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Prisoner in Las Vegas tried to escape custody, police say, but gamble didn't pay off

Prisoner in Las Vegas tried to escape custody, police say, but gamble didn't pay off
Gregory Ganci addresses a judge Thursday in Las Vegas. The felon facing a life sentence had tried to escape, police said, taking them on a wild chase in a stolen truck. When he eventually made it to his sentencing, he got life. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye / Associated Press)

The white pickup truck had just pulled in to the parking lot when Gregory Ganci was walking out of the medical center in shackles and chains.

Not that the prisoner knew it at the time, but the truck had a handgun and $2,800 in it. The engine was idling, and there wasn’t anyone sitting in the driver’s seat. It was about 9 a.m. Wednesday.

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The 52-year-old Ganci was scheduled to be sentenced for a series of violent felonies, including convictions for kidnapping, robbery and intimidating a witness. He would likely get heavy time. It was possible, even likely, he wouldn’t be eligible for parole.

Ganci had demonstrated he was not a fan of captivity; he’d had fugitive warrants out for him in California and Illinois in the past. He was being escorted by a lone Las Vegas Metropolitan Police officer to an unmarked car that would head for the Clark County Detention Facility. Then he’d go to court and hear his fate.

But there was the Chevy Silverado. Just sitting there. Tempting. The owner of the truck, Peter Snovitch, was outside the vehicle wiping the wheels down and waiting for his employee to come out of the building.

And so, in the city of long shots, Ganci took a gamble. He made a break for it, police say.

Snovitch had just arrived at Steinberg Diagnostic Medical Imaging that morning — his first of four appointments scheduled that day. He owned The Best Detail — an auto detailing shop he started 10 years ago. The 28-year-old said that when Ganci appeared at his truck, he was startled by the large man in the blue jail jumpsuit.

“He looked like a terrorist,” Snovitch said. “I’m 6’2” and 210 pounds, and he looked double my weight.”

Ganci was actually closer to 300 pounds, police said, but that hadn’t seemed to slow him down. He had bolted from Officer Phong Nguyen’s custody and jumped into the cab of Snovitch’s truck, police said. Ganci slammed the door, hit the gas and peeled out of the parking lot toward the street while Snovitch chased him.

Then Snovitch heard three gunshots.

Nguyen had pulled out his Glock handgun and fired it, police said. The bullets hit the driver’s side door and window. One struck Ganci in the left triceps, they said.

But Ganci appeared undeterred. Snovitch said he was worried the fugitive would find the gun and money in the truck. He told police officers about that. But Snovitch also knew something else: The chase could end up being short-lived.

Las Vegas police surround a white pickup truck outside the Golden Nugget hotel-casino. Police say a man heading to his sentencing stole the truck and tried to escape, even after being shot by an officer, but ran out of gas.
Las Vegas police surround a white pickup truck outside the Golden Nugget hotel-casino. Police say a man heading to his sentencing stole the truck and tried to escape, even after being shot by an officer, but ran out of gas. (Bizuayehu Tesfaye / Associated Press)

“The truck was already almost out of gas,” he said. “The fuel light had come on just as I had pulled into the parking lot. I was planning on fueling up at a Chevron a few blocks away.”

Ganci turned right onto busy Maryland Parkway and hit traffic, literally, according to police. Among those in the traffic — a Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department prisoner transport van. The light was red. The runaway driver didn’t seem to care.

He slammed a black sedan in front of him. Reversed, hitting a car behind him. Then slammed into the sedan again. And again. In a video police released Friday, it looked like he was aggressively parallel parking. Las Vegas Police Assistant Sheriff Charles Hank said four cars were damaged.

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“Oh my gosh,” an unidentified voice says on video taken from a vehicle making a left turn off Maryland Parkway.

Finally, the white truck squeezed through the left lane and tore down Maryland Parkway before hanging a right on Karen Avenue, according to a map released by police.

Hank said units had been sent from downtown and northeast command to pursue the truck. Nguyen also had gotten into his unmarked car and turned on lights to chase the suspect.

Nguyen, 25, has been on the force since 2016, Hank said. Police are reviewing why the officer was not wearing a body camera, he added.

Hank said Ganci “drove a variety of streets.”

According to a map, Ganci’s route first took him down a street past Valley High School, which had been in session since 7:10 a.m. By the time he made a couple of turns, he was on Fremont Street, driving past auto dealerships and vacant lots.

Police reported no injuries during the pursuit, but Hank said “it could’ve been worse” if the fugitive had found the handgun in the truck’s console.

He kept driving, though. Past fast food joints and motels — the Stratosphere looming in the distance and the downtown casinos drawing closer. Soon his route took him by weary motels, their facades weathered and beaten despite feeble efforts by the marquees to sell a lie: “Welcome Nice Rooms,” The Gables advertised on its sign, despite a chainlink fence and boarded-up windows.

“A lot of them were bought by a speculator,” Ronald Corso said. “I guess they’re still speculating.”

Corso runs 11th Street Records off Fremont Street. The shop wasn’t open when the runaway truck drove by, but he said it sounded like the chase would fit right in with Vegas lore.

Police said the chase lasted 13 minutes and covered close to 11 miles. Hank said Ganci finally ran out of gas outside the Golden Nugget Hotel and Casino and was treated by arresting officers at the scene before being taken to University Medical Center.

Ganci’s luck had run out. And about 1,100 feet away stood the jackpot: a Chevron gas station. About 1,500 feet farther was the Clark County Detention Center.

He will now face new charges, including escape by prisoner, grand theft of a vehicle and felony evading police. Hank said new procedures in prisoner transport would be put into place after Ganci’s escape.

But on Thursday, Ganci stood before District Judge Doug Smith to be sentenced for the earlier charges.

“I know you. I know your reputation,” he said to Smith, the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported. “And I’d rather took a bullet yesterday than come see you.”

Ganci was sentenced to five consecutive life terms, no parole.

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