An Australian court is investigating the role that Limp Bizkit’s onstage actions may have played in the death of a 15-year-old fan who was crushed at the multi-band Big Day Out festival in January.
An inquest by Sydney’s Glebe Coroner’s Court that began November 19 is attempting to determine the factors that contributed to Jessica Michalik’s death, and is examining statements made by Fred Durst when it became apparent that Michalik was in distress, according to Deputy Coroner Matt Fordham.
The inquest is also examining the security measures employed by Big Day Out organizers. Both inquiries are intended to prevent similar incidents from happening in the future.
A coroner’s inquest is required when what fostered the cause of death isn’t known. If negligent behavior is found to be a factor in Michalik’s death, the parties involved may be subject to a civil lawsuit, a court spokesperson said.
Jessica Michalik suffered a heart attack in the pit during Limp Bizkit’s set at the Sydney stop of the touring festival on January 26, and was pronounced clinically dead when she was pulled from the crowd. She was revived backstage and died in the hospital five days later of a hypoxic brain injury.
In videotaped footage of Bizkit’s set shown to the court, Durst told the crowd that they have to look out for each other, and that if someone falls down, they should help them up.
Although testimony given Monday by security consultant Michael Upton said the band didn’t stop its performance after repeatedly being asked to do so, the videotape showed the band halting its set for eight minutes. It has yet to be determined, however, how long after Limp Bizkit were asked to stop playing that they actually did. The band has said in the past that it wanted to halt its show altogether, but was urged to return to the stage by local police.
Calls to Limp Bizkit’s management company, the Firm, were not returned. A spokesperson at the band’s record label, Interscope Records, was not prepared to comment on the investigation.
The group’s actions were defended by Michalik’s friends and fellow fans, who claimed the band wasn’t negligent in the face of the tragedy and simply did its job. One person cited a need for more security in their testimony.
In lieu of appearing before the inquest, Durst answered police questions via fax, though his responses were described as “scant” by coroner Jacquie Milledge, who is presiding over the inquest. She believes the band’s account would be valuable to the hearing, since from the stage they may have had the best vantage point of the incident. While the court cannot compel Durst or his bandmates to testify, Milledge said she would “bend over backwards” to accommodate the group’s busy schedule, Fordham said.
After the incident, the band noted that it requested T-shaped security barricades that it feels could have quelled the crowd activity. In a statement issued by the band’s management company to the court Monday, the band reiterated that request, noting that it was denied by concert organizers. In his testimony, Upton said that the T-barrier was designed for single-stage venues, not the side-by-side set-up employed at the Big Day Out, and argued that such a barrier could have actually worsened the situation.
The group plans to call their own crowd-safety expert to contradict Upton’s claims.
Detective Inspector Greg Bamford, in his police investigation of the matter, concluded that several factors may have contributed to Michalik’s death, including excessive crowd movement, Bizkit’s high-energy performance, hot weather, an aggressive environment in the mosh pit, the inability to get to Michalik, the delay in removing her from the pit and the lack of effective crowd barriers, according to Sydney’s Daily Telegraph. He called Michalik’s death “a tragic accident” during his testimony last week, and added that his investigation failed to identify any criminal negligence by anyone involved.
Following the Sydney concert, Limp Bizkit pulled out of the remaining three dates of the Big Day Out festival, citing safety concerns.
The inquest is scheduled to temporarily draw to a close Friday, with additional security experts expected to testify, according to Fordham. The hearing resumes February 25.