Three people who died at an AC/DC concert at the Salt Palace last week may have been victims of a "festival seating" arrangement that some experts compare to a war zone.
The band apparently continued playing while the victims were crushed, stopping after paramedics removed the youths, witnesses said.Witnesses described a hellish scene Friday in which thousands of youths surged forward, trampling on those who had fallen approximately 10 feet in front of the stage.
The mob scene cost the lives of Curtis Child, 14, Logan, Jimmy Boyd, 14, Salt Lake City, and Elizabeth Glausi, 19, a BYU student. They were at the bottom of the pile.
Festival seating arrangements, in which seats are removed from the arena floor and concertgoers are allowed to roam freely, are outlawed in some cities, and experts in other cities expressed shock that the Salt Palace still allows such arrangements.
About two years ago, the Salt Palace decided to allow festival seating, reasoning that youths could be hurt by standing on seats. United Concerts said its research showed festival seating was becoming the norm across the country, and that it was considered to be the safest mode.
But Dr. Lewis B. Hancock, a Salt Lake family therapist, said there also could have been a financial motive. "It also appeared that there was damage to the chairs and it was apparent that was becoming increasingly costly to the Salt Palace," he said.
Hancock is on the executive committee of the Salt Lake County Commission on Youth, which expressed concern when the Salt Palace went to festival seating.
John Nath, general manager of the Riverfront Coliseum in Cincinnati, said that city outlawed such seating after a mob crushed and killed 11 people there in 1979.
"Everyone has reserved seating. We sell no general admission. We have had no problem since 1979," he said.
A spokeswoman for McNichols Arena in Denver - where AC/DC is scheduled to play Wednesday night - said that facility has a similar policy for safety reasons.
No Utah universities or colleges allow festival seating for concerts in their special events centers.
Others who are familiar with concert procedures said they were surprised such an incident could happen despite widespread knowledge of past tragedies.
"I'm a little shocked they would allow this type of seating in the Salt Palace," said Kenneth McKenna, a Reno, Nev., attorney who gained widespread attention last year when he represented a family that unsuccessfully sued the group Judas Priest, claiming the band's music caused their son to commit suicide.
"Everybody knows that this can happen. Arenas always have more security to prevent this kind of surging near the stage. It's typical to want to surge at these types of events," he said.
Spectacor, Salt Lake County and United Concerts have responded to few questions from the press since the incident. All are concerned they may be legally liable for the deaths.
Hancock and other members of his youth commission have attended concerts to evaluate the safety of festival seating. He said arena officials should have known what could happen.
"If you get 4,000 kids pulsating to the front up against a chain link fence - all pushing the same direction - the exhaustion you can feel is incredible," he said. "Once your feet go out from under you, it's hard to get up. Sometimes you can't even feel the ground underneath your feet."
He still has vivid memories of the Metallica concert he attended two years ago. Hancock said he was impressed police were doing search and seizure of alcohol. They did the best they could do control the perimeter.
"But once you are inside, nothing could be done when you are caught in 200-300-feet deep of kids. To get out, it would be like trying to start at one end of a football field and make your way through 4,000 people going the opposite direction. It's impossible." Hancock believes if there were momentary panic, hundreds of people could get killed. "Parents need to know that's what is going on. If you sent a 12- to 13-year-old there, you would be putting his life in jeopardy."
Hancock said the Salt Palace has taken some precautions to avoid serious injury. About 12 large concrete cones, which stand 3 feet high, are placed strategically to break up the "waves." Each houses a security person, equipped with squirt bottles, on the lookout for kids who are injured or overheated.
Security personnel also are placed behind the fence near the stage. Typically they have garden hoses to soak down the crowd, trying to keep heat exhaustion to a minimum.
Despite the Salt Palace's precautionary measures, some 100-120 kids each concert are taken to a first-aid station where they're treated for heat exhaustion.
1. Thousands of concert-goers on the Salt Palace floor begin surging toward the stage. The crowd is in a "festival seating" arrangement, meaning no seats are on the floor and concert-goers are permitted to go where they liked.
2. The crowd caves in about 10 feet in front of the stage when some people fall. People surging from behind begin falling on top of those who initially fell. Those who die are at the bottom of the pile. Security guards begin pulling people from the top of the pile and passing them to safety. Witnesses say the band did not stop playing for several minutes.