Police said the shooting arose from a fight that erupted between armed members of the Hells Angels and Vagos motorcycle clubs shortly before midnight on Friday at John Ascuaga's Nugget hotel and casino in Sparks, Reuters reports.
Jeffrey "Jethro" Pettigrew, 51, who worked for 20 years as a heavy equipment operator with the San Jose Department of Transportation, was known to police as the charismatic leader of the notorious biker club's local chapter, according to the Mercury News.
"In the outlaw motorcycle gang culture, Jeff Pettigrew was a local icon in San Jose, a very well-respected member within the ranks of the Hells Angels," said San Jose police Sgt. Larry Day, who has investigated biker clubs.
"This incident could definitely result in retaliation against the Vagos, and a full-blown war that may result in deadly violence in San Jose and throughout California."
A witness to the shooting thought he saw a Hells Angel pull out a gun and fire first. RGJ quotes Jose Franco as saying a fist fight broke out between members of the Hells Angels and members of the Vagos around the slot machines near Trader Dick's.
One of the Hells Angels was "down with the bloody nose," Franco reportedly said, then "gets up and pulls out the gun and that's the first shot."
Sparks canceled its part in Street Vibrations, an annual motorcycle festival and neighboring Reno increased police patrol amid fears of retaliation.
Many bikers attending Street Vibrations had been staying at the Nugget, and Reuters quoted another biker as saying that tensions had been mounting between the rival gang members for several days.
"It was bound to happen," biker Don Gilbert reportedly said. "It's ridiculous ... All the regular bikers shake their heads. It's nonsense."