Updated: 17 people taken to jail in connection with Unofficial
Updated 9:40 p.m. Friday.
CHAMPAIGN — The University of Illinois’ school colors may well have been green on white Friday as students celebrating Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day encountered snow on the ground.
Campus bars were open — they were not allowed to do so until 10 a.m. under an emergency order from Champaign Mayor Don Gerard — and green-clad students were roaming as they celebrated an unofficial holiday notorious for binge drinking, increased citations and a spike in hospital trips.
Capt. Allen Jones, Champaign County Jail administrator, reported the first batch of arrestees made their way in just before noon.
Jones reported the jail had received 17 arrestees by 8 p.m. Friday. He said 14 of them were there for allowing their residences to be used for underage drinking. Two were there for battery and one was there for possession of a controlled substance.
The Champaign Fire Department said emergency personnel were called to treat a man who allegedly fell from a balcony in the 400 block of East Healey Street about 7:30 p.m. Police said they were not able to confirm whether or not the man actually fell from the balcony.
UI spokeswoman Robin Kaler reported no disruptions to classes on Friday.
“We had volunteers who checked on about 40 different classes around the Quad with 75 or more students throughout the day,” Kaler said. “We had no reports of students disrupting classes.
“We had one report of a canceled class, but classes are canceled every day, and we haven’t had a chance to check on the reason for the cancellation.”
Kaler said her office did not receive any reports about unusually low attendance on Friday.
She said the university made use of the Assembly Hall staff at various classes to check students for contraband.
She said the Assembly Hall staff has experience doing these checks for concerts and other events at the Hall. In previous years staff found students carrying flasks, bottles and other alcoholic containers to class.
Champaign City Council member Karen Foster was exploring the campus on Friday afternoon.
“It seems like a big football weekend,” she said.
She thinks the steps the city has taken in previous years to calm the party have been effective. Like in previous years, Gerard took steps as liquor commissioner to slow the flow of alcohol in campus bars and liquor stores, and area law enforcement agencies maintained a heavy presence throughout the day.
“Unofficial is, like, the biggest thing,” said Kelli Remeeus, a Missouri student visiting a friend in Champaign this weekend.
She and another friend from Missouri, Katie Rettenmaier, arrived in Champaign-Urbana at 1 a.m. Friday. Rettenmaier said they got in a quick sleep — about four hours — before they started their Unofficial festivities at 7 a.m.
Neeraj Chemburkar, a junior at the UI, got a bit of a later start at 8 a.m. He said he enjoyed a breakfast of eggs, bacon, biscuits and beer.
Just after 1 p.m. Friday, he was walking with friends down Green Street and on his way to Murphy’s, an Irish-style bar about a block away. It was Chemburkar’s third time celebrating Unofficial St. Patrick’s Day, and he said he was enjoying the “jolly spirit.”
“It should be an official holiday,” he said.
Jason Hill of Carbondale said that he and some buddies made the trip to Champaign-Urbana to experience Unofficial for the first time.
“This is turning into a tourist destination, kinda like Oktoberfest in Germany,” Hill said.
Stephanie Dalton of Arlington Heights said she was wearing a green T-shirt she had bought earlier in the day at a Champaign store.
“It’s like a ritual for me and my girlfriends,” she said. “Each year we get the shirt for that year, visit as many bars as we can and check out the guys.”
The weather in previous years has typically affected the size and visibility of the campuswide party, but Friday morning’s snow and temperatures just below freezing did not change the focus of law enforcement agencies on Friday, said Champaign police spokeswoman Rene Dunn.
“Nothing ... different than what we’ve done in previous years,” she said.
Police continued their patrols throughout campus Friday as Unofficial participants got a little more alcohol in their blood.
Dunn said a few intoxicated people went to the hospital on Friday afternoon. But she added that police did not encounter anything much different from previous years.
“We’ve had a couple of medical transports,” Dunn said. “We’re seeing a lot of public intoxication.”
As night fell on Campustown, police urged drivers to keep an eye out for people wandering onto the streets.
Dunn urged drivers to watch out for intoxicated people crossing the street and to pay attention to signs asking that drivers slow down.
“We urge motorists to drive slowly through the campus and to watch for intoxicated subjects in the street,” Dunn said. “When it gets dark, it is often difficult for motorists to see people in the street.”
Dunn said at least 100 police officers from different agencies were on hand for Unofficial.
Tyler Starkey, a UI senior, said he was working on Friday and was enjoying the day in “very, very small” amounts. He said he used to be a little more careless in the past but has learned from experience. This year, he was “just kind of following the crowd and being responsible.”
There have been at least two Unofficial-related deaths in previous years. In 2011, a 21-year-old man was struck by two vehicles as he tried to cross University Avenue, and he later died of his injuries. In 2006, a 22-year-old woman died of injuries she received after falling off a motorcycle.