Report: Security At Clubs In Wake Of DIMEBAG Tragedy Still Far From Airtight

December 8, 2005

Aaron Beck and John Futty of The Columbus Dispatch have issued the following report:

Fans in line for a heavy-metal concert at the Alrosa Villa last weekend knew what was coming.

By the time they reached the door of the North Side club, they had opened purses or jackets — or both — for a search.

"Security is everywhere in here now," Sunbury resident Becky Riley said after entering the club. "I feel safe. And there aren't even glass bottles anymore that used to get smashed all over the floor."

One year after a Marysville man climbed the stage during a concert and shot seven people before being killed by police, beefed-up security is the most visible reminder of the shootings.

Despite the widespread attention the violence attracted in the industry, however, security remains spotty at concert venues.

The lack of security will be at the heart of a wrongful-death and personal-injury lawsuit that Columbus lawyer Gerald Leesburg said he will file today against the Alrosa Villa owners.

"The entire case revolves around inadequate security — both what was in place that night and what those who were in place failed to do," said Leesburg, who plans to file the case on behalf of three victims.

Some club owners say the Alrosa shootings focused attention on security the way the Sept. 11 terrorist attack prompted a review of airport security.

"It made us more vigilant," said David Pallone, who with his brother James owns the Sundance Saloon, an East Side concert and dance hall. "I think it made everybody be more on their toes. Before that happened, nobody ever dreamed it could have happened."
Still, many in the industry say there's little that can realistically be done to prevent someone like Nathan Gale, the Alrosa shooter, from a similar rampage.

Gale avoided club security guards at the front entrance by climbing a fence and entering a side door.

Critics, however, say the nightclub business remains a freewheeling proposition, with some clubs vigilant while others are wide open.

"It's an industry without standards," said Paul Wertheimer, head of the watchdog group Crowd Management Strategies of Los Angeles.

Wertheimer noted the considerable talk about club-procedure changes after the 2003 club fire in Providence, R.I., that left 100 dead.

"But nothing has changed," he said. "The error is to think that Alrosa Villa is a one-off situation. That's one of the failures of the Alrosa and of the industry as a whole."

The Ohio Association of Security and Investigation Professionals thinks part of the answer lies in stronger oversight of the private-security industry.

The group proposes legislation that would require security guards — including those hired in-house — to be licensed by the state. Current law requires licenses only for guards employed by private-security firms.

For roadhouse clubs such as the Alrosa, which feature bands on the rise or decline, security standards have always been blurry. In general, such places try to maintain a secure stage, dressing room and parking lot.

The procedures vary widely.

Since the Alrosa slayings, Little Brother's owner Dan Dougan said he has increased security in his Short North club.

"We've been using security and door people more than we did in the past," he said.

Most rock crowds are well-behaved, Dougan added, cautioning against reading too much into the Alrosa shootings.

"I still think (Alrosa) was a freak accident that could have happened in any number of places."

Greg Leffel, owner of Whiskey Dick's, agrees.

"It brought a lot more attention to security, but our view was that it was just a crazy incident and it could have happened anywhere in the country and it happened in our own backyard."

Like Alrosa Villa, Whiskey Dick's has a security staff and hires special-duty police officers to patrol outside for big shows.

Even though club owners say they are more vigilant, Sgt. Dallas Lykins, who supervises the Columbus police special-duty office, said he has seen no increase in the number of clubs requesting officers since the Alrosa shootings.

Although Columbus police supervisors don't recommend how clubs should handle security, they encourage operators to learn from the Alrosa tragedy.

"It was an unusual event, but it's the kind of thing that should make people review their practices," said Cmdr. Mary Mathias, former supervisor of the zone that includes Alrosa Villa.

She disagrees with those who say that little can be done to stop a gunman determined to storm a club stage.

"The chances of someone being able to carry out an act like that can be minimized with the proper security precautions," she said. At the Alrosa, owner Rick Cautela says, the days of taking chances with anyone in or outside the club are over. "We don't let anybody slide," he said, "even parents coming to watch their kids play and people who have been coming here for 20 years."

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