Two people died, eight suffered gun shot wounds and dozens have been arrested in what authorities are calling "the most severe clash" in a decade between two California biker groups, reports Reuters -- and it all started over Starbucks coffee.
On Saturday, members of the San Jose, Calif., chapter of the motorcycle gang Hells Angels are set to attend the second funeral in as many months for a fallen member of their group. The death of Steve Tausan is the culmination of almost two years of violent tension between Hells Angeles and competing motorcycle gang The Vagos. Security is tight for Tausan's funeral, reports SF Gate, and police hope to stem the tide of growing biker violence.
Mounting tensions between the Hells Angels and Vagos motorcycle clubs erupted in January 2010, when members of each club fought each other over territory at a Starbucks cafe in Santa Cruz, Calif. Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark analyzed the situation for Reuters, saying, "It was all about who would be allowed to hang out at the Starbucks downtown... Only in Santa Cruz would you have biker wars over who's going to control pumpkin spice lattes." In this case, it was the Vagos who were encroaching on turf that had been considered part of Hells Angels territory.
The fight spread to other states and continued to escalate. In August 2010, 27 members of the Vagos and the Hells Angels were arrested in Arizona for taking part in a shoot out that resulted in at least five wounded victims. According to CBS News, the violent confrontation took place shortly after the Vagos moved in nearby to a house owned by the Hells Angels. At least 50 rounds of ammunition were exchanged between the two gangs during a house party, reports CBS affiliate KPHO.
The violence crossed state lines again and turned deadly in September 2011. A Hells Angels leader named Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, chapter president of the San Jose California Hell's Angels, was shot to death on the floor of a Nevada casino, reports the San Jose Mercury News. He and thousands of other bikers were in Sparks, Nevada for the annual "Street Vibrations" biker festival when a skirmish between the Hells Angels and the Vagos erupted on the floor of the John Ascuaga's Nugget Casino Resort in Sparks. In addition to Pettigrew, two Vagos members were wounded but taken to the hospital in stable condition, according to the Mercury News.
The next day, another motorcyclist was shot in the stomach by someone driving a car, reports ABC News. The second shooting prompted the city of Sparks to declare a state of emergency and cancel the remainder of the "Street Vibrations" festival, according to the Reno Gazette-Journal.
The final tragedy took place at Pettigrew's funeral on October 15, 2011, where Hells Angels biker Steve Tausan was fatally shot by a fellow member. According to Reuters, Tausan and several others confronted member Steve Ruiz because of "his perceived failure to have protected Pettigrew during the Nugget casino brawl." Ruiz is believed to have shot Tausan during the conflict, and he has been evading the authorities ever since.
It is Tausan's life the Hells Angels will be remembering on Saturday -- hopefully without incident.
CORRECTION: In a previous version of this story, the date of Jeffrey Pettigrew's funeral was reported as October 15, 2010. The funeral actually occurred on October 15, 2011.