Three people died after attending a rave this weekend in the Inland Empire, the latest in a series of deaths that have fueled debate about safety and the need for stricter regulations of such concerts.
The victims were stricken at the Hard Summer rave, which was moved from the Los Angeles County fairgrounds in Pomona last year after two college students died of drug overdoses. This year's Hard Summer was held at the Auto Club Speedway near Fontana, and despite last year's deaths saw record attendance.
Drug overdoses have been a recurring problem at electronic dance music festivals, where Ecstasy and similar club drugs are often used for their stimulating and euphoric effects.
Before this weekend, there have been at least 24 confirmed drug-related deaths nationwide since 2006 among people who went to raves organized by Los Angeles-area companies. Twelve have died in Southern California — four in San Bernardino County and eight in L.A. County — and five in the Las Vegas area.
Officials emphasized that they were still trying to determine causes of death for the concertgoers who died this weekend. One was found unresponsive, another had a seizure and a third was believed to be experiencing chest pain, L.A. County sheriff's spokeswoman Jodi Miller said.
They were identified as Derek Lee, 22, of San Francisco and San Diego State student Alyssa Dominguez, 21, of San Diego, both of whom died Sunday, and UC Riverside student Roxanne Ngo, 22, of Chino Hills, who was declared dead on Monday.
Angel Ghaemi, 22, of Palos Verdes Estates, said she had been waiting for hours to leave a traffic-choked parking lot after the concert when she encountered a woman — who she later realized was Dominguez — dying.
Ghaemi, who said she was sober and had not consumed drugs, looked to her left at about 1:15 a.m. Sunday and saw a police officer attempting to give a woman CPR on a patch of grass in the parking lot.
Ghaemi ran over and said the woman's pupils were completely dilated and she lacked a pulse.
"I tried to do CPR and nothing was working," Ghaemi said. "We really needed a defibrillator and an ambulance," but the congestion in the parking lot seemed to slow first-responders. "I was there for 15 minutes until the ambulance came, and there was nothing they could do."
The woman's friends were sobbing and appeared in shock, Ghaemi said.
Two of Ghaemi's friends later found the woman's photo on Instagram and learned her name.
"I can never forget," Ghaemi said. "She looked beautiful, that's all I could think. It was the most surreal, life-changing moment of my life."
On social media, family and friends of Dominguez remembered her as sweet and kind. A Twitter account appearing to be Dominguez's showcased tweets of a summer of fun — hunting for Pokemon for a mobile phone game, hoping to win a stuffed animal at the fair, and gossip about her job waiting tables.
Her last tweet was an image with a Hard Summer logo on it, warning of temperatures in the 90s, and telling attendees to dress lightly, stay hydrated and ask for help at any sign of illness.
"21 is too young to die," tweeted someone who said she was Dominguez's older sister. "We can't even see her because she's gonna have an autopsy. Just a picture to identify her."
"I feel sick. I miss her so much," she continued. "She really made me laugh."
On a website that appeared to be written by Ngo, the UC Riverside student who died, the author said she was the youngest daughter of her Vietnamese immigrant parents. She was born in San Gabriel, grew up in West Covina and Chino Hills and was working on a college degree in public policy "to pursue my goal in life to help those who are in need."
"I have big plans for my future," she wrote.
While attending UC Riverside, Ngo also interned during the recent spring semester at the South Coast Air Quality Management District, according to an agency spokesman. She was credited with helping complete this year's air quality management plan.
Tony Campisi, a coroner's official, said autopsies have been ordered for all three young people, as well as toxicology tests to determine if drugs played a factor in their deaths. It could be several months before final causes death are determined.
The three were among nine people transported to hospitals from the venue, Miller said. The two-day Hard Summer event brought nearly 147,000 people to the Auto Club Speedway, she said. This year's edition of Hard Summer was billed as its biggest incarnation yet.
There were 370 sheriff's deputies working the event, Miller said, and 240 other security personnel. There were 325 arrests.
The speedway is owned by the International Speedway Corp., based in Daytona Beach, Fla., a publicly traded company that obtains 90% of its revenues from NASCAR-sanctioned racing events. Speedway officials did not return calls for comment.
Temperatures near the venue site reached 92 degrees on Saturday and Sunday, according to the National Weather Service.
In a statement released on behalf of the Hard Summer event promoter, Beverly Hills-based Live Nation Entertainment, one of the world's largest concert and ticketing conglomerates, organizers expressed sadness over the three deaths.
"We were deeply saddened to learn about the deaths of three people who attended the festival this weekend," Alexandra Greenberg, a Hard Summer spokeswoman, said in a statement. "While the causes of the deaths have not yet been determined, we ask everyone to keep them in their prayers. Our sincerest thoughts and condolences are with their family and friends."
Hard Summer started as a much smaller event, held near Chinatown, and has grown into one of nation's premier raves after it was acquired by Live Nation in 2012.
Rave promoters have defended their concerts, saying they've beefed up law enforcement and cracked down on drug use by attendees.
Hard Summer was moved this year to the Auto Club Speedway, in an unincorporated area of San Bernardino County near Fontana, following debate by Los Angeles County supervisors over whether the fairgrounds should continue to hold raves after the two overdose deaths last summer. The board considered a moratorium on raves, but instead said it would increase regulation of gatherings of more than 10,000 people on county-owned land.
Cal State Channel Islands student Katie Dix, 19, died of multiple-drug intoxication after ingesting a drug she thought to be the illegal drug Ecstasy at last summer's Hard Summer event at the L.A. County fairgrounds, according to the coroner and court records. Dix's parents are suing Live Nation, the Fairplex, the county of Los Angeles and the city of Pomona, alleging negligence and accusing the entities of having "breached their duties to protect" rave attendees from people distributing or consuming illegal drugs.
The other woman, 18-year-old UCLA student Tracy Nguyen of West Covina, died of an Ecstasy overdose.
The deaths prompted several emergency room physicians in Los Angeles County to call for an end to large raves.
Some venues — such as the Cow Palace is San Francisco and the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum — have stopped hosting raves because of drug problems.
But they have continued elsewhere, often farther away from city centers, such as at the San Manuel Amphitheater in Devore, which is owned by San Bernardino County and managed by Live Nation.
"We've seen this all around the nation ... in L.A., it popped up in Chicago, in San Francisco, in New York," Dr. Marc Futernick, emergency services medical director at Dignity Health California Hospital Medical Center in downtown Los Angeles, said last year. "There's something about these events that leads to this rampant drug abuse ... and young adults are really getting hurt and paying the price."
Emergency room doctors have identified a couple of reasons why Ecstasy use at large raves can lead to severe illness, coma and death. One big problem is that Ecstasy can cause body temperatures to shoot up as high as 109 degrees, causing organ failure.
Dehydration can pose a problem, but so can drinking too much water, causing sodium levels to crash and triggering seizures that block oxygen to the brain.
Aug. 2, 6:45 p.m.: This article was updated with information on Roxanne Ngo's work at the South Coast Air Quality Management District.
Aug. 2, 12:15 p.m.: This article was updated to identify Alyssa Dominguez as a San Diego State University student.
8 p.m.: This article has been updated with new details on the rave and victims.
3:30 p.m.: This article was updated with new details and the names of those who died.
2:25 p.m.: This article was updated with details about the deaths and the event.