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In brief: Suspect in Las Vegas fatalities is arrested by FBI and police

Fri., March 1, 2013

LOS ANGELES – A suspect wanted in connection with a shooting and crash last week on the Las Vegas Strip that left three people dead was arrested Thursday in Los Angeles, sources said.

Ammar Harris, 26, was taken into custody by FBI agents and Los Angeles police in the San Fernando Valley around midday, sources said.

Las Vegas police described Harris as “armed and dangerous” with an “extensive and violent criminal history” when they named him as a suspect two days after the Feb. 21 shooting, which officials believe began as a predawn altercation in the valet parking lot of the Aria resort hotel.

Authorities said two vehicles left the parking lot onto Las Vegas Boulevard: a Range Rover believed to be driven by Harris, and a Maserati driven by Kenneth Cherry Jr., an Oakland, Calif., native and aspiring rapper known as “Kenny Clutch.”

Police allege that Harris opened fire on the Maserati, peppering the vehicle with bullets. The sports car sped into the intersection at Flamingo Road, where it rammed a Yellow Cab. The taxi exploded, killing the driver and passenger inside.

Four other vehicles were involved in the fiery crash, officials said.

Both Cherry and a passenger in the Maserati were later pronounced dead at an area hospital, police said. Three other people were injured in the crash.

Woman in anti-smoking ad dies

LOS ANGELES – Debi Austin, an anti-smoking advocate and educator, died Feb. 22 at Valley Presbyterian Hospital in Van Nuys after a 20-year battle with cancer, her family said. She was 62.

A public-awareness television ad, which began airing in the mid-1990s, turned the San Fernando Valley woman into a powerful symbol of the anti-smoking movement. The ad shows Austin with a hole in her throat saying she had her first cigarette when she was 13, that she tried to quit but couldn’t. And that “they” say nicotine is not addictive.

Diagnosed with cancer of the larynx, she had a laryngectomy, which removed the tumor and her vocal cords. She learned to talk using esophageal speech, or “burp talk.”

She agreed to make the startling “Voicebox” ad only after a 4-year-old niece drew a black dot on her own neck to mimic her aunt’s scar from the surgery and said: “I want to be like you.”

Austin’s survivors include her sisters, Jamie Marshall of Portland, and Deena White of Canoga Park; and her brother, Jim Gardner of Camp Verde, Ariz.

Ex-treasurer appeals sentence

CHICAGO – Rita Crundwell, the disgraced former city of Dixon, Ill., treasurer who stole tens of millions of dollars from city coffers to fund a lavish lifestyle, is appealing her recent sentence of almost 20 years in prison.

A federal judge in Rockford imposed a sentence of 19 years and 7 months in prison last month, citing the “sheer magnitude” of her fraud scheme. Crundwell siphoned almost $54 million from Dixon over 22 years, enabling her to finance a championship quarter horse breeding operation, buy up real estate and purchase hundreds of thousands of dollars of jewelry.

On Thursday, Belkis Sandoval, a senior inspector for the U.S. Marshals Service, said authorities expect some $10 million to be returned to Dixon from the sales of some 400 horses, Crundwell’s sprawling ranch in Dixon, a luxury motor home and dozens of pieces of jewelry.


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