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Computers seized from slain publicist's L.A. office

A 64-year-old woman was shot at least five times while driving her Mercedes, and Los Angeles police were searching for suspects.
Image: Publicist Ronni Chasen is seen during the premiere of Screen Gems' 'Burlesque' at Grauman's Chinese Theater on Nov. 15
Publicist Ronni Chasen is seen during the premiere of Screen Gems' 'Burlesque' at Grauman's Chinese Theater Monday, in Los Angeles. Afterward, she was found in her car with multiple gunshot wounds.Kevin Winter / Getty Images file
/ Source: NBC, and news services

Investigators have seized computers from the business of a prominent Hollywood publicist who was shot to death in her car in Beverly Hills on her way home from a movie premiere.

Police hauled the equipment from Ronni Chasen's business, Chasen and Co., about 12 hours after she was gunned down early Tuesday. There are no suspects or motive yet for the crime.

Chasen, 64, was driving a black Mercedes-Benz E350 when she was shot at 12:28 a.m. and then crashed into a lamppost at North Whittier Drive and Sunset Boulevard, police said. NBC station KNBC reported that authorities said she had been shot at least five times . A witness told the Los Angeles Times that the window on the passenger side of the front seat had been shattered.

She was pronounced dead less than an hour later at Cedars Sinai Medical Center, police said.

No suspects or motive were immediately known, police Lt. Tony Lee said.

Fellow publicist Howard Bragman called the killing bizarre.

"She wasn't a shady character," he said. "It's a small community and she was one of the fixtures in it."

Calls and e-mails to representatives of Chasen and Co. were not immediately returned.

Witnesses said they heard gunshots in the serene Beverly Hills neighborhood and called 911 before going outside to help.

"I heard the 'Boom! Boom! Boom!' of gunshots, ran up to the window, and there was the back of the car," Nahid Schekarchian, who lives in an apartment above the crash site, told The Associated Press.

She said her daughter-in-law called 911 and her son and a neighbor ran down to the car and found Chasen, who was struggling to breathe and bleeding from her nose and chest.

The front passenger's window was shattered.

The killing took place after Chasen attended the premiere of the movie "Burlesque," which the trade publication Variety said she was promoting for Screen Gems to position the soundtrack for an Oscar nomination.

Chasen "was at our premiere last night and so full of her trademark energy and love of life," said Amy Pascal, co-chair of Screen Gems owner Sony Pictures. "We are heartbroken, shocked and completely devastated."

Chasen was struck down in the midst of her busiest time of year — Hollywood's award season, when the movie studios mount expensive campaigns to promote their better films for awards consideration using spin-specialists like Chasen.

She also was working with 20th Century Fox on a supporting actor Oscar campaign for Michael Douglas in "Wall Street 2: Money Never Sleeps," according to Allen Berry, a publicist for the actor.

Chasen's other clients included movie producers Irwin Winkler and Richard D. Zanuck.

Morgan Freeman said he had the "extreme pleasure" of working with Chasen on "Driving Miss Daisy."

"We've been friends ever since," the actor said. "She is someone I greatly admired, and she will be remembered."

The crime scene was marked with yellow police tape stretched between two trees on a grassy parkway among stately homes south of Sunset. An orange cone marked the spot where the light post had stood, and a small bouquet of yellow and red flowers was next to the curb.

Bradley Turell, a longtime colleague of Chasen, came to the site to mourn his friend.

"Ronni was a positive force of nature," he said during an interview by The Associated Press and KNBC. "She was just great at what she did, a supreme sales person and a great lady."

Chasen was involved in Hollywood publicity since the 1970s. She also promoted "On Golden Pond," which won Academy Awards for best actor, actress and screenplay in 1981.

In recent years, she worked with a number of music clients, including Janet Jackson, composer Hans Zimmer, producer Glen Ballard and Diane Warren, who wrote the song "You Haven't Seen the Last of Me," which Cher sings in "Burlesque."

Stephen Jaffe, a crisis management consultant, said he and his wife, actress Susan Blakely, knew Chasen for at least 25 years. The Hollywood awards season was always a busy time for her, Jaffe said.

"She would always call us this time of year to come to really incredible events," he said, explaining Chasen would often arrange screenings followed by intimate gatherings of filmmakers and guests.

"This was an absolutely shocking and inexplicable event that has hurt us," Jaffe said of the shooting.

Bragman said Chasen had a unique way of doing business.

"She was not a woman who was a slave to the fashion of the day," he said. She played to her own vision and integrity. She was very bright, very successful."

The homicide is the third of the year in Beverly Hills.

Diane Newlander, 73, was found dead in her home in the 400 block of South Swall Drive on May 4, a victim of an apparent murder-suicide.

Katsutoshi Tony Takazato was fatally stabbed July 20, allegedly by the boyfriend of a former girlfriend. Takazato was found dead outside his home in the 1800 block of Carla Ridge in the Trousdale Estates area. Scott Joseph Barker has pleaded not guilty in the case.

The city had no homicides in 2009.