At least one man killed in motorcycle gang clash

10 wounded in New York at Hells Angels event

February 24, 2002|By NEW YORK TIMES NEWS SERVICE

NEW YORK - At least one man was killed and 10 others wounded by gunfire or knives yesterday when a motorcycle and tattoo exposition on Long Island erupted into what police described as a vicious battle between rival bike gangs.

Havoc broke loose at the event, sponsored by a Long Island chapter of the Hells Angels, shortly after 4 p.m. when members of the other gang, the Pagans, entered a Plainview concert and catering hall, authorities said.

Although details remained unclear last night, police and witnesses who were among about 1,000 people attending the event said gunfire erupted soon after the Pagans entered. "At least three van loads, maybe five, filled with upwards of 30 Pagans from all over the country, they rolled up to the place," a police official said.

"They forced their way through the front doors, and a melee ensued. It just exploded," he said.

By 10 p.m., police from Nassau and Suffolk counties, the FBI and the New York state police had cordoned off the concert hall, the Vanderbilt, detaining for questioning hundreds of attendees and searching many of the cars nearby for weapons.

Herbert Faust, chief of detectives for the Nassau County police, said 60 people were in custody on illegal gun possession charges and other charges that he declined to specify. He also said the number of arrests was likely to increase. Authorities said guns were seized and wounded people were found at three locations within a one-mile radius of the Vanderbilt, a large, three-story hall south of the Long Island Expressway in Plainview, which is in Nassau County near the Suffolk border.

The authorities said the event, billed by the Hells Angels as "Hellraiser Ball 2002," was a first for the Vanderbilt, which stages events such as concerts, weddings and ballroom dances.

The two-day gathering, which began yesterday morning, was similar to others around the nation that draw a large and normally peaceful clientele of tattoo artists, motorcycle aficionados and retailers catering to attendees.

By the time gunfire broke out in the lobby of the Vanderbilt, about 1,000 people were in the building, including many families with children, the authorities said. The featured attractions included performances by rock groups and appearances by Sonny Barger, the famous former head of a 1960s Hells Angels club in California, and actor Chuck Zito, who appears on the HBO television series Oz and helped found a Hells Angels chapter in New York in the 1970s.

Authorities declined to identify the man who died but said he had suffered gunshot and stab wounds and was pronounced dead at North Shore University Hospital.

He was one of three men taken to that hospital. Betty Olt, a hospital spokeswoman, said the other two underwent surgery. Their conditions remained unclear.

Eight victims were taken to Nassau University Medical Center in East Meadow. Shelley Lotenberg, a hospital spokeswoman, said four had gunshot wounds, two of which were minor.

She declined to describe the injuries of the other four patients.

Police were continuing their investigation at the scene. Detectives said they had recovered three handguns, an Uzi submachine gun and several baseball bats.

Although it remained unclear what provoked the confrontation, it followed a long-standing feud between the Angels and Pagans.

Members of the Pagans, also known as the Pagan Outlaw Motorcycle Club, have, since the late 1990s, faced charges of extorting huge sums from topless clubs and other adult businesses on Long Island. Authorities think that, in part because of its legal problems, the gang's Long Island membership has dwindled and that most of those involved in the confrontation had traveled from other states.

The bad blood between the Pagans and the Hells Angels is documented in court records, which include 1998 charges against Pagan members of attempting to kill members of the Angels, apparently in retaliation for an attack on a Pagan by an aspiring Hells Angel.

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