Police keep lid on unsanctioned UMass party day

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 03-07-2022 5:29 PM

AMHERST — As hundreds of green-clad college-age people filled streets and lawns in town Saturday morning and afternoon, one party-goer suffered serious injuries when he was impaled while trying to climb a fence at a North Amherst apartment complex.

With police monitoring the activity throughout the day, few enforcement actions were taken against those participating in the annual pre-St. Patrick’s Day celebration.

The injured man was transported by Amherst Fire Department ambulance to Baystate Medical Center in Springfield, where is he is recuperating. He was one of four people injured while scaling the fence at Townehouse Apartments, where about 2,000 people gathered.

“Someone could have died, an inch or two either way,” said Fire Chief Walter “Tim” Nelson, adding that one of the others injured on the fence suffered significant arm injuries. “People were not making good choices.”

While 13 people were arrested or are being summoned to court for violations of the town’s liquor laws, including for having open containers or being minors in possession of alcohol, the large gatherings and so-called day drinks in neighborhoods on lower Main Street, at Townehouse and in neighborhoods near the University of Massachusetts were, for the most part, uneventful.

Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said the day went as expected for his department, based on preparations that were made. “From a police perspective, things went very well,” Livingstone said.

The last Saturday before spring break for the University of Massachusetts has become a day of partying, an outgrowth of a bar promotion known as Blarney Blowout that, at its peak in 2014, led to significant mayhem, such as cans, bottles and snowballs being thrown, and property destruction. Since then, town and university officials have tamped down the occasion, using a series of recommendations from former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis that include restricting access to campus dormitories, and referring to the day as the “First Weekend in March.”

In addition to the four hospitalized in the fence incident, Nelson said there was one other unspecified trauma incident, and seven others were transported to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton for alcohol-related issues.

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Between Saturday at 7 a.m. and Sunday at 7 a.m., the department handled 44 calls, 23 of which were related to alcohol consumption. Nelson said he has admiration for the department’s firefighter/ paramedics, staffed up to 13 on duty so five ambulances and an engine could be in service. The department also didn’t have to summon mutual aid. “It was steady like we haven’t seen in two years,” Nelson said.

The most significant police incidents Saturday, according to dispatch logs supplied by police, came in the neighborhoods between Main and College streets south of downtown.

On South Whitney Street at 12:42 p.m., officers found people congregating in a yard, with some urinating, and at 12:57 p.m. police were contacted by a resident on the same street after a college-age man fell to the ground outside the home. That intoxicated man was turned over to the custody of a sober friend.

At 1:15 p.m., South Whitney residents requested police help after guests began shooting off fireworks. To bring control to the situation and disperse the crowds, traffic on College Street between South Whitney and Shumway streets was blocked. Four men at the home are being summoned to court on charges of violating the town’s nuisance house bylaw.

Police officers were stationed in hot spots as crowds swelled. Just before noon, at one Main Street yard at the corner of Shumway Street, dozens of people could be seen attending a party, with numerous plastic cups set on a table.

The first noise complaint came in at 10:23 a.m., when officers responded to Taylor Street to issue a warning to the residents.

Aside from the liquor law violations, other inappropriate activity was reported at 2:16 p.m. on College Street, where a college-age man was urinating on a large metal container where people can place clothing donations. At 5:04 p.m. a man was sent on his way after urinating in front of Crestview Apartments on North Pleasant Street.

The arrests for liquor law violations took place between 10:58 a.m. and 4:35 p.m. on Meadow Street, South Whitney Street, East Pleasant Street, Hobart Lane and North Pleasant Street. Those being summoned for similar violations occurred between 12:06 p.m. and 5:37 p.m. in the same locations. Police also issued 12 warnings for liquor law violations from 11:46 a.m. until 5:32 p.m.

The event was similar in scope to 2020, in the days just before the pandemic and students being sent home for the semester. That year, about 20 people were arrested for various alcohol-related incidents.

This year, 36 student parties were registered in town through the Good Neighbor Registration Program, according to UMass. That was only half as many as were registered in 2020.

Also, at a special campus-sponsored event, more than 1,700 UMass students, and 10 student organizations, participated in and watched “So You Think You Can Dance UMass,” an event hosted by Druski and featuring a performance by the Jabbawockeez at the Fine Arts Center.

Last year, UMass students were prohibited from pre-St. Patrick’s Day revelry, yet at least 200 students were identified as taking part in a North Amherst party, and were subject to interim suspensions and additional discipline under the student code of conduct for having “flagrantly flouted the rules,” according to the university.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.]]>