Driver accused of slamming into pedestrians on Vegas Strip seemingly had turned life around

Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo speaks at a news conference Monday, Dec. 21, 2015, in Las Vegas. Lombardo spoke about the car driven by suspect Lakeisha N. Holloway, of Oregon, who police said smashed into crowds of pedestrians on the Las Vegas Strip on Sunday night, killing one person and injuring dozens.
Image Credit: AP Photo/David Becker

LAS VEGAS, Nev. - It was not long ago that the woman accused of crashing her car into pedestrians on the Las Vegas Strip seemed to have turned her life around.

After a rough childhood that included a period of homelessness in high school, Lakeisha Holloway had become an award-winning high school graduate and caring mother.

The recent picture of success deepens the mystery of how the former Oregon woman wound up in a Las Vegas jail, suspected of killing one person and injuring nearly three dozen others. Holloway, 24, faces a murder charge after she plowed her Oldsmobile sedan down a sidewalk packed with tourists Sunday night while her 3-year-old daughter sat in the backseat, authorities said.

Police said video surveillance footage led them to believe Holloway swerved onto the sidewalk deliberately. They say she was homeless and out of money, sleeping in her car in parking garages. She might have been on her way to Texas to find the father of her daughter; the pair had split up some time ago.

After her arrest Sunday, Holloway "described a stressful period today where she was trying to rest/sleep inside her vehicle with her daughter but kept getting run off by security of the properties she stopped at," a police report says.

"She ended up on the Strip, 'a place she did not want to be,'" the report quoted her as saying. "She would not explain why she drove onto the sidewalk but remembered a body bouncing off her windshield, breaking it."

She parked at a casino a few blocks from the Strip, told a parking attendant that she had run down people and asked the valet to call 911, Clark County Sheriff Joe Lombardo said. Her daughter wasn't hurt.

Holloway was stoic when police arrived, showed no resistance and spoke coherently about what happened, the sheriff said.

Authorities declined to comment on a potential motive and said they were struggling to piece together her background. She had changed her name to Paris Paradise Morton in October, according to Oregon court records.

Several years ago, Holloway, a graduate of an alternative high school, received an award for overcoming adversity from the non-profit Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, which helps at-risk youths with education and job training.

In 2012, she told The Skanner, a newspaper that covers Portland's African-American community, that she was homeless during her freshman year in high school.

Court records show she was charged in Oregon in 2011 with operating a vehicle without driving privileges and driving uninsured. She was convicted in March 2012.

Holloway's cousin, Lashay Hardaway, told The Oregonian newspaper that Holloway worked hard to provide for her daughter.

"She's just always thinking about her daughter or the next thing she needs to take care of," Hardaway said, adding that her cousin was a working mother who "makes good money."

The crash happened in front of the Paris and Planet Hollywood casino-hotels and across from dancing water fountains of the Bellagio hotel-casino. The Miss Universe pageant was being held at Planet Hollywood at the time of the crash.

People jumped on the car and banged on its windows, but Holloway didn't stop driving on the sidewalk, Lombardo said. The car was fully on the sidewalk twice, including once when it travelled 200 feet, police said.

There was no evidence that Holloway had consumed alcohol, but a drug recognition expert at the scene determined that she was under the influence of some sort of stimulant, Lombardo said.

Holloway, who was being held without bail, will be charged with murder with a deadly weapon, said Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson, who anticipated "a great number" of additional charges.

Holloway was under suicide watch at a jail, which raises questions about her mental state, Deputy Clark County Public Defender Scott Coffee said. Child welfare officials were caring for the woman's daughter, a county spokesman said.

At least 35 people injured in the crash were taken to hospitals, including three people still in critical condition with head injuries, officials said.

The crash killed Jessica Valenzuela, 32, of Buckeye, Arizona, who was visiting Las Vegas with her husband, the Clark County coroner said.

Other victims were from Oregon, Florida, Colorado, California, Washington, Mexico and Quebec. Five Canadian citizens, four Oregon college wrestlers and five Pennsylvania wrestlers and their coach in town for a tournament were among the injured.

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