Most road rage incidents are emotional collisions between strangers, encounters where tempers explode and mayhem ensues.
That’s how Tammy Meyers appeared to have died late last week. Police said the 44-year-old suburban mother of four had encountered a hostile motorist after taking her 15-year-old daughter for a driving lesson in a middle school parking lot. She was later shot outside her home.
Two days later, on Valentine’s Day, she was taken off life support as her husband and children grieved and police sought a suspected gang member who presumably didn’t even know her name — in what seemed another all-too-American story of random gun violence. Thousands of dollars of donations flooded in to help cover funeral costs.
“When Tammy Meyers was shot and killed outside her home, it shocked this community,” Las Vegas Police Capt. Chris Tomaino said. “I believe when people learned the death was the result of a road rage incident, it frightened many people because that is not how anyone should resolve a dispute.”
New revelations suddenly made an anonymous crime far more complicated, and possibly personal.
A block from Meyers’ home, police Thursday arrested 19-year-old Erich Nowsch after officers surrounded his house. As it turned out, Meyers not only knew the young man accused of killing her, but had mentored him, providing money, food and advice on how to dress.
Once again, the city was shocked. So were police.
“We did not know that,” Tomaino said during a news conference on the day of Nowsch’s arrest. “That didn’t all come together until today.”
Authorities know one thing for sure: A suburban rite of passage — a mother teaching her teenager to drive — had taken a deadly turn after a confrontation between Meyers and people inside a gray or silver sedan. The question was why.
Police initially said Meyers and daughter Kristal had gone home after the incident and were calling for help when a sedan pulled up and someone inside opened fire.
But police now say that Meyers, after returning home, appears to have gone out searching for the other driver. She was joined by her 22-year-old son, Brandon, who armed himself with a 9-millimeter Beretta, authorities say. According to court documents, “Brandon said he told his mother to come in the house and call the police, but she told him no, come with me or I will go by myself.”
Meyers and her son drove around looking for the sedan, police said. They briefly tailed a silver car, police said, before Meyers decided to go home. Later, a car showed up at the Meyers house in a cul-de-sac. Brandon Meyers told police a man got out of the passenger’s side seat and fired. Brandon Meyers fired back. Tammy Meyers was hit in the head.
The incident has grown more convoluted as the family described how Tammy Meyers had tried to help Nowsch, who told friends that people were after him and “threatening to harm his mother and her newborn baby,” according to the police report.
“Got those kids,” Nowsch told friends after the incident, according to the police report. “They were after me, and I got them.”
As more details of the case became known, sympathy has turned to skepticism in parts of the Las Vegas community. A fundraising website has shut down, and the victim’s husband, Robert Meyers, announced via Facebook that he would return $6,000 from about 200 donors after a series of public posts criticized the site. “If all of you people think I was a fraud and lied about the facts, I’m truly sorry,” Robert Meyers wrote.
Nowsch, who was known to associates as “Baby G,” was arrested Thursday afternoon after a standoff with police. The police report reveals some contradictions. Nowsch told friends he had fired his gun 22 times, police said. Investigators say they recovered seven .45-caliber cartridge casings, three 9-millimeter cartridge casings, and one .45 bullet that tested positive for human blood.
On Friday, police continued their search for a second suspect. Nowsch, whom police identified as the gunman, was scheduled to be arraigned Monday on charges of murder and attempted murder.
“I’m sure many of you will leave with more questions than answers,” Tomaino said at the news conference. “However, the real take-away here is that the suspect involved in the killing of Mrs. Meyers is in custody and off the streets.”
On Thursday, following Nowsch’s arrest, neighbor Linda Watson stood outside Walter Johnson Middle School, where Meyers and her daughter had conducted their lesson.
When told a suspect was in custody, Watson responded: “It doesn’t make me feel any better. People get in arguments. It didn’t have to happen. Let it go.”
As police surrounded the house with Nowsch inside, a distraught Robert Meyers walked past the yellow police tape but was stopped by officers, in a series of events caught by TV cameras.
“It’s OK,” an officer said.
“No, it ain’t OK!” Meyers shouted back, brushing past reporters.
“Are you all happy? You made my wife look like an animal,” he said. “There’s an animal, a block away.”
Later, he told reporters outside his home that his wife had counseled Nowsch.
“She fed him, she gave him money, she told him to pull his pants up and be a man,” he said.
Robert Meyers told reporters Thursday that the family had feared for their safety after the shooting, suggesting that’s why they had not told police earlier of their personal connection with Nowsch.
“I couldn't tell you this before,” Robert Meyers added. “He knew where I lived. We knew how bad he was, but we didn't know he was this bad.”
The family did not respond to calls Friday to their Las Vegas home.
Tomaino said detectives would sort everything out.
“These investigations unfold much more slowly than the news cycle would prefer,” Tomaino, who appeared frustrated, told reporters. “Investigators still have a lot of work to do.”