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Amherst police to charge 14 University of Massachusetts students with running illegal bar

Fourteen University of Massachusetts students who have allegedly been operating an illegal bar at 11 Phillips St. for several months are expected to have charges brought against them later this week.

Lt. Ronald Young, head of the police detective bureau, said Wednesday that the ongoing investigation, launched after repeated reports from nearby residents about after-hours drinking establishments in the neighborhood, confirmed the presence of illegal alcohol sales being made from the house.

“We have identified 14 people who are residents at the house,” Young said. “We are still determining applicable charges.”

Young said these charges will including keeping a disorderly house and violating the town’s nuisance house and keg bylaws.

Using a search warrant, officers went into the house Tuesday morning, confiscating numerous items from a bar set up in the basement, including multiple kegs of beer, myriad devices for dispensing alcohol, cups and stirrers and a tip jar, Young said. Several hundred dollars in cash was also recovered that had been collected from people paying admission, he said.

“The most problematic element is what this is causing for the community,” Young said. “This was an ongoing, perpetual problem for the neighborhood.”

Young said residents have reported increases in the amounts of trash, vandalism and particularly foot traffic during the overnight hours when this bar, and possibly others, are operating.

Removing such illegal bars can be a challenge for the department, Young said. Investigations are difficult because they require specific information about patterns of conduct.

The illegal bar has in operation since at least spring, when arrests were made at the house, said Detective Sgt. David Knightly. “We’ve been keeping an eye on this place for months,” he said.

Besides the police response, fire and building inspectors handled code violations at the house.

Assistant Fire Chief Donald McKay said inspectors found two primary problems. First there were covered smoke detectors in the bedrooms, designed to ensure they wouldn’t trigger the alarm system, he said. Second, a wall-mounted pull station on the first floor had been previously activated, but since it had not been reset the local alarm was silent.

Before the residents were allowed to stay there last night, fire inspectors ensured that all smoke detectors were uncovered and the property owner got a fire alarm company to restore the local alarm so that the pull station would function.

McKay said that the smoke detectors in common areas and exit signs were operational.

The building commissioners office considers the residence a single-family home, meaning that many of those living at the property are likely not on the lease. The town limits all single-family homes to four unrelated housemates. With more than six residents, it could be called an illegal rooming house, McKay said.

The building commissioner will determine whether residents will be forced to leave.

McKay said the fire department may insist that the landlord install a sprinkler system, which will make the building safer, though that can be an expensive investment. It’s something being encouraged for other rentals.

“If we could get to everything sprinklered, that would be an ideal,” McKay said.

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