Friday, December 3, 1999

Concert goers still feel the dangers today




BY DAN KLEPAL
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The morning after, Ron Duritsch went back to the scene of the catastrophe, looking for answers. How could 11 people be suffocated outside Riverfront Coliseum? Mr. Duritsch found his answer in simple physics.

        The West Chester man, now 48, was caught in a tidal wave of people outside the arena 20 years ago, while waiting to get into the Who concert on Dec. 3, 1979.

        Mr. Duritsch felt himself stepping on the fallen, trying to pull them to their feet while struggling to keep his balance in a surging mass of humanity.

        “I didn't go to work the next day because I wanted to understand,” Mr. Duritsch said. “So I took the bus down there and I could see it: The way the doors were angled and the direction the force was coming from, a wedge formed.

        “Then when a person fell, it created a vacuum, and the people on the bottom could not get up. All it took was one person going down to create a pile.

        “There were several piles and a constant, crushing pressure.”

        One of the young lives snuffed out by that pressure was that of Wyoming High School senior Peter Bowes.

        The 18-year-old got off work early that day so he could be in line for a good view of the show.

        Mr. Bowes' mother, Mary, said her son was interested in a career in psychology and was trying to decide among Michigan, Indiana and North Carolina universities.

        “He was a good boy, very well-rounded, and he loved his music,” Mrs. Bowes said. “He had a nice life.”

        Don Schraffenberger was caught up in the same crushing sea of humanity. The Chicago man, whose family still lives in the Cincinnati area, said the night has had a lasting impact on his life.

        Mr. Schraffenberger, 36, said he still feels twinges of anxiety in crowded places.

        “On crowded elevators or whatever, I don't really feel comfortable,” Mr. Schraffenberger said. “I'd rather not let more people in.”

        With his arms pinned to his side and no way to control the swaying crowd, Mr. Schraffenberger said the experience was horrifying. But people in front of him had it worse, he said.

        “All the weight from everybody in the crowd added up together on the people in front,” he said.

        After visiting the coliseum the morning after the concert, Mr. Duritsch walked down to City Hall and signed his name to a list of those wishing to testify before council.

        “It was something I'll never forget,” he said. “As you grow older, you learn that you can be put in harm's way at any given moment.

        “A lot of people at that concert learned the lesson at a very early age.”

Concert industry learned from Who tragedy



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