Metro

Officials blame culture of drugs, alcohol for Comcast Center deaths

MANSFIELD — Officials said Wednesday night that the rise in heavy drinking and drug use at the Comcast Center, where two men died last month of apparent overdoses, reflects a broader cultural issue and that local police are working tirelessly with the ­security staff to combat the problem.

“It’s an alcohol-soaked society,” Police Chief Arthur O’Neill said during a public meeting of the Board of Selectmen at Town Hall.

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O’Neill said police and security staff at the center are working well together to limit the repercussions of substance abuse at center events.

“We have a well-oiled machine down there, between our police officers” and the security staff, he said.

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O’Neill also expressed skepticism that drug-sniffing dogs could be effective at the center, since they are only able to work for about 20 minutes at a time.

“It would take dozens of dogs,” O’Neill said, adding that drug dogs can sometimes attack people.

The discussion Wednesday came after Connor Brandon, a 19-year-old from Acton, and Dominic Impelizzieri, 27, of Syracuse, N.Y., both died of drugs and alcohol in their systems at an all-day festival at the center on July 26.

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Authorities said drug and alcohol use was rampant at the show, and 19 other people were hospitalized for drug-
related problems. Some ­patrons took powerful combinations of ecstasy, PCP, and marijuana, officials said.

Selectman George Dentino reiterated Wednesday a call he has made previously for the center’s operators to beef up security, and he also suggested cordoning off an area in the parking lot where people of ­legal drinking age could consume alcohol.

“I don’t think that we’re in control of the [situation] as much as we could be,” Dentino said.

Town Manager William R. Ross said he thought a 21-and-over section of the parking lot was worth considering, though he was unsure how practical the idea would be.

Less than a week after the July deaths, police arrested 35 people at a hip-hop show and took scores more into protective custody for drunkenness at the center, which has a ­capacity of about 20,000.

But despite the recent troubles, Frederick Mahony, chief investigator of the Massachusetts Alcoholic Beverages Control Commission, told selectmen Wednesday that collaboration between local police and center security is strong.

“I really consider the ­Comcast Center one of the best [venues] in the state,” Mahony said, adding that he has ­observed private staff members checking identifications and preventing intoxicated ­patrons from purchasing alcohol.

Officials said Wednesday that while security staff is free to conduct random searches of concertgoers, police officers cannot because of constitutional prohibitions.

O’Neill told the Globe last week that almost three dozen police officers worked the hip-hop show, a larger contingent than usual, but that heavy drinking was still a problem.

He said that while the number of arrests at concerts has held steady in recent years, the level of drunkenness has spiked.

Selectman Jess Aptowitz said on Wednesday night that problems include flasks ­designed to help people conceal alcoholic beverages and sophisticated fake identifications to allow underage concert­goers to drink.

“These counterfeiters are making things that are the next level,” Aptowitz said.

Neal Boldrighini, the town’s fire chief, wrote in a ­report following the deaths in July that staffing levels are not sufficient to handle the current crowd activity.

The owner of the venue, concert giant Live Nation, could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday night.

According to the Live ­Nation website, Comcast Center workers will not serve ­alcoholic beverages to anyone they believe to be intoxicated, and alcohol sales end at least one hour before the scheduled end of a show.

Bringing alcohol into the center or leaving with it is prohibited, according to the website, and any patron in possession of alcohol can be asked at any time to produce valid identification.

Ross said Wednesday that while the recent deaths at the center are tragic, most concert­goers act appropriately.

“In a perfect world, there would be no person taken into custody or requiring medical attention,” Ross said. “Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.”

Peter Schworm of the Globe staff contributed to this ­report. Travis Andersen can
be reached at tandersen@
globe.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TAGlobe.
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