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Morgantown mayor upset by rioting, considering new student fee

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. -- Upset by the riotous behavior that erupted in Morgantown Saturday night after yet another Mountaineers victory, Mayor Jim Manilla said he is considering levying a new student fee to increase the city's first responder ranks.

Speaking with a reporter hours after hundreds of revelers set fires and attacked police officers, Manilla said efforts to tone down the post-game party atmosphere have failed.

"Whatever good has been done in the past has been all wiped out," he said. "We're getting close to an injury or loss of life.

"I know we need more police officers," Manilla said. "It's pretty obvious at this point."

Manilla said he has been thinking about bringing the idea of a "student impact fee" to Morgantown City Council. If a $20 fee is assessed for each WVU student each semester, he said enough money would be raised to pay for extra public employees.

With an enrollment of nearly 30,000, that would equal about $1.2 million in revenue for the city annually.

"This is public safety," he said. "They (WVU) need to pay their fair share."

Police and firefighters responded to about 30 street fires and an "unruly crowd of about 1,000 people" along Grant Avenue following the Mountaineers' 48-45 win at the University of Texas Saturday night.

Just before 11 p.m., fans filled High Street in downtown Morgantown and Grant Avenue in Sunnyside. The celebrations quickly got out of control, authorities said.

About 50 officers in riot gear responded to Grant Avenue and used pepper spray and tear gas to dispel the crowd, which was throwing rocks, bottles and other objects at officers, according to a press release from the Morgantown Police Department.

Police also reported fights were breaking out within the crowd and others were attempting to overturn vehicles. Several officers received minor injuries, none of which required medical treatment.

"When you throw projectiles at a police officer, that's bad," Manilla said. "That's backwards."

Manilla said those events, combined with a street fire on Sept. 30 that destroyed three vehicles and caused damage to a house on Cass Street, shows that large-scale celebrations in Morgantown are increasingly out of control.

In all, five people were arrested for arson-related offenses Saturday night and Sunday morning.

Andrew Thompson of Centerville, Va., David Joseph Costa of Germantown, Md., Robert F. Comorosky of Loveland, Ohio, Alexander Zuo Malverin of Pennsylvania and Brett Zachary Stevens of Highland, Md. were all arrested for malicious burning, according to a news release from the Morgantown Fire Department.

Thompson, Costa, Comorosky and Stevens are WVU students, university spokesman John Bolt said. In addition to criminal charges, they could also face student disciplinary procedures, Bolt said.

Ten others were arrested for offenses including battery on an officer, escape, disorderly conduct, resisting arrest and obstruction. Other citations were issued for alcohol-related offenses.

Firefighters were also "pelted with thrown debris" and an energized light pole was "toppled and thrown into a fire on Grant Avenue," the fire department's release states.

Manilla plans to meet with police and fire officials, as well as the city manager later this week. He said all have expressed concern over the recent incidents. On Saturday night, the Morgantown Fire Department had to call in an additional shift to deal with the fires.

"It's costly for the city," Manilla said.

He also expressed concern that while police officers are dealing with issues in Sunnyside and downtown, the rest of the city is patrolled less. Law enforcement from WVU, Westover, Granville, Monongalia County and the West Virginia State Police assisted with the crowd.

That doesn't faze many WVU students, who expressed support for the celebrations on Twitter Saturday night and Sunday, posting cellphone photos and video of the events.

A Twitter poll conducted by the Daily Athenaeum student newspaper asking respondents how they felt about the celebrations resulted in 85 percent of 1,500 respondents feeling "proud." Only 10 percent were "embarrassed." The rest of the respondents were "mixed" or "indifferent."

Manilla said he knows that WVU students don't commit all the crime in Morgantown, and that there are visitors who contribute to the problem.

"It's something that we've been struggling with," he said. "It just doesn't make sense."

In a statement Sunday, Ken Gray, vice president of student affairs, said the university would cooperate with law enforcement "in every way possible."

"It's unfortunate that despite the coordinated efforts of the University -- including students, law enforcement and the administration, and City of Morgantown officials, there remain a few individuals who choose to celebrate West Virginia University athletic successes unsafely and inappropriately.

"The behavior of some reacting to the Mountaineers' victory Saturday night is unacceptable and detracts from the team's achievements.

"Otherwise on campus, it was a successful Fall Family Weekend where thousands of parents and friends enjoyed the beautiful weekend, with many of them packing the Mountainlair to witness the victory over the Longhorns."

Students facing criminal charges could face expulsion, he said.

"We will continue to seek ways to stop this kind of behavior including through education, communication and cooperation," Gray said.


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