One man has died, with two more people in the hospital after overdosing on an unknown substance at the Britt Music and Arts Festival Thursday evening, according to Sgt. Greg Nichols with the Jacksonville Police Department.
Two separate calls were made for medical assistance at the Jacksonville outdoor concert venue, one at 6:45 p.m. and the second at 8 p.m., resulting in one woman and two men taken to the Asante Rogue Regional Medical Center Thursday night.
All three concertgoers were alive when they were transported to the hospital, and the medical emergency didn't interrupt performances, according to Britt Marketing Director Mike Gantenbein.
They were there for Rebelution, a California reggae band, along with accompanying acts Stephen Marley, Common Kings, Zion I, and DJ Mackle. Common Kings was the opening act that performed throughout the medical incident, according to concertgoer Carrie Miller of Talent.
Miller said that when she arrived at the venue about 6:30 that night, she she saw a tall, skinny man "in real bad shape" and convulsing "outrageously" in the grassy area left of the stage. She said she saw one security guard "aimlessly trying to ask the guy questions."
Miller, who works as a medical assistant, said that she and an RN stepped in shortly after arriving, first under the suspicion the man was epileptic and having some sort of drug interaction.
The man seemed agitated and confused in a "speedy, uppity way," Miller said, adding that "it didn't look like heroin."
"This was full seizing," Miller said, adding that the man was standing and shaking with his arms out for a period lasting more than 45 minutes. She described the shaking as like an "old person with Parkinson's times, like, a billion."
"I've never seen somebody's whole body and head seize like this,"Miller said.
By 6:45, two more security guards had arrived, telling concertgoers to stand back, and that medics had been called.
The man was standing and convulsing with his arms out for the better part of 45 minutes, Miller said.
"I saw his eyes — that's how close I was — I looked into his eyes and he looked scared," Miller said, adding later, "The fear in his face, it's imprinted in my memory."
According to Jacksonville police, it appears that all three took the same substance. The Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force has not concluded what drug was involved in the drug that sent the three to the hospital, where a man died.
Miller said she heard from the group of concertgoers that they'd all taken sassafras, which has stimulant and hallucinogenic properties and contains a precursor ingredient used to make the drug MDMA. The drug is typically consumed in a powder form that's licked, making the substance difficult to dose.
Miller said she believed the incident was treated as "more of a security issue" rather than a medical emergency.
"Everybody had their hand on their hip," Miller said.
Miller witnessed a staff medic attending to the man at 7 p.m. She went to the bar for a drink, but by about 7:45, the man still wasn't on a gurney. The man was wheeled off by about 8 p.m., but "they didn't rush off," Miller said.
The Jackson County Sheriff's Office is working in conjunction with the Jacksonville Police Department and Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement.
Jacksonville police Sgt. Greg Nichols said that the agency is working with the Medford Area Drug and Gang Enforcement task force and the Medical Examiner's office at the Jackson County Sheriff's Office to determine the substance involved.
Britt issued a statement Friday afternoon saying all three people were in the same party, and told emergency personnel they'd taken the drug before arriving at the concert.
"Britt paramedics, security and staff worked quickly with local emergency personnel to stabilize them and transport them to Asante," the statement reads.
"Britt has learned through news reports that one of the people died after they were transported to the hospital, and extends its deepest sympathy for the family and others impacted by this incident."