By Bo Fisher
ComFest, the annual three-day summer festival in Goodale Park, has been a laid-back gathering for festival goers that has usually involved little violence. That was until last year’s death of a college student, which has prompted an increase in security this summer.
According to the Aug. 7, 2009 Columbus Dispatch article, “OU student, 18, dies at ComFest,” by Dave Hendricks, Ohio University student Byran Barbin died at ComFest by an accidental stabbing. Barbin suffered from five knife wounds to his chest on June 27, 2009, the second day of last year’s festival. Witnesses led investigators to believe that his death was an accidental murder committed by one of his friends until Barbin’s autopsy found traces of LSD in his brain, according to the article. Such findings gave investigators reason to believe that Barbin’s death was self-inflicted, though accidental.
ComFest organizers, city and police officials have reached a deal that will double the security and police force inside and outside the park, according to an April 10 story in The Columbus Dispatch titled, “Security Deal reached for ComFest,” by Amy Saunders and Mark Ferenchik.
With the increase in security in the park, attendees cannot help but wonder how different the festival will be. In past years, people attending the festival have openly used drugs and brought alcohol into the park, ignoring ComFest’s rule against such activity. But with more Columbus City Police in the area, the taming of ComFest may be unavoidable.
Junior Laura Kington, who has been attending ComFest for three years now, said she could not see ComFest changing for anybody.
“I’m still going [to ComFest]. I do not think it will change much,” Kington said. “Increased security is not a problem.”
To Kington, Barbin’s death may be partly attributed to the size of the festival and the subsequent problems associated with that.
“If you really think about it, how big [the festival] is and how many people there are, something like that would happen eventually,” Kington said.
Senior Bart Brown believes that ComFest should not be blamed for Barbin’s death.
“It does not matter that it happened at ComFest,” Brown said. “Accidents happen. It could have happened at his home, too. If anything, ComFest might have gotten him to the hospital faster.”
But for Brown, an increase in security is not necessarily a bad thing.
“Better safe than sorry,” Brown said. “I will still go.”
According to its official website, in the past, ComFest has assembled a Safety Committee of volunteers to ensure the security of all attendees.
“[The Safety Committee members] are not bouncers or bullies. Instead, Safety volunteers are the ‘event hosts,’ working to give help and solve problems in a friendly, positive manner,” the website states.
Connie Everett, ComFest organizer, said she believes that Columbus City Police have always been respectful of the festival.
“Columbus Police Department always respects ComFest rules, but they are certainly obliged to break anyone’s rules if they have to deal with a problem that demands it,” Everett said.
To Everett, the increase in security is not a result of violence or drugs, but from an increase in crowd size in the park and traffic.
“We have increased our special duty officers in high traffic areas in some proportion to crowd size at specific times of day,” Everett said. “[But] the neighborhood police may come into the park while performing their normal duties.”
As far as the typical atmosphere of ComFest, Everett said she does not condone the open use of drugs or the violation of alcohol-in-the-park rules, and she said the festival as a whole does not condone such illegal activities.
“Ignoring violations of the law or city policies has never been endorsed by ComFest,” Everett said. “We are particularly concerned about young people who come to the festival with the wrong idea about who we are and flagrantly break our rules, especially drug and alcohol violations. These people jeopardize the festival itself.”
To Everett, the change in security will not result in a direct change of ComFest’s peaceful atmosphere, and though the security will be tight, she does not foresee an increase in arrests.
“Arrests have been rare at ComFest over our 37 years,” Everett said. “And we believe we are the most peaceful three-day event in Columbus.”