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Q&A: After a summer of deaths and arrests at rave concerts, solutions are hard to find

Hard Day of the Dead
The Hard Day of the Dead rave on Oct. 31, 2015 at the L.A. County Fairgrounds in Pomona.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)

The Labor Day weekend saw another major rave in Southern California. While no deaths were reported, more than 400 people were arrested at and five people were sent to hospitals from Nocturnal Wonderland, which drew more than 67,000 people at the San Manuel Amphitheater.

Earlier this summer, three people died of suspected drug issues at a rave in San Bernardino County.

The problems have prompted criticism from medical professionals and calls for stronger regulations. Some jurisdictions have cracked down with new laws. And rave operators said they’ve taken steps to make the events safer by adding security personnel.

But the continued overdoses frustrate many, with officials still grappling for solutions to reduce to drug-fueled problems.

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“It’s heartbreaking to me,” said Grace Rodriguez, whose 15-year-old daughter, Sasha, overdosed on Ecstasy while attending the Electric Daisy Carnival rave in 2010 at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum and later died.

Sasha’s death was the inspiration for the state bill known as Sasha’s Law. Rodriguez said she had hoped the state law would end the tragedies, but is now acutely aware of the limitations of the law’s reach.

“I just feel really bad for the parents,” Rodriguez said. “I know exactly what they’re going through. Exactly. And I feel so bad for them, because I know it could have been prevented.”

In Los Angeles County, new laws regulating raves haven’t been tested — instead, the concerts have moved elsewhere, just beyond county jurisdiction.

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California legislators and Los Angeles County supervisors have passed new laws that regulate events where there’s a strong chance that attendees could die. It applies on land owned, managed or otherwise governed by the state or county.

But that means the laws don’t apply on, say, property governed by the city of Los Angeles, or in San Bernardino County, which has increasingly become the home of massive raves in Southern California.

How many people have died after attending raves?

There have been at least 25 confirmed drug-related deaths nationwide since 2006 among people who went to raves organized by Los Angeles-area companies Insomniac, Go Ventures, and Hard. Insomniac and Hard are now both subsidiaries of Live Nation, which dominates the electronic dance music festival scene in the region.

Of the 25 deaths, 12 were recorded in Southern California.

How does the L.A. County law regulating raves work?

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The L.A. County law, passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in March, regulates any mass event expecting more than 10,000 people a day that poses “a strong probability of loss of life to participants.”

It allows a panel of sheriff’s, fire and public health officials to limit attendance, ban alcohol sales and require promoters to provide free water, impose a minimum age requirement of 18 or 21, offer onsite medical care and increase security, such as ordering the use of drug-sniffing dogs.

“This sends a message to promoters that Los Angeles County will not tolerate any event that does not comply with the county’s requirements in order to protect the public,” said a spokesman for Supervisor Michael D. Antonovich.

The law affects land owned by the county and unincorporated areas directly governed by the Board of Supervisors.

Similar rules were put in place voluntarily for a Halloween-themed Hard Day of the Dead rave at the Los Angeles County fairgrounds last year. What was the reaction among the fan base?

One reviewer for consequenceofsound.net called some of the changes “the man’s best efforts to suck the life from the party.” And according to an L.A. Weekly review, the new measures took “what was once a great dance-music event and neutered it,” and led to “an all around-sense of buzzkill.”

How has the state law targeting raves worked?

The law has not meant an end to such events on state-managed property. Last August, Houa Lai Hue of Fresno, a 15-year-old girl who had attended the Zoo-Tronic rave at the Fresno Fairgrounds, died of Ecstasy poisoning, according to police and the coroner.

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But that rave did not require the added level of scrutiny required under Sasha’s Law because only about 800 people attended, far under the 10,000 threshold spelled out in the law. This summer, the fairgrounds barred the promoter of that from returning after an event in June left the venue with damage and vandalism, a spokeswoman with the fairgrounds said.

The promoter then held another rave in July at the Crest Theater in Fresno, according to police. Ravegoer Debbie Yang, 18, of Merced later died from an Ecstasy overdose, according to the coroner.

This summer, three young ravegoers died after attending the Hard Summer rave at the Auto Club Speedway in San Bernardino County. Is that county considering regulations?

The deaths have renewed a controversy over holding raves at a county-owned facility, the San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore.

In June, the San Bernardino County Board of Supervisors narrowly rejected an effort to end raves at the amphitheater. But one of the supervisors absent at that meeting, James Ramos, said in an interview last month that he would consider a moratorium on raves at the amphitheater.

Ramos expressed support to create a task force to study rave safety, much like what Los Angeles County supervisors did before passing their law.

“I would not be opposed to a moratorium on any future [rave] contracts” until a study is completed, Ramos said. “We’re going to look at everything.”

Supervisor Janice Rutherford continues to advocate for a ban on raves at the amphitheater, reminding her colleagues that two young people — Arrel Christopher Cochon, 22, a Los Angeles City College student. and John Hoang Dinh Vo, 22, a UC Irvine student — have lost their lives from drug overdoses after attending raves at the venue.

“The financial liability to the county, and the potential for more tragic deaths, are too great,” Rutherford wrote in a Facebook post.

Rutherford wrote that she supports allowing private venues to host whatever events they wish, including electronic dance music festivals, “so long as those events are done legally, i.e., obeying noise restrictions, proper security and medical care.”

What does Live Nation have to say about the controversy?

A spokeswoman for Live Nation declined to comment. On its website, Insomniac calls on its fans to be “safe, responsible and respectful to yourself and others,” and urges attendees to stay together with buddies, and said they provide medical stations and roaming medical teams to watch fans.

What do rave fans think about the controversy?

Rave fans defended the festivals, saying promoters should do whatever they can to make events safe, but emphasized that people need to take personal responsibility for decisions to take drugs.

“It’s all over the media that at these events, people pass away from taking Ecstasy. And if someone knows that full well, and still decides to proceed, of course it’s a sad situation if there’s a bad result. But that doesn’t seem to be a reason to punish the promoters when someone chooses to do that, when everyone is telling them not to,” said Greg Wasik, editor of EDMLife.com.

“Ninety-nine point nine percent of the people walk out of there happy, and have an amazing time,” Wasik said. “You could be taking away an experience that tens of thousands — and in the case of Electric Daisy, hundreds of thousands — enjoy.” 

ron.lin@latimes.com

Twitter: @ronlin

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