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L.A. County takes a step toward moratorium on electronic dance music events

L.A. County takes a step toward moratorium on electronic dance music events
Supervisor Hilda L. Solis is pushing for a moratorium on electronic dance music events. (Kent Nishimura / Los Angeles Times)

The two women who collapsed and died from suspected drug overdoses at the Hard Summer music festival last weekend were among nearly 30 people taken from the Los Angeles County fairgrounds event by ambulance because of serious drug and alcohol intoxication, authorities said.

Two of the patients were placed in intensive care units and remained hospitalized Tuesday, according to Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, whose district includes the county-owned Fairplex in Pomona.

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"Some of the patients were coming in, not responding to usual questions," said Dr. Bradford Hardesty, an emergency room physician at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center. "Other patients were so severely intoxicated they were requiring four or five staff members to hold them down for their own safety and the safety of others."

Hardesty said he alone saw about 13 patients in the emergency room and four required constant care as well as heavy sedation.

The news emerged as the Board of Supervisors agreed Tuesday to develop a plan to impose a moratorium on such electronic dance music events. In a unanimous vote, the supervisors ordered staff to return with the plan in two weeks for further consideration.

"As we move forward, more measures need to be considered to create a safe environment for all patrons and a zero tolerance for illicit drugs," Solis said.

The deaths occurred on the opening night of the Hard Summer music festival and have raised new concerns about whether officials can do more to deal with drug issues at the events. All attendees were searched before entering the event, but officials said it was still unclear whether those pat-downs were vigorous and whether organizers did everything they could to prevent drug use and to ensure robust first aid for concertgoers in distress.

Electronic dance music is intertwined for many concertgoers with the use of MDMA and other so-called party drugs, often called Ecstasy or Molly. Such drugs can create a heightened sense of well-being, empathy and intimacy but can also sometimes lead to hyperthermia, heart problems, seizures, strokes, depression and anxiety.

Promoters of electronic dance music events have said they have been unfairly singled out by politicians and the news media because of drug-related deaths, an age-old problem that has bedeviled concert events of all kinds. Twelve people have died since 2002, for example, at the multi-genre Bonnaroo festival in Tennessee, many from drug-related causes.

But Solis said these events deserve special attention because of their history with drugs and because recent fatalities have occurred on county-owned properties.

After ateenage girl's fatal overdosein 2010 at the Electric Daisy Carnival at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum, a task force created by county supervisors recommended a series of preventive measures at electronic dance music events — including ensuring adequate pathways for medical personnel, ample water stations, screening upon entry for drug paraphernalia and illicit drugs, and sufficient security.

Dr. Marc Futernick, emergency services medical director at Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center, was one of the physicians who called for an end to electronic dance music events at the Coliseum, in part because there was so much Ecstasy use.

Illicit drugs taken by rave-goers, which can be a mix of Ecstasy and amphetamines, can cause body temperatures to rise up to dangerous levels, to 109 degrees, Futernick said. At such high temperatures, the body's organs start failing.

"There's no other way to describe it other than: it will melt your organs and do damage to your organs to the point you will die," Futernick said.

Ecstasy can also cause rave-goers to become extremely thristy. Drinking too much water can cause sodium levels to plummet in the body, triggering intractable seizures that interfere with breathing. This can result in brain damage, coma and death.

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Last year, 19-year-old Emily Tran of Anaheim was rushed to a South El Monte hospital from the Hard Summer festival at Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, a Los Angeles County-managed park. Tran died of acute intoxication from Ecstasy, according to coroner's officials.

Cynthia Harding, the county's interim public health director, said she did not know whether any of the precautions developed after the earlier deaths were in place for Hard Summer at the Fairplex, which is operated by the nonprofit Los Angeles County Fair Assn. on land mostly leased from Los Angeles County.

Mary Wickham, interim legal counsel for the county, said officials "are gathering the facts on exactly what was done." She also said the county is looking closely at the next Hard event, scheduled for Sept. 10 at the Fairplex.

It seemed unlikely, however, that a moratorium would halt next month's planned festivities. Tickets remained available for sale Tuesday, and Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, an attorney, asked county officials to consider how contracts already in place might impinge on any efforts to impose a moratorium on such events.

The Hard Summer festival was staged by Live Nation Entertainment Inc. of Beverly Hills, one of the nation's largest concert promoters.

The company had five medical areas at the event that were staffed with three emergency care doctors, 13 nurses, 53 emergency medical technicians, seven paramedics and one critical care transport team. Some 65,000 people attended each day of the event.

In a prepared statement, a spokeswoman said the company "plans to fully cooperate with the county supervisor's request for an investigation. The festival plan was designed with direct input and approval fromall of the relevant county and government agencies as well as thefairground's management."

The two dead were both university students about to enter their sophomore year in college.

Katie Rebecca Dix, 19, of Camarillo was majoring in psychology at Cal State Channel Islands in Camarillo, a university spokeswoman said.

Dix graduated from Coronado High School in San Diego County in 2014, and the school district opened up the campus Sunday to allow students and alumni to leave flowers and mementos honoring the graduate.

"Coronado High School is mourning the loss of a member of our Islander family, and our love and thoughts are with the family and friends of our beloved former student," Principal Jennifer Moore said in a statement.

Tracy Nguyen, 18, of West Covina was studying pre-business economics at UCLA and was a dancer with the UCLA dance group ACA Hip Hop. Although she was entering her second year, she had enough credits to be a third-year student.

"You gave light to all of our lives through your kindness and infectious energy," her friends at ACA Hip Hop wrote in a Facebook post.

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"Boy stuff, drama stuff, and life stuff never slowed you down," Vina Duong wrote. "You knew how to party, you knew how to comfort and motivate people, you knew how to do Calculus … you knew how to get a job and be good at it, you knew how to dance."

Paramedics who responded to the Fairplex about 4:45 p.m Saturday found Nguyen had suffered "a seizure of unknown length," said Craig Harvey, chief of coroner investigations.

Harvey said that during the ambulance trip to San Dimas Community Hospital her heart slowed and she became "pulseless." At 4:53 p.m. she was reported as having "no vital signs," he said.

Harvey said an autopsy was conducted Tuesday but her cause of death was deferred pending further tests. Harvey said the teen had a preexisting respiratory condition.

Harvey said Dix went into cardiac distress shortly after 7 p.m.

"She was witnessed drinking. She was witnessed taking some kind of drug orally and then she went into respiratory distress," he said.

Paramedics worked on her for 15 minutes and emergency room physicians spent an additional 30 minutes at Pomona Valley Hospital Medical Center trying to restore her vital signs before declaring her dead, Harvey said.

Dix's autopsy was also conducted Tuesday and the cause of death is still pending further test results, he said.

Times staff writer Samantha Masunaga contributed to this report.

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