A driver who police say sped through a red light before crashing his sports car into a minivan, killing himself, his passenger and seven members of a North Las Vegas family, had a history of speeding and prior criminal convictions for drug and battery offenses, authorities said Monday.
A National Transportation Safety Board member, Thomas Chapman, told reporters that federal crash investigators will conduct what he called a “parallel” investigation to one being conducted by North Las Vegas police, looking for “broader safety issues of national significance.”
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“Our mission is to understand not just what happened, but why it happened,” Chapman said, “and to recommend changes to prevent it from happening again.”
North Las Vegas police Officer Alexander Cuevas confirmed the driver who caused the crash, Gary Dean Robinson, 59, of North Las Vegas, had a prior history of traffic and criminal offenses.
Robinson pleaded guilty just nine days before Saturday’s deadly crash to speeding in Las Vegas in December and was fined $150, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported, citing court documents.
Robinson also was ticketed for speeding by Las Vegas police last August; by North Las Vegas police three times between November 2020 and February 2021; and by Henderson police once in 2017, the Review-Journal found.
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Robinson had a state prison record after pleading guilty in 2004 to felony cocaine possession and violating terms of his probation, and he had a 2009 misdemeanor conviction for battery on a courtroom bailiff, court records showed.
A man who identified himself as Robinson’s son, Gary Robinson Jr., declined to comment during a telephone call Monday from The Associated Press.
On Saturday, according to police, Robinson’s maroon Dodge Challenger raced at more than 100 mph (161 kph) through a red traffic signal at a busy crossroad, slamming into a Toyota Sienna minivan containing seven family members and triggering chain-reaction crashes involving three other vehicles including a Ford Fusion in which a 31-year-old woman was critically injured.
In all, 15 people were involved in the wrecks, Cuevas said.
It could take up to four weeks for investigators to learn from blood toxicology tests if Robinson was impaired by drugs or alcohol at the time of the mid-afternoon crash, said Dan Kulin, spokesman for Clark County Coroner Melanie Rouse.
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Killed in the minivan were the driver, Jose Zacarias-Caldera, 35; and passengers David Mejia-Barrera, 25; Gabriel Mejia-Barrera, 23; Bryan Axel Zacarias, 15; Lluvia Daylenn Zacarias, 13; Adrian Zacarias, 10; and Fernando Yeshua Mejia, 5. They lived in North Las Vegas, Rouse reported.
“It was all one family,” said North Las Vegas City Councilman Isaac Barron, a high school teacher who said his students grew up with Bryan Zacarias and characterized him as a popular and funny classmate.
Barron said plans were being made for a community memorial at a time to be announced.
“It’s a difficult time now,” said Councilwoman Pamela Goynes-Brown, who said she knew members of the Zacarias family. “Just keep everyone in your thoughts and prayers.”
Rouse on Monday identified the passenger who died in Robinson’s wrecked car as Tanaga Ravel Miller, 46, of North Las Vegas.
An online GoFundMe fundraiser launched in Spanish by Erlinda Zacarias identified the people killed in the minivan as her family and said she had no words to describe the pain and suffering she and her husband were bearing. The account showed some 4,000 donors contributed more than $175,000 as of Monday afternoon.
Chapman said the safety board may focus on what he called “a comprehensive strategy to eliminate speed-related crashes.”
“Tragedies such as this compel us to evaluate the potential for improving safety by incorporating speed-limiting technology in all vehicles,” the safety board member told reporters, including high-performance sports cars.