A 24-year-old San Francisco man who died while attending the Electric Daisy Carnival rave in Las Vegas had ingested a fatal dose of the drug Ecstasy, authorities said.
The cause of death for Nicholas Austin Tom, a UC Irvine graduate, was MDMA intoxication, the shortened version of Ecstasy’s scientific name, according to the Clark County coroner's office. Tom was declared dead June 21 at 3:25 a.m. at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, where the rave was being held.
Tom, who went to Galileo Academy of Science & Technology in San Francisco, returned to the city after graduating from UC Irvine in 2013 with a degree in biological sciences and a minor in psychology and became a medical assistant at UC San Francisco Medical Center.
Grief-stricken family members and friends paid tribute to Tom in online memorial posts, with many remembering him as an inspirational coach of dragonboat teams – a sport involving a large number of paddlers racing on a boat decorated like a dragon. Photos were posted of Tom grinning on the beach, spraying a friend with a water gun, and posing for photos with his arms wrapped around his friends’ shoulders.
Friends described how shocked they were to hear of Tom’s death. “It’s so common nowadays to hear of such news at these events that we grow so immune to it, and never would I have imagined that it would hit so close to home,” said one person's post. “When I heard it was a Nick Tom, 24 years old in SF, I really begged that Austin wasn’t your middle name.”
The move followed a Los Angeles Times investigation that disclosed how a government stadium manager who oversaw security and emergency services was also being paid by the rave company, Los Angeles-based Insomniac. A 15-year-old girl who attended a 2010 event at the Coliseum overdosed on Ecstasy and later died.
Insomniac’s chief executive, Pasquale Rotella, has been charged by the Los Angeles County district attorney’s office in an alleged bribery and conspiracy scheme, as has the ex-manager, Todd DeStefano. They have pleaded not guilty and are awaiting trial, scheduled for next year.
A spokeswoman for Insomniac released a statement Thursday extending sympathies to Tom’s family and friends, and added: “Participating in illicit drug behavior can have tragic consequences and we hold a strict zero tolerance policy for illegal activity while continually educating our fans on the dangers of drug use.”
Use of drugs, especially Ecstasy, has been a major problem at raves held by Insomniac and another L.A.-based rave company, Go Ventures. A Times investigation published in 2013 found that at least 14 people who attended raves put on by those two companies had died from overdoses or in other drug-related incidents since 2006. Since the investigation was published, five more, including Tom, have died in drug-related incidents.
Of the 19, three had ties to UC Irvine, either as students or as graduates.
In 2007, Michelle Lee, 20, a UC Irvine student, died of multiple drug toxicity, citing use of Ecstasy and amphetamines, after attending Go Ventures’ Halloween-themed rave at the Los Angeles Memorial Sports Arena. Her body temperature hit 108 degrees, and the drugs shocked her liver and began destroying her kidneys and lungs. She died six days later.
And in 2012, UC Irvine graduate Olivier Hennessy, 31, was hit by a pickup truck after staggering into traffic outside Electric Daisy Carnival in Las Vegas; he had a blood-alcohol level of 0.19% and marijuana and hydrocodone in his system.
Health and law enforcement officials have warned that raves bring substantial drug risks, particularly involving Ecstasy, which is closely tied to the culture of raves -- marathon dance parties featuring electronic music. There’s a common misconception that Ecstasy, an illicitly made hallucinogen in pill form, is safe to take.
Ecstasy can cause body temperatures as high as 108 degrees -- so high that the body’s organs are destroyed. Multi-organ system failure can begin, which can cause a seizure, coma and death.
When raves were held at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and Sports Arena, drug overdoses spiked so much that local emergency rooms were overwhelmed with severely ill rave attendees, and emergency room doctors urged that raves end there. Los Angeles police warned that raves invite widespread Ecstasy use.
Public health officials writing in a report published by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said authorities “should be aware of the potential health risks with making publicly owned facilities available for large commercial events such as raves.” Some venues have banned raves following a string of fatal overdoses.
Deaths have also continued to be reported among attendees of Insomniac raves in San Bernardino County.
Earlier this year, a 22-year-old UC Irvine student died after collapsing at the Beyond Wonderland rave. John Hoang Dinh Vo, a senior majoring in biology, went into cardiac arrest March 20 after suffering a possible seizure at the rave held at the San Manuel Amphitheater, a venue owned by San Bernardino County.
A cause of death has not yet been determined pending a physician’s review of a toxicology report, said Gabriel Morales, a San Bernardino County supervising deputy coroner. A backlog of cases has contributed to delays, he said.
There have been at least three drug-related deaths among attendees of Insomniac raves in San Bernardino County.
Arrel Christopher Cochon, 22, a Los Angeles City College student who lived in East Hollywood, died of an Ecstasy and methamphetamine overdose after collapsing and suffering a seizure at Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland at the San Manuel Amphitheater in 2013.
John Cramer, 23, a Pierce College student who lived in Canoga Park, died of Ecstasy toxicity in 2009 after attending Nocturnal Festival at the National Orange Show Events Center; in the emergency room, his body temperature hit 107 degrees and his heart failed.
And Joshua Johnson, 18, of El Cajon, died of Ecstasy toxicity after suffering a seizure at Insomniac’s Nocturnal Wonderland at the National Orange Show Events Center in San Bernardino in 2006. The coroner’s office said his body temperature reached 107 degrees.
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