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Security beefed up at Spring Fair

LOS BANOS -- Everyone's welcome at the Merced County Spring Fair, except criminal street gang members intent on harming others.

Merced County Sheriff Mark Pazin and fair manager Ron Brandt are assuring the public that the fair, which begins today and runs through Sunday, will be safe. A large law enforcement contingent is assigned to the fair to head off any potential problems.

Deputy Tom MacKenzie, the sheriff's spokesman, said people are worried about gang problems at the Spring Fair because of the fatal shooting of a 16-year-old boy west of Los Banos last weekend.

"The Merced County Sheriff's Office wants the public to know that it's still safe to attend the fair," MacKenzie said. "Extra deputies will be assigned to the fair as well as having mounted patrol, canine officers and the helicopter all assigned to work the fair."

Brandt said he is confident the fair will continue to be a family fun event that's safe for the community.

"We expect the fair to be safe as it always is," Brandt said.

Last year, 70,000 attended the fair. Members of the Merced County Gang Task Force, sheriff's STAR Team, probation and parole agents will also be there.

"This is a responsibility we take seriously and want the public to know that we are doing everything within our power to make it a safe and enjoyable environment," Pazin said.

MacKenzie said sheriff's detectives are still following up leads to the Sunday murder of 16-year-old Peter Fregoso at a Ramos Road birthday party attended by 300 to 500. The shooting is believed to have been gang-related.

The 118th annual fair opens at 9 a.m. today at the Los Banos Fairgounds at 403 F St. The event runs through Sunday. Opening ceremonies will be at 10 a.m. near the fair's entrance

During its five-day run, a number of concerts, animal auctions, food contests and entertainment shows can be enjoyed. The fair features sports activities, such as a destruction derby and motocross. Amusement park rides also will be offered.

Local FFA members are a big part of the fair. Future Farmers of America children keep and raise animals for months in preparation for showing them, culminating in auctioning them off. Some of the animals easily draw hundreds of dollars at auction.

Los Banos residents will be admitted free today, thanks to a $10,000 donation from the city. On Friday children 12 and younger get in free at the fair, and at 9 a.m. Saturday the annual May Day Parade will be held in downtown Los Banos. Sunday is highlighted by the annual mariachi concert for Cinco de Mayo.

Los Banos founder Henry Miller is credited with starting the fair. In 1890, Miller threw what was then the May Day Picnic in honor of the completion of the town's railroad. He supplied meat, bread and drink for hundreds

Admission to the fair is $7 for adults and $2 for children 6 to 12.

Associate Editor Doane Yawger can be reached at (209) 385-2485 or Los Banos Enterprise reporter Corey Pride also contributed to this report.