Friday, Dec. 15, 2017 | 2 a.m.
For more than 10 hours after three pedestrians were killed in a Wednesday crash, traffic had stalled but signals at the typically highly transited intersection continued to alternate from green to yellow to red.
Vehicle debris filled the Flamingo Road and Eastern Avenue intersection as investigators combed through the damage they say was caused by a man suspected of driving impaired and recklessly about 3 p.m.
As the air chilled and the afternoon light gave way to dusk, noise at the taped-off scene was scant, originating from the hushed talk of officers, coroner’s office personnel and curious bystanders observing the dreadful aftermath of the 12-vehicle wreck that also critically injured a female driver. A police drone buzzed above.
Tragedies like Wednesday’s are frustrating because “they’re so preventable,” Metro Police spokesman Officer Jay Rivera said. “These deaths did not need to occur. A very, very poor choice on the part of an irresponsible person can have a dramatic effect.”
As of Thursday, the fatal victims — Las Vegas residents, ages 19, 49, 69 — hadn’t been publicly identified by the Clark County coroner’s office. The driver suspected of causing the crash, Daniel Becker, 31, was booked on various counts of DUI and reckless driving, police said. He’d suffered minor injuries.
An arrest report detailing his arrest and the investigation hadn’t been released Thursday, but police said he was headed south on Eastern when he rammed his green SUV against a car, then fled and hit another vehicle near Flamingo, crossing the median and striking the pedestrians, who were within a crosswalk at the intersection.
His Ford Expedition continued south and hit another three vehicles, police said.
“I don’t want to stay here,” said Cynthia Robinson, hours after the incident. She said she was sitting at a red light when the truck in front of her was struck by the suspect’s vehicle, causing substantial damage to the front of her car. The soft-spoken 63-year-old held her chest and hand as she spoke to reporters.
Robinson said that before she was jolted by her seatbelt, she’d only heard a “big explosion” and the chain reaction of metal hitting metal.
Wednesday’s crash, which Officer Rivera described as “one of the worst accidents we’ve ever had,” came at the heels of a Sept. 30 crash in which a 28-year-old driver jumped a sidewalk near Desert Inn Road and Ocean Crest Street and mowed down four teenage boys, killing three of them.
Joseph Eskandarian, who fled, earlier this month pleaded guilty to three felony counts of duty to stop at the scene of a crash involving death, court records show. He’s scheduled to be sentenced on Jan. 22.
A song from the band Chicago still brings Officer Rivera back to a late-1990s day when a drunken man driving back from the lake broadsided a woman’s vehicle, instantly killing her, he said.
Rivera, then a patrol officer, was one of the first to arrive at the scene. He remembers the engine being off, dust from the air bag in the air, but the song from the rock band still playing on the radio.
Sometime later, the woman’s husband pulled up to the scene because his wife hadn’t made it home and the car on Lamb and Lake Mead boulevards looked like hers.
That is being the ultimate bearer of bad news, Rivera said. Although officers typically don’t identify victims to their loved ones, being bilingual, he’s found himself in situations helping translate for the coroner’s office.
The anxious and concerned faces from family members being informed transform into a blank look, Rivera said. “It’s one of the hardest things that I’ve had to do … it’s very powerful words that you delivered to them.”
Everyone is susceptible to being involved in a tragic accident. “I don’t know how much more we can say,” Rivera said about impaired and distracted driving.
Drunken driving will lead to an arrest, while impaired and distracted driving can lead to injury or death, he said.
But people tend to agree but think they’re the “exception to these rules,” when in reality no one is, Rivera said.
On the day-to-day, “we take our vehicles for granted,” forgetting that they’re heavy machines that are often confused with being fortresses. But a sudden change in acceleration, steering, or even a tire blowout and a slick road can have drastic consequences, Rivera said.