April 2, 2014

Ultra blames ‘gate crashers’ for guard’s injuries

Ultra officials did not say why they did not beef up the fencing at the spot where the guard was injured.

Organizers of the Ultra Music Festival, moving to blunt mounting criticism of the event, blamed “unruly gate crashers” for injuring a security guard who was trampled during the first day of the concert, saying in a statement Wednesday that Ultra is undertaking a “comprehensive review of all security procedures.”

“Despite additional efforts this year to continue providing a safe and enjoyable event for our patrons and staff, including a larger security and police presence, the criminal acts of the gate crashers resulted in critically injuring one of our security guards, Erica Mack,” the statement said.

On Monday, Miami Police Chief Manuel Orosa said his officers had warned Ultra hours before the festival began to beef up the fencing at the same spot where the 28-year-old guard was later injured, but that the organizers did not follow through. Orosa said that even though Ultra’s plans filed with the city called for more-secure fencing, it was never put up.

Miami business executive Rodney Barreto, a former lobbyist for Ultra, sent out the organizers’ statement and said Ultra’s founder, Russell Faibisch, would not make any comments. “At this time, he doesn’t want to speak to the media,” Barreto said.

Barreto declined to answer questions about the fence that was toppled, saying Ultra will wait until after the review is complete. He said Ultra’s primary concern is Mack’s recovery.

The 28-year-old security guard remeains at Jackson Memorial Hospital with a fractured skull and a broken leg.

Barreto’s business partner, Brian May, is the festival’s current lobbyist.

The announcement of the security review comes amid heated discussion among city leaders about Ultra’s future in Miami. The mayor and at least one commissioner are seeking to oust the festival from downtown Miami’s Bayfront Park.

Miami police said concert organizers were warned hours before the stampede that the fencing near Southeast First Street and Biscayne Boulevard was inadequate.

The plans Ultra submitted to the city show that the area that was breached was supposed to be protected by so-called G8 fencing — used to keep protesters out of G8 economic summits — a sturdier, taller fence that was used near the front of the venue, Orosa said. Instead, Ultra installed double chain-link fences.

Before and during the festival, potential concert-crashers were looking on social media for possible weaknesses in Ultra’s fencing. Users of Twitter and Instagram said they had “low key” spots to get into the pricey festival — tickets went for as much as $400 for the three-day event — for free.

One Twitter user wrote Saturday, after Mack was trampled: “Jumping the fence for Ultra is too easy.”

According to the organizers’ statement Wednesday, Ultra will decide how to make next year’s event more secure in partnership with the Miami Police Department.

Ultra said it hired more than 250 Miami police officers this year, of whom 111 were stationed inside the event.

The remainder of the officers patrolled the perimeter, provided traffic control and monitored nearby areas. Additionally, 318 private guards provided security, Barreto said.

Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff said he is pushing to make sure there will be no Ultra in downtown Miami next year, even if that means losing some tourism dollars in the immediate neighborhood. Organizers should look for another location, he said.

“I’ve looked at YouTube and Twitter,” he said. “The injuries that have been sustained, the stampede, no amount of money cures that.”

Sarnoff and Mayor Tomas Regalado plan to argue at the April 10 commission meeting that Ultra should be booted from Miami.

But Ultra is prepared to state its case to stay, Barreto said.

“Some people have seemed to rush to judgment. We should have all the facts before we want to throw Ultra out of town,” he said.

Barreto said he did not see similar outrage when last year a man was shot while walking during Calle Ocho, the popular street festival that draws more than a million people to the streets of Little Havana. The man was hit in his left buttock.

“I didn’t see anyone asking for that to be shut down,” Barreto said.

Sarnoff said the two events are hardly comparable.

“Nothing is going to change until [Ultra organizers] acknowledge they need to find a new venue outside the urban core,” Sarnoff said.

Related content



Editor's Choice Videos