WVU plans crackdown after postgame fires
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Students charged with setting fires over the weekend in celebration of West Virginia University's football victory over Texas can expect swift justice from the university, including possible expulsion.
And all WVU students could be facing a $20 per semester student impact fee to pay for additional police and fire protection if Morgantown Mayor Jim Manilla gets his way.
A total of 29 fires were set, mainly in the Sunnyside section of Morgantown, an area thick with off-campus housing for WVU students, in the hours after the WVU victory over Texas. The game ended around 11 p.m. Saturday, and the last fire was set around 6:28 a.m. Sunday, according to the Morgantown Fire Department.
University president Jim Clements addressed the issue in his annual address to the university community Monday.
"The worst of the postgame behavior Saturday night was completely unacceptable, dangerous and inexcusable," Mr. Clements said in a release from WVU. "We cannot and will not tolerate it. These actions are dangerous. And, they diminish the successes of our students, faculty, staff and alumni."
The president said he was "angry and frustrated" and vowed that the university would take immediate action to identify and discipline any students involved. He said in the past year 40 WVU students had been expelled or suspended and many others sanctioned for behavior violations and promised to continue to "take a hard line on this kind of behavior."
According to police news releases, five men were charged with malicious burning and 10 others were charged with offenses ranging from battery on an officer, escape, disorderly conduct and resisting arrest/obstructing an officer. So far, police have released the identities of the five charged with burning. Four are WVU students, according to the mayor and WVU vice president of student affairs Ken Gray.
In addition to setting fires, police said a crowd of about 1,000 that gathered in the Sunnyside area threw objects, including bottles and rocks, at the emergency responders.
The mayor said the weekend violence reached a new peak that has him and other officials worried about future victories.
"It was unusual this time because they were throwing bricks and bottles and turning over cars," the mayor said. "We are very, very concerned about what happened."
The mayor said civic and university officials will meet this week to discuss ways to prevent future violence with particular attention focused on Oct. 20, the date of the next WVU home game, which will be against Kansas State. The Texas game was an away game as is this weekend's match-up against Texas Tech.
Morgantown Fire Capt. David Dzurnak, who worked Saturday night, also said the crowd was more violent than in recent years.
"It was the worst weekend ... in a lot of years. The crowd was bigger and our trucks did get hit with things that were thrown at us," he said.
Capt. Dzurnak said the fires were set either in trash bins or on pieces of furniture that were dragged into the street. None of the fires was close to a structure, he said. Of the total, 18 were street fires and 11 were trash bin fires.
Mr. Gray said the university plans to bring the four students charged with malicious burning before a university judicial board possibly as early as next week and to dispense verdicts as soon as possible so that all students can see the consequences of participating in unlawful actions.
Mr. Gray said the university has long advertised to students the consequences of "unlawful behavior," including expulsion, jail time, fines, eviction from housing and loss of athletic privileges.
He said any student who faces criminal charges in connection with the weekend's fire setting and violence also will be subject to the university's judicial process. So if more names are made public by police, more students will be brought in to face university officials.
The mayor said university and city officials need to come up with both long-term and short-term solutions to the problem. His suggestion of a student impact fee is a long-term solution in that it would raise about $1.2 million annually to pay for additional police and firefighters for the city forces. It would have to be approved by city council.
Mr. Gray had no comment on the mayor's proposed fee but said the university is looking to deter the behavior by continuing to educate students about the consequences, taking quick judicial action against those involved and getting other students to exert pressure on the offenders.
"We have 30,000 students. There was a small number engaged in this incident. But even though people are not engaged they are still affected because the impact is on the reputation of the university and all of the students," Mr. Gray said.
First Published October 9, 2012 12:00 am