Matejs Balodis South Point Casino Hotel

Matejs Balodis, a 22-year-old Latvian exchange student, has been arrested in connection with a murder at the South Point Casino Hotel in Las Vegas (Image: LVMetro)

It’s been a murderous year on the Las Vegas Strip, and another killing early this week has to have tourism officials worried about the repercussions. Ironically, the latest homicide took place at the Strip’s South Point Hotel Casino, where one of the city’s biggest annual events – the National Finals Rodeo – has just bailed in favor of a more profitable offer from a Florida town for next year.

Exchange Student Arrested

Metro Police arrested Matejs Balodis, a 22-year-old Latvian student, for the killing, which allegedly took place in one of South Point’s hotel rooms earlier on December 16. Reports indicate that Balodis was arrested at 6:30 p.m., after his victim – said to be 55-year-old Sherman Dale Lamb – was found bloodied and unconscious in the room in question. Lamb was whisked to the hospital, but later died from the injuries to his face and head. Balodis also bore facial injuries in his arrest mug shot, indicating some sort of struggle had taken place.

Balodis told cops that he was an exchange student who’d been in Denmark, then finished some studies in Texas before meeting up with Lamb while on a travel layover in Las Vegas when a planned flight to New York was unexpectedly cancelled. Balodis said he was going back to Europe for the holidays, but that Lamb had secured him a hotel room at South Point until then. Balodis claims he discovered that Lamb was mostly interested in his bankroll and his banking security PIN, which started an argument that turned into an apparently brutal physical fight with Lamb.

The fight allegedly escalated, with the much-younger Balodis reportedly striking the older Lamb repeatedly in his face and head. Eventually, Lamb “passed out”, according to the police reports, at which point Balodis called police himself.

Balodis has been booked into Clark County Detention Center, Las Vegas’ primary jail.

A Very Bloody Year in Las Vegas

This may have been the most murderous year on the Las Vegas Strip since the days when the Mob ruled in town; besides this week’s episode, two other major and national news-making rampages have shaken the town to its core.

In October, Benjamin Frazier – a 41-year-old ex-con with a history of booze-related arrests on his rap sheet – was arrested and charged with murder, attempted murder and illegal weapons charges after he gunned down 40-year-old Kenneth Brown, a good Samaritan who was trying to tackle Frazier before the gunman headed out into Bally’s Casino following a shooting scuffle with two security guards at the after-hours club Drai’s inside the casino.

Frazier fired several shots and Brown was killed instantly, while the two security guards were wounded and recovered. Witness reports indicated that Frazier – who was able to bring an unlicensed concealed weapon into the club because it lacks metal detectors – started the shootout when he was denied a $30 refund for his club admission charge when he decided Drai’s didn’t offer enough excitement.

Another deadly shooting on the Strip occurred back in late February, when 26-year-old Ammar Harris – a self-proclaimed pimp with a previous sexual assault and pandering record to his name – allegedly opened fire on rapper Kenneth Cherry, Jr.’s Maserati after mistakenly identifying Cherry as someone he had just argued with at the Aria’s valet stand.

Cherry sped off into a major Flamingo Road intersection, ramming a taxicab, which instantly exploded, killing both its driver and passenger. Cherry and his passenger were taken to UMC and pronounced dead on arrival; three others were also injured in the crash.

Although Harris sped off, he was later taken into custody by the FBI and LAPD in the San Fernando Valley.  Street video surveillance stations had captured his image, and Harris’ self-made boastful video, posted on his Twitter page, proved to be his undoing. He was charged with three murder charges, to which he has pleaded not guilty; Harris now awaits a capital murder trial that has been postponed from its previously planned early December court date due to new public defenders being assigned to his case.

Clark County Sheriff Doug Gillespie was already exploring tighter security protocols following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in January in Newtown, Connecticut. He’d even met with other law enforcement at the White House to have a gun policy meeting with the president.

Then came Harris’ rampage in February and the Boston Marathon terrorist bombs in April, all the while as Gillespie fought to ward off department budget cuts for his police force. Even Las Vegas’ status as a potential terrorism target was lowered in rank, meaning a possible reduction in federal aid to create protocols.

This week, Gillespie asked Clark County commissioners to put more cops on Las Vegas’ streets with an increased sales tax that would supposedly pour another $30 million into his department’s budget to bring in 101 additional police to cover various parts of the city’s beats.

By our calculations, that comes out to $297,029 a year for each of those 101 cops for the additional budget allocation. Where do we sign up?