May 20, 2015 6:52 PM

Hosts of biker events reconsider after deadly Waco shootout

The Associated Press

SAN ANTONIO (AP) Motorcycle clubs have gathered dozens of times at Roy Barnett's bar for meetings just like the one that led to a shootout among rival biker gangs at a Waco restaurant.

The setting, Barnett said, offers bikers the equivalent of Switzerland a neutral zone where different clubs can come together to discuss issues, most of which are mundane. And they've always been peaceful affairs, he said.

Barnett, a biker himself, considers motorcycle groups his core clientele at the Deer Crossing Saloon in Selma, Texas, about 30 miles north of San Antonio. But he and others who regularly host biker events are reconsidering the risks of doing so in light of Sunday's shootout, which left nine dead and 18 wounded.

Barnett has decided to forbid any more meetings of the umbrella group that was gathering in Waco when the killings occurred.

"I'll help them out," he said. "But I'm a businessman before I'm a biker."

Police have said the meeting of the Confederation of Clubs at the Twin Peaks restaurant was meant to settle disagreements over turf among five gangs. Some bikers dispute that idea, insisting that the meeting was organized to discuss motorcycle laws and other matters.

In the aftermath of the shooting, the Twin Peaks restaurant immediately revoked the Waco franchise's license.

Twin Peaks also suspended "bike nights" at all of its locations, including those in Texas, Nevada and Nebraska, to review safety procedures and out of respect for those killed and injured, company spokesman Rick Van Warner said.

The restaurants, known for their waitresses' revealing uniforms, were not trying to attract outlaw motorcycle gangs by promoting biker nights, Van Warner said, and the shooting did not happen on one of these nights.

One restaurant in Plano used to hold a bike night every Thursday.

"What happened in Waco is no reflection" of bike nights at Twin Peaks restaurants, he said. "The people you see at our bike nights are doctors and lawyers riding Harleys."

Other restaurant chains are known to host the odd bike night, but the events are more typically held at local bars serving only beer that cater to bikers and allow them to walk outside with their drinks and examine the motorcycles.

Barnett, who has owned his establishment for 18 years, sees problems with bars that promote biker events but don't really have a relationship with them.

"They don't want bikers there," he said, "They want their money."

Barnett has no trouble with bikers whose leather vests feature club colors and logos, saying there were rarely tensions among different groups. He made a distinction between run-of-the-mill motorcycle clubs and outlaw motorcycle gangs.

Other owners agreed that you have to know bikers in order to serve them.

Mike Trainer, owner of Cannon Bar on the Backbone in the hilly forests around Austin, said that it's not unusual for his bar to have up to 200 bikes stacked side by side in the parking lot.

"We have people wearing colors, people not wearing colors," he said. "As an owner you have to keep your eyes open and make judgment calls."

Trainer said he has had to reach out through a motorcycle club's chain of command to let them know that a member is no longer allowed in the bar, but the majority of bikers never cause trouble.

"It's 1 percent of the motorcycle community that is a problem," he said. "I'm not going to alienate the other 99 percent."

The Waco incident has elevated security concerns for motorcycle events in general.

A Memorial Day motorcycle rally is expected to attract 20,000 bikers to New Mexico this weekend. But local and federal agencies say they have no reason to believe tensions from the Waco brawl will carry over to the event in Red River.

Austin's Republic of Texas Biker Rally, scheduled for this June and expecting 40,000 bikers, will go on as planned, organizers said, with the help of state and local police.

Officials and rally organizers of the famous Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota say they are well prepared, having already added extra law enforcement for the up to 1 million people expected in August.

Sturgis and other cities that annually put on large rallies, such as Daytona Beach, Florida, routinely beef up law enforcement to aid crowd control and prevent incidents arising from the large influx of motorcyclists.

Ray Gold, founder of One-Eyed Jack's Saloon in Sturgis, said his simple solution to avoid trouble with biker gangs has been not to serve anyone wearing vests with gang colors.

"We don't want the gangs here," he said, "because we lose good customers."

One Texas sheriff says he will close a road leading to the grounds of a motorcycle rally that had been scheduled for Memorial Day weekend by the Cossacks, the other group involved the Waco shootout. The rally was to take place in the town of Mingus, about 65 miles west of Fort Worth.

Palo Pinto County Sheriff Ira Mercer said he spoke to the local leaders of the Cossacks, and the club agreed to cancel the event.

The rally had occurred for 13 years without incident, Mercer said. But "with what happened in Waco and the beef between those clubs, we felt this was a dangerous situation."


Associated Press reporter Russell Contreras contributed to this report


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