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Las Vegas Strip back in business after violent crash

Police are still searching for a black Range Rover whose occupants shot at a Maserati, triggering a fiery collision that killed three.

February 22, 2013|By John M. Glionna, Los Angeles Times
  • The fiery crash early Thursday on the Las Vegas Strip killed a taxi driver, his passenger and the driver of another car. Police are searching for a Range Rover in the incident.
The fiery crash early Thursday on the Las Vegas Strip killed a taxi driver,… (Erik Lackey, Associated…)

LAS VEGAS — The Strip's busiest intersection was back in business Friday as police continued their search in four states for a black Range Rover whose occupants opened fire on a Maserati, causing a fiery crash that left three people dead.

The incident erupted about 4:20 a.m. Thursday after an argument at a valet stand outside the Aria resort and hotel.

The Maserati crashed into several cars at the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, including a taxi that burst into flames, killing the driver and his passenger as well as the driver of the Maserati. The Range Rover sped away.

The Clark County coroner identified the Maserati driver Friday evening as Kenneth Cherry Jr., 27.

Cherry was an aspiring rap artist known as Kenny Clutch who recently moved to Las Vegas from the Bay Area, his grandfather said. An Internet video of a Kenny Clutch song called "Stay Schemin" shows two men driving on the Strip.

Cherry's grandfather, Eugene Morris Jr. of Oakland, said the family was devastated.

"We just can't talk about it now," he said, adding that Cherry's mother planned to travel from Oakland to retrieve her son's body. "In our last conversation, she said she was going to get Ken."

A passenger in the Maserati was treated at a hospital and released. The man, whose name wasn't made public, was said to be cooperating with authorities, the Associated Press reported.

The taxi driver was identified by family members as 62-year-old Michael Boldon, who had moved to Las Vegas from Michigan to care for his 93-year-old mother.

"I never thought that my family would be affected by gun violence," Michael's brother, Tehran, told Las Vegas television station Fox News 5. "We love and trust in God, and for God to take our brother during this time of his life is a statement, not just to us but to everyone."

The name of the other victim in the taxi has not been released.

Valerie Darling, who works for a limousine company that often posts cars at the Aria, said in an interview that the occupants of both vehicles had been in the Haze nightclub inside the hotel and had left after the 4 a.m. closing time.

She said both cars were probably parked near the door, and not with the valet, a common practice for patrons with luxury cars. "That's why the SUV could chase the Maserati right out of the parking lot," she said. "They left at the same time."

According to law enforcement sources, Las Vegas authorities are searching for a black Range Rover with black rims. In a general alert to other agencies, they said the suspects are "multiple male black adults" but provided no other description.

Friday morning, the scene of the crash, which injured a handful of other drivers, was buzzing again with vehicular and pedestrian traffic. The busy intersection, ringed by such casino titans as Bally's, the Bellagio and Caesars Palace, reopened about 8 p.m. Thursday.

Police said the 15-hour closure was the longest in the Strip's history. The famed fountains at the Bellagio, usually open at 3 p.m., did not start Thursday until after dark, when pedestrians were allowed to return.

Early Friday, precisely 24 hours after the tragedy, three dozen taxi drivers stopped at the spot where Boldon's cab exploded for a silent, 10-minute memorial. Police looked on as the drivers stood at a makeshift altar of flowers and notes set up at the base of a nearby traffic light.

Throughout the morning, taxi drivers beeped their horns as they passed the intersection. Desert Cab Inc., Boldon's employer, said it was sponsoring a collection in honor of the driver.

The Las Vegas Convention and Visitors Authority said such violence is rare here.

"Recent incidents, while unfortunate, were isolated events. Las Vegas is among the safest travel destinations in the world and utilizes the most advanced technology and training to maintain a secure environment," it said in a statement. "Providing a safe and secure experience is our top priority."

Violent crime in the tourism corridor was down approximately 13% in 2012 and is down nearly 11% so far this year, the group said.

Those statements were echoed by Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie, who said his department would make sure the shooters were caught.

He said the Range Rover was last seen near the Venetian resort as it headed north from the shooting scene. Police have video from traffic cameras at the intersection and from nearby taxis and were checking hotel surveillance systems.

The video will not be made public, officials said.

The city has been the site of several recent violent incidents. Two people were critically wounded in a shooting at a parking garage on Feb. 6, and a tourist was stabbed last Saturday in an elevator at the Hotel at Mandalay Bay.

On New Year's Eve, at Circus Circus, a man pulled out a revolver and fired it into the ground just off the main floor of the casino. Less than two weeks earlier, police said a woman slashed the face of a blackjack dealer at the Bellagio.

The Maserati crash occurred just two blocks from the spot where rapper Tupac Shakur was killed in a drive-by shooting in 1996, as assailants opened fire on his luxury sedan from a vehicle on Flamingo Road. The killing has never been solved.

But as another weekend arrived, the Vegas Strip got back to the business of gambling. The mammoth white statue still stood outside Caesars Palace, its imperial right hand gesturing toward the intersection where violence had struck so recently.

Times staff writers Marisa Gerber and Richard Winton contributed to this report.

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