SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – How dangerous are raves? When you mix thousands of people, drugs, alcohol, and music, emergency officials tell ABC4 News, these events can turn deadly in a matter of seconds.
That’s what happened during the Das Energi Festival at the Great Saltair in Magna.
Over the summer, Angelina Gonzalez, 20, took her last breath on the cold, hard asphalt of Saltair’s parking lot.
That same night, a 28-year-old man fell from an overpass. His body came to rest on Interstate 80.
“We’ve had a few fatalities along this roadway as a result of people consuming illegal drugs and alcohol at this event,” said Sgt. Nick Street, Utah Highway Patrol.
The two who died did not know each other, but they had one thing in common; they were at Saltair to have a good time at the music festival.
“These type of events create a lot of problems for law enforcement,” Lt. Jason Ackerman, Unified Police Department, told ABC4’s Brittany Johnson.
ABC4 News attended a rave similar to the Das Energi Festival to see exactly what happens inside.
The night we attended, Lt. Ackerman was one of 20 law enforcement officers hired by event promoters to ensure the safety of party-goers.
“We’ve seen everything from assaults to pretty severe cases of medical problems, sexual assaults, overdoses, all those things of that nature,” said Ackerman.
The night ABC4 News went to the event, we did not capture any arrests or illicit activity, but Ackerman says “raves or EDM events are notorious for illicit drug use,” which is “difficult to stop.”
“You put this many people in close proximity and you have dim lights and strobe lights, and those type of effects, it’s really difficult to see the drug transactions that are taking place,” he said.
Greg Gardner, Emergency Medicine Physician at Mountain West Medical Center, has to deal with the repercussions of the rave culture first hand.
He says most of the patients he treats from raves have overdosed on club drugs, such as ecstasy, gamma hydroxybutyrate, lysergic acid diethylamide, cocaine, mushrooms, and more.
“You don’t know what it is that you put into your body. You have no idea. Did you put rat poison in there? A bunch of bleach? Who knows? You don’t know,” Dr. Gardner said.
“I’ve had people that believe that demons are trying to eat them. I’ve had people that don’t know where they’re at. I’ve had people that are seeing things that really aren’t there. I’ve had people completely gripped in fear, shaking in a bed, just terrorized by something that you can’t tell what it is,” Gardner explained.
Sgt. Street says the dangers of these events also extends to nearby highways.
“There’s been occasions, in fact, I’ve experienced it myself, where you pull over an impaired motorist and the people are so impaired they don’t realize that one of their passengers is ODing.”
Although Sgt. Street has responded to reports of ravers high on drugs and struck by cars, the owners of Saltair say they are working to improve safety.
Here’s the statement they sent to ABC4 News:
“Saltair has always taken measures to provide a safe & secure environment for all our events. We have also added some recent improvements to our process and procedures.
Saltair has always:
Exceeded both the state & national standards for event safety/security
Hired event staff with medical training, including First Aid and CPR, to help ensure event patron safety
Performed police style pat-downs and used metal detectors at the doors
Hired local police to be on site during every event, with an open line of communication between police and event staff
Had police patrol the parking lot, along with the event staff, during every event
Hired medical staff, EMTs and Gold Cross Ambulance to be on site during every event
Used monitored surveillance cameras to assist event staff, medical staff, and police
Provided multiple free water sources to our patrons, to prevent dehydration
Saltair has recently added:
A UBER/LYFT/Taxi/Ride drop-off & pick-up area to improve traffic flow and to keep people away from event traffic
A pedestrian walkway & crosswalk to Improve Traffic Flow and provide a Safe Walking Path into the venue
Digital road signs to improve traffic flow and keep event patrons informed
UHP troopers to improve traffic flow, monitor the I-80 overpass, enforce non-parking areas along state roads and to help ensure event patron safety.
Saltair & V2 Events helped petition UDOT to have the fence installed on the I-80 overpass for pedestrian safety.
Saltair & V2 Events have always gone above and beyond to ensure safety. We will continue to listen to our patrons and the community and make any necessary adjustments to keep our events safe & secure as they grow.”
“Those are all awesome steps. Those are great steps to take. But at the same time, that doesn’t mean that the scene isn’t what it was in the past or the same dangers aren’t going to be there,” explained Gardner.
Research shows that children who hear the facts about drugs and alcohol from their parents are significantly less likely to use them.