Time to rethink bonfires?

CHAPEL HILL That’s what happened to eight students in celebrations this week. One had to have surgery.

UNC senior Andrew Coonin says the party has to change.

"I think it gets a little dicey when people starting taking other people's lives in their hands," he offered.

Coonin's president of the Carolina Athletic Association, a student group. He was disappointed - even disgusted - by some of what he saw Monday night.

"I personally saw a friend of mine get sexually assaulted as she was forced up onto sort of a moving platform made out by the Columbia sign, and you know, shouted out, harassed and uncomfortably touched," he said.

And then there's the vandalism, and the fires.

"It's one thing to risk yourself and to maybe take a risk and jump a fire. It's another thing to really put people in serious harm," said Coonin.

For public officials, it's a tough balance. They want the kids to be able to express their excitement over a victory. They also want everyone to be safe.

"We really want to make sure that we balance crowd safety with the ability to have a celebration," offered Chapel Hill Mayor Kevin Foy.

But Foy agrees Monday's events - especially the flames - were excessive.

"That's too many. Fires present a serious risk of harm to people and in fact people were harmed," he said.

But Foy's not likely to put them out.

"This is not gonna be heavy-handed. We're not gonna come in and shut this thing down," he said.

Foy says the student body needs to take the lead.

That's where Coonin comes back in. He'll be hosting a forum Monday night looking for ways to do just that. Among the ideas: having an area where people can paint the town blue with water-based paint, maybe have a designated and controlled section for fires like Duke does, and having bands or a DJ. That would make it more party and less pandemonium.

"I think we need to move away from destruction and find different ways that we can celebrate," offered Coonin.

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