Tuesday, May 4, 2004 | 11:30 a.m.
A small brown "Simba" sandal belonging to a 4-year-old boy who was killed in a suspected drunken driver accident Monday remained this morning at the bus stop where the boy died, surrounded by religious candles, flowers and bits of broken glass.
An angel figurine had also been placed there to memorialize Angel Avendano, who was sitting on his mother's lap when a truck plowed into the bus stop on Eastern Avenue at Cedar Street, near Bonanza Road.
Angel Avendano was pronounced dead at the scene.
Metro Police arrested 32-year-old Nicolas Serrano-Villagrana and booked him into the Clark County Detention Center on felony charges of drunken driving with death resulting and several related offenses.
Metro Police said an 18-pack of Bud Light had been thrown out of the pickup truck and Serrano Villagrana was trying to blend into a crowd of bystanders after the crash. Witnesses pointed him out to police and said he had been the driver.
"He denied being the driver, but officers saw blood on his arm and took him into custody," Sgt. Frank Weigand of the Metro Police fatal crash investigation section said.
Serrano-Villagrana's blood alcohol level was tested but the results weren't available this morning, police said.
The crash occurred about 11:20 a.m. on Eastern Avenue just past Cedar Street.
The 1983 Chevrolet pickup truck was northbound on Eastern, drifted to the right, jumped the curb and crashed into the Citizen Area Transit bus stop where 32-year-old Eulogia Avendano of Las Vegas was sitting with her son Angel on her lap, police said.
The truck dragged the bus stop shelter about 30 feet, Weigand said.
Angel Avendano was probably killed instantly, Weigand said. His mother suffered moderate injuries to her legs.
Nijaila Altitijka Graves, 21, of Las Vegas, also had been waiting at the bus stop and suffered moderate injuries when the bus bench hit her, police said. Graves was treated at University Medical Center and released.
A female passenger was in the truck with the driver but she jumped from the truck and ran before police arrived, Weigand said.
Serrano-Villagrana was treated for minor cuts at the scene and then was taken to jail. In addition to felony DUI with death, he was charged with two counts of felony DUI with substantial bodily harm.
It doesn't appear the truck was exceeding the 35 mph speed limit, Weigand said. He may have nodded off or was so intoxicated that he drifted off the road, Weigand said.
The mangled metal of the bus stop hadn't yet been removed this morning. A few bunches of flowers in glass vases and plastic drink cups had been placed within the wreckage, along with about a dozen votive candles that flickered in the sunlight.
The "Simba" sandal with a tiger face and yellow paw prints served as a poignant reminder of the crash that took the life of a little boy.
Weigand, who said he has a 4-year-old granddaughter, found this crash to be more difficult than most.
"It brings it home when you see this lifeless little body," he said. "It's sad when anyone gets killed in a crash but it's such a waste when a 4-year-old's life is snuffed out by a drunk driver."
Norma Flores was standing on Eastern Avenue across the street from the scene holding the hand of her 2-year-old daughter, Samantha, about an hour after crash occurred.
When told about the crash her eyes filled with tears and she covered her mouth.
"It's terrible. It could have been us, too," Flores said. "You're waiting for a bus. You don't expect that."
Flores, who lives a short distance away at Eastern Avenue and Bonanza Road, said she came outside to meet her sister, who had planned to be walking down Eastern and passing by where the crash occurred.
"I wanted to make sure it wasn't her," she said. "She doesn't even like to walk down the sidewalk because it's not safe."
The most recent previous fatal crash involving a car striking a bus stop was Dec. 25. A man waiting for a bus was killed and a driver was arrested for drunken driving after the crash on Flamingo Road and Valley View Boulevard.
Capt. Vincent Cannito, head of Metro's transportation safety bureau, said the department and the Nevada Highway Patrol are introducing an aggressive, valleywide traffic enforcement initiative in June that he said seeks to prevent crashes such as this.
"It's difficult to predict without a crystal ball where the next fatal crash will be," Cannito said, especially accidents involving alcohol.
But police have examined crash patterns, driving habits and road configurations and are set to begin cracking down on the most crash-causing violations.
They include following too closely, speeding, reckless driving and failure to obey traffic control devices.
Metro will be shifting personnel to put more traffic officers on the streets during peak commuting hours in the morning and late afternoon, Cannito said.
To date there have been 42 people killed in crashes this year. In 2003 there were 126 fatal crashes. By comparison, 141 criminal homicides occurred last year.
The majority of homicide victims engaged in high-risk lifestyles, Cannito said.
"But with these crashes we're seeing people who don't have risky lifestyles getting killed," he said. "This baby sitting on his mother's lap was not doing anything wrong."