Leave bags in car for race weekend

WHEELING – Those planning to be a part of the 37th-annual Ogden Newspapers Half Marathon Classic this Memorial Day weekend, whether as a spectator or competitor, should be prepared to leave all bags, backpacks, purses or strollers in vehicles.

For event organizers, last month’s deadly bombing near the finish line of the Boston Marathon has highlighted the need to be prepared for anything, even though law enforcement officials believe the chance of a similar attack during Wheeling’s race – set for May 24-25 on the streets of Wheeling – is minimal.

“That doesn’t mean it can’t happen here,” said Wheeling Deputy Police Chief Martin Kimball, who has been in charge of course safety for the race for many years. “Small-town America has been plagued with some of the worst tragedies, so we’ve got to be ready.”

Additional security measures for race weekend dominated discussion at a recent event committee meeting, as members debated the best ways to maintain an enjoyable atmosphere while keeping the utmost vigilance in light of the Boston tragedy.

The key to the heightened security will be a “secure area” monitored by police and private security personnel that will surround the start-finish line at 14th and Main streets. The three points of the secure zone are formed by the intersections of 14th and Market streets, 12th and Water streets and Main and South streets.

Barricades will be erected around the zone, and private security will staff six entry points to the secure area. These will be located at Water Street, just north of 14th Street; two on Main Street, one just north of 14th Street and one just south of the intersection; on 14th Street between Main and Market streets, in the area of Lane B; on South Street between WesBanco Arena and the Robert C. Byrd Intermodal Transportation Center; and at the South Street exit to the intermodal center.

No one with any type of bag, package or briefcase will be permitted past those checkpoints. Strollers also will not be allowed into the secure area, which will be in effect from 3:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. May 24 and 6 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. May 25. And on the morning of May 25, vehicles will only be able to enter the parking garage on the Main Street side. Kimball said there will be a police officer near the intersection of 16th and Main streets directing traffic approaching from the south.

Competitors sometimes bring their running attire to the start/finish area and change right before the race, but this year those people will need to either change at home or in the parking garage, or simply bring only what they can carry without using a bag, Kimball said.

Race Director R. “Scat” Scatterday said he’d like to apologize to the public in advance for the inconvenience, but he noted he believes such security measures will become the norm for many outdoor events moving forward. Kimball agrees there is no such thing as being too careful.

“Is it going to anger some people? Yes. That’s the world we live in these days,” Kimball said.

Because John Marshall High School’s graduation will be taking place at WesBanco Arena at the same time as some of the race’s preliminary events the evening of May 24 – drawing a potential 3,000 additional people to the area beyond the race crowd – Kimball said checkpoint locations will be adjusted slightly that evening to allow motorists to use both entrances to the parking garage.

Race weekend always represents a major commitment of law enforcement resources. For past races, Kimball said about 16-20 officers were needed, with the vast majority stationed along the course.

But additional security demands near the finish line will more than double the overall police presence to about 40 this year, not counting those working their regular shifts. That means more than half the Wheeling Police Department will be in uniform working on the morning of May 25.

The West Virginia State Police plans to send two troopers along with an explosive-sniffing dog, as well, Kimball noted.