When 15-year-old Sasha Rodriguez died from an Ecstasy overdose in June, her mother was in disbelief. "I was supposed to be planning her sweet 16 party," she told a television reporter. How could the teen possibly have died after joining a throng of 80,000 cheering young concertgoers at a rave sanctioned by some of Los Angeles' top elected leaders?
One of Sasha's friends told the Weekly she took only one pill before attending the Electric Daisy Carnival, held in June at the publicly owned Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. While baffled friends and family tried to grasp her death, attributed by the L.A. County Coroner to "complications of ischemic encephalopathy" due to MDMA intoxication — in short, vital oxygen deprivation — a curious phenomenon emerged among young rave participants: They went online to discuss their views that their favorite drug, Ecstasy, or MDMA, couldn't be to blame.
In one online rave discussion group, called Plurlife, a reader named Maler wrote, "Someone sold her bunk shit."
Another commenter, General Rowdy, explained, "Trust me on this she chugged a liter of water while being dehydrated that put her whole system out of whack which resulted in her falling down and hitting her head which then resulted in people walking over her."
Twenty years after the first American raves were organized in California, bringing young people a bright new paradigm outside rock & roll rebellion and hip-hop bravado, L.A. politicians have endorsed supersized versions of the parties. But the huge, uncontrollable crowds have led to an increasing number of deaths and hospitalizations.
As the events have grown from small, illicit — but usually safe — warehouse affairs to massive, officially approved, commercial experiences, mayhem has followed in Los Angeles, but not in the nation's other largest cities.
Raves in New York's Central Park and Miami's Bayfront Park don't send nearly as many young people to the hospital. The Bay Area's deadly experience at the Cow Palace last spring led local authorities to ban megaraves.
The government-hosted megaraves are emerging as a unique Los Angeles phenomenon: vast, officially backed places for young people to party, drop Ecstasy and sometimes die. Four major parties each year rent out the two biggest rave venues in the nation, the Coliseum and the Sports Arena.
The megaraves are nothing like the more modest, nonpermitted warehouse raves, which, ironically, many Coliseum commissioners — including L.A. City Councilman Bernard Parks and L.A. County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky — oppose. But now all raves, even the smaller ones, might suffer, thanks to the Coliseum Commission's inability to control mobs at the Coliseum and Sports Arena.
Last week, California Assemblywoman Fiona Ma, a San Francisco Democrat, introduced legislation to ban raves on public property and require that private events be licensed.
Ma cited the deaths at Electric Daisy and the Cow Palace: "In June a 15-year-old girl died and over 100 people were hospitalized. If I was on the [Coliseum Commission], I would not have made the decision to do this again." And she slammed the "big money" that's driving public officials to push for mass events at L.A.'s two huge, taxpayer-owned venues.
"One of the things that's most impressive is the volume of patients all coming at one time," says Marc Futernick, director of emergency services at downtown's California Hospital Medical Center, which received about 70 medical transports from Electric Daisy. "It has been horrible every year."
Brian Johnston, chief of emergency services at White Memorial Hospital, recalls, "I took care of an 18-year-old girl who suffered a heart attack ... drug-related ... exactly a year ago" after the annual New Year's Eve party at the Sports Arena, known as Together as One, where a raver died from an overdose of Ecstasy, cocaine and heroin.
The event returns to the Sports Arena on Friday, Dec. 31, with up to 45,000 young partiers expected.
Johnston says the megaraves tax the entire system and put "everyone at risk." He's seen it all in his ER in Boyle Heights, but he's stunned by the screaming, delirious kids and young adults who fight off the nurses and doctors — the opposite of the love response that makes "E" so popular. "They have to be restrained and put to bed, and they need one-to-one nursing," he says.
Most recover, but after Together as One last year, a 17-year-old with a core temperature of 108 suffered "continuous convulsions for several hours," he says. "He was hospitalized with damaged muscles, liver failure, brain damage, kidney failure."
Then last spring, about a month before Sasha Rodriguez died in the hospital, two people at the Cow Palace died from Ecstasy intoxication. Anthony Mata, a 23-year-old Santa Clara auto mechanic, was one victim. Raver Trung Nguyen, a 25-year-old UC Davis grad at the same party, died later at a hospital from her suspected E overdose.