Biker recounts deadly day in Waco
WACO — On a recent Sunday, a Cossacks Motorcycle Club officer nicknamed “Diesel” sipped a Diet Dr Pepper on the patio of Twin Peaks and broke the news to his son, who was also a member.
The 63 Cossacks and their supporters at the restaurant were not just waiting to have lunch with fellow bikers from around Central Texas. They had come for a special sit-down with the Bandidos to hash out an ongoing dispute.
Before their meal arrived, Diesel was shot, execution-style, with two bullets to the back of his head.
Cody Ledbetter, 26, survived the May 17 melee that left nine people dead, 18 wounded and 177 charged with engaging in organized crime.
His firsthand account of his father’s death — and what played out just before and after — was shared with the Houston Chronicle from his home in Waco.
He disputes any contention by Waco police that there was a planned brawl between rival motorcycle
gangs. He says the Cossacks were not expecting to fight. Instead, tough talk quickly escalated to bullets.
Seven Cossacks died, and one Bandido, a guy nicknamed “Candy Man,” who was charging and firing at police, according to Ledbetter.
The other person to die was not affiliated with either the Cossacks or Bandidos.
Ledbetter, a former bouncer who was working as a Hyundai mechanic, had his right arm in a sling that day, the result of a recent accident.
He and his father — whose real name was Danny Boyett — and the other Cossacks arrived before the Bandidos, considered one of the nations’s largest and most powerful motorcycle gangs.
But when the Bandidos did arrive, Ledbetter, also known as “Criddick,” said there were only 11 of them, and they were riding in three pickups, not on motorcycles.
They were not even wearing their leather riding vests, known as cuts, but T-shirts with “Bandidos” on the back.
Good news, Ledbetter thought, as the Bandidos weren’t coming in force.
There had been simmering tension between the two groups, particularly about the use of a patch, known as a bottom rocker, which says “Texas” and is worn on the back of cycling vests. The Bandidos have long considered the patch as marking their territory, and the only riders who can wear them must have Bandidos approval.
The Cossacks started wearing the Texas patches back in August, Ledbetter said. He said it was his understanding that the Bandidos had given permission, saying the Cossacks had earned it by being around since 1969.
As Ledbetter and his father sat on the patio of Twin Peaks, in the corner of a new outdoor mall, support groups for the Bandidos started rolling in.
The clubs, farm teams for the Bandidos, wore black leather motorcycle vests with patches of red and gold — the colors of the Bandidos — to show their allegiance.
The riders kept coming. Too many.
“We’re done,” Ledbetter thought to himself.
One of those at the front of the arriving cyclists rolled toward a provisional member of the Cossacks, who was in the parking lot, and drove over his foot.
The Cossacks, including Diesel and Ledbetter, surged from the patio, jumping over a small fence, and scrambled to protect the prospect named Cliff. He was so new he didn’t have a nickname.
A Cossack known as “Big O” led the way and demanded an explanation.
The biker said he rode over Cliff ’s foot because he was in the way of reaching a parking area.
After a few heated words, the biker vowed they would settle the matter after lunch.
“You’re (expletive) right we will,” responded Big O.
But a biker from the Bandidos-affiliated group said his leader had been disrespected.
He threw a punch at a Cossack who went by the nickname “Chain.” Chain dodged it, threw a punch of his own. The biker then whipped out a handgun, pressed it to Chain’s chest and pulled the trigger.
Chain fell to the pavement. He was the first to die. “What the hell?” Ledbetter thought. The man had pulled out a gun at a fistfight.
Cossacks dove for cover and tumbled all over each other as they rushed for the safety of Twin Peaks.
Ledbetter landed in a pile of people. Everyone was yelling.
He watched his father dive to the pavement and seek cover between two bikes. Tucked in the back of Diesel’s waistband was a pistol, one he legally carried, but he never drew it.
A man with a handgun came and stood over him. He wore a motorcycle vest with the name of some club that begins with the letters “VA,” and Ledbetter said he also wore a baseball cap, turned backward, that read, “Support Your Local Bandidos.”
“Take this, (expletive),” he screamed. He fired twice into Diesel’s head.
Ledbetter could hardly process what he was seeing.
Then came more gunfire from Bandidos supporters, as well as police, who seemed to instantly be on the scene. Ledbetter saw at least one Cossack, nicknamed “Side Track,” fire back at the rival bikers, but he was quickly killed.
“Dog” was shot by the same guy who shot Diesel. In other cases, Ledbetter is not sure who fired the shots.
“Rattle Can” was shot four times, including twice in the neck. A guy named Paul Miller got shot in the gut. Cliff, the prospect without a nickname, also was shot, and he is now paralyzed from the waist down.
“Country” was shot in the jaw and dragged into a bathroom for safety. “Red Bull” was shot in the neck.
Another Cossack named “Voodoo” performed CPR amid the gunfire.
Bandanas were stuffed in bullet holes to try to stop the bleeding.
By the time the shooting ended, Ledbetter had managed to crawl into the restaurant and take cover behind the bar.
The Bandidos have not responded to requests for comment.
A law enforcement officer familiar with the clash at Twin Peaks and wellversed in motorcycle gangs said Ledbetter seems to be telling the truth.
“He could have left out some incriminating information,” the officer said, “but it sounds like he is putting out the real deal.”
The officer, who asked to remain anonymous as he
is not officially part of the investigation, cautioned that eyewitness testimony can be flawed and has to be considered along with evidence from the scene and video captured by surveillance cameras.
Police arrested Ledbetter, and like all the others, he was ordered held on a staggering $1 million bail. That is the same amount placed late last week on the man charged with murder in the shooting deaths of nine people during a Bible study at a South Carolina church.
Police have not shared many details about what happened at Twin Peaks. Officers have said they are awaiting ballistics results to confirm who was shot by what gun. They said they seized an arsenal, including 151 guns, from the scene.
Waco’s police chief said that three officers fired a total of a dozen shots. Police were near the restaurant in anticipation of the biker meeting, he said.
Ledbetter has no criminal record and says he was unarmed and didn’t throw a punch, fire a gun or do anything to justify his arrest.
An array of lawyers, including the Houston-based American Civil Liberties Union of Texas, are clamoring for authorities to explain how they could legally hold so many people for so many days, as well as justify the level of police force.
“While undoubtedly some of the bikers at the scene were engaged in criminal activity, the dragnet arrests raise serious constitutional concerns about the legality of arresting people who committed no crime,”
Satinder Singh, a lawyer for the ACLU of Texas, said in a letter to Waco police.
The ACLU asks that “in an effort to keep police accountable and transparent,” officials release 911 recordings, surveillance footage and other information from the investigation.
The Texas Attorney General’s Office said it was aware of concerns in Waco but does not have jurisdiction. It is “monitoring the situation.”
Houston lawyer Rusty Hardin, who is widely respected among both defense attorneys and prosecutors and is not representing anyone arrested in Waco, said there is no way so many people should be charged over the incident.
“Quite frankly,” he said, “it just smells to high heaven.
“I am sympathetic to prosecutors and police who have to sort through it, but no matter how bad the event is, you don’t do away with due process and basic fairness to scarf up those who are guilty.”
Ledbetter’s Houston lawyer, Paul Looney, said he’d like to see the accusations aired in court as soon as possible.
“This has gotten to me. We have so many people being destroyed,” he said.
Ultimately, Ledbetter was released from jail on a greatly reduced bond, but it took all the money his family had, and he lost his job. He faces 15 years to life in prison if convicted.
The first thing he did once he was free was visit his father’s grave.
He was still behind bars when Diesel’s funeral was held — a quiet affair that was guarded by more than a dozen law enforcement officers.
As he wrestles with flashbacks from Twin Peaks, he also struggles with figuring out how he’ll pay the bills, not only for his own family, which includes a child and a pregnant wife, but for his mother, Nina, who lost her husband.
Diesel, who’d earned his nickname because he was a big rig mechanic, had bought Ledbetter a used Harley-Davidson and guided him to the Cossacks, so they could have more father-son time. He was technically a stepfather, but Ledbetter was raised by him and called him Dad.
They hadn’t always seen eye-to-eye, but biking became their bond. Diesel, 44, had the faster bike and the rank.
‘I have night terrors’
Ledbetter said he plans to one day roll down the highway on Diesel’s Harley-Davidson, but not as a Cossack.
As much as he enjoyed the brotherhood, and playfully dreamed of one day being the president, he said he’s quitting. He can’t take chances because he has a family and he’s shaken by what happened.
“I have night terrors,” he said. “I can’t sleep. I hear gunfire. I hear people yelling and screaming.”
He wants to see justice in his father’s death but is not focusing on vengeance. He said he sees Twin Peaks as a massacre, touched off by one young hothead who wanted to prove himself.
“We don’t need to lose more lives,” he said. “We are just bike riders.”