Minnesota State Fair GM frustrated with its chaotic ending

Thousands packed the fairgrounds as the 12-day Minnesota State Fair gets underway Thursday, Aug. 22, 2019 in Falcon Heights, Minn. (AP Photo/Jim Mone)

The longtime general manager of the Minnesota State Fair expressed frustration Tuesday that the 2019 edition of the Great Minnesota Get-Together ended on a chaotic note, with a pedestrian critically injured and three men shot and wounded.

Posted: Sep 3, 2019 3:51 PM

MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — The longtime general manager of the Minnesota State Fair expressed frustration Tuesday that the 2019 edition of the Great Minnesota Get-Together ended on a chaotic note, with a pedestrian critically injured and three men shot and wounded.

St. Paul police were still trying Tuesday to determine if there was a connection between a fight that broke out late Monday outside the main gates and the shootings nearby, and whether any of the participants had been at the fair, spokesman Steve Linders said. There were no immediate arrests.

During the initial fight, a 19-year-old woman was hit by a car. She was taken to Regions Hospital in critical condition. The driver who struck her stopped, but when people started beating his vehicle he drove away and called police, Linders said. The driver cooperated with investigators and did not seem to be impaired, he said.

Officers were still investigating that incident when they heard gunfire nearby and ran toward it. They found a man with a gunshot wound about a block away. Two other wounded men soon turned up at St. Paul hospitals, and at least one said he had been shot outside the gates. None of them suffered life-threatening wounds.

The fair's longtime general manager, Jerry Hammer, said he couldn't recall any incidents involving firearms at the fair, and that even fights are rare.

"It really just doesn't happen," Hammer said. "This is the State Fair. I'll tell you, every bit of that business last night was maddening, that anyone would bring that kind of behavior to the doorstep of the State Fair, I mean, come on."

Democratic Gov. Tim Walz denounced the shootings and said the Legislature needs to do something about gun violence.

"If the State Fair symbolizes community, gun violence is the antithesis of that," the governor told reporters after welcoming children back to school in Richfield. "It shatters our sense of community and safety."

But crime at the fair is "next to nothing," said Hammer, who has worked for the fair full-time since 1977 and became general manager in 1997. He said he let his five grandchildren have the run of the fairgrounds every day this year, and none had any problems.

"Our public safety people do an outstanding job — they're everywhere," he said. "And the best way of policing is prevention. When there's a very visible police presence, those very few knuckleheads who might be inclined to misbehave don't."

The fair has its own police department that's in charge of security within the fairgrounds. Security outside the gates is the responsibility of the St. Paul police department. Linders said he couldn't recall any gunfire at the fair, either, in his five years with the department.

"Outside the fair is generally safe," the spokesman said, noting that the fair draws huge crowds into a relatively small area.

"From time to time we do have incidents, but to have a shooting right outside the gates is incredibly rare," he said. "We do have a large police presence in and around the fair. So people are safe there."

Total attendance this year was 2,126,551, breaking a record of 2,046,533 set last year. Six daily records attendance were set, including 184,740 on Labor Day.

Opening day of the 11-day fair was also marred by injuries when two tour buses collided near the fairgrounds Aug. 22. Eight people were hospitalized, three with serious injuries.

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