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Tampa's report on Sunset Music Festival: arrests down, but drugs and heat were a problem

TAMPA — Armed with a new report on last month's Sunset Music Festival at Raymond James Stadium — where two people were hospitalized and later died — Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn hasn't changed his stance.

He doesn't want anymore EDM (electronic dance music) events held on public property.

Even if the festival moves elsewhere, Buckhorn said Wednesday there needs to be "significantly enhanced requirements on the promoter."

The report showed that festival arrests were at a three-year low, but paramedics ended up treating more concertgoers this year.

However, many of those arrests involved drugs such as MDMA (and its derivatives Molly or ecstasy), LSD and marijuana. Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty released that information Wednesday, the first time officials have said those drugs were found at the festival.

"A greater number of patients required critical care due to suspected drug use combined with intense heat, thereby requiring more paramedics to treat each individual," according to a one-page report released by Tampa Fire Rescue. "This put a significant drain on manpower."

The festival was first held in Tampa in 2012, but this was the first year questions have been publicly raised about safety.

"There's a culture of this type of drug use around these types of events," Buckhorn said, "and I just don't think it ought to be hosted at a public facility."

Alex Haynes, 22, of Melbourne, and Katie Bermudez, 21, of Kissimmee, both died in hospitals hours after attending the festival. Investigators have not yet determined a cause of death for either, and toxicology reports likely won't be available for weeks.

If the festival comes back next summer, Buckhorn said, promoters will need to do more to improve the safety of patrons. That means hiring more law enforcement officers and paramedics, offering more water and screening more attendees for drugs at the gates.

Sunset Music Festival representatives have not responded to repeated requests for comment.

Drug use was a concern highlighted in a 1-page report issued by the Tampa Police Department, which noted that EDM events attract drug use.

"This type of event attracts drug use, typically hallucinogenic in the form of MDMA (Molly) and LSD which often times results in overdoses and a plethora of medical calls," the report from police said.

The health risks of those drugs can also be exacerbated by dehydration. Using MDMA-based drugs in hot environments can be fatal if users don't drink enough water, said Tammy Anderson, author of the 2009 book Rave Culture: The Alteration and Decline of a Philadelphia Music Scene.

"Your heart speeds up so fast and your body temperature escalates so much that you essentially blow a hole in your heart," said Anderson, a professor at the University of Delaware.

The city's report did not address criticism that there wasn't enough water or shade at the festival. An event map on Sunset's website showed there were three areas at the festival where free water was offered, along with at least one designated cool down area and a large tent providing shade. The festival was held May 28 and 29 in the stadium's north parking lots.

Buckhorn ordered the city's report last week. Tampa Fire Rescue said 64 paramedics from its agency and Hillsborough County Fire Rescue responded to 85 calls. The report, however, did not include EMS figures from previous years for comparison.

Of those calls, 57 resulted in someone being taken to the hospital, according to the report, while first aid stations treated hundreds more.

Hegarty, the Tampa police spokesman, attributed the relatively low total of 33 arrests and 16 marijuana civil citations to drug-sniffing dogs stationed at the festival's gates by private security, and an effort to make more arrests toward the start of the event.

Together, he said, those measures deterred crime.

The Tampa Sports Authority, the public agency that runs Raymond James, will compile its own report. But a spokesman said those results likely won't be released for months.

Times staff writers Ariana Figueroa and Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Samuel Howard at or (813)-226-3373. Follow @SamuelHHoward.

Tampa's report on Sunset Music Festival: arrests down, but drugs and heat were a problem 06/08/16 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 8, 2016 9:00pm]
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