By Ryan Johnson
Chris Coduto/Special to the Arizona Daily Wildcat
A student crowd-surfs over a swarm of 2,000 outside the McKale Center ticket office yesterday. A riot team of 16 officers was called in to disperse the crowd.
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Tuesday October 29, 2002
Basketball ticket sales were delayed yesterday after a riot team of 16 police officers broke up an uncontrolled crowd of over 2,000 people who were pushing and shoving from all directions to get to the ticket booth.
The ticket office had been giving out vouchers informing people when they could return to buy tickets for over an hour before police finally intervened. Originally, the ticket office planned to start giving out line vouchers at 7 a.m., but after crowds broke police tape, security guards entered the ticket office to hand out vouchers, leaving no crowd control.
"People were screaming. Your pelvis was against the wall. If you took your feet off the ground you were still standing. I wanted to call 911," said Kate Denevi, an undeclared sophomore.
At 5 a.m., security guards began setting up temporary barriers. By 5:20 a.m., the crowd had crossed the police tape, and the ensuing rush toppled the barriers. The line had no apparent order and each side of the crowd was pushing.
At 5:30 a.m., the ticket office opened up one-third of the booths, and the crowd mashed inward to get vouchers. Steam emanated from the crowd as people clamored for position.
Once people received their tickets, they had difficulty getting out of the crowd. Most resorted to crowd-surfing their way out of the mob, and as each person left, people rushed to fill the hole.
Women shrieked in pain and others pleaded for everyone to get back.
"Someone's under there. Move back," one person yelled out.
Though paramedics reported no serious injuries, several people walked away with minor injuries.
"It was terrible. The police didn't intervene one bit. I think I broke a rib," said communications sophomore Shannon Doss.
One police officer told a student it would not have been prudent for the few officers on hand to try to break up the crowd.
"Tell the ticket office they didn't organize this very well. We are not going to go into a crowd of 2,000 people with four police officers," said UA Police Department patrol officer Andrew Kisela, responding to an angry fan who saw people getting crushed.
Before the riot squad marched from near the football stadium, Kisela warned those around them to get their friends out.
"If you have friends, tell them to get out. People are about to get hurt in five minutes," he said.
Fans who had already gotten their tickets also saw potential danger.
"(Police) aren't going to get devoted fans out of there without beating them," said Chris Wharam, a photography junior.
Initially, fans hardly reacted to Kisela's PA announcement, even when police officers armed with "less-lethal" shotguns, paintball guns and pepper spray began approaching the crowd.
But when the ticket office closed its windows, fans walked west from the scene, disappointed they didn't get a ticket. Riot police never had to fire a shot.
"It sucks. We were just at the window and then the cops are yelling on their megaphones for us to move west," said Kelly Spear, an education sophomore.
Trash littered the scene. Pillows, blankets and food leftover from people waiting littered the area in front of McKale Center. One dejected fan sat on a bench and shook his head. He arrived at 2:30 a.m. and didn't plan on having to fight for a spot.
"I originally had a good spot, but this girl got sick and I carried her out. When everyone rushed the front she got crushed against the wall and she fainted so I had to carry her out with a friend," said Ryan Davis, a mathematics senior. Davis lost his cell phone while battling for a spot.
Athletics director Jim Livengood was surprised by the events, and is unsure of how to best avoid future incidents like this.
"What we want to try and do is to work in conjunction with ASUA when coming up with a new method," Livengood said. "A lottery system was in place two years ago, and it was changed before last year based on the requests of what the student body representatives wanted for the students."
The ticket office had planned to give out line vouchers for four days. They went ahead and sold tickets to students who received a brown line voucher.
A statement released yesterday afternoon from the athletics department said they will release more information about ticket sales today.
Brett Fera contributed to this report.