LAS VEGAS -- The man wanted in a deadly string of sniper shootings that terrorized Ohio drivers was captured at a motel yesterday after a tipster spotted him at a Las Vegas casino reading a newspaper story about himself.
An unshaven and disheveled Charles A. McCoy Jr., 28, was arrested without incident less than 36 hours after Ohio authorities released his name as a suspect in the attacks.
The arrest brought relief to Ohio residents who have been living in fear since the 24 shootings began in the Columbus area last year. The gunfire pierced homes and a school, dented school buses, flattened tires and shattered windshields, killing one person.
"Once he started hitting random other places, we felt like there was nowhere safe to go," said Aimee Wagner, 31, a chemistry professor who often travels Interstate 270 to teaching jobs in the Columbus area. "I'm just happy he didn't get the chance to take another person's life."
McCoy was taken to the county jail after being held for several hours at the FBI office. He was scheduled to appear in court tomorrow and could be extradited to Ohio as soon as the weekend, officials said. Authorities have not offered a motive for the shootings and have not said how they came to suspect McCoy. But The Columbus Dispatch, citing unidentified sources, said a relative of McCoy's contacted police to say McCoy could be a suspect, and McCoy's father gave authorities a 9mm pistol that was matched to some of the bullet fragments recovered in the shootings.
Authorities said McCoy had been in Las Vegas for about a day, gambling at the Stardust hotel-casino and staying at the nearby Budget Suites motel, just across from a strip club.
Police credited an unemployed salesman with helping them capture McCoy. Conrad Malsom, 60, of Las Vegas, said he recognized McCoy from news reports linking him to the Ohio attacks, and did his own detective work to locate McCoy's car parked at the motel.
"In my heart and mind, I knew this was the man the police in Ohio were looking for," Malsom said.
Malsom said he met McCoy on Tuesday at the Stardust sports book on the Las Vegas Strip. He said he offered McCoy a slice of pepperoni pizza and recognized him from a newspaper photograph. McCoy was reading a copy of USA Today, which featured the fugitive's picture, Malsom said.
When McCoy left the casino, Malsom found what he characterized as "written babble" on a sports betting sheet the man left behind.
Malsom said he went to a nearby Kinko's store and faxed a copy to Ohio authorities and later gave the original to FBI officials. He also collected a water glass, matchbook, and lunch wrappers that McCoy left behind and supplied the materials to authorities, Malsom said.
He said he later drove around the parking lot at the motel on a hunch, and called police when he recognized McCoy's car. Malsom said he matched the Ohio license plate to information on an Ohio State Highway Patrol Web site.
Las Vegas police Lieutenant Ted Lee credited Malsom's persistence, saying he "did a little bit of his own investigation, apparently going to the Budget Suites and locating the vehicle."
FBI agents declined to comment on the specifics of Malsom's account. Ellen Knowlton, FBI agent in charge in Las Vegas, said she was unaware of Malsom turning over any items to the FBI.
Little was known about McCoy. He lives with his mother in Columbus, in the area where many of the shootings took place. Neighbors said they did not know if he had a job.
McCoy was identified as a suspect on Monday, when Ohio authorities released his photo and a description of his car. A bulletin issued by police said McCoy was believed to have mental problems and had a semiautomatic pistol.
He was charged in an arrest warrant with felonious assault for a shooting with a 9mm handgun that damaged an Ohio house on Dec. 15.
Las Vegas police impounded the car that McCoy was driving. Investigators searched McCoy's motel room and emerged with a paper bag but did not disclose its contents.
The shootings created a wave of fear around I-270 and two nearby highways. Commuters have been forced to take back roads, schools have canceled classes and held recess indoors, and the state of Ohio installed cameras on poles along the main highway that encircles Columbus.
The only person struck in the shootings, Gail Knisley, 62, was killed as a friend drove her to a doctor's appointment Nov. 25.