KENNEWICK — The first of what was planned to be an annual car show, intended Sunday at the Benton County Fairgrounds, has been pulled over and had its license yanked, say its sponsors.
A new low-riders club, the Tri-Cities chapter of Rollerz Only, had billed the event as an open car show so it could attract car owners from any special-interest car club in the Mid-Columbia. It was planned as a family event, suitable for adults and children.
But Benton County officials saw the car show as something else and feared possible gang connections, said Jaime Contreras, treasurer of the local Rollerz Only club.
"They told our club president it was gang-related and the contract was canceled," Contreras said.
The club had paid the county $2,000 to lease the fairgrounds, which included insurance for the event, and collected thousands of dollars in sponsorships over the past five months to pay for trophies that were ready to be picked up this week.
Contreras insists the club has no gang ties and said club officers went to great pains to plan the event so there would be no appearance of gang activity.
"We wanted it to be for families to enjoy," he said, noting that a children's bounce house, face-painting and an art contest with ice cream cakes donated by Dairy Queen were among the activities.
The club also planned to have a booth to accept food donations for Second Harvest and a booth for people to sign up as potential bone marrow donors for a club member's daughter who is battling a bone disease.
But when county officials learned there would be music entertainment and rap groups from as far away as Seattle at the car show, they decided to void the contract.
Caroline Bowen, who handles fairgrounds contracts for Benton County, said she could not comment.
Chris Littrell, a Kennewick Police Department detective, said he called the county and told them about rap groups being included in the event.
Littrell said he wanted to know what kind of arrangements were made for security because of the presence of rap music and its fans. He said county officials knew nothing about plans for rap music, that it was just a car show, and that the insurance for the event didn't cover having a concert.
That's when county officials called club President Jaime Vela to attend a meeting and turn over the contract Tuesday because the event was being canceled.
"They told him he'd broken terms of the contract because it was more of a concert than a car show," Contreras said.
As of Thursday, the county hadn't refunded the $2,000, and the club is out about $3,200 for trophies and other expenses.
Contreras said he doesn't know why anyone would suspect gang connections to the club. He conceded his car is decorated with art depicting the playing cards, ace and king, and that his license plate is "BLU DMN."
But the two cards are part of the national Rollerz Only logo, and Contreras said his license plate refers to a Mexican wrestler whom he was a fan of in the 1980s.
"What really hurts us is having to tell sponsors there won't be a car show. That makes it really hard for the next time," he said.
-- John Trumbo: 582-1529; email@example.com