Make no mistake, this year’s Spokane County Interstate Fair isn’t going to be anything like last year’s.
Oh, there will still be funnel cakes and the Tilt-O-Whirl – just no escaped killers from a mental institution running around.
That’s the promise from Rich Hartzell, fair director, anyway.
“We have a safety plan,” Hartzell said at the fair’s “media day” last Friday, when the 2010 entertainment lineup and theme “It’s an Ag-Venture!” were announced.
Hartzell, however, wasn’t about to elaborate on what it is.
“I’m not going to get into specifics,” he said. “That would be self-defeating.”
That said, Hartzell did guarantee there would never be another incident like the escape of Phillip A. Paul from custody of staffers from Eastern State Hospital, which occurred in 2009 during “family day” at the fair.
“There will never be another field trip like the one that occurred last year,” he said.
Paul, a paranoid schizophrenic who killed a 78-year-old Sunnyside woman in 1987 after hearing voices in his head, slipped away from 11 ESH staffers. Law enforcement was not notified of the escape for two hours after it happened.
For the next 72 hours, concerned public-safety officials and incredulous community residents wanted to know how it was possible for the 47-year-old Paul to attend the fair in the first place, much less get the opportunity to escape. Paul was eventually recaptured in Goldendale three days after his Sept. 17 escape.
The incident proved to be an embarrassment for Eastern State Hospital, and it eventually resulted in the resignation of its chief administrator. On Sept. 23, 2009, Harold “Hal” Wilson resigned due to the escape.
Meanwhile, fair officials reported a drop in fair attendance in the days after the escape.
Since then, the state has reimbursed the Spokane County Sheriff’s Office around $37,500 its share of the cost of the manhunt for Paul, which also included help from the Washington State Patrol. The fair, however, has yet to be reimbursed for the $75,000 it is expected to have received in revenue the day of Paul’s escape.
The Legislature passed a law last session prohibiting similar field trips for the criminally insane, and Eastern State Hospital has since overhauled its policies.
“We feel very good about that,” Hartzell said.
There will entertainment each day at the grandstand area of the fair’s fun from Sept. 10-19. The PRCA Rodeo will, once again, open the event Friday and Saturday, with a compact car demolition derby set for Sunday.
Monday night, Sept. 13, will feature country star Clint Black, followed by Bobby Vee on Tuesday, an Abba tribute band on Wednesday and rock acts Collective Soul and Hinder on Thursday and Friday, respectively. The closing Saturday and Sunday will feature monster trucks and a “traditional” demolition derby.
Tickets for the fair will go on sale Tuesday, July 6, at the fair office, 404 N. Havana. The office is open 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Tickets can also be purchased at all TicketsWest outlets.
For more information, visit www.interstatefair.org.