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Inside Vegas - Steve Miller

Steve Miller is a former Las Vegas City Councilman. In 1991, the readers of the Las Vegas Review Journal voted him the "Most Effective Public Official" in Southern Nevada. Visit his website at:

"The weakness of the flesh"- Genesis 2:15-25
Surveillance video from motel finally released

INSIDE VEGAS by Steve Miller
June 2, 2008

LAS VEGAS - Putting to rest speculation that mob enemy Buffalo Jim Barrier was kidnapped, drugged, and left to die in a Boulder Highway motel room, a video surveillance tape now shows a weary looking Barrier checking in to Motel 6 at 8:20 PM on April 5, 2008.

A phone call placed at 9 PM the same evening suggests that Barrier passed away within minutes after entering room 105 accompanied by a woman later identified only as "Lisa."

The handicap accessible room is located adjacent to the front office on the well lit side of the motel facing the highway. According to police, the motel was sold out and 105 was the last room available that night.

Jennifer and Jessica Barrier, the 24 and 26 year old daughters of Buffalo Jim, last Friday asked me to go with them to the Metro Police Homicide Division to view the motel surveillance tape. Up until Friday, the tape was classified, and several requests made by the family attorney to view it were declined.

The four daughters repeatedly told police that being able to see their father's last moments alive would help them find much needed closure, and they wanted to verify it was actually him on the tape, but officers said they could not release the tape until the coroner's report was issued.

The family was called to the coroner's office last Tuesday morning to be given the autopsy results before the information was made public.

Clark County Medical Examiner Larry Simms wrote in the report: "It is my opinion that this 55 year old Caucasian male, James Barrier, died as a result of Dilated Cardiomyopathy. A significant contributing condition is Cocaine Intoxication."

Jennifer, in total disbelief of Dr. Simm's statement, immediately called the private pathologist commissioned by the family and told her about the findings. Though she had not yet finished writing her report, Dr. Rexine Weller responded that she had also detected cocaine in Buffalo Jim's system, and that he had suffered a heart attack. Dr. Weller for the first time revealed that a blood clot was found in Barrier's heart.

However, neither pathologist said they had swabbed the upper cavities of Barrier's nose to detect if the drug had been snorted, though cocaine was found on his beard, mustache, and shirt when his body was discovered at 1:20 PM the next day by a motel housekeeper.

Cocaine can be taken by either inhaling, drinking, or injecting the substance.

After hearing the shocking news, the girls called me to say they could not accept that their dad died in such a way. I cautioned them that the cocaine issue would make front page news.

At first the four daughters agreed to not comment to the press. But emotion took over and Jennifer Barrier made a passionate statement that evening on KTNV TV News. In it the family spokeswoman said she cannot accept the manner in which her father's death is being portrayed. That he was not that kind of man. She repeated her opinion that it was "not him who took that," and that his death was a "set up." Jennifer ended the interview with, "Are we ever going to know what really happened?"

The coroner's report made it even more vital that the family be able to view the motel video to verify that their dad had actually volunteered to step in harm's way.

Last Friday, homicide Lt. Lew Roberts invited us to his office to view the tape and discuss the case. Detective Mark Harding was also asked to attend.

The officers told the Barriers that police can now discuss certain aspects of the case and show the tape since the coroner's report had been made public. But they said there are other issues related to the investigation that cannot be discussed at this time.

Buffalo Jim had effectively kept his occasional cocaine use and friendship with Lisa a secret, though he publicly admitted to abusing drugs and alcohol in his younger years. His friends and loving daughters fully believed he had quit taking drugs years ago, though as a single man he had every right to have a girl friend. His daughters also believed him to be a devoted health fanatic in his later years.

Even after two pathologists confirmed drugs were in his system that may have triggered a heart attack, Barrier's daughters remain in disbelief insisting their dad met with foul play. And undeniably, the sinister coincidences revolving around his death are hard to dispute including the fact that Barrier died on the day following convicted racketeer Rick Rizzolo's release from federal prison. Barrier was the main force behind Rizzolo's conviction along with the convictions of 15 Crazy Horse Too topless bar employees and the seizure of the mob owned strip club by the federal government.

Also, during the time Barrier was providing information to the FBI about Rizzolo's criminal activities, he was the recipient of a series of death threats.

And in November 2007, Bart Rizzolo tried to run Barrier over with his Range Rover. So it's not unreasonable for the girls to cling to their foul play theory.

But the motel video tells a far different story and opens new areas of concern regarding Barrier possibly playing a part in his own death. He was a type 2 diabetic with past heart problems. Though he appeared strong and healthy, his years of self admitted drug and alcohol abuse may have taken a lethal toll.

Unlike many surveillance type videos, the one shown to us was in color, clear, and steady. It was taken from a camera mounted on the east wall of the motel office and was aimed at the main entrance, check in counter, and a large window on the west side of the room facing the Boulder Highway.

Barrier entered the office looking physically exhausted. He faced the camera and appeared to be in a somber mood as he stepped up and leaned on to the counter, presented his credit card, waited a moment, then signed the receipt. He fumbled with his wallet trying to slip the credit card back into the slot, and had difficulty locating his pants pocket to replace the wallet. There was no white powder apparent on his beard, mustache, or shirt at the time.

In the video, Buffalo was clearly not the jovial person I've known for the past nine years. He looked unsteady and repressed. Not once did he smile, or joke with the clerk.

The entire check in process took around four minutes before he exited the office and walked south to his car.

A few seconds later Barrier could be seen through the office window walking to the north with a female following him. They were on their way to room 105. Sometime during the next half hour, Buffalo Jim Barrier would die.

From his appearance on the video, Buffalo reminded me of several times while on trips to Disneyland and Universal Studios with our families, I observed him when his blood sugar level was dropping. At such times he would stop to buy a sandwich and glass of tomato juice to raise his blood sugar level. Afterward, he was back to his nomal self within seconds.

On April 7, Buffalo's autopsy showed that his stomach was empty at the time of his death. A physician I consulted for this column said that the combination of obesity, diabites, previous heart condition, and cocaine could be the "perfect storm" to bring such a man down.

Some of Barrier's friends have asked if a person could orchastrate a combination of the above conditions to all occur at once? If so, it would have to be a person with an intimate knowledge of Barrier's medical condition and habits. There were only a few persons in his life who knew these intimate details about him. Did Lisa know one of these persons, possibly someone who hated Barrier?

Police traced Lisa's phone number from her 9 PM call to Barrier's cell phone when she first called to ask if he was OK. She also placed two calls to Barrier's home phone asking the same question. One at around 9 PM, the other at 10 PM.

According to Lt. Roberts, Lisa told police that she and Barrier had been friends for many years. That Barrier initiated the April 5 date and picked her up in his Rolls Royce.

Lt. Roberts said there was a white powder found on the passenger seat of the car, and powder on the room key.

Lisa reportedly described Barrier having a coughing attack immediately after entering the room. Lt. Roberts did not reveal whether she said he had taken cocaine in her presence, but stated that the police would release more information they obtained from Lisa after receiving an official written request from the family attorney.

It was obvious to me by his demeanor on the video that Buffalo had not yet ingested any form of stimulant, but it was likely Lisa had done so while riding in his car based on the powder found on the passenger seat.

Lt. Roberts said that after the couple entered the room, Lisa described Barrier coughing and choking, so she went into the bathroom to get him a cup of water. She reportedly told police that when she returned with the water, he was having a seizure and appeared unconscious. She then told police that she immediately left the motel on foot.

Roberts did not say why Lisa failed to alert motel staff of Barrier's condition or call 911 after she left the room, saying only that such things often happen when prostitutes experience the death of a client, and do not want to be implicated.

He also said that the local district attorney does not usually prosecute such cases especially in a state like Nevada that does not have a depraved indifference law.

It was suspected that Barrier left home with a roll of cash that evening -- something he was well known to do -- but there was only one dollar found in his wallet after he died.

His driver's license was initially reported missing, but it was later found. The Rolls Royce was not seen by Barrier's daughters who were called to identify his body, but was later confirmed to have been in the side parking lot all along.

Roberts and Harding expressed that they are still looking into other specific issues involving the death, but cautioned the daughters that if new information does not surface, the case could go cold.

I cannot at this time reveal what further issues police said they plan to investigate. To do so could jeopardize their investigation. But James Barrier surely deserves a better epitaph than Dr. Simm's terse statement.

Buffalo Jim Barrier was a hero no matter how he died. He will always be remembered, not for the weakness of his flesh that evening in April, but for raising four amazing daughters, the public service he provided, and for his boundless courage.

Copyright © Steve Miller

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