Fugitive in Reno slaying, judge shooting sought in California

RENO " Police focused on Northern California as they searched Wednesday for a pawn shop owner wanted in the slaying of his estranged wife and for a sniper attack that wounded a judge who was handling the couple's divorce.

Investigators also said Darren Mack, 45, who may be armed with a semiautomatic rifle, has a student pilot's license and may have tried to flee the country.

"Our understanding is that he would not be able to rent an aircraft by himself, but obviously that's a concern that he could try to make a short hop out of the United States," Reno Police Lt. Ron Donnelly said.

Police issued a murder warrant Tuesday for Mack in the stabbing death of his wife, Charla Mack, 39, and declared him a suspect in shooting of Family Court Judge Chuck Weller, who was shot through the window of his third-floor office at the Washoe County courthouse complex. Police aren't sure which of the Monday attacks occurred first.

Attention turned to the San Francisco Bay Area after reports that Mack contacted a friend in Moraga on Monday morning and may have used a credit card at Sacramento International Airport later that day.

The corporate credit card issued by his business, Palace Jewelry and Loan, had been designated for Mack's use. It was swiped through a machine at the exit of the airport parking garage about 2:30 p.m., Donnelly said.

"We think it is a high probability he was there but it was not a 100 percent confirmed sighting," Donnelly said. Police were reviewing grainy surveillance video, he said.

Moraga police went to a residence where a friend, Jeff Donner, had reported being contacted by Mack, but law officers determined Mack had not been there.

Investigators were searching data bases at public and private airports and rental agencies across the western U.S. , Donnelly said.

"We are trying to determine whether he has tried to leave the country. We don't really have any viable leads since the Sacramento lead and the Moraga lead," Donnelly said. "The trail pretty much goes cold after those two things."

He said Mack may try to contact one of the women he met through several Internet dating services be had accounts with.

Mack was last known to be driving a silver Ford Explorer with California license plates "5POR272," but he may have changed cars, police said.

Mack owns a Bushmaster .223 semiautomatic rifle, which is missing, Donnelly said.

Weller, 53, who was shot once in the chest, was released from Washoe Medical Center on Tuesday to an undisclosed, secure location, police said.

Police think Mack targeted Weller, firing the shot from a parking garage across the Truckee River two blocks away " the distance of at least three football fields.

"It does not appear this was a random crime," Reno Deputy Police Chief Jim Johns said.

About four hours after Weller was shot, police discovered the body of Mack's estranged wife, Johns said. A criminal complaint said police officers responding to a report of a domestic dispute at Charla Mack's town house found her lying face down in a large puddle of blood in the garage with stab wounds to her upper torso and neck. A detective found an empty sheath for a "dagger" on the floor of the master bedroom closet.

Charla Mack filed for divorce on Feb. 7, 2005, and a mutual restraining order was signed in May 2005, according to Washoe County District Court records. A custody hearing was scheduled Sept. 7-8 before Weller.

An attorney who has been involved in Mack's divorce case, who asked not to be named because of personal safety concerns, told The Associated Press that the couple's divorce proceeding was "a very, very heated and emotional case."

Rep. Jim Gibbons, R-Nev., said he has known Mack and his family for a long time.

"It was an absolute surprise," Gibbons said of the accusations. "But like anybody else, they all deserve their day in court. He's accused, but he's not guilty."


Associated Press writer Jordan Robertson in San Francisco contributed to this report.


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