Extra police, thousands more fans show up near UK's campus

Herald-Leader Staff WritersApril 2, 2012 

Fires and arrests began even before the University of Kentucky's victory Monday night in the NCAA championship game, with emergency responders struggling to control neighborhoods around the UK campus.

Police had made several dozen arrests as of 12:30 a.m. for disorderly conduct, alcoholic intoxication and other charges, said police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts. More specific numbers were not immediately available, Roberts said.

"Since we're only two hours into our operation, I don't want to give you any closing statement yet about how it's gone for the night. It's still going on," Roberts said.

Firefighter spokesman Ed Davis said firefighters responded to 20 EMS calls and reports of 50 fires in the area. Davis said injuries ranged from people being hit by thrown objects to high-levels of alcohol intoxication.

Lexington police officers in riot gear closed intersections to traffic and firefighters doused burning furniture, clothes and garbage set ablaze by revelers at many locations. Firefighters extinguished a burning garage on the 200 block of State Street and kept the flames from spreading to surrounding homes. That fire will be investigated Tuesday, officials said.

Police presence was increased for Monday's championship game against Kansas University.

During a news conference earlier Monday, Lexington Police Chief Ronnie Bastin said several hundred officers would be assigned to crowd control.

Bastin said police ruled out imposing a curfew after the game to force revelers off the streets. Instead, police planned to control key intersections, maintain a presence and respond to acts of violence.

"As long as folks are celebrating responsibly, we don't mind having the observer role," Bastin said. "We realize this is a big event, and winning a national championship is something that every other school in the nation would desire to be doing tonight."Much attention focused on State Street, off Nicholasville Road near the UK campus. The crowds there Monday were even thicker than on Saturday, when vandalism and assaults followed UK's victory over the University of Louisville, leading to more than 30 arrests.

By halftime Monday, UK fans gathered in State Street, knocked over garbage cans and threw bottles. After the game, they ripped a stop sign from the ground and started isolated fires in the road. Firefighters let the smaller fires burn out. The crowds were so boisterous that fire trucks had a hard time reaching the larger blazes, such as the burning garage.

Minor injuries were reported from thrown objects and alcohol- and fire-related incidents. At least one fist fight on South Limestone left a man with a bloody nose.

Downtown, a car crashed through a patio wall outside Cheapside Bar and Grill at Short and Mill streets, where people sat watching the game. Tables and chairs were strewn around the patio, but employees said none of the diners were hurt.

Several blocks away, thousands of people — some in blue body paint — gathered along South Limestone. Several patients from UK Good Samaritan Hospital on South Limestone gathered on the sidewalk to enjoy the evening, some in hospital gowns, towing their IVs behind them.

"Each time I have been out today, the crowd has gotten bigger," said Saundra Messer, 50, who was cheering UK's scoring from her wheelchair. "It's been a blast to watch. I think these are the best and most loyal fans in the sport."

Large crowds stretched outside bars where fans couldn't get inside. Shannon Ausmus and Mike Brutsky were the last two people standing in a line outside Two Keys Tavern, which was at capacity. As the game wore on, their chances of getting in appeared to fade.

The pair couldn't see the TV inside, but they could hear the Cats' sneakers squeaking.

"It's like undressing a woman in the dark; it's mysterious in a way," Ausmus said.

Throughout the city, thousands of UK fans cheered in the streets and hugged. Some of them leaned on their car horns or launched fireworks.

"This is the greatest feeling I've ever had," said UK graduate JJ Hawkin, who was strolling down South Limestone smoking a cigar. "I grew up around UK basketball. The first taste of champagne I ever had was when the Cats beat Utah in '98."

Herald-Leader reporter Greg Kocher contributed to this story.Twitter: @HLpublicsafety.

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