- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2003

LAUGHLIN (AP) The tens of thousands of bikers at this year's Laughlin River Run motorcycle rally will find twice the usual number of police, plus motorcycle searches for drugs and weapons, a ban on cans and bottles, and a curfew for those younger than 18.
The changes come a year after a brawl with guns, knives and wrenches killed two Hell's Angels and one Mongols motorcycle gang member and injured at least 12 other persons at Harrah's Laughlin hotel-casino. Another Hell's Angels member was fatally shot in California.
The bikers attending this year will have to cross checkpoints before they even enter the town for the rally, which is scheduled to begin tomorrow.
Police at checkpoints and volunteers will distribute fliers listing laws and event rules including a 6 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew for anyone younger than 18.
Most hotels will ask the expected 80,000 motorcyclists not to wear gang emblems or logos, said Andre Carrier, an executive at the Golden Nugget hotel-casino and chairman of the town's organizing committee. Some hotels will have metal detectors at entrances.
"What we're trying to do is ensure their safety," said Lt. Thomas Smitley, head of the Las Vegas police substation in Laughlin, a town of 8,000 on the banks of the Colorado River. "We'll be proactive and highly visible."
After last year's brawl, the town briefly considered canceling the five-day rally.
"But it's an important event for us important for our brand, important for our economy," Mr. Carrier said.
In 1983, the first River Run drew fewer than 500 people. It has grown into a signature event for this town 100 miles south of Las Vegas, near the Arizona-California state line.
The rally now pours an estimated $25 million into the town; weekend room rates at nine major casinos jump from $40 per night to $190 or more.
"Ninety-nine percent of the people are there to party, to play," said Maryland State Police Lt. Terry Katz, a past board member of the International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association and a former rally attendee. "The problem is the one-percenters."
These days the riders of $20,000 Harley-Davidsons are more likely to be doctors or lawyers than outlaws.
"We're a group, not a gang," said Davy Weller, 56, a retired insurance broker with homes in Sun Valley, Idaho, and Las Vegas.
"Our feeling is it was an isolated instance," he said of last year's violence. "I'd be shocked if there were any problems this year."
Lt. Katz, who has been studying motorcycle gangs nationwide since the mid-1970s, said gang members use gatherings like Laughlin to stake turf and display power. Officials said last year's violence came after months of skirmishes between Hell's Angels and competing biker gangs.
"There was shadowboxing leading up to it," said Patrick Schneider, assistant U.S. attorney in Phoenix and president of the International Outlaw Motorcycle Gang Investigators Association.
Mr. Schneider said recent sources of worry have included the March 22 slaying of the Hell's Angels chapter president in Cave Creek, Ariz., hometown of Hell's Angels chief Ralph "Sonny" Barger, and the stabbing two days later of a Mongols member near Reno. Authorities aren't sure whether the two deaths are connected.
"I can tell you that something's going to happen," said Tim McKinley, a retired San Francisco FBI agent who investigated the Hell's Angels for 15 years. "But I would be surprised if it's in Laughlin this year because of the massive police presence."

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