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Tuesday April 3, 2001

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Tucson riots

Headline Photo

Matt Heistand/Arizona Daily Wildcat

Rioters destroy cars parked in front of The Hut on Fourth Avenue last night

By Katie Clark, Jeff Ficker and Maya Schechter

Arizona Daily Wildcat

Arizona's dream for a national championship turned into a nightmare last night.

Rubber bullets, fires and broken windows overshadowed the supportive crowd of Wildcat fans on Fourth Avenue when nearly 500 police officers - outfitted with bullet-proof shields and nightsticks - broke up rioting and looting.

More than 2,000 Arizona fans - who watched the UA men's basketball game in bars along North Fourth Avenue - started out cheerful and spirited, even after UA's 82-72 loss to Duke University.

But soon the spirited atmosphere went awry when fans began to tear down street signs and assault one another.

Collective disappointment evolved into an excuse to vandalize property and loot Fourth Avenue businesses.

Nearly two hours after the game, the chaos began to erupt.

At least five cars were turned over, and a trailer was set on fire just after 10 p.m. at the corner of North Fourth Avenue and East Eighth Street - which became the epicenter for the riots.

The fire quickly spread to The Hut, a Fourth Avenue-area bar at 305 N. Herbert Ave., prompting police officers to disperse the crowd.

"It seems like at 10 o'clock, everything exploded at once," said Roberto Villasenor, Assistant Tucson Police Chief.

When fans failed to leave, police officers were forced to fire "sting balls," or rubber bullets, into the crowd so that emergency vehicles could reach the fires.

Police helicopters flew overhead, shinning spotlights on the carnage, as officers shouted, "Leave the area or return to your homes."

Police arrested 17 people for charges which included criminal damage, trespassing and disorderly conduct, Villasenor said.

One man, while walking his bike north on the sidewalk as police marched behind him, picked it up and slammed it through a window after taunts from the crowd daring him to do it.

The bullets were followed by tear gas, and those who chose to remain in the streets were coughing and holding their eyes, trying to blink back the toxic fumes.

Fans tried running away from the ominous haze as TPD continued to march, determined to break up the out-of-control crowd.

A lone man on the northeast corner of University Boulevard and Fourth had to signal to the line of officers that his only intent was to cross the street.

Fourth Avenue residents cautiously poked their heads out from doorways as rocks burst through their windows. Spectators told them to get back inside and lock their doors.

"Fucking pussies!" taunted several people as TPD marched closer. "Rubber bullets, that's all you got?"

TPD continued to march north towards East Speedway Boulevard as two people laid flat in an intersection, interlocking arms, refusing to move even as the line of police came within feet and the rubber bullets were ricocheting off their bodies.

The crowd scattered into side streets and a nearby park as officers turned around after reaching Speedway Boulevard.

Officers remained in the Fourth Avenue area throughout the morning to prevent similar problems.

Despite preparations by police, the events echoed the 1997 riot that followed Arizona's win over Kentucky. Thousands of fans stormed Tucson streets, overturning cars and streaking through crowds.