It’s late at night, or early in the morning… hard to differentiate when you are in a Casino. They don’t have windows, they don’t have clocks, and they have a heck of a lot of security. Friday night slips into Saturday, April 27, 2002 and two groups of bikers are about to face off on the floor of the Harrah’s Casino.
The Laughlin River Run is in full swing and bikers and citizens alike are enjoying the sights, sounds, and gambling of Laughlin, Nevada. The casino’s security cameras catch the action on the floor as gamblers scatter and run for cover. A fight has broken out between members of the Hells Angels and members of the Mongols.
Hells Angels members Jeramie Bell, 27, and Robert Tumelty, 50 were both shot and killed. Stabbed to death was Mongols member Anthony Barrera, 43.
Harrah’s attorneys had argued the casino wasn’t liable for the criminal acts of the bikers, including a “spontaneous and tragic biker club brawl” just after 2 a.m., as the melee was not foreseeable. However, a civil court jury seems to agree with Las Vegas attorney Brent Bryson and found for his clients, five bystanders who were caught up in the deadly brawl. Bryson said Harrah’s Laughlin officials knew trouble was brewing but did nothing to stop Hell’s Angels and Mongols motorcycle club members from clashing on the casino floor.
The bystanders at the casino were “diving around, fearing for their life, jumping on the floor, seeing people shot, stabbed, hammers being used, wrenches being used on individuals,” Las Vegas attorney Brent Bryson said at a press conference at his office Monday. “It was quite traumatic and certainly a life-altering event.”
One of the five bystanders, Dean Daniels, of Norco, Calif., said that for himself and his wife, Andrea, “it was actually quite terrifying because we feared for our life.”
“I had to actually take my wife down underneath the blackjack table and cover her up, for fear of being shot,” Daniels said. “There’s no words to describe the way you feel when you think you’re going to die.”
“There had been information that an incident had been building between these two organizations and there had been a history of bad blood and feuding between these organizations, as well as the Hell’s Angels and a coalition of other outlaw biker gangs,” Bryson said.
On Thursday, Bryson said he believed this is the first time the Laughlin casino, which is owned by Harrah’s Entertainment Inc., has been held responsible for failing to protect bystanders. Phil Sindlinger, one of the eight jurors, said the panel was deadlocked for most of its two hours of deliberations. In the end, he said, the vote was 6-2 for the plaintiffs.
One of the plaintiffs, Michael Bower, claimed in the lawsuit he was caught in the crossfire between the Hell’s Angels and Mongols, with the bikers armed with guns, knives and other weapons.
Bower said he badly injured his spine as he dove off his gaming chair to seek cover. He also said he experienced emotional trauma and flashbacks to combat during the Vietnam War.
“I thought I was having a heart attack. I was shaking to no end,” he said Monday. “… I was in the hospital with 11 Hell’s Angels. They put that hospital on lockdown, saying the Mongols were coming and they were going to kill everybody in that hospital.”
Bower had been suffering from posttraumatic stress disorder prior to the Laughlin incident and since then has been permanently disabled with posttraumatic stress disorder syndrome, a court filing said.
Plaintiffs Kathy and Steven Fuller, Goodyear, Ariz., weren’t at the press conference, but gave Bryson a written statement to read.
“I believe it was a reasonable expectation and an expectation that most people would believe, that a resort hotel would provide a safe environment for its guests,” Fuller’s statement said.
Papers filed with the court said the Fullers were gambling in the casino when they were engulfed by a stampede caused by the biker fight and at one point found themselves in an elevator with several Mongols armed with guns.
Six members of the Hells Angels were sent to prison in 2006; charges against 36 others were dismissed. Frederick Donahue, a Hells Angel from Rodeo, Calif., vanished after indictments were handed down in 2002. He surrendered in 2008 and was sentenced to 30 months in prison. Six members of the Mongols motorcycle club were sentenced in 2007. The amount the 5 bystanders were awarded has not been disclosed.
Love, Respect, and Ride Safe,