NYE Bills game safety concerns: ECSO warns against drunk driving, stadium site trespassing

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (WIVB) — Buffalo Bills fans will be out in full force Sunday for the final regular season game in Orchard Park this year, and the Erie County Sheriff’s Office is telling fans to stay safe — especially with New Year’s parties and celebrations after the game.

Both events will equal a big party weekend in Western New York, and law enforcement agencies say they are ready for it. DWI checkpoints and extra patrols will be in full effect across the county. Local and state police are participating as well.

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“Drinking and driving will probably be a bigger issue this year than in years past because there is a football game in the afternoon,” Sgt. Jeremy Lehning, public information officer for the Erie County Sheriff’s Office, said. “Don’t drink and drive, particularly this year and in and around the stadium. It’s a recipe for disaster.”

Alongside this campaign, the sheriff’s office is warning people against entering the Bills game overly intoxicated, saying fans will be turned away at the gate. The department also encourages people to check the list of prohibited items because they will be flagged. This also slows down entry into the game.

As for traffic, the department says the traffic patterns will be normal for a game day. Abbott Road closes at 8 a.m., Bills lots open at 9 a.m. and stadium gates open at 11 a.m.

“There’s 72,000 of them and a police force of us. It’s a numbers game,” Lehning said. “I think by the last game of the season with the construction, I think we’ve mitigated any potential issues or problems to the best of our abilities. Again, it’s something we’re constantly evaluating, and constantly working on.”

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This season, the sheriff’s office has also been trying to stop fans from entering and trespassing on the new stadium construction site. As of the Bills’ previous game against the Cowboys, 10 people have been arrested for trespassing on the site this season.

Seven of the arrests, including two from the previous home game, came after fans tried to enter the site for a photo opportunity, the sheriff’s office said.

Two others were arrested trying to cut through the site to get to a parking lot on the other side, and one person was arrested at the season opener after allegedly entering the construction pit while under the influence of alcohol, LSD, cocaine and marijuana.

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“Bills fans are a very dedicated bunch. What you’re going to have happen a lot of the time is you’re going to have these people willing to break the law and trespass to get a really good picture of the stadium, the new construction, all of that. It’s extremely dangerous,” Sgt. Lehning said.

While Erie County Sheriff John Garcia has called for higher fences and better lighting in the area, the department says it is not considering adding extreme protective measures like barbed wire.

“We’re not going to do crazy things like throw razor wire, barbed wire and all this other stuff. It’s not going to happen. There’s a fence and there’s signage. Use common sense; you should not be in there,” Lehning said.

Lehning said the department will still work with the Bills and update safety practices as needed.

He also cautioned fans from arriving to the game too early because it creates a traffic back up along Southwestern Boulevardd and Route 20A.

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Tara Lynch is a Buffalo native and Emmy-nominated reporter who joined the News 4 team in 2022. She previously worked at WETM in Elmira, N.Y., a sister station of News 4. You can follow Tara on Facebook and Twitter and find more of her work here.

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