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Biker brawl turns to shooting at Nevada casino, 1 dead

By Stephen Ward

SPARKS, Nev (Reuters) - A shooting that erupted during a brawl between rival motorcycle clubs at a high-rise Nevada casino killed a Hells Angels chapter leader and wounded two other motorcycle enthusiasts, police said on Saturday.

Police said the brawl erupted between armed members of the Hells Angels and Vagos motorcycle clubs shortly before midnight on Friday at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel and casino in the northern Nevada city of Sparks.

"The Sparks Police Department was notified of a fight involving a large group who were armed with firearms inside John Ascuaga's Nugget near the Trader Dick's Bar," a police statement said.

"As units were responding to the fight, the information received indicated that shots had been fired," it said.

A California-based Hells Angels chapter leader was shot dead and two members of the Vagos club were shot and were being treated for bullet wounds, Sparks Deputy Police Chief Brian Allen told a news conference.

The Hells Angels boss who was killed was identified as Jeffrey Pettigrew, the San Jose, California, chapter president.

Police later reported a drive-by shooting on Saturday near a venue for a fall motorcycle rally and said a motorcyclist had been shot and wounded in that incident. Police did not say if the man was associated with a motorcycle club.

Bikers, some with beards and clad in leather jackets, had converged on Sparks and nearby Reno for the popular Street Vibrations fall motorcycle event. Many were staying at the Nugget. Hotel officials declined to comment on the incident.

The scene of the shooting at the Nugget was roped off on Saturday as police inspected the area and workers in yellow gloves scrubbed the floor. Nearby, gamblers including motorcycle enthusiasts played slot machines and mingled.

STATE OF EMERGENCY

To stave off the potential for further violence, the city of Sparks declared a state of emergency and called off motorcycle rally events within its borders. Police said they had also increased patrols in the downtown area to provide greater security.

"It's a tough situation, I hope people out there won't judge the motorcycle community by the incident last night," Sparks Mayor Geno Martini told a news conference.

"Whenever you have people enter our city with bad intentions, bad things are going to happen," he said.

One biker who was staying at the hotel and had been on an upper floor when the shooting erupted said tensions had been mounting between members of the clubs for several days.

"It was bound to happen," biker Don Gilbert told Reuters of the shooting. "It's ridiculous ... All the regular bikers shake their heads. It's nonsense."

Rod Manning from Oregon, sitting with his wife at a Starbucks in the hotel lobby in a sleeveless Harley-Davidson shirt, bemoaned the violence.

"One percent of people make it bad for the other 99 percent," he said.

Police said they were reviewing casino surveillance tapes to try to determine who was responsible for the shooting.

At least one Hells Angels member was arrested on charges of assault with a deadly weapon and possession of a stolen firearm after he was seen on camera shooting into the crowd. But it had not been determined if his shots struck anyone, police said.

The shootings appeared to cap a spate of fatal incidents this month in normally quiet northern Nevada, where a gunman with a history of mental illness opened fire at a pancake house in Carson City, the state capital, on September 6.

Three National Guard soldiers and a civilian were killed in that attack and seven others were wounded before the gunman killed himself.

Then last week, a World War Two-era fighter plane crashed into box seats near the grandstands at an air race in Reno, killing 11 people in the worst accident in the history of the annual event.

(Additional reporting and writing by Cynthia Johnston in Las Vegas; Editing by Alex Dobuzinskis)

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