GUSTINE -- A 33-year-old man was killed Friday after being stabbed at a Gustine bar -- and Merced County Sheriff's investigators say members of an outlaw biker gang may be responsible.
The victim, Bill James Jr. of Gustine, died shortly after he was stabbed at the Gustine Club, located at 431 Fifth St. Gustine police responded to the scene about 11:26 p.m. and the victim was found in street outside the bar, according to Deputy Tom MacKenzie, sheriff's spokesman. No suspects are in custody, and details about the case remain sketchy.
Although sheriff's detectives say they have leads in the case, they haven't publicly said the name of the outlaw biker gang that is believed to be involved.
Sheriff Mark Pazin said detectives believe the suspects attended a biker event in the Santa Nella area. After leaving the gathering, detectives believe, the suspects went to Gustine to look for a member of a rival biker gang.
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Still, Pazin said it's unknown whether the suspects were searching for James exclusively -- or if he was an arbitrary target.
A group of eight to 10 men entered the bar prior to the stabbing, MacKenzie said.
A member of the victim's family, who didn't provide his name because of the circumstances of the crime, said James was an innocent bystander. The man said James was stabbed three times. "He is not in any way, shape or form in any type of gang," the man said.
James recently was discharged from parole. He'd previously been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon and evading a police officer, MacKenzie said.
Although biker gangs make up a very small percentage of Merced County's gang population, there have been violent outbreaks locally. A clash erupted in June last year between members of the Hells Angels and Mongols at a Los Banos park. During the melee, several shots were fired from a .40-caliber handgun and one man was stabbed.
The death is the second homicide reported this year in Gustine and the 18th reported in Merced County.
Sun-Star staff writer Victor A. Patton can be reached at email@example.com or 385-2431.