Driver repeatedly plows into people on Vegas Strip; 1 dies

Police and emergency crews respond to the scene of a car accident along Las Vegas Boulevard, Sunday, Dec. 20, 2015, in Las Vegas. (AP Photo/John Locher)

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A driver with a 3-year-old in her car repeatedly smashed into crowds of visitors on the Las Vegas Strip, killing a woman from Arizona and injuring dozens of others, authorities said.

Video of the car plowing into pedestrians in front of the Paris and Planet Hollywood casino-hotels “looks like it’s very intentional,” police Capt. Brett Zimmerman said Monday. The 1996 Oldsmobile sedan was fully on the sidewalk twice Sunday evening, including once when it traveled for 200 feet.

Police say they don’t know why the woman in her 20s, who has not been identified, drove onto the walkway first near a restaurant at Planet Hollywood and then again at the driveway entrance to the Paris hotel. The child in the car with her was not hurt.

 The crash happened on a busy stretch of Las Vegas Boulevard across from the dancing water fountains of the Bellagio hotel-casino where visitors crowd sidewalks as they head from one casino to another. The Miss Universe pageant was being held nearby at Planet Hollywood at the time.

The driver sped away before the vehicle was found at a hotel and she was taken into custody, police said.

The woman was having her blood drawn and was being held in jail with charges pending. She had recently moved to the area; the car she was driving was registered in Oregon, authorities said.

“This is a huge tragedy that has happened on our Strip,” police Lt. Peter Boffelli said.

Jessica Valenzuela, 32, of Buckeye, Arizona, died in the crash, according to Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg. The suburban Phoenix woman was visiting Las Vegas with her husband, the coroner said.

University Medical Center was treating three people in critical condition and two others in serious condition. Four men and a woman were in fair condition at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center.

Of the victims, some were from Montreal and needed a French translator, while four were Oregon college students in town to compete in a wrestling tournament.

Justin Cochrane, a visitor from Santa Barbara, California, said he was having dinner at a sidewalk restaurant outside the Paris hotel when he saw the car smashing into pedestrians.

“It was just massacring people,” he said, adding that the car appeared to be going 30 to 40 mph.

The Oldsmobile then went farther down the road and drove back into another crowd of pedestrians on the sidewalk, he said.

Cochrane said he couldn’t understand why the car went into the crowd a second time.

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

Cochrane said he saw children and adults injured on the ground as the car drove away.

The pedestrians were not in the road and were not at fault, police said.

Joel Ortega, 31, of Redlands, California, said he and his wife, Carla, were visiting for the weekend and found themselves blocked from walking on the sidewalk toward the Paris hotel. They could see police investigating about a block away from the crash.

“At first, I thought it was a movie shoot,” he said. “I thought maybe we’d see someone famous.”

But then they learned that it was a crash scene. Ortega said it made them remember how their Redlands neighborhood was disrupted after the Dec. 2 mass shooting in nearby San Bernardino, California.

The crash comes months after another woman was accused of driving into a crowd during Oklahoma State’s homecoming parade. Four people were killed and more than 40 were hurt Oct. 24.

In September 2005, three tourists were killed and nearly a dozen injured when a car barreled through the crowd on the Las Vegas Strip and crashed into a cement barrier in front of Bally’s hotel-casino.

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