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July 29, 2015

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After fatal Strip shooting and crash, most Las Vegas tourists go back to having fun

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Steve Marcus

Officials investigate the site of a shooting and multi-car accident that left three people dead and at least three injured on the Las Vegas Strip early Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013.

Strip shooting crash

Smoke and flames billow from a burning vehicle following a shooting and multicar accident on the Las Vegas Strip early Thursday, Feb. 21, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Fatal crash

Thursday seemed like any other day inside Strip casinos: Slot machines clanged and people cheered at crowded craps tables. Tourists shopped, ate in restaurants and sipped yard-long drinks.

But it wasn't any other day in Las Vegas.

Outside, Las Vegas Boulevard was closed after an early morning shootout and crash that killed three people and injured six more.

About 4:30 a.m., a man in a black Range Rover opened fire on a Maserati, sending it crashing into a taxi that burst into flames, leaving three people dead and at least six injured.

Police said a confrontation that appeared to have begun in the valet area of the Aria spilled onto Las Vegas Boulevard, leading to sporadic gunshots being fired from the Range Rover as the vehicles traveled north. The crash occurred near Las Vegas Boulevard and Flamingo Road, the site of several major casinos, including the Bellagio, Caesars Palace and Bally's.

At sundown, the street remained closed from Caesars Palace to Paris Las Vegas, causing people to walk lengthy detours to get to places that usually take only a few minutes.

Yellow crime scene tape blocked the center of the Strip and shut down portions of the sidewalk. Caesars Palace’s main driveway was closed, causing the taxi line to come to a near standstill as traffic had to enter from the back of the building off Frank Sinatra Boulevard.

People who wanted to go from the Flamingo to Bally's needed directions.

"You've got to go down and across the street, through Caesars Palace, over to the Bellagio and down to the Cosmopolitan," a security officer told people blocked by the tape.

Visitors seemed mostly unfazed. Most were more curious than afraid. Many said they have come to accept danger and gun play as a way of life in the United States.

"Does it make me feel less safe? No, this kind of thing happens everywhere," said Rochelle Sam, a tourist from Michigan. "My friends got married yesterday, and we're just going to hang out here until Saturday. It doesn't change our plans."

Kevin Zhang watched his wife and two young children take pictures of television trucks and crews on a portion of Flamingo Road that was shut down to traffic from the Strip to the Bellagio’s north valet station, which also was closed for the day. The Detroit family needed a break.

"We got stuck on the other side of the street this morning," Zhang said. "So we had to walk. And walk. And walk."

The crime scene shut down half of a bar called the Spanish Steps outside of Caesars Palace and completely closed a smaller concession stand near the Absinthe tent. Despite the chaos, businesses reported little effect.

"We didn't open until after 11, but I expected that because I'd seen what was happening on the news," said Victor Mejia, a bartender at the Spanish Steps. "Once we opened, it didn't hurt business much — except there aren't as many places for people because half our bar is closed."

The detour routed people right past Paul Mattingly, a promoter handing out discount tickets for Absinthe.

"If anything, it seems a little slower today," Mattingly said. "I think most people are just going into Caesars Palace and staying there. They may not want to walk all that way."

Most people took the chaos in stride. One man, who believed his friend was involved in the crash, yelled at officers for information. Most just headed away to find their way around the blockades.

Some paused to take pictures of the scene, as if were an attraction. Jose Antonio Zepeda, of Chile, stopped at the intersection between Caesars Palace and the Flamingo, where the tape barrier stopped, to take a picture of a woman posing in front of the police cars.

"We haven't seen anything like this," Zepeda said.

By 9 p.m., the police tape was cleared and traffic returned to normal on the Strip. The walkways were once again congested with people dressed up for a night out; ready to enjoy the Las Vegas nightlife.

At Aria, the valet had a line of taxis and the occasional car pass through — slow, but not unusual for a Thursday night, said one Aria valet worker. Rumors of what had happened that morning floated among tourists, added another worker.

For a few, the violence was too much. Several commenters on the Sun’s website said Thursday’s incident will keep them from coming to Las Vegas.

“My wife is already putting pressure on me to cancel our May visit,” one man wrote. “We've been to Vegas at least eight times in the past 10 years, and if she's leery about returning, think what a future first-time visitor is thinking.”

“Unless Vegas cleans out the riff-raff, they will continue to lose more tourists,” wrote another.

While the shootout and crash attracted national attention, Mark Chambers, a local forensic and clinical psychologist, said it is unlikely people will change their plans to visit the city.

“I think that’s a pretty unusual reaction, a rare reaction,” Chambers said. “I think most people recognize that these kinds of things can happen anywhere.”

Will D’Urso and Brian Nordli contributed to this story.

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