Ohio shootings suspect is caught in Las Vegas

Tipster recognized man in casino, found where he was staying in chat

March 18, 2004|By P.J. Huffstutter and Stephanie Simon | P.J. Huffstutter and Stephanie Simon,LOS ANGELES TIMES

COLUMBUS, Ohio - Tipped off by a gambler who suddenly realized he was sharing his pizza with a fugitive, authorities in Las Vegas early yesterday morning arrested a man suspected in two dozen sniper shootings that have frightened residents of central Ohio for months.

Relief swept over many here when they learned that Charles A. McCoy Jr., 28, was taken into custody two days after Ohio authorities named him as the lone suspect in the sniper attacks.

The string of shootings - one last May and the rest this fall and winter - claimed one life, a 62-year-old woman. No one else was injured. But other bullets ripped into homes, dented school buses and crashed through windows of cars as they zipped down local highways.

Once they had identified McCoy as their suspect, Franklin County officials credited the public with tracking him to Las Vegas. They received several calls and a faxed letter from tipsters in Nevada on Tuesday and before dawn yesterday.

One especially useful tip came from Conrad Malsom, a man at the Stardust Casino who said he struck up a conversation with a young man seated at a nearby table by offering him a slice of pizza. Within moments, Malsom told police, he recognized McCoy from a wanted photo.

He continued chatting - and found out McCoy was staying at the nearby Budget Suites hotel. Then he called Las Vegas police.

Joined by the FBI, the police moved in to arrest McCoy at 2:45 a.m. as he pulled into the hotel parking lot in his dusty green Geo Metro. Montoya said McCoy had been in Las Vegas for less than two days.

McCoy has been charged with felonious assault in one incident: the Dec. 15 shooting of two handgun rounds into a house on Brown Road. Investigators determined this week that the gun used in that shooting "was in the possession" of McCoy, according to a felony arraignment form issued by the Franklin County Sheriff's Department.

Authorities said bullets recovered from the house on Brown Road match ballistics tests from eight other sniper attacks, including the fatal shooting of Gail Knisley, who was killed Nov. 25 when a bullet pierced the door of a car she was riding in.

The Los Angeles Times is a Tribune Publishing newspaper.

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