Three people died in the heart of the Las Vegas Strip early on Thursday when one or more gunmen in a Range Rover sport utility vehicle opened fire on a Maserati, killing the driver and touching off a fiery multi-car crash.
The driver of the Maserati died in the pre-dawn shooting, and his car veered out of control and smashed into a taxi carrying two people, Las Vegas Metropolitan Police spokesman Officer Jose Hernandez said.
The cab exploded into flames in the intersection of Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, a popular tourist area in front of several casino resorts, killing the driver and a passenger.
"There was a loud bang and I hear two other booms. I looked out my window at Caesars Palace ... and could see the fireball," witness John Lamb was quoted as saying on the website of Las Vegas KLAS-TV's 8News Now.
The gunfire and collision in the busy intersection near the Bellagio and Caesar's Palace hotels triggered another crash involving four other vehicles, in which at least four people were injured, Hernandez said. The Range Rover sped from the scene.
Authorities said the shooting was believed to have stemmed from a fight in the valet area of the Aria Resort and Casino on the Strip, but investigators had not established a motive.
Representatives for MGM Resorts International, which owns the Aria, declined to comment on specifics of the incident.
"Each of our resorts employs fully trained, full-time, professional security departments and our extensive surveillance systems provide law enforcement with valuable assistance, often helping them close cases quickly," Gordon Absher, vice president of public affairs, said in a written statement. "We continue to work closely with Metro on this investigation."
An injured passenger in the sports car and three people hurt in the crashes were taken to University Medical Centre.
'LAS VEGAS IS SAFE'
A hospital spokeswoman said three of the people had been treated and released. She declined to provide information about the fourth person.
Clark County Sheriff Douglas Gillespie told reporters at an afternoon news conference that police had few leads on the Range Rover or its occupants, who were considered "armed and dangerous," but had launched a multi-state search and were seeking help from the public.
The sheriff bristled at suggestions that the outburst of gun violence could call into question the safety of the Strip, which attracts millions of visitors every year.
"I have been asked by many of you this morning, ‘Is the Las Vegas Strip safe?'" Gillespie said. "Yes it is."
"Las Vegas is a valley of 2 million people. Forty million tourists visit here a year. We have 153,000 hotel rooms. In order for my police organization and other law enforcement organizations in the valley to keep this community safe, we have to work very closely not only with the community but the resort corridor as well," he said.
The incident occurred less than mile from where rapper Tupac Shakur was shot on September 7, 1996, while riding in a BMW with Death Row Records co-founder Marion "Suge" Knight after the two men had attended a Mike Tyson boxing match.
Shakur, 25, was hit by gunfire from at least one assailant in a Cadillac while sitting in Knight's car at the intersection of Flamingo Road and Koval Lane and died six days later at University Medical Centre. The crime remains unsolved.
(Additional reporting by Dan Whitcomb; Writing by Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Cynthia Johnston and Peter Cooney)