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Vegas Suspect Had Term to Serve

Times Staff Writer

The man accused of plowing a car into a crowd on the Las Vegas Strip on Wednesday had been sentenced to nine months in jail by a San Bernardino County judge in August and was being allowed to serve his time on weekends, court records show.

Stephen Michael Ressa, 27, accelerated the car onto the sidewalk near the Bally’s casino, killing two people and injuring 12 others, authorities said. Las Vegas police arrested him on suspicion of murder and attempted murder.

On Monday, Ressa fled after he allegedly beat his 50-year-old mother unconscious when she told him he couldn’t live at her home permanently, authorities and family said. Ressa had been expelled from an Orange County drug rehabilitation center the day before for fighting with another patient, said Ressa’s father, Michael Ressa."We’ve been living in fear with him, especially during the last few months,” his father said Thursday, offering an apology to the families of those killed and to the injured.

Weekend-only jail sentences are a common punishment for people convicted of nonviolent drug crimes, and the San Bernardino County prosecutor who handled Ressa’s case said the sentence was in line with what defendants in similar cases have received.

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Ressa had been a star high school athlete and well-regarded relief pitcher for the Cal State Dominguez Hills baseball team until 2002. After college, he injured his arm and was cut from an independent league baseball team in Kalamazoo, Mich. Despondent, he became a heavy drug user shortly after, his father said.

“He’s not my son, not the son I used to know, anyway,” his father said. “He had a drug problem. We had him in rehab several times, and he kept getting kicked out. I couldn’t ever get him back to being the son he was in high school.”

Las Vegas police said Stephen Ressa was driving north on Las Vegas Boulevard just south of Flamingo Road on Wednesday evening when he drove onto the sidewalk and struck at least 14 pedestrians.

“Evidence at the scene, as well as statements from victims and witnesses, all indicate the suspect intentionally and deliberately drove onto the sidewalk with the intended purpose of striking the victims,” Lt. Tom Monahan said in a written department statement.

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Gordon Kusayanagi, 52, of Hollister was killed, along with a 26-year-old man whom police did not identify. Four others are hospitalized in critical or serious condition, according to a report by Associated Press.

In May, Fontana police arrested Stephen Ressa after finding nearly 2 pounds of marijuana in his hotel room, San Bernardino County Assistant Dist. Atty. Richard Maxwell said. Ressa pleaded guilty to possession with intent to sell and was sentenced to 270 days in jail, minus jail time he already had served, and three years’ probation.

Ressa was allowed to serve the rest of his sentence on 90 consecutive weekends, during which time he would pick up trash along roads. He was scheduled to begin his jail term at the Glen Helen Rehabilitation Center in Devore on Sept. 16, Maxwell said.

Ressa decided to enroll at a drug rehabilitation center in Laguna Niguel instead, his father said. Maxwell said he had not received any record of Ressa’s failure to appear for his weekend jail time and was unsure if the matter was reported to the San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Department.

On Sunday night, a counselor at the center called Ressa’s parents and told them their son had fought with another patient and was being expelled, Ressa’s father said. Michael Ressa said his wife, Christine, picked up their son, who spent the night at their home in Rialto.

“We had told [Stephen] a few months ago that we would take him into our house again. I was resigned to the fact that I’d support him the rest of my life, as long as violence wasn’t involved,” Michael Ressa said.

“Well, violence was involved about a month ago, when he and I got into a big kicking and shoving match. At that point, I was content to let him go live under a freeway overpass. But my wife, God bless her, gave him another chance.”

Early Monday, Michael Ressa said, he had left for work. Around 7 a.m., Stephen Ressa asked his mother if he could move back in with his parents permanently, they said. He was told “absolutely not” because of his violent temper, his father said.

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Stephen Ressa then allegedly attacked his mother. “He hit her in the face several times, choked her to the point of unconsciousness, pulled out a kitchen knife ... and stood over her. Then he left and took her car,” his father said.

The Rialto Police Department is investigating the alleged attack, an agency representative said.

Christine Ressa was hospitalized at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton, and when she was released, she and Michael Ressa went to a hotel because they feared their son would return home, they said.

Stephen Ressa has had several run-ins with law enforcement since he was convicted of drunk driving in San Bernardino County in 1998 and for being under the influence of drugs two years later, court records show.

On March 27, Ressa was arrested at a Riverside apartment complex after allegedly threatening to kill an apartment manager who asked him to turn down his music.

“This guy was drinking and chased me downstairs,” said Toni Arambula, manager of the Magnolia Palms apartments. “He stood there at my dining room window and said, ‘I can come in there any time and kill you.’ ”

At his arraignment the same month, Ressa pleaded guilty to being under the influence of a controlled substance, disturbing the peace and resisting arrest. He received a 20-day jail sentence and served three days.

Ressa had been a standout outfielder for Rialto High School and emerged as a skilled relief pitcher at Chaffey College in Rancho Cucamonga and Cal State Dominguez Hills. In 2002, his final season of college ball, the left-hander was a third-team All-California Collegiate Athletic Assn. performer.

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Ressa’s former coach at Cal State Dominguez Hills said Ressa was a fierce competitor but lacked the “95-mile-an-hour” fastball that pro baseball scouts coveted. “You see guys flounder after they play baseball, and if ‘Rez’ fell into that group, then we’re all to blame, and it’s a sad day for all of us,” said Coach George Wing. “He was a special kid, and I know his parents thought the world of him.”

Ressa’s father said he was angry not only with his son but also with a legal system that he said failed to adequately punish him for past crimes. “He deserves whatever they give him; throw the book at him. But I wish they hadn’t let him out so many times before.”

Associated Press contributed to this report.


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