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Fair officials plan policy change after incident

Director says restrictions will be put in place for group visitors ‘considered a risk’

A killer escaping a field trip to the Spokane County Interstate Fair has become a wakeup call for fair officials, who say they plan to change policies for visiting groups.

Although Eastern State Hospital purchased a block of tickets for a group visit, as it has in the past, fair officials weren’t told anything about the 31 patients who would be visiting, said Rich Hartzell, fair director. “If we had, the answer would have been no,” he said.

By working with the fair board and Spokane County commissioners, the fair director hopes to come up with a policy that will provide relevant information without being discriminatory.

Fair officials want groups to go through an application process. The documents would ask about mental illnesses, types of disabilities and criminal acts.

“We will be putting restrictions on any group who have people who are considered a risk,” Hartzell said. “If a person has committed violent criminal acts, the answer will be a ‘no.’ ”

Meanwhile, the fair is entering its final two days, and continued success is expected.

“Everything considered, we are feeling we are doing pretty well,” Hartzell said. If you throw out 2008’s free day, which brought record numbers, “it’s actually very close to last year’s attendance through yesterday.”

The fair broke records this year in pre-fair group sales, which also helped attendance numbers, said Erin Gurtel, fair marketing director. Fair officials have been assured by law enforcement that there’s “no way” Paul is still on the fairgrounds. Said Hartzell, “our security and law enforcement have done thorough searches including looking inside the cars. They continue to search. Security will be heightened and on alert until he’s in custody.

“I would hope that people would realize that safety is of a primary concern to us,” he said.

Attendance Thursday – following Paul’s escape – was down by 1,000, Hartzell added. If it hadn’t been for that incident, “we probably would have been up.”


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