1 dead, dozens hospitalized after drug overdoses at music festival

QUINCY, Wash. - One person died and more than 40 were hospitalized for drug and alcohol-related injuries following weekend-long concert at the Gorge Amphitheater in Central Washington, officials said Monday.

The Chelan County Coroner identified the deceased as Patrick Witkowski of Des Moines. Hospital officials said earlier that Witkowski may have died from a lethal dose of Molly, an Ecstasy-like drug, but toxicology results will take 6-8 weeks, the coroner said.

Witkowski was among a crowd of more than 25,000 people who attended the sold-out, two-day Paradiso Festival in Quincy. One hundred and twenty five people were hospitalized in area emergency rooms during the weekend-long event; of those, 72 were concertgoers, and officials said the majority of them experienced drug or alcohol-related issues during a weekend where temperatures hovered close to 100 degrees.

On Monday, Witkowski's parents said he was a recent graduate of Washington State University with a promising future. "At 6' 7" Patrick was a gentle giant," said Witkowski's parents, Paul and Tracy, in a statement. "He was a giving (soul) with a large heart. Patrick's passions included family and friends, being a WSU Pike (Pi Kappa Alpha fraternity) and basketball."

Most patients - including Witkowski - initially went to Quincy Valley Medical Center, the hospital closest to the venue, said Michele Wurl, a spokeswoman there. Wurl said doctors may never know how many people experienced adverse effects because of the drug Molly, because they weren't tested for it specifically.

She cautioned, however, that the drug's side effects can have long-term health impacts.

"Studies have shown that these drugs have permanent damage, Wurl said, "even if they are hydrated and they leave our facility, they do damage to the synapses in the brain. They do have long-term consequences."

Officials with the Grant County Sheriff's Office said the number of people hospitalized was slightly larger than normal for a festival at the Gorge.

"You had to be at least 18 and over to get into this concert, so you expect that people are going to take responsibility for themselves," said Grant County Undersheriff Dave Ponozzo, who worked the weekend event and described the crowd as friendly and inviting. "To say I'm surprised (at the number of people hospitalized)? No. It seems to be kind of the world we are living in."

A second concertgoer, 20 year old Andreano "Dre" Farinas, was missing Monday, after taking two hits of Molly for the first time, Ponozzo said. He was later found by a search party after disappearing for more than 24 hours.

His family - who described the University of Washington student as intelligent, kind, and family-oriented - cautioned other parents to be wary about potential drug use.

"It's my son. It could be anybody's son," said Farinas' mother, Ruby. "I think this should be a wake-up call to families."

"My heart goes out to the parent that lost their child," she continued. "One child is always one too many."

The concert promoter, along with Live Nation - who has a long-term lease at the Gorge - issued a joint statement Monday, expressing condolences to the Witkowski family.

"(We) are committed to bringing people together to experience music in a safe environment," the statement read. "During the festival, we entertained more than 25,000 fans over two days. In those two days, about 50 total fans were transported via ambulance to area hospitals for a variety of medical issues ranging from heat exhaustion to unfortunately what appears to be drug overdoses."

"We wish to express our deep concern about reports regarding a 21-year-old man who died at Central Washington Hospital over the weekend. We extend our sympathy to his family," the statement continued.
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