By Laurie Rich Salerno
WALLINGFORD, Conn. — More details emerged Monday about an electronic dance music show that ended in a nightmarish scene Friday night for local emergency responders and at least 22 young people, many underage.
A concert headlined by the artist Pretty Lights began at 9 p.m. at the Oakdale Theatre, and by 9:30 p.m., the first emergency calls were coming from the venue, said Lt. Marc Mikulski, the police spokesman. Representatives of the Oakdale did not return calls Monday.
The emergency calls, which increased in the next few hours, were for highly intoxicated concert-goers and drug overdoses. There were so many affected, Mikulski said, that the on-scene fire commander declared the event a mass-casualty incident, or MCI. There were about 3,000 people at the concert, primarily in their teens or early 20s, Mikulski said.
Fire and police had to call in off-duty forces and ambulances from other towns to assist in the response. Emergency responders set up a triage center in one of the conference rooms at the site to evaluate those sickened. Firefighters and police officers waded into the main concert area to find and retrieve people who were on the floor, either passed out or sick, with some having seizures. They did not stop the concert, Mikulski said, worrying how the thousands of fans would react if the show ended.
Emergency responders sent those who were sick to Mid-State Medical Center in Meriden, until the hospital emergency room filled up and went "on diversion." The rest were sent to Yale-New Haven Hospital.
The conditions of the 22 are not known, as the hospitals will not release the information without names. Mikulski said he did not know conditions, but he said none had died. Fire officials said they would not be able to reveal how many of those taken were from Wallingford or elsewhere because of medical information security regulations. Police said they did not know where all those taken by ambulance were from. Fire Capt. James Duffy said Friday's incident was the largest the department had responded to at the Oakdale in memory.
"That many, never. We do get calls sometimes for some of the concerts there," Duffy said. "Certain bands and certain DJs bring a certain mindset of people."
Pretty Lights' manager and press representative did not respond to emails Monday. Pretty Lights is the stage name of recording artist Derek Vincent Smith.
Rich Figlewski, the owner of Wallingford's sober cafe, the Dry Dock, said he found out about the mass overdoses Saturday morning. But on Friday night, he said, he received a call from someone at a gas station on Quinnipiac Street about a young woman driving around trying to find the Oakdale who was having a hard time understanding anybody because "she was in rough shape."
Someone called Figlewski and said, "This girl's down here, she's a wreck." He said he didn't make it in time before she left.
Officers arrested two people at the concert: Eric Rosado, of Springfield, Mass., and Nicholas Petinelli, of New Britain. Rosado was charged with possessing and selling hallucinogens, including LSD and "bath salts," the street name for synthetic cathinones, a product sold legally in many parts of the country that mimics the effects of amphetamines, according to the website for the U.S. Department of Justice National Drug Intelligence Center. Pettinelli was charged with breach of peace, interfering with police and failing to submit an ID, police said over the weekend.
Police also seized a nitrous oxide tank from the parking lot, and issued four infraction tickets. Two were given to 16-year-olds for underage possession of alcohol, and two were given to adults for allowing minors to consume alcohol.
"Our main concern at the time — we could have made a lot more arrests — was the protection of the triage center and the EMTs," Mikulski said.
Mikulski said police had not been notified that the show was taking place and that the Oakdale uses its own private security for traffic and crowd control. The response strained police and fire and took resources from other parts of Wallingford, he said.
"It really taxes the resources that are available from the town," Mikulski said. "We know what we usually have to encounter on Friday nights - this just blows us out of our ballpark here."
Ambulances from Wallingford, Meriden, Cheshire, West Haven and Bridgeport responded to the scene. "It did have a dangerous trickle-down effect," Mikulski said, stripping resources from other towns, too.
He said that town officials were planning talks with representatives at the Oakdale in an effort to ensure such an event does not occur again. Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said he would be talking with emergency response departments this week before approaching anyone outside the town government.
"We're going to take it one step at a time," Dickinson said. "There's a lot of concern — we really had a significant impact in our public safety resources for the evening."
Some parents in town registered their concerns on Facebook. Karen Blakeslee was part of a discussion on a Wallingford Community page. She lives about a mile from the theater, and she said she has noticed recently that she hasn't been recognizing the shows listed on the marquee.
"It just doesn't seem that the Oakdale is attracting the same sort of shows that it had been in the past," Blakeslee said by phone Monday, saying she used to take her daughter, now 13, there to children's shows and Broadway shows.
"I don't think it would hurt for them to analyze and look at the kind of entertainment that they're attracting," she said. "The Oakdale is in a residential neighborhood."
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