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Posted: 4/28/2002 5:06:06 PM EDT
3 killed in Laughlin melee Biker battle leaves 16 wounded at casino Mark Henle/The Arizona Republic By Mark Shaffer The Arizona Republic April 28, 2002 12:00:00 LAUGHLIN, Nev. - A long-simmering rivalry between two motorcycle gangs exploded into gunfire and knife attacks early Saturday on Harrah's busy casino floor, leaving three dead and 16 wounded. The melee, which police said involved members of the Los Angeles chapters of the Hells Angels and Mongols, sent panicked casino customers fleeing for their lives shortly after 2 a.m. into the parking lot of the casino on the bank of the Colorado River. Lt. Vincent Cannito of the Las Vegas Metro Police Department, which patrols the Laughlin area, said the gunbattle involved about 70 gang members. Cannito said that one unidentified suspect had been taken into custody and that police were in the process of interviewing about 200 people. Identities of the three victims, all believed to be gang members, were not released pending notification of relatives. The violence, the worst ever in a Nevada casino, took place during one of the marquee nights of the 20th annual Laughlin River Run, one of the largest biker gatherings in the country, which attracts 75,000 to 100,000 motorcycle enthusiasts to Laughlin each year. Robert Marriott of Garden Grove, Calif., said he was with friends in the Harrah's parking lot when he heard what he thought was automatic gunfire from inside the casino. "I heard everyone screaming and running, and they just surged through the doors like they were a herd of cattle," Marriott said. "People were yelling, 'They're killing everybody inside!' " Meanwhile, sheriff's deputies in San Bernardino County, Calif., were investigating the shooting death Saturday of another biker along Interstate 40, near Ludlow, 60 miles west of the Arizona line. Related story • Violence shocks small-time gambling town Sheriff's spokesman Chip Patterson said the body of the unidentified man, who was affiliated with a biker group in San Diego and appeared to have been shot while riding his motorcycle, was found alongside the highway. Patterson said an investigation is centering on whether the shooting death was related to the casino melee. "The rumors of retaliation have already hit the street," said Larry Tunforss, a Bullhead City Fire Department spokesman. "Our Police Department is beefing up intensely. There's a definite concern of further incidents." Cannito and other police officers said the Laughlin free-for-all began when one Mongol walked into a group of Hells Angels in a bar on the first floor of Harrah's near a bank of slot machines. Many members of both gangs had rented rooms at Harrah's and a number of Hells Angels also were staying at a hotel across the river in Bullhead City, police said. Other witnesses said events started 24 hours before when Mongols outnumbered Hells Angels by as many as 4-1 in the bar area where the gunfire broke out. They also said that violence between the two groups almost began then and that numerous Mongols had been intimidating visitors to the casino throughout Friday.
Link Posted: 4/28/2002 5:06:50 PM EDT
Barry Bilbray, who owns a Laughlin towing company, said he had transported a Hells Angel away from Harrah's on Saturday morning, shortly after law officers had allowed visitors to leave. The hotel had been closed shortly after the shooting stopped, and no visitors were allowed to enter the casino or leave their hotel rooms. Law officers also closed the only bridge connecting Laughlin to Arizona for about four hours early Saturday. "The guy told me that he held another of the Hells Angels in his arms while he died," Bilbray said. "The thing I can't figure out is why these guys would do something like this in a place where cameras would pick up their every move." Chris Welton of Carson City, Nev., said he was playing poker nearby when the shooting began. "Shots just started going off," Welton said. "There were dead bodies. Pretty nasty. There was a guy about 10 feet from me. He was dead. His buddy was trying to revive him." John Davidson said he ducked beneath a blackjack table. "There were shell casings landing right by us," Davidson said. "I had to pull the dealer down. She was screaming." Members of a San Jose family said they went downstairs about 30 minutes after the shooting and saw only two people in the casino. Outside on a patio, they said, dozens of heavily armed officers guarded about 50 motorcycle gang members, who were handcuffed and lying face-down on the floor. University Medical Center in Las Vegas was treating five patients, three of whom were in serious condition with gunshot and stab wounds, nursing supervisor Louise Burns said. Of the other two, one was in critical condition with a skull fracture and the other was in fair condition with gunshot and stab wounds, Burns said. Western Arizona Regional Medical Center in Bullhead City treated seven fight victims. Four were in fair condition, and three had been released. The whereabouts of the other four injured was not known.
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