City official estimates 25,000 Halloweeners at block party, which saw over 134 arrests

The Athens News (Nov. 1, 2015)
Conor Morris

Even with an extra hour to party during the raucous, annual Athens Halloween block party due to Daylight Savings Time ending, no major injuries were reported for the night of the party Saturday, and arrests were on par, if a little higher, than those for last year’s party.

On Saturday, squirrels cavorted in the packed streets of uptown Athens with the likes of the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man, the cartoon family from Fox’s Bob’s Burgers, a whole squad of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and the usual assortment of ghosts, witches, vampires and “sexy cop” outfits – most in varying states of inebriation.

Two big stages (one fewer than last year) entranced folks on either end of Court Street. Ohio University students, local residents and out-of-town folks alike “got weird” to DJ and electronic beats at the southern stage at the corner of West Union and South Court streets and swayed with rock acts at the northern stage outside of Courtside Pizza. Despite rain starting after midnight, partiers’ spirits did not appear to be dampened, crowding the street past 2 a.m. EST (after the daylight savings changeover).

Teddy Frantz, an OU senior dressed as a U.S. president (“just President Frantz,” he said), rushed down Court Street around 8:30 p.m. with a cadre of friends in Secret Service costumes. As the suits surrounded Frantz in a protective bubble, Frantz explained: “Anytime we walk around somebody who’s scary or approaches us in a weird way, they (Secret Service agents) all scream, ‘Mr. President, get down!’ and they all converge on me and we huddle out of the area,” Frantz said.

Frantz, experiencing his fifth Athens Halloween, said he and his friends always try to have “interactive” costumes for the block party because they love interacting with the rowdy crowds around them. For example, two years ago, he recalled, he and 20-plus friends dressed as a life-size beer-pong game, in ping-pong ball and Solo cup costumes.

“We had people play with us back and forth,” Frantz said.

Brandon Thompson, aka DJ B-Funk, has worked with the volunteer Clean and Safe Halloween Committee to organize the uptown block party in recent years; he also was the final performance at the southern “Lokoween” stage on South Court Street around 1:15 a.m. After closing out his set, Thompson – still on-stage and costumed as the “man in the yellow hat” from children’s book series “Curious George” – proposed to his girlfriend of four years (dressed as Curious George).

She said yes.

“It was pretty crazy, and she had no clue!” Thompson said Sunday.

Ron Lucas, the city of Athens’ public information officer and deputy service-safety director, gave a very rough estimate of about 25,000 people in the uptown area around 11:30 p.m. Saturday night.

Despite the happy attitudes of most attendees, a number of fights broke out during the time period between 11:30 p.m. and 12:30 a.m., Lucas said Sunday morning.

Lucas said that despite the fights, he had not heard of any serious injuries reported during and after Saturday night/Sunday morning’s festivities; numbers provided by Lucas show that Athens County Emergency Medical Services responded to 43 calls for service (38 were block party related), which resulted in 24 transports to O’Bleness Memorial Hospital (down from 33 transports for Halloween 2014).

The Athens NEWS offices experienced some blowback from the big uptown party as well; just before midnight this reporter discovered that the sink in one of the restrooms toward the back of the newspaper’s offices had fallen off the wall. It appeared as if somebody had knocked the sink down, perhaps by putting weight on it, although the plumbing seemed in tact.

This year, the Athens Police Department arrested 16 people on Friday night during pre-block party festivities, compared with the OU Police Department arresting 26 people on the same night, according to a release from the city of Athens. On Halloween proper, the APD arrested 28 people, although the number may be larger, Lucas said – some people were still being processed when he left at 4:30 a.m. Sunday.

The OUPD arrested 43 people on Saturday night, two being felony arrests made for cocaine possession and marijuana trafficking.

In total, the APD and the OUPD arrested 71 people on Saturday, compared with 64 people arrested on the Saturday of the Halloween block party last year.

The Ohio Department of Public Safety’s investigative unit (liquor control agents) charged 20 people on Friday night and 63 people on Saturday night – all alcohol-related offenses, the city’s release said.

The Athens Fire Department had one call for service, although no major fire-related events were reported during the block party.

According to the release, the block party ended at around 2:20 a.m. EST (after the daylight savings changeover at 2 a.m. EDT). Street crews began cleaning up the street after police officers cleared pedestrians around 2:15 a.m. EST, and the streets were opened at roughly 5:30 a.m.

Lucas said that the city incurred significant costs through staffing this year due to the extra hour that city employees and law enforcement had to be out working (because of the time change). He said he didn’t have an estimate of costs to the city, but would work on that this week.

“We had people out for an entire hour longer, so overtime costs are going to be increasing,” Lucas said.

The uptown party kicked off early Saturday evening with the Honey for the Heart Halloween parade, featuring a hodgepodge of life-size puppets and local residents in costume. Soon after the parade, students, community members and visitors took over the street in their costumes (or without), at around 7 p.m.

TAYA WORKUM, a mounted police officer with the Painesville Police Department (near Cleveland), was on duty Saturday night. She said around 8 p.m. that she and her horse, Sherman, had staffed the block party before, and typically enjoy it. She explained, while some passersby stopped and asked to pet her horse, that Friday night was relatively quiet for her during mounted patrols outside of breaking up a few fights and parties (she had yet to leave on her first Saturday night patrol). She said an important function of mounted officers during the block party is to simply be a public presence, “so that we can see over the crowd and… be seen by the crowd.”

Local resident Kevin Cline, in a towering, eight-foot-plus skeleton costume with lighted-up eyes, was a staple on Court Street during the middle of the block party. Cline, a local rental-property owner, stared at passersby creepily, allowing some folks to pose with him for pictures.

Cline said he loves Athens’ Halloween block party, and hasn’t missed a single one in the 40 years since he went to high school in the area. Cline, a life-long resident of Athens and a Hocking College grad, said it was his fifth year for the skeleton costume; he said he was “loving it.”

“It (Halloween) really hasn’t changed (since the ’70s). It’s still drunken costumes,” Cline said, laughing through the costume.

Cline, 55, noted he usually leaves by 11 p.m. or midnight due to overly physical revelers, but didn’t seem too bothered by that.

“I really think it’s great. Halloween has no age,” Cline said.