Associated Press/Reno Gazette-Journal
Published Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 | 12:34 p.m.
Updated Saturday, Sept. 24, 2011 | 11:31 a.m.
Sun ArchivesFatal shooting at Nevada casino; biker gangs eyed
The city canceled its part in an annual multi-city motorcycle festival on Saturday and neighboring Reno increased police patrol amid fears of retaliation over the shooting death of a prominent Hells Angels boss by a rival gang.
Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, the 51-year-old head of the motorcycle gang's San Jose chapter, was killed late Friday in a shootout that sent hotel guests and gamblers diving under tables at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel-casino, police said. Two California members of the Vagos Motorcycle Club also were wounded.
The gunfight apparently sparked a retaliatory drive-by shooting several hours after the casino gunfire, prompting Mayor Geno Martini to declare a formal state of emergency. A motorcyclist was injured after he was shot Saturday morning.
"We don't want to alarm our residents," he said. "The declaration merely provides some tools and tactics our city can and should use if it comes to that."
"We don't expect further violence, but we must be prepared," he added.
Martini said he also pulled the plug on the live entertainment and other festivities in Sparks related to Street Vibrations, an annual weekend-long event that has drawn tens of thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the area for 18 years.
Festival organizers had said they expected up to 30,000 visitors to this year's event, which began Thursday and was to run through Sunday in Reno, Sparks and Virginia City.
The man who was shot in the stomach during the drive-by shooting had been riding a motorcycle down the street from the public square where the festival was anchored. He was not being identified for his protection, police said.
That man was in stable condition, as were the two wounded Vagos members — Leonard Ramirez, 45, who was shot in the abdomen, and Diego Garcia, 28, who was shot in the leg.
Deputy Police Chief Brian Allen said investigators could not independently link the casino to the attack on the cyclist, which was carried out by a gunman in a black sedan with tinted windows.
But Martini told the Reno Gazette-Journal that it "definitely" was a case of retaliation.
"After the retaliation, it's just too tense of a situation," he said. "It's hard to say what's going to happen. It's just not worth the chance."
Security also was heightened at the Reno hospital where the two Vagos members were being treated. All doors were locked there, except the emergency entrance.
Allen said there were no suspects in the killing of Pettigrew but that police arrested one Hells Angel member from California in connection with the shootings at the casino. Cesar Villagrana, 36, was charged with assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a stolen firearm, Allen said. He said Villagrana was caught on videotape shooting into the crowd, but there was no evidence yet that he struck anyone.
Allen appealed for assistance from any witnesses who might have videotaped or photographed any portion of the incident.
Martini said he had been in contact with Gov. Brian Sandoval, who pledged support if the city needed more law enforcement resources.
Allen said law enforcement was monitoring traffic on I-80 and other main routes into Reno but had no indication any motorcycle clubs were attempting to marshal more forces in the area.
Reno police said they were increasing patrols but continuing the festival there, including downtown concerts on the main casino drag where the streets were closed to traffic. They also said they would request assistance from federal law enforcement if necessary.
Police said some hotel-casinos in Reno intended to staff their doors and allow entry only to registered guests Saturday night.
Witnesses to the casino shootout described chaos erupting after a group of Vagos club members was confronted by Hells Angels members at the Nugget. Daniel Sharp, of Stockton, Calif., told the Reno Gazette-Journal that within five minutes, shots rang out: "It was mayhem."
Joe Franco, of Reno, said he saw one Hells Angel member pull out a gun after he was knocked to the ground in a fistfight.
"He was down with the bloody nose, gets up and pulls out the gun, and that's the first shot" apparently at the man who punched him, Franco told the Gazette-Journal.
The casino was evacuated and put on lockdown around midnight. The Nugget said in a statement that the casino and all its restaurants had since reopened, but that in addition to its own "extensive security force," uniformed officers would patrol inside the casino for the rest of the weekend.
Authorities in Arizona arrested more than two dozen members of the two gangs in August 2010 after a shootout between them wounded five people but none seriously in the small community of Chino Valley, north of Prescott.