University officials promise discipline

Updated: October 24, 2003, 12:25 PM ET
Associated Press

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- West Virginia University officials will study videotape and photographs to identify rowdy football fans who ignored pre-game pleas and set fires in the streets to celebrate the Mountaineers' 28-7 upset of No. 3 Virginia Tech on Wednesday night.

"If there are students in the pictures, and I'm sure there will be, they'll be hearing from our student affairs office and will be disciplined accordingly," university spokeswoman Becky Lofstead said Thursday.

At least a dozen of approximately 90 fires set early Thursday were described as "sizable" by Monongalia County emergency officials. No one was seriously injured and structural damage was confined to a few porches, said Sgt. Mike Lantz of the Morgantown Police Department.

"It's definitely out of hand," Lantz said. "We just can't continue like this every time we have a night game or a national game."

County officials activated an emergency operations center for about 2½ hours early Thursday and considered cutting off power to Morgantown's Sunnyside neighborhood, where many students live.

"Some of the fires are large enough to get into the power lines, and we're running a big risk of active lines shorting and dropping into the streets," said David Flanigan, public information officer for the county's Office of Emergency Management.

Inside the stadium, police used pepper spray on fans who tried to tear down the goal posts after West Virginia's victory. State Police and dozens of yellow-shirted security personnel surrounded the goal posts and kept fans at bay.

Brad Anderson said he was hit by the pepper spray when he ran down onto the field. "We can't breathe. We're hacking up our lungs, but it was worth it," Anderson said.

Fans retaliated by throwing debris at the security officials.

After West Virginia coach Rich Rodriguez pleaded with fans over the public address system to depart, the field cleared quickly.

Outside the stadium, an unknown number of police and fire officers were struck with rocks and bottles, but all were treated and released from hospitals and no serious injuries were reported, Flanigan said.

One student was charged with battery on a police officer after punching an officer who was trying to take alcohol from him, Lantz said. About 20 other people were arrested on charges of setting fires, disorderly conduct and public intoxication.

Lantz could not identify the students or give an exact number of arrests because police reports were still incomplete.

At one point there were about 5,000 students on Grant Avenue, a main street in Sunnyside.

"It's as bad as we feared it would be," Flanigan said. "We're as prepared as we could have been, and we're utilizing every resource we have."

Earlier this month, the university disciplined three students who participated in similar post-game mayhem after the Mountaineers' 22-20 loss to No. 2 Miami, Lofstead said. One was expelled, another is facing expulsion and a third is on what the school calls deferred suspension, meaning he is one infraction away from expulsion.

Some of those students were identified through newspaper photographs.

Early Thursday, about 130 police officers waded through the crowds, including 50 of Morgantown's 54-strong police force with help from State Police, WVU campus security and officers from neighboring cities and towns.

"I saw people burning couches, mattresses, recliners," said student Harrison Hume.

Fire and police officials had spent two days before the game removing garbage and couches from citizens' front porches.

This week Rodriguez left recorded messages on students' answering machines, taped a video message shown on the stadium's scoreboard and made other requests through the media, imploring fans to act responsibly.

The fires marked the third time in the last year that fans have started fires following weeknight football games.

"It's definitely out of hand," Lantz said. "We just can't continue like this every time we have a night game or a national game."


Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press

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