MORGANTOWN, W.Va. (AP) — The historically hard-partying students of West Virginia University don’t need much provocation to act up, but authorities say they weren’t the only ones causing the St. Patrick’s Day mayhem documented in several online videos.
Several thousand students from other schools flocked to Morgantown over the weekend to start their spring breaks, Police Chief Ed Preston said Wednesday.
One of the 36 deliberately set fires that authorities handled between Saturday night and Sunday morning was surrounded almost entirely by students from Penn State, Preston said, while the large crowd at one rowdy house party was mainly students from the University of Maryland.
At least 10 people were arrested, and authorities issued dozens of citations for public and underage drinking, creating a public nuisance and other offenses on a weekend that Preston says was a confluence of circumstances conducive to trouble: A holiday typically associated with heavy drinking fell on a sunny Saturday with temperatures in the 80s while other spring breakers were visiting and a video production team was in town to document college partying.
The “I’m Shmacked” videos posted on Facebook and other sites show the heavy drinking typical of many college campuses and morning wake-up calls that were clearly staged. Other unrelated YouTube videos, however, also show fires and mob antics, including people throwing bottles and chairs at a police vehicle.
Preston and WVU spokesman John Bolt said there’s no evidence to suggest that “I’m Shmacked” instigated the bad behavior, but they say it’s likely the presence of cameras had an effect.
“Look what happens when somebody pulls out their video camera at a football game or a tailgate party,” the chief said. “They act up for the camera.”
Bolt said video and still photographs of a spray-painted car being smashed are also being taken out of context. It did not occur on campus, he said, and it was a fraternity fundraiser that had been scheduled in advance. Students paid to take swings at the car.
Preston said officers began seeing signs of trouble Friday evening with a large influx of people. He extended officers’ shifts, restricted or denied days off and called officers in early to keep control of the situation.
Preston said he encountered a videographer with “I’m Shmacked,” a crew that has visited other major universities across the country, causing congestion on a downtown street. The man relocated without incident.
Neither police nor university officials knew the crew was coming.
“If they had asked to come on campus,” Bolt said, “we would have said no.”
WVU and city officials have worked hard for several years to reduce the long-standing practice of setting street and trash bin fires to celebrate or protest.
They’ve also started filing more serious criminal charges against fire starters, and many students have been suspended or expelled under the university’s code of conduct.
Investigations to identify students involved this past weekend are under way, and Bolt said they may face disciplinary action.
Preston said the weekend was “not a welcome sight” for a community that had made so much progress. “But we’re not letting up.”
Police and fire officials will continue to stop unsafe behavior, from street fires to drinking on rooftops.
“It is not acceptable,” Preston said. “We are going to hold people accountable.”
(Copyright 2012 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)