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Officials ID Suspect In Nevada Slaying Of San Jose Hells Angel

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Shooting at Sparks Nugget Casino

The head of the San Jose chapter of Hells Angels was shot at John Ascuaga’s Nugget in Sparks, Nev. on September 23, 2011. (CBS)

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SPARKS, Nev. (CBS / AP) — The chief prosecutor in Reno said police have identified the rival gang member who killed the president of the Hells Angels’ San Jose chapter in a casino shootout last weekend, but he’s not sure they’ll track him down before rival bikers do.

Investigators identified the suspect from the beginning as a member of the Vagos motorcycle gang, Washoe County District Attorney Richard Gammick told The Associated Press on Wednesday.

The suspect, who has ties to the Bay Area, apparently has been in hiding since Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew was killed in the gun battle late Friday at John Ascuaga’s Nugget hotel-casino in Sparks, Gammick said.

“If we’ve been able to identify him, there’s no doubt the Santa Clara Hells Angels chapter has been able to too,” Gammick said. “He’s probably hiding out in a very small space.”

Gammick declined to provide any more information about the suspect other than the fact he may not survive to stand trial in Reno if his revenge-minded rivals find him before law officers do.

“What do you think is going to happen if the Hells Angels get their hands on him?” Gammick said.

Pettigrew, who worked for San Jose’s transportation department, suffered gunshot and stab wounds to his torso and was pronounced dead a short time later at Renown Medical Center, Sparks police said.

Two Vagos members were wounded in the shootout and a third was shot in the stomach the next morning by a gunman in a passing car. Saturday’s shooting happened a few blocks from the Nugget and the town square where the 18th annual Street Vibrations motorcycle festival was held Friday and Saturday afternoon.

The mayor of Sparks canceled the event in his town Saturday night and declared a state of emergency amid fears the gang violence might continue.

Only one person has been arrested in connection with the shootout at the Nugget—a Hells Angels member who police said was with Pettigrew at the time of the altercation.

Cesar Villagrana, 36, of Gilroy, is scheduled to be arraigned Thursday in Sparks Justice Court on three felony charges of assault with a deadly weapon, carrying a concealed weapon illegally and discharging a firearm within a structure.

Villagrana was arrested with a 9mm Smith and Wesson semi-automatic handgun that was reported stolen in Arizona in 1998, Sparks police said.

He has not been charged with actually shooting anyone, but he could be seen on the casino’s security video drawing the gun from his waistband and “actively firing into a crowd of uninvolved citizens, as well as rival motorcycle gang members,” according to the formal criminal complaint Deputy District Attorney Karl Hall filed Wednesday.

Surveillance video also shows Pettigrew “punching a Vagos member and then drawing a handgun as well and ‘pistol whipping’ several subjects just prior to the exchange of gunfire,” the police report said. It said at least two casino patrons feared for their life and “had to hide under the craps table.”

Villagrana was being held in the Washoe County Jail on Wednesday in lieu of $500,000 bond. He had been arrested in Gilroy in April and charged with possession of an unregistered handgun and participating in a criminal street gang, Sparks police said.

It was not clear if Villagrana has a lawyer. Hall said he had not been notified that he did, so he may be appointed a public defender at Thursday’s arraignment, most likely in a video conference between the court and the jail.

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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