State reviewing juvenile work crews in wake of tragedy

State and county officials are reviewing juvenile work crew programs in the wake of Sunday's tragedy near Las Vegas which left six teenagers dead.

The teenagers were cleaning up along Interstate 15 when a white mini van crashed into a group of them. The 20-year-old female driver is being held for investigation of driving under the influence of controlled substances.

"We're calling Las Vegas to see exactly what happened," said Capt. Janice Lee of the Washoe County Sheriff's Office. "To see if there's something that could have prevented it or to do better to prevent a tragedy from occurring here."

Washoe, like Clark County, uses both adult and juvenile work crews to help clean up trash and clear weeds along highways in a cooperative agreement with the Nevada Department of Transportation.

Lee said one key difference is that, in Washoe County, "we don't put our inmate workers out in the medians."

She said the youngsters in Southern Nevada were working in the median of the freeway when they were struck by the mini van.

State transportation spokesman Scott Magruder said it is the first serious incident in 10 years the Nevada program has operated.

"Overall, it's a very good program and it's been very safe," he said.

But he said state officials are examining how those programs are operated by looking for ways to make sure nothing like this happens again.

"You don't want to just go ahead and cancel everything," he said.

He said keeping all inmate workers away from busy thoroughfares is not practical because, "the busier the road, the more trash that's out there - that's where it is."

"But this accident probably wouldn't have been prevented even if you had another person out there," he said.

The Carson City Juvenile Probation Department operates a similar program but no spokesman from that agency could be reached Monday.

Lee said Washoe uses a system of marked vans, cones identifying the work crews and other devices to make sure drivers see them. She said supervisors on those crews are often retired veteran police officers and always include someone who has attended flagging school.

"I'm not sure what more we could do," she said. "We're very safety conscious."


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