LYNDEN - The Northwest Washington Fair has long been known for its cleanliness and its safety, so when gang-related gunfire erupted the last night of the fair last year, surprise was a common reaction, along with shock and dismay.
The shootings were the first in the fair's history.
"Lynden was the last place I thought that would happen," said Paul Nimmo, safety committee chairman at the Pierce County Fair and president of the Washington State Fairs Association. "Lynden found themselves in a very strange situation."
Last year, Daniel Herrera, then 15, shot and injured three people, and an unknown attacker stabbed a fourth victim. All of the victims recovered. Herrera pleaded guilty in adult court to two counts of assault and got 15 years in prison.
In response, fair officials and local police have announced tougher measures against gang members, with fair leaders, the Lynden Police Department and the Whatcom County Sheriff's Office meeting to hammer out details on how the changes will be implemented at this year's fair, Aug. 13-18. Changes announced last week:
- refusing entrance to known gang members,
- increasing video surveillance of the fair,
- having on- and off-duty police officers, plus private security, monitor the grounds for gang activity and expel or arrest troublemakers.
The extra security will cost the fair extra money, but there are no plans to raise ticket prices.
"Security and safety at the fair is a substantial part of our budget every year," said Jim Baron, the fair's manager. "It's part of the cost of doing business."
The Sheriff's Office has a list of several hundred known gang members, most of them from Whatcom and Skagit counties, and is training Lynden police about how to recognize such people, said Sheriff Bill Elfo.
People with certain tattoos, gang-style clothing and accessories in gang "colors" might have all the trappings of gang membership, but how they look, by itself, might not prevent them from being denied entry to the fair.
"My understanding is that appearance, alone, does not determine membership of a gang," Baron said.
At the Central Washington State Fair in Yakima, part of the state known for a high level of gang activity, known gang members are allowed into the fair, said Greg Stewart, the fair's president and general manager.
The fair in Yakima doesn't have video cameras or metal detectors, but the fair randomly searches bags at the gate, tells people wearing gang colors to remove or cover them up, and assigns police and security officers to watch gang members closely.
"We have zero tolerance," Stewart said. "The message is out there: 'Everyone is welcome, but you better behave.'"
Baron said the fair in Lynden is run by a private, nonprofit organization, so it can deny entry to anyone, as long as the reason isn't based on race, gender or other legally protected categories.
"It's like any other private business, like the mall," said Lynden Police Chief Jack Foster.
VIDEO: SAFETY AT THE FAIR
Courtesy: Northwest Washington Fair
A few days after my June 11 column about Artwood 25th anniversary in Fairhaven someone stole a valuable, handcrafted ukulele from the woodworking gallery. I'm happy to report that an anonymous person has returned the instrument in a grocery bag, but sad to report that the bag was left outside in the rain so the ukulele is warped and distorted.
Its maker, Michael Flaherty, will dry it out in his workshop and see if it returns to its original shape. While the prospects aren't good, Flaherty said the instrument was still in tune when he strummed it. I attribute that his quality workmanship.
Reach DEAN KAHN at email@example.com or call 715-2291.