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First lawsuits filed over deadly Houston music festival

One injured concertgoer says rapper Travis Scott, who started the Astroworld music festival in his hometown of Houston in 2018, has a history of inciting fans at his shows.

HOUSTON (CN) — Rapper Travis Scott has been hit with several lawsuits by people injured Friday during his concert at a Houston music festival, along with the family of one man who was crushed to death as concertgoers pressed towards the stage.

Axel Acosta, 21, is one of eight people, ages 14 to 27, who were killed at the Astroworld music festival when people in the shoulder-to-shoulder crowd of 50,000, started pushing towards the stage around 9 p.m. Friday as Scott, whose real name is Jacques Webster, was performing.

The Acosta family’s attorney, Tony Buzbee of Houston, said his firm had retained a former Houston Police Department major crimes investigator to identify all those responsible.

“We have already collected statements from multiple individuals who have been able to provide us information about the night’s events, including key information about what was happening immediately before the first person fell,” Buzbee said in a statement.

Acosta, a Washington state resident, had just celebrated his birthday on Oct. 27, according to Buzbee.

The festival organizer Live Nation, which has also been named as a defendant in multiple lawsuits, is facing criticism for not immediately stopping Scott’s set as people fell down and were trampled in the crowd and others who said they were struggling to breathe screamed for help from security as those in the front were pressed against metal barricades.

But Houston Police Chief Troy Finner said there were concerns, voiced in conversations between Houston police and Live Nation staff, that abruptly stopping the show would cause a riot.

Manuel Souza claims in a lawsuit seeking more than $1 million damages that he suffered injuries when the concert crowd at NRG Park knocked him to the ground and trampled him.

He says the tragedy was “predictable and preventable” yet organizers of the two-day music festival prioritized profits over safety—they sold general admission tickets for more than $350 and some VIP tickets for more than $1,000—despite claiming they would “ensure a safe, secure, and positive environment is provided for all attendees, artists, and staff.”

Earlier in the day at around 2 p.m., dozens of Scott’s fans who did not have tickets stormed through barricades at a VIP entrance. Some were detained by police and others were trampled. At least one person was injured.

Officials said paramedics provided aid to around 300 people throughout the day Friday at an onsite field hospital, including several festivalgoers who were treated with naloxone, a drug used to reverse the effects of an opioid overdose.

According to Souza's lawsuit, organizers made the conscious decision to let Scott’s show go on, even as paramedics drove ambulances into the crowd to give aid to fans who had passed out or been crushed in the scrum.

“This was against a backdrop of multiple reports of tramplings, patrons losing consciousness, patrons being unable to breath due to profound lack of crowd control, inadequate water, inadequate security and a lack of exit routes,” the lawsuit states.

“So many people were hurt, and so few emergency personnel were provided by defendants, that patrons themselves had to conduct CPR on their fellow concertgoers,” it continues.

Souza says Scott, a 30-year-old Houston native who started the Astroworld music festival in 2018 and has been lauded by Houston officials for his charitable work in his hometown, has a history of inciting fans at his concerts.

In 2015, Scott was arrested in Chicago and charged with disorderly conduct for telling fans during his show at Lollapalooza Festival to jump over barricades.

“In 2017, he was arrested for inciting a riot in Arkansas at a concert. In 2017, a fan was paralyzed at a Scott concert in New York City after a raucous crowd incited by Scott pushed the fan off a balcony,” according to Souza’s complaint.

Souza is represented by Steve Kherkher of the Houston firm Kherkher Garcia.

He also has requested a temporary restraining order prohibiting the concert organizers from moving any of the stage equipment from how it was set up during the melee Friday and from destroying any surveillance footage.

Another lawsuit filed by Kristian Paredes, and also seeking more than $1 million, names both Scott and fellow rap superstar Aubrey Drake Graham aka Drake as defendants.

Paredes says he was standing against metal barricades at the front of the general admission section and felt an immediate push from behind as Scott started his headliner show Friday night.

“The crowd became chaotic and a stampede began leaving eight dead and dozens including Kristian Paredes severely injured. Many begged security guards hired by Live Nation Entertainment for help, but were ignored,” the complaint states.

Drake came on stage as a surprise guest to perform with Scott as people were passing out and being crushed in the crowd.

Paredes, who is represented by Texas attorney Thomas J. Henry, claims Drake helped Scott incite the crowd.

Prominent civil rights attorney Ben Crump is representing El Paso resident Noah Gutierrez in another $1 million lawsuit against Astroworld music festival producers and organizers Live Nation Worldwide Inc., Live Nation Entertainment Inc. and Scoremore Holdings LLC.

Gutierrez, whose suit does not name Scott or Drake as defendants, says he was in the VIP section at the concert and was “suddenly forced to watch in terror as several concertgoers were injured and killed as a result of a crowd surge.”

He claims Live Nation let Scott’s show continue for 40 minutes after what Houston officials described as a “mass casualty event” had begun.

Crump said in a statement he expects to file more lawsuits on behalf of other Astroworld victims this week.

A dozen lawsuits have been filed against Live Nation in Harris County District Court in Houston. And dozens, if not hundreds, more are likely to be filed in the coming days as several Houston attorneys have posted advertisements online soliciting people injured at the show to hire them.

The Houston law firm Abraham, Watkins, Nichols, Agosto, Aziz & Stogner announced Monday afternoon they have filed two lawsuits representing several people trampled at the concert and injured.  

The filings claim Scott and festival organizers should have known the size of the crowd Friday required more safety precautions because a similar incident occurred at the Astroworld Festival two years ago.

They claim a group of concertgoers knocked over a metal fence surrounding NRG Stadium on Nov. 9, 2019, and stormed the festival entrance.

“Patrons were forcefully pushed to the ground by the mob and became trapped under a stampede of people unable to stand back up,” the lawsuits state. “As a result, many suffered serious injuries and damages. After the 2019 incident, an investigation quickly revealed that there was little to no security at the barricades before the entrance to prevent the rush into the event.”

Scott, an eight-time Grammy nominee, said Monday he would pay the funeral expenses of the eight Astroworld victims and give full refunds to all attendees.

He also canceled his show set for Saturday at the Day N Vegas festival.

A Change.org petition calling for removal of Scott from the lineup for the Coachella Valley and Music Arts Festival in Southern California, scheduled for April 2022, had received more than 17,000 signatures Tuesday morning.

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