Driver freed in Stratosphere crash commits suicide

AP News
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Posted: Sep 19, 2014 4:20 AM

LAS VEGAS (AP) — A hotel room suicide of a man who was freed from jail after being accused of intentionally crashing his vehicle into the Stratosphere and declaring he wanted to jump from its tower is raising questions about why he hadn't been charged with a crime and whether he was properly screened for mental illness.

Answers weren't immediately apparent.

Ryan C. Brown asphyxiated before he was found hanging Tuesday in a room at the Rio All-Suite Hotel & Casino, the Clark County coroner said.

That was a day after a Las Vegas judge ordered the 40-year-old Brown freed with no restrictions because prosecutors hadn't filed criminal charges in the Sept. 10 crash at the Stratosphere hotel-casino, and didn't seek more time to do so. Brown was told to return to court Oct. 15.

"The real question is why the district attorney didn't charge him," said Daren Richards, assistant Clark County public defender.

Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson was in meetings Thursday and unavailable for immediate comment, said Tess Driver, his executive assistant.

Richards, a veteran administrator in an office representing indigent defendants, said arrestees are usually screened during jail intake for suicidal thoughts and mental health issues. In some cases, judges are notified if more evaluation is needed.

In extreme cases, police or jailers can order a "Legal 2000" mental health evaluation by a doctor, said Officer Larry Hadfield, a Las Vegas police spokesman. That process can take up to 72 hours.

But "people can't be held without cause," Hadfield said. "It's not against the law to be mentally ill."

Hadfield said he had no information about Brown's case.

Brown hadn't been assigned a lawyer because he hadn't been charged with a crime, and Richards said it wasn't clear from the court record if Brown underwent jail psychological screening.

However, it seemed evident from a police report that crimes could have been alleged.

No one was hurt in the crash, but investigators said it appeared to have been a deliberate act.

Brown drove on a sidewalk past pedestrians before accelerating his Ford F-150 pickup through the valet area and crashing through the front glass doors, police said. The truck came to rest near the hotel bell desk, wedged between railings of a four-step casino entry stairway in a shower of broken glass.

Brown tried to run and struggled with security guards before police arrived and arrested him on felony cocaine possession and misdemeanor driving under the influence and reckless driving charges.

Police reported finding more than 1 gram of crack in the vehicle ashtray, and said Brown admitted using drugs for six days and smoking crack cocaine two hours before the crash.

Brown told officers he had wanted to jump off the Stratosphere and that he was excited to be making news, according to the police report. He said he had the same birthday as Elvis Presley, worked as an electrician at the Burning Man counterculture festival in northern Nevada, and had being fired after a domestic dispute with his wife. Her name and his hometown weren't provided.

He told police he was born in Indiana.

Brown later became combative with jailers, who restrained him with a cover over his face to prevent him from spitting at others, the police report said.