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Santa Barbara spring break party 'Deltopia' turns into riot, officers injured

A UC Santa Barbara police officer was seriously injured and at least five Santa Barbara sheriff's deputies were hurt after a campus-wide spring break party known as Deltopia turned ugly Saturday night in Isla Vista. 

The UC officer sustained a "significant" head injury when a partier hit him with a backpack stuffed with bottles of alcohol at around 9 p.m. Saturday, near the 6700 block of Del Playa Drive, according to the Santa Barbara Sheriff's Department (SBSD). During the ensuing arrest, some in the crowd of about 15,000 began throwing bottles, rocks and bricks at law enforcement personnel, the department said. 

After authorities declared an unlawful assembly, "the situation escalated into a major disturbance," said the SBSD. It said people ripped up stop signs, lit several small fires and damaged property, including several law enforcement vehicles.

Reinforcements were brought in from other Santa Barbara and Ventura County law enforcement agencies, the department said. The Ventura County Sheriff's Department, the Oxnard Police Department, and the Ventura office of the California Highway Patrol sent officers, according to the Ventura County Star newspaper.

Law enforcement responded with tear gas and "foam projectiles," and after several hours they had restored order. According to the Santa Barbara Sheriff's statement:

About 18 people were arrested during the disturbance. That brought the total of arrests since Friday to more than 100, said the SBSD. A total of 44 people have been hospitalized, it added. By late Saturday afternoon, before the disturbance broke out, at least 14 people had been hospitalized for alcohol poisoning, according to KEYT-TV. 

UC Santa Barbara freshman John Meza, 18, said he was at the events Saturday. He said he headed out on Saturday night and found the area "pretty dead." Unlike previous years, he said, there were no deejays in the streets, and house parties in the area were relatively small. A noise ordinance was strictly enforced this year, in part, to clamp down on out-of-control partying. When he neared Del Playa Drive, he said he saw a huge crowd. 

"We saw just massive riots, people throwing bottles and rocks and tearing out stop signs," Meza said. "We looked over to see what they were all crowding around. There was a car — they were kicking in the windows — that had been, like, crashed into the curb."

Meza said he felt the riots were fueled in part by alcohol and frustration at the scaled-down annual event.

"I feel like these out-of-towners came in expecting music and dancing in the street, and when they didn't get that, they started tearing out stop signs and burning s*** on the street," he said.

The Isla Vista party once known as "Floatopia" has had its share of problems in the past. A Cal Poly woman was found dead after last year's events. In 2009, a spate of arrests and injuries forced the county to begin shutting down its beaches during the spring break weekend. It was reborn in 2010 as "Deltopia," a series of parties and DJ events around Isla Vista. 

Deltopia has become a magnet for students on spring break throughout the western US. Partiers had come from as far away as Nevada and Arizona for this weekend's festivities, according to KEYT-TV.

This story has been updated.