Suspect in Las Vegas crash due in court; motive remains a question

LAS VEGAS -- A woman from Oregon accused of intentionally plowing her car with her 3-year-old daughter in the back seat through crowds of pedestrians on a Las Vegas Strip sidewalk faces a judge Wednesday on felony murder, hit-and-run and child abuse charges.

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But one key question is likely to remain unanswered during Lakeisha Nicole Holloway's initial court appearance: What might have driven a 24-year-old former model of accomplishment by at-risk teens to what authorities call a homicidal act that put her child in danger?

One of her public defence attorneys, Joseph Abood, said Holloway plans to plead not guilty. In Nevada, the plea is assumed during an initial court appearance. Holloway won't be asked to answer the charges against her until a preliminary hearing in coming weeks.

"We can all agree this is a shocking and tragic event," Abood said as he expressed sympathy for the families of Jessica Valenzuela and at least 35 people injured in the Sunday evening crash near the Paris Las Vegas resort.

Valenzuela, 32, was from Buckeye, Arizona. Officials said the more than 35 other people who were hurt were from California, Colorado, Florida, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Washington state, Mexico and Quebec, Canada. Three were still in critical condition Tuesday, and five others remained hospitalized.

Abood, who represented another driver after a similar crash at nearly the same place in September 2005, said he and his defence colleague, Scott Coffee, will need to see police reports, witness accounts and video -- and confer with Holloway -- before deciding her defence.

The defence lawyer acknowledged that Holloway's mental health could become an issue, but said she hadn't had a psychological evaluation.

Holloway remains on suicide watch in jail, where she is being held without bail.

Authorities say casino and streetscape video shows the 1996 Oldsmobile running down a sidewalk and hitting tourists -- but avoiding street signs, light poles and other vehicles -- before it swerves back onto Las Vegas Boulevard and then onto the sidewalk again.

The video may not be made public until a preliminary hearing.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who has said he expects "a great number" of charges will be filed as the investigation continues, said Tuesday that Holloway could face more than 30 charges of attempted murder with use of a deadly weapon.

"I've personally seen the videos from a variety of angles, and I'm appalled at the callousness of this defendant's conduct and what appears to be an intentional act," Wolfson said.

The felony child abuse and neglect charge accuses Holloway of endangering her daughter her in the vehicle. The child wasn't hurt in the crash and was placed in the custody of a county child protective services agency.

In Oregon, where she changed her name in October to Paris Paradise Morton, Holloway won honours for overcoming a rough childhood and homelessness to graduate from an alternative high school in Portland.

She was featured in a 2012 video produced by the non-profit Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, which helps at-risk youths with education and job training. She said she was going to college and entering the workforce.

"Today I'm not the same scared girl I used to be," she said in the video. "I'm a mature young woman."

After her arrest Sunday, she told Las Vegas police she was broke, homeless and tired of being shooed away from casino parking garages with her car and her daughter. Authorities said she might have been on her way to Texas to find the estranged father of her daughter.

The Strip was "a place she did not want to be," according to an arrest report.

"She would not explain why she drove onto the sidewalk but remembered a body bouncing off her windshield, breaking it," the report said.

People jumped on the car and banged on its windows, but Holloway kept driving, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo told reporters. She went about a mile with the broken windshield and a flattened tire before pulling into an off-Strip hotel and telling a valet to call 911.

Holloway didn't resist when police arrived, and she spoke coherently about what happened, the sheriff said.

A police drug-recognition expert concluded that she wasn't drunk but may have been under the influence of a stimulant.

Wolfson said results of blood testing for drugs and alcohol were not yet known.


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