Thousands of University of Kentucky fans pour into campus streets after victory

jmadden@herald-leader.comMarch 29, 2014 

By 12:15 a.m., Saturday, Lexington police shut down State Street, which runs off South Limestone.

That decision came as the University of Kentucky went up 70-68 against the University of Louisville.

Ten minutes later, police began moving onto South Limestone and side streets near State Street, employing crowd-control strategy as the Wildcats beat the Cardinals 74-69. Officers who had been positioned across the street from Two Keys Tavern, 333 South Limestone, moved into position as fans erupted into chants of "C-A-T-S! CATS! CATS! CATS!"

Devante Bolling, 22, said there's nothing like Kentucky basketball: "It's an amazing experience. This is something you'll never forget."

The night had been relatively quiet until the game ended. As soon as UK emerged victorious, there were several reports of students running into the streets and a crowd that easily reached thousands. Fans partied hard on South Limestone and the neighborhoods that are nestled between State Street and Waller Avenue. Some yelled and screamed. Others threw bottles into the air.

Lexington police immediately began keeping watch of the crowds. Officers allowed fans to celebrate, and only got involved if things got out of hand. Meanwhile, firefighters were busy putting out fires — everything from couches and mattresses to, well, anything that would burn. There were times when they would put out one fire, only to have another start elsewhere.

Still, Ken Armstrong, Lexington police commander in the Bureau of Special Operations, said he was not aware of any arrests by early Saturday. However, police were still dealing with crowd control and had not debriefed. After the game, there were reports of a man with an assault riffle on Waller Avenue. Police were sent to the area to check it out, but switched radio channels so the traffic was no longer audible. Aside from that, things appeared to be relatively peaceful.

Before the game started, police held a news briefing to discuss plans for the night.

Hours before crowds overtook the streets, Armstrong said officers prepared for Friday's Sweet 16 game and potential celebrations as if it were a Final Four match up, but with fewer resources.

"We want everyone to have fun ... so we're just asking citizens help us reach that goal," Armstrong said.

Officers were on hand for patrol and crowd control. Armstrong would not say how many officers were working.

On Thursday, UK President Eli Capilouto sent out a reminder asking staff and students to "respect the rivalry and treat fans of both teams with dignity and respect. The foolish actions of a few tarnish the academic and athletic traditions of excellence that define the University of Kentucky."

Jay Blanton, spokesman for the university, said UK started a social media campaign using the hashtag #RespectTheRivalry to ensure students celebrated appropriately.

On Friday, Lexington police said they were working with University of Kentucky Police Department, the Fayette County's sheriff's office and the Lexington fire department to "keep celebrations safe."

In 2012, those who burned cars were charged with arson. The sheriff's office had buses lined up to take belligerent fans to jail.

Deputies stood near the corner of Avenue of Champions and Limestone. Farther up the street, Lexington police were in position outside the bars.

A similar presence was visible Friday near State Street, an area that is heavily populated with student housing. Through much of the game, Lexington police cruisers were strategically positioned throughout the neighborhoods in the area. Fire engines were parked in the parking lot of the University of Kentucky Hospital.

Lexington police said they would hold fans accountable if things get out of control. University officials have said students would likely face more discipline, particularly if they violated the student code of conduct.

Fans — a mixture of students and professionals — partied until just after 3 a.m. Police began using street sweepers to push the crowds out of the street, reminiscent of a night club announcing last call and later cutting on the lights. The crowds were allowed to be on the sidewalks, but they could no longer block the streets.

Nonetheless, fans largely considered it to be a good night — and morning.

Matt Seabold, 23, was walking from Limestone to the parking garage saying "never doubted, never doubted." During the game, he said, he was thinking "we're going to lose."

"I think I did about 15 heel clicks in two minutes," he said. "I got hang time."

Justin Madden: (859) 231-3197. Twitter: @HLpublicsafety

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