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Police: Crowd tramples security guard at Miami music festival

Miami police earlier had warned festival organizers to reinforce the fence

By Carli Teproff
The Miami Herald

MIAMI As the condition of a security guard who was critically injured when she was trampled by people trying to hop the fence into Ultra Music Festival improved Sunday, some city leaders continued to call for the end of the three-day electronic music festival that draws more than 160,000 revelers, with one saying it was a “powder keg waiting to explode.”

“Sometimes it takes a wake-up call to do something,” Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said Sunday, adding that there is no way to control such a large event with thousands of people having only one way in and one way out at Bayfront Park. “It is simply not safe.”

The injured Contemporary Services Corp. guard, Erica Mack, 28, suffered severe brain hemorrhaging and a broken leg when people who did not have tickets to the festival stormed a weak spot in the fencing. Miami police earlier had warned festival organizers to reinforce the fence.

The investigation continued Sunday into the incident, but no arrests had been made, Miami police spokeswoman Frederica Burden said.

Burden said Sunday that Mack was still in critical condition, but showed signs of improvement and was breathing on her own.

Miami Mayor Tomas Regalado, who has also called for the end of the festival, said Mack still had a “long road ahead of her,” and long-term affects were unknown. “She is disoriented and confused and nobody knows how this will affect her future,” he said.

Devan Schulz, the security company’s vice president of marketing, said in a statement that they were “deeply saddened by the tragic events that occurred this weekend at Ultra Music Festival.

We will continue to keep Erica Mack and her loved ones in our thoughts and prayers as we closely monitor her condition.”

Regalado said that Friday’s stampede highlights why the festival should no longer take place at Bayfront Park. “I realize it puts Miami on the map,” he said of the festival, now in its 16th year. “But we don’t want to be showcased as the city of chaos.”

And while Friday was described by some as chaos, Burden said that Sunday, the third and final day of the festival, was “calm.”

“We are hoping it stays this way,” said Burden who was patrolling Bayfront Park on a bicycle Sunday afternoon. She said the fence had since been reinforced and by early evening, there had been no major issues. According to Burden, 55 people were arrested Friday and Saturday. More than 100 had to be treated by fire rescue.

Last year, Miami police arrested 167 people during the festival, mostly on drug-related charges and trying to enter the event without paying.

Amid the tie-dye shirts, bright lights and throngs of Ultra festival-goers draped in flags from their country of origin, some attendees on Sunday voiced concern about the future of the festival.

Jesus Cortes, 22, who flew in from Mexico City for Ultra, was unhappy to learn that some commissioners want to move the festival out of Miami. “I really was mad,” Cortes said. “I think it’s really bad because people from other countries, like myself, come to Miami to celebrate something [like this].” Despite Friday’s incident, Cortes said that most festival-goers acted responsibly.

About 65 percent of Ultra attendees are from out of town, said Adam Russakoff, Ultra’s executive producer and director of business affairs.

Some festival supporters called Regalado’s request to pull the permits a “knee-jerk reaction.”

Carmel Ophir, the owner of The Vagabond nightclub in downtown Miami, said Sunday that Ultra brings a lot of positive attributes to the city including money. “This is something that has to be discussed,” he said, adding that another venue in Miami-Dade may be the answer. “There are so many positive things about Ultra.”

In the past, Ultra has been criticized for rowdiness, illegal drug use and an increase in traffic. But both Sarnoff and Regalado said Mack’s injury should be the reason the festival goes elsewhere.

Sarnoff said the festival brings in about $1.5 million for the Bayfront Park Trust, which maintains the venue, but it is the city of Miami that issues the permits.

“We need to pass a resolution that a permit should no longer be issued for the festival,” said Sarnoff, who has complained about the festival in the past. One of the ongoing issues is festival crashers.

Representatives of Bayfront Park Trust could not be reached for comment Sunday. Miami attorney Onier Llopiz, who is representing the trust in a case brought by a worker who was injured before the start of last year’s festival, said Sunday that it is up to Ultra organizers, not the trust, to protect festival-goers. “The liability would ultimately fall on Ultra,” he said.

In their own statement, Ultra’s organizers said that they “prohibit any form of unlawful entry into the event grounds. Preliminary investigations show that the incident was caused by individuals not in possession of event tickets and who were determined to gain unauthorized entry.

“Every year the event organizers work collaboratively with police and other municipal partners along with the organizers’ independent security partners to ensure the safety of all patrons, crew and working personnel.”

But Regalado said that Ultra organizers didn’t act responsibility when they failed to heed the warning to secure the fence.

He said it is now up to city lawyers to comb through the contract to determine if organizers breached it.

Copyright 2014 The Miami Herald