9/1/2012 7:00 AM
By Chris Torres Staff Writer
JONESTOWN, Pa. — Fair season is the time of year that Katie Donmoyer can hardly wait for.
She loves showing cows and getting recognized for the work she puts into getting them trained for the show ring.
Step into the office of her family’s dairy and you’ll see dozens of ribbons and plaques from shows she and her family have competed in — testaments to their hard work and dedication.
But when Aug. 20 — the day of this year’s district dairy show in Schuylkill County — rolled around, she found herself in a strange and unusual place.
Rather than competing in the show ring, Donmoyer was on the sidelines, watching her friends vie for a chance to make it to the state show.
A few weeks earlier, Donmoyer broke her right arm when she slipped and fell on a manure ramp at the Lebanon Area Fair.
For this competitive 20-year-old, the accident has put a damper on the rest of her fair season.
“Just knowing you can’t do everything you want to, it’s frustrating. It wasn’t the same, going to districts and just watching,” she said.
Donmoyer’s accident is yet another reminder of the potential for accidents at any of the dozens of county fairs around the state.
Just last week, a rodeo bull got loose at the Harford Fair in Susquehanna County, injuring 13 people, including a woman in a wheelchair who got run over by the bull.
Ron Miller, president of the Pennsylvania State Association of County Fairs, said it’s been a fairly safe summer at fairs across the state, just as Lancaster County’s fair season recently got under way.
“I think, overall, we’ve had a pretty safe summer,” Miller said.
For Donmoyer, her accident happened doing something she had done many times before without incident.
On the Tuesday evening of the weeklong Lebanon Area Fair, which ran from July 28 to Aug. 4, Donmoyer and her family were getting ready to bring in more show cows for the open Holstein show later in the week.
She was cleaning out the manure from the pens, and like all other competitors, she had to discard her animals’ manure in a large waste bin next to a concrete loading ramp, which acts as the loading and unloading area for livestock at the fair.
The waste bin actually sits a few feet higher than the loading ramp. So, to accommodate the exhibitors and allow them to discard manure, fair organizers set up a short and narrow wooden ramp for them to take a wheelbarrow up to be able to dump it out.
Donmoyer said the ramp was slick, likely made worse by a light rain.
“It had just got done drizzling that night, just enough to make things slick and wet,” she said. “I just know it was like slick. I’m sure there was some manure on it.”
Donmoyer took the wheelbarrow up the ramp, dumped the manure into the waste bin, and then started back down the ramp with the wheelbarrow behind her.
All of a sudden, she said, she lost her footing and fell. While trying to catch her fall, her right arm went back, hurting her elbow.
An emergency medical technician was called, and she was told to go to the hospital.
She said X-rays showed a break, and her arm was put in a sling.
The next day, workers at the fair started digging out the foundation where the waste bin was located in an attempt to lessen the gap between the waste bin and loading dock.
Donmoyer got back to the fair at 3 a.m. that Wednesday after spending hours at the hospital.
She ended up staying at the fair the rest of the week.
“I was lucky to have family and friends to get through the week,” she said.
Although it was the first time anything happened to her, Donmoyer said she’s not surprised it happened in the first place.
“People have been complaining and stuff like that. I know I’m not the only one that fell. I’m just the only one that decided to hurt myself, I guess,” she said.
The manure is provided by a local farmer, who then takes the manure and spreads it on his fields.
Sue Werner, chairwoman of the Lebanon Area Fair Board, said the board recently met and is discussing options for next year’s fair, including a permanent fix to the manure setup.
“We realize that obviously there was a problem and we’ll be fixing that. Steps were taken immediately,” she said.
“We want to come to a much more permanent, better solution. Obviously we didn’t think we had much of problem,” Werner said, adding that competitors have also had the option of dumping manure in an area behind the beef barn, although it is a longer walk for dairy exhibitors.
Miller said several fairs have systems similar to Lebanon’s, where a ramp is used to discard manure into a spreader or . It’s something he doesn’t like to see, but he said some fairs just don’t have another viable option.
Meanwhile, Donmoyer continues to recover from her fall.
She continues to help on the family farm, which has 170 dairy cows, including participating in milkings and doing some chores.
As far as who is paying her medical bills, Donmoyer said she doesn’t know for sure, although she has been told by the fair’s insurance company that she would get at least a minimum of $5,000 even if the fair is not held liable for the accident.
Werner said the board has started getting the medical bills forwarded to them, but she didn’t go into specifics as far as what the insurance company will pay for and when.
Medical bills aside, Donmoyer said she wishes her situation had been handled a little differently by fair organizers for someone who’s been showing at the fair since she was 8 years old.
Even though Werner had been in contact with her the entire week by phone, she said nobody from the fair’s management nor from the fair board bothered to even check up on her while she was there.
“I think it could’ve been better. I guess you can say we were disappointed,” she said.
Still, Donmoyer said she realizes that in places where there are animals and people mingling, accidents are bound to happen, even if every possible precaution is taken.
“Things happen. Not everything is going to be perfect to a tee,” she said. “Yeah, everything should be safe and stuff, but I don’t know of any place you can go and everything is perfect, that nothing is ever going to happen.”