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'Totally unruly crowd' fuels melee at theater

Dozens of police officers from three localities raced to the Regal Cinema on Elmwood Avenue on Monday night after multiple fights broke out among young patrons inside the theater and outside in the parking lot.

The first police calls, at about 8:40 p.m., indicated that large numbers of teens were brawling at the cinema, which is in a shopping plaza between Hertel and Hinman avenues.

Buffalo police from every district responded, and they were helped by officers from Kenmore and the Town of Tonawanda. Niagara Frontier Transportation Authority officers also reported to the scene. The ruckus disrupted traffic on Elmwood for a short time.

When tensions continued to flare, police and Regal managers cut short some films that were being shown in the 16-screen cinema. "It became a self-feeding problem," Police Commissioner H. McCarthy Gipson said of the fights. "It made for a totally unruly crowd."

From the scene, Gipson said there were no injuries, but police told reporters a couple of officers were struck during the chaos.

Witnesses said most of the fights involved teenage girls.

Dennis J. Richards, chief of detectives, said an 18-year-old Buffalo woman was arrested. Hope Tuck of Sumner Place was charged with inciting a riot, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct.

Richards said the problems apparently started when theater staffers asked some people to leave due to overcapacity. Police said some of the theaters had capacity crowds for movies that just opened.

"I don't think it was gang-related," Gipson said. "I think it's young kids wearing issues on their sleeves."

The commissioner added that he had to scold some minors who were using foul language as police tried to piece together what happened.

A similar fight broke out at the Elmwood theater complex in April 2004, when about 50 young men caused a near-riot. A police officer suffered a knee injury during the earlier melee.

But Gipson said he doesn't think the incidents red-flag any security problems at the Regal.

"How can you stop spontaneous fighting? It's like throwing gasoline on a small match fire," he said.

Regal managers declined to comment on Monday's incident.

Many patrons were stunned when they walked out of the complex and saw dozens of police cars and uniformed officers. Hector and Andrea Peraza, of Baltimore, were visiting the area for the holidays and took their young sons to see "Charlotte's Web."

"We came out of the theater and saw one of the fights," Andrea Peraza said.

Leslie Greene lives near the Regal and was inside the theater, oblivious to the chaos taking place nearby. As she walked into the parking lot, filled with the glare of flashing police lights and television cameras, Greene said the incident won't stop her from coming back.

"This is still our neighborhood theater," she said.

e-mail: bmeyer@buffnews.com

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