A massive party on the American River that degenerated into brawls and rock-throwing Saturday has county officials talking about expanding a holiday ban on alcohol to cover such events.
This was the second year of Rafters Gone Wild, an event publicized via social media, that drew more than 3,000 people for a day of partying on the river and adjoining American River Parkway.
But the day ended in drunkenness, fights and arrests.
"It was good to hear that no one drowned, but obviously the arrests and some of the other behavior that occurred was at least predictable," said Don Nottoli, chairman of the Sacramento County Board of Supervisors.
Large crowds and alcohol on the river are not a good mix, he said, adding that he had received calls from constituents since Saturday urging a ban on alcohol on the river and parkway.
In 2006, the Board of Supervisors adopted an ordinance prohibiting alcohol on the parkway during the Memorial Day, July Fourth and Labor Day holidays. The state Legislature in 2007 extended the holiday ban to the American River itself between Hazel and Watt avenues.
Nottoli said that before the end of the summer he expects the board to initiate a public discussion about extending that ban. Possibilities, he said, include year-round or seasonal bans on alcohol, or a targeted ban for events that are expected to draw large crowds.
John Havicon, supervising ranger for Sacramento County Regional Parks, said he would welcome that discussion. He said Saturday's crowd was more unruly than last year's.
Several incidents would likely have resulted in drownings or serious injury had it not been for the presence of law enforcement and water rescue teams, Havicon said.
"With that many people and that amount of unruly behavior, it was a time bomb ready to go off," he said.
About 60 members of law enforcement and emergency service agencies were assigned to a response team for the the event. Officials were still compiling figures Monday on total arrests, rescues and medical responses.
Assistant Chief Walt White of the Sacramento Metropolitan Fire District said problems this year were the same as last year a lack of life jackets on rafts, intoxication and fights. But he said there appeared to be more violence this year.
"It did become a threat to our personnel as well as public safety," White said.
Sacramento County sheriff's spokesman Deputy Jason Ramos said most of the violence occurred during a couple of hours Saturday evening. He said law enforcement officers and paramedics reported that rocks and bottles were thrown at them as the tried to break up fights and provide medical aid.
During a one-hour period, between 7 and 8 p.m., White said, emergency personnel responded to event-related incidents including fights that led to the closure of River Bend Park, a missing person report, two fights resulting in facial injuries, a report of a person who was unconscious, and a person stranded on a "wave runner," a personal watercraft that isn't allowed on the river, where the speed limit is 5 mph.
In addition to issues of public safety, Nottoli said he is concerned about the strain such events place on public resources that are already stretched thin.
Havicon said he had not totaled up the costs for his staff, but some county park rangers worked overtime Saturday, with 10 on duty instead of the usual four. Three additional maintenance employees also were assigned to do cleanup and repairs after the event.
"There were a lot of broken posts and cable, and a lot of broken glass," Havicon said. "They left a pretty good mess."