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Biker Charged in Shootings at Casino

Crime: Police in Nevada say a hotel surveillance tape shows a man affiliated with the Hells Angels killing a member of the rival Mongols.

April 29, 2002|CHARLES ORNSTEIN and DAREN BRISCOE | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

LAUGHLIN, Nev. — As motorcycle enthusiasts rode out of town Sunday, a 33-year-old affiliate of the Hells Angels bike gang faced a murder charge related to the shooting deaths of three bikers at the Laughlin River Run.

Las Vegas police would not release details on the jailed suspect, Calvin Brett Schaefer. A jail clerk said he was being held on a charge of murder with a deadly weapon with intent to promote/assist a criminal gang. A person answering the phone at Schaefer's residence in Chandler, Ariz., declined to comment.

Lt. Vincent Cannito said about 500 people were detained for questioning after the shooting early Saturday, and others were arrested on minor unrelated charges. Dozens of motorcycles were confiscated, as well as guns, knives, hammers and other weapons.

Motorcycle gang experts said the shootout is the latest in an increasingly violent power struggle among biker gangs.

Hotel surveillance tapes reviewed by police show the deadly chain of events at Harrah's Casino & Hotel about 2:15 a.m. Saturday.

At first, several members of the Hells Angels gang surrounded two members of the rival Mongols. A fistfight broke out and quickly escalated. The tape then shows one of the Mongols being shot.

"One of the Hells Angels guys pulls out a gun and pops him in the head, and after that, it's just pandemonium," said Sgt. Chuck Jones of the Las Vegas Police Department. The department has jurisdiction over the casino town, 100 miles southeast of Las Vegas.

At least 12 people were taken to hospitals, mostly for gunshot or knife wounds.

Neither the Clark County coroner nor police would release the names of the three dead.

Separately, the San Bernardino County Sheriff's Department said investigators still do not know whether the melee was related to the death of a 28-year-old San Diego man found on Interstate 40, the artery linking Southern California and Laughlin. Police said Christian Tate was probably shot as he rode his motorcycle. His bike and some shell casings were found.

Tate's aunt, Cindi Tate Cirone, said her nephew loved motorcycles and had been in the Coast Guard. She said her family is in shock and has heard little about what happened or why.

Similar gang shootouts have been occurring across the nation in increasing numbers this year.

In February, police arrested 23 members of the Outlaw gang outside a club in Revere, Mass., where they were heavily armed and ready for battle with Hells Angels.

The same month, 73 members of the Pagan Motorcycle Club were arrested and charged with federal racketeering in New York after a fight at a motorcycle and tattoo expo sponsored by the Hells Angels on Long Island. A member of the Hells Angels from New York was charged with the killing of a Pagan. Five other gang members were shot, five were stabbed and two suffered heart attacks during the melee.

Lt. Terry Katz, a gang expert with the Maryland State Police, said motorcycle gangs are growing and encroaching on each other's turf. "Too many people, too much territory. Something's going to pop," he said.

Charles T. Mathews, a Pasadena lawyer who has represented Mongol bikers, said he doubts the group provoked the Laughlin fight. The group has tamed its ways since May 2000, when federal agents arrested at least 42 members in Southern California and seized dozens of illegal guns, cocaine and stolen motorcycles.

"The Hells Angels have had several instances in which they have gone out of their way to cause trouble or start problems with the Mongols," Mathews said. "I know for a fact that the Mongols have tried very, very hard since the series of busts . . . to stay out of trouble."

Hells Angels leader George Christie Jr. could not be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, bikers attending the River Run said they are not afraid to return next year. The four-day event, in its 20th year, is one of the nation's largest motorcycle festivals, drawing as many as 80,000 visitors.

A steady stream of riders gathered Sunday at the Texaco station on the edge of town, filling up on gas for their journeys home.

Rob Dix, who drove 600 miles from Grand Junction, Colo., said bike clubs typically don't let tension escalate at large rallies. "It does reflect badly on us," said Dix, who said he's not affiliated with any of the clubs. "Most people are just like me. They weren't involved in it. They didn't do it."

"We'll be back next year," said Robert Torres of Torrance.

His brother, Lorenzo, added: "Harrah's just has to keep it a little bit more secure next time."

Others left with more negative feelings. Mark Scheidecker of Albuquerque said he was handcuffed and held in a banquet room with members of the Hells Angels because he was outside of Harrah's after the melee. Scheidecker said he is not a gang member.

"I'm not coming back--ever," he said.

Don Laughlin, the town's namesake who owns a hotel there, said he doesn't think the River Run should be canceled because of the violence.

"It's just a matter of keeping the gangs out of town," he said. ". . . Just because you get two bad groups, you don't shut down the town."

In fact, Laughlin said the altercation may increase knowledge of the town, home to nine casinos and about 11,000 hotel rooms.

Since the incident, he has received calls from associates as far away as Mongolia and Ireland asking about events.

"Everybody in the world knows where Laughlin is now," said Laughlin, who has done business there for 36 years. "They always say any kind of news is good news. It's very unfortunate that someone had to get hurt and killed over it."

*

Times staff writer Tina Dirmann, researcher John Tyrrell and Associated Press contributed to this report.

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