By Michael Muskal, Los Angeles Times (TNS)
The Central Texas Marketplace Shopping Center in Waco fully reopened for business on Wednesday, days after a bloody shootout and brawl among rival biker gangs left nine dead and 18 injured.
Police have largely finished processing the scene, the parking lot and area around the Twin Peaks restaurant in the south end of the shopping center. Stores in that area, including a Best Buy, reopened for business at ten a.m.
“We’re happy to be here,” Kara Stewart of Best Buy said by telephone. The store had been closed since the shootout Sunday. “Business has been slow. When the students leave Baylor University, Waco slows down big time.”
Still, many stores are looking for an uptick in business as the Memorial Day weekend begins. Some stores in the north end of the shopping center did not close while police investigated the shooting.
Lorie Macon, a sales associate of the Family Christian Bookstore, said the store reopened Monday. She said she had a direct view of the parking lot and all seemed quiet with no unusual police presence.
That was a far cry from Sunday when a dispute in the parking lot and a fight inside Twin Peaks restaurant spilled over into the mall’s parking lot. What began with kicks and fists quickly escalated to knives, chains, clubs, and guns, police said.
At least 18 Waco police officers had been stationed in the parking lot along with four state cops and all responded to the shots within seconds, police said. Police fired at bikers who police said also were firing at each other.
Nine people died in the melee, all men ranging in age from 27 to 65 years old, according to court documents. The preliminary autopsies indicate all died from gunshot wounds, according to records released by the McLennan County Justice of the Peace. It will take further testing to determine who fired the fatal shots.
Police have recovered more than 1,000 weapons, including knives, guns and a high-powered assault rifle, some hidden at the restaurant, Waco Police Sargent W. Patrick Swanton said in a televised interview Wednesday. Officials have also moved more than 135 motorcycles and about 80 other vehicles to be examined for evidence.
All of the dead are members of two groups: the Bandidos, the state’s largest motorcycle gang, and the Cossacks, an up-and-coming gang that has clashed with the Bandidos, police said.
Eighteen other bikers were injured and most have been released from the hospital. No police or bystanders were injured.
If all was calm at the shopping center, the legal system in Waco remained in a frenzy trying to deal with about 170 people who were arrested after the brawl. All have been charged with engaging in an organized crime enterprise. The enterprise is capital murder — the deaths of the nine bikers.
No one yet has been charged with capital murder, police said.
“It’s been a nightmare,” said one county employee who asked not to be identified because she works with the courts and lawyers.
Officials have had to secure legal counsel for defendants, many of whom have said they are too poor to hire their own attorneys. McLennan County maintains a panel of lawyers to represent those who are too poor to hire outside counsel, but there are just 100 lawyers and many of those do not do the kind of felony proceedings that have stemmed from Sunday’s brawl.
All of the inmates are being held in lieu of one million dollar bail. Most are expected to seek a bond reduction. At least two hearings have already been scheduled for June fifth in district court, officials said.
Relatives of those being held have complained that many of the inmates are innocent and are not like the criminal elements being portrayed in the media.
Katie Rhoten told The Associated Press that her husband, Theron, ran for cover and was later arrested, along with antique motorcycle enthusiast friends and other “nonviolent, noncriminal people” at the gathering designed as a meeting of biker groups to discuss issues such as pending safety legislation.
“He’s good to his family,” she said. “He doesn’t drink; he doesn’t do drugs; he doesn’t party. He’s just got a passion for motorcycles.”
Officials have painted a different picture. They have said that the meeting included talks between the Bandidos and the Cossacks designed to settle differences, including turf. Officials have also cited a long-standing rivalry between the groups that have included assaults in other parts of the state, including the Dallas area.
The U.S. Justice Department said in a report on outlaw motorcycle gangs that the Bandidos “constitute a growing criminal threat.” The report said the group is involved in transporting and distributing cocaine and marijuana and in the production and distribution of methamphetamine.
Photo: Waco Police Department via Flickr