82-year-old wounded in confrontation, shootout with robber at car wash
By FRANK CURRERI
L.G. Von Zehner, 82, was washing his Cadillac late Monday night in a commercial corridor when an armed thug interrupted the task and demanded money.
The encounter between the would-be robber and retired businessman was brief. It ended with the gunman dead in the back seat of Zehner's car and Zehner himself -- bloodied and wounded from a shootout -- walking into the roadway and desperately waving a gun in the hopes that a sympathetic motorist would stop to help.
"People were swerving around him because they were scared," recalled Aaron Stephenson, a clerk at the 7-Eleven convenience store on Sahara Avenue and Eastern Avenue who was on-duty when two people carried Zehner inside at 10:12 p.m. and waited for paramedics to arrive.
Zehner, owner of an upscale condominium in the Las Vegas Country Club, was taken to University Medical Center and remained in serious condition Tuesday. Authorities said he had been shot in the chest.
"He's doing better today," Von Zehner's wife, Gloria, said before ending the telephone call to return to her husband's bedside.
The man who Las Vegas police say tried to rob Zehner in the 2500 block of East Sahara Avenue was less fortunate. The Clark County coroner's office identified the gunman as 20-year-old Demetrius Bolden. Police Lt. Tom Monahan indicated Bolden had approached Von Zehner with a gun, and Von Zehner complied by handing over his wallet.
Then, Monahan said, Von Zehner informed the suspect of the following: I left my money at home.
"The suspect got back into the victim's car and demanded to be taken to the victim's home," Monahan said.
Von Zehner quickly turned the tables. He grabbed a hidden gun, Monahan said, and shot Bolden.
Bolden returned fire, police said, but died inside the car.
Authorities captured another suspect, 19-year-old Michael Lewis, and labeled him an accomplice to the attempted crime.
Investigators say Lewis removed the gun from the suspect and chucked it onto a nearby roof.
Las Vegas police recovered the weapon, Monahan said, and have charged Lewis with robbery, kidnap and attempted murder.
"Since the death of his accomplice occurred during the commission of these crimes, he has also been charged with murder," Monahan said.
In a 1997 interview with the Review-Journal, Von Zehner said he owned French antiques valued at at least $2 million.
Von Zehner is the former chief executive officer of a finance corporation called Zehner Corp. in California.
Police said Von Zehner is the registered owner of the handgun he used, and did not require a concealed weapon permit because he was not carrying the gun on his person.
"At this point, everything is consistent with self-defense," Monahan said, adding that the investigation is ongoing.
The findings of the probe will be turned over to the district attorney's office to determine if any charges against Von Zehner are merited, as is standard procedure.
Some people working near where the incident occurred were impressed with the way Von Zehner handled himself in a life-and-death situation.
"The old man killed 'em," Stephenson said, as if surprised by Von Zehner's response under pressure.
"The good guy finally wins for a change," said Shanna, a colleague of Stephenson's at the 7-Eleven store who didn't want to give her last name.