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Fans burn couches, flip cars after Kentucky’s win
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — Riot police used pepper spray in small amounts for crowd control as thousands of rowdy fans swarmed into the streets near the University of Kentucky campus in Lexington, overturning cars and lighting couches ablaze after a victory over cross-state rival Louisville in a Final Four matchup.
Police had been bracing for the possibility of post-game violence and resorted to pepper spray, though large amounts weren’t needed before they ultimately began dispersing the throngs, Lexington police spokeswoman Sherelle Roberts said.
She said 150 officers deployed on the streets at one point to quell what she called “a very dangerous situation with the fires and the violence” that dragged on for hours.
“It’s a fairly difficult situation, but not anything we didn’t plan for,” Ms. Roberts told the Associated Press.
Lexington city spokeswoman Susan Straub said police made fewer than 10 arrests, and a few injuries were reported after the celebrations turned rowdy in the streets after the Wildcats’ 69-61 win in New Orleans.
Ms. Roberts subsequently told the Lexington Herald-Leader that by 1 a.m. there had been at least 13 arrests, including several people suspected of arson. The newspaper also reported that police had to dodge flying beer bottles while taking fire extinguishers to put out dozens of fires involving sofas, trash and other debris set ablaze in the streets. There were no immediate reports of any serious injuries to police.
Many streets were blocked off earlier around Kentucky's campus to make way for the crowds, but sirens blared and police shut down more streets when the blazes broke out. Twitter feeds reported police in riot gear moved in to disperse crowds as some people on the streets were overturning and vandalizing vehicles and others smashed glass bottles.
Ms. Straub said the crowds began to disperse by about 11 p.m., nearly three hours after the game ended, but she said at no point had things “gotten out of control.”
Ms. Roberts said a street-sweeping machine was called in later at night to clean debris where crowds had departed. But authorities had no immediate report on the damages.
“I think it would be hard to estimate (damages) at this point,” Ms. Roberts added.
Earlier in the week, Lexington’s mayor and the university’s president exhorted fans to respect property and neighbors. But the city and university were prepared for a fiery celebration after police reported at least a dozen couch fires last week after Kentucky’s win over Baylor to earn a Final Four berth.
“We’ve come at this with a significant show of force,” Ms. Straub said.
The raucous street scenes triggered a rebuke from university spokesman Jay Blanton.
“It is unfortunate that a small number of people are using what should be a night of celebration as an excuse to attempt to tarnish the university and the community,” Mr. Blanton said in a statement. “To the extent that students are involved in any illegal activity or actions that violate the university’s student code, they will be dealt with appropriately.”
In New Orleans, Micah Fielden, Kentucky’s student body president, had earlier urged his fellow students in a tweet not to be destructive.
By Tom Fitton
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