But some say the Battle of Starbucks was just the tip of the iceberg.
A retired California cop, Jorge Gil-Blanco, who is now an outlaw motorcycle gang expert with the Western States Information Network, says he’s tracked the ramp-up of the Vagos vs Hells Angels feud and concluded that the dispute between the gangs can be traced to an earlier incident in Orange County that triggered the violence between the clubs.
“They had a major brawl at a swap meet and ended up fighting each other with motorcycle parts,” said Gil-Blanco. “After that incident, the Vagos started to expand and said ‘Why’s everybody so afraid of the Hells Angels?’ That was the real turning point. I seriously doubt this is all just because of Starbucks. The Hells Angels saw the Vagos in downtown and assaulted them. They wanted to show they’re the top dog and those guys aren’t starting a chapter here. The Vagos actually pulled out of Santa Cruz after that.”
“Only in Santa Cruz would you have biker wars over who’s going to control pumpkin spice lattes.”
In what law enforcement officials say is the most severe violence between two California-based biker groups in nearly a decade, the battles began in January 2010 when the Hells Angels’ and Vagos gangs fought outside a Santa Cruz Starbucks. Members of both groups went after each other with hammers and tire irons before the police arrived to break up the fracas.
Following that clash, the president of the Hells Angels’ San Jose chapter, Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew, 51, was shot to death at a Sparks, NV, casino. The death of Pettigrew came 11 months after a gunfight between the two gangs in Arizona left five wounded.
Insiders say Pettigrew’s killing also sparked tensions within the Hells Angels ranks which led to yet another killing in California. The Sergeant-at-arms of the San Jose chapter, Steve Tausan, 52, was allegedly shot and killed by a fellow Hells Angel, Steve Ruiz, who believed Tausan failed in his duty to protect Pettigrew during the casino gun battle.
“It was all about who would be allowed to hang out at the Starbucks downtown,” said Santa Cruz Deputy Police Chief Steve Clark. “The Vagos brazenly came in and tried to cement their presence. It was a pretty strong play on their part to establish themselves as the premiere club. Only in Santa Cruz would you have biker wars over who’s going to control pumpkin spice lattes.”