Chico couple arrested for being touristy
James Faulk, The Times-Standard

"I've heard enough," said executive director-turned-Sheriff Cliff Chapman of the Fortuna Chamber of Commerce. "Let's hang 'em."

Such was almost the sentence for Lyle and Janeine Gray, a Chico couple who made the legal mistake of choosing Fortuna as a traveling destination.

A crowd of 20 or so gathered outside the Fortuna Chamber offices Friday as the mock trial unfolded. It's a 19-year tradition, to select tourists for a good-natured comedy skit that lasts the length of Fortuna Rodeo Weekend, and the Grays took their prosecution in stride.

The trial was presided over by Judge Robert Zigler, a Fortuna attorney.

The charges included simply being from Chico -- a "party town extraordinaire" -- and getting caught behind the Redwood Curtain, as well as being dressed as tourists and driving up the price of gas.

"What's it take to get rid of tourists like you?" Zigler joked. "Another flood?"

The prosecutor and defense attorneys took long swigs from the "sidebar" -- suspiciously resembling a bottle of corn whisky -- as they debated the Gray's fate.

As would be expected in the Friendly City, despite the heated rhetoric a lenient sentence was passed down. The couple will receive free lunch, free dinner and serve as kind of Fortuna Rodeo mascots for the next two days.

Laughs were bountiful as the skit closed, with the judge and the new interim Chief of Police Kris Kitna leaving with lipstick stained cheeks from the bar wenches who'd gathered outside to watch.

"This is the kind of weird and bizarre street theater that makes living in a small town fun," said David Reed of the Fortuna Business Improvement District. "It's kind of like something people don't break loose and do anymore."

Chapman, fresh from the trial, was impressed by the city's legal process.

"I think that's about as fair as they get in Fortuna." he said.

The kidnapped tourists tradition has been going strong for almost 20 years, he said, and it services two purposes -- it kicks off the beginning of the rodeo and it servers as a marketing tool.

"This is really one of our highlights," he said.