Police investigate fatal melee at middle school basketball game

Published: Feb. 1, 2023 at 4:50 AM CST|Updated: Feb. 1, 2023 at 6:05 PM CST
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ALBURGH, Vt. (WCAX) - Authorities are investigating the death of an Alburgh man Tuesday night following a brawl between spectators at a local boys’ basketball game.

Vermont State Police were called to the Alburgh gym around 7 p.m. following the seventh- and eighth-grade game between Alburgh and St. Albans City. Cellphone video obtained by WCAX News captured the violent melee as adults -- and at least two players -- joined in. Police say one of the fans, Russell Giroux, 60, of Alburgh, was later taken to the hospital, where he died.

Authorities so far are not saying what triggered the fight. “In some respects, I’m at a loss for words. This should never happen,” said Grand Isle State’s Attorney Doug Disabito, who also lives in Alburgh. He says state police are gathering video footage and information about who was there. “Very sad. And it’s because of adults and I’m sad for my community.”

The video shows more than a dozen adults throwing punches, or trying to pull others away or off of the pile.

The Vermont Principals’ Association oversees high school sports. Executive director Jay Nichols says he spoke to the referee of the game, who told him he’s not sure why it started. “They were reffing the game and the next thing he knew people were out on the court punching each other. There was one person that had blood all over their face, they got a parent to call the police,” Nichols said.

He says for all spectators, it’s a privilege to be at a game, not a right. He says most games go off without a hitch but a few bad actors can ruin it for everyone. “Spectators have an obligation to behave appropriately. Student-athletes are participating in these contests. It’s for educational purposes, it’s not for adult entertainment. We ask all attendees at these events to please behave in an appropriate manner. And if they can’t do so, not only can they be barred from the event, but they can also face criminal charges,” Nichols said.

DiSabito says he would consider prosecuting those involved if the evidence supports it. “When we get the video footage, I would say anybody engaged in that behavior is engaged in disorderly conduct, which is against the law,” he said.

An autopsy was conducted Wednesday on Giroux but police say the cause and manner of his death are listed as pending further investigation, including toxicology testing.

We spoke with many members of the Alburgh and surrounding communities Wednesday about the incident. None would go on camera but they all expressed sadness and dismay that this would happen in the tight-knit community. Many also said when their kids were young, incidents like Tuesday’s simply didn’t happen, even when there were heightened emotions.

School officials from both Alburgh and St. Albans City declined requests for comment, although they did send letters to their communities. Grand Isle Supervisory Union officials say the district has arranged for additional support for students and staff and resources will also be shared that can be used to talk with students about violence and how to answer questions that may arise during these traumatic events.

“...Our immediate goal is to remind and educate our students and families that our school culture is one of family, community, and kindness. We need our students and community to commit to the positive culture that our school community expects and deserves...”

Detectives are asking anyone with information about the fight to contact them. Call Det. Tpr. Michael Mattuchio at the St. Albans Barracks at 802-524-5993 or leave an anonymous tip online.

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