Motorcycle gang rivalry likely motive for shooting

Two men injured at club as turf war intensifies

January 06, 2004|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

A shooting at a Baltimore County nightclub appears to have been sparked by a rivalry between motorcycle gangs, putting police on the watch for what they fear could become an ugly turf war in Maryland, authorities said yesterday.

The gunman in the shooting Sunday night at Club Tattle Tails in Edgemere was wearing a vest identifying him as a prospective member of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang, and the two shooting victims are apparently members of the Pagans gang, police said. One of the victims remained in critical condition last night.

"Unfortunately, these types of incidents tend to escalate until law enforcement intervenes," said Maryland State Police Lt. Terry Katz, a nationally recognized expert on bikers who has worked undercover to infiltrate gangs, including the Pagans. "Police will be the ones who end this. It's tit-for-tat with these guys. Unfortunately, it becomes a matter of honor."

The shooting comes as the two rival gangs' battles on the East Coast have intensified in recent years, prompting police from New York to Baltimore to prepare for retaliatory violence, according to experts on motorcycle gangs.

The two gangs have been particularly active in Southern Maryland, and the president of a Hells Angels chapter there pleaded guilty to federal drug and weapons charges yesterday.

In Maryland -- which has long been territory for the Pagans, who were founded in Prince George's County -- rival Hells Angels gangs have been recruiting members for several years, Katz and other law enforcement officials say.

The tensions have escalated into violence several times -- including a drive-by shooting in May 2002 at a popular restaurant in Anne Arundel County and a fight at a liquor store in Calvert County this past summer, police said.

After Sunday's shooting at the club in the 2100 block of Sparrows Point Road, Charles Raymond Zepp, 23, of Eldersburg, was flown to Maryland Shock Trauma Center, where he remained in critical condition yesterday, a hospital spokeswoman said. He was shot in the chest, according to police.

The second victim, Timothy McDowell, 38, of Frederick, was shot in the side and was listed in serious but stable condition at Shock Trauma yesterday.

Witnesses in the club told police that Zepp and another man were walking toward the front door when the man pulled out a handgun and started shooting inside the club. It was unclear whether words were exchanged or whether an argument was ongoing, police said.

However, investigators believe gang rivalry was the motive for the shooting, said Officer Shawn Vinson, a county police spokesman.

After being shot, Zepp and McDowell chased the gunman and a man with him outside. The suspects may have fled in a red pickup truck, police said.

A woman who answered the phone at the nightclub yesterday declined to comment.

Police described the gunman as a white male, 6 feet 9 inches, weighing 340 pounds. He has brown hair and eyes, a fair complexion and was wearing a black vest identifying him as a Maryland "prospect" of the Hells Angels.

His companion, who is 6 feet 2 inches with a blond flat top, was wearing a similar black vest and jeans, police said.

Zepp was arrested and charged on drug charges and possession of a handgun in August by members of the Baltimore Police Organized Crime Unit, which had recently started investigating outlaw motorcycle gangs in the area. The task force is overseen by the Maryland State Police Homeland Security and Intelligence Bureau.

Bill Toohey, a Baltimore County police spokesman, said motorcycle and other types of gangs exist in the county but are "not a widespread problem. ... The violence we've seen has been ... gang members on gang members."

The Hells Angels began appearing in Calvert County in January 2002, when members of a motorcycle gang known as the Tribes became a Hells Angels prospect club, according to investigators with the Calvert County sheriff's department.

The next month, someone set the Lusby home of a prospective Hells Angels member on fire, Calvert law enforcement officials said. Investigators suspect the Pagans in the fire, but state fire marshals have not concluded their investigation.

In May 2002, two prospective Hells Angels members and a bystander were shot at the Happy Harbor Inn in southern Anne Arundel County after a brawl with Pagans, police said.

The Hells Angels prospects became full members of the motorcycle gang in January last year, authorities said. Except for a fistfight outside a Chesapeake Beach liquor store this past summer, there has been no other reported violence between the gangs, according to Calvert County law enforcement sources.

But police around the state and neighboring states have been closely watching the situation and actively investigating their activities.

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