Penn State

Four months after helicopter debacle at Penn State tailgate, 4 students have been charged

State police helicopter sends canopies and debris flying during PSU tailgate

Video of the low flying Pennsylvania State Police helicopter that sent canopies and debris flying during a Penn State tailgate in Yellow lot 23 on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Courtesy of https://facebook.com/NittanyLionWearhouse/
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Video of the low flying Pennsylvania State Police helicopter that sent canopies and debris flying during a Penn State tailgate in Yellow lot 23 on Saturday, Sept. 29, 2018. Courtesy of https://facebook.com/NittanyLionWearhouse/

Four months after a “massive” tailgate party outside of Beaver Stadium prompted Pennsylvania state police to use a low-flying helicopter to disperse the crowd, four Penn State students have been charged.

They face alcohol-related misdemeanors.

Two undercover Bureau of Liquor Control Enforcement officers were monitoring the tailgate in a parking lot outside Beaver Stadium ahead of the Sept. 29 football game with Ohio State and purchased a $10 wristband to “attend the party.”

As students were using smelling salts to “bring you around” and shotgunning beers, Pennsylvania state police sent in a helicopter and a group of horses to disperse the crowd. Instead, the crowd of about 600 people became unruly and ignored orders from police.

Connor Fitzgerald, 22, and Joshua Spear, 22, told police they organized the tailgate alongside 18 other fraternities and sororities. In a written statement, both Fitzgerald and Spear said it was a tradition for seniors in the Greek community to set up a tailgate at home football games.

Fitzgerald, a member of Beta Sigma Beta, said the first tailgate was before the Nittany Lions’ season opener against Appalachian State. He also said Mark Lunney Jr., 22, and Jared Bouer, 21, helped organize the event.

Spear, a member of Sigma Alpha Mu, said the quartet worked together to purchase parking passes, tents, tables, speakers, generators, catering, cigarettes, cups, snacks, water, soda, outdoor games and a DJ for the tailgate. Alcohol was not included with the purchase of a wristband.

Officers also searched Spear and Fitzgerald’s apartments at Centre Court and the Rise, respectively. A sketch of the Penn State-Ohio State tailgate and blue wristbands were found in Spear’s room, while “large U.S. currency transactions” were found in Fitzgerald’s Venmo account.

Fitzgerald said he collected money for the tailgate and kept $1,300 as his “cut.” Messages between Spear and Fitzgerald about organizing the tailgate were also obtained by police.

Each has a preliminary hearing scheduled for March 13.

The Federal Aviation Administration announced it would be investigating the incident, while Penn State police announced it would “discontinue use of a helicopter to make crowd announcements at football games pending an assessment.”

The FAA said Thursday that the investigation has been completed, but required a Freedom of Information Act request to release its findings.

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Bret Pallotto primarily reports on courts and crime for the Centre Daily Times. He grew up in Lewistown and graduated from Lock Haven University.

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