Editor’s note: On the 40th anniversary of the Who concert tragedy, we present the original news coverage from The Cincinnati Enquirer on Dec. 4, 1979.
CINCINNATI – Eleven people were killed and eight seriously injured at Riverfront Coliseum Monday night in a human stampede through the arena’s doors before the start of The Who rock group concert.
The Hamilton County Coroner’s office said the dead included seven males and four females. A coroner’s spokesman said the ages of the victims ranged from 18 to the early 20s.
A team of clergymen accompanied parents of victims through the Hamilton County morgue late Monday night. Identity of the victims was to be released sometime today.
The total number injured had not been determined late Monday.
At a press conference at District One police headquarters, Lt. Dale Menkhaus said two few doors were opened too late to handle the sellout crowd.
“We needed to get the doors open much earlier,” Menkhaus said.
Ray Schuerman, an usher at the main gate, said the trouble appeared to start when someone threw a bottle at the gate and broke the door’s glass.
“The kids kept breaking the gate more and more. I just couldn’t stop them. They rushed the gate.”
Mark Shoner, general manager of Cincinnati Ticketron, would not disclose how many tickets were sold for the concert, adding those figures would have to come from Coliseum officials. “We weren’t over capacity or anything like that,” said Shoner.
Coliseum officials would not comment on which doors were opened and when.
The concert promoters, Electric Factory Concerts, based in Philadelphia, declined comment. A spokesman for The Who said the group has a booking in Buffalo today.
Police Officer Dave Grawe said the rush occurred between 7:30-8 p.m. Seats at the concert were both reserved and open, police and concertgoers said. The crowd began growing at 3 p.m., police said, nearly four hours before the gates were opened. The Coliseum holds 18,000 for concert events.
“The crowd must have jammed the people up so tightly in front that they just passed out. They didn’t even fall down. They must have jammed up so tight that they didn’t get any air and just died.”
Cincinnati Safety Director Richard Castellini, who responded to the coliseum, said “apparently there was such a large swell in the crowd that there were some young people who got caught up in the swell and were suffocated or got trampled.”
Castellini said he considered canceling the concert because he thought the problem was inside as well as outside the coliseum; however, he decided against that when he learned the problem was outside.
Concertgoers inside apparently were unaware of the tragedy that had unfolded just outside the main gates, where the entrance was strewn with broken glass, hats, gloves, coats and beer cans.
The doors are located on the west side of the coliseum on the plaza level.
A witness, Isy D’Agostino, a Dayton, Ohio, nurse, said, “For some odd reason people were compressed completely (near the coliseum doors). Some made it, some didn’t. Several died with two or three minutes. The whole occurrence took no more than 40 minutes. It’s a real sad way to go.”
Police Officer Walter Bruce, who was at the coliseum, said the victims “were probably stepped on and fell down; people just fell down. I don’t know if they had been moved from where they fell, but most were away from the door.”
Bruce said he saw several bodies. He said the bodies were probably found only after the crowd passed over them.
Victims were taken to General, Mercy, Deaconess and Good Samaritan Hospitals.
Three of those injured and listed in fair condition at Good Samaritan Hospital were identified as Todd Volkman, 18, Quailwood, Loveland; Diane Cubert, 20, 3828 Lory Dr., Erlanger, Ky.; and Shawna Abbott, 20, 6584 Newbridge, White Oak.
The injured taken to Christ Hospital were William Taylor, Hamilton, Ohio, multiple abrasions; Terry Thomas, Centerville, Ohio, injured left foot; and Timothy Deal, Columbus, injured right hand.
Treated at General Hospital were John Watts and Shane Renkel, both of Dayton, Ohio, and Cathy Calhoun, Cincinnati.
Dr. Alexander Trott, emergency room supervisor at General, said the victims died of multiple contusions and hemorrhages. He said there was “some evidence of footprint-like injuries.”
District One police, meanwhile, sought to discourage worried parents from going to the coliseum. “There’s nothing you can do,” one officer was overheard telling a parent. “Just wait up and see if they come home. That’s all you can do.”
One of the callers included a police sergeant seeking to learn if his daughter were safe.
The Who last appeared in Cincinnati at a concert in the coliseum in December of 1975.
Witnesses said that only one door at the main gate was opened shortly before the concert, and the crowd, estimated in the thousands, rushed forward.
One concertgoer, John Limoli, 35, Fairborn, Ohio, said: “Why did they open one door at a time when there were thousands of people out there?”
Cindy Sash, 25, Kettering, said the concert was oversold. “If you look at it, you can see there were more tickets sold than there were seats available.”
Sash said she was in the crowd when it rushed the main gate. She said she was knocked down. “If I hadn’t been pulled up I would have been killed, too.”
But Glenn Rose, an usher, said: “They always crash the gates. This concert isn’t any different than any other.”
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