LAS VEGAS — Before police said she intentionally drove onto a Las Vegas Strip sidewalk, killing one person and wounding 37 others, Lakeisha Holloway was publicly honored for turning her life around.
“Boy, have I come a long ways,” Holloway said in a 2012 video by the Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, which helps at-risk youth with education and career training.
“I was a scared little girl who knew that there was more to life outside of crime, drug addiction, lower income, alcoholism, being under educated — all of which I grew up being familiar with.”
Thanks to the non-profit, she went from homelessness to a job with the federal government and “living the grand life.”
But now, the 24-year-old faces charges of murder, leaving the scene of an accident, and child abuse or neglect after allegedly plowing into dozens of pedestrians with her 3-year-old daughter inside her car.
What would cause a woman who showed so much hope to do something so savage, as police claim?
“She would not explain why she drove onto the sidewalk but remembered a body bouncing off of her windshield, breaking it,” authorities said in her arrest report.
Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said it’s not clear what may have caused Holloway to “snap.”
“We believe that she had some disassociation with the father of her child,” the sheriff said,
He said investigators think Holloway had been in Las Vegas for about a week, homeless and living in her car.
“We don’t know the percipient event that caused her to snap and/or whether it was planned previously,” he said.
Holloway told authorities that before the crash, she had been trying to rest or sleep in her car with her daughter, but kept getting run off by security at the places wherever she stopped, according to her arrest repot.
She wound up on the Strip, “a place she did not want to be,” the police statement read. Police said she told them she wasn’t under the influence of drugs or alcohol.
Witnesses said Holloway was driving down Las Vegas Boulevard before her car jumped onto the sidewalk and started striking pedestrians.
She allegedly drove the 1996 Oldsmobile sedan with Oregon plates onto the sidewalk at different spots. She careened onto the sidewalk at least three or four times, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Deputy Chief Brett Zimmerman said.
Holloway then left the scene and drove about a mile before driving onto the property of another hotel and contacting a security officer, asking that officer to call the police because she’d just hit several people, according to the arrest report.
Driver ‘just kept mowing people down’
Antonio Nassar said people scrambled to stop the woman as she drove on the sidewalk.
“The car rolled right in front of me. By the time I looked over to the right, all you could see was (her) driving away, and people were bouncing off the front of the car,” Nassar told CNN affiliate KLAS.
“She rode the sidewalk, she came to a stop at the Paris intersection, people are punching into the window. … She accelerated again and just kept mowing people down.”
Another witness, Sofie Kitteroed, told CNN that bystanders rushed to the scene to help bleeding victims.
The person killed in the crash was identified as 32-year-old Jessica Valenzuela, of Buckeye, Arizona.
Holloway’s daughter was not injured.
Many questions unanswered
Authorities gave conflicting accounts on whether they are investigating the possibility of terrorism in the crash.
The sheriff said investigators will look into Holloway’s background.
“In light of that, and not having those unknowns, we’re not 100% ruling out the possibility of terrorism,” Lombardo said.
But Zimmerman, the Las Vegas police deputy chief, said investigators have ruled out terrorism.
“This was not an act of terrorism,” he said. “We are treating this as an intentional act.”
A roller-coaster life
Portland OIC, the non-profit that honored Holloway with a C.A.R.E. Role Model Award in 2012, expressed shock over her arrest.
“She was such a great kid while she was a part of our program,” one of the youth employment staff members said, according to a POIC statement.
In her 2012 video, Holloway said, she was homeless in high school and nearly failing all her classes. But she graduated with a B+ average, went on to college and started working with the U.S. Forest Service.
“Today, I am not the same scared girl I used to be,” she said in the video. “I’m a mature young woman who has broken many generational cycle(s) that those before me hadn’t.”