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High school party not so safe or sober

A high school dance intended to help raise funds for a safe and sober event ended prematurely on Thursday, with one teen-ager leaving in an ambulance and four others in handcuffs.

The dance at Nero’s 2000, Caesars Tahoe’s nightclub, raised money for South Tahoe High School’s athletic programs and Whittell High School’s safe and sober Grad Night. The event was supervised by about 60 adults, including off-duty police officers and administrators from both high schools. At least 600 teens purchased $10 tickets in advance or paid $15 at the door.

School resource officer Pete VanArnum said the chaperones started to notice drunken behavior among the teens shortly after the dance began at 6 p.m. A South Tahoe senior, Michael Ernest Downey, was the first to be arrested. Douglas County investigators said the 18-year-old was noticeably intoxicated. He was booked in the Douglas County Jail for underage drinking.



Things started to deteriorate after a South Lake Tahoe girl was found passed out on the dance floor.

“I carried her out. She was comatose,” VanArnum said. “I was concerned she would die.”




The girl was transported to Barton Memorial Hospital for a possible overdose on GHB, also called the “date rape” drug or “liquid ecstasy.” By early Friday afternoon the girl had been released from Barton.

According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, GHB use has been associated with events in which several people were found comatose. Symptoms of GHB toxicity include coma, seizures, respiratory depression and vomiting.

VanArnum said while he removed the girl, chaperones noticed more drunk teens.

“It started to get out of control. That is when the dance was closed down and we started to usher kids out the door,” he said.

Douglas County Sheriff’s officials said that at 7:45 p.m. a decision was made between the casino, the school chaperones and the police to bring up the lights and end the dance. The dance was scheduled to last until 9 p.m.

The teens took exception and many started chanting “refund, refund.” The call later turned to “riot, riot.” As the crowd was being directed out into the street a 16-year-old South Lake Tahoe boy allegedly started to cause a disturbance, shoving people and yelling obscenities

“One Douglas County officer was assaulted. That’s when I came in and got assaulted too,” VanArnum said. “He was a big kid, 6 foot 4 inches, maybe 240 pounds.”

The boy was arrested for battery on an officer and disorderly conduct and taken to the Douglas County juvenile facility. According to the police report, once at the jail the 16-year-old was cooperative and even apologized to the officers for his actions saying he was only angry because the dance ended early. Two other girls also were arrested inside Nero’s. The 15- and 16-year-old girls allegedly were intoxicated and in possession of a controlled substance.

By 8 p.m. the casino corridor took on the appearance of a cruising strip as large groups of displaced teens moved from building to building. The other casinos were alerted and security was placed at the entrances to keep the teens out. Some students complained that casino employees hassled them when they tried to use pay phones to call their parents.

Police said 90 percent of the students attending the dance followed the rules and were not using alcohol or drugs. Crystal Bruzzese, a freshman at South Tahoe, said she wasn’t surprised that a few students broke the rules.

“I knew people would come here drunk and high. It’s so stupid. How many high schools get to hold a dance in a nightclub? They closed down their business hours for us,” she said.

Lisa Calderon, a junior at South Tahoe, said in the three years she has attended the dance this is the first time she has seen a problem.

“I’m embarrassed that this happened. Security should have searched better,” she said. “It is very unfair that five people can ruin it for everyone else.”

Calderon sentiments were shared by many, as students on the street loudly complained about spending money for a shortened dance.

Nevada Banking Company, which has sponsored the dance at various locations for eight years, isn’t giving up on the idea.

“We think it is a positive thing,” said Diane Means, vice president COO. “We promote a safe environment for kids. After the girl was found on the dance floor administrators began to worry about the other students’ safety. That’s when the decision was made to end the dance, which we agreed with.”

Means said when the dance began in 1991 it was just Whittell High School.

“It was a smaller dance then. Two years ago we had a few kids that got drunk and that is when we created the coat and backpack check. Last year we didn’t have any problems. I don’t know if Nero’s will allow us to have it there again, but that’s OK, we can find another location,” she said.

Means estimated that Whittell raised around $2,000 and South Tahoe $6,000 from the proceeds.


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