Tuesday, Nov. 1, 2011 | 7:10 p.m.
The Summerlin neighborhood off Sahara Avenue boasted carved pumpkins, fake spider webs and sporadic Halloween lights — a spooky yet inviting scene fit for the costumed youngsters traipsing door to door to collect candy.
The stream of trick-or-treaters remained steady until just after 8 p.m. Monday, neighborhood resident Richard Walker said. That’s when Walker and other neighbors heard screams and shouting.
“We just assumed (kids) were having fun or playing in the park,” he said.
But it wasn't fun or play. Instead, a crime scene was unfolding.
Metro Police say a driver, a man suspected of being impaired with alcohol and/or drugs, had just struck 12-year-old Faith Monet Love. It happened at 8:22 p.m. on Sandstone Bluffs Drive, a 25-mph road serving as an artery to neighborhoods in the master-planned community.
Faith, a seventh-grader at Rogich Middle School, had been trick-or-treating, according to police. She died after being transported to University Medical Center.
Police arrested the driver, 41-year-old Justin Caramanica, early Tuesday morning on a count of driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs resulting in substantial bodily harm. Metro spokesman Bill Cassell said police charged Caramanica with the drug- and alcohol-related DUI charge because they were testing for both substances.
Caramanica was booked into the Clark County Detention Center, where he remains without bail. He received two speeding citations in 2009 but does not have a criminal record, according to court records.
Police say their investigation shows that Caramanica, who was driving a 2009 Mazda RX-8, hit the girl as he was driving south on Sandstone Bluffs Drive approaching Wesley Lake Place, and she was attempting to walk westbound across the street.
By Tuesday afternoon, a makeshift memorial of flowers, a handwritten note and a giant stuffed rabbit decorated the landscaping at Sandstone Bluffs Drive and Wesley Lake Place. In the street, spray paint outlined the fatal accident scene, and yellow crime-scene tape tied to a tree flapped in the wind.
After adding a bouquet of flowers to the memorial, Walker stared at passing cars tailgating one another and shook his head in disbelief.
“It’s just crazy someone would be doing that — on Halloween of all nights,” he said.
Speeding motorists on Sandstone Bluffs Drive have been a concern for residents in the family-friendly neighborhood, Walker said.
Homeowner Lawrence Slatinsky echoed Walker’s agitation, noting that the intersection is also a school bus stop.
The traffic “is not too heavy, but they really speed through here,” Slatinsky said. “It’s only 25 mph, but they’re at least doing 40 to 50.”
Walker moved here four months ago from Australia and plans to bring his family, including a 3-year-old son, here soon. Tragedies like this, he says, make him extra nervous as a father.
“If a cop wants to come sit up here with radar, I’ll bring him a cup of coffee,” Walker said, adding that speed bumps might slow drivers.
Police said people might think they can drive faster on streets that seem wider than normal. Sandstone Bluffs Drive is a two-lane road that includes a center-turn lane.
“This is just a tragedy that points out the necessity of people obeying speed limits,” Cassell said.
It’s unclear how fast Caramanica was driving, but a neighbor who saw the accident scene said his car was heavily damaged.
Police said traffic planners determine speed limits based on a variety of factors, including the layout of the road and the amount of expected vehicle, bike and pedestrian traffic.
Roads similar to Sandstone Bluffs Drive with 25-mph speed limits “are usually a little bit windy and sometimes a little bit difficult to see a great distance down the road, so it’s necessary to slow down,” Cassell said.
Faith Love’s death comes after two high-profile fatal accidents involving juveniles — thrusting pedestrian safety into the Las Vegas spotlight.
A 6-year-old girl died after she and two other children were hit while crossing a North Las Vegas street Oct. 21.
Then Saturday, a 15-year-old boy was hit and killed by a driver in Henderson who was allegedly drunk.
Erin Breen, director of UNLV’s Safe Community Partnership, who has closely watched auto accidents, said Love’s death is the first serious incident she remembered involving a trick-or-treater. Some children have been bumped by cars on Halloween, but Breen said she didn't think there had been a serious injury — and definitely not a death — of a child in costume on an Oct. 31 in more than 15 years.
Breen said the accidents were proof that, despite repeated reminders to watch out for pedestrians and to not drive while impaired by drugs or alcohol, people still haven’t gotten the message.
A report this year said Las Vegas is the sixth most dangerous metropolitan area in the nation for pedestrians.
Even so, Breen said, the three fatal accidents are especially surprising because Henderson and Summerlin have typically been the safest parts of the valley for pedestrians. Also, North Las Vegas has recently taken major steps to make its community better for walkers, she said.
The last two accidents, however, involved motorists suspected of driving under the influence.
“When you add alcohol into the equation, all bets are off,” Breen said.
Las Vegas, and Nevada in general, has been improving in all areas of traffic safety, with the number of fatal crashes falling significantly in recent years.
Traffic deaths have fallen across the state so far this year too, except in one category: DUI.
“It looks great, and then you get to the alcohol numbers and there’s a big red flag,” Breen said.
Accidents involving drugs or alcohol take longer to work through the reporting system because blood tests take weeks to complete. But Breen said the most recent data show Clark County has had two more DUI-related deaths this year than in all of last year. That doesn’t count these two accidents or the last three months of the year.
By Dec. 31, the total number of DUI-related deaths is “going to be up significantly,” she predicted.
At Rogich Middle School, grief counselors and psychiatrists from the district’s crisis response team spent Tuesday helping students and staff cope with Faith Love’s sudden death.
“When there’s an abrupt death, that makes it much more difficult than one we know is coming,” said Rosemary Virtuoso, of the district’s department of threat evaluation and crisis response. Virtuoso said the team plans to spend Wednesday at the school.
Some students spent time at school writing sympathy cards for Faith’s family. Taking in the news of the tragedy was difficult for others.
Samantha Harden, a seventh-grader, said she kept expecting to see her friend sitting in their math and reading classes.
“My friend told me, and I kept calling her a liar,” Samantha said.
Kyle Louton, 12, said he cried a lot upon hearing the news about Faith, whom he considered a close friend.
“She was nice, she was funny, she was generous and she always made people smile,” Kyle said.
Meanwhile, closer to the accident scene, Faith Lutheran High School’s safety officer, Randy Muller, set up the usual traffic cones for dismissal along Sandstone Bluffs Drive.
As a private school, most students have rides. But about a dozen students walk to and from school in the neighborhood, Muller said.
Faith’s death has people talking about safety, he acknowledged, but he worries whether it will have a lasting effect on the street known for people speeding — whether intentionally or not.
“People will remember it the next couple days and be careful,” he said, “but after that, it’s the nature of the beast: They’ll forget and go on with life.”
Reporters Gregan Wingert and Kyle Hansen contributed to this story.