Suspect in Vegas crash sought to find estranged partner, recently changed her name, police say

This photo provided by the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department shows Lakeisha N. Holloway, who police said smashed into crowds of pedestrians on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, killing one person and injuring dozens. (Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department via AP)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A homeless woman who slammed a car carrying her 3-year-old daughter into a crowd of pedestrians on the Las Vegas Strip was believed to be on a trip to find the girl’s estranged father, authorities said Monday.

Based on video, police believe Lakeisha N. Holloway, 24, intentionally mowed down people on a busy stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard, killing one and injuring dozens of others Sunday night. She is on suicide watch at a jail, which raises questions about her mental state, a defense attorney said.

After the crash, she parked at a casino a few blocks off the Strip, told a parking attendant that she ran over people nearby and asked the valet to call 911, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said. Her daughter, who was in the backseat, was not hurt.

The sheriff said Holloway was “very stoic” when police arrived, showed no resistance and spoke coherently about what happened. He declined to elaborate on what she said.

“She didn’t appear to be distressed due to her actions. That’s the best way I can describe it,” Lombardo said.

Authorities declined to comment on a potential motive and said they were struggling to piece together Holloway’s background. She changed her name to Paris Paradise Morton in October, according to Oregon court records.

She resided in Oregon and had been living in Las Vegas for about a week in her 1996 Oldsmobile sedan, which she parked at garages throughout the city, Lombardo said. Investigators said she ran out of money and they believe she was headed to Dallas to find her daughter’s father, with whom she had a falling out.

The crash happened in front of the Paris and Planet Hollywood casino-hotels and across from dancing water fountains of the Bellagio hotel-casino where visitors crowd sidewalks as they walk from one casino to another. The Miss Universe pageant was being held nearby at Planet Hollywood.

People jumped on the car and banged on its windows, but Holloway didn’t stop driving on the sidewalk, Lombardo said. The car was fully on the sidewalk twice, including once when it traveled for 200 feet, police said.

There was no evidence that Holloway had consumed alcohol, but a drug recognition expert at the scene determined that she was under the influence of “some sort of stimulant,” Lombardo said.

Holloway, who was being held without bail, will be charged with murder with a deadly weapon, said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who anticipated “a great number” of additional charges.

“When a person drives a 2,000-pound-plus motor vehicle intentionally onto a sidewalk, killing and injuring scores of people, that’s murder,” Wolfson said.

Holloway is under round-the-clock watch at a jail, Deputy Clark County Public Defender Scott Coffee said. He says he has not seen police reports yet, so it’s too early to say if he will pursue an insanity defense.

But the fact that Holloway is on suicide watch shows jail officials also have concerns about her mental state, Coffee said. Officer Michael Rodriguez calls it “medically restricted housing.”

At least 35 people injured in the crash were taken to hospitals, including three people still in critical condition with head injuries, officials said.

The crash killed Jessica Valenzuela, 32, of Buckeye, Arizona, who was visiting Las Vegas with her husband, according to the Clark County coroner.

Victims were from Oregon, Florida, Colorado, California, Washington, Mexico, and Quebec, Canada. Five were Canadian citizens, and four were Oregon college students in town to compete in a wrestling tournament.

Justin Cochrane of Santa Barbara, California, said the car appeared to be going 30 to 40 mph when it struck the pedestrians.

“It was just massacring people,” said Cochrane, who was having dinner at a sidewalk restaurant outside the Paris hotel.

Cochrane said he couldn’t understand why the driver went into the crowd a second time. He saw children and adults injured on the ground as the car drove away.

“Why would it slow to go around and then accelerate again?” he said. “I thought, ‘It’s a crazy person.'”

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