LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A woman’s body went undiscovered in a car in short-term parking at Harry Reid International Airport for nearly a month in a part of the garage just yards away from passenger pickup, the 8 News Now Investigators first reported Monday.
The car sat undisturbed for 23 days. It was not until a parking employee noticed the smell that he called Metro police.
“The odor around the vehicle — it’s pretty, pretty horrific,” a Metro officer said in body-camera video the 8 News Now Investigators obtained documenting the response.
The discovery comes on the heels of an 8 News Now Investigators’ report finding thieves have stolen dozens of cars parked at the airport garages over two years. The investigation also found surveillance and security systems do not always work.
“To me, it seems like there’s no safety in that garage, at all,” a former airport employee told the 8 News Now Investigators. The person, who requested anonymity, came forward after seeing the 8 News Now Investigators’ report in November.
While there are cameras and license plate readers throughout the garages, the 8 News Now Investigators found they do not always work or do not capture every vehicle. The 8 News Now Investigators paged through dozens of stolen vehicle reports, finding surveillance and other security measures in place are not catching nor preventing all thefts.
Reid Airport is one of the nation’s busiest with tens of millions of passengers traveling through it each year. That includes millions of travelers who live and work in the Las Vegas valley and who park at the airport before getting on a flight.
A parking employee discovered the woman’s body in the car in the short-term parking area of the Terminal 1 garage on Nov. 1, 2022, documents said.
“This is passenger pickup — short-term passenger pickup,” the Metro officer said on his body camera video as he relayed his location to dispatchers.
Short-term passenger parking is intended for stays at the airport of 3 hours or less, the airport’s website said. The woman entered the garage on Oct. 8 and died by suicide, a report said. The total time her body lay there, 23 days, equals more than 500 hours over than 3-hour limit.
The 8 News Now Investigators went to the area, finding it is a row away from the busy road where passengers meet awaiting cars. An area where no stopping is allowed.
“What do you think is the biggest issue when it comes to security and safety at the airport parking garages?” 8 News Now Investigator David Charns asked the former employee.
“There needs to be more presence out there,” they said. “More bike patrol.”
“How does something like that go undetected for 23 days?” Charns asked.
“They’re supposed to an inventory on the short-term parking and obviously somebody just went and pencil-whipped they never actually verified if that particular vehicle had been there and how long it’s been there,” they said.
The report about the woman’s death indicates there was a record of the car entering the garage. It was unclear if employees inventoried the car, and if they did, why no one realized a body was inside. It also was not clear why a vehicle was allowed to be parked in a sensitive area for more than 3 weeks.
“To come to the airport and leave for a couple of days and come back and your vehicle is missing it’s terrible,” Chris Arencibia, whose car was stolen last year, told the 8 News Now Investigators. “It’s a terrible feeling.”
The 8 News Now Investigators found Arencibia’s car was one of about four dozen vehicles stolen from airport property that victims have reported to Las Vegas Metro police over the past two years.
“My concern is not the vehicle — it’s just at 4 o’clock in the morning, women, men, young, older people, could go up there and something could happen to them and there’s no camera to see what’s going on,” he said, adding the parking office told him there was no video surveillance of his car.
In November, the 8 News Now Investigators interviewed an airport spokesperson as part of the original story about car thefts. Unknown at the time, that interview was recorded the day after the parking employee had found the deceased woman in her car.
“There’s a lot of different components in place to check on the vehicles,” airport spokesperson Joe Rajchel said in November. “We have people who go through at night — check the license plates that are here to again keep that information and see what vehicles we have on property.”
In another interview, a Metro captain said cameras do not capture all crimes or incidents in the garages. The ex-employee said staffing shortages and automation have led to fewer patrols. The added removal of parking booths has eliminated human interaction and instinct if there is an issue, say a thief driving a stolen car and saying they lost their ticket.
“There will be some nights when they have bike patrol that they may only have one,” they said.
While signs for short-term parking and the airport’s website claim there is a 3-hour limit, Rajchel said a car can be parked there for 30 days before it is towed.
While the car with the woman’s body in it was “logged as in pulling into the garage,” according to a report, it was unclear if there is other surveillance of it available. Reports for stolen cars the 8 News Now Investigators obtained show a lack of surveillance, with one person reporting their car missing with “no record of the vehicle leaving.”
“Department of Aviation did not have any surveillance cameras at the location of occurrence,” one stolen-vehicle report said. Another wrote, “[airport staff] did not have any video surveillance of his vehicle entering the parking garage or leaving.”
“For there to be several of these reports that say there was no surveillance, is that acceptable?” Charns asked Rajchel in November.
“I can’t speak to the reports. I haven’t seen them,” he said. “I can’t speak to what is behind that.”
“There are cameras throughout the garage, most of them are pre-set in a certain direction,” the ex-employee said. “If something does happen there’s a chance that it may or may not be caught on camera.”
While some theft reports the 8 News Now Investigators obtained indicate daily car inventories as recent as December 2022, it remained unclear why the woman’s car went unnoticed.
“We often see travelers choose to park in short term to conveniently and quickly find a parking spot, especially during busy times, when the long-term garage fills,” Rajchel said in an email in an exchange ahead of this story with an invitation for a new interview.
The ex-employee said garage staff is not allowed to look into vehicles nor could they see inside if the windows were obscured. A report on the incident indicates the woman’s windows were tinted but that a sunroof was left open.
“Would you park your car there?” Charns asked.
“I just don’t feel like my vehicle would be safe out there,” the ex-employee said.
Since November, the 8 News Now Investigators have asked the airport and Clark County what specific improvements the Department of Aviation is or has made in its garage. Upgrades to cameras, including 360-degree ones, at all county airports, were part of a multi-year improvement project commissioners approved in 2019.
While there is a record of the $9 million project getting approval, there are no specifics, including how many cameras were installed, what their maintenance costs are, or if they are working in 2023.
Even with the improvements, several employees, speaking anonymously with the 8 News Now Investigators, said the cameras are unreliable and sometimes offline.