Improved security, renovations to facility make for smooth run

Unlike past two years, no `unscheduled' events

May 21, 2000|By Scott Calvert | Scott Calvert,SUN STAFF

The power didn't go out, no one ran onto the track, and for the first time in three years the Preakness went off without what one Pimlico official called an "unscheduled event.""This year we were hoping to go perfect," said Willie Coleman, director of security.

Officials described a fairly ordinary day in the mobbed, muddy infield.

Baltimore police made just one arrest - on a disorderly conduct charge- although more than 100 revelers were ejected, most of them for fighting. Paramedics treated four people, including two who apparently got sick from something they drank.

In the grandstand, new staircases and other improvements that were ordered to bring the track facilities up to code worked smoothly, fire inspectors said."The improvements and renovations to the track were superbly done," said fire inspector Tony Lloyd.

The Maryland Jockey Club, which owns Pimlico, spent the past six weeks scrambling to fix fire code violations that came to light after the power outage on Preakness Day two years ago. The work cost $1 million. Two of 10 code violations remain, but city officials said last week that they were satisfied with new safety measures, particularly the addition of 27 exit doors.

Leaving nothing to chance, track officials took precautions to avoid the sort of problems that marred the Preakness the past two years.

A contingent of more than 60 security guards, police officers and National Guardsmen ringed the infield to deter anyone from trying to run onto the track, as happened last year."We moved some [security] people to discourage copycats," said James P. Mango, who oversees track operations. In past years, 12 security guards worked the infield perimeter, according to Coleman.

The Fire Department, which normally sends about 20 firefighters and inspectors to the Preakness, had 45 on hand yesterday.

As usual, the infield teemed with young people who arrived bearing coolers full of beer. Some smoked marijuana, others urinated in the open and still others bared their bodies to cheering throngs. But security officials mostly looked the other way."You don't arrest on Preakness Day," Coleman said. "You put them out and ask them to leave."

Officers concentrated on ousting brawlers. All day, police officers led a procession of fighters to the gates and ejected them after confiscating their tickets.

Among them was 21-year-old Shaun White of Silver Spring, who said he threw a beer can at someone after that person hurled one at his girlfriend.

Mike Sunstrom, 21, was not so lucky. He was arrested after police said he started a fight. Sunstrom insisted he was trying to break up a fight, but police officers said they saw him knock into several people."Maybe his horse lost," said Det. Vince Roussey.

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