OFF THE WIRE
Sources: 38-year-old San Jose biker is suspect in cemetery slaying By Sean Webby Posted: 10/17/2011 07:18:51 PM PDT Updated: 10/17/2011 08:31:27 PM PDT
Click photo to enlarge Steve Tausan at his Bail Bond office in San Jose Friday, Aug. 25, 2006. It was... ( Patrick Tehan )«12345»San Jose police continued their manhunt for a Hells Angels member who they believe shot to death Steve Tausan, a fellow member of the notorious outlaw motorcycle club, during a funeral crowded with mourning bikers - and then mysteriously disappeared underneath the watch of hundreds of police officers.
Police have not released the suspect's name, but sources told the Mercury News he is Steve Joseph Ruiz, a 38-year-old San Jose Hells Angels member. And they said investigators believe he could be dead.
San Jose police said very little Monday about the chaos Saturday at the Oak Hill Memorial Park, when Tausan was shot and killed at a memorial for San Jose Hells Angel president Jeff "Jethro" Pettigrew, who himself was shot and
killed last month in a Nevada casino.
Although police had surrounded the cemetery in anticipation of possible trouble, the shooter somehow vanished. There was also no trace of the handgun. That's why, sources said, investigators Saturday night got a judge's permission to exhume Pettigrew's coffin to see if Ruiz's body or any other evidence was hurriedly buried in the soil next to his former club president. They reportedly found nothing connected to Tausan's killing.
The coffin itself was not opened.
Investigators suspect Hells Angels members or other bikers somehow managed to smuggle Ruiz, dead or alive, from the cemetery. They believe he may have been killed soon after he shot the 52-year-old Tausan, according to sources.
Although he was a member of the Santa Cruz chapter of the Hells Angels, Tausan was a close friend of Pettigrew and was a former member of the San Jose chapter.
The bizarre and brazen shooting came around 1 p.m. during the Saturday funeral for Pettigrew, a longtime city heavy equipment operator and the San Jose motorcycle club's local president. He was shot to death last month at a Sparks casino, allegedly by a local member of the Vagos, a rival club.
To pay their respects, the Oak Hill cemetery grounds were filled with thousands of mourning bikers - from the Hells Angels and many other supportive biker clubs - and guarded outside by a large contingent of police officers.
Some bikers said they were infuriated by the macabre search of Pettigrew's resting place.
"He was a friend first and foremost, and being told that San Jose Police dug up the grave was more than could be imagined," said "Big Ed" Aki, a leader with the Henchmen motorcycle club in San Jose. "First Jethro and now Steve (Tausan,) both friends who helped the Henchmen San Jose Chapter. There are no words to describe this loss."
Police, who on Monday identified Tausan, a former Marine, ex-boxer and San Jose bail bondsman, as the victim in the case, have said nothing about what they suspect was a motive.
But sources said it appeared the two men had argued before the shooting.
Sources said investigators later found a weapon which may have been used in the shooting of Tausan, a popular member of the Santa Cruz chapter of the Hells Angels known as Mr. 187, after the penal code for murder.
Tausan was prosecuted 14 years ago on suspicion of killing Kevin Sullivan for drunkenly badgering a dancer at the Pink Poodle strip club in San Jose and then insulting the motorcycle club.
He was acquitted.
A Santa Cruz County Gang Task Force supervisor said Monday that the Santa Cruz Hells Angels chapter has members who frequent the Santa
Cruz and Live Oak areas, as well as some spots in the Santa Cruz Mountains.
Sgt. Eric Montalbo said task force investigators keep tabs on local members as best they can, he said, acknowledging that work includes monitoring of who might fill any leadership vacuum.
He said they would confer with San Jose police about Saturday's shooting, but as of Monday had not done so.
"We'd be concerned with acts of retaliation in the organization if the person killed had leadership status in the gang," Montalbo said. "And we have concerns about who that suspect is... Did they take off with that person to hide that person, or because they were going to dispose of that person?"
Montalbo added that he does believe the Santa Cruz chapter is an active one. He said he spotted about eight of them outside a downtown Santa Cruz bar the night before the cemetery shooting.
"I believe they are an active gang, and one that is very organized and tough to investigate," Montalbo said. "We probably end up prosecuting them less than some of our local street gangs, but I don't believe by any means that they are any less violent." Santa Cruz gang prosecutor Charlie Baum said the District Attorney's Office has not had many recent cases involving Hells Angels members.
Last year, one alleged Santa Cruz Chapter Hells Angel was arrested in Live Oak after a search warrant stemming from an altercation in Campbell turned up a firearm and steroids in his Ivy Lane home, he said.
That man, William Bettencourt, 39, is in custody in Santa Clara County, Baum said. A former Santa Clara police officer, Clay Rojas, was convicted of 12 felony charges in San Jose this summer for allegedly selling information to Bettencourt.
A Gilroy man who is an alleged member of the San Jose Hells Angels chapter, Cesar Villagrana, is facing a gun charge after crashing on his Harley Davidson on March 11 in Aptos and spilling a gun onto the road that was not registered to him, Santa Cruz prosecutors said.
Villagrana, 36, was arrested after the Pettigrew homicide in Nevada last month, and police there allege he was firing a gun during the melee.
Last year, there was a fight between Hells Angels and members of the rival Vagos motorcycle group that started downtown Santa Cruz and ended in fight among members armed with ball-peen hammers, Santa Cruz police said.
But charges were dropped against at least one of the people arrested after that conflict, and a gang charge facing Villagrana was dropped during a recent preliminary hearing.
Several years ago, a county man was indicted but later cleared of felony charges stemming from a fatal 2002 brawl between Hells Angels and Mongols in Harrah's casino in Laughlin. He lived in the Watsonville area at that time, but Watsonville police say they haven't had much trouble with Hells Angles members since the gang left a rented East Lake Avenue clubhouse about three years ago.
Several Santa Cruz County law enforcement officers said they did not know whether the Santa Cruz chapter had established a clubhouse since moving from Watsonville.