Captain Ronald S. Johnson sits at his computer inside the Missouri State Highway Patrol's headquarters in Weldon Springs and points to what he sees as incontrovertible proof of Ride of the Century participants evading the law. Playing out on the monitor is surveillance video of troopers arriving at the parking lot of the Red Roof Inn at Interstate 44 and Hampton Avenue on the evening of Saturday, August 31.

"There. Right there," he says, as the video shows troopers arriving to the parking lot after following a group of cyclists who were stunting on the highway. The troopers approach some of the bikes and feel the heat still coming off the engines. The bikes' owners, meanwhile, have scurried off the lot.

Johnson pauses and rewinds the footage. "See? There they go."

See a larger version of this week's cover.
Photography by Mark Gilliland.

The cat-and-mouse game between authorities and the bikers involved in Ride of the Century never ends, though Johnson has long grown tired of it. He talks about wives and daughters "stranded on the side of the road, in tears" because they were overwhelmed and terrified of the swarms of sports bikes filling the road. How Ride of the Century participants have in the past shut down highways, parking their bikes to stop traffic and creating a four-lane playground for performing stunts. He talks in rumbling, somber tones about the event's failings, especially this year's deaths.

Johnson says he has tried for years to set up some kind of meeting with the Streetfighterz to talk through Ride of the Century's pressing issues, but to no avail. Vaughn says he has been trying the same thing for just as long. Finally, this year, that meeting happened.

It didn't go well.

A few days prior to the kickoff to Ride of the Century, the Streetfighterz learned that police pressure had caused the cancellation of one of their Labor Day weekend events. The third annual Funfest was supposed to be a family affair where spectators could enjoy food and drink while watching a stunt-bike performance in the parking lot of Big St. Charles Motorsports. But after the dealership got a visit from one of Johnson's colleagues, Lieutenant Stephen Ferrier who warned that troopers would be conducting checkpoints, the owner decided the event wasn't worth the hassle.

Enough was enough. Vaughn got on the blower and called Lieutenant Ferrier. The two set up a meeting for that same day at St. Louis police headquarters downtown. Vaughn was expecting a handful of law-enforcement representatives, but, he says, when he walked into a sixth-floor conference room, he was greeted by nearly twenty people, and more were filing in. In attendance were Johnson, St. Louis Police Chief Sam Dotson and other representatives of St. Louis city and county, including lawyers.

"I felt ambushed," Vaughn says, describing how Johnson and Ferrier spent 40 minutes chastising Vaughn and the Streetfighterz for promoting and profiting from illegal activity. Vaughn says the scolding culminated in Johnson declaring that if the Streetfighterz wouldn't shut down the event themselves, the police would find a way to shut down the Streetfighterz by revoking its business license.

"I can tell you if this event goes anywhere near like last year, I will use every bit of power, and I will see that this licence will not exist," Johnson can be heard saying in an audio recording Vaughn took of the meeting. "There's no way the state of Missouri should have a company that's promoting criminal behavior and chaos on our highways."

He also claims the troopers asked him for the ride's route so they could send some patrol vehicles to provide a buffer between the riders and other vehicles on the highway. He replied that the ride has never had a set route, and anything he gave them would be, at best, guesswork.

Johnson denies threatening the Streetfighterz, though he does have serious issues with the group's business model. He also refutes Vaughn's claim that there were lawyers present at the meeting. The gathering was attended by fifteen representatives of law enforcement, no more. He claims that Vaughn did give them a specific route, one which Johnson himself waited at for over an hour with other patrol cars until it became clear that they had been stood up.

"I can't tell you enough times that I did everything I could," says the trooper. "I showed Mr. Vaughn the utmost respect. I threw out every plan that I could think of to make this a safe event, so he could have this event."

Johnson said he posed a simple challenge to Vaughn when he invited him to attend a press conference with police later that week to address the media on the upcoming Ride of the Century. Johnson says that during the meeting he asked Vaughn: "If you're saying that you want this to be a safe event, if you want the chaos and things to stop — then just get up and say that," says Johnson. "What I saw is that he really didn't know how to stop it."

No representative from Streetfighterz attended the police press conference that Wednesday. Vaughn says he didn't want to answer loaded questions from an openly biased media. The Streetfighterz did, however, post a press release to its Facebook page. It included the following: "The intent and purpose of the ride has never been to cause chaos and mayhem on the roads, but instead, have an event where people and motorcyclists with similar interests could come together and share a passion for motorcycles... [B]e safe, respectful to other motorists and obey all traffic laws while riding."

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