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Sheriffs office presence keeps fair safe
Deputies help maintain family environment
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A woman, her friends and family engage a deputy in conversation while eating dinner at the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair on Oct. 21, 2017. The Bulloch County Sheriff's Department, as well as the Statesboro Fire Department, had tables and areas where fair attendees could interact with local law enforcement and medical personnel. - photo by JULIA FECHTER/Herald Intern

Most people who attend the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair are there to have fun in a safe, family-oriented atmosphere, but sometimes trouble shows its face.

It doesn’t last long, because each night the fair is in town, the Bulloch County Sheriff’s Office makes sure there are plenty of deputies directing traffic and patrolling the midway and parking lots to ensure people can enjoy a worry-free environment.

“They are a big part of the fair,” said Darrell Colson, who has been fair chairman several times in the past and is now facilities chairman. “They help us keep it a family event and keep the bad crowd from causing problems.”

Some cities with a higher crime rate, such as Savannah, have had issues with troublemakers at their fairs, but historically, the Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair, now in its 56th year, has remained a safe place to take kids. Club leaders and Dominic Vivona, one of the owners of Amusements of America, the company that provides the midway, work together to make sure the event keeps its safe reputation, Colson said.

But when someone does misbehave, Bulloch County sheriff’s deputies are ready.

Most nights there are around 15 on-duty deputies – some in uniform, some not – on the grounds, said Bulloch County Sheriff’s Capt. Howard Nesmith.

“We have a crew in the roadway. A crew inside and two or three deputies riding the parking lot,” he said. They direct traffic from the busy four-lane highway into the crowded parking lot; walk the grounds to deter criminal activity and help people “jump off their cars, unlock them when keys are locked inside and help them find their cars sometimes.”

They also “help find lost adults who can’t find their kids,” he said with a chuckle. He mentioned a new Kiwanis Club program where children are given identification bracelets upon entering the fair, with contact numbers so parents can be found. This is a new program that just started this year, according to club member Ashlee Hooks Corbin.

Parents entering the fairgrounds will find a station set up near the entrance to register their children and get the bracelet, free of charge.

Just having deputies present is often enough to keep people in line, he said. “We are here to be seen.”

According to information supplied by Bulloch County Sheriff’s Chief Deputy Bill Black, there were already two people arrested this year at the fair, as of Wednesday. Reports regarding the arrests, including charges, were not available Thursday.

But in 2016, there was only one arrest, and that was for public intoxication. In 2015, there were two arrests – one for harassment and another for simple battery.

“We only do reports out there if we make a custodial arrest,” he said. “In other words, we eject people, break up fights and assist with medical calls and there are no actual reports done.”

“There is never anything really bad,” said Bulloch County Sheriff’s Capt. Rick Rountree, who has been working during “fair week” at the fairgrounds for at least 10 years.

The main thing that poses problems are fights. Other infractions include “drugs, smoking marijuana, stuff like that,” he said. “We haven’t had a problem with people selling drugs since the early 2000s.”

Neither he, Colson nor Nesmith could recall any significantly unusual incident that took place at the fair, with the exception of one unruly dunking booth clown who had to be removed from the grounds.

The clown was using inappropriate language and taunting patrons in a manner unacceptable by Kiwanis standards, and when deputies approached him, he turned his vitriol towards them. That didn’t work put too well for him, Rountree said.

The Kiwanis Ogeechee Fair covers seven counties, and attracts visitors from all over the region. Often visitors from other town arrive and try to stir things up, but between Kiwanis members and deputies, it doesn’t last long, Colson said.

The rules are simple; no alcohol or drugs, no fighting, no violence. “We just want people to have safe, family fun,” he said.

 

Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.

 

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