Las Vegas Sun

January 20, 2018

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Performer continues recovery; chance meeting w/Michaelina Bellamy



Sonya Sonnenberg.

Quick like Rick, a couple of notes from afield:

Beautiful recovery

During Saturday night's performance of "Fantasy," where former lead Stephanie Dianna Jordan had her first chance to see the show from the audience, cast member Sonya Sonnenberg showed she has recovered beautifully from injuries she suffered in June during rehearsals for the Golden Rainbow "Ribbon of Life" charity show at Las Vegas Hilton. An aerialist who had just left the "Sin City Kitties" production at the time of the incident, Sonnenberg was badly injured during rehearsals with partner Kevin Gibbs at the Hilton Theater.

The accident occurred as Gibbs pulled the silk taut and Sonnenberg twisted while descending to the stage from a height of 25 feet. Sonnenberg lost her grip and crashed to the stage, breaking her fall by extending her arms. The action might have saved more serious injuries than those she suffered, which were a hairline fracture to her pelvis, fractures to both of her wrists and a mild concussion. But young (she was 19 at the time of the accident and 20 now) and in top physical condition, Sonnenberg has returned to pre-injury form in "Fantasy." She performed her usual aerial artistry high above the Atrium Showroom stage Saturday, even as those who knew of her accident turned away, hoping she would finish the routine free of incident, which she did.

After the show, Sonnenberg showed the long surgical scars on her wrists, and still requires additional procedures to remove the plates and pins from her fractured left wrist. She will miss three weeks of "Fantasy" beginning March 9 to recover from that surgery. Because "Ribbon of Life" is a charity event and Sonnenberg was performing as a volunteer, she was not covered by any form of health insurance. But donations and her own careful allotment of portions of her salary have helped pay down her medical bills.

Show producer Anita Mann has pitched in also, considerably, donating thousands of dollars out of her pocket to help Sonnenberg finance her recovery. Mann wrote Sonnenberg a check Tuesday night, in fact. "I don't want to sound corny, but I feel we should help as much as we can, everyone. She told me what she needed, and I gave it to her." As Sonnenberg says, "I'm really lucky in a lot of ways."

Bellamy with Tony Sacca

A stunning meeting with Bellamy

Monday night I was working from the Celebration Lounge at the Tropicana, which might seem unusual except that I often catch up on work at the lounge before heading into the Santa Fe & Fat City Horns performance in Tiffany Theater. After these shows, which are great not only for entertainment value but for the assorted musicians and singers who turn up in the audience, a big band performs in the lounge.

I had plugged into a power strip placed under a microphone near the stage. After finishing, I was winding my power cord around my hand when a woman standing a few feet away spotted me. "I'm just borrowing some electricity," I told her, as if I would be returning this electricity to the stage at some point. "That's OK," she said, and as I looked at her I thought, "I know this person." A few minutes later, after talking to Santa Fe frontman Jerry Lopez, I turned back to her and reached out my hand.

"I know you, don't I?" she asked. Then it hit me, from photos and by the sound of her voice: This was Michaelina Bellamy.

"Yes, you do, but we've never actually met," I said, and we continued this handshake that seemed to last 30 minutes while sorting out how we actually knew each other. The back-story is that Michaelina Bellamy, a former center vocalist in "Folies Bergere" who has toured with such recording stars as Engelbert Humperdick, is the woman who was attacked by Father George Chaanine in January of 2007 in the notorious "Fugitive Priest" case.

In an incident that made news across the country, on the afternoon of Jan. 26, without provocation, Chaanine struck Bellamy over the head at least three times with a full wine bottle as she worked in the church offices on Alta Way, just west of Rancho Drive. He then groped her, attempted to choke her, and dragged her down a church hallway by her hair until abruptly stopping as Bellamy prayed for him to stop. Bellamy needed more than 20 staples to close the gaping wound in her head, and still suffers from pain in her fractured left hand, her back and her neck from the assault. Chaanine, who had expressed his love for Bellamy and lavished her and her family with cash and gifts, vanished for six days after the assault and appeared under the title "Fugitive Priest" on the nationally syndicated TV show "America's Most Wanted."

Chaanine finally was captured near Phoenix, presumably on his way to El Paso, where he served at a parish there before being reassigned to Our Lady of Las Vegas. He had traveled across three states during the nearly weeklong search.

This all made for a compelling story that ran in Las Vegas Life magazine in July 2007, during which time I tried repeatedly and futilely to reach Bellamy to talk about the incident. But it never happened, as she followed the advice of her family and attorneys (including prominent Las Vegas lawyer Robert Massi) to keep quiet until the case played out in court. In November 2007, in a plea bargain, Chaanine pled guilty to a felony charge of battery with a deadly weapon causing bodily harm, was sentenced to four to 12 years in federal prison and still is locked up.

Bellamy, who is receiving workers-compensation insurance, was at the Tropicana on Monday because she helped Lopez organize the post-show band performances at the Tropicana. She said she's put her thoughts about the attack and its aftermath down in book form, a very preliminary process, and has never followed through on Massi's previous claims that she planned to sue the church. Today she sings after those Santa Fe shows at the Trop, which start at around midnight. I'd always heard she was a terrific singer, and it's true. She sings great, and it was quite a powerful experience to finally talk to her in person, absent the specter of the Fugitive Priest.

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