Changes in tailgating neglect major factor: alcohol

Changes in tailgating neglect major factor: alcohol

Staff WriterAugust 17, 2005 

After shootings in the tailgate area near Carter-Finley Stadium left two men dead last fall, police and N.C. State University limited access to the parking lots and increased patrols to keep rowdy football fans in check.

Those measures will be in effect again Sept. 4 when the Wolfpack opens its season against Virginia Tech. But some fans and others say the root cause of those Labor Day weekend shootings hasn't been nipped:

Alcohol.

Defense attorneys in the double-murder trial of Timothy Wayne Johnson say alcohol fueled the fracas that led to the deaths of Chicago businessman Kevin McCann and 2nd Lt. Brett Harman, a Camp Lejeune Marine who was headed for Iraq. A Wake County jury today continues to deliberate Johnson's fate.

But changing the routine of knocking back a few before the game would be difficult.

"One of the things we have talked about is alcohol consumption and tailgating. We would like for it to be cleaned up. But that's about all we can do," said Dr. Marianne Turnbull, coordinator of health promotions with NCSU's Student Health Services.

"There are other constituents who like things as they are," said Turnbull, a member of a campus and community coalition that encourages responsible drinking among students.

Chief among those constituents are the school's alumni, Turnbull said.

"There are people who like to go and have a few drinks, and they are under control," Turnbull said. Others -- particularly college students -- may drink to excess, she added.

The manager of a Raleigh bar popular with Wolfpack fans said violence is inevitable when large amounts of alcohol are consumed.

"I mean, you got a late kickoff and you got people out drinking all day. Something was bound to happen," said Scott Smith, who was in charge at Playmakers, a sports bar on Hillsborough Street, the evening of the shootings.

But others say some of the security changes do make the tailgate area safer.

The slayings occurred in a parking lot that can hold more than 1,000 vehicles. The lot is directly across from Gates A and B at Carter-Finley Stadium, said N.C. State police Sgt. Jon Barnwell.

It has been made a permanent parking area that will open only 4 1/2 hours before kickoff.

"Prior to the [shootings] it wasn't a permanent lot, and people could come in anytime," Barnwell said. "Part of the complaints we received after the shootings was that people would pull their mobile homes into the area, but some revelers would show up and just party all night."

Officials don't prevent revelers from bringing alcohol into the tailgate areas, but they do patrol looking for alcohol violations and other disorderly conduct.

For those who were there the night of the shootings, the memories are still fresh.

"[The shootings] are definitely going to be on people's minds, the way it was on people's minds for the rest of the season after it happened," said N.C. State graduate student Miller Johnstone, who was tailgating about 100 yards from the site.

Johnstone cannot remember who won last season's home opener, but his memories of the shooting aftermath are vivid.

"There was all this commotion," Johnstone said. "There was a group of people who had seen what happened that law enforcement was trying to corral. They were visibly shaken and crying."

Johnstone tailgated every game during his undergraduate years at N.C. State, which ended in 2004. He says the new measures are a step in the right direction, but he doesn't think there are enough resources to eliminate the problem.

"I think it would tax the manpower to try and enforce behavior laws," he said.

Still, campus police have enlisted the services of the state Highway Patrol and McLaurin Parking Co. to help direct traffic into the lot.

The lot is usually patrolled by the Wake County Sheriff's Office, but now N.C. State police will also patrol the area.

"We're doing it just to help out Wake County, since it's our people who come out there," Barnwell said. "That was the first and hopefully the last time that something like that will happen at an N.C. State football game."

Staff writer Thomasi McDonald can be reached at 829-4533 or tmcdonal@newsobserver.com

News & Observer is pleased to provide this opportunity to share information, experiences and observations about what's in the news. Some of the comments may be reprinted elsewhere in the site or in the newspaper. We encourage lively, open debate on the issues of the day, and ask that you refrain from profanity, hate speech, personal comments and remarks that are off point. Thank you for taking the time to offer your thoughts.

Commenting FAQs | Terms of Service