This year’s Spokane County Interstate Fair will be an “ag-venture,” but it won’t be dangerous.
No criminally committed mental patients will be allowed to attend, Director Rich Hartzell said Friday as he revealed this year’s fair theme: “It’s an ag-venture.”
“There will never be another field trip like the one that occurred last year,” he said, referring to the escape of criminally insane killer Phillip A. Paul during an Eastern State Hospital field trip.
To underscore that point, hospital spokesman John Wiley attended Friday’s press conference to announce details of the Sept. 10-19 fair.
“We messed up,” but it won’t happen again, Wiley said.
Paul is a paranoid schizophrenic who strangled a 78-year-old Sunnyside, Wash., woman in 1987 because voices in his head told him she was a witch.
He walked away from a group of 31 criminally committed patients who were supervised by 11 hospital staff members, and the hospital didn’t notify the sheriff’s office for two hours.
Spokane County sheriff’s deputies caught Paul three days later in Yakima County. State officials later reimbursed the sheriff’s office nearly $37,500 for the manhunt.
Hartzell said he’s still waiting for the state to pay the $75,000 bill he submitted for revenue the fair and its vendors lost on the day of the escape. The bill was based on average revenue on the same day – Thursday – in three previous fairs.
Last year’s fair attendance was on track to be the best ever, but “we could visibly see a difference that afternoon when news of the escape broke,” Hartzell said. The attendance wound up being third-best.
A new state law prohibits recreational excursions by criminally committed mental patients, and new policies restrict excursions by other state hospital patients.
Wiley said civilly committed patients – who aren’t confined for crimes – may still visit the fair and other public events. However, they must be screened for risk, and the hospital director must approve the outing.
Wiley said two staff members would be required to supervise excursion groups of four patients – the maximum number allowed – although one chaperone would suffice for smaller groups.
Hartzell said this year’s fair will have five days of headline musical entertainment instead of four.
Acts will include Clint Black on Sept. 13, Bobby Vee and the Vees on Sept. 14, ABBA The Music (the “next best thing to the original group,” Hartzell said) on Sept. 15, Collective Soul on Sept. 16, and Hinder on Sept. 17.
As usual, the fair will open with a Friday night Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association rodeo.
Auto demolition derbies on Sept. 12 and 19 will be complemented this year with monster truck shows on Sept. 18.
Similarly, “mutton bustin’” for children will be supplemented with the return of racing pigs “after a three-year hiatus … by popular demand,” Hartzell said.
Advance ticket sales ($7 instead of $10 at the gate) will begin July 6 at the fair office, 404 N. Havana St., or at TicketsWest outlets or www.ticketswest.com.
Various discounts are available. Military, law enforcement and firefighting personnel will get in free on Sept. 11; seniors, on Sept. 14.
More information is available at www.interstatefair.org.