2000-07-05 / Front Page

Arrests of Phish fans up from previous year Heightened police presence leaves most unperturbed

By cindy tietjen

Arrests of Phish fans up from previous year
Heightened police
presence leaves
most unperturbed

HOLMDEL — Police were better prepared for the influx of Phish fans last week and as a result more left town with a summons as well as concert memories.

There were more than 70 arrests in Holmdel in connection with the Phish concert, which took place June 28 and 29 at the PNC Bank Arts Center, located at Garden State Parkway Exit 116 in Holmdel.

Although Holmdel played host to the concert, many of the surrounding towns also experienced problems from concert-goers who were just passing through.

Holmdel arrests were up from about 50 during last year’s Phish concert, according to Detective Sgt. Frank Allocco, who credited the higher number of arrests to a well prepared police department.

"We were able to bring more offenders in and because all of us, from the municipal clerks to the officers, were more prepared, we were able to get our officers back on the road faster," said Allocco.

The arrests were not really a surprise to police. According to Lt. Thomas Vetterl, extra police had been put on last Wednesday and Thursday specifically because of the concert.

Holmdel even had municipal court Judge Robert McLeod on call to relieve some of the burden from the municipal court, which was overwhelmed with the number of arrests that took place last year.

One of the most serious offenses involved the arrest of a woman, her husband and another male who were traveling through Holmdel en route to the concert with their 2-year-old child.

Joni Stock, 22, and Nathan Harber, 22, of Sturgeon Bay, Wis., and William Carlton, 21, of Richmond, Va., were arrested following a motor vehicle stop on Holmdel Road and charged with possession of heroin and possession of heroin with the intent to distribute.

Bail for all three was set at $25,000 each, and Stock and Harber’s child was placed in the care of the Division of Youth and Family Services.

Allocco said Monday that all three are still being held, and that the child remains with Youth and Family Services.

Middletown Detective Lt. Michael Rubino said 22 arrests were made in his township.

"All the arrests were drug-related," he said. "Most of the people arrested were carrying small amounts of drugs on them. All those arrested were given summonses and ordered to report back to Middletown for a hearing at a later date."

According to Rubino, Patrolman Craig Bahrs arrested one individual who was carrying marijuana, LSD, "mushrooms" and ecstasy.

Hazlet also had its share of arrests.

Hazlet police received a call at 2:02 a.m. Thursday reporting that there were people causing a disturbance at the Wellesley Inn on Route 35.

According to police, upon arrival at the scene, officers heard loud music coming from one of the rooms on the third floor. When they entered the room officers observed nine individuals drinking beer. The officers reported that they saw marijuana in the room and upon further investigation found pills believed to be ecstasy, under 50 grams of marijuana and a cylinder of nitrous oxide.

Drug paraphernalia such as pipes and balloons used for inhalation was also found, according to police.

The nine men and women present, who were all in their early 20s and from suburbs of Philadelphia, were charged with possession of ecstasy, nitrous oxide, marijuana and drug paraphernalia. They were released on their own recognizance pending a court hearing on July 11.

Fans didn’t let the extra police presence ruin the event, however.

According to Kim Capestro, 24, Middletown, who attended the June 28 concert, the police presence was noticeable but they didn’t bother concert-goers who were not doing anything illegal.

Capestro also said that if Phish comes back to the arts center next year, she will attend again.

In the main arts center parking lot prior to last Wednesday night’s concert, Phish fans congregated around their vehicles, listening to music and meeting up with acquaintances, eager for the evening’s show.

Many in the lots were drinking beer (expensive microbrews, no less) and were barely concerned with any added police presence. The mood was relaxed and peaceful.

"For the most part, cops are leaving everyone alone, but some vendors are getting messed with and cops are taking stuff for themselves," said a man who identified himself as Mike from Missoula, Mont., who was seeing Phish for the 58th time.

Mobile vendors, who, like many of the loyal and devout "Phish heads," follow the band on tour every summer and fall, sold everything from homemade jewelry and T-shirts to grilled cheese sandwiches and bottled water. Vending and trading of goods is the primary means of support for many of the tour followers.

Toward curtain time, fans headed for the great lawn outside the venue. Talk was centered on the show.

"There’s a lot of police here compared with other stops on the tour, but I’m just here to enjoy the show," said Zack Novac, from Brentwood, Tenn., who will be following the band for a month of shows this summer. "I don’t understand why we’re being hassled in New Jersey; for a large group, we’re a peaceful bunch."

State police remained on the perimeter of fans, surveying the festivities. When asked, on-duty police issued a no comment.

Holmdel Township Committeeman Terence Wall, who has been criticized by Phish fans for describing them as "criminals" in a recent newspaper article which appeared on the Internet, said the issue does not have to do with "any particular band. Rather, he said, "The question is what is an appropriate use of the arts center."

Wall added that Holmdel and the surrounding areas have been and will continue to be impacted by this concert.

"The arts center tells us that the municipality benefits from all the summonses issued because the municipality receives the revenue," said Wall. "But the majority of people who were issued summonses are from out of state and do not return for their court appearances. Therefore, we put out the cost of processing all the paperwork and issuing warrants, but we can never see any of the revenue."

Wall continued to blast the arts center, saying that "it is my job to protect the safety and pocketbook of the residents of Holmdel, and it is appropriate that I do what I can to mitigate the situation."

Mayor Gary Aumiller said that while Holmdel was affected by the number of people who attended the concert, SFX Entertainment, which operates the arts center, did a good job in lessening the impact.

"We were affected by the large influx of people that came and there was an impact on not only Holmdel, but the surrounding communities," said Aumiller, "but with the help of SFX and the police, we were better prepared."

Aumiller added that SFX Entertainment, a leading promoter, producer and presenter of live entertainment, does its best to maintain a balance between the New Jersey Highway Authority, which owns the Arts Center, and Holmdel.

"SFX is an excellent company that has been working with Holmdel for years," said Aumiller. "But as for the Highway Authority, we continue to be affected by the arts center and still do not receive any taxes, which is inherently unfair. I’d like to get to the point where we could say, ‘Yes, we are affected, but we are getting compensated for it.’ "

The township is currently involved in litigation to force the arts center to pay local property taxes.

Since the state privatized the arts center operation several years ago, Holmdel has been at odds with the Highway Authority over a number of issues, including noise, alcohol sales and land clearing for parking lot expansion.

(Staff writer Paul Dowd contributed to this story.)

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