Paradiso Lost: Drugs, thefts and Infected Mushroom

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Courtesy photo Concert-goers join in the revelry at Paradiso at the Gorge Amphitheatre.

GORGE AMPITHEATRE - Another Paradiso Festival has come and gone. For the over 25,000 attendees who flooded into Grant County’s iconic Gorge Amphitheatre, it was another weekend of big-name electronic music set against the deep basalt canyon that lines the Columbia River.

But for police, the music festival brings with it an annual surge in thefts and drug busts, and law enforcement from eight agencies have seized one of the largest hauls of illegal narcotics in the Gorge’s history, said Kyle Foreman, a public information officer for the Grant County Sheriff’s Office, in an email Tuesday.

In total, 39 arrests occurred and 97 felony charges were filed against suspected drug dealers found in possession of a sizable weight of narcotics, according to law enforcement.

The drugs seized ran the gamut, from hallucinogens like LSD and magic mushrooms, to stimulants such as cocaine and ecstasy, tranquilizers like ketamine and wild card drugs such as steroids, Foreman said in a statement. Exact weights are still forthcoming as officers test and tally their haul, but it is expected to rival any event that has thus far taken place at the natural amphitheatre. Officers also seized cash and one handgun from the suspected dealers.

Paradiso and other large festivals attract drug dealers due to simple economics, Foreman said. Drug dealers know there will be many potential drug customers at a concert hosting 25,000-plus attendees, so they plan for and rely on that sales opportunity, he said, and due to that high demand, dealers may also be able to charge more for their products.

Not all of the thousands of attendees that may want to be intoxicated while listening to music groups such as Infected Mushroom or Delta Heavy bring their own drugs, either, Foreman said, given the multiple opportunities for them to be intercepted by checkpoints or drug sniffing dogs on their way into the venue.

“Rather than assume the risk of transporting illegal drugs in their own cars, potential drug customers will wait until they arrive at the campground and then find a drug dealer who can fulfill their needs,” Foreman said.

Dozens of thefts also occurred throughout the weekend, mostly in the campground as attendees left their possessions behind in tents while visiting the venue’s various stages. Thousands of dollars of electronics and luggage, a number of car keys and at least one car were stolen.

“The property crimes are almost all crimes of opportunity,” Foreman said in an email. “Thieves target the tents and vehicles in the campground, and anything inside those tents or vehicles fall prey to thieves when concert-goers leave their tents to go watch the shows.”

Officers with the Grant, Adams and Yakima county sheriff’s offices, police departments from Moses Lake and Yakima, the Columbia River Drug Task Force, the Washington State Patrol and Homeland Security Investigations all worked the event, alongside private security personnel.

Beyond drug busts, the Grant County Sheriff’s Office alone had 26 calls for service at the Gorge last weekend, including for four thefts, three trespassing charges, one domestic violence incident, four assaults and a number of miscellaneous calls.

Emry Dinman can be reached via email at edinman@columbiabasinherald.com.

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