Tuesday, June 20, 2023 | 2 a.m.
More than a year after the tragic loss of a Henderson teenager, the parents of Rex Patchett have a reason to celebrate.
Gov. Joe Lombardo last week signed Senate Bill 322 into law, enhancing the criminal penalty for reckless driving convictions for offenses that take place in pedestrian safety or school crossing zones, or speeding violations in excess of 50 mph over the posted speed limit.
The bill was nicknamed “Rex’s Law” in honor of Patchett, who was killed by a speeding driver outside Mannion Middle School in March 2022. He was 13.
“It’s definitely a really good feeling, but bittersweet as well,” said Jason Patchett, Rex’s father, who was a vocal advocate of the bill and worked alongside lawmakers to advance the legislation. “The tragedy and the grief that we go through on a daily bases makes life difficult, but it’s also sweet we’re able to represent Rex and his legacy, and advocate for stiffer penalties for acts such as reckless driving.”
Before the law was passed, the penalty for reckless driving was between one and six years in prison, though additional penalties could have been levied if the offense was committed in a pedestrian safety zone or a temporary traffic control zone.
That penalty has now been enhanced to between six and 10 years, if the offense was caused by excessive speeding or happened in a school or pedestrian zone.
The legislation initially proposed a minimum sentence of eight years in prison without the eligibility of parole. Jason Patchett said the goal was to reform the law to more closely align with the state’s impaired driving statutes.
“In a sea of not-wins in the traffic safety world, this was definitely a win,” said Erin Breen, director of the Road Equity Alliance Project for the UNLV Transportation Research Center. “We (actually) discouraged Jason from doing this because we were so sure there was no way he was going to get it passed. We were so worried it would send his grief process back to Day One. So God bless him for following through with this.”
Patchett said he began working with his local state senator, Republican Jeff Stone of Henderson, to begin crafting a bill in December. The legislation quickly gained the support of Patchett’s local assemblyman, Republican Toby Yurek, and bipartisan backing subsequently followed.
Before too long, top leaders in the Democrat-controlled Legislature, such as state Senate Majority Leader Nicole Cannizzaro and Sens. Marilyn Dondero Loop and Rochelle Nguyen, agreed to carry the bill as co-sponsors. Lawmakers continued to deliberate until it was amended to its current form, and was one of the last measures passed out of the Senate in time for the end of the 82nd legislative session June 5.
“I really applaud the Patchett family for working with us and seeing the challenges that it takes to pass a bill,” Stone told the Sun. “And as much as we’d like to call this a commonsense bill, nothing was easy about getting this bill passed.”
Stone also said he and other lawmakers have been working with Lombardo’s office to hold a ceremonial bill signing outside Mannion toward the end of the month, though a specific date hasn’t been finalized.
“We’re going to make this a celebration of Rex’s life and a celebration that we have put into law protections and deterrents so that no family has to endure the horrific loss of a 13-year-old boy, or any other child walking in a pedestrian zone or a safety zone, because somebody wants to show off the horsepower of their car.”
On March 12, 2022, Rex Patchett was riding a scooter while on his way home from school when he was struck by a Ford Mustang whose driver lost control of the vehicle. Rex was declared dead at the scene.
Driver Jose Marmolejo was sentenced in January to between two and six years in prison, sparking those who knew Rex to advocate for a new law with tougher penalties, Jason Patchett said. Marmolejo pleaded guilty to reckless driving resulting in death, and child abuse, neglect or endangerment resulting in substantial bodily harm.
Police reports indicate Marmolejo was traveling just under 100 mph — more than 55 over the posted speed limit — when he lost control of the vehicle and hit a nearby curb before ramming onto the sidewalk and striking Rex.
Bystanders had seen Marmolejo, with three passengers in his vehicle, speeding around a nearby roundabout, Patchett said. The road is known for having a substantial hump outside Mannion — where the collision occurred — and people often drive over it hoping for a thrill, he said.
When Marmolejo’s car went over the hump and he lost control, it struck Rex with such force that the middle-schooler was thrown into the air. Family members said the backpack Rex had been wearing at the time was found at the crime scene, suspended from a tree.
“After we got done with the criminal side of things and the sentencing hearing was complete, we turned our focus on the state Legislature,” Patchett said. “And there were concessions made. But we sought out stiffer penalties for reckless driving and that’s exactly what we did.”
Those who knew Rex say he was a happy-go-lucky kid who tried to befriend everyone who crossed his path. He was also an avid sports fan who played everything from basketball to kickball and idolized Philadelphia Phillies star and Las Vegan Bryce Harper.
And though the family continues to grieve the loss, one silver lining realized throughout this process is that Rex’s legacy will live on — literally.
“Rex’s Law doesn’t bring my son back. It never will,” Patchett said. “Rex’s Law does not increase the penalties for the defendant who killed my son. … Our drive was his legacy. How can we help other people? How can we help future victims of reckless driving? So when they’re put in the situation we unfortunately were in, they can feel a sense of justice.”