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Frederick officials to review law after ‘Tough Mudder’ mess

By Katherine Heerbrandt | The Gazette,

Frederick city officials said they will be looking into closing “a gap” in an ordinance that gives the city little say over for-profit events held on private property after a “Tough Mudder” competition over the weekend went awry because area roads could not handle the number of people who tried to attend the event.

City officials canceled the second day of the endurance challenge held at Crumland Farms along U.S. 15 on Sunday after serious safety concerns arose late Saturday.

The permit granted by the city for private events only ensures adequate parking, first aid and emergency exits, not traffic routing, city Mayor Randy McClement (R) said.

Tough Mudder organizers had hired seven off-duty police officers, but several more were pulled from In The Street festival duty in downtown Frederick to direct traffic on Route 15 Saturday, McClement said.

“We told [Mudder organizers] we weren’t happy with the amount of force we had to put into this,” McClement said.

The mayor said the city will consider asking for reimbursement for police services after he has a chance to review “the whole scenario.”

Tough Mudders, which also raises money for the Wounded Warriors project, attracted thousands of spectators and 28,000 participants to the 12-mile obstacle course.

Charles Crum, owner of the property, did not immediately return a call for comment.

Organizers failed to consider the traffic impact of the event, according to officials and would-be participants.

The northbound lane of U.S. 15 was backed up for several miles, and Opposumtown Pike, the alternate route, was backed up from Willow Road to Motter Avenue. Eventgoers complained of sitting in traffic for several hours waiting to park.

“This was totally unacceptable,” Frederick Police Chief Kim Dine said. “Clearly, this was too many people for that event. In pulling the permit, we took responsive action. ... It was messed up.”

Dine said the city recommended that organizers bus people in, and their response was that there was no place large enough to handle the parking.

City police were ill-equipped to handle the impact of the traffic, and only received help from Maryland State Police when traffic conditions on U.S. 15 grew untenable.

Cpl. Todd Hill of the state police said Saturday afternoon that state police responded after the city’s event “spilled over onto our roadways.”

Dine “attempted to pull in the Frederick Sheriff’s Office and state police before the event, and they had no interest,” according to Josh Russin, executive assistant to the mayor.

Frederick County Sheriff Chuck Jenkins (R) did not return multiple telephone calls Sunday or Monday.

The city’s annual In The Street celebration Saturday was projected to draw about 50,000 to downtown, and Frederick police were stretched thin, according to Russin.

McClement said he was “surprised” at comments made by Jenkins in the Frederick News Post about the sherriff’s decision to opt out of the event

“I was surprised to read the sheriff’s comments that ‘It’s not our problem,’ because we do try to cooperate when things like this happen,” McClement said.

Meanwhile, Facebook lit up with angry “mudders” scheduled to participate in the second day of the challenge Sunday.

Saturday’s event had 20,500 registered mudders, with another 7,500 scheduled to run Sunday.

Tough Mudder, which holds similar events across the county, sent out text messages followed by e-mails to participants about the cancelation early Sunday.

The e-mail from the event organizers sent to participants at 1:22 a.m. blamed weather conditions for the decision.

“Tough Mudder Mid-Atlantic event must be canceled due to flooding and safety concerns. Yesterday’s rain left us with an extremely waterlogged course, base area and parking area, which all prevent critical functions from keeping you safe. Our safety team spent considerable time working with local authorities to reevaluate the course this evening and have ultimately determined it unsafe for tomorrow’s event. Safety has and always will be our top priority without compromise, so we must heed this decision,” the e-mail said.

Vinny’s Towing and Recovery in Frederick reported dispatching eight tow trucks to Crumland Farm on Saturday and Sunday to pull out vehicles stuck in the mud after a severe storm swept through the area Saturday.

The event organizers posted a notice on their Facebook page, but after several hundred angry comments from participants questioning the reason for the cancelation surfaced, the thread was deleted.

In screen shots of the comments captured by participant Jonathan Elias of Chantilly, Va., the comments varied from complaints about the lack of coordination to demands for refunds.

Early Sunday, organizers promised a “transfer code” to be used as a credit for any Tough Mudder event in 2012 or 2013.

But by late Sunday afternoon, they were offering refunds, credits and discounts on future events, according to an e-mail from Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder obtained by The Gazette.

Tough Mudder’s media contact, Jane DiLeo, did not return calls for comment, but e-mailed a statement to The Gazette on Sunday.

“After thoughtful consideration of the facts surrounding yesterday’s Mid-Atlantic Tough Mudder event, including the condition of the course due to flooding, traffic and parking issues that occurred, and inconsistent support from local authorities, the decision was made to cancel the Sunday, September 9th event. We arrived at this decision with the utmost consideration for the safety of our participants, spectators, and volunteers. The satisfaction of all Mudders and our fans remains our top priority, and we regret the frustration this will have caused,” the statement said.

However, one former “mudder” wasn’t buying it, citing similar problems at a previous event.

“The story Tough Mudder is giving out about the ‘weather’ being an issue doesn’t surprise me,” said Brian Renn of Centreville, Va. “I was at last year’s Tough Mudder at Wintergreen Resort. We were stuck in the bag check line, cold and wet, for several hours. We had to dig emergency thermal blankets out of the trash to stay warm. They claimed it was due to a medical emergency at the time, but later sent out a notice admitting it was poor planning on their part.”

Renn said that he is finished with Tough Mudder.

“They may be able to build a heck of an obstacle course, but they don’t have clue one as to how to put together an event of this size,” he said.

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