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No Answers for Underage Drinking

Mansfield Selectmen probed into the root of the problem of underage drinking at the Comcast Center.

Although Comcast officials, Mansfield public safety staff, and selectmen were universally frustrated and alarmed over the public brawl at the that resulted in serious injury for a Westwood teen, nobody had answers about how to prevent the drinking that caused it.

But they praised the quick actions of the security team, and the emergency medical personnel on duty that night, saying without such immediate attention the young man could well have died.

Comcast general manager Bruce Montgomery and his security and medical services heads, Bill Shinklin and David Piantedosi, answered questions from Selectmen Wednesday, as did Mansfield Chief of Police Arthur O'Neill. And while they were universally appalled by the incident; one of very few fights at the venue in recent years, they said the concert staff and police are working against the tide when it comes to underage drinking.

According to the police log, many concerts have upwards of 20 or 30 arrests made for underage drinking. The 311 concert from last month, for example, had 20 arrests for underage drinking and the Brad Paisely concert had 18.

Selectman George Dentino insisted there must be something more that could be done, and suggested either getting patrons to the gate before they can start drinking, or preventing tailgating entirely in the parking lot.

"If I thought we could do that, we would already have done it," said O'Neill. He said with as many as 8000 cars and a capacity of 20,000 at the Comcast Center on a sold-out night, the 20 to 40 police officers and 40 Comcast security on duty for a big concert are hard put to find all the alcohol that is smuggled into the lot, or to stem the rising tide of teenagers who show up primed and ready to party.

Montgomery said the assault of the Westwood teen by a half dozen Mansfield men lasted only about 20 seconds before a Comcast security guard stepped into the fray and stopped it. The assailants fled, but witnesses later stepped forward to identify them, and the six were arrested. The victim, Michael Skehill, was airlifted by a Medflight helicopter, and had suffered major head and body trauma. He later underwent surgery to remove his spleen, and remained in a medically induced coma for days.

Montgomery told the board it was his understanding that Skehill has returned home.

He told the board the staff and the Mansfield police are working together all the time to use security more efficiently, but laid the blame for the attack on the prevailing atmosphere of disrespect and irresponsible actions that plague the general society.

"We bring a quarter million to a half million people in a year," the 26-year veteran Comcast manager said. "All society's problems walk through my door. It is not our job to solve society's problems, but it is our job to deal with them when they end up on our doorstep - there is nothing wrong that's not just a part of society."

The Comcast Center's last 2011 concert is Toby Keith, another popular country western singer. After the close of the season with that September 17 show, selectmen will begin the yearly license review with Comcast for 2012.

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