Daughter of Washington man who drove into Nevada casino surprised to hear of deadly crash

By Ken Ritter, AP
Thursday, February 4, 2010

Driver’s daughter surprised to hear of Nev. crash

LAS VEGAS — A daughter of a 70-year-old Washington state man said Thursday she was stunned to hear her father was behind the wheel of a speeding vehicle that crashed into a southern Nevada casino, killing two people and injuring at least eight.

“I’m deeply saddened to hear people were injured and people lost their lives,” Laura White, of Portland, Ore., told The Associated Press. “He will be devastated by this.”

Police said Walter McGie, of Kelso, Wash., received minor injuries and that six women and one man from states including Arkansas, Arizona, California, Illinois and Minnesota were treated at area hospitals after the Wednesday morning crash at the Edgewater Hotel & Casino in Laughlin.

The Clark County coroner’s office said one of two victims killed in the crash was 81-year-old Helen E. Hindmand of Lincoln, Neb. The office declined to identify the other woman who died because her next of kin had not been notified.

Spokeswoman Danita Cohen of University Medical Center in Las Vegas said an 80-year-old woman and a 70-year-old woman were in serious condition there.

White called herself the spokeswoman for a complicated and large family. She declined to provide other names.

She characterized her father as single, friendly and outgoing — a Navy veteran divorced from her mother in the 1970s. He worked for many years as a Pacific Gas and Electric Co. electrical engineer, makes friends easily and splits time in retirement between Washington state and Laughlin, she said.

White said she knew of no medical condition that might have affected her father’s ability to drive.

Las Vegas police say McGie told investigators he fainted before his 2007 Pontiac Vibe crashed through the front entrance and hit at least nine people before plowing into a bank of slot machines. Las Vegas police cover the Colorado River resort town about 100 miles south of Las Vegas.

Police questioned McGie for several hours before arresting him late Wednesday on two charges of reckless driving causing death. Each charge carries a possible sentence of probation or one to six years in state prison.

McGie was freed late Wednesday on $6,000 bail from the local police lockup in Laughlin and scheduled for arraignment March 11 in Laughlin Justice Court.

Police Detective William Redfairn said Thursday that police have not ruled out any possible causes of the crash, including a mechanical malfunction of the vehicle. A certified mechanic had not yet begun looking at the car, he said.

“Everyone wants answers,” Redfairn said. “We have to be careful. Things we find out here could have far-reaching consequences with the recalls of Toyotas and Pontiac Vibes.”

The Vibe is a joint venture between Toyota and General Motors Co. Last month, 2009 and 2010 Vibe models were recalled because of a risk of a floor mat trapping the gas pedal, causing unintended acceleration.

However, the 2007 model involved in the crash was not part of that recall, or two Toyota recalls that recently affected millions of cars in the United States because of a risk of unintended acceleration.

General Motors spokesman Tom Wilkinson said Wednesday the Vibe underwent significant design changes between the 2008 and 2009 model years. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration did not list any defects or recalls for the 2007 Vibe in its database.

“We may find out something here that helps them solve the problem they’re having with sudden acceleration,” Redfairn said. “But until we look at everything, we won’t actually know what caused this crash.”

Police don’t believe McGie was under the influence of alcohol or drugs, but investigators had a medical facility draw blood from him for testing, Redfairn said.

McGie told Redfairn he was coming from a business in the area, and he remembered driving on a road that leads toward the entrance of the 26-story Edgewater on the Colorado River. Redfairn did not name the business. He said McGie told him he didn’t remember passing a red light, speeding down a 150-foot horseshoe-shaped driveway and hitting curbs before plowing through the front doors.

“Part of the investigation is looking at his medical history,” Redfairn said.

There were no skid marks or evidence that McGie applied the brakes before plowing into the casino, Redfairn said. Witnesses said the vehicle ended up amid a jumble of tipped-over slot machines and injured people about 35 feet inside, between the hotel registration desk and a casino cashier cage.

Redfairn said casino security videotapes have been impounded and won’t be released at least until the investigation is complete. Police Officer Barbara Morgan said Thursday the video evidence won’t be released to the public until trial.

Most of the injured were taken to Western Arizona Regional Medical Center in Bullhead City, Ariz., where hospital spokeswoman Sarah Morga said one woman remained hospitalized Thursday in good condition. Three others were treated and released Wednesday.

Redfairn said he believed several other people were treated at the scene for minor injuries.


Associated Press Writer Oskar Garcia in Las Vegas contributed to this report.

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