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Public memorial for Reno air race disaster still planned Sunday despite biker gang violence
RENO, Nev. (AP) ' Hundreds of people were expected at a memorial service in Reno on Sunday evening for the pilot and 10 spectators killed in an air race crash more than a week ago.
Reno city spokesman Chris Good said officials expect several hundred people but are prepared for as many as 1,000 at the 6 p.m. candlelight vigil and tree dedication at a park a few miles from the downtown casino district.
"The air race people have suggested to me that it might be more than 1,000, and if that is the case, we'll just have an overflow crowd," Good said Sunday. "It's a big public park."
He said it was hard to predict if the turnout would be impacted by a fatal gunfight between rival motorcycle gangs at a Sparks casino Friday night.
The city of Sparks declared a state of emergency Saturday night and Reno police were put on alert after the president of the Hells Angels' San Jose, Calif., chapter was killed in the shootout that also wounded two members of the rival Vagos motorcycle club.
Reno's police chief still planned to attend the memorial, but Good said a number of other law enforcement officers who intended to go will now be working on the beefed up patrols through Sunday night.
Pilot Jimmy Leeward, 74, of Ocala, Fla., was among the 11 people killed in the Sept. 16 crash during the National Championship Air Races at Reno-Stead Airport. About 70 people were seriously injured.
It's the third time in three months that the local community has found itself in mourning over a catastrophic event.
Five people were killed and 30 were injured in an Amtrak train crash about 60 miles east of Reno in June. Five more died in a shooting at an IHOP restaurant in nearby Carson City on Sept. 6, including three members of the local National Guard unit.
Mike Houghton, director of the Reno Air Races Association, said he's at a loss to describe the public outpouring support for the family and friends of the victims.
"I've seen an overwhelming level of emotional unity in this community," Houghton said. "We have all been touched, and it may have been in a small way or a big way, but it is a shared level of shock and grief."
Grief counselors who met with family and friends of the dead and seriously injured said it will take many of them a long time to shake the grief.
"It is a life changer," said Dr. Jay Jeffers, of Sparks. The practicing psychologist has responded to five disasters in seven years with the American Red Cross, including Hurricane Katrina.
"It changes everything they know in their life up to that point ' everything they have ever witnessed or experienced ' because suddenly that person is gone now," Jeffers said.
"I saw a lot of denial and anger," he said. "But there were a lot of people feeling just numb."