Three teenagers killed at a Salt Palace concert last month were suffocating at the bottom of a pile that resembled human sardines for more than 20 minutes before word reached the heavy-metal band AC/DC to stop playing, investigators said Friday.
At a news conference signaling the end of their official investigation, Salt Lake County Attorney Dave Yocom and chief investigator Sam Dawson said they blame no one for the deaths of Elizabeth Glausi, 19; Jimmie Boyd, 14; and Curtis Child, 14.That is, no one acted recklessly or ignored the problem once they were aware of it, and security was sufficient, they said. The number of people with tickets for the floor was within guidelines set by the Salt Lake City fire marshal. Glausi was found to have a blood-alcohol level of .197, more than twice the legal limit for driving a vehicle, but it is impossible to determine what part that may have played in her death, Yocom said.
He said lead vocalist Brian Johnson stopped singing as soon as he learned of the problem, contrary to earlier reports by some who attended the concert.
Investigators played a tape of the concert in which Johnson can be heard pleading for people to move back and for lights to be turned on to "make sure these kids are OK."
But that was 26 minutes and 5 seconds after AC/DC started playing. The victims fell during the first song, Yocom said. Darkness, the intensity of the music and security guards' inability to communicate delayed a response to the problem.
An attorney representing the father of Child said the findings mean nothing. Bruce C. Child has filed an $8 million lawsuit against the band, promoters and Salt Palace management.
"The fact that the county attorney didn't find any criminal negligence doesn't alter the fact that these young people should never have died. We believe that the information compiled so far clearly shows the negligence and conscious disregard for safety by the defendants," said R. Craig Clark Jr., Child's attorney.
"The bottom line is eight Utahns in the jury box will ultimately decide the case."
Yocom and Dawson said the fact that the three teenagers were young, small and, in one case, female contributed to their deaths. So did the fact no one could help them.
"Usually the crowd will notice if someone is unconscious and pass them overhead to the barricade or to an exit where they can be taken to first-aid and revived," Dawson said, explaining etiquette at heavy-metal concerts.
Although crowds at heavy-metal concerts tend to pass unconscious people to safety, a primitive, machismo attitude prevails. Many concertgoers consider those who pass out to be weak, and they punish them by punching or dropping them, Dawson said.
But investigators did point fingers, albeit indirectly, at the "festival seating" arrangement allowed at the Salt Palace - an arrangement whereby people with general-admission tickets were allowed to roam freely on the arena floor. Spectacor, the company that manages the Salt Palace, has discontinued festival seating as a result of the tragedy.
A total of 4,450 such tickets were sold - within the limits established by the Salt Lake City fire marshal. More people jumped to the floor after the band started playing, and the crowd immediately started surging toward the stage.
Dawson said the band stopped playing because security guards saw people crammed against a barricade in front of the stage.
"When he (Bob Wine, AC/DC security director) pulled one kid over the barricade, he fell to his knees to the floor with the kid in his arms and noticed a kid up against the barricade," Dawson said. The security guard ran around behind the stage to a guitar technician. He, in turn, went onto the stage and talked with rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young.
Simultaneously, Jake Berry, the stage manager, got Johnson's attention by standing on the speakers on the front of the stage.
"The people who died were not the people the music was stopped for," Dawson said.
On the tape, recorded by an AC/DC sound engineer, Johnson finally tells the crowd the band will take a five-minute break. Boos can be heard among the 13,291 people in the arena. Dawson said the band, fearing a riot, decided to stay on stage while rescue workers removed the victims.
Glausi was lying atop her roommate and beside one of 12 concrete pods placed 4 feet apart on the floor to control the crowd. The roommate was rendered unconscious during the incident but otherwise was unharmed.
Dawson said several security guards and band officials either failed to use or failed to carry radios. Security guards carried pen lights. They don't carry bigger flashlights for fear the crowd will grab them and use them as weapons.
As part of his investigation, Dawson and other county officials flew to Memphis and attended an AC/DC concert. They experimented by trying to communicate with each other in several ways during the concert. All attempts were unsuccessful.
"I've never experienced in my life anything like that noise," Dawson said. "Up front, if there were in fact people yelling `Stop the music' no one would have heard it."
AC/DC Concert Deaths
-County investigators said the victims fell down during the band's first song.
-The band stopped playing afte 26 minutes, 5 seconds; after the song "Heat Seeker"
-The bank stopped because of reports that people were being crushed near the barricades in front of the stage. They did not know about the victims dying farther out.