MINNEAPOLIS -- The longtime general manager of the Minnesota State Fair insisted Tuesday that trouble is rare at the annual event after the 2019 edition of the Great Minnesota Get-Together ended on a chaotic note, with a pedestrian critically injured and three men shot and wounded.
St. Paul police were still trying to determine if there was a connection between a fight that broke out late Monday outside the main gates and the shootings nearby, and whether any of the participants had been at the fair, spokesman Steve Linders said. There were no immediate arrests in the fight or shootings.
"We don't know why somebody would so brazenly shoot at an area with so many people around, with so many officers around," Linders told reporters.
During the initial fight, 19-year-old Dynasty Scott was hit by a car after she climbed out of another vehicle into traffic on one of the busiest streets outside the fairgrounds. She remained in critical but stable condition Tuesday afternoon at Regions Hospital, Linders said. It appeared that she was hit after entering the car from the drivers' side and exiting soon after on the passenger side, he said, adding that investigators haven't been able to speak with her so it was unclear whether she had been involved in the fight.
The driver who struck her stopped to call 911, but people started banging on his windows and yelling at him to get out, and he drove away on the operator's advice, Linders said. The driver cooperated with investigators, a breath test showed no signs of alcohol in his system and he was not cited for any crime, the spokesman said.
Officers were still investigating that incident when they heard gunfire nearby and ran toward it. They found a man with a gunshot wound about two blocks away. Two other wounded men soon turned up at hospitals. None of them suffered life-threatening wounds. Evidence shows that two guns were used in the shooting, Linders said. One victim was arrested after his release from the hospital on a warrant for a firearms charge from June.
Three people also were arrested for rioting during a disturbance just after midnight Tuesday involving around 30 to 40 people outside Regions Hospital. Linders said it was unclear exactly what let to that altercation, but he understood that they were there because they knew somebody inside from the earlier incidents.
The fair's general manager, Jerry Hammer, said he couldn't recall any shootings at the fair, and that even fights are rare.
"It really just doesn't happen," Hammer said. "This is the State Fair. I'll tell you, every bit of that business last night was maddening, that anyone would bring that kind of behavior to the doorstep of the State Fair, I mean, come on."
Democratic Gov. Tim Walz denounced the shootings and said the Legislature needs to do something about gun violence.
"If the State Fair symbolizes community, gun violence is the antithesis of that," the governor told reporters after welcoming children back to school in Richfield. "It shatters our sense of community and safety."
But crime at the fair is "next to nothing," said Hammer, who has worked for the fair full-time since 1977 and became general manager in 1997. He said he let his five grandchildren have the run of the fairgrounds every day this year, and that none had any problems.
"Our public safety people do an outstanding job — they're everywhere," he said. "And the best way of policing is prevention. When there's a very visible police presence, those very few knuckleheads who might be inclined to misbehave don't."
The fair has its own police department that's in charge of security within the fairgrounds. Security outside the gates is the responsibility of the St. Paul police department. Linders said he couldn't recall any gunfire at the fair, either, in his five years with the department.
"Outside the fair is generally safe," the spokesman said, noting that the fair draws huge crowds into a relatively small area.
Opening day of the 12-day fair was also marred by injuries when two tour buses collided near the fairgrounds Aug. 22. Eight people were hospitalized, three with serious injuries.
"From time to time we do have incidents, but to have a shooting right outside the gates is incredibly rare," Linders said. "We do have a large police presence in and around the fair. So people are safe there."
Total attendance this year was 2,126,551, breaking a record of 2,046,533 set last year. Six daily records attendance were set, including 184,740 on Labor Day.
This story has been corrected to show the fair lasted for 12 days, not 11.