Reno police launch manhunt for fugitive pawn shop owner
RENO ” Police issued a murder warrant Tuesday for a pawn shop owner in the slaying of his estranged wife, and declared him a suspect in the sniper attack that wounded a judge he “may have had a conflict with” over the couple’s pending divorce.
A nationwide search 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.
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. Weller remained hospitalized and was reported to be in good condition.
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.
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, Charla Mack, 39, in a garage at her west Reno town house complex about 12 miles away, Johns said.
A criminal complaint prepared Tuesday said Mack was stabbed to death. Johns told reporters only that she suffered “multiple traumatic injuries.”
Johns refused to say what led authorities to Charla Mack’s body but said Mack’s name was on an initial list that investigators compiled of people “who may have had a conflict with the judge.”
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 two-day custody hearing was scheduled Sept. 7 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.”
Police have pursued “several investigative leads,” including searches at residences reportedly 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. It turned out to be a false alarm, authorities said.
“The lead was strong enough that police responded with a large group of officers,” airport spokesman Brian Kulpin told AP. “The entire airport was searched and will continue to be searched. We’re in a hyper state of vigilance.”
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 being treated, or steps being taken to protect others potentially tied to the case. He said investigators don’t know if Weller was shot before or after Charla Mack was killed.
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.
Mack owns a Reno jewelry store and pawn shop a few blocks from the courthouse. His photograph, along with his wife and three children, appears on a Web site advertising diamonds and other jewelry.
On the Web site, he wrote: “My name is Darren Mack, and I am the third generation owner of a small business in Reno, Nevada. My family has owned and operated small businesses in Nevada for 45 years.”
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.