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New Jersey Man Is Ultra Music Festival's First Drug Death

Ian Witlen

While other major electronic music festivals have been rocked by kids overdosing on party drugs, Ultra Music Festival has remained relatively unscathed.

Until now. Officials believe that the March 24 death of a young man who was partying in Bayfront Park was a drug overdose. Medical examiners say New Jersey resident Anthony Joseph Cassano "started showing signs of erratic behavior" at Ultra Sunday night. Paramedics were called, but the 20-year-old was pronounced dead at the hospital from "multiple organ failure," according to a police report.

Neither Cassano's family nor Ultra organizers could be reached for comment. Miami police and the Miami-Dade Medical Examiner's Office are awaiting a toxicology report before determining an official cause of death, but both tell Riptide they believe a drug overdose is likely.

Cassano was visiting Miami from his hometown of Franklin Lake to attend Ultra, the EDM fest that expanded to two consecutive weekends this year. At some point during the festival's final night, Cassano began acting erratically. At 10:54 p.m., paramedics responded to a call at Bayfront Park and whisked Cassano to Jackson Memorial Hospital.

A Miami police report shows Cassano died shortly after midnight. It says his father arrived at the hospital but left before he could be interviewed.

Sgt. Freddie Cruz tells Riptide the death "appeared to be an overdose" but stresses it is still under investigation. Coroners say it might take weeks to get a full toxicology report.

Cruz says that he is unaware of any other serious suspected overdoses and that, in general, the event went smoothly. "Everything was great. We had a couple of issues of people attempting to jump the fence and get in for free, but nothing we couldn't handle."

Over Ultra's two weekends this year, police arrested 167 people, primarily for narcotics and gate-crashing. (Last year the three-day event saw 78 arrests, 45 of them for narcotics. And more than 60 people suffered injuries, many from suspected drug overdoses, but no one died.)

Cassano's death is thought to be the first linked to drugs at Ultra, which has been criticized by officials, including Miami Commissioner Marc Sarnoff, for the prevalence of narcotics. Last year, Madonna tossed fuel on that fire by taking the stage to ask, "How many people in this crowd have seen Molly?" — a veiled reference to the drug MDMA.

Organizers point out, however, they doubled police presence this year.


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