KENTLAND — Newton County and the Newton County Board of Commissioners have filed a lawsuit against US 41 Motor Plex after an August 22 “Chitown Show & Go” drag racing event resulted in severe overcapacity of the facility and became a “nuisance to county residents.”
The three-count complaint was filed by County Attorney Patrick Ryan Sept. 15 in Newton Superior Court on behalf of the commissioners against U.S. 41 Motor Plex Inc., Indiana Land Trust Company, William Hupke, and Timothy Ringer. The complaint includes a claim for damages against the track.
The complaint argues that U.S. 41 Motor Plex failed “to provide adequate traffic management, security services, and health and safety provisions for the large number of patrons” that attended the event.
The lawsuit also alleges that the crowds solicited were well beyond the facility’s “own ability to safely manage its venue and resulted in crowds well above its reasonable seating and parking capacity.”
Court documents also show that the county claims that mismanagement of the event “resulted in harm to neighboring residents and the public by generating unreasonable noise, discarded trash, and trespass upon private property.”
“The events at the dragstrip resulted in the taxing of several county agencies that could have been avoided, had previously stipulated procedures been followed,” stated Newton County Commissioner Kyle Conrad in a press release. “ While we appreciate the business the dragstrip brings to our community, we have to remain cognizant of the concerns and safety of the neighboring county residents and property owners and those guests traveling through.”
Another count of the complaint includes a violation of Governor Holcomb’s recent Executive Orders requiring an “event plan” be filed and approved by the local health department prior to hosting a public event in excess of 250 people.
According to the lawsuit, the event used a promoter known as “Playboy Geezy” to conduct a marketing campaign using social media to attract several thousand people to the Newton County racing location.
Law enforcement officials estimated that at least 4,000 people were in and around the track area for the event, with some estimations as high as 9,000 people.
The county argues that the large crowd that came to the event arrived with little notice to local authorities and created a large backup of traffic along US 41, causing significant alarm among local residents.
“It was just mayhem,” said Newton County Sheriff Thomas VanVleet. “There were more people showing up than the facility could hold and the flow of traffic coming in was more than we could deal with. It created such a traffic hazard that we are fortunate that there weren’t a lot of accidents.”
VanVleet added some other minor instances occurred as well mostly due to trespassing and reports of out of town vehicles driving through residents’ yards and disturbing their privacy.
To handle the high volume of people, VanVleet called in all of his off duty deputies to help. The Newton County Sheriff’s Department also received help from town marshals, the Newton County Drug Task Force, Indiana State Police, and the Jasper County Sheriff’s Department.
“We also had Lake County on standby,” added VanVleet. “I remember when the race track came before the Planning Commission when it got new owners and new management. Some guidelines were put into place that they had to abide by to operate. One of those guidelines included making and presenting a safety plan to us for any big events. They (the race track) have never submitted a safety plan to us.”
The event ultimately ended when County Building Inspector Butch Cain arrived at the facility and requested they close the track.
“We are very fortunate for the excellent response from our local authorities in managing that crowd,” said Ryan. “It’s great that we have such an interest in a local venue, but proper planning with local law enforcement and communication with county officials is critical in making sure everyone attending an event of that size gets home safely.”
As for damages, the county is asking the court for an order against the defendants preventing them from holding any further public racing events on the property until they have complied with all the violations set forth in the complaints. The county is also seeking reimbursement for expenses and damages it has incurred, including law enforcement expenses, costs, and legal fees. The complaint also asks for a fine to be set for every day the nuisance continues at the track.