Partiers jammed in Justice Center

Those who received tickets during the recent Country Jam near Mack are advised by a sign Thursday on the first floor of the Mesa County Justice Center to report to various courtrooms. About 160 citations were processed in one day.

For Devin Eaton, one trip to Mack will mean at least two trips to Grand Junction.

As a result, the 19-year-old Vernal, Utah, man said his first experience at Country Jam USA in June may well be his last for a while.

“At least until I turn 21,” said Eaton, sitting on a bench Thursday morning outside the courtroom of County Court Judge Craig Henderson.

Rising early Thursday, Eaton and two friends made the two-and-a-half-hour trip from Vernal to the Mesa County Justice Center and were among approximately 160 people with tickets for petty offenses or misdemeanors issued during the Mack festival. Eaton was cited on suspicion of underage possession of alcohol.

“We had a blast until these two undercover cops came walking into our campsite,” Eaton said.

In four waves of mostly young adults starting at 8:30 a.m., all summonses issued over three days were scheduled to appear Thursday at the Justice Center, consuming the day’s dockets for all three county court divisions. It was the second straight year for what Justice Center staff have pegged as “Country Jam day.”

By bringing all festival cases in on the same day, Justice Center officials said they aimed to make things more efficient internally and reduce what had become significantly longer, labor-intensive weeks in past summers.

Prior to the change, tickets by law enforcement during Country Jam were written to return to court over the span of one month in the summer, Chief Deputy District Attorney Trish Mahre said.

On top of regular dockets, Country Jam’s wave of cases struck a sour note with lawyers, judges and court staff.

“That kind of a month wears on you,” said Mahre, who supervises county court divisions. “This way, everybody goes to court before they have to go back to school.”

Ashley Edstrom, case manager for Mesa County Criminal Justice Services, said she anticipated registering about 150 people Thursday for periods of court-ordered public service. Representatives from the agency set up shop for the day inside the Justice Center. Normally, defendants would be asked to make the trip to the agency’s building at 636 South Ave. in order to register.

About two-thirds of those who registered were not Mesa County residents, Edstrom said. Defendants made trips from Salt Lake City, Wyoming and several Front Range cities.

“We’re able to transfer their community service, if requested,” she said.

For his first minor-in-possession-of-alcohol ticket, Stephen Salazar, 17, walked away with a deferred judgment, a fine and was ordered to complete 36 hours of public service. Attendees were advised of possible fines ranging from $250 for a first offense, up to $1,000 for those with two prior offenses.

“I’m just glad it’s not going to affect his driver’s license,” said Salazar’s mother, Rebecca, who took the day off from her job managing a downtown Grand Junction restaurant to attend the court hearing.

The majority of first-time minor-in-possession offenders were offered deferred judgments. As of noon, arrest warrants were slated to be issued for the half-dozen people who failed to appear.

In County Court Judge Gretchen Larson’s courtroom, two people had pleaded not guilty to charges of providing alcohol to a minor and had their cases scheduled for trial.

For Eaton, a dispute with prosecutors Thursday about prior convictions forced him to plan a second trip to Grand Junction to resolve the issue. Less than thrilled, he wondered aloud how many people ticketed in Mack would actually show Thursday.

“That’s a lot of money they’re bringing in today,” Eaton said.


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