The family oriented National Cornbread Festival might be the last place you'd think would attract gang members, but talk is flying in South Pittsburg, Tenn., that gangs are heading for a fight at this weekend's event.
Area residents have been hearing that gangs from Nashville and Atlanta are planning for a battle Friday or Saturday night.
But the police chief and county sheriff said they haven't heard the rumors. And even if they turn out to be true, there will be plenty of officers present.
"I hadn't heard that one," South Pittsburg Police Chief Dale Winters said about the rumors. "Of course, there's rumors flying around everywhere. ... You never know."
Police are beefing up security at the annual festival, now in its 14th year, after two recent shootings in the Moore Park area.
Two Anniston, Ala., men believed to be members of the 357 Crips gang were caught two blocks from the park after a shooting on April 11, according to Times Free Press archives.
South Pittsburg Mayor Mike Killian stated in an earlier Times Free Press report that he doesn't want to see what he called gang turf wars in his city. Mr. Killian did not return calls seeking comment for this story.
Chief Winters said officers from the Marion County Sheriff's Office, the sheriff's SWAT team and the Tennessee Highway Patrol will be on hand for the weekend's events, but not specifically because of the rumored gang activity.
IF YOU GO
* What: National Cornbread Festival
* When: 9 a.m.-6 p.m. Saturday, 9 a.m.-5 p.m. Sunday (all times Central)
* Where: 213 S. Cedar Ave., downtown South Pittsburg, Tenn. (take Exit 152 off I-24)
* Admission: $3 per day; free for preschoolers
* Phone: 423-837-0022
* Web site: www.nationalcornbread.com
* Note: No pets
"If there's any trouble, it might be there this weekend," Marion County Sheriff Ronnie "Bo" Burnett said. "We're going to assist in anything they need and serve as backup. ... We're going to try to show a presence, a force."
Chief Winters said that festival patrons who see "anything out of the ordinary" should find one of the police officers who will be stationed at several areas throughout the town.
Still, Chief Winters is skeptical that gangs from cities each about two hours away would choose the Cornbread Festival as their battleground.
"If it's going to happen, it's going to happen," he said. "But I'm doing everything I can to not let it happen. And 'Come enjoy yourself' is all I say."
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