Biker re­counts deadly day in Waco

Houston Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - By Dane Schiller

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.

‘We’re done’

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.

‘Con­sti­tu­tional con­cerns’

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.”

dane.schiller@chron.com twit­ter.com/daneschill­er

Photo cour­tesy of the Boyett fam­ily

Danny “Diesel” Boyett leans in for a kiss with his wife, Nina, at a Cos­sacks Mo­tor­cy­cle Club gath­er­ing. He was later shot and killed in Waco.

Cody Led­bet­ter faces 15 years to life in prison if con­victed.

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