Lt. Chad Hawkins of the Sparks Police Department said Saturday that the incident, which occurred just after 11 p.m. Friday in the Nugget parking garage, isn’t really even a mark on the event since it occurred several hours after its official closing time. Police initially reported that the suspect, 28-year-old Harold Nolte of Sparks, and the victim, a 25-year-old local woman, and several others were wearing clothing consistent with membership in a local outlaw motorcycle gang. Later, police said the incident appeared to be a fight between two people who earlier had been eating dinner together at a local restaurant and were drunk and was not related to gang activity.
Nolte was charged with battery with a deadly weapon and possession of a dangerous weapon. The victim was treated at a hospital for minor injuries.
Other than that, “It’s been quiet,” Hawkins said under a warm sun as crowds walked up and down Victorian Square on Saturday — not even any intoxication problems.
Randy Burke, president of Street Vibrations promoter Roadshows Inc., said this year’s spring rally is seeing more vendors and registered bikers than last spring’s event. The smaller spring event, with between 5,000 and 10,000 attendees, helps kick off the summer events season and precedes the larger fall rally, which draws between 35,000 and 50,000 people, Burke said.
Among the attendees at last fall’s event were members of the Hells Angels and Vagos motorcycle gangs. A shooting between members of the two gangs led to the death of Jeffrey “Jethrow” Pettigrew, president of the Hells Angels chapter in San Jose, Calif. As a result, the Sparks portion of the event was shut down a day-and-a-half early, vendors were sent home and police locked down the city until the event ended.
Ernesto Manuel Gonzalez, 53, a Nicaraguan Vagos motorcycle club chapter president, has been charged with Pettigrew’s murder. Gonzalez was arraigned Thursday in Washoe District Court on open murder and conspiracy to commit murder based on a different theory after new facts were discovered in the case, Chief Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall told the Reno Gazette-Journal.
Also charged in the incident that occurred on a dance floor in the casino was Gary “Jabbers” Rudnick, also a member of the Vagos. In March, Rudnick pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit murder. Cesar Villagrana, who authorities say is part of the Hells Angels, is free on bail awaiting an Oct. 29 trial on second-degree murder, battery with a deadly weapon and conspiracy charges, with Gonzalez as a co-defendant.
To quell any fear that might hover over this weekend’s event, Sparks police had a greater and more visible presence at the motorcycle rally. Officers mingled in the crowd and uniformed SWAT team members could be seen sitting in an unmarked vehicle at one end of the events, while a marked police car sat at the other end so attendees could see it as they entered. Burke added that event staff were wearing bright blue shirts with “Rally Crew” in big letters so attendees could see them more clearly, and all staff were told to be extra vigilant as they could be needed as witnesses if anything should happen.
But overall, last year’s incident seemed to be light years away from this weekend’s event, as participants, attendees and merchants went about their business enjoying the warm weather and hot bikes. Jay Winter, owner of Hardcore 1550 biker clothing and accessories from Fremont, Calif., said this was his third spring rally and he plans to return later this year for his tenth fall Street Vibrations. In the fall, Winter parks his custom trailer in downtown Reno so he wasn’t affected by last September’s shutdown in Sparks, though he said some fellow vendors lost as much as $20,000 by closing down early. He agreed with the decision made by authorities, however, in reacting to the shooting by securing the area.
“No one wants to lose money, but it was one of those things,” he said. “If it would have poured rain that weekend it would have been the same.”
Kris Jeakins of Sparks was at the event with his wife and three sons, ages 5, 5 and 2.
“I feel comfortable down here,” said Jeakins, who was waiting with his family to watch the stunt riders perform.
Longtime bikers Gary and Sherry Watkins rumbled into town Saturday for the second straight day, cruising up from their home in Carson City. They have been coming to Street Vibrations for many years for “the people, the bikes, the freedom,” and weren’t worried about any violence.
“It’s too bad because 98 percent of the people come here to have fun and 2 percent blow it for everybody else,” Gary said.
“I hope it doesn’t happen again,” Sherry said. “I was really worried they were going to stop it (Street Vibrations).”
As part of a larger effort to promote the summer’s coming attractions, Burke invited representatives from other events to set up booths and pass out information. Among them was the Reno National Championship Air Races, which this year is dealing with its own image issues after last year’s first-ever crash involving spectators. On Sept. 16, a P-51 Mustang smashed into the ground near the VIP section, killing 11 people, including pilot Jimmy Leeward, and injuring more than 60 others.
Valerie Miller-Moore, director of marketing and public relations for the Reno Air Race Association, said Saturday she had been busy talking to many out-of-area tourists on Victorian Square conveying the message that the races will continue this year and that all the necessary permits and insurance are in place. She said that Street Vibrations is a natural fit because many motorcycle enthusiasts also are plane enthusiasts.
“Motor heads love anything with an engine in it,” she said. “We fit right in their category.”