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So long, 2008. Hello, 2009.

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Melissa and Marcus Montanye from Chicago watch fireworks while ringing in the new year at the Venetian on Thursday, January 1, 2009.
Photo: Sam Morris
Steve Silver, Cara McCoy

A New Year's Eve crowd of about 290,000 visitors packed Las Vegas into the early morning, ushering in a new year and saying goodbye to 12 months that some hoped to forget.

The alcohol flowed on a crowded night packed with fireworks, motorcycle stunts and a sprinkling of arrests, although police said no major problems were reported.

Four adults stood huddled at the entrance of Harrah's, boisterously laughing, almost as if they had just pulled off an “Oceans 11”-style caper.

But it wasn’t a casino heist that drew the chortles. Seattle native Mike Jones revealed the source of amusement: a tiny plastic Breathalyzer with a digital display.

Jones had just blown a .24 on the handheld device. It was 7 p.m. -- welcome to New Year’s Eve in Las Vegas.

"Hey, it's Vegas, where else would you want to be on New Year’s," Jones said. "This is going to be an awesome night."

New Year's Eve around the valley

As of 1:30 a.m. Thursday, 87 arrests had been made related to New Year’s Eve activities on Las Vegas Boulevard and downtown Las Vegas, Metro Police spokesman Officer John Loretto said. Five of the 87 arrests were on felony charges. Loretto said Metro won't release details of the arrests until reports are analyzed on Friday.

At one point Wednesday evening, four men were arrested in connection with disorderly conduct outside Caesars Palace on Las Vegas Boulevard. One of the men began to fight an officer. The officer then knocked the man to the ground and arrested him.

Authorities also were on the lookout for impaired drivers. Trooper Kevin Honea of the Nevada Highway Patrol said his agency had arrested 32 motorists for driving under the influence throughout the valley as of 3:30 a.m. Thursday.

Patrons on the casino floor at Boulder Station, 4111 Boulder Highway, were moved to the movie theater area shortly after 11:30 p.m. Wednesday after a man claimed he had an explosive device, Metro Police said.

Loretto said the man didn't have an explosive device and might be charged with creating a hoax. Boulder Station wasn't evacuated during the incident, police said.

Police also responded to celebratory New Year’s gunfire across the Las Vegas Valley.

New Year's rookies and veterans

Outside Bally’s, oversized plastic bottles of Bud Light were going for $9. At Paris, bars sculpted out of ice dotted the gaming area and offered up a $9 shot of Jager or a souvenir Eiffel Tower mug filled with “Paris Punch” for $19. Tourists sipping from pitchers of beer donned glasses flashing “2009” or sashes and crowns baring the evening’s mantra: “Happy New Year.”

Las Vegas resident Peter LeBron said Las Vegas Boulevard has one marked perk that The Big Apple just can’t offer up: Unlike New York City, people can (and do) drink alcohol in the streets.

Fixing the Fireworks

“You can at least have plastic cups and drink here, and people love that,” he said. “This is my first New Year’s in Las Vegas. I can see it’s a little bit looser.”

LeBron, a former New York resident who moved to Las Vegas this year, markets VIP tables for nightclubs. Standing near the fountain in front of Paris Las Vegas, he said the effects of the down economy are noticeable.

“Nobody wants to pay to go into these big clubs that have really great DJs and performers and celebrities and hosts. That’s the big difference here (compared to New York). Nobody wants to spend the money,” he said. “Maybe it’s the recession.”

For those looking for a chance to rub elbows with celebrities, a deep dig into the pocketbook got some into the same nightclub as Carmen Electra ($150), Kid Rock ($200) or Pink ($75). VIP rooms cost as much as $2,000.

“I don’t drink,” said Mina Esteri, of Phoenix, who was visiting Las Vegas with her husband. The two were inside Paris Las Vegas and planned to head outside to watch motorcyclist Robbie Maddison clear the Arc de Triomphe as part of a nationally televised event.

“We usually come here for Christmas, but this year, I wanted to experience New Year’s," she said. "We’re here to watch the fireworks, to see people."

For Peggy and Perry James, of Milledgeville, Ga., the final day of 2008 marked their first-ever trip to Las Vegas.

“We’re expecting a lot of flash and excitement, but yea, we’re looking forward to seeing the fireworks and it’s exciting to see it all lit up,” Peggy James said. “Honestly, most of the time we’re sound asleep at midnight but this year, we’re hoping to make it.”

Outside the Bellagio, the early evening crowd awaiting the 6 p.m. performance of the fountains looked about as busy as any other Wednesday – except for the canoodling couples in New Year’s hats who passed the time by kissing.

Gesturing at the fountains as they danced to “Singin’ in the Rain,” Ed Stamelos, 70, of Ukiah, Calif., said he was looking forward to the evening’s fireworks but wasn’t sure if it could beat the fountain show.

“It’s the only place to be on New Year’s Eve,” he said.

Stamelos, a retired law enforcement officer who is now a private investigator, said he usually spends the holiday with friends. “Usually, I’m in bed by 10 p.m. Tonight, I’m expecting to stay up until 10:30 – if I can make it,” he said with a chuckle. “I’d really like to see the fireworks at midnight.”

Fireworks viewing a 'disappointment'

Partiers watch fireworks while ringing in the new year at the Venetian.

Sam Morris

Partiers watch fireworks while ringing in the new year at the Venetian.

At the stroke of midnight, eight fireworks locations went up in smoke. A common refrain heard among fireworks viewers was "disappointing." Last January's fire at the Monte Carlo prompted more stringent regulations from the county, so fireworks were launched from locations on the ground, rather than casino rooftops, which had been the tradition in previous years.

While event organizers had warned that the fireworks display wouldn't be visible at areas off the Strip, many on Las Vegas Boulevard said they couldn't see them, either.

As couples kissed and noisemakers whirled, those hoping for fireworks had some hunting to do. Unless standing directly in front of a launch site, the fireworks were hard to find.

Stripwalking

“I couldn’t see anything from here and everyone was pushing everyone," said Prawl Siu Chin, 26, of New York City. He was watching from an area near the Bellagio. “It was horrible.”

Police struggled to control the restless crowd as many partygoers shoved each other to try to gain a better view of the fireworks.

Jamal Manning, a Las Vegas resident who has watched the New Year's fireworks on the Strip for the past five years, said he was disappointed by this year’s display.

“I’m used to the crowds by now, but not like this,” Manning said. “You can’t move. I want to punch someone. You can’t see or hear the fireworks. Why didn’t anyone tell us you couldn’t see them from the Strip? Where else are we supposed to be except in the middle near the Bellagio and Planet Hollywood?”

Malcolm and Mary Thomas came from North Yorkshire, England, to spend their 10th consecutive New Year's in Sin City. They counted down the final moments of 2008 on Las Vegas Boulevard near the MGM Grand.

"This is quieter, I think, than the other years," Malcolm Thomas said. "The one thing that has stood out is the disappointment of the fireworks because they said it would be easy for everyone to see, but it wasn’t. So that was a disappointment."

Fireworks rung in the new year at Mandalay Bay, the Luxor, MGM Grand, Caesars Palace, Treasure Island, the Las Vegas Convention Center, the Stratosphere and the Fremont Street Experience.

Dave Holland, 31, a jet mechanic at Nellis Air Force Base, said he was having a grand time celebrating New Year's in Las Vegas with his friend and fellow mechanic, Curtis Chaney, 26.

Maddison Triumphs Arch

"We're just out having a fun time, drinking, getting to know everybody," Holland said. "It's been fun, but kind of crowded," Chaney added.

As for 2009, Chaney said he had two resolutions he intended to keep: stop smoking and work out more.

Holland said he hopes the new year brings an upswing to the economy. "Not just for me, but for the world," he said. "I hope it gets better with the new president."

Daredevil's stunt a success

ESPN's Robbie Maddison coverage

Robbie Madison jumps off the Arch De Triumph at the Paris Las Vegas on New Year's Eve.

Justin M. Bowen

Robbie Madison jumps off the Arch De Triumph at the Paris Las Vegas on New Year's Eve.

As motorcycle stunt daredevil Robbie Maddison, 27, prepared for what could have been his final trick — a 120-foot jump to the top of the Arc de Triomphe followed by a 50-foot freefall — the crowd on Las Vegas Boulevard between Paris Las Vegas and the Bellagio swelled as spectators craned their necks to take in the spectacle.

He nailed both parts of the stunt, escaping with only an injury to his hand.

Last New Year's in Las Vegas, Maddison broke the Guinness World Record with a jump of 322 feet 7 1/2 inches.

Tara Giacomo, of Las Vegas, and Sabrina Yeager, of Wallace, Idaho, stood on the curb in front of the Bellagio to watch the fountains while waiting for the jump. The curb gave them a few inches to look over other people’s heads.

“I’m here to see the fountains and the fireworks, just the whole experience,” said Giacomo, who was in town for an annual visit with Yaeger. “Vegas is the place to be. I feel safe in Vegas, a lot more than I do in New York.”

“I think Las Vegas is great,” she added. “I don’t want to go back to the snow.”

For Kelwood DeGraaf and a group of family and friends from Alberta, Canada, Las Vegas was a pit stop on their way to a motocross event in Anaheim, Calif. They didn’t find out about Maddison’s plans to jump until they rolled into town.

“I don’t know what to say, it was incredible,” DeGraaf said of Maddison's stunt.

DeGraaf’s fiancée, Kyla Schneider, agreed it was impressive.

“He must have been scared. His fiancée looked scared,” she said of Robbie Maddison's fiancée. She looked at DeGraaf and added, “I wouldn’t let you do it.”

After the jump, Eddie Valtier, 42, a civil engineer from El Paso, Texas, sipped on a drink in a plastic Fat Tuesday’s mug outside the Planet Hollywood casino. He said this year marks the fifth time he has welcomed in a new year in Las Vegas.

“I come here three or four times a year,” he said. “I’m expecting to see a lot of drunk people, a lot of good times, a lot of friends … a lot of people just having a good time.”

Knievel takes backseat in stunt-filled night

Robbie Knievel jumping in front of the Mirage volcano on the Strip.

Sam Morris

Robbie Knievel jumping in front of the Mirage volcano on the Strip.

Hype is as much a part of New Year's celebrations in Las Vegas as champagne, but Robbie Knievel’s jump over the recently reopened volcano at the Mirage left some fans disappointed.

More than one hour after the jump was scheduled to take place, Knievel finally launched down a ramp on a motorcycle to perform a back flip over spewing lava at the Mirage’s volcano in front of a packed crowd on the Strip.

But Knievel’s stunt was nowhere near the volcano. The volcano was in the background, but Knievel landed a backflip from one ramp to another on the street to little fanfare.

“That was such a waste,” said Jason Diamond, of Crozet, Va. “I thought that looked easy. I think there was a lot of hype for nothing. I thought he was going to jump the volcano, but it was just a ramp on the street.”

Knievel’s stunt aired on Fox at the same time ESPN showed similar stunts by Maddison and Rhys Millen.

While Maddison successfully landed his motorcycle on top of the Arch de Triomphe at Paris Las Vegas, Millen failed to land a backflip in his pickup truck at the Rio.

Police pursuit brings slow start

Motorists trying to get to the Las Vegas Strip just before it was closed to traffic Wednesday night were delayed after a man fleeing police collided with a Nevada Highway Patrol car on Interstate 15.

Metro Police responded to the 4900 block of Powell Avenue to investigate a report of shots fired shortly after 3 p.m. Thursday. The man had left the scene before officers arrived, police said.

Based on a witness description of the car, officers en route to the scene found the suspect’s vehicle and tried to stop the car. The vehicle stopped, but then fled as officers issued commands to the driver.

Metro Police said officers ended the pursuit after concerns about the safety of other drivers on the road.

Traveling southbound on Interstate 15, police said the man continued driving in a reckless manner while being monitored by a police helicopter.

The vehicle then collided with an NHP cruiser near I-15’s intersection with Flamingo Road. When the man refused to exit the vehicle, officers extracted the man and took him into custody.

I-15 was restricted to one lane at Flamingo in heavy traffic while authorities investigated the crash. The road was reopened at about 5:45 p.m.

Sun reporter Kyle Hansen contributed to this report.

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