Drunken partyers imperil Amherst emergency crews
Police ducked cans, bottles and snowballs as they dispersed over 2,000 people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at a North Amherst apartment complex Saturday, leading to six arrests.
In addition, fire department officials said three dozen medical calls Saturday and early Sunday morning, many related to severe intoxication or drug use, strained medical services in town.
College-age people, many dressed in green and consuming alcohol, congregated in the outdoor areas at Townehouse Apartments on Meadow Street during the late morning and early afternoon Saturday, in a gathering that coincided with the pre-St. Patrick’s Day bar promotion called the Blarney Blowout downtown at the same time. That event, which last year turned the town center into a scene of disorderly drunken revelers, was calm this time given advance preparation by town officials and the bar owners, police said.
The party, however, simply moved.
“As the day wore on and people got more drunk, it was evident this was something we needed to end before darkness,” Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said.
He said the partying was not hosted by specific Townehouse tenants, but a spontaneous crowd began forming in late morning and continued growing until police gave the dispersal order at 4:50 p.m. He called the mild, sunny weather a contributing factor. Many people could be seen throughout the day carrying cases of beer as they walked from North Amherst package stores along Meadow Street. Taxi cabs and PVTA buses were also regularly dropping people off at the apartment complex, and traffic periodically came to a standstill on the street.
The dispersal order came only after a state police Community Action Team and two UMass officers arrived and people began heaving bottles, cans and snowballs, Livingstone said. Amherst police, including plainclothes officers with video cameras, had been monitoring the growing numbers of people throughout the day but didn’t intervene until the additional officers were on the scene, Livingstone said.
At least two women were hit by bottles and injured, said Detective Richard MacLean. One was treated at the scene by Amherst Fire Department paramedics, while the other, who had a cut on her head, sought her own medical attention.
Another man told police he was punched in the face and his $200 pair of eyeglasses was damaged.
In addition, one officer suffered a minor injury to her wrist, Livingstone said.
There was also a window smashed at one apartment.
That six people were arrested at the scene doesn’t reflect the magnitude of the event, Livingstone said. Officers mainly attempted to ensure people dispersed safely, he said. They used some pepper spray balls in the process of clearing the area, he said.
Trevor C. Morency, 20, of Chelmsford, and Christopher McGoldrick, 22, of Meriden, Conn., were both arrested on charges of disorderly conduct, failure to disperse from a riot and assault with a dangerous weapon after they continued to throw bottles and cans, Mac-Lean said.
Patrick R. Conlin, 23, of 727 Main St., unit 3, was arrested on charges of failure to disperse from a riot, disorderly conduct and attempting to start a fire after he tried to light a couch on fire, MacLean said.
A 27-year-old Amherst man fled the scene, but will be facing the same charges as police determined he was responsible for spraying lighter fluid on the couch, MacLean said.
Michael Roy Carmasine, 20, of Yardley, Pa., was arrested on charges of disorderly conduct and being a minor in possession of alcohol, Terence M. Meehan, 20, of Worcester, was arrested on charges of failure to disperse from a riot, and Shane R. Niles, 21, of Hyde Park, was arrested on charges of failure to disperse from a riot, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest, Mac-Lean said.
Only four fire department ambulances were staffed during the day, and they were unable to keep up with a growing number of patients, said Stephen Gaughan, president of the Amherst Fire Fighters Local 1764.
“It put us really deep. It stressed the system really hard,” Gaughan said.
Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson made a decision around 4 p.m. to increase staffing from nine to 11 firefighters, which allowed a fifth ambulance to help respond to other medical emergencies, such as three calls to Curry Hicks Cage where high school basketball tournament games were being played.
At Townehouse, Nelson said, ambulance personnel had to wear turnout gear and helmets as they dealt with patients to avoid injury from debris being thrown at them.
“They were going to be in the line of fire, too. My guys should not have to deal with that,” Nelson said.
Gaughan praised the police officers for breaking up the Townehouse gathering, noting that no firefighters were injured.
Early in the afternoon, police took multiple prank calls, which they traced to people gathered at Townehouse, one alerting police to an alleged stabbing that occurred in front of the downtown bars, the other to a suspicious man with a gun on Belchertown Road. MacLean said officers downtown were aware that no stabbing had occurred, but were unable to identify the callers. He said police believe the calls may have been an attempt to divert resources from the apartment complex.
Sarah Swartz, a Town Meeting member who lives on Meadow Street, said the road between Pine Street and the Route 116 bypass was gridlock throughout the day. In an email, she described the people as “pretty much all wearing green, all very loud, although it seemed to be an excited mood, not too scary, except for the sheer volume of bodies.”
Her biggest worry, she said, was whether ambulances might not be able to respond in a timely manner to a child with a broken arm or a senior citizen having a heart attack.
Town Meeting member Rita Burke, who lives in the Cushman section of Amherst, said her husband got tied up in traffic on Meadow Street as police in riot gear cleared the scene. The pictures she has seen after the Townehouse event, she said, remind her of what happened at Puffer’s Pond last Patriot’s Day, when students littered the beach during a massive party.
“We’re on the brink of critical mass and have been for a long time,” Burke said.
Burke said such mob scenes are the antithesis of what should be happening in a small New England town.
Livingstone said police can’t prevent people from gathering outdoors, but he plans to consult with University of Massachusetts administrators about ways to control the partying. Hobart Lane, a street heavily populated by student tenants, was once a popular destination every spring — and 200 or so people were outdoors there Saturday. But Townehouse has increasingly become the place for large-scale events.
More trouble ahead
Nelson said he expects problems to increase as the weather warms in the weeks leading up to area college graduations.
“The train we know is coming,” Nelson said. “When kids get back from spring break, when they can see the end of the school year, things are going to get nuts.”
He said administrators at UMass, Amherst College and Hampshire College can help. “The schools need to step up and step on the bad actors,” Nelson said.
Meanwhile, the Blarney Blowout, co-sponsored by McMurphy’s Uptown Tavern and Stackers Pub, brought many people downtown, with other bars also seeing a surge in patronage. But the event caused only minimal problems in the town center.
“The restaurant and bar owners did a great job,” Livingstone said. “Downtown couldn’t have gone any better, in my opinion.”
Gaughan, though, said that his union is concerned about Blarney Blowout continuing and will advocate that it be discontinued. Gaughan said the event appears to be a municipal approval for excessive celebrations.
Aside from Townehouse, only a few other isolated problems occurred.
One was on South Prospect Street Saturday at 2:10 p.m., where people were throwing bottles from the roof. A resident was issued a $300 nuisance house ticket, MacLean said.
Two Railroad Street residents were issued nuisance house and noise bylaw tickets Friday at 11:35 p.m. after police found a large party there, MacLean said.