I-Team: 'Beneath the Neon' -- Underground Las Vegas - 8 News NOW

Mark Sayre, Investigative Reporter

I-Team: 'Beneath the Neon' -- Underground Las Vegas

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The neon of Las Vegas is known the world over. But what almost nobody knows is that there is an entire life under our community. There is a local author who has spent nearly five years exploring beneath the neon to write a book.

Author Matt O'Brien took the Eyewitness News I-Team on a tour of one of the valley's storm drains. As he points to debris all over the floor of the tunnel, O'Brien said, "Yeah all the gravel here, you know about a foot, foot and a half of gravel here washes in during floods." 

The Clark County Regional Flood Control District says the valley has about 450 miles of flood control channels and tunnels, and about 300 miles of those are underground. O'Brien said he has toured most of the underground network. "I have seen boulder-sized rocks in here; I have seen cars."  

O'Brien first entered these tunnels in 2002 to write an article for City Life magazine, where he is now news editor. Since then, he's seen plenty. "You see random clothes and stuff around here. Some of the people who live in here have told me that they've seen women's articles like, you know, underwear and negligees and stuff kind of strewn about the tunnels," O'Brien said.

Graffiti lines the walls. A trash can sits on the ground. The sounds of Interstate 15 can be heard in the background. "The acoustics down here are such that you can hear noises from miles and miles away," O'Brien said. You can't see it in the darkness but the tour is an all-downhill journey.  

"So the floodwater naturally rolls downhill," O'Brien explains. Of all things you might think about a storm drain, how about beauty? "But there's actually some really, really beautiful stuff down here. The architecture, a tunnel bending into the sunlight, or some of the artwork on the walls or some of the people you meet," O"Brien said.

In one section of a storm drain, a grate allows sunlight to stream in to the tunnel and into a large open space. Matt O'Brien explained, "This is an underground, literally, art gallery. The thing that really strikes me is that you are walking in pitch dark and then you come across this naturally lit chamber with beautiful colors going in all directions."  

O'Brien said, just like a traditional art gallery, the exhibits change. "I've seen different stuff down here over the years. There's times where I have seen really cool murals, and I have seen portraits with political captions and stuff like that. This exhibit is more of a kind of a street-graffiti, bubble lettering," O'Brien explained.

And the tour continues from the exhibit this storm drain leads right under an attraction found on every tourist map. "We're kind of deep under the Strip right now." There's even a marriage proposal scrawled on the walls down here for a woman named Holly. 

As the camera light is switched off, O'Brien explained, " I wanted to show you how just how dark and quiet it can be down in here. It's unbelievable. It's cave black."

O'Brien's experiences are chronicled in his new book, "Beneath The Neon." His main goal -- he tells us in the sunlight above -- is to share the stories of people who live below our community.

"But there are some common themes, a lot of addiction down in there, gambling addiction, alcohol addiction, drug addiction. I would say 95-percent of the people I interviewed openly admitted they had some kind of addiction, and so that would lead them to be down here," O'Brien explained. 

O'Brien said his only regret in taking on this project was that he had to disturb the peace of the world below in order to bring the story to the world above.

The Regional Flood Control District did not know about this book in advance. This year, the district is spending more than $400,000 in advertising to warn people of the dangers of being in or near flood channels and tunnels.

The book, "Beneath the Neon: Life and Death in the Tunnels of Las Vegas" can be purchased through the publisher, Stephens Press, at Amazon, or call (702) 387-5260. Also, you can meet author Matt O'Brien on Friday, May 4, from 8 p.m. - 10 p.m. at City Life First Friday Booth, Casino Center Blvd., just north of the Funk House.

Email your comments to Investigative Reporter Mark Sayre.

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