One Hells Angels member was in jail, but no arrests have been made in Friday night’s slaying of Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew at John Ascuaga’s Nugget, Deputy Sparks Police Chief Brian Allen said. Pettigrew, 51, was the president of the Hells Angels chapter in San Jose, Calif., where he worked as a city heavy equipment operator.
Allen said Monday that casino surveillance video won’t be made public until investigators complete the painstaking work of identifying about 60 Vagos and 12 Hells Angels amid a crowd of several hundred people gambling and partying. Members of the crowd suddenly dove for cover when gunfire disrupted the regional Street Vibrations motorcycle rally.
“We don’t want to sensationalize it. We don’t want to influence the groups. We don’t want to have something happen somewhere else,” Allen said in an interview. “A lot of the players are from out of the state and out of the region. If you look at it historically, there’ve been tensions between these two groups. But we’re still looking at what exactly set off this specific incident.”
In Arizona, more than two dozen members of the rival groups were arrested in August 2010 after a shootout left five people wounded in Chino Valley, north of Prescott.
In California, an annual organized crime report from the state attorney general calls longstanding tensions between the Hells Angels and the Vagos “particularly poignant.” It cited instances in which the Hells Angels have forced Vagos out of chapters in Hells Angels hotspots.
San Jose police Sgt. Jason Dwyer downplayed the possibility of retaliatory acts in the largest city of the San Francisco Bay area.
“We are not aware of any specific threat at this time,” Dwyer said Monday. “We are not expecting any action here.”
Allen said it appeared from the videos that the Sparks shooting was spontaneous and not the result of two groups entering the 1,600-room hotel and casino girded for battle.
One witness told the Reno Gazette-Journal that a man wearing Hells Angels insignia pulled a handgun and fired after being bloodied and knocked to the floor in a fistfight.
The shooting drew a heavy response from local, state and federal law enforcers, prompting the cancellation of the weekend rally in Sparks. The mayor declared a state of emergency.
Two men identified by police as Vagos motorcycle club members from California were wounded.
Leonard Ramirez, 45, was hospitalized with an abdominal wound, and Diego Garcia, 28, was wounded in the leg, Allen said. Both men were reported to be in stable condition over the weekend at Renown Regional Medical Center in Reno. A hospital spokesman said he could release no information about them Monday.
The only man arrested immediately after the shooting — Cesar Villagrana, 36, a Hells Angel member from California — was being held Monday on $500,000 bail at the Washoe County jail in Reno. He faces a court appearance on felony assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a stolen firearm charges.
It was not immediately clear if Villagrana had a lawyer.
Allen said Villagrana was seen on the videotape shooting into the crowd, but police found no immediate evidence that he wounded anyone.
“We were very fortunate that nobody else got hurt,” Allen said.
Sparks Mayor Geno Martini later linked a drive-by shooting Saturday morning that left a motorcyclist wounded to the deadly casino shooting less than 12 hours earlier.
Police said Shane Smith, 40, a Vagos member from California, was hospitalized in stable condition.
Allen said police weren’t immediately able to connect the two shootings. He said investigators were looking for witnesses and a black BMW four-door sedan with tinted windows that pulled alongside Smith before he was shot.