A Pennsylvania jury has ordered three members of the Iron Order Motorcycle Club to pay $9.7 million in compensation to the estate of a woman who died during a fight outside Anna’s Bar-B-Q Pit in Reading, the Legal Intelligencer reports. The restaurant settled claims of unlawful alcohol service prior to trial, agreeing to an undisclosed settlement agreement.
In its lawsuit against Douglas Gottschall, Laree Gotschall, and Timothy Martin, the estate of Tonya Focht accuses the Iron Order members of accosting Focht’s fiance, Mark Groff, outside the restaurant. Things escalated, and a fight broke out.
Stories diverge on what, exactly, happened next. The estate claims Focht was punched in the face by Martin. She fell backward under the wheels of a moving SUV, and the complaint continued, which crushed her skull.
The Iron Order members don’t dispute the fight but say they were acting in self-defense. They claim Groff had a history of riling up Iron Order members. He started the fight, they say, and Focht punched Martin in the face multiple times before he retaliated with the blow that would lead to her death.
The jury found those arguments unconvincing. The estate of Tonya Focht was awarded $3.7 million in compensatory damages. A wrongful death claim resulted in a $2 million award, while $1.7 million went to Focht’s surviving loved ones.
Martin was deemed 50% liable for the death. Douglas and Laree Gotschall shared 25% of the blame each.
Plaintiffs’ attorneys had hoped to hold the Iron Order itself accountable for the actions of its members, but the Club was successful in extricating itself from the suit.
You’ll often see Iron Order described as an “outlaw” motorcycle club. Outlaw motorcycle clubs were born from the ashes of World War II, when thousands of disenchanted veterans took to the highways on their bikes in search of prototypically American values: liberty and the freedom to live one’s life as one chooses.
By the 1960s, the Hells Angels and other outlaw clubs had fallen into criminal activity, dealing drugs, promoting prostitution, and engaging in mass shoot-outs with one another. Outlaw motorcycle clubs were gangs, which is why the Department of Justice today defines them as “organizations whose members use their motorcycles as conduits for criminal activity.”
The worst of the bad are known as “One percenter,” stylized as “1%er” on vest patches and in tattoos.
But “outlaw” is not synonymous with unlawful behavior. Many contemporary clubs consider themselves “outlaws” simply because they do not abide by the bylaws of the American Motorcyclist Association but follow their own code of conduct.
In most cases, outlaw motorcycle clubs are premised on the principle of “brotherhood,” placing the strength of the club family above all other considerations, including personal safety. Some outlaw motorcycle clubs are violent, while others are just devoted to the image and ideals of those freedom-seeking veterans from the 1940s and 1950s.
Iron Order fits somewhere in between these two stereotypes. The Club presents itself as a family-friendly organization of like-minded people, throwing charity drives for various causes, partying long into the night, and sharing in their own idiosyncratic “brotherhood.”
At the same time, Iron Order members have been implicated in criminal activity, most notably fights, some of which turn deadly, with other motorcycle clubs. Like most outlaw motorcycle clubs, the Iron Order has a high membership among military veterans and correctional officers.
The Club’s high proportion of police officers, however, has led some (including OnePercenterBikers.com) to suggest that Iron Order members more readily cooperate with law enforcement investigations. There is also some speculation that law enforcement shows favor to the Iron Order; Iron Order members have gone conspicuously uncharged in several notable cases of violence.
Despite their family-friendly presentation, Iron Order has been implicated in a number of criminal investigations. Beyond the Focht case, there is the 2015 gunfight in Mississippi between members of the Iron Order and the Pistoleros in which three men suffered injuries.
More recently, in January 2016, a fight broke out between the Iron Order and the Mongols, one of America’s most dangerous motorcycle clubs. Two Mongols-members were shot to death in the altercation.
For security reasons, the Tony Focht trial was held in Philadelphia’s Criminal Justice Center rather than at City Hall, where civil trials are normally held.