Large crowd, broken glass prompts discussion of open container law

Large amounts of broken glass strewn along a portion of Market Street and near-riot conditions prompted a thorough discussion about events in which the city's open container law is waived. Councilman Greg Gebauer brought up the matter during Monday's St. Marys City Council meeting, explaining he was summoned to Market Street at 2 a.m. on Saturday, where upon his arrival he witnessed 50-100 people whom he described as "carrying on, staggering around and being loud.""The thing that disturbed me the most was the amount of glass that were broken on the street and in Gunner's parking lot," Gebauer said.While on-scene, Gebauer said he witnessed people throwing bottles and noted the large amount of glass crunched under car tires.Gebauer emphasized that he is not against waiving the open container law for events, but believes it should be stipulated any alcohol served should be in plastic cups rather than glass bottles if patrons plan on going outside with their drinks. He said there is no reason a patron cannot have a bottled beer transferred into a plastic cup if going outside, similar to the same procedures implemented at ballparks and stadiums. Gebauer also noted at the former Hometown Festival's beer garden, patrons were required to remain inside the tent when drinking. Recently council approved waiving the open container law for the upcoming Bavarian Fall Fest taking place in mid-September in downtown St. Marys.Councilman Ned Jacob said since the open container law was only waived from 5-10 p.m. for the Wing Fling, police should have cited those in violation anytime after 10 p.m.Gebauer replied there were only four police officers present, two from St. Marys and two State Troopers. "I know it could have been a pretty volatile thing from what I saw, especially if they would have tried to start making mass arrests," he said.Councilman Dick Dornisch said he attended the Wing Fling and does not recall any broken glass bottles at the event. He added organizers had tents taken down by 10:30 p.m., during which time the crowd had dispersed."I don't think the commotion, when the bars were closing, is much different this past weekend than what it is during any weekend," Dornisch said, which he said is the heart of the problem.He added the Wing Fling crowd was behaved, some attendees bringing their children, but this recent incident involved a rowdy late-night crowd, including many who are regular weekend patrons at downtown establishments.Dornisch noted he does not have any problem with waiving the open container law or serving drinks in plastic cups and supports downtown events, even those requiring cleanup efforts afterwards.City Manager Dave Greene called in the street sweeper around 10 a.m. Saturday in order to clean up all of the broken glass and cigarette butts. According to St. Marys Area Chamber of Commerce Communication Outreach Coordinator Ashley O'Dell, hosts of the Wing Fling made numerous announcements during the event, stating the open container law expired at 10 p.m. and anyone remaining outside with alcohol could be legally cited by police. During some of those announcements, the crowd booed O'Dell, she reported.While O'Dell remained in the area late into the evening, she said people did not start breaking bottles until nearly 1:30 a.m. Most of the broken glass was located in front of Dino's and the Hootinanny, she said."There was a lot of glass, we saw it firsthand, as did [St. Marys Police Chief] Todd [Caltagarone]. It was pretty bad. The amount of glass was absolutely obscene," O'Dell said.She noted once the Chamber was done cleaning up at 10 p.m., there was no broken glass in the area. "We can safely say that when we were done cleaning up, the scene was not the same as it was Saturday morning," O'Dell said.There was also a misunderstanding as to what time the street sweeper was scheduled to clean up the area; however, this issue was resolved quickly, she said.O'Dell suggested in the future the police drive through the area around 11 p.m. to enforce the ending of the open container law. She proposed a possible solution is for drinking establishments to hire additional security for busy nights."Part of the law is theirs (the bars) to uphold as well. I'm sure they would probably be more than willing to accommodate that change," O'Dell said. "We're certainly willing to do whatever we need to do in order to keep things going and keep the public safe."Gebauer said it only makes sense to use plastic containers when the open container law is waived. Bottles pose a danger in that people could cut themselves with them, fall on them or someone wearing improper footwear could easily step on broken glass.