Thousands of teenagers pushing to get closer to the band AC/DC are responsible for the death of three youths at the Salt Palace Friday, a local expert in crowd-control management said.
"The kids are basically at fault. They are the ones who killed these people," said Ogden police Sgt. Steven R. Watt. "The Salt Palace management has limited personnel and a very limited ability to control a large crowd. They have to rely on concertgoers to behave in an appropriate fashion," he said Wednesday.Watt, who teaches high-risk-incident management classes at the Utah State Police Academy and at Weber State University, is the only one so far to point a finger at fans. Security guards on duty at the concert Friday said they could not get AC/DC to stop playing while teenagers were being trampled. The attorney for the family of one dead teenager has announced plans to sue Salt Lake County, the Salt Palace management and AC/DC for the deaths.
Security guards say they struggled to get AC/DC to stop the concert once they saw fans being trampled by the surging crowd.
"I told them at three different times to stop the music and turn on the lights," said Scott Carter, a barricade supervisor at the concert. "I was even doing hand gestures, like the gesture of moving your finger across your throat, to cut the music."
Barricade supervisor Russ Boyd also attempted vainly to stop the concert. He began urging stage hands to stop the concert a full 15 minutes before the band stopped.
"If they had stopped the concert immediately after we first told them to stop, then there wouldn't have been the deaths," he said.
Some of those who attended the concert, however, say the band did stop when asked. (See related story.)
Carter and Boyd work for Contemporary Services, a Los Angeles company that provides security for major events, including the Super Bowl.
Watt believes Friday's tragedy might have been unavoidable, calling it a situation that "occurs spontaneously and may not have been preventable."
The Salt Palace may have had the policies and procedures in place but could not control the crowd once it got out of control, he said.
However, people working security for Salt Palace concerts don't know how to stop a concert or shut down power to guitars and microphones.
"There has never been any procedure for shutting a concert down. We don't have the authority to do it as far as I know," Boyd said.
He estimates between 30 and 40 minutes elapsed between the time the first fan collapsed and the time the band stopped playing. Carter concurred with that estimate.
The band never refused to stop, Boyd stressed. "Nobody said, `I refuse to stop this show.' They just didn't respond to our request."
Carter was so frantic to save trampled teens he would have shut the band's power off if he could have, he said. "But I don't even know where the power is in that place."
Carter, too, was angry over how long it took to get the band's attention. "I was screaming my lungs out for them to stop the concert. My barricade people knew what I was saying. But an AC/DC security man standing right next to them wouldn't respond to me. I don't know if he couldn't hear me or was ignoring me."
Watts defended the Salt Palace, saying the management has a lot of experience in these types of concerts and "probably felt their policies and procedures were adequate."
Salt Palace officials had a right to expect teens to behave maturely, he said. "A large amount of people packed into a small amount space are extremely difficulty to manage. They have a responsibility for proper behavior. Pushing, shoving, screaming and behavior that endangers life is totally irresponsible on their part."
Salt Palace officials must recognize that teen fans are particularly volatile, and they must have procedures to deal with them, "but I firmly believe the major part of the responsibility of the incident is with the concertgoers and not with the Salt Palace management and staff," Watts said.