(Reuters) - A Hells Angels member missing since October has been arrested on suspicion of gunning down a fellow member of the notorious biker gang at their local chapter president’s funeral, police said.
Police tracked Steve Ruiz, 38, to a Days Inn Motel in Fremont, south of San Francisco, where he surrendered and was arrested on Saturday “for his murder warrant,” San Jose Police Department spokesman Jason Dwyer said in a statement. Ruiz was booked into the Santa Clara County Main Jail.
According to police, Ruiz gunned down fellow gang member Steve Tausan, 52, on October 15, 2011, at the funeral of local Hells Angels president Jeffrey “Jethro” Pettigrew, who was slain during a brawl with a rival gang at a Nevada casino in September 2011.
Police said Tausan, who was Pettigrew’s close friend, and others confronted Ruiz at the funeral over his perceived failure to have protected Pettigrew during the casino melee, prompting Ruiz to pull a gun on Tausan.
“The victim and suspect ... reportedly became involved in a physical altercation,” Dwyer said. “During the fight, the suspect apparently drew a firearm and fatally shot the victim.”
The Ruiz arrest marks the latest development in a saga of violence between two rival biker groups — the Hells Angels and Vagos — which has led to multiple deaths and injuries.
The U.S. Justice Department has named both groups as outlaw gangs engaged in drug and weapons trafficking and other violent crimes.
Police have said they trace the rivalry to a push by Vagos into the northern coastal town of Santa Cruz, long claimed as Hells Angels territory.
Tensions flared when members of the rival gangs fought outside a Santa Cruz Starbucks in January 2010. Seven months later, in August 2010, the two groups exchanged gunfire, leaving five people wounded in Chino Valley, a northern Arizona town.
The Pettigrew killing — coming 11 months after the Chino Valley fight — in turn sparked tensions within the Hells Angels’ ranks that led to yet another slaying in California, police said.
Vagos was founded in the 1960s in a Southern California desert community. The Hells Angels, which has over 230 chapters with an estimated 2,000 to 2,500 members worldwide, was founded in 1948 in Fontana, California.
Reporting By Eric Johnson; editing by Dan Burns