LAS VEGAS (KLAS) — A man who served prison time for driving high and killing a motorcycle rider had his driver’s license revoked this summer after another DUI arrest, his fourth, but the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles did not process the paperwork until six days after police said that same man killed another driver while impaired and behind the wheel of a rental car.
Prentiss Bates, 50, killed Jim Burchette, 58, in 2012. The crash marked Bates’ third DUI. Less than two years after getting out of prison, Bates faced his fourth DUI. By September, police arrested him again on his second fatal DUI charge – his fifth DUI.
“I knew it was going to be a tougher year because it has been so long,” Bert Burchette, Jim Burchette’s son, said from his living room adorned with photos of his father. Jim Burchette, a husband and father who grew up in northern Nevada, loved to ride motorcycles, his son said. He and his wife, Anna Burchette, would be celebrating 40 years of marriage this year.
“He taught us to be kind people, my brother and I,” Bert Burchette said.
A photo of Jim Burchette sits near the top of his son’s Christmas tree. His smile beamed brightly, unaware of the man high on drugs who would kill him.
“A lot of things could have been prevented,” Bert Burchette said.
The first fatal DUI
Bates pleaded guilty to a charge of driving under the influence of a controlled substance resulting in death in 2013. He was driving another person’s rental car in November 2012 when he crashed into Jim Burchette near Nellis Boulevard and Cheyenne Avenue.
Prosecutors said Bates was high on PCP, a hallucinogen, records showed. Bates told the responding officer he had recently smoked marijuana. The officer at the time noted Bates did not have a valid Nevada driver’s license and had a suspended California license. Bates also told the officer he had a prior DUI in California.
“It’s angering. It’s very angering,” Bert Burchette said. “It makes the loss even worse.”
A judge sentenced Bates to eight-to-20 years in prison. The judge also ordered an interlock device be placed on his car for a minimum of three years following his release.
The crash involving Jim Burchette would mark Prentiss Bates’ third DUI on record. He was convicted of his first in California in 2009 and his second in Las Vegas in 2011, documents showed.
As time would tell, Jim Burchette would not be his first victim.
In August 2020, Bates, nearing the eight-year minimum of his up-to-20-year sentence, appeared before the Nevada Parole Board.
“I made a bad, terrible decision for choosing to operate a motor vehicle while under the influence,” Bates told the board in his August 2020 hearing. “The only way to overcome my past is succeeding in my future by being a law-abiding citizen.”
During the hearing, a parole board member noted Bates did not attend any substance misuse treatment while in custody.
“And in your history, a lot of drug and alcohol offenses,” the parole member said in the hearing.
The board ultimately granted Bates parole eight years to the day of Jim Burchette’s death. He was not ordered to be under the supervision of probation.
“The man standing in front of you today has changed immensely,” Bates told the board.
He did not.
Fourth DUI arrest
In June, prosecutors charged Bates with driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol – his fourth DUI arrest. Las Vegas Metro police officers said they found Bates sleeping behind the wheel of a car near Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road.
The arresting officers did not take Bates’ license away because they administered a blood test and needed its results to formally file a criminal complaint against him.
“They won’t take your license at the scene, because they don’t have the evidence needed to do that,” Kevin Malone, a spokesperson for the Nevada Department of Motor Vehicles, said.
A judge set bail at $50,000. Bates was released on $5,000 bond pending another court appearance. Before his release, a judge ordered him not to drive and to wear a monitoring bracelet. The judge’s name is not written in the court docket, indicating it was a person filling in on a temporary basis.
Records show Bates failed to appear at an August hearing and a warrant was issued for his arrest. A hearing happened in August, but it was unclear if Bates appeared or if an attorney appeared on his behalf. Bates remained out on bond pending a hearing in November — until his next arrest.
Second fatal crash
On Sept. 22, Bates was driving at nearly 100 mph on the wrong side of the road and was high on drugs when he slammed into the front of a parked car, killing its driver, Demarr Sims, 40, police said. The crash happened in a construction zone around 2 a.m. near Rancho Drive and Craig Road in the northwest valley.
Sims, a construction-zone flagger, was sitting in a car awaiting the end of his shift, police said.
Even though Bates was arrested months earlier on his fourth DUI charge and had served prison time for driving high and killing a person, he had a valid Nevada driver’s license and was driving a car he rented.
“The bottom line here is this man was ordered not to drive, and he did,” Malone said.
While Bates was out on bail following his June 30 arrest, prosecutors awaited his blood results to move forward. Lab results would eventually reveal PCP in his system.
Las Vegas Metro police formally submitted a letter asking the DMV to revoke Bates’ license on July 23. The DMV did not receive that request until Aug. 22. The DMV processed Bates’ revocation notice on Sept. 28, six days after police arrested him on his second fatal DUI charge.
“Why did it take so long to get that license revoked?” 8 News Now Investigator David Charns asked Malone.
“We do have a backlog of about 60 days in processing those forms,” Malone said. “Unfortunately, we are backed up.”
The one-page forms are mailed to the DMV and entered manually.
“There’s just a lot of them and we’re having a hard time getting caught up,” Malone said.
That two-month delay allowed Bates to have his physical driver’s license in hand for his fifth DUI arrest, his second resulting in death, prosecutors said.
“That’s a little bit of a loophole in the law,” Malone said. “If the law enforcement agency doesn’t take that license on the spot, no one in the larger community is going to know that it should be or is revoked.”
The car rental companies
That includes rental car companies who do not have access to real-time DMV records, the 8 News Now Investigators confirmed. No state DMV offers real-time records to private businesses – information that could have prevented Bates from driving a car in the first place.
“It would be highly unlikely that that car would have been rented to someone,” Charns said.
“I can’t speak on behalf of rental agencies,” Malone said.
The 8 News Now Investigators asked the three largest rental car companies how they research a customer’s driving record and if they would want access to real-time records.
“In September, a man with a revoked license was able to rent a car and crash into another driver, killing that driver,” the emails said. “What is your research policy when it comes to researching a driver’s record? Would the company be open to accessing real-time license revocation data if it were available?”
The 8 News Now Investigators emailed Enterprise Rent-A-Car, which also owns Alamo and National; Avis Car Rental, which also owns Budget; and Hertz.
Not one company responded.
“We’re not aware of any state that allows private companies to get real-time access for a couple of reasons, privacy and the potential for abuse,” Malone said.
Documents did not indicate exactly when Bates rented the car, but prosecutors said it was after his fourth DUI arrest.
“Clearly laws are failing us,” Bert Burchette said, adding more should be done to prevent repeat DUI drivers from keeping their driver’s licenses – a little piece of plastic packing a lot of power.
“How many people are out there on the roads right now that shouldn’t have a license?” Bert Burchette asked. “The privilege to drive is a privilege, not a right.”
Due to his arrest following a felony DUI conviction, Bates was being held in jail without bail pending trial, which was scheduled for March.
Bert Burchette said he and his family attended every court hearing leading up to Bates’ sentencing. The family said they were notified he was up for parole but were not told he was released from prison. It was not until the Burchettes read the 8 News Now Investigators’ report in September about Bates’ latest fatal DUI charge that the family learned Bates was free.
Once the DMV processes a driver’s license revocation, it will send a certified letter alerting the license holder to surrender their license, Malone said. State law indicates the license must be surrendered but the statute does not give a timeline.
The 8 News Now Investigators also contacted the car company believed to have rented Bates the car he was driving in his second fatal crash in September. The company did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
Bates declined an interview request.