50,000 converge on Stateline, only 98 arrested
There were far more hugs and high fives Friday night than fistfights. While the New Year’s celebration at Stateline was riotous, it did not actually become the riot law enforcement officials had feared.
The Douglas County Sheriff’s Office and the South Lake Tahoe Police Department arrested 98 people for mostly drug- and alcohol-related incidents or for disturbing the peace.
There was a genuine feeling of camaraderie among the crowd, which was estimated between 45,000 and 50,000 people.
The roar that ushered in the new year began shortly before midnight and lasted several minutes, sweeping through the crowd and echoing off the casino walls high above.
The cheers were punctuated by hundreds of camera flashes and grew the loudest for the dozens of illegal fireworks set off throughout the evening.
The atmosphere remained positive until a man climbed onto the street light over U.S. Highway 50.
The man, who had short blond hair and a tattoo on his arm, flirted with death while entertaining the crowd with an amazing display of strength and foolishness. He hung above the street for 45 minutes and took off his clothes while the people below both cheered and threw bottles, cans, and other objects at him.
After stripping down to his boxers, the man climbed to the very end of the pole and hung on the traffic signal itself, causing it to fall to the street below.
Police had cleared the area below the street light shortly before it fell. The crowd began to push violently against the police line when they did nothing to catch the man, who appeared as if he were about to fall.
Police responded by beating several people with their batons.
After the celebrants began pelting police with bottles and fireworks police withdrew, providing the man with an opportunity to dive into the crowd and escape.
Elsewhere, the crowd was much more friendly with police, posing for pictures with officers and giving them pats on the back.
One obviously intoxicated man kept yelling “I love police,” while trying to hug a Nevada Highway Patrolman.
According to Sgt. Steve O’Brien of the South Lake Tahoe Police Department, the crowd near the casinos was the most peaceful.
“It seemed to me that at Stateline it was just a bunch of revelers trying to have a good time, with just a few people out of control,” he said.
A few blocks away from the state line, at the Lake Tahoe Inn, O’Brien said things were much more rowdy.
“It was one of those nights that things went to hell in a hand basket,” he said.
Police received dozens of reports of bottles and televisions being thrown from balconies, and of both car windows and those at the inn being broken.
“They were out of control,” O’Brien said of the people at the Lake Tahoe Inn, where there were several fights, one involving knives. “People were just generally causing havoc.”
Thankfully, that havoc did not spread, according to Douglas County Commissioner Steve Weissinger.
“I was pleased it was a non-event, but … if there had been a disaster we were prepared,” he said.
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