The man gunned down on his motorcycle as he traveled on Interstate 80 in the Sierra over the weekend may have looked the part of a rebel biker, but he was remembered Tuesday as a friendly sort with a soft spot for wild animals.
Jeffrey Sterling Duke, 57, of Georgetown, was hit by gunshots from a group of motorcyclists who fled and have not been caught.
In both capacities he used his skill to live-trap animals such as raccoons, bobcats, skunks or other critters that were bothering homeowners. He would then release them away from homes.
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When told of his death, Sierra Wildlife Rescue volunteer Barbara Barker was shocked.
“Oh, my God,” she said. “How tragic. Oh, I’m shaking.”
She said the bearded, rough-looking Duke was known for his way with removing raccoons from a home. He could handle the wild animals with bare hands, picking them up by the scruff of their neck or by the tail before dropping them into a cage for transport.
“He had a way with them,” she said. “But he had a way with all wildlife. He really loved wildlife. He respected them. He was so giving.”
Barker would call Duke with an animal emergency and the trapper would simply tell her not to worry, that he would take care of the problem. She remembered him as always obliging while volunteering for Sierra Wildlife Rescue.
“He was a very likable fellow,” Barker said. “Some people, because of his appearance, all of his tattoos and what have you, were put off. I could see through that. That was Jeff. He was a unique person – an individual.”
His company website promotes his work with bats, squirrels and other mammals:
“Jeff’s specialty is capturing upset, angry animals for homeowners disturbed by the critters. He can bare-handedly pick up raccoons and skunks, helping to remove them to keep you and your property safe.”
His Facebook page appears to indicate that he attended a gathering of motorcyclists in Reno over the weekend called “Street Vibrations.” Pictures posted from the event show him smiling and posing with other motorcyclists. A California Highway Patrol news release notes that Duke was westbound on I-80 about 3:55 p.m. Saturday west of Overland Trail near Truckee when a group of motorcyclists shot him.
The motorcyclists fled westbound on the freeway.
“It has yet to be determined if this was motorcycle-club related,” according to the CHP news release.
Officer Pete Mann said that no arrests have been made and leads are being followed up.
“He has affiliation to motorcycle clubs,” Mann said about Duke. “He is associated with a few known motorcycle clubs. He is a friend of those club members. But he is not a patch member.”
One of the clubs in which he has friends is the Vagos motorcycle club. However, he was not a member of the Vagos.
The Vagos motorcycle club was formed in 1965 in San Bernardino, according to the group’s website. It is mentioned in a California Department of Justice report detailing motorcycle clubs that engage in criminal activity.