CHAMPAIGN, Ill. (WCIA) – What started as a final hurrah for newly graduated U of I students could follow some of them to court.
“There was one couch put in the middle of the street. Then all of a sudden there [were] 20 couches and it was kind-of the craziest thing I’ve ever seen,” U of I senior Jared Kurland said.
Then, that pile of furniture was set on fire as hundreds of people watched. Students say the crowd started gathering just before midnight. By 12:15, the fire ignited at the intersection of S Oak and E Chalmers Streets in Champaign. By 1 a.m. Monday, multiple citations for open alcohol violations were issued.
“I mean, I probably inhaled half a couch just being in the vicinity because everything was going up in the air,” U of I senior Spencer Gallagher said.
That’s a sentence you don’t hear every day.
“Someone wanted to start a fire and that’s exactly what happened,” Kurland said.
300 people crowded around a residential intersection – some with alcohol, old furniture and lighter fluid in hand.
“It was terrifying. We were all texting each other being like, ‘does everybody have renters’ insurance?'” U of I senior Regan Sauer said.
That’s because it happened just a few feet from Sauer’s front lawn, in a pocket of Campustown known as “Seniorland.”
“We’ve had people over before but it’s never been this severe,” Sauer said. “We’re kind-of upset that this happened.”
And no one really knows why, except that it may have been part of a farewell tradition among new graduates.
“It’s kind-of the last thing all the seniors do. Then after this we all walked to the quad, have a good time there, and say our goodbyes to each other,” U of I senior Sahil Yemul said.
“There was a similar instance of this last year, though maybe not quite as large,” University of Illinois Police Department Communications Director Patrick Wade said in a statement.
“It wasn’t a good thing. I mean, it was cool to watch at least,” Gallagher said.
UIPD says the gathering is currently under investigation and could bring serious legal consequences. So far, six students have been given notices to appear in court.
“Luckily I didn’t get one but I was here when they were passing them out,” Kurland said.
Plus, they’re all feeling lucky no one was hurt. Students said it was a way to spend their last moments in Champaign together…
“It was probably not the safest thing to do but you can’t really do this anywhere else so everyone was just having a good time,” Yemul said.
…And simply, to dispose of items they don’t need anymore.
“There are all these old couches that people have and they want to get rid of them somehow. So they just brought them out there and set them on fire,” Kurland said.
It was eventually extinguished by the fire department, and Champaign Public Works crews cleared the road of debris. But that didn’t stop the house on that corner from receiving a notice for excessive trash, and partial responsibility for a mess created largely by strangers.
“That’s why we’re out here now trying to pick it up because we obviously don’t want to get in trouble with the city. We’re not troublemaker girls we just want to be on everybody’s good side,” Sauer said.
UIPD declined an interview because the investigation is ongoing. You can read their full statement below.
There was a similar instance of this last year, though maybe not quite as large. The incident last night under investigation. So far, six students have been cited for open alcohol violations that occurred during a gathering that occurred just after midnight Monday morning near Oak and Chalmers streets, Champaign. UIPD officers were dispatched to check the area and found that a fire had been ignited in the intersection using furniture and other miscellaneous items. The Champaign Fire Department extinguished the fire, and Champaign Public Works cleared the roadway of debris. Of course, the potential legal consequences could be quite serious. There are several criminal charges that could apply depending on the circumstances. And worse, there is the potential for serious injury. We are lucky to say that no injuries were reported last night.UIPD Communications Director Patrick Wade