The Wasatch County jail has neared its capacity this week with arrests at the Rainbow Family Gathering near Heber.
Officers have arrested about 50 of the 6,000 visitors at the communal campout, estimated Wasatch County sheriff’s spokesman Jared Rigby. Twenty of those remain in the county jail of just under 100 beds, pushing the inmate population to capacity on Tuesday and near-capacity on Monday and Wednesday.
"We’re trying to get them into court on a daily basis," Rigby said.
But, while the influx of visitors has strained law enforcement resources, Rainbow Family Gathering visitors are taking up jail beds roughly in proportion to their presence: they have increased the population of Wasatch County by just over 20 percent.
Allegations have ranged from drunken driving to an attempted murder charge in connection with a non-fatal stabbing June 23, while a prep crew set up camp, Rigby said. Many of the jail inmates are suspects in drug cases, whose charges were elevated to felonies because of the type and quantities of drugs they were carrying.
Meanwhile, deputies are working six-day weeks and are joined by officers from the U.S. Forest Service, Utah Highway Patrol, state parks police and Tooele City police, Rigby said. Deputies have cancelled vacations, including a honeymoon, and forfeited plane tickets.
"Sacrifices are being made," Rigby said. Officials at previous Rainbow Family Gathering sites have estimated police overtime costs of $75,000 to $100,000, Rigby said. The group has met annually for about four decades, in towns across the United States.
This year’s group is smaller than last year’s, which met in the Beaverhead National Forest near Jackson, Montana, Rigby said. But there have been more serious incidents, with two deaths of unknown causes and four near-overdoses so far. Timothy R. Gillespie, 68, of Texas, was found dead in his tent on Sunday morning, and Susan M. Wilkinson, 39, of Keene, N.H., died June 15 while sleeping outdoors.
Representatives of the gathering said last week this year’s gathering was expected to be a smaller and younger group than in previous years because the high altitude deterred older regular attendants.
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