Molly, cold weather a concern at Tahoe’s SnowGlobe

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Paramedics treat a concertgoer in Stateline. Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage

Editor’s note: This story was first posted before the 2015 SnowGlobe Festival. It has been updated.

Molly is short for molecule, but it spells trouble.

The stimulant and psychedelic drug MDMA, referred to as Molly, is popular at electronic dance music (EDM) festivals, and the nation’s largest outdoor New Year’s Eve festival is South Lake Tahoe’s SnowGlobe, held Dec. 29-31, at Lake Tahoe Community College in South Lake Tahoe. The shows start at 2 p.m. each day, ending at midnight on Friday and Saturday and at 1:30 a.m. on New Year’s. More than 14,000 are expected to attend each night.

The South Lake Tahoe Police and Fire Departments will be supported by a staff of Rock Med volunteers. A medical tent will be manned with physicians, nurses, paramedics and EMTs.

“Not only do we have drug related issues, we have alcohol and cold related issues,” said South Lake Tahoe Fire Chief Jeff Meston. “(Rock Med) brings in a wide depth and skill level that is super helpful to us. We really couldn’t deal with that amount of patients without having Rock Med there.”

Molly is commonly laced with methamphetamine or caffeine, but the ingredients and their amount are unknown to the user.

“It is a crapshoot,” said South Lake Tahoe Police Lt. Brian Williams. “You are gambling with your life, and you are gambling with the happiness of the people you leave behind. It’s more than heartbreaking. It’s not a pharmaceutically controlled industry so you don’t really know how much you are getting or what you are getting.”

Douglas County Fire Marshal Eric Guevin said there is a “false trust buying from dealers. One of the things we see it cut with is aspirin or Tylenol, and that will kill the liver. We used to have free love, now you have all this other stuff.”

People on Molly can be easy to identify. They grind their jaws and they could be overheating, so they might be outside wearing little clothing.

“Everybody should be on the lookout for people who are out of sorts,” Meston said. “Take them to the tent and have them checked out. … We are hyper vigilant that everybody is taken care of during and after the event.”

Nineteen-year-old Alyssa Byrne died after she walked away from the festival and was found Jan. 4, 2013, in a frozen snow bank along Pioneer Trail, and in 2015 a couple survived a close call after they were discovered by Stateline security officers. Drugs and freezing weather were involved in both incidents, county agencies reported. The El Dorado Sheriff’s Office reported Byrne died of “probable hypothermia,” and that “methamphetamine toxicity and multiple psychoactive drug ingestion” were “significant” factors.

“Be with someone else at all times,” Williams advised. “Let someone know where you are and what time to expect you to avoid the situation we had with Alyssa Byrne, who went wondering off because she was separated from her friends. It’s dangerous enough with the elements and the darkness and the drivers around the New Year’s Eve time period.”

In 2014, a man and woman in their 20s were found in a hypothermic state in 16 degree weather. They had taken a shuttle bus from the festival to Stateline and were found by Hard Rock Hotel & Casino security. They were transported to Barton Memorial Hospital.

The Douglas County fire marshal said the security officers saved the couple’s lives. The venue was still a month away from opening.

Guevin said nine patients were transported to the hospital July 25, 2014, from the Bass Camp III EDM Festival, and an additional 35 persons that were cared for by Rock Med volunteers.

“I personally saw at least 15 people puke, three of which put their fingers down their throat and forced themselves to before running back into the audience,” said Tahoe Onstage writer Spencer Kilpatrick.

Meston estimated five to seven SnowGlobe attendees were transported to Barton Memorial Hospital each night in 2014.

According to Weather.com, the warmest day of the festival will be Friday with the high temperature at 58 degrees. Eleven mph winds are expected. The low will be 28. On Saturday, the low temperature will be 25. On Sunday, New Year’s Eve, there is a 10 percent chance of snow. The high is 51 and the low 21 with 5 mph wind.

“It will be very cold and slippery so I would encourage people to layer up and to wear a hat. There are warming tents and warming buses, and the venues are heated,” he said before last year’s SnowGlobe. “I would suggest they wear their best traction shoes. People need to keep hydrated. Ironically, in the cold you can get dried out pretty quickly, and the buddy system is very, very wise. With the vast amount of people on site, it’s really easy to get separated.”

The cell phone towers will be overloaded, so phones will probably be useless in the area. They should be turned off to ensure the battery is charged in the case of an emergency, he said.

“When you’re ever in doubt, ask for some help.” Meston said. “There are plenty of people out there. We’re trying to provide an environment where people can enjoy themselves and do it safely. Anybody with a uniform will be happy to get you to the right spot to warm up or get you to some water.”

Visit the festival’s website at Snowglobemusicfestival.com.

The website reads:
Every attendee will be searched prior to entry. By purchasing a ticket, you agree to submit to a TSA-style search upon entry — including but not limited to a full pat-down, emptying of bags and pockets, and / or having all your items examined. Police officers and private security work both inside and outside the event.

Zero-tolerance policy: The use or possession of any illegal drugs will not be tolerated anywhere inside
or outside the venue. Do not bring any illegal substances to the event. Violators will be prosecuted to the
fullest extent of the law. If you are found intoxicated at entry, security will not allow you into the festival. 

— Tim Parsons and Randy Hashagen wrote this story.

Get your daily fix of Tahoe live music at Tahoe Onstage.com

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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