Two deaths after Tampa's Sunset Music Festival are investigated

Drugs were plentiful at the Sunset Music Festival in Tampa, one concertgoer says.
Published June 1 2016
Updated June 1 2016

TAMPA — Two people died after attending the Sunset Music Festival at Raymond James Stadium over the Memorial Day weekend, according to Tampa police.

A 22-year-old man was hospitalized Saturday and died Sunday, Tampa police spokesman Steve Hegarty said, and a 21-year-old woman was taken to a hospital Sunday and died Monday.

The man was from Melbourne and the woman was from Kissimmee, police said, but neither person was identified. The cause of their deaths is still under investigation by the Hillsborough County medical examiner.

While investigators await the results of toxicology tests, Hegarty said that police think the deaths "are related to the Sunset Music Festival."

But those were not the only medical issues authorities dealt with during the electronic dance music concert on Saturday and Sunday, which was reportedly attended by 30,000 people. Tampa police said 57 people attending the event were taken to local hospitals.

"Obviously, that type of music tends to attract a certain type of fan that engages in certain types of drugs," Mayor Bob Buckhorn said Tuesday.

The electronic dance music scene has a history of drug use and drug-related deaths, especially linked to the use of MDMA, the drug also known as ecstasy or Molly.

Supporters of the electronic dance music movement believe it has been unfairly tarnished by issues that can affect all concerts, while concert organizers themselves have tried to address safety by bringing in more security. In 2014, Billboard magazine reported that organizers of New York's annual Electric Zoo concert brought in drug-sniffing dogs. There's even a nonprofit, Dance­Safe, that's trying to improve the health and safety of raves.

This is the fifth year the Sunset Music Festival was held at Raymond James Stadium. It was the fourth Sunset festival attended by Valerie Rodriguez, 20, of Tampa. She said this year's festival made her nervous because of all the medical emergencies she saw.

After attending 15 electronic dance music concerts and six music festivals, she has gotten used to seeing lots of drugs, as well as paramedics on standby. But over the weekend, she saw something she had never seen at a concert before: people constantly being rushed to the hospital.

"This one was really uncontrolled," Rodriguez said. "No one really knows what they're taking."

She wishes that more concertgoers would enjoy the music without the drugs.

"You don't need to do those drugs to enjoy the concert," she said.

Tampa police said they made 33 arrests at the concert, handed out 16 marijuana citations and issued four noise complaints. A spokesman for the concert promoter did not return a call for comment Tuesday.

Buckhorn said the festival should do more to promote safety and deter drug use, but he also knows the festival can't control the people who attend. That's why the attendees should take more responsibility and make better choices, he said.

"It worries me any time we have a loss of life here, particularly when it could have been prevented by better decisionmaking," the mayor said.

Times staff writer Richard Danielson contributed to this report. Contact Ariana Figueroa at afigueroa@tampabay.com or (813) 226- 3350. Follow @ArianaLFigueroa.

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