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March 2, 2013

Police detail 9 minutes before Vegas fireball

LAS VEGAS — It took just nine fateful minutes for a valet stand dispute to escalate to a deadly Las Vegas Strip shooting, crash and fireball.

Nearly every second was captured by video, audio and witness accounts and detailed in a Las Vegas police report made public after a weeklong manhunt led to the arrest of Ammar Harris in Los Angeles on Thursday.

Investigators say Harris, a 26-year-old felon and self-described pimp, exchanged angry words with aspiring rapper Kenneth Wayne Cherry Jr. in a casino valet area.

The shouting continued as the two men drove in separate cars along Las Vegas Boulevard, with tires squealing and a horn blaring.

Police say it wasn’t long before Harris began shooting, Cherry was mortally wounded, and his Maserati careened into a taxi that exploded in a fireball. In the end, Cherry and two other people were dead, and five others were injured in a spectacular, multi-vehicle crash at one of the most famous neon-lit crossroads in Las Vegas.

Stunned tourists compared the carnage to a Hollywood action film.

The report said it was 4:11 a.m. Feb. 21 when Harris stood for a moment in the valet area of the glossy and glassy Aria resort, talking with Cherry, who was in the driver’s seat of the dark gray Maserati.

“What was said specifically, I can’t say,” Las Vegas police Capt. Chris Jones said Friday. “But it’s clear there was an exchange of words and a dispute that led to this senseless act.”

Police found no gun in the Maserati and no evidence that Cherry had returned fire in the attack that ended just before 4:20 a.m. The SUV disappeared along Las Vegas Boulevard as cab driver Michael Boldon, 62, of Las Vegas, and passenger Sandra Sutton-Wasmund, 48, of Washington state perished in the taxi.

A passenger in the Maserati, Freddy Walters, 26, was shot in the arm, and four people in four other vehicles were hurt, none seriously, in the chain-reaction crashes.

Attempts to reach Walters have not been successful. Police say he cooperated with investigators.

Cherry, 27, was buried Thursday in Oakland, Calif., about the same time Harris was arrested, said Vicki Greco, a Las Vegas lawyer representing Cherry’s parents and family.

Boldon and Sutton-Wasmund were mourned by friends and family members who were shocked by what Boldon’s younger brother called the “I don’t give a care attitude” of the crime.

Sutton-Wasmund, a two-time breast cancer survivor, will be remembered at a funeral Saturday in Maple Valley, Wash., as a tireless catalyst for causes, activities and events in her school and business community, said Sue VanRuff, a friend and executive director of the Greater Maple Valley Black Diamond Chamber of Commerce.

“Many people don’t know Sandi for one thing. They know Sandi for lots of things,” VanRuff said. “If she didn’t know you, she made it her mission to know you. To be your friend.”

Boldon’s funeral was Wednesday in Las Vegas. Taxi drivers held several memorials, including a procession up Las Vegas Boulevard late Thursday with horns honking and hazard lights flashing.

“My brother was affected by a random, senseless act caused by machismo — a pimp or a tough guy trying to prove he was brazen and bad enough to shoot someone on the Las Vegas Strip,” Tehran Boldon said. He hailed the arrest of Harris and said he intends to be in court for every appearance by the suspect.

Harris remained jailed Friday in Los Angeles and is due for an extradition hearing Monday. In Las Vegas, Clark County District Attorney Steve Wolfson told reporters that he’ll consider seeking the death penalty.

“I can’t imagine anything much more serious than firing a weapon from a moving vehicle into another moving vehicle on a corner such as Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo,” Wolfson said. “That is reckless, it disregards human life. There were other people injured. It could have been worse.”

The incident unfolded after Cherry, originally from Oakland, Calif., and Walters arrived at the Aria just before 4 a.m. Cherry used the name Kenny Clutch in a YouTube music video that shows scenes of hotels along the Strip as he sings about paying $120,000 for his Maserati and a single mistake changing lives in one night.

The friends went into the casino for about three minutes then returned to the car. After Cherry and Harris talked, the Maserati drove away.

Harris and others had spent several hours at a table he reserved at the nightclub Haze, where Morocco-born rapper French Montana performed.

As the Maserati headed toward Las Vegas Boulevard, Harris climbed into the driver’s seat of his black Range Rover SUV with three women inside and followed, wheels squealing as the SUV caught up with the sports car on the Strip.

At a stop light, the Range Rover pulled next to the Maserati and the taxi driver told police the two drivers exchanged words.

A horn sounded as the Range Rover pulled into the path of the Maserati on the boulevard in front of the famous Bellagio fountains, then close alongside.

Police say Harris leaned across the front-seat passenger in his SUV and fired one gunshot into the driver’s side of the Maserati. The taxi video shows the cars jockeying into several positions approaching Flamingo Road as two other shots are fired, then three more.

The intersection was soon filled with flames and crashed cars.

The SUV was found two days later at an apartment complex near the Strip, triggering the manhunt. Harris’ arrest came about 16 hours after the last of the three women who were with him in the SUV was found by police. She had boarded an eastbound interstate bus in Los Angeles.

 

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