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Minutes after he was turned away from NBC's street-level "Today" show studio, a man with an assault rifle coolly stepped out of his car and gunned down a stagehand who tried to flag down police.

The fatal blast echoed off Rockefeller Center's skyscrapers Wednesday afternoon, scattering rush-hour crowds at the bustling tourist spot. Stagehand Theron Montgomery screamed as he slumped to the sidewalk."Help, get me a doctor!" a postal worker heard him say.

Seconds later, the gunman was arrested after trying to drive away from the scattering crowds.

"He got back to his car so cool, calm and collected, and started backing up as if nothing had happened," said Bob Crofts, who was leaving a meeting.

Later Wednesday, William "Manny" Tager, 46, of Charlotte, N.C., was charged with second-degree murder and two counts of weapons possession.

Police found the loaded Chinese-made rifle - a copy of a Russian AK-47 - inside the car, along with three loaded clips. Investigators also found an unloaded semiautomatic Beretta pistol, with ammunition, and 15 license plates in the trunk of the car, police said.

"This could have turned out much more tragically," said Louis Anemone, a police chief of patrol.

Tager was in the yarn and dye business in North Carolina, Anemone said.

Police in Charlotte, N.C., said Tager was arrested there in 1976 on a charge of failure to appear on a parking ticket and again in 1988 on charges of hit-and-run and communicating threats.

"Today" co-host Bryant Gumbel opened Thursday morning's show by announcing that Montgomery, "one of our night stagehands, died in surgery last night."