Gang-color ban at Reno bike fest after shootout
Sep. 26, 2013
RENO, Nev. (AP) — Without his leather jacket, it's hard to tell that Troy Regas is the president of the local Hells Angels chapter. He rides his Harley Davidson with his 3-year-old son, and he knows his way around a floral arrangement.
"I'm the meanest Hells Angel in the world, and I sell flowers," said Regas, a salesman for the Green Leaf Wholesale Florist in Sparks.
"I'm a florist. I do weddings," he told the Reno Gazette-Journal (http://tinyurl.com/ny7b8br).
Regas typically wears his motorcycle gang's patch on his ride to work, but will have to keep it covered this week at most of the 19th annual Street Vibrations festival, which served as the stage for a deadly casino shootout between the Hells Angels and rival Vagos gang two years ago.
Festival organizers have banned their colors (Angels red and Vagos green) along with those of four others — Mongols, Banditos, Las Vegas Gents and Green Machine Green Nation.
Several casinos have taken it a step further, issuing outright bans on the gang members themselves in response to the melee that turned the busy casino floor of John Ascuaga's Nugget into a shooting gallery the night of Sept. 23, 2011.
Nugget spokeswoman Lauren Garber acknowledged the policy they put in place for the first time last year could affect turnout for the festival that typically attracts 30,000 visitors and pumps an estimated $56 million into the local economy.
"Some of the people say, 'We are not coming to the event if we can't wear colors," she said, but "if you don't want to comply then you are not welcome at the event."
Street Vibrations manager Randy Burke said they respect an individual's First Amendment rights and won't attempt to enforce a dress code on public property. He said he hopes the private property dress code is accepted to ensure a feeling of safety for visitors at a variety of events running through Sunday.
"We are asking people to respect and observe a dress code. We are not telling people to not come and that they are not welcome. Everybody is welcome," he said.
Gary Carano, president of Eldorado Resorts, estimates the ban affects "less than 1 percent of all motor gangs."
"Of course it was a tragedy what happened at the Nugget, but this event still ranks up there with the best events Reno, Sparks and northern Nevada has to offer," he said.
The event expanded from Reno to include Victorian Square in Sparks in 2010, and police had no reason to believe rivalries between the Hells Angels and Vagos would fester and lead to a gunfight inside the Nugget, Sparks police Lt. Chad Hawkins said.
"Historically, it has been one of the quietest police events throughout the year," Hawkins said. "Something erupted, and it could happen during any event. Trying to predict that is very tough."
Ernesto Gonzalez, ex-president of the Vagos' chapter in Nicaragua, was convicted earlier this year of first-degree murder in the shooting of Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, president of the Hells Angels in San Jose. He's scheduled to be sentenced Oct. 3 in Washoe District Court.
During the trial, the prosecution built a case against Gonzalez based on his association with the Vagos motorcycle gang. They said growing rivalries between San Jose chapters of the Hells Angels and Vagos led to a gunfight.
"This case is about gang warfare," Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall said.
Regas understands the casino policies but thinks the blanket ban on colors at Street Vibrations events is a heavy-handed response.
"I don't understand Randy Burke saying this is a no-colors event. I understand if a casino says that, but this is not a casino event," he said.
But he doesn't expect the changes to hurt the festival in the long run.
"This event will grow," Regas said. "It will come back to be normal again. It's just going to take time."
Information from: Reno Gazette-Journal, http://www.rgj.com