Thousands of people gathered at Stockton 99 Speedway on Saturday for the funeral of Ralph “Sonny” Barger, longtime president and founding member of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels motorcycle club.
It was an event that the San Joaquin County Sheriff’s Office warned Friday could become dangerous.
But those in attendance wept, shared stories and remembered the 83-year-old Modesto native who died of cancer on June 29.
“Even though he was blind in one eye and replenishing his oxygen, well, when his crutch came up, you better catch up,” one speaker said.
As of early Saturday evening, no significant incidents had occurred at the funeral, a spokesperson for the sheriff’s office said. Sheriff Patrick Withrow advised residents at a Friday news conference to avoid the freeway area, located at 4105 N. Wilson Way, and said rival Hells Angels organizations are likely to be in the area.
The sheriff’s office, Stockton Police Department and California Highway Patrol planned to maintain a highly visible presence in the area, he said.
Medical assistance was requested from the service for two participants on the infield of the track. Traffic was light on the section of Wilson Way off the freeway around 4:30 p.m. CHP could not immediately be reached for comment.
About 7,000 people showed up for Barger’s funeral, according to Tony Noceti, the president of the company that operates the highway. Some came from various parts of California, others sported the colors of clubs from New Jersey, Minnesota and Nebraska.
Throughout the afternoon, the indoor track was filled with people gathered in front of a stage decorated with rose wreaths where Barger’s family and friends spoke. Barger was a founding member of the Oakland chapter of the Hells Angels, founded in 1957.
Barger was well known as the public face of the club, which has chapters around the world and is considered a gang by the Department of Justice. He is the author of several books and has contributed to several films and has been a consultant and had a role in the TV show “Sons of Anarchy”.
Barger was convicted in 1988 of conspiracy to kill members of a rival club and blow up their headquarters, The Associated Press reported at the time.
The funeral was scheduled to take place from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m., with speakers, a slide show and performances by the Fryed Brothers Band.
Record reporter Aaron Leathley covers public safety. She can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @LeathleyAaron. Support local news, subscribe to The Stockton Record at
This article originally appeared on The Record: Funeral for Hells Angel Sonny Barger held in Stockton