Ramada Inn investigated after party

Tuesday, February 10, 2004 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 10:26 p.m. CDT, Saturday, July 5, 2008

After a disturbance Saturday night that led to the arrest of eight people, Columbia police and fire officials will meet today to determine if a local hotel violated city fire codes during a private party.

Fire Battalion Chief Steven Sapp said the two departments are investigating whether the Ramada Inn Conference Center, 1100 Vandiver Drive, filled its banquet room with more people than legally permitted during a style and fashion show thrown by MU’s Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.

Police and fire officials also will determine if exits leading from the room were locked, a violation of city fire codes. Each violation carries a fine of up to $1,000 and a year in jail.

Around midnight, off-duty police officers providing security at the event called the Columbia Police Department for help with a large number of people who had filled hallways outside the banquet room, police Capt. Zim Schwartze said.

“It was extremely crowded,” said Schwartze, who estimated that 400 to 500 people attended the sorority’s show.

Fifteen to 20 officers responded to the call, Schwartze said, and began to herd people outside the building.

“We had moved quite a few people out into the parking lot when a fight erupted inside among the event-goers,” Schwartze said. “We went in to stop the fight.”

After issuing commands, which Schwartze said were ignored, police used Mace to break up the fight. Mace was used outside the hotel as other fights broke out, Schwartze said.

Eight people were arrested on charges ranging from trespassing to refusal to disperse to resisting or interfering with arrest, according to the police incident report and arrest records.

Shortly after they arrived, police officers called the Columbia Fire Department to the hotel to investigate possible fire code violations.

“Officers did locate some locked doors,” Schwartze said.

Police officers were then posted at every exit as the banquet room was evacuated.

The Ramada Inn’s general manager, who declined to be named, estimated that closer to 600 people attended the sorority event. The hotel’s banquet room was reserved for a party of 225 people, he said. When that number was reached, the hotel began asking people to leave. The general manager declined to give the maximum capacity of the room but said it can hold more than 225 people.

Anika Clifton, president of Alpha Kappa Alpha, said the sorority booked the room from 10 p.m. to 1 a.m. Saturday. Clifton said that while the sorority was responsible for keeping track of the number of guests attending the event, which was open to the public, she did not know the room’s maximum occupancy.

Police arrived before the sorority could turn people away, Clifton said.

The police incident report referred to the party as a “private alcohol function,” but both the Ramada Inn and Alpha Kappa Alpha said that there was no alcohol present.

Sapp said the maximum occupancy of the Ramada Inn’s banquet room was not posted outside as current law requires. The fire department does not have a maximum occupancy on file for the banquet room, Sapp said. The department will examine archived records to determine what the legal occupancy should be.

The department will also ask the Ramada Inn for measurements of the room to help determine that number, Sapp said.

—Missourian reporters Joel Lyons, Graham Wood, Indi Kramer and Lindsey Forsythe contributed to this story.

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