Nevada voters went to the polls Tuesday in a primary election marred by a light plane crash that seriously injured two statewide candidates and killed the wife of one of them.
Republican candidates Sue Wagner, running for lieutenant governor, and Bob Seale, running for state treasurer, were hurt when the plane Seale was piloting developed engine trouble and crashed just after taking off Monday from the Fallon airport, 50 miles east of Reno, on a campaign swing.
Seale's wife, Judy, who was serving as his co-pilot, was killed, and two campaign aides suffered minor injuries.
Both Wagner, a state senator, and Seale, a public accountant, were listed in fair condition Tuesday at a hospital in Reno. Their doctor said both had been able to vote by absentee ballot. Both had opponents on the ballot.
In other primary races, Democratic Gov. Bob Miller was heavily favored to win nomination over five relatively unknown challengers in his party, and newcomer Jim Gallaway, a businessman and the heaviest spender, was favored among eight Republican contenders.
The 45-year-old governor has held the job for two years, since Democrat Dick Bryan gave up the job upon election to the U.S. Senate. One of the challengers in the Democratic primary, in an attempt to garner voter attention, changed his legal name to Rhinestone Cowboy.
Gallaway, in his campaign, emphasized his stand in favor of abortion rights, which Miller opposes, and has opposed a statewide payroll tax plan that Miller backs.
But a recent poll indicated Miller would go into the general election campaign, if both men were nominated, with a 2-to-1 lead, 60% to 27%, with the rest undecided.
Nearly 500,000 people were eligible to vote in the fast-growing state, but election authorities predicted a turnout of only 35% to 40%. Registered Democrats slightly outnumber Republicans in Nevada, and both U.S. senators, as well as the governor, are Democrats.
Perhaps the hottest contest was in the Democratic primary for attorney general, where Nevada Secretary of State Frankie Sue Del Papa was seeking to move up. Her principal opponent was a former Las Vegas judge, Leonard Gang.
Gang pointed out late in the campaign that Del Papa is ineligible to practice law in Nevada, but Del Papa, who had practiced law for 16 years before assuming an inactive status, responded that, under state law, she could return to active status simply by paying $126 in fees and completing a 10-hour legal refresher course. This, she said, would be a mere matter of a weekend's study.
The contenders in the Republican attorney general's primary were Bryan Nelson, a former chief deputy state attorney general, and Randy Rumph, an attorney for Bally's hotel-casinos.
In a legislative contest, the name of Assemblyman Marvin Sedway, a Democrat from Las Vegas, remained on the ballot, despite his death in July of lung cancer. It had been too late to remove his name. A political unknown, Charles Wakefield, was also running. If Sedway wins the primary, the Clark County Democratic Committee would name the Democratic candidate.
The candidates hurt in the plane crash had gone to Fallon for a Labor Day parade and had just taken off in a Cessna 411 for Carson City, the state capital, when the accident occurred.
Coincidentally, Wagner's husband, Peter B. Wagner, was killed in a plane crash 10 years ago in Northern California.
Churchill County Sheriff Bill Lawry said that soon after taking off, the right engine of Seale's plane lost power. Seale had turned back toward the airport in an attempt at an emergency landing when the crash occurred.
The force of the impact, in a grassy desert area about a mile short of the airport, sheared off one of the plane's wings.
One of the passengers, Brian Krolicki, Seale's campaign manager, walked to a nearby ranch house, despite his injuries, to seek aid.
"Right after takeoff, we knew there was a problem," Krolicki said later. "Then I saw smoke coming out of the right-hand engine. The next thing I knew I was sitting in the middle of the desert trying to take off my seat belt."
Seale underwent surgery on his left wrist and left heel for compound fractures. He also suffered a lung injury as well as facial burns. Wagner had a spinal fracture.