|Saturday, January 01, 2000
Copyright © Las Vegas Review-Journal
Death mars otherwise uneventful New Year's Eve
By Jan Moller, Glenn Puit
and Joe Schoenmann
A young man died at the stroke of midnight on New Year's Eve after he climbed a light pole on the Strip and fell to the ground as thousands of people around him rang in the year 2000.
It was the only serious incident in a celebration that Clark County officials described as one of the calmest in years. The record crowds once expected didn't materialize as tourists and residents celebrated in much the same way as in previous years.
Sheriff Jerry Keller said the man who climbed the pole had grabbed a wire feeding to a construction project.
"It appears he received an electrical jolt and lost his balance," Keller said. "We don't know if electrocution was the cause of death, but certainly the blunt trauma suffered from the fall could have caused his death."
The accident occurred near the Paris hotel. The man, who was in his 20s, was not immediately identified.
Free-lance photographer Larry Burton saw the man start his climb up the pole about eight minutes before midnight. Burton said the man got to the crossbar to the light, about 30 feet above the ground.
"I grabbed my camera and backed up, and he got to the crossover bar, and while I changed my camera, it looked like he laid his back out on the crossover, like he was balancing on the small of his back," Burton said.
Predictions of massive traffic gridlock, out-of-control crowds and computer glitches didn't come true. Local officials reported no incidents related to the Y2K computer bug, and public utilities survived intact.
Keller said, ³Overall, this has been the best New Year¹s Eve I¹ve ever seen. The temperature, the crowd, and the coordination between local and federal agencies couldn't have been better."
Police estimated that 300,000 celebrators gathered on the Strip ‹ about 50,000 fewer than last year and nearly half a million less than officials once predicted. It took a while for the party to get going, as only 150,000 had shown up by 10 p.m.
A few minutes before 9 p.m., the Strip was so quiet that some police officers seemed surprised. "Unbelievable," said one officer. "It's all that media hype. People were afraid to come here."
More than 800 police officers were on the Strip, and representatives from more than 20 public safety agencies gathered at the County Government Center to coordinate what many had expected to be a busy night.
"They are saying it is slower than a normal Tuesday night," said Nicole Casey of American Medical Response of the demand for ambulances throughout the Las Vegas Valley. Casey said the ambulance company had treated only six people for injuries, all minor, by 11 p.m. on the Strip.
Las Vegas police had arrested 268 people by 1 a.m., including 186 adults and 45 juveniles on the Strip and five people downtown. "That is less than we expected," said police spokesman Steve Meriwether.
There were no incidents of any significance reported in Henderson or North Las Vegas.
The Nevada Highway Patrol had made 15 arrests for drunken driving as of 11:30 p.m. ‹ far fewer than the 40 to 50 arrests made on an average weekend night.
Typical of Friday's revelers was Traci Cronin, 28, of Hermiston, Ore., who came to town with two friends. She said at least 20 others had planned to join them before fears of terrorism kept them at home.
"All of our friends, they all think it's full of terrorists," Cronin yelled. "And they all chickened out."
Vendors hawking millennial memorabilia offered mixed reviews. One unidentified vendor complained early in the evening that he was having no luck selling neon necklaces at two for $5. But Jason Nelson, 18, of Houston did brisk business in $5 T-shirts that read, "I survived rolling into the millennium."
Things were even slower at the Fremont Street Experience, where police estimated that only 10,000 people showed up ‹ 40,000 fewer than at last year's festivities.
Mark Paris, president of the Experience, attributed the turnout to overreaction to the Y2K computer bug and apprehension about a false bomb scare earlier in the day at the California hotel.
³We got a little caught up in the hoopla," Paris said. "To Vegas¹ credit, it does everything in a big way. We overreacted in a big way.² Paris said the $100 admission also might have kept people away.
Paris was perturbed Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman opted against attending the downtown party, even though it was within the city limits. Goodman spent his evening at the Bellagio on the Strip ‹ outside the city limits ‹ holding court with ABC News¹ Connie Chung.
Officials estimated 85 percent of the city's 121,665 hotel rooms were occupied, considerably less than last year's 92 percent. Tickets were still unsold Friday afternoon for high-profile concerts by Barbra Streisand and Bette Midler, among others.
Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority spokesman Rob Powers thought the soft turnout "has to do mostly with the fact that numerous surveys have found that most people wanted to stay home."
Several months ago, the authority predicted there would be 99 percent hotel occupancy, which would have meant 277,000 visitors. The most recent estimate was 85 percent occupancy, or 240,000 visitors, and he believes that when the final count is made, the hotels will hit that number.
Bargains were there for those who made last-minute plans. On the footbridge between the MGM Grand and New York-New York, a family of 10 from Bremerton, Wash., talked about their one-day trek to Las Vegas, courtesy of $180 round-trip airfares on a discount airline.
"We had to do something different, and we don't need a room," Joe Drouin said.
Instead, the National Guard sergeant major and his family flew to the desert city early Friday and planned to stay awake all night before returning home late today. For anyone needing some shut-eye, Drouin rented a van.
Police closed Las Vegas Boulevard South on the Strip at 9 p.m., with traffic flowing smoothly until that time. Officers put up steel barricades at every access road to the Strip from the Stardust to Tropicana Avenue. On the south end of the boulevard, thick crowds quadrupled the amount of time it usually takes to walk from Monte Carlo to Mandalay Bay.
Highway traffic in and out of Southern Nevada remained at normal levels throughout most of the evening. "It's just dead out here. There's nothing going on," said officer Fernando Contreras of the California Highway Patrol. "We're just kind of scratching our heads. We expected a lot more traffic heading out to Vegas."
At New York-New York, security guards stood along the hotel's entrance at 9 p.m. preventing anyone from entering the crowded premises. Outside, thousands were watching a millennium clock on the marquee of the MGM Grand and counting down in tandem with those who were ringing in 2000 on the East Coast.
A few revelers drew police attention. One woman who showed her breasts in front of the Flamingo Hilton could have escaped arrest. But she gave in to the pleadings of a camera-wielding crowd and returned for an encore ‹ and was promptly arrested by unsmiling officers who led her away to an avalanche of boos.
Police tried to curtail such behavior, which has been a problem in years past outside O¹Shea¹s casino.
"We have people climbing on poles every year, and we certainly discourage it," Keller said. "It's not good for them or the poles."
This year, police parked two flatbed tractor-trailers beneath the lights outside O¹Shea¹s and stationed officers atop the vehicles to keep revelers from climbing the poles.
Still, sporadic outbreaks drew police attention. Instead of climbing the stoplight in front of O¹Shea¹s, one young man climbed the one kitty-corner to the casino. Five officers surrounded him and arrested him as he came down.
Such behavior was the kind of drunken exhibition that Ruben Israel, 38, of Los Angeles delighted in decrying. Standing in front of Caesars Palace and carrying a large sign commanding passers-by to "Know the God of the Bible," he admitted that this night, he was in the belly of the beast.
"They haven't killed us, so we think that's a positive reception," he said, pausing to admonish a drunk to watch his language. "One more cuss word, and you're going to have to leave the Strip."
A group of six Buddhists in front of The Mirage volcano was just as uninterested in partaking in sinful pursuits. Led by its robe-clad spiritual guide, Wu Shan, the group marveled as the volcano erupted.
"Las Vegas is my best city," William Chen said.
Elsewhere in the city, two babies were born one second after midnight. Jonathan Cook, 7 pounds, 5 ounces, was born one second after midnight at Valley Hospital Medical Center to Raymond Funk and Stacey Cook of Caliente. At the same time, Serene Remley, 6 pounds, 14 ounces, entered the world at University Medical Center for Rick and Glory Remley of Las Vegas.
Eighteen couples took part in a mass wedding at midnight at Viva Las Vegas, 1205 Las Vegas Blvd. South, topping off a full day of marriages in chapels on the Strip. The Marriage License Bureau issued about 500 licenses to couples getting married Friday.
Far north of the city, some 530 anti-nuclear activists converged in a candlelight procession shortly before midnight at the Mercury entrance to the Nevada Test Site. Actor Martin Sheen was among about 300 protesters who were detained a short time later for trespassing after they crossed onto the grounds of the nuclear testing range.