The abrupt cancellation of a Lake County motorcycle show expected to draw thousands today was sparked by warnings from a state agency of suspected gang activity, authorities said.
Organizers of the Ironhorse Roundup Bike Show had spent the week finalizing details of the event only to learn late Friday afternoon the village of Grayslake had yanked its permit to use the Lake County Fairgrounds.
"Everyone is looking for answers," said Mark Khayat, owner of Austin's Saloon in Libertyville, which sponsors the event.
"We've got people who rode here, they spent money on food and got their bikes ready. It's a real let-down."
Grayslake leaders refused to give reasons other than a terse statement citing "circumstances which threaten the health and public safety" of the village and visitors.
But Lake County Sheriff Mark Curran said the Illinois State Police's Statewide Terrorism and Intelligence Center received information that members of the Outlaws motorcycle club would be in attendance and passed it on to Grayslake.
Federal authorities have identified the Outlaws as an international criminal organization.
"They've been around for as long as most street gangs have been around," Curran said.
"They're bad guys, they're involved in homicides and drug dealing."
A crowd of 40,000 was expected at the fairgrounds. Now vendors and musical acts including Motley Crue frontman Vince Neil had to do a 180.
The decision reinforces negative stereotypes about bikers, organizers fear.
Despite concerns about gang activity that surface with motorcycle events, there's been no incidents at Ironhorse, which is attended by families, Khayat said.
"It's not a public safety hazard. That's why we hire police."
In fact, organizers said they spent months planning and meeting with village officials. They switched from a private security firm to Grayslake police and hired a helicopter pilot to patrol the grounds.
"We dotted the i's and crossed the t's," Khayat said.
The village informed Khayat of its decision around 4:30 p.m. Friday shortly before closing.
"I went to the village directly and everybody scattered," he said.
"The thing that's inexcusable is the terrible lack of communication," said Jhan Dolphin of RealWheels Corp.
The Gurnee company, which manufactures vehicle accessories, was ready to display some of its custom-designed Hummers.
"We had six vehicles completely detailed this week and we were ready to go," Dolphin said.
Hardest hit are vendors and bikers who traveled across the country to make the show, Khayat said.
"There's people staying in hotels from Colorado and Wyoming," he noted.
Austin's Saloon and the Lake County Fair Association have already spent thousands of dollars on preparation. Legal action is an option he's considering, Khayat said.
In addition to an e-mail frenzy protesting the cancellation, a local radio station got into the action. Kenosha-based 95 WILL Rock dropped musical programming to protest Grayslake's decision Friday evening.
Despite the publicity, Khayat said he still expects crowds to show up at the fairgrounds.
Grayslake police Sgt. Brian Ernst said officers will be on hand to redirect bikers with reinforcements from state police.
Grayslake Mayor Timothy Perry didn't return calls Saturday and declined to explain the decision Friday.
Asked for his assessment, of the village's call, Curran said, "I wouldn't second-guess. Better be safe than allow something to happen."
Khayat was hopeful the bike show will return possibly before the end of 2008. The event had been held at the saloon since 2005 but moved to the fairgrounds because they needed more space.
Meanwhile, "I'm trying to pump some life back into the employees. We really got the air knocked out of us."