Las Vegas Sun

January 18, 2021

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My little girl was so happy’: Families mourn 2 teens killed in suspected DUI crash

Vigil for 16-year-old Crash Victims

Steve Marcus

A photo of Citlali Mora, left, and Nelly Amaya Ramirez is shown at a makeshift memorial on Maryland Parkway at Katie Avenue Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The Del Sol High School students were killed by an alleged impaired driver.

Years into their friendship, the Las Vegas teenagers only grew more inseparable.

Both were the only child at their homes, which they took turns visiting. They went to school together, shopped together and called each other sister.

Nelly Amaya Ramirez and Citlali Mora had just left the Boulevard mall and were waiting for a bus to head home Monday night when a Mercedes-Benz SUV came speeding down Maryland Parkway. The vehicle zig-zagged from the road, onto a sidewalk and into a crosswalk, where it struck the girls, fatally injuring them. Both were age 16.

Vigil for 16-year-old Crash Victims

A photo of Citlali Mora, left, and Nelly Amaya Ramirez is shown at a makeshift memorial on Maryland Parkway at Katie Avenue Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. The Del Sol High School students were killed by an alleged impaired driver. Launch slideshow »

Five minutes before tragedy struck, Nelly’s mother, Ada Ramirez, said she spoke with her daughter on the phone. The girl said they would be home in a few minutes for dinner. They shared their final words without knowing it.

Nelly said, “I love you, mama,” Ada Ramirez recounted tearfully Wednesday afternoon from the scene of the crash, her words trailing. The mother responded, “I love you, hija. I love you, too.”

She said Nelly was her “motor de vida,” the engine that kept her going.

About 10 minutes after the phone call, Nelly’s stepfather, Nelson Reyes, got a call from a friend who witnessed the crash and recognized the girls.

Police said Ebone Whitaker, 38, was impaired when she took the wheel of her silver M-class. At high speeds, the SUV veered off the road and hit a traffic signal near Katie Avenue and then barreled into the girls, who were in a marked crosswalk.

The vehicle continued south and smashed into a second traffic signal and a tree, which then hit two other vehicles. Two people in one of the vehicles sustained minor injuries, police said. Whitaker, who police said was seriously injured, was booked on two counts each of DUI resulting in death and reckless driving, all felonies.

It wasn’t clear if she’d been released from Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center, where one of the teens was also taken before she died.

An impromptu memorial was growing in the southwest corner of the intersection of Maryland and Katie. Flowers, religious candles and heart-shaped balloons rested on a tree, while more flowers and a small, stuffed bear were held up by an uprooted tree trunk.

As night fell, people gathered for a vigil organized by UNLV's Vulnerable Road Users Project paid their respects. Advocates decried crashes like the ones that took the best friends this week.

The scene is a few yards from where a mother and her three children were struck by a pickup as they strolled in a crosswalk in October 2018. The woman and her boy, 4, died a few days apart.

Another 16-year-old girl was killed Monday when the car she was a passenger in crashed on the Strip. Police cited DUI as one of the causes.

“My little girl was so happy,” Ada Ramirez said, describing her as well-behaved and someone who did no harm and loved to study.

A high school junior at Del Sol Academy of the Performing Arts — where Citlali also attended and they were both widely liked by their peers — Nelly wanted to go to college to study business, her mother added.

Nelson Reyes, who helped raise Nelly since she was about 5 years old, considered her his “princess,” he said, recalling the mornings when he had to go to work. She would make sure he would wake up at 4 a.m. and affectionately call him “gordo.”

The nickname is ironic, because Reyes is a thin man. “Gordo, take care. I love you,” she would say.

He said the girls befriended each other some years ago, and they were always together.

It’s hard to tell them apart from a selfie the teens took. Their smiles, hair, makeup, blue top and necklaces are almost identical.

They were polite and never caused trouble either, so, when Nelly asked permission to go to the mall, her mother only paused to tell her she should go another day, because it was so hot out. But when the girl said it wasn’t a big deal and to not worry, she was given the OK.

Reyes said the family can’t fathom that Nelly’s life would be cut so short, adding that he wants to see justice. He hopes their Christian faith will get them through the loss.

Nelly’s mother spoke about irresponsible people who would drive while intoxicated, especially when ride-sharing services and cabs increasingly facilitate a safe drive.

“Why are people so unjust?” Ada Ramirez asked rhetorically. “They take someone’s life away. They destroy it.”

A GoFundMe fundraiser was organized to split equally between both families for burial costs.