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Club Shooting Renews Debate on Security

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A nightclub shooting that left four people dead, including a heavy-metal guitarist, has concert bookers and bar managers wondering whether fans will grumble less the next time they’re patted down or directed through a metal detector.

Scott Stienecker, for one, thinks it will. “It’ll be a whole different feeling, I bet.”

Stienecker’s PromoWest Productions owns two Columbus concert halls larger than the Alrosa Villa, where 25-year-old Nathan Gale gunned down “Dimebag” Darrell Abbott and three others before a police officer shot him to death.

Caroline O’Toole, though, and many of her fellow managers doubt Wednesday’s violence will mean any significant changes.

“I don’t think you can let the actions of one lunatic affect the industry as a whole,” said O’Toole, who manages The Stone Pony, famed as Bruce Springsteen’s stomping ground in Asbury Park, N.J. “You can’t let the nuts win.”

Police say they may never know what made Gale target Abbott, who with brother and drummer Vinnie Paul Abbott left thrash-metal pioneer Pantera and later formed Damageplan. A friend said Gale recently started claiming that Pantera stole songs he wrote.

Gale drove 25 miles from his home in Marysville, jumped the club’s outdoor patio fence, entered the club and worked his way through the crowd, reaching the stage and pulling out his 9 mm gun as Damageplan played its first notes.

Alrosa’s owner, Rick Cautela, told The Columbus Dispatch that he hired seven guards based on sales of 200 tickets before the doors opened. The final crowd was about 430.

“It was clean-cut people who like to be here no matter what band is playing, just having a good time,” he said. Friday’s show was canceled and the club’s phone rang unanswered.

Gale also killed Erin Halk, 29, a club employee who loaded band equipment; fan Nathan Bray, 23; and band bodyguard Jeff Thompson, 40.

Another band employee injured in the shooting, drum technician John Brooks, was released from Riverside Hospital on Friday. Tour manager Chris Paluska was in stable condition.

“This is a very tragic situation, but isolated,” said Mark Leddy, co-owner of Beachland Ballroom in Cleveland. “Anything like this causes everyone to take a little look at what their procedures are. A bigger mistake would be an overreaction to it.”

But a San Diego police officer and security consultant argued for more training for the largely unregulated job of nightclub security worker.

“They need the same type of training that police officers get,” Robert Smith said. “The bouncer has no weapon and no police powers, but they still have to do the same exact job. They don’t get the same training on how to read body language and how to stop someone verbally and how to calm someone down.”

Concert deaths have spurred change before. Inspectors nationwide rooted out flammable soundproofing material in bars after on-stage pyrotechnics killed more than 100 people nearly two years ago at The Station nightclub in Rhode Island.

It was only in August that the city of Cincinnati lifted a nearly 25-year ban on concert general admission seating imposed after 11 fans were crushed to death trying to get in a show by The Who.

More parents will call clubs asking about security because of the shooting, said Kristen Thompson, manager of Tremont Music Hall in Charlotte, N.C., where guests are patted down at the door only when a band requests it.

“We’ve never had an incident that has made us feel like we need it,” she said. “Maybe after this we will do more checks.”

Security varies with style of music at PromoWest Pavilion and the company’s Newport Music Hall in Columbus, Stienecker said. The venues hire trained guards from another company he operates, Event Control Management, which also provides security for Columbus Crew soccer games, festivals and other events.

An older crowd for a singer-songwriter probably will have to open their bags at the door, he said. For aggressive and hard-core rock or rap, pat-downs and sometimes hand-held metal detectors are the norm.

Andre Perry, 27, of San Francisco plays in a two-man folk band called The Lonely Hearts. He was on stage Friday night at The Hotel Cafe Club in Hollywood and wasn’t the least bit worried about his safety.

“With national security concerns, I don’t think too many people are concerned about concerts,” Perry said.

Clubs that charge high admission and drink prices don’t want to embarrass patrons with metal detectors, said Monica Olympiew, head of operations for Miami’s Crave club. She said it’s easy to sneak in guns.

“It’s tough, but we try all measures. You have security in the front and the back doors,” she said. “Cameras always help.”

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