LOMBARD – A rookie in blue starred down the Las Vegas strip as smoke eclipsed the sky and sirens screeched past him.
That might sound to some like the beginning of a crime novel, and, in many ways, it was for Lombard resident and former police officer Mark Rusin, who recently finished his first book.
Rusin said he will never forget Nov. 21, 1980. The rookie cop was called on to respond to the worst disaster in Nevada history, and it was a day that will forever haunt him.
"We were running on pure adrenaline and it was surreal," said Rusin, 58. "It was like a scene from 'The Twilight Zone' or a bad horror movie … something I'll never forget. You see horror on peoples' faces."
Just 25 years old at the time, Rusin was a member of the Las Vegas Metropolitan Police Department when on that November morning the MGM Grand Hotel caught fire. About 5,000 people were in the 23-story casino and resort with more than 2,000 rooms. Eighty-five people died and more than 700 were injured, according to the Clark County Fire Department.
Rusin said he was tasked with clearing the bodies from floors 19 to 23, and faced with images of fear that he will never forget.
"It just got to me and I was just overloaded and kind of broke down there for a second, but then I had to gather myself and pretend like I wasn't breaking down because otherwise I'd be laying in the fettle position in the corner somewhere and you just can't do that," he said. "You have to work, you've got a job to do."
Years before, Rusin had dreamed of being a professional hockey player, but his second dream was to be a police officer after growing up watching programs like "Dragnet," "Hawaii Five-O" and "The Untouchables."
After four years in Las Vegas, Rusin said he became a special agent with the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and served in that capacity until he retired from federal service in March 2007.
"I always wanted to be a federal agent, an ATF agent, because of the gun situation," he said. "I always wanted to investigate gun crimes."
While events like the MGM Grand and the murders he investigated might haunt him, Rusin said he loved being a cop and wouldn't trade the experience for anything. It's those experiences that also prompted him to write his first novel, "Justice for Dallas," based on a case he worked in San Francisco.
Rusin said some officers drink as an outlet, and others seek therapy. For him, writing is his emotional outlet.
"When you live something it's easier for you to tell the story and write about it," he said. "To write the book there's a lot involved. You have to go into characters and there's more to it than just telling the story."
The book based on actual events takes place in California with Marko Novak investigating the quadruple murder of a family by a motorcycle gang, including 5-year-old Dallas. Rusin said it took about seven years to write the novel from start to finish.
"The way I wrote it, it's an easy read," he said. "It keeps interest and it's a fast read book, but it's pretty intense."