Published Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 | 8:45 p.m.
Updated Thursday, Sept. 13, 2012 | 10:10 p.m.
The day was normal until suddenly it was not.
Johnni Garner, 49, woke up and left for work. She walked a block south to a bus stop on Spring Mountain Road near Decatur Boulevard.
Then she waited, just like any other Thursday, for the public bus to shuttle her to Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where she worked as a certified nursing assistant.
“She works Monday through Thursday,” her daughter, 23-year-old Nichelle Garner, said. “Today was her last day (of the week).”
But under the emerging blue sky, a black Chevrolet Monte Carlo was on a path that would forever change and end lives. Metro Police say a suspected drunken driver lost control while heading east on Spring Mountain and plowed into the bus stop.
That was at 6:25 a.m., one minute before the scheduled arrival of Bus 203.
First-responders arrived to a sea of carnage. The news spread: Fatal accident at Spring Mountain and Decatur. Four dead, eight injured.
And, for some families, that’s when the panic set in.
“I checked her phone (GPS), and it says her phone is at the bus stop,” Nichelle Garner said Thursday afternoon.
Her mother never showed up for work. She never called her family, and she wasn’t answering her cellphone. Her loved ones sprang to action.
Nichelle Garner and two friends, Chris Lozano and Sarah Leal, called University Medical Center and Sunrise Hospital for victim information. No word. They called again later. Still no word.
By 11 a.m., the trio gathered outside a Terrible Herbst a few hundred feet west of the accident site, where bright white sheets covered the four victims’ bodies.
Minutes passed, then hours.
Soon 3 p.m. arrived, and they sat inside Terrible Herbst fidgeting their legs, anxiously checking their phones and wiping away tears.
They’re the often-unnamed tragedy victims, the loved ones of a person feared dead in an accident who wince when the phone rings: Will it be good news or bad?
A phone rang at 3:15 p.m. It was a Metro detective.
“Is there any information you can give me about the victims?” Lozano asked. Nichelle Garner and Leal sat in silence, exchanging nervous glances.
Lozano paced, uttering “OK” or “uh-huh” before thanking the detective and hanging up.
“He said as soon as they know, we’ll know,” he told Nichelle Garner and Leal.
Fifteen minutes came and went. More loved ones entered Terrible Herbst. A son and two of his mother’s co-workers were there to see if she was among the dead.
Like Johnni Garner, the woman never showed up for her housekeeping job at Treasure Island.
“The not knowing is the worst,” said Belinda Hall, who did not want to identify her co-worker at Treasure Island. “When you know, the healing can begin.”
More than nine hours after the crash, the equally anticipated and dreaded moment arrived. Clark County’s assistant coroner, John Fudenberg, entered Terrible Herbst and gently asked Nichelle Garner and her friends to follow him.
He led them toward a Carl’s Jr. next to the demolished bus stop.
And that’s where authorities confirmed the worst-case scenario that had tied loved ones’ stomachs in knots and reduced them to tears all day.
“(Johnni) was one of the four at the scene,” said Leal, who choked back tears when reached by phone later. “She was a sweet person — always doing everything for others.”
As of 10 p.m. Thursday, authorities had identified the three pedestrians, all Las Vegans, who were injured in the accident, but are withholding the names of those who died until their families have been notified.
Zakiya Corner, 29, was taken to Sunrise Hospital in critical condition, while Zexiang Wang was taken to University Medical Center in critical condition. Billy Joel Ramirez-Fuentes, 31, is in Sunrise with minor injuries.