Friday, July 06, 2007
LAS VEGAS — A man on a balcony over the New York-New York casino floor opened fire on the gamblers below early Friday, wounding four people before he was tackled by off-duty military reservists, police said. A fifth person was hurt in a crush of people fleeing the casino.
“It was crazy, pandemonium,” said Jade Jacobson, 28, a tourist from Deland, Fla., whose cousin, a dance teacher from Pennsylvania, was wounded in the leg.
“People were running and jumping over slot machines and knocking over chairs,” Jacobson said. “All I was thinking was that I could die right now.”
Police said 16 shots were fired, and again revised the number of injured in the 12:45 a.m. shooting. All the injuries were described as minor, and none of the victims remained hospitalized Friday morning, authorities said.
Las Vegas police Capt. James Dillon said a woman and a teenage boy were wounded; a man was grazed by a bullet; a woman was hit by a bullet fragment or shrapnel; and a woman was bruised and scraped when she fell amid the crowd of people exiting the casino.
Steven Zegrean, 51, of Las Vegas, was arrested on felony charges including attempted murder, battery with a deadly weapon and discharging a firearm in an occupied structure, Dillon said.
“All we know so far is that he was emotionally distraught,” Dillon said. “I can say with absolute certainty that this has nothing whatever to do with terrorism.”
Zegrean emptied a semiautomatic handgun toward the casino floor before he was tackled by a U.S. Army reservist, a Navy reservist and others who held him for police, Dillon said. He said he did not know the names of the people who intervened.
Dillon said police have a casino surveillance video that shows the shooting.
Melody Zegrean, 43, a Las Vegas resident who identified herself as Steven Zegrean’s cousin, said he had been divorced for several years and estranged from most of his family since his ex-wife remarried.
“I love my cousin and everything,” she said, “but his temper and not being able to relate has really gotten worse recently. He’s been threatening the family for some time now. He’s been pushing everyone away.”
She described Steven Zegrean as a Hungarian immigrant and unemployed house painter who liked to gamble.
Troy Sanchez, a 13-year-old from Van Nuys, Calif., who was wounded in the left ankle, said he heard more than 10 gunshots from a balcony over an escalator that takes customers to the casino floor. He was with his mother and older brother, who works at the casino’s Manhattan Express roller coaster.
“We thought it was fireworks,” the teenager said. “I didn’t even see the guy at all.”
Police said they believed Zegrean entered the casino from a walkway connecting the New York-New York to the MGM Grand, and walked past a vendor and a shop before opening fire near the top of the bank of escalators.
“It seems like some local guy who snapped and went to the hotel to do it,” police Officer Ramon Denby said.
Sanchez and Jacobson’s cousin, who declined to be identified, were treated at University Medical Center in Las Vegas and released. Dillon said both people with graze wounds and the woman who was bruised in the crowd were treated at the scene and released.
Larry Ramos, 33, a tourist from Lansing, Mich., said he arrived at the front of the hotel to find people rushing out.
“There were flip-flops just laying all over the place like people were running out of their shoes,” Ramos said. “Within a minute and a half there were 30 to 40 police there. The cops just swarmed the place with M-16s and their guns out.”
Ramos said bystanders cheered for the wounded when they were wheeled out of the casino to ambulances, and later talked about the people who tackled the gunman.
“People don’t put up with stuff after 9-11 no more,” he said, adding that he was surprised that the casino never shut down.
“That’s what amazed me, Ramos said. “They locked down the tables, but they let people still keep playing the slots.”
The 2,000-room hotel-casino, which opened in 1997, features a facade replicating the New York City skyline, with a 47-story knockoff of the Empire State Building, a 150-foot Statue of Liberty and a Coney Island-style roller coaster. It is owned by MGM Mirage Inc.
Casino spokeswoman Yvette Monet said its operations had been fully restored Friday morning.
“Guests are being informed that it’s business as usual,” Monet said.