Raves: Records show deadly toll of drugs among concertgoers
At least 14 people who attended raves produced by two Los Angeles-based promoters since 2006 died from overdoses or in other drug-related incidents, a Times investigation has found.
The deaths occurred during or shortly after concerts produced separately or jointly by Pasquale Rotella and Reza Gerami, according to an analysis of coroners' reports and law enforcement records from nine states.
Most of the deaths were linked to Ecstasy or similar designer drugs — hallucinogens tightly bound with raves, the analysis found.
Despite warnings of drug risks from law enforcement and health officials, the raves staged by Rotella's firm, Insomniac Inc., and Gerami's Go Ventures Inc. have received the blessing of local governments hungry for the revenue they deliver.
"It pretty well fills all the local hotels," said Judge Dave Barkemeyer, who issued a permit for a Rotella rave in Milam County, Texas. "It brings in a fair amount of commerce."
But with the revenue has come the risk of fatal overdoses.
Most of the dead were in their teens and early 20s, according to records. The youngest was 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez, who overdosed at Rotella's 2010 Electric Daisy Carnival at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.
Rotella and Gerami have been indicted on bribery and other charges in connection with their concerts at the Coliseum and adjoining Sports Arena. According to prosecutors, the pair made about $2 million in illicit payments to a Coliseum executive to keep a lid on the cost of their concerts. They have pleaded not guilty.
In addition to the deaths, scores of other drug-related medical emergencies and arrests were reported at some of the 64 concerts produced by Rotella or Gerami that were examined by The Times.
James Penman, the San Bernardino city attorney, said economics should never be a justification for raves. He long has urged officials to disallow the events at the National Orange Show Events Center there. Coroners' reports show that two people have fatally overdosed at National Orange Show raves.
"The city should have zero tolerance for any activity where drugs are an integral part," Penman said. "A rave without drugs is like a rodeo without horses. They don't happen."
Rotella and Gerami were among the first promoters to bring raves to big-time venues and helped provide the model for other promoters around the country.
The two declined to be interviewed for this story. In a statement, Rotella's firm said it does everything it can to protect concertgoers, but fans also must be responsible for their own actions: "Despite the fact that the overwhelming number of our festival's hundreds of thousands of attendees have a positive experience, a small number of people make the personal decision to break the law as well as the policies of our events."
Gerami said in an email that his concerts have always been "safe, secure and fun," and that no deaths have occurred at or because of a Go Ventures production.
The coroners' reports show that three people collapsed at raves produced or co-produced by Gerami's firm due to overdoses and died later at a hospital. A fourth person died from multiple drug toxicity after returning home from a rave produced by Gerami and Rotella. According to a coroner's report, friends said he had taken Ecstasy at the concert. The report also said he had heroin and cocaine in his system.
Once confined to an Ecstasy-fueled underground of urban warehouses, raves have since packed fairgrounds, basketball arenas and football stadiums. Their audiences are no longer a few hundred revelers but tens of thousands.
Some parents and concertgoers felt a greater sense of ease that the events were taking place in well-known venues. "It did make me more comfortable," said John Johnson, whose son, Joshua, attended Insomniac's Nocturnal Wonderland at the National Orange Show Events Center fairgrounds in San Bernardino in 2006.
Joshua, 18, overdosed on Ecstasy at the rave and later died. There was no news coverage or public notice taken of his death. "That made me feel very angry," his father said, "and also a little hopeless about this situation, in terms of children and drug use and concerts."
-- Rong-Gong Lin II, Paul Pringle and Andrew Blankstein