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4,500+ RSVP for Hells Angel funeral at 99 Speedway; sheriff spending $500,000 for OT
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Authorities are expecting thousands of motorcyclists to descend on San Joaquin County today for the funeral of one of the founding members of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club and the international organization’s longtime de facto leader.

And the San Joaquin County Sheriff said on Friday that his office has spent upwards of $500,000 to provide the manpower necessary for what law enforcement believes will be a massive turnout for the funeral of  Ralph “Sonny” Barger Jr.

Barger, one of the founding members of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club who was born in Modesto and is rumored to have haunted at least one Manteca watering hole,  passed away in Livermore in June and will be remembered today at the Stockton 99 Speedway from 3 to 8 p.m.

Withrow said that while his agency will be stacking its resources in the area, they are in no way contracting with either the Hells Angels Motorcycle Club or the event promoter to provide security or law enforcement services.

The sheriff noted that the expense and the massive showing of force are precautionary and intended to protect the wider community at large.

The speedway is located at 4105 N. Wilson Way in Stockton, and the event is by invitation only.

According to the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office, more than 4,500 people had RSVP’d to the event by Friday afternoon but federal law enforcement believes that as many as 30,000 people could show up – requiring hundreds of law enforcement personnel to ensure that things don’t get out of hand.

In a press conference on Friday San Joaquin County Sheriff Pat Withrow said that his agency alone has spent upwards of half a million dollars preparing for today’s event to maintain a presence and ensure that the public remains safe.

“I am praying that this is going to be a safe event,” Withrow told the media in advance of the event. “I want this to go off with no problems – if they can control their people, that’s fine.”

Withrow also spoke of the case of Stephen Buchan Jr. – a 45-year-old Lodi man that was found beaten to death outside of Clements several months ago. According to Withrow, Buchan was lured there and was promptly attacked by three members of the Hells Angels.

Tony Noceti, who owns the Stockton 99 Speedway, told ABC 10 in an interview that there are traffic and security plans in place and that those that arrive will be wanded and screened for weapons. Noceti told the Sacramento-based news station that he has been in communication with the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels and has been assured that no problems will arise – and that if any do, they will be handled onsite by members of the organization.

Withrow, who noted that previous events like these have resulted in violence that spilled over into the community, didn’t mince words about what he thought of Noceti’s comments about safety.

“I would say that if Mr. Noceti believes that statement, he’s either dumb as a stump or afraid for his life.”

Known as the largest outlaw motorcycle group in the world, the Hells Angels became a household name across America after an incident at the Altamont Speedway in 1969 left one man dead. Hells Angel Alan Passaro was tried for murder after 18-year-old Oakland man Meredith Hunter was stabbed right in front of the stage while the Rolling Stones performed at the Altamont Free Concert. The group had been hired by the event organizers to provide security and were reportedly paid in beer for their efforts.

The stabbing was caught on film and clearly showed that Hunter, who was later determined to be high on methamphetamine, had pulled out a long-barred .22-caliber revolver before he was stabbed twice. Passaro stood trial for Hunter’s death and was acquitted of murder.

Over a decade ago the Hells Angels were one of a handful of “outlaw” motorcycle groups that were on hand at Eagles Nest Harley Davidson in Lathrop when the dealership welcomed the cast of the critically-acclaimed “Sons of Anarchy” to town to meet fans of the show – with some even providing event security to protect the cast members of the popular show that was set in a fictional San Joaquin County town.

The San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office urged county residents to steer clear of the area today, and noted that the California Highway Patrol has been working with the sheriff’s office to manage traffic and plan for road closures in the area to keep both the attendees and the general public safe.

To contact Bulletin reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.