New police body camera audio, previously withheld, shows a man who killed three people in a DUI crash last year telling a Nye County sheriff’s deputy that he should use opioids to avoid the drug withdrawal. Minutes later, he was released to continue driving – and cause the fatal collision.
A Review-Journal investigation published last month showed deputies suspected Arizona driver Tyler Kennedy of opiate use when questioning him in the Amargosa Valley, about 90 miles away. northwest of Las Vegas.
But they did not conduct field sobriety tests or restrict Kennedy from driving, as required by the sheriff’s DUI policy. The new audio segment from a body camera video provides further evidence that officers knew Kennedy was using drugs when they let him go.
Before releasing video of the 2021 incident to the news agency in February, sheriff’s officials deleted 23 seconds of audio during a key exchange between Kennedy and Deputy Breanna Nelson. A letter that was sent with the video said the audio was removed to protect Kennedy’s right to a fair trial and not to interfere with the district attorney’s pursuit of the case.
The initial Review-Journal story documented officers noting that Kennedy had identified students that day and was “probably under the influence.”
The Review-Journal had repeatedly requested the retained audio. It finally came out last week.
In the full body camera video, Kennedy tells Nelson, after finding fentanyl in his truck, “I’m going to Oregon to go to rehab. I am sick. I have to do this or I’ll get sick. … I have to do it. I’m going to be sick.”
“I mean, you don’t have to do anything,” said Nelson, who had just chided Kennedy, telling him, “Don’t do drugs.”
“I just don’t want to be sick,” Kennedy said.
Another deputy then changes the subject, chastising Kennedy, whom police initially questioned about having a gun, to avoid sparking conflicts in Nevada, where people can easily be armed.
Kennedy was questioned by five officers outside the Area 51 Alien Center store on March 27, 2021, for about an hour before deputies released him.
An hour later, he crashed his truck into an SUV, killing Michael Durmeier, his fiancee, Lauren Starcevich, and Michael’s 12-year-old daughter, Georgia. Two other children in the SUV were injured but survived.
Kennedy pleaded guilty to three counts of impaired driving resulting in death on March 15.
A family outraged by a new video
Michael Durmeier’s mother, Gina Durmeier, said the new information shows an even greater failure on the part of the police, as Kennedy admits to using drugs but was not arrested for drunk driving or for drugs found by the police.
“Breanna Nelson could have prevented this whole nightmare,” she wrote in an email exchange after reviewing the newly posted video. “She gave him the green light to take the life of anyone in his path, knowing, by his own admission, that he ‘had to’ take fentanyl, and he sure was going to!” She gave him the keys to killing precious lives and changing the lives of so many forever.
Starcevich’s sister, Olivia Crawford, said she was furious at the failure of police to protect the public.
“Officer Nelson should have done his job (as well as the 4 other officers who were on scene),” she wrote in an email exchange after watching the video.
“Kennedy clearly states that he is ill and needs to take the pills. He admits that he constantly uses and obviously drives a vehicle, which is against the law. The negligence that occurred on March 27, 2021 is unforgivable and this entire department must be investigated for its lack of respect for the law and protection of citizens.
Thomas Moskal, who ran DUI prosecutions at the Clark County District Attorney’s Office for years and now defends DUI suspects, said police had many reasons to do a field sobriety test. They probably would have had no problem getting a warrant for blood tests and a vehicle search after seeing Kennedy’s constricted pupils, finding drugs and hearing his admission that he had to use drugs to avoid withdrawal. .
“It’s pretty straightforward to see that it’s a DUI under the law,” he said. “They knew he was driving.”
Review-Journal General Counsel Benjamin Zensen Lipman said the full video should have been released immediately.
“The Review-Journal doesn’t think there was a legitimate basis for withholding the audio in the first place,” he said. “It is not clear that the audio would have had any bearing on a trial, even if it were to take place. And as the United States Supreme Court has recognized, even if it were to be used in a trial , our justice system has many tools to ensure a fair trial without removing the public’s right to access public records.
Nelson and Nye County Sheriff Sharon Wehrly did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment.
Wehrly previously said the incident was investigated internally. The county has denied or ignored the repeated demands for release from discipline, if any, that officers have faced for failing to arrest Kennedy.
Contact Arthur Kane at [email protected] and follow @ArthurMKane on Twitter. Kane is a member of the Review-Journal’s investigative team, focusing on reports that hold executives and agencies accountable and expose wrongdoing.