Reno police continue manhunt for fugitive pawn shop owner
RENO ” The search continued Wednesday for a pawn shop owner wanted in connection with the slaying of his estranged wife and a sniper attack that wounded a judge who was handling the couple’s pending divorce.
A nationwide manhunt was under way for Darren Roy Mack, 45, who had access to “multiple weapons” and may be armed, Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns said.
Police issued a murder warrant Tuesday for Mack in connection with his wife’s slaying and declared him a suspect in the judge shooting.
Family Court Judge Chuck Weller was shot in the chest Monday when a sniper fired through the window of his third floor office in the Washoe County courthouse complex. Later, Charla Mack, 39, was found dead in the garage of her town home.
Weller’s condition was upgraded from serious to good Tuesday, police said.
Police think Mack targeted Weller, firing the shot from a parking garage across the Truckee River two blocks away ” the distance of at least three football fields.
“It does not appear this was a random crime,” Johns said at a news conference. “He is wanted as a suspect in the shooting of Judge Weller.”
“The definition of a sniper is the application of deadly force from a distance. This individual was a sniper,” he said.
Authorities suspect Mack may have fled west, and California Highway Patrol officers in the San Francisco Bay area were alerted that Mack may be in the region, said Sgt. Les Bishop, a CHP spokesman.
Reno police asked the highway patrol to issue the advisory, saying Mack may have tried to make contact with somebody in Moraga.
Reno police also said a credit card issued to the parent corporation of Mack’s pawn shop was used to leave the Sacramento airport parking garage Monday afternoon, but it could not be determined whether it was Mack who used it.
Mack also had access to a semi-automatic rifle that has not been accounted for, police said.
Investigators have no indication that Mack had any military or law enforcement training with weapons.
“But we do know that he has access ” or had access, past tense ” to multiple weapons and that he was known to practice with his weapons,” he said.
About four hours after Weller was shot at about 11 a.m., police discovered the body of Mack’s estranged wife, Johns said. Police aren’t sure which attack occurred first.
The criminal complaint said police officers responding to a report of a domestic dispute at Charla Mack’s town house found her lying face down in a large puddle of blood in the garage with stab wounds to her upper torso and neck, the complaint said. A detective found an empty sheath for a “dagger” on the floor of the master bedroom closet.
Charla Mack filed for divorce on Feb. 7, 2005, and a mutual restraining order was signed in May 2005, according to Washoe County District Court records. A custody hearing was scheduled Sept. 7-8 before Weller.
An attorney who has been involved in Mack’s divorce case, who asked not to be named because of personal safety concerns, told The Associated Press that the couple’s divorce proceeding was “a very, very heated and emotional case.”
Johns said Mack’s name was on an initial list that investigators compiled of people “who may have had a conflict with the judge.”
Police have pursued “several investigative leads,” including searches at residences linked to Darren Mack, Johns said.
Flights were suspended for about an hour at Reno-Tahoe International Airport late Monday night and some planes were searched after a police SWAT team responded to a reported sighting of Mack’s sports utility vehicle at an airport parking garage. His vehicle wasn’t found.
“The entire airport was searched and will continue to be searched. We’re in a hyper state of vigilance,” airport spokesman Brian Kulpin told AP.
Mack was driving a silver Ford Explorer with California license plates “5POR272,” but he may have changed cars, Johns said.
“We know that he has access to money,” he said.
Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick said a warrant was issued Tuesday for Mack’s arrest on one count of open murder with the use of a deadly weapon. The crime potentially is punishable by the death penalty, but Gammick said it is “way too early in the ball game” to determine if it would be sought.
Johns would not discuss security measures being taken at the Washoe Medical Center where Weller was hospitalized, or steps being taken to protect others with ties to the case.
Police canceled an afternoon news conference, saying they had no significant new information to report.
Weller, 53, a Reno lawyer elected to the bench in 2004, gave legal advice in past years on a local radio station and in a column in the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Minutes after he was shot, police shut down a six-block area near the downtown casino district and SWAT teams searched parking garages, high-rise construction sites and a neighboring movie theater.
Weller’s administrative assistant, Annie Allison, was hit by bullet fragments in her arm and hip, but her wounds were superficial, and she was treated and released, police spokesman Steve Frady said.
Weller issued a statement Tuesday thanking the community, law officers and emergency medical personnel “for their work in saving my life.”
“I also want to give my deepest sympathies to the children and family of Charla Mack. It is my hope that the community will join me in reaching out to that family in what has truly been a tragic and senseless crime,” he said.
Allison, a former aide to Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., who joined Weller’s staff in February, said in a statement that the response by law officers and others who came to assist her and Weller “was remarkable.”
“The impact of this event will take time to heal, both physically and emotionally, but I am confident that both Judge Weller and myself will make full recoveries and return to serve the families of Washoe County,” she said.
“Please continue to pray for Judge Weller and for the family of Charla Mack.”
Weller’s statement indicated he was being moved to an undisclosed secure location but did not specify when.
Mack owns a Reno jewelry store and pawn shop a few blocks from the courthouse. His photograph, along with family, appears on a Web site advertising diamonds and other jewelry.
Johns said Mack’s three children, including a 7-year-old girl he had with Charla Mack, were unharmed.
Associated Press writers Martin Griffith and Tom Gardner in Reno, and Brendan Riley in Carson City contributed to this report.