Henry Ruggs III was out to kill someone on Tuesday morning in Las Vegas.
Drunk at more than twice the legal limit and hauling his Corvette down a residential street at 156 miles per hour with his girlfriend by his side, according to Las Vegas Metropolitan Police, he was a loaded weapon looking for a victim or victims.
He found one, a 23-year-old woman in a Toyota RAV4 who was driving down Rainbow Boulevard, located about 5 miles west of the famed Strip, at 3:39 a.m.
As Ruggs’ approached the woman’s vehicle on the three-lane road, he veered right behind her before slamming into her car, police said. The RAV4 immediately burst into flames. The fire department found her inside the vehicle and declared her dead at the scene. The remains of a dog were also found in the car.
Wednesday morning prosecutors detailed new evidence against Ruggs, who was in his second year with the Las Vegas Raiders and a former star wideout at the University of Alabama. Ruggs was charged on Tuesday with DUI resulting in death and reckless driving.
The first charge carries a penalty of 2-20 years. The reckless driving is up to six additional. The Raiders released their 2020 first-round draft pick hours later.
In a preliminary court hearing, Chief Deputy District Attorney Eric Bauman painted a picture of a reckless 22-year-old, drunk amid a series of terrible decisions that resulted in grave consequences. Bauman said crash scene evidence and speed determining algorithms indicate that Ruggs was traveling 156 miles an hour about 2.5 seconds before impact. His car was at 127 mph when its airbags deployed.
“I cannot recall a speed that high in my career on the bench,” Judge Joe Bonaventure remarked, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.
It is an almost unfathomable speed on a city street in a tightly packed suburban area of Las Vegas.
Worse, police say Ruggs’ blood-alcohol level came in at .161, twice Nevada’s 0.08 legal limit. Officers said Ruggs appeared impaired at the scene but he had refused a field sobriety test. Video posted on Ruggs' Snapchat from earlier in the night reportedly showed him at a local TopGolf facility. A loaded gun was also found on the floor of Ruggs’ car.
Ruggs and his girlfriend sustained injuries that left them briefly hospitalized, but by Tuesday afternoon he was booked in Clark County Jail. On Wednesday, he appeared in court seated in a wheelchair, with a banged up face and a neck brace.
Bonaventure ordered a $150,000 bond and, if released, the highest level of electronic monitoring. Terms would include being prohibited from drinking alcohol and operating a motor vehicle. It was well below the $1 million bond that prosecutors sought.
Regardless, Ruggs is in significant trouble.
“It is the worst set of circumstances I've ever seen in a DUI case,” said Craig Mordock of Mordock Legal in New Orleans, where he has defended over 500 DUI cases.
If the evidence prosecutors are bringing forward is accurate, there are few, if any, mitigating factors that can help him, Mordock said. At this point, Ruggs can show only remorse and point to a previously clean record that might spare him from a sentence that pushes toward the maximum allowed.
“He has had no previous trouble with the law and I would assume by the time he gets around to sentencing he’ll be able to show a great deal of remorse,” Mordock said. “But in the end I don’t think that saves him.”
The fact that Ruggs alleged crimes are numerous – driving while drunk, excessive speeding and reckless driving – mean that there were numerous ways for him to kill someone and suggests it was a matter of time before he hit something or someone in the suburban neighborhoods near the Strip.
This wasn’t an accident. It was an inevitability.
In terms of football, Ruggs’ once promising career is likely over. Known for his blazing speed on the field, the 12th overall selection of the 2019 NFL draft had 24 receptions for 469 yards and two touchdowns this season for the Raiders. He was in the middle of a contract that paid him just over $4 million per year on average.
While his attorneys have reminded that Ruggs is innocent until proven guilty in the eyes of the law, the eye-popping facts thus far presented and the horrific manner of death for the woman make even fighting these charges a challenge.
“Based on what we currently know, it would be very difficult, although not impossible, to try to argue this in front of a jury,” said Chris Scott of the Christopher Scott Law Firm in Kansas City, who as a former prosecutor and current defense attorney has been on both sides of hundreds of DUI cases.
Unless prosecutors seek the maximum prison time, Scott said, it’s unlikely Ruggs’ defense will try.
Even then, trying to seek any kind of advantageous plea deal will be a struggle due to the way the woman died and the narrative prosecutors will be able to paint of an out-of-control professional athlete barreling through neighborhoods just waiting to kill someone.
“We are all humans and that will play on emotions, even from prosecutors or a judge if the case comes to a point where Ruggs is asking for any kind of leniency,” Scott said.
Ruggs is due back in court later this month.