Arizona police use tear gas, rubber bullets after fans turn rowdy

Tuesday, April 3rd 2001, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

TUCSON, Ariz. (AP) _ Police used stun grenades, rubber bullets and tear gas on crowds of University of Arizona fans who set at least three overturned vehicles ablaze and tore down street signs.

Several people were hit Monday night by the rubber bullets, though none of the injuries were believed to be life threatening. Seventeen people were arrested on various charges, including assault, trespass, criminal damage and disorderly conduct.

``We were very disappointed that people chose to act this way,'' Assistant Chief Roberto Villasenor said.

Police had cleared out the area where most of the problems had occurred by early Tuesday.

An estimated 2,000 Wildcats fans spilled into the streets after Duke defeated Arizona 82-72 Monday night in the NCAA basketball championship in Minneapolis.

Initially, police said there were few problems and only a handful of minor arrests. But then about 1,000 people jammed an intersection near the campus, and set fire to a motor home and at least two other vehicles.

``Everybody started going nuts when they started shooting,'' said Robert Thacker, a university student. ``I saw they looted stores. It was like a war zone.''

With the damage escalating, police in riot gear ordered the crowd to disperse and most obeyed. Police later fired stun grenades and rubber bullets at those who refused to leave.

Arlene Leaf, owner of Tucson Thrift, said the windows of her shop had been broken.

``It's just so very stupid, just sad and tragic,'' she said. ``Right now I think of all the people in the world who have real problems and they're doing this over a game.''

Police had cordoned off the entire campus by closing streets to vehicular traffic, a precaution to avoid having motorists trapped, as some were in 1997 after Arizona won its first national championship by beating Kentucky.

That year, revelers overturned at least one car, scrambled onto rooftops and shattered windows on homes and vehicles, including a police car.