POSTED: 11:21 p.m. HST, Mar 12, 2012
LAST UPDATED: 03:05 p.m. HST, Mar 13, 2012
LAS VEGAS >> Police fired shots in the parking structure of a Las Vegas resort casino as they interrupted a gang-related gunbattle just hours before the marquee event of a NASCAR race weekend that brought hundreds of thousands of tourists to town, authorities said Monday.
Three people were wounded in the gunfire as others dove for cover shortly before 4 a.m. Sunday on the fourth floor of the Rio All Suites Hotel & Casino parking structure, police said.
One wounded man disappeared while two were taken to University Medical Center, where gunfire in the parking lot about 90 minutes later wounded two more men. Police believe the two shootings are related.
The man who initially disappeared arrived at Sunrise Hospital and Medical Center across town at about 6 a.m., and he was being treated for multiple gunshot wounds.
Police said it was lucky no one was killed and no bystanders were hurt as parked cars were peppered with bullets in the Rio’s broad cement parking garage.
“There were a number of innocent people that were up there just getting in their cars, that just arrived or leaving the area,” Deputy Las Vegas Police Chief Jim Owens told reporters at a news conference Monday. But there were no uninvolved people who were struck by stray gunfire, he said.
Uniformed officers were in the area, working overtime for special weekend events, and they arrived just seconds after reports of gunfire in the parking structure, which is several blocks west of the Las Vegas Strip, Owens said.
The officers fanned out after finding blood on the ground and a metal baseball bat in a trash barrel. One officer shot several times at a man he saw firing a weapon and running toward him. The gunman, a 22-year-old North Las Vegas man, was wounded. Police said it wasn’t clear if the officer was the person who shot him.
No police officers were injured.
Officer Jacinto Rivera, a department spokesman, said detectives were checking casino and parking lot surveillance video and seeking witnesses to an earlier dispute outside the Crown Nightclub, which is at the Rio. Police think that altercation may have led to the shooting.
“The individuals who were involved were gang members,” Rivera said. “We don’t know the motivation.”
The shooting at University Medical Center happened after a crowd of more than 30 people gathered in a parking lot to support the two who were being treated inside. Witnesses saw three people standing a short distance from the crowd before shots were fired, Owens said. The shooters fled, and police later found a handgun at the scene.
Rivera and Owens said all five of the wounded men were expected to survive their injuries.
The officer who fired shots was on paid leave pending a review of the shooting. Police were withholding his name for 48 hours.
The shooting and the investigation forced the closure of the Rio parking structure until midday and disrupted plans for hundreds of people in town for NASCAR events, including Sunday’s featured Sprint Cup race at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
Rio’s parent company, Caesars Entertainment Corp., delayed checkout times, provided breakfast vouchers and offered shuttle service to the track and other Strip properties while police collected evidence, company spokesman Gary Thompson said.