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300,000 people, drugs and rock 'n' roll

By STAN W. METZLER

DEVORE, Calif. -- Police arrested almost 90 people -- two of them suspected in the slaying of a drug dealer in the parking lot -- at the US Festival's 'heavy metal' rock show but said the crowd of 300,000 was generally well behaved.

Festival medical officials said 1,600 people were treated Sunday at first aid stations, 54 with injuries or illnesses classified as serious. Twelve people were hospitalized.

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Sunday's heavy metal bands drew a crowd that was double the opening day of the festival at a natural amphitheater 60 miles east of Los Angeles.

Temperatures were in the 90s and eye-watering smog hung over Glen Helen Regional Park where the second US Festival will recess after today's concerts and resume Saturday with a country music show. Water cannons sprayed cooling water over the crowd, which was mainly shirtless, including some women.

Promoter Steve Wozniak, who lost about $4 million of his Apple Computer fortune on last year's US Festival, said he awoke from a nap Sunday and saw the crowd had swollen to capacity. He said that means he may break even this year but the size of the throng frightened him.

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Police said an early morning drug deal led to the tire iron beating death of James Estell, 23, Pomona, Calif. San Bernardino County Sheriff Floyd Tidwell said Estell was apparently the seller in the parking lot deal. David Planton, 22, of Stanton and his 17-year-old girlfriend were held on suspicion of murder.

Tidwell said most of the trouble with the huge throng happened on the outskirts of the amphitheater and that inside the crowds were generally well behaved and happy with the sounds of Van Halen, Ozzie Osbourne, Judas Priest and Motley Crue.

'All the great ones are playing,' said fan Dianna Ramirez of San Jose. 'It's great to be around all these people.'

Nearly 90 people were arrested Sunday on charges including drug possession and sale, petty theft, car theft and conspiracy to counterfeit festival tickets and souvenirs. Tidwell said most of the conspiracy arrests involved people from New York and Chicago.

The majority of injuries resulted from bare feet on the rocky ground but many of those jammed at the front of the amphitheater suffered badly bruised ribs and others were stricken with 'crowd fatigue,' which causes disorientation. Several people were hit by randomly thrown rocks and bottles and there were hundreds of overdose cases.

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Drugs were rampant and police undercover officers circulating in the crowd were under orders to ignore all but the most blatant offenses 'like someone holding up a sign 'JOINTS' and passing around a bagful,' Tidwell said.

Tidwell had characterized the scene as 'a zoo' early Sunday but later in the afternoon said, 'Actually, it's fairly smooth. It could be much more violent. It could be riotous. The potential is still there.'

Singer David Roth of Van Halen, the biggest drawing card on Sunday, said he disguised himself for a foray into the crowd.

'I sense the great exuberance out there,' he said. 'There's a lot of happiness and a lot of smiles. That's my payoff. In fact, I wouldn't miss it for a million,' which is what his band was paid for its appearance.

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