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Kenny Lee’s family, friends set vigil for Lee’s Discount Liquor CEO

Updated November 22, 2021 - 10:56 pm

Friends and family of late Lee’s Discount Liquor executive Kenny Lee are planning a Las Vegas vigil Friday to honor his life after Lee was killed in a Northern Nevada vehicle crash late last week.

The vigil will be at Lee’s Discount Liquor, 7291 W. Azure Drive, at 9:30 a.m.

“The public is invited to show up, tell their favorite Kenny Lee stories and write a message on one of the 500+ red balloons that will be released at 10:25 a.m.,” Lee’s Discount Liquor said in a statement Monday afternoon .

Investigators still don’t know what caused Lee’s minivan to swerve into oncoming traffic and sideswipe a pickup truck last Friday morning, Nevada Highway Patrol Lt. Jeff Howell said. They also don’t know how fast he was going.

And while authorities don’t know for certain why Lee was on a stretch of U.S Highway 93 between West Wendover and Ely, Howell said the liquor store mogul’s travels were presumably business-related.

Lee’s Discount Liquor has a location in West Wendover. Reached by phone Monday, an employee at the store said Lee was at the location last week.

The Nevada Highway Patrol has said Lee, 53, was driving south on the highway at the time of the crash and was not wearing a seat belt. He was thrown from the van and died at the scene.

Investigators do not suspect impairment played a role, the Highway Patrol has said.

Legacy “one to be honored”

Lee’s death came just months after his father, Hae Un Lee, founder of the chain of liquor stores, died of cancer.

The Lees were fixtures in the Las Vegas community, appearing together on humorous billboards and in television advertisements.

Prominent figures in Nevada, including Gov. Steve Sisolak and Las Vegas Mayor Carolyn Goodman, shared their thoughts after news of Kenny Lee’s death surfaced.

Mary Beth Sewald, president and CEO of the Vegas Chamber, said the Lees, who were former members of her organization, were great employers who helped the community through philanthropic work.

“I think their legacy really is one to be honored,” she said. “It’s just such a loss in our community, so we want to express our condolences, of course, to the family. It’s just tragic.”

On Sunday morning, the Vegas Golden Knights posted a tribute to Kenny Lee on Twitter, recognizing him as a supporter of the team’s charitable efforts.

“The Vegas Golden Knights lost a friend and supporter from our beginnings with the tragic passing of Kenny Lee,” the team said. “Kenny was not just a team partner but also a generous philanthropic supporter of the Vegas Golden Knights Foundation.”

Lee and his family were regulars at Golden Knights games and other events, such as the team’s golf tournament and charity gala, the team wrote.

Kerry Bubolz, the team’s president, said Kenny Lee and his father were genuine in their support for the community, and that Kenny was always the highest bidder when donated Golden Knights items were up for auction in support of various groups.

“Every possible need that was out there in the community, he was visible and supporting it,” Bubolz said.

Customer reacts

Longtime Lee’s Discount Liquor customer Chris Wang of Las Vegas said he once saw Kenny’s father, Hae Un Lee, at a Vegas Golden Knights game at T-Mobile Arena and was amazed at how everyone gravitated to the family patriarch and well-known businessman.

“He was like a rock star,” Wang said of the elder Lee.

To learn of Hae Un’s death from cancer less than three months ago, then to hear of Kenny Lee’s death on Friday, he said, “is heartbreaking.” He said Kenny Lee was very well known among liquor and bourbon enthusiasts as well.

“It’s tough to hear,” Wang said. “He was iconic in the liquor and bourbon world. Every time I came here he was always helpful. Always enthusiastic. Super energetic when it came to talking about bourbon and whiskey. I was a huge fan. … I love the store and I loved supporting them.”

Lee’s Discount Liquor said in the statement issued Monday that in lieu of flowers, the family is encouraging donations be made in remembrance of Kenny Lee at the New Vista website. New Vista helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Kenny Lee and his family have been longtime supporters of the organization.

Contact Glenn Puit by email at gpuit@reviewjournal.com. Follow @GlennatRJ on Twitter. Contact Blake Apgar at bapgar@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-5298. Follow @blakeapgar on Twitter.