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Thousands cause problems for police  in North Amherst

AMHERST — Police ducked cans, bottles and snowballs as they dispersed over 2,000 people celebrating St. Patrick’s Day at a North Amherst apartment complex this past weekend, leading to six arrests.

In addition, fire department officials said three dozen medical calls Saturday and early Sunday morning, many related to severe intoxication or drug use, strained medical services in town.

College-age people, many dressed in green and consuming alcohol, congregated in the outdoor areas at Townehouse Apartments on Meadow Street during the late morning and early afternoon Saturday, in a gathering that coincided with the pre-St. Patrick’s Day bar promotion called the Blarney Blowout downtown at the same time. That event, which last year turned the town center into a scene of disorderly drunken revelers, was calm this time given advance preparation by town officials and the bar owners, police said.

The party, however, simply moved.

“As the day wore on and people got more drunk, it was evident this was something we needed to end before darkness,” Amherst Police Chief Scott Livingstone said.

He said the partying was not hosted by specific Townehouse tenants, but a spontaneous crowd began forming in late morning and continued growing until police gave the dispersal order at 4:50 p.m. He called the mild, sunny weather a contributing factor. Many people could be seen throughout the day carrying cases of beer as they walked from North Amherst package stores along Meadow Street. Taxi cabs and PVTA buses were also regularly dropping people off at the apartment complex, and traffic periodically came to a standstill on the street.

The dispersal order came only after a state police Community Action Team and two UMass officers arrived and people began heaving bottles, cans and snowballs, Livingstone said. At least two women were hit by bottles and injured, said Detective Richard MacLean.

That six people were arrested at the scene doesn’t reflect the magnitude of the event, Livingstone said. Officers mainly attempted to ensure people dispersed safely, he said. They used some pepper spray balls in the process of clearing the area, he said.

Ambulance personnel had to wear turnout gear and helmets as they dealt with patients to avoid injury from debris being thrown at them.

Early in the afternoon, police took multiple prank calls, which they traced to people gathered at Townehouse, one alerting police to an alleged stabbing that occurred in front of the downtown bars, the other to a suspicious man with a gun on Belchertown Road. Police believe the calls may have been an attempt to divert resources from the apartment complex.

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