Wednesday, June 1, 2005 Print This | Email This     

Security video captures deadly melee between biker gangs at Nevada casino

By Chris O'Connell, Court TV

(Court TV) — Three years ago, a long-standing feud between the Hells Angels and the Mongols, two of the most violent motorcycle gangs in the country, erupted in a bloody riot at a crowded Nevada casino. Dozens of shots were fired, several people were brutally beaten and stabbed, and when the dust cleared, three bikers were dead.

Now, court documents and video surveillance footage offer a glimpse into the huge brawl at Harrah's casino during the 2002 Laughlin River Run, a popular event that draws thousands of motorcycle enthusiasts to the banks of the Colorado River for parties, races and contests.

Police charged 14 members of both gangs with more than 70 crimes, including murder, for the melee that led to the shooting deaths of Robert Tumelty, 50, and Jeramie Bell, 27 — both Hells Angels — and the stabbing death of Anthony Barrera, 43, a member of the Mongols.

During the savage bloodshed, more than 10 bikers were hospitalized for serious injuries including gunshot wounds, stab wounds, and broken bones. Casino patrons dodged bullets and took shelter beneath blackjack tables. Incredibly, no bystanders were seriously injured.

A Clark County judge initially wanted to try all 14 men in one trial — expected to be the longest in Nevada history. But the judge recently decided on separate trials for members of each biker gang. The Hells Angels trial is slated to begin on July 25, and the Mongols trial on Feb. 6, 2006.

A grand jury heard from several witnesses, including an expert who said bad blood has been brewing between the two outlaw gangs since the 1970s.

John Ciccone, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, testified that federal and local authorities knew about the tensions between the gangs, but said there was no way to predict such a violent outburst as the riot in Laughlin.

"It could have happened anywhere at any time," Ciccone said.

Though authorities weren't able to predict the conflagration, several witnesses who were in Harrah's casino said the tension between the gangs was hard to miss.The Mongols were using Harrah's as their home base during the River Run and had planned to party through the night there from April 26 to 27.

Jeff King, a motorcyclist in town for the run, testified that he was checking into Harrah's at about 2 a.m. when several Hells Angels showed up and started pushing patrons out of their way to get closer to a bar where Mongols were congregating.

The burly bikers, King said, were carrying long flashlights and "gave me the impression they were going to go kick somebody's ass."

Blackjack dealer Jay Buhry said scores of Mongols and Hells Angels began circling and "mad-dogging," or staring down, each other.

"I had a feeling that if a balloon would have popped, everybody [would have been] jumping headfirst and shooting," Buhry said.

It wasn't a balloon that set the outlaw bikers off, but a Mongol who karate-kicked a Hells Angel, said Bill Southern, also a blackjack dealer.

"I saw one of the Mongols jump into the air and kick straight out, a karate-type kick to the chest of the Hells Angel, knocking him backwards," Southern testified. "That's when I turned and said, 'It's time to get out of here.'"

But there was no time to run. Patrons took cover under blackjack tables and behind slot machines, hiding from the bullets and barstools that began to fly instantly after the first salvo.

Because most of the bikers refused to cooperate with the investigation, police relied on surveillance footage to recreate the riot and bring charges against specific individuals.

Police video expert James Causey showed the grand jury footage of what nine of the 14 accused men did during the riot.

Despite the testimony of several witnesses like Southern, who say a Mongol actually sparked the brawl, Causey played video that showed it began with Raymond Foakes — a Hells Angel.

One of the more shocking video segments Causey played was of Hells Angel Rodney Cox bashing a Mongol in the back of the head with an enormous crescent wrench.

Causey also presented a sequence in which Mongol Alexander Alcantar is seen firing a gun at someone not pictured in the video. Prosecutors said Alcantar shot and killed Tumelty and Bell with hollow-point bullets fired from a Colt .45, which was later recovered from an air-conditioning duct in a hotel room at Harrah's.

When word spread that cops were on the scene, bikers began fleeing the casino.

Michael Ford, a gang crimes unit officer with the Las Vegas Police Department, described catching one Hells Angel red-handed — literally.

"He had a knife in his hand and had blood dripping from the knife. He hesitated as if he was weighing his chances of stabbing us and trying to get away," Ford testified. "I told him, 'Either [drop the knife] or you're going to be killed. I'm going to kill you.' He dropped the knife and we took him into custody."

After the riot was over, investigators had the daunting task of cataloging the dead, the weapons and differentiating between victims, perpetrators and innocent bystanders.

Teresa Main, a crime-scene analyst for the Las Vegas Police Department, said it was the biggest crime scene she had ever worked on.

"The casino had a mass of firearms and assorted weapons, and several dead people," she said.

Detectives recovered 14 guns, 107 knives, two hammers, two wrenches and nine flashlights from trashcans, slot machines and other places.

The Hells Angels charged include Cox, Foakes, Regas, Maurice Eunice, Dale Leedom, James Hannigan, Sohn Regas, and Calvin Schaefer.

The Mongols charged are Alcantar, Roger Pinney, Victor Ramirez, Pedro Martinez Jr., Benjamin Leyva, and Kenneth Dysart.

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