By Ed Runyan
It came as a surprise to many when a June 18, 2016, clash between two rival motorcycle clubs at Shorty’s Place tavern just south of town resulted in the shooting deaths of two Brothers Regime members and injuries to two others.
It was also surprising when law enforcement said the conflict may have been festering for years – possibly because of a 2012 shooting at another tavern or because of “respect” issues associated with motorycycle clubs.
If these two clubs had been at odds, why had their feud not become known earlier?
The shootings and prosecutions of three members of the Forever Two Wheelz motorcycle club shined a light on motorcycle clubs in a way that had not occurred in the area for decades, but raised more questions than answers.
In October, it became clear the prosecution of the case would be complicated by club allegiances, making it hard for members to cooperate with law enforcement.
Because of prosecutors’ concerns about witnesses not testifying at the murder trial for Forever Two Wheelz president David Bailes Jr., 46, and FTW members James Gardner, 48, and Charles Dellapenna III, 48. Forever Two Wheelz member Dayton Lough was taken into custody and brought to court to give his videotaped testimony in advance of the trial in Judge Andrew Logan’s courtroom in Trumbull County Common Pleas Court.
Lough described Bailes confronting Brothers Regime president Bob “Chopper” Marto and Brothers member Jason “Foot” Moore in front of the tavern, hard words being exchanged and Bailes killing Marto before Marto was able to return fire.
FTW was there preparing for an annual motorcycle-ride fundraiser.
Ultimately, Bailes, Gardner and Dellapenna accepted plea deals, with Bailes getting a 10-year prison sentence, Gardner getting eight and Dellapenna getting six.
During the month of hearings at the courthouse, it became evident that twin mothers of two of the defendants were stuck precariously in the middle of the prosecution of Bailes, Gardner and Dellapenna.
Giva Gardner is not only the wife of James Gardner, she’s the mother of David Bailes and aunt of Charles Dellapenna. Her twin sister, Noma Darhower, is Dellapenna’s mother.
Family harmony was challenged when Gardner took the first plea and agreed to testify against his stepson, Bailes. In exchange, prosecutors would drop Gardner’s aggravated murder charge and the chance he would go to prison for life. Later Dellapenna took a similar plea.
If the idea that Bailes’ stepfather and first cousin were turning state’s evidence against Bailes caused a rift in the family, you wouldn’t know it from talking to the twins.
“What he was going to say was the truth, so I wasn’t upset with him,” Giva Gardner said of her husband testifying.
“What the prosecutor did, he used all three of them against all three of them,” she said. “They told them one thing, and then they told another one a different thing and they told another one a different thing.”
After all three were sentenced, prosecutors said Bailes fired all of the shots that killed Marto and Moore and the ones that injured Brothers members Walter Hughes and Andrew Claypool.
Gardner threw Bailes his gun when Bailes ran out of bullets, and Dellapenna only fired his gun about 10 times into the air.
Giva Gardner said the three are not mad at each other over the plea agreements because “they are family.”
Darhower said Bailes and Dellapenna “were brought up as brothers, not as nephews.” Her sister said, “They loved each other,” and “My husband would give my son the clothes off of his back.”
In fact, Giva Gardner said she had a chance to talk to Marto’s wife, Sandy, outside the courthouse during the hearings, and they consoled each other because both were unintended victims of the dispute.
“She lost her husband and I almost lost my son,” Giva Gardner said.
Giva says her role now that David, James and Charles are in prison is to support them, as she and Noma did while baking and otherwise supporting the fundraising activities of the club.
The twins say wives and mothers of the men in the two clubs are not involved in the disputes between the clubs.
“It’s over with now,” Giva said. “Now all we have to do is help our kids. That’s all we gotta do is get them through it.”
Bailes was hit by return fire and suffered serious injuries. At one point, Warren police said they didn’t expect him to survive. He was still being brought to court in a wheelchair 18 months after the shootings.
Giva Gardner said she thinks her husband, son and nephew all have regrets for how the shootings unfolded, but she said they were in a life-and-death situation.
“They were like a dog or a raccoon backed up into the back of a woods,” she said. ”When you’re backed up into a corner, you’re gonna save your own life. You’re not going to let them kill you.”