Three members of an Idaho family were killed in a tragic car crash while on vacation in Las Vegas last year after police stopped, searched and ultimately released a driver they had reason to believe was high on fentanyl, a new investigation revealed.
Tyler Kennedy, 33, was going 90 mph when he rammed his Ford F-150 into an SUV carrying a family of five on March 27, 2021 – just hours after police stopped him and discovered drug paraphernalia, tin foil and pills in his car.
The accident killed Michael Durmeier, 39; his daughter Georgia, 12; and his fiancee Lauren Starcevich, 38, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Two other children survived, though one suffered lasting brain trauma as a result of the crash that left him unable to play contact sports.
The family was headed to Vegas to stay with an uncle as part of a Spring Break trip. The night before, they had been to the hot springs in the city of Elko.
Kennedy, a drug user with a history of shoplifting and traffic violations dating back a decade, had been stopped hours before the crash by Nye County deputies responding to an incident at an RV park.
The park’s manager said Kennedy drove into the park, started an altercation and tried to shoot him. Deputies couldn’t find a gun on Kennedy and ultimately let him drive away without administering a field sobriety test – despite finding evidence of active drug use in his car.
‘That was a huge waste of time,’ one deputy said, according to bodycam footage. ‘And how many f****** cars we have here?’
Last week, Kennedy pled guilty to three counts of DUI causing death. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss two counts of DUI causing injury and five reckless driving counts as part of a plea agreement, the Review-Journal reports.
He is scheduled to be sentenced on July 19 and could get a maximum of 60 years, though he could serve a lot less based on the plea.
‘They should have not let me go because a lot of the blame is going to be on them,’ Kennedy admitted during a preliminary hearing. ‘If they would have arrested me, like they should have, the accident never would have happened. People never would have died.’
Tyler Kennedy (above) was going 90 mph when he rammed his Ford F-150 into an SUV carrying a family of five on March 27, 2021 – just hours after police stopped him and discovered drug paraphernalia, tin foil and pills in his car
The accident killed Michael Durmeier (second from right), his daughter Georgia (center), and his fiancee Lauren Starcevich (left)
After the accident, bystanders said they found glass pipes, a bag with white powder that later tested positive for meth, a bottle of pills and burnt foil in Kennedy’s car. Above, the wreckage of Michael Durmeier’s car
Kennedy told police that he’s used opiates since his late teens, after his mother gave him pills, and became an addict by age 20 or 21. He has a spotty employment history and a lengthy criminal record, court documents show.
Kennedy was parked outside the Area 51 Alien Center, right across the Fort Amargosa RV Park, when deputies first caught up to him last March.
He was smoking fentanyl, the Review-Journal reports, but deputies were more interested in the gun he allegedly used to shoot at the park’s manger during an altercation.
‘Oh s***, you scared me,’ Kennedy said when he was approached by Nye Sheriff’s Deputy Breanna Nelson.
Two more deputies and two detectives arrived. They asked him to get out of his car as he sat on the store’s porch vaping and complaining about being stopped.
Based on surveillance video, they determined that the ‘gun’ was his cellphone and the ‘gunshot’ was just fireworks.
‘He’s probably got dope in the car, and that’s why he doesn’t want anyone going through it,’ Nye Sheriff’s Detective Daniel Fischer told Detective Brooke Gentry.
‘I don’t care about that,’ Gentry responded.
Kennedy let officers search the car after they assured him they were only interested in finding a weapon.
Deputy Nelson found pills and a piece of burnt foil used for smoking fentanyl, according to court records and a police video obtained by the Review-Journal.
Kennedy let officers search his vehicle (above) after they assured him they were only interested in finding a weapon. Despite finding evidence of drug use, officers allowed him to drive away
Body camera footage from officers at the scene shows their interaction with Kennedy. Officers called the incident a ‘huge waste of time’ after failing to discover a gun in the vehicle
They decided there was no reason to take down a report, though they did note how high Kennedy was.
‘Yeah, his eyes are pinpoint,’ Detective Fischer said. ‘He’s probably under the influence.’
They threw his pills away.
‘That was a huge waste of time,’ Nelson said. ‘And how many f****** cars we have here?’
After the accident a few hours later, bystanders said they found glass pipes, a dime bag with white powder that later tested positive for meth, a bottle of pills and burnt foil in Kennedy’s car when they were pulling him out to safety.
Deputy Nelson followed Kennedy for about 30 minutes after the stop until he reached the town of Beatty, about 120 mi northwest of Vegas.
He was seen driving recklessly, at one point swerving into the desert to try to pass cars before realizing that barbed wire prevented him from doing so.
During a court hearing, other drivers testified that he was passing four to five cars at a time at about 90 mph.
One man, driving with his three daughters and father-in-law, said he had to swerve to avoid Kennedy. ‘He missed me by a hair,’ he said.
He veered into the southbound lane of Highway 95 and crashed with the Toyota Highlander that Michael was driving.
The SUV overturned. Michael was still breathing and doubled over in the front seat, though he wouldn’t live long, the Review-Journal reports. His daughter Georgia died on impact.
Michael’s fiancee Lauren and his son Jackson were ejected from the car. Lauren died, while Jackson survived with brain injuries.
Kennedy veered his truck into the southbound lane of Nevada’s Highway 95 and crashed head-on into the Toyota Highlander that Michael Durmier was driving. Above, bystanders look on as emergency personnel sift through the wreckage
During a court hearing, other drivers testified that Kennedy pwas passing four to five cars at a time at about 90 mph
Kennedy later admitted: ‘They should have not let me go because a lot of the blame is going to be on them. If they would have arrested me, like they should have, the accident never would have happened. People never would have died’
Lauren’s daughter Emerson, 6, broke her wrist and survived.
All told, three of the five family members died, with only two children surviving the crash.
The family was on a Spring Break trip form their home in eastern Idaho.
Lauren and Michael loved the outdoors and were hoping their children would learn to love exploring as well.
‘He always wanted to do adventures, and he was a very sweet, sweet kid,’ Michael’s mother, Gina Durmeier, told the Review-Journal.
Deputy Nelson, who earlier had let Kennedy go despite evidence that he was high and was doing drugs in his car, called Michael’s ex-wife Chelsea Roberts to inform her about the crash.
Roberts is the mother of Georgia, who died in the accident, and Jackson, who survived. She and Emerson’s father Josh Myers drove 10 hours to Vegas, separately, without knowing who was alive, injured or dead.
‘I just like fell down – like to my knees,’ Roberts told the Review-Journal.
‘They said, “You just need to get here,”‘ Myers said.
Roberts found her son Jackson connected to tubes and machines. Myers refused to leave Emerson’s side, sleeping in a chair next to her until she was discharged.
Last week, Kennedy (above middle) pled guilty to three counts of DUI causing death. Prosecutors agreed to dismiss two counts of DUI causing injury and five reckless driving counts as part of a plea agreement
Roberts is now suing the Nye County Sheriff’s Office and the deputies who let Kennedy drive away. The complaint has been amended to include information about Kennedy’s first stop, when he was let go, after they saw the preliminary hearing transcript obtained by the Review-Journal.
The officers ‘failed to perform field sobriety tests on Kennedy before releasing him and his vehicle to drive, even though he was exhibiting signs of intoxication,’ according to the lawsuit.
Jackson, 11, suffered a brain injury during the accident and was left unable to play football. His team made him a special coach, which allows him to travel with platers to games. He’s since replaced his love of football with an interest in football statistics.
‘He just eats, sleeps, breathes football,’ said Roberts, his mom.
Emerson was strapped into her car seat and suffered the least serious injuries of the group, though doctors and counselors warn that they can’t tell how the trauma of losing her mom in an accident will affect her.
‘I just make sure she knows every day – you have something to say, you say it to me,’ Myers said with tears streaming down his face. ‘I’ll never be mad. I’ll never be upset. I am here for you. And that’s my job. You come to me.’
The incident mirrors a similar case that took place in Philadelphia last week.
Jayana Tanae Webb, 21, has been hit with three counts of murder, driving under the influence and other charges after she mowed down two Pennsylvania state troopers and a man just before 1am on March 21.
Jayana Tanae Webb, 21, was charged with murder on Tuesday in Philadelphia
Killed were Troopers Martin F. Mack III, 33, (left) and Branden T. Sisca, 29 (right)
Officers had reportedly stopped Webb on suspicion of DUI but left her when they were dispatched to respond to a man walking along the highway.
About two miles down the interstate from where they pulled over Webb, the two troopers were helping the distressed pedestrian, 28-year-old Reyes Rivera Oliveras, get into their patrol car when Webb allegedly rammed into their police SUV at high speed, killing all three men.
Police say the impact of the crash knocked both driver’s side doors off the trooper’s SUV, and flung all three men into the opposite northbound lanes.
Webb remained at the crash scene in her badly damaged vehicle, police said.