WATERVILLE — A Colby College melee over the weekend that resulted in an arrest, dumpster fire and objects thrown at emergency responders was an extreme example of incidents that city police have come to expect around graduation time on the campus.

“We have had a few incidents at past graduations,” Waterville police Chief Joseph Massey said Tuesday. “There hasn’t been one in the very recent past, but we have had a few (incidents).”

The fire early Sunday morning and a second one in a dumpster a few hours later — just hours before the school’s commencement ceremony — are the most recent alcohol-fueled gatherings that have raised concerns by city police and fire officials.

Police said the trouble started Sunday with a large bonfire attended by 200 to 250 people around 1 a.m. on a sidewalk at the senior dormitory off Washington Street. Many in the crowd had been drinking and were aggressive toward firefighters and police who arrived on scene, Massey said.

Jonathan Sdao, 24, of Niwot, Colorado, a member of the school’s hockey team, was charged with two counts of assault and refusing to submit to arrest after he allegedly threw a bottle that hit two police officers responding to the bonfire. Other students at the bonfire were unruly enough that Massey said firefighters were afraid to approach until police arrived.

Sdao, who police said was intoxicated, was a member of the class of 2016, but the college said he did not graduate Sunday.


Two other students will likely be charged this week with arson for a dumpster fire several hours later, Sgt. Ken Grimes, of the state fire marshal’s office, said Monday.

Colby Vice President for Communications Ruth Jackson, in a request for comment on whether Sunday’s incident was beyond what had been seen at the school in recent years, said Monday night that the school would not comment beyond what had been released earlier in the day.

Colby will “conduct an investigation into the reported actions of the students,” Jackson had said in an earlier email Monday, and that “we believe strongly in the need for everyone in our community to show respect for our first responders.”

Massey could not recall any recent fires or reports of arson at Colby, although last year on the Sunday of commencement, the Waterville Fire Department and police were called to extinguish a pile of burning furniture in front of a residence hall.

While Massey said he didn’t recall that fire, Waterville Fire Department Capt. Jeff Brazier said at the time the fire, which was burning on the walkway at a residence hall, was dangerous and a crowd of students had gathered at it.

“A large crowd had gathered around the fire to celebrate their upcoming graduation,” Brazier told the Morning Sentinel.


As with Sunday’s fire, the furniture burned in 2015 included couches and other items belonging to students and was not school property, Brazier said.

“There’s a ton of things that are unsafe about it,” Brazier said. “Obviously, they don’t have a hose, they don’t have anything for suppressing a fire, so it is a dangerous situation.”

Massey said Tuesday the department also had issues with Champagne on the Steps, a tradition discontinued in 2008 by the college’s board of trustees. Started in the early 1990s, seniors gathered on the steps of Miller Library and drank champagne on the last day of classes.

In 2008, however, more than a dozen students were hospitalized for alcohol poisoning following the gathering, and the event was discontinued. In 2010, Colby banned hard liquor from parties and dorms at the college, aiming to reduce alcohol poisoning.

Massey said in 2010 that the drinking culture at Colby appeared to have improved since Champagne on the Steps ended, and the hard liquor ban would likely help further that progress.

Sunday, the officers and a firefighter who were struck with thrown objects were not injured, but a student was struck in the head and taken by ambulance to the hospital, police said.

At the 4:30 a.m. dumpster fire expected to result in the arson charges, mattresses, furniture and other items were set ablaze. Fire officials said about $250 worth of furniture was burned in the earlier bonfire and about $500 worth of pavement was destroyed.

Massey said Tuesday that police talk to security officials at both Colby and Thomas College before each graduation to see if there are any issues they should anticipate, and in general police are aware that celebrations are going on, Massey said. Massey said he cannot recall his department responding to similar incidents at Waterville’s other college, Thomas College.

“As police we anticipate that during any graduation from any college or university, you might expect there would be parties,” he said. “That’s realistic and they happen. There’s nothing wrong with that as long as those parties don’t get out of hand.”

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