Sunday, September 26, 1999

Amid fun, beer fest recalls tragedy

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Mike Tepe, 24, of Lebanon downs a 3-ounce sampler of ESB Red Hook beer at the Microbrewery Extravaganza in Over-the-Rhine on Saturday.
(Yoni Pozner photo)
| ZOOM |
        Kazoos didn't take center stage, and beer by the bucket wasn't even an option at Saturday's Microbrewery Extravaganza in Over-the-Rhine. But talk of a very different kind of festival — Oktoberfest-Zinzinnati — kept popping up.

        A week ago today, Michael Cowperthwaite, 25, of Union Township Clermont County, allegedly barrelled through a barricade and injured 28 people at the granddaddy of Cincinnati festivals. He faces a myriad of charges, including aggravated vehicular assault.

        “I'm hoping City Council and city leadership don't overreact to a one-time incident,” said Zachary Green, the Extravaganza's co-founder.

        “Drunk driving is a societal problem, not a problem with festivals in Cincinnati. After 20 years of great festivals, one thing happens, and they act like the sky is falling.”

        Mr. Green said festival organizers “felt some pressure from the police to make sure our i's are dotted and t's are crossed.”

        The same number of officers patrolled the streets, and workers erected the same amount of barricades as had been planned long before the Oktoberfest incident, Cincinnati Police Lt. Paul Humphries said.

        “There's no way to prevent a random act of senseless violence,” he said. “The only way to prevent this is to never have another street festival, and that's not going to happen in Cincinnati.”

        A longtime volunteer at city festivals, Ian Prentice said strengthening drunken driving laws, not tightening street-fair regulations, should be the first option.

        “Whatever you do, there's always going to be some nut who's going to spoil it,” said Mr. Prentice.

        The Oktoberfest incident didn't deter the crowds, expected to exceed last year's attendance of 7,500. Proceeds from the event go to the nonprofit Over-the-Rhine Foundation, which works to revitalize the area.

        Pat Russell-Campbell of Dayton, Ohio, spent the afternoon rating the malty taste of Oktoberfest beers from several of the 40 microbrewery booths. Last week's incident was “a freak accident,” she said. At microbrewery festivals, “getting drunk is not the purpose. It's finding a good beer.”

        The Oktoberfest crash crossed Ruth Riddlebarger's mind when she walked into the festival. The Cincinnati resident checked out the barricades. They looked a little flimsy, she said, but that wasn't going to keep her from enjoying the sounds of husband Rockney's band, Speeding West.

        She headed in to taste some beer and listen to the music.


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