LAS VEGAS – A woman accused of intentionally plowing a car carrying her child through crowds of pedestrians on a Las Vegas Strip sidewalk is distraught and overwhelmed, her defense attorney said after she briefly appeared in court for the first time.
Lakeisha Nicole Holloway, 24, pursed her lips and blinked Wednesday as she was led in shackles into a courtroom. She was not asked to enter a plea, but she nodded to acknowledge that she would remain in jail through the holidays while both sides investigate Sunday's crash that killed an Arizona woman and injured dozens of others.
"This is sad and tragic for everybody involved," defense lawyer Joseph Abood said after the hearing, adding, "Just because she's charged, doesn't mean she's guilty."
A coroner later ruled the death of Jessica Valenzuela, 32, of Buckeye, Arizona, a homicide. The finding means it wasn't an accident but doesn't find fault. Valenzuela died from multiple blunt-force injuries, Clark County Coroner John Fudenberg said.
Prosecutors and defense attorneys called the ruling expected. Abood said it didn't reveal new details about the case.
"It says this victim died as a result of her injuries," Abood said. "It doesn't answer the surrounding questions. We still don't have enough information to know how or why this happened."
Prosecutors aim to show Holloway meant to kill and injure people when she drove her car onto the sidewalk in front of the Planet Hollywood and Paris Las Vegas resorts, District Attorney Steve Wolfson said.
Casino and street surveillance video of the crash is "superb" quality, Wolfson said, adding that he believes it clearly shows Holloway's intentions. The video may not be made public until a later court hearing.
Holloway is charged with murder, felony hit-and-run and child endangerment. Additional charges are likely, depending on the results of drug and alcohol tests and police findings, Wolfson said. They could include multiple counts of attempted murder with a deadly weapon.
"If you intentionally try and run somebody over, that certainly qualifies as an attempted murder charge, and that's one we are strongly considering," he said.
Police and firefighters say hospitals treated at least 35 people from several states, Mexico and Canada. Six people remained hospitalized Wednesday, including two in critical condition.
A judge set a Jan. 20 date to schedule a preliminary hearing of evidence that police say they're still collecting. Holloway plans to plead not guilty when the time comes, Abood said.
The deputy public defender, who represented another driver in a similar crash on the Strip in September 2005, said the defense team needs to see police reports, witness accounts and video before deciding on Holloway's defense.
Holloway is on suicide watch in jail, where she is being held without bail. Her lawyers said Holloway's mental health could become an issue, but that she had not had a psychological evaluation.
Abood said he and co-counsel Scott Coffee had heard nothing but good things about Holloway's past.
"This is a surprise to everyone," Abood said. "We have a lot of investigating and a lot of work to do."
Holloway was from Portland, Oregon, and had been in Las Vegas for about a week, authorities said.
She told police after she was arrested that she was broke, homeless and tired of being shooed away from casino parking garages, where she and her daughter had been sleeping in a 1996 Oldsmobile. The girl wasn't hurt in the crash, and child welfare officials are caring for her.
In Oregon, where she changed her name in October to Paris Paradise Morton, Holloway won honors for overcoming a rough childhood and homelessness to graduate with acclaim from an alternative high school.
The U.S. Forest Service hired her in 2009 to do administrative work in its Portland office. Holloway took a four-month break in late 2010 and resigned in 2012, spokesman Glen Sachet said.
The nonprofit Portland Opportunities Industrialization Center, which helps at-risk youths with education and job training, featured Holloway in a 2012 video in which she said she was going to college and entering the workforce.
"Today I'm not the same scared girl I used to be," Holloway said in the video. "I'm a mature young woman."