`Rave' arrests stir officials' concern

They seek to prevent repeat at fairgrounds

April 17, 2001|By Laura Barnhardt | Laura Barnhardt,SUN STAFF

Events at the Anne Arundel County fairgrounds usually feature crafts or circus clowns. By these standards, a rowdy show is the annual tractor pull.

Local and state officials were hoping yesterday to prevent a recurrence of Saturday's event there, a 12-hour "rave" that led to 47 arrests, mostly on drug charges.

County officials said they could do little to prevent another event like the First Annual East Coast Electronic Dance Music Festival, except to ask the fairgrounds' manager, the nonprofit Anne Arundel County Fair Inc., not to allow such events.

County Executive Janet S. Owens wants to meet with the fair organization to discuss future events and their impact on public safety and young people, said her spokesman, John Morris.

Officials with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, which owns the 70-acre property and leases it to the nonprofit management group, said they would try to persuade the directors to ban raves because of the drug use associated with them nationally.

The event at the fairgrounds in Crownsville was booked as a music festival. But police investigators described Saturday's event as a typical rave, a marathon of electronic music and sensory overload orchestrated by disc jockeys for a mass of young people sucking lollipops and waving fluorescent wands.

An estimated 3,000 young people showed up - largely teen-agers, and many by the busload from out of state - to hear the techno sounds of the East Coast Boogie Men and other bands. Police said they were not surprised when some brought drugs.

About 100 county and state police officers - including undercover detectives - were assigned to watch over the 12-hour event. They reported seizing about $16,250 worth of "party" drugs, including 499 ecstasy pills, 51 grams of marijuana, 22 hits of LSD, 24.6 grams of liquid LSD and nearly 44 grams of ketamine, a horse tranquilizer.

The rave will probably be a topic tonight at a membership meeting of the fair organization. Diana Wilson, its president, said yesterday that the group's rental committee won't make recommendations about future events until next month at the earliest but that "there will probably be quite a discussion."

More drugs suspected

The drugs seized probably were only a portion of the drugs used by the revelers, who traveled from as far as North Carolina and Ohio to attend, police officials said.

"We're not just talking about drugs like marijuana that are readily detected - easily smelled and seen," said Lt. Joseph E. Jordan, a county police spokesman. "A lot of the drugs used at these types of events are pills, which are sometimes more difficult to detect."

The most popular rave drugs are hallucinogenic. Users often suck pacifiers and lollipops and wear mouthpieces to prevent themselves from grinding their teeth, a side effect from the class of drugs. They also drink water to prevent dehydration.

Pacifiers and expensive bottles of water were part of Saturday's scene, police said. "One of the stages was surrounded by vendors selling them," Jordan said.

When police learned of the event, county officials said, they immediately investigated whether the Virginia-based promoter, Vinyl Lab Productions, had obtained necessary permits. "Because they had lawful permits to hold the event, we had to act as a department to ensure it was as peaceful and as safe as possible," Jordan said.

Arundel Chief P. Thomas Shanahan assigned about 75 uniformed and undercover officers to patrol the festival because of the number of teen-agers who have overdosed on drugs and been injured at raves elsewhere in the country. State police provided 25 officers - about half of them undercover - to help patrol the fairgrounds and nearby roads.

Because there were no reported overdoses, injuries or violence, Jordan said, police considered the operation successful.

The fair organization's 98-year lease with the DNR has no restriction on who may rent the property.

Heather Lynch, a DNR spokeswoman, said Anne Arundel County Fair Inc. did not violate its lease with DNR, but she added, "We'll encourage them to use stricter controls to prevent this from happening in the future."

`Glad police were there'

Officials of Anne Arundel County Fair said the festival promoters seemed professional. "We've had music festivals before," Wilson said. "This didn't appear to be different. But I'm glad police were there and no one was hurt."

County Council Chairwoman Shirley Murphy, a Pasadena Democrat, was among county and state officials who said yesterday that they had not primarily heard of raves and expressed concern about the Saturday event's being incorrectly associated with the local government.

"If people think it's a county park because we have the county fair there, they may wonder why we're letting that kind of activity go on. I can see there would be an image problem. And there is a safety issue," she said.

The festival was promoted from New York City to Richmond, Va., and on the Internet. The organizer issued a statement yesterday disputing the characterization of the festival as a rave.

Sun staff writer Scott Calvert contributed to this article.

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