2 Killed As Picnic By Bikers Erupts The Tri-county Motorcycle Club Was Holding A Fund-raising Picnic For The Elks. Then The Pagans Arrived.

Posted: July 19, 1994

HACKETTSTOWN, N.J. — The Tri-County Motorcycle Club was holding its annual fund-raising picnic Sunday afternoon at the local Elks Lodge with the typical fare: hamburgers, hot dogs, a couple of kegs of beer.

But there were also some not-so-typical items on hand, things like 14-inch knives, sawed-off ax handles, a hatchet, a lead-filled baseball bat and guns.

And when members of the outlaw Pagans motorcycle gang showed up and tempers flared, not only did a huge fight ensue, but throats were slashed, people were shot, and by the end of Sunday afternoon, two men were dead.

Yesterday, the Warren County prosecutor announced that eight people had been arrested in connection with the incident and that one had been charged with murder.

The county courthouse was buzzing with talk of the incident, which occurred off busy Mountain Avenue, near the edge of town, and included a police standoff with a gang member who tried to flee with his half-brother's body.

The Tri-County members, who had been at the gathering as early as 9 a.m. Sunday morning, planned the "poker run" - a multiple-stop road rally - to raise money for the Elks. Hackettstown Police Chief Leonard Kunz said the group had applied for and received a permit to hold the event.

About 3 p.m., eight members of the Pagans, an East Coast motorcycle gang, showed up in a white van. They were not wearing their "colors," or gang


Soon thereafter the fight broke out, and when it was over, two Pagans were dead at the scene.

One, Diego Vega, 23, of Morristown, N.J., was shot twice, once in the neck and once in the chest. The other, Glenn Ritchie, 33, of Vernon, N.J., was shot once in the throat.

About 150 people were at the picnic when the fighting broke out, according to Warren County Prosecutor John J. O'Reilly. At a news conference, he would not say what sparked the fight, but he alluded to an earlier incident between the Tri-County group and the Pagans in Sussex County. No details of that incident were available.

Frederick T. Martens, former head of the now-defunct Pennsylvania Crime

Commission, speculated last night that some earlier incident might have prompted the Pagans to show up.

"This is odd," Martens said. "The Pagans will fight with the Outlaws or other groups, but they really don't get involved with non-traditional biker groups, which is what the Tri-County group would be," Martens said. "They generally don't do that because it certainly doesn't help their cause to fight with these kinds of groups."

And usually, he said, "If the Pagans come in, there's going to be two dead people in the Tri-County group, not the other way around."

Besides the two killed, three other people were injured in the brawl, including William Johnson, 35, of Jefferson, a Tri-County member, who was charged with Vega's murder. Johnson also was charged with possession of a weapon and possession of a weapon for an unlawful purpose. Bail was set at $250,000.

Johnson was not charged with Ritchie's death. It had not been determined who killed Ritchie, O'Reilly said.

Hank Riger, 41, a Tri-County member, had his throat cut with a knife, and was treated and released Sunday night. Ronald Locke, 35, of Victory Gardens, N.J., was shot in the neck.

Police found one .45-caliber handgun at the scene Sunday. Yesterday, local, county and state police searched the area for a second gun. Still hanging at the entrance of the road leading to the picnic area was a cardboard sign welcoming the Tri-County members.

The picnic area, next to the Elk Lodge, was littered with trash and surrounded by yellow police tape. Police said the area had been filled with motorcycles, which witnesses corroborated as they described the mass exodus immediately after the gunshots.

"They had 50 or 60 bikes," said Steve Mehrbach, the owner of the Mobil gasoline station across the street from the lodge. "They all came out real fast. It was like a cavalry charge out there."

Mehrback said police arrived within minutes and quickly blocked off the exit.

But Christopher Ritchie, half- brother of Glenn Ritchie, apparently decided to ignore the roadblock. At some point after the shooting, he and some of his fellow Pagans loaded Glenn Ritchie's body into the back of the white van the gang members had arrived in.

The Pagans attempted to drive through the roadblock at the end of the dirt and gravel road leading to the highway, but were met by "at least 12" shotgun-bearing officers, Mehrback said.

Glenn Ritchie's body fell out of the van during the standoff.

"It was pretty exciting," Mehrback said. "I don't think I've ever seen so many shotguns in my life."

Ritchie and three others were charged with obstructing governmental operations and released after posting $5,000 bail.

Mountain Avenue was closed for part of the evening as police rounded up members of both clubs. Mehrback said he went back to the picnic area to tow cars to the police impoundment lot and saw suspects handcuffed to wooden chairs.

Many people, including Mehrback, said the Tri-County members had not caused any trouble before. Its leaders had encouraged the group not to wear club

regalia for yesterday's event.

A high-placed police source said the area is new territory for the Pagans, which according to the 1990 Pennsylvania Crime Commission is "the predominant outlaw biker club in Pennsylvania." The commission estimated the Pagans had a total of 250 to 300 Pagan members in several states, including 22 in New Jersey.

"In that tri-county area - Sussex, Warren, Morris County - it's virgin territory," the source said. "If you said there's Warlocks and Pagans down in South Jersey, it may not be an everyday occurrence, but up here, they never hear of this stuff.

"There's a resurgence of this gang and, they're now reclaiming this territory."

The commission's report said the Pagans, founded in Maryland in 1959, had once been "heavily involved" in distributing methamphetamine and more recently had dealt in cocaine. The club's other criminal activities included extortion, "chop shops" and firearms violations, the report said. In the past, numerous leaders of the Pagans have been imprisoned for racketeering and other charges.

The others arrested included Terrence McGuire, 28, of Madison, N.J., charged with weapons offenses, whose bail was set at $25,000, and Richard Leadbeater, 30, of Kearney, N.J., charged with aggravated assault, possession of a weapon for unlawful purpose, whose bail was set at $50,000.

Locke and Johnson remained in critical condition yesterday after undergoing surgery at Morristown Memorial Hospital.

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