LAS VEGAS – The man killed in a weekend shooting at a Starbucks coffee shop in Las Vegas was a naturalized U.S. citizen from the country of Georgia, where he served in the military and learned not to back away from conflict, a lifelong friend said Wednesday.
Aleksandr Khutsishvili enlisted after his country broke from the Soviet Union, and he served a stint in a military unit protecting then-Georgian President Eduard Shevardnadze, said David Shtromberg, who grew up with Khutsishvili in the Georgian capital city, Tblisi.
According to police, Khutsishvili was sitting Sunday morning in a Starbucks several miles west of the Las Vegas Strip when a man later identified as Pedro Jose Garcia, a five-time felon, entered the store after his credit card was declined at the drive-thru.
An employee told detectives the man tried to make another purchase and then took a seat, according to a police report.
Another witness reported hearing people talking loudly "but not quite yelling" before the gunman "got up, pulled out a gun and shot the man in the opposite corner." An employee yelled for everyone to get down.
Khutsishvili, who police said had argued with the gunman, was shot in the chest and fell to the floor just inside the door. Other people dove for cover.
It wasn't clear from the police report what was said or if the loud exchange the witness reported was between the shooter and the victim.
Three shots were fired, police said, before the weapon malfunctioned with a bullet stuck in the barrel.
There was no evidence that Khutsishvili had a weapon, homicide Lt. Dan McGrath said Wednesday, just a cellphone and a laptop computer.
Khutsishvili, known to friends as "Sasha," didn't talk much about his military experience. But it wouldn't have been like him to be a bystander, said Shtromberg, who emigrated to the U.S. as a refugee in 1992 and lives in Los Angeles.
The twice-divorced father of three became a U.S. citizen in 2004, Shtromberg said. He worked as a longshoreman, a plumber and a construction worker in Southern California before moving to Las Vegas about three years ago.
"Because he was military, he would react," the friend told The Associated Press in a telephone interview. He said Khutsishvili also sometimes worked with him at his computer services business in Hollywood.
"He's not the type of person to walk away from a fight," Shtromberg said, "or someone else's fight."
Garcia, 34, made an initial court appearance Wednesday on murder and other charges in the slaying. A judge postponed his arraignment until Friday to let the Clark County public defender's office determine if it can represent him.
Defense attorney Edward Kane said outside court that he expects Garcia will plead not guilty.
According to a police report, a man who identified himself as Garcia called 911 and said he had shot a person who appeared to have been reaching for something.
Police later recovered a .22-caliber handgun that witnesses said Garcia used. It had been fired three times, according to police, before malfunctioning
On the 911 call, a male voice could be heard moaning in the background, according the police report, while Garcia is heard saying, "Go for it dog, I'm not gonna tell you again, go for it; play cowboy with me dog."