Las Vegas Sun

September 15, 2014

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Misdemeanor charges filed in bus stop deaths

The Las Vegas city attorney's office has filed criminal misdemeanor charges against a woman who drove through a bus stop, killing four people, despite Clark County District Attorney David Roger and Metro Police's controversial decision not to pursue criminal charges against the driver.

The city filed the complaints against Veronica Schmidt in Las Vegas Municipal Court on Aug. 31, almost six months after the fatal crash. The city can only bring misdemeanor and not felony charges.

The misdemeanor complaints are reckless driving, driving under the influence, speeding, failure to maintain a travel lane, furnishing false information to a police officer and criminal contempt of court.

A misdemeanor can bring up to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Information in the court papers "creates ample probable cause" that warranted the criminal charges, wrote Benard Little, assistant city attorney in charge of the criminal division.

However, Roger said Wednesday night that Metro Police investigators determined that Schmidt had a "therapeutic" level of the anti-depressant Xanax in her blood at the time of the crash.

The city's medical expert, however, found that the level of Xanax in Schmidt's bloodstream was far above a therapeutic level.

Roger has stuck to his stance that there is not enough evidence to prosecute Schmidt.

"We determined that we could not prove the case beyond a reasonable doubt," Roger repeated on Wednesday.

He said his office suggested that Metro Police take the case to the state attorney general's office and that office agreed with the conclusion of the district attorney.

"It's going to be a battle of the experts in Municipal Court," Roger said.

On Wednesday night, family members of the victims applauded the city attorney's efforts and expressed outrage Wednesday night over the refusal of the district attorney and Metro to file charges in the March 14 crash in which Schmidt's Ford Explorer swerved off the street and smashed through a bus stop.

Three teenage friends and a woman waiting for the bus died.

Michelle Williams Price, whose 16-year-old son, Reggie Williams, was killed, said she was upset that Roger and Metro had not pursued a stronger case against Schmidt.

Price, who has filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Schmidt, said that she never gave up hope that justice would be done.

"I was ready to beat the streets of Las Vegas," Price said in a parking lot press conference in Lorenzi Park on Washington Avenue near Rancho Drive.

Price described how she ran to the intersection of Smoke Ranch Road and Rock Springs Drive after the crash, but did not know her son had been struck.

"I fell to my knees when the coroner came to the door," Price said, tears streaming down her cheeks. "That was our baby laying in the road."

Clara Guardado, who lost two teenage daughters, 14-year-old Angelica Jimenez and 16-year-old Raquel Jimenez, in the crash, did not attend the media conference.

Tomeko Mack, sister of 36-year-old Samantha Allen, said she waited at work for Allen, a cashier at a Family Dollar store, to arrive.

"I waited, and they said she never came to work," Mack said.

After her shift, Mack returned home and discovered her mother crying and learned of her older sister's death.

Mack said the maximum punishment available from the municipal court case is inadequate.

"Two years in jail is not enough jail time," Mack said. "She should suffer life in jail."

Allen's mother, Vergus Bailey, said the news of the city attorney's actions offered "a little bit of relief to know someone was trying to do something."

"Let her suffer a little bit and realize what she did," Bailey said. "Nobody is supposed to get off like that."

Little said he could not comment on the city's charges.

"The documents speak for themselves," he said.

According to those documents, an independent drug expert hired by Metro said that while Schmidt said she had taken half a tablet of Xanax the night before the crash, she would have had to take five tablets of the drug to account for the amount of the drug in her bloodstream on the day of the collision.

Schmidt had had a knee operation in January and complained of anxiety to physician's assistant Levi Bachler, who prescribed the anti-depressant Xanax on March 8, court documents said.

Police reports and medical records said Schmidt admitted to two police officers and at least two nurses that she "fell asleep" behind the wheel before the crash, the documents said.

Medical staff who had been treating her said they advised her to take half a Xanax tablet and that a full tablet "might be too strong to start out with," although no one told her specifically not to drive, court records said.

Her prescription bottle, however, did include the standard warning about being wary of driving or operating heavy machinery while taking the drug.

One Metro officer noted that Schmidt appeared to fall asleep two or three times on the way to get her blood drawn. She delayed seeking treatment for a fractured elbow with a cut on it until after 5 p.m. the day of the crash, the report notes.

Medical records noted she appeared "very sleepy" at 5:30 p.m. when treated for her injuries.

Schmidt also allegedly told officers that she had not taken any Xanax before driving, but had taken hydrocodone-acetaminophen, a pain reliever, despite having been told to discontinue taking the prescription with Xanax.

The report notes that her husband, Scott Schmidt, asked her if she was able to drive after she dropped him off at work. She had been ordered by Municipal Judge Toy R. Gregory to have no contact with her husband during a suspended sentence on an unrelated domestic violence complaint that had been filed against her.

She is charged with contempt of court for disobeying that order.

After the crash into the bus stop, two Metro officers noted that Schmidt's speech was slurred, and she appeared confused, her gaze unsteady, her eyes bloodshot, watery and droopy.

Still, other drivers who have caused fatal collisions have gotten off with only traffic citations in the past, Roger said.

The Legislature aimed to change that in the last session. Beginning Oct. 1 any motorist who causes a fatal collision may be charged with vehicular manslaughter.

The Legislature passed the law earlier this year in part because Schmidt had not been prosecuted.

The vehicular manslaughter charge carries a sentence of up to six months in jail and $1,000 fine.

For Vergus Bailey the news of charges against Schmidt might help her during this otherwise traumatic week. In addition to her daughter's death, Bailey said, most of her family lived in New Orleans and had escaped Hurricane Katrina's wrath. But a 70-year-old uncle, L. Doris Lacy, was still missing Wednesday night, Bailey said.

The rest of the family were in shelters, she said.

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