In Sunday’s Shootout Madness, Were ‘Innocent’ Bikers Collateral Damage?
WACO — Bullets ricocheted around the parking lot of Twin Peaks, the Waco restaurant where a motorcycle gang shootout left nine dead, just minutes after Theron Rhoten pulled in on his vintage Harley chopper for a regional motorcycle club meeting, according to Rhoten’s wife.
Katie Rhoten told The Associated Press that her husband ran for cover and was later arrested, along with antique motorcycle enthusiast friends and other “nonviolent, noncriminal people.”
Authorities swept up around 170 bikers who had descended on the restaurant for what one club member described as a gathering to discuss laws protecting motorcycle riders.
“He’s good to his family,” she said. “He doesn’t drink; he doesn’t do drugs; he doesn’t party. He’s just got a passion for motorcycles.”
McLennan County Sheriff Parnell McNamara and Waco police Sgt. W. Patrick Swanton declined to comment Tuesday on allegations that innocent bikers were arrested. Police have said the gathering of five biker groups was to resolve a dispute over turf.
Katie Rhoten said her husband, a mechanic from Austin, called her from jail and said that he and two other members of Vise Grip Club ducked and ran for cover as the violence that left 18 people injured raged around them.
Police said the melee started with a parking dispute and someone running over a gang member’s foot, and that an uninvited biker group also appeared. Preliminary autopsy results indicated that all of the dead were shot, some in the head, neck or chest. Police have not said how many, or if any, were shot by officers at the scene.
It’s not clear how long the bikers will remain in custody. They have all been charged with engaging in organized crime. They are each being held on $1 million bonds.
“Unless they try to make some other arrangement to move them through it more quickly, it could be weeks and possibly months” before the jailed bikers have bond-reduction hearings, said William Smith, an attorney who has met with several of the inmates.
It's also unclear whether the McLennan County district attorney will require outside help to prosecute all those arrested Sunday.
The eight members of Theron Rhoten’s group, the Vise Grip Club, specialize in building and riding vintage and antique motorcycles, particularly pre-1970 Harley Davidson big twin choppers, according to spokesman Brian Buscemi.
Buscemi disputed the police claim that the meeting was to resolve a turf war, saying groups had planned to discuss laws protecting motorcycle riders at the meeting, which he said has been going on bimonthly for 18 years.
“Yes, there was a problem at this scene, and it was absolutely horrific, but there just also happened to be a significant amount of people there who had nothing to do with it,” Buscemi told the AP.
Jimmy Graves, who described himself as an ambassador for the gang known as the Bandidos, said his group had no intention of engaging in a scuffle. But he acknowledged that differences with other groups, such as the Cossacks, have been “simmering and brewing.”
The U.S. Justice Department said in a report on outlaw motorcycle gangs that the Bandidos “constitute a growing criminal threat.” The report said the group is involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and in the production and distribution of methamphetamine.
Another biker named Johnny Snyder also said he was at the restaurant for a scheduled meeting to talk about legislative issues. Snyder, a long-haul trucker, declined to describe what he saw inside the restaurant, saying he was only concerned with “not getting shot.”
He is vice president of the Boozefighters Motorcycle Club in Waco, a group that Snyder says does charity events and family gatherings and is not a criminal gang. (AP)