Net damage on Franklin Street: 'Not too bad'

Staff WritersApril 8, 2009 

— Town officials and police were left with a few municipal headaches Tuesday morning after about 30,000 people crowded onto Franklin Street to celebrate the Tar Heels' fifth NCAA championship.

Trees and several traffic signals were damaged. A street sign at the southwest corner of Columbia and Franklin streets was pulled down.

"Relatively speaking, based on the fact that we had 30,000 people in a small amount of space, things weren't too bad," said Lt. Kevin Gunter, spokesman for the Chapel Hill police department.

Ten people were taken to UNC Hospitals, and at least 16 others were injured.

Altogether, Orange County Emergency Medical Services treated 26 people for minor lacerations, alcohol emergencies, burns and respiratory difficulties.

Two people were arrested: One was charged with property damage, the other with assaulting a government official and being intoxicated and disruptive.

The crowd rushed into the street within minutes of the win.

"Crazy, tight, pushy, pandemonium," said Bobbi McNeil, 43, of Graham after making her way through the jubilation.

The director of the Jaycee Burn Center at UNC Hospitals had urged celebrants not to set or jump over bonfires, but people ignored that advice. A Dr. Seuss book, a Buffalo Bills cap and a Duke T-shirt were among items used for fuel.

For many, jumping through fire was a spur-of-the-moment thing. Elliott Rubin, on the other hand, was looking forward to it. He wore the same blue, yellow and white basketball sneakers he wore while jumping through bonfires during the celebration of the Tar Heels' win in 2005.

"It's the culmination of the entire year of yelling at the TV," said Rubin, 24, who attended UNC-Chapel Hill. "It's the most jubilant feeling ever."

Others had mixed feelings about the celebratory excess. "This is disgusting," said one man as he made his way through the crowd with a friend.

"It's all in the name of a national championship," his friend said.

Town officials had not added up the cost of the celebration.

There were 320 law enforcement officers on hand, 76 firefighters and emergency service workers and 75 traffic monitors. The crowd this year was smaller than in 2005, when 50,000 people rushed Franklin Street to celebrate a Heels NCAA championship. In the chilly wind Tuesday morning, celebrants went home an hour and a half earlier than in 2005, Gunter said.

UNC-Chapel Hill, as it did in 2005, plans to split the bill for the post-game celebration. In 2005, the cost was $165,000. or919-956-2426

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