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Probe of Pasay concert deaths starts

Was it because of drugs? Was it dehydration?

AS THE YOUNG, frenzied crowd danced and fist-pumped the night away under the stars, five of the party-goers passed out—and were dead within hours.

Was it because of drugs? Was it something in the food or drink? Was it dehydration? Was security that lax that dangerous substances got into the venue undetected? Authorities want answers after an outdoor concert in Pasay City virtually became a crime scene.

The police have launched a probe by asking for a list of the concessionaires who were allowed to sell food and beverages at the Close Up Forever Summer Concert, a show featuring international DJs and held at the SM Mall of Asia grounds, where five concert-goers collapsed just minutes apart before expiring in the hospital on Sunday.

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The Pasay City police identified the fatalities as Ariel Leal, 22; Lance Garcia, 36; Bianca Fontejon, 18; Ken Migawa, 18, and American national Eric Anthony Miller, 33.   The initial investigation showed that Leal was the first to collapse, followed by Fontejon, Garcia, Migawa and Miller.

Leal, Garcia and Migawa were brought to San Juan De Dios Hospital; the first two were declared dead hours later. Migawa died Sunday afternoon.

Fontejon and Miller were brought to Manila Doctor’s Hospital, where they were declared dead on arrival.

In an interview Sunday afternoon, Chief Insp. Rolando Baula, chief of the Pasay police investigation section, said reports coming from the hospital showed that two of the victims suffered heart failure.

He declined to give further details pending the release of autopsy results.

Buala said he had asked the victims’ parents to cooperate in the investigation, but noted that some of them had already signed waivers asking investigators not to look into the cause of the deaths.

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Leal’s family, for example, refused to have an autopsy performed on him, said an investigator, PO3 Alberto Barangas.

The five were among the estimated 14,000 people who attended the concert headlined by Belgian DJ duo Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike late Saturday, investigator Giovanni Arcinue told Agence France Presse.

“They just collapsed individually. They did not know each other. They were all in different places at the time,” Arcinue said.

Arcinue said the cause of their collapse was still unknown, although police were looking at possible heatstroke or dehydration as the country is sweltering under high temperatures brought on by the El Nino weather phenomenon.

He said it was too early to say that the deaths were caused by drug-laced drinks, despite rumors spreading on social media.

Closeup, the toothpaste company that sponsored the concert, issued a statement saying: “We regret that despite the very stringent measures and precautions that we have put in place to ensure the safety and security of all attendees involved, this incident still transpired.”

The company said it was cooperating with authorities in the investigation.   Barangas said he had asked the SM management and the concert organizer for the names of the concessionaires.

As netizens who have attended the concert posted messages on social media claiming to have seen drug-laced drinks being handed out during the event, Baula said he was still treating such accounts as hearsay. “We need to investigate if these reports are true.”

The social media posts also advised parents of the youths who attended the party to have them checked by doctors if they experienced abdominal pains, palpitation and drowsiness.   About 70 policemen were stationed at the concert venue, the Inquirer learned.

The gates were opened at 4 p.m., and the security personnel also included bouncers.   There were no security men visible at the center of the gathering, where the party was at its wildest. “Make this the best of your life!” the DJs yelled to hype up the crowd.

At the admission desks, the concert-goers were first asked to present their ticket and list down their name and age. They were then given a wristband and their names, ages, and email addresses were encoded.

There was no need for them to show any ID to get in, and the Inquirer learned of minors who were able to gain access by lying about their age.

Bags were inspected, but it was easy to sneak in a beverage by hiding it under one’s clothes.   Alcoholic drinks, including hard liquor, were sold at the venue, and those at the VIP section had their own bar.

The crowd was mostly composed of millennials and young adults, including a few celebrities. As it was summer-themed concert, a number of women showed up in skimpy attire while some men were shirtless by the time concert ended around 4 a.m.

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