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Veterans, deputies spar over bike rally

Biker club tries to clean up bad reputation

Posted: March 14, 2009 1:40 a.m.
Updated: March 14, 2009 4:30 a.m.
 
Organized motorcycle gang rally or peaceful fundraiser? The Santa Clarita Valley Sheriff's Station and Vagos motorcycle group are at odds as to what happened last Sunday at a motorcycle gathering in Canyon Country.

"When the operation concluded and the gathering disbanded, deputies had identified more than 30 individuals, some of whom are believed to have extensive criminal history, indicative of outlaw motorcycle gang involvement," the Santa Clarita Sheriff's Station said in a news release about the event.

"Unfortunately, this community is not in favor of motorcycle-riding veterans," VFW Commander John Olish, 59, of Canyon Country, said Friday.

The Vagos - who identify themselves as a motorcycle club but who are labeled an outlaw motorcycle gang by the Department of Justice - held a fundraiser at VFW Post 6885 in Canyon Country last Sunday, Olish said.

Organizers sold lunches and T-shirts, which were scooped up by veterans and bike enthusiasts alike. The proceeds went to a Vagos member stricken with cancer, he said.

"This was a family event. Riders came with their wives and children," Olish said.

Sheriff's officials viewed the event differently. The motorcyclists blocked vehicle and pedestrian traffic, disturbed the public peace and committed other unlawful acts, according to a sheriff's news release.

The Sheriff's COBRA Unit, the Community Interaction Team and the Sheriff's Department Community Oriented Policing Services joined patrol and traffic control deputies in a joint operation at the VFW. Capt. Anthony La Berge also participated in the effort.

Deputies cited 24 motorcyclists for various vehicle violations at a check point near the event, Sgt. Darren Harris said.

"There might have been some riders whose registration wasn't current and they should have been cited. But the (deputies) made it seem like the event promoted criminal activity," Olish said.

Ken Tompkins, 51, of Canyon Country, worked a security detail during the event and said the only illegal thing he saw was blocking traffic to allow the bikes to leave the event.

The Sheriff's Department news release referenced a 2008 incident in Newport Beach during which a bar fight involving several suspected rival motorcycle gang members escalated to a stabbing.

"What concerns me is this is the second time in as many months we have seen these large, disruptive groups pour into the Santa Clarita area," La Berge said in the news release. La Berge could not be reached for comment Friday.

Ed Edwards, 58, of Agua Dulce, rides a Harley and attends at least five bike rallies a year. Edwards, a Vietnam War veteran, attended the Vagos event Sunday and said the group is trying to improve its reputation.

"(The Vagos) have a bad reputation, but they are trying to clean it up by putting on these charitable events," he said.

Edwards said he didn't see any illegal activity at the event or a raucous atmosphere. But he knows why sheriff's officials showed up.

"This is Santa Clarita and when you get 400 bikes rolling, people get nervous," he said.

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