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Archie Ingersoll, Published January 15 2014

Party buses see good times roll

MOORHEAD – Spend a while driving a party bus, and you’ll notice a pattern.

Early in the evening, passengers are polite and high-functioning, but as the night devolves and some folks start boozing with abandon, the maturity level drops off.

“You deal with things that you almost have to play that Mom and Dad role,” said Chris Tweten, owner of Party Wheels. “You’re the baby sitter, basically.”

Adult supervision might have helped early Wednesday when a group of party bus riders, not customers of Party Wheels, started brawling inside a Stop-N-Go convenience store at 1702 30th Ave. S. in Moorhead.

Manager Cory Hoeper, who was not working when the fracas erupted, said damage to the store was minimal. “A couple of chip racks were knocked over,” he said.

Police officers from Moorhead and Dilworth, along with Clay County deputies, broke up the scuffle, and they found 24 people at the store or a short distance away, Moorhead police said.

Nobody was badly hurt. One man received minor injuries to his face and declined medical treatment, police said.

“This is another example where you have a number of people together over-consuming alcohol, and due to whatever reason, the end result is a physical altercation,” Moorhead police Lt. Tory Jacobson said.

Officers arrested six people on disorderly conduct charges and booked them into the Clay County Jail. Those arrested were Andrew Stevens, 24, of Fargo; John Farr, 35, of Fargo; Sedne Williams, 24, of Fargo; Matthew Caldera, 23, of Moorhead; Willie Lampkin, 25, of St. Cloud; and April Stevens, 22, of Moorhead. Police cited another woman for disorderly conduct, but she was released at the scene. Additionally, four people, including two juveniles, were cited for underage drinking.

Jacobson could not say which party bus company was involved, but he said the driver cooperated with police. “In fact, he ended their party at that scene, and he had everybody leave by other means such as taxi,” the lieutenant said.

Party bus drivers not connected to the incident tell The Forum that fights are part of the job, though melees like the one at the Stop-N-Go are rare.

“For the most part, everybody’s very respectful, well-mannered,” said Andy Draeger, manager of Fargo Party Ride.

It’s legal for passengers to drink freely on party buses, but Draeger said he and other drivers attempt to keep things under control.

“We really try our best to refrain from anybody getting too intoxicated,” he said.

If passengers become too drunk, drivers will drop them off at a safe place or find them a ride home. And if someone gets unruly, police are called, Draeger said.

Wednesday was not the first time party bus riders found themselves in the back of squad cars. In November 2012, a man stabbed another man in the head on a party bus in West Fargo and was later convicted of misdemeanor assault.

Fun Bus driver Jeff Reek said conflicts usually arise when different groups of friends are on one bus. During eight years in the business, he’s had to call the police a couple of times to handle difficult passengers.

“You can usually tell a couple hours into the night that there’s going to be trouble,” said Ryan Swanson, owner and operator of Good Times Transportation, noting that 21st birthday parties are particularly bad.

With riders celebrating and imbibing, things are bound to get wild: Bus windows are punched out, beer bottles are broken, vomit hopefully lands in trashcans, and drivers sometimes even get attacked.

Swanson told of a heated passenger who socked him in the face. He shrugged off the punch, blaming himself for not diffusing the situation sooner.

“There’s always going to be drama,” he said. “I try to keep as close tabs as possible, but I’m not out to ruin anybody’s night.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Archie Ingersoll at (701) 241-5535