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Pahrump courthouse sees tragic week in January

The Pahrump courthouse lost two people in January that worked within its walls. Bailiff Gerald “Bear” Smith died on Jan. 18 at Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center in Las Vegas due to COVID-19 related complications, according to the Nye County Sheriff’s Office.

Hundreds of condolences and expressions of shock and sadness flooded the Nye County Sheriff’s Office Facebook page following the announcement.

Nye County Deputy District Attorney Don Chairez also died, just three days after Smith, on Jan. 21, also from complications related to COVID-19, according to a statement from the Nye County District Attorney’s Office.

“We are devastated and our hearts, thoughts, and prayers go out to Don and his family, as they do to Bear and his family,” Nye County District Attorney Chris Arabia said. “Don was a beloved father, husband, brother, and a beloved figure around the Pahrump Courthouse.”

Gerald Smith

Two of Smith’s fellow justice court bailiffs extended words of comfort to Smith’s family, as they remembered their fallen colleague.

“I actually teared up when I heard about Gerald’s passing,” said Eric Schlener. “Bear was a great guy and I’ve known him since I arrived here two years ago. He was a very stand-up guy and a lot of people in the community knew him. I have never heard anything negative about him. He had a great sense of humor and I love hanging out with him.”

For the past five years Bailiff Jemele Taylor also worked alongside Smith.

“It was definitely a shock and Gerald was a good guy, very respectable and very well liked,” Taylor said. “It’s very tough when things like this happen, and it’s even tougher to process, especially when you talk to someone every day and one day, you can’t talk to them anymore. It definitely hit the courthouse hard. I’ve known Bear ever since I’ve been here, for the past five years. Obviously we talked to each other pretty much every day and I learned a lot from him being a bailiff myself. When I first came on, he showed me the ins and outs, and the dos and don’ts that come with the job and I am really thankful for that. My prayers go out to him and his family.”

Pahrump Justice of the Peace Kent Jasperson said he was equally stunned after learning of Smith’s untimely death.

Jasperson said he actually knew Smith prior to becoming a bailiff at justice court.

“When I was with the sheriff’s office several years ago, he was working as security at Saddle West,” Jasperson recalled. “He then came to work over here at the courthouse. He worked for Judge Lane, he worked in the drug court, and then when I got elected and took the bench in 2009, he became my bailiff, which was about 12 years ago, and he has been my bailiff ever since. It was quite a shock when he passed away and it’s something that’s going to be hard to deal with. He was a great guy and he would do anything to help anybody and he would actually go out of his way to do whatever he could do for people, but he also did his job as it was required of him and he did it with compassion. He was very caring and concerned about people.”

On Monday, Jan. 18th, Nye County deputies escorted Smith back to Pahrump from the hospital in Las Vegas.

Last week, Nye County Sheriff’s Office deputies posted a fallen officer wreath in the Pahrump Justice Court lobby in honor of Smith, whose family was also present for the ceremony.

Don Chairez

Chairez joined the Nye County District Attorney’s Office in March 2019, though his legal career was vast prior to his arrival.

Chairez served as a District Court judge in Las Vegas from 1994-98. He also worked as a prosecutor for Washoe and Clark counties during his career.

“Don was just an unassuming, nice person who did a great deal to promote justice over his long and varied career,” Arabia said in a written statement. “He was a great legal mind and courtroom lawyer and, unlike a lot of attorneys, he also excelled at making people smile.”

Contact reporter Selwyn Harris at sharris@pvtimes.com. On Twitter: @pvtimes

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