27 fires, 3 arrests aside, celebratory crowds earn praise from Lexington police

jwarren@herald-leader.comMarch 31, 2014 

Basketball fans celebrated in a big way over the weekend but generally kept their festivities under control as they savored two big NCAA tournament wins by the University of Kentucky Wildcats, Lexington police and firefighters reported.

As expected, large crowds gathered to celebrate on and around State Street on Friday night after UK defeated the Louisville Cardinals. They were out again in a big way Sunday evening after the Wildcats knocked off Michigan to earn a berth in the Final Four.

But officials said the celebrations — while far from sedate — were calmer than the wild partying that followed UK's 2012 national championship.

Police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said there were three arrests Sunday night. Two people were arrested Friday night during celebrations for receiving stolen property and alcohol intoxication. Those numbers paled in comparison to 2012, when there were dozens of injuries and more than 75 arrests as fires were set and vehicles damaged amid a hail of flying beer bottles.

"You literally could count the number of serious issues we had on both hands," Roberts said Monday about the weekend's celebrations. "Almost all of the crowds, wherever they were, were very cooperative and well-behaved.

"We'd like to thank the public for their cooperation."

But police officers will take a look at social media sites and expect to make more arrests as a result.

Officers recovered four of the five signs stolen on or near State Street. Police said: "If you have the fifth one, bring it back."

There were an estimated 5,000 fans on South Limestone, 8,000 on State Street and 200 on Woodland Avenue on Friday. Officers said the numbers were about the same Sunday, which was much more peaceful than Friday night. There were thefts and property damage Friday.

Battalion Chief Joe Best said Lexington firefighters handled 14 fires in the State Street area Friday night and 27 Sunday night. All of the fires involved couches, cushions or similar objects that celebrants set ablaze, he said.

No houses or vehicles were involved, Best said.

Firefighters also made about eight emergency medical runs during the two nights of celebrations. They involved injuries from falls or flying glass, and alcohol intoxication, Best said.

"There was nothing life-threatening," he said.

Roberts said senior police officials met early Monday to discuss crowd-control strategies for Saturday's Final Four game, which pits the Wildcats against the Wisconsin Badgers.

It's unclear when UK students, and others, began celebrating big athletic victories by gathering to party and start bonfires on and around State Street, which is near the campus.

But the partying really emerged as a public issue after the football Wildcats defeated Louisville 40-34 on Sept. 15, 2007. The Cardinals were ranked ninth in the nation going into the game.

After UK won, the celebration went over the top.

Police reported furniture being set on fire, bonfires in driveways, and crowds of intoxicated people in the streets.

A few days later, then-Mayor Jim Newberry created a "game day work group" of police and other officials to keep things quiet at UK's next home game.

Jim Warren (859) 231-3255. Twitter: @hlpublicsafety.

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