They died on the first weekend in August, after they attended the Hard Summer Festival at the Fairplex in Pomona.

Drug overdoses were suspected, and MDMA (ecstasy, Molly), has been tied to a long string of deaths at electronic dance music festivals, including Hard events. But more than five months later, even as we kick off a new year, it's still not clear how, exactly, these young women expired.

Cause-of-death determinations for Hard attendees Tracy Nguyen, an 18-year-old from West Covina, and Katie Dix, a 19-year-old from Camarillo, have been deferred pending the results of toxicology tests.

Those tests, which could determine what, if any, drugs the teens might have taken, are usually completed four to six weeks after death. 

But the Los Angeles County Department of Medical Examiner has a backlog of more than 700 cases that have yet to be concluded as a result of delays in toxicology testing, says coroner's Assistant Chief Ed Winter.

The office contracts with outside entities for some testing, but it also does drug analysis in-house, he said. But the department is short of staff, with as many as three openings for criminalists alone, Winter said.

As a result of staffing issues, cause-of-death conclusions requiring drug tests are seeing four-month delays, Winter said.

“We used to be six to eight weeks” for toxicology testing, he said. “They they said eight to 10 weeks. Now they say some of them are pending up to four months.”

He says the department has the cash to hire.

“We have the positions, it's just getting them hired,” Winter said.  “It's irritating for me too.”

Hard Summer was held Aug. 1 and 2. Following the women's deaths, Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis proposed studying an outright ban on electronic dance music festivals at county venues such as the Fairplex.

Following the previous Hard Summer party, held at the county-run Whittier Narrows Recreation Area, attendee 19-year-old Emily Tran died as a result of “acute MDMA intoxication,” according to a coroner's statement.

In fall Hard's organizers shifted from an 18-plus to a 21-and-older door policy.

The county board, which is still considering stricter drug enforcement and alcohol rules at such events, ultimately decided against banning raves.

LA Weekly