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Las Vegas homeowner shoots intruder to death
Wednesday, July 19, 2000
Copyright Las Vegas Review-Journal

A 60-year-old man guns down a burglary suspect, and authorities say he appears to be justified.

By Glenn Puit

A gunbattle in a Las Vegas home early Tuesday left an intruder dead and the 60-year-old homeowner shaken but unharmed, police said.

The Tuesday morning shootout unfolded as the two men stood just a few feet from one another in the den of the homeowner's residence in the 3200 block of South Tenaya Way at Desert Inn Road.

"It was quite an exchange of gunfire," said Las Vegas police Lt. Wayne Petersen. "Amazingly, they weren't very far apart at all. They were standing maybe six to eight feet apart."

In the past three years, at least eight robbery or burglary suspects have been shot or stabbed after they broke into valley businesses and homes. All but one of those shootings by home or business owners have been ruled justified by authorities.

"I was born and raised in Las Vegas, and it does seem like (now) you do see a lot of situations like this," said Ronald C. Bloxham, Clark County chief deputy district attorney. "I think the public is starting to protect themselves more and more."

Tuesday's events started at 5:15 a.m. when the 60-year-old, sleeping alongside his 61-year-old wife, was awakened by the sound of their dogs barking. Petersen said the man retrieved a handgun, then went downstairs to investigate.

The man opened the door to his den and was confronted by an armed intruder standing just feet away. The two immediately started shooting at one another, prompting the homeowner's wife to call 911.

"The suspect fired three shots, the victim eight," Petersen said.

The intruder, tentatively identified as a 20-year-old Las Vegan whose name has not been released, died at the scene. A second intruder fled the house, driving off in a silver Jeep as Las Vegas patrol officers arrived.

"The vehicle didn't have any plates, and that was what really caught the officers' attention," Petersen said.

Patrol officers tried to stop the Jeep, but the driver sped off, prompting a high-speed police chase. Officers pursued the man to a Taco Bell parking lot at Charleston and Decatur boulevards, where officers used their patrol cars to trap the Jeep in the parking lot.

Petersen said Laron D. White, 19, of Las Vegas was arrested in the parking lot. Petersen said White had a cut on his arm, which authorities believe resulted when White and the dead man broke a rear window while entering the Tenaya Way home.

The dead suspect was found by police inside the residence, a firearm still in his hand. Petersen said it appears the man had been arrested numerous times on burglary and battery charges in the past 18 months. Police were unable to locate any prior record for White.

White is charged with burglary, robbery, home invasion and felony murder. Petersen said police are trying to determine whether White or the deceased man are tied to a handful of similar robberies that occurred in the neighborhood of Tuesday's shooting.

Bloxham said state law dictates that an individual in such a circumstance has a right to use lethal force if he believes his attacker poses an imminent threat to his safety or the safety of others. Regarding Tuesday's shooting, Bloxham said, it appears the homeowner was justified in killing the intruder.

"If all those facts we've heard are in line with what happened, then the person had every right to use deadly force," Bloxham said.

Although such cases locally have ended up in favor of home and business owners, Bloxham and Petersen cautioned that the decision to use deadly force against an intruder can backfire and lead to tragic results.

"It all depends on the circumstances," Petersen said. "Engaging an armed suspect in a gunfight is risky. It turned out for the best in this instance, and the homeowner escaped unharmed, but this could have been a very tragic crime. We could have been responding to two dead, and they both could have been innocent victims."

Greg Block -- a Huntington Beach, Calif., law enforcement firearms instructor who also teaches at one of the largest civilian handgun schools in the country -- said deciding whether to keep a firearm in your home and business is an individual decision. Before doing so, you should educate yourself about firearm use and safety. He also recommended becoming familiar with state law regarding deadly force and enrolling in the appropriate firearms safety classes.

"It is up to the individual, but I always say it is better to have a gun and never use it than to wish you had one when you really need it," Block said.
      In the past three years, there have been shootings in the Las Vegas Valley in which home and business owners fatally shot intruders. Below is a summary of some of the cases:

  • During a July 1997 robbery at Crown Tire Service, 2804 E. Lake Mead Blvd. in North Las Vegas, robber James Smith pulled a gun and shot a store manager in the hand. After stealing the store's money, Smith started to flee on foot when he was shot three times by store employee Carlo Ohanian. As Smith hit the pavement, an accomplice in a getaway car panicked. He put the car in reverse and ran over Smith's head, killing Smith instantly. Authorities determined that Ohanian's actions were justified.
  • On Oct. 16, 1998, an employee at Tropicana Pizza, 4310 E. Tropicana Ave., shot to death Las Vegan Gregory Floyd, 16, as Floyd and an unidentified man tried to rob the restaurant. The employee was justified.
  • On Oct. 25, 1998, Las Vegas homeowner Tom Gaule, 42, fatally shot Jason Lamb, 26, and Ricky Tripp, 35, when Gaule found the pair robbing his residence. Gaule was convicted of voluntary manslaughter and sentenced to probation. Police and prosecutors said Gaule chased Tripp down the road and shot him.
  • In November of 1998, Niorge Marquez-Cobas, 25, was fatally shot by a homeowner after Marquez-Cobas and another man attempted to rob the victim at a residence in the 4700 block of Owens Avenue near Lamb Boulevard. The shooting was justified.
  • In October 1999, Patrick Booker, 18, of Las Vegas was shot to death after he and another man broke into an apartment in the 2900 block of North Rainbow Boulevard near Cheyenne Avenue. The homeowner disarmed one of the men, then shot Booker. No charges were filed.
  • On May 13 of this year, police say Yosvani Lopez, 24, was killed when he and another man carried out a home invasion in the 900 block of North Ironwood Drive in Las Vegas near Washington Avenue. Police have identified a second suspect in the case -- Carlos Coello, 31, of Las Vegas. Police said Lopez and the second man, both carrying guns, entered the home and tied up two victims. One victim freed himself and stabbed Lopez. The victim then took Lopez's gun and fired at the other suspect.

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