Year in Review No. 5: A death in the Shambhala family
Part of the Star’s look back at the top stories of 2012.
Tragedy struck at Shambhala this year when a young man died following a suspected drug overdose at the electronic music festival outside Salmo.
Mitchell Joseph Fleischacker, 23, of Sidney collapsed on the festival’s third day. First aid attendants responded quickly and found him unconscious but breathing.
He received emergency treatment from a doctor, registered nurse, and paramedic on site, then was taken by ambulance to Trail, but suffered cardiac arrest en route and couldn’t be revived. He was pronounced dead in hospital.
The file was turned over to the BC Coroners Service, but the final report hasn’t been released.
Coroner’s office spokeswoman Barb McLintock said their investigation would include an autopsy and toxicology analysis, and review the circumstances that led up to the death.
“We can take a fairly wide view and look into what was going on at the festival, if [the death] was related to where he was or what was going on there,” she explained.
Fleischacker grew up in Stettler, Alberta, and worked at a sheet metal company in Victoria. He was in trouble with the law a few years ago for drug possession and underwent treatment.
On Facebook, his friend Kristy King remembered him for his generosity towards her and her children and his cooking. She said he’d attended Shambhala for several years.
“You collected your tickets from Shambhala the last four years like badges of honour. You loved it,” she wrote. “We are going to miss you horribly.”
It was the first death in the festival’s 15-year history. Shambhala attracts 10,000 people each year and has a reputation for drug use, but it’s not sanctioned by organizers, who incorporate harm reduction strategies into their planning.
In addition to a fully staffed field hospital on site, social workers and mental health professionals are available to support festival goers. Professional security staff search for drugs and alcohol at the festival gates.
Star reporter Megan Cole, a music festival veteran, was on site that morning.
“As I spent time with the executive producers and organizers during this tragic time,” she wrote, “it became apparent the family behind Shambhala not only cares about each other, but has extended that to the people that call the farm home for the duration of the festival.”
A Star editorial, which said it was unfair to blame festival organizers for the death, was by far the most read in the paper’s history, judging from the website hits it received.
“We were saddened by news a young man died at Shambhala Music Festival," it began. "The unfortunate incident, however, should not define this year’s festival. Nor, as some have suggested, should this spell the end of the event."
The editorial went on to say that a single death in 15 years given the size of the festival was a "rather incredible statistic," and praised organizers for doing their best to minimize the use of illegal drugs.
"It boils down to individual choices. Those who decide to do drugs take a risk. Sometimes that risk has grave consequences."