LAS VEGAS (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, Calif. "This has really been a tragedy. Kenny was just a delightful kid."
Sims, 75, said Cherry moved to Las Vegas from Northern California, 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, Calif., 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."