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Keeping crowds moving was the biggest challenge for law enforcement at Whisky Fest

Concert ‘fairly uneventful’ for emergency responders, despite even larger crowd.
Phil Wright

East Oregonian

Published on July 16, 2018 6:03PM

Staff photo by Jade McDowell. Members of the Party Pit watch as Blake Shelton performs during the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest.

Staff photo by Jade McDowell. Members of the Party Pit watch as Blake Shelton performs during the Pendleton Whisky Music Fest.

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The third Pendleton Whisky Music Fest saw a record crowd whoop it up this past weekend with few police and emergency problems.

Almost 19,000 crowded the Pendleton Round-Up Grounds for Saturday’s all-day event. Pendleton Police Chief Stuart Roberts said the organizers each year make modifications to enhance the festival but sometimes those changes produce unintended consequences.

Such was the case with bringing in metal detectors to enhance security. The scanners slowed down the long lines of people getting in for the show. To help speed up the process, Roberts said, law enforcement went out and searched people who had been in line for hours.

Saturday’s temperatures were in the upper 90s in Pendleton, according to National Weather Service data, with nary a breeze and not a drop of precipitation. And of course, Roberts said, some folks already were imbibing and grew confrontational, “but for the most part, there were not a lot of issues.”

The “party pit,” where several thousand fest-goers drank and danced, probably produce the most complaints, Roberts said, such as “this guy pushed me, that guy elbowed me.” The people in the party pit know what they were getting into, he said, and with that many people bopping around like bees in a hive in low light, tracking down someone who threw an elbow was a high hurdle.

Keeping the crowd flowing after the show ended also proved challenging, he said, and officers even commandeered a couple of Mid Columbia buses to get the last few hundred folks to their hotels.

The most serious threat to public safety occurred Saturday around 1:47 a.m. Roberts said officers heard gunshots in the area of the 500 block of 15th Street and found 9 mm shell casing at the scene. The investigation led to the arrest of Chanse Bennett, 21, of Pendleton, for unlawful use of a weapon, second-degree disorderly conduct and reckless endangering. Roberts said police seized a Ruger 9 mm pistol from Bennett and took a rifle from him “for safekeeping.”

The festival weekend coincided with an up-tick in and around Pendleton of arrests for during under the influence of intoxicants. While the bump in population may have played a part, Roberts said Pendleton police had every available officer on duty during the weekend and the department received plenty of help from its law enforcement partners. Extra policing often correlates to extra arrests, he said, and officers during these big events keep a close watch for impaired and distracted drivers.

Juan Miguel Diaz, 24, of Milton-Freewater, and Roy Jaimes-Rogel, 21, are among those who saw the inside of the Umatilla County Jail, Pendleton. Police arrested Diaz for DUII and arrested both men for unlawful possession of a firearm following reports of gunshots Sunday around 1:15 a.m. near the Walmart store.

Oregon State Police troopers in and around Pendleton also took in their share of impaired drivers, including Christopher Lane Leroy Rosecrans, 21, of Athena, and Tiffany Ann Marie McKenzie, 29, of Eugene. For a fuller list of arrests, check out the East Oregonian’s public safety log.

Shawn Penninger, Pendleton’s interim fire chief, said his department was more organized and prepared for this year’s fest and had plenty of staff on hand at the event, including the ambulance service out of Athena.

“Fortunately, we didn’t need them all,” he said.

Penninger said staff handled various emergencies at the site, mostly heat- or alcohol-related, or both, “but that can be expected when you have a large number of people in town.”

Really, he said, on the paramedic and fire side of emergency readiness, the fest “was fairly uneventful.”

Public safety services in Pendleton don’t get much rest. Pendleton Bike Week revs up starting Tuesday and lasts until noon Sunday. The event draws several thousand motorcyclists and cycle enthusiasts. Organizers claim Bike Week is the fastest growing motorcycle rally in the western United States.


Contact Phil Wright at pwright@eastoregonian.com or 541-966-0833.


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