Five Questions With … Ed Lavandera

By A.J. Katz 

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On May 17, 2015, a Twin Peaks restaurant in Waco, Texas was the site of one of the deadliest brawls in American outlaw biker history. A shootout between the Bandidos and Cossacks motorcycle clubs left nine men dead and several more wounded. This was not an episode of Sons of Anarchy, but instead a real-life event that frankly didn’t receive as much press as it could have.

The CNN Special Report: Biker Brawl: Inside the Texas Shootout investigates what happened that day through surveillance video, crime scene photos, dash cam footage and investigative documents. CNN correspondent Ed Lavandera gained access to the power players from the motorcycle clubs and others involved in the shootout. The hour-long special premieres tonight at 9 p.m. ET, 364 days after the fire fight.

TVNewser caught up with Lavandera to discuss the making of his new CNN special, NBA championship picks, and his go-to Dallas, Texas eateries.

TVNewser: Based on the trailer, I feel like I’m watching an all-too-real episode of Sons of Anarchy (though in this case, the town of Charming is Waco).  What first drew you to the project?

Lavandera: I was on assignment in Africa when this story exploded last year. I couldn’t (and still can’t) believe the headline, nine bikers dead and 177 arrested. Last October, we aired a story with the first surveillance videos of the shooting scene and several thousand pages of police reports and it started painting a fuller picture of what happened. But as we kept reporting, it was clear there was so much more to do. And with law enforcement and prosecutors not speaking about the case, there’s a mystery surrounding the whole episode. I’m particularly fascinated by the rival bikers involved in this shootout and what brought them there that day and what’s happened to them since.

TVNewser: How were you able to gain the access to and trust from the members of these gangs?

Lavandera: Last October, we broke a major story in the biker brawl shootout investigation when we aired the first videos of the scene at Twin Peaks. These biker clubs are intensely private and are reluctant to speak out but with that first story last year, I think many of the bikers know we’re serious about investigating the shooting giving these guys a chance to tell their side of the story. With this documentary, we really wanted to focus on the bikers closest to the epicenter of the mayhem. It took months of work to get them to go on camera with us but the result is some of the most captivating interviews about what happened that day.

TVNewser: What’s the most memorable story that you have covered during your tenure at CNN?

Lavandera: I just hit my 15-year anniversary at CNN. I’ve had the privilege of reporting on countless memorable stories. It’s impossible to pick just one assignment. But this documentary is my first prime time documentary for CNN and has been one of my most fascinating experiences.

TVNewser: You’re a Spurs fan. I’d offer you my condolences on the loss to Oklahoma City, but you guys have been pretty darn successful over the past 15+ years. Who’s your pick for the championship this year?

Lavandera: Who put you up to ask me this question? I’ve been ridiculed for years by a small group of CNN colleagues (several who grew up in the great city of San Antonio) for my indecisive NBA allegiances. The Showtime Lakers are my all-time favorites but now I’m actually a “LakerSpursMavs” fan and then whatever team fellow Texas Longhorn Kevin Durant is playing on. So I’ll take the Thunder to surprise the Warriors and Cavs!

TVNewser: You’re also a Dallas native. What are your five go-to restaurants in the Metroplex?

Lavandera: You want some great Texas BBQ hit up Pecan Lodge (tell my friends Diane and Justin Fourton I sent you). Some of my favorite Tex-Mex you’ll find at Pepe & Mito’s.   Royal China is a fantastic place. As a Cuban-American who often misses the flavors of Miami, C Señor in the Bishop Arts District has a wonderful Cuban sandwich. And for dessert stop in at Howdy Homemade Ice cream. My friend Tom Landis opened created this amazing venture – the shop is run by special needs adults.