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14Fest attendees walk back along Route 56 after the fest. (FILE)

Crowd of walkers shuts down State Route 56 after 14Fest

Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith called the event a success, though the closure of the highway angered some.

After 14Fest on Saturday, State Route 56 was host to heavy traffic — not from cars, but from people walking shoulder-to-shoulder down the road in the dark.

Thousands of people attended the event, a two-day music festival at The Venue of Athens where artists such as Fetty Wap and The Chainsmokers performed. When hundreds of people took to the highway to walk back to campus, local law enforcement officers made the decision to close the road from about 9:30 p.m. to a little after 12 a.m.

But before the route's closure, it was quiet. Only a few students walked to the event on Friday and Saturday.

Nick Cantwell, a 25-year-old Athens resident, didn't see anyone else on his walk to 14Fest on Saturday. He said the event's foot traffic was more prominent last year.

“I feel like we’re missing out on something here,” Cantwell said.

Athens County Sheriff Rodney Smith said the decision to remove shuttles from the event brought down foot traffic and upped vehicle traffic.

Some seized the opportunity to make quick money. U-Haul vans with taped signs and pickup trucks with windows painted with phrases such as “#Fest rides $5” waited in parking lots and drove passengers to the fest.

Tarell Basham, a senior studying sales and Ohio defensive end, rented a U-Haul with two others and planned to give out rides for $5 a person. When Basham did that last year, he said he turned a profit of $900.

“I’ve done this once before and, man, it’s easy money if you don’t really care to go see the performance,” Basham said.

Basham said he might up the price to drive people back from the event, adding that people get “pretty desperate.”

Not everyone had a plan to get back from 14Fest, though. On Friday, Cameron Kovac said he and his group didn’t know how they would get back Saturday night, but he wasn’t worried.

“We think on our feet real quick,” Kovac, a senior studying education at Kent State University, said.

The Athens County Sheriff’s Office set up a command center at Morrison-Gordon Elementary School at about 2 p.m. Saturday. At that time, Athens County Sheriff’s Office Capt. Bryan Cooper said he hoped to not close the highway later that night, but knew it was a likely option because of the sheer volume of people attending the event.

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“The crowd’s going to dictate us,” Cooper said. “It’s no different than if a dam of water breaks. You can’t dictate the water.”

Later that night, law enforcement agencies came together and made the decision to close the State Route for the safety of walkers, Rodney said.

The Ohio State Highway Patrol and the sheriff’s office made about 77 stops and issued about 50 citations during a “kind of a joint-safety blitz” surrounding the event, Rodney said. Troopers and deputies stopped cars that seemed to be unsafe due to either driving while intoxicated or carrying so many passengers that it impeded the driver’s vision.

Rodney said he was very pleased with the way the event went Saturday, adding that the decision to end shuttling was a good move for organizers.

“I think things went very smoothly, as best it could with the amount of people in The Venue,” he said. “I’m very happy. I think it’s the best one we’ve had so far.”

The decision to block off State Route 56 forced attendees who had secured rides to walk along the route. Ellie Watts, a freshman studying special education, found her way to pick up her friends blocked by a state trooper a little more than half a mile from the event.

“I’m really worried about them, because all those cars are coming, and you can’t really see them,” Watts said.

One group of walkers saw their ride fall through when the driver couldn’t take them on the State Route. Police told the group they had a two-mile walk ahead of them.

“I haven’t even run two miles,” Rod Gautalin, a sophomore at Cleveland State University, said. “I play hockey. I don’t run shit.”

The group disagreed about whether the experience was worth it.

“Absolutely not. No way in hell,” Johnny Kellis, a junior at Ohio State University, said.

— Madeleine Peck contributed to this report.


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