ELKO – It was early in March of 2018 that Priscilla Kraintz received a telephone call from the Elko County District Attorney’s office.
It had been two years since the Kraintz family appeared in court during the sentencing of Tyler J. Demerath, who was charged with striking Jared Kraintz in a crosswalk at WalMart on July 13, 2015. Jared hit his head on the pavement and died two days later after being flown to Reno.
Demerath was found guilty by Elko Justice of the Peace Mason Simons of vehicular manslaughter, operating a motor vehicle without a driver’s license, and operation of a motor vehicle while registration is suspended, all misdemeanors.
He was ordered to serve 180 days in jail, complete 200 hours of community service, pay more than $4,000 in fees, fines, and restitution and fulfill other conditions of the sentence.
But on March 6, 2018, the conviction was overturned in Elko District Court. Upon hearing the news, Priscilla Kraintz said she couldn’t believe it.
“I was shocked,” she said. “I said to whoever I was speaking with, ‘This is never going to bring my son back.’”
More than a year after that phone call, the Kraintz family gathered once again. Not to mourn Jared, but to testify before the Legislature on behalf of Assembly Bill 403 that, if passed, would seal up a loophole in the law ensuring that drivers would be held accountable for their actions if death occurs on private property.
Jared Kraintz, 35, a worship pastor at the Assembly of God Church, was leaving WalMart at about 8:20 p.m. Witnesses testified he did not appear to pay attention as he entered the crosswalk in front of the market entrance, which was backed up by surveillance video.
A Dodge Neon driven by Tyler Demerath, 22, later determined by Elko Police to be driving at about 9.5 mph, struck Kraintz.
An initial police investigation revealed Demerath was not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, but he was driving without a driver’s license.
The day after the accident, Kraintz died of his injuries. His brother Joshua told the Elko Daily Free Press the family forgave Demerath, knowing that’s how Jared would want it.
“We’re forgiving the individual and harbor no ill will,” Joshua Kraintz said.
On July 23, 2016, Jared’s life was celebrated by family and friends, who remembered him as “a bright light” in the community.
A trained vocalist, Jared was the minister of worship at the Assembly of God Church. He also sang at public events including the Independence Day celebration at the Elko County Fairgrounds and events for fallen U.S. Marine Cpl. Raul Bravo.
Speaking to the Assembly Committee on Growth and Infrastructure on April 2, Assemblyman John Ellison recalled how hundreds gathered to pay their respects.
“Jared Kraintz was so well-loved, more than 900 people showed up for his funeral,” Ellison said. Jared had impacted so many people in the community, “we had to hold his funeral at the Elko Convention Center.”
One day short of a year had passed since Jared was hit in the parking lot when the family and friends attended Demerath’s sentencing on July 14, 2016.
The state sought a maximum of six months in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. But Demerath’s attorney, Sherburne Macfarlan, asked for a two-year suspended sentence and to pay fines and restitution, under the condition he maintain good conduct and not incur new arrests anywhere or minor traffic violations within that two years. The request was granted.
“In this case, there’s a family without their family member,” Simons said, according to Elko Daily Free Press files. “This may not have been willful conduct, but it was conduct certainly of a negligent fashion.”
On Sept. 28, 2016, Demerath filed an appeal in Elko District Court. The court documents stated that while Demerath was found to be driving nearly 10 miles an hour through the parking lot, “the incident occurred on private property and not on a highway.”
Nevada Revised Statute 484, chapters A through E, stated that the law applies to highways in Nevada and not private property.
In writing her decision, Judge Nancy Porter stated that Demerath’s actions were “not criminal because [Demerath] was on private property and not a highway. Although [Demerath’s] actions may have been traffic infractions on a highway, they are not infractions on private property.”
Porter cited three cases heard by the Nevada Supreme Court related to NRS484. In two cases from 1977 and 2000, justices concluded that the law applied to public property and not private property.
“This Court cannot overrule the Nevada Supreme Court,” Porter wrote in her decision. “Because the incident, and the tragic death of Mr. Kraintz, did not occur on a public highway, [Demerath] did not commit any traffic violations that could support a conviction of vehicular manslaughter.”
The overturning of the conviction sent shock waves through the Kraintz family and those who knew the family or were connected to the case.
Ellison said he spoke with the family and then contacted Ingram. He said one of his first thoughts were “we’ve got to do something.”
“At the end of the day, the guy walked,” Ellison said.
Meanwhile, the Kraintz family struggled to understand what had happened.
“Our family was just coming to closure,” Priscilla said. “With grief, it takes awhile. You go through all these stages.”
But the family also wanted to do something.
“We did not feel vengeful or vindictive towards [Demerath],” Priscilla said. “I know he didn’t go to kill someone, but it happened. Accidents happen, and there needs to be some accountability.”
With Ingram’s help, a draft of AB 403 was submitted to the Assembly, requesting an amendment to NRS 484 in sections 1 through 4 that added phrases “premises to which the public has access” throughout the law.
“This is not a heavy bill that will create a long prison sentence or a big fine,” Ellison told the Committee on Growth and Infrastructure on April 2 in Carson City. “This bill would hold people accountable.”
Citing driver inattention as a significant factor of pedestrian accidents in parking lots, Ellison explained that Clark County attorneys are faced with similar incidents, mostly involving teenage drivers.
The law only affects drivers and not property owners, Ellison stressed.
“The intent of this bill is to protect the innocent, not go after a driver who backed up and hit a person. The intent is to go after negligence.”
As of Jan. 1, 2012, it is illegal to hold an electronic device to talk or text while driving in Nevada. The penalties start with a $50 fine on the first offense and can go as high as $250 and result in a suspended driver’s license for subsequent offenses within seven years.
According to the Nevada Department of Public Safety, about 3,450 people were killed by distracted driving in 2016.
“If AB 403 saves one life, it is a justified bill,” Ellison said.
Emotions were high when Ellison presented the bill to the Senate Committee on Growth and Infrastructure.
The bill had support from the Nevada District Attorneys Association, the Nevada Sheriffs’ and Chiefs’ Association, the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department and the Washoe County Sheriff’s Office. Additionally, four Elko area citizens, along with Priscilla Kraintz, spoke in favor of AB 403.
But it was when State Sen. Yvanna D. Cancela, the committee chair, asked to make an amendment to the bill that Ellison began to worry.
An amendment this late in the session might delay passage of the bill, Ellison recalled.
“We had run out of time.”
However, the amendment was to include other senators as co-sponsors to the bill, and it passed unanimously.
“It had never been done before,” Ellison said, “It was so emotional, everyone was crying. I knew Jared since he was a little kid.”
“That was a cool thing to be a part of,” Ingram said, “to see senators from both sides of the aisle coming together and recognizing this as an issue. It was an awesome thing to see that, especially in partisan politics.”
AB 403 – What does it mean for Nevada drivers?
Essentially, the law is another deterrent for distracted driving, said Ingram.
“It lets people know that you need to be really careful when you’re driving through these parking lots because if you do hurt somebody or kill somebody, you could face criminal prosecution. For a lot of people, that is enough to deter the conduct,” Ingram explained.
Demerath’s conviction was reversed on “the grounds that ... a particular crime based on the wording of the statute could not be committed in a private parking lot,” Ingram explained. “Because although WalMart parking lot is open to the public, it still is not a public highway or street; it’s a private lot.”
Beginning Oct. 1, the new law will hold anyone accountable for committing a crime on private property, including driveways and parking lots.
AB 403 did not change the penalties under the law, Ingram explained. It is still a misdemeanor.
The passage of the bill into law seems to end a chapter for the Kraintz family nearly four years after the loss of Jared, Ingram said.
“I think this gives the Kraintzes a little bit of closure that they were missing,” he said.
For the Kraintz family, seeing the bill go through was a bittersweet victory.
“If others have to go through something like this, they will be protected, and the person themselves who have done something wrong will be accountable to the law,” Priscilla Kraintz said. “We’re pleased we could support this bill and that it would affect the whole state of Nevada, not just Elko.”
But the loss of Jared’s presence in their lives is still there.
“Of course, we miss Jared. He was the light of our life because he was so involved in our church and the community,” Priscilla said.
Yet, some good has come out of the tragedy, she added. “There’s always a little rainbow you can look for in situations like this.”
One of those “rainbows” was hearing from someone who received one of Jared’s organs.
“One of his kidneys was given to a little girl,” Priscilla said. “Her mother wrote me a letter and thanked me. Her little girl was so happy because she had waited so long.”
“Bad things happen, but God can turn these things around and make it good for everyone.”