Racial comment preceded fatal Vegas casino punch

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LAS VEGAS (AP) — A racial comment in the restroom of a Las Vegas Strip casino restroom preceded a single fatal punch that left a tourist from Utah dead and a Florida tourist jailed in Nevada on a murder charge, authorities said Wednesday.

Benjamin Gerard Hawkins, 37, of Gainesville, Fla., took offense to John Massie’s comment about “a black man in a yellow shirt” while both men were in the restroom at O’Sheas Las Vegas Casino shortly before the fatal 12:45 a.m. confrontation, according to a police report.

Moments later, Massie was felled by a single punch to the jaw.

“One punch,” police homicide Lt. Lewis Roberts told The Associated Press. “He was out. Never got back up.”

Hawkins is black. Massie was white. Massie was pronounced dead less than 30 minutes later at Desert Springs Hospital in Las Vegas.

Massie’s hometown wasn’t immediately available. The police report released by the Clark County district attorney’s office doesn’t provide them, and the Clark County coroner declined to release the dead man’s identity pending completion of the medical examiner’s report.

Hawkins was held at the Clark County jail pending a Thursday court appearance in Las Vegas. It wasn’t immediately clear if he had a lawyer, and he police said he refused jailhouse interview requests.

Police said the fatal confrontation was captured on casino surveillance videotapes. Roberts said detectives also questioned casino witnesses.

The slaying was the third on the Las Vegas Strip in less than two weeks, including the stabbings of a 21-year-old man Monday on a pedestrian walkway between casinos and the another 21-year-old Las Vegas man in a pre-dawn confrontation June 25.

Las Vegas police convened an afternoon news conference to note that arrests had been made in all three cases, to declare that the incidents were not connected, and to assure the public that the area’s marquee tourist attraction was safe.

The one-page police report of Wednesday’s slaying offered a glimpse of a men’s room slight escalating to tragic consequences at a rollicking Irish-themed casino offering “discount entertainment” including a Viper Vixens stage show, a resident psychic, a cigar bar and beer pong competitions.

“Massie made some comment to Hawkins to the effect of ‘a black man in a yellow shirt,’” the police report said. “Hawkins told him to shut up.”

Police said the two men squared off after exiting the restroom. Massie stopped in a food court area, put his hands in his pockets, and spoke to Hawkins.

Hawkins told police Massie challenged him with a comment such as, “What are you going to do about it?”

Hawkins told detectives he interpreted Massie’s actions as aggressive.

“Hawkins said he feared if he turned his back on Massie he would be punched in the back of the head, so he punched Massie one time in the jaw with his right hand,” the police report said.

O’Sheas, owned by Caesars Entertainment Corp., is between the Harrah’s and Flamingo resorts — across busy Las Vegas Boulevard from the company’s flagship, Caesars Palace.

Caesars Entertainment spokesman Gary Thompson declined comment about the slaying and referred questions to police.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press