Friday July 6, 2012

PITTSFIELD -- Corina Hill and Jessica Case were among the thousands of people who stood on North Street to watch the annual Fourth of July Parade.

They both left shortly before two men allegedly armed with knives pursued each other in a North Street parking lot. The incident occurred a short distance from where Hill and Case had been standing.

"I couldn't believe it," Hill, a Pittsfield resident, said Thursday while watching her children swim at Burbank Park. "We were just there. It was kind of scary."

Scary was just one word that Berkshire residents used Thursday to describe the incident, which erupted at the end of Wednesday's parade and led to the arrests of two men on assault and other charges.

The incident occurred seven weeks after a melee broke out at the end of the first Third Thursday event of the season. That incident, in May, resulted in six teenagers being arrested.

This month's Third Thursday will be July 19, but the next downtown event -- the First Fridays Artwalk -- actually takes place tonight from 5 to 8.

Some people said they were concerned about what took place on July 4th, while others viewed the knife incident and the melee as isolated events.

"I think they're the exception, not the rule," said one county resident whom The Eagle spoke to on North Street. "Unfortunately, there have been a couple in close proximity to each other, but I don't think it's a common theme."

Pittsfield resident Gina Corl said the knife incident might make her think twice about bringing her 20-month-old daughter to another of the city's downtown events.

"But I don't think it would prevent me from going to it," Corl said. "I still went to the parade after the Third Thursday incident."

Mayor Daniel L. Bianchi said no one likes it when things like this happen, but it shouldn't be construed as part of a larger problem.

"I think it's fairly isolated incidents between ... people who know each other," the mayor said. "There's no reason people shouldn't feel safe."

Regardless, Bianchi said, the city will continue to "stay on top if it."

"Quite frankly, this type of thing won't be tolerated," he said.

Police Chief Michael Wynn said Thursday that he's concerned when violence occurs anywhere in Pittsfield, but he noted that neither the knife incident nor the melee were specifically associated with either the parade or the Third Thursday event.

"We always have some incident during a large-scale event," Wynn said. "Usually, it's nothing of this magnitude. These are a little bit different. At Third Thursday, part of that was attributable to adolescents who communicated their intentions to be at the event. The second one appears to be an ongoing family dispute.

Wynn said it's difficult to prevent incidents like the one that occurred after the parade from happening if people attend those events with "bad intentions."

"The best thing we can do is have enough resources and do what we can do, and respond like we did Wednesday and at Third Thursdays," he said.

Some people who attended the parade said they noticed a significant police presence.

"Our response every year is that every available officer who is not injured works that parade," Wynn said.

Not everyone thinks downtown North Street is safe.

"It's getting bad," said William Koldrubski, 62, who lives in senior housing on Columbus Avenue.

Koldrubski grew up in Pittsfield and recently moved back after living in New York state.

"Some nights you're even afraid to walk on the street," he said. "I know somebody who went to do their laundry on Linden Street and got jumped."

Lindsay Roncoulet, who has two children, said she moved to Hinsdale from Pittsfield because of the violence in the city.

"I wanted a safer place for my kids," she said.

Several tourists walking on North Street on Thursday said were unaware that either violent incident had taken place. But if they had known, it still wouldn't have prevented them from visiting Pittsfield.

"This is the fourth year that we've been here and we've never seen any trouble," said Gloucester resident Helen Corbeil. "It's a beautiful place. There's so much to do."

To reach Tony Dobrowolski:
TDobrowolski@berkshireeagle.com,
(413) 496-6224.
On Twitter: @tonydobrow