MADD v. Foxfield: Liquor license in limbo thanks to boozin' Wahoos
It's become a University of Virginia rite of spring: Young gentlemen don a tie, ladies put on a spring frock and hat, then they head to Foxfield and get trashed. That tradition of properly attired drunkenness in a steeplechase setting has outraged some members of the community and left Foxfield fighting desperately to save its ABC license and perhaps its very existence.
Foxfield's problem may be a matter of timing. Unfortunately for the organizers, the track's 1978 opening came just two years after UVA banned a long-standing but less-elegant spring tradition: Mud Bowl. A bizarre bout of bacchanalia in which drunken 'Hoos watered down and then waded through Rugby Road's Madison Bowl, Mud Bowl was part of Easters, the so-called "best party in the country," which was itself completely quashed in 1982, largely because of alcohol abuse.
If nature abhors a vacuum, then certainly college students do. With one site for debauchery eliminated, UVA students of the Reagan years migrated from tie-dye informality to garden party finery, from wallowing in the mud to wallowing on bucolic equestrian turf for their annual spring fling.
While residents on prestigious Garth Road have long complained about traffic, litter, and public urination, it was a complaint from MADD, Mothers Against Drunk Driving, after the 2001 races that sparked Foxfield's current woes, an investigation that may lead to revocation of its ABC license.
Foxfield says the event has been at a disadvantage in controlling drinking since 1991, when Albemarle County police withdrew their presence from inside the gates. Even so, 20,000 to 30,000 people flocked to each running of the twice-year event each year with no fatalities or serious injuries.
Some people associated with Foxfield hint that the alcohol abuse charges are a mere pretext for a darker, more nefarious purpose: to put the racing association out of business and thereby obtain the highly desirable and very expensive real estate upon which the track sits.
MADD and appalled
Paula Garrett is not a horse person. She had never been to Foxfield, although she lives off nearby Owensville Road. Her family makes a practice of staying off the roads on race days.
As MADD president from 1999 to June 2002, she fielded complaints about underage drinking, public drunkenness, and pot smoking at Foxfield, but says she didn't realize the scope of the problem until April 29, 2001, when she waded into the student-filled "orange" section.
In the parking lot, she counted about 30 buses with people from all over the state.
"We were alarmed," she says, wondering who would drive the alcohol-soaked celebrants home once they got off the buses. Noting the two access roads and the 30,000 people in attendance that year, she calls the setting a disaster waiting to happen.
"It was so appalling," Garrett says, describing drunks propped up against fences, women sprawled on the ground, and one young man who was "swimming" in the dust. "The public drunkenness is what really shocked me," she says.
Jill Ingram, the current MADD president and a recent UVA grad who was with Garrett, calls their visit to the orange section "eye-opening." Ingram worried that if someone was hurt, the rescue squad wouldn't be able to get through.
Having chaired in her undergraduate days a student group called Alcohol and Drug Abuse Prevention Team, ADAPT, Ingram found consolation in the fact that ADAPT and the Student Council provided a booth at Foxfield offering free non-alcoholic drinks and snacks, and she says that before attending the races, "I felt good about our involvement in that capacity."
Once there, however, Ingram couldn't find the ADAPT booth because it was "a good distance" from the student section, and when she finally did find it at 2pm, the booth was already out of refreshments an indication to Ingram of how needed such alternatives to alcohol were.
She and Garrett decided to file a complaint with the ABC.
On May 29, 2001, Garrett fired off a letter to Clarence Roberts, chairman of the ABC board. She recounted seeing four young men urinating while she sat in traffic on Owensville Road, and "on Garth Road, a young woman squatting to relieve herself."
She complained that no DUI arrests were made, no one checked on underage drinkers, and only three drunk-in-public arrests were made that day. "We could have made that many in five minutes," she says.
"People were staggering everywhere," Garrett said of the 90 minutes she could endure being there. "We saw no one looking at a race."
Ingram and Garrett insist they don't want alcohol banned from Foxfield.
"I don't think it's feasible," says Ingram. "It's not MADD's goal. Alcohol can be fun, and people do choose to use it responsibly."
They have a clear list of changes they would like to see: attendance limited to 20,000, a magistrate on the premises to write up underage drinkers and public drunks, more water and light snacks– plus more police, sobriety checkpoints, and safe transportation, including more visibility for people to sign up with the designated driver program, the Savvy Fox.
"I know [Foxfield] thinks we're the enemy," says Garrett, who testified at the October 29 ABC hearing. And Racing Association president J. Benjamin Dick would likely agree.
Dick notes, though, that Foxfield has had a longstanding association with MADD, even publishing joint newspaper ads.
And Dick claims that Garrett is biased against Foxfield because she lives on Owensville Road and "hates the traffic and unruly students." Also, he says Garrett thought it "horrible" that 350 took safe rides home from Foxfield– because that meant they were too drunk to drive.
Even Garrett doesn't think there's any way to reduce the traffic that accompanies the race. That's Inglecress resident Floyd Artrip's biggest complaint. As if sitting in traffic for two hours isn't bad enough, he's done it with a three-year-old, watching the public drunkenness and urination, and "people making fools of themselves," he says.
"A two-lane road can't take 30,000 people," Artrip grouses. "Traffic backs up to Barracks Road Shopping Center." One of his neighbors who needed to take a child to a soccer game in another part of the county was inconvenienced when she couldn't get home.
Artrip, UVA class of '66, is reminded of the infamous Mud Bowl which he says he never attended. "Students don't have that release now," he says. "They go to Foxfield instead."
Foxfield plays defense
Benjamin Dick has been president of the Foxfield Racing Association since 1981, and he acts as its attorney. At his law office on Park Street, a Foxfield poster hangs near his diploma from VMI.
He first realized the races were in trouble on June 19, 2001, when he got a phone call while he was on his way to Dulles airport. The Albemarle County Board of Supervisors were going to consider a resolution at their meeting the next day that would ask the ABC to investigate Foxfield.
"I nearly had a wreck," says Dick. "This was going to be an official action by government to shut down a private business." Worse, he adds, "There was no notice we were on the agenda."
Dick says he got wind of the resolution from people who heard former chairman of the board Charlotte Humphris on Nancy King's WINA radio show.
Humphris, Dick says, wanted to "put a padlock on Foxfield's gate and shut it down."
"That's absolutely ridiculous," counters Humphris. "I have no reason to say that."
The minutes of the June 20, 2001, board meeting show that although the request for an ABC investigation was tabled, supervisors did request a meeting with Foxfield, the county police, the sheriff's department, ABC, and MADD.
The minutes also quote Humphris as noting one other fact of life for the Foxfield traffic situation: "No matter what action the board takes, the roads will not be widened or stretched."
A meeting of those major players with one exception– took place August 29, 2001. Foxfield refused to meet with MADD, although Jill Ingram was allowed to read a statement.
"We thought it important to not have a politically based organization involved," says Dick. "They're as political as you can get."
That exclusion struck an odd note with Albemarle chair Sally Thomas. "I wasn't comfortable with that," she testified at the October 29 ABC hearing on whether Foxfield should keep its liquor license.
The 30,000 who showed up for the 2001 race made up the largest crowd in the race's history. At the August meeting, Foxfield agreed to limit 2002 attendance to 27,000, and after bumping ticket prices $50 in the purple and orange sections, ended up selling only 23,000 tickets.
"We changed the price to work out financially," says Dick.
Foxfield also agreed to pre-sell all tickets except general admission in an effort to improve traffic flow. People buying presale tickets had to agree to abide by the law, and any violations could have resulted in ejection, according to Dick.
Also, to keep traffic moving, parking was free this year, but Dick calls that decision a "complete disaster" because it discouraged carpooling. General admission parking for the spring 2003 race will be $25 to encourage the use of public transportation, such as the Foxfield-subsidized CTS buses that ran from three UVA locations every 15 minutes.
And anyone who felt unable to drive could leave their cars overnight. Over 100 did so.
The 2002 spring race also had the law firm of Chandler, Franklin & O'Bryan providing 275 free cab rides home. And, according to testimony at the October 29 ABC hearing, 250 people signed up to be designated drivers.
Jill Ingram was not impressed. She wrote to the ABC in June that "250 designated drivers are not enough to take home the 27,000 people in attendance safely."
UVA students with ADAPT and the Student Council went to every car in the student section and passed out breathalyzer strips to the designated drivers.
Foxfield also agreed to work on education. Dick says he and marketing director Anne Tate met with close to 200 UVA students and about 100 at JMU to deliver a responsible drinking message. "I told kids, 'You've got to abide by our rules,'" he says.
They also worked with Susie Bruce at UVA's Center for Alcohol and Substance Abuse Education and the ABC on a poster advocating responsible drinking. ("It was odd working with ABC to get posters out while they're working to shut us down," Dick says.)
But the educational efforts did not satisfy Ingram, who wrote the ABC that she saw only one poster around Grounds. "One poster," she says, "is hardly the education on 'how to drink properly' that Mr. Benjamin Dick proclaimed the students needed before attending the Races."
Dick scoffs. "Anne Tate personally hung hundreds of posters," he says, and Susie Bruce distributed them to fraternities, sororities, and other schools.
ABC v. Foxfield
Perhaps the biggest source of contention at the August 2001 meeting was what role the ABC would play at the spring 2002 races. Foxfield officials say they believed the ABC had promised to help with enforcement.
"We were tickled pink ABC officers would be there to assist with the plan," Dick says. "With stepped-up enforcement, we could turn over to the police all disorderly conduct cases."
Much to Foxfield management's surprise, however, when 13 ABC officers showed up at the spring race, they declined the radios Foxfield offered them for communication.
"Our mission was to observe," says Richard Mayo, local ABC officer who attended the October 29 hearing. "We had no instruction to enforce. If you saw somebody who needed to be arrested, you'd have to go to the magistrate and leave your buddy's backside uncovered."
Over in Richmond, the ABC's chief operating officer, Curtis Coleburn, concurs. "We agreed to send agents in to videotape events. As a result of their observations and some investigation, we brought these charges against Foxfield"– specifically, the charges of disorderly conduct on the premises, and, the complaint reads, allowing "20 persons who the licensee knew or had reason to believe were intoxicated to loiter upon the... premises."
The reasoning, according to Coleburn, is that with only 140 agents statewide and 13,000 to 14,000 licensees to regulate, it's pretty much up to license holders like Foxfield to enforce drinking laws "the same as a bar or restaurant."
Where, then, did Dick get the idea that ABC officers were going to help enforce drinking laws at the spring race? Apparently he was not the only one with that impression.
Sally Thomas testified at the ABC hearing that her notes from the August 29 meeting say that the ABC would "observe and enforce."
"I consider that very important testimony," says Dick.
Foxfield's disputes with the ABC have been going on for years, ever since the organization first applied for an ABC license. "We only got a license to help law enforcement in 1982," says Dick. "[Former sheriff] George Bailey wanted us to get a license so he could enforce underage drinking on private property."
Director of Racing Patrick Butterfield wonders why Foxfield needed an ABC license in the first place since it didn't sell or serve alcohol: "We've never sold alcohol," he testified at the hearing.
However, since race officials obtained the license, Dick believes, local ABC agent Dickie Mayo has "harbored bias and prejudice against Foxfield." Mayo would routinely reject Foxfield's application for a banquet license, the type used by charities holding one-day events. The reason? Because Foxfield is not a charity, even though it has raised over $800,000 for local charities since it began, and contributes around $25,000 a year to nonprofits.
Until the General Assembly authorized an equine sporting event license in 1999, Foxfield routinely would appeal Mayo's denial, and the ABC board routinely would issue a license, although sometimes as late as midnight the evening before the race.
Is Mayo biased against Foxfield?
"I have no comment," Mayo answers.
At an October ABC hearing, Dick lobbed another charge at Mayo, accusing him of telling some of the charities Foxfield has supported and who had applied for the banquet licenses in the days before the equine license was available that Foxfield was cheating the charities.
"We've been told Dickie Mayo was making disparaging remarks," says Dick.
Mayo also declines to comment on those allegations.
While other people deny that Agent Mayo has it in for Foxfield– notably ABC boss Coleburn, who says, "That's just silly"– Dick is not convinced. He says the assistant attorneys general who are representing the ABC had agreed to a settlement with Foxfield before the hearings, but the ABC did not accept it. "Someone is pulling this lever," he maintains.
Coleburn doesn't agree. "I know Mr. Dick prepared and presented a consent order to settle. I don't know there was agreement between Dick and the assistant attorney general to settle."
We're not going in there
The ABC isn't the only government body that won't enforce state drinking laws inside Foxfield's gates. Neither will the Albemarle County police.
At the 1992 spring race, Chief John Miller kept his officers outside the gates. "I didn't have the resources to handle inside and outside traffic," he says, "and I determined very fast I didn't have the resources to handle the drinking inside."
The racing association was astounded. It had enjoyed a good relationship with Miller's predecessor, former sheriff George Bailey, who was in charge of the county's law enforcement before a separate police department was formed in the 1980s. Bailey had even served on the Foxfield board of directors.
And at the ABC hearing, Dick submitted a 1991 editorial from the Daily Progress that questioned the wisdom of removing police presence from inside the gates.
Raymond Woolfe, who designed the Foxfield course, is sputtering mad still over the decision. Of the 52 race courses in the National Steeplechase Association, he says, Foxfield is the only one that doesn't have local law enforcement.
"Out of one side of the mouth they complain it's a public nuisance," he says. "The people who've not done their job are the local law enforcement and ABC."
"My impression is that we needed at least triple the manpower," says Chief Miller. Officers who've tried to make an arrest have been surrounded in what he calls "an explosive situation."
Dick refers to "the good ole days" when Bailey policed Foxfield. "He'd have seven deputies, and those guys would wade into any crowd and take care of business," he says admiringly.
Bailey attended the same 2001 spring race that sent MADD complaining to the ABC board. "I didn't see a problem," says Bailey. "I saw four or five young people who were probably drunk. Security took care of them."
Currently, Foxfield hires a 60-person force from American Security Group in Richmond to police the spring race. According to Dick, the race association wanted to deputize the security force so they could write summonses for violators at the 2002 race. He says the county refused, but Miller did send in five undercover officers and one on bicycle patrol and his bicycle was stolen.
Is it that dangerous for county police to enforce the law at Foxfield? Bailey doesn't think so.
"I think it's [Miller's] responsibility to be in there," he declares. "He's just hiding when he's not there. If he sees violations, he should make arrests."
Every morning after the spring event, Miller says, his phone rings off the hook with neighbors complaining about broken fences, missing mailboxes, and of course, the public urination.
Interestingly, Albemarle County police ran into a problem arresting people for urinating in public, according to Sgt. Dan Blake, who works the race every year. "Albemarle County," he says, "doesn't have a urinating in public ordinance."
Instead, eight people were arrested for indecent exposure this year, but assistant commonwealth's attorney Richard DeLoria says at least two of those were not prosecuted. "Indecent exposure has to do with lascivious intent," he explains. Someone urinating behind a bush doesn't meet that criterion.
So with a no-nonsense, zero-tolerance approach, the county police and sheriff's office made 52 arrests and issued 22 traffic violations at the 2002 spring race, compared to just 29 arrests at the 2001 event. Of those, 12 were for drunk in public, 13 for drinking in public, and two for underage possession of alcohol.
County police also set up a DUI checkpoint on Ivy Rd on April 27. The number of drunk drivers netted? Two. The largest number of violators, 13, were for expired state inspections.
So how does that compare with a UVA football game? "They made 65 arrests at one game," claims Dick.
However, University Police Captain Quenton Trice says the September 7 South Carolina game resulted in five arrests. And he doesn't think a UVA football game and Foxfield comparison is fair. "I've never been to Foxfield, but I hear it's much worse," he says.
Dick contends that Foxfield is being singled out, because drinking is just as much a problem at UVA's games. "UVA is not required to get a license with all those people drinking," says Dick. "They don't sell alcohol."
According to the ABC, a one-day special event license is issued to the Virginia Student Aid Foundation for tailgating at football games.
Chief Miller thinks the biggest difference between football games and Foxfield is that at the latter, people have been drinking heavily before, during, and after the race.
"At UVA, the majority haven't been drinking," he says. "I believe that."
Foxfield doesn't believe that, and it made a videotape of the UVA-South Carolina game that illustrates many of the same complaints lodged against Foxfield: Traffic is backed up on U.S. 29 south onto I-64 back to Fifth Street, students are drinking on the Lawn, and tailgaters leave trashcans overflowing with beer cans in their wake.
That videotape was not allowed at the ABC hearings.
What if Foxfield loses its license?
Without a license, Dick says, Foxfield would be like a private party which doesn't need a license.
The ABC begs to differ. "Everyone drinking would be in violation of state code," insists Coleburn. Drinking in public is a Class 4 misdemeanor with a maximum fine of $250.
"It's not the kind of thing you're hauled off to jail for," Coleburn says, but it can get you a summons. Furthermore, Coleburn adds, "Any police officer– not just ABC officers– could enforce it." But that would mean agencies that have so far refused to enforce drinking laws at Foxfield would have to go onto the property.
Dick says the races will run regardless. "We'll inform the public that a license is not required like UVA," he says. He points out that the caterers in the corporate tents do have licenses.
Coleburn agrees that invited guests to corporate tents would not be breaking the law but anyone else drinking would. "Foxfield itself wouldn't be violating the law. Individuals would be guilty."
Ex-sheriff Bailey thinks Foxfield without a liquor license would be a lot like UVA football games. "You're not supposed to have alcohol in the stands, but I see it," Bailey says. "People take out their flasks and have a little nip."
Responses to closing arguments are due December 20. ABC hearing officer Clara Williamson will rule whether Foxfield keeps its license in late December or January.
UVA law student Wyeth Ruthven says that community sentiment can be a factor in whether a liquor license is granted or revoked. He collected 130 signatures on a petition in support of Foxfield, but Williamson did not allow it to be admitted as evidence at the hearing.
Dick is already prepared to appeal to the ABC board and if that fails, to appeal to Circuit Court. Of Williamson, he says, "She's hired and paid by ABC. She's going to rule against us."
And he repeats his mantra that ABC is "biased and prejudiced" against Foxfield, perhaps because they think it's a bunch of rich "horse people" drinking liquor. "They don't say that about NASCAR," he contends.
Raymond Woolfe cannot contain his rage at what's happened to the race course he built, which has run for 24 years without serious injury or death (except for the occasional horse) and has made every effort and gone to every expense to host a safe event. Foxfield is not like some local night spots, where shootings are a regular event.
He voices the suspicion that others won't say on the record, that the drunken students are a smoke screen. "There are those who'd love to see its gates closed and the property sold for real estate," he points out.
And indeed, Foxfield's 179 acres on Garth Road– where parcels sell for more than $50,000 an acre and whose market value is assessed by the county at a no doubt conservative $2.9 million– could be a developer's dream come true.
That's led some of the Garth Road neighbors to launch a campaign in support of Foxfield, saying they much prefer the twice yearly races to the thought of a subdivision of faux chateaux going up on the land. They've been dubbed PSIMBYs– please stay in my backyard.
Resident Sarah Garth tells the Daily Progress her opinion on the complainers. "Newcomers," Garth says. "They come here, after Foxfield came, and then they complain like the devil."
Even Foxfield's loudest critics say they don't want it shut down.
Police Chief Miller would like to see the orange section cleared of alcohol. "In my opinion, [students] go there not to watch the horses, but to drink," he says.
For some, that's true. "I had so much fun socializing and drinking with my friends, I forgot there were even horses there," says 4th-year Laura Barry.
Charlotte Humphris laughs when she's asked if the board of supervisors is "biased and prejudiced" against Foxfield. She sees its value to the community as a public event but she wants to see the law obeyed inside the gates and on the roads to and from it. "It could be wonderful and joyous for everybody if it's handled properly," she says.
At the ABC hearing, Dick asked BOS chairman Sally Thomas if she's opposed to Foxfield's future. "Not at all," she answered.
MADD's Jill Ingram wants lower attendance and more sobriety checkpoints. But as for that troublesome student faction, she says, "It doesn't seem they're going to change because of Foxfield or because of MADD."
However, Wyeth Ruthven thinks the whole ordeal Foxfield is going through ultimately could change student behavior. "What this process has done is begin to promote a greater amount of responsibility among students," he observes. "And I think Foxfield tried very hard to make it a safe event."
Paula Garrett is prepared to continue soldiering on if Foxfield manages to retain its liquor license. "We have a next step," she says, "but I'm not ready to tell you what it is at this time."
But she does give a hint: "If steps are not taken to make this a safe event, we'll go to the General Assembly about the equine license. It might be really hard to get it revoked, but not impossible."
Dick is clearly frustrated by the ongoing battles over the races. He's used to dealing with the egos involved with horse people ("the biggest bunch of prima donnas you've got"), but having to answer for drunken UVA students is another matter.
"To me, this is strictly a small-town mentality to blame a corporation because kids are urinating on lawns," he says. One option, says former military man Dick, is to hire an army to enforce security, rent a private paddy wagon, and contract for medical service out of Richmond.
Still he wonders, why does the county provide those services at UVA football games and the county fair, but not this other popular event held in the county?
The ABC's Coleburn recognizes that Foxfield has a tough problem dealing with the underage and out-of-control collegiate drinkers who attend. "If they still had Easters, this probably wouldn't have affected Foxfield the way it has," he observes.
Despite the ongoing legal battle and expenses to make the event safer, which have cost Foxfield $200,000 so far, Dick vows the races will continue. "Foxfield has reached the point where we've had enough," he says. "We're coming out fighting."