Out-of-control crowds mar downtown festival

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Augusta Mayor Bob Young made it very clear Saturday that rowdiness during or after First Friday will not be tolerated.

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A sheriff's deputy uses pepper spray to break up a crowd near the J.B. White building on Broad Street. Jail records show 14 people were arrested Saturday.  MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
MICHAEL HOLAHAN/STAFF
A sheriff's deputy uses pepper spray to break up a crowd near the J.B. White building on Broad Street. Jail records show 14 people were arrested Saturday.

"We're not going to let hooligans take over Broad Street," he said Saturday. "If it takes a curfew, we're going to have a curfew on First Friday and every other night we need one."

Mr. Young's comments came after reports that crowds downtown got out of control after the monthly arts and crafts festivities known as First Friday. Despite the presence of 20 extra Richmond County sheriff's deputies, authorities reported incidents of fights, vandalism and underage drinking.

The event, officially scheduled for 5 to 10 p.m., was fairly quiet early on, with only one fight and a juvenile arrested for underage drinking, Richmond County sheriff's Col. Gary Powell said. Then about midnight Saturday, a large group began to fight on the corner of Broad and 11th streets, leaving a cracked window at Louie J's restaurant.

Col. Powell said one person in that fight was arrested for disorderly conduct. A short time later, officers resorted to spraying Mace to break up another fight in the 1100 block of Broad Street.

Police cruised up and down Broad Street about 1:30 a.m., using the loudspeakers atop their cars to disperse the crowds.

"First Friday is officially over - start moving now," an officer ordered.

By 2 a.m., another fight had erupted outside the coffee bar Metro, where a man was thrown through a side window into the bar. Blood still stained a parking space next to the business Saturday afternoon.

"This is ridiculous," Lu-crisha Roth said after the fight about 2:15 a.m. "I've been downtown for years, and this has never happened."

According to Richmond County jail records, at least 14 people were arrested between Fifth and 11th streets Saturday. The offenders - ranging from 17 to 30 years of age - were charged with disorderly conduct.

Col. Powell said he called additional units from the south and north precincts and blocked off entrances to downtown on 12th Street and side streets such as Ellis. However, the crowds kept coming in, he said.

"I don't have any idea who they are," Col. Powell said of the crowd. "They seem to be coming out of the woodwork."

Jimmy Carter of Augusta, sitting inside Louie J's on Saturday afternoon, referred to the gathering after First Friday as a local Freaknik.

"It's not just Augusta people no more," said Mr. Carter, who said he saw cars from Fulton County, South Carolina and North Carolina. "It has got around that this is a party atmosphere."

The owner of Louie J's, Vikie Braun, said it will cost close to $3,000 to replace her cracked window.

"I was pretty ticked," she said. "We've been warning Main Street Augusta that First Friday was getting out of control, so I felt it was a matter of time until something happened."

But local officials argue that the incidents occurred after First Friday and should not spoil the future of the monthly festival downtown.

"The crowd changed after 10 p.m. You had a much younger crowd after First Friday closed down," City Administrator George Kolb said. "It would be my recommendation that we figure out how to adjust to it, and how we secure downtown in general, not necessarily First Friday."

Mr. Young said he plans to meet with the groups associated with First Friday and Richmond County Sheriff Ronnie Strength on Monday.

Chris Naylor, the executive director of Downtown Authority and Main Street Augusta, would not comment on Friday's events.

"It would be inappropriate for me to make any comments until I talk to the promotions committee of Main Street Augusta," he said.

Staff Writer Sylvia Cooper contributed to this report.


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