Casino shooter gets long term

Since the night gunfire exploded inside the New York-New York, Troy Sanchez has often questioned how he survived.

That was the night the avid 15-year-old skateboarder from California and three others were shot by a suicidal man who claimed he wanted to provoke police into killing him.

"Sometimes I wonder if I could have died that day," Sanchez said Monday after a district judge sentenced Steven Zegrean to 90 years in prison for the shooting that took place on July 6, 2007.

Zegrean, 53, could be eligible for parole in about 24 years.

Zegrean apologized to the victims before he was sentenced.

"I am sincerely sorry for my actions," he said in a Hungarian accent. "Have mercy on me."

Watching Zegrean, a heavyset man wearing prison garb with his gray hair slicked back, angered Sanchez.

"I got angry a little bit because he looked bored, like he didn't really care," said Sanchez, who was shot in the ankle. "He can apologize all he wants. It's not going to take back what happened."

Three months ago, a jury convicted Zegrean of multiple charges, including attempted murder with a deadly weapon and assault with a deadly weapon.

In 2007, Zegrean entered the crowded casino with 249 rounds of ammunition, many of which were in magazines. He fired 17 shots from a 9 mm handgun onto the gaming floor from a balcony near the Nathan's Hot Dog restaurant.

After the gun jammed, Zegrean was tackled by a vacationing National Guardsman and several other tourists.

Deputy Public Defender Lynn Avants said during the sentencing hearing that Zegrean was suicidally depressed over losing his wife, house and job. Zegrean, who immigrated from Hungary more than 20 years ago, never intended to harm anyone, Avants said. He added that when police arrested Zegrean, his first concern was whether he "hurt" anyone.

Avants said Zegrean's intention when he opened fire was to force police to shoot and kill him.

Judge David Barker seemed unmoved by that.

"He didn't shoot at a policeman. He shot at unarmed civilians. That's a huge distinction," Barker said.

The judge added, "This wasn't suicide by cop, Mr. Zegrean, because if it was, you'd be facing down a couple of uniformed police officers who you knew were armed. But you didn't do that."

Barker said if it wasn't for the weapon malfunctioning and the brave act of several tourists, he believed Zegrean would have continued shooting.

Prosecutor Ravi Bawa argued that Zegrean needed to spend the rest of his life in prison as a message to deter anyone else from performing such an act.

Afterward, Bawa said the sentence was appropriate because it means Zegrean probably will die in prison. The sentence "will insure that he will not finish what he started," Bawa said.

Carrie Zeravica, 26, of Pittsburgh, who was shot in the leg by Zegrean, said after sentencing, "I hope he's in there forever."

Zeravica gave tearful testimony about how Zegrean's actions ruined her dreams of being a dancer. Zeravica said she has trouble walking, wears a custom brace on her leg and has undergone numerous painful medical procedures as a result of the shooting.

For his part, Sanchez said the shooting taught him to appreciate life more and stay optimistic.

"I'm happy he's behind bars now. Just as long as this won't happen again. So he won't finish what he started," he said.

Before the sentencing hearing, several of the charges that the jury had convicted Zegrean of were dismissed after Barker granted a motion made by defense attorneys. Barker dismissed without prejudice four counts of battery with use of a deadly weapon and 12 counts of assault with a deadly weapon. Those were the lesser charges to the multiple counts of attempted murder with use of a deadly weapon.

The legal debate over whether the charges should be dismissed had delayed Zegrean's sentencing for a month.

Contact reporter Francis McCabe at or 702-380-1039.