By Alison Meaney – Sun News
In response to an influx of crime stemming from the Forest of the Lost Souls operation on Sugar Ridge Road last fall, City Council is revisiting the ordinance governing circuses, menageries, carnivals and other public exhibitions for the first time since the 1960s.
At the request of Council President Bernadine Butkowski, the safety committee brainstormed the option of requiring criminal history background checks for festival and event operators.
“The disastrous haunted house down on Sugar Ridge caused a lot of problems,” Butkowski said. “We need to know who we’re dealing with.”
This fall thefts from businesses, vehicles and a residence in the area surrounding were linked with haunted forest employees after police discovered a stolen golf cart on the Forest of Lost Soul property.
Four male employees of the Forest of Lost Souls were suspected of receiving stolen property and theft-related crimes. One adult has since been charged, two other adults are facing charges and the fourth has been referred to juvenile court.
Police Chief Rick Thomas attended last week’s meeting and educated council members on this background as well as the nature of background checks.
“We can always conduct a local check in our database. That would work for the thing that went on at Sugar Ridge,” Thomas explained. “Looking at our criminal arrest off that thing, you see a spike in the month period leading up to it and then after it.”
Thomas also suggested checking the national database if council should decide to investigate ride operators at the Corn Festival because many carnival workers travel the country or spend their winters in Florida.
According to Butkowski, the ride operator for the Corn Festival has 400 employees, but has no idea which ones will travel to North Ridgeville this summer. This information further complicated the discussion and caused visible stress to Councilman Ray McLaughlin.
“If they’re not going to pass (a background check), I don’t really want them around my kids,” he reasoned.
The police chief advised that a $22 nationwide background check would search for fingerprint matches, revealing past incidents of sex crimes, felonies and most likely all violent misdemeanors.
He suggested that should council approve the addition to the ordinance, they will need to adjust the timeline for event permit applications to accommodate the waiting period for background checks.
Council further considered how to implement background checks without discrimination, who would pay for them and whether or not a background check would even prevent another operation like the haunted forest.
“We want to be careful we don’t get too overbearing,” Safety-Service Director Denny Johnson warned.
At the end of the safety committee meeting last week, it was unclear what direction council was heading.
They resolved to mediate on their discussion and conduct more research before the next safety committee meeting.