LAS VEGAS (CBS / AP) — Kenny Cherry was an aspiring rapper who moved from the Bay Area to Las Vegas to pursue his career. His music videos online show him cruising the Strip in his Maserati.
Taxi driver Michael Boldon was a family man who hailed from Michigan; and his passenger, Sandra Sutton-Wasmund, came from a loving Washington state family and was well regarded the community.
The lives of the three ended in violence normally seen only in movies: gunfire, a fiery crash and an explosion before dawn Thursday on the neon-lit Las Vegas Strip.
As investigators Friday tried to find the gunman in a black Range Rover SUV who triggered the shocking chain of events, families and friends tried to grasp the blink-of-an-eye finality of it all.
“Right now my heart is breaking,” said Cherry’s great aunt, Patricia Sims, of Oakland. “This has really been a tragedy. Kenny was just a delightful kid.”
Sims, 75, said Cherry moved to Las Vegas from the Bay Area, though she didn’t know her nephew was a rapper using the name Kenny Clutch.
Cherry’s parents were traveling to Las Vegas on Friday to claim his body. The 27-year-old, whose full name is Kenneth Wayne Cherry Jr., was driving a Maserati that was peppered by gunfire before it sped through a red light and smashed into Boldon’s taxi.
The taxi exploded into flames, killing Boldon and Sutton-Wasmund, as four other vehicles crashed like pinballs at an intersection overlooked by some of Las Vegas’ most famous hotel-casinos: Bellagio, Caesars Palace, Bally’s and the Flamingo.
Police think an argument at the valet area of the upscale Aria resort-casino led to the shooting, but they haven’t shared details. The shooting happened the same night that Morocco-born rapper French Montana was playing at Aria’s signature nightclub, Haze.
“What the original disagreement was is crucial to the ongoing investigation and the identification of the suspects,” said Las Vegas police officer Bill Cassell.
He said investigators were examining surveillance video and enlisting help from federal authorities and agencies in neighboring states to look for the distinctive Range Rover. It had blackout windows and custom black rims and was last seen speeding away from the fiery scene around 4:30 a.m. Thursday.
Police said a passenger in the Maserati was wounded in the arm but was treated at a hospital and released. He was reported to be cooperating with investigators, and his name wasn’t made public.
Cherry’s father, Kenneth Cherry Sr., of Emeryville, said he was struggling to handle his grief.
He said his son started a music career in Oakland after attending two Catholic high schools. According to his father, Cherry was recognized by other rappers within a West Coast hip-hop strain called hyphy.
Cherry was not well-known in wider music circles, according to Chuck Creekmur, CEO of AllHipHop.com.
“I had never heard his name before,” Creekmur said.
Kenny Clutch’s YouTube music video, “Stay Schemin,” shows scenes of hotels along the Strip as he sings about paying $120,000 for his Maserati.
“One mistake change lives all in one night,” he raps in one verse.
Cherry Sr. said he didn’t know how his son made money or if he had any other jobs.
“I want to make it clear that my son was no gangster or nothing like that,” he told The Associated Press. “He moved to Vegas about six year ago and he was writing music and rap.”
Court records show Cherry had no criminal cases or convictions in Las Vegas, and Cassell said there was no record of arrests.
The police spokesman wouldn’t say whether investigators determined if Cherry owned, rented or borrowed the Maserati. Cassell called that information “integral to the investigation.”
Meanwhile, Boldon’s family struggled to cope with his death.
“It’s very devastating for us, for my family,” said Tehran Boldon, 50, younger brother of the 62-year-old taxi driver. “Our family has no history of violence or gang membership that would predict losing a family member to such an event.”
Boldon’s sister, Carolyn Jean Trimble, said Boldon was a father, a grandfather and a car enthusiast. He was one of five children born and raised in Michigan, where he took care of his ailing father, who fought cancer, before moving to Las Vegas to be with his 93-year-old mother.
Bolden had owned a clothing store in Detroit and worked at a car dealership, his sister said. He began driving taxis after moving to Las Vegas about 1 1/2 years ago.
Boldon loved watching IndyCar and NASCAR races and drove a Mercedes when he wasn’t in a cab. An avid car enthusiast, he tried to persuade Trimble to buy a Bentley, she said.
“Everybody just loved him,” the older sister said. “When that car hit that cab, Mike had to be in there talking and laughing.”
The irony that a man with a taste for beautiful cars was killed by a sports car wasn’t lost on Trimble.
“He would be tickled to death: `Damn, of all things, a Maserati hit me, took me out like that,”‘ she said. “I’m happy he didn’t suffer.”
The county medical examiner said both Boldon and his passenger, Sutton-Wasmund, died of blunt force injuries and that their deaths were being treated as homicides. The 48-year-old woman was from Maple Valley, Wash.
Debbie Tvedt is the office manager at a Maple Valley plumbing company that Sutton-Wasmund started with her husband, James Wasmund. Tvedt called the death “a big loss” and added tearfully, “This woman was everything to this community.”
Tvedt said Sutton-Wasmund co-owned a dress shop called The Dazzled Dame and had gone to Las Vegas with her partner in the shop for a trade show.
The Maple Valley-Black Diamond Chamber of Commerce website said Sutton-Wasmund was a board member from 2004 to 2011 before becoming a marketing representative.
Tvedt said her friend was a mother of three — a 17-year-old son, a 12-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son.
“Sandi was a loving wife, mother, daughter and sister. Her innocent and tragic loss will be felt by all of those who knew and loved her and by the community at large,” said a statement provided to a Seattle TV station on behalf of the woman’s family. “Her family appreciates the outpouring of love and support, and respect for privacy, shown throughout this very difficult time.”
A phone message left for James Wasmund was not immediately returned.
Besides Cherry’s passenger, police said five people were treated for injuries after the six-vehicle crash. No one was said to face life-threatening injuries.
Jogger Eric Lackey snapped a cellphone photo of the blazing scene moments after the crash. Black smoke billowed from the flaming taxi, amid popping sounds from the fire.
The famously glowing, always-open Las Vegas Strip was closed for some 15 hours before reopening Thursday night. One Nevada Highway Patrol sergeant recalled a similarly long closure after the 1996 drive-by slaying of rapper Tupac Shakur.
That shooting — involving assailants opening fire on Shakur’s luxury sedan from a vehicle on Flamingo Road — happened about a block away from Thursday’s crash.
The Shakur killing has never been solved.
(Copyright 2013 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)