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January 29, 2015

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Northern Nevada police stay on alert after biker shootings


Associated Press/Reno Gazette-Journal

In this Friday, Sept. 23, 2011, photo, officers keep an eye on handcuffed men at the east entrance to John Ascuaga’s Nugget after a shooting in Sparks. One person has been killed and two others wounded in a shooting at a hotel-casino in Sparks that witnesses say involved members of rival motorcycle gangs, the Vagos and Hells Angels.

A show of force Saturday by police in Reno and Sparks prevented further violence connected to the shooting death of a prominent Hells Angels boss, and officials in both cities said they plan to maintain the heavy law enforcement presence during the final day of a motorcycle festival.

Sparks officials will leave a state of emergency in place until Sunday evening even though “it was very calm” Saturday, spokesman Adam Mayberry said.

The city declared the state of emergency and canceled all festival events Saturday morning after a shooting that appeared to be in retaliation for Friday’s death Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew, the 51-year-old head of the motorcycle gang’s San Jose chapter.

Hells Angels boss gunned down at Sparks casino

KSNV coverage of shooting death of a California Hells Angels leader during a confrontation with a rival gang at a Sparks casino, Sept. 24, 2011.

Pettigrew was killed in a shootout at John Ascuaga’s Nugget hotel-casino. Two California members of the Vagos Motorcycle Club also were wounded in the fight that sent hotel guests and gamblers scrambling under tables and through the hotel’s kitchen to escape the violence.

Mayberry said there were few complaints from business owners or festival attendees about the cancelations of live entertainment and other festivities in the city’s Victorian Square.

“There was disappointment but an overall understanding of the intensity of the situation,” Mayberry said. “As evening set in and it got dark, things could have gotten very dangerous.”

The annual festival has drawn thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the area for 18 years, and Mayberry emphasized the city didn’t consider the vast majority of attendees dangerous. This year’s attendance was expected to approach 30,000 people in Sparks, Reno and Virginia City.

“Almost everyone is here to look at the bikes and enjoy the festival, not engage in violence,” Mayberry said.

Events were allowed to continue in Reno, although city spokesman Chris Good said police — along with state and federal authorities — were not only on the streets in significant numbers but also had undercover officers in the crowds.

In a statement released Sunday, Sparks police said they were looking for witnesses to the casino shooting but didn’t have any updated information on a suspect. They were also investigating the shooting of a motorcyclist a few hours later that prompted the state of emergency and was described by Sparks Mayor Geno Martini as a retaliatory attack.

Authorities in Arizona arrested more than two dozen members of the Hells Angels and the Vagos in August 2010 after a shootout between them wounded five people but none seriously in the small community of Chino Valley, north of Prescott.

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