‘Panic’ attack: Two deaths, 200 arrests mark Widespread’s return to Oak Mountain Amphitheater

Two drug-related deaths and more than 200 arrests marked the band Widespread Panic’s return to Oak Mountain Amphitheater in Pelham last weekend.

Police officials said they made detailed preparations and even had a sting operation in place for Widespread Panic’s three-concert stop which attracted an estimated 35,000 concert-goers to the area.

The band is known for its dedicated fans who follow from concert to concert. The band also has a reputation for attracting a drug element.

Operation Don’t Panic, a sting operation, was engineered by the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Control Board and the Pelham Police Department. The operation was assisted by officers from the Shelby County Sheriff’s Department and Hoover and Alabaster police departments.

Hal Taylor, a drug enforcement officer with the ABC Board, said law enforcement beefed up its efforts this year for the band’s stop in Pelham. More than 100 were arrested at last year’s concerts.

Taylor said the weekend sting operation had dozens of uniformed and undercover plainclothes officers at concerts and patrolling Pelham motels, campgrounds and anywhere concert-goers were likely to congregate.

&uot;We were not surprised at the number of arrests this year, and that was the reason for the number of officers. We knew what to expect,&uot; Taylor said.

Pelham Police Capt. Tommy Thomas said arrests ranged from felony drug-use and dealing of drugs such as Oxycontin, cocaine and marijuana to underage drinking and traffic violations.

Police said Erica Young, a 29-year-old Chattanooga woman, died Saturday night after overdosing on the drug Ecstasy inside the amphitheater concert area.

In addition, a Birmingham coroner told media Tuesday morning that a 24-year-old woman, Jennifer Susan Moe, hanged herself at a Homewood hotel sometime during the weekend.

Reports indicate she had attended the concerts and had taken large amounts of drugs including Ecstacy and cocaine before her alleged suicide.

Thomas said this year’s crowd was not any worse than previous years but there were more arrests.

&uot;Anytime you have a death, it is unfortunate,&uot; he said. &uot;I was saddened by that.&uot;

Thomas noted the hundreds of hours worked by law enforcement and thanked those participating for their efforts.

&uot;We put a lot of time and planning into our efforts. That’s why we had the number of arrests we did,&uot; he said.

Thomas said police are always wary of rock concerts and the possible drugs which may follow.

&uot;I don’t think these problems are exclusive to Widespread Panic. Drugs are just a part of rock concerts,&uot; he said. &uot;I can’t explain it.&uot;