Rowdy revelers create disturbance after fireworks
One officer was injured and others threatened in a series of disturbances near the West End Beach at Donner Lake, following the fireworks display and Fourth of July celebration Saturday night.
Nevada County Sheriff’s Sgt. Tom Carrington said the officer, Liz Rehkop, was working on a plainclothes detail at the beach parking lot when a fight erupted between two juvenile males, and she and her partner went to the scene.
‘They observed a fight between two guys at South Shore Drive and West End Beach between two men,” Carrington said. “They went over, identified themselves as police and grabbed one of the guys.”
Carrington said the girlfriend of one of the men involved in the fight kept approaching the officers and was repeatedly warned away.
“She was told to back up, because the officers were surrounded by numerous young adults who were yelling, screaming and drunk,” Carrington said.
“They told her that they were just trying to find out what was going on. The girl attacked our officer, and the officer took her to the ground, breaking her [the officer’s] ankle in three places in the process.”
Helicopter called in
Carrington said the crowd became incensed and the two officers called in more help from the California Highway Patrol.
He said the crowd was uncooperative and would not yield for an ambulance, so a CHP helicopter landed on the beach to airlift the injured deputy.
“The crowd kept coming in on us and calling us names,” Carrington said. “There are indications that some in the crowd kicked the officer while she was fighting the female to the ground.”
He said the deputy had a black eye and bruises in addition to the broken ankle.
“We then had more trouble at the South Shore Bridge, with intoxicated young adults throwing rocks and bottles at cars and actually trying to tip cars over,” Carrington said. “After the bridge, we were called to another huge party of about 300 people who were throwing bottles at cars and generally failing to obey commands from the sheriff’s officers.
He said additional personnel from CHP were required to handle the situation.
“I thank CHP for helping us,” Carrington said. “We greatly appreciated that.” He said numerous CHP officers came rushing up from the Lake Tahoe area when the call went out for “officer down.”
“It’s always tough, but this appears to be the most difficult time we’ve ever experienced on the Fourth of July,” Carrington said. “Afterward the streets were littered with rocks, bottles and cans all along South Shore Drive. It looked like a war zone.”
He said the resources of the sheriff’s office in Truckee were stretched to the limit, with all 10 officers on duty, including deputies on regular duty and three boat officers. Four CHP officers were assisting with traffic control and many more responded to the call of officer down.
“One of our new deputies said it was the most frightening thing he had seen,” Carrington said. “When he was coming to the aid of the injured officer his car was pelted with rocks and bottles. He said it was a harrowing experience.”
During the night, Carrington said officers near the beach handled a collision, drunk drivers, a stolen vehicle, citations for possession of marijuana, alcohol possession by minors and possession of illegal fireworks. One man was arrested for inciting others to riot during the disturbances.
Truckee resident Fred Bush, whose family owns land at the corner of South Shore and Old Highway Drive near the West End Beach, says every Fourth of July is a time to worry.
“Every year we have to chase drunks off my father-in-law’s property,” Bush said. “They use it for a bathroom. It has gotten out of control. Either Truckee has gotten too big, or Donner Lake is too small for them to allow all this alcohol.”
Bush said he believed the event was planned improperly, especially in terms of parking and traffic control. He watched the ambulance try to make its way through the traffic and crowds to the downed deputy.
“If that ambulance had to reach my 77-year-old dad down on South Shore Drive, and it took that long, there would be lawsuits across the board,” he said. “The outskirts of Truckee have plenty of parking. Northstar and the school districts have buses. They should bus everyone, and make the parking in the West End Beach area designated for residents in their driveways. Anyone parked on the street should be towed.”
Bush said the deputies are doing all they can, and that he’s not claiming to have all the answers, but there are not enough deputies to go around.
“My point is that I have to start at 3 p.m. and stay outside until the traffic goes away, acting as a guard for my father-in-law’s property to defend it every Fourth of July,” he said. “People have no courtesy. They parked on his lawn. One parked four inches from the house.”
Bush said the reason for the holiday has been lost.
“The Fourth of July is about fun, family activities and celebration,” he said. “It’s not about being rude or peeing on your lawn. They are back there under our trees doing drugs and drinking. There’s not enough cops to find one every time someone is back there passing around a joint.”
Bush said alcohol should be restricted after 5 p.m., and that illegal drinkers should be arrested.
Rachelle Pellissier, President/CEO of the Truckee-Donner Chamber of Commerce, said the chamber’s volunteers stringently enforced drinking regulations on the beach.
“We checked everyone that came through that door,” Pellissier said. “We checked their IDs and everything that they carried onto the beach and tagged them for their age. We also stopped selling alcohol at 7 p.m.”
Pellissier said she has already put in a call to NCSO Capt. Ken Duncan for next year to put four sheriff’s cars down at the beach with two officers in each.
“If we can pay them to be there, and maybe if the kids see them outside, they will be less likely to drink,” Pellissier said.
She said an important fact to remember is how much the Fourth of July events benefit Truckee, in terms of sales tax revenues from all the visitors to the town. Of the approximately 5,000 people present at the fireworks display, only a tiny percentage caused problems, she said.
“It is really sad that a few people could ruin it for all of us,” Pellissier said. “Hopefully the Nevada County Sheriff’s Office and townspeople will work something out so we can continue to have the Fourth of July festivities next year.”
However, Pellissier said the beach celebration should not be blamed for events which took place outside the beach, and outside the supervision of the chamber.
“You don’t stop having bars just because there is a brawl outside of a bar,” she said. “We just have to work with police to make it safer.” She said volunteers did their best to ensure safety at the beach.
“A lot of volunteers there worked their butts off to keep it secure,” she said. “We had four huge guys at the gate all day long checking IDs.”
She said the chamber paid Boy Scouts to clean up afterward and the Catholic Youth Group cleaned up during the festivities. More than100 volunteers participated to help keep the event safe and orderly.
Town council member Bob Drake, who works as an NCSO boat officer, said the events of the evening were profoundly disturbing.
“Officers told me later that during the entire run to aid Liz they were pelted with liquor bottles, beer cans, and beer,” Drake said. “There were drunk young people in the street and the officers were fearful of hitting them.”
Drake said he pulled the NCSO boat out of the water at a private beach and had driven out into the parking area when a call came in for cars being rocked by a mob.
“The call came out to assist citizens who were trying to depart, and whose cars were being rocked,” Drake said. “All three boating officers went out there. At about the same time, seven to eight CHP and sheriff cars came in with red lights blasting, along with two CHP motorcycle officers.”
He said he estimated the crowd to be about 200-300 young people.
“They were what you would expect – shirts off, ball caps backwards, holding paper cups of beer,” Drake said. “Remember, this was a narrow two-lane street with a small shoulder. When the police cars came in, there was no reaction to back away. The crowd moved forward. I never saw anything like it. Officers began to tell them to get off the street, and there was no reaction to move away by these hundreds of young people. It was vile. They were cursing, and I personally had one walk up to me dead in my face and curse me. I thought if I made any kind of a move it would precipitate a fight. I just said ‘Move on,’ and he said ‘Or what?’ One of his friends tugged him away. It was absolute defiance of lawful order.”
Drake said he was concerned that the force of 15 to 20 officers could not have handled the crowd if people chose to continue defying the police.
“If rocking had continued, cars could have been turned over, it could have started fires,” Drake said. “What concerned me was that if a fire started, we already knew we could not get an ambulance in to assist a fallen officer. How could we respond to a fire, or another emergency?”
Drake praised officers for maintaining their professional stance, and neither retreating nor attacking in the face of the crowd.
“They just kept walking back and forth, ordering the crowd to move back, and being cursed at,” he said. “Eventually the crowd moved back enough that we could move the cars.”
He said the problem could become much worse – and if it does, help will not be close at hand.
“This situation is out of control,” Drake said. “There are not enough law enforcement officers. If it blows up on us, the nearest mutual aid is North Shore, and they have their own problems, on the same day. Our nearest other help is Nevada City, which is 50 minutes away.”
Drake said some people have advocated cutting off the beer sales at the beach as a solution to the problem, but said he believes that to be only a tiny portion of the alcohol consumed. He said one house where young people were congregating reportedly had six kegs of beer in it.
“The canceling of the liquor sales on the beach won’t do it,” he said. “I believe we have become an event like Ft. Lauderdale or Pioneer Days in Chico. The only way to stop it is to cancel the event. I do not believe that these children are here for the Fourth of July. They are just looking for an excuse to congregate. The only way to return this event to Truckee is to close it down.”
Drake said he attended the annual Donner Lake West End Property Owners meeting Sunday and spoke with about 25 owners.
“With only one exception, all of them said stop it,” Drake said. “I have heard other people say I live in Truckee and will not go there.”
He said so far Truckee has been lucky – the situation has not erupted into outright violence, although Drake said it has worsened every year.
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