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August 16, 2013

Police planning for upcoming diesel event

TERRE HAUTE — As the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds gears up for one of its largest revenue makers of the year — next weekend’s Scheid Diesel Extravaganza — area law enforcement and the local court system have also been preparing for an anticipated deluge of alcohol-related offenses and other unlawful behavior by some people attracted to the event.

The extravaganza itself is billed as a family-friendly event, featuring diesel truck and tractor pulling, drag racing, dyno competitions, seminars and other activities. It attracts participants and visitors from around the country, as well as Canada and Australia, who will fill local hotel rooms and dine at area restaurants for the event set for Aug. 23-25.

But in the past, a high number of arrests for incidents happening away from the fairgrounds, in locations such as nearby retail parking lots, has cast a negative local light on the event. In 2012, the Indiana State Police issued 755 traffic citations and made 65 arrests. The Indiana State Excise Police issued 178 tickets to 148 individuals, including 83 people cited for illegal possession or consumption of alcohol.

And traffic control is a major concern for the area south of Terre Haute along U.S. 41, as thousands of people will pour into and out of the fairgrounds.

Vigo County Sheriff Greg Ewing said Thursday that traffic control is among the milder — and more manageable — police duties that will keep officers busy along the four-lane highway.

The crowd inside the fairgrounds is seldom a problem, Ewing said, because those people are there for the event, and many visitors are adults who bring their children. The campground area of the fairgrounds will fill up as people bring in campers and recreational vehicles to spend the weekend. And the fairgrounds management has hired security personnel for the weekend.

But after the event has closed for the night, Ewing said, crowds tend to congregate in area parking lots, and the bad behavior begins. The most common offenses are alcohol-related, he said, including minors consuming alcohol, public intoxication and furnishing alcohol to minors. Police also issued citations last year for public nudity and indecent exposure.

Ewing said that in preparation for this year’s event, some retailers near the fairgrounds have agreed to hire security to stop rowdy parties from occurring on their property.

Other behavior police will watch for includes “pluming,” which is the release of black exhaust smoke from the diesel truck engines. The air can get filled quickly with odorous exhaust, Ewing said, and officers are prepared this year to cite motorists for “excessive fumes.”

Spinning tires in the parking lots can also be a frequent occurrence, he said, and the danger increases as the onlookers gather.

“There is a narrow lane where they are spinning tires,” Ewing said, “and it only takes a split second for someone to go out of control into the crowd and for the consequences to become dire very quickly.”

Parking lot crowds have gotten out of control in the past, he said, with some officers reporting that beer bottles were thrown at patrol cars. Some local officers had to use pepper spray on a crowd that refused to disperse.

Ewing said he has heard the activities of the parking lot crowds referred to as a sort of “spring break” without the beach.

“Instead of surfboards and suntan oil, it’s big trucks and diesel fuel,” Ewing said, chuckling. “It’s more like Redneck Spring Break.”

The thing is, Ewing said, many in the parking lot crowds are “good ol’ country boys” who like to get a little rowdy and drive big trucks and drink a little beer.

The cost of the additional law enforcement for the weekend will be absorbed by federal grant money already allocated for Operation Pull Over Blitz, a two-week impaired driver enforcement effort funded by the Indiana Criminal Justice Institute. The Local Coordinating Council has also funded Project 21 to pay for police overtime hours worked on underage drinking patrols.

What most people will not see, however, is the effect of the law enforcement effort on the county court system.

“The city court has already provided us with a list of court dates,” Ewing explained. “We can’t flood them all into city court in one sitting, so we have different time slots from city court.”

In 2012, the weekend citations strained the city court system so much that a special online link was added for those arrested or issued tickets in conjunction with the event. This year, packets will be mailed to defendants who are ticketed, but not taken into custody, and who do not live in surrounding counties.

The cost of a speeding ticket in a construction zone is $418.50. Miscellaneous tickets can cost $120. An adult seatbelt violation costs $25.

Ewing said officers will be looking for seatbelt violations and actions such as people riding in the beds of pickup trucks, which is illegal.

Meanwhile, the organizers of the extravaganza expressed concern that people associate the negative behavior with what has become a premier diesel engine event.

“We are not the only local event that’s going on that weekend,” said Vicky Scheid, noting that the Downtown Block Party on Wabash Avenue will have its own share of alcohol-related arrests.

Scheid Diesel Service Co. has hosted the annual diesel pickup rally at the Wabash Valley Fairgrounds since 2000. The event began as the TDS Rally for Dodge Cummins pickups in Effingham, Ill., in 1997, but because of its popularity, it was relocated to the Terre Haute venue, and it has continued to grow.

“It’s really a very good event,” Scheid said. “It’s the top diesel event in the country.”

The fairgrounds exhibit hall will be full of vendors, she said. Some installations and repairs for diesel engines will be done on site. And truck owners can have their engines tested on dynos to see how much horsepower their vehicles have.

“People don’t just come for fun,” she said. “They want to show off their trucks and brag about their trucks.”

The event is promoted in major diesel magazines, she said, and will receive a lot of media coverage for the diesel audience.

The economic benefit for Terre Haute is also huge, she said. All area hotels are full, and late arrivals are being sent to Sullivan County, Illinois and Indianapolis. She also noted that because of the campers, many people will be visiting local groceries to restock their food supply.

Admission to the event is $75 for a weekend pass, or $30 for Friday, $30 for Saturday and $20 for Sunday. Children age 12 and younger are admitted free of charge.

For more information on the event, go online to www.scheid

diesel.com.

For tickets issued for city court, go online to www.terrehaute.in.gov and click on “pay your ticket.”

Reporter Lisa Trigg can be reached at 812-231-4254 or lisa.trigg@tribstar.com. Follow her on Twitter @TribStarLisa.

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