingo Road while still on the sidewalk. At one point, a young boy was being dragged by the vehicle, Nassar said.
“It was chaotic,” he said. “I was running down the street saying, ‘Move! Move! Get out of the way!’”
Nassar estimates the closest he got was about 20 feet away from the vehicle. The driver, he said, appeared to intentionally drive over the curb.
Dozens of people were hit as a result.
“It just sounded like watermelons falling on the sidewalk,” said Nassar, a pilot who arrived in Las Vegas earlier Sunday.
In the aftermath, the injured pedestrians were standing or lying along the sidewalk — some with ripped clothes and bloody wounds — as emergency crews began arriving.
Several hours after the incident, Nassar stood along the sidewalk outside Planet Hollywood, hoping to glean more information from the police, who stood next to yellow crime-scene tape at the corner of Las Vegas Boulevard and Harmon.
“It’s the wrong time to have this happen,” he said.
The Associated Press contributed to this story.