Las Vegas shooting: Not road rage, but cautionary vigilante tale?

A deadly shooting in Las Vegas was thought to be an episode of road rage among strangers. But it turns out to have been an exchange of gunfire between neighbors.

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department/AP
A police official leads Erich Nowsch to police headquarters in Las Vegas. Nowsch was arrested on suspicion of murder a block away from the residence of Tammy Meyers who was killed in a road-rage incident last week.

A Las Vegas shooting where a mother of four was killed after a dispute with another motorist may not have been a road rage killing at all, but the tragic outcome of vigilantism.

New details from police and confessions of a 19-year-old who bragged to friends that he was involved in a shooting offer a new dimension to the tragedy, which occurred on Feb. 12.

For one thing, it turns out the mother of four who was killed, Tammy Meyers, not only knew Erich Nowsch, the alleged shooter, but had counseled him after the death of the teenager’s father. The two were, in fact, neighbors, their houses just a few blocks from each other in the Ansan Sister City Park neighborhood of Las Vegas.

The revelations further underscore a point made by some experts: that pure road rage killings are exceedingly rare, especially in a country where drivers cover nearly 8 billion miles every day. That the Las Vegas shooting may turn out at least in part to be an act of citizen action gone tragically wrong adds another layer – that of cautionary tale about the dangers of mixing guns, high motions, and vigilantism.

The story comes in an era when, in some parts of America, growing numbers of people are deciding to solve problems outside the courts.

Amid high crime and police cutbacks, the rate of homicides ruled justifiable in Detroit is 2,200 percent higher than the US average, a result, in part, of growing vigilantism by groups that “consist of ordinary folk being victimized,” as the London Daily Mail noted in 2012.

According to the police report, Mr. Nowsch and Ms. Meyers first clashed after Meyers’ daughter, Kristal Meyers, honked at a silver Audi after a driving lesson at a school parking lot near their home. The car stopped and a man got out and warned the duo that, “I’m going to come back for you and your daughter.”

The man was described as 6-feet-tall, but Nowsch is just over 5 feet tall and weighs only around 100 pounds. Police say they are looking for a second suspect, the driver of the Audi.

After the verbal altercation, Meyers then ordered her daughter to drive home, where she woke her son, Brandon, and told him they were going to find the car. When Brandon balked, his mom said then she’d go alone. That’s when Brandon loaded a 9 mm gun, told his mom to call 911, and got into the car.

Nowsch, for his part, told police that he began shooting after someone in a green sedan brandished a weapon in their direction. With shots fired, the Meyers fled toward their home.

The car with Nowsch in it followed, and Nowsch, police say, fired a fusillade near the cul-de-sac where the Meyers family lives. One of those bullets struck Meyers, who died two days later. Brandon Meyers says he fired a total of three bullets, but didn’t know whether any of them reached their target.

Nowsch faces a growing list of charges, with first-degree murder being the main accusation.

On Wednesday, Las Vegas police held a press conference to talk about how to avoid road rage, but it wasn’t until Thursday that it became known that the family knows Nowsch.

Robert Meyers told CBS News that his wife “was really good to [Nowsch] … She fed him, she gave him money, she told him to pull his pants up, and to be a man more times than I can count.”

“My son is a hero in my book,” Mr. Meyers said at a vigil this week, defending Brandon Meyers’ exchanging gunfire with those in another car. “There were mistakes made like every one of us have made in our life, but this particular mistake was made to keep a bigger mistake from happening.”

Given the latest twist in the story, some might disagreed with that assessment.

“When you go looking for trouble you might just find it,” noted commenter Luis Betancourt on the CBS News Facebook page.

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