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Hotel dispute said to touch off fiery Vegas shooting, car crash

February 21, 2013|By John M. Glionna and Michael Muskal

LAS VEGAS — It started with a dispute in a hotel along the famed Strip then turned into the kind of mayhem associated with blockbuster movies: gunshots, crashing vehicles and a fiery explosion. Three people were killed, at least three were injured and this resort city was in a midst of a manhunt Thursday.

Las Vegas Boulevard near Flamingo Road -- some of the most valuable real estate along the legendary Strip -- was shut down Thursday morning and probably will  stay closed for hours, officials told reporters at a news conference in the shadow of such major hotels as Bellagio, Caesars Palace and Bally’s.

“It began with a dispute at a nearby hotel and spilled on to the streets,”  Capt. Chris Jones, from the Las Vegas Robbery Homicide Division, said. There was no immediate explanation for the altercation, he said.

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Those involved in the dispute took to the road in two vehicles, a silver-gray Maserati and a black Range Rover SUV, with tinted windows, black tire rims and paper dealer plates from out of state, the police captain said. The Maserati sped off at a high rate of speed and the SUV followed.

About 4:30 a.m. at a stoplight, gunshots were fired from the SUV, police said, hitting the Maserati, which then plowed into a taxi cab that exploded in a fireball on impact. The cab driver and passenger were killed at the scene and Maserati driver was pronounced dead at a hospital. A passenger in the Maserati was among the injured.

The SUV raced off and was being sought by officials who have contacted police authorities in three states to be on the lookout for the vehicle. It was not known how many people were inside the SUV, but all were assumed to be armed and dangerous.

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Las Vegas, which is based on gambling, tourism and convention business, prides itself on being safe for visitors. There have been some incidents in recent weeks, but nothing on the scale of this predawn shooting.

Tourists waking up Thursday morning faced problems getting around. Bell captains tried to direct lines of people to alternate transportation, including cab lines outside the shut-down zone. Workers in the service industry were delayed through the morning commute. Limousine drivers sought alternate routes. Casino workers coming off their overnight shifts looked for makeshift stops for buses that normally picked up and delivered people along the Strip.

“You have to go way out of your way,” Jim DeSanto, driver for a local resort, said. “Most people will understand but you have your complainers. Those people will complain when everything is perfect.”

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Another limousine driver stood outside his black stretch vehicle. Malik Alamudeen, a driver for 24-7 Entertainment Limousines, said the traffic snarls cost him at least $500 in tips.

The shooting was the talk of the area, even among the denizens of the night, such as Paul Pillat, 58, formerly of Milwaukee, Wis. He described himself as a homeless person who has been trawling the streets for years. He said he was known by his street name, Tumbleweed, and he was heading to a fast-food restaurant near the intersection about 4:20 a.m. when he heard the gunshots.

“I ducked right away,” Pillat said. “I didn’t know what was going on. Somebody could have been shooting at me.”

He said he did not see the impact, but heard the crash of vehicles.

“Then the ambulances started coming, it was like a stock car rally out there,” he said, adding he had come to expect violence. “It’s the wild West here. People don’t understand. They think it is  fun and games. It’s not. It’s dangerous.”

But many tourists were more sanguine.

Inside the casinos, the hurly-burly of the gambling continued with one person, who refused to give his name, pulling the handle of a slot machine. “I’m here for the day and I’m going to get my gambling in,” he said, turning back to the machine at Bally’s.

“Look at what happened in Orange County this week,” Gaspar Pasqualetto, of Diamond Bar, 83, said of a shooting spree that left four dead, including the gunman. He said he learned of the Nevada shooting when he arrived at Las Vegas on Thursday morning.

Racing form in hand, Pasqualetto waved as he headed to the sports book inside Bally’s.

“Wish me luck,” he said.

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