Barriers, Crowd Control in Focus in Houston Concert Deaths

HOUSTON, TEXAS (AP) -

Investigators are expected to examine the design of safety barriers and the use of crowd control in determining what led to a crush of spectators at a Houston music festival that left eight people dead and hundreds more injured.

Authorities planned to use videos, witness interviews and a review of concert procedures to figure out what went wrong Friday night during a performance. The tragedy unfolded when the crowd rushed the stage, squeezing people so tightly they couldn’t breathe.

Billy Nasser, 24, who had traveled from Indianapolis to attend the concert, said about 15 minutes into Scott’s set, things got “really crazy” and people began crushing one another. He said he “was picking people up and trying to drag them out.”

Over the weekend, a makeshift memorial of flowers, votive candles, condolence notes and T-shirts took shape outside at NRG Park.

The dead, according to friends and family members, included a 14-year-old high school student; a 16-year-old girl who loved dancing; and a 21-year-old engineering student at the University of Dayton. The youngest was 14, the oldest 27.

Houston officials did not immediately release the victims’ names or the cause of death, but family and friends began to name their loved ones and tell their stories Sunday.

Thirteen people remained hospitalized Sunday. Their conditions were not disclosed. Over 300 people were treated at a field hospital at the concert.

City officials said they were in the early stages of investigating what caused the pandemonium at the sold-out concert. About 50,000 people were there.

Authorities said that among other things, they will look at how the area around the stage was designed.

Steven Adelman, vice president of the industry group Event Safety Alliance, which was formed after the collapse of a stage at the Indiana State Fair in 2011 killed seven people, helped write industry guidelines widely used today.

Besides looking at safety barriers and whether they correctly directed crowds or contributed to the crush of spectators, Adelman said, authorities will look at whether something incited the crowd besides Scott taking the stage.

Adelman said another question is whether there was enough security there, noting there is a nationwide shortage of people willing to take low-wage, part-time security gigs.

“Security obviously was unable to stop people. Optically, that’s really bad-looking,” he said. “But as for what it tells us, it’s too early to say.”

Officialsplanned to review the event’s security plan and various permits issued to organizers to see whether they were properly followed. In addition, investigators planned to speak with Live Nation representatives and concertgoers.

There is a long history of similar catastrophes at concerts, sporting events and even religious events. In 1979, 11 people were killed as thousands of fans tried to get into Cincinnati’s Riverfront Coliseum to see a concert. Other past crowd catastrophes include the deaths of 97 people at a soccer match in Hillsborough Stadium in 1989 in Sheffield, England, and numerous disasters connected with the annual hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia.

Experts who have studied deaths caused by crowd surges say they are often a result of too many people packed into too small a space.

Also Sunday, one of the first of many expected lawsuits was filed on behalf of a man injured in the crush of people in state court in Houston. Attorneys for Manuel Souza sued Scott, Live Nation and others, saying they were responsible.