The case of Henry Ruggs III and a distraught family desperate for answers

Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department investigators examine the crash scene. Ethan Miller/Getty Images

Editor's note: Wednesday marks one year since Henry Ruggs III was involved in a fatal car crash that killed 23-year-old Tina Tintor in Las Vegas. This story originally was published July 12, 2022. Ruggs still awaits a preliminary hearing -- now set for Feb. 1, 2023 -- to determine whether he will stand trial in state court.

LAS VEGAS -- On the drive home from an overnight shift at Paris Casino, Pedja Komazec came upon a crash scene. To his right, a burned husk of metal rested in the middle of the road. He couldn't tell whether it was a car or an SUV; its features had melted into anonymity.

On the curb sat a crumpled Corvette that belonged to Las Vegas Raiders receiver Henry Ruggs III. But that news hadn't gotten out yet. It was hours before daylight on Nov. 2. By the time Komazec neared South Rainbow Boulevard that morning, fire had consumed whatever was in the street. Somebody got killed, he thought.

Komazec had seen enough wrecks in the 24/7 freneticism of Las Vegas that he hadn't stopped to wonder whether he knew the person in that charred vehicle in the middle of the road. He turned and headed home.

Three stoplights away, a family was desperately trying to find their 23-year-old rock of the household. After working six days in a row, Tina Tintor had been out with a friend, walking her golden retriever, Max. She had texted her mom to let her know she'd be home late. But then calls to Tina's phone kept going to voicemail.

Her family checked with area hospitals and clung to their phones as news trickled out. A celebrity, a football player, was involved in a crash. There were photos of that charred vehicle, a RAV4, and news that the driver of that car had died. Tina's mother cried. Tina drove a 2013 RAV4.

Around 7 a.m., Komazec's sister, Mirjana, knocked on the door of his house.

"My Tina," she told him, "she never came home last night."

HENRY RUGGS III went home one day after the crash. He was released from the hospital, released from custody on a $150,000 bond and released by the Las Vegas Raiders. He was charged with multiple felonies, including driving under the influence resulting in death and reckless driving, and was put on house arrest, with alcohol and location electronic monitoring devices.

On Tuesday, his lawyers argued in court that Las Vegas police had no legal reason to request a warrant for blood to be drawn from Ruggs the morning of the crash and that the blood alcohol test should not be allowed. (Police did not conduct a field sobriety test at the site of the crash.) Authorities say Ruggs' blood alcohol content, measured two hours after the crash, was 0.161 -- more than twice the legal limit in Nevada. Justice of the Peace Ann Zimmerman denied the request to suppress the test.

Authorities say Ruggs tore through Las Vegas' valley west of the Strip at 156 mph in his Corvette Stingray. The Clark County coroner ruled in December that Tintor and her dog burned to death in the crash. "I've been involved in the justice system for over 40 years as both a defense lawyer and a young prosecutor," Clark County district attorney Steve Wolfson told ESPN. "I've never been involved in, or am I aware of, another criminal case involving somebody traveling 156 miles an hour."

Ruggs awaits a preliminary hearing -- now set for Sept. 7 -- to determine whether he will stand trial in state court. That hearing has been rescheduled four times -- the latest postponement coming last month. If convicted, the 23-year-old former Alabama standout faces a minimum of two years and a maximum of 50 years in prison, Wolfson told reporters in November.

One Las Vegas DUI defense lawyer not involved in the case said such delays are not unusual, given the volume of DUI cases in the city and the kind of legal maneuvering expected over evidence and medical records.

Still, with each delay, a family wonders whether justice will ever be served.

"You can't even imagine the pain," Komazec said of his niece's death. "You don't even know how you feel anymore. You don't even have feelings."

Joe Sullivan, a manager of victim services for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, has sat in a courtroom with Tintor's family during hearings over the past several months and has told them that the justice system can move slowly. Sullivan set up a meeting in June between the family and Clark County assistant district attorney Eric Bauman, and Sullivan called the meeting productive.

Still, Komazec can't sleep. He scours the internet and finds stories of celebrities and privileged people who've committed crimes and done little or no time in Las Vegas. The family worries that the longer it takes for the case to be resolved, the less anyone will remember Tintor.

They want to know everything that happened the night Tintor died. They want to know where Ruggs and his girlfriend, Kiara Je'nai Kilgo-Washington, had been before the crash -- what they were doing, who they were with, where they were going and why he made the choices he did.

But none of that will answer the existential questions. Why was a football player with a multimillion-dollar contract in his car rather than one of the numerous rideshare options? How could this happen when Ruggs' life and career had been defined by a prior deadly crash?

ON THE HEADER of Ruggs' Twitter page, which has been silent since Oct. 31, is a photo of a tombstone. It lists Roderic D. Scott's date of birth, the date of his death and an epitaph for a young man who never saw his 18th birthday: "I will do something great. I will be something great."

Ruggs had those words tattooed on his leg. He'd been friends with Scott since elementary school, when they met every morning to play basketball at a YMCA in Montgomery, Alabama. They became best friends at Robert E. Lee High School and dreamed of getting out of Montgomery and playing in the NBA.

In an extensive interview with ESPN's College GameDay in 2019, Ruggs said he wouldn't be playing football if it weren't for Scott.

Scott had a vision that his friend would be a five-star athlete, and that he'd play football at Alabama. Ruggs had barely picked up a football in his first two years of high school, but Scott kept urging him to play. He'd seen how fast Ruggs could run, and how high he could jump.

"He was always the one that was giving me confidence and just boosting my head up," Ruggs said in the GameDay interview.

"I think he just saw my potential."

The football coaches at Robert E. Lee also kept pursuing Ruggs, and junior year, he finally relented. He received his first football scholarship offer after the second game of the season.

Scott accepted a basketball scholarship to Jacksonville State, and their futures seemed set. Shortly after their basketball team was eliminated from the postseason, Scott and Ruggs planned a trip to Birmingham to cheer for their friends in the state finals. Ruggs was supposed to drive, but he caught the flu, so Scott rode with four other teenagers, including his longtime friend Darian Adams.

It was raining the morning of March 3, 2016, as they headed north on Interstate 65. Adams said the driver was speeding and distracted on her phone. He had asked her to slow down. He was sleeping in the back seat, unrestrained, when he awoke to the thump-thump of the tires riding over rumble strips. But Adams somehow managed to doze off again. Shortly after that, the car started hydroplaning, then left the road and overturned.

"Everything was in slow motion," Adams said. "I remember me being on [the interior roof], and Rod was in the middle. I remember looking down on him."

The next time he woke up, Adams was lying in the middle of the road. He had broken two bones in his neck. He asked where Scott was, but nobody at the scene, or the hospital, would tell him.

Ruggs was at home in bed. His phone kept ringing, and Ruggs kept hitting ignore. When he finally answered and heard the news, he wanted to rush to see Scott, but his brother, Kevontae', had taken his truck to the hospital. So Ruggs ran roughly a mile to Baptist Medical Center South to get to Scott.

When he found out his friend was dead, Ruggs said he "lost himself." He said he carried around guilt because he didn't drive him that day.

"I don't get sick," he told GameDay. "So why was I sick and why at that time?

"I try not to wear it too much on myself but ... I don't even know how to feel about it. Like, was it a good thing for me that I wasn't there or was it just meant to be that way?"

(ESPN requested records for the accident report from the State of Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, but the request was denied, citing Lagniappe v. Mack, a 2021 Alabama Supreme Court decision involving a local newspaper's request for body-cam footage in a fatal police shooting. The state Supreme Court ruled that "investigative writings or recordings are privileged communications protected from disclosure.")

Eleven months after his friend's death, Ruggs announced his college choice in a 1-minute, 50-second video that started with him crouched at Scott's grave.

"I honor him every day," Ruggs says in the video. "Everything I am, everything I have, I honor his memory. Because he always told me, 'I will do something great. I will be something great.'"

At the end of the video, Ruggs places an Alabama cap on Scott's grave.

"This is for you, Rod," Ruggs says.

Adams went on to play college basketball at Troy, then transferred to Jacksonville State in 2020. He figured it was a way to honor Rod Scott, by wearing the uniform he couldn't. It's been six years since the crash on I-65, and Adams still thinks about Scott every day. He can't shake the memories.

He was getting ready for a game when he heard the news of the crash in Las Vegas. Adams said he vacillated from being upset about the predicament Ruggs put himself in to feeling brokenhearted about Tintor to even sympathy for Ruggs. He said he prays for both of them.

He said he reached out to Ruggs but Ruggs never responded.

"The only thing I would say about Henry is that football may have been his life," Adams said, "but his life isn't over in my eyes."

TINTOR WAS, BY 20-something standards, a homebody. Her uncle said some of that came out of necessity. Her father, Nedeljko Tintor, struggled with language barriers and didn't have a driver's license. She took him wherever he needed to go, and she was supposed to pick him up from work the morning she died.

She liked doing things for her family, be it babysitting Ayden, Komazec's son, or spending a day with her grandmother. Tintor fought to get into the world. She was born premature, and endured bombings in the former Yugoslavia. Komazec's family would ration food to save for baby Tina.

In 2000, when she was a toddler, Tintor, her parents and her brother, Djordje, came to the United States. Komazec's family joined them a year later, and they all lived under one roof in Las Vegas for about four years. The cramped quarters, and the shared anxiety of leaving behind everything for another country, forged a deep bond within the family.

Tintor loved cooking and dyeing her hair and doting over her dogs and cats. She graduated from Durango High School in 2016, and worked at the Target on Grand Canyon Drive. It was a placeholder job to pay the bills until she figured out who she wanted to be. She would make the most mundane things fun -- Tintor enjoyed sifting through the chaos of the dollar aisle -- and hang out with co-workers in the parking lot for hours after the store closed. They'd commiserate over mean customers and teenage angst.

She had plans. She wanted to be a nurse, then changed her mind and focused on computers. She was really good with computers, her friend Ryder Hankins said. He said she had hopes of studying at UNLV.

"She was very tomboyish, and she was brave," Hankins said. "She didn't take s--- from anyone. She didn't let anyone talk down to her, especially at Target. If the guest is mad, we just get paid $12 an hour to sit there and listen. She was never shy. She was always there to help.

"She was someone that I gained a lot of courage from, and I looked up to her in that sense. She knew who she was and also wasn't afraid to be herself. And she was very blunt. She knew how to say something honest without hurting anyone."

THE RAIDERS HELD a team meeting on Monday, Nov. 1. They had just come off a relatively uneventful bye week, but interim head coach Rich Bisaccia delivered a message as they entered an off day on Tuesday: Stay out of trouble.

Out in Dallas, Cowboys safety Damontae Kazee had been arrested on suspicion of DWI during his team's bye two weeks earlier, and that was front of mind for the Las Vegas staff. The Raiders had weathered Jon Gruden's email scandal, and his bitter departure, and were 5-2 heading into a Week 9 road game against the New York Giants.

Ruggs, a second-year receiver who was finally showing the promise that earned him the 12th overall draft pick and a $16.67 million guaranteed contract, decided to go out that night. He went to Topgolf, a popular entertainment venue that overlooks the Strip. His girlfriend posted a video on Facebook of Ruggs taking swings from the bay while they enjoyed the evening with at least one other, unidentified friend. She later told police that they were drinking mai tais and that she drank two but didn't know how many, if any, Ruggs had. Messages to Topgolf and the company's national office were not returned.

Kilgo-Washington narrated Ruggs as he swatted at golf balls. "You're under pressure when you're on camera," she laughed.

Club music thumped. High Roller, the city's famous 550-foot observation wheel, was in Ruggs' sight line. Ruggs said that there were 14 minutes left in their session. After they left Topgolf, Ruggs and his girlfriend went to a friend's house, according to the police report.

Just after 3:30 in the morning, Tintor's RAV4 was headed north in the far right lane of South Rainbow Boulevard. Kilgo-Washington told police she was on the phone while Ruggs was driving his Corvette. She heard him yell, "What is this guy doing?" around the time he started braking. The car began to slide, veering from the middle of the northbound lanes, south of Spring Valley Parkway, into the far right lane and hit Tintor's Toyota at 127 mph. The RAV4 was propelled 571 feet.

Michael Leone, who lives along South Rainbow Boulevard, was awake and feeding his 6-month-old son when he heard a boom. Leone went to his backyard, where he could see the street. In an interview with ESPN, he said he saw someone still in the driver's seat of a Corvette and remembered music blaring. Leone said another man -- later determined to be a security guard at a nearby condo complex -- helped the driver to the side of the road.

Leone said he saw a black SUV pull up behind the accident scene, and then noticed a white car also parked not far away. He estimated 10 people were walking closer to the crash, and he remembered an officer telling one of the men to back up, and the man replied, "Oh, we are his friends, we know them."

The police report said that a black Dior shoe was on the ground and a handgun was on the floorboard.

A TMZ video shows the Corvette on the side of the road, partially on the sidewalk -- hazard lights flashing and doors ajar. Tintor's RAV4 sits sideways in the center lane, burning, as Ruggs curses. The fire in the RAV4 pops so loudly that it apparently sets off a car alarm. A man on the sidewalk -- who appears dressed in the same clothing as their friend in the Facebook video from Topgolf -- points out to an officer that the person sitting on the ground is Ruggs, who plays for the Raiders, and that he needs help "ASAP."

A voice on the video, but off camera, tells police there is someone still in the car that's on fire. Two men -- the security guard and a passerby -- had tried to save Tintor, according to statements made to police, but she was pinned inside. Smoke and heat from the fire caused both men to back away.

The TMZ video reveals Ruggs' reaction to a disaster in real time: He sits on the road and cries as Kilgo-Washington faces him, holding his head in her arms. She repeatedly pleads for help and tells Ruggs to think of their toddler daughter.

"Think of Kenzli," she says. "Think of Kenzli."

Ruggs was taken to University Medical Center, where, according to a police report, an officer noticed Ruggs' speech was slurred. Citing evidence collected at the scene as well as Ruggs' condition and behavior at UMC, police concluded he was under the influence of alcohol. Citing tests by hospital staff before police arrived, the report said Ruggs hadn't suffered head trauma. Ruggs was booked into Clark County Detention Center.

When Ruggs was at the hospital, he became enraged, police said. He attempted to take the IVs out of his arm and the monitor from his finger.

"Get me the f--- out of here," Ruggs screamed.

TINTOR WAS BURIED on a sun-splashed Thursday afternoon. Young people dressed in black scattered dirt into a hole in the ground and made a sign of the cross. One of Tintor's friends posted on social media that it was the first funeral she had ever attended.

Tintor's family wanted the services to be private, with no cameras, so a throng of news media stood in the corner of a parking lot at St. Simeon Serbian Orthodox Church, the site of the funeral.

Still, a handful of strangers felt compelled to attend.

"I never knew Tina," Las Vegas resident Bob Kendzior said. "I didn't know a thing about her until the events, and it stuck with me all week. I'm a dog person like she was; I've had rescue dogs my whole life. And the tragedy is just unspeakable. I didn't know what to do. I wanted to donate, I wanted to send condolences and send flowers, but nothing seemed right.

"And then I remembered when I lost loved ones, the most important thing to me was the people who just showed up. So I decided to show up. I'm sorry if I wasn't dressed appropriately, but I've never been to a Serbian event before. But it was important to be here."

Raiders owner Mark Davis attended the funeral, and Komazec thought it was a nice gesture. But then he later read in the Las Vegas Review-Journal that Davis said he wouldn't abandon Ruggs even though he was cut from the team.

"I was just thinking he was somebody who feels sorry and he's going to change something," Komazec said. "That he's going to say, 'We have too many problems in the club. I want to change something. This is not acceptable, what's going on.' But after that I read in the news, 'Hey I'm going to give him all the support he needs.' That's the thing -- why would you be two[-faced]?"

But in the days after the accident, Tintor's family did feel the support of Las Vegas. Angela Pinzon, a mother of two, works at the Petco next to the park where Tintor walked her dog that last night. Pinzon, who has four golden retrievers, found herself grieving a woman and a dog she had never met and wanted to do something. Pinzon and Las Vegas dog trainer Sabrina Smilor organized a "Pack Walk" for Nov. 13, the Saturday after Tintor's funeral. There was just one rule: Neither the dogs nor their humans could wear Raiders gear.

Pinzon said it wasn't meant as a knock against the Raiders. She just wanted the day to be about Tintor and Max. She hoped Tintor's family would hear about the walk and know that the city of Las Vegas was thinking about them. Know that they weren't alone.

In the crowd she spotted a group of people dressed in black. Pinzon looked at their solemn faces and knew -- it was Tintor's family. She walked up to Mirjana Komazec, Tintor's mom, and hugged her.

A few weeks later, Pinzon was loading groceries into her car in the parking lot of La Bonita on South Rainbow Boulevard when a woman in the parking lot approached her. It was Mirjana.

They embraced again. Mirjana, Pinzon said, was wearing black. She told Pinzon that she never would have imagined all those people would show up that day for Tintor. She was crying.

She told Pinzon that she hoped this never happens to anyone else.

ON MARCH 16, the Clark County court granted Ruggs permission to leave home confinement twice a week to work out for three hours a day at a training center in the Las Vegas Valley near Red Rock Canyon. The gym touts itself as a premier sports facility, catering to pro-level athletes.

It's unclear whether Ruggs is actually working out or whether he has hopes of someday resurrecting his football career. Ruggs' lawyer, David Chesnoff, said his client will not do interviews while the case is ongoing. Chesnoff wouldn't comment on a motion the defense made, and a judge granted, in late April requesting permission for Ruggs to go to California for one month -- May 2 to June 2 -- for medical treatment. ESPN requested a copy of the defense's motion, but the court sealed the document outlining his medical needs.

Dozens of friends and ex-teammates were contacted for this story, and a number of them either didn't reply or declined to comment. Ruggs' agent, Jovan Barnes, who has made numerous trips to Las Vegas since Nov. 2 to be with Ruggs, said that he would like to talk about the Henry Ruggs he knows but that he can't comment.

Raiders players have had several brushes with the law involving driving in Las Vegas. In January, rookie cornerback Nate Hobbs pleaded guilty to a careless driving charge after a DUI charge was dropped. Prosecutors said Hobbs' blood alcohol level was 0.01%, under the Nevada legal limit. Hobbs also faced a separate reckless driving charge from earlier that month -- he was going 110 mph in a 65 mph zone -- for which he entered a no-contest plea and paid a $250 fine. Hobbs' incident came almost a year to the day after running back Josh Jacobs was arrested on suspicion of DUI in a single-car crash near the airport. He was never charged because his blood alcohol level was below the legal limit.

Alex Otte, national president of MADD, said that the organization reached out to the Raiders and offered support in the hope of avoiding a repeat of what happened on South Rainbow Boulevard and that they have been in discussions about efforts to prevent impaired driving.

A representative from the NFLPA told ESPN the use of ride-sharing apps is promoted in annual team meetings. In 2010, the union began offering a driver service; the on-demand portion of the service was discontinued in 2019 after Uber and Lyft became popular. Players currently can secure a car service, with at least an hour's notice, by calling the 1-800 number on the back of their NFLPA membership card.

"We would like to be able to train players, staff, fans," Otte said. "We want everyone who's involved with their organization, with the NFL and with the public in general, to understand that this is never an option. Drinking and driving should never be an option for someone."

JUST A FEW hours after the NFL's first-round draft picks walk the red carpet under the backdrop of the Bellagio Fountains in late April, Pedja Komazec quietly gets in his Volkswagen and makes the 3:30 a.m. journey home from work. A few miles from his house, he stops his car and walks to the crash site.

Over the winter, he had commissioned an artist to paint a mural near the corner of Spring Valley and Rainbow, just a few feet from where Tintor died. He stops at the mural every night on his way home from work just to make sure the flowers, candles and memorials are intact. It relaxes him when he knows everything is OK.

In December, he arrived at the site and noticed that someone was stealing her Christmas lights. Komazec ran after the man. He asked the man why he did it, and the man said he didn't know. Komazec has come to the area late at night for more than half a year now, when a memorial was across the street, when someone wrote in chalk, "DEPORT THE RAIDERS."

He walks a couple of blocks to the spot where Ruggs slammed on his brakes. The police paint lines marking the vehicles' movements are fading, but the scorch marks from Tintor's RAV4 are still visible. Komazec thinks about the final seconds of his niece's life over and over. He's going to do something. He wants to meet with state legislators about toughening DUI laws. He said he has a video call scheduled with at least one state senator next month. Komazec plans to be in the courtroom for every hearing.

"We're never going to get her back," he said, "but at least he can get what he deserves to get."

It's almost 4 a.m., around the time Tintor died on Nov. 2. Cars whiz by the intersection. The sun will be out soon. Komazec, dressed in his work clothes -- black pants, a white shirt and a tie -- declines to be in any photos of himself by the memorial. He wants all the attention to be on Tintor. He says Tintor's mom ordered a giant photo of her daughter shortly after her death, and when the family hung it on the wall, their Siberian husky cried and barked for days.

The dog didn't eat for four or five days straight, Komazec said, because it realized that Tintor wasn't coming home.

Tintor's mom recently adopted another golden retriever, he said. It reminds her of Tina. There was little hesitation when deciding what to call him. They named him Max.