Perspective is one of the most powerful, innate tools that humans possess. It is certainly the best, and sometimes the only weapon, we have against our own unconscious bias.
Chances are, that in the past twenty-four hours you probably fired off an email/text too quickly, spilled coffee on yourself, snapped at a loved one, or stopped short while driving. Know why? Cause you’re human. None of us are perfect, and neither are the order of things. In life, more often than we care to admit, shit just gets, well, blurred.
That’s what happened in the hours and days following the horrific, fiery seven-vehicle crash that claimed four lives, seriously injured two others (a 17 and a 10-year-old), and changed countless more just before 5:30pm the day after Christmas last month at the intersection of Desert Inn and Durango.
Initial media reports indicated that a 38 year old man, Tacuma Wesley, was to blame for the accident. Sad, tragic, avoidable. Prayers for the victims and their families. Case closed, and on to the next… Rinse, wash, repeat — right?
For you and me, maybe. But not for Donna Martinez, 48, Amanda Martinez, 29, Layla-Martinez-White, 4, their family, and not for Talib Kerns and his mother, the brother and mother of Mr. Wesley.
Mr. Kerns joined Sharp and Shapiro in a powerful interview, to share his knowledge of the events leading up to the tragic accident, dispute the initial findings, and make a case that a rush to judgement created a false narrative of what happened that fateful post-Christmas evening.
Though the investigation is still ongoing, no one from the LVPD has contacted Kerns or his mother about Wesley’s whereabouts before the crash — which is where our story begins.
Weather conditions leading up to the night of December 26th were horrible according to Talib. Tacuma Wesley had stopped by his brother’s house, on his way back from an interview that Kerns had helped him land, to let his brother know how well it had gone. The next day, December 27th, was set to be Tacuma’s 39th birthday. After meeting with Talib, Tacuma left in good spirits, and not in any rush. He was to stop by the grocery store before returning to the house he shared with their mother, to begin meal prepping for his birthday. The family had planned a birthday dinner together for the three of them at Wesley’s house – a dinner that Wesley himself would be cooking. But Tacuma never returned home.
A physical trainer who would do hundreds of burpees a day, Wesley was in exceptional shape. He didn’t party, or stay out late. For him to not come home was not like him. His mother became very nervous.
Kerns assured their mother that he would find his brother. He began a search, first hospitals, then jails, and there was nothing. He then began another search — for car crashes. It was in that search he discovered or saw what looked like Wesley’s car. Kerns called the coroner only to learn there were remains but they were pretty much unidentifiable. Kerns went anyway, knowing he would find his brother. It was Kerns who had to tell his mother the tragic news.
The first people to make any contact with Kerns were Channel 8. Who according to him, were extremely inconsiderate to the grieving family — coldly rushing Kerns and heavily editing the interview in time for the clip to make air. The picture shown of Wesley, was one pulled from the internet and not one granted by the family. It was the standard sort of stock and fill one does in this business when facing deadlines, and the demand for clicks. Nuance doesn’t move print. The second to contact the family? The impound lot – who had sent the grieving family a “humongous bill” for holding the wreckage. But no word from LVPD.
Toxicology reports from the coroners office came back showing that Wesley to be clean, no alcohol, no drugs, and suffering no medical episode at the time of the accident…
So what happened?
Police say that Wesley caused the crash by driving at an excessive rate of speed. They said that Wesley had been heading towards Durango from the strip. A claim that Kerns adamantly refutes as an “illogical suggestion” because Wesley had just left his house literally minutes before the accident occurred.
Kerns lives just off Flamingo near the 215. Tacuma Wesley’s route would take him from Kerns’ house down Flamingo, making a left onto Durango. and ultimately a right on Desert Inn.
Kerns says if and when the Police interview him they would learn that indeed Wesley was coming from his house which would alter that finding in their report. Kerns maintains his brother was on Durango, adding that “three of the seven cars involved in the accident looked similar to Wesley’s.” Kerns doesn’t dispute there was a car coming the opposite direction, but is adamant that his brother was on Durango turning right onto Desert Inn.
Kerns pointed out that “people over here drive very fast and run that light on Desert Inn all day long.” He’s seen police sit in that area and just write tickets. What he’s hoping is that this accident brings more awareness to the living. “We’re all irresponsible drivers at times.” We eat in the car, smoke, text, talk on the phone, yell at our kids, eyeball or yell at other motorists — it’s everyone else on the road who’s an idiot though…
“Also you’d have to be insane to be doing 80mph on Durango to make a right on Desert Inn. Anyone with any driving understand you go flying across into that shopping center. And that’s on a dry road. So when it does rain, the oil on our roads rises to the top.” (It had been raining straight for 2-3 days prior to the 26th).
This is the state of media in 2020; When reports come out they need to “be first”, they need soundbites, and when it comes to tragedy, they need a bad guy. “When someone gets taken from the world due to a series of events. How do you deal with that? How do you get past that?” Talib asks.
Kerns points to the picture that was shown of his brother… When asked if he thinks it was a play at race by the media. Kerns says “We live in America. Is that really unbelievable?” Clarifying, Kerns says “that he is not saying that’s what it is, but that it would be irresponsible to suggest that’s not a possibility.”
Then the kicker — there’s video of the crash (An Exxon and a Chase Bank are both located at the intersection). Talib himself saw the cctv footage. He couldn’t watch all of it because at the time he was realizing that it involved his brother, who was now gone. When he had his wife go back to get (the video) for him, it had already been pulled down by police.
Kerns believes the police in Las Vegas do a great job. “Way better here than in New York”, where is originally from. But wishes the media would do a better job of jumping to conclusions given the actual investigation is still ongoing.
Since the initial reports from media outlets, Kerns and his mother have been inundated with messages of vitriol and hate online. These are knee-jerk reactions which Kerns understands are just a symptom of our times. “People saying whatever they think they feel.” He doesn’t blame them for how they feel. “The reality is though, they are jumping into judgements without fully thinking about the implications of their comments. There was an accident, these people suffered, it’s wrong. These people had family. The next link is the loss has to become real for everyone involved. When you start going further down the chain then empathy occurs.”
When asked how important it is to him and his family they find out what really happened? “It’s extremely important” to get that understanding from the proper authorities and have the correct version story out there. Wesley also leaves behind a son, and he did not have insurance — a fact which only further complicates matters for his grieving family. Kerns’ mother had just bought a house for Wesley. Now she has to figure out how to pay for it.
Callers weighed in with messages of sympathy, perspective, and similarity. One spoke of a friend’s mother who had been killed in crash that, initially, police said she had caused… Only to change their finding a year later showing that the person actually at fault was another driver – one who had previously caused another fatal accident. The driver actually at fault, had sued her friend’s mother’s insurance, got the money, and disappeared.
Sharp and Shapiro too, recalled a story about a tv reporter who had been labeled by the media as a drunk driver who had caused a crash. The reporter lost his job because of it. Turns out the reports were entirely incorrect. The reporter ultimately filed a lawsuit for defamation and walked away with almost seven figures.
Someone can be involved in a bad accident, lose their life, but it doesn’t mean that the police are right – at first blush. All reports contain at least some bias. It’s the same as when dealing with doctors and lawyers. Without conclusive, evidentiary proof — how can you ever be sure about anything? At least, when it comes to car accidents, video can more often than not, remove one’s unconscious bias.
Asked if he is confident that the truth will eventually come out, and his brother’s name, cleared. Talib said he’d like to believe that. For now, Talib is asking people to stop holding things against Tacuma until they get a clear narrative, and to stop attacking their mother — who is understandably broken by the entire situation (as are all of the families involved).
Asked about a lawsuit pending the final results of the investigation, the family has not hired an attorney yet. Talib has just finished paying the adjuster and needs to look at funds before he can do so.
When asked what he would like people to remember about his brother Kerns said, “…As a young man he had been loyal to the wrong people, did 8 years in prison (for possession of a controlled substance). In those 8 years he received every certificate you can in prison, and was let out early on furlough. He did so good on parole they let him off early.” He had his life back and didn’t want to do anything to ruin that. He turned his life around. He did that and he was proud of it. He was about to work at CES again this year. “He loved it.”
In parting Talib expressed how truly heartbroken he is for all of the families involved, and wanted to extend his family’s deepest condolences to all of them. He hopes the families can stand together as all of them begin the healing process following this tragedy.
Perspective is the only way around unconscious bias. Until all of the facts, including the video evidence are made available, all anyone has in this case is his/her bias — police and media included.
This could have happened to any of us. Instead of jumping the gun, either wait for all the facts, or search them out. In the interim, the best thing you can do for your family, “in case of” — install a dash cam in all of your vehicles. It won’t prevent anything, but just might clear up any questions should things ever get blurred out there on the roads.