Fake gun — who knew? — scares local bar crowd
For bartender Tim Driscoll, a Thursday night incident at Hanko's Sports Bar would mark his second to last day at work. It was Sept. 21, the night an enraged white supremacist turned a gun on more than 60 people in the Mountain Park bar.
Driscoll's last night would be the following Thursday, a ritual shift for him, when he realized that he didn't want to go back.
Fortunately, Driscoll's job would be the only casualty of the night. What could have ended as a disaster here - a gun-wielding man threatening to kill everyone - ended peacefully when a 27-year-old doorman, a former Army Ranger, disarmed the man while terrorized customers hid under pool tables, huddled together in tears.
Later, the gun would prove a fake. But its lack of authenticity would only prevent a deputy district attorney from charging the man with more serious crimes. It doesn't change a story about quick action and camaraderie in a neighborhood bar. It doesn't change patrons' certainty then that the actions of a few had changed the fate of many.
Customer attracts attention
The evening was otherwise ordinary, but Driscoll said Steven Leslie Dennis, 36, was already a standout at Hanko's Sports Bar.
Driscoll, 40, has tended bar for 22 years and is also a doctor, working days as a chiropractor. He used to work full time at Hanko's but, until last week, worked only Thursdays to help pay bills. He said just before 10 p.m. he spotted Dennis taking off his shirt and showing off tattoos.
'He was visiting from California and he definitely stood out from the crowd,' Driscoll said.
The crowd, generally, is a neighborhood one, filled with patrons who make the short walk or drive from Mountain Park. Most are working-class folks, some students. They mingle here over drinks and food and some share a common interest in sports.
At Hanko's, the second-story bar over a liquor store seats patrons at elbow-high tables, round wooden slabs lacquered and ringed with a handful of stools, so that those who drink there can turn and face the next table, visiting with other groups. The sporty atmosphere of the bar promotes dialogue, games play on ceiling-mounted televisions, and several pool tables also encourage mixing.
Several witnesses say Dennis, while displaying his tattoos, turned the mood sour by talking openly about 'white power' and claiming Oregon is a place where whites rule.
Driscoll asked the shirtless Dennis to dress himself and refused to serve him. In response, Dennis became belligerent, spit on Driscoll and another employee and was escorted out by Jayye Bacigalupi, the doorman. Bacigalupi, a full time student in radiology, works three nights a week at Hanko's, where he said the only trouble is the occasional barroom argument or fight between college kids.
Bacigalupi watched Dennis return to his car and later followed, he said, to make sure Dennis didn't return. But as Bacigalupi walked out of the door to check on him, Dennis was mounting the stairs to Hanko's entrance, this time with a pistol.
'The gun came out and he was walking toward the bar threatening to kill me and everybody in the bar,' said Bacigalupi. 'I was so ready to get shot it was a matter of whether I was going to get shot running away or moving toward him.'
Inside the bar, Driscoll was already on the phone to 9-1-1, reporting the unruly patron, when the crowd inside the bar scrambled for cover.
'One of our regular customers yells out, 'He's got a gun' and literally 60 people hit the floor, diving under pool tables, huddling together, crying,' Driscoll said. 'A lot of things happen at Hanko's but nothing as crazy as that … I've got two little girls and they were my first thought in my head while I was pushing people under tables.'
With Bacigalupi facing Dennis at the threshold of the door, the only other exit was at the back of the bar, obscured by a kitchen. According to witnesses, patrons pushed further into the bar to avoid the gun, some diving behind the hefty oak bar for protection, most in fear.
Incident ends fast
When Dennis swung the gun across the front windows of the bar, pointing it at customers, Bacigalupi said he took the opportunity to act.
'When I went in to grab it I didn't think he knew I was coming in there for him,' he said.
Though Dennis brought the butt of the gun down on Bacigalupi's head, cutting him, Bacigalupi was still able to grab the gun and wrestle it free. The arms of both men broke through a nearby window in the struggle and patrons panicked, some thinking they heard gunfire.
'As soon as I got that gun out of his hands, two guys from the bar jumped on top of him and tried to detain him,' he said.
They were there, pinning Dennis to the ground, when Lake Oswego Police arrived. The gun then proved to be a pellet gun, described by police as a very real-looking replica of a semiautomatic pistol.
'Everybody is thinking this is the real deal. He said, 'I'm going to kill you and everybody …' He is pointing this gun several inches away from the face of the doorman … Everybody believed that this was a terrible thing that was about to happen,' said Capt. Don Forman, Lake Oswego Police.
Police arrested Dennis on two counts of menacing, fourth-degree assault, second-degree criminal mischief, harassment and disorderly conduct - all misdemeanors - after a brief struggle. He was released from the Clackamas County Jail pending trial and police believe Dennis, a California native, has likely left town.
But Forman said he believes this story offers a happy ending at a time when police shootings are frequent in the news, including one in Vancouver where police shot a transient man who also brandished a fake gun.
'My officers go to a call like that, are they supposed to know that this time it's a toy gun?' he said. 'They believed it was a real gun and we're going to believe it, too.'
Forman said while police don't recommend intervening with a gunman, he was relieved the incident did not result in a shooting by police. Forman said he was energized to see Hanko's patrons work together in a crisis and thought some good could come out of this tale.
'I guess the positive thing I see in all this is that people up there acted together when all this went bad,' Forman said. 'They helped each other.'
Back to normal
A week later, Bori Chet, 22, who owns the bar with a cousin and uncle, was apologetic for problems. Despite the incident, he said the patrons at Hanko's have continued to come. At a happy hour on a recent Monday, they were shoulder to shoulder in the bar, a typical night, shaking off the workday.
They came, some with shaved heads, the young ones in jeans and T-shirts, some older patrons in leather chaps with motorcycles in tow, others still in cuffed shirtsleeves or blazers, fresh from a day at the office. The mix is very much a cross section of Mountain Park. Bacigalupi said that mix, and Hanko's usual atmosphere, is returning.
Generally, he said, 'everybody is having a good time and nobody really disturbs the mood.'
Since Sept. 21, Bacigalupi said, 'People are shook up but I think once they found out it wasn't a real gun, tension dropped a little bit.'
He and others were back at work the following day at Hanko's. The bar closed early the night of the incident, the only real impact to business, aside from the broken window, already repaired.
Chet said business never did slow as a result of Dennis' actions and that customers should feel comfortable coming back. On Monroe Parkway, this is where Mountain Park mingles, and its residents mix here well, Chet said.
'Everybody loves it here, there's never been a lot of trouble,' he said. 'People come here and they just like to have fun.'
Shrugging at recent events, Chet said, 'Sometimes trouble comes around.'