HOLLYWOOD (AP) — The brutal slaying of a Hollywood publicist took another bizarre twist Wednesday evening when a man police went to question in the case shot and killed himself in the lobby of a Los Angeles residential hotel.
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Beverly Hills detectives were serving a search warrant at the building about 6 p.m. when they found the man and tried to speak with him about the death of 64-year-old Ronni Chasen, who was shot and killed last month as she drove home from a party.
But the man police were trying to question pulled a handgun and shot himself, leaving blood splattered on the lobby floor and leaving authorities’ questions unanswered about the slaying that had stunned Hollywood. The man was pronounced dead at the scene.
Beverly Hills police Chief David Snowden told The Associated Press in an e-mail that the man “was a person of interest only” in Chasen’s death in Beverly Hills. Police spokesman Tony Lee emphasized at a news conference that the murder investigation was not over.
Someone shot Chasen, 64, multiple times as she drove her Mercedes Benz home from a party after attending the premiere of the movie “Burlesque,” whose soundtrack she was promoting for an Oscar nomination.
The attack shocked Hollywood, where Chasen was a revered figure after promoting the Oscar-winning film “Driving Miss Daisy” and other major movies and stars since the 1970s. It came in the midst of award season, her busiest time of year, when she helped studios mount expensive promotion campaigns for films.
Police haven’t released a possible motive in her slaying, and they remained tightlipped about progress in the investigation. The suicide Wednesday was first reported by the Los Angeles Times.
Terri Gilpin, a building resident, said she was taking a nap when she heard a single shot fired.
“I thought it was backfire, but I was kind of half-asleep, in a drowsy state of mind,” she said. “It was kind of like a pop.”
Gilpin said she saw blood splattered on the lobby floor of the Harvey Apartments.
The building has about 170 units with rents starting at about $625 a month, 25-year-old resident Terry Pendergrass said.
Two blocks of Santa Monica Boulevard were shut down and dozens of officers and squad cars were gathered outside the four-story hotel, which was cordoned off with yellow police tape.
Earlier Wednesday, a retired investigator who saw a preliminary coroner’s report on Chasen’s shooting said the killer was an expert shot who was able to squeeze off multiple rounds in a tight and deadly formation.
Gil Carrillo, who recently retired as a lieutenant after 38 years with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, said he reviewed the document after it was obtained by KTTV Fox 11 News.
“The thing that stands out is the shots — where they were and the lack of hits anywhere else,” Carrillo told The Associated Press. “It’s a good shot group.”
The close grouping suggests the shooting was carried out by a hit man and was not the result of a gang attack or road rage, Carrillo told the AP.
KTTV said it appeared Chasen was shot three times in the right chest area and twice in the right shoulder.
“Whoever was shooting was aiming for center mass, and they got center mass,” Carrillo said.
Coroner’s spokesman Ed Winter would not confirm the authenticity of the document cited by Carrillo, which apparently was written by an investigator before Chasen’s autopsy. But Carrillo said he was certain it was genuine.
The document says a hollow-point, 9-mm bullet was recovered from Chasen’s body, though Carrillo cautioned that ballistics tests could reveal the slug was a different caliber.
Investigators believe Chasen was shot as she waited to turn left from Sunset Boulevard to Whittier Drive, a road she could have taken to get back to her home in West Los Angeles. After she was shot, she drove about a quarter mile down Whittier before crashing into a light pole.
Chasen was later pronounced dead at a hospital.
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