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Controversy overshadows weekend trail ride event

City of Liberty to review policy

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LIBERTY – A big trail ride and concert event over the weekend has led to criticism from area residents following several incidents.

One of those incidents was a shooting that occurred on Friday night as event attendees, estimated at around 10,000, took to the Trinity Valley Exposition fairgrounds for the 26th Annual Austonio Wildbunch Campout & Trailride event that was billed as "The Most Anticipated Trailride of the Year."

"There was a shooting. A young female was shot while she was asleep in a recreational vehicle. Someone fired into the vehicle," said City Manager Tom Warner.

According to Warner, law enforcement took the suspect in the shooting into custody, and the victim was released from the hospital on Monday morning.

He said local first responders were called to the event repeatedly throughout the weekend, including four calls for EMS services and 45 calls for police assistance.

There were also issues associated with the trail ride on Saturday morning, where hundreds of participants set out from the TVE fairgrounds and proceeded down Layl Drive towards US HWY 90.

"I am appalled by the utter disregard some participants of this event showed for the members of our community and for the Treetop Terrace / Layl Dr neighborhood I live in," said Liberty City Councilman Tommy Brents.

According to other residents along the route, there was very little police presence. At the same time, riders are alleged to have thrown trash in yards, played loud and inappropriate music, and damaged several properties while riding through the area.

Warner said the only police presence the city is aware of was by Harris County Constables.

According to Brents, one incident of indecent exposure is alleged to have occurred when a trail rider relieved themself in front of his 9-year-old daughter while caught in traffic by the trail ride near the family's home.

"I am grateful my daughter was safe and with someone who acted quickly to shield and protect her from a very nasty person and from an unexpected and scary situation," said Brents.

Social media heated up following the shooting Friday night. They continued throughout the weekend as residents shared frustrations over the event, how it was handled and whether enough security was on hand for such a large-scale event.

According to Warner, the city's public works department did issue a road closure for the event; however, the police department was not made aware of the event, which he said was a procedure the individual that applied for the permit was supposed to follow.

"If there was a breakdown, that is where it would be," said Warner.

Now city officials are expected to address internal procedures and the ordinance related to processions and parades in the city limits.

According to Ordinance 12.01.002 of the city charter, any event through the town of more than 200 people or more than 50 vehicles must have a permit issued by the chief of police, which this event did not. 

"We want to be a hospitable City and we welcome events and promotions in Liberty, but we expect that when we open our town to visitors, those visitors behave with dignity and respect for our citizens. Those who don't respect our laws and our property aren't welcome here.," said Brents.

Brents hopes to work with other council members on new policies and procedures soon.

"I am resolved and eager to work with my fellow Council members and other elected officials to continue making Liberty a safe place to live, and to provide our City staff, law enforcement, and emergency personnel with all the tools they need to be better prepared to respond to incidents like this in the future," said Brents.

Warner also believes that the council would address that issue at their next regular meeting Tuesday, Dec. 13.

The Vindicator has reached out to the TVE for a comment, but as of this writing, they have not responded.

We did find a rental agreement form on the TVE website, which reads if alcoholic beverages are sold or served during an event, there must be one armed peace officer for every 100 people. If estimates were correct and there were 10,000 in attendance, there should have been around 100 officers under the policy.

The Vindicator will continue to reach out to the TVE and event organizers for comment.