weather icon Partly Cloudy

Las Vegas drug, traffic deaths soar in 2021

The youngest person to die in 2021 in Clark County was just hours old.

Michael Jordan-Pinson was found in a desert lot June 17, according to the Clark County coroner’s office. The baby died from toxic effects of methamphetamine, the coroner’s office ruled.

His death was one of the 2,886 cases the coroner’s office investigated last year, including at least 800 people who died from a drug overdose, a 42 percent increase from the year before.

Nevada was placed on “red alert” by the National Drug Helpline in December 2020 because of an increased risk of drug overdoses, according to a statement from the state Department of Health and Human Services. Authorities cited reduced access to treatment programs, overworked hospitals and increased social and economic stress amid a pandemic as reasons for the alert.

Just over a year later, UNLV psychology expert Shane Kraus said in a January interview that pandemic-induced despair had contributed to a spike in substance abuse. Some users who need treatment have lost their health insurance along with their jobs, and underprivileged therapy patients have seen their sessions move remotely, with many not able to afford the technology.

“It’s just really a very tragic difficult thing right now that we’re experiencing all over the country,” Kraus said. “I see so much change, and I’ve also seen heartbreak, too.”

At least 218 people died from a fentanyl overdose in 2021, according to coroner data. The synthetic opioid is considered many times stronger than morphine and is often mixed into street drugs and consumed by unsuspecting victims. It took the lives of six teenagers in Clark County last year.

The youngest was Daniella Young, a 13-year-old Rogich Middle School student who died in October. An online obituary for the Summerlin teen was filled with dozens of posts sharing memories and blurry photos from her short life. Girls remembered trading clothes, teaching dance moves and sharing pizzas. Her grandmother commented that their celebration of Jewish holidays would be amiss without the child.

“There will never be a holiday when we don’t think of you, sweet Dani,” the woman wrote. “From Rosh Hashanah to Pesach to Thanksgiving and Chanukah, we will remember your voice praying and singing with us. You are so very missed.”

Toxicology reports for people suspected of dying of a drug overdose take about eight weeks to return, so it was not immediately clear if 2021’s fentanyl death toll would be higher. Coroner data showed fentanyl was the cause of death for at least 181 people in 2020, compared with 64 people in 2019.

Last year, the coroner’s office examined the bodies of 85 children, including 13 who died from unsafe sleeping conditions.

The only 9-year-old to die last year was pronounced dead July 27 at Spring Valley Hospital from asphyxia due to inhalation of helium.

Dr. Todd Zimmerman, medical director for Sunrise Children’s Hospital’s emergency room, said helium inhalation death is very possible, especially in younger children who play with balloons and helium tanks. With each inhale, less oxygen is going to the brain.

“Have I heard that type of injury can exist? Yeah, I’ve heard about it, but I’ve never seen a patient like that,” he said. “It’s extremely rare.”

Spike in traffic deaths

About 8 percent of all cases investigated by the coroner’s office last year were fatal crashes. Clark County reported 235 road fatalities, contributing heavily to Nevada’s deadliest statistics in 14 years.

Victims included Tina Tintor, a 23-year-old Las Vegas woman who was killed Nov. 2 alongside her golden retriever, Max, in a fiery crash blamed on ex-Raiders star Henry Ruggs.

Tintor aspired to be a computer programmer, her friends said in November. She worked for Target for about two years before taking a job with an insurance company. Many remembered Tintor training them when they started at Target. She helped review their resumes when they were ready to find new jobs.

“Every time I think back, I just see her smile,” Ryder Hankins said through tears at a vigil the week Tintor died.

Andrew Bennett, director of Nevada’s Office of Traffic Safety, said he starts most days reading the fatality reports for the day before. He called them each a gut punch.

“In traffic safety we talk about, when a teen dies or when a young kid dies, how the system failed them,” Bennett said in a January interview. “You never know what that kid could have achieved in their life.”

Other figures

Ashley Green started a job as a truck driver at FedEx in the fall of 2021. The 26-year-old Las Vegas woman was preparing to take her 11-year-old daughter and 5-month-old son and move out of her mother’s apartment, according to her mother, Lisa Green.

On Oct. 30, Ashley Green was driving with a man near her apartment when two men drove up behind them and started firing. The passenger, who police said was the intended target, survived.

Green died that day from a gunshot wound to the chest, according to the coroner’s office.

Lisa Green remembered her daughter as a reader, a writer and a young woman who loved to dance. The Clark High School graduate took her children to water parks, and Ashley Green’s daughter, Danyelle, said her mom always made sure she was on time to school.

“When she was in the hospital, I gave her a hug and I told her I love her, ‘Your momma will always love you,’ ” Lisa Green recalled months later. “She was stronger than me”

Green’s death was one of 225 cases the coroner ruled homicides. The data differs from county data, which recorded 20 more homicides. Police departments occasionally rule accidental shootings, drug overdoses and vehicular manslaughter as homicides while the coroner does not.

Among the 151 tourist deaths last year were a 60-year-old man from Caldwell, Indiana, who died May 15 at the Virgin River Casino from fentanyl toxicity and a woman of the same age who died from blunt head trauma Feb. 23 in a storm drain. The Farmington, New Mexico, woman’s death was ruled a homicide.

The oldest to die in the county were a 98-year-old man and woman. The woman, a Henderson resident, died Sept. 17 in a living room from blunt force head injuries and heart disease. The man was pronounced dead in a kitchen June 20 from heat stress and heart disease. Both were ruled accidental.

The coroner ruled one person died from a bee sting in 2021: a 92-year-old who died in a backyard swimming pool Sept. 11. Between 2000 and 2017, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said, an average of 62 people died annually from hornet, wasp and bee stings. But she was the first person to die in the county from a bee sting in at least five years, according to data from the coroner’s office.

The coroner generally investigates deaths only if people died outside of a doctor’s care or if the cause of death was not immediately clear, Clark County spokesman Dan Kulin told the Review-Journal.

The coroner’s office investigated 68 COVID-19 deaths.

The Southern Nevada Health District declined to provide preliminary data on how many people in total died in the county last year, or how many people died from COVID in 2021. Preliminary data posted to the health district’s website showed that at least 4,048 people died from COVID-19 in 2021.

Among the last deaths the coroner investigated last year was a Hawaiian grandmother, Clarice Yamaguchi, 66. Yamaguchi was shot to death during an attempted robbery in the parking lot of the Fashion Show mall on New Year’s Eve. A family friend called her a sweet woman who devoted her weekends to her three grandchildren’s many activities.

Contact Sabrina Schnur at sschnur@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0278. Follow @sabrina_schnur on Twitter. Contact Ricardo Torres-Cortez at rtorres@reviewjournal.com. Follow him on Twitter @rickytwrites.

Meet the Review-Journal newsroom’s 2022 summer interns

For the first time since 2019, before the start of the pandemic, interns are working alongside staff, in person, at the newsroom’s offices on Bonanza Road.